4/17/16

Ungaro Pour L'Homme II (Emanuel Ungaro)


Quite the little coupe.


The masculine triad by Ungaro elicits comparisons between the fragrance world and the car industry. Makes like Toyota and Honda have Lexus and Acura, exotic "upscale" divisions embraced by gleefully ignorant consumers. The cars are the same as their legacy badged counterparts, yet command premiums for being "luxe." Demographically, this approach tends to work better in the North American marketplace, although it exists elsewhere also. But does it make sense? If I choose an Acura Integra coupe over a Honda Prelude, aren't I just buying a variation of the Prelude? For that matter, couldn't I just get an Accord coupe and call it a day?

In the early nineties, Emanuel Ungaro's famous three were branded "Ungaro," but were merely re-badged Chanels. Parfums Ungaro was founded in 1983, but by 1992 it had been assimilated into the Wertheimers' illustrious stock portfolio. Jacques Polge had taken François Demachy under his wing; the two men had created Antaeus and Pour Monsieur Concentrée. The stage was set for Ungaro I, II, and III when they collaborated in 1983 on Diva, released the following year. It was Ungaro's second fragrance, and a broad market test for Chanel's Coco EDP. Its success encouraged Chanel execs to debut the brand's first masculines, and naturally they fell back on team Polge/Demachy. The results catapulted the perfumers' careers through the nineties and into the naughts. Polge remained with Chanel, while Demachy eventually joined Dior.

The three Ungaro brothers were released consecutively in 1991, 1992, and 1993, and they were low-key successes in Europe. I doubt they charted in the States, although Ungaro has always had fans here. Unfortunately, Salvatore Ferragamo Italia SpA inked an acquisition deal with Chanel in 1996, and when the reigns changed hands the first order of business was to delete all but Ungaro III from the roster. Francesco Trapani, CEO of the Ferragamo/Bulgari group, quickly made it clear that Ungaro I and II, along with Senso and the original Ungaro, were to bite the dust. Why is anyone's guess, but my theory is that the only one with healthy sales stats was Ungaro III. Usually I view this as the result of design flaws, but in this case I think advertising was to blame.

Ungaro's brand image was never robust enough to draw new buyers. Their adverts were sexy but unimaginative, their fragrances had esoteric titles and/or bland numerical designations, and their distribution sucked. I rarely saw an Ungaro fragrance at Macy's in the nineties. I don't even recall seeing any in independent shops, and we have pretty good indies here in CT. I guess it goes to show you that availability and brand image mean something, because there's no reason why Ungaro Pour L'Homme II should have been discontinued. It doesn't come across as an "oddball" fragrance. It's more aligned with Chanel's staid classics. What makes it stand out is its quality and craftsmanship, especially when you consider it's intended for men.

I like to laugh at online comments about how masculine fragrances are too often labeled "fougère." The aromatic fougère was the main player in the market, and if we're going to be totally frank about that, we ought to face facts. Twentieth century masculines were largely unimaginative; their target demographic balked at and broke cold sweats over "sweet," "floral," and "fruity" concepts. The only way to inject fun into things was to re-feather the holiday Butterballs with peacock down. The incessant need to prioritize paternal dependability over feminine capriciousness made it challenging, but Ungaro II took some chances and conveyed manly maturity with panache. It smells both demure and daring, and reinterprets conservative forms in a Rococo style.

I won't wax poetic about individual notes and accords. I'll just say that Ungaro II is a musky fougèriental with neroli, tobacco, tonka, amber, and a salubriously smoky vanilla drydown. My initial impression is always that this stuff resembles vintage Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur, by either Tsumura or Aladdin, but this is only due to how the lavender is mated to the woodier aromatics. Ungaro uses a clear tobacco note, very ashy and "dusty" in character, which distances it from the Cardin. I also smell the eighties, echoes of Concentrée and Zino, and nods to contemporaries like Joint and Aubusson Pour Homme (original). Ungaro II would be a little nondescript if not for its quality: the majority of its players smell resoundingly airy and natural, and that means I get to have some fun with the musks in this stuff. A synthetic musk will never turn heads, but a natural-smelling animalic musk commands attention. I was lucky enough to find an unusued 2.5 oz bottle for under $50 at a brick and mortar shop, but I will warn aspiring Ungaro hunters that time has savaged the longevity of this scent. It technically endures for five hours on my skin, but four of those hours are so deflated and diffuse that I have to breathe on where I sprayed to remember what was there.

That said, I still heartily recommend it. If you enjoy things like Zino and Joint, you'll probably appreciate Ungaro II. It's a bright, fresh, sporty little thing that smells, for ninety minutes at least, much more relaxed and sophisticated than most of the older Chanels I've worn, perhaps with the exception of Égoïste. The elemental simplicity of its design sometimes seems very Polge-like and "safe," but at least it moves through the air like a nimble idea that didn't deserve to be discontinued. It's time to bring Emanuel Ungaro's brand and his masculine fragrances back from the dead. I'd pay Chanel Les Exclusifs prices for a stronger version of this one, that's for sure.




