Discount Diamonds: Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme

I chose Davidoff Cool Water as a Discount Diamond a couple months ago and I mentioned that it was the perfume which launched a thousand aquatic fragrances on to the market. Reading between the lines you can add the subtext “and most of them were bad”. But not all of them. 1995’s Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme took some of the concepts of the aquatic class and added in some unique beats to make it one of the few to stand out as successfully different.

jacques cavallier

Jacques Cavallier

Jacques Cavallier was part of the original group of perfumers who took the concepts of the aquatic and expanded it in the mid 1990’s. He was responsible for L’Eau D’Issey and L’Eau D’Issey pour Homme and was part of the creative team on Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme. All of these were examples of the best aquatic fragrances on the shelf. By 2005 when he was commissioned to do Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme he wanted to try something different. His choice was to take two raw materials created especially to evoke water and make them the centerpiece of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme.

aqva ph

M. Cavallier starts in well-trodden territory with citrus on top. Mandarin and petitgrain add a lip pursing tartness to the top notes. Then we get to the two unique raw materials in the heart Santolina and Posidonia. Santolina is more commonly known as cotton lavender and it has a lavender aspect crossed with a strong syrupy quality. Posidonia is simply the smell of drying seaweed after the ocean has receded leaving it behind on the beach. It has an ozonic watery quality on top of the vegetal note. Smelling either of these by themselves you would be hard pressed to believe these could be the centerpiece of a perfume. That is M. Cavallier’s skill as he takes these two notes and balances them so the lavender, the ozonic notes and a bit of the seaweed aspects form a fascinating seaside accord. It feels more realistic than the previous aquatics which wanted to clean up the ocean. Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme gives it all to you right down to the seaweed. The final phase is also quite interesting as M. Cavallier takes a soft amber and adds clary sage. Clary sage is usually further up the pyramid but in Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme it almost seems like it is what the seaweed evolves into. The amber adds a subtle warmth to the base notes.

Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme has 6-8 hours of longevity and average sillage.

M. Cavallier took a chance by using notes which weren’t widely used in the aquatic fragrance family and fashioned something wonderfully unique. It is one of the few aquatics I think is worth owning. If you want to own it it is found on most of the discount websites for less than $40 for 100mL.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Olfactory Chemistry: Alicyclic Musks- Breaking the Cycle

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The most current iteration of musk molecules form the class known as alicyclic musks. In all of the previous versions of musks they were variants of the original nitro musks or they were synthetic counterparts to the natural molecule muscone. In the alicyclic musks these finally comprised a new class of molecule uninformed by previous musk molecules.

rosa and cyclomusk

The first alicyclic musk would be discovered in 1969 by scientists at International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) and it was called Rosamusk. Even at a fragrance house like IFF, Rosamusk found no enthusiasm for its use despite its interesting rose and fruit character over musk. Rosamusk was so overlooked that older texts on the musk molecules will tell you that it was BASF’s molecule Cyclomusk, discovered in 1975, that was the first alicyclic musk. Cyclomusk gets the press because it is a muskier smelling molecule but it is the fruity floral aspects of Rosamusk which have become the defining characteristic of this class of molecules.

helvetolide romandolide

It wouldn’t be until the 1990’s that Firmenich would make the two molecules which have come to represent this class in perfumery; Helvetolide and Romandolide. If you look at the two molecules above you will notice how similar they are and how they were influenced by the molecules which came before. Helvetolide takes the two CH3, or methyl, groups from Cyclomusk and forms a hybrid with the basic structure of Rosamusk. Romandolide takes the structure of Rosamusk and adds on the same molecules at the end that are present in Helvetolide. These are good examples of what all synthetic organic chemists do to produce a desired effect. We look at what has come in the past and if the chemistry allows we will put these fragments together to see if we can make something more useful. What worked in the case of aromamolecules also works in drug discovery.

helvetolide analogs

Ref: Chemistry & Biodiversity, Vol. 1, pg. 1975 (2004)

As you see above the structures of these alicyclic musks differ in the nature of the group on the six-membered ring. It can be quite remarkable how just moving the groups around can have a significant effect on the odor profile. In the figure above there is a collection of derivatives of Helvetolide and Romandolide and you can see by the descriptions just how much removing or shifting a methyl group around the ring can have.

