How much of this so talked about subject is a) a true fact b) a cultural descriptor c) just a trend of the market ?
In the fragrance universe the amount of information about what was done on each side of the ocean has never been equal. American perfumes and fragranced products have been produced since the end of XIXth century but very few were available in Europe. The contrary was not true and Paris had an enormous influence and presence in USA. Since early XXth century perfumes from Paris were imported in USA and Americans knew almost everything on the latest Parisian trends (in fashion or fragrance) even when the products were not available on American soil. The contrary was not true and we can say the same for the fashion (with very few exceptions). In the late part of the 80's and early 90's American fashion went internationally, on a huge scale, and was followed by the fragrances produced under license by big cosmetic or detergent groups (like Unilever). In a very short period of time Paris (and Europe) was "bombarded" with American ads/fashion/fragrances. If before, Estée Lauder's perfumes and Charlie were the only well known perfumes, suddenly Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Ralph Lauren, Carolina Herrera and so on appeared to the European consumer of the 90's.
Today in Paris many generations of perfumes live in the same universe, from Jicky, Mitsouko, Joy to the recent launches. It's also worth noting that the only and the oldest American perfume available in Paris is Youth Dew. Comparing the 2 cultures in terms of smells is often incomplete because we compare almost the entire French history (available on shelves) with the American fragrances done in the late 80's and 90's.
There is an entire history of American fragrances (and their tastes) that is not available to contemporary Europeans and maybe not even to younger Americans (because the notion of heritage is not so present in USA). The same is true for scented beauty care products.
Fragrances made by Avon, Max Factor, Coty (after WWII), Revlon, Helena Rubinstein, Elizabeth Arden (before it became international) are simply not at our disposal. I am curious what are the oldest american perfumes still available today in US, besides Lauder and some mass market (Old Spice).
In terms of contemporary beauty ideal (as expressed by fashion / ads / popular culture and also porn movies!) there are quite a few differences. The contemporary fashion French "ideal", both masculine and feminine, that could be referred as "nonchalance, élégance négligée étudié out of bed" can be seen (in contrast with American images) as the opposite of cleanliness (it doesn't mean that the people are less clean, though :).
To have a complete answer to my first question it would be interesting to compare perfumes from the same period, contemporary or classics. To the question "is the American obsessed with clean (in terms of fragrance)?" I would add "how different is the European of the same age, today?".
Also, how much of this belief (in terms of fragrances) is supported by images/ads and how much is actually true in terms of odor? (there is without doubt an european and an american "style" in terms of advertising and marketing, at least until 2000 - compare the images of CK, RLauren with Dior/Chanel/Lancome/Guerlain).
It is also good to remember that Americans gave us from mid 70's to mid 80's some of the strongest fragrances ever created, the opposite of clean and light creations from the 90's. To the 2 famous, Cinnabar and Giorgio, I would add the Halston perfumes.
(I still have many questions about the american history of perfumes. I simply refuse to believe in that stereotype - the clean.)
I'd like to hear your opinions on this matter and also perfume examples that would bring some "dirty" american fragrant pleasures into this popular belief.
See also the excellent post of carmencanada on stink & the perfume.
See also the book Clean: A History of Personal Hygiene and Purity by Virginia Smith
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art