Les dieux vivants ont leur parfum. Kouros.
1984 Charles of the Ritz (Paris) version. Long review.
The scent of gods.
Kouros. A marvel of 1980’s perfumery, Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘most expensive perfume for men’ came 4 years after Opium, the oriental that changed the world and shaped a generation into excess and decadence. Not without controversy, while Opium was said to encourage drug use and illicit substances, Kouros (codenamed Eros during development) was deemed ‘excessively dirty’ and far too provocative. In the last golden decade of quality perfumery, Yves Saint Laurent showed the world that vision and guts and perseverance are necessary risks to succeed. Without them, one simply follows. Yves lead.
Kouros is one of the most polarizing fragrances, a sign of genius and innovation, a true ‘love it or hate it’ perfume. I, feel it’s one of the most beautiful creations and for me it’s the best male perfume ever created. But that’s just me, and while I adore it, I know many can’t stand it.
A massive hit since day 1, Kouros came at the right time (1981, the decade of excess and power and greed), at the right place (Paris - only a house like YSL could launch an equally provocative perfume for men like they did for women with the blockbuster Opium), and with the right promotion/marketing (the white statuesque bottle, the name, the scent; Pierre Bourdon’s magnum opus).
In the following years many tried to imitate its success, some better than others but none managed to surpass it. The success of Kouros lies in the dichotomy of clean and dirty, purity and carnality, and that couldn’t be copied.
To envision Kouros, one must envision imagery.
Imagine a beach in Greece, Lalaria beach in Skiathos for example. The water is deep crystalline blue, the sun is burning brightly but the gentle breeze that hits the rocks cools the hot August air. There’s no noise, hardly anyone, and you are lying there basking in the glory of the summer. Suddenly, a well tanned, tall, muscular hunk appears a few feet away from you. Watching his statuesque physique, you catch a whiff of him. He smells of soap, probably from the shower he took before coming down to the beach, and of a light herbal deodorant. The smell mixes with the scent of sea salt, iodine, open air and ocean. This is the clean and showered opening of Kouros.
But then again, Kouros is primordially erotic, sensual, of desire. And this hunk soon goes swimming, to cool down in the clear blue waters. From afar you gaze, watching how he swims with artistic grace, taking long strokes until he disappears into the ocean, only to emerge refreshed, with a white brief, that barely hides his masculinity. He smiles politely at you, and lays down on his towel. You feel embarrassed but somehow, you can’t stop staring at him. He lights a cigarette, and suddenly you smell the smoke that comes out of his full lips, the light sweat, the smell of salt evaporating from his body, the smell of Coppertone sun oil; you smell him. And the smell, combined, feels animal, debaucherous, lustful, hedonistic. There’s nothing explicitly sexual, but you get aroused simply by the thought of it; a hot summer, a one night stand, a perfect stranger. Living dangerously, youth is risky and hormone driven. Let go and surrender.
He is Kouros. A masterful combination of natural civet, castoreum, costus root, Animalis base from Synarôme (later used in Montana’s eponymous first creation and falling out of style by the late 80’s), leather, honey, musk, geranium, artemisia, jasmine, patchouli, and many more that combine in true artistry to create something bigger than the sum of its parts.
Kouros isn’t animalic just for the sake of it, which he is - one of the most animalic fragrances created; he is animal. He is as clean or as dirty as you want him to be.
He will either lure you closer or pull you apart, but he won’t leave you indifferent.
He’s smart, hot, killer smile and big attitude. He’s the boy momma said to stay away from, and it’s one of the reasons many women wear Kouros with amazing panache (perfume has no gender). But if you fall for him, there’s no going back.
Once upon a time, a fragrance lead you to dream, fantasize, ready to conquer the world.
It was pure emotion, art, sensuality.
In the early 90’s all that was big and powerful was deemed wrong, and minimalism entered our world, while big hair and big sillage left slowly from the back door. A big wave of Calone was coming to wash us of sins and perfume. Kouros started falling out of favor and all the reformulations that came didn’t do any favors; by the late 90’s/early 2000’s he was slowly fading away. Today, what you find in stores is a mere glimpse of what once was ‘le parfum des dieux vivants’.
Times change, everything evolves (or not, depending how you see it) and people move forward. Perfumery came at its opus with fireworks and left slowly as if a mortal sin. Today, very very few perfumes have the surprise and shock factor of Kouros, and even fewer offer something new, emotion, personality.
Once upon a time, perfumes were a big Dreamland.
And inside a white ceramic statuesque bottle, living gods had their perfume. Kouros.