Fragrance Recommendations: Leathers, Vetivers, Fougères & More



Every week, I get at least three or four emails from people seeking fragrance recommendations. The vast majority of them are men, but there are some women, too. Most of them are not long-time readers of the blog and have simply stumbled upon it, so they don’t know my long-time favorites that I talk about often, but a few are subscribers who seek specific suggestions. Sometimes, people start by giving me a brief idea of their tastes and/or names of prior fragrances they’ve worn. Typically, though, the information is insufficient for me to know what might really suit them, so I write back with a list of questions, trying to narrow down what notes they have issues with or love best, how they feel about sweetness or animalics, how their skin deals with longevity or projection, and what sort of power they want in both of those last two area.

Ralph Lauren Purple Label editorial ad via

Ralph Lauren Purple Label editorial ad via

What I’ve noticed is that I tend to make certain recommendations time and time again for particular genres or fragrance families. So, I thought I would share them with all of you. However, please keep in mind that these names are in response to some pretty set criteria given to me by the person in question, even though many of those factors end up being quite similar. For example, the men who like dark, bold, rich or spicy orientals all seem to want a certain sillage or “to be noticed in a crowd,” as several have put it. In contrast, most of those who want clean, crisp scents prefer for them to be on the discreet side and suitable for professional business environments. Men whose favorites are classical designer scents that fall firmly within the fougère, green, fresh, or aromatic categories (like Tuscany, Guerlain’s Vetiver, or vintage Eau Sauvage, for example) tend to want very traditional scents, even “old school” in vibe, and not something sweet, edgy, or with a twist. So, that is what I try to give them as recommendations, which means that there are a whole slew of fragrances that fall outside the category.

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Dior Patchouli Imperial (La Collection Privée)

Patchouli Imperial is a crisp, aromatic, desiccated, very woody men’s cologne that is far from the patchouli soliflore that its name would imply. It starts off as a men’s fougère, before turning into a scent with faint ties to Guerlain‘s L’Instant Pour Homme and, to a much lesser extent, Habit Rouge. Eventually, it ends up as a dry woody fragrance with an ambered touch, but little character.

Source: Dior

Source: Dior

Patchouli Imperial is part of Dior’s prestige line of fragrances called La Collection Privée. (The line is sometimes called La Collection Couturier on places like Fragrantica and Surrender to Chance, but I will go with the name used by Dior itself on its website.) The eau de parfum was released in 2011, the creation of François Demarchy, the artistic director and nose for Parfums Dior. Dior describes the scent as follows:

Potent and sensual, Patchouli is an essential House of Dior ingredient that took up its place at the beginning of the New Look revolution in 1947.

Full of elegance, François Demachy’s composition, Patchouli Impérial, is a celebration of this legendary oriental ingredient with notes as sultry as they are sophisticated. “Patchouli is a major note, the most animal of all the plant notes. It is refined, revealing unprecedented elegance.”

Dior’s very limited — and I would argue, very incomplete — list of notes only mentions:

Russian Coriander, Indonesian Patchouli, Indian and New Caledonian sandalwood.

Source: Dior

Source: Dior

Fragrantica voters add in cedar, Sicilian mandarin, and Calabrian bergamot. I agree with them, but would also include some other things. What I smell is:

Lavender, Bergamot, Lime, Virginia Cedar, Russian Coriander, Indonesian Patchouli, Cocoa, Indian and New Caledonian/Australian sandalwood, and something ambered.



Patchouli Imperial opens on my skin with cologne and fougère traits of lavender, bitter lime, bitter dried orange peel, bergamot, lemony peppered coriander, and dust. It is followed by a sour wood note that is simultaneously green, unripe, and desiccated. Dustiness infuses everything, especially the coriander which smells old, stale, and sharp. It’s not the dustiness of patchouli, but rather, of a dirt road or a crypt.

