I bought my first bottle of Safari by Ralph Lauren soon after it came out because I loved his original Lauren. I also liked the romance behind the name- probably because I was thinking about the imagery in Out Of Africa, Robert Redford and that wonderful scene where he washes Meryl Streep's hair. In my teenager mind it was the most romantic thing ever (still do, actually. But to this day there has never been a man brave enough to face my 2.5' of waves and curls). I wanted Safari to evoke just that.
I remember thinking back then that Safari was a little too pretty. I liked it well enough and even finished the bottle (it was the gorgeous lay-down version), but it took me about 15 years to buy another one. Safari didn't smell like it belonged in the early 90s and I wasn't sure how it fit with Lauren's Long Island horsey-set image. It smelled more... French, I guess. The green aldehydic opening, overabundance of flowers and gorgeous chypre base could have easily been a Chanel. Now that I think of it, none of the modern Chanel perfumes from the regular line (not the Exclusifs) has been even half as good as Safari.
I have a few older Safari bottles that are clearly the original formula, including the discontinued parfum. I smell a lot of galbanum and hyacinth which my nearly middle-aged mind translates now as romantic in that heartbreaking, full of longing way. The green and wood notes are dry and crisp and show a lot of elegance and restraint. The patchouli-moss-soft leather base (more pronounced in the parfum) clearly didn't fit in with the early 90s style- it was too perfume-like in an era of non-perfume opposites: you either had to smell like candy (see Angel and all the horrible mall vanilla and fruit body sprays) or like chemical nothingness (someone please slap Issey Miyake for me). Even the bottle- a vintage looking carved glass beauty- didn't belong.
It's no wonder that Safari has disappeared from the shelves that sell the Ralph line. For a while it was hard to find except for occasional appearances at places like TJ Maxx. From quick sniffing and spraying the current version at a couple of the discount outlets it's clear that the formula has changed for the very worse. It's a floral something or other without the galbanum, oakmoss or any of the notes that used to give Safari its backbone. Despite rumors to the contrary, Safari (or what's left of it) is still in production and can be purchased on Ralph Lauren's American website: $60 for the 2.5oz EDP. The notes are listed there as "An exotic medley of floral and citrus notes gently warmed with the essences of Bourgeons de Cassis, Jasmine Italian and Fleur d'Oranger". I wouldn't bother.
Original notes: galbanum, green notes, mandarin, hyacinth, aldehydes, rose, muguet, narcissus, carnation, jasmine, orris, orchid, honey, cedar, vetiver, moss, tonka, vanilla, amber, styrax.
Safari ads from 1993-1994, couleurparfum.com
Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in Out Of Africa (1985) from ew.com
Verushka in a YSL safari suit by Franko Rubartelli for French Vogue, August 1968