8 comments:

  1. A number of years ago, I tested samples of Ungaro I, II and III. Although U-II was different and as you say spot on similarities to Cardin/Concentree, I felt that U-I was very much like YSL Jazz while U-III (original 90s version) felt very much like a copy of Zino. I am surprised that you sensed similarities in U-II to Zino.

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    1. There must be a chemical analog of wood that was popular 25 years ago, because I smell it in many "burly" masculines of that era, and Zino used a ton of it. I must be sensitive to it, hence my mind immediately flitting to Zino every time I encounter even a mild dose of whatever it is in other scents. I definitely get a very mild but noticeable hint of it here, although I wouldn't go so far as to say that Ungaro II smells like Zino in any obvious way. I think it bears closer similarities to Cardin and PM Concentree. You're not the first person who has told me that Ungaro I resembles Jazz. From everything I've read, the pyramid and basic idea of that one appear to riff off the YSL scent quite heavily.

      Basically the trio comes across as a series of "homage scents" that were hugely influenced by popular eighties frags of just a few years prior. That usually only works out well if the homage improves on its inspiration. Clearly it didn't work out very well for Ungaro.

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  2. I still can't figure out what Ungaro III is supposed to smell similar to. I've seen it compared to Zino and Acteur, but I don't smell similarities to either.

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    1. Comparatives aside, I'd be curious to know how you perceive it in its own right - is it a great Ungaro worthy of continued production, or just so-so? I always thought it was strange that out of the trilogy, they found the most commercial promise in the third scent and not the first. But the desirability goes in descending order, with the third being the apparent favorite, the second being discontinued but highly regarded by a few (and only a few), while the super-rare first issue is loved by those who remember it and are lucky enough to have vintage bottles, but otherwise just a vague memory for a precious few.

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  3. I personally love Ungaro III. It's one of my favorite fragrances, even though I'm not too crazy that its projection dies down pretty quickly (though it's longevity is excellent).
    I don't understand its commercial appeal, though. It does have quite the following on Basenotes and Fragrantica. It's one of the main fragrances mentioned when people ask for a masculine rose (though I don't get nearly as much rose as other people seem to get, and can't figure out why this is considered an example of a rose forward masculine). So there are obviously a lot of people who have this and like it.
    However, I've never once seen this sold anywhere other than at a small brick and mortar; and even those stores don't seem to carry it often. It doesn't make its rounds at TJ Maxx, Marshall's, or Ross, like Grey Flannel, Versace l'Homme, Quorum, Curve, Drakkar Noir etc. It isn't sold at boutiques, cosmetic stores, or department stores (at least the ones I've been to). It doesn't have any niche appeal like Guerlain or something. There are hardly any blog or youtube reviews of it. Its citrus and lavender weren't uncommon, but its aromatic and floral qualities are too dense and austere for post-80's commercial fragrances. So it's kind of weird that theyd consider this a success.
    I've never smelled I or II, at least to my knowledge, so I can't comment if they had more or less potential for commercial appeal.

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    1. Very interesting. Your comment joins a list of others from different people who have just as hard a time identifying a fragrance as truly being a "rose" scent. This makes me wonder if it's another odd phenomenon in the fragrance community (among males commenting on masculines) - does it make guys feel smarter, better, more knowledgeable, to claim they smell rose in something that actually isn't overtly about rose? Hard to say. I feel the same way about VC&A PH, which definitely has a rose note in it, and uses it to great effect, but doesn't really strike me on the outset as being a "rose fragrance." Yet many, many reviews tout "rose" as being the central theme in that scent, also.

      Anyway, I think the issue with finding these Ungaro fragrances is that Ungaro never really had good distribution. They managed to go global and they certainly became well known, but for some reason their products aren't the easiest to find.

      I can't say that it's necessary to seek out and smell II, but if you ever come across it, definitely try it. It's nice, although its discontinuation is no enormous loss to the world imo. Especially since things like Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and Chanel Pour Monsieur Concentree are still in production.

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  4. Great review of an old favorite of mine. I have to me in just the right mood to wear it and find that it can overpower on really warm days. A quick shout out to the bottles and packaging--while easy to overlook, at second glance I really love the retro bakelite/Deco-seen-through-a-90s-lens sort of look (with purple glass, yet!). I like it when houses use the same bottles with different color variations for each fragrance, when it is done well like it is in this case.

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    1. Thanks, yes, the packaging for this one is terrific. Truly beautiful, arguably the best I've ever seen. Great fragrance inside, too.

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