10/1/12

Le Troisième Homme (Caron)


Perhaps the nicest thing about having 100 years of modern perfumery behind you is the ability to trace the thematic evolution of popular scent profiles. It's as easy to connect the dots between Skin Bracer, Caron Pour Homme, and Agua Lavanda Puig, as to follow the gilded path from Grey Flannel to anything "fresh" and "green" from the last twenty-five years. The fact that one could miss genuinely unique and distinguished entries is the only possible downside, as those rarest of rare diamonds-in-the-rough sometimes have an elusive way about them. Which brings me to Le Troisième Homme, Caron's "Third Man" in its esteemed masculine range. Released in 1985, this brilliant fougère stands aloof, safely away from a myriad of woody-fresh fougères of that era, although I contend it's loosely book-ended by Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur cologne and Creed's Bois du Portugal, with Guerlain's Héritage further afield. All parallels aside, comparing Le Troisième Homme to anything misses the point: this fragrance is one of a kind, and its nose is undoubtedly the sort of slightly-eccentric woman who voluntarily reads Ada and Beautiful Losers and plays Fruchtchen! for fun.

Le Troisième Homme, created in a Givaudan laboratory by a Japanese perfumer named Akiko Kamei, takes a yuzu-tinged citrus and lavender note and enlivens it with a fresh, cool, almost-lactonic woody-floral accord of surprising strength and tenacity, thanks to synthetics that extend the lavender well past its sell-by date. Its herbal coolness is flanked by a judicious touch of oakmoss, and forms a subtle tension against a warm and musky base. Coriander lends a feral edge to clean jasmine and an anisic, ephemerally-camphorous base of cedar, vanilla, and sandalwood. Although its drydown is lovely (and dare I say it, sexy too), I'm more enamored with LTH's champagne-fizz top. It's comprised of nothing special, yet somehow smells new, unprecedented, successfully inventive. A standard arrangement of orange, lemon, lavender, and oakmoss is passable on paper, but in practice here it astonishes me, as it smells of nothing else, and smells very, very good. You could blame it on the angelic touch of aldehydes in the first five seconds, or perhaps the liqueur-like dulcitude of syrupy orange and lemon as they mingle with a tempered version of Pour un Homme's unmatched lavender. Whatever it is, it works, and the somewhat-questionable sheer musk that plagues other Caron masculines, Yatagan in particular, is right at home here as well. Nice work.


It took me four years to get around to trying this scent, due in no small part to the scattered reviews about it in online forums. I'd come close to a blind-buy, and then read more about it and get spooked. People have the most divergent opinions about Third Man, with comments ranging from "Tom Selleck with his shirt open," to "a great scent to wear on Easter, with its association of flowers and candies." Some say it's too feminine, too "pretty," while others claim it's almost unisex, but in some ways too masculine for the ladies to pull off. Still others suggest that it's completely unisex. Having finally worn it myself, I can say that I fall firmly into the last camp, finding LTH neither overtly masculine, nor overwhelmingly feminine, but somewhere in the middle, a terrain inhabited by everyone, from the girliest of girly-girls, to the butchest lesbians, the strongest archetypical silent types, to the classiest bisexual Hollywood players.

Ironically enough, virtually no one wears it. Their loss - I'm definitely keeping it in my rotation for the rest of my life.





















15 comments:

  1. Well, I have a big bottle of this juice, and I'm with you, Bryan! Every time I wear it I wonder why I don't wear it more often.

    Interestingly, the same thing happens every time I watch the film The Third Man: I find myself wondering why I waited so long to watch it again...

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    1. Ha yeah I know you're not the biggest fan of PuH, not sure if you've tried Yatagan (another unisex woody chypre that Caron did a nice job with), but we're definitely of the same mind on this one. About frequency of use: my theory, given how many times now I've "almost" worn it but picked something else, is that Third Man has a very special-occasion champagne-and-oyster feel, at least to me. Wearing it on a regular humdrum day kinda feels like wearing a tuxedo to work. But then again, a perfume isn't a tuxedo, and I'm going to push past that reservation in the future and try to wear this every time I feel like it, which lately is often.

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    2. Yes, I like Yatagan, too, despite its intensity (or is it because?...). My issue with Pour Un Homme is really a personal problem with lavender. I seem to be very sensitive to it and often find it harsh and grating in even small concentrations. So that's the first strike against it: any Big Lavender fragrance is automatically not going to thrill me. Then, since it's mixed with vanilla, I get a kind of Bath and Body Works flashback going. I've probably used too many bottles of BBW Aromatherapy Lavender Vanilla body products...

