Musings On My Collection (How And Why I've Divided It Into "Classifications" Of Fragrance)

My collection has, as one reader pointed out recently, grown. I used to only have fifteen or sixteen EDTs, as of a couple of years ago. Today I have about fifty or so, although several are not being officially counted because they're either super-cheap colognes (like Pinaud Lime Sec) or aftershaves. Is it good to have fifty some-odd fragrances in a wardrobe? Yes and no. The good thing about having more fragrances is that it allows me to experience more olfactory variations every week, with a steadily-changing rotation of four or five EDTs every five days. On the down-side, I find it harder to "commit" to a fragrance for more than two days in a row, because I have enough now where I'm always looking for something different, and guess what? I have whatever I'm looking for! That's what happens when you can wear a different scent every day for a month, and still not exhaust your options.

It has been especially fun to examine exactly what I own classification-wise, and break the collection down into its constituent genres. There are different ideas of how to do this floating around out there. Some people see no need to classify their fragrances, and forego the entire practice. Others invent their own classifications. I happen to enjoy adhering to the Haarmann & Reimer Fragrance Genealogy Chart, 11th Edition, because it has been cited by Luca Turin, Michael Edwards, and others as an industry standard for classification, and I think it is much more accurate than not.

The chemists Tiemann and Haarmann were innovators in fragrance material development, and discovered a way to synthesize vanillin from pinewood sap, which subsequently led to the founding of Haarmann & Reimer (now Symrise) in the forests of Holzminden, Germany, where there was plenty of sap to be found. More recently, H&R brought a semisynthetic oud reconstruction to the mass market (we can thank them for the dozens of oud scents since YSL's M7), and H&R's school of perfumery boasts such alumni as Mark Buxton, Patricia Choux, and Egon Oelkers. It is the first company to produce a fragrance genealogy, with multiple editions of an extensive fragrance guide in publication for many years.

The thing to understand about H&R is that its classifications are derived from a hybrid system, where subjective olfactory perceptions, the botany and chemistry of perfumery ingredients, and fragrance history are simultaneously referenced to produce distinct "families" of fragrance. Earlier editions of the genealogy charts elevated citrus, lavender, musk, spices, and woods to genre classifications, which in later editions became subdivisions of three classifications: fougère, oriental, and chypre. Like all hybrid systems, there are flaws, errors in classification, or at the very least there are hugely subjective points of contention for people who disagree with their designations. Some may feel that VC&A PH is a fougère, because it has a dry lavender note, a grassy coumarinic mid, and a musky drydown. Yet H&R's genealogy chart defines it as a chypre. Does that make the person who names VC&A a fougère wrong, and the H&R chart right?

This all depends on who you are. If you are an industry insider, a professional with academic knowledge of fragrance materials, perfume formulas, and how "flexible" one can be with classifications, then your disagreements with something like Symrise's old genealogy charts may be based on firsthand factual knowledge, which would render your opinion far more useful and valuable than whoever set the type on the last printing of the last chart.

If, however, you're just an amateur enthusiast (as I am), someone who has no professional understanding of perfume, your opinion becomes by default secondary to an established authority like Symrise. I'm not so pretentious as to suggest that I know better about classifications than a company that invented and developed dozens of commercial aroma chemicals, and actually taught some of the world's most successful perfumers. If the H&R charts say that Moustache by Rochas is a fougère, then I smell Moustache searching for signs of a fougère, and indeed find a big, vibrant lavender note in its top, a beautifully hay-like coumarin in its heart, and a musky finish. I therefore conclude that the dozens of amateur enthusiasts who classify Moustache as a chypre on internet forums and on blogs are simply mistaken, because the H&R has guided me to another conclusion, which my nose has affirmed is correct.

This makes life much easier for me. People can argue that I've mis-classified certain perfumes, but I just point to the H&R Genealogy Chart, 11th Edition, and immediately have a citation, an official academic reference for why I've made a classification, and unless the other guy can come up with a genealogy from an equally influential cornerstone of the industry, I consider his rebuke the stuff of amateur guesswork, with little or no merit beyond his or her opinion. Another advantage to using the H&R is that it eliminates a lot of needless questioning and broad statements. One such broad and relatively meaningless statement is that there are so many things being classified as either a "fougère" or a "chypre" these days, that these classifications have become surprisingly meaningless - the genres have become over-saturated, and now "anything goes." So if people don't know what to call something, they just call it a fougère, for example, without any attention to whether or not it really is a fougère.

