One Thousand Scents

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fearless: Création (vintage) by Ted Lapidus

A chap walked into the store a couple of days ago wearing a Utilikilt, and I immediately felt kind of bad for him, because there was no question that he felt self-conscious about it. There is only one way for a man to wear a kilt, and that is confidently: if you look in the mirror and have even the slightest doubt about it, if you think people are going to be making fun of you behind your back as "the guy in the skirt", if you think you are going to be thinking about the kilt instead of whatever needs to be concentrated upon as you go about your day, then you need to take it off and put on some pants before you head out to face the world. The only way to wear a kilt is by not giving a good goddamn what anybody else thinks.

This, as it turns out, is also the secret to the classic chypres. Florals smell soft and approachable, orientals lush and seductive, fougeres crisp and no-nonsense. They smell good. Appealing. A chypre is something else altogether, because the core of it, layered between fresh bergamot and warm labdanum, is oakmoss, which is fascinating, enigmatic, and earthy, but not immediately attractive. It's the gin-and-tonic of perfumery: you have to learn to like it. A chypre will be bolstered with many other things: there are floral chypres, oriental chypres, fougere and fruit and leather chypres, but always at the heart of it is that essential strangeness. And because it is strange, wearing it requires a certain amount of self-possession. The message you are broadcasting is not "I am sexual" or "I am innocent", but "I am my own person," with a definite subtext: "and I don't really care what you think."

Classic chypres smell like confidence. They bestow confidence upon the wearer. How is it that we let them slip away?

I don't think Ted Lapidus ever had much of a presence in North America, although there were always one or two of his scents floating around in the eighties and early nineties in the department stores, at least in my part of the world: I remember seeing Création, Lapidus Pour Homme, and Fantasme at various times, and there may have been others that (somehow) slipped under my radar. Since Création was launched in 1984, just about the time I started paying serious attention to scents, it's no surprise that I discovered it (I was smelling everything I could get my hands on). Since it's a chypre, it's also no surprise that I loved it (even though I had no idea at the time what a chypre was).

Création is one year younger than Ungaro's Diva, and definitely related to it, though not a copy: they're both expansive eighties-style chypres, though, and they both take up a lot of room — pretty much a trademark of the genre. Vintage Création starts out as a bushel-basket of fruit, peachy and sunshine-bright, with a dose of blackcurrant from the damascones that were becoming so widespread in the early eighties (and reached their zenith in Dior's Poison the next year). The middle is floral, but unlike Diva's oversized, vampy seductress flowers, Création's are fresh and summery, held in check only by the sizeable dose of oakmoss, which casts its usual crepuscular shadow over everything: it's possible to make a really high-spirited, cheerful chypre (just look at Yvresse), but the only way to do it is to play down the oakmoss.

To my extreme surprise, Création is still being manufactured, in an exceedingly nice revamped bottle.

As ever, I don't know what it smells like now, but it is an easy guess that the oakmoss is gone or seriously diminished, and if the scent bears even a trace of its former self, it's probably a patchouli floral like so many others. In truth, it was a chypre like so many others, back when it was new: but it was a really good one.



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