Well, it isn't boring. But unlike the perfectly balanced original La Panthère, this Parfum feels ever so slightly off-axis, borderline blowsy, like a woman stumbling into a party with smeared lipstick and a wolfish grin. The opening blast of stewed apricot and dusty peach is the kind of diva entrance that either charms or irritates, loudly. Fruit is fun, of course, but in this otherwise self-possessed floral chypre it feels a little desperate and unnecessary, if not distracting. Mix that with a flurry of brazen indoles and animalics that too easily conjure the poopy-diaper part of Shalimar, and you have an opening salvo that seems built to repel as much as attract. (If anything will earn La Panthère the 'vintage cred' it's clearly seeking, it's that bit right there.) All works out in the end, as the animalics start to purr instead of roar, (real!) oakmoss emerges and quietly takes the wheel for the drydown, and gardenia and osmanthus turn the whole thing silky and seductive. The panther relaxes, but I wonder why she was so worked up in the first place. A general thumbs up for quality, but boy, do I need to be in the right mood for it.
Probably the best thing you can buy at the mall besides underwear, Antaeus is a welcome antidote to any ennui you might be feeling about the state of mainstream masculine fragrances in 2022...or, hell, mainstream fragrances in general. It practically explodes out of the bottle with a fistful of civet, lavender, rose, jasmine, Provençal herbs, incense, and leather, over a deliciously dark woody base that gleams like polished mahogany. I'm reminded of something my dad might have worn, had he been born a rich Frenchman and owned a yacht instead of a Mercury. Being a men's cologne from 1981, Antaeus is loud, yes. The rumors are true. But it's loud in a disarming, belly laugh sort of way, and you can't help but be taken in by its boisterous good nature. Also, it just plain smells like money. Chanel's reputation for quality ingredients shines through even in its men's line, and while Antaeus may remind you of other perfumes from its era, it simply feels a cut above. A pinch of powder over the best synthetic castoreum I’ve ever smelled tops off this feast of a scent. If you have even a passing interest in the art and craft of perfumery, or if you just really want to smell like you have your shit together, Antaeus is required reading. It's redolent of a more decadent era while feeling far less dated than it rightfully should. (And like many men's fragrances, it would probably also smell fantastic on a woman. Woody leather hath no gender.)
Gosh, but I’m weary of descriptions like “classy gentleman” and “30+ only” and “clean-shaven” and related Art of Manliness hokum. Missives like these tend to feel prescriptive rather than descriptive, and thus require shaking up from time to time. Equipage Geranium would smell great on a woman, or a scruffy young man, or a house cat. It’s a lean, clean, bright and well-heeled bit of springtime optimism, but it can also work in colder months as a spicy, woody warmer. Basically, I can’t imagine a situation where this stuff wouldn’t work. Perhaps it’s not an obvious scent of seduction, but how hackneyed are most of those, anyway? Equipage Geranium is too relaxed and assured to be self-consciously sexy.
Having never smelled the original Equipage, I can’t say how this “remix” - I struggle to think of it as a flanker in the traditional sense - compares, but it certainly smells like something with its footing in another era. There’s no mistaking the expert blending and tidy, quietly luxurious sillage from a time when perfumers weren’t subject to shoestring budgets and constant pressure to appeal to every dude 18 to 35. And yet, there’s a modern buoyancy and translucent “aura” effect that is arguably Jean-Claude Ellena’s signature, along with a sense of rugged refinement that marks his best masculine work. This makes Equipage Geranium surprisingly versatile and wearable in the present day without coming off as some sort of costume.
Notes-wise, I can pick out geranium, clove, vetiver, and sandalwood, with touches of moss and leather - I think - to ground the production without weighing it down. Like many classic (or classic-inspired) perfumes, though, the blending is so good that I struggle to parse all the components and would rather just sit back and bask in the beautiful sillage, brain off, pleasure receptors on. Equipage Geranium is a bulls-eye.
