AN EXPERIMENT IN ANDROLOGY : THE BLACK NARCISSUS WEARS DIOR SAUVAGE (2015)

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?

46 Comments

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46 responses to “AN EXPERIMENT IN ANDROLOGY : THE BLACK NARCISSUS WEARS DIOR SAUVAGE (2015)

  1. Hmm…
    When I first tried Sauvage in 2015 (at a duty-free shop in Bahrain of all places) my impressions were similar, a very modern “fresh” take on the classic fougere. The Basenotes group of self-appointed fragrance experts I participated in back then disputed my opinion that it was an updated fougere. Glad to see we agree on that!
    I thought it was very well made, of excellent quality, and just different enough from other mainstream male fragrances at the time to be a success. Wearable for any age group and any occasion. Not too “out there” for the very conservative culture of western male fashion.
    I didn’t quite understand the huge disdain for Sauvage displayed by the online connoisseurs of male fragrance at the time. (I prefer Sauvage to their beloved but even more banal Aventus, Allure Homme, and Bleu de Chanel.) The ad campaign for Sauvage was abysmally stupid and Johnny Depp was already a has-been. (Clive Owen or Hugh Jackman would have been my choice.) The claims of Sauvage being an ambroxan overload were unwarranted. In fact, most of the ambroxan haters would mistakenly describe the Sichuan peppercorn opening as being ambroxan. (Most westerners do find Sichuan peppercorns unfamiliar and offputting so that’s not surprising.)
    I bought a bottle right then in Bahrain to gift to the teen son of one of my wealthy Japanese clients, it was a hit!

    • Interesting. Like you, I think the beginning is actually really quite good – but it DEFINITELY is an updated (but barely )fougere. This is indisputable. I was being forced to use shit shaving creams that smelled like this thirty five years ago – it is pre-historic at heart. I agree that the ambroxan is not as over-dosed as has been made out: the pepper is the main deal here!

  2. Z

    I love how in the last photo you look not only sharp; but deeply disappointed… I relate so much to your takes on Men At Large, having experienced a deep revulsion towards machismo from birth. It’s great to hear your perspective on social patterns and ~the gender wars~.

    I somehow don’t yet know what constitutes a fougère. I know what the usual suspects are, but that’s really the one scent type I don’t yet have an olfactory memory print of. Time to refer to your book!!

    • I did do a fairly decent summation there.

      And yes – the last picture did capture my disappointment (and my continuing labyrinthitis. I really shouldn’t be writing such frothsome posts in this state : I am sure it just makes it worse).

  3. Katy

    So I must have a similar antipathy toward this scent. The only perfume that I instantly recoiled from when the SA sprayed it on paper. It is the smell of disappointment and the ridiculous old tropes of what men should smell like all trotted out like some horrid and tired dog and pony show. I love fougeres. Chanel Pour Monsieur and many others are reached for often in the summer.

    • But Pour Monsieur – one of my favourites in the apres rasage – is a different kettle of fish altogether. So gentile and benevolent. But also quite old fashioned in a way. I wear my vintage edt but d finds me musty in it and doesn’t like it.

      ‘Tired dog ‘ is perfect.

      But the public obviously doesn’t think so..

  4. Nelleke Oepkes aka Booknose

    Mon tres tres cher M Ginza!!
    I am halfway and I am holding my sides, thumping whatever surface is there (at the moment soft) and thanking your parents for bringing you in this world! And of course yourself for getting, being and staying you!!!
    Go on amazing and putting us on that other leg (after all we do possess two of them), and most of all delighting us all.
    Je vous salue de tout mon coeur!!

    • I am not 100% sure what you mean here cheerleading Nelleke but pleased you liked nonetheless! When I get going I GET GOING : so bloody extreme but I know you know the smell I am talking about. It appalls me to my core and I can’t believe it is still so utilized…

  5. What little I know of the men’s fragrance community on sites like Reddit is that they seem to be obsessed with Sauvage! I loved reading about your experience of the fragrance and its context within your life. Great post 🙂

  6. Tora

    I have never tried this scent and probably never will. You mentioned Givenchy Gentleman and Kouros which I do like. I loved reading this. Your way of describing feelings and reactions to awful societal pressures hits home right to my heart. I wish the vertigo would abate. It must be maddening, and frustrating. Thank you for writing to us, I am always happy to see a new post from you. I may not always comment, as lately I have been feeling too stupid for words, but I am here thinking good thoughts when I finish The Black Narcissus.

