Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (Paco Rabanne)

To truly enjoy a family of fragrances, it's useful to revisit the first in a genre, that which spawned dozens of variations, the "originator." For most of the early twentieth century, European and American men wore traditional fougères, things like Fougère Royale, English Lavender, Dunhill, Pour un Homme, Moustache, and Arden's Sandalwood. In the early sixties the old guard began to transmogrify into the newer and more novel, due in large part to the invention of better fragrance molecules. Things like Brut and Agua Brava, with fifties-era nitro-musks and transcendent 10 carbon alcohols, were tailored to be rich, brash, and smelled the way the Rolling Stones played.

Then came refinement, and its name was Paco. Anything's possible, but I like to imagine the pre-game for selling the concept to the perfumer. "We like traditional Spanish ferns, and also the scent of Barbasol. Make it a little of both." Or, per Tom Ford, "Make it so."

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme is the premiere mass-market mega-hit aromatic fougère, and as such received accolades and suffered the outrageous fortune of having many pursuant releases improve what it first proposed: a fresh, sweet, woody-green fougère, capable of commanding respect without raising its voice. Paco gathered the familiar shaving-soap smells of every man's morning ablutions and distilled them down to a magnificent heart accord, which by all rights should be bolstered by two or three more aromatics and turned into a old-school perfumer's base (which then should promptly be sold to whoever makes Pinaud's aftershaves). The beauty of the heart is in its bold blend of oakmoss, coumarin, and a notably polite sage, which segregate over time into their sheer myrcene, myrcenol, rhodinal, aniba rosaeodora, and pelargonium constituencies. (This translates to bay leaf, lavender, citron, rosewood, and geranium.) Smell it up close, and the citrus note smells tart and bright, wedded nicely to sweet English lavender, with the herbs lighting the floral bay and spiced rosewood's subtle shadows. Kind of like an evening stroll through the autumn woods. From afar, I get a much less saturnine smell: shaving cream. Very nice.

My gripe with Paco is that it needs a spirit level. Its stages are all beautiful and deceptively complex, but I've ridden Japanese jeeps with smoother transmissions. Paco's bright, crisp, ebulliently-green top accord is the sort of thing one encounters only four or five times in a lifetime of smelling hundreds, if not thousands of perfumes. That it only lasts ten seconds is a travesty. Fortunately its lavender lives on to freshen the proceedings and hold their components together, as lavender typically does in masculine compositions, but from this forest-glen emerges a bubble of sweetness, the slightly-bitter nuttiness of coumarin flanked by honey. Together they form an accord that should send every dentist within a thirty miles radius on high alert. This shit is sweet. I'd say it's definitely too sweet, but then again, it's a variant of traditional fern, which was reputedly quite sweet at heart, with stray tonka and hay accords amplifying rich coumarin effects. So maybe Paco's coumarin, heady and sugary as it is, really isn't out of place, but just way out there, the man at the wedding in the robin's-egg blue seersucker and paper pants. The rapidity of transition in this fragrance is a mixed blessing - here it allows the sugar rush to pass within ten minutes, and from there it's cool, woody-dusty goodness, with vibrant green accents.

Has Paco been eclipsed by its successors? Have Azzaro, Drakkar, and Rive Gauche taken the same floor plan and used better furniture? Yes and no. I find Azzaro tedious on a good day, although its earlier incarnations smelled captivating. But wearing it made me wonder if I wasn't taking myself too seriously. Drakkar is beautiful, perhaps the freshest mossy lavender on a bed of evergreens since Polo. I enjoy it, but wonder if it isn't taking itself too seriously. Things like Rive Gauche are merely variants, extensions of the barbershop wet-shaver aura peddled by Pinaud's Clubman, all the way up through history to Brut and Paco. YSL's version keeps the original furniture and re-upholsters it in black velour. Nice, but nothing new.

Maybe the most refreshing thing about Paco Rabanne is that it holds its best facets out where they belong: in a cool, musky sillage at five paces. Everything since has re-hashed and repeated the same structure, with negligible results. The aromatic fougère is dead; Long live Paco Rabanne Pour Homme!


