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100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 25: The Legends Of Niche Part 1 - The 80's

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Long before the internet made it easy to hear about rare fragrances, and many years before Barneys was an upscale chain store, back when The Perfumed Court was a Xerox list of available samples that you received by mail, there were still niche perfumes. Small stores and hotels had their own perfumes, and tiny little companies made interesting, non-mainstream scents. While on one hand, we have it easy now with the rapid spread of information, the days before this benefited from a much larger number of independent perfume stores that would have stocked interesting rarities, but have since mostly been driven out of business by the expansion of luxury department stores in the early 2000ís. Also, decades ago, individual department stores themselves had much more freedom to bring in rare items that they knew would appeal to their specific customer base, before corporate purchasing was centralized, a favorite business tool of the late 90ís.

As such, through slow word of mouth, rare perfumes and small perfume companies found a home long before the internet led to todayís avalanche of niche scents. The amount of work required to sniff these, as well as their rarity, created early legends, almost mythically hard-to-find perfumes that collectors carefully tracked down and fell in love with. Thatís what the next three or four posts will pay tribute to:

The Legends Of Niche, Part 1 Ė The 1980ís

76. No. 88 by Czech & Speake

In 1981, British bathroom fixture and furniture company Czech & Speake introduced No. 88, a fine perfume in the English tradition of Penhaligonís or Floris. Even today, it and the rest of the Czech & Speake line remain pitifully hard to find in America Ė old timers tell tale of C&S refusing to sell to their established independent customers upon being carried by Neiman Marcus, which turned out to be a horrific bridge-burning failure when Neimans subsequently dropped the brand. But bad business decisions and scarcity werenít enough to stop No. 88 from become a cult favorite, largely due to its incredibly complex and appealing smell.

No. 88 is a million complementary things all at once. Itís dark lemony tea and roses drenched in honey. Itís an old-school vinegar-topped chypre and also the powdery soapy smell of an old English barbershop. Itís rare incense and galbanum as well as fresh woody cinnamon bark dusted in chocolate. And somehow it all works. Itís one of those perfumes that seems to smell different every time you sniff yourself, but no matter where it meanders, it always smells good and interesting. Purists will insist that you track down older bottles with more oakmoss in the base, but the current formulation is fantastic (and the lemon wonít have faded like it would have in an old bottle), so I can comfortably endorse saving yourself the effort and just sniffing the new stuff.

77. Santal Noble by MaÓtre Parfumeur et Gantier

In 1988, Jean Laporte, the founder of LíArtisan Parfumeur, left and started MaÓtre Parfumeur et Gantier. The perfumes from his initial 1988 release are still widely recognized as the lineís best (his Iris Bleu Gris is a benchmark in funky cheesy iris perfumes and Route de Vťtiver is a well-respected study in vetiverís inherent roughness) and Santal Noble is widely regarded as the cream of the crop.

As you can probably tell from my descriptions of their other works, MaÓtre Parfumeur et Gantier tended to pick a note and focus on bringing out its largely unexplored, potentially difficult undercurrents. In the case of Santal Noble, itís a play on the buttery and sweaty undertones of sandalwood.

Honestly, most people simply find Santal Noble to be a nice, simple sandalwood perfume, creamy like Tam Dao, but rich and woody where Tam Dao is subtle and human. But Santal Noble is one of those perfumes that rewards repeated wearings or those people who have devoted time to really trying to learn how to dissect a perfume. Much like Spiriteuese Double Vanille, it takes time and experience for it to really show off what makes it so special, even though itís smells perfectly nice to just about everyone.

So what does it smell like? Sandalwood, duh. But with balsams in the base to make it buttery and give it that rich incense creaminess. Thereís a pinch of cumin that mixes with the buttery elements to smell like Indian food frying in a spice-dusted bazaar, as well as a gentle pool of spiced amber underneath. There are very dry oak and rosewood notes lending a sawdust element, and somehow all of this combines to also smell like dusty, ancient books, while the whole thing still basically smells like sandalwood with all of these artful counterpoints coming and going.

Updated 15th November 2011 at 04:43 AM by rogalal



  1. mr. reasonable's Avatar
    Two of my favourites - really enjoying how the series is evolving!


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