LA STRADA DI GIO ~ Acqua di Gio by Armani



Eons of erosion and salty breakers have formed the cliffs along the Amalfi coast. Tourists from around the globe flock to this spot on the Italian map where the mountains dive from precipitous heights like suicide bombers into the Tyrrhenian Sea. Neptune fans the ragged rocks with a glittering saline spay like diamonds from the deep. Rocky small beaches challenge one to find a comfortable spot to lie under the bronze eye of the sun.  The one narrow road from Castelammare di Stabia to Vietri Sul Mare, the Via Mauro Comite is jammed with Vespas, Italian sports cars, and tour buses the size of small yachts. Hairpin turns and blind corners dare drivers to great speed and daring maneuvers. The tour buses lumber along and lean out on turns threatening to dive into the sea with all aboard.  The wondrous natural beauty of this garden of lemons and lime trees, flowers, fruits and scrubby trees is inundated year round by the masses seeking to find some little corner of the real and personal beauty of this legendary coast.  It has been like this since the days of the Romans.



High above the Via Mauro Comite and even further up than most would dare to go is a small sanitarium. It is a place where people go to recover from a long illness. Small cell like rooms open on to a terrace with views that seem to reach out to touch the very shores of Africa. Something left over from the late 19th Century, deserted now of the sick and in a limbo of antiseptic dreams it is waiting its turn to be transformed into a small tourist hotel. The quiet elegance of the place will soon be overrun by the fast money and hubbub clamor of the tourist trade and those who want to be where everyone else is going. What was once unique and apart is now copied and emulated until the original becomes mundane. But up here from high above the clamor of the masses in this place that will soon be transformed into the ordinary it is still possible to close your eyes, take a deep breath and smell what was once so rare.


Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani was first introduced in 1996, the nose behind the fragrance was Alberto Morillas the creator of so many classics, among them the legendary M7 for Yves Saint Laurent. Acqua di Gio was ground breaking and original with the introduction of the oceanic note and from its creation sprung a whole pantheon of imitators. It is so popular that reportedly a bottle is sold on this planet every five seconds. This perfume stands in legend like Chanel No.5 does for women, as the go to scent for men; what can you say about it?

It smells nice. It smells like a vacation at the beach. It smells ordinary in its extraordinary nature due to the fact that it is so copied and that is a shame. For in retrospect we are blinded by the imitators. Having smelled its clones by other houses, a few of which I own it is next to impossible to be objective. We have to travel back in time 17 years and clear our minds and try.
It opens with an antiseptic camphor blast, like a medicinal menthol that expands the sinus. This introduction fades to lemons and limes and a cocktail of citrus with a jasmine flower nestled in cooling ice. Then in the middle the Calone molecule induced sea air rises with an Oceanic note and carries with it the summery blooms of Mediterranean Mignonette, green peppery Freesia, lush mysterious Cyclamen, Violets, a drunk on summer Hyacinth, roses, wild rosemary and even more jasmine all woven into a garland jauntily placed upon the head of a tanned youth eating a juicy warm peach. He may even have dusted that peach with a bit of nutmeg. The dry down is a solid foundation of amber, patchouli, Oakmoss, cedar and a clean fresh musk. This is all very predictable .


Once worn for the day one can see the dull appeal this has to its wide range of admirers. It is supremely safe and unchallenging to the nose. A perfect introduction to those new and nervous to the world of scent, teenage boys I am told bath in it. Acqua di Gio is “classic” in this sense and has a sophistication in the way it was created by a master nose but unsophisticated in the results. Like the Amalfi coast has a reputation of great beauty and excitement and for that reason the beach is very crowded. When you get there you discover it is not Amalfi after all, but Coney Island.




