People sometimes say things are not what they used to be, and in the case of fragrances, they’re unequivocally right. Despite a certain glamorization of the past, which usually indicates dissatisfaction with the present, the fragrance game has changed radically in the past 20 years. Not necessarily for the worse overall, but the bite and edge of fragrances in the mainstream sector has suffered indeed. Some of them, nevertheless, show a predisposition for resisting. Diva by Ungaro seems to be one of them, apparently surviving relatively unscathed. It’s still a glorious chypre with an indestructible “hear me roar” bawl that can be heard from the rooftops
I was offered a bottle of Emanuel Ungaro’s Diva when I was 19. By my young boyfriend, no less. In today’s standards, that would be the equivalent of being offered a petal dress in organza silk, combined with diamond-encrusted earrings to match, to wear to a black-tie ball. Talk about a glamazon! Those were different times, though; we weren’t afraid to be adventurous with fragrance or over-apply occasionally.
Jacques Polge, the legendary perfumer who is the father of the current in-house perfumer at Chanel, Olivier Polge, made sure to include everything and the kitchen sink while composing the byzantine formula of Diva back in the early 1980s. There is the standard big, voluminous, and arguably synthetic rose of the1980s, immortalized in creations such as L’Arte di Gucci, Knowing, and Paris (YSL). It’s balanced with a big dollop of patchouli and oakmoss, which give a very distinct aloof quality to the flower, eschewing the prim and romantic allusions of those blossoms and instilling a glamorous and somewhat demanding vibe. You can definitely see how it was an offer of supplication from a boyfriend to one’s mistress…
This wonderful and classic chord is then cleverly wrapped in a honey note, which only sweetens it just so, and a string of animalic notes, from civet to musk (it’s almost YSL Kouros-like in its intimacy of warm naughty notes under the clean starchness). It is these elements that help make Diva congenital even to warm ambery perfume lovers. People who like Paloma Piccaso Mon Parfum but find it a bit harsh might find the Ungaro fragrance more simpatico to their sensibilities; it’s worth trying and comparing to see the common lineage at the very least.
There is warmth and plush in Diva, as well as a dollop of other flower essences than rose, which enhances its femininity, and it all makes it less of a boardroom fragrance, unlike the way Knowing can appear austere and buttoned-up, especially nowadays. This quality brings it effortlessly into the salon and the boudoir. It’s ladylike but still naughty; in the case of Diva, the lady is a tramp. And hey, even Lady Gaga reworked the classic song, so fragrance lovers should probably seek out Diva and give it a spin. It’s worth exploring anew.
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