Review: Chanel Boy — 4.5 points

Much like how Gabrielle Chanel had played with the code of women’s fashion, perfumer Olivier Polge experimented with the fougère accord in creating Boy (Chanel, 2016). This perfumery accord was born when perfumer Paul Parquet created the eponymous Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882). The accord classically revolves around lavender, oakmoss, and sweet coumarin, but also contains a citrus top, geranium and spicy herbs in the heart, and woody or animalic notes in the base. It is traditionally associated with masculine fragrances. But Polge was determined to flout that rule and toy with the accord. The result is nothing short of brilliant.

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Already, the fresh top of Boy is a tell-tale sign. It is Chanel; it is aldehydic with penetrating citrusy and rosy notes. These come hand in hand with grapefruit and fresh lemon. The effect feels like an effervescent champagne with a rosy tinge. Accompanying that is lavender aplenty with its aromatic, herbal, and floral charm easily felt. This sublime lavender of Boy runs the show for the rest of its top-note freshness.

The composition, then, segues classically into a rosy geranium heart, but it takes a surprisingly soft turn here. A touch of orange blossom and jasminic brightness wraps around the sharp geranium. A rich sandalwood accord evinces an intimate caress towards the dry down.

It becomes enveloping, but also with a dusky accent. At first, the tonka bean note of coumarin provides a warm sweetness, like a gentle fondle. This develops into a full embrace with the powdery sweet vanilla and heliotrope. There is also a hint of hidden desire in hot patchouli and civet that feels like a nod to the classic Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). But contrasted classically by the mossy note of Evernyl, this sensual sweetness has suddenly acquired a rough-hewn signature. Around this mossy sweet powder forming the dry down is a rich musk cocktail that keeps Boy soft and intimate for all of its day-long duration—those who are anosmic to certain musks may thus find this part of Boy to be a whisper.

The fougère accord is manipulated in Boy to reveal an interestingly tender side. Whilst the classical trinity of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss as well as the animalic touch of civet are kept, the character of fougère is made softer, borrowing elements of feminine fragrances. The fresh introduction consists of aldehydic and rosy notes beside the traditionally hesperidic notes. The powdery sweet coumarin is enhanced with heliotrope, vanilla, and musks. In this way, the accord sways towards its rosy and enveloping side. With Boy, Polge has saliently demonstrated the flexibility of this perfumery accord.

I think the reinvention of the fougère has been in the making, and Boy is almost the tipping point. Looking back in 1921, there was Maja (Myrurgia, 1921) whose fougère elements of citrus, lavender, geranium, and woody vetiver are hidden beneath a dominant spicy oriental personality. Then, only a decade ago, perfumer Jacques Polge perhaps tested the water with the patchouli and amber of Coromandel (Chanel, 2007) that resembles the rose-patchouli fougère of Zino Davidoff (Davidoff, 1986), except for the fact that lavender — one of the defining elements of a fougère — is absent in Coromandel. And, though Brit Rhythm For Her (Burberry, 2014) marries lavender and rosy peony, it is still a fresh floral rather than a fougère. But with Boy, the classical fougère has entered a new ground. Boy re-orchestrates the classical fougère to interesting effects. It may well pave the way for a revolution, and the next descendant of Boy might surprise us.

But, for now, I am quite enamoured of its rosy freshness and mossy-yet-sweet powder with that restrained elegance of Chanel.

Source: chanel.fr

History and Review: Houbigant Fougère Royale — 4.0 points

Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882) is a composition that represents the defining turn of perfumery. It is the first fine perfume to employ a synthetic compound, coumarin, the principal odorant of tonka bean. It also started the trend of complex, abstract ideas in perfumes. Most evidently, it gave birth to the fougère or ‘fern’ family, which is an interplay of lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin. In this accord, citrus usually adds a sparkle to the top, whilst the heart often contains geranium, and the base contains woody, animalic, and/or ambery notes.

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Original Fougère Royale

The fougère family is one of the most popular and versatile style. It includes iconic successors like Jicky (Guerlain, 1889), Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent, 1981), Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche, 1982), and Cool Water (Davidoff, 1988). Recent launches such as Brit Rhythm For Women (Burberry, 2014) and Boy (Chanel, 2016) can reaffirm that the fougère never goes out of style. For this reason, Fougère Royale is simply revolutionary.

In creating it, perfumer Paul Parquet used coumarin in combination with the natural essences of citrus and aromatic herbs. The result gave a twist of character to the familiar classical eau de cologne. Its complexity made Fougère Royale intriguing to discover and its strong character was memorable.

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Re-launched Fougère Royale in 2010

Even in the re-orchestrated version by perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux, there is no mistaking its fougère identity. Although thin, the building blocks are still in place. The transparency and freshness of bergamot open the composition to an aromatic character marked by a combination of lavender and Provençal herbs. Geranium also lends a green accent. Meanwhile, the spicy contrast is provided by nutmeg and a carnation accord. The notes are well-blended and nothing specifically stands out.

These cool herbs are paired with a warm mossy musk. It recalls the bitter-sweet, classic note of a barber shop with animalic suede-like warmth. Its contrasting idea of cool and warm notes is not unlike the striking contrasts found in many of Guerlain’s creations that succeeded it, starting from Jicky (1889).

The re-orchestrated Fougère Royale is worth a sniff just for the fact that it is a milestone in perfumery. From the brightness of its hesperidic opening and the rustic charms of aromatic herbs to the surprising ruggedness of mossy notes, the re-formulated version offers a glimpse of the classical fougère accord with modern transparency. However, its lasting power will surprise you. It also feels neat and smart with a penchant for old-school stylishness. It easily puts many modern launches of this year to shame.