As I said these molecules have a stronger fruity and floral character than other of the synthetic musks. One of my favorite descriptions of Romandolide comes from perfumer Frank Volkl who in a 2012 article in Perfumer & Flavorist says, “It’s the marmalade within a fragrance. For me it’s the type of musk that adds a little bit of fun to the fragrance.” I think that is really the most striking aspect of the alicyclic musks as these are the “fun” musks. They still carry that identifiably musky quality but the fruity and/or floral facets make them lighter in both heft and intention. Perfumer Alberto Morillas uses a high concentration of Helvetolide in Lancome Miracle and Romandolide features in Rochas Absolu by perfumer Jacques Cavallier.

The whole story of the musk molecules is perhaps the best chemical story in all of perfumery as it illustrates the developments of synthetic aromamolecules for the last 100 years.

Mark Behnke

That Unattainable Object of Desire: Slatkin Absinthe- The Green Fairy

When writing this series many of the perfumes I will write about are small batch rarities by our best perfumers. The subject of this one is rare because most of it was removed from circulation due to a corporate takeover. Back in 2003 the home fragrance company Slatkin & Co. wanted to branch out into fine fragrance and beauty products. The original three releases in their foray into the world of perfume were simply named Mimosa, Muguet, and Absinthe. Perfumer Christian Truc was responsible for Muguet and Christophe Laudamiel would create the remaining two. These fragrances barely had any time to find an audience because Slatkin & Co. were acquired by the parent company of Bath and Body Works in 2005. The brand was acquired because of the home fragrance products and these perfumes were just an aberration. With no place for them to go they pretty much just disappeared after less than two years on the market.

slatkin absinthe bottle

I wish I could say I was smart enough to have discovered them back when they were released but that wouldn’t be true. I didn’t become acquainted with Slatkin Absinthe until my Editor-in-chief at CaFleureBon, Michelyn Camen, gifted me a large decant of it. What I have is one of the most treasured fragrances in my entire collection. M. Laudamiel was coming off a year when he had been part of the team behind two very recognizable fragrances, Abercrombie & Fitch Fierce and Ralph Lauren Polo Blue. The two briefs for Slatkin were his first opportunity to fly solo as a perfumer.

christophe_laudamiel_2

Christophe Laudamiel

What he created in Absinthe is not a literal interpretation of the wormwood flavored liquor. Instead it is a night at the Moulin Rouge complete with the bohemians of the time looking for The Green Fairy to inspire them.

Absinthe opens with the anise-flavored liquor on top. M. Laudamiel squeezes a fresh lime along with the tamarine citrus base and a sprig of mint. This is an exhilarating sinus clearing opening. It is like sipping from your glass of absinthe as you look up to take in the surroundings. The smell of the rose powder of the dancing girls, the slightly urinous character of honey, the sticky green quality of blackcurrant buds all form a heady accord of carnality to go with the absinthe. The base is a woody patchouli and M. Laudamiel made some interesting choices for his woods as there is cherry tree bark, candlewood, cashmere woods, maplewood and oakmoss. This woods accord with the patchouli makes up one of the more striking woody bases of any perfume I own. It is an early sign of M. Laudamiel’s intention to use more of the ingredients of his perfumer’s organ.

Absinthe has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

I was already a fan of M. Laudamiel by the time I smelled Absinthe. It confirmed his incredible talents were present from his first moments as a perfumer. It is sad that the meager stock at the time of the acquisition was placed on discount shelves and that was it. Bottles show up very rarely on the auction sites. I have an alert for it and I would say on average two or three bottles will be available over the course of a year. Because it is such an oddity the prices are not worse than any new perfume you might purchase. I can say that if I was ever forced to pare down my voluminous collection to something much smaller there is no version which wouldn’t include Slatkin Absinthe.

