Caron Pour un Homme Turns 80. Let's Celebrate 8 Decades Of Natural Simplicity.

Last summer I paused at a rickety, hand-made perfume stall situated along the main drag of a Renaissance fair in New York state. Every year at Tuxedo Park there's a sizable Renaissance fair, full of bad costumes, bad actors, greasy food (if you go, try the famous turkey legs), unsanitary wooden barrels of giant pickles you can get for $3 each, and stall after stall of overpriced Renaissance-themed junk. It's loads of fun.

The perfume stall was really just a bunch of essential oils and cheap alcohol dilutions of unremarkable essences, rose water, Florida water, whatever. On one side were the absolutes, and on the other were the candles. I gave a few absolutes a quick sniff. The citruses were faint and absurdly expensive. The cinnamon oil was disgusting (is there such a thing as cinnamon oil, really?), and the pine wood was just okay. I was intrigued by the faint green lavender oil, and it was the last thing I tried. It smelled beautiful. Lavender oil always smells good. As I set the vial down, I thought to myself with amusement that they might have just poured a few milliliters of Caron Pour un Homme in there and called it lavender oil. No one would be the wiser.

PuH turns eighty this year, and this was rightly celebrated yesterday in an informative write-up by Serguey Borisov on Fragrantica. As it turns out, the fragrance is comprised of both lavandula and lavender oil, at 41% of the former, and 31% of the latter, making the combined lavender oil content 72% of the formula. This is astounding. Yet I'm not surprised by the figures, because I'm on my fourth 4 oz bottle (I also have two smaller nineties vintage bottles) and every time I wear PuH, I'm mesmerized by its natural freshness and elegance. It is always a pleasure to wear.

The fact that this fragrance has endured for eight decades suggests that simplicity has an excellent lifespan. Think of all the complex seventies and eighties masculines and feminines that have bitten the dust over the years. Most of them would have been no older than thirty or thirty-five today, if their manufacturers had continued making them. The secret to Caron's success is its directness, a basic, straightforward lavender, coumarin, vanilla, and musk quartet that plays on through the years and never goes out of tune. Its materials are inexpensive and unlikely to be restricted anytime soon. This fragrance is built to last for several centuries at least.

It was rumored a few years ago that Tom Ford wears PuH to work, and considers it an inspiration, yet his own Lavender Palm failed to add anything to the narrative of classic lavender fougères. This is one of those unimprovable designs of fresh minty herbal notes on a smooth bed of sweetened coumarin, which can and should be had for thirty dollars a bottle. Despite its low price, it smells pricey and sophisticated. May PuH live on for another eighty years, and continue to inspire and enthrall noses the world over.


Pandit (Garner James)

The best perfumery materials are perfumes unto themselves. Mysore sandalwood oil, oakmoss absolute, birch tar, rose oil, ambergris, Haitian vetiver, raw vanilla dilution, and orris butter are all rich and complex enough to stand on their own and carry the day. Jim Gehr's care package to me included a little corked bottle labeled "Pandit," which he said is an ode to Ravi Shankar. Why Ravi? Well it's safe to say Jim's a fan of the man's musical work, but Ravi was Indian, and Pandit is little more than pure Mysore sandalwood extrait. The Indian connection is pretty much the whole point of the fragrance, and of course it smells incredible, the pearl of all woods.

If you haven't smelled real sandalwood oil in a while, I urge you to revisit it. It's easy to forget just how lovely it smells. I think it's somewhat forgettable because it's definitely a "wood" smell with a smooth, buttery disposition that sends the mind to imagined places, and distracts from its essential odor characteristics, all of which are subtle. It holds a direct dryness that elicits images of soft, finely-carved planes, perhaps in an ornate 18th century French chapel, in the days when sandalwood was more abundant and used in the communion of human and divine spirits. Despite its transient effect on memory, sandalwood always comes right back to those who know it. It is to the sense of smell what bike riding is to adults: something that comes right back and brings a smile to your face. Pandit is an impossibly familiar perfume, and it's gorgeous.

