Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Polo Modern Reserve by Ralph Lauren: fragrance review & comparison

~by guest writer Mike Perez

Wood. Pine. Evergreen. The Christmas season 2008 has arrived (is it just me, or is the entire fall/winter season just a blur!?) and the green/wood smell of a fresh Christmas tree is one of my favorite smells. In Miami, I can’t walk into a snow covered forest and smell the trees – so the smell of a tree or wreath filling my home is as close as I can get to the real thing.
I’ve looked diligently, for fragrances that smell like this: Fou d’Absinthe by L’Artisan Parfumeur recreates it nicely, alongside a generous helping of boozy absinthe; Aqua Allegoria Winter Delice by Guerlain smells just like a stiff / dried-out Christmas wreath (pine cones, twigs, dried holly berries) folded into a gingerbread cake accord with a resinous incense base.
I asked someone on Basenotes for a recommendation, and they mentioned Polo by Ralph Lauren.
Polo and I never really got along. Maybe because it was so easy to hate. Back in the 80’s I smelled this scent on just about every single male, in my junior high school locker room. Its irreverent wood/pine accord is unmistakably strong and diffuses in the air quickly…I always felt that it’s a ‘male’ Poison.
Now older, I realize how many colognoisseurs respect and admire Polo as a classic men’s masculine. I softened to the idea of owning it and even tracked some vintage (aerosol EdT) bottles of it on Ebay once – but I never bought a bottle.

Now Ralph Lauren has released Polo Modern Reserve, their 30th Anniversary Edition, created by the very same perfumer responsible for original Polo, Carlos Benaim. The original Polo has NOT been discontinued – rather they both are available.
It’s confusing, since both share the same bottle color, shape, cap, gold lettering and logo – the only difference is the new scent says ‘Modern Reserve’ on the front of the bottle.
When I sampled it I noticed a much more spicy (almost soapy) top note that isn’t harsh at all. Less resinous. But not ‘typical’ or ‘fresh’ (thank goodness). The scent evolves quickly through a few stages and one could easily miss them if you’re not paying attention: soapy basil; spice; a hint of leather and/or birch tar; the tiniest bit of smoky resin (myrrh?); and then: the vintage smell of Polo. The sharpness and piercing effect of the notes has been softened (the tobacco is gone). I, personally, prefer this change. The original always smelled less like something in nature (animal, plant) and more like a manufactured ‘smell’ of green foliage, woods and the outdoors. It suffered for this: It was lumped into the bargain fragrance category (along with other outstanding masculines like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, Aramis and the discontinued [prior to reformulation/ vintage] Brut). When so many other products (hand soap, dishwashing liquid, carpet cleaner) are scented like this too, it’s no surprise many have a knee-jerk aversion to it. Maybe this is why Ralph Lauren decided to re-brand, re-bottle and reformulate it?
Me, I’m impressed: This new edition impresses me without cheapening the quality of the original scent. It highlights all of the lovely facets while it simultaneously plays down those less-than-friendly parts with a more balanced vetiver/leather base. It also, just like the original, lasts hours and hours! Which, I’ve come to learn, is what many men look for in their fragrances. {Stay tuned for a post on longevity, here on Perfume Shrine, soon}.

Does it smell like a Christmas tree? No. But, then again, it doesn’t smell like a polo field either. However a bottle, along with a copy of the scratch-and-sniff book ‘The Smell of Christmas’, underneath my Christmas tree might be just do the trick! :)

Notes for Polo Modern Reserve:
Top: Cardamom C02*, Fresh-cut Basil, Pimento Berry.
Heart: Vetyver-leather, liquid Jasmine, precious Myrrh Incense.
Bottom: Humidor Wood, Patchouli, Sueded Leather.

Prices: $62.50 / 120 ml bottle or $200 for 240 ml (limited edition, only 3,500 gold lettering bottles produced, in a numbered wooden box). Available at major department stores and

*CO2 extraction or supercritical carbon dioxide is an increasingly popular solvent for extracting volatile oils and fragrance compounds from various raw materials used in perfumery, due to the relatively low critical temperature and reactivity of CO2 which diminishes damage or denaturing (otherwise the materials' odour would be altered).

Clip originally uploaded by Modetopiamodel on Youtube. Pics of bottle and polo player Nacho Figueras provided by MikePerez.


  1. Anonymous07:14

    Hi Mike. Nice review. Polo must have been the very first cologne I owned around 1985. I don't know that I've smelled it in many years, but I'm sure there's still something there I would like to sniff -- although I probably wouldn't wear it again, in part because it does have such longevity. And I would say there is some hint of "Christmas" smell about it. I'm curious about this Modern Reserve as well, but what I really would like is about a 5ml decant of each. Never in a million years would I want 120ml, even at that low price.

    And one final tip regarding Christmas trees -- may I recommend testing some of the "Yankee Candle" varieties? I just picked one up yesterday and I'm burning it now --they really do a good job of capturing the conifer scent and getting one into that "holiday" mood.

  2. Joe,

    on behalf of Mike I am thanking you for your comment :-)

    Interesting what you say about the size of the bottles, because I can't think of such potent fragrances being used in large quantities either. (then again, maybe they want to make people commit to it?)

  3. Anonymous19:37

    Thanks Joe805.

    Of course I can totally understand how some 'get' the smell of a fir/evergreen tree from Polo. To me, I can't seem to remove my olfactory associations to the 'Polo' accord as a fragrance rather than a living thing.

    I happen to have a 'Evergreen' candle by Slatkin & Co. and it's fantastic in it's recreation of a Christmas tree. I will have to keep an eye out for that YC one also.

  4. Anonymous03:49

    Great review, Mike. I wore Polo for years back in the day, and I have to admit that I like this new one, too. It really brings it back in a more modern, accessible form. Your analysis does help me make sense of why I almost like the new one better, especially now.

    And thanks for the clip of Nacho. I didn't realize he was such a warm and friendly guy (he's almost "too cool" in those ads! :))

  5. Anonymous09:34

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