Disappointing, low-rent, and an exercise in banality. Guerlain‘s new L’Homme Idéal isn’t the worst fragrance that I’ve tried this year, not by any means, but it’s certainly the worst thing I’ve sniffed from Guerlain in quite a while. It’s a sub-par, synthetic creation without any distinctiveness or refinement. Furthermore, the extent to which it mashes up almost every single one of the commercially popular genres of male perfumery feels like something that is both intentionally manipulative and driven by basest of financial considerations by LVMH. I haven’t found a lot to admire in the LVMH-era of Guerlain, but I’ve never previously thought that one of their fragrances belonged in a discount shop next to Justin Bieber’s concoctions. L’Homme Idéal does.
L’Homme Idéal is an eau de toilette that was created by Guerlain’s in-house perfumer, Thierry Wasser, and released about six weeks ago in very limited fashion in Europe. It may be a European exclusive until the end of September, or it may never come to America. It is wholly unclear to me. In fact, I’m not even sure what the distribution situation is like outside of France. I haven’t had any success in finding L’Homme Idéal at places like Harrods or other usual European stockists. It’s rather a surprise, given how much I had heard about this fragrance in the past months, and what seemed like an avalanche of advertising in France.
Speaking of advertising, Guerlain states on their website that, while the ideal man may be a myth, his fragrance is not. In self-aggrandizing fashion, they claim that they have the ability to decode men’s dreams, and that their latest creation is purportedly the essence of masculine perfection. Excuse me for a few minutes while I laugh. Someone at Guerlain must be drunk, or else their illustrious pre-LVMH history has gone to their heads in a state of heightened self-delusion. If Guerlain really has the magical ability to see inside men’s souls to decode their “aspirations” and to give them what they allegedly want, then men apparently want to be the essence of mediocrity and to smell like every other Tom, Dick, Jacques, and Sergei at the mall. But let quote you how Guerlain puts it:
The ideal man is a myth. His fragrance, a reality. Guerlain decodes men’s aspirations and creates for them a concentrate of ideal.
The ideal fragrance ? Smart, handsome, strong. Three adjectives, three accords for this fresh woody fragrance that will trigger your full potential.
For the first time, an almond scent for men composed by Guerlain around three accords. The intelligence of a sparkling and perfectly fresh top note: citrus, rosemary, orange blossom. The beauty of an incredibly sensual “amaretto” heart note based on an almond/tonka bean duo. The strength of a woody leather base note, definitely masculine: Indian vetiver, cedar and leather given a contemporary interpretation. [Formatting to the last paragraph added by me.]
The succinct list of notes in L’Homme Idéal is therefore:
bergamot, mandarin, rosemary, orange blossom, bitter almond, tonka bean, vanilla, vetiver, cedar, and a leather note.
The opening minutes of L’Homme Idéal on my skin led me to mutter, “What fresh hell is this?” It’s simply terrible. The perfume improves after a few hours, but the opening is absolutely atrocious. A blast of aromachemicals hits you in the face, from shrill, piercing woods, to fake, ambered “amaretto” booziness infused with cloyingly syrupy mandarin and plastic orange blossom, atop a thin sliver of plastic-y, chemical, vinyl “leather.” On their heels are synthetic, bitter almonds that are mixed with fake Maraschino cocktail cherries, presumably from the “amaretto” concoction. Things become even stranger when the rosemary arrives, smelling like sharp, coniferous pine needles. Bringing up the rear are touches of vetiver and clean, fresh musk.
So, to summarize: piercing aromachemical woods with syrupy orange, plastic orange blossom, bitter almonds, bad cherries, pine needles, vetiver, and plastic leather — all wrapped up in heavily sweetened ambered booze. It’s a hot mess of clashing synthetics, and all of it feels incredibly cheap. My God, does this perfume smell low-rent.