I think it is one of Jim's rarer creations, a simple composition for personal use. It may or may not be available on request, but the little bit that I have will last me a very long time. Pandit is smoother than silk, as dry as a bone, and incredibly deep and nuanced, with a faint rosy twinge to its start, and a smoky musk in the finish. As a reference for Mysore sandalwood, there is nothing better. There are no designers, not Guerlain, Creed, Chanel, Davidoff, Ralph Lauren, Caron, or anyone else for that matter who ever used more than a smidgen of this stuff in their mass-marketed perfumes. There are quality grades to Mysore sandalwood, and the quality in this is tippy-top shelf. Pandit does not reference other popular or niche scents. It is simply a tribute to a talented musical inspiration, and the timelessness of India's exotic treasures.


Bleu Marine de Cardin (Pierre Cardin)

Now discontinued, Bleu Marine is one of those strange proto-aquatic fragrances of the mid eighties that never got off the docks, but somehow lingered long enough to be remembered, and reformulated. It was composed by Raymond Chaillan (Ho Hang, Anaïs Anaïs, Marbert Man, YSL PH) and Martin Gras (Bogner Wood Man, Cerruti 1881 PH, Lapidus PH) in 1986, and doesn't have much of a following, although internet sellers seem to disagree. Currently the original 2 oz vintage in a splash bottle, pictured above, is no less than $38.21 on Ebay. Naturally this price is absurd. I picked up my bottle for $7 at Villa Fleur in Hamden, after doing a little checking on the labeling to ensure it was the real deal. If you see a 2 oz bottle of the original vintage, which is found in splash only, don't pay any more than $10 for it. It is 28 years old and isn't something Cardin was ever especially proud of. A great scent this is not. It's a good scent, at the right price.

Normally I wouldn't bother with Bleu Marine. I've seen it on several store shelves in a few locations (including mall islands), but had not gotten around to buying it until a few weeks ago. My interest in vintage scents is almost nonexistent, but fragrances like Bleu Marine have historical significance and make for good dinner party conversation. "Bleu Marine" is French for Navy Blue, a color the French consider to be always fashionable, unisex, and extremely versatile. One could take that to mean this is not intended to be an aquatic at all, but rather just a "neutral" masculine that can be worn anytime, at any place. It's another Reagan era fougèriental, and not a proper aquatic - not entirely. However, its pyramid is assembled in a manner that alludes to clear seawater by juxtaposing a dry amber and bittersweet lavender with green notes of basil, jasmine, and oakmoss. There's quite a bit of oakmoss, a fairly natural sandalwood effect, and plenty of dihydromyrcenol, which as we all know imbues accords with plenty of synthetic freshness. Spicy clove and carnation darken the waters with an oriental touch.

Given that it's almost three decades old, the perfume in my bottle smells unbalanced and somewhat off. The citrus top notes are all but gone, reduced to a whisper. I find in older fougères that the lavender note tends to replace all the other aromatics, probably because that material has a longer shelf life, and this has happened with Bleu Marine. Lavender is there, front and center, buttressed by a dank mossiness that becomes rather leathery in the drydown. The basil, artemisia, juniper, and cedar are all legible, but there's too much basil and too little artemisia. I sense the barest traces of artemisia in the base, which makes me think that when used properly, mugwort can actually smell very "blue" and fresh. Once upon a time, artemisia was a major note in Bleu Marine. I can't tell you how subsequent atomizer formulas smell, but the first Bleu Marine helped pave the way for scents like New West, Aqua Quorum, Bvlgari Aqva, and Polo Sport. It's more museum piece than anything at this point, but Bleu Marine remains a notable entry in the long list of interesting masculines from the 1980s.


Funny Name, Funny Countdown, Cool Bottle

Thierry Mugler is releasing another A*Men flanker this summer, hilariously called "Pure Wood," which immediately brings morning boners to mind. When you take a look on the Mugler web site, you find a grim countdown clock ticking off the seconds until the release time. When there's all zeros across the board, bottles of Pure Wood will spring from the Earth and fall from splitting tree trunks into everyone's yard. It's coming, folks. Pure Woodiness. Get ready.

