9/20/11

In Defense of Masculines


Welcome to From Pyrgos, my fragrance blog. As a lover of perfume, I'm always exploring masculine scents and trying to find what basenoters refer to as the "Holy Grail". After three years of searching, I've come to the conclusion that Holy Grail fragrances are ridiculously hard to come by. I think I'd have better luck at finding the actual Holy Grail itself, even if drugged, blindfolded, and randomly airdropped into a desert of some distant third-world country. When I began exploring male perfumes, I did so under the misguided notion that gender marketing was meaningful, was something with artful rhetoric behind it. I know, I know. Naive. Heck, I figured ladies smelled like sugar and fruit and flowers, and guys smelled like motor oil and old wood. It never occurred to me that sugar doesn't really have a definitive smell, fruit comes in all sorts of edible and poisonous forms, and flowers are presented at virtually anyone's funeral, regardless of sex. To stereotype the three elements as being strictly "feminine" was not only silly, but patently false on all counts. Guys can smell sweet, fruity, and floral, and still maintain heterosexual identities and a daily regimen of shaving, chasing women, and shooting small game. Likewise, women can leave trails of motor oil, wood, leather, tobacco, and bitter greens in their path, should they choose to. Everyone's skin takes differently to the chemical compounds in perfume; even if Anais Anais smells of sunny and delicate flowers on me, it might come across as a sultry come-hither fragrance on you. It took a while, but after trying everything from Chanel N°5 to Yatagan, I finally realized the fact that most noses in the know have known since they started smelling: gender barriers don't really exist, and those that do are meant to be crossed.

With that said, there's a problem in the fragrance world, or as I see it, a misconception. It is something many bloggers and forum posters elsewhere in the worldwide web lament - the perceived lousiness of masculine scents. Luca Turin, famed biophysicist and co-author of Perfumes: The Guide feels that a man would do better to sample and wear feminine fragrances over almost anything within "his" fragrance domain. There's a general attitude swirling around out there, that masculine scents are basically feminine fragrances with all the heart and soul stripped out of them. This philosophy conjures images of soulless suits chastising their artistic perfumer underlings for daring to keep rich feminine notes of original fragrances in their masculine counterparts, and demanding that such elements be tossed and replaced by dull chemical woods, calone, and musks.


Western acculturation puts men at a psychological disadvantage when it comes to perfume. There is the stigma of smelling "girly" or just plain funny. There's the requirement that fragrance be tied into an old-fashioned guy's wetshaving routine, lest he be perceived as someone who has no reason for wearing perfume. Nowadays there's always a question as to WHY a man would wear something other than his shirt and blue jeans. Is he trying to pick up chicks? Is he playing for the other team? Is he just confused? We can thank the fact that most guys have no idea what perfume really is for their inability to capitalize on this cheap luxury and fashion statement. Once you go past Aqua Velva and Cool Water, or any other drugstore body spray or aftershave, most men-off-the-street glaze over when you bring up note pyramids and fragrance categories. Try pulling a random guy off a sidewalk in Boston and asking him to list his favorite chypres. Good luck with that.

To me, the tragedy is not in the general male malaise toward fragrance, but in the fact that yes, there is some truth to the lament of those who hate male fragrances. It's true, there are far too many banal aquatics, saccharine sugarbomb gourmands, and cheap chemical abominations posing as perfume. When I walk through Walgreens, I'm always amazed by how many Nautica, CK, and Axe products are available for testing. Who the hell wears that shit? Furthermore, who the hell thinks they actually smell good? Apparently the taste for that stuff begins in high school, and some either outgrow it and end up wearing Cool Water, or nothing. And so the idea persists - masculine perfumery is a wasteland, a place consigned to those with no sense of style, no knowledge of fragrance, and no care for further exploration of the subject.

I'm here to rip that notion to shreds. The world of masculine perfumery is full of very pleasant surprises. Many of these surprises will be reviewed by me here. But I'll offer a few examples of why masculine fragrances - defined as those fragrances that are marketed solely to men - can be wonderful. First, there's the fact that gender-crossing in regards to masculines, and particularly '80s "Powerhouse" masculines, requires of women a certain chutzpah, a distinct pizazz, an unmistakable quality of forward-thinking, steeliness, and magnificent style. One could argue that men need these qualities to don women's perfumes, and to an extent that's true, but not in the same way. I've smelled plenty of aftershaves that could double as women's perfumes. But for a girl to spray herself with, say, Kouros, requires nothing short of sheer determination to get one's point across. When you get into the land of masculine masterpieces, you enter a territory that anyone, man or woman, should be glad to visit. This is where Kouros, Yatagan, Grey Flannel, Green Irish Tweed, Pino Silvestre, Acteur, Zino, Chaps, Fahrenheit, Hammam Bouquet, Allure Homme, and Lapidus Pour Homme reside. It's a place where contradiction, olfactory expression, and the ultimate reward of knowing yourself comes together and helps to form a new and daring style. It's where you can have your cake, and eat it, too.


This blog will follow a simple format of providing you, the beloved reader, with direct and in-depth reviews of all kinds of fragrances. Much of the photography is my own. I invite you to keep reading, and look forward to providing you with insights into my olfactory explorations!































