What's So New About Givenchy Pi Neo?


You might as well admit it. You have a guilty pleasure. Maybe it's the Big Mac. Maybe it's the Whopper. If you're a vegetarian, maybe it's those straight-to-the-hips seasoned fries. It's something you're not proud of liking, and it's probably mass-market stuff.

Well, my guilty pleasure is a designer fragrance - Givenchy Pi Neo.

What? Why on Earth would I feel guilty about liking an expensive fragrance from a respected designer house?

It's a long story. The short version is this: There was a lot of anticipation that Pi Neo would not only be the big new release of 2008, but that it would actually live up to the "Neo" part of its name. People expected that Pi Neo would be both classic, in the sense of its older brother Pi, and also something novel, as befitting anything "neo".

In the end, it seemed to be neither. "Generic", "boring", "woody", "fresh", "marine", etc. I didn't get the marine aspect until months later, when my nose was significantly more trained. I did get the woody part right away. But what struck me was the similarity to Armani Code, which features a super-powdery, vanillic combination of guaiac wood and benzoin. Later, I found striking similarities to Emporio Armani Diamonds For Men and (of all things) Tim McGraw's celebrity scent, McGraw. Neo? No way. Although I love Code, I had no intention of buying something so similar. It would be like buying a Big and Tasty when I already had a Whopper.

Still, I loved smelling Pi Neo on my arm. My fragrance buddy at work liked it, too. I gave him a spare sample, but with some sadness. I found myself sniffing the empty sample foil for days after the juice was gone. Maybe I should have waited, and not bought Armani Code so quickly, but perhaps gotten Pi Neo instead. I almost regretted buying Code, despite loving it so much. I kept putting off using my last sample of Pi Neo - saving it like a miser's last penny. Finally, I admitted to myself what I knew all along - that I loved the scent. I felt like the heroine of a romance, who finally admits to herself that she's hot for the annoyingly self-confident hero. At that point, I knew that I was going to buy Pi Neo. It was only a matter of when.

On the day that I used my last sample, I went to the Givenchy website to get an image of Pi Neo for my Scent-of-the-Day bottle picture. That's when I finally figured out what's so "neo" about Pi Neo. And then, when I went to the store to buy it, that's when I figured out what's up with "Pi".

Allow me to explain...


There are several common threads in the writings of the major fragrance critics. One of them is that fragrance houses need to be more up-front about the use of synthetics. Despite the fact that modern fine fragrances are built - lock, stock, and barrel - using synthetics, there is a reluctance to tell the consumer about it. Hiding behind a slew of naturally-named notes, many if not most of which are produced by synthetics, the makers seem intent on letting consumers delude themselves as to the composition of modern scents, which simply could not exist without heavy reliance on synthetic components. Even among perfumistas and cologniacs, there are only a few synthetics which have gained much mindshare - hedione and Iso E Super® probably being the foremost. Somebody - Burr, I think - said it's as if we prefer to think that still-life paintings are being done with fruit juice, rather than with colored pigments.

Now personally, being a chemist, I find synthetics to be just as beautiful as natural oils. So as I looked at the note pyramid for Pi Neo on the Givenchy website, I almost missed something. In fact, I had already left the site and moved on before I realized that Givenchy had done something very interesting. They had embraced - publicly - the use of synthetics in Pi Neo.

Consider Givenchy's description of Pi Neo on their website (see "Time: The Fragrance").


Pi Neo is an explosive woody eau de toilette that projects masculinity into a new, previously uncharted dimension, defining a visionary and conquering man.

A fragrance created from the unique combination of captivating high-tech ingredients and the most beautiful natural substances:

High-tech ingredients? What exactly do they mean? Well, let's look more closely. The visitor to the website can click on the top, middle, or bottom of the image of a tetrahedral pyramid, to see the components of the top, middle, and base notes.


The opening is explosive and luminous and offers a unique and striking lift.

* Natural Raw Material
A sparkling citrusy/freshness of Mandarin and Bergamot

* High-Tech Ingredient
A powerful, fresh, aromatic and highly persistent high-tech note, Toscanol boldly opens the fragrance.

What's Toscanol™? Well, here's the structure:



This molecule is similar to anethole and anisole - one a powerful aroma compound in anise and star anise, the other its "core" structure.


Anethole | Anisole


A real sensation of the right balance between cutting-edge technology and nature in the middle notes.

* Natural Raw Material
The fragrance evolves first into woody notes based on Cedar and later aromatic tones of Myrtle.

* High-Tech Ingredient
A captivating sensual note with modern leather and tobacco accents, Safraleine adds the rich woody harmony of Cedar and Patchouli to the Pi Neo line.

Safraleine™ has this structure:



Note this molecule's rough structural similarity to the substances most responsible for the aroma and taste of saffron - safranal and picrocrocin:


safranal | picrocrocin


* Natural Raw Material
Finally, the base notes reveal a new gentle balsamic character marked by the unique nobility of an exclusive Vanilla extract derived from Benzoin and Patchouli, which give the fragrance its force.

* High-Tech Ingredient
An intensely captivating and diffusive musk, Cosmone guarantees an ongoing sensation of well-being.

Givaudan doesn't have a page yet for Cosmone™ ((Z)-3-methyl-cyclotetradec-5-en-1-one). Here is a link to the original US patent for Cosmone™. There, the scent is described as "...strongly musk-like (nitromusk), powder-like..". Here's the structure:



You can see that it's a macrocyclic (big-ring) musk, not a nitro musk (-NO2 groups). Note the similarity to natural muscone and civetone:


muscone | civetone

At long last, I found out what it is that I love about this fragrance - the powdery musk note of Cosmone™. I had assumed that the benzoin-derived vanilla was the sole source of the powder note I love. Now I see that there is powdery harmony among the base notes!

Whether or not Givenchy is following the urgings of the critics to be more open about the use of synthetics, it's clear that Givenchy is embracing synthetics in at least some marketing.


This part is easy. Before I bought my bottle of Pi Neo in Macy's, I took a moment to spray both Pi and Pi Neo on my arms. That is when I remembered the true nature of Pi - a cross between a classic 80's/90's oriental masculine and a vanilla monster. Side by side, I didn't need the note pyramid to realize that vanilla is the homage to the original Pi.

Thus, I have finally come to believe that Pi Neo is both - just not in the way I expected. The classic, golden, musky vanilla masculine was transformed into a woody, aquatic, neo-musky vanilla masculine, and although the woody/aquatic/vanilla field is getting a bit crowded, it's certainly a marketable place to be. But the true novelty is not the fragrance itself - it's the fact that Givenchy boldly proclaims three organic molecules as objects of sensuous desire, right along with "sparkling bergamot", "tones of myrtle", and the "nobility of an exclusive vanilla extract". "Bold" Toscanol ... "rich" Safraleine ... "captivating" Cosmone. C'mon, my fellow geeks - what's not to love? ;)

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