1/12/12

Tommy Girl (Tommy Hilfiger) & Green Tea (Elizabeth Arden): A Tale of Two Tea Florals



Last school year (which is the only kind of year I'm able to keep track of), two male co-workers stopped me and said, "you smell that? who has that sweet smell?" When I told them it was me, they laughed, and one of them added "you smell very pretty." I can say with total unadulterated honesty that this moment did not in the least bit faze me from wearing the scent that elicited these reactions: Tommy Girl.

It should be noted for the record that Guy #1 is a body builder with a beautiful blond girlfriend, and Guy #2 is an Iraq War vet who was part of an elite squad of "killers," i.e. soldiers specifically utilized by ground troops to infiltrate enemy compounds, rig them with explosives, and cremate their inhabitants from two miles away. I wouldn't consider these guys to be "girly boys," and I have the utmost respect for both of them. They're terrific guys. And it doesn't surprise me in the least that they would mistake Tommy Girl for being, well, a girl's perfume. The logistics of enhancing your pecs and vaporizing other human beings are well within their pool of knowledge; the logistics of tea florals are pretty fucking far beyond their bounds. As of two years ago, tea florals were pretty fucking far beyond my bounds as well, and I'm just a guy who likes to write, take walks, and engage in overly-dramatic unrequited love affairs with feisty European women, Woody Allen style.
When I read the Associated Press releases on Tommy Girl, I was filled with curiosity. This scent is a modern tea floral, a well-organized construct of green tea and floral notes that form a thoroughly enjoyable fragrance. Since its inception in 1996, young and middle-aged women have adored it, and in more recent times, men of all persuasions have taken to it also. Having worn the masculine Tommy back in high school, I was familiar with the level of quality this brand is capable of, but had qualms about buying its feminine counterpart blind. After lengthy consideration, I did, expecting something affable, nondescript, pretty, and totally unwearable. I was in for a real surprise.

Tommy Girl opens with a kick of potent aldehydes and camellia tea, which is a very crisp, sheer, green-hued tea note with a subtly sweet edge. For the first minute of wear, this tea note is central. Eventually sweet black currant, apple tree blossom, honeysuckle, and jasmine notes bubble out from under the camellia, forming a fairly linear floral perfume of considerable strength. The floral notes coalesce into a prominent jasmine and tea accord, with a watery calamus underpinning it. Calamus lends the scent an aquatic dimension, although it's worth noting that isoeugenol is the chemical component at work here. There are several different types of isoeugenol applications, with various scent profiles, but I'm betting the "wet" dimension was what Calice Becker wanted to smell in Tommy Girl's lush heart. She succeeded, and enjoyed a historic victory in submitting this formula to the Hilfiger company. For the first time in quite a while, a proper tea floral was a smash hit.

Critics rave about Tommy Girl, considering it the stuff of angels, a masterpiece, a cheerful little perfume that no one could possibly dislike. Generally speaking, I agree with these assertions, although I shy a little from using the word "masterpiece." In my mind, a true masterpiece is made of a master's materials, and not generic mass-market aroma chemicals. There should be an infusion technique behind Tommy Girl, an actual tea extract in use, for it to qualify as a masterpiece. However, Tommy Girl is incredibly striking in one regard - it is undeniably unisex.

You would think with all those fruity floral notes that it would strictly be a young girl's fragrance. Amazingly, the camellia and calamus propel things in another direction entirely. The tea is a supporting player to the central roles of the flowers, but it tinges the sweets with a strident crispness. The scent of tea, with its uniquely Eastern flavor, is very specific, and an acquired taste, something considerably beyond the mores of teeny-bopper sensibilities. Furthermore, the floral elements are darkened by black currant, a note that for whatever reason denies gender classification. Tommy Girl's currants are sheer, but they help to anchor things to the middle of the spectrum. It's the jasmine that keeps this scent on the women's counter at department stores. That buoyant jasmine is so rich and wet that even the homeliest woman could benefit by having its grace on her skin. I must concur with Luca Turin in applauding the scent for being simple, modern, versatile, and beautiful.

But.

But. But. But.

