It's a couple thing, a boy-meets-girl-but-respects-her-individuality concept. In celebration of getting it together, Millennium-style, Giorgio Armani has just launched his long awaited "youth" fragrance, and it's all about sharing. No, not another "his and hers" unisex fragrance - so dated, so mid-Nineties. Emporio Armani Lui and Lei are two distinct fragrances, but with a certain something that holds them together. Something like sex.
It didn't take perfumers and their marketing folk too long to come to the conclusion that men and women don't particularly want to smell exactly the same as one another. (It may have been a big thing in the Seventies, but somehow the appeal of Brut has worn off a bit.) The differences between the sexes is an important part of the Lui and Lei fragrances - a fact clearly (and sweetly) demonstrated in the design of the smooth, cylindrical metal bottles, sculpted to fit together - a little bump for him for him and an indentation for her. Get it?
We gave two samples to Karen Ayres of Norwich to try out. Of course, she prefers the Lui to the Lei. So much for two tailor-made male/female fragrances. Karen will still be wearing the same scent as her partner. Or perhaps he would prefer her Lei. The sexual politics of fragrance is a complicated thing.
Arriving at two individual sexual identities came easily, thanks to a happy accident. Unusually within the industry, the Emporio Armani fragrances were created by two separate people working for two different Parisian perfumeries. For confidentiality reasons - imagine the hoo-ha if precious recipes were leaked out - they never met, nor knew how the other's work was progressing, until the project was completed. They were given the same brief, of course - to create a "second skin" fragrance that captured the spirit of Emporio Armani. Oh, you know - young, refined, clean, modern, never overpowering, and all that sort of thing. But few could have foreseen how spookily in tune the two women were with one another, and how the two scents would find a common ground.
Over a fashionably minimal lunch (various different coloured leaves and some parmesan shavings), Sophie Lebbe explains how she created the men's fragrance. Being a young, hip, Emporio sort of girl, she has a strong sense of fashionable directions: "Social trends, new ways of behaviour, have an influence on what I'm doing," she explains. For Lui, she began with her personal favourite ingredient, vetiver. "It's very noble, elegant and masculine," she says. "But the real thing is too earthy and dark. I wanted something sparkling and light, so I had to recreate vetiver for my own interpretation of the woody scent."
The structure of Lei, where the "second skin" element comes in, is woody and musky, and was created by Daniele Roche.
Her starting point was rather different from Sophie's, since Mr Armani had one important request to ask of her: he has a long-standing love affair with the tiny, violet heliotrope flower, and wanted its essence to form the basis of the women's fragrance. Since heliotrope is blessed with rather quaint, old-fashioned qualities, it was no easy matter for Daniele to create from it a modern, urban scent.
"Daniele herself is the embodiment of Emporio Armani style, and could never have created anything `old ladyish'," says Patricia Turck-Paquelier, general manager of Giorgio Armani Parfums. "But what she has made is a very refined fragrance with the traditional qualities that Mr Armani loves: something that is not too sweet, but has the feeling of straightness and slimness, like an Armani outfit."
Closely involved throughout the creation of the Emporio Armani fragrances, (he was instrumental in the designing of the self-service, disposable, camera-like packaging) Giorgio Armani was adamant that they should not smell like other fashion fragrances, nor be "too loud, with too much aura". To the Italian designer and his followers, a fragrance should be just strong enough for you to smell on yourself - it shouldn't be so overwhelming that it bothers other people.
"That would be too vulgar for the Armani name," declares Mme Turck-Paquelier. "If a smell could be described as a colour," she asks, "what would an Armani fragrance be? Never bright blue, or pink... but beige." Quite.
Lui and Lei come in two sizes 50ml/pounds 25 and 100ml/pounds 40, available from department stores nationwide