Stetson Sierra (Coty)

The subtlest victories of masculine perfumery come as nods to femininity. The violet prettiness of Cool Water and Green Irish Tweed. The sugary toffee rush of A*Men. The candied yuzu of Caron's Third Man. Each masterpiece contains an element of bisexual appeal. Most American guys don't wear any fragrance at all, but those who do generally approach them with subliminal consciousness, choosing what "smells good," without realizing their choice may very well smell surprisingly close to a girly-girl's perfume. Those who recognize these contradictions wear such scents as code.

Stetson Sierra is a frag that I've passed a million times at Walgreens and Walmart, and the former always has a tester out, alongside the original Stetson and Stetson Black. Every time I spray Sierra, I recognize a classical twentieth century masculine structure, ubiquitous, unadventurous, yet brilliantly subtle in its message. Released in 1993, it was a departure from its namesake, which is an unglamorously feminine oriental (not so subtle, that one), the "outdoorsy" Stetson, at long last. Rugged men, pine needles, herbs, woods, mosses, musks. Five o'clock shadows, leather boots, blue jeans, pick-up trucks, Winchester repeaters, buxom girlfriends named Dawn who cashier at the supermarket. Real men don't wear cologne, so this one has to be a real cologne - light, transparent for most of its duration, and rather aftershavey, that hint of "clean" and "musky" that classier guys don't mind spending a few dollars on.

That's exactly what Sierra delivers, until you get to the base accord, the very thing that is supposed to cement its direct masculinity into the workday and be forgotten by lunch. It starts off very directly, and very much an early nineties scent, bright and fizzy bursts of fresh bergamot, pine needles, lavender, and near-odorless aldehydes, morning in a Maine forest. The piney hi-fidelity aftershave effect segues into a mélange of herbal notes, mainly wormwood, caraway, rosemary, juniper, black pepper, basil, and geranium. I'm reminded of the long discontinued Polo Crest, and for about ten minutes Sierra smells like a somewhat cheaper copy of Crest, a good thing, given that Crest is a beautiful scent. Then the manliness gets patchouli heavy, and an accord similar to Preferred Stock creeps in and hangs around for about five minutes, before introducing the main attraction.

That main attraction is jasmine. Hello, sweetheart. How'd you get here? I thought this was an inexpensive testosterone fest? But is it really that inexpensive? Twenty bucks for 1.5 ounces? Almost thirty for two ounces? This is pricier than the original Stetson, and frankly the quality of its craftsmanship is on par with the dollar increase. The far drydown yields an understated musky, piney jasmine note, delicate, sweet, sheer, still quite "fresh," but now interminably "floral." Incredibly, Sierra's jasmine note is of better quality than things more famously floral, like Tea Rose Jasmin, for instance, which has a very literal rendition of jasmine, (perhaps too literal), Tommy Girl, with an overly luminescent synthetic jasmine accord, or even Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel, a sublimely dry white floral blend.

How to account for this? I couldn't tell you. Forget the fake male swagger. There's plenty of that in the first twenty minutes of this scent. Embrace the crystalline beauty of the simple jasmine accord that follows, and recognize why you like it, wear it, and observe. The men and women in your world will pass by en masse, but every so often, one will read your code, and remind you that the phrase "it's a man's world" has several subtextual connotations. From that power flows the beauty of this little scent from Coty.