For a year I tried to replace music, which no longer thrilled me, with perfume, which I thought might. I hadn’t worn any cologne or fragrance since a disastrous incident with The Body Shoppe’s Sandalwood essential oil and a long ride on the C-Train Calgary. Throughout the course of that fateful journey, five people—five—came in, sat down beside me, and moved on, unable or unwilling to hide their dissatisfaction with the intensity of the stench I wafted, and that scared me off ill-conceived projects of personal scent enhancement forever. Or so I thought.
But I guess even horror fades with time, and without any idea why I did so I began reading reviews of perfumes, especially those at Fragrantica (and to a lesser extent on Basenotes as well). And then I began teaching myself the history of perfume. And then I’d booked a tripe to Grasse. And then I’d booked an appointment to create my own scent at Molinard. I acquired a collection. I contemplated taking courses. I dreamt of amber. I wrote reviews online and sought out rare vintages. I bought a half-full bottle of weird, purple 1970s juice from a guy in Milan named Giovanni, but who writes online, probably the best out of all the reviewers, under the name “Colin Maillard.” When the fever finally broke, I expected to learn that that last part was just a dream, but no, it was real, all of it was: if cologne becomes a coveted scarce commodity currency during the coming apocalypse, as obviously it must, we will be kings.
The French perfume industry, in the end, wasn’t all that different from the music industry: it had a golden era when the big houses were brave and spared no expense to create scents that people would experience as art. Then conformity set in, a desire to focus on the bottom line, and the big houses only released blockbusters—overwhelming, nose explosion scents, perfumery dumbed down to Die Hard levels. Then nostalgia for the previous era set in, and houses began releasing scents that referenced pre-WWII ideals, when masculinity wasn’t all a Chuck Norris, Drakkar Noir roundhouse to the esophagus.
Troisieme Homme was released by Caron in 1985. It smells like an intentional rejection of all of the male-targetted scents of its time. Its ad campaign is equally a rejection of the male/female divide that continues to plague the industry still. It is named as an homage to the Orson Welles film of 1949, but the masculinity it references is more Fred Astaire. It smells so heavily of florals that, in the taxonomy of the time, not only is it gender neutral, it smells significantly more feminine than many scents marketed towards women. Even the original bottle, designed by Pierre Dinand, is elegant in a way that seems clearly an intentional critique of the crude standards of masculinity pervading not just the perfume industry, but the whole world. As with the music industry presently, the major French houses now release bland and formulaic scents designed to appeal to all and offend none. All of the exciting work comes from the independents, except such perfumers are referred to as niche, not indie.
Drakkar Noir, purveying dense clouds of foul masculinity since 1982.