4/21/13

Lagerfeld Classic (Karl Lagerfeld)



In 2012, Karl Lagerfeld ended his licensing agreement with Coty, and signed a twenty year contract with Inter-Parfums, wedding all formula rights to the French company. Lagerfeld Classic, formerly Lagerfeld Cologne, has once again been re-branded, and likely reformulated for the umpteenth time. I’m reviewing the Coty formula of “Classic” because it's all I could find, and it’s one hell of an interesting fragrance.

Lagerfeld Classic is arguably one of the most contentious reformulations in the history of masculine perfumery. Opinions vary widely on whether Coty successfully preserved the strength and character of its progenitor, with some swearing the differences are negligible, and others considering Classic to be absolute tripe, and unworthy of the Lagerfeld name. I have never tried the vintage Cologne, and don’t care to. When it comes to masculines at this pricepoint, I learned my lesson with Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur. People drone on about how infinitely superior the Tsumura formulation of PCPM is to Five Star’s, and how its richer, more-natural ingredients are sorely missed.

I happen to own both formulas of PCPM, and while I agree that Tsumura’s blending is smoother, I disagree that the fragrance smells richer. It is light and transient, with a weaker lavender than Five Star’s, and a simplistic amber that falls short of the garrulous woodiness in the reform. While it’s worth seeking out the older formula, its superiority is grossly overstated. With seventies masculines, the temptation is to view reformulations as neuterings, when in fact they’re simply reworkings of dated structures to better comport with contemporary fashions. Such is the case with Lagerfeld Classic. The original Cologne contained an amber base called Amber 83, which contained Musk Xylene, one of the most commonly-used nitromusks of yesteryear, now disavowed by IFRA regs. Its extraction was necessary, but one thing leads to another, and when the musk went, so did the amber base (replacement parts were, from what I hear, successfully found and delivered). But I digress - this fragrance is cheap enough to make owning both formulas a viable option for reference.

Coty’s formula is lovely, an example of how well the company performs under pressure. There's little doubt that Karl was the one applying that pressure. He is a notorious workaholic and control freak, possessed with obsessive-compulsive professionalism and perfectionism. I recently saw a documentary about Karl Lagerfeld, which followed him through endless preparations for a seasonal show, with the man jetting between four cities in two days, just to ensure that there were no empty hangers rolling through workrooms. It is very hard to believe that he disapproved of how Coty handled Classic. I think he would sooner discontinue it, than allow it to languish.

Lagerfeld Classic opens with an bright burst of pithy orange and green tobacco leaf, its airy crispness filtered through fizzy aldehydes. The bitter citrus swiftly leads the nose to a waxy white-floral note, which has been compared here and there to Jovan Musk for Men. I don’t smell any similarity at all (though Classic is very woody-musky), but that’s just me, and perhaps there is a faint resemblance between these two. Tarragon, opopanax, tonka bean, tobacco, and patchouli lend the heart a sweet, powdery softness, although I’m more comfortable describing it as soapy, rather than powdery. There’s a certain freshness here, with the synthetic orange note pervading the entire structure, and sending the simplicity of tobacco and opopanax to a more utilitarian realm. I’ve read that the aftershave is brilliant, and indeed can smell potential for a top-grade tonic with such a pleasant balance between warm citrus and soft spice.

Yet there’s more to it than a mere feeling of everyday comfort. To fully understand Coty’s treatment, one must refer to Lagerfeld’s place in history: it was released in 1978 as Karl Lagerfeld’s signature oriental, and I’ve read that the original formula was a bit dense and “perfumey,” with an unremittingly heavy vibe. Coty had a thirty year interval at its disposal, and with an interest in toning back the concentration while preserving the orientalism of an opopanax-based amber, they apparently referenced the original formulation of Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men. While by no means interchangeable, these fragrances share a peculiar fresh-musty style of floral ambers, where the soapiness of the green notes mesh with the softness of the spices to form a rich, semi-dandified feeling that projects for miles and lasts forever. I recall a doctor telling me once that my cologne smelled soapy-citrusy, and it was Obsession - I could see Lagerfeld eliciting similar reactions.