Like no other perfume I've smelled. Fresh, dirty, crisp, raunchy, luminous, spare, biting, silky, vaporous, sculptural, familiar, exotic. Chic with a knowing wink. The ultimate skin scent. It reeks of sensual pleasures and old-world elegance, yet is as brisk and bold as an autumn dawn, reminding us that classic perfumes needn't be treated like dusty museum pieces. Robust citrus, full-bodied florals and sinewy spices ride carefree on a sun-warmed leather saddle. Eau d'Hermès feels alive and elemental, like something borne of nature, captured by human hands but not created by them. There's nothing I would add or take away here, no room for improvement. It's fresh when I want fresh, sexy when I want sexy, weird when I want weird. It doesn't outstay its welcome, and it gives my day a glinting edge, with a sense of cheeky joy. Eau d'Hermès is not a safe blind buy - please trust me on this - but if you're on its wavelength, you won't find much better.
Soft, sensual, and strangely hard to pin down. It has a muted color palette compared to the rest of the Merveilles line, yet there's a dancing, shimmering effect going on within the midnight blue-ness of it all. I'd hesitate to call this "chiaroscuro", as per the marketing materials - L'Ombre is hardly as dramatic as all that - but there are some interesting contrasts to enjoy. Flashes of green fruit give lift to a low hum of cool black tea and murky amber. I get glimmers of something sweet-herbal, like anise or basil, amid wisps of an abstract, almost deconstructed incense. And is that something pink-white and floral in the abyss, or do I imagine it? L'Ombre des Merveilles wears like the most diaphanous cashmere scarf you can imagine, with odd strands of colorful fibers peeking through a sea of gauzy taupe. Like others in the series, it seems best suited for casual wear and tasteful restraint, yet it stops short of being olfactory wallpaper. There's something oddly compelling and contemplative, even soothing, about it. (Maybe it's the tea.) I might need a travel sized bottle, to spontaneously paint my day with L'Ombre's blue zen.
Never, I'd argue, has a perfume's packaging so perfectly matched the scent itself. Simply put, Polo smells gold and green. It's a deep and delicious blend of pine, grass, herbs, woods, and leather, dusted with shimmering spices (nutmeg, cumin, coriander), and underlaid with moss, patchouli, tobacco, and Lord knows what else in the rich, rounded base. I suspect a certain nutty sweetness is missing from current formulations, which skew a bit drier and more "ashy" than the versions I've smelled over the years, but make no mistake: Polo is Polo, from any vintage and every angle. One of the most distinctive men's fragrances ever created, it inspired a gazillion knockoffs and is almost inextricably tied to its era. But I love wearing Polo in the here and now, particularly during winter, when its full-throttle pine and tobacco sing a cheerful, festive tune. I feel like I'm walking through a snow-blanketed forest every time I give Polo a spritz. An instant mood-brightener. (Sexy, too, if you can get past any possible "dad's aftershave" connotations.)
It's Cartier Declaration Essence, folks, not Terre d'Hermes. Actually, it's Declaration Essence without the prickly spices, smoky birch wood, or dry lime - ie., far less interesting. Narciso Bleu Noir doesn't smell bad, just pointless. Why does this thing exist?
I'm supposed to hate this, right? Mass-market dreck by a fashion house with a spotty track record for fragrances of any serious quality, fronted by a ridiculously on-the-nose ad campaign (Versace is for sexy people, don't you know), crafted from ingredients that surely didn't put a dent in Donatella's crocodile clutch. I'm supposed to bemoan the state of the modern-day fragrance market and the plebes who fuel it, and clutch my vintage and niche bottles close to my chest while rocking gently and singing "You Are My Lucky Star", praying for the nightmare that is mainstream perfumery to be over. Well, screw it. Dylan Blue smells good, and I enjoy wearing it. It's not as sweet and obnoxious as the likes of its housemate Eros, at least, and there's a certain whiff of...dare I say it...*sophistication* in its sillage trail. It smells like a night out, yes, but one that mostly involves being fully clothed, with perhaps a nip in the air (and a few gin-and-tonics on the breath). It's easy and wearable and a compliment-getter, with the requisite nostril-searing aromachemicals and woody musks graciously set to "stun", not "kill". Bravissimo, Dylan Blue. I don't hate you.
