Monday, October 16, 2006

Burberry London for Men: fragrance review

Men’s scents, much like men themselves, face the hard task of convincing us that they are sensitive enough while still being virile. Too much brutishness and they seem like villains in a B-movie, too much sensitivity and they appear wimpy and lame. It’s unfair granted, but there you have it. Recent worthwhile olfactory offerings in this domain have either blundered by being too innovative and butch for their own good (the mediocre sales of Yves Saint Laurent’s M7) or taken the path of least resistance becoming scents to be adored by women to put on rather than something men actually choose for themselves (the difficult iris of Dior Homme). I won’t go into the neighbourhood of the bland, because it is so thickly populated, one is sure to stumble upon a bestseller or two.

Burberry London for Men, the new men’s scent by the classic British brand, proved to be a very pleasant surprise that unites those elusive aforementioned qualities. Following the quite likeable London for women, a floral dominated by sensuous jasmine with a musky depth and fronted by the engrossing and completely radiant Rachel Weisz, London for Men seems to smell much more expensive than it really is. It exudes the aura of an individual with moral values that can still be a little rough if need be. It burns with the reliable buzz of a home fireplace, red flame and dark ember, but the couple in the house of whom this takes place are still carnally attracted to each other, they still possess that spark, that disloging of elements which accounts for daydreaming and stomach butterflies.

Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd (pronounced Griffith; I know, I know…and you thought Ralph pronounced Rafe/Rayf was the pits) as its face certainly doesn’t hurt. If you have watched the travesty that "King Arthur" was, despite its worthy male protagonist, Ioan played the part of Lancelot. The seafaring "Hornblower" series is another thing you might have watched him in. The respective male and female black & white ads show the good-looking couple of Weisz and Gruffudd during a a day stroll through London streets, dressed in a casual-oh-so-chic unaffected way, embracing and smiling to one another under the shadow of the trees. I have to admit it's cute, despite myself.

Burberry began its fashion history back in 1856 as a quality line for the perfect weatherproof, sturdy clothes of gabardine mainly for farmers and agricultural workers, later on for field sports. Functionality in a good looking package, what all clothes should aim for. Sir Ernest Shackleton and Roald Amundsen praised the brand's pants and sweaters when conquering the Pole. "Breakfast at Tiffany’s" final scene would have been less of a classic without it.
At times it was an elitist toffs domain, which is ironic if one considers the origins of the brand (but then, so are designer jeans!). The vulgarization that ensued in the last couple of decades with cheap replicas flooding the street market became a baleful thorn on the side of Burberry. Rose Marie Bravo in 2001 hired Christopher Bailey, a Yorkshire man, to inject some young attitude and hopefully distance the brand from chavs (surely a loaded term) He added the original optimistically nuanced "Prorsum" tag (Latin to the rescue…) and made some practical things that seem fresh and interesting in their functionality. Plans to close the Welsh factory, reported in September 2006 with the prospect of 300 jobs lost leave us a little concerned, however.

In the area of perfumes Burberry has been quite successful. Although the counters that carry their perfumes are not gilded, most of their line is proving very commercial and this is no accident. From Touch to Brit via Brit Red and Weekend, they have likeable products. Brit and Brit Red have cottoned on to the gourmand trend and became huge crowd pleasers without committing the sin of smelling tired.
Burberry London was the name of their original scent, issued at 1992, London being the base of their headquarters. Enough to baffle the casual customer, a phenomenon prevalent with recent releases. Suffice to say that the new 2006 Burberry London for men and women both come in a box embossed with the famous plaid (make that “check” if you’re a Londoner; it is a little darker in the men’s version than in the women’s) and they smell completely different from their predecessors.

London for Men begins its fragrant journey on a subdued citrusy note that immediately becomes quite spicy, redolent of the hotness of pepper and cinnamon, mixing elements of a muled wine goblet consumed before a raging logwood fire during a cool idle evening. The illusion of deep dark red fruits (like those in Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir) that have been candied creeps up at some point, but the effect is nowhere near the sweetness of Brit, nor the intensity of its cinnamon ambience. The fluffy sweetness is subdued by the delicious trail of smooth pipe tobacco and if this is a note you associate with dear old granpas or cancer sticks (aka cigars), better rethink, because whatever went into the production of this number is bet to make women purr. It’s that good! Booze and tobacco, how politically incorrect can one go these days? (tongue in cheek) Apparently not enough, because although these elements are clearly discernible, they never become as prominent as in –say- Tabac Blond or Botytris. This is a perfume that retains some mass appeal, and that’s not knocking it, not at all.
A delicious plum accord like a festive pie further smoothes out the rougher notes of the booze and spice, while the emergence of a truly refined rich, dry wood and amber accord with some bitterness of napa leather is left to linger on the skin seductively. The overall effect is smooth, elegant, high class and comforting at the same time, with the merest wisp of a vanillic powderiness in the base. Makes you want to don an old reliable jacket and a stylish fedora and go for a walk, if only for the joy of returning to the warmth of the hearth afterwards which makes it eminently fit for the cooler season.

It comes in an eau de toilette and the lasting power is average. Women might be able to pull it off because of its inviting spice note and warmth, while men would smell swoon worthy fetching in it.

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