The thing I like most about this fragrance concept is the bottle. Mugler encases most of its A*Men fragrances in matte rubber, usually dark grey or brown, and they're kind of a pain to use because the atomizer isn't touch sensitive, and requires extra downward force to disperse a decent spray. Some guys make it a point to cut the rubber off the bottle for that reason, but the wood-textured case on Pure Wood, framing an amber star, looks pretty cool to me. I own the original A*Men and a little bit of B*Men, both of which I like, and I've also spent some time with the reissue of Pure Malt, also very nice. Mugler has made a fan out of me. I'll be checking in on the Final Countdown in the coming weeks. When you consider it though, "Pure Wood" promises little more than A*Men's already woody coffee/patchouli structure embellished with designer-grade "woods" aroma chemicals, which will probably amount to your standard masculine woody amber. Given that it's an already woody scent within a wood-themed flanker, and the hundredth A*Men flanker, it's doubly redundant. If that's even possible.

It's come to the point where Mugler's A*Men flankers are feeling tired, and are even sounding a bit strained off the tongue (say "Pure Wood" out loud and try not to crack up). I sense that they should begin to rethink their line. Releasing flanker after flanker gets tiresome for consumers. The day does come for even the most die-hard A*Men fan where an original fragrance is more desirable than another iteration of an 18 year-old scent, especially when most of those iterations serve only to remind of how superior the first is.

Xeryus (Givenchy, Les Parfums Mythiques)

Fougères come in many forms, but every so often a brand makes one that smells simultaneously familiar and strange, an experience I liken to having a false memory. I'll smell an accord that I recognize, and think, "Oh yeah, I have others like this," but then in a direct comparison find that the different scents are not quite as similar as I thought. Such is the case with Givenchy's reissue of Xeryus, a "fougèriental" that was originally introduced in 1986. Every time I smell the "Les Parfums Mythiques" version, I smell a convergence of vintage Drakkar Noir and Francesco Smalto Pour Homme, with the spike lavender of the former gussied up with textured woody spices, and the latter's motor oil leather swallowed by an identical artemisia note and the hardest amber known to man. Drakkar came before Xeryus, and Smalto's scent came after, which in some ways suggests that Xeryus is a crossroads fragrance. It clearly draws from an aromatic fougère template that Pierre Wargnye put in place in 1982, but also looks forward to the complex orientals of the late eighties and early nineties. The historical reach of something like Xeryus is hard to measure, but for Givenchy to reissue it suggests it was something the brand was proud of the first time around.

I've never smelled vintage Xeryus. The man who sold me my bottle of "Les Mythiques" Xeryus told me that he has the vintage and the new version, and to him they smell identical. Perusals of threads online yield mixed opinions on this, with some feeling they're very close, and others lamenting the changing of the guard. My opinion of current Xeryus is that its strength alone is a testament to some degree of faithfulness to tradition. Its top notes are bright, garrulous, and sharp, very aromatic, a little sweet, and definitely fruity in a green/herbal way. Grapefruit, lavender, clary sage, and basil are pretty obvious from the get-go, and together they create a palpable veil of smells that settles across my face and becomes denser and heavier as the minutes tick by. An hour into wear, Xeryus becomes a powerful perfume-strength cloud, radiating a good four or five feet away from me. People notice it. I walk in and out of rooms, and my Xeryus is there to greet me when I return, like a big green puff of Bryan-shaped smoke. There are some vaguely floral notes, presumably some jasmine and just the faintest hint of violet sweetness, but I can't say Xeryus is a "floral fougère" like Joop! Jump, or even the iris-laden Green Irish Tweed. The fougère accord is simply very, very effusive, and the sweeter amber in the base is just as outgoing.

I like Xeryus, and I definitely don't get the bubblegum associations that some attribute to this reform. Its strength aside, I agree with those who think it's kind of ho-hum and unremarkable. I know that my Drakkar Noir feeling is due to an obvious use of Cypriol, a smoky, woody note that becomes increasingly obvious in the drydown, and the mixture of guaiac wood, cedar, sandalwood, pine needles, and artemisia is comparable to the lucid complexities of Francesco Smalto PH. Yet Xeryus is strange, an aggressive oriental framed by fougère elements that smell "retro" but unique, the kind of scent that might stop people in their tracks on the second pass, but not the first. I enjoy the fragrance, and I'm glad Givenchy made it their contribution to the chest-haired world of eighties aromatic fougères, but its beauty isn't quite "swoon-worthy" when taken in with its peers. People seem to feel that Xeryus is a cool weather fragrance, but cold weather flattens it for me and just makes it a vague, soapy aura. Warmer temps and humidity bring out the spicier, more textured wood notes in its heart, so I recommend trying it in spring and summer - in a very small dose (two or three sprays, max). The green notes are somewhat soapy, and definitely fresh enough to compensate for the sheer strength behind this thing.