    • Renée Stout

      I agree Tora.

    • What a great thing to say considering the fury a the heart of this one.

      There must be a female equivalent to all of this too, but not one EXACT odour like this particular fougere g spot that makes me lose it.

    • Ps

      We are going to do the Epley maneuver but it needs to be when d is off ( I can’t face doing it at night
      : it must be in the daytime ); I don’t want it to be before a work day because I can’t risk having any more sick days. I want to try it and then rest properly. It really is debilitating

  7. Tara C

    The first time I smelled this at the Bay in Canada I recoiled in disgust. This is the worst, vile, chemical soup. I consider it a weapon of mass destruction, of which the female equivalent is the horrid Lancome La Vie Est Belle. Hell would be smelling nothing but these two scents for eternity.

    • And yet on skin it definitely wasn’t just chemical soup ( I think the edp is even more objectionable probably ); but the overall effect is just THAT SMELL. It enslaves a whole gender and gives me a feeling of sadness and putrid frustration.

  8. Renée Stout

    Neil, I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it;I can’t wait until you create a book compilation of your perfume musings. I just know that it would have perfume cult following and beyond, because of your wit and honesty that gets right to the core of things. To me you’re like the Fran Leibowitz of the perfume world (lol), but with more depth. Your description of the cartoon “masculinity” that that’s been perpetually promoted by too many cultures around the world, was spot on. In my opinion it’s at the root of what keeps humanity in this never ending cycle of war and misogyny. The more I work on personally evolving to my higher self, the more disgusting and unbearable this notion of “masculinity” is to observe. Thank you for writing this. I also realized while reading this, that this may be the reason that the fougere is my least favorite scent category. There is a note that I can’t identify that most of them seem to fall back on. I don’t know if it’s geranium or what. But there’s definitely a note that keeps me from sampling more scents that are marketed as specifically “masculine”.

    • It is the combination of lavender and geranium and the wood chemicals underneath that creates that particular odour.

      Re masculinity, to me it is often a very beautiful thing – even if I would never in this cultural climate dare to define what it precisely is.

      But it is interesting : Johnny Depp lost his libel case against The Sun over his wife battering charges – the judge in the case believed his ex wife Amber Heard’s accounts of violent beatings. Depp is still the face of Sauvage, so what you say about this smell being at the heart of misogyny etc is not as far fetched as some people reading this might believe. I think that the macho crud the scent boils down to compensate for a nervous lack ; it almost provides the license to stagger about in a certain way because of the associations in the DNA that perpetuate a certain way of carrying oneself ( fists clenched at the ready ).

      Thanks for the compliment : this was one of my ‘in a trance ‘ pieces with a gale at torrential rains outside and no conceit of time.

      • Renée Stout

        It isn’t so much the scent itself that I feel is perpetuating the toxic masculinity… it’s culturally established, but outdated perceptions of what masculinity is supposed to look like that’s being perpetuated. Those cookie-cutter, so-called “masculine” scents are just part of the “uniform”. But I definitely feel that scent helps to solidify this perception of what’s “masculine” is supposed to smell like. I haven’t smelled Dior Sauvage, so I’m not taking about it specifically, I was referring to the general scents marketed as masculine that have that lavender/geranium/synthetic woods combination you described.

      • Excellently put. Yes – a uniform.

        Perhaps a lot of this is personality based. I am shockingly individualistic as a person and in my essence, anti-conformity and uniformity, to a significant degree – but not everybody is, of course, so plenty of people just go with the flow and wear what is deemed suitable and popular. I am extravagantly oversensitized to this particularly accord in a way that would seem psychotic to the average Joe or Joanna on the street.

        If you get the chance, spray some Sauvage on a scent strip and see how you feel. I don’t doubt that after half an hour you will be full of great wonder that anyone could find this in any way appealing, even if the beginning is deftly done and kind of is (I was surprised). It’s that THING, lurking inside that causes my maniacal responses.