This scent inspires reviewers to wax about gothic castles and damp forest floors, of dense, woody darkness, of smoldering fires and carpet-thick smoke. It's all a bit overblown. Encre Noire is a sheer, translucent veil of smoky, woody vetiver, and little else...but it doesn't need anything else. It's a beautiful scent, paradoxically light and wafty given the typical denseness of vetiver and woods, and sporting just the right amount of vetiver's characteristic nutty sweetness. (It's also an Iso E Super bomb, so be aware of its tendency to fool your nose into thinking it's disappeared. The lasting power and sillage are actually substantial, provided it's not in your nose's blind spot.) Far from its reputation as a love-it-or-hate-it iconoclast, I find Encre Noire full of personality, yes, but agreeably so. It's well-mannered and soft-spoken without being boring, and it impresses without trying too hard. And yes, it's perfectly wearable during the day, to the office, in hot weather, whatever the occasion. This stuff is built to be worn, not admired like an avant-garde jewel of niche street cred. Vetiver haters need not apply, of course, but the rest of you owe it to yourselves to smell this delicious showcase for one of perfumery's pillar ingredients.
Take a rich jasmine note, shear off its rough (indolic, green) edges, hook it up to an outdoor amplifier, and overlay it with a gauzy, vanillic amber accord that has roughly the half-life of plutonium. That's Alien. For what it is, it's great, and even slightly narcotic under the right conditions. If you're a fan of the Mugler style - ie. "Go Big or Go Home" - and if every jasmine perfume you've come across so far has seemed just a tad restrained for your liking, Alien is nothing short of a must-sniff. For others, well...spray at your peril. This alien doesn't come in peace.
I've worn the EdT of Terre extensively over the past year and, being a fan, recently picked up a bottle of the parfum version for a steep discount. Try as I might, I can't quite parse any major differences between the two formulations, at least not enough to justify the latter's higher price. At a push, I think the parfum sparkles a bit less but feels more rounded and bass-heavy, with a stronger emphasis on the spicy, mineral and woody notes of the original and less focus on citrus. What baffles me slightly are the reviews I've read that claim the opposite - that the parfum has more orange, less wood and mineral aspects. The problem with both formulations is that they fatigue my nose rather quickly, so consecutive days of wear give me skewed impressions of the scent, if indeed I'm able to smell it at all. (I blame that slick-haired showoff of the perfumer's palette, Iso E Super, for this effect.) I may eventually detect more dramatic differences between the two concentrations as I continue to wear and enjoy both, but for now, I throw my hands up and dismiss the decision to release a "parfum" concentration as a marketing tactic to spike sales over at Hermés. Don't knock yourself out and/or bruise your wallet to get your grubby mitts on the parfum version - the original plays essentially the same tune, and performs just as well.
Rather more enjoyable than I expected, L'Homme Libre is a flanker to the original L'Homme, a generic sweet-woody masculine in a sea full of them (and a bestseller, natch). I expected Libre to be something similar, but was struck by its relative dryness when compared to the original and its first flanker, La Nuit de L'Homme...and, indeed, most of the recent offerings on the men's fragrance counter. Libre also has a crisp violet leaf note that calls to mind Dior Fahrenheit, a classic masculine fragrance that I did not expect to see referenced in a modern-day scent aimed at a much younger crowd than the Dior classic. The grey, steely, oh-so-urban vibe given off by the violet leaf, pepper, and citrus notes, combined with a smoothed-over patchouli/leather drydown, indeed almost makes Libre a more convincing modern-day Fahrenheit update than Dior's recent Fahrenheit Absolute and Fahrenheit Parfum. Yes, I'm surprised, too. I have no great affection for any of YSL's recent offerings, least of all the snooze-worthy L'Homme, but try as I might I just can't find anything truly wrong with Libre, and there's quite a bit here that I like. Good sillage and lasting power, "business casual" in tone, and blissfully bereft of sugar, screeching woods, or syrupy musk. I'll take it.
A soapy-sweet aromatic tobacco scent, more soft and powdery than earthy and bitter. Think fresh-pressed linens with mint, lavender, and a barbershop-ish coumarin overdose. The floral notes (iris, geranium, rose) lend an air of sophistication, and the sweet, slightly woody drydown is strangely comforting. Very strong, with near-nuclear sillage and lasting power, and cloying if over applied. Great for daytime, but stop at one spray, please.
