Madame Jōvan (Jōvan)

In a 1976 issue of the St. Petersburg Evening Independent, a drugstore advertised Madame Jōvan perfume ("a blend of the world's finest flowers interlaced with rich, dusky spices") at $7.50 for three fluid ounces. This made me ponder the last time I saw three ounces of perfume for anything approaching eight dollars.

Oh, wait. I remember.

Just out of curiosity, I consulted the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, which estimated that Madame Jōvan's 1976 price tag is equal to $30.35 in today's economy. With that amount of money in hand, you'd still come up short if you wanted to buy only one ounce of Taylor Swift's Wonderstruck ($32.99) at CVS Pharmacy. And you'd be entirely shut out of the low-end luxury league represented by Juicy Couture ($90). But most Jōvan fragrances still retail under $25, and require no more than a drive to the nearest drugstore.

Yes, Jōvan is still keeping it affordable-- an achievement to be commended, if you don't question too closely what "it" is they're making so easy to buy. Based on my encounters with this line over the years, the answer is "deeply flawed fragrance"-- and I'm sorry to say that Madame Jōvan poses no challenge to this conclusion.

Directly underneath an uneasy, shifting fog of aldehydes, one finds a floating slick of oily-woody-plastic-aromatic scent which persists for ages and triggers (in me, anyway) the most exquisite headache. I find no "finest flowers" or "rich, dusky spices" here. Nor do I believe that time or poor storage conditions have degraded something which was once superior. I have experienced the exact same blatant petrochemical quality from modern, factory-fresh Jōvans, so I have to assume it's a time-honored company standard, as mousse de Saxe is for Parfums Caron.

Temples throbbing, patience taxed, I almost give up on Madame Jōvan-- but suddenly a decent honeyed sandalwood accord starts clearing its throat, and I find myself listening. The drydown is so marvelous I sniff my wrists all evening long-- but the headache lasts longer, and pretty soon I just want the whole trip to be over, even the good parts.

If not for its first three-quarters, I could almost like Madame Jōvan. I try mightily to put myself into the mindset of a 1976 drugstore shopper-- some nice, suburban wife who just wants to eke a tiny bit of sophistication out of her tight household budget. Could she not find it in Madame Jōvan?

NO, declares my conscience. A hard-working woman deserves better. She has the right to a beautiful scent right away, not forty-five painful minutes in.

Verdict: when perfume gets off to a bad start, it's hard to give it a break-- even when it gets way, way better.

Scent Elements: Aldehydes, citrus, greens, gardenia, lily-of-the-valley, rose, geranium, jasmine, iris, vetiver, sandalwood, tonka bean, musk, civet, honey, amber