6 comments:

  1. Definitely it seems that I can't help loving things that Charles Bronson and Tommy Lee Jones and Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood would wear, haha! Probably you'd think I'm in too much gendered side concerning perfume, but it's not that easy to judge. What struck me the most about a man's scent is that to me smells manly, but how to describe 'manly'? I love all that rough/tough (considered 'MACHO'?) stuff with all my heart. Why? well, I think it's all about feelings and associations, and as you've said in Guy Laroche's Drakkar Noir review that is a common macho '80s, and to me, macho '80s = manly. Simply as that.

    On the other hand, I've realized that I'm much more interested in that kind of 'roaring', direct/honest scents that in the 'refined', elusive ones, whether it's male, female or unisex: no matter, whatever be.

    I just don't want/need to be more sophisticated than is strictly necessary, I'm moving toward a more simple life, and 'sophisticated' or refined is not a way I particularly want to feel like. If I'm refined enough is something others only can judge by knowing me.

    But when it comes to perfume (which to me is basically a self-sentimental thing even more than a mode of expression), I just want let myself be led by emotional instincts, and I want perfumes that make me feel that emotions. So if I feel melancholic, I'm wearing a perfume that undeniabely gives me that, and so on.

    So I guess after all it's the same for this topic... and the same for you, men. Do the way you feel and don't pretend to be something you're not (aspirational way of wearing perfume). Probably that's why we think Drakkar Noir would suit Charles Bronson so well, and that's why it's so manly... but what would happen if Charles Bronson surpringsly loved Fleur de Male? Charles Bronson IS manly, isn't he? so... Just be yourself.

    I'm not against ungendered at all, but always in favor of a self-honesty use of perfume. I just can't wear most of male woody&fougere scents because I feel them too manly, simply as that. Even most of the unisex scents on the market I find them too manly. But I swear if I felt manly, I just wore them, haha!


    ;)

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  2. what I mean is that of course scents aren't really gendered, but it all depends on your own perception of the scent (= emotions), and "if the blockage is most likely emotional, one does not most effectively deal with emotional barriers".

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  3. You know, it's funny - the only clue about Charle's Bronson's taste in fragrance are his commercials for the Japanese EDT called MANDOM! in which he dances around and douses himself in that stuff like a giddy schoolboy. By all accounts MANDOM is pretty heady and masculine. Not sure how much one can read into his endorsement of it, though.

    I think men and women as individuals are entirely independent entities capable of choosing and rejecting scent based on personal standards, and that 25% of the human population does this on a regular basis, which keeps high-quality artistic (and often niche) fragrances in business. Sadly, the remaining 75% just doesn't "get it" when it comes to scent. They try to conform to a rigid social norm of girls wearing sugar and flowers and boys wearing aquatics and orientals and dull woody ambers. Back in the old days it was girls wore eau de colognes and floral chypres, men wore power fougeres and leathers. Times haven't been kind to us with perfume. But the ability to expand one's olfactory vocabulary, to enter into new situations based on mood, and inclination, and whimsy, well that is entirely accessible, possible, and encouraged by people who know that fragrance is expression, and not just "smell." So at times people pick up on this and improve their attitude, and others simply don't think it's that important and stick to their Le Male and Acqua di Gio. In the end, only one's own choices matter.

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  4. HAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAA He's a Boss!!!! dude I'm loving that AD, I think it's one of the most hilarious I ever seen in my life, he's a laugh and a joker, you funny guy, Mr.Bronson! I really never heard about that and I'M ENJOYING it right now, thanks to your mention! :)))

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  5. 'in the end, only one's own choices matter' --> Exactly!
    To my general way of thinking:
    In the same way that when I'm wearing Mitsouko, one can say/think:
    'it smells like a granny!' without making me change my heart about wearing Mitsouko,
    when I'm wearing Mandom one can say/think:
    'it smell like an asshole coming from the Barber's Shop!' and the should I feel offended? Still, despite all of the 'roughness', I'm feeling hyper-feminine and pretty on the inside. (hahaha!)

    ONLY if it's just ME, thinking/saying to MYSELF: 'oh My!!I smell like an asshole coming from the Barber's Shop!'---> then I'll probably stop wearing MANDOM.


    Anyway, what I see is that masculine/feminine codes are still easier to mix when you’re a woman, that's (sadly) a result of the patriarchal societies.

    That said, I personally think a man could wear something like Chanel No. 19 without anyone thinking 'Dude smells like a lady!', and also everyone can wear Mitsouko or Bandit, so they would be perfectly acceptable whether in a man or in a woman.

    BUT. BUT...
    There are very few men I would expect to be able to pull off for instance, Lipstick Rose by Fréderic Malle or something like that (it smells like old fashioned makeup/lipstick! Definitely No Way...huh?). Outside of any social considerations, this kind of perfumes DO seem to be clearly gendered, don't you think? (well at least, according to me).
    So where do you draw the line? Own perception? Are we sure aren't any few exceptions out there, after all? (Intense mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmh! thinking hard...or hardly thinking? hahaha)

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  6. although possibly a wrong premise, a conclusion can be:

    If we take Perfume as Art -I don't consider EVERY perfume as a work of art, though-, then we can conclude that is not ONLY a way of expression for the wearer, but for the creator too.

    as in every Art, there's the artist and the active observer, encountering each other. So, the way you perceive a smell is the artist's ability to express certain 'values, ideas, feelings, things, etc' through this medium. So if he's thinking in a WOMAN when he's creating a scent and he's enough talented... probably you'll perceive a WOMAN.

    Just a thought!

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