April 2016 will see the launch of a brand new Burberry fragrance, Mr Burberry, inspired, apparently, by the iconic Burberry heritage trench coat. Described as a woody/herbal fragrance it features notes of grapefruit, tarragon, cardamom, cedar, nutmeg, birch leaf, vetiver, sandalwood and guaiac wood and the campaign will feature Brit actor Josh Whitehouse, directed by Turner Prize winning director Steve McQueen. To add to the list of big guns involved (Burberry never do anything by halves) the fragrance itself has been created by acclaimed nose Francis Kurkdjian. I must say, I love the simplicity of the bottle and the Mr Porter-esque name (check out the italicised font) and can’t wait to smell the fragrance itself.
It’s hard to believe but Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic Le Male fragrance is 20 years old this year. In fragrance years that makes it practically a pensioner since so many modern era men’s fragrances are lucky to make it past their third birthday. So popular has it become that a bottle is sold every six seconds and to date over 80 million products have been sold. Like all great contemporary classics, though, it’s an intensely polarising scent, with some people loving it and others finding it sickly, cloying and overpowering. Personally, I’ve always liked it and respected its boldness but have never actually been able to wear it.
And though Gaultier has never been able to replicate its success fragrance-wise (remember Gaultier² or Kokorico?) Le Male, housed in its memorable flacon, has guaranteed him a place in the fragrance hall of fame. Over the years it has spawned numerous “flankers” (i.e. variations thereof) and this anniversary year sees the arrival of yet another, in the shape of Ultra Male. As I pointed out in my review of it for Men’s Health it’s still a gourmand fragrance but not nearly as sweet as the original, opening it up to a whole new audience.
“I worked on this new version by reinterpreting the sensuality of the original fragrance with the codes of our modern era,” says its creator, acclaimed perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. “Gourmand effects, which Mr Gaultier loves so much, interplay with modern woody notes and lavender aromatic notes, the heart of the original fragrance that was composed in 1995.” Unlike most ‘reinterpretations’, however, Ultra Male isn’t afraid to veer away from the original in its construction. In fact, you’d barely recognise it as a sibling of Le Male, which is why it’s worth checking out, even if you’re not a fan of the original.
To my nose Ultra Male is deeper, rougher, darker and altogether more muscular than Le Male and more grown up too. It’s spicer, fruitier and woodier and not quite so sexually ambiguous. Le Male, of course, is now famous for the use of sailor imagery in its ad campaigns and if the original is the sailor who waves to his loved ones from the deck of a departing ship, Ultra Male is more like the sailor lurking in a dark back alley, waiting to press-gang you into joining the navy. And I mean that in a good way. So why resist?
You know how Madonna’s first few albums are infinitely superior to the stuff she’s churning out right now? Well, sometimes you just have to concede that the original, early stuff is the best – which is very much the case with the launch of two new fragrances from French fashion house Carven. I say new but in fact only Carven Pour Homme is new; Carven Vétiver is a relaunch of a fragrance that originally saw the light of day way back in 1957.
It’s ironic, but not entirely unexpected given the state of the fragrance industry at the moment, that it’s the latter that is the standout fragrance here. I’m a big fan of vetiver fragrances – and a fussy one too – but this delicate and elegant take on the genre, with its fresh notes of lemongrass and grapefruit and hints of geranium, lavender and bergamot, is lighter and more playful than some vetivers out there and I’ve been wearing it all day and loving it.
Pour Homme, on the other hand, is an annoyingly anodyne concoction that falls down by trying too hard to be contemporary and mainstream (think Bland Ambition rather than Blonde Ambition). Woody, spicy and aromatic (hence ticking all the boxes for a contemporary-but-boring best-seller) it’s one of those fragrances that catches in the back of the throat and smells a bit like a 19-year-old’s bedroom, which is surprising given the involvement of perfumer éminence Francis Kurkdjian, who created it alongside Patricia Choux.
The bottles for both, however, are superb and the design is the best I’ve seen for ages: simple and eye-catching, they echo the clean lines of a timeless roll neck sweater and have an understated elegance that’s often missing from modern fragrance flacons, so props to master glass-worker Pochet who created them.
Anyway, you’ve probably gathered by now that if I had to recommend one of these two fragrances to you it’d be Vétiver – and recommend I do.
Available from Selfridges from 5th February and nationwide from 5th May.
I was lucky enough to attend a special Fragrance Symposium at The Barbican centre recently in which perfumer Francis Kurkdjian – the man behind Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male – and the famous fashion designer himself discussed all things fragrance. An interesting discussion it revealed that the enfant terrible has lost none of this cheeky charm and give a fascinating insight into the creation of his fragrances. Below is a video of the event, so if you get a spare few minutes have a watch. Oh, and make sure you check out the wonderful exhibition, The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk, of which the symposium was a part.
Fancy buying the woman in your life a fragrance for Valentine’s Day but not sure where to begin? Don’t worry, I’ve made it easy for you by asking some of my favourite beauty industry pals what they’d recommend…Jane Cunningham, founder of britishbeautyblogger.com: Chanel No5, from boots.com
“It’s the classic floral you cannot go wrong with, not least because every woman in the world would like to think she deserves Chanel and she’ll love the fact you realise that!”
Lauren Naylor, The Sun’s Beauty Expert: Vivienne Westwood Boudoir, from escentual.com
“If you want to get in your woman’s good books, opting for a designer fragrance like this is a sure fire way, especially when the bottle looks so goddamn exquisite. She’ll love you for choosing such a quintessentially English brand too.”