****revised 1/7/13 to clarify my position on this fragrance*****



  1. Ah, Lanier, chéri, only *you* could make a scent that I despise above all others seem tangentially or half-way interesting. Alas, not even you can manage fully to make me think positively of this….this… thing. And the fact that a bottle of it is supposedly sold every five seconds…. *bone deep shudder* I commend you for truly trying and for making every attempt to be objective, as if smelling it for the first time 16 years ago. Bravo!! Now, I realise that you’re still not enamoured of it and that you gave it only 3 stars, but the very attempt to give it a fair shot is impressive. It makes me admire, respect and like you all the more. xoxoxo

    • Merci mon chéri! I wanted to rise above my prejudice of it being so middle of the road and its cult like popularity. I don’t hate it but I would never buy it either. Yet when I received a sample I was curious to see what all the yeehaw was about. It is the Chicago style hot dog of men’s perfume.

      • Celery salt, yellow mustard, chopped onions, pickled peppers, and a steamed dog on a poppy seed bun. I don’t know that I’d rub it behind my ears but it sure is tasty! I like your description of freesia and camphor spiked ocean air better 😉 heck, that I would bathe in 🙂

      • If it were just middle of the road, perhaps I wouldn’t despise it so much. It’s the melon-aquatic-laundry detergent notes (and that blasted Calone) that I cannot stand. And the fact that it triggered an avalanche of laundry-detergent soapy scents drives me to utter madness. I think I almost prefer the horrific, nerve-gas sugar-bomb toxicity of Angel and its 18 million flankers to the revolting Acqua di Gio. At least that one tries to be a perfume, whereas Acqua di Gio triggered the synthetic “Clean, Fresh, Tide/Febreeze/Bouncy” decade that seemingly never ends. In short, I blame it, as much as IFRA, for much of the ills of the modern perfume world. *grin* 😉

      • I’m no fan of Angel, or indeed A*Men – though I own the latter. But you’re right, they aspire, they have complexity, depth and ambition. They are also, after a fashion works of compositional experiment. This a is simple idea done too simply.

        Imagine if when aldehyde had been developed it had been rendered so barely? Ghastly.

  2. Yes, it’s a classic! And thanks for the beautiful pics from another … classic Italian land…

  3. First things first. A splendid review.

    The analogy with Amalfi is a great one for the way we should approach this scent – stripping back the crowds to peer at the beauty of the place – removing the steady accretion of unwise hotel developments to perceive the splendor of the cliffs.

    There’s just one problem. When you take away the tourists and the hotels from the actual Amalfi you have the near see-the-Neapolitan-coast-and-die experience.

    When you take the hoards of teenagers and the forests of advertising away from AdG you’re left only with the Tide – but the one that washes your clothes brighter rather than laps those stunning shores.

    Pure detergent.

    If they made Dove soap into an Eau de Toilette this would have it’s perfect life partner.

    Unlike some others I’m not necessarily opposed to the genre. But this is just so breathtakingly banal it’s almost caustic in its complacency.

    Brave try but no one can save this from itself

    • I guess I was not very clear in my review. I too think it banal. Perhaps I should have ended it with, “Like the Amalfi coast has a reputation of great beauty and excitement and for that reason the beach is very crowded. When you get there you discover it is not Amalfi after all, but Coney Island.

  4. Two bronze stars!!

    Now that’s a conclusion I wholeheartedly agree with for Gio – not for the Neapolitan coast, especially not for Italy. They’re both much better.

    But the review itself was pure magic and an intriguing approach to reviewing an over-familiar feature on the olfactory landscape.

    • Thank you for your help in clarifying my points. You are a gem!

  5. I agree with Kafkaesque above: your wonderful post made me want to go back and revisit a scent that I swore I would only smell again under duress. The ubiquity, the imitators, it was everywhere and on everyone when I was in high school. It definitely takes strong writing like yours to make us set prejudices aside and remember how ground-breaking it was!

    • Yes it was groundbreaking …but too much Acqua has gone under the bridge and were are now here with much better scents to wear.

  6. Sorry, but I must agree with kakfaesque, I just don’t know why I don’t like either GA or CK’s scents. I had no idea about how fast/often Acqua de Gio got to the mainstream, literally. Reading your texts, a glass of Chianti, some olives, tomatoes with olive oli and fresh basil, Sergio Endrigo singing Io che amo solo te …and we are in Italy. Grazie mille, bello.

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