1/18/20

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.


22 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review of a fragrance I'm not familiar with. I enjoy vintage Mitsouko EdT for the oakmoss, as you say.

    I don't wear scent for the ladies, nor am I convinced that they aren't perfectly able to tease out scent from charisma. Pyrite fools only....

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  2. P.S.: When my stash of Mitsouko runs out, I'm migrating to Rogue Perfumery's range for good ol' days oakmoss.

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    1. I’ all for oakmoss but can’t do it in large doses as it starts to mess with my sinuses. But the amount in stuff like Mitsouko is just right.

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  3. I think Guerlain lost their mojo sometime in the 60s. I've never been a big Guerlain fan either.
    I can get that Shalimar was amazing in 1925 with its "new" synthetic vanilla note. I've never found their signature vanillic "Guerlainade" very interesting - but my perfume "coming of age" was in the vanilla-heavy gourmand 90s, so maybe I'm a bit jaded?
    One thing I can say about Guerlain though, they are always a safe buy for a gift. Their reputation for French quality & style remains well known throughout the world, always gorgeous presentation, and I've never found a Guerlain fragrance offensive. Boring, yes (talkin' about YOU Aqua Allegorics!) - as nausea inducing as Creed's Fleurissimo, no. That being said I received Mon Guerlain as a gift last year and have already regifted it.
    Just went through Istanbul's brand new international airport that has a FABULOUS perfume selection of both niche & mainstream on offer. You name it, they had it to sample! Found a new favorite perfume house, Turkey's own Nishane - bought a bottle of Zenne and Tuberoza.

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    1. I’v heard of Nishane, i’ll have to try some of their frags. The future belongs to some of these newer frag houses and isn’t really about brands like Guerlain anymore. Agree that Guerlain is boring and eminently safe. The brand is a relic of the past and its marquee perfumes have all been reformulated down. I’d like to try the most recent formula for Vetiver, as it’s affordable and comes in a nice bottle, in hopes that its top notes and far dry down have improved. Otherwise I have no enduring interest in the brand.

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  4. I do think that there's something other than vetiver in the opening which gives off that almond vibe. It's not as dry as vetiver to me, and doesn't remind me of peanuts. It smells creamy and slightly sweet. Maybe tonka or heliotrope? That note made me think of that nutty note in Bogart Pour Homme (obviously no similarities to that fragrance otherwise). I really like the scent, but I'm sure I'll probably just end up swapping or selling my bottle after it appreciates in value

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    1. Masrimaghrebi, perhaps your nose is better than mine, as I get nothing like that from this frag. My impression is a dense semisweet citrus with maybe a hint of coumarin and a musky vetiver drydown, but then again the almond may simply elude me.

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    2. Maybe it's the heliotrope qualities in Guerlainade which gives me that impression? I get a similar note in a lot of other Guerlain fragrances, like Guerlain Homme EDP.

      Btw, I have a recent bottle of Vetiver. While it's not as strong as the square bottle, it's pretty much the same smell. I love it, so that's fine for me. But if you didn't care much for the previous formulations, it's probably not worth going out of your way for.

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    3. Good to know! Thanks for your impressions. I’ll probably still give it a go. I didn’t dislike Vetiver, I actually enjoyed it for what it was. But it was a bit disappointing given its lineage and pedigree in perfume history. If they dialed it down and the citrus and musk notes are better balanced that could be enough to make me a fan of this particular Guerlain. I’ll look into a review soon.

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  5. As a fan of fougeres, what are your thoughts on Jicky?

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    1. Mark tbh I could care less about Jicky, and doubt I’ll ever get around to trying it. But if it happens I will review it for you ASAP.

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  6. Fair enough. I adore Habit Rouge, Heritage, LHB, Vol De Nuit.... and consider Jicky transcendent. Thus my interest in your Guerlain-agnostic opinion.

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    1. Mark, out of curiosity, are you referring to current formulas or vintages? I understand that there’s a divide in the Guerlain community on which vintages are worthy of comment.

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  7. Take this as humorously intended, but as a fan of Pinaud's aftershaves, I'd say any fragrance that reminds us of Clubman (albeit at its most powdery) and lasts all day (which Habit Rouge certainly does on me) is kind of a treasure...
    Seriously though, that's an interesting take-down of Guerlain in general, and certainly in line with the seeming consensus of fans who bemoan the end of the gold-capped days (or the days before LVMH, whichever came first...)

    Personally, I like Habit Rouge for the overall contrapuntal character of its structure, which seems to perhaps make up for any shortcomings within the orchestration of moving parts...The popsicle-stick-woody-musk at the base is just OK, but the praline-like leather accord, which I think is partly a labdanum note, smells both luxe and lite, and the collective jangle of eau de cologne citruses at the start is just a lot of fun for a person to have alone in their bathroom. I'm also a sucker for cinnamon. I have the newer vetiver and enjoy it a lot, but certainly it is a qualified pleasure; on very long work days the far drydown's plain dry hay can seem a little dull (though it does reapply nicely). I mostly really enjoy the new Vetiver's nutmeg note (it's really changed the degree to which I look for that note in fact). If you buy yourself some for St. Patrick's Day, I'll look forward to the review. But overall, yes, I do see your point. Conspicuous good taste is always kind of the enemy.

