Tag Archives: Luca Turin

Chanel Pour Monsieur

On a Christmas 20 years ago, a high school girlfriend offered me a choice between two colognes that she may or may not have shoplifted: Chanel Pour Monsieur and something else (what it was I don’t recall). I chose without smelling either, but then it wasn’t a difficult decision: Chanel had a luxurious mystique, even to my 15-year-old mind.

I didn’t regret it. Against the other bottles on my dresser—Drakkar Noir with its pungent patchouli and oakmoss and the sharp pine and citrus of Polo—Chanel’s subtle woods shrouded by powdery notes were mature and sophisticated. Simply put, Chanel made me feel like an adult.

I wore it for a few years after that, alternating with some other colognes, until over-zealous application of all of them burnt my nose out. After about a 12-year fragrance break I gradually eased into it again and thought wistfully of my old Chanel.

One evening a few years ago, an attractive young woman walked by me at a theater, followed by a light breeze of something familiar. Suddenly I was dizzy with memories: it was Chanel Pour Monsieur. Nostalgia gave way to confusion as I pondered how it made me feel to smell an old favorite cologne on a woman (Is it still masculine? Could I wear it again after associating it with a woman?) The next day I resolved to replace my long lost bottle.

That wasn’t easy. I went to Bloomingdale’s, but the Chanel men’s scents they showed me were nothing like what I remembered. Later I went to Saks. The Chanel counter staff lined up everything they had, but again, nothing was remotely close. I asked if it might be out of production, but the Saks reps knew nothing.

Through some casual Internet research, I stumbled upon rumors of reformulations. What may have happened, I determined, was that Chanel changed its Pour Monsieur formula in about 1989. The bottle I received in 1990 was the last of the old style, which was created in 1955. The new version smelled generic to me. It didn’t have the same light lemon top notes anymore, nor the powdery finish. Those notes were replaced by something more common smelling, and decidedly less pleasant.

Fortunately, the old formula seemed to be in production still, and was available in Europe (indeed perhaps everywhere outside of the U.S.). I visited a Chanel boutique in London last summer giddy with anticipation. Would it be the same? I was disappointed at first. It did not smell the same. I spritzed my wrist anyway, and walked out of the store. A block away, it hit me: this was it! I walked straight back to the store and bought the bottle.

In Perfumes: The A to Z Guide, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s indispensable fragrance bible, Turin gave Chanel Pour Monsieur five stars. Convinced that he was referring to the original and not the reformulation, I e-mailed him. His reply was quick and straightforward: “Chanel Monsieur in the U.S. seems to often be the “concentrée” version which, put plainly, sucks. The original is still good.”

An e-mail to Chanel’s consumer relations department confirmed Turin’s hypothesis: “Regrettably,” wrote my contact, “we currently only offer Pour Monsieur in an Eau de Toilette Concentrée formulation in the U.S.”

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful they haven’t quit making the older formula altogether. There’s a lesson here for those of us who find something we like: Get a really big bottle, because the manufacturer may alter it without ceremony. —Harry Sheff

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Meet Stephen Greco

Love or hate Facebook, it can be addicting and it does possess the power of connecting individuals….and so begins this story.

I’ve known Stephen for a good few years and have always admired his intellect, his clarity of thought and endearing charm. To my surprise one day while surfing Facebook, his status message mentioned he was reading Chandler Burr’s Emperor of Scent. Could he be a fragrance enthusiast? Surely he must be if he’s reading this book. Well, I just had to inquire and what transpired was an enlightening exchange about scents, masculinity and memories of discovery.

Stephen, tell me a bit about your relationship with fragrances? What’s your earliest recollection?
My mother wore Chanel No.5 pretty religiously when I was a boy, and I can remember her being enveloped in a cloud of it when, on an evening she and my father were going out, she would come to my room rustling in a beautiful dress, her hair and makeup Hollywood-glorious, to tuck me in and kiss me good-night.

My father, at that time, was wearing Old Spice, which I found fully as exciting– though later my mother, sister and I bought him a bottle of Canoe, which we thought so much more sophisticated. This was in a small town in upstate New York, in the ’50s and ’60s. My father wasn’t the Canoe, type, though. Aqua Velva was his daytime alternative to Old Spice, and I used to love that, too– the equivalent of which, among the fragrances I use today, is Puig’s Agua Lavanda.