The wood note isn’t appealing either, as it is slightly off, almost like rancid “sandalwood.” A few months ago, I received a concentrated Australian sandalwood oil, and it smells extremely close to the aroma in Patchouli Imperial. The oil had an oddly medicinal, mentholated edge which isn’t apparent here, but it had the same “off,” green tonality that eventually turned a bit creamy like sour buttermilk.

Photo: D&M Canon.

Photo: D&M Canon.

The dustiness is quite something. It leaves an itchiness at the back of my throat, but more than that, it creates a staleness around the notes that robs the citric elements of all their brightness and zestiness. It also amplifies the definite herbaceous quality in Patchouli Imperial, especially the lavender which has all the dried, pungent, sharp characteristics that I loathe so much. The overall effect is to a create a fragrance that is as much a dry woody scent as it is an aromatic, fougère cologne.



Other notes soon arrive to join the bitter citruses, pungent lavender, sour green woods, and dried tonalities. At first, it is cedar which is equally dry and musty. Then, there is a hint of creamy sweetness that cuts through the stale, bitter, and arid accords, but it is very muted. More noticeable is a sour medicinal element that appears after about five minutes. It is sharp and pungent, but it doesn’t smell like the camphorated, leafy darkness of patchouli. Instead, it has an almost leathered greenness that feels like a distant cousin to galbanum. 

Patchouli Imperial is such an odd mix of sourness, greenness, dark brown desiccation and aridity, dust, staleness, and pungency. Dried lavender, dried bitter orange peel, bitter lemon, heaping amounts of peppered coriander, dust, dry cedar, unripe sour buttermilk “sandalwood,” and more dust — it’s really unpleasant to my nose. I’ve tried Patchouli Imperial a few times over the last 6 months, and most recently again in Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport in October, and each time, I’ve recoiled at its opening. People sometimes use the term “old lady” as a derogatory way to describe fragrances; I dislike the term as something that is both sexist and not particularly useful as a descriptor, but I’ve often wondered why no-one describes fragrances as being “old man” in nature.

Well, let me use it here. Patchouli Imperial has a sour, stale, musty “old man” aroma. It reminds me distinctly of an old Greek man I once knew whose old-fashioned fougère cologne mixed with a definite dustiness from his old books, as well as a subtle whisper of sour staleness from his unshaven face and his ancient, brown cardigan. He was a very sweet chap, but I wouldn’t want to smell like him.   

Light, natural, cocoa powder.

Light, natural, cocoa powder.

Fifteen minutes in, a creamy cocoa powder pops up in the sidelines, adding to the discordant jangle. The stale coriander powder grows sharper, as do the lemon and lime. The sour green sandalwood darts in and out, toying with the musty woodiness of the cedar. Thankfully, the pungency of the lavender softens a little, and that brief flicker of leathered greenness vanishes. The desiccated woodiness in the base remains, however, and my throat feels scratchier than ever. It has to be something synthetic, especially as there is something distinctly sharp in Patchouli Imperial when smelled up close. 

"Dusty Woods" by Brenejohn on DeviantArt.

“Dusty Woods” by Brenejohn on DeviantArt.

It takes about 25 minutes for Patchouli Imperial to soften, and for those sharp, pungent edges to get smoothed out. The fragrance’s sillage drops to a few inches above the skin, and turns mellower. It’s still incredibly dry, however, with a bouquet that is primarily woody lavender cologne with various dusty bits, an abstract patchouli, lemon, peppered coriander, and cedar. The patchouli that is starting to appear isn’t spicy, sweet, ambered, or mellow. It’s merely another form of dry woods with a dusty, herbal facet. The subtle whispers of cocoa and that green, unripe “sandalwood” in the base give Patchouli Imperial a very distant kinship with Guerlain‘s L’Instant Pour Homme Eau de Toilette (“LIDG”). Yet, the Dior has none of the latter’s black tea, its floral tonalities, or its creamy sweetness. At times, the dry citric and fougère elements remind me of Habit Rouge’s opening, but that fragrance was never sour, stale, or musty either.

