SHOCK WAVES: Kenzo Pour Homme (1991)

Some perfumes arrive and totally change the air.

Kenzo Pour Homme was such a scent: iconoclastic with its olfactory shock of the new. Distorting the air in Rome, where I was living at the time, like a giant, salty, turtle-shaped watermelon. Head-turning, inescapable (so many of the young Romani seeming having cottoned onto it all at once at their local profumeria ): so very at odds with the classical surroundings that I walked among at night and where I kept on smelling this…..smell. Drifting, unexpectedly, about the city. Surfing the midnight air.

People hated it – my flat-mate referred to it as ‘that sea-piss’; my mother loathed it ( “What IS that foul smell?!!”……….)

It amused me. It intrigued me: I bought a bottle.

Though Aramis New West had been the first scent to introduce the aquatic note of calone, Kenzo was the first to do it to such a fearless extreme as to make it essential: almost offensive in its oceanic, salted weirdness, yet so utterly of the moment it felt addictive.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the formula seems to have been tempered with over the years to make it more conformist (in that ubiquitous sea of dull aquatics) – watered down, its stingray zest somehow blunted -  yet to me it still remains one of the best of this type and remains quite popular, especially in France. It is a shame, however, that it no longer has quite the eye-opening surprise it once had.

Which was this:

a revivifying sea spray of salty green marine notes; an oceanic top note like the crash of waves (when you get dragged under helplessly joyfully swirling dragged up, sand and seaweed and splinters of sea shells as the sun tilts erratically through the refracted gluts in the surface and the solar blue peers through…)

….that delicious, electrolyte blue of the sea. An iodine rush that had never been done before in perfumery and that was startling.

 

 

 

 

 

What it didn’t do next was also praiseworthy.

What it didn’t do was dry down to a gay-club sport cliché, like the dreadfully efficient Acqua di Giò (Armani), or the now standard jeune homme progression of calone, citrus, ‘spice’, and ‘woods’ a la Miyake that could bore a man to tears as it fills the international airports like a nerve numbing, slow tsunami.

Kenzo’s heart is pleasing. The top, filtered through with bergamot, some green notes, geranium, and a strange dose of anisic fennel, has an aqueous freshness, but it is undercut beautifully with quite prominent spice – particularly nutmeg and clove – on a musty, cool seabed of vetiver, sandalwood, light musks, and patchouli. While I was always slaking more for the top notes, I remember a beautiful walk in the Tuscan countryside my friend Helen and I took that summer, Kenzo under our constant analyses under the burning sun (we really had smelled nothing like it, and we had smelled a lot of perfumes together over the years….) Helen particularly transfixed, I remember, by the closing patchouli/aromatic accord that I think set the stage for my later attraction to dry patchouli chypres along the lines of Parure, Aromatics Elixir, and Eau du Soir. Such an imprint lies at the sea-bed of Kenzo – you might even call it a chypre oceanic – because while refreshing and beach-bound, it also verges on mystery.

 

 

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The only other scent I have come across of similar bearing is Profumi Del Forte’s Tirrenico (2008), which I discovered a couple of summers ago in Berlin. This beautifully constructed composition has the sea-green sodium feel of Kenzo but has a more torrid, even livid aspect (fennel again, plus dried fruits, elemi, and a very intense basil over ozone), that I found mesmerizing but almost depressing in its algae-filled darkness. Where with Kenzo the play-drowning and underwater torpedo-ing feel like fun, with Tirrenico I felt as if I might never re-surface.

I have toyed with the idea of buying a bottle of this (supremely expensive) scent: but the company’s  tiaré-banana-noix de coco fantasy Apuana Vittoria (delectable!) has first priority, if I ever raise the cash…

For the time being Kenzo remains my only sea perfume. It is unique, and brings back wonderful sun and water-filled memories of sun-christened skin. Only to be worn in summer, the the breezy, saline atmosphere it creates is indispensable. As the Japanese summer heats up and the coast begins to beckon, I will be taking my bottles out of seasonal rest-mode very soon.

