Praise the Lord! The Helmut Lang fragrances are back!

HELMUT LANG FRAGRANCESBack in the late Nineties, I, like a lot of people I know became faintly obsessed by Helmut Lang (I still have a few choice pieces of his clothing that I lovingly looked after and can still – sort of – fit into. The elegant simplicity, austere colour palette and sheer wearability of the Austrian designer’s clothes dovetailed beautifully with my own personal aesthetic at the time. And I can still remember the excitement I felt when his first fragrances launched at the turn of the millennium. I wore both the Eau De Cologne (to work most days when I was Deputy Editor of Men’s Health magazine) and the sexier, leathery, suedey Cuiron, which came along a couple of years later, in the evenings. People always commented on them positively and the fragrances themselves were almost universally praised by the press and by perfume lovers. Then, one day in 2005, those two fragrances – along with another scent, Helmut Lang Eau de Parfum – were discontinued and people who still had bottles guarded them jealously while others scoured the internet for remaining stock, often paying ridiculous prices just to secure a bottle of their favourite. But now, a decade later, production has started again. I meant to write about these fragrances just before Christmas but only now have I had the chance to review them properly.

HELMUT LANG PARFUMSo have they changed? To my nose (and I’m having to go by memory here since it’s been a long time since caught a whiff of them) the Cologne – a powdery but musky mix of rosemary, cedarwood, sandalwood, vanilla and patchouli – smells soapier than I remember while Cuiron – still deliciously leathery, woody and peppery –  is as smooth and sexy as ever and seems faithful to the original, even if it may not be quite so punchy. Of the three, however, it’s the soft, musky Eau de Parfum, with its floral heart, sensual base notes and hint of Germolene (yes, really), that stands out for me this time around. It has a wonderfully lazy, nuzzly sensuality to it. The packaging, of course, remains as impossibly chic now as it was back in the Noughties though the bottle design has been standardised for these relaunches (Eau de Parfum had a slightly different bottle back in the day).

I must say, I’ve greeted these returning fragrances like old friends and I’m overjoyed that someone, somewhere finally saw fit to bring them back to life after a decade of being in what amounts to an olfactory coma. Now, if I can only squeeze into that lovely black Helmut Lang shirt I kept everything would be right with the world…

Helmut Lang’s Eau de Cologne, Curion and Eau de Parfum are available from Liberty priced £130 each.

London calling…

Tom-Ford-London-GQ_25Jul13_pr_b_1There’s a real flurry of activity in the Tom Ford Beauty camp this autumn, with so many great things launching in such a short space of time that devotees like myself don’t really know what to mention (or wear) first. As well as the immaculately turned-out Texan’s first dedicated male grooming range and Private Blend Oud Collection (I nearly wet myself when I saw that for the first time) there’s London, a brand new fragrance specifically created to celebrate the launch of the new Tom Ford store in Knightsbridge.

The press release for London is littered with words like “carnality”, aphrodisiac”, “animal” and “feral” and for once with a press release they’re worlds that perfectly capture the spirit of the fragrance they’re describing. Though it has a lovely floral heart, with geranium and jasmine, and a base rich with oud, cedarwood and birch tar oil (one of my favourite notes), it’s the musk that grabs you. It’s this hyper-sexual note – one I tend to associate with Roja Dove’s men’s fragrances – that turns London into one of the most sensual fragrances in the entire Private Blend collection.

I remember talking to a perfumer from across the pond who’d had lovers all over the world and she told me the men from London, despite their coyness and reserve, were by far the kinkiest she’d encountered. This unisex fragrance may well just reinforce that observation.

Tom Ford Private Blend London will be available from the Tom Ford Boutique from September priced £140 for 50ml eau de parfum.

Undergreen Black: at last a fragrance with balls

The fragrance industry,when it comes to men’s fragrances at least, is in the doldrums: there I’ve said it. Launch after launch produces generic, nondescript scents aimed at followers rather than leaders. Fragrance by focus group rules.  As I’ve said before, it’s all about bland ambition. Increasingly fragrances rely on fancy bottles to disguise the pedestrian juices inside, like someone masking unwashed hair with a dry shampoo. There are no classics in the making anymore. And I seriously worry for the guy who’s 22 today because his current scent squeeze will be dead and gone by the time he’s 30 (if not 25). He’ll certainly be hard pushed to have anything to reminisce about when he’s 40.

So when I come across something at least having a go I cling to it like a life raft. Which is where Undergreen‘s latest fragrance Black comes in. It actually launched exclusively at Harvey Nichols last month and a sample has been sitting on my desk since then, hidden under a pile of press releases.

Anyway, the upshot is that I love it. Key to its allure is a mega-punchy liquorice note which works beautifully with the black pepper top note and trio of woods at its base. It also has that fusty, churchy smell I absolutely love in fragrances.

Ok, so Undergreen is a niche brand able to take risks and a bottle will set you back three times as much as something from the high street (though you do get a 100ml eau de parfum for your investment) but trust me, it’s worth it. Trust me, right now, niche is where it’s at.

Undergreen Black Classic Edition costs £120 for 100ml eau de parfum. Available from Harvey Nichols.

Grooming Guru essentials: Mark Birley For Men Charles Street – this Autumn’s sexiest new fragrance for men

Though I lead a charmed life (come on, I sniff fragrances and test moisturisers for a living) it’s remarkably rare that I come across products I’d actually use myself and those that I do are documented in the Grooming Guru Essentials part of this blog. It’s rare too that I’m instantly captivated by a product. Yet, this is exactly what happened the other day with Mark Birley’s Charles Street fragrance, which was only recently released.

Birley, founder of clubs like Annabel’s, Harry’s Bar and Mark’s Club (on Charles Street , Mayfair, hence the name) has come up with just the kind of fragrance I love – leathery, smoky, musky and uncompromisingly masculine – and one which includes some of my favourite notes, including patchouli and tuberose. It’s also as sexy as hell (a quick straw poll of my friends revealed that both men and women loved it).

Call me old-fashioned but to my mind, Charles Street is how men should smell. Sure, it’s not the kind of fragrance you’re going to wear if you’re a 23-year-old clubber but if you’re a man of the world and a bit of a fragrance connisseur you should definitely give it a whirl.  In fact, if you’re only buying one fragrance for yourself this Autumn, I’d suggest you make it this one.

Mark Birley for Men: Charles Street is available from Harrods, priced £48.50 for 75ml eau de parfum

Grooming Guru Essentials are the products I genuinely love and have used as part of my own routine.