Don’t talk behind the Boss’s back (about “fresh fougeres”) !

I generally take scent reviews with at least a grain (if not a tablespoonful) of salt, and often am amused by the “dis ding stinks” ones. Obviously, in many cases we are reading “newbie nose” impressions, and I’ve certainly written my share of those kinds of reviews several years ago (though I have gone back and changed many if not most of them when I thought I should). Something many of us have encountered is the claim that a scent is a “fougere,” though the way it seems to be conceptualized by most reviewers and commentators would mean that perhaps eighty percent or more of “men’s” scents would be classified as some sort of fougere, and logic dictates that at some point the word loses it’s usefulness.

Beyond this, there is the more specific (apparently) notion of a “fresh fougere.” I’ve heard this phrased used to describe scents like Nautica Voyage. Unfortunately, people who use these kinds of phrases rarely explain what they mean. For example, does a “fresh fougere” dial back the lavender/coumarin, remove the oakmoss, and add some aquatic aroma chemicals (such as calone)? What I’ve seen is that many people call a scent a fougere (of one kind or another) if it’s got a lavender note in it (even if it’s a mild one). This is clearly not a reasonable thing to do, as the fougere accord is supposed to be the fantasy fern smell (since ferns don’t have a scent), and that is created by using the combination of lavender and coumarin. Why can’t people just say something like “complex lavender scent” rather than fougere? My guess is that some think it’s “sophisticated” to use such language, because other explanations don’t seem to make much sense (to me, at least).

And this brings me to the latest post at the FromPyrgos blog, which is entitled simply “Boss Number One (Hugo Boss).” In this post, we are told, “Boss Number One is a sadly overlooked fresh fougère.” First I’ll address formulations, because I have two different kinds of bottles (one I know was made in the early 90s or earlier). My older bottle just says Boss Cologne whereas the newer one is Boss Number One. I don’t detect any major differences, though the older one may be a touch richer and deeper. Also, this is a scent I am quite familiar with, as I have worn it as often as just about any other one, which means perhaps eight times a year, if not more (over the last three or four years). If nothing else, I support the idea that our impressions of a scent can vary significantly (unlike the author of FromPyrgos, apparently, judging from some of his past blog posts). However, some of the claims made in his latest post scream out to be scrutinized !

First we are told about the “greatest fresh fougères of all time,” by which he means Kouros, Cool Water; Drakkar Noir, and Boss Number One. DN is clearly a fougere (of the “soapy” variety), though it is “amped up” with “fresh” aroma chemicals (I prefer vintage Caesars World for Men to DN because it seems less “chemical,” truth be told here). By contrast, Cool Water features a mild lavender note and is not “soapy” (at least not in the way DN is), but does not have coumarin, and therefore I consider this a clear misuse of the fougere claim, though the FromPyrgos author is not the first person to make such a statement. Note that if you read a note pyramid for DN, you might see that it does not list coumarin. However if you read the box, you might see the following (keep in mind that I have no idea if the company just released a box with different information):

Ingredients: Alcohol, Aqua/Water, Parfum/Fragrance, Benzyl Salicylate, Linalool, Limonene, Hydroxyisohexyl 3 Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Hydroxycitronellal, BHT, Citral, Evernia Furfuracea Extract (Treemoss), Coumarin, Geraniol, Eugenol, Citronellol, Benzyl Benzoate, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Benzyl Alcohol, FIL (B8789/1)

For Cool Water I found this list of ingredients:

Alcohol Denat., Aqua/Water, Parfum/Fragrance, Acrylates/Octylacrylamide Copolymer, Alpha Isomethyl Ionone, Citral, Citronellol, Geraniol, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Hydroxycitronellal, Hydroxyisohexyl 3 Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Limonene, Linalool.

Here is the note list for the Boss scent:

Top notes are artemisia, green apple, juniper, basil, grapefruit, caraway, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are honey, lavender, orris root, jasmine, sage, lily-of-the-valley, rose and geranium; base notes are sandalwood, amber, patchouli, cinnamon, musk, oakmoss, cedar and tobacco.