mb03 (Biehl Parfumkunstwerke)

The one thing I dislike about standard Catholic church incense is its density, its shrill opacity. One little puff is enough to fill a cathedral and generate a hundred migraines. It's too much of a good thing; despite the pain it causes, it smells good. Mark Buxton knows this, and found a way to strip people of their painful psychological associations using spicy and floral notes with traditional three kings incense. mb03 is the result, probably unnecessary and definitely unoriginal (it's self-referential for Mark), but still a very nice fragrance and something I'd happily wear.

Tom Ford's Sahara Noir, an incredibly literal Catholic incense perfume, is very rich and dense and dry. Its problem? You guessed it - too much goodness, especially in a concentration that lasts twelve hours on skin, and sixteen on clothes. Incense doesn't have to smell that blatant. Blended incense is an extremely complex aroma with several facets, including resinous-sweet, resinous-woody, resinous-green, dry-papery, dry-floral, and dry-woody qualities, and mb03 is an exploration of woody, green, and sweetened floral elements. Top notes of pink pepper and elemi lend a spicy-green characteristic to a heart accord of chamomile, styrax, patchouli, and labdanum, a bundle of sheer dryness, full-bodied and fresh. I also smell subtle touches of Cashmeran, Iso E-Super, and Ambroxan, which emit a low-buzz "woody" vibe from the organ pit, but its base of sandalwood and raw incense smells simply of those two components.

Word on the street says mb03 is a lot like Comme des Garcons 2 Man and Buxton's own Around Midnight, along with a handful of other scents, most of which can be had for less money. This is probably true, but it's good to remember that the fragrance world is huge and overloaded with perfumes that are similar to each other. Many items are not available in certain countries. Those who missed CDG 2 Man and Around Midnight might encounter mb03 instead, either at home or in their travels, and it makes for a superb introduction to this perfumer's love of wood sap and blue smoke.


Layering Fragrances: Not For Me.

I'm a firm believer that big talkers should either put up or shut up. If you want to impress me with your message, then be prepared to take me on, or mind your own business. Otherwise your talk isn't interesting to me, or anyone else - it's just drivel. In my opinion, the drivelers of the fragrance world are the perfume brands and their PR reps. We fumeheads are constantly bombarded with commercial innuendos about the sexiness and desirability of new and established fragrances, yet we're often disappointed when we get around to smelling them. I remember Chanel's massive push for Bleu de Chanel. They even enlisted A-List director Martin Scorsese to direct a mini-movie to advertise it. Then I smelled Bleu and thought it was surprisingly dull, which meant Scorsese's spot was really just for Scorsese (surprise, surprise). This happens to me more often than not. Usually the hype, which in fairness is also generated by consumers, does not match the reality.

The interesting thing about scent layering (and those who engage in it) is the implicit rejection of the yimmer-yammer behind individual perfumes. There are no major designer brands that currently endorse layering their products. Chanel, Dior, Fendi, YSL, all seem to feel that each individual perfume is its own country. Each are solitary creations intended to stand on their own. Perfumers formulated these creations for singular use. Their offerings are meant to be interesting and sophisticated enough to satisfy the wearer without any extra "help." Nevertheless, some of the more creative customers out there beg to differ. A perusal of online forums yields countless threads about scent layering, usually by women who feel they've created a "special" fragrance, sort of a personalized custom perfume that they may prefer to anything they can buy.

The idea does not appeal to me at all, but I figured I'd try two iterations of a quick 'n easy "custom" scent. These were more like experiments than serious attempts to pass something off as a "wearable" SOTD, and I ended up scrubbing the results. Last month I wanted to try making a "mossy rose" type of scent, so I layered two spritzes of Grey Flannel with one spritz of Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop. The result smelled like an odorific incarnation of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. My second try was an attempt to create Green Irish Tweed on the cheap, again using Grey Flannel, this time with a spritz of Cool Water. This was marginally more successful - it at least smelled good - but I found the blending of both fragrances to be annoying and pointless. Together they smelled no better than they did on their own.