Comments about the difference between “Cologne” and “Classic” are definitely amusing. Some veteran basenoters and Fragranticans have wildly different opinions, but with this fragrance it pays to heed the “formula skeptics” who find little to no difference between Type A and Type B. Foetidus writes,
“I find it hard to say if it's been changed much with reformulation. Sometimes I think so because I think the rich opoponax in the base doesn't seem as rich as I remember. Other times I'm struck with an often experienced nostalgia when I spray it on. But whatever, I don't think the change has been very great, if there has been one. The bottle I use now is a recent purchase and I don't get depressed using it as I do when I spray Antaeus or Trussardi Uomo or some of the other classics that have been noticeably changed.”
In turn, Perfaddict says,
“Not much [change], really. After over 10 years without LC, i bought a 30ml bottle last July. I was not disappointed with what i smelled. Bought a larger bottle afterwards. Slightly less intense from what i remember but with good sillage and longevity. And i am a card-carrying powerhouse freak.”
Oslo-Fjord adds,
“I re-visited this fragrance some days ago, and it`s just as good as I remember. A timeless classic. Excellent sillage and staying power. I will definitively buy a bottle of this gem!”
And on Fragrantica, Starshadow opines:
“this CLASSIC version . . . I see no difference at all between it and the original. If the two are not exactly the same - and I believe they are - then they are, in my estimation, entirely too close to distinguish from one another.”
So would it be fair to say that the reformulation of Lagerfeld Classic is a cheap shadow of its former self, a dollar-store version of Lagerfeld Cologne? Certainly, but only as a subjective opinion about Coty’s formula. It’s safe to say that experienced noses would disagree, based on what is quoted above. Woody, spicy, powdery, sweet, citric, musky, Lagerfeld Classic is a little bit of everything to all people, and remains in production as that rare seventies oriental with a view to the twenty-first century.









6 comments:

  1. Late last year I came upon a bottle of the vintage formula for a great price and scooped it up. I can say that the difference between this and the more recent Classic iteration, which I also own, is noticeable with effort; in other words the Classic is a fine rendition of this fragrance and if I had to choose only one, I might go with the newer since I find it's sweetness more linear where the vintage bottle seems to get sweeter in the drydown. All in all, they are more or less the same aroma, in my opinion, and among my 20 or so favorites.

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    1. It's a good one, that's for sure. I have read that the older formula is sweeter, denser, perhaps a touch more powdery, and contains a more distinct sandalwood note. While all that could be true, it sounds like something that would be a bit tougher to pull of in 2013. The way Coty's formula performs surprises me - great opopanax accord, distinct tobacco, gentle vanilla, all the stuff that could be overbearing, blended in a way that feels fresh and modern. I really like it.

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  2. Always love your reviews, so, I was chuffed that you gave this such an eloquent Thumbs-Up. This stuff was my first 'Designer' fragrance, along with Kouros, back in the 1980s (my Post-Punk clubbing days in North Wales!), but, the years - and, the inevitable reformulations - have not diminished their brilliance one single iota. Diolch yn fawr!

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    1. Thanks, it's a great musky oriental, and it definitely goes in the sort of wardrobe that houses Kouros. I wore it today and was again very impressed by its structure, and that tobacco really does it for me.

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  3. I would enjoy seeing you revisit this one and compare it to the Interparfums version. Interparfums apparently terminated their 20 year deal to manufacture and distribute Lagerfeld as it wasn't selling. I can't tell from this is they're ceasing production immediately or in the year 2024. The headline would indicate immediately except I haven't read that Lagerfeld is looking for another distributor.
    https://www.cosmeticsbusiness.com/news/article_page/Inter_Parfums_to_terminate_Karl_Lagerfeld_license_early/127045

    I bought this last year (I can't believe I didn't buy it in the early 1980's as I love sandalwood fragrances) and complained that my bottle was nearly 5 years old, not realizing that the Coty version was considered very good (better than the previous version by Unilever). Some feel the Interparfums version is smoother but not as long lasting, although I'd like to try both. It seems there's still plenty of Lagerfeld Coty bottles still available (despite not producing them for 5 years but then again they stopped making Davidoff Zino about 4 years ago and there's still plenty of that around as well. Funny, isn't it?).

    Should we be buying backup bottles of both the Coty and Interparfums versions while they're still available?

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    1. The problem with Lagerfeld has always been its "niche" - there isn't a huge market for musky tobacco opoponax orientals, there just isn't. The Jovan Musk style musk note on top of cigarette tobacco, amber, opoponax, and synthetic sandalwood smells dated and rather strange nowadays. Even when it was new, I don't think Lagerfeld Cologne was immensely popular. As time goes by it gets less so.

      I remember when Interparfums took over the Lagerfeld license. People were raving about how much better their formula was against Coty's, but I didn't bother believing them. They said. The opoponax and myrrh notes were much better, but Coty's is already excessive and realistic. How fun it is to pretend a harder to find formula is superior! I can't speak to the Unilever version, but I know the original formula probably smells like a flat spiced amber by this point. If you like Lagerfeld Classic just stock up on whatever version is readily available and enjoy.

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