This one has Ellena written all over it - sheer, spicy, unobtrusive, full of character and yet universally flattering and wearable. Oblique "green tea" accords have been done to death since this groundbreaking perfume's release, but in my opinion, Thé Vert is still the champ due to its relative complexity. Most green tea scents stop and end there, but Thé Vert's sprightly ginger and cardamom offer up a nose-tingling spicy edge, and the cedar and moss in the drydown deliver some earthy, comforting warmth in contrast to the springtime lucidity of the heart accord. Before sniffing it this year, I was afraid The Vért would come off as a little dated and overly familiar, the way CK One and Elizabeth Arden's Green Tea do now. I was wrong; Thé Vert smells as refreshing, guileless, and unique as it must have in 1993. Credit the genius of its creator, the integrity of its formula, the quality of its materials, or any combination of the above. Thé Vert is a gift that keeps on giving.
Woody vanilla with hints of spice, talc, tobacco, cedar, and patchouli, wrapped in a tailored cashmere V-neck that still manages to breathe. Less baroque, boozy, and dramatic than the women's version, but with a similar fizzy cola veneer and autumnal hue. Opium pour Homme is masculine vanilla done right: soft, elegant, and sweetly sexy instead of obnoxiously gourmand (looking at you, A*Men) or viciously powdery and ironically femme (hi, Le Mâle and Joop!). Dries down to a warm, slightly leathery patchouli-cedar with a wisp of vanillic smoke curling throughout. The original Opium is a wonderful thing, a whirlwind of opulence coming at you from all angles - in Technicolor, with surround sound - but its elbow-jabbing sillage and brick-wall density make it something of a loose cannon, hard to tame and wear discreetly. Pour Homme is far more relaxed and user-friendly, yet doesn't descend into dullsville the way so many masculine sequels to feminine originals can (shout-out to my peeps Euphoria for Men and Dune pour Homme, among many others). Just like that tailored V-neck, Opium pour Homme works because it's built with care, demands nothing of its wearer, and needs no parade to prove its good taste. It's a winner, and easily wearable for women who want a smart, non-candied vanilla, or for whom the original Opium is just too much. Bonus: cheaper than dirt and about as easy to find (check online discounters, perfume shops, your local Wal-Mart, and hell, the gas station).
Nose candy for guys. Sweet, soft, and woody, no sharp or jagged edges, and only barely butched up by carefully-dosed vetiver, patchouli, dark chocolate, and coumarin. The "cannabis" smells more like hemp, if anything - a sweet, earthy, somewhat scratchy hay-like accord with a slight tang - and the (surely synthetic) sandalwood is a mere background player, nearly drowned out by the borderline-cloying stewed fruit at the top and the velvety patchouli and coumarin later on. Brings to mind chilly autumn nights, home-baked goods, and mulled wine by the fireplace, but with a nice undercurrent of earthy must to keep things interesting. Not an intellectual fragrance, and certainly not the most elegant on the counter, but it hits its mark and could have been SO much worse. I dig it, man.
Terrifically trashy jasmine/vanilla bomb, projected through a haze of smoke, wood, amber, and noise. Guerlain's Shalimar with her wrinkles Botoxed and her eyebrows tweezed, her hair Elnetted to within an inch of its life, and half a cigarette dangling from her mouth as she picks out her skimpiest outfit to wear to the club. Dior Addict - as in, a woman hooked on Dior products, not an addict of the "Intervention" sort, Dior is quick to clarify - is brutally effective in its mission of seduction. Sweet and slightly narcotic, vulgar with just enough false-lashes-and-pearls glamour to resist immediate dismissal, full of enjoyably crude charm (that creamy/plasticky, dialed-up-to-11 jasmine note would never have found its way into a '20s-era Guerlain), and with a winkingly retro "don't wear it around your parents" vibe that's anaethema to today's squeaky-clean perfume paradigm. A good deal less respectable than its classic oriental forebears, but arguably more fun. And if (like many) you're unconvinced of Dior Addict's quality, some food for thought: Its creator is Thierry Wasser, one of the best noses in the business and currently the in-house perfumer for...wait for it...Guerlain. (More food: Its smoky vanilla/musk drydown bears more than a passing resemblance to that of Le Labo's vaunted Patchouli 24. Stick that in your holder and smoke it, niche snobs.) Bonus: Projection and lasting power that border on the unholy. Who says you can't get bang for your buck anymore?
