And the greatest fougere of all time is…

If you read my blog regularly (not that I post regularly, since I only write posts when I feel I have “something to say”) you know that I don’t spend much time “reviewing” specific fragrances. My reviews, mostly posted at fragrantica.com (because they allow for immediate editing and seem to have plenty of “traffic”), are mostly technical. I don’t write much about the “art” or “beauty” of a fragrance because I think it presumptuous for me to tell others what fragrance is beautiful, a “masterpiece,” etc. If they don’t like it and instead like a fragrance I really dislike that does have a somewhat insulting quality, at least to more than a few people. When I was a “newbie” I liked fragrances that I now regard as really awful, but for me this is about enjoyment, not some abstract notion that would make Plato proud.

In men’s fragrance discussions, the fougere (or idea of a fougere) is mentioned often, in various contexts. And one question is very common: what is the best fougere or “barbershop” fragrance (those who don’t know what a fougere seem to use the term barbershop instead). First, let me explain my criteria for what should be called a fougere fragrance: it must have the fougere accord (lavender and tonka/coumarin) front and center for several hours. That’s it. If it has a strong -fougere at first and then becomes more oriental, it is a fougoriental. If it goes chypre, it’s a fouchypre. If it is a combination of fougere and gourmand, it’s a foumand. Some fragrances are some complex, including a fougere accord, that it may be best to call them hybrids.

In any case, there’s a problem with this way of thinking, mainly that some fragrances start off with a strong fougere accord but then don’t really go anywhere. Rive Gauche Pour Homme, for example, has a very nice fougere opening (soft, with subtle anise) but then the drydown is dominated by patchouli. Is this a fouchouli? Seriously, this is a fragrance that I only wear if I want this two-tier fragrance experience, which is not very often (I’m not a big patchouli fan). The Intense version might be better but I haven’t tried it, mainly because I’m not a huge fougere fan either. The main problem I have with a strong fougere accord is that it gets boring very quickly, lacking in dynamism, though smelling nice, if “dated” (the scent of some old-time barbershops, though I can’t say I remember it in this context).

However, I have smelled quite a few of them. Other than the problem with the lack of dynamism and odd drydowns that seem disconnected from the fougere idea (such as with Rive Gauche Pour Homme), other problems are that they can be too musky, too “soapy,” or too simple. Few if any alive today have smelled the original fougere (1882), though someone who claims to have done so told me it was sweeter than most would imagine. For many if not most of us, Brut or Paco Rabanne Pour Homme were the earliest fougeres we’ve smelled. In their original versions, at least, they are quite good if not great. Even the original version of Caesar’s World Man is a very good fougere, and I suspect the reason involves its simplicity (so that the perfumer doesn’t have to be “world class”) as well as reasonable ingredient costs.

So, to call any one fragrance the greatest fougere is a bit of a “tongue in check” claim, IMO. Luca Turin has pointed out that the fougere can go in an herbal direction of a “biscuit-like” one, meaning that it may make sense to have two fougere categories, though I find that some fougeres are sort of in the middle. That being said, I will make the case here for Grigioperla, which was first released in 1991, a time when “masculine perfumery” reached its zenith, as far as I’m concerned. The bottle of Grigioperla I own is fairly new, so a reformulation seems likely, as it is clearly not as strong as the vintage fragrances I own from that period that are similar. At first, it seemed like a typical, basic fougere, which didn’t surprised me (I only bought it because it was a very good price).

Over time, however, the fougere accord (which wasn’t especially herbal nor “biscuit-like,” and was never very strong) seemed to keep its place without ever being dominant. I never felt like I had my nose up against a bar of soap either. Other notes, especially rosemary, anise, and florals, seemed to play a role in keeping things dynamic without coming to the fore. The fougere accord lasted the whole time, but after the first hour or less was subtle and kept interesting by an excellent job of blending other notes, some of which are complementary while others offer a bit of contrast. For those of you looking for a subtle fougere/”barbershop” fragrance that is not “dated” and does not become something else after the first hour, this is one to at least sample.

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