Patchouli Imperial eventually loses its unpleasant start. The citric aromatics and lavender recede to the sidelines at the end of the first hour, but it takes a while longer for the creamy undertone and cocoa to fully emerge and to turn the fragrance into something less stale. The notes blur into each other, and Patchouli Imperial becomes a soft, gauzy, sheer haze of citric aromatics, dry woods, dry patchouli, dry cocoa powder, and some abstract creaminess. Tiny whispers of lavender and peppered coriander lurk underneath, but they’re muffled. Patchouli Imperial is a skin scent after 90 minutes, though the fragrance is still strong when sniffed up close.

"Golden Brown" by Emily Faulkner. Source:

“Golden Brown” by Emily Faulkner. Source:

Around 2.25 hours into Patchouli Imperial’s development, the fragrance takes on the characteristic that will remain for a while: a blurry soft, citrus, patchouli, woody scent. The amount of cocoa powder waxes and wanes, but the note feels increasingly nebulous and abstract as the hours pass. The best way I can describe it is as something that smells like dry sweetness, instead of actual chocolate. The patchouli also feels abstract, verging more an a generalized dry woodiness that has a hint of some sweetness than any actual, distinct “patchouli” in its own right. The citrus element finally fades away around the middle of the fourth hour, and an abstract “ambery” quality takes its place. In its final drydown, Patchouli Imperial is a nebulous, gauzy whisper of dry woods just lightly flecked with some ambered sweetness and a hint of powder.



Like all its Dior Privé siblings, Patchouli Imperial has moderate sillage and good longevity. At first, the fragrance is quite potent and strong, but the projection drops after 90 minutes, and Patchouli Imperial wears close to the skin for the rest of its duration. Dior intentionally wants its fragrances to be refined, unobtrusive, discreet, but strong and long-lasting, and Patchouli Imperial is no exception. All in all, it lasted a little over 9 hours on me. On people with normal skin, the more oriental or ambered Privé fragrances can last much longer.

I’m not at all enthusiastic about Patchouli Imperial. I’m not judging it as a patchouli fragrance, because, by and large, it isn’t one in my opinion. I’m judging it as a men’s cologne, and I think there are better takes on this particular profile than Patchouli Imperial. Its opening is horrid and incredibly unpleasant. While the fragrance subsequently improves and loses that discordant, jangling, dry, sour staleness, it merely devolves into a generic citric, dry woody scent before ending up as a slightly less dry, ambered, woody blur. I should probably repeat the word “dry” a few more times, but I think you’ve gotten the point by now.

You might argue that Patchouli Imperial is a refined take on patchouli, but it wasn’t on my skin. It felt uninteresting, average, and unoriginal more than anything else. For patchouli-mixed scents, I think you’d do far better with Guerlain’s L’Instant Pour Homme in either concentration (as there are olfactory differences between the two) or Chanel‘s Coromandel. For fragrances that primarily focused on patchouli, there are a host of options that I would recommend before this one, starting with Profumum‘s Patchouly. On the other hand, I think men who hate patchouli may enjoy Patchouli Imperial. By their standards, the note may seem very clean, fresh, and refined.

On Fragrantica, reviewers are more enthusiastic than I am about Patchouli Imperial. Some seem to have experienced much more actual patchouli than I did. Others compare the scent to Givenchy Gentleman or Nasomatto’s Absinth. I haven’t tried either to be able to compare. A number of people mention both amber and powder in the drydown, while a few bring up mentholated notes in the start. The comment that amused me the most came from a poster who said he got the most bizarre unsolicited comments whenever he wore Patchouli Imperial from friends who “associate it with along the lines of Caveman, Mummy’s Tomb, DOM, Closet filled of mothballs etc.” I suspect that is the crypt-like dust that dominates Patchouli Imperial’s start. 

I generally really like the Dior Privée line, but Patchouli Imperial is a complete pass for me. I don’t enjoy it as a cologne, and it’s definitely not my idea of a beautiful patchouli.   

Cost & Availability: Patchouli Imperial is an eau de parfum that is available exclusively at Dior boutiques, at Dior online, and a few select, high-end department stores. Dior Privée perfumes come in two sizes: the 4.25 fl oz/125 ml costs $170 with the new Dior price increase, while the 8.5 fl oz/250 ml costs $250. (There is a third option which is so enormous, I can’t imagine anyone buying it.)
In the U.S.: Patchouli Imperial is found at Dior’s NYC boutique, and at the main Las Vegas store [call (702) 369-6072]. Ordering from the store is best as they will give you a free 5 ml mini bottle of the Dior perfume of your choice, along with 3-4 small 1 ml dab vial sample bottles, to go with your purchase. Even better, you will get free shipping and pay no tax. U.S. Department Stores: New York’s Bergdorf Goodman, San Francisco’s Neiman Marcus, and the Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, Maryland also carry the Dior Privée line collection of perfumes.
Outside of the US: The Dior International page offers all their Privée fragrances for you to order online. This is the listing for Patchouli Imperial, but there doesn’t seem to be an e-store from which to purchase it. In addition, you can use the Points of Sale page on the Dior website to find a location for a Dior store near you. You can also navigate the Dior website’s International section to buy the perfume online. The problem is that the site is not very straight-forward. If you go to this page, look at the very far right to the bottom where it will say, in black, “International Version” and click on that. You should see options for Europe, Asia-Oceana, and South America. Within Europe, there are different sub-sites divided by country. The one closest to you should have the perfume available for sale.
Samples: If you want to give Patchouli Imperial a sniff, samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.00 for a 1 ml vial. If you’re interested in trying the whole Privée line (minus the discontinued Vetiver), Surrender to Chance sells all 13 fragrances in a sampler set for $35.99.

Creed Aventus Cologne

Source: Basenotes

Source: Basenotes

I fear I may have to go into perfume Witness Protection after this one. The power of Creed, and the worship of its fragrance, Aventus, in particular, is such that anything short of blind, unswerving, unqualified adoration seems to upset a few of its fans. Well, let’s get this over with then: I like Aventus and think it’s a perfectly pleasant — even occasionally pretty — fragrance that I would enjoy wearing. I also think it’s an over-hyped, simple, thin, linear scent that carries with it some frustrating issues, and which isn’t worth the high price.

There, I said it: I think Aventus is over-hyped. In fact, I firmly believe that, if Aventus were ever sniffed blindly in an unmarked, plain flacon located in Macy’s or some mall, some of its admirers may not be quite so uncritical. In my eyes, the hype and the reputation (“panty-dropper”) are as much a part of Aventus as its famous pineapple note. Furthermore, to be honest, I find the blind, cultish worship of some of its younger acolytes, and their aggressive response to those who don’t share their unqualified adoration, to be extremely off-putting. With that said, I shall henceforth walk and sleep with a Kevlar vest….

Creed is a fragrance house with a long and storied history, dating back to 1760. According to the biographical blurb quoted by Bergdorf Goodman, the house is unusual in a few different ways:

Olivier Creed with son, Erwin. Source: Vanity Fair.

Olivier Creed with son, Erwin. Source: Vanity Fair.

Founded in 1760 and passed from father to son, Creed is the world’s only privately held luxury fragrance dynasty. Based in Paris, the company today is led by Olivier Creed, a sixth-generation master perfumer.  […] Using the infusion technique (which has been abandoned by the modern industry), Creed weighs, mixes, macerates, and filters everything by hand. They also use the highest percentage of natural components in the prestigious French perfume industry..