This humorous idea of reckless classification always puts a grin on my face. For one thing, the majority of masculines are, according to the H&R, chypres, with distinct subdivisions. Less than half of the masculines released since Fougère Royale are fougères, at least up until 2001. For those of us who focus on older "classics," going beyond 2001 is a rare thing. And looking at the chart, we see there are precious few fougères of note from 1882 to 1970 (I count sixteen). So for almost one hundred years, there were only about sixteen historically notable fougères made.

From 1970 onward, fougères became increasingly complex and "aromatic," which created a whole range of different fragrances, some of which might be considered "hybrids" of fougère, oriental, and chypre families. However, the genealogy organizes these very succinctly, with a narrow band of orientals standing between the most ambery fougères and the woodiest chypres. Thus, there is no basis for saying that terms such as "fougère" and "chypre" are meaningless. These terms, to me, are very meaningful, relevant, and well organized in a historical context, thanks to the H&R (with subsequent corroborative organization from Perfume Intelligence and the Leffingwell).

Using these sources as guides, I've been able to classify everything in my own collection. There are a few newer fragrances, or more minor fragrances that do not appear on the H&R, which forces me to take a stab at classifying them myself, but for the most part I'm covered by my references. My collection, broken down:

Cool Water
Chrome Legend
Joop! Jump
Claiborne Sport
Boss Number One
Allure Homme
Caron Pour un Homme
Paco Rabanne Pour Homme
Azzaro Pour Homme
Caron Third Man
Arden Sandalwood
Rive Gauche Pour Homme
Calvin Klein Man
Drakkar Noir
Francesco Smalto Pour Homme
Lapidus Pour Homme
Joop! Homme Wild
Vermeil for Men

Aubusson Pour Homme
Old Spice
Orange Spice
Sex Appeal
Royal Copenhagen
Mesmerize for Men
Joop! Homme
KL Homme
Lagerfeld Classic
The Dreamer
Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur
Tea Rose Amber

Grey Flannel
VC&A Pour Homme
Bleu de Chanel
Sung Homme
Brooks Brothers New York Gentlemen
Eau de Grey Flannel
English Leather

Tea Rose
Tea Rose Jasmin
Anais Anais

There's something fun about breaking the collection down into these classifications. For one thing, they're mostly accurate. There may be room to argue that something like Eau de Grey Flannel is really a fougère and not a chypre, for example. But then again, it's a reduction and re-balancing of the same components that comprise the original Grey Flannel, which is inarguably a chypre (light bergamot on top, a synthetic labdanum twinge in the heart, and a deep oakmoss base). One could also argue that Sung Homme is a fougère, and not a chypre, but here I think the issue meets its biggest problem.

When we subscribe to the strict notion that all fougères MUST possess an unmistakable lavender/coumarin/musk accord, and all chypres MUST possess a bergamot/labdanum/oakmoss accord, one has to use process of elimination to determine classifications for the more unorthodox compositions of the last fifty years. Sung Homme could very well be considered a fougère - it has hints of lavender, coumarin listed as an ingredient, and certainly some musk. Yet smelling Sung Homme, I'm struck by how sharp and woody it smells. At no point is lavender obvious. The coumarin does not adopt a grassy or "biscuit-like" aura, and the musk gets lost to the moss in the base. Plus, there's a distinct labdanum note in its heart. I can't in good conscience call it a fougère, the H&R classifies it as a chypre, and it's certainly not an oriental. Process of elimination brings the classification choice down to calling it a chypre, plain and simple.

What about Boss Number One? Unlike Sung Homme, coumarin is not listed as an ingredient. Yet the nose does not lie, nor does the H&R - this fragrance has a very clear lavender note, a slightly ambery coumarin-like heart (despite there being no coumarin), and a definite musk accord, mixed with things like citrus, geranium, and tobacco, classic aromatic fougère components. I don't smell strong bergamot or labdanum (there is no labdanum), and the moss is minimal. I can't call Boss an oriental, and it smells much more like a fougère than a chypre, so even without coumarin listed, I'm comfortable in calling Boss a fougère - and indeed, it is classified as a fresh fougère there on the chart.

