As a consumer group, we tend not to be very thoughtful with the reconsideration of old ideas. Theres a large bin called retro, and we throw used-up trends into it, repurpose them and then buy/sell them to each other. Bell-bottoms, skinny jeans, goatees and handlebars, macho tattoos, bow-ties. As for fashion, I can’t quite decide which is worse, the ill-considered use of jeggings or the deliberate exploitation of the bell-bottom.
But M. Micallef takes a more considered view of the men’s power frag from the 1980s in Royal Vintage. The long-lasting memory of the power frag is unfortunately the stereotype. Huge, loud, clumsy, uncouth, and dreadfully lacking in subtlety and self-reflection. The power frag was the logical outcome of the fougère having been turned from a classic into a muscle-car. What the fougère always had going for it was the weight of history. Suavaliere, unbuttoned guys from the 1970s could delve as far into polyester and disco as they chose, Paco Rabanne Pour Homme and Azzaro Pour Homme had their backs. Their cologne tied them back to a tradition of masculinity and propriety. The fougère got bigger and louder and brasher and memories of propriety went the way of the 60s business suit and pre-Camelot hat.
Chanel Antaeus, Bogart One Man Show, Krizia Uomo, Calvin Klein Obsession for Men, Patou pour Homme. These newer, even-louder, brutes called the fougère’s bluff and and went for broke. Envision the the fougère as a portly Harley Davidson balanced on a slim kickstand. The kickstand, the premise, the lavender, the last bit of gentlemanliness was effortlessly kicked away, and the hog fell dead to the ground.
The 80s became the age of the ten-octave woody delinquent that came to be known as the Power Frag, as in power fragrance. As in power tie. As in power lunch. As in power dressing. The 1980s was the 1970s with more volume, more cocaine, higher aspirations and not even a vestige of conscience.
Why would we want to look back to that era at all? Very good question. But you know what? The power frags were on to something. The better iterations, especially the original Antaeus and Dior Fahrenheit were spectacular. Arguably, what men’s fragrances did in the 1980s is what the better women’s fragrances did in the 1920s, which is to let their balls hang out. The key tones were woods and spices (and in Fahrenheit’s case, gasoline) Botanical, chemical? Who cared? Many of these fragrances were under-edited, and volume concerns (the era of the broken car alarm and hair-metal) were minimal. The power frag can be distilled to two attributes: woofer-busting spiced woods, and a degree of dryness that makes a classic chypre seem positively sweet.
M. Micallef learned these lessons well. They both adhere to them and break them consciously, all the while knowing what the rules of the game are.
I was a young adult during the power frag era, turning 20 the first week of 1982. I embraced and embrace the power frag. Done well, it’s a sight to see. But I still flinch inwardly on smelling one on someone else. They became associated with a particular flavor of man from the era. His defining characteristics are vanity, extroversion, greed, anti-intellectualism, distain and bigotry. He is captured perfectly in the phrase (not my own) the Dicky Boy.
M Micallef deserve praise for rescuing the power frag. They have managed to cleave the Dicky Boy from the Power Frag and we all benefit. Vintage Royal is parched-dry, covers the full choral range and even beats its chest a little bit. And it is as pretty as Antaeus was. Antaeus’s secret was a tailored loudness. Vintage Royal similarly comes at you voice raised to the heavens, but it has perfect pitch, and it has a lovely invigorating quality. The woods and the spices match perfectly, and there is even a hint of the high-pitched octane of Fahrenheit. In classic power frag fashion, the drydown of Vintage Royal has a smoldering feel. The composition is predicated on so many long lasting wood and spice tones that the drydown, while coherent, feels like a summary of the opening. Same shape, same range, though not quite all the voices, but with an added smile. The best of the power frags had a little smirk to them, an attribute the Cool Water set stole and exaggerated to clownishness. Vintage Royal plays it just right.