Disclosure: This review is based on a decant which I received as a gift.

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Shiseido Inoui

When it comes to discussions of the greatest perfumes ever Shiseido Nombre Noir has been claimed to be one of the top five fragrances of all-time. It is a funny thing though just like it is with Citizen Kane as it relates to being the best movie of all-time neither of these would be in my top ten all-time. I’m not even sure they make my top 25 all-time. In both cases I admire the budding auteurs Serge Lutens and Orson Welles and their precocious creations but neither resonates with me. I prefer Mr Welles’ second film The Magnificent Ambersons. When it comes to Shiseido I think 1976’s Inoui is a better perfume than Nombre Noir.

The mid 1970’s was a watershed moment for perfume and the way it was sold. Michael Edwards traces the tipping point to 1973’s Revlon Charlie as the moment perfume was marketed to this new demographic of the working woman. It also changed the perfume buying experience as these trailblazing women didn’t want to wait for a man to gift them with a perfume they wanted to go out and find one themselves. As the sales for Charlie took off many of the other perfume lines wanted to join in. In 1976 Shiseido released Inoui with the advertising line, “It’s not her that’s beautiful; it’s how she lives her life that’s beautiful”. Even on the Shiseido website they admit it was designed to “target the contemporary career woman”. What did Shiseido think this thoroughly modern woman wanted? A green balsamic chypre.

inoui advertisement

I have never been able to determine who the perfumer is behind Inoui. Serge Lutens had not arrived by 1976. It was supposedly created by a joint effort between the American, Italian and Japanese staffs of Shiseido. If this was a team effort I really would have liked to overhear the conversations as each mod was passed around to finally arrive at Inoui.

Inoui is a fantastic green fragrance and its beauty is in the uncompromising way it develops from a galbanum heavy opening into a pine heart to finish on an oakmoss and civet base. It is a near perfect green perfume.

Inoui starts with the galbanum, juniper, and a bit of cypress. There is a green accord that adds texture to the galbanum and just when all of this green might be a little much an imaginative use of peach turns it into a softer sweeter beginning. The pine grows right down the middle of Inoui oozing sap and throwing off green facets as it strengthens. A bit of green cardamom and thyme add spice to the pine. Then just like the peach in the top notes jasmine adds softness and sweetness before we hit the big chypre finish. Myrrh adds its opulent resinous quality and then oakmoss and civet bring Inoui to a close on a feral green accord.

Inoui in the eau de parfum version has 10-12 hour longevity and very close sillage as would befit that career woman it was marketed to.

Inoui was a failure as it was pulled off shelves in less than ten years. It was never able to find traction with those early career women as they clearly wanted the florals of Charlie over the anti-floral green of Inoui. Was it ahead of its time? I don’t think so I actually think it is quite a good example of the kind of perfume making going on in the late 1970’s. I think it was a case of not finding the right target demographic to market it to.

Inoui can be found on eBay but people are catching on and its price has been rising steadily over the last few years.

Finally I want to end on a personal note. My discovery of Inoui was through one of those people that make our perfume community so wonderful. Linda Beth Ross and I would spend random hours on Facebook chatting about old vintage perfumes and after a discussion of how much I like green perfumes she sent me a sample of Inoui. Earlier this year she passed away after a long battle with cancer and every time I wear, or think, about Inoui I also remember my friend in fragrance.

Disclosure; this review is based on a bottle of Eau de Parfum I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Perfumer Rewind: Olivia Giacobetti’s 1996- L’Artisan Parfumeure Drole de Rose & The Pour un Ete + Diptyque Philosykos

Olivia Giacobetti is one of my very favorite perfumers because of that transparent style she imparts to things that shouldn’t have that lightness of being. Many of the most striking fragrances I own, for that sheer fragility, are signed by Mme Giacobetti. Her style has now been refined that it almost deserves its own adjective, Giacobettiesque. There have been other perfumers who are able to make perfume that is Giacobettiesque but it is her creations which stand the test of time.

