Smells like … Fucking Fabulous

More than a decade ago, I was hired by a large US retailer to develop names for a new perfume the retailer was introducing. There was no actual fragrance for me to sniff, or even a list of ingredients—just a concept and a target audience. The “juice,” as it’s called in the business, would come later.

A few years after that project I attended a talk by a fragrance-industry consultant who told the audience that most perfumes are created that way now: first a mood board, then a name, and then, finally, the contents of the bottle.

Most perfumes. But not all. Not, for example, Fucking Fabulous, a unisex fragrance launched in 2017 by American fashion designer Tom Ford. In this case, the name came last.

The official line from the Tom Ford brand is that Fucking Fabulous is “undeniably the most straightforward name for a beautiful scent.” It’s a little too straightforward for many retailers. Bluemercury, an upscale beauty chain, bowdlerizes it as F’ing Fabulous (see image). Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, and Neiman Marcus just call it Fabulous, while depicting the bottle with the full name. Sephora, by contrast, minces no words: It’s Fucking all the way.

It may come as a shock to some of you to learn that no branding agency or professional naming consultant was involved in the creation of the Fucking Fabulous name. Au contraire, it was very much an inside job. Here’s how reporter Jane Larkworthy told the story for Coveteur in September 2017:

“We were sitting in a meeting smelling the fragrance and Tom said, ‘This is fucking fabulous,’” recalls John Demsey, executive group president of the Estee Lauder Companies, which owns Tom Ford Beauty. “I said, ‘Yeah, it is fucking fabulous.’ He said, ‘Well, why not [call it] Fucking Fabulous?’ So we did. It’s a descriptive. Some people talk about fragrance ingredients; we talk about how it smells.”

Demsey denied that there was anything prurient about the name. “Tom Ford is the consummate gentleman. No one cares more about manners than he does,” he told Larkworthy. “I understand that this could be offensive to people, but it’s been done in a super elegant, high-end way with good taste. There is a very fine line between what’s salacious and what’s pornographic, what’s erotic and what has a sense of humor. Tom is one of those people who has the ability to do both.”

The US Patent and Trademark Office evidently concurred, granting trademark approval to two trademarks (so far) for TOM FORD FUCKING FABULOUS, in March 2020 and September 2020, despite the first F-word and even though it could plausibly be contended that “fucking fabulous” is a generic term applicable to any fragrance that appeals to you. (See Anne Gilson LaLonde’s sweary-trademark posts for more on this subject.) In 2018, Tom Ford expanded “the Fucking Fabulous universe,” as Fashion Magazine put it, to include a candle, a body spray, and a red lipstick

For more insight into Tom Ford and Fucking Fabulous, I turned to Valerie Monroe, who was the beauty editor of O magazine for almost 16 years and who now publishes a newsletter whose content is as irreverent as its name: How Not to F*ck Up Your FaceClearly, she knows a thing or two about the beauty business and about the sweary lexicon. 

“Ford might have called the line I’m Coming on Your Face,” she told me in an email, “because he’s genius (or something) at pushing the limits of the ubiquitous underlying message of sexuality in beauty marketing.” (Before he launched his own brand in 2005, Ford was the creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, where he oversaw a series or erotic advertisements, many of which were banned by publications. None of the ads used any form of the F-word, though.)

“I don’t think he’s thumbing his nose at anyone in particular,” Ms. Monroe continued, “but he knows that sex sells and his style is very much redolent of Studio 54: glamorous, elite, crass, unbridled down-and-dirty, promoting a fantasy about having the privilege of ignoring boundaries because you’re rich or special in some way.

“Overall, I think of Ford as a little boy shouting swear words at his mother to get a reaction (sales). But I keep coming back to the idea for him, pushing boundaries is a way to differentiate himself, to make himself seem special, elite, above the law.”

It could be argued that, in his special, elite, super-elegant, high-end way, Ford is merely turning subtext into text. Old-school fragrances like Tabu (“the forbidden perfume,” introduced in 1932) and L’Interdit (literally “the forbidden,” launched in 1957) suggested sex, or sexiness, without spelling it out. Then, in 1999, the French company Nars Cosmetics introduced a blush called Orgasm—the name preceded the product, according to its creator, Francois Nars—which paved the way for beauty names like Threesome, Deep Throat, and Glow Job, which are leering but not sweary.

“The high street has embraced provocative and rude’ cosmetics, with brands such as Soap & Glory marketing innuendo-laden products, from Sexy Mother Pucker lip shine to Glow Job tinted foundation,” reported Leah Harper for the Guardian in 2017, around the time of Fucking Fabulous’s launch. That was more than two years before Gwyneth Paltrow began selling a candle called This Smells Like My Vagina. (“it did not smell like any vagina I’ver ever encountered,” Valerie Monroe told me, “though my experience is extremely limited.”)

That candle repeatedly sold out, and customers seem to have embraced Fucking Fabulous as well. “It was the name that caught my eye, and it smells fabulous,” enthused a Nordstrom customer who left a four-star review. “Don’t get caught up in the name of this parfum even though it may be a little shocking to some,” wrote another Nordstrom reviewer. (Dissenting views: “sophomoric product name” and “the name alone is so sad.”)

Is Fucking Fabulous vulgar or simply frank? Does a spritz of Fucking Fabulous bestow fabulosity on the wearer? And would it have made a difference if it were a drugstore brand priced at $25 instead a department-store brand that’ll set you back $500? Valerie Monroe has a philosophical take: Calling a perfume Fucking Fabulous “manifests the playful stripping away of whatever lay previously above the primal drive—all the trickery of makeup and scent and skincare—to make us seem like excellent reproductive choices.” Fabulous fuckers, in other words.

5 thoughts on “Smells like … Fucking Fabulous

    • Nancy Friedman July 27, 2022 / 2:10 pm

      Apologies! That was a case of premature publication.

      Like

  1. Patrick Collins July 27, 2022 / 7:23 pm

    Searching Fragrantica for Fucking also brings up the unisex perfume Slut by Aaron Terence Hughes.

    “Slut dominates and gets stronger as you heat up making it suitable for sex, dates or when you want to impress and dominate a room.” If there is one thing that would make me hate someone and feel physically sick it is them dominating a room with their perfume.

    That brand also have ones called Filth, Boss Bastard and the more expensive Boss Bitch. The expense being justified by the oud content, which I do like a lot. It is a shame that good oud is so terribly rare and everyone else likes it as well. Though it does have a potent sedative effect like an antipsychotic tranquilliser so it is probably not good to be around all the time. Also, possible consent issues?

    The Fucking Fabulous would not smell the same to me as I can’t smell the major component of orris root. Leather does not have sexual connotations for me, though it does for many fetishists. Tonka bean and lavender leave me cold as well, though I am sure their mixture with a slew of the usual synthetics perks them up.

    The clary sage content may mean you should avoid alcohol as it has a strange effect when breathed in and alcohol is drunk. The most boring and tedious hallucinations I have ever experienced. No fun at all and possibly more unpredictably dangerous when operating cars or machinery.

    It would have to be rather marvellous to be worth £240 ($292) for 50ml. As usual, you are paying mostly for the name and the design of the bottle.

    They also list a Fucking Fabulous Beard Oil, though currently sold out.

    Like

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