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February 1, 2005

"Two Guys" By Luca Turin

"Two Guys" By Luca Turin

Estée Lauder and Guerlain have something in common: they are not fashion houses, and ultimately live or die by the fortunes of their fragrances alone. Both have recently come out with new perfumes “for men”, respectively called Beyond Paradise Men and L’Instant Pour Homme. There is something comical about this recycling of names from feminine to masculine: the Lauder hints that one of the pleasures of the afterlife may turn out to be a segregation of the sexes, while the Guerlain name has the stern ring of a “Be Brief” sign facing the visitor on the CEO’s desk. Both are wonderful perfumes.

Let me start with the Guerlain, since I have been critical of their recent work. It is hard to find fault with this one. For a start, the black packaging is exquisite. For the first time in years a Guerlain has a look (slightly Chanel-inspired, to be sure, but who cares ?) at once distinctive, classy and coherent. Now for the smell: on skin, it is like watching a perfect Olympic dive from the 10-meter board. It goes from fresh-citrusy in the manner of Shalimar Lite to a suave-sandalwood reminiscent of Samsara Lite via two half-twists, one of anise and one of vetiver. Elbows tucked in all the way, perfect entry, no splash. One immediately wants a replay in slow motion: spray it on fabric and marvel at how it’s done. Two other things are noteworthy about l’Instant Homme. First, and that is a sign of a really good fragrance, it smells good even in the thumbnail-sized versions of deodorant, shower gel etc. It’s like Barber’s Adagio in Quartet form: they’ve got the tune right. Second, whereas the medley of Guerlain quotations in L’instant Femme hinted at someone with a past but no future, here in a masculine context they suggest a guy who has learnt some of his art de vivre from women and isn’t ashamed to admit it.

The Lauder, very differently, also follows Ernst Haeckel’s law according to which development recapitulates evolution. Part of the trick is to be discerning about which life forms you include on the way. This one morphs from Cool Water to Hugo Boss Adam via Grey Flannel with the seamless grace that is Calice Becker’s hallmark. Unlike the Guerlain, which has a familiar cool-to-warm arc, Beyond Paradise Men never leaves the primeval ocean to bask on the beach: it manages to remain grey-green, indistinct and misty from topnote to drydown. Both fragrances show the reverence for history that informs classicism. Both, I wager, will be classics.

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