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?