Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Divine Fragrance is a Tribute to Authentic Femininity

When Jean-Paul Gaultier introduced his first scent, Classique, in 1993, fashion’s famous enfant terrible came out with a fragrance that decidedly did not follow the trends of the time, which tended to be clean, citrusy, and minimal. Developed by Jacques Cavallier, Classique was infused with the memories of Gaultier’s childhood, specifically his grandmother Marie who raised him. “One part dusty loose powder, like my grandmother wore—I think it was old Coty; one part that smell you get when you are sitting in the front row of the theater—for me, I think of going to The Châtelet when I was 12, and the curtain goes up, and the hot lights are on the costumes, wigs, and sets, and you breathe it all in.” he told Women’s Wear Daily at the time. “And, just to be modern, one part nail polish remover!” Cavallier’s answer was to come up with an amber floral, including notes of orange blossom, ginger, and vanilla.

Then of course there was its packaging. Inspired by a “judy,” a female dress form used for sewing, it’s also believed to pay homage to both Schiaparelli’s perfume Shocking—launched in 1937—and the costumes Gaultier designed for Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. Either way, its headless torso shape clad in a conical bustier and housed in an aluminum can—which some shops refused to stock, believing it to be scandalous—became an instant best seller. From punk rebels to Madonna to his grandmother, Gaultier created an ode to the powerful, assertive women who inspired him.

Now comes Divine—fronted by actor, activist and S/ cover star Yara Shahidi — which continues the original manifesto of celebrating femininity but this time more: audacious, daring, and necessary than ever. But how to put that concept in a scent? “The idea was to design a fragrance that would be a conversation between two opposites: something very sweet and gourmand, and something very floral,” says perfumer Quentin Bisch.

For the flower, Bisch chose lily, which is not a common one in perfumery. “It’s really a Gaultier flower because it doesn’t ask permission to say what she has to say, a flower that dares to say I’m here,” he explains. “When you have it in a room, you smell it straight away and it fills the entire room.” As a counterpart to the lily’s creamy and solar facets, Bisch worked on a meringue accord using vanilla and benzoin. “And the result is something delicate—almost powdery—fluffy, and very delicious,” he says. “Altogether, this dialogue between the lily and the meringue creates this new femininity with something else that has been added.”

And that something else is a marine note. “We decided to separate these two accords with something that would be like a structure of the formula, and it’s a very fresh marine accord that smells like the sea breeze,” says Bisch. “This aquatic accord—an almost salty note cuts through the formula giving it a freshness. Gaultier Divine is a salty kiss.” This floral gourmand marine is contained, of course, within a corset- shaped bottle, but this time it’s gold; more conic and curvy, taking the feminine shape to extremes; and refillable.

But ultimately, what does “divine” even mean? For Bisch, it’s feeling authentically you. “It’s being yourself and being fulfilled. So if you can access this state of being, you’re divine and others see it.

Gaultier Divine is available at Shoppers Drug Mart.