jtdjtd's Perfume Blog

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3 years ago
2 Article Awards

The standard Eaux de Cologne* seem like an obvious choice for summer. Citric, bright, refreshing. They don’t have a lot of duration, but they’re a break from the heat and cast a spell of cleanliness long enough for a first impression if you move very quickly. The traditional EdC is the most democratic of genres. The difference between the $8 bottle of EdC and the $200 bottle is minimal and you can get a bottle at the corner bodega or the nearest Chanel boutique.

Most perfume brands have at least one offering in the genre. The pricier lines have been taking two additional approaches to gain a greater foothold in the market. The first is to keep the general shape, but replace the citrus with either another fruit or a vegetal note (see Christine Nagel’s Eau de Rhubarbe Escarlate and Jean Claude Ellena’s Eau de Gentiane Blanc, both for Hermès). The other is the Faustian deal: the immortal cologne. Try Dominique Ropion’s Cologne Indelible for Frédéric Malle or Eau de Néroli Doré for Hermès, also by Ellena.

There’s another choice. Skip the Eau de Cologne genre and embrace the eau de cologne concentration. I’m wearing three vintage edc this summer. They work with the heat rather than battle it. They’re *not* fresh.

Starting with the fragrance closest to the cheery spirit of the Eau de Cologne and then moving outward:

Carven Ma Griffe (Jean Carles, 1946) , a green, floral-aldehydic chypre, makes an opening bid similar to an Eau de Cologne’s. It’s bright and smiling, and the bergamot topnote seems as sparkly as as the lemon/lime/petitgrain/what-have-you of an EdC. Pretty quickly, though, the mossy powderiness seems like it’s hiding something a little shady. It’s all so delicate and brief as to be nearly a secret and five minutes in, Ma Griffe edc is almost subliminal. What’s left is a light powder-dusted wood and a glow of sweat. The rounded drydown matches an EdC’s muskiness and of this trio, Ma Griffe is the nearest thing to a head-to-head alternative to an EdC. Ma Griffe’s timeframe is also closest to a traditional EdC and is the sort of fragrance that would need to be refreshed throughout the day if you want persistence.

A vanillic-amber, in fact, the ‘reference’ oriental, might seem like an odd choice to replace the fragrance equivalent of a smily-face, but Guerlain Shalimar is sensational in the summer. Other concentrations of Shalimar (Jacques Guerlain, 1925) are dense, sweet and smoky. The edc has a bit of sweetness but it’s balanced by the tartness and resinousness of raw bergamot. It’s a little smoky and a lot animalic. It hits the scene with growling sillage and settles to a purr at a deliberate pace. The edc doesn’t doesn’t have quite the endurance of the other concentrations of Shalimar, but it’s not far off. Emphasizing the animalism makes Shalimar edc sink into the skin with a plainspokenness that the other concentrations lack. It’s not transparent by a longshot, but it’s not tightly-wound either. Splash this stuff on out of the shower at the end of the day and you’ll have a better life.

If Shalimar edc growls and purrs, Christian Dior Miss Dior snarls A buttery, floral-animalic chypre, Miss Dior (Jean Carles, 1947) is known best for its eau de toilette and extrait, but like Guerlain, Dior knew how to make a wicked edc. Even in lighter concentration the signature animalc growl is recognizable in an instant. Lightening the concentration while toning down the florals makes a less powdery but equally ferocious fragrance. This is exactly what people are referring to when they talk about the great animalic perfumes of the mid-twentieth century. It wears beautifully in the heat and signals a confidence that a ‘fresh’ perfume never will.

Vintage versions of these eaux de cologne from the 1960s-1980s are available with minimal fuss on eBay. They can be found boxed and unopened in excellent condition and at prices less per ounce than Eaux de Cologne from Guerlain, Chanel, Malle and Hermès. (Caveat: I’ve found that Ma Griffe doesn’t age quite as well as either the Guerlain or the Dior. The shape of the edc is legible and intact, but it is more fleeting, suggesting that it is not quite its former self.) I offer these three classics as an alternative to the sunny Eau de Cologne, not a point of comparison. They have an entirely different make-up than the citric-musky EdC, different goals. If you love the zest of an EdC and find it a winning strategy in a hot climate, this trio won’t sway you. But if there’s a doubt, you just might be seduced.

* For clarity’s sake, I’ll refer to the light citric genre as Eau de Cologne (EdC) and the concentration of a fragrance as eau de cologne (edc.)

3 years ago
4 Article Awards

Despite a frequently cited lack of common knowledge, perfumery is spring-loaded with all sorts of information, often in the form of misinformation and disinformation. Secrets, gossip, anecdotes, lies. The occasionally verifiable account of an event or discussion. Given the historic secrecy of perfumery it’s no surprise that small talk from one era becomes the mythology of the next. There is a sense that we’re unearthing the hidden history of perfume–continually reframing the present in light of the past. Also, we like a good story. (See the frankincense/myrrh meme that’s been rolling around for the past 20 centuries, give or take.)

The good news is that whether a story is true or accurate is irrelevant. The value of campfire stories, which is what perfume lore is, is in the shared experience, the repetition. The narrative is important only in so much as it carries the lesson, the subtext.

The myth. (The meaning.) [Neither of which I endorse.]

Jean Carles created Ma Griffe after he lost his sense of smell. (Multiple meanings: Artistry is mystical and creativity knows no bounds. The magic of perfumery resides in the soul, not the nose. The mirror-meaning is that creativity is actually quite logical and not at all cryptic. For a person trained in the calculation of formulae based on known materials, anosmia is no obstacle.)

Guy Robert’s inspiration for Dioressence was washing raw ambergris off his hands with soap scented with a knock-off of Miss Dior. (A spin on the sacred and the profane. This myth will either mean that inspiration has a zen quality of smacking you on the back of your head to get your attention or that perfume is an uninspired, functional product, not art. This is the black-box story of perfumery. You’ll see in it whatever you’re primed to see.)

Germaine Cellier’s impulse for creating Bandit was sniffing models’ panties at runway shows. (Freud was right. Queer perversion follows a model of stunted psychosexual development. Alternate meaning: Girl-on-girl porn is hot, dude.)

There are countless others. Overdosage and aroma-material stories like Chanel 5 and the bucket of aldehyde. Shalimar=Jicky + a shitload of vanilla. Samsara contained 30% sandalwood. Lancome’s La Vie Est Belle tips the scales at 4% ethylmaltol.

It’s not just the ingredients, either.