Olivia-Giacobetti

 

Olivia Giacobetti

When I looked back for the year where this style began to coalesce I found 1996 to be a good year to observe this. In that year Mme Giacobetti would release two fragrances for L’Artisan Parfumeur, Drole de Rose & The Pour un Ete. Both of those were perfumes where the style was still a work in progress. The third release in 1996 is one of Mme Giacobetti’s enduring masterpieces Diptyque Philosykos as all the elements that make her a great perfumer come together for the first time.

drole de rose

The two fragrances for L’Artisan were her third and fourth for the line. Drole de Rose is a much lighter rose but here Mme Giacobetti lays down a layer of powdery notes as the heart note of orris turns this closer in style to iris-scented lipstick. The skeletal concepts of Mme Giacobetti’s style come with the honeyed leather in the base. It is the base which I think is the best part of Drole de Rose as once the powder is figuratively blown away what is left is this opaque sweet leather. Mme Giacobetti would find a rose scent which did fit her style with the discontinued Opone for Diptyque in 2001.

SA3A3794

The Pour un Ete was meant to be a jasmine green tea fragrance as if it was being served in a chilled glass dripping with condensation on a summer day. The Pour un Ete is perhaps too simple for its own good. It starts with a sprig of mint and lemon floating on top of the jasmine tea accord all of it resting on a cedar and sandalwood coaster. The Pour un Ete feels like the axis of a great fragrance was here but by not adding in contrapuntal notes it just sits there like that proverbial glass of tea watching the beads of water slide down the glass monotonously. Tea would become the focus of another of Mme Giacobetti’s best compositions L’Artisan Tea for Two, which is one of my all-time favorite tea perfumes.

philosykos

As I mentioned above it seems at this point in her career it took two tries for Mme Giacobetti to really find her voice on a particular note. In 1994 she had done Premier Figuier for L’Artisan and it was a fig fragrance centered on the creamy ripe qualities as she used almond and coconut milk to enhance that aspect. It is beautiful but it wears sort of heavily. By the time she took a second stab at fig in Philosykos she wanted to go greener as this time not only the fruit but also the leaves and the tree itself were meant to be represented. She tilts the fig greener with galbanum early on. Then the leaves pick up the green and this time she uses only coconut milk as a complementary source of the ripening pulpy inside of the fig. She finishes off Philosykos with a breeze of benzoin and cedar.

Mme Giacobetti is now one of the most reliable perfumers functioning and both for her Paris exclusive line IUNX and the rare commissions she takes her style is unmistakable, Back in 1996 it was just coming together,

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of all of the fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke

In Praise of the Doyenne of the Perfume Counter

I realize that I am becoming the prototypical old man when I see things changing and wish for them to stay the same. I have been exchanging e-mail with one of my earliest perfume acquaintances who has recently retired. Back in the late 1980’s I was really just starting to broaden my fragrance horizons. In those days of yore there was no such thing as smartphones and the internet to look things up at the speed of your data connection. What passed for that resource was the Senior Sales Associate at your favorite department store. Carolyn was that Doyenne of the Perfume Counter for me.

Carolyn presided over her fragrant space with grace and patience. She would explain and then give me strips to illustrate the difference between chypre and fougere. As we carried on an almost thirty year affair she knew what I liked and what I probably wouldn’t. I would often go in on a weekday just to have a little more time to chat. We started out as eager student/teacher and finished as peers. Nothing made me happier than to receive an e-mail from her on one of my latest reviews. I valued her opinion and was thrilled that she came to value mine. She was the one who taught me that even if the bottle has bows and flowers on it if I liked it I should wear it.

how-to-not-stink-at-finding-the-right-cologne

(Illustration: Zohar Lazar via GQ)

Upon her retirement I inquired if she had trained a replacement and her answer was, “No.” Her department store was going to use an assortment of line representatives instead of having a permanent position in charge of fine fragrance sales. This seems to be the way things are evolving. Since I moved to the Washington DC area I haven’t found the counterpart to Carolyn here. I certainly did in Boston but I suspect once those Doyennes retire those positions will, as well.

