It is sometimes interesting to compare perfumes from different eras that have been popular in their day. To see where we are. What has changed. The colognes and aftershaves and perfumes and fragrances that men wore and wear; the tropes that they conjure. Unlike in most other areas of human history, when it comes to scent, for once, the male of the species often gets the hard end of the stick – an equivalent pour homme version made after the fact. Everyone perfume lover remembers, or at least knows the name of the chalky melancholy violet that is Le Dix. But few – except the absolute diehards – are familiar with Balenciaga for men.
The house of Jean Patou has an unreachability and ultrastatus in my mind, principally because the boxed extrait of 1000 is one of the most precious and exquisite perfume purchases you could ever make. Every step of opening the suitcase clasped box (taken out of the outer covering case, not seen here) to the reveal of the velvet tucked bottle inside, with its beautiful jade green/ red juxtaposition of bottle and stopper, to the wire cutting of the sealed chamber – like entering a forbidden bank vault; to the extraordinary oddness of the contents – is a moment of extreme pleasure. Likewise with Moment Suprēme or Joy – there is a sheening aloofness, a lofty sense of removed entitlement with Patou perfumes that gives them a certain luxurious, intrinsic value.
Thus, you will see that I was unable to resist, coming across it out of the blue yesterday in a typical Japanese ‘recycle’ shop at lunch time (where do these things come from? Who has been hiding these unwanted, unopened perfumes for decades and decades in an unwanted drawer in an house or apartment somewhere and then suddenly decides to sell it off for less than ten pounds sterling? ) – a pristine, full, boxed bottle of Patou Pour Homme, a perfume I knew absolutely nothing about, and had never smelled.
My heart leapt. I have had a pretty rough and intense couple of days for various reasons, plus my lesson was being observed later on by someone in the evening. Having found this, though – knowing that when I got home, finally, in the evening, I could open it and smell it, that it was concealed in my work bag at the back gave me an intense feeling of inner delight, as though I had somehow stolen something precious, and nobody knew my secret. I purposely didn’t look up the notes, but instead let my mind wander.
I know too well first hand from living as a teenager yearning for the other side, the monotonous restrictions of ‘men’s perfumery’, though from just looking at and holding the box in my hand I couldn’t quite work out what year it would have been released – probably I would have said seventies rather than eighties – but I didn’t want to do any research, nor, as I often do, rush to some park after work and then let it smash to the ground. This time, I exercised enough self-restraint to actually wait until I got home; cycling back from the station, not letting myself get anywhere near it (will power is truly not one of my strong points).
What would it be like?
There was something talismanic and unnameable about not just finding a vintage perfume to make my heart leap, but one that was a complete mystery. I sensed it would probably not be a light citrus chypre like my beloved Chanel Pour Monsieur; the design of the box suggested something warmer, more aromatic. Tobacco, perhaps. Could it be spiced and fascinating like Hermès Equipage? Or could it even be an untethered beast like the same house’s Bel Ami? Might it be dark and patchouli coniferous, like the wonderful Capucci Pour Homme with its heartrending final warmth on skin, or sweaty and pituitary like Christian Dior Jules? A dark, compressed macho perfume I am sometimes in the mood for; sometimes I wear and enjoy them – Azzaro Pour Homme; Givenchy Gentleman; Ungaro. Would the Patou step outside the box and have some (to me at least) as yet unknown quality to open up the vistas of masculine perfumery and experience another genus ; a new stratification?
It would not.
I am a very reactive, decisive, person, and I usually know immediately what I think of a perfume. Naturally for fairness I wait, and experience the creation in all its stages – and we all know that surprises are very often in store if you wait long enough – and as predicted, it being Patou, I knew that it was going to be high quality and well made, but to me I just sighed with a great disappointment as I realised it was just one of those. The lines and lines of similar perfumes lined up at the chemists’ and supermarkets of my youth. So boring. A scent type I have smelled a million times before – any aftershave from the era; the dusting old bottles in my maternal grandfather’s bathroom that he never touched; a generic, leather aromatic fougère with all the ingredients you would expect – grandly complex – and yet dull as dishwater. And dare I say it, banal. If I am going to go for an aromatic, I prefer the weird 80’s overload of Rochas Macassar, or the hard-bearded natural elegance of Rochas Pour Monsieur; the green exuberance of the soapily bizarre and magnificently complex Krizia Uomo; if a simple, manly leather, then my bottle of Ralph Lauren Chaps – warm, supple, loving as talcum, will do very nicely, splashed under my pyjamas at night,thank you.
