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I purchased this some time ago now for a mid-range, discounted designer price: I had been tossing up between it, and Chopard's Casran in my search for an inexpensive gourmandy masculine scent. Now, I loved Casran's bottle and am generally fairly impressed with Chopard's fragrances so I was leaning strongly towards it and away from Avant Garde. Casran had a lot of great feedback: an overlooked master-stroke, that's what it seemed like, and by a brand I had some trust for, encased in a gorgeous bottle and seemingly the spiritual brother of the much-loved Casmir (a scent that could be this generations improved version of Vanilla Fields given its popularity and the age of those that wear it) which I was very fond of as well. With Wish and Casmir under their belt it seemed Chopard had proven their gourmand chops already, that Casran should be fantastic seemed almost inevitable. How could Avant Garde compare? 'Awful, cheap synthetic mess.' one reviewer said. There was no love for this fragrance, and that was when people paid attention to it at all. Which was rarely.
Some time later though and my bottle of Avant Garde sits in my wardrobe, covered in fingerprints and very nearly empty. I have another on its way, while the three bottles of Casran I bought knowing it was discontinued and wanting to grab a good supply before the price shot up are still boxed up in storage - two of them unopened - awaiting future sale. Well that's no great disappointment as people like it and it's discontinued, I'll get my money back and then some, but the scent? That's a disappointment, at least to me. Gourmand? Not really. It's a shame because the nose behind it - the amazing Nathalie Lorson - has really made me happy in the past with the incredibly respected Encre Noire, Cool Water Deep (the best thing to ever wear a cool water label); Trussardi Inside, Montana's Graphite, and more.
What about Avant Garde, though? How does it smell? Well it's as synthetic as any other designer fragrance (which means the vast majority of people smelling it won't notice or care) but I certainly wouldn't call it a cheap or awful mess, and it smells nothing like La Nuit (which I've heard it called a cheap version of) nor would I compare it to Play Intense, as others have, in fact among the current morass of Angel-inspired gourmands I think it stands out reasonably well. Though I wouldn't call it unique the absence of sugar-cookie vanilla alone is worth something here. The beeswax and tobacco combined with the spicy presence of nutmeg, and black and pink pepper give this a dry, dusty quality I enjoy immensely. This dimension is similar in tone, if not in execution, to Mandarina Duck's Pure Black, but while Black is sweetened with tonka and vanilla Avante Gard uses benzoin and lavender. You could call it powdery but personally I think of it as dry, and dusty - almost desiccated in fact - which to my mind keeps things suitably masculine despite the gourmand touches.
In spite of the name this offering is unpretentious in its aims and the experience is quite linear. It dries down to a slightly sweet base of synthetic lavender and benzoin, but it opens very boldly and with a lot of - steadily declining - projection, and a lot of spice. So much spice it makes me feel heady in warmer weather. It softens quickly though, and Avant Garde becomes a skin-scent after an hour or two, and lasts for a few hours more - not unreasonable given the price - though it performs better on fabric as is often the case. Presentation is top-notch here. The bottle is well designed and looks great. The frosted glass is heavy and very substantial and the little cap fits nicely over the anodised atomizer, while a coloured strip of partly transparent glass bisets the bottle vertically showing you how much juice remains. A word about that atomizer too: it doesn't pull any punches. Normally it takes me quite a few sprays before I'll notice the bottle draining but with Avant Garde's hyperactive sprayer it's easy to over-apply and waste a lot of juice. This can be a big problem given the strength and over-bearing spices of the opening.
It's a bandwagon fragrance for sure, and I have no doubt that's part of why it's overlooked. Had it been discontinued quickly I have a cynical feeling we might have seen people praising it as a lost gem and splashing out on Ebay for bottles, but it's managed to stay alive on the shelves for long enough to just be one more in a long line of forgettable and ignored fragrances. All the better for those who wear it. Because Avant Garde does something which few of the popular masculine gourmands - which in truly being gourmands arn't masculine in the slightest - like LIDGE, DHI and A*men can, and that's create a masculine fragrance which rides the line of an entirely feminine concept. The sheer number of women I've seen talking about how good they smell in A*men and its cohorts tells me this is a fact, but while Avante Gard has unisex potential too it remains just that: unisex, benefiting from a balanced combination of feminine and masculine elements.
Now I don't have a problem with gender-bending in the fragrance world. I proudly wear plenty of feminine fragrances and have no fear of floral notes, but everything has its situation, and Avant Garde's is when I feel like dabbling in some gourmand fun without smelling like a fat girls lunchbox. Yes, I know that was in bad taste. On the other hand if I feel like going gourmand, I'll go all the way, and not limit myself to the range of scents which are marketed to men. In summation I'm giving this a thumbs-up because I enjoy it, because I love the bottle, because my wife thinks it smells fantastic and because - based on compliments I've received - I know she's not the only one.
18 December, 2012