One Thousand Scents

Friday, February 01, 2008

For Men Only: Yves Saint Laurent M7

This ad got a lot of press when Yves Saint Laurent's M7 was launched in 2002. Shock, mostly, and some speculation that advertising was changing. Nothing much happened; most magazines outside France refused to run the ad (they got a more acceptable ad, featuring the same model from the chest up), and it eventually went the way of most advertising campaigns.

Some people were a little less sanguine than the French. The British, for instance. This article about the ad in the Sunday Herald tried to keep its tone light and amused, but it smells like borderline panic to me; it really boils down to OH MY GOD IT'S A NAKED MAN IN A MAGAZINE AD AND HE'S NAKED AND YOU CAN SEE HIS DICK AND EVERYTHING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!

Whatever. Calm down.

Is the unexpected sight of a naked man really so threatening and horrifying to vociferously heterosexual men? Are naked men so hideous to behold that their only function is to drive all women to lesbianism?

I thought the ad was nice. The model, Samuel de Cubber, is good-looking and not shaven or waxed bare, thank goodness, and the ad certainly makes its point as forcefully as possible: that M7 is most definitely a scent for men.

The official list of notes:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root.

Agarwood is also known as oud or oudh; it's a resinous wood with a dark incense aroma.

M7 comes roaring out of the bottle with a clatter of citrus notes and, right from the start, the aggressive, somewhat medicinal scent of agarwood. The citrus dies away, but the agarwood doesn't; it's joined by rough vetiver and that, right there, is the scent for the next few hours; a smoky, incensey, bristly, growling thing. You'll either love it or hate it; there's no in-between. It is not kidding.

Eventually--it takes a while, and survives hand-washing, believe me--the agarwood and vetiver begin to back away, slowly, and are supplemented by a warm and durable ambergris. By this time it's almost a relief; the middle notes haven't outstayed their welcome, necessarily, but they're so aggressive that it's a pleasure to have something else to smell.

If you put on a tiny dab of the scent, a wonderful thing happens: the ferocity is damped down and the ambergris takes over, smelling--at least on my skin--something like the vanilla-ambergris base of Guerlain's Habit Rouge. When you spray on M7, though, even one quick blast, you're going to smell daunting and assertive. It's a scent that can wear you as easily as you wear it; you have to be in the mood for it. Don't wear it to the office.

The bottle is the picture of simplicity: a block of wood-coloured glass with a silvery stripe separating it from the cap. It was clearly conceived to be as masculine as its contents.

A woman, could, I suppose, wear M7. It's no secret that women can wear men's clothing and scents. Sometimes, though, a scent is so deliberately, obviously gendered that it would smell like olfactory transvestism on the opposite sex, and this is one of them; I think on a woman it would simply smell baffling and wrong, in the same way that an exaggeratedly feminine scent like Anais Anais would smell wrong on a man.

To underscore this point, next week I've got the most amazingly pretty scent you never heard of; delicate, adorable, absolutely and utterly girly. A man might be able to wear Chanel No. 5, but he can't wear this one.


  • Pyramus -

    Where do you "draw the line" on gender specific fragrances? I know in the past you have reviewed and admitted to wearing/enjoying scents that are marketed to women, yet at the end of this week's blog entry you are very specific as to what's appropriate for a man and what isn't. I know this is a complicated subject (and there really isn't any hard and fast rules to go by), but from one male perfume-lover to another, how do you justify when something is "too feminine" to pull off?

    Just curious,


    By Blogger Marko, at 8:40 PM  

  • I have to admit, I kind of panicked when I saw the dick, I mean, er, pic, heh! I am looking for something with an oud note strong enough to let you know it's there, and I like a lot of masculine scents, but I guess this one is maybe over the line! I'm still tempted to at least see what it would smell like on me though.

    By Blogger RhodaOchoa, at 12:31 PM  

  • Marko--It's something I've wrestled with for a long time. Mostly I think that scent should be considered entirely unisex, and that we should simply wear what smells good to us. But we are all constructs of the culture in which we live, and I can't shake the idea that intensely floral scents are the province of women, while aggressively woody and spicy scents, untempered by anything soft or light, read as masculine.

    I freely concede that this is very stupid, but I haven't been able to shake it, which is why you will never smell me in Joy or Diorissimo in public (though I do own a tiny bottle of Joy and wear it from time to time because it is so beautifully made).

    Rhoda--I think you should try it anyway. It's a men's scent and reads as a men's scent in Western culture, to Western noses, but it could smell really fantastic on you. You'll never know unless you try, and it's not like getting a drastic haircut or a tattoo--you can always wash it off.

    By Blogger pyramus, at 6:26 PM  

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