Rive Gauche pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent

I can't say I'm the biggest Rive Gauche fan. I bought it blind, a square glass bottle without the black wraparound, after hearing so much talk of it being the ultimate gentleman's fougere. I am a fougere fan and was influenced by the discontinuation talk happening at the time, so I yanked the first bottle I could find. I have not smelled the tin can version.

Upon first spray I was put off by the sharp, clanging geranium and lavender. I like my lavenders soft and calming–when the volume is turned up, lavender gets metallic to my nose, a quality that ruins my enjoyment of the note, as I look to lavender to be soothed and grounded. So right away that was a turn-off. I also didn't get much in the way of clove or star anise, two favorite notes of mine. And the scent itself did not seem to go anywhere on my skin–it wasn't just linear, it seemed downright static.

But when my first impression of a scent is not favorable, I'm inclined to revisit it again and again, either to find the good in it, or at least understand what it is that puts me off. So I kept wearing this one. I wore it to work. I wore it on hot Saturday afternoons when I was out walking in the gross heat. I wore it after evening showers spent at home. And in every context, the scent held together for the full wearing, which is sadly more than you can say about a lot of perfumes these days. I also began to notice, in the deeper drydown, a very nice shaving foam accord that previously eluded me. Aha! There's the star anise and clove finally pulling their weight. Maybe I just needed to get a little air in my bottle.

I've been able to meet Rive Gauche on its own terms, and it's grown on me. Is it my favorite men's scent? No. Is it my favorite fougere? No; that designation still belongs to Azzaro Pour Homme, for now. As I see it, the key to RG is a humidity that contextualizes and unifies the experience. Have you ever walked into a bathroom right after someone has just taken a shower, and clearly they shaved while in the shower, because the scent of shaving foam is hanging in the steamy air? This is what Rive Gauche evokes–that straight-out-of-the-shower groomed cleanliness, no more, no less. If you're looking for something complex, or animalic, something that will take you to a faraway land, you'll likely be disappointed. But if you're looking to carry throughout your day that straight-out-of-the-shower groomed cleanliness, and you don't want that delivered to you by a truck full of citrus, Rive Gauche scratches that itch perfectly.

Antaeus by Chanel

Antaeus launched in 1981 for Chanel's men's line, at a time when hairy-chested powerhouses were poised to become the mainstream standard for men's perfumery. Forty years later and you should read the reviews on these fragrance forums. They talk about Antaeus as if it were big sweaty balls in a bottle. They say it drips with, and imparts onto the wearer, an objective and undeniable virility. They wax poetic about the good old days and lament the reformulations, which they denounce as castration. I have not worn, not even smelled (knowingly, anyway) vintage Antaeus. But I do have a modern formulation. And let me tell you, there is something very interesting going on with today's composition that nobody seems to be talking about: it's got a femme streak. Specifically, that waxy makeup accord that Chanel does so well. Sure, you've still got your aromatics atop patchouli and moss, and sure there's an ashiness throughout and a quality that many may find too animalic to bear. And yet, in contrast, there's that trademark Chanel makeup accord shot through. Not only is this a deliciously sly subversion of its own history of machismo, its also a savvy business move, because its unisex appeal ensures Antaeus will stay on the shelves. This nimble adaptability is, in my opinion, a sign of a truly complex fragrance.

Fahrenheit by Christian Dior

People use oil, gasoline, and petrol interchangeably and it confuses things.

I haven't smelled every iteration of Fahrenheit but I do have a pre-major-reformulation bottle and a bottle that dates to about 2018. They are both fantastic and each is recognizably Fahrenheit.

On my skin, vintage Fahrenheit is standing in your woodshed on a summer evening, looking out onto your yard. Behind you the lawnmower quietly cools off, the chopped-up grass stuck to the blades co-mingling with the smell of the lawnmower oil and the wood, and a soft breeze carries in the scent of various flowers from your yard (I get a lot of honeysuckle and violet). Nutmeg and patchouli round out the earthiness. Vintage Fahrenheit is truly a powerfully and singularly evocative and nostalgic scent.

The newer formulation I have doesn't quite get me there in that specific respect. But, it still carries that trademark oily lawnmower effect up top, albeit in an abstracted form, and it still has a transition into a slightly sweet, confidently floral mid that is nothing short of poetic. It may not smell as natural as the vintage or feel quite as heady an experience, but the ideas are still there and they are still executed well, especially given the current restrictions. The original hit such great heights that even in attenuated form it manages to still rock the socks.

Fahrenheit is still one of the best designer scents on the market.

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