      These are, again, personal problems. lol

      So Creed month is really over? How time flies! I'm thinking about doing a Serge Lutens wax sample challenge: can I wear a different scent to bed for thirty-two nights--and will I get any sleep? (-;

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    3. That's interesting about the lavender. Third Man definitely integrates its lavender - which I find moderately strong - much more than PuH, as the latter is far simpler. I think PuH is more a love-it or hate-it scent that I previously thought. And if people don't hate it they seem to find it merely dull and forgettable. And damn you B&BW! (Shakes fist at capitalistic mall-trap).

      Creed month is really over, although October has some good stuff in store. I laughed out loud at your Lutens challenge idea. Please, whatever you do, don't sacrifice sleep in the name of Lutens :-P

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  2. I am a fan of the House of Caron, and was very impressed by all their masculines when I got the chance to sample them. Caron doesn't do itself any favors with its (non-existant) marketing in the US; even in the New York-Metro area, there are too few outlets selling the fragrances. And when was the last time you saw a Caron ad in a glossy magazine? I know Caron has taken a lot of hits from perfumistas for the Richard Fraysse reformulations of the house's classics, but IMHO even the current formulations are way better than a huge percentage of fragrances sold today.

    Hope you don't mind if I ask an off-topic question: I think you mentioned that you had taught English overseas. I'm interested in teaching ESL, and wonder if you would mind sharing how you trained, how you found work, something about your experiences of teaching? You can respond at plsny2012 at yahoo dot com. Thanks!

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  3. A lovely review of a scent that has indeed seemed to generate a lot of cognitive dissonance. I tried in NYC at the old Caron Boutique two + years ago and only recently obtained a gently used bottle. It is butcher than I remembered, seeming to fall along more classic green fougere lines, albeit with that pinkish floral fuzziness around the edges. One thing I'll give Caron is their choice and use of ingredients (PuH: so *that's* lavender, Yatagan: so *that's* artemisia, Third Man: so *that's* coriander. And jasmine. and yuzu. And I respectfully disagree about indoles not lurking in the jasmine.) Anyway, a great, kind of poignant yet confidence-boosting scent. What are you wearing this summer?

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    1. Lots of Versace L'Homme, Drakkar Noire, Cool Water, Avenue by Al Rehab, and my "blue" scents. Trying to use up the aquatics, because if I don't do them in summer time, I just don't do them at all.

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  4. OK, a quick chaser: this is a great cool weather scent! I almost enjoy it more in the cold. Is it the denseness of the musky base? Or that in the pouring rain it is easier to imagine smoking the imaginary cigarette this composition cries out for (I'm a dilettante smoker at most, but I swear, oakmoss and cigarettes were made for each other -- is it a coincidence they're both becoming inacessable?)

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    1. See, to me that "musky base" of which you speak is the slightly funky jasmine melding with the slightly baby-powdery musk in the drydown. Maybe not indoles per say, but definitely comes across as fetid-floral - again, only just a touch.

      Third Man, much like Yatagan and Caron PuH, is designed for an age when cigarettes and cigars were more regularly smoked. Then again, I suspect most frags released before 1990 were geared for that lifestyle. I have never made a direct connection with this to oakmoss, but John we should remember that one of the biggest tobacco brands in the world also bears the names of two enormously influential masculines: Cool Water and Zino, both Davidoff masterpieces.

      Cool Water is particularly fascinating to me because it smells richly green and fresh, yet there's something about its cool ashy tobacco note. It seems to say that the CW wearer can feel free to get cigarette smoke on themselves when wearing it. Imagine, an aquatic fougere designed for smokers.

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  5. Those are great points... The other day I was standing in line at the bank behind a guy who smelled just a little of cigarettes wearing Grey Flannel; the combination made a surprising amount of sense. But I see your point about Davidoff -- my associations may be mostly the product of conditioning. And yeah, that Third Man funk... I'm appreciating it more and more.

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    1. I saw that in your review of Third Man on Fragrantica, you are definitely one of the most thoughtful reviewers on there. I like how you revisit fragrances time and again to reconsider different aspects to them.