Like landlines and compact discs the day of a single person curating a department store’s fragrance department is a quaint old-fashioned notion. The necessity in our immediate information gratification society is certainly reduced if it is just the facts you are after. What I think this generation of perfume lovers will miss is the opportunity to create a relationship around a common love for perfume. Now, to find the same interpersonal service, it requires you to have a small fragrance boutique in your city. The owners of those businesses are more interested in creating a long-time customer over a one-time sale.

With Carolyn’s retirement I realize it will be far too soon that I will have little reason to visit the department store fine fragrance department. All things change but it is human nature to wish that some of them might be immune to evolutions of style. I wish Carolyn the best of her retirement and her extra time with her grandchildren. Her child of the perfume counter will miss visiting with her.

Mark Behnke

Montale 101- Five To Get You Started

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If there was a perfume line I was thinking really needed a Perfume 101 Montale Paris would be top of the list. Since 2003 eponymous perfumer Pierre Montale has been producing a prodigious amount of fragrances. His line was one of the first to really explore oud in all of its myriad configurations. M. Montale’s fascination with that note continues to the present day. Oud is so connected to the perception of the line that many are unaware there are some pretty amazing fragrances within the collection that do not have a drop of oud. One warning about this line, it is not for those who like their fragrances light or subtle; M. Montale creates extroverted powerhouses. It is that pedal to the metal attitude which makes Montale Paris one of my favorite lines. Here are the five I would start with if you are new to the line.

Black Aoud was my introduction to the classic oud and rose combination. This is so classic that to get Forest Gump on you it goes together like peas and carrots. All of the rough edges of oud are consumed in an inferno of intense rose. There is some patchouli and musk here but the sheer power of the rose and oud overwhelm everything. This was also my introduction to Laotian oud and the hint of floralcy within that particular version makes Black Aoud the perfect duet.

When asked to name my favorite amber Blue Amber is the one I name. Unlike Black Aoud where M. Montale just let the magic happen between the core notes. In Blue Amber he spends time surrounding the core with notes that complement and contrast. Geranium supports the spicy core, coriander contrasts it with green edges. Vanilla sweetens the amber only for patchouli to take it darker. If you love amber and have never tried this one add it to your list.

red vetyver

Red Vetyver has been described as Terre D’Hermes on steroids and while I understand that as a surface description I would say there is more going on here than a more intense imitation. A very pungent grapefruit is on top and this is the full grapefruit with the slightly sulfurous aspects on display. M. Montale then adds elemi to allow its lemony cool to soothe and a slug of black pepper to provoke. This is the place where Red Vetyver becomes its own perfume and the cedar and vetiver finishes it on a clean and green accord. This is one of the few citrus based fragrances I wear in the winter because it has a heft unusual within the genre.

Sweet Oriental Dream is M. Montale’s take on a gourmand. He makes the choice to recreate a vanilla rosewater confection adding in honey and almond for good measure. Of all of the gourmands I own this one is the one which makes me hungry.

As I said M. Montale is renowned for his capacity to use oud in so many ways. I would also venture he is even more proficient with vanilla as that note shows up throughout the collection and he knows how to tune it for the effect he is looking for. Vanille Absolu is what he thinks a vanilla soliflore should smell like. He takes a rich vanilla heart and swirls cinnamon, clove, and sandalwood around it. This is what I want vanilla to smell like rich and spicy.

