One Thousand Scents

Friday, November 28, 2008

Taste: Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme

Another day, another faux chypre.

I was going to do Mitsouko, but it wants me to wait until I understand it better, plus I now have a sample of the EDP in addition to the actual bottle of the EDT, so I can compare them, which, everyone says, is a necessity. (By rights, they tell me, I ought to have a sample of the extrait, too, but that will have to wait for another time.)

Since Mitsouko is a chypre, and in some ways the chypre, it makes sense that I would like to look at Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme instead. It's positioned in the category of "modern chypre" or "new chypre", and what that means is that it has a quantity of patchouli in the base. As I am sure I've said a dozen times and maybe a hundred (I'm not counting), what makes a chypre is oakmoss. There are other components to bolster the warmth, usually things like labdanum and ambergris, and a classic chypre starts out with the brilliance of citrus or other fruit notes, but the oakmoss is the one indispensable ingredient. If you don't have it, you don't have a chypre.

And most scents nowadays do not have oakmoss, or at least not in any real quantity. It causes contact dermatitis in a significant number of people, so it's been banished to the hinterlands by bureaucrats with no artistry in their souls. I would gladly suffer a skin rash every time I wore Knowing or Boucheron Pour Homme or Mitsouko if that's what it took to experience one of the most beautiful and intoxicating aromatic substances that we humans have ever devised.

So, rather than admit that the category of chypre is closed, at least for the time being, the perfume companies have simply decided to redefine it downwards as "it has some sort of moss in it" or "what are you talking about, chypres have always been patchouli-based, and if you say different then you're probably crazy". If Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme is an example of what's being called the modern chypre, then the family is dead anyway.

The top of Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme is fairly awful: synthetic woody citrus and artificial freshness (thank you, inventors of Calone), sourish and not in a good way--not crisp and acidic in the usual manner of citrus, but with a sharpness that suggests the decomposition of certain kinds of food.

Nowadays, all scents are made to be widely appealing straight out of the bottle. They have to be: there are so many hundreds upon hundreds of fragrances that marketers can no longer assume people will take the trouble to wear them for a few hours before committing their money, so they have to make them instantly legible and lovable. It's the perfumery equivalent of loading commercial food with salt and sugar and fat (three things that human beings instinctively love) at the expensive of complexity and more interesting, sophisticated flavours.

That makes it odd that the opening of Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme is not only unpleasant but thoroughly disagreeable. It isn't merely the sort of generic fresh thing that I disdain (from long experience and boredom) but that the market clearly can't get enough of. To return to the food analogy, it isn't kimchi or blue cheese or liver, things that seem appalling but are delicious once you acquire the taste for them; instead, it's all these things and a Big Mac thrown into a blender. It's muck.

After an unpleasant while, a quite wonderful thing happens: Gucci by Gucci Pour Homme disrobes and reveals its true self, and it is much nicer than you might expect: slightly sweet but never too much so, rich and full with little passing wisps of pipe tobacco, bedded on patchouli and amber and wood. Since it can't be a chypre without oakmoss, I guess you'd have to call it a woody amber scent, if you needed a category to put it into, but you might as well just call it "cologne" and be done with it. There's nothing especially novel about the scent, but if you should happen to get a bottle of this for Christmas, make sure you wait until the top has burned off: it's actually worth the wait.

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