  9. I wonder if it’s possible to reprogram those scent associations by taking away the piles of advertising and imagery that sold oversimplified “masculinity” with these fragrances, similar to how Axe/Lynx cleaned up their image (without having to change the scents themselves as far as I’m aware, although I didn’t look into it very much). I don’t think I’ve smelled Sauvage, and can never tell whether it’s that or Eau Sauvage that people are raving about, but I wasn’t impressed with the latter when I smelled a modern version, either. Quite bland and shower fresh, but that was about it.

    • Yes – Eau Sauvage in the original is also a lavender citrus with a floral hedione component but incredibly elegant. I love it actually. Reformulated it doesn’t really do anything.

      Re advertising – yes, a good point. And fougeres per se I think are definitely more fluid than the standard blockhead advertising. D was wearing MDCI’s Invasion Barbare the other day; the beginning I am not sure I like – a bit too sawdust cornucopian, but the end was a barbershop paradise, a kind of masculine glow that filled up half the room but in a good way.

      The end accord of perfumes like Sauvage cannot be reappropriated ; the associations have drilled far too deep into the skulls of our bone tissue ; just too much nasty residue.

  10. Robin

    “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.”

    This is almost painfully good, dear N. I don’t quite know what to do with all the joy I’m feeling after reading this whole post. So damn satisfying to the soul.

    Masculinity. It’s a moving target. I think of Ric as being masculine in many traditional ways — he gets out there up the mountain in old clearcut logging areas with his chainsaw, ropes and pulleys and comes back with a truckload of firewood, some pieces as large as he is, blood dripping down his bare arms from falling into thorny blackberry bushes (not having noticed, not feeling a thing, physical pain just not registering). And yet he is exceptionally kind to me, warm, generous, but still with that masculine emotional reserve, the calm exterior, as the thing that makes him steady and strong out there engaged in the world. He is a quiet guy, with a deadpan wit he uses sparingly. He has no vanity at all. He can’t stand being around macho bloke types. They really get his back up. He has nothing in common with them, even if they think he does.

    I’ve never smelled Sauvage. That’s a whole other conversation, the idea of staying away from something just because it’s so popular, ubiquitous. I do. I avoid them. (Even if I loved, say, Coco Mademoiselle — which, blechh, I don’t — I wouldn’t buy it.) I wouldn’t buy Sauvage for Ric either, even if I loved it. There are a hundred things to buy ahead of it. But if Ric loved it, I would.

    Ric would never wear fragrance if I didn’t buy things for him. He never owned anything before we met. And you know he has excellent taste. It’s just not a thing he thinks about. He wears them for me, because he knows what pleasure I get from smelling them on his skin at night. (Only at night. In private. He won’t wear fragrance in the day. He doesn’t like to smell of anything.) I think he might like Sauvage because he wouldn’t have any associations, those things that you (and I might) get from it. He’s simple that way, not complicated. Interesting that you mentioned Duncan wearing Invasion Barbare. Of all the bottles he owns, I can tell he likes that one the best, because he reaches for it more than the others. He has no idea if it’s a $25 cheapie or something expensive (and you know it’s not cheap). He just instinctively favours it. That and Chanel pour Monsieur and vintage Armani and the old Sycomore edt (in an ideal world; he has the edp because the edt can’t be had). Same thing: he’s indifferent to their provenance. I love that he’s so pure that way. Nothing influences him one way or the other.

    Very grateful that you write for us, and you, with so much of yourself in it.

    • So glad you have written this. I am bursting at the seams with things I want to express about this topic as it cannot be condensed into one soundbite about one stupid aftershave.

      As we have discussed before, identity politics and gender is an absolute minefield – you can get shut down by the cancel culture for even one false move, even someone as obviously left of field as myself. I hardly dare even touch the subject. And yet this is my personal experience: not a word of this is exaggerated. The smell of the toilets is a very potent memory for me. Not because human effluvia are every particularly pleasant, but because they were armoured with this HORRIBLE array of synthetic macho products ON TOP of them, and I remember – Helen and I were about to go to Paris – how utterly dejected it made me feel. Desolate actually. It is so limiting and awful to have to be sealed up in such an oyxgenless box. Because masculinity is masculinity (whatever it is). You see it in kids, in adolescents – I don’t think for a moment it is something to be condemned (and after all, transgender males are drawn to it from birth/early childhood, when they are trapped in the wrong bodies, so there have to be attractive qualities to it as well as negative/agressive/violent ones). And I myself am obviously attracted to it: femininity is not sexually interesting for me. So it’s all a big conundrum.