The perfume’s structure also baffles me a little. The notes blast out of the gate and hit you with force, even when you only apply a small amount of the fragrance, but then, suddenly, everything just… collapses. It’s the oddest thing, but the notes seem to fold upon themselves, like a building being demolished and imploding from within. You can still smell all the separate layers (unfortunately), but something about the fragrance as a whole feels as though it deflates within mere minutes. What is left is an extremely sweet, wholly aromachemical, spicy-woody flatness that is infused with almonds, syrupy cherries, aromatic pine/rosemary, and clean freshness.
It feels like a mish-mash of every possible mainstream genre in men’s perfumery that has had even a modicum of success in recent years. Okay, fine, L’Homme Idéal doesn’t include the 1990s and 2000s mainstay of calone aquatics, but almost every other popular box seems to have been checked: gourmand sweetness; oriental spiciness or booziness; dry woodiness; clean freshness; and outdoorsy aromatics. None of it smells special or luxurious. In fact, during the first hour, L’Homme Idéal takes a long pit-stop in the bowels of a car wash place with its wall of fresheners, ranging from the dangling trees that you hang from your rear-view mirror to other formats. I actually own a local car wash’s spray that smells like the “leather” used in L’Homme Idéal. I have also sniffed an incredibly similar “cherry” freshener, and I won’t start on the commonness of pine.
Things only get more difficult from there. Roughly 20 minutes in, L’Homme Idéal turns even more syrupy and synthetic. The fruits increase a few decibels, as does the booziness, both in a way that is sharp instead of smooth or rich. The cedar smells drier and more chemical in nature. As for the almond note, it is there, but, at the same time, it is not. It is a hazy, amorphous element that is more like a vague suggestion or a subset of the booziness than any hardcore, fresh almonds. In a way, it plays “hide and seek” with you, just as the cherries do. Meanwhile, the clean musk grows stronger, and L’Homme Idéal starts to give me a piercing headache whenever I smell the fragrance up close for too long.
It doesn’t help that L’Homme Idéal is quite a strong scent, though it is light in weight like many eau de toilettes. Two tiny spritzes from my atomizer (the equivalent of 1 good spray from a bottle) initially gave me 5 inches of projection. My skin tends to amplify aroma-chemicals, so that is perhaps one reason, but L’Homme Ideal felt stronger than, say, L’Instant de Guerlain in a similar eau de toilette concentration.
The first signs of improvement occur at the end of the first hour and the start of the second. Creaminess stirs in the base, while up top there is a hint of something like patchouli. Monsieur Guerlain includes the note in his list of the perfume’s ingredients, and he may be right. There is a strongly nuance of similar spicy, sweet woodiness which merges into the cedar and vetiver, and it is a trio which seems to be pretty classic in many French fragrances. Then again, the patchouli and its facets could be due to the definite woody-amber aromachemical that is roaring through the base of the scent.
At the end of the 2nd hour, L’Homme Idéal’s cloying, synthetic Amaretto booziness finally pipes down a little, thereby allowing the cream to rise to the surface and shine. It really is the best part of L’Homme Idéal, hands down, and goes a long way in the drydown towards redeeming the fragrance after its atrocious beginning. It’s a plush, soft note that smooths out the woods, though never enough to remove their potent chemical character. Amidst the creamy cedar lie small dollops of the secondary notes: the pink cocktail cherries; the crisp, foresty rosemary pine; the almonds in amaretto; and the sharp clean musk. A streak of abstract “leather” remains in the base, but it continues to be nebulous and abstract. Even worse, it maintains its cheap, plasticity that makes it more like vinyl or “pleather” than a rich, expensive note.
L’Homme Idéal’s drydown begins roughly at the end of the 4th hour. The perfume essentially turns into a haze of creamy, aromatic woods, lightly flecked with amaretto, cherries, and cleanness. There really isn’t much more to the scent. The fruits feel less syrupy, and more well-balanced. The coniferous pine occasionally pops up in a clearly delineated, individual fashion, but it’s mostly just subsumed into the creamy woods to provide a vestige of outdoorsy, aromatic crispness. The white musk continues on apace, though its sharpness has finally be toned down as well. The main sense that I’m left with is of creaminess.
