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100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 26: The Legends Of Niche Part 2 - The 90's

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The Legends Of Niche, Part 2 – The 1990’s

78. Gendarme by Gendarme

In 1991, Gendarme created the first anti-perfume. As the story goes, its founder was allergic or sensitive to ingredients in the scents of the times, so he created a mix of soapy notes and clean laundry chemicals that smelled like a hyper-exaggeration of “clean.” Then, in one of the best ironies in the whole world of perfume, he combined this over-the-top clean smell with an incredibly dirty musky base – it wasn’t the artist-rendered poop of classic French perfumes, but a literal dirty genital smell that has led astute reviewers to call Gendarme the smell a woman's extremely soapy private parts.

All that aside, Gendarme has been incredibly influential, as well as incredibly popular, considering it’s a tiny Los Angeles-based perfume company. Massive corporate entities like Clean and Philosophy have not only stolen Gendarme’s smell and beliefs, but even gone so far as to steal the founder’s personal backstory and advertise it as their own. Meanwhile, established French perfumers, clearly inspired by Gendarme, have created their own blends of extreme clean notes with extremely dirty undertones (Mugler Cologne springs to mind as an example) or, even more sadly, missed the ironic point and put out fabric softener smells in a bottle (like Luten’s L’Eau or Miyake’s A Scent).

As such, Gendarme is required sniffing for its historical importance and influence, as well as its artful irony.

79. Brandy by Brandy

Sometime in the late 1990’s, Patricia Namm was enchanted by a horse named Brandy that pulled a carriage in New York’s Central Park. Though she wasn’t officially a perfumer, she decided that she wanted to create a perfume that the horse would like. Thus, Brandy was born.

If the world of fine art has outsider artists (untrained people from outside the hoity toity art world who nonetheless create great art almost by accident and go on to influence the establishment), the world of haute perfumery has Brandy. This mix of spices and fruits picked to appeal to a horse was discovered by perfume aficionados and the industry alike and has slowly grown to become one of niche perfumery’s more influential scents.

So what does it smell like? Well, as you might guess, it smells great. And its real importance comes from its incredible twists and turns. If you remember, I named Duchoufour’s Paestum Rose as my ultimate example of an art scent for its constantly evolving study of the smells of Tuscany. Well, what that did for Italian smells, Brandy does for fruit, spices, and booze. It’s an intricate mosaic of peach cobbler, hot mulled apple cider, the finest Vin Santo wine, a kitchen herb garden, mom’s apple pie, Christmas baking, the most expensive cognac, homemade butterscotch caramel, and a fabulous aged tawny port. You never smell the same thing twice when you wear it, but it always smells both good and interesting.

The whole mix does have a bit of charming amateurishness to it – it clearly contains essential oils where a fancy French perfumer would have used synthetics, so it can have a subtle headshop quality to it, but it’s endearing instead of off-putting. As for its influence, many current niche lines have tried their best to recreate some of its magic. Bois 1920’s popular Sushi Imperial is one of the most flagrant copies, though I believe it could be argued that it also influenced Jean-Claude Ellena’s excellent Ambre Narguille.

80. Luctor Et Emergo by People Of The Labyrinths

When I meet a long-time perfume fiend, I always ask them about their experience first trying to hunt down Luctor Et Emergo. This perfume, in 1998, was apparently a bit of an explosion. Somehow, the news of this weirdly-named, obscenely obscure perfume from a tiny Dutch clothing company got out and all the collectors HAD to try it. Entire trips to New York were planned on the hopes that Aedes would have a bottle in stock, while homemade sample vials were traded like gold. Imagine all the hype we see for Pure Malt or Dior Homme Intense, but with no internet to buy it and only a few stores in the world carrying it, so it would be almost impossible to sniff… In short, when people talk about a cult fragrance, Luctur Et Emergo is basically the definition of what they mean.

Of course, it smells good, too. As far as descriptions go, it reminds me quite a bit of Le Male (that sweet but not quite edible mix of vanilla and papery tobacco), but with a lot more to fill it out. There’s a boozy cherry on top, as well as subtle pie spices and a thick marzipan quality to it that calls to mind both Turkish Delight candy and heliotrope. Of course, it’s been many years, and samples are much easier to come by, so Luctor has long since stopped creating the panics it used to, but it’s still very much worth a sniff.

81. 10 Corso Como by 10 Corso Como

Imagine an oud perfume released by an Italian luxury store in 1999, long before the niche oud explosion of today, and sold mostly to women. There was really nothing to compare 10 Corso Como to at the time. Truly hardcore perfume collectors may have smelled real oud oil, but absolutely no one was combining oud with traditional French “oriental” notes back then. As such, 10 Corso Como, despite being incredibly rare, was a must-sniff for perfume fanatics in the know.

At its core, 10 Corso Como is actually a rich mix of sandalwood and incense reminiscent of Santal Noble, but with a pinch of oud in there (Alternately, it could almost be an abstraction of Avignon with oud and sweetness where the smoky cedar would be). It’s got rubbery leather facets that call to mind Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather, as well as a sweet mix of cherry and rose that gives the scent a subtle “perfumey” femininity, but it could easily be worn by men in the same way as any rich “oriental” mix.


  1. morrison74's Avatar
    Very interesting read indeed!
  2. mr. reasonable's Avatar
    Nice to see Corso Como pop up, good call! I like this one.


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