And for Boss Number One there is this list of ingredients:

Alcohol Denat, Aqua/Water, Parfum/Fragrance, Caramel, Lactic Acid, Benzophenone 2, Dipropylene Glycol, Benzyl Benzoate, Benzyl Salicylate, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Citral. Citronellol, Eugenol, Geraniol, Hexyl Cinnamal, Hydroxycitronellal, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Limonene, Linalool, Hydroxyisohexyl 3-Cyclohexene Carboxaldehyde, Alpha-Isomethyl Ionone. Evernia Furfuracea.

Notice that linalool is much higher in the list in DN relative to CW and Boss. This, along with the absence of coumarin and my experience, leads me to only one conclusion: calling CW or the Boss scent fougeres has no basis in reality (in terms of how it has been defined for over a hundred years, from what I understand).

In the Boss scent, the FromPyrgos author thinks he smells “in its heart a considerable hit of dimethyl anthranilate, that fruity-floral molecule residing somewhere between mandarin orange and Concord grape,” and I agree that it seems like there is one or more aroma chemicals that helps generate a unique quality (to my knowledge), but I don’t think many people would perceive the composition as especially fresh, if fresh at all. And while it’s clearly not a fougere, it’s also the case that lavender plays no role, other than perhaps in the most minor, “supporting” one imaginable! So, again, if you are going to call this Boss release a fougere you should be willing to admit that probably well over fifty percent of the “men’s” scents marketed over the last thirty years would have to be classified as fougeres too (and also that you don’t care about the official definition, so to speak).

For the most part, this Boss is the opposite of “fresh,” with a heavy honey note and an obvious animalic quality (“dirty jasmine”), along with clear tobacco, patchouli, and wood notes. Over time, the wood notes seem to dry it out a bit and help balance it. The aroma chemicals he views as fresh come across more like dried fruit to me, along with having a diffusing quality to the overall composition. If he had claimed that these chemicals create a kind of fresh versus heavy/animalic/earthy dynamic, I would consider that a bit of a stretch, but reasonable. In some ways, this Boss scent is like Polo diluted (and with most or all of the amber removed), but then with these aroma chemicals, along with wood and a honey notes added. And anyone who thinks that Kouros is “fresh” needs to explain what the opposite of Kouros would be in this context! The only explanation here is that this person uses many sprays per application and his mind focuses on notes such as lemon, lime, orange, or juniper berry, along with certain aroma chemicals, perhaps. Once these largely dissipate, such people may call it a “skin scent” or say they can’t really smell anything at all. If one wants to do this, that’s fine with me (so long as I don’t have to sit next to you!), but it’s important to tell readers about your application, because claiming Kouros is “fresh” could lead a “newbie” to think you might be insane !

His last statement about this idea is: “This fougère adopts an affecting soapiness, a pureness and simplicity that makes it one of the least pretentious colognes of the European New Wave. If you like classic freshies, this one really is Boss.”

I have no idea how anyone can view the Boss as soapy, pure, or simple, and one idea is that the person sprayed a smelling strip, took a “quick whiff,” and then didn’t think much more about it (before writing up the post), though that seems unlikely based upon past posts I’ve read. At the very least, if one is going to make such a claim, wouldn’t it be necessary (if one didn’t want to confuse a whole lot of people) to explain what is meant by “soapiness?” I have pointed out, for example, that aside from the soapy fougere accord, there are at least two others I perceive as soapy in some general way: one that features strong spices and one that features powdery rose or iris. And just as with the “fresh” claim about Kouros, if the Boss scent is simple and pure, what could the opposite of that possibly be?

Lastly, I thought I’d mention that there was member who wrote more than a few reviews for that site (years ago). He would often describe a scent as “fresh and warm,” with statements like “it’s so fresh and warm.” The only kinds of scents I have encountered that might be appropriately described as such are ones like Live Jazz and Taste of Fragrance. That is, they feature a hot pepper or chili type of note. I find this note to be outright nauseating, but of course many seem to like the idea. In general, “warm” usually refers to a spices and amber type of combination, whereas “fresh” is often used these days to describe the abundant use of certain aroma chemicals. It’s possible for a scent to be ‘fresh” and then “warm,” for example, but again, I think you should mention this point to readers. In the case of this person in particular, I think this phrase was meant to convey his positive emotions towards the scent, but as a newbie I found it quite confusing !

UPDATE: Within hours after I published the above, a new post appeared on the FromPyrgos blog (a review of Eternity for Men) which contains the following statement about Boss Number One (I assume he has not tried Boss Cologne): “indeed, it is one of the soapiest fougères I’ve encountered.” I don’t know what kind of soap this individual has been using, but apparently it is one that contains clear notes of honey, patchouli, tobacco, and wood. At least this blogger is making it obvious that he does not subscribe to the original notion of what a fougere is supposed to be, so that confusing newbies is perhaps a bit less likely. And to reiterate my position in terms as clear as I can imagine: Boss Cologne/Number One is not a fougere of any kind. The lavender note in it is very mild, relative to scents like DN, and it doesn’t contain coumarin. There is nothing “soapy” about it, in my experience with soaps, either in a “fresh/chemical/laundry musk” way or in any kind of traditional lavender-dominant way. I have no idea how this author can make such a claim, but it does explain some of his other strange perceptions over the years, IMO. Perhaps any “nice scent” can be confused with a “soapy” smell, but up to now I’ve found that this is the realm of the newbie nose.


Filed under Criticizing the critics.

4 responses to “Don’t talk behind the Boss’s back (about “fresh fougeres”) !

  1. Abi

    “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).”

    bigsly the above words are yours. you wrote it some time ago. so i am confused. do you consider boss a fouger or no? because i think sometimes you forget your own positions!

    • I did point out in that post that “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,” didn’t I? Yes, I agree that general classifications are problematic with scents, but I also think I did a fairly good job with that old post (I never claimed to be perfect!). In retrospect, I could have used Kouros instead of Boss #1. Kouros is a good example of a scent of that period that is complex but with a fougere accord that is not dominant, and that held up well with new formulations, at least until the end of the “chrome shoulders” bottles, from what others have said. Why didn’t you read the entire post? If I had it to do over (and I’ll likely add an update to it), I would call these concoctions Baroque Masculine Lavender scents.

      • Abi

        i did read the entire post before i commented…. i understand that you considered boss a “baroque fougere” two years ago, and now you no longer consider it a fougere at all because it has no coumarin. also you believe it has no lavender … “And while it’s clearly not a fougere, it’s also the case that lavender plays no role” … this is also confusing, because now you are saying that it is better to call this fragrance a “baroque masculine lavender scent”??? and why would kouros be a lavender scent? there is not nearly as prominen lavender as in azzaro ph for exampl…maybe just as much lavender as in boss, far more citrus and musk, although i do think there is lavender in kouros and boss….. i guess what i am asking is how do i determine how you classify boss number one? to be honest i think it made more sense in your post about baroque fougeres…that seemed realistic given that i cannot see anyone calling boss a chypre or oriental (it certainly not a cologne)…

      • It is not uncommon in history for a term or phrase to become established and then to get more and more confusing, with subsequent generations “adding their own spin.” My phrase, “Baroque Fougere,” has never been used by anyone else, to my knowledge, so to claim that it is on the same level as the misuse of fougere or even fresh fougere is simply not accurate. These have been misused so many times there’s no need to cite examples, as you can just read some reviews on Basenotes or Fragrantica. However, ” Baroque Masculine Lavender scent” is clearly a lot clumsier, and it’s not like millions of people care one way or the other (if they are even aware of the word fougere!), so I’m not going to lose any sleep over what the best approach might be. In retrospect, I think it would have been better to use a phrase that did not contain the word fougere. Personally, I would err on the side of clumsy language, as opposed to inaccurate language, but you can do as you wish.

        The Boss scent is complex and rather unique; Tenere is similar, and there may be a couple of others (perhaps created by the same perfumer), but the question of how to classify assumes there must be classification. At this point, scent classification is probably a waste of time, because those who don’t know will likely be confused, no matter how you do it, and those who do know don’t need the classification system! Kouros contains a clear fougere accord, though it is dominated by other notes/accords, so I think it’s a great example of the kind of scent I was discussing. I don’t get much lavender in the Boss, but it may begin with a lavender blast, for all I know, because I try to avoid most of the top notes, as I’ve told my readers over and over again. And as I said about Azzaro Pour Homme, it doesn’t have the complexity or dynamism (and lacks non-lavender floral notes, beyond perhaps a tiny bit of powdery iris, which the others possess clearly), so I don’t see it as a “Baroque” or complex scent of that period. You can disagree, but if you don’t understand my position here, I’m sorry but I just don’t know how I can make it any clearer!

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