Sleight of Fern (Masque Milano)

Stéphanie Bakouche is a marquee name in the fragrance industry, having worked for Givaudan and Takasago, as well as Parfums MDCI. In 2006, she established herself with Invasion Barbare, a postmodern relativist fougère that is as sleek and powerful as a small block aluminum engine. Its Germanic lines of unswerving aldehydes, bergamot, lavender, violet leaf, cardamom, thyme, cedar, vanilla, and white musk are anything but barbaric - they're really rather conventional and boring. That said, the fragrance is technically quite good, with each note and accord neatly arranged to convey a sense of sanguine masculinity. Brut for the rich. 

Stéphanie must have taken the criticisms of her work to heart, because her 2022 release for Masque Milano makes a statement that Invasion Barbare did not. Sleight of Fern opens with a barrage of medicinal anisic and green-geranium notes, carried along sinus-piercing bergamot, all lending the accord the desiccated effect of garrigue, with nuances of rosemary, juniper, and thyme bleeding through. This all gives way to a surprisingly burly lavender, with robust accents of patchouli, rosewood, a super-piquant coriander, ambergris, cedar, and civet, along with several other Kouros-like musks. Virile and a touch old-school, Masque Milano's fougère smells at various points like Davidoff's Zino (1986), Trumper's Wild Fern (1877), and, quite amusingly, Invasion Barbare. 

This presents a quandary for me, the humble reviewer. I enjoy Sleight of Fern, and I think it smells the way a fougère should: properly animalic, yet also herbal and soapy. But looking at my collection, I find I have fougères from yesteryear that satisfy this itch for far less money. Red for Men (1991, $14), Vermeil for Men (1995, $17), Wild Fern ($60), Lapidus Pour Homme (1987, $15), all accomplish in degrees the same result as this expensive niche offering. Kouros achieves the woody-musky effect better than all of them. But if you enjoy the subtle nuances of this sort of thing, and don't mind the price, Sleight of Fern is a pleasant option that is, quite frankly, a damn sight better than Invasion Barbare.