Montale Paris is a line which can intimidate just by the sheer number of fragrances in the collection. You shouldn’t let that stop you from discovering one of the perfume lines which truly reflects one perfumer’s aesthetic. It really is a journey worth taking and any of the five suggested are good places to take your first steps.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Under The Radar: The Different Company South Bay- Citrus Wow

One of the purposes of Under the Radar is to give me a chance to extol the virtues of a fragrance which might have fallen through the cracks. I’m also using it to make sure the fragrances that got bumped and moved off the review schedule get a second chance to be discovered. I really enjoy the opportunity I have to try new perfumes but sometimes their getting into my hands can be a story in and of itself. The three The Different Company L’Esprit Colognes, South Bay, Kashan Rose, and White Zagora seemed like they were never meant to be in my hands. The initial samples were lost in transit then I couldn’t seem to get a sample from the stores carrying them. It wasn’t until meeting creative director Luc Gabriel at Esxence that I finally had the set to try. It turns out that was the first fortuitous event in this complicated tale.

Emilie_Coppermann

Emilie Bevierre-Coppermann

The L’Esprit Cologne collection are all signed by perfumer Emilie Bevierre-Coppermann and it is one of the best nouveau cologne collections of the last couple of years. Of the new ones Mme Bevierre-Coppermann has added to the original three and helped define the evolving new aesthetic for the lowly cologne. The one which does this the best is South Bay.

In South Bay Mme Bevierre-Coppermann chooses to turn in a very citrus focused fragrance over an intense bed of woodiness. There is a floral transition within the heart where South Bay transforms from fresh citrus into clean woods. Throughout the development South Bay is energetic and sunny.

south bay

South Bay uses grapefruit as the main citrus note and Mme Bevierre-Coppermann takes mandarin leaves to add leafy green and to accentuate the sulfurous aspects of the grapefruit. Tamarine base provides the juicy sweetness of tangerine and clementine. This a gorgeous citrus fantasy and I enjoy this opening so much it almost beckons me to re-apply often, which I do. Grapefruit wood begins the transition to the base and it is joined with freesia and a very mannered application of Eglantine Rose. That very sweet rose contrasts the grapefruit and complements the Tamarine with the grapefruit wood completing the transition. The base of South Bay is simply sandalwood and vetiver. The sandalwood is dry and creamy and the vetiver is woody with a green tint. There is nothing terribly groundbreaking here. Sometimes a perfumer needs to know when to keep it simple and Mme Bevierre-Coppermann has made the correct choice here.

South Bay has 6-8 hour longevity on me and average sillage.

I just returned from my summer beach vacation and South Bay was frequently my scent of the morning, afternoon, and evening. As I mentioned above, the opening is enchanting and topping it up multiple times a day allows me to keep enjoying it. The rest of the development is no slouch, as well. The opening is just magical for me. If you’re looking for a new summer fragrance don’t overlook South Bay even though it has been around for a year.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample provided by The Different Company at Esxence.

Mark Behnke

Collection Fatigue

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There are many things about the current state of artistic perfumery that irritate me but there is one thing that is top of my list. I genuinely look forward to seeing what has come in the mail every day. I live for the potential of trying that next new great fragrance. There is a dark side to that and it happens when I open the envelope and see it half-filled with multiple vials. I emit a sigh because another “collection” has found its way to me.

My biggest objection to the term, and the practice. is I think it is 99% marketing and 1% inspiration. The majority of these collections have only one thing connecting them, the name on the bottle. What is even more frustrating is it is apparent there was zero effort in trying to have a coherent aesthetic or theme. Heck I would even accept if it was made up of connected pairs. Instead it feels like a box checking exercise where the perfume line covers all of the expected bases. This would be great if the creative direction was focused enough to provide an interesting viewpoint. The other collateral damage to this collection obsession is it feels like the line can’t be bothered to make up their mind what is polished and ready to be released. Which is why within a collection there are many entries where my reaction is, “Why didn’t you take the time to get some feedback and really add a final edit?” Many of these feel like the perfume equivalent of reading the first draft of a novel before an editor gets a hold of it to tighten it up.

