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.