I NEVER wear scents like this. Never. But stinking, pre-shower, on a hot sultry afternoon here just before taking a bike ride to exercise the old legs,I decided to spritz myself with something, anything, so as not to offend any passersby I might encounter on the street with my stench. Something strong. And somehow, there was a quarter full bottle of vintage Gucci Nobile there by the bathroom sink, an unwanted throwaway that D had picked up for nothing at some recycle shop or other, and before I had even finished sniffing it I had sprayed it on my sweating T-shirt and was quite impressed by the pong. Real manly stuff. Full of tight herbs and lavender; granite hard. And off we went.
Returning after my masculine bike ride and after my shower, strangely, I felt like wearing this again. God knows why. So I have sprayed it all over and it is suiting my mood. I feel kind of
Quite sexy in a way. Nostalgically macho. But clearly well made.
This might not be the last time that I wear
Do you ever go off on odd, irrational and unexpected scent tangents like this?
I was never an ‘outdoors man’ even if I have always been something of a nature boy. Yet it was still strange that as a young child I somehow ended up being a cub scout. I don’t remember how or why I would have been enrolled in such an unsuitable organisation, with its toggles and songs and uniforms and ‘manly pursuits’, but I do know that I detested every moment of it except for our time in the woods and the forests when we went camping, and were forced- sorry, encouraged – to make bivouacs out of ferns and bracken and branches and twigs; tents made purely from the forest’s provision that you could hide in, close yourself off and inhale; a smell I will never forget.
It is said that the ‘fougere’ is an imaginary accord, as ferns have no smell, but this is not true. If you crush these filigreed, ornate and primeval plants between your fingers there is in fact a most distinctive, fresh, ancient, milk sap that I have always loved, the very essence of woodland and a window to another world. While I may not appreciate the beauty of mountains and grand vistas and rocks and great valleys, I have always adored the sylvan; the magic of the forest clearing and the trickling, hidden stream.
Amouage’s inquisitive and eccentric, ‘neo-hippie’ perfume from last year, Bracken, taps into this alternative, paisley green world of the great outdoors with a very original – if difficult – scent that was created to evoke memories, or at the very least, the stylings and ideals, of the flower power era: meadows of daisies, swaying pampas grasses, and love in the undergrowth – and I must say that I have never experienced anything else quite like it.
I will admit that our first impressions were poor. In fact Duncan recoiled in horror when he sprayed some on (he tried it first for me….”Oh my god…….it’s Toilet Duck!!!!”, and passing his hand over for me to peruse, before scrubbing it off at the sink, I will admit I did burst out laughing as he had nailed it completely in two simple words: suddenly, I had a flashback to the green toilet cleanser of my parent’s house when I was a boy; the urinous, central tang of chamomile and narcissus working with the citrus green, herbal notes of the top accord enough to provoke that remembrance exactly).
Trying the perfume again today, I see a more panoramic view. This is a very full, outspreading, complex, citric, green (fern accord) sharp, fruity (wild berries), floral (lily) and gently mossy composition that although quite odd, is also in another way quite beautifully harmonious. It definitely does have soul and spirit. Like Penelope Tree, the offbeat sixties model pictured here and the ‘alternative Twiggy’, it is the kind of scent that one in a hundred will fall for, but when they do, they will smell fantastic.
The evernew green of my childhood adventures – away from the tedious and moronic bondage of the cub scouts, I would spend my summer holidays playing in the woods all day long with my friends on our bikes, ‘our place’, where we made a secret cabin on an island in the middle of a bog where we could hide out from the adults; it was illegal to be there, we had cut our own hole in the wire fence of the private golf course the woods backed onto, but the heart pounding terror when someone was coming only added to the excitement and the sense of being trapped within a story; great lungfuls of searing fresh air, panting in mud and grasses, bluebells, great ferns….. none of that is really represented here (the closest I have ever come to a true ‘bracken’ like accord is perhaps English Fern by Penhaligons, a gentle, powdery scent from an entirely other era I find soothing and quite dreamy and evocative of the beautiful nature of England). But what is good about Bracken – such a risk-taking name for a perfume I think – is that for once I am smelling something bold and new, not that common these days in perfumery, whether it be niche, or otherwise, on every level from the concept and realization of the fragrance to the execution. An adventure.
Now this really was a flop. Nobody quite knew what to make of it: a red, red (it really smelled red), highly complex and cultured aromatic fougere that was, from a certain perspective, a very distant relative of Kouros: all Mediterranean and hairy-chested, sexed up and ready, with its brutish, yet seductive and convincing fullness of man-juice: spice (carnation and cinnamon), a flush, honeyed, anisic rose heart poisoned with artemisia and jasmine, and a musky, leathery, ambered patchouli and cedarish base.
Despite the rabid sensuality at the heart of this peculiar ‘floral’, however, there was also a very appealing, fresh, and regenerating contrast in the opening accords of grapefruit, cassis, bergamot, rosemary, lavender and a delightfully uplifting green note that made the scent (I own two bottles, as you can see) strangely affecting, even touching, on a crisp, Autumn morning. One of those smells that contrasted perfectly with the piercing, exterior, sunlight of optimism, when you simultataneously breathe in the lung-icing air around you and the scent on your body and just feel happy.
