100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 8: The Sixties
by, 13th September 2011 at 12:28 AM (8418 Views)
For my next installment, itís time for the sixties!
Menís Classics Ė The Sixties
24. Vetiver by Guerlain
Another legend from Guerlain.
Apparently, vetiver (the plant) was first introduced to Haiti in the 40ís by plantation owners hoping to sell it to European perfume companies. The locals quickly developed a scented all-purpose tonic (along the same lines as bay rum) using vetiver, as well as other local ingredients (generally lemongrass and nutmeg). It spread through the islands, including Cuba, which was a very fashionable luxury vacation destination at the time, so it wasnít long before European perfumers discovered the recipe.
Being French perfumers, they inserted the island recipe into a chypre structure, being the fashion of the day. And if there was ever a combination of ingredients that were more suited to fit into a chypre structure, I havenít smelled them. It was (and still is) a magical alchemy of smells. The lemongrass extends the citrus topnotes of the chypre and effortlessly melds it into the green grassy characteristics of the vetiver, while the nutmeg provides a woody continuity. The vetiver cements the whole thing together, fusing the citrus with the mossy basenotes.
Most of the big French houses released similar vetiver scents in the early 60ís. Iím honestly not sure who was first, but I do know that Givenchy released theirs a few years before Guerlain. But I picked Guerlain for this list because, even if it wasnít first, itís definitely the benchmark and the easiest to still go out and smell after 50 years of continuous production. To this day, most vetiver scents released are very clearly inspired by Guerlainís formula (Jo Maloneís Vetyver and Tom Fordís Grey Vetiver spring to mind).
25. Aramis by Aramis
In a way, Aramis is on this list for cultural importance more than how it smells, but itís still required sniffing.
From what I read, scents for men were simply sold differently than we know now up until Aramis. Regular folks had their barbershop/drugstore aftershaves. These fancy scents weíve talked about up until now were available, but itís not like your average Joe on the street would have ever heard of Guerlain Vetiver. Fine menís perfumery was reserved for urbane Europeans and the well-traveled rich, sold exclusively at the finest tailors or expensive big-city luxury stores.
But by 1965, when Aramis came out, Estee Lauder (the company behind Aramis) had enormous success in the emerging suburban malls, with a combination of perfume and makeup and skin care products. They were seen as quality products, nicer than drugstore brands, but still widely available, like a line of little luxuries for regular ladies.
With Aramis, they entered the menís market. Aside from filling a void between the expensive and the cheap with a product sold as an attainable luxury, their other stroke of genius was figuring out that women would buy Aramis for their husbands instead of men actually shopping for it themselves.
Thus, Aramis basically created the menís fragrance market as we know it, dominated by affordable luxury lines sold in mid-level department stores. They also really pushed the accoutrements, from matching aftershave to soap to deodorant, another trend thatís still with us today.
So thatís all important, but what makes it required sniffing?
Personally I find Aramis a bit two-dimensional and kind of unimpressive, but itís on the list because itís a fantastic way to get to know a combination of notes that are really common but very difficult to pin down.
Aramis kicks off with its best part, a bright topnote thatís somewhere between puckery bergamot and perfumey pineapple, with green undertones. When the fruit burns off, youíre left with the greens. Itís a dark, kind of gross mix of juniper berry and basil and clary sage that just kind of sits there for hours, as a pathcouli/moss base slowly comes in and continues the green theme with a darkness so deep that itís almost oily.
So why would I make you smell this? Because classic masculine chypres are notoriously difficult to figure out and youíre sure to smell a lot of them. Theyíre dense and heavily mixed and often seem to have a million confusing things going on at once. But, most of what youíll smell in the really baffling powerhouses can be accounted for if you really get to know this simple but complex-smelling fusion of dark greens that Aramis presents in an up-front manner that makes it understandable. As such, itís a fantastic learning tool as well as the grandfather of modern menís fragrance marketing.
26. Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior
If Aramis created the modern cologne marketing plan, it was Eau Sauvage, released the following year in 1966, that created the basic recipe for menís scents that would remain fashionable for decades to come.
Nose Edmond Roudnitska struck gold when he took a very basic chypre recipe (bergamot over galbanum and oakmoss) mixed with the same sort of dark herbs as Aramis and laced it with some simple woods and a chemical called hedione.
Hedione is a hard smell to describe Ė for a split second, it smells sort of like grapefruit, but itís mostly a salty tangy juiciness, as if someone took the sweet bitter pungency of tearing open an orange - that moment where the oils from the rind tickle your nose - and managed to capture just that tingly fresh effect without the actual orange smell.
In conjunction with the bergamot topnotes, the hedione created a whole new kind of citric freshness that was extremely popular. In fact, the topnotes of Eau Sauvage became so popular and so copied that its specific blend of bright, lemony bergamot with that hedione chemical freshness would go on to define that ďbathroom cleanerĒ or ďLemon PledgeĒ smell. As such, it smells pretty dated, but is incredibly important.
But Eau Sauvageís true noteworthiness really comes from the sum of everything it does. From the legendary topnotes to the dark green herbs to the subtle woody hues down to its so-dark-itís-almost-leathery mossy chypre base, Eau Sauvage is the definitive example of a masculine woody chypre, the genre that defined menís perfumery until around 1990, when the oakmoss ban and emergence of aquatic scents ended its reign.
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