As we gear up for another Christmas my thoughts have enevitably turned to the annual fragrance onslaught that begins right about…now. In an effort to prise our hard-earned pennies from us, fragrance houses around the world unleash their new scents in time for the gift bonanza that is the festive season. And what have we in store for us this year? Well, let me be frank here folks – not much.
It’s a constant source of disappointment to me that fragrance houses find it almost impossible to come up with anything decent, distinctive or vaguely original these days. Instead, consumed by greed, seduced by celebrity endorsement and appealing to the lowest common denominator, they rush collectively for generic, inoffensive fragrances that reek of nothing more than the average provincial nightclub.
It’s a strategy I call ‘Bland Ambition’ – one which is all about shifting as many units as possible in order to fund the next lacklustre launch and to keep the brand bandwagon rolling. In my more cynical moments I convince myself that there’s a giant vat marked ‘generic men’s fragrance’ located somewhere in the depths of Eastern Europe where all the fragrance houses go to get their juices. I can see a giant factory where huge workforces spend days combining notes of black pepper, cedarwood and bergamot and doing unspeakable things with (excuse me while I yawn) tonka beans.
So where’s the evidence for this bland ambition? Well, of the most recent contenders we have Calvin Klein’s new fragrance CK Free (about as memorable as that bloke in the suit who won 2007’s X-Factor), Banana Republic’s Republic Of Men (which sure as hell ain’t gonna start any revolutions of its own) and Kylie’s Inverse For Men, a men’s fragrance (and I use the term loosely) which could only have been created with one man in mind and his name’s Bruno.
What amazes me is how so many different notes, in so many fragrances, can be combined only to emerge smelling exactly the same. It’s a bit like playing with Plasticine. You start off with some truly lovely colours but however you mix them the result is always… boring brown.
There are exceptions of course. Roger & Gallet’s L’Homme is delightfully masculine, Davidoff’s Hot Water is a first-class (and sexy) new evening fragrance, Paul Smith Man is (like the designer’s clothing) fantastically wearable if not entirely envelope-pushing, and Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver is about as good as masculine fragrance gets. You pay a little more for the latter but trust me, it’s head and shoulders above anything else around at the moment.
Thank God, too, for Aramis’ Gentleman’s Collection – the relaunch of six classic fragrances where every one’s a winner. Oldies, yes, but goodies one-and-all and still capable of giving most new launches a run for their money. If ever you wanted evidence that they don’t make ’em like they used to the Aramis Collection is it.
If you think I’m being snobbish here (Mr Ford’s fragrance is up to three times the price as your average bottle of Hugo Boss) I assure you I’m not. And just to prove it, I can tell you that in all honestly, one of the most interesting fragrances I’ve smelt all year is Flame – the fragrance launched by ‘The House of Burger King’ and fronted not by a shirtless Josh Holloway but by the man we all love to hate, Piers Morgan. Whether this is a reflection on its surprising excellence or on the quality of the competition is for you to decide.