10/19/11

Sung Homme (Alfred Sung)


Soapiness is a fragrance quality not often desired these days. Darkly-woody oud orientals, and blaringly sweet 'n feminine gourmands are the latest trends. Those essential oil bars of the '70s and '80s are largely relegated to the consignment bins of history's fashion graveyard. Still, some have survived. If you were to ask me what my favorite surviving soapy fragrance is, I'd say that I have two: Grey Flannel, and Sung Homme.

Grey Flannel was a given the moment I first smelled it; Sung Homme had to earn my love. A few years ago, I picked up a small bottle of Z-14, and another small bottle of Sung Homme, and did something obviously foolish - tried them both at the same time. The result was that I could tell what Z-14 smelled like, and couldn't tell what Sung Homme smelled like, except it smelled really, really bad. Because my sniffer was having no problem with the Z, I figured the same for the Sung, but it wasn't so. The intense leathery-cinnamon Mack truck of Z-14 ran right over the more subtle and nuanced Sung, allowing me to discern bare facets of what should have been a complex olfactory impression. I mistakenly thought that I hated both scents, and got rid of them as quickly as possible.

Fast forward a few summers, and I suddenly found myself curious about Sung Homme again. It occurred to me that I probably didn't have the whole picture, especially since I'd given Z-14 much more of a chance (it was the first scent I tried that day). Also, I'd been reading about it. People were fairly consistent in their evaluation of Sung - it was widely compared to Irish Spring bar soap, especially the original 1970s formula. It was also described as being very synthetic, a "powerhouse", and of a world that, since the years immediately following its heyday, has long been abandoned.


When it arrived in the mail, I unwrapped the bottle and gave it a spritz. This time there was nothing interfering with my nose. Lo and behold, there was the scent of Irish Spring bar soap, emanating peacefully from my wrist. Better still, it was the original Irish Spring, not the current formula, which is a little too dry and stark for me. The original soap had a creamier, spicier, and more complex scent. It was also a tiny bit sweet, which contrasted nicely with its green effect. Colgate has re-released the original soap in body wash form, but I'm not convinced it does it justice. The original bar was just . . . better. I don't know if Alfred Sung intended for his first masculine fragrance to smell like Irish Spring, or if it was just a coincidence. In the extremely unlikely event that our paths ever cross, I'll mention it to him. My guess is, he'd roll his eyes and give me an I've heard that a million times already look.

Anyhow, I digress - from that soapy, synthetically-green opening unfurled a dense array of spices and aromatics. Sage, thyme, fir, black pepper, and juniper berry are combined into a smooth, but forceful scent sheen, one that reads as a synthetic construct of representational notes, blended into an abstract soap effect. It was like I'd just showered, there in the middle of a hot August day. The brisk afterglow of my soap still lingered in the air around me, cool and thick, like a cloud. I smelled like a lye-based product, but not really clean. Something here made me happy.

As the fragrance dried further, the bittersweet density of the heartnotes began to give way for a pleasant blur of fake pepper, pine, patchouli, and oakmoss. Actually, the pine doesn't smell all that synthetic at this stage. It was linear for another couple of hours before it faded away. The verdict: Sung Homme is very good. Unusual, yes. Synthetic, yes, yes. But crap? No way. Yeah, it's about as soapy as a scent can get, and it reminds me of a Christmas candle with those massive fir and juniper components. But this is cool juice, a bright-purple '80s masculine chypre in one of Pierre Dinand's gorgeous Art Deco-inspired skyscraper bottles. Its bright, peppery demeanor isn't hard to like, especially if you're a fan of Irish Spring.

I really wish they still made bold chypres like Sung Homme. But then again, if we were awash in a fashion-scape where chypres are the trend, Sung might be considered too synthetic to be a real contender. It isn't something I reach for all that often, but when I do, Sung makes me consider the possibilities of masculine perfumery, and that's more than I can say for most things.



Irish Spring photo by Dwight Burdette.
























4 comments:

  1. How can you tell the "original" Irish Spring soap from the current formula when searching for it on the Web?

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    1. Atze you have to reference Irish Spring commercials from the seventies and match the packaging shown with those of your google searches. Here's a commercial to help you along. It's unlikely the soap formula changed at all between 1972 and 1977 so don't worry too much about the five year interval between its release date and this TV spot.
      The ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSUPEejzIUc

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  2. I suppose I am getting here a bit late (!) but I’ve only recently discovered your blog and only very recently purchased Sung Homme… I picked this up because I was looking for something for spring and was pleasantly surprised... Like someone has commented of Quorum, it is a good scent for hacking around on weekends outside (a lot of mossy green notes), with that refreshingly bitter bite at the opening, like that first beer sipped from a brown glass bottle while camping. These are its old-fashioned aspects, as is a certain warm, waxy sweetness rising from the skin that reminds me of the things about Azzaro Pour Homme that I like (though I agree with your most recent review citing its decline – yikes!). In addition to the much-discussed soapiness I notice a kind of sallow floral sourness (these are the wrong words, but it is a soft tang that reminds me of violet leaf, though this is not in the listed notes - maybe it's caraway?- that takes a little getting used to).

    In both of these respects, Alfred Sung Homme reminds me of recent experiences testing out two thoroughly contemporary post-modern scents identified by some as fougeres: Prada Amber Pour Homme (for the synthetic soap) or Narciso Rodriguez Pour Homme for the ferny fougere "gloom." I'm not that knowledgeable about notes but I wonder if this comes from Galbanum, a note I loved without knowing what it was when I first smelled it in in Grey Flannel (my first serious high school scent about twenty-six years ago.) NR Pour Homme sometimes feels like a decapitated Grey Flannel to me (with a briny ozonic wind spitting patchouli in your face), and this is similar; in both cases, a nostalgic, personable musk absorbs the tailings of the lot of the floral and mossy notes into its fading base as it trails away. On me, the patchouli seems to outlast the pine, and the pepperiness reminds me forcibly of digging and cutting laurel roots (a gardening task I used to hate, but now will look on with a little more olfactory curiosity.) Longevity is very good and projection is strong for the first two hours, but I expect (judging from its recent prominence at the drugstore next to Azzaro) that it has been watered down a bit since some of the reviews touting its powerhouse-ness were posted. Anyway, thanks for walking me through this… This is turning out to be a pleasant scent for work and the too-rare stroll in the woods this chilly, mossy west coast February.

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    1. I think laurel is a note in Sung Homme! You have a good nose. As you pointed out, this scent is all about bitter floral elements coming to terms with warmer, sweeter coumarin and amber notes. I find the overall effect to be pretty strident and long-lasting. But certainly it is reformulated since its release in '89, and is likely a bit less potent than it used to be. Enjoy it!

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