Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Chypre series 6 ~Masculine chypres: does such a thing exist?

In this month of chypres examination and discussion, Perfume Shrine pondered on their origin, their composition, the modern variations, their aesthetics and the relation they have to the zeitgeist (Click on the links to go to respective subject).
It was about time we focused on the question whether there are indeed masculine fragrances that fall into this category of chypre.
The matter arises because most of the frequently mentioned chypre perfumes are feminine, if you think about it. We also attribute traditionally perceived feminine characteristics to them, such as elegance or sartorial sophistication (for some reason this wouldn't resonate with the Italian man, but I digress).
And the subcategories of floral or fruity within chypre often predispose one to think into such terms, although the seasoned perfumed lover is not restricted by such artificial limitations pertaining to gender.

Like we discussed before Chypre relies on the juxtaposition of bergamot and oakmoss, with the traditional inclusion of labdanum and usually of patchouli or vetiver. There is a comparable fragrance family for men, called Fougère (pronounced foozh-AIR), the French word for fern. In reality this is a fantasy accord because ferns have no real scent of their own. Fougère fragrances have fresh herbaceous notes, juxtaposing lavender with oakmoss on a fern-like base, with an element of Coumarin (the smell of freshly mown hay, naturally found in tonka bean, the seed of a West African tree which contains up to 40% of it).
Masculine fragrances have usually gone the route of the fougère when trying to recreate a forest floor impression instead of chypre, perhaps due to the fact that chypre perfumes have been marketed to women, or because they often included floral elements which are traditionally thought of as feminine in the 20th century (albeit not before!).

Classification is rather dubious territory, as there are countless exempla of diversifications according to the source. Open any guide or reference site and you will see the differences leaping to the eye. Therefore the following is only an attempt to examine whether there is any logical base in attributing scents to this or that odorous category.

For starters, the matter of whether leathery scents are a subdivision of chypres (as they do mostly contain the basic accord)or a seperate category termed Leather/Cuir (according to the French Society of Perfumers) is significant. Going by that leathery and oftentimes tobacco scents very often do smell rather more masculine; such as the various Cuir de Russie versions (Chanel, Creed, Piver etc), Miss Balmain and Jolie madame by Balmain, Caron's fierce Yatagan and smoky Tabac Blond , or Bandit by Piguet, lost semi-legend Jules by Dior and Bel Ami by Hèrmes. You will notice that there is a proliferation of both -marketed as- masculine and feminine scents in the above. Should we or shouldn't we classify them under chypre? The matter remains open for discussion.

Another cross-polination happens, involving woody undertones.
An example that would implicate those as well as a whiff of leathery castoreum is Antaeus by Chanel. Decidely butch, pheromonic almost and a powerhouse, it came out in 1981 by in-house perfumer Jacques Polge. It contains the pungency of male sweat and animalistic nuances with honeyed touches and much as I love it, I can't bring myself to don it on my person. The official notes listed (clary sage, lavender, myrrtle, labdanum, patchouli) do not include the classic accord of chypre despite the cool opening on an earthy animalistic background, yet one is hit with such a composition that might remind one of the family.
Shiseido's Basala is another one, as well as the original Armani Pour Homme.
There is some argument that coniferous elements such as pine essence as witnessed in Pino Sylvestre could be included in a subdivision of chypre.

The flip side of this confusion would be the lighter citrusy notes that might blurr the line between hesperidic and chypre. As chypre compositions contain a discernible citrusy pong via the inlusion of Calabrian bergamot, the notion isn't too far off.
Chanel Pour Monsieur could be such an example. Elegant, refined, conceived while Coco Chanel was still alive, it pays tribute to all the famous men she had known. Created in 1951 by Henri Robert, second nose in la maison Chanel after legendary Ernest Beaux, it plays on a sharp and clean citrusy top that includes lemon, petit grain (the essence rendered from the twigs and leaves of the Seville bitter orange tree, Citrus aurantium) and neroli (the distilled essence of the flowers). It then segues to spicy notes of cardamon and white pepper that invite you closer, only to end on a whiff of cedar and vetiver that retains freshness and discretion for the wearer. Perhaps citrus-aromatic would be a closer categorisation.

And there are various decidedly masculine propositions that reek of the pungency of patchouli and vetiver, notes that are so much used for the modern chypres of the last few years.

Givenchy Gentleman, which is sometimes described as a woody oriental, is a beast of a patchouli perfume that remains untamed even though its name would suggest hand kisses and opening doors for you. He does, but then ravages you, ripping your bra off.
The original Aramis for Men could be another case in point, especially given -again!- the suave name that would belie its intentions that open on a crisp note of artemisia and bergamot. It has of course intense woodiness too, thanks to sandal, but with the elements of a classic chypre in place as well. Coupled with a pinstripe suit it goes out to the City to trade stocks and in the lunch break goes off for supposedly a gym session that is in reality an illicit tryst.
Why do such powerful and assertive masculine fragrances are given names that imply a more gentle approach? This could be the subject of another post...

For the time being, please offer your suggestions on masculine chypres and the reason why you classify them thus.

Picsfrom parfumsdepub


  1. Hello, my sister-in-scent !
    I've been caught up in the whole Sniffapalozza event, and missed you.

    One such masculine chypre that strikes me, is Parfums D'Empire's Iskander.
    It's pretty complex, but has that potent cedrat/ mandarin/ grapefruit opening that is paired with an oakmoss, patchouli,musky/ vetiver base.
    They call it 'ambery' ; but that's not what I'm getting.

    I find that I wear this well- as do Ina and Marina- but frankly, it's better on Jacob, my 17 year old.

  2. Dear E., there are at least three other authentic masculine chypres: Guerlain's Derby, once more discontinued after having been re-edited in the Parisiennes collection, is an herbal veering on leathery chypre with a subtle floral underscoring of jasmine and carnation.
    Van Cleef and Arpels pour Homme, a late 70s leather chypre.
    The older, 1951 Eau d'Hermès, with its citrus/spices/oakmoss structure with a leather undertone, can also be classified as a chypre. While VC&A is too associated to a time of my life (our whole gang of trendy punk art students wore it), I still wear the other two with pleasure.

  3. Thanks I, dear and you have been missed too!

    Iskander has a glorious freshness, it's true and it merits its own post I gather. Thanks for pointing it out to me again.

    Your 17 year old must smell enticing!

  4. Dear D,
    thanks for the suggestions.
    Derby is indeed a great one, did they really pull it out again? Such a pity... (I had reviewed it on my Guerlain Boutique page).
    I am not familiar with V&A homme (only with Tzar which I liked quite a bit!), must sniff it.
    As to Eau d'Hermes, surely a piece of history and it would be interesting to classify it as a chypre; good thinking! (Edmond sure had a thing for them)

  5. Oh and Chaya: you must tell all about the Snifapalooza! I bet you have a great time!

  6. Guerlain Sous Le Vent has been described as a cross between a fougere and chypre. Although it was made for Josephine Baker, it smells unisex because of its dry and austere character. I love it.

  7. Iris,
    this is unisex to my nose as well (as contrasted to masculine per se). It seems to have the bracing quality that the vintage Vent Vert has, somehow.

  8. Guerlain's Djedi could certainly be added to this subsection, esp as concerns "the pungency of patchouli and vetiver" you noted above. The oakmoss is definitely there along with the leather. Another magisterial post, V.

  9. Leopoldo18:18

    Derby, Derby, Derby - for all the reasons stated.

    And PG's Querelle?

  10. Anonymous09:17

    Dear E., again an exquisite collection which features my personal favourite Basala and the beloved Antaeus and Aramis, too!
    Regarding men's scents i've always been a chyriasta, i guess. May i suggest "Havana" by Aramis, although it dosn't feature bergamot but tangerine, grapefruit and orange in the top? I think it might fit into this category, too.

  11. Dear C,

    thank you for your kind words. *blush*
    Guerlain had an affinity for oakmoss, didn't they? Djedi would be another one in the thoroughbreds stable...Such a pity those are a bit hard to get now.

  12. Lee, dear,

    Derby is of course to be included.
    I haven't tried Querelle, please elaborate!

  13. Thank you, N.
    I bet you smell wonderful in those.

    "Havana" is a lovely example as well, thanks for reminding me. It's been ages since I smelled this...wonder if it is still widely available here.

  14. What about Rive Gauche pour Homme? Tons o' oakmoss there. I suppose it's really a fougere, but the opening has a bit of bergamot tang. Or I could be imagining things.

  15. Anonymous08:08

    Dear E.,
    well, of course i don't wear them but my b/f. Havana is discontinued which is a true reason for grief, to me.

  16. Oh, this is worth re-acquainting myself with it, M dear. But yes, more of a fougere. I will revisit though, because you say so!

  17. N,
    of course you could wear them yourself, now, couldn't you? ;-)
    (I steal my SO's myself....)

    Pity about the discontinuation...

  18. There are most definitely male chypres out there. My own suggestion is Grey Flannel, with its notes of oakmoss, vetiver and labdanum. Are you familiar with it, E.?

  19. Indeed I am, D, but unfortunately this is usually classed in the woody family (with a floral overtone of violet, surely).

    Interesting though that you perceive it as a chypre! I will seek it out and resniff it and see if I can get my head around to perceive it that way.

  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

  21. 'm surprised that nobody mentioned Boucheron Pour Homme: in the EDT it's mostly a citrus scent, but in the EDP is absolutely a classic men's chypre, with bergamot (and other citrus notes) in the top and tons of oakmoss. Put some on one wrist and some Estee Lauder Knowing (the perfume is best) on the other, and compare them: you'll see.

  22. Pyramus, welcome and thank you for your comment.
    I will make a mental note to do the side-by-side comparison you are talking of. Sound very interesting.

  23. Great post, E! I'm having a ball exploring the niches of your shrine ;-)
    May I suggest Lauder for Men - the most scrumptuous green animalic men's chypre, a perfect pairing of vetiver, castoreum and oakmoss! I wants a bottle, NOW!

  24. Dusan,

    so glad you're having fun with the site!! I need to reorganise the categories at some point, seems so long since I updated.

    Lauder for Men: now there's a thought. Will give it a retrial as soon as I am at the Lauder counter again. Thank you!!

    HOpe you're well :-)

  25. Le Maleable11:21

    Consider one of my sensational signature favorites, Luciano Soprani - "Uomo" (2003) in the black box (not to be confused with an earlier and completely different EDT of the similar name) as a winning candidate for modern male chypre fragrance. The www.LucianoSoprani.it official description describes it as "blending... (top) citrus notes of bergamot and lemon from Calabria with fruity notes of apple and pineapple, enhanced by... nutmeg... white pepper... cinnamon and cloves... (middle) ...lavender, jasmine and orange blossom with violet and lily... to a base of... Atlas Cedar... ebony and... Vetyver[sic], all accompanied by... amber and musk."

  26. Alan Lambert02:17

    What about Kouros? It contains bergamont, oakmoss and civet. YSL's own testers from the late 90s contained a label on the back indicating Kouros was a Spicey chypre with clove, coriander and oakmoss. YSL's current wesite states that Kouros contains coriander, clove, oakmoss and ambergris. Clearly by your own definition this would make Kouros a chypre type frangrance, notwithstanding the fact that YSL considers Kouros to be a spicey chypre. At any rate I have loved the fragrance and do not find it harsh and smelling like urine, etc.

  27. JJH196622:34

    Gucci Pour Homme Original (1976) falls in this category. Masterfully blended Chypre by Guy Robert - Basil, Bergamot, Lavender, Lemon, Carnation, Geranium Iris, Jasmin, Patchouli, Peper Sandalwood, Cedar, Amber, Oakmoss, Labdanum, Leather, Musk, Tonka & Vanilla. Like Derby but 9 years prior!

  28. Alan,

    interesting uestion!

    Kouros is traditionally classified as a fougere, if I'm not mistaken (ME does at least). That brings it somewhat close to chypre I suppose (since they share the inedible and non comforting nuance those 2 genres). I agree with the spicy denominator the company uses on its tester bottles, all the same.

    I don't find it harsh, though I do find it urinous, but I like urinous, if that makes you feel better. It's a perfume I like very much!

  29. JJH,

    an astoundingly long memory you have! Those first Gucci fragrances are all but eclipsed from the market today.
    Yup, you could classify that under chypre. I find it more of a leather fragrance myself. Leathers are classified separately under the Societe Francaise des Parfumeurs classification or as a sub-set of chypres under others. It's a moot point?

    Thanks for the lovely reminder, very clever!


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