Nadine Baggott, Health and Beauty Editor of HELLO! Magazine: Escentric Molecules Molecule 01, from liberty.co.uk
“If you want to indulge your partner in a scent that works for you as well then go for this one by maverick nose Geza Schoen. I never tire of this unisex, pheromone-based, mossy, light-as-air scent.”
Lynnette Peck Bateman, Beauty Director of Saga magazine: Amyris Femme by Francis Kurkdjian, from selfridges.com
“If you’re looking for a unique and imaginative gift for a more sophisticated woman I’d recommend this warm powdery scent with hints of citrus. It’s not by one of the large cosmetic houses so also has the advantage that it won’t be worn by every other woman in the world.”
“In its presentation it’s low-key and mindful rather than a big splashy blockbuster. It smells natural on the skin too, with Bulgarian Rose being at its heart. Gives the sentiment of love without being predictable.”
The vibe: Mining the Paco Rabanne 1 Million vein, this sweet, aromatic woody fragrance with its novelty casino chip bottle is clearly aimed at young, single lads looking for a punchy, accessible, not-too-scary, night-out fragrance. And in that respect it ticks all the boxes.
Key notes: Iris, blackwood and juniper to give it a “gin fizz” accord.
Verdict: it’s not going to stun anyone with its originality but has huge mass-market appeal. Expect to see it in The Perfume Shop’s best seller list.
The Vibe: Fresh, sweet, woody oriental fragrance with a slightly bombastic Eighties feel (and name).
Key notes: Mint, Green Apple, Tonka bean, Ambroxan, Geranium flowers, Vanilla, Vetyver, Cedarwood and an oak moss accord.
Verdict: with Eros as the name it’s positively tumescent with potential but alas, the juice is surprisingly pedestrian and though appears sexy initially (in a sweet, Thierry Mugler kinda way) it matures into something my nan might have worn. Fab bottle though…
Jean Paul Gaultier Le Beau Male
The vibe: Fresh, herbaceous and uber-commercial new Gaultier fragrance created taking a few cues from the original Le Male fragrance and housed in a reworked version of the familiar torso flacon. After the commercial disappointment of Kokorico it seems they’re taking no chances this time.
Key notes: mint, absinthe, lavender, orange blossom, sage, musk
Verdict: Refreshingly different from Le Male (a fragrance too heady for me) the hint of absinthe is lovely, as is icy freshness of the mint and slight soapiness of the sage. The signature Le Male lavender and orange blossom are still there at the fragrance’s core but thankfully the vanilla is barely noticeable in this incarnation. Wearable and not nearly as polarising as Le Male, which is both its biggest asset and biggest drawback.
The other day I read a great interview with Francis Kurkdjian on the excellent Persoliase blog. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of a true artist but it’s proved somewhat controversial too because of some of the comments Mr K made about how fragrance is reviewed.
One paragraph in particular has attracted some attention – and understandably so. Asked what he thinks about perfume critics, the master perfumier says: “They’re so boring. And the reason why they’re so boring is that, to prove their legitimacy, they try to drop ingredient names, chemical names, just to prove to their readers that they have the know-how…people are trying to critique perfumes without knowing what it is to critique a perfume. They don’t have the knowledge.”
Understandably, these comments have stimulated quite a debate on Persolaise’s blog about what exactly is the right way to critique a perfume and who amongst us has ‘legitimacy’. I commented there briefly myself but wanted to expand here with my take on the matter.
To be honest, I hate the idea that you have to be knowledgeable before you can critique something. When artists in any field believe this it’s a sure sign they’ve not only caught sight of the ivory tower but have booked the removal van so they can take up residence on the top floor.
Yes, expertise brings depth and an added dimension and it most certanly has its place but it’s not the be-all and end-all. This is especially true, I think, when reviewing products. Sure, I known what parabens are and what nano-technology is and I’m more acquainted with a tonka bean than any man should be. But hey, so what? The questions on most reader’s lips when it comes to a new product are: is it any good? Does it work? Will I like it? Is it worth the money?
The whole issue of expertise has come up before. I remember one Beauty Editor having a pop at beauty bloggers several years ago because she didn’t consider them expert enough to comment properly (the very same person now has their own blog of course but is an industry expert so that’s okay). This attitude riles me beyond belief, partly because many experts (especially those on magazines) conveniently conceal the fact their recommendations are influenced by advertising. I’m a journalist. I’ve been there so I know the score.
To me, the opinion of a beauty blogger who smells a fragrance in a department store is just as valid as that of someone who’s been writing about fragrance all their lives and gets sent one for free by a PR. In fact, I sometimes think more so because the blogger takes time, effort and often spends their own money to explore what’s out there.
Personally, though, I don’t care whether someone wants to write a 2,000 word forensic ‘expert’ review, simply list the notes (and on that matter ingredient names are also dropped on the official FK site to give customers a steer I notice) or just wants to say ‘to me this smells like creosote mixed with roses and custard powder.’ What’s important, surely, is that people remain passionate enough to write about fragrance in the first place?
The fact is, reviewing a fragrance is as much a nebulous, imperfect and subjective art as creating one is. To me, having critics approach the subject from all different angles, with different spins, expertise and opinions is the only true way to build up a rounded picture of something. If a new fragrance hits the shelves I want to hear what the beauty editor of Vogue thinks about it but I also want to know what my favourite bloggers think about it, what the readers of basenotes.com think about it, what my mum thinks about it and what the woman who sells it in Debenhams thinks too. Fragrance is deliciously multi-faceted – that’s why it’s so enthralling right? So why should fragrance criticism be any different?
To read the interview that sparked this post on Persoliase click here.