In my opinion, layering is something that is best done with fragrances that are mutually intended for such a use - like pretty much the entire Creed range. It's also an extremely subjective practice, with those who enjoy doing it swearing that their combinations are amazing (or at least fun and interesting), while others cite total disinterest as their main reason for abstaining. After using three good perfumes in two unsuccessful skin-sample blends, I've come to the realization that layering is an endeavor that is better suited to someone else entirely. The perfume brands may not always be right about the individual greatness of their products, but when they are, I'm happy to accept it and leave it at that.


Tom of Finland (Etat Libre d'Orange)

ELDO is one of those conceptual niche brands, and it's clear they have a good sense of humor. I reckon this scent was intended to be a type of gay male spoof, with its obvious leather-and-rubbers accord. If you use your imagination, you can kind of detect a whiff of a freshly-opened Trojan condom in this stuff. That may sound disgusting, but given that it's peeking past stronger notes of suede, vanilla, tonka, some kind of metallic note, pine needles, and musk, the "ick" factor is minimal. Except the suede is more like Naugahyde, the vanillic notes are stale aftershave, the "metal" is gunpowdery, the pine is an air freshener hanging from a car mirror, and the musk is b.o., thinly disguised as residual cigarette smoke. Sexy.

I find Tom of Finland to be both annoying and interesting. On the one hand, I'm a little tired of the synthetic quality of these ELDO scents, especially at their price point. At ELDO prices, they should smell very dynamic and complex, with excellent note separation and top shelf materials. Instead they all smell fake and surprisingly flat, exhibiting only subtle movements, and always a few notes short of "complex," with designer-grade bricks. On the other hand, sometimes the jokiness pays off in capturing the general concept behind the fragrance, and in this case it grabbed me right away - this is how Korben Dallas would have smelled. Bruce Willis played the futuristic cabbie in 1997's The Fifth Element, and ToF seems to draw together the collective aromas of faux cab leather, stale male grooming, handgun steel, and piney mirror clips.

Does this make me want a bottle? I love The Fifth Element, and I think Korben is an underrated character in the long canon of nineties movie characters, but that doesn't endear me to the scent. Maybe if the minty pine notes accented a stronger, dirtier leather, or perhaps if those sweet notes coalesced into a tobacco-centric heart accord, I might feel some love. ToF's structure is far too muted and understated to excite. Though it drips with testosterone (at least in spirit), this particular offering by Antoine Lie is outdone by cheaper, manlier scents. Good alternatives with fuller-throated oily leather notes and brighter minty-green spices are Francesco Smalto Pour Homme and Taxi by Cofinluxe, both attainable at a fraction of the price.


Krizia Uomo (Krizia)

This is a beautiful fragrance, and I'm glad to own it. Here's the deal with Krizia Uomo: it's an aromatic fougère that smells a little like a hybrid chypre in the same vein as Antaeus. I attribute this to the generous woods in its base, namely cedar, a touch of sandalwood, and vetiver. Like Antaeus, Uomo smells fairly natural and conservative, something a buttoned-up Wall Street maverick might have worn back when the world of American finance still appeared to be populated by human beings. Unlike Antaeus, it also smells barbershoppy and clean, its green notes blending with a mild coumarin and musk accord reminiscent of ferns like Azzaro and Paco Rabanne PH.

I own the current moss-less formula, and I know older versions were burlier, probably a bit richer, and doubtlessly louder than what Uomo is today, although I should mention that the brand has undergone another update, with a modernized box and bottle design. It's just a guess, but I'd say the "newest" Uomo is probably even tamer than the final incarnation of its original breed. It looks like they gave this scent a major overhaul, but then again, maybe not. In any case, I think I'll be buying a back-up bottle of the stuff pictured above, just to have the familiar version on hand for a bit longer. Amazingly, Uomo costs a mere $13 on Amazon, so keeping an extra bottle is no big deal.

Despite the absence of moss, the newer Uomo smells quite rich and natural, with a "clean mountaintop breeze" of lemon, grass, pine, and juniper top notes, dressed in aldehydes. Within fifteen minutes a pleasant lavender note whistles in the wind, its simple tune falling across fields of geranium leaf, cilantro, basil, and vetiver. Coumarin adds a bit of softness and also balances the bitterness of the herbs, and by lunchtime a solid cedar note anchors everything to a seafoam-green musk. This exercise in both clarity and diffusion creates a striking balance in the drydown, perhaps its most distinctive trait. Uomo is a great everyday work scent, very dependable, masculine, and alluring. Thank goodness fragrances like it still exist . . . Edit 2022: . . . until now, sadly. Krizia Uomo has been discontinued. 