But it's not alone. Surprisingly, it's not even unmatched. Considering the dearth of interest in tea scents, one would suppose that Tommy Girl has a monopoly on the mass market. After all, how many people want that unusual tea smell wafting off their personage? What company could compete with such a well-crafted and well-timed perfume? Why, Elizabeth Arden, of course. Conspicuously missing from all the positive press that surrounds Tommy Girl is a reference to a terrific fragrance that emerged only three years after it: Green Tea.
Herein lies the rub for Tommy Girl. While it offers a splendid composition through synthetics, it lacks any natural infusions, and natural tea infusions in particular are nowhere to be found. One might suppose this is understandable, considering how expensive such an infusion would be, right? I mean, after all, natural elements are relegated to top-shelf stuff, things by Creed, Czech & Speake, Frederic Malle, Guerlain. No mass-market scent could successfully employ the same standards held by such companies to their own little tea floral, could they? Well, as it turns out, Arden's scent contains a generous amount of camellia sinensis leaf extract. When you smell it, you're smelling real green tea. You're smelling the sort of thing normally found in those $285 Creeds. It smells really, really good. Oh, and by the way - it only costs $5 an ounce.

Green Tea was created by the esteemed Francis Kurkdjian, of Le Male and Narciso Rodriguez fame. His approach to the modern tea floral was evidently heavily inspired by Calice Becker's, and a side-by-side box comparison proves that not only are the two scents virtually identical, but they're mostly made of the exact same materials! Both fragrances contain the following:

Hydroxyisohexyl 3 cyclohexene carboxaldehyde (floral notes, with emphasis on muguet)

Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (UV protectant)

Hydroxycitronellal (muguet)

Citronellal (lemon)

Isoeugenol (calamus)

Limonene (orange)

Linalool (mint in Green Tea/laurel in Tommy Girl)

Geraniol (rose)


And of course, BHT, alcohol, and water. There are a few differences in the ingredients list, but only a few, with Tommy Girl possessing two or three things that Green Tea lacks, and vice-versa. A side-by-side sniff test of the two scents reveals that they're technically the same thing, but with some change-ups in composition and blending. Tommy Girl has an overt frontal tea note flanked with subtler berries and strong floral elements. Green Tea has an overt frontal citrus arrangement, flanked by subtler florals and strong tea elements. Both scents use green tea as a focal instrument, a tool that gives everything else a little extra pizazz. Both scents smell terrific. Only one scent actually smells like green tea.

I am not entirely sure if Luca Turin has ever lavished upon Green Tea the kind of praise he famously reserves for Tommy Girl, but if not, he should visit the former, and reconsider the latter. My quibble here is with three things: quality of materials, versatility, and commercial price. On every count, Green Tea outpaces its progenitor. Its materials are almost entirely the same, except for that one note - the important note - camellia sinensis leaf. Tommy girl has no camellia sinensis leaf. Green Tea's versatility is profound; the crisp citrus top is perfectly masculine all year-round, and utterly sweet and feminine in the summer time. The natural tea element is as genderless as they come, with a full-bodied Asiatic vibe that weaves around everything else, everything stronger, to maintain its perch in the center of the scent. Unlike Tommy Girl, Green Tea's florals are dialed back. The muguet, rose, and jasmine accord is there, but not as full-throated, merely complimenting the tea. This makes the fragrance more accessible for men, especially those who are daunted by sweet "bouquet" scents. The blending here renders everything in a sheer glaze of green waters, without a single petal taking center stage.

Last but not least, the price - oh, the price! Why spend $65 on 3 ounces of Tommy Girl when you can get the same amount of Green Tea for $15? I have both fragrances on separate paper strips as I write this, and they're now in the later drydown stage. At this point, about ninety minutes in, I cannot tell the two apart, save for a little extra citrus in one, and a more-prominent jasmine in the other. In terms of chemical quality, they're exactly the same.

Tommy Girl reserves the right to be held up as the standard for tea florals because it came before Green Tea, but I feel the Arden tea floral is the better scent. I wear Tommy Girl and enjoy it, but I can't really use it for more than a day at a time. Green Tea is something I can wear for a week straight, without getting tired of it. It isn't as strong as the Hilfiger scent, and doesn't thrust its destination in your face. In Tommy Girl, the tea is satisfying, but only for the first couple of minutes, and then becomes something peripheral, ephemeral, like background music. In Green Tea, the tea is the story, and everything else are props. The tea is central, the tea is floral, the tea is sheer, and crisp, and clean, and sexy, and unique. Kind of like me. We go very well together.












9 comments:

  1. It is ages since I tried either of these, though I distinctly remember being impressed by the Elizabeth Arden. Arden is a range I usually turn my nose up, if I am perfectly honest, because it so often fetches up in those dump bins in drugstores, along with the baby wipes and the two-for-one deodorants. If I was comparing Green Tea to anything at the time, it was probably Bvlgari's The Vert, now also a dim (but favourable) memory. The cheapo tea floral I do still own (a cast off from a fellow spritzhead) is ElizabethW Sweet Tea. I think it is too sweet, sadly, more like the stuff you fancy when you have a sore throat.