  1. I need to try this one again. Does this come in both a green and brown bottle?

  2. Just so you do not think I am a monster with no conscience, I am sorry to be forever posting on your old reviews, but, as I research fragrances, I find I come back to these reviews often (this is partly because I've come to know more, and partly because the writing itself is a pleasure to read.) Anyway, I am curious to know if you've tried the newer version of this (bigger bordered R emblem on the bottle and box). I tried the one from just before (smaller R) once and found it lovely but fleeting, which seemed to gel with reviews I'd read on Fragrantica. I sniffed the newer bottle (paper strip) and it seemed much stronger and longer lasting, consistent with more recent reviews that claim to assess the new stuff. So I'm curious to know if you've tried it, and if so, what differences you discern, especially considering the legendary status of the vintage version...

    1. John it's no problem, whether you comment on a new article or an old one, the process for me to access your comment and reply to it is the same.

      I happen to have the smaller R version of Paco. However, it's also a 1.7 oz bottle, and sometimes companies use those for older stock. When "new," my Paco was pretty strong, soapy stuff. Not that different from Kouros, but far less animalic and a bit sweeter, due to the prominence of coumarin.

      I haven't tried the newer formula. Paco is something that I'm almost completely out of. I have perhaps one or two more wearings left in my bottle. I'm thinking that I'll replenish it this year. Do you think they've gone full circle and brought it from a strong frag, to a weaker one, back to a beast again?

  3. I wondered (and thanks for the reply!) Threads are tricky to navigate, as some folks will post batch codes and so on, while others are indiscriminate about what they tried & when. And of course old stock languishes on new-looking shelves...
    But two case studies: In the past few months I have sampled recent bottles of both Polo Green and Antaeus... I have a nice Cosmair bottle of Polo at home and noticed a definite attempt to get back to the minty-caramelized aspect to the heart notes that seemed to have vanished in other (early 2010's) formulations I tried. There was a definite evocation of a leathery chypre accord and longevity was good. All this was a bit more roughly textured, however, especially at the start; either my old bottle has had its rough edges rounded off, or the new stuff has the note profile right but is using some rough stuff to synthesize it. In any case, the bottom line is definitely an attempted return to form, with the newest bottle being gutsier than the (admittedly not bad) circa-2010's reform. Though I've never sampled vintage Antaeus, I've tried versions from around 2013 and 2016. The latter was much 'oilier' in feel, with more leather and less honey & rose-- it was moodier, muskier and a touch more melancholy. Almost too much.
    My guess is that three factors are at work: one, that companies are recognizing the value of holding on to their legacy products in an age when abstracted 'authenticity' can be a very effective marketing tool, esp overseas (in fashion, think of the resurrection of Burberry, a little distant now, or Belstaff, etc.); two, that, as you've suggested, companies do pay attention to the internet; three, that manipulation of synthetics has improved considerably since the IFRA bans first started coming down. But who knows? Let's just go smell Paco Rabanne...

    1. I think you're on to something with your assessments of the overall situation. I agree that companies are paying attention to the Internet, and closely I might add. It's certainly no surprise to them at this late stage (after roughly twelve years of getting hammered by reviewers and enthusiasts) that people are generally nonplussed by some of the "modernized" formulas of successful classics like Polo, Paco, and Antaeus. In 2017 I expect we'll begin smelling some more assertive formulas of these types of scents. You can weigh and measure whatever corner of the community you frequent on the Internet, and come to varying conclusions, but in regards to reformulations the consensus is solidly that of distaste - people want to smell bolder, more complex, and more faithful iterations of their beloved vintages.

      In regards to Antaeus, I have two versions under my belt - a late 2000s version that I wore from an airport tester several years ago, which was very beeswaxy and a bit sweet, quite nice, and my bottle from a 2011 batch, purchased a couple years ago. My bottle is rosier, more powdery and floral, with a definite analog of castoreum and hints of honey and wax. It's quite complex and pleasant, but with its prominent floral notes in mind, I'd have to say I understand why people compare it to feminine Chanels. There is a bit of an androgynous quality to it. Which I happen to love.

      Your input on Polo is appreciated greatly. It's a terrific fragrance that I've never been compelled to add to my collection for reasons of personal taste, but I enjoy it when I smell it and recognize its greatness and its legacy. It's encouraging to hear that you get a bolder impression from a more recent batch. Hopefully this trend continues!


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