Am I manly enough?
AIM : : : : : Wear Christian Dior’s blockbuster. Better understand it with an open mind.
Try and objectively enter the headspace of the millions and millions of people who are still flocking to get their hands on this modern megalith.
METHOLOGY : : : : : : : Physically wear the eau de toilette on own skin.
CONCLUSION : : : : : Foregone.
Christian Dior’s ultra-successful Sauvage, launched in 2015, is now the top selling perfume in the UK. This includes all perfumes targeted at women, despite the fact that men’s fragrances usually sell only 50% as many bottles. In other words, we are talking about an absolute and phenomenal smash hit for the creation by Patrick Demachy for the Parisian house of Dior, which must be ringing its tills in continual delight at what is a cosmetics industry Sensation. It is not easy to get to the top of the Scent Charts: it took Chanel Coco Mademoiselle and other perfumes several years, but Sauvage quickly achieved global domination. Once the bars and clubs re-open across the land, as they hopefully will soon now that the vaccination program has already successfully inoculated half the population, you will undoubtedly be able to smell the fresh and husky tones of this granite-jawed archetype devouring the air around you: all the characteristics of the fresh active fougère, honed down to one suave, and insistent accord, every time you turn a corner – where somewhere, someone holding their drink in their hand will find themselves once again gravitating, helplessly, towards its testosterone pull.
Noticing the other day that I had a sample of this perfume in my possession – meaning that soap and a tap were nearby if necessary and I knew that they would be – I decided, on a whim, to brave the waters. I think I may have unfairly demonized this perfume in the past, made it a scapegoat, and that isn’t fair if you have never even tried the damn thing. I am absolutely, unquestionably, not the target audience for this product – I am sure all of this goes without saying – but in the spirit of knowledge ( = power ) I do approach my dark blue vial with trepidation, and just a tiny bit of excitement.
My first, pleasantly surprised impression, is that Sauvage is clearly of high quality. I had mistakenly assumed this was just one long hiss of hand grenade aroma chemical, but in fact, with the fresh top accord of Calabrian bergamot, two kinds of pepper and lavender/geranium -with labdanum underneath recreating the classical fougère template, Sauvage is actually much graver and more dignified – even elegant, in some ways – than I had been anticipating. Combined with the hum of ambroxan, cedar and patchouli in the soon-coming base, in sum total, you have a pared down, minimalist take on the standard usual male genre (which sometimes pours in the entire kitchen sink but ends up the same anyway); suavely economical; a ‘man of few words’ : a no-nonsense, jack-of-all-trades piece of manhood decked out in business suit.
It is very easy to see the attraction to this scent: it has a harmony. An in-built integrity, planed by the ages. If you are in that rigorous and there-on-a-plate kind of mood, like the fougères of yore, Sauvage has an immediate and graspable appeal. The scent could hardly smell more familiar if it tried, all of the classic ingredients condensed into a single, perfected trope of such smoothness and universality it smells like the entire male population of the world in one bottle – or at least the boys, and the men, who willingly allow themselves to be so designated.
While the opening accord of Sauvage may have been a somewhat pleasant surprise to me, not dissimilar to others of the type such as YSL’s more enjoyable Rive Gauche Pour Homme from 2003 (which was equally unoriginal but had a verve and a sting to it that I preferred, and that made you look up as someone walked past), and Eau De Berlin by Harry Lehmann, which D occasionally wears, I have to admit that the main theme of Sauvage, – when the dreaded businessmmen-taking-a shit-at Birmingham-airport-toilets-before-a-Europe-bound-flight-early-in-the-morning smell – a sewer of stewed coffee and bad breakfast and overstrung Axe deodorants, shaving creams, and aftershaves and domestic arguments and stifling aggressions such as this one commingling with natural body products being evacuated and the smell of yawns and of repetition and of dressing to measure and the sheer painful carapace of being a man produce a smell of such misery it plunges me automatically into despair : this, also, as I surveyed it on the back of my hand, made me feel quite numb with depression, with an angering boredom that knows no end; a blindness; a sense of ‘no way out’, of stunted possibilities, of the offices I sometimes temped in, of total cul-de-sac.