 

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17 Comments

Filed under Masculines, Oceanic, Perfume Reviews

17 responses to “SHOCK WAVES: Kenzo Pour Homme (1991)

  1. Helen

    How wonderful is it that this perfume is forever bound to those wonderfully dreamy times in Rome?!

    Just the suggestion of the tsunami you describe gives me headache, the pointlessness of those scents, and so many others, irritates me.

  2. Pingback: With Kenzo Pour Homme You Won't Have To Take A Shower For Days | Smellitivity.com

  3. i have been leaving comments are they not appearing?

  4. brie

    oh my dear man…you are on a roll with these insane fragrances!!! First off, you have brought up New West….Lord I adored that one and somewhere is my empty bottle ( my basement, my parents apt, their cottage in the Poconos?) must find it and re-whiff…I was the only one in my perfumed inner circle who wore and adored New West….you could smell me coming a mile away! Years later I had a really witchy administrator (with a “b” actually instead of a “w’)…this was her signature scent…..completely ruined it for me…..

    and aromatics elixir…I used to steal sprays from my best friend’s significantly older sister’s bottle when she wasn’t looking….Aromatics on a ten year old…it was hilarious! Years later I went through several bottles and one of my dance partners actually loved it so much it became a signature scent…thanks to moi!

    But I digress…if there is any similarity to the two fragrances mentioned above I would probably be as mesmerized by Kenso Pour Homme as you and Helen were!

    • There is no similarity, and Kenzo is and always was WEIRD with a capital w, but it really was as groundchanging as punk. It honestly did shock. It was everywhere in Rome. Pure Ocean, but also salty and intriguing, unlike the Zombie Ultramarine which clobbered you on the head and ate out your brains….

      I love Aromatics…and New West was pretty amazing in its own way too…

      • brie

        Good then I expect a review from you on Aromatics one of these days, s’il vous plait! And as an aside I am enveloped in Sinan today…tiny little drops places all over my body…am loving it!!!!

      • I was wondering when you would get to that little beast…

      • brie

        How fortuitous that my perfume despising co-worker is out of the office today…I am in Sinan heaven!!!!!!

      • I wish I could smell it on you. I know I thought it was really good. Pretty animalic though, no? Can you carry off those beavers quite happily?!

      • brie

        I wish you could smell it on me too! ( I am going to badger you to no end until you and Duncan finalize a trip to NYC next summer!) Oddly enough, it really does work on me… it is deep and dark yet that oakmoss, vetiver , patch amalgamation is divine on my alabaster wrists as well as elsewhere (I literally put tiny dots of it from head to toe)…I am indeed a little beaver!!!
        I also have a Sinan association which I am not sure I shared with you…. of me rebounding off a trampoline and flying through the air…despite my graviational insecurity….working with a dance troupe and during rehearsals this was the fragrance I always wore….so Sinan conjures up images of flying trapeze and circus-like insanity!

        and I hope that you are not reading this now…way past your bedtime…yasuminasai and bonsoir!

      • brie

        meant to type “gravitational” but you are probably so exhausted you did not realize my typo anyway!

  5. This was one of my first “I must have it” purchases in my early twenties and I’ve never looked back. My now boyfriend says it smells cliché, but I disagree. Completely ocean and salt and arresting. You summed it up really well.

  6. emmawoolf

    it was a beaut, and in fact I remember it well: wierdly, while at my parents’ house over the bank holiday weekend only last week, I was in my old bedroom (full of dust – my mother never was one for housekeeping) and spotted a collection of perfume bottles on shelf that I had completely forgotten existed. An empty bottle of this, with its dark blue bark-like bendiness (is that the one? It is, isn’t it?) stood there. It must have been yours, and think you must have given it to me in Cambridge, possibly? Will see if any of its oceanic salted wierdness still remains after 20 years!

  7. Dearest Ginza
    Some friends stayed at The Dandy’s once just before embarking on an extended stay abroad. They left behind them a tantalizingly near empty bottle of this. I liked it, but something put me off, I was about to try more as I felt it might grow on me… and then it was gone.
    Perhaps it was never feted to be, but talk of Parure and Aromatics Elixir has me wondering about this Kenzo for the first time in years.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

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