Alfonso de Portage, race car driver, and one of the inspirations for ‘Monsieur’.
Gianni Agnelli, industralist, another.
Mark Birley, playboy billionaire: and yet another.
‘Manly and elegant… the formula, both simple and essential, has evoked, since its genesis, remorseless seducers who would playfully flit from women’s embraces to social merrymaking’.
Indeed. On smelling Editions De Parfums’ latest release, Monsieur, these are exactly the feelings that are conjured up in your mind’s eye: of a man who means business. The ad, featuring a tailored, bespoke suit sleeve just covering a very obviously expensive Swiss made watch, is very Bond: every detail just so; sleek, jaw-clenched; very narcissistically self-aware.
Much has been made of this new perfume’s extragavant usage of patchouli – Monsieur is supposedly to patchouli what Carnal Flower is to tuberose – which the promotional materials claim has not been used at such a high dosage (50% of the formula) since the 1970’s: presumably a reference to the patchouliest of classic masculines – Givenchy Gentleman (one of my favourite perfumes of all time, incidentally – a delightfully hirsute, but effortlessly elegant patchouli leather) on which which this modern competitor is apparently doing an exclusive penthouse riff.
And it is quite effective. Opening with an almost disconcertingly sharp mandarin note bathed in rum , the clear, refractionated patchouli essence of the perfume soon makes its sensual presence felt: very taut, and very polished, while presently, more trouser-heavy, carnal notes of musk, amber, amber and vanilla make their presence in the base as our protagonist begins to feel a bit restless and horny at the end of his long and impeccable business day . You can almost smell his later conquests here, with a bodily, more intimate aspect laid bare under the overall patchouli frame: yet another successfully accomplished seduction at some private members’ club, the creme de la creme of his upper echelon, socially stratospheric, quiet brutality (think Michael Fassbender in Steve Mcqueen’s tale of passionless sex addiction, ‘Shame’).
I can imagine this fragrance being quite a big hit for Frederic Malle. Though apparently boasting more patchouli in its construction, this is used more thoughtfully and judiciously than the trowel-it- on, bucketload indigestibility of the hodgepodge patchoulis by Tom Ford or Christan Dior, which plug themselves up ungraciously with synthetic ambers and everything in-the-kitchen-sink to create real nose bombs that I personally cannot at all abide: too brash, sweet, and unharmonious (at least to my own very oversensitive nose). Monsieur is undoubtedly more ‘classy’ and has a definite quiet stealth in its overall construction, which the remorseless seducer that the perfume is intended for will undoubtedly use to his advantage.
The inherent problem with this perfume for me though is that is has little soul. If androids ever become a reality in the future, a few spritzes of Monsieur on the Italian bespoke suit and about the crotch area would certainly make the artificial intelligence seem more humanistic (and undeniably masculine). But that’s about as far as it goes, and I think the source of this sense of something amiss lies in the kind of basic materials that are being used: the perfumer, Bruno Jovanovic, like many perfumers using patchouli in a modern context, uses a particular form of the essence obtained by molecular distillation (‘to purify it in the extreme to turn it into the key link in the evaporation chain’) in order to make a smoother and less fuzzy variant. And I can definitely see how this would work: patchouli is known to have perhaps the lowest evaporation rate of all the essential oils in aromatherapy, which is precisely why it is so insistent, persistent, and long enduring (and why so many people hate the stuff). It thus makes sense, from the perfumer’s point of view, to use a more purified, streamlined version of the smell that will blend more effortlessly with the other notes and give the composition lift and clarity. For me, though, as I have written before, the very earthiness and complexity of patchouli oil, its soil like darkness, is where its beauty lies. These neutered patchoulis are missing the point in my view: it is like draining the indoles and disturbingly erotic elements in white flowers such as jasmine, gardenia lilies and tuberose, or syphoning off the dirty-skin velvetness of other basenotes such as labdanum, benzoin or costus; the hairshirt compromised pleasures of decaffeinated coffee, or dealcoholized wine.
There is, of course, a place for experimentation with aroma materials, to contemporize them and make them feel newer and fresher in the latest contexts. But for a bitter orange/ mandarin patchouli accord you are so much better off going with Micallef’s under-discussed, but very beautiful Patchouli, with its intimations of Campari and late night trysts, or for a really classical but very masculine, pulsating hard-on patchouli, Lorenzo Villoresi’s brilliant version of natural patchouli leaves: a midnight-dense, beautifully composed creation that, rather than setting out on a day or an evening of seductions and conquests, doesn’t even have to try.