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December 1, 2003

"Lui pour Elle" By Luca Turin

"Lui pour Elle" By Luca Turin

The first time I understood that perfume might require courage was when a family friend, a tall, handsome woman with an aquiline profile, short blonde hair, high colour on her cheekbones, a rasping voice and piercing blue eyes breezed into our Paris flat. I was nine, she was thirty-two, she wore tweeds and Guerlain’s Vetiver for men. I fell in love. This was 1962, and at the time her behaviour (though sadly not towards me) was on the edge of scandal. We have since mercifully got used to many things. Amazons, like successful businessmen, no longer have to wear suits to work. But we still say as much by our dislikes as by our likes. Masculine perfumes come in handy, because most are refusals made smell: absolutely not this, not that, no flowers, no Barbie Pink, no come-hither cloud, and above all no laughter. In short, the stuff Easter Island statues would wear if they ever shaved.

So many taboos, so little time: now that the words "smart" and "gorgeous" have got used to being spoken in the same breath, what can a woman do? First of all, remember the Russian cure for hiccups: "run three times round the house without thinking of the word wolf ". Do as it says, banish all virile thoughts, slip into a full-length silk faille[2] dress the colour of a rare beetle and go pick the most cross-combed, stoic-in-the-face-of-good-news fragrance you can find. A good place to start might be Yves Saint Laurent’s Rive Gauche pour Homme in its elegantly funereal striped aluminium bottle. This is a classic fern, a distant descendant of Paul Parquet’s 1881 Fougère Royale, and there are many others ranging from Klein’s 1981 Calvin, recently reissued, to Martin Heidenreich’s sublime 1979 Azzaro pour Homme. Keep it a secret: these matt-black stealth fragrances will get you though enemy defences before they’ve had time to sound the alarm.

You should by now be feeling ready for riskier missions. Fancy turning the tables on for good, stealing the guy’s career plan and enjoying the view from a corner office ? Take his fragrance as well, one of those sultry confections for Italians in open white shirts. Maurice Roucel’s brilliantly concise Lapidus pour Homme, Gucci’s cod-mystical incense-laden Pour Homme, or Caron’s ever-wonderful and underrated No.3 (formerly Troisième Homme) will get you noticed. But if after all these adventures you want to settle down with an invisible companion for life, then try my favourite: Yohji Homme, composed by Patou perfumer Jean-Michel Duriez. But step on the gas, they’re discontinuing it when stocks run out.

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