One of the most memorable fragrances I’ve smelled on a man was created in 1924 for the Viennese bespoke clothing house Knize. Despite being almost 100 years old, it had the timeless aura and the elegance of a perfectly tailored suit. The composition opened up with peppery bergamot, basil and thyme, but also prominent were leather and earthy patchouli, with hints of tobacco and iris. The latter softened the dark and smoky notes of Knize Ten (£60 for 50ml EDT), giving it refinement and flair. Knize Ten was streamlined, but not without a seductive twist. So alluring was it that I placed an order for a bottle, presented it to my husband and have been pilfering it from his collection ever since.
The men’s side of the perfume aisle can be predictable – citrus, herbs, aquatic notes, woods and musk – but fragrances like Knize Ten demonstrate that the perfect fit need not come at the expense of originality. In the hands of a master perfumer, even the most classical of ingredients can take on a novel character. One such famous example is Chanel Pour Monsieur (£55 for 50ml EDT). It relies on the contrast between the vibrant opening of citrus, cardamom and orange and the languid finish of musk and oakmoss to create a confident, elegant fragrance. Around since 1955, it hardly shows its age.
The palette of citrus, pepper, basil and woods has also been inspiring contemporary perfumers. Jean-Claude Ellena created several remarkable compositions for the house of Hermès using these materials. One such example is Voyage d’Hermès (£90 for 100ml EDT), an uplifting fragrance with an effervescent opening of citrus and bitter angelica. Once these bright notes settle, the musky-woody accord, reminiscent of driftwood on the beach, takes centre stage. Mellowed out by violets, the woods then become soft and suede-like. Voyage conveys classical polish, but this ultra-modern and radiant blend is far from conventional.
For elegant scents with stronger personalities, one can’t go wrong with vetiver. The roots of this tropical grass have a bewilderingly complex aroma of hazelnuts, licorice, grapefruit and green sap. Frédéric Malle’s Vetiver Extraordinaire (£190 for 100ml EDP) makes vetiver the star note. Unlike many masculine fragrances that treat it as clean and mild, Vetiver Extraordinaire turns up the volume and gives the ingredient a brooding, dark edge. The fragrance is reminiscent of dark chocolate and tobacco, yet the freshness persists well into the drydown, maintaining both interesting tension and allure. Vetiver Extraordinaire demonstrates that an adventurous spirit is the key to elegance – and being unforgettable also helps.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.