    • And thank you for the compliment – I woke up in a very strange mood yesterday with my head very WRONG from the fucking loss of balance, which is really getting to me, and the only thing I could think of to do was sit down and write. To me it felt like an hour at most but it was dark by the time I pressed publish, wondering if this piece might be perceived as one hyperbolic stroke too far – but this is precisely how I feel about this smell. In fact, if anything I would say I don’t emphasise it enough. It is my own personal memories coming to the surface, and how trapped I felt by conventions that were ugly and moronic and that I just had to reject point blank. You can’t imagine how dulling it is to the spirits to press the top of a shaving cream and to have to smear that kind of smell over your face – it’s like being smothered by dogma.

      • Robin

        That is good. ” . . . it’s like being smothered by dogma.”

        I just cringe at the very mention of identity politics. At its worst, the intolerance and insta-attack-mode of the indoctrinated scares the livin’ bejeezus out of me. But it is interesting, that I was thinking to myself writing about Ric’s easy masculinity, “hey, I think Ric kind of has a bit of masculine privilege going on.” Meaning his identity as a male and as a man has never caused him a moment’s thought. No doubt, no confusion, no guilt or shame or ambivalence. He has the luxury, which he is not aware of, of not having to think about it. Nobody questions it, judges it, rejects it, either. It doesn’t get in his way. Never did.

        My femininity, too, come to think. Growing up, I didn’t think of my identity at all as a girl, a female, hetero. I just was myself. I felt so certain, unquestioning. Nothing to underscore, emphasize, rebel against. Not threatened by anything external or internal. My identity a non-issue. Sheltered, obviously, looking back.

        Meanwhile, I had a childhood so painful in other ways that I can get nauseous thinking back to some elements of it. Enormously damaging, soul-destroying. So, I mean, things aren’t simple.

        My heart sinks at the thought of all you went through. I can’t imagine it. I’m very sorry that the world was that way. That you had to experience that ugliness.

      • No – actually I have always been the same as you. Just myself – I don’t even think of myself as ‘fluid’ in any way – I just act like myself and don’t care where my choices land within the parameters. I also wasn’t bullied and neither was D – it was more a question of RESISTANCE to certain things, although I will admit that as a child even the mere hint of being labeled a sissy was somewhat traumatizing. It sounds like you had a hard time too.

        But we waded through it, followed our instincts and met fantastic partners, rather than being trapped in negative cycles of going for the wrong people etc.

        Hurrah for strong instincts and integrity of the self.

    • Also: I NEED YOU TO SMELL SAUVAGE.

      • Robin

        Then I’d better get on it.

      • Please !

        I need a full review.

        ‘I came home to find Ric naked chopping logs doused in Sauvage. Within seconds we were rolling down the ravine ‘

        etc

      • The one thing that I really can’t stand about Sauvage (other than the fact that every douche wears it) is the ethyl maltol in its base. I have never seen ethyl maltol listed as a note for Sauvage, but it’s there in all its cotton candy and fake strawberry glory providing the sweetness so characteristic of the classic fougere template. I enjoyed wearing some ethyl maltol bombs in the 90s (Lolita Lempicka, Coco Mademoiselle) but nothing says “cheap & ubiquitous American mall stench” like its cloying trail nowadays.

      • Brilliantly put ; I wouldn’t have been able to identify that ingredient myself but now it makes sense.

      • PS

        I am loving that this tiny spray from the mouth hole of a sample vial is leading to so much forensic discussion and analysis on emotion, society, identity – it’s all completely fascinating.

        Any lurkers have any thing to add on the subject ?

    • I know you will feel the same as me about the pleasantness of the top notes. It is really quite nice – I think I actually might even prefer that beginning to Barbare. (the ending of that one though! so gorgeous.)

      • Robin

        The fact it’s so popular does mean that there are appealing things about it. And we know that top notes are what most people judge a fragrance by when they’re thinking of buying something new. I’m quite prepared to like it. At least at the beginning. But then . . .