In short, as could probably have been predicted right from the beginning of this futile experiment, despite my attempts to be open minded, this definitely acts as some kind of ‘trigger’ for me. I know ‘triggering’ is a contentious issue – and can sometimes in my view go too far – but this blueprint of what a man should smell like, I don’t know…………..even just smelling Sauvage on the scent strip in front of me now at my desk as I write this – does something to me that goes beyond olfaction. It is the trauma of childhood and pubescence and having ‘manhood’ paraded in front of you by adults; in the school playground, at the scouts, at part time jobs in offices, at the soccer stadium, in the changing rooms during P.E, all the aromas and the language and the joshing and the ribbing and the puffing out of chests and the swaggering of shoulders and the dick grabbing and showing off: it was like communicating with aliens; idiots; I was simply never able to properly engage in this casual, never reveal-any-real-emotion grandstanding and bullshitting and play fighting or real fighting and ‘practical jokes’ that the male of the species is supposed to engage in – it was all immeasurably tedious, so exhausting to the spirit. It may have been painful to feel outside of it all, that I was a freak, but I just simply had to keep all of it at bay and revel in Kate Bush and Debussy for self-preservation. D was the same: absolutely no interest whatsoever. He just painted at his easel in the garden. We were estranged from our surroundings. And it was much better to just read a book and keep your head down and hope it would get better in the future. Which it absolutely did. Thank god. Because otherwise I could not have lived in the world. Today you would call all of that ‘toxic masculinity’, I suppose: I am not sure how apt that expression is – to me it was just exasperatingly dull- but because I was naturally blessed with such a strong personality from birth and had so much exuberance it could not be contained, I was never bullied – I was one of the lucky ones;friends with everyone around me up to a certain point, keeping my small handful of close confidants to myself and then expanding into real communication once at sixth form and university, when such nonsense was so much further away in the distance and could be avoided, except for the times when I had to enter a ‘business environment’ for summer jobs when it all, and smells like this, came rushing back. Although I think I look good in one, a business suit has always to me felt like something of a costume.
At home, my father always had the good taste to never wear any of the dreaded fougères, though I am not sure if he chose them himself or my mother did. However these potions were selected though, they were like liquid manna from heaven. It would not have gone down well – you can be sure that there would have been some ‘accidental spillages’ otherwise – as I had something akin to an extreme mental allergic reaction to these smells that I didn’t hesitate to express out loud. Certain aftershaves – particularly YSL Jazz, Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar, Ralph Lauren Safari for Men and Dunhill Edition, which formed the Hall Of Unforgivable Evil, were, like Charleton Heston, who I developed a bizarre and intense phobia of, having to leave the room if he ever appeared on TV (when I saw him later on a clip at a National Rifle Association convention clutching his machine gun above his head and intoning again like Moses on the mount it all made sense): like that man, these smells seemed to encapsulate everything I detested in life at the time with every fibre of my body. Being gay, and supersensitive, being ‘closeted’ (such bullshit!) against my will , was very difficult, and these loathsome smells you couldn’t escape if you went out clubbing or even just in school, just felt like a Chernobyl of twisted masculine oppression that existed purely to sicken my spirit. I was never anything other than happy being male myself (whatever that means); it was just that version of maleness with all its inbuilt shortcomings that I found so deeply offensive to my own personal sensibilities, like being a young gazelle forced into the horned and leathery hide of an old rhinoceros. The scents that were there in our house – Eau Sauvage, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Givenchy Gentleman, Paco RAbanne, Quorum, Old Spice, and Kouros were so much more complex and multifaceted than the inherent suppressed violence of the typical fougère; that bitter-breathed ‘adult male’ breathing acridly down your neck, and I wore most of them as well as surreptitiously trying on some of my mother’s – No 19, Ô De Lancome, Ysatis, Samsara, hugely enjoying the burgeoning sense of self I would experience when wearing them on school days. When out toiletry shopping I learned to assiduously avoid ‘that smell‘ (at that time I had no idea it was called a fougère), which always featured ubiquitously and inevitably not only in the aforementioned classic minions of the type but which were all inescapably diffused down into every shaving cream, underarm stick, talc, hair cream……..like the haircuts available in North Korea there were only a few very limited options – a stinking whole universe of products for men impregnated with that awful road to nowhere: usually some decorum on the surface but always ready to resort to the fist, the hell of prescribed male behaviour that probably prevails from Toronto to Timbuktu. (Mercifully, Japan has never been prey to the fougère).