Whenever I consider adding a fragrance to my collection, the rules get ever stricter. I used to be fairly liberal about what I allowed into the wardrobe, mainly because I had room for several obvious classics, like Kouros and the Third Man. Around the time I got Drakkar Noir, I realized that I had all the major groundbreaking aromatic fougères in my collection, so any new fougère would have to exhibit interesting nuances to what was already on display. Enter things like Joop! Jump (Cool Water with extra pizzazz), Claiborne Sport (Eternity done right), Chrome Legend (Cool Water, proportionately tweaked), Rive Gauche PH (every single aromatic fougère out there, combined into one package), and Arden Sandalwood (likely the best pairing of dry-woody patchouli, sandalwood, and lavender, both historically and commercially). What else is welcome into that mix? It gets harder and harder to say. At this point the only fougère that I might welcome into the fold is Houbigant's 2010 edition of Fougère Royale - review pending.

The same goes for orientals and chypres. I actually feel I have far too many orientals at this stage. I'm not a lover of orientals by any means. I'm not even sure why I buy them. I have some for sentimental purposes - Royal Copenhagen was the one cologne I wore when I lived in Europe, for example, and it reminds me of Prague. Lagerfeld Classic and Individuel are excellent "modern orientals," one from a twentieth century mold, and the other from the early twenty-first century. I like wearing them whenever I feel the need to experience brisk fruity-woody accords, as both fragrances capitalize on those effects. A*Men is just a fragrance that smells very good, and very interesting, so I have to have it on tap for autumn and winter. It is extraordinarily unique, and I really appreciate and enjoy that about it. Aubusson is a great substitute for the rarer and more-expensive Balenciaga Pour Homme, which I love, but can't be bothered to track down. Fortunately Aubusson smells about 75% the same as Balenciaga, and the 25% that smells different smells very, very good. Laguna is a nice tropical departure from the norm in this genre, and Mesmerize is perhaps best considered a "fougèriental," in that it possesses vanillic ambery oriental accords in conjunction with ambery fougère accords that are reminiscent of Zino by Davidoff. I don't think I need any other orientals at this point in time, and do not foresee adding to this part of the collection.

The only chypre that I truly love in my lineup is Grey Flannel. Some have said that the sweet coumarin snap in the heart of Grey Flannel makes it a fougère, but there is no lavender in this fragrance, and more moss than is usually found in your average mainstream masculine, so true to the H&R, I consider it a fresh chypre. I used to own the current formula of Eau Sauvage. This is the only chypre that I miss, and would add to the collection, as I used up my original bottle. Mitsouko has become a new favorite of mine, and I intend on wearing it quite a bit more before the winter is over - and will probably wear it in the early spring, as well. Like the oriental section of my collection, I'm not looking to add much to the chypre section any time soon. Bleu de Chanel and Antaeus are just OK - I'm not in love with them. VC&A PH is nice, but a little hard to wear, although I do enjoy the tobacco note in its base. Z-14 is always enjoyable, but I have twelve ounces of the stuff. The rest of my chpres are not notable in any way.

That pretty much sums it up. When I reach for something from my collection, I know what it is, what it's classified as, and what historical period it hearkens from. It's fun to recognize Cool Water as the landmark aromatic fresh fougère, and connect its brisk crab apple and lavender accord to the brighter, saltier Granny Smith and lavender bombast of Chrome Legend. When I wear Joop! Jump, I also think of CW and Legend, yet Jump offers something new, a sweet richness neither of the others have. So when I reach for Jump!, I spend the day considering how similar-yet-different each of these fragrances are to it. Ditto for Brut, Rive Gauche, and Third Man, three fougères that share a distinctive "barbershop" ambiance, with powdery coumarin and lavender notes. Whenever I doubt something, or question where a fragrance comes from, I turn to the H&R chart.

These charts, courtesy of Leffingwell and Associates, are discussed further here.

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