Saturday, April 30, 2011

What's a man now? What's a man mean?

2011 Perfume Challenge Week 16: Monday, 4/25/11, to Saturday, 4/30/11

This week’s theme is a strange one, I’ll admit. What you have to understand is that I find the idea of policing gender through scent so fascinating. Why would we do this? What purpose does it serve? Are these scents actually connected to biological maleness in any way? Or is it simply that the areas of the world long dominated exclusively by men to maintain power structures (i.e. the “public” sphere) are typically decorated and occupied by items that carry these scents, such that we come to think of them as “masculine” scents when really we mean “scents associated with the trappings of power and influence in the public sphere”? FN1. And if that is the case, shouldn’t every feminist in the world be eschewing gourmands and florals while running straight for vetivers and tobaccos? FN2.

So this week, I’m trying out six stereotypical masculines to see which ones I find wearable because I like them as scents, trappings be damned. And the best part of this little experiment – at least 10ml of each one can be had for less than $20, and in some cases even an entire bottle is available for less.


Monday: Maurer and Wirtz Tabac Original EdC - Notes: aldehydes, black pepper, lemon, bergamot, neroli, petit grain, lavender, chamomile, geranium, oak wood absolute, carnation, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, and ambergris. Released in 1959. According to Kevin, this scent is the equivalent of "Old Spice" in Europe. It is similar to Old Spice on application. However, being heavy on the aldehydes, it also reminds me of the world’s most famous aldehydic scent, Chanel No. 5 EdT. In a side by side comparison, I might call Tabac the more feminine of the two if the Chanel weren’t so familiar. On me I get a lot of geranium and carnation which makes it equally floral in an entirely different way, sweet and beautiful. Personal I find it fetching and have worn it several times now. Two hours in the Chanel is a suede and Tabac is a linen, but they are both scents cut of fine cloth. 50ml bottle – nine bucks. 4 of 5 nods.

Tuesday: Dana English Leather Cologne - Notes: citruses, oakmoss, woodsy notes and leather. Originally released in 1949. What a strange citrus wood scent. Maybe some people think this smells masculine, but I think it smells like an elementary school. It reminds me of the  heavy duty wall-mounted pencil sharpeners filled with wood shavings and bits of graphite plus dried orange pith stuck to sticky kid fingers. It is also very mossy, so if you like dark, dry woods and mosses like those found in the northern portions of the Appalachian woods, this is a good scent for you. 50ml for $11. 3 of 5 nods.

Wednesday: Davidoff Cool Water - Notes: Lavender, Coriander, Peppermint, Rosemary, Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Oakmoss, Geranium, Sandalwood, Amber, Musk, Sandalwood, Cedar. Launched in 1988, when I was ten years old, the scent is emblazoned on my memory as a staple of junior high and early high school. To say it smells exactly as I remember it goes without saying. What that means to me now that I have smelled so much, though, is very different. Geranium, cedar, rosemary, and lavender are all there, with a shocking amount of peppermint. I never knew until now that peppermint is where the fresh zing comes from! This one is hard to call bad or good because it is so iconic in my personal scent universe. I think I have to give it a middling rating on its own merit, though it probably deserves more for being who it is. 80ml for $18 – lots of flankers, but accept no substitute. 3 of 5 nods.

Thursday: Coty Stetson Cologne - Notes: lime, lavender, clary sage, bergamot and lemon, carnation, patchouli, orris root, jasmine, vetiver, cedar, geranium, honey, tonka bean, amber, musk and vanilla. Released in 1981. Spicy lovely wonderfulness! Lime, lavender, patchouli, honey, amber, and vanilla are all there in the opening. Again, what about this opening is particularly masculine? I don’t even think it is very cowboy or western, not with scents like Tauer Perfumes Lonestar Memories and Caron Tabac Blond out there roaming the range. Twenty minutes in the sweet is gone and Stetson is all about the lavender, wood and patchouli, but it is still beautiful.  Another half hours and the sweet returns creamy vanilla and tonka bean, which hangs around for the long run. What a wonderful smell! You can buy two ounces for all of ten dollars; there are few cheap thrills as fine as this one. 5 of 5 nods.

Friday: Prada Infusion D'Homme EdT - Notes: neroli from Tunisia, iris palida, vetiver, cedar, incense and benzoin. Released in 2008. Clearly related to the well-made and much lauded feminine Prada Infusion d’Iris, the opening is a lemony-lime incense and benzoin delight, much welcome in the coming hotter days. Thirty minutes in the iris comes into the mix but only as a strand in the chord rather than the main attraction, so the scent still has an overwhelming effect of being full of citrus and wood notes. I really enjoy it, and again, there is nothing about this scent screaming “manly” to me. A great alternative if the Infusion d’Iris is too toward the powdery floral for you, or if you just like some fruit with your bouquets. I know Luca Turin says to avoid this one, but you can get a mini to try for less than $12, so why not try it? If you otherwise hate irises, give it a whirl. FN3. 3 of 5 nods.

BONUS DAY! Saturday: Ralph Lauren Romance for Men - Notes: orange, ginseng, ginger, black currant, pistachio leaf, lavender, mandarin orange, lily, celery, basil, saffron, rose, geranium, cardamom, pine tree, patchouli, musk, oakmoss and vetiver. Released in 1999. Citrus, ginger, cardamom, celery, and saffron all hit at once in the opening. A little of this one goes a long way, so be forewarned. It’s so recognizable you probably know someone who wears it, and if you don’t you’re probably going to say it reminds you of Cool Water when you sniff it. Luca Turin says it is so unmemorable as to only be described as “it has a smell,” but I think the reason he says that is because I feel like I have smelled it everywhere. It is ubiquitous and as related to romance as a sixteen year old boy with his first license who can now drive on his own dates and therefore is looking for a girlfriend (any old girlfriend will do). I can’t say I like it, but I don’t dislike it either. I think it smells like my little brother on the prowl in a polo about fifteen years ago (or was it my adopted sister Cristina’s college boyfriend?), and that makes me giggle when I sniff it. Someone else will have to tell you if it is objectively any good; I appreciate it for the LOLs. 7ml minis can be had for under $10. 2 of 5 nods.

Winner of the Week: I loves me some Stetson. Glad I sprung for the whole $10 bottle.

I have to take a minute here at the end to talk one more time about the weirdness of gendering scent.  Every one of these scents is objectively neutral.  Oranges, leather, irises -- these items in the world are neither feminine nor masculine.  They simply are.  Why do we give so much power to the idea that combined in certain ways is earmarked for femaleness and in other ways exclusively for males?  Why not simply enjoy what life and art have to offer us without worrying about labeling it?  We miss so much when we insist on drawing imaginary lines in the sexed sand.

"Is he rough or is he rugged?
Is he cultural and clean?
Now it's all change.
It's got to change more
'cause we think it's getting better
but nobody's really sure.
And so it goes, go round again,
but now and then we wonder who the real men are."
~ "Real Men," Joe Jackson

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FN1. As opposed to the private/domestic sphere, where women and their work have been historically contained.
FN2. This line of thinking is a fallacy (pun intended). Limiting yourself to one ‘male’ encoded ways of doing or being is as much a trap as limiting yourself to ‘female’ encoded ways of being. Be yourself, and incorporate whatever makes you happy. That’s true freedom.
FN3. But you can’t hate irises, you just can’t. If you think you do, you’re lying to yourself and I promise to help you find some love for them. No one can hate them -- they are too wonderful and they are too diverse to be dismissed without trying them all.

1 comment:

museinwoodenshoes said...

Looking forward to your findings.