      I always think of Grey Flannel as a chypre, although many consider it a fougere. Frankly I don't get a lavender note in Grey Flannel. I get a massive violet leaf, galbanum, coumarin (which is a fougere element) and oakmoss explosion. Is there labdanum in there? My girlfriend said she got a very sharp "mint" note, and since I never really got mint from GF I wonder if she was picking up the sharper edge of a tiny little labdanum note. But my point is that if GF is a chypre, it makes sense that a smoker would gravitate to it. Chypres were bigger back mid century, when everyone smoked. I have to think the compatibility of oakmoss with smoke had something to do with that.

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  6. Thanks for the compliment on the review... Honestly, I have to revisit them because I still am figuring out a lot of things and the 'phantom notes' situation you've addressed in the past is definitely a thing. Labdanum is not a note I know very well... but I suspect it's role in Habit Rouge is really critical... there is an aspect to the heart of HR that is neither citrus nor powder nor a typical oriental warm amber note: a little sticky, maybe a little terpenic, and very addictive, or so I think. Is that the labdanum? My other frame of reference for this is Antaeus. It's funny how much less dandyish Habit Rouge seems in the winter; in the past, I doubt I'd have referred to it and Antaeus in the same breath!

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    1. Sounds like labdanum to me John, there is a distinct green facet and a resinous quality similar to "sticky," so you are on to something. I get the same elements (and much stronger) in Antaeus.

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  7. Hi Bryan,

    I've been wearing Third Man a lot more this winter, and had no appreciation previously as to what a great cool weather office scent Le Troisieme Homme is... I'm not sure if its aging/oxidization (my bottle is from around 2014, and was purchase slightly used last spring), but this stuff seems remarkably strong and long lasting, even powerhouse-ish. I've always burned through my bottles of PuH too quickly to notice if they seemed to be gaining a bit more oomph over time, but I'm almost afraid of my bottle of Yatagan now, and it seemed a bit thin when I first put it on back in '15.

    So a couple of questions... Do you think that the musk used in the base of these Caron masculines something that's apt to get stronger over time? I've heard of other ingredients (notably patchouli & vetiver) gaining 'depth' over time, but I wondered about the musk. My bottle of 3rd Man has no oakmoss listed on the box, which has me wondering what they replaced it with...When I first sampled both PuH and the Third Man at the Caron boutique in NYC several years ago, the Third Man actually seemed to settle down & fade out faster (I also definitely noticed oak moss in that old tester.) I'm wondering if they boosted something else (like musk) when they reduced the oakmoss, or if its just a very assertive oakmoss substitute in play? Either way, there's really not a false note in this composition... Nothing cheap, synthetic or out of balance from the sprayer nozzle to the drydown. I've been wearing it quite lightly, and the notes and progression impress the hell out of me, even/especially in the far drydown. Second question: a few reviewers seemed to think they spot civet (or synthesis thereof) in this composition. Do you have any thoughts on that? I don't have a ton of experience with civet, but references to a 'bad breath' note in Jicky, for instance, make me wonder... As I settle into the bath fifteen hours after putting this stuff on, there is definitely a hint of something like that, low-key but glorious.

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    1. You know what, my bottle is around five or six years old now (maybe a year or two beyond that, I'll have to check again), and I've noticed that it's become a bit of a beast also. Back when I first started using it, it was strong, but lately it seems a little bit extra strong. So you're not alone.

      I don't know if the musks get stronger, or the moss gets stronger, or what they're using to stand in for real moss now that IFRA regs have stripped moss out of many scents. I happen to have a vial of Civetone, the synthetic chemical used to replicate civet in contemporary fragrances (real civet is no longer widely used, and I reckon you'd have to spend $600 at a boutique in Dubai to find a perfume with real civet still in the formula). Civetone smells surprisingly nasty. If I smelled it blind, I'd think it was scraped from the bottom of a donkey's ass. I suspect that it has a bit of a subtle "unbalancing" effect on other musks used in classic French compositions like Third Man. I smell no Civetone in the current version (doesn't mean it's not in there), but I've read that vintage Third Man was significantly "skankier" than the current formula of the last 20 years.

      Keep in mind that when a fougere is "musky," its composition has somewhere between 5 and 50 musks. Many people are anosmic to musk, and so perfumers stack them into scents that are meant to be perceived as "musky." The more musks, the better. The thinking is that at least one or two of the musks will be noticeable to people who are strongly anosmic to most musks, thus making the scent a success on that front to most consumers. Imagine how many Bourdon must have poured into Kouros! I like to think he threw 100 musks into that one.

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