One Thousand Scents

Friday, August 08, 2008

Sunrise, Sunset: Bulgari Pour Homme and Bulgari Pour Homme Soir

I'm very fond of some of the Bulgari fragrances, to say the least. Their first, the green-tea one, was so new and fascinating that I bought it the same day I first smelled it. (It's hard to believe that there was a time when a green-tea scent was original or uncommon, and yet that's the case.) Their brainy black-tea-and-rubber scent, Bulgari Black, had a similar effect on me, and I'm so addicted to Omnia that I bought it three times (twice as part of a set of miniatures, and one full-sized bottle at a discounter) so that I'd never run out.

I can't remember when I first tried Bulgari Pour Homme; it might have been shortly after its launch in 1995, or I might have waited a while. Maybe I smelled it and promptly forgot about it. It's nice and refined, and grown-up and subtle, and consequently so uninteresting as to leave hardly any impression at all.

I understand that not everybody approaches the fragrance counter in the same way I do. Most men, if they even think about a scent, are just looking for something that smells good and will attract people to them. I've been pretty much obsessive about scent for nearly thirty years now, and as a result, decent-smelling, theoretically sexually attractive scents aren't enough, because I've tried hundreds and hundreds of them. I need to smell new fragrances. I need them to be strikingly original; they have to stand out from the crowd. They have to compel me to wear them and therefore buy them. They don't have to be loud or insistent, but they have to be new.

Bulgari Pour Homme is kind of soapy and kind of fresh, with a kind of masculine floral middle and a kind of musky base. There's supposedly a darjeeling tea note in there, tea being the Bulgari signature, but it's not a dominant element, to say the least. (The notes, according to the invaluable Basenotes, are

Top Notes: Bergamot, Orange Blossom, Blackcurrant Flower, Darjeeling Tea, Water Lily, Muguet. Middle Notes: Cardamom, Rose Wood, Pepper, Red Iris, Guaiac Wood. Base Notes: Transparent Amber and Musk.

This tells me nothing of any worth.)

Bulgari Pour Homme isn't one of the standard fresh scents aimed at young men; it's considerably more sophisticated than that. It's made with care and intelligence. Nevertheless, there are a great many scents on the market that smell more or less like it. I can't quite imagine anyone sniffing the air around you and saying, "Wow!" while you're wearing it, or compulsively grabbing your wrist or snuggling into your neck for a nice long inhale. It's just one of those scents that's there when you wear it, and if that's the sort of thing you're looking for, then it's as good as any other.

You'd think that a scent with "Soir" in the title, "soir" being the French word for "evening", would be dark and sexy and maybe a little mysterious. If you thought that about Bulgari Pour Homme Soir, which hit the shelves a couple of years ago, you'd be wrong. I'll give the company credit for not making a flanker that has nothing to do with the original scent but merely coasts on its name; the Soir is clearly a variant of the original. The trouble is that it's not an especially dramatic variant. It is a little darker, and if you had to decide which was the day scent and which the night, you could do it. But nothing about the Soir says "Black-tie gala" or "Sexy nighttime fun!" What, they couldn't up the dosage of the base notes, thread some tobacco and cedar through it, maybe toss in a little patchouli?

The bottles, as is more or less invariably the case with Bulgari (a jeweller, and therefore sensitive to image and design), are gorgeous, of a piece with and yet subtly different from the unisex tea scents and the original women's scent, as well as Bulgari Blu. (When you see the bottle for Bulgari Blu Pour Homme, you wouldn't link it to the green-tea bottle, unless you saw the women's version of Blu first, which represents an intermediate stage between the two in the evolution of the bottle.) Who would have thought you could wring so many changes out of such a simple idea?

I feel like I need to repeat myself on this; both Bulgari Pour Homme and Bulgari Pour Homme Soir are decent, respectable, well-made men's fragrances, and they're certainly more appealing than much of what has hit the market in the last fifteen years. But you could do better.

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