        I think I’d mentioned awhile ago that Invasion Barbare has been tweaked. It’s quite a bit more mellow now out of the starting gate than it used to be. (I have both so it’s easy to compare them.)

      • Interesting.

        And I agree ; it Sauvage is that much of a hit, it really does have to have something otherwise it could never have reached such heights of popularity. People are mad for it. It NAILS what it is trying to nail is the point.

      • The beginning is quite pleasant, the lemony metallic Sichuan peppercorn plus clear crisp bergamot is quite dazzling.

  11. You have summed this scent up perfectly! When I first smelt this I was slightly revolted, then after the intial shock I realized it was the same old thing, dressed up slightly different and paraded for a new generation. I do not know how these types of scents do so well, it befuddles me. I far more prefer Eau Sauvage, which is heavenly. I also adore Balafre and Sagamore by Lancome as well. Iam not fond of the fougere scents. With a few ecxceptions they smell of male dominance; I have bad memories associated with the that scent family. I wish scents would move nto the future and leave these old tropes behind.

  12. Robin

    I’ve smelled it now. Ric too. Just on a freshly-sprayed card, from the drugstore.

    When I waved it under Ric’s nose in the car: “Could be worse, I guess.” Which is a favourable reaction. (Understatement is always the name of the game for Ric. “It works” is a solid thumbs-up. “It’ll work nicely” is reserved for the handful of things he really, really likes.)

    I was surprised. I thought I would like it at first sniff, and I thought Ric wouldn’t.

    I did rub the wet card on my wrist so I was able to get some of the development over time on skin. I was surprised at how much in the way of mainstream male synthetics I was picking up. It reminds me of the fragrances an acquaintance of Ric wears, the kind of thing he likes. (He’d call himself a ladies’ man. I’d call him a bit of a mild blunt-force predator, harmless. I think he’s partial to Bleu de Chanel.) They’re bold and aggressive, of good commercial quality. I myself don’t like that very quality of being commercial, in the same way I’ve never liked Top Forty music or popular mainstream movies. It’s everything that makes it a Greatest Hit. Those same hooks. Far too obvious. I just don’t happen to like that kind of smell. And I did find it harsh and chemical-heavy, nothing natural about it — for me. It operates on one strident frequency. I get zero in the way of nuance.

    What surprised me the most was that I had the same kind of associations that you did with Sauvage. That heavy-duty masculine-and-not-in-a-good-way vibe. I was turned off. There’s something dirty in it, but not in a sexy way. In a Birmingham airport toilet way. Covering up something slightly foul. Disingenuous. Just off the top of my head, what popped into my mind just now as the antithesis of Sauvage is Caron pour un Homme. Fresh, sweet, natural, earnest, clearly made for a man but gently so. Something clean-smelling to splash on already clean, healthy skin.

    • My heart softened as I read the Caron reference. There, you have a beautiful vulnerability that reveals a very sexy man at his absolute best. Carnal and human.

      I am terrified by the idea of the ‘mild blunt-force predator’.

      Thinking about this further, for me, as a man, it is ultimately a kind of pity I think I feel, when other men believe that this is the only way they can smell. Women are the ones who get the rough deal in terms of violence and a million other things in this life, but I don’t think it is necessarily easy being a rock bottom male either. The terror of putting a foot wrong and being seen as effeminate (or ‘unisex’ = frankengender). Of being made fun of. It is a kind of deep seated fear of exposing the soft side, of having to wear the armour, and the more thumbs up you get on base notes (read surreptitiously) the more confident you feel that you are not making a punishable mistake.

      If the same people were let loose in a Maison Dior store, given the go ahead to try anything they like, imagine the whole new world of possibilities that might open up to them. But the man on the street only sees the adverts in the drugstores and on TV and at the airport – and so is stuck in this prison.

      • Robin

        Or. Do you think that those men, wandering through the fragrance counter in a vacuum, might gravitate on their own to precisely those powerhouse beast-mode panty droppers (how I despise that last descriptor!)? Some kind of instinctive pull, like a caveman to a nice big fat club amongst mere sticks?

      • !!!

        Hilarious.

        Yes, probably. In the same way that if we had never been exposed to any food outside Anglo Saxon meat and potatoes, we would be horrified by anything else .

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