Maybe. It depends how you reason it. If you say that Sauvage is perfume and perfume is art, then, logically, Sauvage is art. This statement is the same as saying that your 13-year-old niece's selfie is a photo and since photography is art, then her selfie is art too. It's the same logic but you know that the statement is not true.
It comes down to this: whether Sauvage is art depends on how you define art. If you define it as the process of creating something that keeps a perfume brand relevant, then, Sauvage is exactly that. If you define it as the product of masterfully reproducing a concept of a fragrance that has been done ad nauseam, then, you've got nothing but art on your hands. If you define art, however, the way the Oxford Dictionary defines it, then you might be facing an uphill battle to justify Sauvage as art.
Here's this inconvenient definition:
[Art is] the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty and emotional power.
The Oxford Dictionary gives three other definitions of art but they are not much different than the first one.
Knowing the definition of something, however, doesn't mean much unless we understand it. Just like many other definitions, this one is made up of several key components. If Sauvage meets the criteria of each component, then, the fragrance is truly a piece of art. The hell with it, let's lower the bar and check if Sauvage meets half of the criteria and we'll recognize it as art.
In the case of the definition of art, I find two key components that make the core of it:
- Art is the expression of human creative skill and imagination...
- producing works to be appreciated for their beauty and emotional power.
I'm not too concerned about the part "typically in a visual form". For the longest time perfumery has been treated as the less talented sibling dwarfed in the presence of its spectacular brothers - visual art and music. Besides, I don't think anyone could seriously dispute that it is only the visual arts that meet the definition. The keyword that gives the Oxford scholars a way out in this definition is "typically".
Now that we know what art means, let's see if Sauvage meets this definition:
Art is the Expression of Human Creative Skill and Imagination
The key words here are "creative" and "imagination". Creative is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something". Imagination is "the faculty or action of forming new ideas."
So, is Sauvage the result of a human creative skill and imagination?
I don't think there is any dispute that Sauvage was produced by a human - Francois Demachy - even though many would argue that his skill in perfumery makes him something of a demi-god.
I don't have any issue with the fact that Sauvage was created by a human. Things get harder for me when I try to explain to myself how Sauvage fits the idea of being a product of creative skill and imagination. As we saw in the definition, creative skill and imagination both have to do with "original ideas" and the formation of "new ideas". I don't find anything novel or original about Sauvage.
I read the copy of Sauvage's marketing materials and I look at the pictures of the bad-ass Johnny Depp and I wonder if they were written for a different fragrance and somehow got mismatched. Sauvage is the same hum-drum citrus/white musk fragrance that has come in slight variations under other designer names for the last five years.
You want a fresh clean smell? Get Sauvage, or Mr. Burberry, or Light Blue pour Homme, or pretty much anything from Issey Miyake. Which one you pick doesn't matter - you get the same treat in a different bottle.
So, to answer the question bluntly - no, Sauvage is not a product of creative skill and imagination. The only creative skill and imagination in the process of creating this fragrance was that of the accountants who had to figure out how to produce something passable for as little money as possible.
Producing Work to be Appreciated for their Beauty and Emotional Power
Before writing this, I tried to read as many reviews of Sauvage as possible.
Victoria from Bois de Jasmin calls it dull and explains, "I tried my best to find something good about Sauvage. The sample has been sitting on my desk for a month, but whenever I reached for it, I could only reflect that Dior couldn’t sink any lower." (Read her full review here.)
Persolaise puts it very well by saying "There's no soul here, only a bid for the reassuring comfort of the mundane." He hits the nail on the head with "Sauvage is the morning commute on the train." I strongly suggest reading his full review. It's hilarious.
Mark Behnke finds Sauvage pleasant but utterly unoriginal - trying to be everything to everyone. He explains that Sauvage was a fragrance created for the guy with only one bottle on his dresser. Here's the full review.
The common theme in these reviews and many others is that Sauvage is boring, unoriginal but yet pleasant in a generic kind of way - like a lukewarm coffee from a vending machine - not bad enough to spit it out but not good enough to enjoy it.
To sum it up, Sauvage is hardly creative or original and is not the type of fragrance that one appreciates for its beauty and emotional power (Sauvage has the emotional power of waiting in line at the DMV).
If you haven't gotten the gist, Sauvage is far removed from the definition of art. Google "Dior Sauvage Reviews" and you'll find out that this is not just my opinion but the general consensus.
The question that remains is how come a leading perfume house with a highly skilled in-house perfumer creates something so unspectacular? The answer is two-fold:
First, Dior Parfums is an LVMH company. Unlike other luxury brand that try to preserve some sense of artistry and originality, LVHM is all about the money. In other words, their modus operandi is to squeeze out as much profit out of a brand as possible, regardless the damage in the long-run.
From a business perspective, the best product is the one that appeals to the broadest possible audience. This belief drives Swiffer and many mass-market brands.
From the point of view of a market-share maximization, Sauvage makes sense. It draws broad appeal and sells well - just like a Kraft cheese dinner - liked by many, loved by none.
Second, Dior Parfums hasn't had a significant flagship release for its men's line since 2005. The original Dior Homme came out eleven years ago and more or less every year after it was followed by a flanker or a reformulated version of the original. I imagine part of the motivation for releasing Sauvage is to give the brand a fresh start.
Dior is not be the first brand to try to reinvent itself by swiping the slate clean. The idea behind any slate cleaning is to come up with something different and better. Not the case with Dior. If Dior was getting some flack for messing with their masterpiece, Dior Homme, they definitely got some serious hate for falling so low with Sauvage.
The blame for Sauvage falls squarely on Dior Parfums and LVMH. When it comes to mediocre perfumes, it is natural to blame the perfumer, as the mastermind behind the fragrance. I don't think this is the case with Francois Demachy. He has proven time and again that he has more than enough talent and skill to produce true masterpieces (think Dior Homme Parfum). Even the greatest genius, however, will produce a lackluster product when given a skinny budget and strict instructions to produce a crowd-pleaser.
Sauvage is not an isolated case of misjudgment. Burberry followed Dior's example and in February 2016 released Mr. Burberry - equally uninspiring aromatic citrus that evokes the colour grey. Ginvenchy is following suit by releasing blander versions of the not-so-great Gentlemen Only.
Overall, the trend of playing-it-safe has gripped the industry and is not likely to let it go soon. Until then, we'll have to keep looking for rare gems like Bottega Veneta pour Homme Essence Aromatique in the sea of mediocrity.