TSAR by Van Cleef & Arpels – a blast from the guru’s past


My love affair with fragrance began in the mid eighties and by the end of the decade I was hooked. Having a partner who, at the time, sold them as a Saturday job (in a department store not out of a suitcase I hasten to add) helped, of course, because it meant I got an endless supply of dinky samples to try. And so began my love affair with the smelly stuff.

Years on, I’m having much fun re-discovering the fragrances I remember from my youth (and reliving the memories they bring). TSAR by Van Cleef & Arpels is one fragrance I’m amazed I actually wore back then though. Smelling it now, this ballsy fougere is way too grown up a fragrance for a 21-year-old.

It’s strength and boldness really is something to behold. In fact, spraying it is a bit like landing a punch. As a fragrance it’s warm, slightly soapy, a bit leathery and incredibly spicy. This comes, in part, from a pungent pepper note, one that I suspect wasn’t quite so ubiquitous in 1989, when the fragrance launched, as it is now. The base notes – moss, leather and patchouli – give it a distinctly trad flavour which is why I’m more inclined to recommend it for older guys.

If anything, though, it offers a fascinating insight into how fragrance companies saw men in the 1980s. Like a lot of things in that much-maligned decade TSAR it’s decidedly over-blown, bombastic and in-your-face – the giant shoulder pad of men’s fragrances if you like.

We can be heroes!

So much is written about today’s uber-preened, fake-tanned, concealer-wearing, eyebrow-plucked, immaculately-coiffed, occasionally ‘androgenous’ male that it’s easy to forget that actually, it’s nothing new at all.

When I read about the likes of Andrej Pejic I’m utterly unmoved by the hyperbole and hoo-hah, possibly because I’m old enough to remember all of this first time around, back in the early Eighties, when such a sight wasn’t confined to the catwalk or an obscure,  fash-mag cover but regularly popped up on Top Of The Pops, at tea-time, courtesy of Boy George and Marylin. How’s that for subversive mainstream exposure? Times have changed, of course, and male beautification – for want of a better word –  isn’t such a big deal, which is why I can’t be shocked by Pejic’s ‘most beautiful man in the word’ act (David Sylvian got there first anyway).

In reality, of course, whilst I say ‘first time around’  those eighties ‘gender-benders’ (for that’s what they were dubbed back then) and parading peacocks had themselves been inspired by Bolan and Bowie, who had in turn clocked people like Elvis (with his dyed quiff) and Little Richard –  a man no stranger to an inch of make-up, even back in the fifties. How my dad, a huge fan of Tutti Frutti, never spotted the eyeliner I’ll never know.

But I digress. My main reason for writing this blog is to alert you all to the photographs of Graham Smith – a man who was, to use Gary Kemp of Spandau’s words, ‘at the centre of this vortex that spun out of Soho during those heady days’.

As a clubber frequenting New Romantic haunts such as the Blitz, Billy’s and Le Beat Route he wasn’t just a chronicler of the scene he was part of it. His photos (he discovered the negatives stashed away in his attic a while back) are now to made into a lavish book chronicling the times, with text supplied by Blue Rondo a la Turk frontman-turned-writer  Chris Sullivan.

As a social document of the time it’s going to be a fascinating, visual feast and as a child of the eighties I’m looking forward to recapturing my  youth via its pages. It’s essential reading, too, for all those wide-eyed Gen Yers out there who think that Pejic is patient zero. To them I say ‘this is how it’s done!’

For more information about We Can Be Heroes by Graham Smith go to www.unbound.co.uk


Noxzema Protective Shave: a blast from my past

Once upon a time, way back in the 1980s, when male grooming was still in its infancy, if a vaguely exotic skincare product  emerged I would cling to it. At the time few of my friends really bothered with fancy shaving gear or moisturisers but I was obsessed. And Noxzema – iconic American shaving brand – was one of the products I fought hard to get hold of.

Thankfully, a new UK distributor has recent brought it to the masses over here. Back in the eighties I seem to remember it stocked by the odd barber shop and advertised in the back of trendy style mags. The first time I smelt the bracing Methol version I was captivated, so much so that I actually couldn’t wait to shave (a concept hard for me to imagine these days) and the moment I smelt it again this morning I was instantly transported back to 1987.

As a brand Noxzema has been around for yonks, launching its first shave cream in the Fifties and the shaving foams 30 years ago, so having lasted this long you know it’s doing something right.

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of shaving foams, finding them too drying but the Noxzema ones are an exception. They’re rich, creamy, refreshing, dermatologically tested and deliver great results. What’s more (and I know these things matter to many) there’s also something reassuring about the delightfully solid and chunky cans they come in.

Noxzema is available nationwide priced £5.95 for a 300ml can. There are five variants but it’s the Menthol one that will also ways do it for me. For more info go to www.noxzemaproducts.com