100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 9: The Seventies
by, 16th September 2011 at 05:51 AM (13744 Views)
To be honest, I had always kind of considered the seventies a bit of a lost decade for menís scents. After Aramis opened the doors to the mainstream, fragrance was no longer the realm of educated aficionados Ė leading to the first real dumbing down of perfumery, especially on the masculine side. There were more new scents, but they often smelled similar, leaving, at least to my nose, the 70's as a largely unremarkable haze of Lemon Pledge topnotes and ubiquitous hawthorn-laden drydowns.
But, talking with one of San Franciscoís more renowned perfume experts, he made the argument that the 70's were an amazing time for menís scents. Their popularity (of which I only acknowledged the bad side) mixed with the experimental nature of the times allowed for some really amazing scents to be made that could never have come out in any other period. He called it ďcharacterĒ and said thatís why you had so many 70's masculines that no one can copy to this day, one of a kind creations that straddled genres and established dynasties. With that in mind, I give you my pick of outstanding 70's characters.
27. Eau de Campagne by Sisley
A week or so ago in my ďjust go out and smell stuffĒ post, I specifically suggested that everyone go out and smell tomato leaves. Theyíre deeply green, grassy, vegetal, and bright. Theyíre a wonderful smell, but incredibly difficult to work with in perfumery, because, at least in liquid form, they carry with them a horrifying undertone of bile and vomit. Any perfumer working with tomato leaf has to put a lot of work into masking the puke smell somehow, and almost everyone fails. Some get away with a tomato leaf note by burying it deep in the mix, but as far as I can find, Eau de Campagne (arguably Jean Claude Ellenaís first and possibly still his finest masterwork) is the only scent with a really prominent, obvious tomato leaf note to actually smell good.
Campagne is a chypre, with the bergamot and labdanum and mossy base, with that bright green explosion of tomato leaf on top. It has a masculine heart of hawthorn and it gets soapy (in a white floral/white musk sort of way) over time. If you look for it, you can spot the bile note, but it works as a balance to the hyper-clean soapy notes, so itís not very bothersome.
Anyway, the first spray of Eau de Campagne is one of the finest moments in all of perfumery Ė if you havenít smelled it yet, please try.
28. Yatagan by Caron
You want character? Smell some Yatagan!
In theory, Yatagan is a fairly standard 70ís woody chypre. Itís got the skeleton of bergamot, labdanum, and oakmoss, masculinized with the standard Aramis dark green herbs and a shot of hawthorn. Its genius came from the realization that a big slug of pine would work wonders in tandem with that hawthorn.
Hawthorn is an interesting note. It pretty much defined the 70ís masculine smell, but it's rarely discussed any more. Apparently, itís technically a flower, but with a smell thatís kind of like lemony wood, but waxy enough to feel kind of leathery. As with anything else that has defined an era, it smells pretty dated today, but itís a fantastic, nuanced note. In combining it with pine, Yatagan found a perfect pairing. The end result is leathery and dirty, but alive with forest smells and a huge spicy smell akin to peppery sawdust in a woodshop full of sweaty lumberjacks. Somehow, despite its obvious woody chypre classification, it has a subtly ďorientalĒ character, with a resinous grassy patchouli undertone that keeps it from simply smelling like wood.
29. Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene
Poor Grey Flannel. It survives today as a super-cheap discount store scent, where itís generally assumed that it sucks because itís old and inexpensive. Plus, itís got a really distinctive smell thatís actually quite artistic and interesting, but the unexpected smell mixed with the low price lead many to assume that itís simply crap.
Honestly, itís hard to describe what Grey Flannel smells like. Itís heavy on the violet leaf (which doesnít smell like violets or like leaves, or like Green Irish Tweed, despite that being most peoples' reference violet leaf scent). Itís got a lavender brightness to it, but itís a very dark smell, like a mossy forest, but with an almost metallic green darkness to it. If you can imagine the smell of the thick night air outside a house bordering on a huge mossy forest on a hot dry night with the smell of lightning in the air while someone around you picks lavender while wearing a typical 60ís menís cologne, youíd be close to imagining Grey Flannel. Sort of.
30. Polo by Ralph Lauren
Honestly, I mostly put Polo in todayís entry because it technically came out in 1978, but really, itís the smell of the 80ís in a bottle.
For most of the 80ís, I remember Polo as sort of classy and yet everywhere, making it the heir to Aramis as the luxury-branded but attainable mall scent that the masses wore when they dressed up. But what keeps Polo on this list is that itís managed to keep that status for decades now. It seems like everyoneís dad wears Polo. Itís what conservative upper class white retirees put on after a game of golf so they smell nice when they meet their wives in the clubhouse for brunch.
Iím honestly not sure how Polo has managed to stay so ubiquitous for so long. Itís pretty unremarkable, as scents go. Itís got a bunch of lavender in it, as well as those same Aramis dark masculine herbs. It has a nice cinnamony mace note that dominates the drydown, which is definitely its best attribute. It also has a chemical quality to it Ė a sense of chemical freshness that doesnít really smell like much of anything, but broadcasts out away from the wearer. This chemical freshness mixed with the bright, almost metallic lavender has probably been Poloís biggest contribution to masculine perfumery, as this would go on to become a huge trend years later.
31. MŻre et Musc by LíArtisan Parfumeur
From 1978, MŻre et Musc is arguably the earliest niche perfume on my list. Sure, weíve already had entries from Penhaligonís and other non-mainstream houses, but LíArtisan has always felt to me (along with Diptyque) as the grandparents of the modern niche perfume industry. Theyíre not a fashion label or a centuries-old perfume company, but a small business making perfumes specifically designed to be artful and to appeal to a small group of aficionados instead of the mass market. And MŻre et Musc is a picture-perfect example of this.
This is still the 70ís after all, so MŻre et Musc (and Iím talking about the legendary original, not the completely different Extreme version, which is more of an experiment in rubbery fruity leather) is a chypre, just like everything else on todayís list. Itís leafy and green and has, at its core, a big candied blackberry note sitting right in the middle where the hawthorn would be in a standard menís scent from the era. Itís a bit soapy and not musky at all, really.
Itís unisex in that itís a leafy green chypre, and the only thing openly feminine about it is the blackberry and the notable absence of masculinizing elements like the aforementioned hawthorn. In short, itís sweet and not ugly, which for some men is enough to make it feel awkward. Which will be the theme of tomorrowís upcoming epic postÖ
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