I should have known better than to get my hopes up for Pure Havane - cigar smoke is one of my favorite smells on the planet, and a mainstream brand like Mugler couldn't hope to satisfy my carcinogenic fragrance cravings. But I have to sheepishly admit it's rather nice for what it is, and a refreshing change of pace from the FRESHY FRESH FRESHNESS of this year's pre-summer releases. A whiff of tobacco and honey on a hot day never hurt anybody, and when it's cushioned on A*Men's familiar bed of creamy, patchoulified caramel, who can complain? Not worlds apart from Pure Malt, but an improvement nonetheless, being smokier, sultrier, and slightly more dignified. (I never got on board with Malt's candied take on cereal grains and - yeah, right - scotch whisky.)
Mercurial, shimmering, Gareth Pugh-esque (ie. on the razor's edge of wearability) composition from that mistress of the weird and wonderful, Annick Menardo. Explodes off the skin with a mix of lapsang souchong tea (read: campfire), cedar, patchouli (it's there, look harder), gasoline, and a bone-dry vanilla that somehow blends perfectly with the smoky salvo. Much like Menardo's Black for Bulgari, 24 is a bipolar shape-shifter, seeming sweet and sultry one minute, coarse and carcinogenic the next. Unlike the easygoing Black, though, 24 can be fickle: The drydown occasionally calls to mind a glass of flat, watered-down root beer into which someone's extinguished a cigarette. But when it works, Patchouli 24 is nothing short of relevatory, a delicously dark confection with a rich presence and phenomenal staying power. Not for all tastes, but a masterwork regardless.
You know, us perfumistas love to denounce "modern chypres" as far cries from the real oakmossy deal, but Rush manages to smell both modern and genuinely chypre-like in its use of patchouli, vetiver, and fauxmoss. When I first wore it I was struck by what I detected as a clear similarity to classic lactonic chypres like Rochas Femme, particularly in Rush's drydown. The milky lactones, vanilla, cedar (which seems to be emphasized on my skin), and warming patchouli give Rush a nice fat bottom, like a fruity floral with the bass turned up. And then, of course, there's that fuzzy, synthetic, almost chemical haze in the opening - a mix of Scotch tape, hairspray, and...toner cartridge? VCR head cleaner? It's an utterly bizarre, addictive, delicious and hilarious fragrance, hugely underrated, and a joy to wear. May it never be discontinued.
Almost half a year after purchasing my 25 ml bottle of Aromatics Elixir, I still haven't quite made up my mind about it. I know it's brilliant - striking, dense, complex, wholly unique, masterfully crafted, and possessing almost nuclear persistance on skin. But to call it temperamental would be an understatement. At least half the time when I spray it on, I feel like I'm inhaling the air in a foggy forest on a damp spring day, in the best possible sense - flowers, moss, wood, smoke, and patchouli, masterfully blended and supremely evocative. The other half, I feel like I'm being suffocated by a pile of mildewy rags in a stuffy attic. Did I mention the patchouli? Aromatics Elixir is the Ur-patchouli. This is the patchouli that sends all the other patchoulis scurrying away from the patchouli playground. Montale's Patchouli Leaves, Serge's Borneo, and Givenchy's Gentleman have got absolute zilch on Aromatics Elixir for pure, unencumbered, full-throttle patchouli - the musty, acrid, leather-trunk/hippie-armpit kind that will choke you as soon as look at you. Chamomile, lavender, cedar, leather, incense, jasmine, and rose play equally strident chords in the composition; this is one wallop of a perfume. Intensely out of fashion, beautiful at the right angle, downright lovely and ladylike at 20 paces but acrid and borderline bilious up close. It's fascinating, but I do wish it were a little more approachable. (Bafflingly, it garners more compliments than almost anything else in my collection. See what I mean about the 20 paces?)