Giorgio was banned from restaurants. Michael Jackson wore Bal à Versailles. Roudnitska planted muguet. Private Collection was Estée’s personal perfume. Chanel maintain their own rose and jasmine fields in Shangri la. Napoleon wrote to Josephine, ‘Daddy’s coming home. Don’t bathe!’

These myths have been told so often that their echoes can still be heard if you’re quiet. Perfume PR loves these stories because they’re perfect for the excitement that a little knowledge ignites. Marketing fans the flame and soon the bonfire is blazing and we’re rushing toward it. (Convoluted end to the campfire analogy.)

2 Replies
5 years ago
3 Article Awards

(This article was originally posted in February and March 2014. Comments by Christos of Memory of Scent and Bryan Ross of From Pyrgos have been added to this reposting so that the sequence of writing and commentary is maintained.)

2/11/14 At the Center of the Web, The Fougère

Michael Edwards substantially revised his Perfume Wheel in 2011, and the genre whose placement in the Wheel changed the most was the fougère. As perfumery changes over time, and especially with the discovery of new botanicals and the creation of new chemicals, it follows that new nomenclature will arise to capture the state-of-the-art.

But back in the day, the fougère was the ur-perfume category. Every subcategory of perfume, the Orientals, the mossy woods (chypres) even the florals were considered in some manner to have derived from the fougère. The fougère was in fact the center of the wheel, meaning that not only did all categories of perfume stem from the fougère, but if it was also the supra-genre that connected any genre to any other. Tidy, eh?

Any nomenclature that seeks to capture every item that falls within its limits cannot be perfect, but as a functional model it is very effective, though I imagine Mr. Edwards must have been driven to the brink when Mugler Angel was released. Where does that perfume sit in a system based on categories changed little since the 1920s? Until about the 1990s it defined a perfume industry that hadn't veered far from a well-worn set of genres in generations. Categorizing it would have had an air of the self-fulfilling prophecy. The Wheel must've had to stretch and squeeze a bit, but apparently it found a place for Angel, for Bvlgari Black, for and an ocean of aquatics. Where did it locate molecule 01, Odeur 53, Secretions Magnifiques, Dzing!? What will he do with Smell Bent, Slumberhouse...?

The difficulty of the wheel is also the feature for which is so highly praised. Its fragrance families are based on notes, characteristic scents that stand in for the natural smelly things that they emulate. Hence, flower notes ostensibly smell like flowers. Floral notes have a range of olfactory tones many actual flowers share. This is the two-step that allows us a world of aromachemicals that we believe exist only to emulate or pass for natural botanicals or animatics. What if we used aromachemicals because they are beautiful, interesting or form combinations we might not otherwise consider? The wheel traps us in a world of wanna-be.

Except for the fougère! The perfume formerly at the center of the wheel is in fact the original abstract perfume. It ‘passes for’ natural with a name like fern. Paul Parquet would have us believe that the fougère emulates the scent of fern in the same way that Rose perfumes xerox the rose and Jasmine fragrances mimic the scent of jasmine blossoms. Alas, the fern has no discernible scent. They might as well have called the perfume The Shoehorn. Still, it’s fun to think that the perfume that used to be Zeus, the one from which all others descend, was in fact in disguise all along!

I have some ideas as to how we could build and use a more effective nomenclature of perfumery and scent. Our inability to discuss the olfactory thoughtfully, creatively AND precisely is largely intrinsic. It isn't possible to convey specific or literal meaning to groups of people with a specific scent. A system based on common denominators and similarities to known qualities might be the most precise way groups of people can communicate the olfactory. Many people are likely to have smelled a rose or "rose" notes. Sharing recognition doesn't mean sharing a specific meaning or concept. Minus other information such as marketing, perfume doesn't tell us stories. For humans, scent alone can't convey narrative.

But what about considering qualities other than "smells like [insert fragrant item]”? Focussing on qualitative language helps. How does a fragrance start? How does it change over time? Does it play in ranges we might liken to ranges of sound? Color? What are the descriptors we use? Dry, sweet, dark. light, rough, smooth? Should we stick with binary descriptors? What other qualities can fragrance convey?

Most discussions of perfume still take place with the assumptions that : 1) perfumes must smell like something i.e. flowers, wood, spunk, leather or pipe; or, 2) perfumes must tell or have a story.

Number 2 bothers me to no end. It's effectively internalized marketing: accepting the narrative that make you desire the products. Some Apocryphal stories are better than others, though:

* story: Aimée Guerlain named Jicky after a lost love. outcome: Innocuous, cute.

* story: Oscar de la Renta wanted a perfume that reminded him of his tropical youth. outcome: Ridiculous but probably served a purpose of making a Latin man palatable to east coast WASPs.

* story: Estée Lauder wanted a perfume inspired by the shrubs of her Cotes d'Azur estate. outcome: Sells aspiration and makes her seem less Brooklyn immigrant Jew. (She sold to the WASPs, too. ) Fragrant green leaves and Riviera blue sky gave us Azurée, the best and roughest of the bergamot leathers? Bullshit.

* story: Etat Libre d'Orange's 'le parfum est mort. vive le parfum!' outcome: Ridiculous and bullshit.

Classic French perfume house, American beauty industry juggernaut, designer perfume-as-cash cow, rarified niche parlor-house. It's all an effort to associate perfume, aspiration and lifestyle fiction. There's reason to be suspicious if not cynical. Of course, Thank God, there's also plenty of room for laughter.

I hope for this page to be a work-in-progess, and I solicit the involvement of any who care to participate. Here are some points I hope to get to:

* The current line-up of fougères. How do they compare?

* How abstraction works for the perfumer and the wearer?

* Why the Fougère?

* The heyday, the 1970s.

* Where do we go, and, why look back?)

In the meantime, check out these fougères.

