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100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 29: Basenotes Darlings - The Classics

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For anyone just joining me, this rather epic list of 100 scents is inspired by this list from Now Smell This. I wanted to do something similar, but from a masculine perspective. As I keep stating, Iím no expert and I have no qualifications to do this whatsoever. Itís all in fun and I hope that anyone with any suggestions or complaints will take the time to comment.

With that, any discussion of scents here has to include the Basenotes favorites, the often-recommended scents that inspire multiple threads. As frustrating as Basenotes can get with ill-informed arguments and the constant barrage of new kids who still think that the right cologne can get you laid, itís only fair to say that, when the people of Basenotes get behind a scent en masse, itís almost always a really good one, worth sniffing for its own merits as well as just so you know what everyoneís talking about. With that, I give you my theme for the next few days:

The Basenotes Darlings Ė The Classics

87. Havana by Aramis

People are weird. We seem to have a special affinity for things that come out long after their supposed obsolescence. We prize songs from the Doors that came out long after the hippie movement had come and gone, and todayís metalheads obsess with 90ís metal, the stuff that came out long after grunge had rendered heavy metal obsolete and kind of lame. Thereís something about the passage of time that forgives people for being too late to the party. Stuff that felt laughably dated when it came out can feel especially sincere 15 years later.

With that, I give you Havana. It was a stereotypically masculine woody chypre powerhouse that came out about 7 years too late to truly matter. And while that was the reason for its quick death, it also meant that Havana had the luxury of time to study its fallen powerhouse brethren and figure out how to do what they did extremely well.

Like most masculine chypres, itís a dense smell, difficult to pick apart. It has the requisite woody chypre feel, but minus all of the less desirable stereotypical elements (no hawthorn overdose or cheap Lemon Pledge topnotes). It fills in its open spaces with a spicy woody blend of notes, especially heavy on the mace, which does a remarkable job of simultaneously smelling kind of tobacco-ish and coffee-ish. In short, itís like the best of everything powerhouses did, done exceptionally well.

Havana is also on here as a bit of a warning not to get too excited by internet chatter. While it was discontinued for years, everyone desperately wanted to smell Havana. Bottles sold for hundreds of dollars on eBay and tiny samples were quietly passed between old-timers like liquid gold. Everyone who smelled it testified to how amazing it was.

Then, Aramis re-released it and everyone just went to the mall and sniffed it and the result was basically just a resounding ďmeh.Ē Havana actually is very good at what it does, but the ridiculous over-hype led to a rather massive letdown, which isnít really fair, considering that Havana is actually an exceptionally good scent. So sample it with an open mind, and youíll be rewarded.

88. Patou Pour Homme Privť by Jean Patou

From what I can see, Patou Pour Homme Privť has replaced Havana here on Basenotes as the most lamented discontinuation in menís perfumery. It gets nothing but good reviews and is spoken of with tearful worship whenever it comes up in conversation. Like Havana, itís an old-smelling scent that came out in the mid-90ís, so it was fairly unfashionable from the get-go, which is probably what foretold its demise.

In terms of smell, itís a classic fougere (a mix of lavender and coumarin like Jicky or Caronís Pour Un Homme, though it doesnít share their poopy qualities), but with a sparkly aldehydic top and a mossy green galbanum that darkens and deepens the upfront lavender, leading to a smell thatís kind of like a mossy forest floor, but with a mentholated brightness from the lavender and a surprising smooth creaminess from a touch of vanilla in the base.

In a way thatís hard to describe, itís cool and aloof, a scent that doesnít want to smell pleasant or approachable, but instead wants to denote power. It really doesnít smell that good, but it would only look down its nose at you if you dared question it. Itís the smell of your bossís boss, the old man who honestly thinks that his time is more important than yours and deeply believes that heís a better person than you because his office is bigger.

To be frank, I donít personally get what the huge deal is with Privť. Itís nice, but I could just as easily wear Grey Flannel, which does the same aloof grey/green lavender thing, albeit with more quirkiness and less aristocratic condescension. Oh, and given a few years, Iím told that aldehydes degrade to vinegar, and thereís a distinct spoiled vinegar undertone in Privť that Iím assuming is this (because itís discontinued, all available samples are of old juice, of course). So, at the risk of being iconoclastic and going against popular opinion, Iím recommending sampling Privť as a sort of a warning not to get too caught up in hype as much as Iím suggesting it as an example of a well-executed fougere, though thoughtful moody lavender fans or anyone looking for a scent that proclaims ďIím the boss Ė fear meĒ may very well discover a favorite.

89. New York by Parfums de Nicolai

New York is another Basenotes favorite that could only have happened in the internet age. Apparently Parfums de Nicolai is a top-shelf drugstore scent at fancy independent European drugstores, but aside from a couple in New York City, America just doesnít have these, so their distribution here is almost nonexistent. Yet somehow, despite the fact that most people canít just go out and buy it, New York has become a Basenotes favorite through word of mouth, constant recommendations, and ordering over the internet.

In a way, New York would have been at home in my earlier post about high-quality late 80ís woody chypres, but its utter obscurity and status as a Basenotes phenomenon landed it a spot here.

So what does it smell like? A late 80ís masculine woody chypre, replete with lemony bergamot topnotes, dirty green herbs, and a mossy chypre base, just like so many others, but with a very clever use of vanilla. Much like how Bois du Portugal uses that soapy sandalwood to give a deep richness to the standard masculine chypre, New York does that with vanilla. This must have been difficult to pull off, mostly because vanilla can cheapen or drown almost anything, and the combinations that New York manages to make smell good realistically should have smelled terrible (Vanilla + basil? Vanilla + moss??).


  1. trex57's Avatar
    I have been your entries as you post them. I want to offer my congrats. on a very well done series. The amount of research thats been done is evident from your writing. Boy, its nice to see someone else who has reservations about Patou. I thought I was the only one. I'll be frank, its pleasant, nice but to me, thats it. I've still have quite a bit but its definitely out of rotation.

    Please keep up the good work. I'll keep reading.

    Regards Rex


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