Saturday, 24 April 2010

Wearing The Trousers: My Induction Into Men's Designer Scents

Not a week goes by when I don't visit my local branch of a well known UK high street chemist. It dominates fragrance sales in the UK, capturing a third of the market in the latest published stats I could find (admittedly from 2004!). If there is a new scent tester on display, I will usually give it a squirt in passing, on my way through to the water filters or the paracetamol.

But all that pales by comparison with the fun I had on Thursday in a large out of town store down south, where my friend Gblue (from Basenotes) works as an SA. It was a warm, sunny day, so the footfall was correspondingly light, and in the two and a half hours I hung out with Gblue, at the merest hint of the hovering form of a potential customer I would melt into the background. Well, not completely melt, if I am truthful, as several people asked me if they could pay for their purchases at my till. But before getting into the nitty gritty of what we tested, I just wanted to say for the record that NO SALES WERE LOST IN THE INDUCTING OF THIS PERFUMISTA.

Indeed, I even made a modest purchase of my own: a bottle of Yardley Geranium EDT for my Swedish friend (the owner of Penhaligon's Elixir featured in a recent post). This is a simple, pretty, slightly sanitised geranium soliflore with most of the earthiness stripped out, yet it stays the right side of twee. By contrast, the Hyacinth EDT in the range was sweet and twee to my mind, while the Orange Blossom was bizarrely oily, like comminute. (I used to market fruit juice in another life, and for anyone unfamiliar with the term, "comminute" is the ground up pith and rind which forms the basis of orange squash). So when a label reads: "Made with whole oranges", they really do mean "whole", just as chicken nuggets are reportedly made with "whole chickens"... : - )

But I digress...

Here is a list of the men's scents we sampled: in each case Gblue was able to talk me through their general style, key notes, and other designer fragrances they resembled. And whilst I did not like everything I smelt, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there is stuff out there amongst mainstream brands that is far removed from what Tania Sanchez dubbed the "Saddam Hussein School of Perfumery", meaning those shouty, astringently citrussy, hairy chestwig types of cologne that refuse to sell out to the "hint of" school, with its metrosexual penchant for the muted and discreet.

Paul Smith Man - carroty iris: am thinking TDC Bois d'Iris and MH Terre d'Iris!

Gucci pour Homme II - one of the standout scents of the day: notes of bergamot, violet leaves, cinnamon, pimento, black tea, myrrh, tobacco leaves, white musk, and olive wood - soft and elegant.

Armani (original) - rather like Eau Sauvage: bold but not quite brash, classic, but a little dated.

YSL Nuit de L'Homme - too coumarin-y, so pass! Prefer the original L'Homme.

Hugo Boss Elements - honking hedione note, one of those vapid ozonic numbers, but not offensive.

Dior Homme Sport - completely mad ginger beer opening, but mutes down to a pleasant tingle.

Armani Code For Men - quiet woody / milky scent. Improvement on the sticky orange mess that is Code for Women!

Paul Smith Summer Man - intense lemon and lime like a really pleasant washing up liquid. Sorry, Gblue - I know you like this one!

Paco Rabanne Millionaire - peculiar sickly sweet, rather foody scent. Apparently a huge seller! I disliked it so much I didn't even keep the blotter.

Dior Dune for Men & Gucci Envy for Men - liked these quite a lot, but for the life of me cannot remember why...
: - )

The following I know I either disliked or was fairly indifferent to, but again cannot recall the specifics:

Euphoria Intense, C K In2U Heat, Armani Diamonds Summer for Men (no raspberry note, at least!), Dior Fahrenheit Absolute, Paul Smith Extreme.

Other things of interest we smelled in our sniffathon - from the women's range -included Chanel Chance Eau Tendre (Daisy-like grapefruit opening, musky iris drydown), Coco Mademoiselle Parfum (rather pretty), Chanel No 5 Parfum (No 5 on steroids) and old and new Opium (no discernable common DNA whatsoever!). There was also a new women's fragrance that smelt exactly like Jammy Dodgers, but sadly the name of that escapes me too.

And my favourite scent out of all those tested? Bvlgari Eau d'Ete - marketed as a feminine, but we both agreed it had unisex potential. Reminiscent of Jo Malone White Jasmine & Mint. Very cool and fresh. It is apparently aimed at a younger audience, but I don't think it has any obvious age connotations.

Notes: mint, Italian lemon, amber, iris, cinnamon, benzoin and fir balsam

So, that was a very enjoyable and instructive afternoon - with a bit of a blue theme, you might say, in terms of my host's screen name, and the scent highlights of the day! Yes, I would like to thank Gblue for taking the time to show me everything, and for his gift of a goody bag full of samples for me to take home.

Finally, I can't resist mentioning that on the day Gblue wore a name badge bearing the name "Nathan".

"But you're not called Nathan." I protested.

"I know, but I have to wear a badge when I am working. And mine has gone missing, but there were a couple of spares - it was either this or Wilma..."


Nick said...

Hi VM!
Thanks for coming by, I had such fun sniffing with you. And I managed to find my badge now, so I can return to Nick from next week :)

Vanessa said...

Hi Nick

Am so glad you are reunited with the correct persona!