The base accord of Sauvage, less-all consuming (thank god I only sprayed the most microscopic amount possible from the tester) allowed me, after some difficult moments – and I will admit I washed off the main theme after a while to speed up the experiment – to eventually get away from all these negative sensations a little: some of the mindlessness began to gratefully dissipate , and the Sichuan and other peppers as well as the lavender all come back more clearly into focus: at this stage I felt some similarities here with Comme Des Garçons excellent, if over-persistent, Black Pepper and didn’t feel so besieged. Here we can also see that despite its mainstream magnetism, to its credit, the Dior perfume is no cheap video nasty. It is well made. They haven’t skimped on raw materials. It is just providing what everyone presumably wants (or has been conditioned to want). Like the Big Mac, or the Whopper With Cheese (I actually used to work at Burger king so I know what I am talking about), the gargantuan conglomerate is simply tapping right into the moulded id of its targeted consumers; this is obviously what ‘the men’ require to feel confident, and this is what their women want them to smell like, so kudos to the perfumer for creating such a capable money-earner for Dior ( who have a scent coming out in May that I vastly prefer : a floral marine that is quite dreamy and escapist) —- perhaps the income from these big cash cows keeps creativity alive in other areas, and I am fine with that. Each to their own (and, as I said, living here, I mercifully never have to smell this kind of perfume in Japan because although this country may be 122nd on the global gender equality index in terms of politics, working conditions and a whole other plethora of measurements in which women are subjugated to men – and this is obviously nothing to be proud of to say the least, it also emphatically does not have the same kind of bludgeoning machismo that is prevalent in so many other cultures; the streets are not violent: men approaching you, even in groups or apparent gangs, are not inherently threatening, there are no daily knife attacks, no shootings; no mugging ; there is a gentleness that I loved from the moment I got here. D does too. It’s a whole different ball game. Boys are far more physically affectionate with each other as school kids, people bathe together naked at hot springs from a young age, so there is not that angst ridden homophobia and mutual body terror:people are much more at ease in a bodily sense than they are in the west and this makes it less necessary to delineate your territory with strong and brash xy chromosome scent markers. Despite the high prevalence of bullying in schools(including for LGBT kids: I am never going to pretend Japan is a utopia), overall there seems to be less jibing and pressure to ‘act like a bloke’ ; the masculinity here, in a culture that is inexorably drawn to the ambiguous, far more natural ; less extreme; despite the ridiculous savagery of the work culture, less straitjacketed. I am pretty sure, therefore, that this smell could never achieve mass popularity here, as it represents something that is not appealing to the average person, male, or female, in the first place. Yes, Sauvage is promoted in department stores, and no doubt some young bucks do wear it, in certain social groups – maybe the pimps and the hostess bar owners who come out at night, I don’t know. But I doubt very much indeed that a smell like this would ever catch on to the terrifying extent that is has back in England. It is basically unimaginable. Because despite the easily perceived quality of ingredients, the capable scent construction, the canny success of the advertising campaign featuring Johnny Depp – also very popular in Japan – which has been phenomenally powerful in drawing customers in towards the fragrance; the obvious appeal of the wild ‘savage’ as a way to boost a man’s sense of power and virile sexual performance, I still have to ask the question: why, after sixty or more years of such unchanging conventionality, and all the olfactory progress that has been made in the meantime, do people actually want to smell like this?