To me, this is simply uninteresting. Yes, it has some warm, oriental facets, and undoubtedly would suit some people beautifully, some Mills & Boon perfection, a hunk – a douchebag, (but I would rather wear Aramis – I love the pissy tang of that one on occasion, or Kouros, one of my younger self’s true loves) ; this instead just reminds of another rare dullard I have in my collection, Carven Pour Homme…..just too….. controlled; lacklustre; a ‘man’. Stroking his chin. Being manly. And ‘game’. And yet on Fragrantica, a place that every perfume nut, myself of course included, goes to immediately for confirmation and affirmation of his or her views, or to gasp at the gaps in perception between your own, and that of the other contributors/maniacs/raving lunatics’, to my great unsurprise, this perfume, perhaps, admittedly, a sina qua non of its unflinchingly standard type, is absolutely lauded to high heaven. One of the best perfumes ever made. The best masculine ever produced. People crying out for it to be made again (as if ! This kind of smell is so outdated) – so I am very intrigued, if you happen to know or own or remember this gem yourself, what I am potentially missing here. I haven’t worn it throughout the night; just smelled it (and yawned) for a couple of hours on the back of my hand. The juice is most definitely in order, not turned – the whole thing is immaculate – the good news for me being though that on eBay, 5ml miniatures of this go for a 100 dollars, and I could get at least 400-500 if I ever decide I feel like selling the bottle.
Speaking of crowd-pleasers and the fact that my tastes do often go against the grain, particularly in cinema, where many a 95% popular and critical hit on Metacritic or Rotten Tomatoes leaves both D and myself stone cold, not deliberately or perversely for the sake of it to be different, because that would be extremely boring behaviour, but just because it strikes us as slightly tedious or over earnest or just too obviously eager to win a prestigious award and thus takes no real chances and does not truly stimulate us in anyway whatsoever. We dutifully sit through these productions, stoney eyed and feeling nothing inside, then say ‘right, shall we go upstairs?’
In truth I often feel the same way about music, books, restaurants, and most definitely perfume; I guess my tastes are my own. And I am genuinely pleased for Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk
– perfumers at Guerlain – that their L’Homme Idéal series, which, like the super successful La Petite Robe Noire collection pour femme, is based on a cherry almond-tonka-vanilla soft contemporary ambered fruitchouli gourmand type of accord that everybody seems to like except me (and you), that this selection of flankers garners such fanatical praise on perfume websites and at the shelves of Sephora across the world, as it means that the coffers of the worshipful maison on the Champs Elysées will hopefully be overflowing with revenue, meaning (in an ideal world) that Guerlain will be able to maintain the quality of the classics, and continue to invest in producing interesting perfumes like some of those in the Art Et Matière and Aqua Allegoria ranges ,as well as on occasion disinterring lost wonders from the archives (or the tomb) and Lazarus-ing them back to life for our delectation.
As a Guerlain fanboy, and a person who likes to just sit and gaze at his perfume collection like King Knut on the seashore, I therefore semi-considered picking up the edp of L’Homme Ideal the other day at Opal (one of the best recycle shops in Yokohama on occasion, if you are willing to stalk it enough( and – gratifyingly – one of the only places I have ever been to that lets you actually smell things in advance of forking out your hard earned cash ; you can spray the perfumes on freely). This fortunately prevented me from buying a scent by Nobile 1942 which I thought seemed kind of horny in a Gucci Nobile kind of way, at first, but which became, yes – banal, on Duncan’s hand later on, which certainly saved me money, but there was also L’Homme Idéal there as well, which I had smelled and dismissed in the past already at some airport or other but decided to give a second chance (such an annoying name and thoroughly empty concept’ though – ‘the ideal man is a myth, but his perfume is a reality’, (what?) which is why in the advert, thousands of mindless brides are hysterically chasing a typically handsome and bankable groom down the streets like bloodhounds after a poor fox, or, as in the picture above – a flip-through-the-model-agency catalogue selection of hyper groomed ciphers all caressing and flirting with a cardboard poster – for me, the ‘campaign’, and the perfume itself, is as enjoyable as having my head filled up with cement).
L’Homme Idéal ticks all the boxes. Sweet. Rich. Warm. Cogent. Woody. Vanillic. Modern. And on my skin – though I could in a way appreciate its grandchild-of Paloma Picasso Minotaure and Jean Paul Gaultier Le Mâle’s sweet and musky lineage, and the fact that men are now allowed to move away from husky tobaccos and the stoic manliness of a bore like Patou Pour Homme and smell like cherries, it is still, for me, cloying, headache inducing – and contains no beauty. As we sat in a restaurant in Yokohama the other day after a wonderful time just aimlessly wandering around the backstreets, and I smelled this egregious smell on the back of my right hand, proffering it up for Duncan’s inspection (‘Oh God’, he says, it’s so…………sweet and unmoving and has no space to breathe inside it), I found that there was no choice but to go and scrub the gourmand encroachment right off my skin at the washbasin.
No space. No room to manoeuvre.
Just a smell.
Then again, I suppose, in some ways the judgement of this Guerlain was not entirely fair given the control circumstances.
Because look what I had just found in an old antique shop down the road, and which I was wearing all over my other hand, and which we were smelling rapturously: cooing over its inspired, and immaculate construction, the fact that it was so ambiguous and kept morphing and changing and was bloody delicate and incontrovertibly stylish and chic.