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.