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Gz Stuff

11 Iconic Perfumes of the ’80s

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Gz Stuff

There was nothing understated about the ’80s, and the scents of the decade—both designer and drugstore—definitely reflected its brashness. Big hair, boxy shoulder pads, and power suits had nothing on the big, powerful, and melodramatically potent perfumes that made a grand entrance long before their wearers. “The American woman has acquired a taste for eaux de toilettes and colognes that are unusually strong and lasting,” The New York Times reported in 1988. What the Times didn’t mention was that many men’s fragrances had become equally brazen.

It wasn’t only the robust odors themselves that gave shape to an era, but also the controversy of their names, the decadence of their ad campaigns, and their ability to spark rabid loyalty in consumers (so much so that one celebrity was even buried with a bottle of his favorite eau de ’80s.) Here are 11 bodacious scents that were the quintessence of the “Me” Decade.


For Opium’s 1977 launch party, Yves Saint Laurent rented a ship called the Peking to sail New York’s East Harbor, with Truman Capote as its captain. The boat was draped in rich red, gold, and purple, while an enormous statue of the Buddha rounded out what the media would describe as its “Oriental theme.” The Los Angeles Times would report a Studio 54-esque atmosphere: “More people were snorting cocaine in the bathroom than ingesting 13,000 oysters, clams, and mussels on the disco deck. People were actually having sex on a lower deck.” Diana Vreeland was on board the ship, and model Jerry Hall, who began dating Mick Jagger around the same time, was the face of the ad campaign.

Despite the perfume’s heady air of sex, drugs and glamour, not everyone wanted to join the party. Offended by the name, a group of Chinese Americans formed what they called the American Coalition Against “Opium” and Drug Abuse and boycotted the perfume, claiming that Yves Saint Laurent was glamorizing drug use and showing insensitivity to the Opium Wars that took place in 19th-century China.

The controversy did little to curb the perfume’s market appeal, and the spicy, lingering scent became an ’80s powerhouse, paving the way for equally audacious perfumes. Opium hadn’t, however, experienced its last brush with controversy. Other groups would complain of Opium’s tawdry sexuality and glorification of drug use well into the 2000s.


Long before Opium used envelope-pushing sexuality in its ads, Calvin Klein’s Obsession became synonymous with commercial eroticism. The first ads, shot in 1985 by photographer Bruce Weber, depicted several naked bodies tangled together in—it wasn’t much of a stretch to assume—an orgy. A slightly later advertisement showed a naked couple facing each other on a swing, their groins pressed together. According to Tom Reichert in his book The Erotic History of Advertising, Obsession launched not long after Klein’s divorce, during a period when the designer was admittedly engaging in “anything goes” promiscuity. “Obsession was about insanity, not just my own personal insanity,” Klein is quoted. “It was society’s obsession with work and love.”


Calvin Klein may have pushed some boundaries with Obsession, but drugstore teen fragrance Love’s Baby Soft went so far over the line of decency with its first ad campaign in the ’70s that it can only be described these days as an epic fail. Or, in the words of Fast Company, “one of the creepiest ads of all time.”

Somehow, however, Love’s Baby Soft managed to become a true ’80s power perfume among the tween (or “preteen,” as the age group was called back then) and teen set. It probably helped that the perfume itself smelled like the lid had blasted off an economy-size bottle of baby powder and heavily dusted the person wearing it. It also most definitely helped that Love’s had dramatically changed its ad campaign to depict a tomboyish yet very stylish girl, hanging with the guys, accompanied by the slogan, “Underneath it all, she’s baby soft.”


The only thing truly worth talking about when it comes to Christian Dior’s 1985 perfume Poison was its immediately recognizable and indescribably heavy yet mutable smell. While Love’s Baby Soft delivered a baby-powder bomb, Poison was nuclear grape gum. It was a scent that elbowed its way into a room, monopolized the conversation, and (maybe charmingly) overstayed its welcome. It could be deliciously intoxicating and nauseatingly headache-inducing. It could smell like the best combination of sex and danger, or it could smell like that aging aunt who flirted with all your professors at graduation.


In a 1972 trend piece about musk oil having recently become popular, TIME quoted Bernard Mitchell, president of Jovan, Inc., as saying, “The scent will stay with you maybe four days. It doesn’t wash off when you swim or bathe.” Based on its potency alone, Jovan Musk was certainly positioned to transition from a mere patchouli alternative (it was the ‘70s, man) to an ’80s power perfume. But then enter the Rolling Stones, and Jovan Musk truly became a contender.

In 1981, Jovan paid the Rolling Stones $1 million to put the brand’s name on the tickets sold during the band’s American “Tattoo You” tour. It was the first brand to sponsor a rock tour, and the practice soon became a music-industry standard. In a November 2009 article, Guardian rock critic Alexis Petridis referred to Jovan Musk as cheap cologne and wrote of the corporate sponsorship, “Here was early evidence of the Stones’ redoubtable refusal to let dignity get in the way of making cash.” Though the Stones probably couldn’t lend Jovan the cachet of parfums like Opium, Obsession, or Poison, the band did give it some clout at the drugstore.

Jovan didn’t stop at celebrity endorsements in its appeal to ’80s consumers; it also jumped on the sexy train. After creating an over-the-top 1984 commercial (above) featuring a jingle that actually included the phrase “Sexy-igniting!,” in 1987 Jovan hired Adrian Lyne, director of steamy ’80s blockbusters Flashdance, 9½ Weeks, and Fatal Attraction, to create a commercial with the theme of “What Is Sexy?” The question was answered rapid-fire with 29 images in 30 dizzying seconds.


