the road not taken
Two fascinating moments in perfumery happened within a few years of each other. They are the “road not taken” moments. When Thierry Mugler’s Angel hit the scene, women’s perfumery was changed irrevocably. Florals, chypres, traditional orientals were instantly ancien régime. It was a classic paradigm shift, an overthrow of the old order. The floral survived by evolving into Fruity Florals, Orientals were diminished and became Gourmands, Chypres, god help us all, became outlaws and now are effectively black market commodities.
The specifics of how the men’s market changed in the 1980s differ in some respects from the changes in the feminine market, but the parallels and simultaneity of the changes make the similarities more important than the differences. Davidoff Cool Water was the masculine counterpart to Angel.
To say the aromatic fougère was supplanted by the aquatic fougère doesn’t sound like much, but the the newer, more tailored aromatic fougères had just started to surpass the dominance of the 70s big boys like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme and Azzaro Pour Homme. It was the greatest height of the fougère since the release of Fougère Royale in 1882. Musky fougères (YSL Kouros, Paco Rabanne Ténéré, Dior Jules) floral fougères (Caron’s Troisième Homme, Xeryus) spiced fougères (YSL Jazz, Jacomo Anthracite, Laroche Drakkar Noir) were taking the genre in exciting new directions. The fougère is structurally tied to both the oriental (tonka, balsam) and the chypre (oakmoss and coumarin tethering more effusive floral and spiced notes). It is an inherently rich genre and many perfumers were using the fougère structure to find new ideas. It’s worth considering that Michael Edward’s, the most authoritative figure in the nomenclature of perfumery, placed the fougère at the center of the wheel he created as a visual analogy for categorizing perfumes. It is the ur-perfume.
There were still a few great aromatic fougères produced, such as Partick by Patrick of Ireland (1999) a fougère in the chypre direction, and YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme (2003), but for the most part, after the advent of of Cool Water (1988) the aquatic fougère ruled with an iron fist. Dyhydromyrcenol made for the creation of fougères that would have the volume of the best fougère from the 1970s, but lacked the complexity and therefore matched the feminine counterparts that were becoming ever louder, ever simpler fruity florals and candied gourmands. Feminism’s effect on perfumery changed or waned, depending on your perspective, and the empowered feminines like Aromtics Elixir, Scherrer de Scherrer, Dior Diorella, YSL Rive Gauche became ‘Old Lady Perfumes’. Hypergender became a stylistic norm, and countless straight couples could be spotted on the town: her, with hair three feet high and rising dosed with Poison or Angel; him with slicked back hair drenched in Cool Water.
I am sad over the loss of the pre-1988 aromatic fougère. It was just about to take off into some great places. Let’s not forget that these perfume were also the basic blue-print for the 1980’s mens’ power frag. Take a fougère, exchange the lavender for some more spicy elements, and freeze-dry the wood. Voila! Krizia Uomo, Chanel Antaeus, Patou pour Homme. Sometimes the player of a group known for largesse is the one to go for. Scherrer de Scherrer, a chypre that could give Aromatics Elixir a black eye is my go to green/leather chypre. Xeryus has some of that well-dressed thug appeal, seeming more like a perfume for Craig’s Bond than Moore’s. Or perhaps Dench’s M.
Xeryus is becoming on you in the way it allows to you swagger a bit. It lends authority. It’s a remarkably detailed perfume that tells you not to sweat the details. It has a vaguely threatening edge at the same time it lets you be a pretty boy. Great combo of attributes. Definitely a perfume to play with.