For Aventus, Creed says it was inspired by “the dramatic life of a great, historic emperor, who waged war, peace and romance on terms he set, riding to power on horseback.” The fragrance seems to have been created primarily by Erwin Creed, the young, seventh-generation Creed perfumer, with input from his father, Olivier. The website states:

Royal but not imposing, CREED Aventus is made with ingredients hand selected worldwide by Erwin CREED, seventh generation of CREED and its future chief. Essences he chose were shipped to CREED’s French workshop, where father and son created Aventus using hand production methods that date to the founding of CREED in 1760.

According to Luckyscent, the fragrance is an eau de parfum, and its notes include:

black currant, bergamot, apple, pineapple, rose, birch, jasmine, patchouli, musk, oak moss, ambergris and vanilla.



Aventus opens on my skin with a burst of zesty, crisp, fresh bergamot, followed by the sweetness of pineapple and a hint of tart, green black currant. There is a quiet earthiness lurking about that feels like vetiver, but it is only a momentary impression. The primary bouquet is an incredibly pretty, airy, bright blend of bergamot’s crisp freshness infused with the succulent, pulpy, juiciness of pineapple. The fragrance feels very sheer and thin, though, so I added another huge smear (which almost emptied the rest of my vial) to the two large ones from my dab vial, for a total of 3 extremely large smears all up my forearm.

Dried oakmoss or tree moss.

Dried oakmoss or tree moss.

In just a few minutes, hints of oakmoss start to flitter about. It’s not fresh, springy, bright green moss, but rather something that feels like the real oakmoss absolute with its slightly mineralized, faintly salty, grey, musty characteristics. It smells a lot like tree bark and grey lichen. Quickly, it turns the citric, fruity freshness of Aventus into something drier and more layered. It almost feels akin to an aromatic fougère, minus its usual lavender underpinnings.

It also continues to feel very thin. I’ve read of men applying 10-12 big sprays of Aventus in one go and, at the time, I merely thought them to be extremely exuberant. Now, however, I understand it better. While aerosolisation definitely adds to a fragrance’s potency and longevity, Aventus seems like a scent that may well benefit from 10-12 sprays to give it some body and depth. I realise that I’m at a disadvantage in dabbing it, but I did put on quite a bit. Frankly, I’m keep struggling to believe that Aventus is ostensibly an eau de parfum, not a cologne (despite its name) or an eau de toilette.

Silver birch tree. My own photo. Fjällnäs, Sweden.

Silver birch tree. My own photo. Fjällnäs, Sweden.

Ten minutes in, Aventus is an extremely well-blended, elegant, refined blur of crisp, cologne-like citrus with dry, fusty, slightly mineralized oakmoss and hints of pineapple. There is a subtle woodiness in the base that reveals itself five minutes later as birch. It smells just like a smoky tree-bark with the faintest, tiniest nuance of ashiness. Birch can often have a tarry, phenolic character that makes it a common feature in leather fragrances, but not here. The note really calls to mind the delicate, silvery tree I saw in Sweden instead of anything dark, thick, and viscously tarry. Its advent turns the fragrance into a very mossy, woody scent with a subtle nuance of smokiness mixed with the crispness of citrus. The latter is quite muted now on my skin, and there are only subtle flickers of pineapple that occasionally pop up to add some countering sweetness. I wish there were more of the pineapple because it’s truly a beautiful touch and it adds an extremely interesting, original contrast to the woody-mossy accord. As a side note, the apple accord never appeared once on my skin, and the early hint of black-currant has faded away almost entirely.

Aventus remains largely unchanged for the next few hours. It’s a well-blended, airy, light swirl of birch and oakmoss, trailed by a crisp citrus note, pineapple, and a tinge of ashiness. To my happiness, the pineapple makes a more significant reappearance during the second hour for about thirty minutes before it sinks back into the overall bouquet. At the 2.5 hour point, the sillage drops and Aventus hovers about 2 inches above the skin. The notes no longer feel discrete, have started to overlap, and have lost all distinctive shape. Aventus, as a whole, feels wholly insubstantial in body, and is simply a nebulous haze of three primary notes: birch, oakmoss, and pineapple.

