Ungaro Pour L'Homme III (Emanuel Ungaro)

For the full
rundown on exactly what the Ungaro fragrances are, read my review of Ungaro Pour L'Homme II, which explains that this house issues re-badged Chanels. Ungaro pour L'Homme I and II were both discontinued years ago, but III is still produced and distributed via Interparfums. I've always believed that III was the brand's bestseller, because why else would it live on? The first two fragrances were familiar throwbacks, aromatic lavenders with robust Italianate flourishes of woods, herbs, and musks. But III was the only one of the bunch that was truly weird, and it has continued to captivate imaginations since its release in 1993. 

Ungaro pour L'Homme III's top note is vodka. I'm skeptical when a brand cites booze as a note. Cheap materials that are lazily rendered are often stand-ins for a broad spectrum of liquors, with whatever green or floral notes they were meant to convey made hopelessly muddled by inchoate sweetness. Still, the poison of choice is usually some form of whisky. But vodka? Yeah, that's a twist. Adding to the spectacle is my suspicion that the house might go so far as to simply put actual vodka in the formula, just to lend the note some extra clarity (pardon the pun). Indeed, it does smell as if III is pure vodka for the first ten seconds of wear, although that effect is rapidly embellished by a gentle wave of woody citrus and soft herbal accents that quickly grow in intensity. The weirdness is tamed. 

Within fifteen minutes it becomes clear that III is an exercise in nineties camp: a linear citronellol that one or two reviewers out there have accurately pegged as "the smell of eighties off-label bug spray." We could be accommodating to Ungaro's vision and pretend this is a "gothic rose" or something, but why bother? Anyone with five minutes of experience in this game knows a good citronella/dihydrogeraniol accord when they smell it. This one is the loudest and most obvious I've ever encountered, and it behaves like an image in a Magic Eye book. At a glance it looks like backyard candles. But stare hard enough, and a neon rose appears in 3-D. This one is wine-like, fruity, spicy, and rather fun. A Martian merlot on a box wine budget? Brilliant!