Understanding the Baroque Fougere.

Note that I have added a kind of “primer” for newbies at the end of this post, in case you are not familiar with some of the basics.

Luca Turin has called these kinds of “masculine” fragrances things like “foghorns” and “lungfish.” However, the latter term suggests that they were transitional, whereas in reality the next fashionable kinds of masculine fragrance were perhaps best represented by Cool Water and Aqua di Gio, which seem to be a reaction against the Baroque Fougeres than the next step “forward.” Indeed, one Baroque Fougere that went in an “aquatic” direction has recently been selling in “dollar stores” in the USA (that is, Horizon).

First, let’s talk about what a Baroque Fougere is. The “father” of such fragrances may be Halston’s Z-14, from 1976. One can detect a fougere accord, though it is light, and then there is clearly a chypre accord later on. However, there is also coriander, patchouli, cinnamon, tonka bean, and benzoin, giving it an oriental quality too. The leather is yet another element, which perhaps was meant to tie the three together. Whatever the perfumer’s intentions, this attempt to combine at least three genres is the hallmark of the Baroque Fougere. One thing often missing from the Baroque Fougere is a strong animalic note (such as civet or castoreum), interestingly, which may be why ssome of these were viewed as “clean smelling” at the time.

Some of the great Baroque Fougeres are still being sold, but have been reformulated (many badly, in my opinion), and so a misleading impression has been formed in the minds of many who were too young to experience the original formulations. So far, the only major Baroque Fougere that I find is still well represented by current formulations is Boss Number One (which started out as Boss Cologne), though it’s possible that a new formulation has occurred very recently and was poorly done, for all I know. This brings up another point about these fougeres, which is that they had a clear floral aspect as well (meaning not just the lavender in the fougere accord).

In the case of Boss Number One, there is lavender but no fougere accord, because tonka (or coumarin) is missing. However, I like to think of these as Baroque Fougeres anyway, because in these fragrances the fougere accord is just one element among three or more. Perhaps the best example of a Baroque Fougere is Montana Parfum d’Homme (often called Montana red box, due to a lack of clarity in how this “house” names some of its fragrances). In this fragrance, there is everything except a clear animalic note. The note “pyramid” for this fragrance is (from fragrantica.com):

“Top notes are aldehydes, cinnamon, lavender, mandarin orange, tarragon, pepper, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are carnation, jasmine, sage, nasturcia, rose, pine tree needles and geranium; base notes are labdanum, leather, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, vanilla, incense, cedar and ambergris.”

And what you get here is a clear fougere accord but then an interesting interplay among the many notes and accords. There is good “note separation,” unlike most recent fragrances (it seems), which sometimes have similar note pyramids but there is so much blending, apparently, that you don’t get the same kind of “dynamism” as in this Montana, and probably can’t detect more than a few notes clearly. I don’t think I’ve worn the Montana and gotten the exact same impression, actually, which can’t be said of many other fragrances I’ve worn more than a few times.

One reason why the Baroque Fougere may not have had that much “staying power” is that some might find them to be too strong for warm weather (though Horizon works in all but very hot conditions). However, I think the reason may be that it requires too much attention to fully appreciate it, and let’s face it, most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about their fragrances. Instead, simple ones that smell “fresh” (even if a little “synthetic”) became much more popular, and still are. A recent example of the Baroque Fougere, though trimmed down to the point where it may be more of a Rococo Fougere (though I don’t think the art history terminology should be taken literally), is McGraw, which (from fragrantica.com):

“It opens with bergamot with nutmeg, while a heart is opulent and juicy with lavender wrapped with moss and Artemisia. Base notes finish with amber, patchouli, sandalwood and tonka, decorated with intoxicating aromas of whiskey.”

My favorite “masculine” fragrances of this period (ending in the early 1990s), which may be said to be Baroque Fougeres in the broadest sense of the phrase (in no particular order), are:

Boss Cologne
Red for Men by Giorgio of Beverly HIlls
Gianfranco Ferre for Man
Fendi Uomo
Leonard Pour Homme
Oscar Pour Lui
Zino (though I really have to be in the mood for this one)

Xeryus brings us to another kind of fragrance that is no longer made, apparently, which I call the “complex, hard amber.” Hopefully, when I get around to writing about that kind of “masculine” fragrance, I’ll think up a better name for it! In the meantime, I will just say that Xeryus has a kind of “hard” amber to it, as does the original Jaguar (1988), and Ho Hang Club. These fragrances have a lot of notes, but none have a clear fougere accord. What seems to have happened is that perfumers began to use amber instead of tonka/coumarin, while continuing with a similar “Baroque” kind of aesthetic. Xeryus may have been the transitional one, since it has a clear fougere accord up top, but then it mostly dissipates and it’s almost like a new and very different kind of fragrance emerges. The original idea may have been Nino Cerruti (1979). The note pyramid for that (fragrantica.com) is:

“Top notes are bergamot, amalfi lemon, green notes, mint, galbanum, hyacinth, lavender and juniper; middle notes are carnation, jasmine, nutmeg, thyme and pine; base notes are musk, oak moss, virginia cedar, amber, benzoin and fir.”


For “newbies,” let me point out that a fougere accord is the combination of lavender and tonka (which is also called coumarin) notes. One can put that accord in any fragrance, but until circa 1980 it was mostly the featured accord and the other notes used to make a fougere fragrance had a complementary quality. Common notes were bergamot, oakmoss, geranium, juniper (for a bit of “freshness”), a spice or herb, vetiver, a wood note, and of course some amount of musk, but the important thing to remember is that the fougere accord was “front and center,” while the other notes were never too prominent. What I find interesting about the fougere accord is that while it is unique and compelling, it gets boring rather quickly. Perhaps the most well-known attempt to make it more interesting while not going into the “Baroque” realm can be found in Azzaro Pour Homme (1978). The note “pyramid” for that one is (from fragrantica.com):

“Top notes are caraway, iris, lavender, clary sage, basil, anise, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are sandalwood, juniper berries, patchouli, vetiver, cedar and cardamom; base notes are leather, tonka bean, amber, musk and oakmoss.”

If there is a transitional fragrance, this may be it, as it contains more notes than is common for the basic fougere fragrance but the focus is on an anise enhanced fougere accord. One thing that is clearly not present here is a strong floral presence (lavender is not considered floral in its fougere incarnation), which one finds in many of the Baroque Fougeres (there’s a tiny amount of powdery iris, but nothing like the “real” floral notes that were soon to come). Z-14 had jasmine and gardenia, by contrast.

UPDATE: In retrospect (1/27/14), I think it would be best to refer to these concoctions as Baroque Masculine Lavender scents, so as to avoid confusion (since some don’t contain coumarin).


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Filed under The basics.

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