While garish sexuality was practically a guaranteed seller of scents in the ’80s, unabashed status was its own powerful market force. And nothing said status like Giorgio.

Bearing the name and signature yellow-and-white stripes of one of Beverly Hills’ most exclusive boutiques, the strong, sweet, and instantly distinguishable floral smell of Giorgio could be yours at only $150 an ounce. And the brand didn’t even have to pay for celebrity endorsement. Giorgio boutique owner Fred Hayman told the New York Times that, as soon as the perfume launched, Hollywood “tastesetters” began wearing it and telling others about it. The newspaper pointed out in the same 1986 story that the perfume was now everywhere: “Farrah Fawcett wears it, Jacqueline Bisset wears it, even Michael Jackson wears it. It has become so recognizable that doormen and cab drivers have been known to call out ‘Giorgio’ when women wearing it walk by.”

Not everyone in New York took a nose full of Giorgio with the same good humor as the city’s doormen and cab drivers. Restaurateur Richard Lavin of Lavin’s Restaurant and Wine Bar banned the perfume specifically (along with any patchouli-scented substances) from his 39th Street establishment, telling the Los Angeles Times in 1986 that he had received letters of support from all over the country.


With designer perfumes like Giorgio having become so strong and so distinguishable that one whiff allowed for instant brand recognition, packaging mattered less and the market was flooded with olfactory copycats. Though designers tried to tamp down on imitators, they couldn’t because scents in perfumes can’t be trademarked.

One of the leading lines of mimickers, branded Designer Imposters by a Connecticut company called Parfums de Coeur, became a drugstore fixture. Among the first products were an Opium imposter called Ninja, an Obsession knockoff called Confess, and a Giorgio imitator whose aluminum spray can boasted the slogan, “If you like Giorgio, you’ll love Primo!”


If Designer Imposters was the mass market’s answer to the primo classiness of women’s designer perfumes, then Brut was its answer to premium pour homme. Though the cologne initially launched in the early ’60s (Elvis was a fan), everything about Brut made it an ’80s power player. Brut champagne was the inspiration for its vibe as well as its bottle’s design (even though that bottle was sometimes part of a value pack that included soap-on-a-rope). It was strong in an eyebrow-singeing way. And it was teeming with the promise of sex. As Rob Hiaasen wrote in The Baltimore Sun, “We all saw the TV ads. Joe Namath used Brut, and we all knew how Joe did in the babe department. Why, the poor man could barely walk.”


Launched in 1985, Estee Lauder’s Beautiful stood conspicuously apart from other ’80s perfumes. Though it was strong (it was a blend of 2000 flowers), it wasn’t as bold or sexually aggressive as scents like Opium, Poison, or Giorgio. And its ad campaign reflected its relatively prim attitude. Instead of featuring the naked bodies, stalking panthers and Garden of Eden images its competitors adored, Beautiful was all about weddings. Its TV commercials, like the one above, always played on some variation of a bridal theme. The brand also staged “weddings” in department stores to promote the fragrance.

Though its message was comparatively square, the perfume found a seemingly odd fan in Andy Warhol. The year the scent first emerged, Warhol was, according to the New York Times, spotted at a party with a bottle of the perfume, spraying it liberally about the room. “It’s all in the name, you know. People can say you smell Beautiful,” he said. “I was thinking it might be fun to start my own perfume line and call it Stink.” Warhol was a serious connoisseur of perfumes, so it was perhaps a particular honor to Beautiful that he was buried with a bottle when he died in 1987.

And as it was with many of the things Warhol favored during his lifetime, Beautiful wound up being ahead of the curve. A few years later, Calvin Klein would introduce Eternity, a scent with a very different message from that of Obsession. “Spirituality…love…marriage…commitment. I think that is the feeling that is happening all across the country,” Klein is quoted in Obsession: The Lives and Times of Calvin Klein. “I’m projecting where America will be, what people will be thinking in the next five years,” Klein said. “What happened after the sexual revolution? After all, with AIDS, with people now being afraid of having sex with a lot of people, [people are] are thinking about romance and thinking about commitment.”


Though the adult perfume market was morphing, by the end of the decade much about teenage fragrances had remained the same. When Debbie Gibson launched Electric Youth in 1989 to coincide with her eponymous album, song, and music video, the teen pop sensation’s look was uncannily similar to that of the tomboyish Love’s Baby Soft girl, right down to the hat. The perfume itself was just as strong as Baby Soft, only this one smelled like cotton candy that had forgotten to take its Ritalin. What was groundbreaking, however, was that Gibson was one of the very first celebrities to have a perfume created specifically to complement the launch of an artistic endeavor. Today, it’s commonplace, with everyone from Britney Spears to Justin Bieber to Nicki Minaj shilling signature scents alongside similarly themed albums.


Though it first launched in 1982, designer Guy Laroche’s clean-smelling Drakkar Noir didn’t seem to get the same attention as heavier designer colognes like Obsession for Men or Giorgio’s men’s offering. But in the late ’80s, it seemed to be everywhere, possibly because, like Beautiful, it was a little subtler. While Joe Namath strutted about town collecting babes in the name of Brut, the Drakkar Noir man was an aloof type, attracting women with his quiet, brooding magnetism. It was a cool, mysterious, and truly sexy status scent that was perfectly described by Jeremy Berger on “Think of it as a combination of Mike Tyson’s sweat, Gordon Gekko’s power, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Primary image courtesy of GZStuff.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.