Acqua di Genova Colonia & 1853 Anniversario

Rather than get into note breakdowns (which can be tedious), I'd like to talk about these colognes in a very loosely comparative manner. Summer is right around the corner - it'll be here in the U.S. before we know it - and I'm looking forward to wearing fresh colognes again. Acqua di Genova is an Italian firm that started in 1853 with their "Colonia Classica," which they celebrated on the fragrance's anniversary with an "1853 Anniversario" edition. Colonia is unisex, but AdG created separate 1853s for men and women, which I find a bit odd. This post briefly discusses the masculine version. These are cheerful cologne compositions that employ typical fruity cologne notes, yet their longevity is surprisingly atypical. I get a solid five, six hours from both, which suggests EDT concentrations, or perhaps my skin just loves them. I suppose their longevity would be just as competent on clothing, but I'd like them even if they only lasted thirty minutes. They're that nice.

Colonia smells almost exactly like Creed's Royal Water, minus Creed's signature synth-ambergris note in the base, and with a more vivid peppermint/herbal accord permeating its drydown. Price-wise Colonia is much cheaper, at about $100 a bottle ($1 per ml), and its ingredient quality is definitely on par with Creed's, if not better, so this is a superior value. A word of caution, however - as with Royal Water, AdG Colonia possesses an unusual unisex characteristic that may make "manly" men uncomfortable. If you drive a pick-up truck with pro-gun bumper stickers and habitually wear baseball caps, Acqua di Genova might not be your first choice. I have a difficult time picturing any of the guys I work with wearing this stuff with confidence, although I have no problem with it myself. These old-fashioned recipes employ a barrage of hesperidic notes that start out smelling sharp and tingly, but end up very powdery and flowery-sweet. The florals are transparent and vague, but they're definitely femme.

If Colonia is a sunny Mediterranean daydream, Anniversario is its evening afterglow, a warmer, mellower arrangement of slightly richer florals and woody notes. It lacks the crystalline citrus bite of its predecessor, but flexes a muskier bod, and it's the more masculine of the two by a landslide. When I consider how much mankind has changed in the last 200 years, it doesn't really surprise me that my "gender alert" goes off with 19th century fragrances. Modern western cultures have welded themselves to binary gender expectations, but the outlook may have been different 160 years ago. These colognes reside beyond the strictures of fashion marketing, in a realm where nature is reflected, and refracted, in one's choice of personal fragrance. For me, Colonia and 1853 are freeing olfactory experiences that fly me high above Connecticut's cultural norms and expectations, sending me to a warm inner place where work, commitments, inhibitions, and even clothing are optional.


Vetiver Extraordinaire (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle)

Vetiver Extraordinaire is easily my favorite from Malle. Special education workers use the phrase "mainstreamed" when referring to youngsters who possess skills that allow them to function socially and productively in normal society. In VE, Ropion took the limitations of a very dry, rooty, "niche-like" vetiver, and mainstreamed them. From initial application to the far drydown, his clever combination of saffron, bergamot, neroli, pink pepper, cedar, and vetiver is a pleasure to wear, always easy on the nose, and quite fertile in quality and complexity. It is detailed, enough to yield variables in its balance between dominant and subordinate notes per wear. It is also dimensional; VE does not just sit on skin. Ropion managed to make his vetiver fizz, as if the dew between fronds was carbonated. The effect is "in your face" and alive.

Last summer I wrote about the term "soapy" as it applies to perfume, and described the effect in a few notable fragrances. Soapiness is a personal preference of mine when it comes to fragrances, especially masculines, as it's a sort of style that always smells at least somewhat clean and fresh. It doesn't matter what notes are used. If they're representative of something in nature, closely and smoothly blended, and evocative of cleanliness, they're going to come across as "soapy" to me. Vetiver Extraordinaire reads as being noticeably sudsy, with a brightness and freshness commonly found in any one of your better bar soaps. Still, its close blending of spicy-green notes is surprisingly legible. The smooth, almost transparent quality found in many soapy frags is absent here, with a finely textured woodiness (vetiver, saffron, cedar, myrrh) stealing the show instead. 