I was going to say that my first experience with fragrance for myself was a bottle of Guerlain’s Imperiale, which I begged my indulgent Aunt Fannie to buy for me after I’d seen an ad for it in the New York Times magazine. She did and I loved it, and then I went on to buy myself Guerlain’s Habit Rouge, a ridiculously adult fragrance for a small-town boy in Junior High. But come to think of it, I’d fallen in love years before that with the scent of Fitch hair tonic, which the barbers at Ed and Al’s used to apply to my fresh haircut, as a finishing touch. My father and I used to go to Ed and Al’s together on a Saturday morning, and I used to feel like man for the rest of the day, smelling of Fitch.

That said, how do you explain the period of time when you wore no fragrance at all?
I sort of came of age as a young gay man just at the time of what we used to call “liberation,” 1969, and for some reason– it’s complicated– it was felt politically important to move away from all vestiges of old-time faggotry, which include LOTS of fragrance, toward a new kind of gay masculinity that eventually flowered in The Clone. As I recall, Clones were not really allowed fragrance until official Clone scents came along–Halston’s Z (which I hated as too overwrought), then Drakkar Noir and the like. And even then certain bars and sex clubs were notorious for forbidding any fragrance, along with Lacoste shirts and designer jeans.

I have stories from those years about the powerful combination of body scents and fragrance, but those are perhaps for another blog.

What bought you back?
What can I say? Early on, I was taught to question all tyrannies, even those parading as politically or culturally correct. I started rocking fragrance whenever the hell I wanted to. And I was traveling a lot in the ’70s and ’80s, so I would often fall under the spell of various kinds of oils and attars that men of other cultures would anoint themselves with, and I adopted these, too.

Talk a bit about what Paco Robanne does to you?
Interesting! I was given a little silver metal canister of the “unisex” fragrance Paco at a party one night– this was in the ’90s, when I was at Interview magazine– and though intellectually I filed the scent under “CK1 knock-off,” emotionally I was transported. For me, Paco was pure, spray-on optimism! No other fragrance had ever reached me so deeply (except for the scent of fresh hyacinth flowers, which, unlike the scent of other flowers, affects me like a psychedelic drug).

This might be the spot to confess that if I have any “psychic” power at all, it would be to smell the future and past, not to see it. What that means, of course, I have no real idea. It’s not like American life is populated with mentors or guides in this area.

What fragrances are currently in your rotation?
Besides Paco and Agua Lavanda, to which I still turn a lot, I also use Davidoff’s Cool Water and Geoffrey Beene’s Bowling Green. Also in the mix are Arden’s Sandalwood and all the Penhaligon men’s fragrances– especially Blenheim, my first bottle of which I purchased in Wellington Street, Covent Garden, one New Year’s Eve in the ’80s, before boarding the Orient Express for an overnight voyage to Venice. For me, the composition and behavior of Blenheim is like that voyage: beginning in the cold, foggy north and heading south, toward the sun and opulence…

But I am also VERY partial to Penhaligon’s Bluebell, a cheeky little charmer that’s supposed for women but works very well on a man.

Oh, and when I am not buzzing my hair and have enough to style, I eagerly grab my Confixor, by Aveda, which isn’t very complicated but does kinda radiate a rosemary cheeriness, along with (I think) lavender.

How often do you go out looking for something new? What specifically do you look for?
This blog, along with books I’ve recently encountered by Luca Turin and Chandler Burr, are inspiring me to go out and look for something new. Until now, I guess I’ve been a bit slack about that– which is odd, since even as a kid, if I liked a certain quartet or novel or ballet, I had to check out everything else immediately by that composer or author or choreographer.

I found a sample of Lalique for Men in a goody bag last year and liked the fragrance a lot, but for some reason never purchased a bottle. Then a friend of mine, a retired dancer, brought me to Aedes de Venustas one day, and I felt too intimidated to poke around, try things, ask questions.

No more! I’m suddenly really jazzed up about smelling and smelling like…

Have you ever purchased the same fragrance more than once? If so, what was it and what about it made it worthy of a repeat buy?
All my Penhaligons are repeat buys. So is the Paco, which in a fever one night recently, years after I’d used up that first canister, I replenished via Ebay. After reading Turin I was afraid of a reformulation, but either Paco’s the same stuff or my nose is not smart enough to tell the difference.

How would you finish this statement. “My most memorable fragrant moment would be…?
Powdered fallen leaves, on that first, oddly warm, Indian Summer day of
fall…