To understand Pi, it helps to be more than a mathematician; you have to remember the nineties, and what cultural changes occurred after the 1980s. Following the conservative Reagan era, when masculine fragrances were either loud "cigar box" ferns and orientals, or loud "musky" compositions with borderline femme floral elements, and downright funereal moss notes (as found in Antaeus and Tsar), people were attracted to fresher, friendlier ideas.
Ferns became sweet and playful (Cool Water, Aqua Quorum, Polo Sport), chypres were hybridized and sunnier than ever (Red for Men, Acqua di Gio, Green Valley), and orientals were divested of unnecessary accords, stripped and compacted and simplified, until only the basics of "amber" and "vanilla" were left. Fragrances like Pasha, Angel, and Givenchy's now Classic Pi were the result. Interested in "fresh" orientals? Try Cartier's idea. Want something "gourmand?" Here's an overdose of Ethyl Maltol and some cheap patchouli, ala Mugler. Need a more traditional citrus-amber fragrance? Pi was the way to go. It is essentially a basic mandarin orange and toasted vanilla accord, and little else. There's a smidgen of cedar and synthetic musk in the base, and that's about it. It smells rich, smooth, almost edible, very warm, and oddly "fresh." It's a nineties frag to the hilt. I hear Gin Blossoms and Sheryl Crow songs whenever I spray it.
But there is perhaps one other aspect to Pi that goes a little deeper than just writing it off as a dull nineties scent. The decade was in many ways a throwback to the seventies. Big cars were momentarily back in style, the economy enjoyed a brief but luminous revival, thanks to the Dot-Com Boom, the President was plagued by scandals that had nothing to do with his political policies, and which threatened to undermine his office, and recent wars had caused an undercurrent of social discomfort and political dissent not felt since Vietnam. Perfume was fresh and sweet, but it was also loud, and very raucous in character, even conservatively speaking. Mugler and CK and yes, Givenchy, were putting noise into the air, competing with grunge music and Nicolas Cage movies to see which could be more obnoxious.
I was a teenager in the nineties, and remember it well. So to me, Pi smells not like a conservative gourmand, but like a boisterous vanilla crossover feminine, geared toward guys with Ceasar haircuts and subwoofed Iroc Zs. There's nothing demure about how one dimensional and fatuous this fragrance is. You can't wear more than two sprays and expect reactions to differ from the snickers and half-assed compliments elicited by Joop! Homme. In its original formula, Pi filled rooms, preceded wearers by ten minutes, and made coffee houses smell like whore houses. Is it an exciting fragrance? No, not by a long shot. But is there more to it than meets the casual nose? You bet. It's the Brut of the nineties, but it was never offered at Brut's price-point, fitting for the inflated ethos of 1998.
I'm not a wearer of Pi, and I don't personally know anyone who wears it, but the stuff is still being made, and still selling, so there must be stragglers from my generation keeping it alive. It wouldn't surprise me if it won over a few next-gen fans as well. Meanwhile, wearing KL Homme, with its crisp balsamic citrus top and warm, vanillic base, it feels like the twelve year interval between Lagerfeld's oriental and Givenchy's gourmand was lost entirely, and I want it back.