Straddling Z

    by Maureen Gibbon, 16 July 2009

    Straddling Z
    Image:Original Photo: The Pug Father
    When I was fifteen, I had a twenty-two-year-old boyfriend.  He had dark waving hair, almond eyes, and a jaw you could cut paper on.  He was also so vacuous my family called him “the village idiot,” but that’s another story. 

    My boyfriend drove a low-slung orange 240Z in 1978, but the car wasn’t the only place where the letter Z played a role in  his life – he also wore Halston Z-14 cologne.

    Granted, I was only fifteen, but I couldn’t believe a man could smell so good.  Z-14 had tang as well as musky darkness, and it seemed to match my boyfriend’s dark, good looks.  But my fascination with the fragrance went beyond wanting to smell it on him.  I liked the scent so much I bought a bottle and started wearing it myself. 

    I couldn’t get enough of Z, and I doubt I was the only woman who felt that way about the Halston’s 1976 men’s cologne.

    Not only was Bowie’s androgynous appeal still in the air (remember the album cover of “Young Americans” that showed him as a redhead with long bangs and gold bangles?), but 1978 was also the year that Sylvester’s “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” came out.  Sylvester’s gayness was unmistakable and irresistible, and it seemed to say that anyone could be anything, as long as it was exuberant. 

    Even now I miss the free-floating 1970’s, and I marvel at who I was then:  a teenage girl, living in a backwoods town in the Appalachians, who wanted to wear not Charlie or Sweet Honesty, but mossy, bergamot-and-leather Halston Z-14.

    But of course there’s nothing really unique about that.  Unisex perfumes have been around for a long time, and one of them, Jicky, has been in production since it was created in 1889.  To be accurate, Aimé Guerlain didn’t set out to create a unisex  fragrance: the perfume was supposed to be for women, but they didn’t take to it at first – or so the story goes.  Men did like Jicky, though, and so they wore it.  That continued until 1912, according to the book Perfume by Richard Stamelman, which was the year women’s fashion reviewers gave women the green light to wear red light Jicky.

    I guess I made Z-14 my own private Jicky. 

    Z-14 is equally heady and dark, with profound corners and real staying power.  (Too much staying power say critics of the scent.  And I understand – there’s nothing subtle about Z-14.)  While Jicky has strong middle cinnamon and vanilla notes, Z-14 reads bergamot for longer, drying down to cedar and leather and never really fading.

    In 2005, Elizabeth Arden (the license holders for Halston) decided to relaunch Z-14 with the help of NASCAR racing star Jeff Gordon.  Arden executives said Gordon was the “embodiment” of Z-14:  “masculine, trend-setting, daring, and bold.”  However, Arden’s “Season of Speed” Sweepstakes, a contest which helped advertise the relaunch of the fragrance, was won by a woman named Judith Falk.  Maybe she was a NASCAR fan who entered the contest just for a chance to meet Jeff Gordon, but I believe know better.

    She fell in love with the Z.


    * * *

    Here are some fragrances you may want to try whether you’re a man or woman.  While I’ve put them into the categories where they’re listed on the basenotes website (where available), I believe they can be for anyone.  It’s 2009 and we can smell any way we like.

    Alexander McQueen’s Kingdom (women) opens with ginger, gradually revealing cumin and sandalwood.  Warmth without heaviness in this eau de parfum.  The cumin keeps me coming back.

    Montale’s Musk to Musk (unisex) is a white musk eau de parfum that opens with a lemony note.  Silvery and warm at the same time.

    Comme de Garcons Sherbet Rhubarb (unisex) is a clean, green eau de toilette.  As fresh as new lettuce leaves at the start, and see-through so a bit of wood and vanilla come out.  It doesn’t last long, but while it’s there it delights.

    Mazzolari’s Fleurs d’Oranger (women) is a light jasmine and orange eau de toilette only available in Europe.  Yes, it’s a bit floral, but the musk underneath grounds the scent.  Want to cut the floral a bit?  Try pairing it with CDG Rhubarb.

    On a budget?  Try the Egyptian musk oil and black Madina musk oil from Madina in Brooklyn.  The Egyptian oil is a light musk with a faint hint of cucumber, while the black Madina musk features an intense patchouli note.  The oils are heavy in consistency and absorb well into the skin.  You can buy a pound of the Egyptian musk (yes, I do mean 16 ounces) for just $19 while it’s on sale, and the black musk runs $24.  Smaller quantities are available.  I slather on the Egyptian musk most mornings when I step out of the shower, and it makes a subtle backdrop for other fragrances and is also perfect on its own.

    The man in my life offered his wrists and forearms a few times as I was writing this.  While he didn’t try all the fragrances listed above, his favorite was Montale’s Musk to Musk.  And I do agree:  it smelled wonderful on him.

    But that doesn’t mean I’m ready to share.  Unisex does not mean uni-bottle.end of article

    Maureen Gibbon

    About the author

    Maureen Gibbon's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Playboy and She is the author of the novel Swimming Sweet Arrow.

    All articles by Maureen Gibbon

    From the Basenotes Fragrance Directory

    The following fragrances and houses are mentioned in this article. (In order of appearance...)

    Elizabeth Arden Inc

    Halston Z-14 by Halston (1976).
    Charlie / Charlie Blue by Revlon (1973).
    Sweet Honesty by Avon (1973).
    Jicky by Guerlain (1889).
    Kingdom by Alexander McQueen (2003).
    Musk to Musk by Montale.
    parfums*PARFUMS Series 5 Sherbet: Rhubarb by Comme des Garçons (2003).
    Mazzolari Fleurs d'Oranger by Mazzolari.

Useful Links
Read, View, Friend, Follow

Get in touch
BCM Box 1111
London WC1N 3XX
United Kingdom