Carlos Benaïm's recent collaboration with Frederic Malle - the scintillating Eau De Magnolia - was seen by many critics as a modern rendition of 70s-style chypres, chiefly Edmond Roudnitska's Diorella (1972). But when I mentioned this interpretation during a recent interview with the perfumer, he rejected it, claiming it's a view to which he doesn't subscribe. In light of this, I wonder how he'd trace the olfactory ancestry of Icon, because even though the scent attempts to cut a very modern dash, there's no doubt that it owes many of its curves and angles to forms from the past.
Housed in a striking bottle - a cross between a lighter, a hand grenade and a scary, cylindrical power tool - Icon marks an attempt by Dunhill to raise its game: it seems the brand would now like to be less like, say, another Mont Blanc and more like another Hermès. Indeed, suggestions have been made that this new release is aimed squarely at those who spend their pennies on the enduringly successful Terre D'Hermès. Whether the gambit proves fruitful remains to be seen, but Benaïm's work here certainly stands a good chance of becoming a hit, at least partly because of its aforementioned allusions to masculines that have come before it.
For one thing, Icon's base couldn't be more classical. A woody, clearly legible vetivert - made slightly more bitter and aromatic with the addition of sage-like herbs - it instantly calls to mind the heavy-hitters of 70s/80s masculine perfumery (think: Cacharel Pour L'Homme, 1981) although it is unquestionably softer and less hairy-chested. The lung-filling freshness of the opening - apparently achieved by an overdose of neroli - tangentially recalls the aquatic effects of 90s creations, but here, it is far less chaste: you can't use orange blossom without injecting at least a tiny measure of sensuality into proceedings. The cardamom and pine echo the ever-influential Déclaration (which was, of course, made by the same chap who put together Terre: Jean-Claude Ellena). And there's even a hint of finger-licking sugary notes in the background, suggesting that Benaïm was keen to include a reference to our current adoration of gourmand notes.
The whole works quite well; the initial section is particularly commendable for the endorphin-inducing realism of its tart citrus notes. But the diffusiveness is rather surprising, and not in keeping with what I imagine would be the typical Dunhill man's desire to maintain a degree of understatement. Indeed, it's in this area that the perfume can't quite shake off the shackles of yesteryear: its insistent desire for attention places it on a par with the likes of Antaeus and Fahrenheit, scents which are worlds away from the intimate, sotto voce appeal of Terre D'Hermès.
Then again, perhaps I'm wrong: maybe Dunhill man - whoever he is - is more ostentatious than Hermès man. If so, he'll probably find much to enjoy in Icon. Personally, I can't help feeling disappointed when vetivert drydowns turn slightly acrid and sweaty - as this creation's does - but that is precisely the quality for which many people turn to the pungent root. Distinctive, well-delineated and assertive, Icon convincingly separates itself from the depressing swathe of most mainstream masculines... even if it does sometimes make you think you can hear the Knight Rider theme playing in the background.
[Review based on a sample of eau de toilette provided by Dunhill in 2014.]