Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Lost Men of the '80s


Fragrance equals power. Financial, sexual, and social. End of story. The Eighties were about an indomitable optimism and an assurance that, despite the ascendance of women in the workplace, men were still putting it in the bank. It seemed like it would go on forever. But, like the beleaguered S&Ls of that era, many popular men's scents simply went belly-up. And not just splash-on juice for yuppiedom. Some storied masterpieces as well. Versailles pour Homme (Jean Desprez) , Jules (Christian Dior), and Patou pour Homme, all created in 1980, were among them. They followed on an era of great importance for men's fragrances, if one that often gave too much attention to musks and accords potent enough to fell eligible women on the dance floor. (A certain Caron cologne comes to mind. Hint: starts with a Y.) Rather, this Eighties trifecta aimed for something plus civilisé. Versailles and Patou, which shared notes of pine needle, geranium, carnation, patchouli, cinnamon and olibanum, both fell under the classification of "oriental spicy," Jules, with its green notes, artemisia, fir and Russian leather, under the "fougère" distinction. The former were super-rich, super-masculine scents of comfort, meant to be worn with one of those double-breasted power suits, the latter was a bit of carryover from the Seventies but with the addition of cedar, sandal and the full complement of florals at the heart to cut the amaro-like bitterness. Complicated, chock full of ingredients, each scent inhabited its own position of dominance: the head of the boardroom table, the best view in the Grill Room, the first tee-off at the Maidstone. Reared during that decade in a sleepy bedroom community on the North Shore of L.I., I oft remember the dads of my school chums getting into their expensive German autos for that drive to the local train station, the scent on their clothing telling the entire story. Is it mere nostalgia to say it wasn't half bad? And while their betters gaze out over the Intercoastal, who survives today on the shelves at Target? Paco Rabanne, Drakkar Noir and Polo Green. To which I say: Come on, bring back the big boys.

8 Comments:

Blogger helg said...

Yes, the fougeres bring on 1980 with a sudden Proustian rush (and I am almost having a fit now thinking about the Woody Allen line!)
Pity about Jules especially, I agree. I knew of a woman who wore this very well.

October 17, 2007 at 11:55 PM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Don't they? Brut especially. Please share the Woody Allen line. I don't know it.

October 18, 2007 at 8:42 AM  
Anonymous Andy said...

Yes, but the optimism changed quite drastically in 87....! Reminding me in our optimism and building babel towers in China.
And I have a little objection: Frangrance does not equal power nowadays anymore. I feel that there, our society changed, too.

October 18, 2007 at 9:44 PM  
Blogger helg said...

Dear C,

it's in "Stardust memories:. Rampling smells him and says that his aftershave brings back her childhood with a Proustian rush and he quips: "It's Proustrian Rush by Chanel. It was reduced. I got a vat of it!" or something along those lines (if memory serves)
LOL!

October 19, 2007 at 4:24 AM  
Anonymous Leopoldo said...

You can still get Jules you know - not exactly ubiquitous but still available in France.

October 19, 2007 at 10:09 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

A., Yes, the optimism certainly did. I can still remember that day, 20 years ago tomorrow. As for fragrance equaling power, I would be careful to not read aesthetic power always as the embodiment of hegemonic excess, rather I find in perfume a power allied to sex, competitiveness and conspicuous consumption (akin to the phenomenon of the expensive purse nowadays.)

October 19, 2007 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Vetivresse said...

Thanks for the Woody Allen reference. I've never seen Stardust Memories, and I adore Charlotte Rampling.

October 19, 2007 at 11:38 AM  
Blogger helg said...

You have great taste, C! (re:Rampling)
Not that I hadn't suspected ;-)

October 20, 2007 at 1:56 PM  

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