I have a little package for you which I will post tomorrow. : - )

You don't by any chance recall which perfume smelled of Jammy Dodgers? My mind is like a sieve...

Wordbird said...

Funny isn't it? Since I've gone right off the Gourmands, I'm finding I often like the men's versions of fragrances more. They're so much less sweet and sickly than what's being marketed to women.
Favourites of mine include Arpege Pour Homme and Lolita Lempicka Au Masculin, with Dior Homme being one of the nicest things I've tried in ages.
I think the switch to sniffing everything, not just the women's fragrances is a significant point in a perfumista's development. It's the moment when your mind opens up to the concept that it's all about the Jus and the smell, not the label on it. It was a big hurdle for me, but I'm very glad I got over it. :-)

Vanessa said...

Hi Wordbird

I will check out the Arpege and Lempicka - Dior Homme is already a fave. And you are so right about labels being misleading - if we didn't have those visual clues, and consumers just selected what their nose was drawn to - the market would be so much more mixed up!

Two other masculine designer scents I really rate and would wear myself are Kenzo Power and Guerlain Homme.

Enjoy the rest of your stay in Blighty!

Ines said...

my boyfriend wears Nuit de l'Homme and I absolutely love it on him. He used to have Armani Code which is I think the safest thing to buy a man in his 20s or early 30s if you are not sure what to get.

Vanessa said...

I am sure your BF's skin would blend with the coumarin better than mine. I swapped away my bottle of Yves Rocher Voile d'Ambre because of coumarin issues! : - )

Code was very mild and safe, I agree. Which was a surprise to me.

Nick said...

V, It was le Paradis de Nina Ricci (the new limited edition) or something like that. Someone else tried it today and said "biscuits!" and it reminded me!

Vanessa said...

Yay! Thanks so much for the clarification. I had Nina Ricci in mind in fact, but could only think of Ricci Ricci, which wasn't especially biscuity in my memory.

ScentScelf said...

And there he is in the flesh...well, in the comments...Nick/Nathan... :)

The day sounds delightful. And I'm a big supporter of shopping "across the aisle," as they say. Designer or otherwise. In the designer category, I personally am fond of wearing Sel et Vetiver (The Different Company) and Terre de Hermes, which others have pointed out are a) of a theme, and b) constructed by actual family (the Ellenas, one by Celine, the other by Jean Claude).

Mid-range, the Carons offer a number of masculines I have enjoyed wearing (3rd Man, pour Homme, L'Anarchiste). And the Guerlain colognes...they're well done, and bets were off for gender claims from the start.

Inexpensive, there's Grey Flannel, which on the right day is just the right lavender.

Strangely, my DH was gifted with Sel et Vetiver, and emerging vivant older son has a travel size Terre de Hermes. Odd, no?

Vanessa said...

Hey ScentScelf,

How interesting to learn that not only were Sel et Vetiver and Terre d'Hermes created by one family, but they are being appreciated by multiple members of another...

Do you like MH Fleurs de Sel, in similar vein? I sense you would if you don't know it.

Interesting that you consider The Different Company to be designer - I have seen it in a very good branch of Sephora on the Champs Elysees right by the Maison de Guerlain, but that brand would definitely count as niche in the UK, and mostly also in Europe.

Conversely, you do see Carons turning up in olde worlde perfumeries, some of which are of the jumbled Granny's Attic variety that is more akin to T K Maxx in its haphazard merchandising approach than Caron would probably care to know. Funny, how brand distribution channels vary from country to country!

ScentScelf said...

Well, now you raise an interesting point about distribution channels and how the reflect/affect perception of niche v limited distribution v mid range etcetera. In the US, TDC is found in an upscale department store (Barney's) and independent retailers. Sephora, on the other hand, is a mall fixture like certain fast food "restaurants." I do believe I've heard that Sephora USA is run separately from other Sephora enterprises; I know I've heard many accounts of the different stock sensibilities of the Paris flagship vs the U.S. stores. (We are lucky to see a Guerlain in there these days.)

Caron are in a weird place, cosmically speaking; just a few years ago, our Nordstrom carried pretty much the full line, and had vintage formulas in their vintage bottles you could sniff. Now, it's the recent offerings only. Meanwhile, you can find plenty of their offerings discounted online.

Fleurs de Sel I need to try. Sel Marin (the Heeley) I have tried, and do like. Looks like whether or not I am the salt of the earth, I enjoy putting it on.

Vanessa said...

That is most interesting about the distribution policy of US stores. Sephora is mostly a mall fixture in Europe, but that branch in central Paris was definitely a cut above. By the same token, there are branches of Douglas (a similar chain) with Serge Lutenses, Comme des Garcons etc, but this is by no means standard.

In the UK we are bereft where Guerlain is concerned: my favourite of all, Plus Que Jamais, is available in France and North America, but for some perverse and arcane reason Guerlain missed out the UK altogether in their stocking strategy.

I agree that Carons are in a very weird place, cosmically speaking, haha! I think my perception of the house has been irrevocably coloured by their presence in rummage sale independents.

I would say you are the salt of the blogosphere, for sure. And although you are not short of large bodies of water round your way, you really should check out the Dead Sea some time. Or at the very least a mud pack.
: - )