Too-many-choices

This leads to the second issue they are asking the consumers, us, to be their evaluators for them; at full price. Over the last three years as this ploy of releasing multiple perfumes in a collection has become more prevalent I’ve noticed a couple years on there are only a couple of them still on the shelf. I believe those are the ones which sold well and the majority were discontinued because they didn’t sell. This means they make us pay for the right to beta test their perfume and that should be their job not ours.

From a store perspective this also puts them under tremendous pressure to decide whether they have enough shelf space for a dozen new perfumes. The lifeblood of the indie and artistic perfume community are the small stores which cultivate customers who return to find out what the store owner has identified as worth trying. These new lines approach the stores and ask them to carry all of them or none of them. There is a bit of fallacious thinking that these lines are just on the cusp of being added to Bergdorfs, Neiman’s, or Saks by the line owners. They fail to see that success in those venues has almost invariably happened from a more conservative approach where you build the line over a number of years. These small stores which the purveyors of these collections hold hostage are the very people who will create the repeat customer and buzz for the brand that will open those magic retail doors they dream of.

I am sure there is a collection heading my way which I will be thrilled to explore fully but I expect to be sighing a lot more before that happens.

Mark Behnke

The Gold Standard: Sport Fragrances- Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport

The advent of Sport Fragrances began in 1972 with Estee Lauder Aliage Sport Fragrance and based on today’s market you might be surprised to know it was made for “active women”. It wasn’t until 1987 with the release of Boss Sport that the Sport Fragrance business started to shift to the guys. The fragrance which would start the men’s sports fragrance snowball rolling was 1993’s Polo Sport. Perfumer Harry Fremont really ran with the idea of a fragrance for an active man as he set the formula for many masculine sport fragrances to follow. Citrus on top followed by light florals made more manly with spices; finishing with woods and musk. The use of Sport in the name was supposed to make it easier for a man to want to buy fragrance, and it worked. Polo Sport immediately became a best-seller and is still one to the present day.

habit rouge sport

Over the last twenty years there have been many, many sport fragrances released and most of them are flankers of flagship fragrances for the particular brand. The unfortunate part of this is most perfume producers took the wrong lesson from the success of Polo Blue. They decided that Sport meant light almost to the point of insipidness. Most Sport fragrances are an embarrassment to the other name on the label as everything that makes something like Encre Noire great is gutted in Encre Noire Sport. With all of this you might think this is an odd subject for The Gold Standard but there is one which shows it can be done right while hewing to the template set down, Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport.  

jean-paul guerlain

Jean-Paul Guerlain

If there is any fragrance I would’ve thought would never be amenable to sportification it would be Jean-Paul Guerlain’s 1965 men’s fragrance Guerlain Habit Rouge. Habit Rouge is a citrus/spicy/leather with the signature Guerlinade. Habit Rouge would be in my conversation of greatest men’s fragrances of all-time. When I visited the Guerlain Boutique at The Breakers in Palm Beach in the summer of 2009 I probably recoiled when I was proffered the bottle of Habit Rouge Sport. What I should’ve done was realize M. Guerlain would not stoop to make a pale simulation of his classic. Instead he uses three key additions and an overall lightening of the core to create the best sport fragrance ever.

The same bigarade focused top notes are present but they are made brighter and the first key addition, bamboo, adds a fresh light woody note which transforms this into something recognizably Habit Rouge but also something new. The heart of neroli, patchouli, and cedar is the same. Then by dialing back the mélange of spices in the original to just one, pink pepper; and adding jasmine the heart is as easy to wear as that white t-shirt. The base is identical with leather over the amber and vanilla Guerlinade but as everything else in Habit Rouge Sport it is made less intense.

Habit Rouge Sport has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I wear Habit Rouge often but never in the warm weather; Habit Rouge Sport is what I wear these summer days. It may be faint praise to call this the best sports fragrance ever. Let me add to it Habit Rouge Sport is as good as the fragrance with which it shares its name.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke