The Sniff Box – Perfume In Plain English

Tagged With ‘“Paco Rabanne”’

Paco Rabanne

Black XS for Men

Perfumes can suggest many things. They can be uplifting, outrageous, disgusting, sexy, hard, delicious, warm, cold, luxurious, even sad. It might seem a bit far-fetched to describe a perfume as silly, but that’s what I think of Black XS by Paco Rabanne, and it’s also why I like it.

Created by Oliver Cresp (co-creator of Thierry Mugler’s love-it or loathe-it Angel) at perfume powerhouse Firmenich and licensed to fragrance multinational Puig, Black XS was launched in 2005. Its black-glass flip-top bottle originally came in an outer slip-case with a shirtless photo of the English model and amateur boxer Will Chalker, which added to its charm.

Packaging aside, its appeal is pretty simple: pump the spray button and you get an unexpectedly fruity blast of ripe strawberries – sweet, girly and completely at odds with the rather Gothic / Twilight-style design and lettering of the bottle. It’s not what you’d call a complex fragrance, but occasionally it’s fun to forget about trying to be cool and sophisticated: perfumes, like people, can sometimes take themselves too seriously, and there’s a silliness about Black XS that makes me smile every time I spray it on.

What’s really funny, though, is that Black XS doesn’t actually have any strawberry in it at all – at least it’s not among the official list of ingredients. What it does have is lemon, calamanzi (a kind of orange native to the Philippines), sage and what most perfume sites describe as ‘tagete’, which I’m assuming is an illiterate corruption of Tagetes, the Latin name for marigold.

The Mexican marigold, Tagetes erecta, is the source of an oil used in perfumery because of its attractive appley scent, and I wonder whether it’s the combination of orange, lemon and apple that fools my nose into thinking that what I’m really smelling is strawberry? If the effect is intentional it’s dead clever, but it’s the kind of thing that professional perfumers do all the time. Personally I think it’s magic.


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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