Yet despite its appeal (to me, at any rate), the scent is undeniably difficult. Illegible. Original and daring. But really quite hard to pin down – Duncan, just smelling it on my hand as I write this said : “Wow, interesting. Really interesting. Penetrating”. It was. But, despite its very masculine credentials at base, it was a floral. And a weird, green, spiced, herbaceous one at that, with a big dollop of animalic honey lurking somewhere at the centre. And men didn’t know what to do with such a scent. Not with all their insecurities. Especially in 1988, when Thatcher and Reagan were in power; things were simplistic and crass, and men walked about in their ‘colognes’ smelled like open-chested gorillas. Top that with the fact that on the wrong day and in the wrong weather – on a hot day, the rich red hint of Tenere would boil down on me to a sweaty tomato ketchup – and it was obvious that Rabanne had a commercial failure on their hands. It was quickly withdrawn – almost as soon as it was released: just another concoction consigned to the sad, perfumed graveyard. Like the similarly discontinued La Nuit, though – by far Paco’s most exciting and audacious scent – it remains, to me at least, one of their most interesting.
Sometimes I just take my giant green velvet box of parfum, open the lid, just look at Jicky undisturbed, and let its exquisite emanations reach my nostrils.
The flacon lies benelovent, secure in its felt indentation; safe in the knowledge of its beauty; and what I smell, in these moments, is a work of stunning, fleeting sensations: the living bergamot and lemon essences; a flourishing lavender; a garland of herbs from an English garden: verbena, sweet marjoram, and the tiniest nuance of mint. I am entranced.
But like Narcissus, leaning in at the edge, there lies trouble in these depths……what are the rude aphrodisia lurking down below in those murky waters…..?
I take the bottle and apply the stopper to my skin, and at first, in essence, all is an excelsis deo of perfect harmony.
I inhale : no perfume has more soul.
But the citrus has now gone….
Smiling, warmer notes now appear with the lavender in counterpoint; wisps of sandalwood, and that suave, and – let’s not beat about the bush – faecal undertone (an unembarrassed, frank anality of musk, ambergris and civet, sewn together by les petits mains in the ateliers Guerlain with a more civilized accord of incense, benzoin and coumarin)..and it is here where Jicky, suddenly, becomes more difficult.
In a modern context, this scent is almost scandalous in its animality (and very, very French – you can almost hear them laughing at us paling, moralistic Anglo Saxons running from its carnal openness): and so to really wear Jicky, therefore, to have what it takes, you have to be able to carry off this aspect of the perfume – which is never crude, more a deliciously francophile embellishment of the human ; but if you can, if you can, it can be magical: an ambisexual, historied and haunting skin scent that is simply beautiful – suited to people, not gender.
Jicky is a perfume for libertines.
I can’t wear it, but on Duncan, especially when he is in velvet-jacketed dandy mode, it smells wonderful.
Knowing, adult, and cultivated, a drop here and there is the perfect scented accoutrement.
The first time I encountered it I was twenty and not quite ready. And neither was the public apparently, as Ungaro came and went very quickly, becoming just another discontinued, but highly sought after, cult scent. Yet even back then I knew. Something murky, and sweatily, dangerously seductive smouldered on that department store counter. It was almost too obviously manly, an attempt to combine a seventies barechested medallion aesthetic with the new decade. So macho. So not of the times, yet also not quite like anything I had ever smelled before, with its dark-pitched, absinthe, underarm intensity. I remember shrinking back – but then returning – to this rich stew of scent that touched some primal sex nerve yet also seemed so hopelessly outdated when the world of CK-depilated sport-skinniness was just around the corner.
There was never anything androgynous – or slender for that matter – about Ungaro.
This is a middle-aged, well-built businessman, after a long day at work; his smell beneath his suit; coiled, taut – waiting to emerge. He has neglected to apply his deodorant, many hours earlier, (out of forgetfulness or fetish we don’t know), but the blend is emphatically not fresh: it is a scent that harnesses a certain brute and rough, even dirty, masculinity.Yet it also fuses this frank eroticism with style and an attractive elegance in a manner only the French could master: we are not talking here about a clichéd, covertly aggressive chat-up line by Hugo Boss.
Essentially based on brooding patchouli; dark, bitter wormwood, and lavender, this trio of ingredients is freshened with greener notes of geranium, pine and bergamot, drying down to honey-tinged, musky animalics. Rough, and very Italo-French in its womanizing, boozy, and measured self-confidence, it may seem to skirt with parody to the contemporary nose, but to me the perfume feels lovingly drawn by its creator, not just a throwaway commission, as it exhibits a sense of laid-back intelligence and humour beyond its core message of overt sexual prowess.
For me, Ungaro I is perhaps the ultimate masculine fougère.
A Japanese dressmaker friend, Rumi, came to my house one evening. We drank red wine, watched Almodovar, had dinner, and then got to the perfume collection.
Once I had realized her tastes, I went in a patchouli direction (Givenchy Gentleman, Paloma Picasso, Magie Noire), all of which had her coiled like a cat with pleasure.
The pièce de resistance, however, was Ungaro Pour Homme, which I saved til last, but which she said was like sexual torture.