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  2. Arden is underrated I think, as their reformulated masculine "classics" all smell impressive to me. Grey Flannel and Red for Men are good examples, with both arguably unisex in nature. But Green Tea is an original for them, and it's too bad I only see it at Marshall's! Oddly enough, I never see Green Tea flankers anywhere, despite their being released every year. I wouldn't mind trying Green Tea Lavender.

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  3. I have not smelled either of these enough to recognize or remember them, although I remember Turin's raves for Tommy Girl. I actually like tea notes in fragrances though, so it's convenient to know I can bypass Tommy Girl and find a cheap bottle of Elizabeth Arden. Thanks for doing the side-by-side ingredient check too!

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  4. OK, let's face it: in my country Arden's Green Tea was a hot-selling item, a blockbuster of the Nineties. Everyone was impressed by this.
    So I liked just for a while (a week or so), then get bored, as every time there's a new kid in town fragrance on which people succumbes TOO EASILY because they're just so WEREABLE.


    But in the course of time I simply quit using that acid, 'fresh' tea, faint minty notes, green citruses kinda plain scents as Green Tea, CK One or even Tommy... I find them fairly generic and they bore me to tears. I only reccomend for the youngest (about 13) or the oldest (about 90).
    Not bad at all, but WHAT CAN I DO? Sorry, I just can't help it!

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  5. That's interesting, what country are you from? Here in the States it was definitely a success (they don't make ten flankers for something that flops), but not nearly as widely recognized as Tommy Girl. And today's literature on the subject rarely mentions Green Tea, which is surprising. I'm with you on the whole "generic" scent conundrum. As a guy I've taken pleasure in wearing more challenging fragrances, things like Kouros and Red for Men. They're excellent and they're keepers, but occasionally controversy itself gets old, and one needs to return to a more "standard" effect before venturing back into aggressive fare. It's at those times that I enjoy falling back on things like Green Tea, 4711, and Allure Homme by Chanel. To each his own!

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  6. Of course!!! You took the words right out of my mouth, what I really think is that Green Tea smells extremely PLEASANT and I don't usually go for that now, because to me is not challenging. And the same goes for 4711, which in addition it's the signature fragrance of my mother-in-law who's the very anti-Perfumista, always dismissing perfume world and utterly unable to distinguish a carrot from an apple with her nose (Grrr!)...

    Anyway, we'll see what time brings. :)

    [I have reread my own post and found that I might have been sound a bit harsh with my view, and not exactly well-expressed, sorry... but on the other hand I don't like to lie (= be too much political correct)].

    I'm from Barcelona, Spain, and I can assure you that in those years the unknown here was the Tommy Girl, which if I'm not wrong, it wasn't available here until year 2005 or even somewhat later but one thing for sure: not widely recognized at all but just discrete recognition, there's still department fragrance stores that they're giving vials of Tommy Girl as if it was 'new'!.
    Not a blockbuster here.

    And ok, maybe Green Tea wasn't exactly a true hot-selling item after all (I can't give you any figures!)... but yes a 'blockbuster' in terms of an unsually successful hit with widespread popularity. I mean that when it was launched in 1999, it was certainly 'revolutionary' in the social environment, being the first to include green tea in the composition and getting people to talk about, to sample and to go further than just 'liking'. Oh yes, I clearly remember that... it's been quite a long time, though. :)

    I'm with you that perfumistas rarely mention Green Tea, I think it just was out of fashion before blog on the Internet phenomenon.

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  7. Let me chime in here as having a decided preference for the Arden. I honestly find Tommy Girl too sweet on my skin. Let me also say that during my journeys around the perfume blogosphere there is quite a bit of contempt for this fragrance for all the reasons you and I love it. It is inexpensive, available and easy to wear. Only the lovely Victoria over at Bois de Jasmin has passionately championed it. It layers beautifully with soliflores of every stripe and also Encre Noire. I love to spritz it on my pillow when I have had a bad day, it greenly and cleanly lulls me to sleep. I keep some fragrances in the fridge for revitalization in the summer heat, I think a bottle of this would fit nicely next to my CK One, which is incidentally, the best perfume to wear whilst mowing the lawn!

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    1. TG is a sweet scent, very much entrenched in a 90s style, back when sweet was IN. Nowadays it actually comes across as a bit of a "powerhouse" and seems awfully potent and long lasting. I still can't believe I developed an allergy to it! Wish I could still wear it.

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