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    1. The controversy with Guerlain pre and post-LVMH is a big one. The reformulations, the deletions, the ranking noses, the repackagings, and the re-codings are all issues that obsessives ponder day after day. Raiders of the Lost Scent has done several in-depth analyses of Guerlain in the post-LVMH era, and it's fascinating reading for many people.

      Personally I find it all a bit dull. Archeological expeditions into the annals of Caron are actually a bit harder to come by, and to me would be far more interesting reading. If I were deeply invested in figuring out how Caron's various permutations have occurred across the decades I might fly to wherever a Caron boutique is found and make some inquiries. But given the scarcity of reliable sources on that brand, and my lack of investment (I'm no longer interested in siphoning hours out of my week on perfume related writing projects), I think the mysteries shall remain enshrined in their historically opaque legacies, perhaps for someone else to reveal.

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    2. I would add that Guerlain has released somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 million perfumes in the last 100 years. Caron, on the other hand, has only released a handful of masculines in almost the same length of time. This automatically makes it a more interesting brand, especially when one considers that nearly all the masculines are masterpieces (and continue to be even after reformulation), while Guerlain's record is spottier by a long shot.

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  8. I personally am speaking of current formulations. I think the community is overly obsessed with formulations.

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  9. Guerlain has always been my favorite house and it is impossible to overemphasize how much I disagree with every negative or dismissive opinion in your third paragraph. I'll add that L'Homme Ideal Cologne, which you call "pretty good," is probably the most overrated masculine in their collection (online at least; it obviously got discontinued for a reason).

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    1. So you’re essentially saying: “I love Guerlain! Oh, and Bryan, you’re wrong about L’Homme Ideal Cologne, it was PROBABLY grossly overrated, I have no clear personal opinion about it, except I know it was discontinued, and the reason for its discontinuation is clearly something you’re missing because you didn’t overrate it here.” Duly noted.

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    2. Speaking of which, I think Ideal Cool is the replacement of Ideal Cologne. I just had a tiny sample of the former someone tossed in an eBay order. It smelled similar - greener and mintier. But it also has quite a bit of ambroxan. It's sort of like if Ideal Cologne and Dylan Blue sauvagely (eh, eh?) f***ed each other and had a baby. Don't ask in which of the two the gestation happened though, since I only thought through the analogy this far, but not far enough to answer it.

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    3. My theory on why Guerlain dc’s colognes deals directly with who owns Guerlain: LVMH. They approach Guerlain’s customers as they do all their customers, with cynicism and sometimes contempt. They imagine we want ever-shifting, ever-expanding lineups, because they imagine we’re incapable of long attention spans. They know most people buy one or two perfumes and wear them for life, but also fear the extra-bottle timespan, or the years it takes the average buyer to completely use a single bottle they’ve purchased, and then buy another. They also fear the intra-bottle timespan, or how long it takes a user to develop interest in a second entirely different Guerlain while still working through the first. Thus they hedge and attempt to bake answers to these capitalist quandaries into the market share pie by canceling a fragrance before sales can dwindle (or even level off) and then reissuing it after a proportional tweak and renaming/repackaging campaign. They get to keep the basic premise of a successful fragrance alive while fostering the illusion of change, or perhaps more accurately called “improvement.” They manage to subvert the intra-bottle timespan by creating a sense of variety, while also attacking the extra-bottle timespan by creating in customers a false sense of urgency - finally out of L’Homme Ideal Cologne? Better use your fragrances faster, we’ve already discontinued that one. Since you liked it and miss it, why don’t you try L’Homme Ideal Cool? Buy it and buy other stuff while you’re using it so you don’t get caught by surprise when you run out.

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  10. Sifting through all this (and revisiting my two Guerlain bottles this week), I think it's probably worth acknowledging that some of this article (and the further comments you've generated in response to feedback about it) is with the quality question but more of it is with the quality in proportion to marketing and reputation question. I like Guerlain's vetiver a lot, but probably wouldn't endorse it without qualification because I find it very nice but rather staid. I like Habit Rouge more, but certainly wouldn't endorse it, albeit for totally different reasons: it is powerful (the stuff has throw and legs and communicates its brief very unmistakably) and polarizing (you may love your brand new bottle, but you'll have to read reviews from people who are completely disturbed by it for being too 'old', to 'femme', etc.) I really like wearing HR because it's beautiful, but also because I don't feel like most people will get what I'm doing. If there is a musty prestige around Guerlain classics, it certainly isn't something most North American men carry around with them. The dodgy dynamics you describe above concerning LVMH accurately nail the general marketing of luxury goods in an era when cosmetics is *the* format that defines the logic of the luxury industry; it's an insecurity industry. I like HR because I wonder if it isn't a little dissonant now in relation to how North American men see themselves, while its messages (citric astringency, floral loft, leathery suavity) don't carry on broadcasting themselves despite all that. I suppose think in general that going old school is often a way of placing personal choice ahead of the implicit form of market trends, and that going old school in a way that also sidesteps the gender clichés that sometimes make old school feel reactionary is even more (delightfully) bloody-minded. And did I mention it smells great? It smells great.

    My favourite old things are kind of divided between stuff I think of as being very well maintained in current formulation (Eau Sauvage, Fahrenheit, the Caron Holy Trinity), stuff I own out of loyalty but I acknowledge are not all that they could be (Azzaro Pour Homme, Old Spice), and stuff I enjoy too much to stress about, even if it's likely in the second category (Paco Rabanne & Aramis); Habit Rouge is right up there with the Carons... I could care less about their marketing.

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