Pi (Givenchy)

"A Little Further Than Infiniti." Far Out, Man!

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.


  1. An Iroc Z?
    BMW M5 was the car to have in my 'hood in the 90's.

    Those Pi ads alway reminded me of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    Dave: Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

    HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. What's that fragrance you're wearing Dave?

    I seem to remember a movie called Pi in the late 90's when the Dot.Commers became Dot.Bombers and everything went all angst-y. Seriously, those Dot.Bombers thought that $ was never going to end?

    1. I remember that movie well, was it Darren Aronofsky who did that one? Grainy black and white and all kinds of moody eeriness in a claustrophobic setting, but I also remember it sucked because the story wasn't really there. That was the late nineties, a decade that in general was great from cinema, but by 1998 things were starting to turn south. Makes sense, because the ten years that followed were awful for movies. The last sixteen years have been a drought in regard to film. But at least we still have Pi (the fragrance)

  2. "Grainy black and white and all kinds of moody eeriness in a claustrophobic setting, but I also remember it sucked because the story wasn't really there."

    That sentence pretty much sums up the late 90's.
    The early 90's were as Alan Greenspan so brilliantly put it, plagued with "irrational exuberance."

    1. Oddly enough Aronofsky tapped into the zeitgeist of the following decade with Requiem for a Dream. Which was far more disturbing than Pi, IMO.

  3. I had a bottle of Pi Fraiche. I liked it a lot more than the original, but it was very, very similar. I didn't get as much of the almond out of it, but it was a bit more citrusy, and has a minty, menthol note added to it. I've no idea how anyone involved in making it thought it was a summer fragrance, since it was still powdery sweet and cloying. However, it was still gentler than the original, and a tad drier. Ended up trading a half used bottle for a couple of other fragrances, but I occasionally do miss it. I probably would have kept it had I known I lost the aftershave, which was basically a high EDC/low EDT strength in its own right.

    I didn't care much for Pi Neo. Just thought it was a generic light blue/grey fragrance, which did very little more me. Pleasant, but boring.

    I'm curious to try the Extreme version, or whatever it's called, which was released in the past year or so. It sounds a lot darker.

    1. Your mentioning Pi Fraiche brings me back around to my Brut analogy. There's a school of thought in the perfumery world that associates "powdery" and "dry" with "sport" and "fresh." Brut was in many ways turned into that kind of thing, with its deodorants and "splash-on" tonics. Yet Brut isn't what most people would consider "fresh" nowadays. It has a relatively dry, powdery, ambery demeanor.

      Your description of Pi Fraiche reminded me of Brut. No comment on what sounds like an awful rendition of Pi with the Neo flanker. Sometimes fragrances don't warrant their own line.

    2. I haven't worn Fraiche in a few years, so I could be waaay off, but it reminded me a bit of crossing Pi with some of the freshness and feel (as in, sweet, but not going-to-give-you-tooth-decay-and-diabetes sweet) of JPG. It was a decent fragrance, but definitely not worth the discontinued prices or trades, so I'm ok without it.

      Pi Neo didn't remind me of Pi. It might share some notes with the original (though any random mens fragrance will too), but I didn't really get the relation. Sort of like Gentleman and Gentleman Only, or whatever that one from a few years ago is called.

  4. All very well, but now that the season for deep & domestic nostalgia has come, how about a picture of your house decorated for the holidays, plus a revisiting of some classic conifer-based fragrances (I'm wearing Yatagan as I type this)
    Philip-Lorca Dicorcia, Hartford, 1978:

    1. What a gorgeous photo. Actually gave me more of a sixties feel than seventies.

      No photos of the house this year, but I will expound upon some ideas regarding the classics before year's end, and also have an article coming this weekend that will address interesting phenomenons currently happening on eBay.


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