  1. Azzaro pour Homme
  2. Caron Troisieme Homme
  3. Davidoff Cool Water
  4. Estee Lauder Men
  5. Fragrances of Ireland Patrick
  6. Givenchy Xeryus
  7. Guerlain Jicky
  8. Guerlain Mouchoir de Monsieur
  9. Hermès Equipage
  10. Houbigant Fougere Royale
  11. Jacomo Anthracite
  12. Keiko Mecheri Les Zazous
  13. Kenzo Ça Sent Beau
  14. Mauboussin Homme
  15. Paco Rabanne pour Homme
  16. Paco Rabanne Tenere
  17. Parfum de Nicolai pour Homme
  18. Penhaligon's Sartorial
  19. Tom Ford Italian Cypress
  20. Van Cleef and Arpels Tsar
  21. YSL Jazz
  22. YSL Kouros
  23. YSL Rive Gauche pour Homme
  24. Jean-Paul Gautier Fleur du Male

(Feb 11, 2014) Christos MemoryOfScent said:

Perfume taxonomy has always baffled me. It's my fault but I just don't get it. I have a very selective way of smelling and what I smell is not always the entire spectrum of the composition. Lavender for instance tends to pass by my nose unnoticed. It is not that I do not smell it, I just can't focus on it. Some people's minds are hard-wired like Micheal Edwards. Mine is works a bit more like the mind of late Alec Lawless. He had devised a way of analysing and describing scents that classifies notes in three conceptual groups, heart, nuance and intrigue. Heart being the centre element of the composition, nuance the surrounding notes and intrigue the contradicting note used to make things more interesting. Still oversimplifying when it comes to scents but makes more sense to me.
This doesn't mean of course that I have given up on understanding classical perfume classification, on the contrary. According to my understanding of fougeres, I can see Cool Water and Jazz belonging to this group but I cannot understand what they have in common with Mouchoir de Monsieur or even Kouros. Such animalic scents seem to devour the idea of fougere in my mind. I know the theory behind the ingredients that make a fougere but I cannot see any similarities in the end result.
From Pyrgos has an excellent post on why lavender is the core of fougere and he also elaborates by presenting lavender extract as the quintessential fougere as it contains all the ingredients that are necessary. Very interesting. I will keep an eye here to see how things progress in your project and if I manage to find the key to unlock the understanding of classical classification.

(Feb 12, 2014) jtd said:

Hi, Christos! Thanks for commenting. If you’re baffled by taxonomy, then you’re likely looking at it properly. However many categories, modifiers and hybrids we might create, the Wheel, or any other means of grouping perfumes for that matter, is a loose framework. Attempts to fit a perfume that doesn’t have an implicit place on the Wheel into the diagram reveals the limits of the model.
If I could modify the diagram itself, I’d like to lay a loose rope-like line over the wheel, so that the outline would look like a bell-curve. The bell-curve and the Wheel share a great bias toward the comfortable center (normalcy) and aren’t able to capture the value of the ‘extremes’. By the same token, the Wheel doesn’t do justice to the fragrances that actively bridge genres. An in-between on the wheel can appear to be a blur, not an intentional choice, and the ‘geography’ of the wheel only supposes a possible mixing of genres next to each other, hence the hybrid. I find this last fact odd when you consider that the fougère, long at the center of the wheel, exists only by the nature of its contrasting elements! Coumarin and lavender actively oppose each other, and create a new form. This is the opposite of the ‘floriental’ sort of hybrid.
I think you’re on the right track when you understand the method of categorizing, but let your nose decide, as you mention with perfumes such as Mouchoir de Monsieur and Cool Water. I’m with you! I ‘get’ that Jicky and le Monsieur are fougères, but I don’t smell them as a part of that genre. If anything, they seem like oriental fragrances to me, and even based on ingredient list, could be considered as such.
And here we’re at the point of notes versus ingredients again. We are supposing an inherent truthfulness either of fact or intention between a list of notes and the actual fragrant compounds used to make the perfume. Maybe this is part of our difficulty in the first place.

2/12/14 A few more fragrances to consider.

The line between the chypre and the fougère is an interesting one, and opinions vary on how each genre is defined. Equipage (above) I threw in the mix because to some it's a fougère and to some it's a chypre. Two more that ride that same line are:

Rochas Globe

Lancome Sagamore

In fact, if you care, take a look at the whole genre of the masculine chypre. You might find that like Rochas Moustache, there are fragrances that you would call a fougère and I'd call a chypre. Tomato, tomato?

2/13/14 The Limits of the Model

For visual diagrams, we have traditionally relied on two dimensional forms. Diagrams aren't direct visual translations, but representations, devices. They are models, and however rudimentary, they are intellectual constructs. They have rules and, like all description, they seek to reduce an object or restrict a concept to a set of identifiers. Diagrams can’t quite be said to have an intention, but by the nature of their rules, they have implicit goals.

Much of the trouble with the wheel, and the genres of fragrance that we discuss, is that they are based on the premise that 'notes' are a mirror reflection of components or ingredients. The implication is that a rose note signifies scent of a rose. Rose is the principal value, the constant and the other materials refer to it. Damascenones and ionones are chemically similar members of a family of aromachemicals but don’t strictly smell alike. Where the chemical system of classification groups them together, the wheel would not. Is only one accurate? If you and I sniff a perfume together and you say that it has a rose note and I say otherwise, is either of us correct? Geranium, palmarosa, rose oxides and damascones all smell rosy. So where does the note lie?

In addition we tend to consider notes to be objects rather than experiences. Objectifying a note traps it and limits the possibilities. Take five notes, imagine them as five stones placed on a table. You can place them in many different configurations. You could even place them on different tables so as to suggest another three dimensions. But you're never merging the stones, or putting two or three together to make an entirely new object.

Replace the three stones with three aromatic substances: bergamot, oakmoss, labdanum. On the table in separate containers, they adhere to the ‘stone-model’, remaining apart like objects. Combine the three into one bottle, and all bets are off. The chypre isn't three things. It isn’t even simply three things together. The “chypre” is the effect created when three specific things interact. You've reached a limit of the 'object' model. It doesn't allow for the interaction of mixing and therefore excludes the outcome of synergy.

The conceit of the fragrance wheel, and its limiting factor, is that it posits that aromas are experienced like colors in the spectrum of light. The 'geography' of the wheel limits combinations to blending of notes that sit beside each other, i.e.. a chypre-floral (green-yellow) or a floral-oriental (yellow-orange). It ignores combinations others than objects/notes that might not ‘naturally’ sit next to each other. The wheel is based on a 19th century supposition of nature. It supposes a perfumery of mimicry that was sufficient for perfumes that used ethyl-vanillin in lieu of vanilla bean essence and synthesized coumarin by chemical process rather than harvesting it from fermented tonka beans. These chemical were still tethered, albeit tentatively, to a supposition of an essential, irrefutable "nature" as found in botanical and animal-derived materials. The cracks in this 'natural world' view of perfumery were apparent by the time Fougère Royale and Jicky were made, but the fallacy of perfumery recreating nature has been recycled over and over again in perfumery, its most current iteration today in the less sophisticated iterations of natural and artisinal niche perfumery. (This is not to say that botanically-based perfumery is either naive or mistaken. There are many artistically deliberate and/or ethical-based perfumers who do sophisticated and well-concidered work.)