Sources: houbigant-parfums.com, aromyth.com

  1. Perkin, W. H. (1868). “On the artificial production of coumarin and formation of its homologues”. Journal of the Chemical Society. 21: 53–63.

Review: Chanel Égoïste — 5.0 points

Perfumer Jacques Polge had been working on ‘Black Wood’ when Chanel wanted to launch a complementary collection of menswear. However, the clothing line was ultimately cancelled, and only by a stroke of luck was ‘Black Wood’ kept in production. It was launched exclusively in Chanel boutiques as Bois Noir. As it grew more popular, Bois Noir was distributed widely and thereafter christened Égoïste as Chanel had bought the rights to the name from the photography magazine of Nicole Wisniak. The iconic television advertisement by Jean Paul Goude accompanied the launch and made it all the more infamous. But, Égoïste itself is already a strong statement of seduction. In fact, I would go so far as to say that Égoïste is a shock.

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I still recall the horror from experiencing the spiciness of Égoïste for the first time. The top of Égoïste is infused with the spicy and hot-peppery note of coriander, the sweet heat of cinnamon, and the brightness of rosewood. But what follows quickly is a surprising turn of character.

The spicy debut morphs into a suave and plump rose. The signature rose of Égoïste is, in fact, an accord of tagete oil and 3% of geranium oil at play. The fruity raspberry note of tagete oil pops up from the rosy heart of geranium. This imbues the theme with such distinctiveness that feels like juicy chunks of fruit compote bursting with flavours. To top it off, rose oil provides a floral and green spicy touch.

Égoïste sustains the rose potpourri theme towards a soft oriental fond of creamy sandalwood, vanilla, and musky ambrette seed. Late in the dry down, there is also a slight balsamic touch. By this stage, Égoïste recalls the sandalwood and balsams of Bois des Îles (Chanel, 1926). Soft and ever so slightly rosy, Égoïste surprisingly boasts a magnificent sillage and sterling longevity.

Polge wanted to do something different for a market saturated by fougères. That and having been inspired by Ernest Beaux’s lavish use of sandalwood oil in Bois des Îles, he decided to experiment with it. The result was Égoïste, a rose for men that built upon the sensual facets of sandalwood. He picked a material that had otherwise been employed predominantly in feminine compositions and supported its character with the vegetal musk of ambrette seed and creamy vanilla to create a sensual signature in the fond. This quality is further explored in a suave rose theme brought about by an accord of sharp geranium and fruity tagete oil. Égoïste also contrasts the sensual themes with the brightness of rosewood and spices, creating a dramatic interplay. Such a full-fledged rose and sandalwood theme for men is certainly avant-garde, and I have never seen anything quite like Égoïste since.

Sources: interview with Jacques Polge by Stéphane Gaboué for Hint Fashion Magazine 2nd September 2010; chanel.fr; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors; IFRA 48th Amendment for Tagetes Oil and Absolute

Review: Dior Homme — 5.0 points

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I say Dior Homme (2005) deserves its place on a pedestal of classics. Rarely do mainstream launches proceed without deliberation on market tests, but Dior Homme did. And its composition does not conform either: at the centre of it is iris, a material that does not have a firm ground on the masculine territory like, say, lavender or geranium. Yet perfumer Olivier Polge did an astounding job, thereby firmly establishing its place amongst masculine fragrances.

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Iris, which has the connotation of powder puff and lipstick, is not exactly a fresh note. However, in Dior Homme, its carrot facet is cleverly extrapolated with green herbs to give a fresh top note. A combination of bergamot, lavandin, geranium, and carrot seed renders the impression of aromatic green herbs. Cardamom and coriander provide a spicy contrast. Such cool herbs introduce freshness to the dense note.

The lively iris theme at heart revolves around 0.25% of orris absolute with its rich powder, carrot-like green, and chills. A peachy glow, the fruity touch of δ-damascone at 0.11%, and violet-like ionones warm and sweeten the composition. A radiant floral touch keeps the heart limpid. The glow and shimmer impart such clarity and polish, rendering an otherwise austere and sometimes dull note of iris vibrant.

Towards the base, the composition is warm and inviting. Here, vetiver is sweetened by vanilla, coumarin, and musk with a crisp ambery note of Ambrox. The resultant gourmand sweetness is brilliantly offset by the combination of myrrh and frankincense oil each at 0.5%. Patchouli conjures a surprising touch of bitter cocoa when paired with powdery iris. The character of vanillic woods strongly contrasts with that of iris, and pairing them together creates a gripping tension between warm and cool notes. It is riveting.

Offering iris as a masculine fragrance untested is a bold and risky move, but in doing so Dior and Polge have created a milestone with a memorable character and a lasting influence. The iris is rendered surprisingly fresh and spicy, and its rooty chills polished by radiant florals and glow of fruits. Then, pitted against vanillic woods and incense, it makes Dior Homme unforgettable. It is tenacious and its suave sillage of grand cru cocoa and supple leather will impress. Its boldness has certainly left a mark in perfumery.

A note on the concentrations: Since its launch, Dior Homme has been a success, spawning various incarnations. The versions which are clearly related to the original character are Dior Homme Intense (2011), which is an eau de parfum, and Dior Homme Parfum (2014) by perfumer François Demachy. The eau de parfum is like a creamy, sweet leather-cocoa as the levels of vanillin and coumarin are increased. For the parfum, its richness is overall increased, creating a dark supple leather; and the emphasis shifts to the fond with fumes of frankincense and myrrh — the blotter has been oozing these dark swirls even after three weeks from the first spray. The longevity of both is, likewise, sterling. Their presence also lingers long after one has disappeared.

Sources: fragrantica.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors