Yatagan, Part Deux ?

I really tried to like Yatagan (1976), starting in 2008, when I first sampled it. This was before I knew anything about reformulations issues. I think I saw some mention of bad reformulations at basenotes.net but I couldn’t imagine how it could make much of a difference. Now my opinion is the opposite, and there are several fragrances I would not wear in the reformulated version but that I consider excellent in their original forms. And this leads to a very odd 1990 creation, Les Copains Homme (odd in that it wasn’t likely to be popular except among those who liked Yatagan, who of course could just continue to buy Yatagan!). Before discussing it, let’s take a look at some note pyramids, the first for Yatagan (taken from http://www.parfyym.pri.ee

Top Notes
Lavender, Wormwood, Petitgrain, Artemisia, Bergamot, Galbanum, Petitgrain oil
Middle Notes
Geranium, Pine Needles, Vetiver, Patchouli, Carnation, Jasmine
Base Notes
Leather, Castoreum, Moss, Amber, Labdanum, Styrax, Musk

And these are the notes for Les Copains Homme (also taken from http://www.parfyym.pri.ee):

Top Notes
Artemisia, basil, bergamot, thyme

Middle Notes
Laurel, carnation, coriander, Peru balasm, geranium, jasmine, rose

Base Notes
Amber, castoreum, incense, leather, moss, patchouli.

Of course, it’s unclear if either is accurate, and it’s highly likely that these are just the major notes. Also note that Luca Turin described Yatagan as “inky sandalwood,” and there is no sandalwood listed (nor notes that often seem to be describing the same thing, such as “incense”); others have also remarked about an apparent sandalwood type quality to it. Now I will turn to my review of Yatagan on Fragrantica.com:

“UPDATE: I recently acquired some Les Copains Homme (vintage), because others said it was similar to vintage Yatagan. They appear to have been correct. LPH has a soft and mossy quality missing in Yatagan, and has no synthetic aspects. Though I haven’t tried vintage Yatagan I’d be surprised if it wasn’t quite similar to LPH. The point here is that it seems like Yatagan is another ‘reformulation victim,’ which makes sense, because I can’t imagine the current version being sold in 1976. I think it would get ‘laughed out of the building.’ LPH is a very good if not great fragrance, which Yatagan must have been at one point in time.

Here’s my review of the current formulation: Picture yourself in the deep woods, on a hill. You observe an area where a bunch of paths come together. Then you hear a shriek and see a figure coming out of the woods, near that terminal point. It is a man, apparently, covered in mud, pine needles, and who knows what else, and he is flailing about with his arms, yelling and snorting. He sees the paths, and decides to run down one of them. You have no idea what that was all about, but he apparently does. Soon, you can barely hear him, though you never understood anything he seemed to be trying to communicate.

That is Yatagan to me. I don’t know what this is, and it quickly becomes a one-dimensional, though ‘manly’ skin scent. By contrast, the original Polo is one of my favorites. It lasts and has excellent projection/”sillage,” has great dynamism, balance, note contrast, and naturalness. I can’t wear Yatagan without thinking that I’d rather be wearing Polo or another fragrance that is somewhat similar. It seems unfinished, like the perfumer was fired and they decided to go with what he had been able to do up to that point. I keep expecting it to reveal a new dimension, but it never does, a kind of “one hit wonder” (I’ve sampled it perhaps 7 or 8 times over the course of about 3 years). Now if this is what you want, it’s certainly all “masculine” and natural smelling (as well as a great price), but it lacks the kind of dynamism and complexity I’m seeking in this kind of fragrance.”

Yatagan seems to be a very popular fragrance, at least to sample. I have done many swaps for some of my Yatagan (samples or decants). There seems to be a kind of underground lore surrounding it, and Luca Turin has described it as a kind of last surviving member of an otherwise extinct species that has not been reformulated. It also sells for very low prices here in the United States; not long ago I saw it for less than $30 total on a major online discounter’s site (125 ml bottle), for example (and I’ve seen it on ebay at similar price levels). And this has been the case since I became interested in fragrance back in 2007 (that is, prices of under $40 for 125 ml). As I recently pointed out about Caron Pour un Homme at Fragrantica.com, someone who worked in the industry back in the 1980s said they could not sell the quality of product these days at those kinds of prices.

For me, the “magic” of Les Copains Homme is the contrast between the “bright” and “uplifting” elements (apparently due mostly to herbal notes, though softened with florals and oakmoss, with a bit of amber) and the “inky sandalwood” type of gritty qualities. The balance has to be just right of else this balance is lost, and my guess is that this is what happened when Yatagan was reformulated (though synthetic musks may have been another aspect of it). It’s also possible that florals were added while some of the “inky sandalwood” quality was diminished, meaning that there is a significant difference (though few could tell), just as is the case with Kouros and Joint for Men (Joint has less of an animalic quality and instead a nicey rendered and dry tobacco note was added). I have a feeling some aficionados have mistaken a mediocre reformulation for an attempt at uncompromising manliness, or some such notion. With just the “masculine” qualities here, what we have is a brute, not a man.

Of course, this is a guess based upon my experiences and what I’ve read from sources that seem credible. It’s quite frustrating to not know what the “real story” is, but I’m glad to have what I consider to be the superior version of Yatagan in Les Copains Homme. At the very least, you now have some things to investigate, should this subject be of interest to you. Lastly, if you think you’d like the “dark” qualities of these kinds of fragrances to be toned down substantially, I suggest you sample Lauder for Men. That one successfully removes the “inky sandalwood”‘ type of element but still feels “complete” (and it’s still got an animalic quality too). Unfortunately, I can’t speak to possible reformulations of that one, but Lauder seems to be more faithful to its original formulations than most other companies, from what I’ve encountered.

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