L’Homme Idéal remains unchanged until its very end when it finally dies away as a wisp of woody creaminess. All in all, the fragrance had good longevity for an eau de toilette, lasting a little over 10 hours. However, my skin holds onto to aromachemicals like glue, so keep that in mind. As for sillage, L’Homme Idéal turned into a skin scent on me 4 hours into its evolution.
L’Homme Idéal’s finish is pleasant. Not enjoyable, exactly, but definitely far from terrible. It’s all relative, however. Nothing in the wholly nondescript drydown phase feels elegant, refined, or luxurious. It may not be low-rent like the beginning, but L’Homme Idéal is still hodge-podge of banality when taken as a whole. And I’m being kind. The friend who gave me my sample scathingly summed up L’Homme Idéal as “L’Bro Idéal.” If you’ve ever encountered the term “Bros” to reference a particular sort of male perfumista, you’ll know what it implies — and it’s not a compliment. For a company with the distinguished history of Guerlain, such mediocrity is sub-par. L’Homme Idéal is their first men’s fragrance since the 2010 Arsene Lupin Dandy. I wasn’t blown away by a passing test of the latter, but it’s a substantially better fragrance than this one. Worlds apart, in fact, when you consider its complexity, refinement, and bouquet.
That scent actually feels like a Guerlain, whereas L’Homme Idéal… I don’t know what the devil this is. Other bloggers or some on Fragrantica and Basenotes feel that it’s in the mold of Thierry Mugler‘s fragrances, either one of the A*Mens or B*Men. I couldn’t say; I don’t have much familiarity with the line, as the Mugler signature and aesthetic is not to my taste. Others bring up Axe (which is a frightening comparison in and of itself), Rive Gauche Pour Homme, Versace‘s Dreamer, or La Petite Robe Noire. Still, putting aside the issue of other brands, the response to L’Homme Idéal has not been good– and that is putting it mildly.
On Fragrantica, there are some defenders who enjoy the scent, but the majority of reviews are negative. Some are hilarious, while others are simply vitriolic. For example:
- “Guerlain decodes men’s aspirations and creates for them a concentrate of ideal.” Which men are they talking about? 6th graders? Sheeps? Marketers…? [¶] L’Homme Ideal? Says who? The fragrance is soulless, lame, depthless, superficial and highly forgettable. The bottle is gorgeous, though… Beautiful on the outside but boring as hell on the inside…
- in one word this is just a rubbish! cheap and common to be a guerlain!!!!!!
- Oh dear Guerlain what have you done here? [¶]This is so far off the mark it’s unbelievable, very disappointing. L’Homme Ideal takes generic to the next level but even that statement makes it sound too exciting…it really isn’t. […]It’s got a strength to it though I’ll give it that but it’s that synthetic, aroma chemical strength not due to high quality ingredients just unrelenting innovation meaning longevity was good.
- Guerlain reworked AXE Dark Temptation smell. Smells cheap and banal.
- Wasser will be the end of Guerlain. His fragrances are mediocre at best. None of his fragrances ever stand out and they are the polar opposite from what Guerlain used to be. It’s joining the lower leagues now. Such a shame this wonderful fragrance house has basically gone.
- What I get is a lemony tonka straight-out-of-a-deodorant note that quickly vanishes to give way to a simplified and cliché caramel wood accord, edgy, cheap-synthetic and unrefined. A totally soulless smell that has its place on the shelves of a supermarket, between Axe and Scorpio. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
My favorite part of that last review is the line:
Sorry Guerlain, but I don’t believe that the genuine “Ideal Man” has the flat, boring personality and low performances that you replicate with such perfection and talent in your latest creation.
