Azzaro Pour Homme (Azzaro)

If Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels is the best fougère of the last quarter century, then Azzaro Pour Homme is the best of 35 years, and counting. I used to dislike Azzaro PH because of its overwhelming intensity, but the recent reformulation has solved that problem, no doubt to the chagrin of its fans. I prefer the new version because it doesn't give me headaches the way the original did. In fact, the top notes resemble a high quality sport fragrance, with bracing lemon and sweet lavender dominant. It does lack the depth of its predecessor, but the core components are still very much a part of the scent. This is still a woody, anise-laden fern, full of freshness and life.

There are billions of young men out there in the world, and it's safe to say that most of them don't know a blessed thing about perfumery, nor do they care. They generally gravitate toward whatever smells conventionally good, things with high designer brand recognition. There are broad categories to choose from, and here in America you're either a 1 Million man (Paco Rabanne), a CK In 2 U man (Calvin Klein), or a more mature but academically-dense Boss Orange Man man (Hugo Boss). Those who are young enough to have attended high school in the aughts are cursed with having the same grey citrus aquatic in a gazillion incarnations to choose from, while those old enough to remember the '80s are surprisingly cursed with poor memories. Which is the long way of saying that American guys have either never been properly exposed to good things, or have forgotten them.

Sadly, such is the case with the modern fougère. Cool Water is a classic that has not been forgotten, and rightfully so, but it steered the entire fougère category into the olfactory equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe's maelstrom. Funny thing, though - the two best aromatics in fragrance history came before and after Cool Water. Tsar, released in 1989, was the last of the great aromatic ferns; Azzaro Pour Homme, released in 1978, was second to last. Azzaro's beautiful arrangement of lemon, bergamot, lavender, oakmoss, anise, vetiver, caraway, sage, and cedar is dry, austere, green, and Italianate in style. Its European sophistication was once considered desirable on western shores, but no more. People grew tired of walking through aromatic clouds everywhere they went, and the invention of fragrance-free zones put the final nail in the classical aromatic fougère's coffin.

Sometime during the 1990s, the last teenager bought the last full-priced bottle of Azzaro Pour Homme, and proceeded to ignore the unconventionally beautiful girls it attracted. I suppose passing on the sexy-librarian type named Zoey (okay, maybe her braces didn't help) in favor of the sultry, snow-haired cheerleader Amber is forgivable, except that Amber ended up a single mom with a studio apartment in Hackensack and a Ford Taurus in the driveway. Zoey, on the other hand, is currently modeling at five figures for upstart designers in Paris while teaching English to businessmen and sleeping with wealthy Russian expatriates. Given the circumstances, I'd regret snubbing Zoey that day she asked me to the junior prom in homeroom, especially since Facebook now makes regret a verifiable business.

But I digress - the point here is that Azzaro Pour Homme, and similarly-wrought conservative green fougères, smell mature and traveled. Luca Turin has argued that a man's scent should never be more traveled than he is, but I disagree. The world is a tough field in which to play, and one needs every possible advantage at his disposal. A few years ago I was hobnobbing with an elderly gentleman who ran an excellent vintage perfume shop. He told me, "perfume is an illusion. You apply it, you go out and about among people, and they get a sense of something special around you, but it should never be in their face." This perfectly describes the reformulated Azzaro Pour Homme. It is ephemeral, natural, green, masculine, and alluring. Like Tsar, this fougère is useful at any time, in any place. I find the use of anise to be a tad challenging, and that's okay depending on your mood. For the times I want something different, I have plenty of other options. For the times I want to attract those unconventional and worldly Zoeys, I have Azzaro, and I'm thankful.


  1. I appreciate your writing a fun piece about a fragrance that can seem a bit serious to me... or at least, I've never quite felt like that goofy guy in the ad (the one whose shirt is getting worked on by a woman -- unbuttoned? Buttoned up? Either way, he looks like he's crazy ticklish, or she has really cold hands...) I am also wondering... When did Azzaro do away with the metal line along the bottom of the black cap? I ask this because I am wondering if it's the same time they stopped adding any kind of moss to it. I don't generally make a thing about seeking out vintages, but I recently pulled the trigger on a travel set (3.4 OZ bottle, teeny-tiny bottle, body wash, deo stick, aftershave balm) that was a ridiculously good deal, and note that it still has the metal strip (it hasn't arrived yet).

    For context, I'm not somebody who things that oak moss is a matter of life and death; the current mossless version of Eau Sauvage is among my all-time favourites (I have a mini of the brown box stuff and thin the moss issue, at least in that composition, is overhyped.) I did find though, that a tester I tried a year or so ago of APH that def still had the moss also seemed to have more heft in general: the leather, the tingly herbs, and the low-level, fuzzy bass guitar feedback anise note that makes this composition distinct... Or was it just tester fever?

    1. Very recently the silver band was deleted from the cap on Azzaro PH. However, it does not indicate a change in formula, as oakmoss was absent in bottles with silver bands on their caps. I'm sure the silver band was just an added packaging expense that Azzaro decided to scrap. As a design grad I studied the expense of adding tiny little details to packaging, and surprisingly the smallest little thing can be egregiously expensive over time. In the forty years since Azzaro was released, they've probably spent a million dollars on that silver band. The silver sticker on the glass, now long gone, was probably another million.

      Azzaro PH is a weird fougere. When I first smelled it years ago, I thought it was incredibly complex, very lucid, quite loud, and just amazing stuff. (I still like it a lot.) In the intervening years, its effect on me has waned, along with my perception of it. Although I'm sure that it hasn't changed much, it seems simpler, gauzier, quieter, and it stops at being mildly impressive. I am basing my description of these perceptions off of my current bottle, which is a nineties vintage with the sticker on the glass. The stuff with plenty of oakmoss. So it isn't the fragrance that changed. Just my take on it. This isn't to say that I don't think it's a worthy masculine, or that it has fallen in my esteem. It hasn't - it's still great, and I still wear it. But I think experience and exposure have made the fragrance seem milder and less challenging that it used to. It's possible that you're experiencing something similar with Azzaro PH.

      I've always considered oakmoss to be more of a functional note than a true performer. It's a fixative, and it does lend an extra degree of depth to most compositions that contain it. But as a note, I don't find it indispensable. The development of laboratory-attenuated moss molecules has made things like Azzaro PH, Mitsouko, Eau Sauvage, and Brut smell slightly different, but in a rather poorly defined and neutral way.

  2. Thanks for that thorough reply... The bottle I ordered turns out to be from 2012. I do *think* I perceive differences from a new 2015 bottle I owned previously; the 2012 bottle feels a bit denser, with a stronger overall presence of the anise note. It is actually surprisingly strong stuff, which is not something I would have said of the newer bottle I had tried. It is a bit of a weird scent, I agree... There is a slightly Baroque feel in terms of complexity but not drama close to the vest (if it were a Baroque painter, it would be Carracci, not Caravaggio). It does have an unmistakable charm and personality that (in this vintage) is still quite legible to me. It turns out that I have developed a strange allergy to it, however (I'm thinking that anise alcohol may be the culprit, as I have a similar reaction to Grey Flannel, I am very sorry to say...) So now I have this great little travel kit living in the back of my closet (sigh).


Thank you for your comment. It will be visible after approval by the moderator.