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Wild Gardener

Beauty and the Brut

Rating: 3 votes, 3.33 average.
There's nothing special about the Great Smell of Brut; it was just a good fougère, nice - but nothing revolutionary. What made Brut great, and a big success, was something more subtle - attitude.

It's a sweet and pleasant little thing that never - at any time - resembles the brute it purports to be. The balance of sweet, green and anisic is alright, but that doesn't explain the phenomenal success that Brut enjoyed in the 1970's when - for a generation - it became the male scent de rigueur. The reason why Brut was such a big success wasn't its scent but its sociological profile.

After the Swinging Sixties there had been a permissive attitude abroad in Western society. The 'live and let live' philosophy engendered by the Summer of Love had yet to be tested by the shocks of economic slump and mass immigration that Britain went through following the 1973 Oil Crisis. It was typical that during these difficult days the sweet, soft and comforting scent that was Brut for Men really took off. Karl Mann's perfume had been around since 1964 but it hadn't made much of an impression on the patchouli soaked era of Flower Power and it took a change in the political climate for it to really come into its own.

Then, enter stage left : an unlikely pair of lads. A heavyweight boxer by the name of Henry Cooper (sadly not a brute at all but avuncular and smiley) and a heartthrob footballer with a bubble perm hairdo called Kevin Keegan, both of them massively popular sports stars who appealed to different constituencies of young(ish) men; the England striker for the younger teens and boys, and for the the older guys the World Champion boxer - an iconic figure when pugilism was still a regular spectacle on national TV.

Both of them had massive reach and this dubious double act performed in a series of dodgy TV adverts, getting up to sporty antics - often with cringeingly wooden dialogue (what could you expect - they were sportsmen after all, not actors) and always with a bottle of Brut close to hand. The ads invariably ended with the punch line 'splash it all over.'

This was evidently all too much for young guys like me and in no time at all youth clubs and football terraces across the land reeked of the stuff. The fact that it smelled good, and that girls seemed to like it did the sales figures no harm at all. That Brut had effectively no competition in the youth market also helped it on its way. And on the subject of marketing, only Old Spice figures to a similar extent in my recollection of TV advertising of the period, and that was in an exotic surf boarding, gravelly voiced, Mark of a Man kind of way. It didn't say much to a teenager from a remote industrial town like me and I never bought the stuff.

There seemed to be nothing that could stand in the way of Fabergé's gargantuan beast and it roared away to spectacular success. Round my neck of the woods at least, by the mid 1970's the great smell of Brut had become to young men's perfumery what Hoover became to the vacuum cleaner, ubiquitous.

Brut was a good scent, no doubt about that, but what was really great about it wasn't the smell but the phenomenon it embodied. It made perfume, as opposed to 'aftershave' acceptable to a new generation of males; aftershave in this case being the Old Spice, Eau Sauvage, Aramis etc that your dad smelled of when he emerged from the bathroom in the morning. Brut was different, partly because it was much sweeter than any of that Old Man stuff, and partly because it was implicitly marketed as part of a post-sport freshen up. Although it doesn't smell like it, Brut was actually the first Sport scent; it was intended to perfume the whole body and not just your chin after shaving.

At the same time that it was busy conquering Britain, Brut - almost by accident - democratised mens perfumery in a similar way to that in which Coty had brought affordable and attractive perfume to ordinary French women half a century earlier. With Brut, masculine perfumery now appeared in modest British homes and it was wearing an egalitarian face. No longer the playboy or the surfer, the image was now the easy, down to earth charm of the boxer and the slightly self conscious gawky prettiness of the footballer. They were perfect for introducing this new - and still suspiciously effeminate idea of perfumery to young working class men, who could now copy their role models, safe in the knowledge that 'real men on the TV' (whisper it) wear perfume, and so it was ok for everyone else to wear it too. Perfume for a new generation of men was no longer just the same old 'aftershave' your dad wore, it was, for the time being at least, Brut.

This was the real achievement of the people at Fabergé, they took the the stuff in the green Tabasco sauce bottle with a medallion round it's neck and made it appeal to young men. More than that, Brut made it socially acceptable for ordinary guys to smell - not just 'rugged' or 'fresh' in a serious, leathery spicy or eau de cologne kind of way but simply nice.


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Updated 14th February 2019 at 08:25 PM by Wild Gardener

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Loving perfume on the Internet since 2000