Photo (Karl Lagerfeld)

The Eighties Called: They Want Their Fougère Back.

As a disclaimer, I should clarify that I've never smelled the current formula of Photo. I've only ever smelled the original version from the early nineties, back when Lagerfeld Parfums and Benckiser was packaging it in a black "camera film" package with yellow-green lettering. If it should win any awards, it's for package design; Lagerfeld's cans generally suffer from boring graphics and forgettable color schemes, but Photo's was exceptionally good. Too bad I can't say the same for what's inside.

I'm the sort of person who appreciates vintage and newer formulas of old fragrances, although as you probably already know, I tend to view the value of vintages as something highly relative and variable. I assess each scent, with its period's zeitgeist, juxtaposed against its current reviews and reviewers. That said, it's important to note that Photo's release year was 1990, so it was developed in the late eighties (no pun intended), but formulated to match the trends of the early nineties.

In some ways, it's groundbreaking in that regard. Photo's basic structure is an aromatic fougère. Its lavender and coumarin are unmistakable and aggressive, but they're sunken into a familiar Laz-Z-Boy of floral, herbal, and woody aromatics, which flesh out the fern accord, and create an ambery hybrid-oriental tone of their own. The lavender note is fresh, bolstered by what may be the tiniest dab of Calone, lending it an almost aquatic, salinated aura that presages the "melon" trend of the nineties. You really have to strain to notice this, though. And Photo's problems begin to outweigh its little victories as it dries down.

Within a minute of application, it becomes clear that Photo is derivative, and copies from two major eighties masculines: Drakkar Noir and Xeryus. Again, I must post a disclaimer and say that I've never smelled the vintage version of Xeryus, but if the reissued Les Parfums Mythiques version is any guide, Givenchy's fragrance was the primary template for Photo, just as Laroche's was the template for Givenchy. Drakkar Noir's treatment of lavender carried down the line before coming to rest in Lagerfeld's scent, and any changes were negligible.

Photo's ingredient quality is on par with Drakkar, but not with the reissued Xeryus, which smells more coherent and balanced in comparison. What this tells me is that contemporary perfumery has moved on from vintage Photo and produced a very similar fragrance that smells measurably better. While affable enough, Photo's notes feel somewhat "blurry" and clumsy; its lavender is a bit too "gummy" (and also resembles the cheap lavender in vintage Bleu Marine), its woody notes are a little too sweet, and perhaps the scent's age is to blame, but the musk in its base smells like a chemical fabric softnener ingredient, like being downwind of Bounce dryer sheets.

LPM Xeryus has cleaner, crisper note separation, with nothing "spiking out," and a much less obvious musk in its cool, ambery base. And if I want an air-conditioned lavender note, the massive herbal blast of Drakkar Noir is still more satisfying than anything else. All things considered, I should have some love for Photo, and I certainly appreciate it as an indicator of where the eighties left off and the nineties began, but find little truth in reviews exalting the vintage version. Maybe I'd enjoy the reformulation more, but I prefer to satiate my appetite for "fougerientals" elsewhere.