I've always dug Pitchfork Media's description of Massive Attack's 1998 album 'Mezzanine' as so dark, subterranean and bass-heavy that it "absorbs light". The same could be said of 1998's Bulgari Black, a hypnotic, sloe-eyed riff on vanilla and musk buffeted by hints of black tea, jasmine, woods, and rubber. Composed by Annick Menardo, mistress of the dark and weird (Dior's Hypnotic Poison and Le Labo's Patchouli 24 are among her divine creations), Black seems to occupy a realm apart from other fragrances of its ilk, operating on a different spectral plane; making its presence known when you least expect it, and disappearing into the abyss again just as quickly. It's downright ghostly.
The oddness begins at first spray: Black dispenses with the traditional top-middle-bottom olfactory pyramid, springing forth fully-formed from the bottle. From there, it hovers between four distinct states: smoky vanilla, woody jasmine, tea/rubber, and powdery musk. Depending on the time of day, the weather, your mood, or any combination of the above, one facet of Black will make itself known more forcefully than the others. Then, about half an hour in, it will probably disappear. This is a trick. Do not be fooled; Black is having you on, lulling you into a state of ennui: "Well, that's not so exciting. Vanilla and musk, big whoop." But for the next few hours, you will be struck at random moments by a lovely, warm, dense, smoky essence surrounding you. Black is the consummate "aura" fragrance, the kind that wraps you in a subtle but noticeable cloud of scent without projecting for miles or screeching loudly to passersby. Four hours after spraying Black on my neck, I still get wafts of it when I shift position or turn my head, and each time it smells familiar but ever so subtly different.
Now then, the rubber. Easily Black's most talked-about aspect (at least on the fragrance blogs and fora) is its unmistakable rubber accord, which has been compared to the smell of tires. Leave it to a master perfumer like Menardo to add a seemingly discordant note to a composition and not only make it work, but make it shine. The rubber in Black is both intriguing and perfectly harmonious, never jarring or self-consciously avant-garde. Along with the inedible, smoke-laced vanilla, the rubber keeps things just off-kilter enough that Black doesn't slide into a snoozy "comfort scent" mode. It holds your attention as long as you want it to.
Black is that rare thing among mainstream scents: A fragrance that is its own creature, plays by its own rules, and isn't afraid to contradict itself. It is light and yet dense, fleeting yet ever-present. It's warm and cool, comforting and austere. It's solid one minute, ephermal the next. It absorbs light. It's ghostly.
I'm with Tania Sanchez on this one - a woman would smell lovely in Stetson, and the "aftershavey" hints of patchouli and vetiver in the drydown would add a bit of interesting pizazz to her aura. On a man, well...it's powdery. Very very powdery. I gave up on the likes of Obsession for Men and Le Mâle because of their suffocating talcum powder vibes, and Stetson is in a similar vein of powdery "masculine" orientals (see also: Old Spice, Joop! Men, and Cuba Gold). Not to my taste, and sadly linear, but with surprisingly good lasting power and a very tempting price tag. For the man (or woman) who simply wants to "smell nice" with no complexities, Stetson may well satisfy.
Mugler Cologne can be a disappointment to those expecting an eau de cologne in the classic style: fresh, fleeting, natural-smelling, and citrusy. This is the eau de cologne George Jetson might wear, with a deliberately synthetic space-age feel and an incredibly tenacious base of white (some say "laundry") musk. The citrus at the top (bergamot, lime) is a bit of a tease, as it gives way almost immediately to a green, soapy skin scent, with a touch of neroli and vetiver to give some floral/earthy interest to the central musk accord. This is the cleanest musk possible; moreover, there's a particular aromachemical in the mix (synthetic, of course) that smells deliberately and uncannily of hot, metallic steam, like that from a clothing iron (or as one Basenoter mentioned, the smell of shower fog on a bathroom mirror). This accord immediately sets Mugler Cologne apart from the pack of similarly fresh, soapy citrus fragrances, and nearly raises it to the level of a concept scent. ("If steam had a smell, what would it be? Go for it, Morillas!") The end result of this wackiness is that, for hours (possibly days) after spraying, you smell like you've just stepped out of a hot shower with a grassy, spicy soap. Works unbelievably, mind-bogglingly well in the sweltering heat of July, but Cologne is a welcome, wonderful scent any time of year.