I went with a friend to the Johnny Was boutique downtown – if you’re unfamiliar, they’re a rich-hippie, SoCal boho-chic clothing line for women (with some accessories and home stuff), lots of flowery prints and embroidery and flowy garments. I love a funky print and an embroidered blouse as much as the next person (probably more) but for whatever reason they’re not really my style, which is good because they’re also not my price point. I’d never been in the shop, but my friend wanted to take a gander and I’m always happy to browse.
My cursory googling confirms that “Johnny Was” isn’t the founder’s name but taken from a Bob Marley song, they’ve been around since the 1980s (okay, that surprised me), and I smiled when I saw the literal phrase “boho chic” on their website, they’re owning the look. The thing I wanted most in the store was a bespoke (limited edition?) patchwork kimono that cost something like $3,000 which whoa I guess I won’t be buying … failing that, their fleece throw blankets are ridiculously soft and cozy, and they go on sale pretty regularly, I could see myself ending up with one of those since Patty wouldn’t let me steal hers no matter how much I whined during my visit last year.
Anyway. They have their own line of fragrances, I thought they would be fun to write about. And so here we are, only I won’t be taking the angle of approach I’d imagined.
I’m fascinated by the relationship of a brand and its perfume … let’s randomly take Chanel. For a lot of people who appreciate/covet the brand, maybe they’re never going to own a Chanel suit or handbag, but they could capture a bit of the brand magic in a bottle of Chanel perfume or some makeup. Buy your own bottle of No. 5 and get your own bit of luxury. When I sniff the Chanel oeuvre they (mostly) make sense – they fit in with what I think the line should smell like. They’re luxe, they can be a little aloof, a little daring, a little chilly … you get the idea. Their “classic” lineup fits the brand like a perfectly made leather glove.
So, these Johnny Was fragrances. They’re named things like Desert Moon, and Maui Coast, and hoo boy they are … not great. (Okay, fine, I went and looked: the actual names are Desert Night, Pacific Amber, Malibu Rose and Love 87, plus a couple extra room spray scents, they’re 50ml for $98, making them one of the cheapest things in the store.)
I mean, I wasn’t expecting to love them. I’d be shocked if I loved them, and then this would also be a very different review. But they were (at best) wan and thin and uninspiring, and at worst were sad and sour, and they seem so disconnected from the brand aesthetic which, love it or hate it, is bold and whimsical and has a strong point of view which is anything but boring. These scents, on the other hand, could have been in a mall shop – a cheap knockoff of something like Crabtree & Evelyn? — in the 1990s. They were bitter, dull, or both. They were muddled. My friend (a fellow perfumista!) confirmed I hadn’t lost my mind. I wish I had a photo of my face when I was smelling the worst one which I think was Love 87. We agreed that if we were forced to wear one it’d be Desert Night, with a runner up nod to Malibu Rose, and those were both slightly better in the rollerball than the spray, but I still wouldn’t wear it except under duress.
I’ve already spent more time (and more words, lucky you!) on these than I ever thought I would, but surveying this … situation, I can’t help but be fascinated that they’re so off-target. Maybe they’re for people who hate fragrance? I dunno. Here’s what I think they should smell like, off the top of my head:
Desert Night – white flowers, incense, heady, the exotic, “dramatic” one
Pacific Amber – amber and vanilla, perfectly fine if you like that sort of thing, the sweetly sexy one
Malibu Rose – rose, obviously, maybe a gourmand? Throw some vanilla musk in there, why not. The innocent flower-child one
Love 87 – patchouli made more current / less interesting, but it’s fine, it’s the “wild” one
Have you smelled any of these? Own any of the clothes? Is there a fragrance you’ve smelled that is related to a particular brand of clothing or jewelry or whatever that you thought was all wrong, or not what you were expecting?
images via Pexels and the Johnny Was website