An important point is that this diagram was created by the industry, for the industry. I question its accuracy for perfume producers, but it is their model. Its aim, its implicit goal is to identify scents and pin them down by establishing groups (families) that link them. I imagine there is research that provides evidence of its effectiveness for what it does. In fact, it could be argued that it is a viable attempt to help communicate our interactive experience of the olfactory. Still it doesn't offer the perfume consumer much help in the discussion and fosters a tedious marketing strategy notes and fiction, from '' and floral 'rose' to 'sea-glass' and 'serenity'. My experience of perfume has never been found inside a one-size-fits-all diagram and Michael Edwards’s Wheel doesn't do much to square the circle.

So what do we do with these models? I don't have an answer for how we use them to communicate, but I do have a working model for myself. I employ them when they're effective, I disregard them when they're not, and I look closely to see why they don’t work. Then I try to learn from what I find. I guess my approach is simply not to hold too tightly to them.

I swear to god, this post will soon discuss the fougère more directly.

(Feb 13, 2014) Bryan Ross said:

Funny you mention Moustache, I was just reading a blog post about it from a blog I'd never heard of before:
I hold a degree in graphic design, and I've been toying with the idea of creating my own genealogy chart for masculine fragrances. The only thing holding me back is the scope of my knowledge - a good chart would incorporate at least 150 - 200 fragrances, and I doubt I've smelled enough classic masculines to fully inform the grid. However, it is a pending project, something that might be made as a subjective "revision" to the Fragrance Wheel and the H&R chart.
I want to extend some thoughts to Christos as well. Christos, you say that you can see Cool Water and Jazz being classified as fougeres, but things like Mouchoir de Monsieur and Kouros don't seem to relate (I wager you're indirectly asking, how can they also be fougeres lumped in with the other two) - I have a few thoughts on that. My understanding of fougeres is that they inhabit two different worlds, and there are Bridges between those worlds that historically connect them to each other. The first world is for the "traditional fougere, while the second is for the "aromatic fougere." Traditional fougeres make heavy use of lavender and other mints, coumarin, musk, and ambery wood notes. Aromatic Fougeres take the same structure but play around with countless variations of lavender "freshness," coumarin's "grassy warmth," and the "earthiness" of musk and wood notes. So you have things like Dunhill and Moustache and Arden Sandalwood in the traditional category, and Cool Water and Kouros in the aromatic category. Bridging them are things like Brut, Agua Brava, and Paco Rabanne - these Bridges maintain more traditional components than their offspring, but also show evolutionary signs of breaking from tradition in their compositions.

(Feb 13, 2014) jtd said:

Interesting points, Bryan. The wide range of experiences that the fougère category offers is what has intrigued me for so long. I'm interested in the way you place the fougère as an evolving and historic form. I'm often at a loss distinguishing an aromatic fougère from a traditional fougère. And Cool Water baffles me. I can understand that it is technically a fougère, but its aquatic note changes the balance enough that it seems like a whole new genre to my nose. It doesn't 'feel' like a fougère, but compositionally it is.
So with the Jicky/Mouchoir business at one end of the discussion, and Coolwater at the other, the fougère seems to be a very broad and inclusive category.

(Feb 16, 2014) Christos MemoryOfScent said:

This is a wonderful discussion guys!
@jtd, I think our brain is hard-wired to detect notes, even if it smells ingredients. The human brain is incapable of registering "new" stimuli even if it comes into contact with them for the first time. It will either capture a sketchy, blurred image of it and forget about it or it will transcribe it to something already familiar, a note in the case of perfumes. The new stimulus will be registered as such only after repeated exposure and identification. To take the idea a little further, all fragrant ingredients in a bottle will be combined in each person's brain in different ways, filtered by their personal experience, and pictured in a different way, much like through a lens or a camera obscura (I know Bryan does not agree with my theory completely)
@ Bryan, I recently smelled a very interesting scent, DSH Le Smoking. A sample is only $5 so I would be very interested to hear what you have to say about it because it is labelled as a green chypre but in the drydown it smells like a a fougere to me.

(Feb 17, 2014) Bryan Ross said:

@Christos - I'll look into Dawn's scent, thanks for mentioning it. I should also say that I do believe in "hybrids" as a subcategory of fragrance, although I've encountered very few true-blue hybrids. The most commonly mentioned one in my circle is Z-14. It's classified as a leathery/fresh chypre by the H&R but some formulas have a more pronounced lavender note than others (oakmoss versions by EA seem to tune that note up a hair, but only slightly).

@jtd - actually I 90% agree with your last statement, especially in the sense that we process notes and note combinations in ways that include personal associations to certain scents. The 10% where I disagree is only if the idea extends into actually physically smelling the notes differently. One of the reasons I consistently believe that my nose reads fragrance the same as any other olfactorily-functioning person is that the nose has evolved as a protective mechanism. Our noses are designed to protect us from harm, mostly via the intake of "bad" smells produced by spoiled or contaminated food. I wager we all think sour milk smells nasty. The notion that I will smell sour milk and think it smells drinkable, and you will smell it and wrinkle your nose, is I suppose remotely possible but flimsy science. I've published a post on a study that proved people smell things the same way already, but haven't fully addressed the fact that people interpret smells differently. So I may smell soured milk and think, "I'm surprised it doesn't smell worse," while you may smell it and think, "I'm surprised it smells this bad." With fragrances, and especially reformulations, I think interpretations come into play big time. Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez feel that the current Cool Water smells fine, for example. Numerous basenoters gripe on a regular basis that Coty's formula sucks. The same fragrance is being smelled. Different expectations and interpretations are being expressed.

(later) Bryan Ross said: sorry I meant to post as myself there, and also correction, my comment was entirely @ Christos and not jtd

(Feb 17, 2014) Christos MemoryOfScent said:

Bryan I think we all perceive the same notes but focus on them differently. I have read your post on how Grey Flannel is a precursor to Cool Water and although I can see your point of view, I tend to associate Grey Flannel more with Narcisso Rodriguez for him. For my own personal reasons I seem to focus more on the wet cement note than on anything else.
I think we need jtd's intervention because we have hijacked this discussion completely :)
Forgive me jtd

(Feb 17, 2014) jtd said:

