Polo by Ralph Lauren. Carlos Benaim's 1978 formula was never intended for skirt-chasers. It wasn't meant to amp up one's "clean" factor, or convey to women a sense of impeccable personal grooming. Mr. Lauren's first major masculine scent was specifically designed to be a magnifier of one's inner macho.
Polo captures this essence perfectly. It's a leathery chypre, bordering on freshness, but truly ensconced in an earthy rawhide. The incredible opening of basil, caraway, pine, artemisia, and patchouli is so indelibly green and earthy. The greenness is enhanced by a very pronounced patchouli note, which hoists the pine needles and degrading leaves over its shoulders of dry soil and spice. After a while, the bitter greens begin to recede, and the fragrance becomes a leathery affair. This leather is full of the aromatic riches that come with vetiver, sage, bergamot, and oakmoss. The mossy notes eventually dominate the sideshow, flanking the leather until the furthest reaches of the drydown. The whole show is truly beautiful, understated, unforgettable.
It's also a little menacing. Polo is like Yatagan, but with all the shadows and none of the bite. Nothing leaps out and shakes you, but the arrangement of evergreen, herbs, spices, discreet floral naunces, and mosses leaves its mark in one's scent memory. By aquatic standards, this doesn't smell good. This is the definition of smelling bad, of smelling uncouth and dirty. But I don't live by aquatic standards. I live by masculine standards, and I reserve the right to maintain my sexiness while smelling of fresh-cut grass and tree bark.
Polo deals in the smells men follow: cut grass, tree clippings, gardening gloves, stale tobacco, the great outdoors. Sure, it's 2011, and there are millions of metrosexuals out there whose last encounter with a pine cone was back when the Macintosh II was released. But every woman I know here in Connecticut refuses to cut her own lawn, and expects the man of the house to take up that chore. As far as I'm concerned, the way I smell after that chore is the way I want to smell, the way I should smell, and the way she expects me to smell. Polo conjures scent associations of a strong, physically healthy guy, a conscientious man who always follows through, a true adult. Images of drama-less masculinity, like the Marlboro Man, abound.
On a superficial level, Ralph Lauren's brand has moved far beyond the original Polo, and committed the multiple sins of its Blue, Black, and Double Black flankers. But make no mistake - Polo is never going to fade into irrelevance. The scent is a piece of American culture, American identity, and is sometimes overbearing, often difficult, but always part of the conversation. Ladies, the next time you pass a bottle on a tester shelf, give it a spritz. The earthy, dark scent that it produces will transport you back into the arms of a lover from long ago, one you may have temporarily forgotten. Hold onto that feeling, and remember it whenever some detergent-scented, gel-haired mimbo leans in to give you some cheesy line. You'll find yourself wanting to turn back the clock and make love to the man of your memories. And you'll be the better for it.