My closest friend recently discovered Malle. After decades of not considering perfume to be an important factor in how he presents himself to the world, he got in touch and asked for advice on choosing his first 'serious' scent. It should come as no surprise that one of the brands to which I directed him was the red-and-black paragon of cerebral, Gallic elegance. He was horrified by the price tags - he'd had no idea quite how expensive fragrances can be - but sufficiently impressed with the products to walk away with a bottle of Vetiver Extraordinaire. Since then, he's gone back for more: French Lover is a new addition to his collection. He's got them both on regular rotation and he tells me he's delighted with them. So, as he's a recent convert, I'm intrigued to learn what he'd make of the house's latest release, Monsieur. by Bruno Jovanovic. Allow me to elaborate.
To my mind, the most commendable feature of many of Malle's overtly masculine creations is that they live in the present. Yes, the man is obsessed with the classics of perfumery, but he doesn't allow his passion to translate into reverential, retro-homages stuck somewhere in the 1950s. My friend's first choice is a perfect case in point. When composing it, Dominique Ropion took an idea that had been around for several decades, but he bestowed it with a clarity and a timbre that go nowhere near the realms of the old-fashioned. The same could be said of French Lover, Geranium Pour Monsieur, Cologne Indelebile and Cologne Bigarade: they acknowledge the rules of their respective forms, but they bring them up to date and, by extension, they make novel comments on the nature of male identity in the 21st century. I'd say the only exception is Angeliques Sous La Pluie, a Jean-Claude Ellena creation which, unlike its partners in the range, seems intent on remaining within the confines of a prefabricated, manly mould. And that brings us to the new Monsieur.
In terms of its odour profile, it is a patchouli bomb of Afro-wig proportions. The press info states that more than 50% of its formula consists of patchouli materials, and the rapidity with which the scent conjures visions of disco balls and flares would seem to bear this out. As one would expect from Jovanovic's skills and Malle's direction, the central material has been handled with dexterity. At the top, its subtly sweet-floral aspects have been allied to a none-too-tiny tangerine. Its woody heart has been accentuated with a smooth rum note. And its earthy base has been softened with musks and amber notes. In itself, this constitutes a praiseworthy feat of perfumery and a notable technical achievement.
However, the current fashion to render patchouli as clean as possible (see Tom Ford's Patchouli Absolu for another example) seems to have the effect of heightening its camphoraceous facets, which, paradoxically, causes the scent in question to be incapable of abandoning the cliches of the 70s. And this is precisely what happens in Monsieur.: it's incongruous, uncomfortable and almost comical, like some misguided soul wearing a chest wig to a job interview.
Perhaps this is precisely the effect Malle had intended. Maybe he thought there was a butch-shaped gap in his collection. Maybe he wanted his range to contain a heaving pump of testosterone. If so, he can consider his objectives met. But Monsieur. abandons the forward-thinking aesthetic of his other men's scents, and that, in my view, is a shame. We look to Malle for visions of the future, not worm-holes to the past. And as an innovator, I'm afraid Monsieur. disappoints... which is the very reason I'm curious to know what my friend will make of it. Will he fall for its hyper-masculinity or will he too come to the conclusion that its peculiarly macho assertiveness is dated? I hope to see him in April, so I shall waft a few drops beneath his nose and await his verdict.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle in 2015.]