Basenotes is no different. There is one thread whose subtitle is “pathetic, generic trash.” Another 3-page thread begins with initial excitement over the anticipated launch of L’Homme Ideal at the start of the year, but pre-release enthusiasm quickly turned sour once people tried it. As with Fragrantica, there are exceptions to the rule and people who found L’Homme Idéal to be pleasant, but they are definitely in the minority. A sampling of comments:
- Am I ever glad I didn’t blind buy this one. It sucks. Smells similar to Michael Kors but more synthetic. I agree with Arij that if I had smelled it blind I wouldn’t recognize it as Guerlain. Has a strong synthetic feel to it. Do not like. What a disappointment. The bottle is nice.
- Sampled L’Homme Idéal today. It smells generic, pungent and cheap. Just a little bit of almond, lots of tonka bean and the vainillic-woody base typical of the 85% of masculine fragrances launched during the last years. It’s a perfume created totally in a marketing department. Where’s the Guerlain “savoir-faire”? I’m sad and disappointed
- Smelled a tester in Dublin at the weekend. Extremely pleasant stuff. Sure, it’s a little “mainstream”, but has more than enough character and quality for me. I can’t agree with the negative response it seems to be garnering in here.
- If Guerlain Homme smells fresh and natural, L’Homme Ideal is a sweet, modern and synthetic creation. To me it’s all about cherries. All that I smell at the beginning is a sugary and creamy liquor (you can name it almond liquor or amaretto) with a hint of spices and alcoholic mood that makes the fragrance manly. In the development the smell is becoming woodier and richer with a prominent tonka accord. The sillage is more than average, the longevity is good as well. [¶] L’Homme ideal is nothing more than a masculine counterpart of the cherry bomb La Petit Robe Noire. The fragrance bores me after two weeks of wearing, not because of being bad, but being just normal. L’Homme Ideal will do good sales in 2014, but I doubt about its long term perspectives. There is nothing really innovative, advanced and sophisticated here, just business to earn money.
- Top – A hint of Rive Gauche Pour Homme creamy rosemary barbershop. [¶] Mid – That thick tonka blanket from The Dreamer by Versace. [¶] Base – A creeping leather similar to Bvlgari Black. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
I actually agree with the commentator who finds L’Homme Idéal to be the masculine counterpart to La Petite Robe Noire, except the latter was never such a painfully cheap aromachemical bomb on my skin.
For Kevin at Now Smell This, L’Homme Idéal actually warranted an underlying to the phrase “very synthetic,” but the perfume itself was too boring to arouse any serious emotion. His review reads, in part, as follows:
L’Homme Idéal opens with strong leather-tinged bergamot: opaque, slightly mentholated, and a tad artificial. Next up? A flat, harsh-smelling orange blossom note. What disappoints me most about L’Homme Idéal’s opening is its lack of sparkle. The orange blossom note turns creamy in mid-development and blends smoothly into L’Homme Idéal’s “amaretto accord,” which is sweet and heavy with tonka bean — a mainstay in contemporary men’s fragrances and a note that can dominate a composition. The base of L’Homme Idéal presents soft vanilla, a touch of almond, faint cedar wood and a “caramelized/toasted” note. (L’Homme Idéal’s base smells very much like Thierry Mugler’s A*Men “Pure” perfumes…but, for me, is not as pleasing.)
L’Homme Idéal has received raves and some less-than-enthusiastic reviews from bloggers; I don’t love it and I don’t hate it. I’m unmoved. Either in actuality, or in their treatment or combination, L’Homme Idéal’s materials smell very synthetic to me. Has Wasser, tired from around-the-clock reformulations thanks to IFRA regulations, simply chosen ingredients that are not on IFRA’s radar…forestalling a re-mix? [Emphasis to Mugler name added by me.]
Kevin is right on a lot of counts, including the fact that there are positive reviews for the scent and people who enjoy it. You’re free to look up those comments on Fragrantica‘s very long thread for the scent, or give a glance at Bois de Jasmin‘s positive take on how the perfume is a woody, masculine version of La Petite Robe Noire. I’ve wasted too much time already on a fragrance that doesn’t deserve it.