Maxx by Avon (1996)

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Avon Maxx (1996) is the poster child for Avon’s “malaise” era weirdness, arriving at the tail-end of a creative spiral the company was trying to right itself out of after unsuccessfully attempting to join the luxury market with designer brand acquisitions. By 1996, Avon had ended collaborations with celebrities and designers, plus sold off its stakes in Parfums Stern, Giorgio Beverly Hills, plus Tiffany & Co. Avon was just handling its own affairs by then, with creative direction help from Ann Gottleib, who came on board to help the brand as they transitioned from internal development of fragrance to contracting out like other major players, using IFF, Mane, Givaudan, and others. I don’t know who perfumed or created Maxx, but it does look painfully 80’s in color and design graphically, even if the smell is right in that 90’s fresh fougère pocket where it needed to be. Like Mesmerize for Men (1992) before it, Maxx was one of the new rare examples of Avon giving a men’s release a bespoke natural spray bottle of its own, something it had been doing for women’s fragrances for decades. This goes contrary to the tradition of Avon sticking men’s fragrances in unique splash bottles and only giving them sprays in the form of generic, cheap-looking “pill bottles” if they do well. Image does sell an Avon fragrance equally as the smell if not more, since many are bought blind from the catalog without being sampled and given away as gifts to men, rather than being purchased by men directly. Because of this, I don’t know how many ladies saw this tacky 80’s holdover bottle and went “let me get that one for hubby”, making Maxx a bit on the rare side all these years later.

The basic construction of Maxx falls somewhere between the style of Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein (1989) and Paco Rabanne XS pour Homme (1993), with little stylistic flourishes that also make it reminisent of the concurrently-released Curve for Men by Liz Claiborne (1996). Begamot and metallic aldehydes that shimmer with acetates and a tiny sliver of calone-1951 introduce a very fresh and vibrant lavender, joined by geranium and a small touch of what feels like violet leaf. Hedione is also here to give lift, with a speck of vetiver and sage too. Claiborne Sport by Liz Claiborne (1997) would surface the next year and swap out violet for tomato leaf in a formula very similar to this, and of course the base is a bog-standard 90’s fresh fougère foundation of white musks, synthetic woody materials, a sliver of oakmoss and tonka, plus all the usual shiny L-words that today would get listed as allergens on the box but didn’t back then. Avon Maxx is as competent a daily-driver as one can expect from this genre regardless of brand, sitting alongside similar entries from Bob Mackie, Salvador Dali, Mary Kay, Burberry, Yves Rocher, Perry Ellis, and even Chanel, that all littered the decade. Best use is as a year-round daytime work scent, or something casual to slack off in when you’re not feeling like being engaged. Creed Himalaya (2002) is the “niche quality” take on this style, if you’re curious, but Avon Maxx does the same job for far less, even as a long-discontinued vintage. Performance is pretty moderate all around, but projection here does die a bit earlier than some of the others, with Maxx being a skin scent past 2 hours that goes for about 7 in total.

Avon was smart on one hand to enter the fresh fougère game, although stupid on the other hand by using what looks to be unused packaging designs held over from the previous decade. Avon from the mid 1980’s either had trouble with what felt like old unused formulas in modern packages or reasonably-modern fragrances for the time in really dated packaging, as if they just could not throw anything away that they had spent R&D money on, to maximize return on investment with the pittance they charged for their fragrances to start. Women’s scent didn’t have quite as much stylistic recycling, because they were money-makers, along with the empire of cheap makeup the brand had started to lean into more than the fragrance by that point; but when it came to men’s fragrance, the brand wasn’t really trying anymore when not forced to by Gottleib. In conclusion, if you can look past the shape and color scheme of the bottle, what you get inside is something that should have been a huge success for the brand yet somehow wasn’t. Maybe this stuff was overshadowed by the Olympics-themed Pro Fitness (1996) released in the same year, as Avon won a sponsorship spot for the US team in the Lillehammer winter games, acting as a relevancy lifeline for the brand until the 2000’s came along. If the scent of Maxx had been put in a bottle more like Pro Fitness, it might have been a big enough hit to stay around even to this day, like many of the fresh fougères it ran against in the 90’s that linger in the market decades on. On the other hand, with the glut of affordable designer freshie choices now in discounters, did Maxx really ever stand a chance at all? Thumbs up

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