Hijack away, guys! This is just the discussion I've been looking for, and is actually the reason that I couple it (eventually) with a discussion of the fougère. In many respects, because the basic recipe for a fougère is so simple, it is a good practical way to look at notes, aromatic substances and what we make of them.
@ Bryan. I agree with your 10% thought. We know that the chemistry of perfumes is 'hard' in that it is measurable and repeatable. Here’s part of the power that perfumers hold over bloggers and critics; they know the science and we, even if we're chemists, don't know the proprietary secrets of perfume making. Where we fumies are on a more equal ground with the perfumers is that everyone is leary of pointing to the objective not of the perfume, but of our sensory experience of it. Not our aesthetic, interpretive experience of it, but the objective sensory.
We give more credence to Pantone 2247-C or 261.6 Hz, middle C, than we do methyl inonone gamma 80, yet the relationship of the stimulus to the sensory perception effectively the same. I see green and you see green. Our language is based on the fact we perceive the same color. The same objectivity, and the assumption of its reproducibility should apply to the olfactory, but our language doesn't support objectivity, even though an adehyde by any other name should smell as sweet. We work with the false assumption that if an aroma molecule smells like pine to you and like lemon to me that each of us is correct because the olfactory is entirely subjective.
Here’s where we should stop. You have to be taught what is cobalt blue and what is chartreuse, why should we not be taught how to recognize scent and use it similarly? Interesting note. A nasty spore-forming bacterium called clostridium difficile causes a particular diarrhea that any hospital nurse learns to identify. Multiple studies have shown that nurses' nose identify the bug as well as or better than the standard diagnostic test used in most hospitals. That smell might register differentlly to each of us nurses, but we can spot it an name it effectively.
@ Christos. Christos, I don't think the above contradicts what you say about a bottle that contains number of aromachemicals registering differently to a number of people who experience it. Once we're beyond the point of sensory identification there are other processes at work in the mind/brain. If you and I see the same tone of red, it is a shared perception, and we could both probably identify it again within a few seconds if shown it again.. If we each see the same glowing red light, you might think, 'stop the car' and I might think, 'we're in the prostitution district.'

2/18/14 The Fougère: Genre or Tease

I agree that the simplicity of the fougère accord is what makes it both so fascinating and ultimately difficult to categorize at the limits. The lavender/coumarin combination, as basic as it sounds, seems to create a synergy (call it fougère, call it happenstance) that is more complex than either lavender or coumarin. But that complexity is rife with all the possibilities that have made it such fertile ground for the past 125 years or so. It’s the magic accord, really, and its perpetual reinvention is just one of the reasons I’m so fascinated by it. The fougère is a binary with poles on each of the lavender and coumarin sides. Bend it one way or the other and quantitative changes quickly become qualitative, another function of the ‘magic’ accord. Add other elements entirely such as flowers, fruits and balsams and see where it takes you. Rather than emphasizing either of the ‘poles’, these added elements create a richness that the basic accord supports. An example is Azzaro pour Homme, which squeezes resins, flowers, spices and god knows what else into the lavender/coumarin sandwich, creating an enormous, harmonious beast.

When I write I sometimes refer to a genre to convey the qualities a genre might capture. eg.’The raspy quality of the floral headnotes make the perfume seem like a 1970s green chypre.’ But for points of discussion I also recognize the value of having common reference points, and a more formal, structural use of genre is helpful. So, if a perfume is built with lavender and coumarin, it is a fougère for purposes of naming and communication. (For the sake of simplicity here, I set aside aside the ‘second tier’ of components, moss and musk.) But genre also acts as a frame for personal consideration. While I don’t doubt that the elements that make a fougère are in Guerlain’s Jicky and Mouchoir de Monsieur, they are not in the same in my experience as, say, Paco Rabanne pour Homme or YSL Jazz. Their similarity to Guerlain Shalimar, held up as the consummate oriental perfume, is more important to me.

The fougère is a rich and mighty genre. I’m willing to accept the ambiguity that on one side we need effective terms to communicate our thoughts, and on the other, that I need to trust my nose. The fougère is not a ‘high maintenance’ genre, but is a bit of a tease. Accept its many faces, or scream in frustration. The fougère isn’t the only genre that elicits these discussions. Take a look at the emotional bouts online regarding the definition of a classic chypre or what are the required elements of an oriental fragrance.

The implicit problem for perfumery is that our definition of a genre is purely compositional. We use descriptive terms from outside of perfumery, but when we say brutalist or impressionist, we are borrowing loosely from the genres of other art forms. We can all name the attributes of a given genre. “Fougère” might not point to the specifics, but any fougère fan will know about coumarin and lavender. The Fruity-floral is just a more upfront name. We don’t define perfumes by purpose, intent or effect as other art forms do. But then again, perfumery doesn’t have ‘movements’ per se. Olivia Giacobetti, Josh Lobb, Pierre Guillame are guided by their own intentions to create thoughtful works of art. But we do not have post-facto movements, of the sort named once changes to a form give rise to a set of principles, such as ‘modernism.’ And despite the boys at Etat Libre cursing the heavens, we really do not have artistic movements guided by intention to bring about social change, such as mid-20th century folk music, or Nazi propaganda film.

Defining perfume genres is a difficult task and fragrance lends itself to many interpretations. The fougère captures this notion perfectly. The problem of reconciling the many opinions is not that we have blurry, imprecise language to talk about fragrance, though we certainly do. Rather, as with the best visual and musical arts, the fougère presents a diversity and a complexity that allow for many different experiences. I wear my favorite fougère, Caron le Troisièmme Homme often, yet it feels energetically new to me each time I wear it. Someone else might have a similar experience, but consider 3me Homme a floriental.

The nomenclature is a discussion, the experience of wearing the perfume is the point.

(Feb 18, 2014) Bryan Ross said:

@Christos MemoryOfScent, - "wet cement note!" that's very interesting. Cool Water has that note also!!! Lancaster version, that is. Coty managed to lose that note in their reform. So in a sense I can see a degree of similarity even between CW and Narciso Rodriguez for Him, although I admit I don't see how Grey Flannel intersects between the two in terms of a cement note (I don't get that note in GF). However I have seen Narciso Rodriguez's scent is very often compared to Grey Flannel, and I don't disagree with that comparison, as I find other notes are very strongly similar.
@jtd - it strikes me that the "fougere accord" of lavender and coumarin (and arguably musk and oakmoss) is incredibly simple, and therefore the trouble people get into when trying to "define" fougeres is that there's so many extensive variations that have been made on this two-note classification that weeding through them is very tricky. however, there are still many blatantly oriental compositions being released, and also some true-blue chypres, so holding the fougere up as a genre that is still Alive and "relevant" is important.

