Chanel desperately needs to push the envelope with its masculine fragrances. To use the word 'desperately' actually underplays how badly they need this correction; unless the company releases an aggressive, civet-laden monster soon, an entire wing of their commercial line will slip into irrelevance. I don't care how they do it - oud is in lately, so they can spin their version of that, or they can approach the gourmand territory charted by Mugler. But whatever they do, they'd better do it.
This is how I felt when I tried Antaeus, which was Jacques Polge's woody chypre of 1981. I've read a lot about it, and many writers opined on the scent's in-your-face character. Some even compared it to Kouros by YSL. There were musings on how dynamic its honey note is, how it's a symbol for gay pride, and how nothing else in the Chanel lineup can touch its style and panache. Most of what I read was persuasive. Antaeus is a striking package, all sleek black lines and vintage lettering. It's as if the bottle is announcing itself as Chanel's Kouros, Chanel's black sheep.
So it was with little trepidation that I tried Antaeus recently, to finally smell what all the hubbub was about. The scent started out with a smooth blend of sage, coriander, bergamot, and something pungently animalic. After a few seconds, I figured the animalic note was castoreum. It was lively, but definitely not in-my-face. After about ten minutes, the patchouli, oak moss, labdanum, and myrhh arrive, all blended into an oddly creamy olfactory illusion of sandalwood and honey. It's a waxy sort of honey, and indeed, Antaeus boasts a beeswax note in its pyramid. The effect is quite smooth and a little bitter. Nice, but nothing extraordinary. An hour later, the composition slipped into a vague, creamy drydown of wildflowers and labdanum.
Every time I sniffed my wrist, I wondered when the party would start. Where was the caricatured note? Why wasn't the patchouli enormous? How about a slower castoreum, something that really saunters into the heart and base, staying the course to the drydown? What I smelled was calm, composed, stately. Sure, it was very masculine, but the right woman could pull this off (not so with Kouros). While by no means dull, Antaeus was a far cry from challenging. It had me envisioning stuffy British diplomats at a gentleman's club, smoking cigars and twirling their moustaches. Chanel had released a very mature-smelling chypre, all buttoned buttons and pursed lips.
In any case, it was artfully made, but its quality did not overcome its ubiquity. Antaeus is expensive when you can find it. Kouros, on the other hand, isn't. Between the two, I'll stick to the one with civet.