L'Homme Ideal Cologne (Guerlain)

Nothing says "buy me" like a panicked man fleeing a hundred bridezillas.

I can't remember the last time I had such mixed feelings about a fragrance.

I recall reading Perfumes: The Guide for the first time in 2009, and thinking that its authors' credibility was shot because they found Guerlain, at least generally speaking, to be pretty amazing, and Creed to be mostly crap. In my years of exploring fragrance, I've yet to fully get on board the Guerlain hype train.

My problem with the brand is that it issues great fragrances made of subpar materials. Their Vetiver smells good, but its top notes are chemical enough to draw comparisons to bug spray. Shalimar is nice, but boring. It smells like high quality citrus blended with mediocre vanilla and an even more mediocre musk. Mitsouko is impressive mostly in how it handles oakmoss. I can't say I was ever blown away by the supposed "peach" that I've yet to find in its abstract (and ancient) composition. Habit Rouge is a decent powdery dandy fragrance, but isn't worth fifty dollars when Pinaud Clubman achieves the same effect for seven. I've only put my nose on two or three in the Aqua Allegoria line, but those I've smelled were good, competently made, and instantly forgettable. What's the deal with them? And why so many?

The L'Homme Ideal line has people abuzz about how "fresh" its frags are. Lately there's complaints about Guerlain's discontinuation of L'Homme Ideal Cologne. Majority sentiment declares it an excellent summer fragrance, with an unusual and memorable accord of grapefruit and "almond" that will be sorely missed a couple of years from now when bottle supplies dry up.

I'll preface my opinion by stating that one should be wary of buying into company-issued note pyramids. While Guerlain might say there's "almond" in this fragrance, I smell none at all. Of course, the fact that almond is in the pyramid is enough to make dozens of reviewers on both basenotes and fragrantica remark on how good the almond note is. Why Guerlain felt the need to relabel the massive vetiver in this fragrance is beyond me.

Vetiver can possess a dry, nutty quality, and it can lend a composition an austere earthiness when used well. That element is very much at the heart of this "cologne" (really an EDT). It is preceded by a burst of synthetic citrus and pink pepper, mostly grapefruit, and while it smells overtly fake, it nonetheless smells very, very good.

The citrus and pepper accord smells so good that I'm tempted to say it's the best use of these notes I've encountered in years, except there's a niggling feeling about the grapefruit I just can't shake. And then - a lightbulb flickers - I've smelled this note elsewhere: this is the same grapefruit found in Bleu de Chanel, only at a much higher volume. This realization made me smell L'Homme Ideal Cologne as a mini Bleu with more grapefruit on top, and more vetiver in the base (Bleu has a subtler vetiver). When you think of L'Homme as its own fragrance, it seems generic and affable enough. But when you consider it the offspring of Bleu de Chanel, pangs for Bleu overshadow the experience. If I'm gonna go nightclub playa, I'd rather reach for the Chanel.

That said, it's still a pretty good scent. Yes, the ingredients are disappointing as usual, and yes the composition isn't as original as it could be, especially with citrus playing a central role, but it still works. The blend is smooth, gentle, soft. The balance is pitch-perfect, with the ghost of sulfur following the citrus fizz to remind me of real grapefruit, and the sweetness of pink pepper providing piquant contrast. The vetiver is shaded into the background with detail rarely experienced in mainstream perfumery. The freshness lasts for hours, no small feat. And the overall effect is simple, clean, and inviting, a laundered white T-shirt in a spring morning breeze.

Fragrances like L'Homme Ideal Cologne are made for flirting. In 2020, that's the truth. Once upon a time they were made to denote hygiene, to complement a "type," but these days they're made for dates, for intimate gatherings, for getting closer to someone of interest. Women have been exposed to a multitude of masculine clichés over the decades, and at this point their collective opinion is firm. Clean smells are the winners.

So while guys like Luca Turin bemoan the "fresh" culture, guys who want to get laid wear stuff like this because it works. But is a fragrance that is guaranteed to attract women merely a functional tool for the proletariat? Are the reasons for preferring stuff like Lapidus Pour Homme and Giorgio for Men automatically contrarian? Is it bad that this fragrance bores me? Is it even worse that it seemed to find favor with a beautiful woman that I met in passing the other day?

Guerlain really aggravates me.


Thé Brun (Jean-Charles Brosseau)

In 2005, Pierre Bourdon created this now-forgotten tea fragrance for the somewhat obscure firm of Jean-Charles Brosseau. Thé Brun is an oddity, a Bourdon creation that flew under the radar, and never landed. It has attracted a bit of attention in the past few years via basenotes threads such as this one, with speculation that Bourdon is the nose behind Creed's Aventus, and that he "tested" the Aventus concept five years earlier in JC Brosseau's scent.

To my nose, no such "test" occurred. Thé Brun's note pyramid lists pineapple, but I get none from any stage of the fragrance. If the idea is that Bourdon rehearsed Aventus' "smoky" accord in Brosseau's frag, then it was by accident, because the smokiness in Thé Brun smells like an extension of its sweet, milk-and-sugar black tea drydown. The scent evolution is as follows: a trite fougere top note of cheap and unnecessary lavender, rapidly followed by a cloud of campfire smoke, which coalesces into a bitter, somewhat smoky Lapsang souchong note.

In Aventus the smokiness is papery, birch-like, reminiscent of American bills, and it lasts forever. Here, the smoke communicates a specific kind of aromatic Chinese tea, and is more complex. The Lapsang trails off after an hour, leaving a hyper-realistic British Colony mug tea in its wake. It smells like cheap English Afternoon tea, a commonplace beverage you might sip on your lunch break. It is recognizable, mellow, and pleasant when used judicously.

What does Thé Brun signify to the culture? Newsflash: Bourdon was obviously making charming niche scents for down-market brands while also allegedly creating upscale niche for Creed and Frederic Malle. He may have authored Aventus, but I wouldn't point to this frag as proof of that. There's no tea in Aventus. Thé Brun, on the other hand, is 100% about tea. When I sniff its atomizer, it smells like a cup of Twinnings. Truth in advertising! By the way, its minimalist gem-cut bottle is a nice touch.