"Yellow jag" by Nancy Simmons Smith.

“Yellow jag” by Nancy Simmons Smith.

Despite the linearity of its core essence, there are a few, extremely subtle, changes in Aventus’ development. For a brief moment, at the start of the third hour, vanilla peeks its head around the curtain, but it’s pretty much a muted wallflower. For the most part, it serves only to have an indirect effect on the overall fragrance, adding some sweetness to the drier, woodier elements. It never screams “vanilla,” in any substantial, concrete way at all. But then, nothing about this fragrance feels substantial. At the end of the third hour, the jasmine makes a quiet appearance but, like the vanilla, it’s a mere suggestion more than a distinct, significant part of the fragrance. Around the same time, Aventus turns into a complete skin scent, calling to mind a balloon that has deflated.



From the 3.75 hour mark onwards, Aventus is a hazy, sheer, thin whisper of something vaguely mossy, woody, ashy, and fruity with a minuscule hint of sweet jasmine. I had to really inhale forcefully at my arm, with my nose right on the skin, to detect even that. Without such strenuous effort, I found it completely impossible to delineate any of the notes. Aventus remained a muted, flat blur until its very end when it was the merest suggestion of something vaguely fruity. All in all, it lasted just short of 5.5 hours on my skin, with extremely weak sillage after the first hour. I couldn’t detect any amber, musk, rose, or patchouli at any point in the fragrance’s development.

As a whole, my reactions are mixed: I thought Aventus was an extremely pretty scent at the beginning with an overall refined bent; I loved the evanescent pineapple bits; I wished the fragrance had more body, depth, and nuance; and I can see how it might be a wonderful scent for spring or in the hot, humid months of summer. I also thought Aventus to be extremely simple, linear, and faintly dull. Moreover, the longevity was a huge disappointment, and I really struggle with believing that Aventus is an eau de parfum and not a thin, weak cologne.

I’m not alone in terms of Aventus’ limited longevity on my skin. For a large number of people on Fragrantica, Aventus lasts between three and six hours. The precise breakdown of votes in the longevity department is as follows:

  • 29 for “poor” (30 min-1 hr)
  • 23 for “weak” (1-2 hrs)
  • 106 for “moderate” (3-6 hrs)
  • 228 for “long lasting” (7-12 hrs)
  • 80 for “very long lasting” (12+ hrs)

Clearly, this is a fragrance that requires spraying, not dabbing, and a hell of a lot of spraying at that, but do I want something that requires 5-10 applications (of any kind) to be detectable and to really last? More to the point, is it financially feasible? A tiny 1 oz/30 ml bottle of Aventus costs $165, and that won’t last very long if I need to use a large number of sprays each time for the scent to have some traction on my skin. Still, Aventus is available in a large 4 oz/120 ml bottle from one online retailer for $188 which is a much more practical, affordable price for such a light, airy, summer-perfect scent. But then another issue arises: can one trust that bottle? Not only are there apparently tons of fakes on the market, especially on eBay, but, apparently, the scent of Aventus can vary from batch to batch.

The issue of batch numbers and variations is something that comes up frequently when talking about Creed fragrances, and Aventus, in specific. My sample came from Surrender to Chance and was purchased a while ago, so I’m not sure which batch it came from. Surrender to Chance says that it buys most of its bottles directly from Creed, or, if not, then from Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman. I don’t know what to make of the batch issue or the way people pour over the numbers, with some being able to spout off the differences at the top of their head. The whole thing seems to be an incredible pain in the tush if true. How does one deal with such uncertainty? Plus, there seems to be the implication that one won’t even get an authentic Creed bottle if one buys it from anywhere else but the store itself or a few high-end stores. So that discounted bottle I mentioned earlier might as well not exist and, even if it’s authentic, who know what it will smell like? 