(Feb 22, 2014) Christos MemoryOfScent said:

@jtd The ability of humans to identify smells is amazing but your example also shoes that this is a lot more efficient when the smell is related to danger (disease). This was the primary function of smell, the most primeval of senses and the only one we share with the most primitive organisms. Of course we have the ability to identify intricate perfume notes but this is a lot more difficult than identifying cobalt blue. The reason for this is that we lack the means of sharing our olfactory experiences effectively. On a specific level smell is a read-only sense: we have means of sharing our visual, auditory and tactile stimuli (all vibrational senses) by reproducing the stimulus and sharing it with others. We can draw, point at, imitate sound and feel. Taste, the other chemical sense we have, is more part of our every-day life through the ritual of cooking. Not only we relate better to describing tastes but we also use ingredients and formulas (recipes) to replicate taste and share it with other. When it comes to smell, the sense that appeared first in the process of evolution we are crippled. We cannot point to it, we cannot recreate it and the stimuli we have are more complex. Unlike a painting or a photgraph which we can analyse and dissect, stop our sight at any point and focus, an olfactory stimulus comes as a bulk. All elements or ingredients hit the nerves at the same time and analysis is more of a mental process which we cannot share effectively with others. The color analogy is not identifying Pantone 2247-C but I think the right analogy for smell perception is seeing a color in nature and identifying the percentage of Pantone 2247-C in it.
Ironically when it comes to describing, sharing and analysing our smell perception the only tool we have is language. So we rely on our most evolved of Senses (if you can perceive as such) to explain the most primeval one. Perhaps new technologies like smell printers incorporated in our laptops may help in creating a common language for smell perception. Needless to say that trained perfumers do not have these limitations. It has taken them years of practice, a structured education and access to a huge repertory of ingredients to be able to refine and manipulate their olfactory experiences. The rest of us I think will have to live with the limitations and subjectivity of the language we use to describe smells.

3/7/14 The New Man of the 1970s, or how Paco Rabanne pour Homme and Azzaro pour Homme maintained the psychic stability of society.

The 1970s in the United States was one of the faster moving and more interesting eras in the history of gender. Some entrenched notions of masculinity, femininity and how they relied on each other had been shattered in World War II. Practicalities of wartime production and supply-chain necessities meant that women entered the workplace on a huge scale.. The American proletariat took on a face that wore lipstick, but managements and board room changed little. The realization that women were in capable of doing "man's work" exploded. When the war ended new understandings of gender were put away and the old breadwinner/housewife bit was re-instituted. Is it any wonder that that the simmering feminism of the 1970s actually had its direct antecedents in the regressive conservatism following World War II? Though the men had seen Paris, as the expression goes, the women had seen the future and had had it taken away from them. The 1950s, with its Disney-like surface and a deep well of dissatisfaction starting inches below, couldn't last. Women seem to have a better understanding of the disproportionality of this situation. Feminism landed on fertile ground. Men on the other hand tended to bury their heads in the sand, mistaking the privileges of their gender for something as basic as air or gravity.

However it came about, by the early 70s, masculinity teetered on a tight rope. The men who had considered playboy magazine as pertinent as the New York Times or TIME Magazine were startled to find the perks of their gender slipping away. Masculine vanity took refuge in the fantasy of the singles bar, the swingers scene, and the leisure suits. And eventually, in the aromatic fougère.

Given the cognitive dissonance of the man of the 1970s, thank God they had the fougère, even if only as a point of reference.

Facetiousness aside, the fougère played an role in positively maintaining the self-esteem of the men of the time. There already were some fantastic, accessible choices for men, from the drugstore to the department store. I think particularly of Caron pour un Homme, Aramis by Aramis, Old Spice and Christian Dior Eau Sauvage. Despite the newness of Paco Rabanne pour Homme and Azzaro pour Homme, the middle-aged men of the 70s knew this style of fragrance from the 1950s and even the 1940s. They might not have known the names, but they were Barbershop fragrances. Even as men were forsaking the barber for the stylist, the scent of the barbershop allowed Homo-Nuevo, this new species of man, to maintain a bridge between what they were taught about masculinity when they were young, and the dramatically different experience they had as adults. We can argue about the functions of fragrance, memory and meaning until the cows come home, and I probably will, but this olfactory nostalgia and the associations that we make with fragrances can be sources of strength. Where the 1970s suave guy marched forward with bluster and false bravado into a new world of gender, he could be comforted by the fougère, his tie to the masculinity he was implicitly promised as a boy.

Here is the genius of Paco Rabanne pour Homme. It's thoroughly a fougère, barbershop sensibility and all, yet it's also new. The recognizability of this fragrance was just enough to soothe and reassure, yet the same time it had a novel and contemporary tone. This wasn't your father’s fragrance. The elements that distinguish it from older barbershop fragrances scents were exquisitely calculated for the time. Evergreen notes suggests the outdoors. The Colorado Rocky Mountain High, and the appearance of outdoorsiness was important to the new liberated 1970s man. Herbalism, from cheap shampoo to Clinique Aromatics Elixir to Earth-Mother cultural feminism, was a topic of the liberated women of the 1970s. Paco Pour Homme provided an entrée into the new discussion of gender for the 70s man.

Paco Rabanne pour Homme, intentionally or by happy accident, intertwined with socio-gender flux as much as Caron Tabac Blond did in the 1920s and Aromatics Elixir did in the 1970s. Paco Rabanne pour Homme was generally associated with straight men. But look closely at the ideal: rugged, out-doorsy, undeniably beautiful. Imagine Paco Rabanne pour Homme worn with 501 jeans, workboots and flannel shirts. Paco fit well with these components of the Castro/ West Village clone look and identity. It was an archetype of my people, the late 20th century queer men, who were unaware of the horror about to strike them.

To this day, I find Paco Rabanne pour Homme bracing, beautiful and very specific. The current formulation is perhaps less than it used to be, but is still striking. There's very little else like it on the market. Of the many fougères of the 70s that provided an on-ramp to the men's power fragrances of the 80s, Paco Rabanne pour Homme is the one I would compare to any power frag, from Antaeus to Kouros (a fougère 'cousin') to Krizia per Uomo to Quorum. Any perfume used to bolster gender is as much a fantasy as it is a fragrance, but Paco Rabanne pour Homme was the fragrance for men who wanted to highlight their masculinity. It was affable, proportionate, and suggested a well intended interaction with the world. By comparison, Antaeus looks like something a would-be model poser might wear and Kouros implied that studied casualness of a haircare product that allows for just one perfect lick of hair out of place. And these two were the best of the power fragrances!

3/12/14 Stubborn

Masculinity in perfumery seems to come out of nowhere. If you accept the premise, as I do, that no fragrance is implicitly gendered, then the questions are: 1) How do fragrance and gender become matched? 2) What characteristics of gender become associated with a fragrance and how? 3) How does this model sustain itself over time?