Perhaps the only thing I could cite as a possible flaw is also, ironically, the very thing that makes VE enjoyable - its easiness. There are no fun challenges to be had in deciphering VE, no unique "niche" characteristics beyond its obviously catering to worshippers of all things vetiver (and perhaps all things Safranal). Its pencil-shaving cedar note is reminiscent of a slew of woody designer scents, including Gucci PH, and yeah, I'd say this is another example of Iso E Super used brilliantly, but at its niche price, I could understand hesitating a little to put your good money down on this pearl. Ultimately though, VE is head and shoulders above many of the woody designer fragrances I've worn and owned over the years, and I definitely prefer it to Guerlain Vetiver, which is still a great scent, and the enduring standard for vetiver.


L'Air du Desert Marocain (Tauer)

Once again I want to extend a big Thank You to Jeffrey Dame for sending me a sample of L'Air du Desert Marocain, and to Jim Gehr for turning me on to Tauer's work in the first place. It was by a happy coincidence that Jeffrey read my review of Tauer's Orris and immediately sent me more from the line, and Jim had included a vial of Orris in the sample care package that I received beforehand. I can't stress enough how lovely it is. I've read so much about LdDM, more than Orris (which is relatively obscure), and it did not disappoint.

Its introduction on skin is a rich array of spices that coalesce into something awfully close to straight-up leather, but I experience a very tight arrangement of aromatic materials as the scent unfolds. In the mix are cumin, coriander, sage, and an astringent terpene note that alludes to pine, of all things. In its first hour LdDM reminds me of Caron's Yatagan, but before long an oddly soapy floral accord overtakes the leathery dust devil. This is an interesting trick, and it makes me wonder what Andy was going for. Starting the scent off with a snarling desert scene that rapidly brightens into a sophisticated bar soap (I'm thinking of that triple-milled stuff you find in upscale boutiques) is, for lack of a better word, unexpected. Yet it smells really, really good.

The design of the fragrance is such that it allows relatively linear components to merge in an austere narrative that reads like Hemingway: "You come in out of the desert, smelling of the desert. You go into the bathroom and wash the desert off yourself." Two hours into the drydown, labdanum and jasmine peer through an oily vetiver and amber accord, and I'm convinced there's a third part to the narrative - "Some desert lingers after you've washed, and it won't come off." Fragrances like this send subtle messages to people - "I'm proud to be different," "My sense of style is unique, and so am I," "Real men smell like dirt and motor oil with a whiff of soap" - you can pick the line. This stuff sticks with you for seven solid hours, and it's compelling enough to make me reapply at the end of the day and start the whole story over again.

Whenever anyone asks me what the difference between niche and designer is, I usually say something off the cuff, like, "Niche fragrances are usually just pricier and simpler variants of designer scents." Tauer has me thinking I'll revise my response to, "Designer fragrances are designed to please everyone around the wearer. Niche scents, when done well, are designed to please the wearer." L'Air du Desert Marocain is a prime example, and it's a hit with those around me as well, which is nice.


Invasion Barbare (Parfums MDCI)

The Bottle Is More Impressive Than Its Contents.

By all rights, I should love Invasion Barbare - it's a fresh fougère with a lovely array of spicy/woody notes, blended on a subtly-dosed base of Ambroxan and white musk. Cardamom, lavender, thyme, violet leaf, ginger, cedar, amber, all ingredients high quality, note separation very good. What's not to adore here?

I don't adore this perfume. I would preface that statement with "for some reason," except I know the reason: it does not have an "It Factor." What is an "It Factor," you ask? There are no words in the English language that I could cobble together to describe "It." That's why it's an "It." Like any movie star who lights up the big screen and sends hearts aflutter, sometimes perfumes have an indescribable beauty and charm that cements them in memory and makes their fans want to return, time and again. Kouros has "It." Cool Water has "It." Fahrenheit has "It." Eau Sauvage has "It." Green Irish Tweed has "It."

Invasion Barbare, sadly, does not have "It."

