Le Mâle (Jean Paul Gaultier)

When Francis Kurkdjian graduated from perfumery school, his first set of briefs included Le Mâle, and he created Gaultier's signature masculine using a small palette of 350 raw materials, which is the number of materials students at ISIPCA are expected to be knowledgeable of. This implies that Le Mâle is a wonder of structural focus and simplicity. It is certainly a phenomenally destructive strong fragrance, the kind that pounds with endless hours of sillage and projection for yards around. It's a perfume that precedes its wearer, entering the room long before he does, and hanging back for a good thirty minutes after he leaves. You don't want to go apeshit with the atomizer on this.

We already know Le Mâle is a seminal 90s masculine, a pivotal moment in the stylistic and cultural direction of that horrendous decade. I don't have to yammer on about that. Let me relate my impressions instead, based on things I've read, and my own experiences with this olfactory giant.

People say the darnedest things, but the strangest comparison I've encountered is one of Pour un Homme de Caron and Le Mâle. A guy on basenotes once announced that he felt they're very similar, and asked if anyone else smelled what he smelled. Most of the responses were of the "what the fuck?" variety, but none of them were outraged, and some were surprisingly casual, even yawn-inducing. It might be because guys don't think much of Caron's signature masculine these days, or because basenoters are disinterested in anything as mundane as Le Mâle, but it was an odd exchange to be sure. I wince to think of it - these two fragrances have nothing in common, beyond perhaps a vanilla note.

I grew up with Le Mâle, as it was my best friend's signature scent. He wore it lightly, but with this scent, there is no "lightly." It is built on the chassis of a classic barbershop fougère (as is Pour un Homme), but its notes are cranked up to 11, with plenty of reverb, and 90,000 watts of ampage. At first it's a grandiloquent rush of lavender, vanilla, mint, then LAVENDER, VANILLA, MINT. The intensity is nose-searing, and this trio coalesces into a fresh powdery accord that eventually takes a half-step back to let anyone within a five mile radius breathe. Things warm up as spiced tonka and amber, infused with the vanilla from the intro, well from skin like a hot spring. Seven or eight hours later, the powdery amber begins to dissolve into scratchy notes of cedar, sandalwood, jasmine, orange blossom, and musk. Think Barbasol on steroids, and you've got Le Mâle.

Did I ever like it? I thought it was cool in a very French way, when I was 17. My feelings for this scent have changed, and they changed even before I became a fragrance connoisseur. I think it's unnecessarily loud, incredibly sweet, cloying, unrefined, just plain awful. There are a few thousand muscle-shirted meatheads with Red Bull & vodkas suffocating a few thousand pretty girls with their obnoxious sixty-six squirts of Le Mâle as I type these words. Gentlemen, to you I say now, avoid wearing Le Mâle, and go with something that actually smells like a perfume - not a chemical fabric detergent - and wear Pour un Homme, or Rive Gauche Pour Homme instead. To those thousands of pretty and unfortunate girls, I say this: Run. Run as fast as you can, and don't stop until the only thing you smell is the thrill of escaping with life and limb intact.

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