The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘“Black XS for Men”’

Guerlain

L’Homme Idéal

L'Homme IdealI have before me a bottle of Amaretto liqueur, which I’m tempted to drink, though seeing as it’s ten in the morning I probably shouldn’t. I also have a bottle of the latest men’s perfume from Guerlain, L’Homme Idéal, which you’ll be relieved to hear I won’t be drinking either.

The reason for this conjunction is that several reviews of L’Homme Idéal have suggested that it smells distinctly like Amaretto, so I’m testing whether they do – and the answer is that, side by side like this, they don’t. Amaretto smells far sweeter and more almondy, with a touch of bitter almonds that L’Homme Idéal lacks.

All the same, the Amaretto comparison should give you some idea of L’Homme Idéal’s character: burnt-sugar sweet and, yes, really quite almondy. It’s a smell that won’t appeal to every man (though I suspect a lot of women will like it), and in fact the perfume hasn’t exactly been greeted with universal acclaim, though personally I rather like it.

Launched in June 2014, L’Homme Idéal was created by Thierry Wasser, who has been the company’s in-house perfumer since 2008; I’ve reviewed one or two of his other perfumes, including Guerlain Homme l’eau Boisée and the wonderfully refreshing Cologne du Parfumeur. Its ingredients include orange, rosemary, cedar and vetiver, but the two that most people pick up on are tonka beans and almonds, with a bit of leather thrown in.

Tonka beans are used in a wide range of perfumes, and they have a warm, slightly sweet smell, which many people find reminds them of food, especially chocolate and vanilla. The scent of almonds is less often used (though James Heeley’s fine but painfully overpriced L’Amandière smells of almost nothing else), but they’re what give L’Homme Idéal its distinctly foody, burnt-sugar smell.

Luckily – from my point of view at least – L’Homme Idéal isn’t nearly as sickly-sweet as Thierry Mugler’s revolting Angel, or even as cutesy sweet as Black XS for Men from Paco Rabanne. Sweet smells, like sweet tastes, have something a bit childlike and unsophisticated about them, but Thierry Wasser has toned the sweetness down here by surrounding the tonka beans and almonds with the smells of freshly-sawn wood and new leather, as well as a hint of dry, earthy vetiver.

All in all this is a nice enough fragrance, but it’s a bit too muted and polite to really stand out for me. That may well be intentional, since it seems to be squarely aimed at the big middle market, whose buyers are not widely considered to be particularly adventurous or sophisticated. Mind you they’re also considered to be virtually illiterate, if Guerlain’s French-pretentious marketing guff is anything to go by.

Yes, it’s same old tired perfume bollocks yet again: ‘The ideal man is a myth. His fragrance, a reality. Guerlain decodes men’s aspirations and creates for them a concentrate of ideal. The ideal fragrance? Smart, handsome, strong. Three adjectives, three accords for this fresh woody fragrance that will trigger your full potential.’ As a copywriter myself I’d be ashamed to have written that, though I’m sure whoever did write it was handsomely paid. (The box, incidentally, sports a typographical car-crash that seems to read, ‘Be You. No Need to Anymore Have Your Fragrance.’ Got that? Me neither.)

Still, the smell is nice enough, and the bottle is actually far better than most: a chunky glass square with (according to Guerlain) ‘radical’ matt black lacquer sides and a crisply detailed cap that apparently ‘borrows its guilloché detailing from the world of watchmaking.’ I think they should have borrowed the cap from an Amaretto bottle, but there you go.

 

What a stink

There’s nothing unusual about hating airports, but it only dawned on me recently at Gatwick how much I hate airport duty free shops too. I always feel I should have a look at the hundreds of perfumes on offer in case I stumble across something wonderful and new, but while it’s useful, I guess, to keep an eye on the latest big launches (though who can keep up with them all?), I always stumble out afterwards feeling slightly depressed and very headachy.

My problem? It’s that in all those hundreds of perfumes there are maybe three or four I’d want to buy another time, and they’re nearly always the ones I know and like already. Of all the hundreds of new launches every year, in other words, barely one or two are worth a second sniff, and most of them are (not to mince words) utterly vile.

There are occasional exceptions, but they’re pretty rare, and often unexpected: Paco Rabanne Black XS for Men, for example, which is ridiculously sweet but enjoyably silly and smells of strawberries (though it’s actually based on a variation on orange); or Marc Jacobs Bang – hideous advertising, hideous bottle, but actually not such a bad scent inside. But mostly it’s sniff and recoil in horror: why does anyone buy this stuff? Just because they’re told to? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

There again, maybe it was always this way: apart from sad exceptions it’s the good, on the whole, that tends to survive, while the rubbish and the dreadful is quietly dropped and disappears. And perhaps it was just the same in the 1920s or the 1950s. The difference, today, is that there are far too many launches, the industry having backed itself into an unprofitable corner where only the latest thing sells, but only because it’s the latest thing – and it’s all too quickly superseded.

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