That's not to suggest I don't like Stéphanie Bakouche's 2006 composition for the team-driven firm Parfums MDCI, because I do like it quite a bit. Whenever I dab this on my wrists I'm greeted by a velvety-sweet aroma, tinged in spice, and the scent gets softer, warmer, and more inviting as the day goes on. Yet there's no charismatic nature, no innate charm to any of it. It simply smells like a very competent perfumer assembled an array of expensive synthetics (aside from the cardamom, nothing in IB smells natural) in a concentration that happens to showcase cardamom, lavender, and thyme fairly well for a couple hours. That's not a knock, because its harmony is very well calibrated, and the fragrance exhibits a finer balance not often encountered in contemporary niche. But it's not something I'll be writing much about ever again.

With most of the fragrances on my "It" list, I sniff, close my eyes, and go "Ahhh." With Invasion Barbare, I catch the occasional whiff and think, "I could be wearing something better." I understand this is a hit with the niche snobs, but as far as I'm concerned, all I can say is sorry, Stéph. Better luck next time.


Gucci Pour Homme (Gucci, 2003)

I could see how someone might say that Gucci PH is relatively boring, yet one of the better choices (among designer scents) if you want to impress others, or be noticed for your fragrance, but I feel this assessment is actually the very definition of "cognitive dissonance," because if a fragrance takes pride of place in impressing people, it can't possibly be boring. Gucci PH is a marvel of modern design, a terrific example of how literalistic notes in a staid composition can come together as something beautiful and unique. It is the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright in a bottle.

In Gucci PH, incense, pink pepper, geranium, and ginger precede incense, labdanum, and cedar. At first I smell a clean, semi-sweet, and slightly fruity pink pepper note, paired with a silvery incense. Five minutes later the ginger whispers in, and the incense gets woodier, its silvery facet separating into lemony geranium leaf. I'm reminded of Jubilation XXV, except Gucci PH smells simpler and better. Amouage went a little nuts with the sheer number of competing notes in their scent, but Gucci got it right by scaling back on the notes and allowing the composition to breathe. The pert brightness of the top notes gets translated into a rounder incense and cedar accord in the heart and base. Even though the cedar smells fairly literal and linear, the memory of fruity pink pepper lingers, playing up the subtle complexities of cedar.

I like this scent. Gucci should have kept it in production. I've read that this fragrance contains Iso E Super in a dosage that might or might not be irritating, depending on your sensitivities. A quick note on Iso E Super: perfumer Jim Gehr recently mentioned to me that it is actually very, very mild, probably hypo-allergenic, "more texture than aroma," and would not lend excessive scratchiness and/or chemical blare to contemporary perfumes. So I stand corrected on this material. Those of us who complain about excessive Iso E Super (or mishandled Iso E Super) are likely suffering from a sensitivity to Ambrocenide, an extremely potent woody amber used in many woody scents, at up to an astounding 24% of concentration.


Kenzo Power (Kenzo)

"More. More Power!"

I'll say this about Kenzo Power: this shit is powerful. One little spritz, and you're good to go for seven, eight hours. Kenzo's fragrances are usually mild-mannered, transparent, unobtrusive, but Power lives up to its name and bucks all those trends in favor of strength, throw, and total presence. It's floral, yes, but it's a powerhouse floral with a solid array of sweet and musky notes that fill a room and linger long after you're gone. If you want to be remembered, I recommend this scent.

Power opens with a crisp cardamom and bergamot arrangement, interlaced with miniature renditions of iris, rose, neroli, and violet. As the heart notes emerge, the floral notes broaden and "bloom," becoming much stronger and more distinct, yet never blobbing into each other. Note separation remains fair for this scent, and I enjoy experiencing each floral facet well into the drydown. Labdanum makes an appearance also, roughly forty-five minutes in, and becomes rather prominent, forming a partnership with a musky amber note in the base. Occasionally the bergamot peeks through the bouquet and freshens things up.

If I ever come across a bottle, I'll buy it, namely for its novelty factor. It's discontinued, and it's from a reputable house, but it's ultimately a blatantly floral perfume for men, and those don't come along very often. This isn't a muted rose chypre that gets passed off as a "floral" like Azzaro Acteur - there are plenty of floral scents for men that exhibit drier, less obvious renditions of flowers in order to appeal to male sensibilities. Power is sweet, rich, green, and literally a bouquet that smells outright femme for an hour or two, and that's a great thing in my book.