One Thousand Scents

Friday, April 03, 2009

History: Bond No. 9 Great Jones


The effect of Great Jones is marvellous: that of being flung bodily into a time machine and taken back, in a whirl of gears and sprockets, to the early 1970s, when male perfumery was a very different thing than it is now.

It calls to mind two of the mainstays of men's fragrance from that era: Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur, launched in 1972, and Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, from 1973. There can't have been many dads or older brothers who didn't have a bottle of either or both in the medicine cabinet: Paco Rabanne, announcing its masculinity with a blocky, broad-shouldered swagger, or Pierre Cardin, the polar opposite in a curvaceous fistful of a bottle that can only be read as a phallus, both French and therefore exotic, both unquestionably masculine. They were the scent of a man who had graduated from Old Spice and Brut. Before the Age of Calone, before everything had to be contaminated with freshness, or rather some manufacturers' idea of what freshness ought to be, Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin were what sophisticated maleness smelled like, and it smelled good.

Great Jones is not a copy of either of these: it's more stripped down, in the modern manner. It's minimalist, focusing on a smaller number of ingredients rather than saturating the nose with a huge, complex harmony. But one of the time-travel surprises it holds is that it's a real, honest-to-goodness chypre in an age that doesn't see many of them, partly because they're no longer in fashion and partly because oakmoss is restricted in perfumery. But it's in here (either the real thing or a very good synthetic), and, as usual, it is glorious.

At first is a great wallop of citrus notes, orange and bergamot, mostly, underscored with a dash of spice, a sheaf of greenery, and the first intimations of the mossy-woody chypre base. As the brightness begins to fade, the volume is turned up on the wood-and-vetiver centre. The wood is not particularly cedar-y; it doesn't have the sharpness or the slight smokiness I usually associate with cedar (and none of the pencil-sharpener quality). It's mostly just wood, to be honest, with a powderiness to it. The oakmoss is already moving in for the kill: though it's a rather refined sort of oakmoss, smoothed and rounded off (so unlike the vicious chypre of Mitsouko), it still has that languorous honeyed-earth smell that makes chypres so irresistible.

Some commenters on other fragrance blogs have said that Great Jones is an exact duplicate of Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, and I unfortunately don't have a bottle of it so I can't say for sure. (It doesn't match my memory of it.) What I can say is that on its own, Great Jones is a knockout. In a sea of Identikit fragrances, it's something new: something old that smells as up to date as can be.

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