Question number one I can't find an answer to no matter how hard I try. Perhaps the coumarin-lavender pairing smelled similar to something else that had already been associated with masculinity. Perhaps it was arbitrary. Question number two has a large set of answers, and it's probably the implicit question that I am considering whenever I write about perfume. Think of the neck tie and the scarf standing in for the fougère and the chypre. Both could be called silk accessories worn around the neck. Yet each is so charged with gender significance that wearing the one in the wrong context and around the wrong people could get you beaten or killed. Flaunting the laws of gender has consequences.

As to number three, I'm baffled. How is it that from the late 19th century into the 21st-century, the fougère remains the province of men? Men and women to at least some degree have shared the chypre genre, the Oriental and even the floral. Tobaccos, leathers. All of these genres have been accessible to both men and women, either simultaneously (Chanel pour Monsieur and Balmain Vent Vert) or at different periods of time (Caron Tabac Blond and Serge Lutens Chergui.) With very few exceptions, the fougère has been steadfastly in the men's camp.

Social mores, family structures, economic systems, language itself. Nothing except the fougère has remained impervious to gender in the past hundred 50 years. The fougère might well be the Y chromosome itself.

I suspect that some of this endurance can be attributed to the classic hetero binary of gender. Men and women marry. Baby boys wear blue, baby girls wear pink. Homemaker, breadwinner. Gatherer, Hunter. You know, all the little stories we like to tell ourselves. The fougère has been the masculine counterpart to many feminine fragrances. Most often, the chypre, but at times it was the counterpart to the Oriental, the leather, the tobacco. Even as recently as the past couple of decades, Angel is the feminine counterpart to the masculine Cool Water.

So, in strokes so broad that I'm not sure I believe what I'm saying, given the conventions of gender in western society, mainstream genders have tended to support each other along the male female axis. Accept this however you care to, vague truism, working model, god's word. The next logical step is, let's fuck with it. And here I have two thoughts. If the fougère remains reluctantly masculine, let's at least focus on the homoeroticism of it. If not, let's share. The dykes of the 1980s showed us the way when they appropriated Guy Laroche Drakkar Noir. Let women take the fougère for a while. I bet they could show us quite a bit about it. And after all, I wear Miss Balmain and Private Collection. Why shouldn't my sisters wear Paco Rabanne pour Homme and Rive Gauche pour Homme

5 years ago
4 Article Awards

I don't know Tom Ford from Adam, but I've had his image shoved down my throat by sheer demography for years. I have no interest in fashion, but I'm queer and live in an urban setting. In my world, Tom Ford: the Brand is on par with McDonald's in terms of ubiquity. Also, brands that express boredom with the lifestyle they espouse make me crazy. High-fashion world-weariness is ugly. I've been saturated with images of TF surrounded by stylish, hyper-contemporary extravagance as he manages to maintain his set-piece, bemused simplicity (a stand-in for an unaffected soul).

Tom Ford: the Brand would have you believe that Tom Ford, the man, is some sort of pinnacle of homosexuality. Hair in just the right places (and absolutely not in the wrong places.) Masculine, but fussy. Women, but as props. White, even when not visibly white. Unconsidered affluence. A botoxed serenity that if read closely, like reading lapels and shoes in TF ads, is intended to express a contemptuousness with the understyled masses. (btw, it doesn't. It reads as vapid.)

For those who would link homosexuality with the Ford brand, something I think the brands does explicitly and consciously, please think about the medium and the message. I'm queer, and Tom's not my fag. I don't blame straight people for Richard Nixon.

Tom Ford, the perfumes

Independent films at one time were simply films not produced by the mainstream studios. Over time, studios bought or formed production companies that would churn out 'indie' style movies, the studio system swallowed 'indie' whole, and the notion of the independent film has ceased to have any meaning. Has the same thing happened to niche perfumery?

Early niche lines, l'Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque, Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier still exist, but are they still niche perfumers? If so, how? Their names suggest the intent to be alternatives to mainstream sensibilities, ie. niche in character. They are also independent companies that make a focussed product range, fine fragrance. But they occupy a different place in the market than large producers of luxury commodities such as LVMH, and therfore are niche by virtue of their position in the market.

Independent became 'indie.' Has niche become 'nich-y'? Both in targeting of product design and sales, niche perfumery closely resembles the 'lifestyle' marketing trend of everything from paper towels to testosterone. Lifestyle marketing's purpose is to define its portion of the market and sell to it. Explicit in the concept and implicit in the advertising, lifestyle marketing is about growing its market, and aspiration is the key. Don't sell the exact lifestyle your market has, sell them an identifiable but better version of their lives, the one they'd have if they bought this perfume. Nothing particularly new here, it's just that the targeting ability granted by contemporary communication tech allows for a sniper's precision and a laser-precise manipulation of demography.

Why wouldn't big perfumery copy niche? And why wouldn't small new perfume companies clothe themselves in the nich-y style? In both cases, it's the perfect vehicle for aspirational marketing. Here is where Guerlain's 20 or so exclusive lines, Maison Kurkdjian, artisanal bread and the Orange County Housewives scrambling for their 15 minutes of branding become indistinguishable to me. All I can see is the sledgehammer of the motive, and desperation.

But each of the niche companies does attempt to define itself:

A few companies created a place for themselves by having a mission statement or founding concept and pursing it. Eg. The Finest, spare no expence (Amouage) or 'down with the old guard' (Etat Libre d'Orange).

Many grew like modern dance companies, formed to showcase the work of the founding artist. This strategy is an increasingly common and generally successful one. In historical terms, the perfumer being seen as an independent artist is a fairly recent phenomenon. Keiko Mechiri, Andy Tauer, Mona di Orio, Patricia de Nicolai, Gerald Ghislain (Histoire de Parfums), Pierre Guillame (Parfumerie Generale, Huitieme Art), James Heeley.

Some just have their schtick: Come des Garcons series 1-8, Juliette Has a Gun, le Labo, Blood Concept.

And of course, dear uncle Serge (Lutens) and the pursuit of a vision and esthetics.

The recent trend of simply launching a line, or building one at a rapid-fire pace is distressing. Marketing has always had precedence in perfumery. It is after all a luxury commodity, selling the fantasy is how it's done. But what is the artistic and creative virtue of launcing a line in one fell swoop? by Kilian launched a line, but to Kilian's credit, he commission work from a prolific perfumer, Calice Becker, who has a track record of having created a broad range of perfumes. Francis Kurkdjian has followed a similar strategy. What about companies following the strategy but without backing it up with the threat of actual talent/quality?

