Polo Sport (Ralph Lauren)

It's hard to know which of the aromatic fougères of the '90s are still good, and which have had their day. Cool Water really started a megatrend, a tidal wave of "fresh," "green," "cool," "aquatic," and "blue" tonics that range from smelling heavenly, to reeking of Jim the janitor's cleaning chemicals. I spent many years as a janitor; I have a good point of reference for this.

I will give an objective review here, because I think it's important to keep aromatic fougères in fair standing against other genres, and not blindly join the bandwagon of fresh fougère haters. It's true, the commercially understood definition of a fresh fougère yields fragrances that are far from my ideal, but good citrus/green/lavender fougères (things like Cool Water, Tsar, Sung Homme) are among my favorites - perhaps my own subgenre of "fresh" fougères - and ought to be given respect. The popularity of calone-based constructions brought us Polo Sport, which was probably the most successful designer offering, at least until Acqua di Gio came along.

The "sport" tag is something of a redundant clause in perfumery. If it's got "sport" in the title, it may as well have "marine," or "fraiche," or "acier," or even "blue" in there. It's all the same stuff. Think fresh, citrus, herbal, spicy, woody, ambery - and if nothing else, clean, clean, clean.

My theory on why Polo Sport was such a hit rests on its opening notes. The reference fougère for Polo Sport is Mennen's Skin Bracer - both fragrances employ a startling mint in their openings. Skin Bracer's mint is pert, green, and very sweet (not to mention utterly synthetic), while Polo's is very sharp and herbal, more naturalistic. Watercolor strokes of lemon, grapefruit, "water notes," and lavender swiftly move Polo into a very lush heart phase, setting the stage for the white floral/musk finish. The feeling is quite fresh, but also very dense. This is what dates Polo a bit - its rich array of elements are piled upon each other, all very similarly conjoined into one deep greenish-blue hue.

Polo's "sportiness" isn't the minimalist interpretation of current "sport" scents. You're not getting lemon, mint, naked calone (usually some nondescript berry-melon hybrid smell), a thimbleful of Iso E Super, and white musk. This fragrance assumes its wearer is accustomed to heady fare like Kouros, Iquitos, Acteur, and would therefore find find bitter citrus, mint, cloudy lavender, and a massive glob of old-school calone, 1960s-style calone, to be refreshing. That's essentially what stuff like Cool Water, New West, and Polo did - they updated the barbershop calones of the '60s and '70s, things like MEM's English Leather Wind Drift. In this case, it was done very nicely.

History is never kind to things like Polo Sport. Sniffing it today, I can't help but think the same effect can be garnered using a Gilette gel-stick deodorant, at a fraction of the price. Indeed, any one of your Gilettes and $10 drugstore aquatics approximate the exact same effect. This may bode ill for Polo Sport, but it doesn't really change the fact that it smells good. It hasn't changed much in the decades following its release, and wearing it today means attracting youthful female attention, feeling clean, and going easy on noses around you. If this is your goal, then Polo Sport, Cool Water, Skin Bracer, Wind Drift, and a myriad of similar products will get the job done.