So, Tom Ford, the Smell Test

I'll distill the brand to its PR premise in a marketing haiku:

Tom is fashion made living.

You want to be Tom.

What he touches is gold. Buy.

Given his large-scale successes in the fashion industry, what's a few perfumes in matching bottles? Cake, huh?

I don't love every perfume in the Private Blend/Jardin Noir collections. But no collection should be designed to appeal to one individual's likes, which points to one of the smart decisions in the building and editing of this line. It doesn't just attempt to fill all the right slots. It's heavy on woods and florals and, thankfully, while there are gourmand notes, there are no full-on gourmand perfumes. It has rich florals for both men and women. The Jardin collection includes a hyacinth floral, a narcissus floral. Same for the woods. Interesting combinations, some more predictable than others, but it's not leathers A, B & C or ouds 1-4.

The three that make an interesting point are Lavender Palm, Neroli Portofino, and Azure Lime. Neroli and Azure are spins on an Eau de Cologne and Lavender Palm is a simple, smart take on lavender. Despite their breezier, lighter natures these three are given equal footing with brick-houses Tuscan Leather, Tobacco Vanille and Italian Cypress in the line. Exotic notes sound glamorous, but well designed simplicity is its own luxury.

Tom Ford Arabian Wood

Tom Ford Azure Lime

Tom Ford Black Violet

Tom Ford Cafe Rose

Tom Ford Champaca Absolute

Tom Ford Fleur de Chine

Tom Ford Italian Cypress

Tom Ford Jasmine Musk

Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge

Tom Ford Jonquille de Nuit

Tom Ford Lavender Palm

Tom Ford Lys Fume

Tom Ford Ombre de Hyacinth

Tom Ford Oud Wood

Tom Ford Neroli Portofino

Tom Ford Noir de Noir

Tom Ford Plum Japonais

Tom Ford Santal Blush

Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille

Tom Ford Tuscan Leather

Tom Ford Urban Musk

Tom Ford White Suede

5 years ago
1 Article Award

I’ve been thinking about the wonderful yet inexpensive perfumes out there. There are many well considered, beautifully made perfumes that you can buy for a song. Cheap or pricy, though, the best perfumes must stand up to the same criteria. Is it coherent and balanced? Does it hold up over time? Does it captivate you, that is, would you wear it as your only perfume? Crucial: does it smell good? Is it ‘you’? Does it remain engaging throughout the entire day? Will it last that long? Would you want it to? Does it work for you in all the compartments of your life: At work? Cooking? Socializing? Cruising? In a class? On the subway?

Let’s look at perfume criticism. And let’s not start with the accepted classics, the greats, the grandes dames. Let’s also skip the niche all-stars, and side-step the premise that more money equals better perfume. Let’s start with the commonly-available, inexpensive yet extraordinary perfumes. Rochas Tocade, Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel, Caron Troisième Homme, Balmain Ivoire, Gres Cabaret, Estee Lauder Azurée, Clinique Aromatics Elixir or Estee Lauder Private Collection. I’ll use Caron’s Yatagan here as a proxy for all of the above. At the time of writing (3/2013) a 4.2 oz bottle of the edt costs 29.49 an Amazon.com with free shipping.

I hesitate to use the word “great” in perfumery. I think of greatness as an aspiration or a standard of the Old School. I hope that new schools in perfumery and criticism might promote quality, creativity and analysis, but not hold out judgment and arbitrary thresholds as principal goals. Greatness connotes a false objectivity, or at least a socially agreed upon judgment, when it is in fact fundamentally subjective. Greatness tends to be cited when we’re looking for the dividing line: high/low, good/bad, worthy/crass. Let’s find words that assess and characterize, words that can speak both to objectivity and shared subjectivity and foster a less removed esthetic of criticism.

Dissociating cost and excellence is an important step in taking a discerning look at perfume. Divorcing notions of status and aspiration from the sale and use of perfume is a tricky prospect since perfume and fashion are historically and currently bound together. Still, while perfume and fashion are bound in the marketplace, perfume doesn’t necessarily have to be viewed and debated in the same light as fashion and design.

Clearly fashion and perfumery are historically and currently enmeshed. Still, while perfume and fashion are bound in the marketplace, perfume doesn’t necessarily have to be viewed and debated in the same light as fashion and design. Looking to other art forms, music is probably the most commonly used analogy. How often is a perfume described as orchestral, loud, harmonious, shrill or dissonant? We could just as easily consider perfume as performance, borrowing the language of dance and theater. Additionally, the recent recognition of the perfumer as auteur allows us to look at a perfumer’s body of work over time just as we might that of a visual artist. Add to these perspectives the scientific advances in chemical analysis and synthesis and perfumery looks ripe for a new if not radical form of critical thought.

OK, so Caron Yatagan. (1976, Perfumer Vincent Marcello.) It smells instantly, recognizably botanical---moss, wood, herbs. All bitter, all dry. But Yatagan’s trick, its value is the scale of its components, its abstraction. To read peoples’ reviews, Yatagan is the black box of perfume. To some it is a spicy woody, to others, a definitive leather, to others still, purely herbal. And I’d be negligent if I didn’t note that nearly every other review mentions underwear. I usually fall in pretty easily with the drawers and jockstraps crowd, but in this case, I’m entirely in Caron’s marketing department’s camp: “Flowerless Oriental Chypre”. So perfectly, hollowly evocative. It is instantly familiar to the ear, like flourless chocolate cake, but is also an easily decoded intimation. Flowerless = not pretty (read: the troubled masculinity of 1976, its year of origin). Oriental = a long history of describing ‘exotic’ sensibilities using tedious stereotypes of the inscrutable East. Chypre = green, bitter, mossy and, importantly, sophisticated. I imagine Caron might have been scared of Yatagan’s distinctiveness and attempted to use classic fragrance language to come up with a catch-phrase to comfort and flatter its potential buyers.

Caron may have been encompassingly vague in their marketing language, dimly offensive in their oriental allusion, but fortunately direct and brave in their fragrance. Yatagan has that striking balance of starkness and richness found in the best and most distinctive of perfumes.

So given its quality, why is Yatagan so inexpensive? Some factors I can loosely understand: economies of scale over time, brand recognition obviating the need for specific product marketing, possibly lower composition/production costs, clear profit margins assuming the initial investments in the 1970s have been returned. But rhetorically, why does Yatagan cost so much less than the weekly iteration of men’s designer crap fragrance? And why does Yatagan cost literally one-tenth the price of some directly comparably, high quality fragrances like those from Serge Lutens and Amouage?

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