Making matters more complicated still are some commentators who argue that there is no such thing as batch variations. Take, for example, these two very interesting arguments from different Fragrantica commentators:

  • I don’t buy into batch variations I’ve smelled Z01 all the way up to the 2013 batches and its all the same.
  •  Forget about batch variations because that’s just a way for the fanboys to discredit your opinion.
Aventus batch numbers, via Basenotes.

An example of Aventus batch numbers, via the Basenotes thread.

If there really is no difference between batches, then why is there a 36-page discussion on Basenotes devoted solely to the different lots and how they smell? There seem to be too many firmly convinced people for the variations to be mere figments of their imagination. Either way, buying a Creed fragrance, but Aventus in particular, seems to entail a lot of work. As one person in that Basenotes thread joked, “[i]t’s almost like buying a car….” I can only shudder.

For me, the more interesting thing is the comment by the second Fragrantica poster quoted above regarding fanboys discrediting other people’s opinions. It supports something that has always really bothered me: I’ve seen some nasty behavior when it comes to Creed. Not by everyone, mind you, and not across the board, but enough to be truly noticeable as a small trend. In one group I occasionally read, a member was attacked as not knowing her stuff or being a real perfumista because she was underwhelmed by Creed as a brand. Elsewhere, I’ve seen chest-thumping braggadocio from some Creed fans about how Aventus is a total “panty-dropper” (a phrase that I find utterly revolting), or comments to the effect of “real men wear Aventus,” as if anyone who dislikes the fragrance isn’t a real man. The fans who display either type of cocky, superior, disparaging, or obsessive behavior tend to be on the younger side, but age is no excuse. As many of my usual readers know, I adore Serge Lutens fragrances, but I don’t like all of them, I had problems with a number of them, and have even given a few the ultimate, negative criticism: “boring.” Moreover, I’ve never attacked someone who dislikes a Serge Lutens fragrance that I love.

So, why does Aventus inspire such blind worship in some quarters? I think the hype has taken on a life all of its own, and has created a snowballing effect quite similar to that of Nasomatto‘s Black Afgano. Like Aventus, Black Afgano carries a certain sort of macho reputation that a few of its younger fanboys seem to use as a reflection of their own toughness or masculinity. It’s as if they think the fragrance’s reputation — “panty-dropper” in the case of Aventus, and super-macho edginess with the lure of the forbidden in the case of Black Afgano — will rub off on them, give them a sort of street cred, or enhance their own masculinity. Yet, one can question or dislike Black Afgano without some of its fans turning on you with pitchforks. Creed, however, seems to be in a class all its own.

In the case of Aventus, some have stated that the fragrance appeals to a younger crowd than Creed’s older, more traditional offerings, so perhaps age and immaturity have something to do with it, too. One blogger, The Scentrist, found Aventus to be very much Erwin Creed’s fragrance, more than his father’s, and that it “skewed toward a younger audience.” Either way, the hype is bad enough, without adding in the related, chest-thumping aggressiveness and defensiveness of what a friend of mine calls “a few bad apples.” Yet, there are enough of those bad apples to completely put him off trying any more Creed fragrances. I completely understand. I’ve had a sample of Aventus and Green Irish Tweed for over nine months, and it’s been hard to get motivated to go near either one.

On some levels, I know it’s not fair. As noted up above, Aventus is a really pretty scent at times, and I think its fresh, light, airy crispness would make it a nice choice in hot weather. In fact, I would probably wear Aventus if a bottle ever fell into my lap, especially if it were a bottle large enough for me to practically bathe in the scent as is clearly necessary for my skin. Nonetheless, to consider Aventus the Be-All, End-All, the Holy Grail, and the best fragrance ever made? I think that goes too far. To attack other perfumistas for not bowing at the altar of Aventus goes even farther still. In fact, I really have wonder if some of the fanboys would adore Aventus quite so unilaterally and unconditionally if they ever smelled it in an unmarked, unlabeled, plain bottle in the corner of Macy’s and priced at $50? I suspect a blind test would be quite revealing.

At the end of the day, however, fragrance is a wholly subjective issue. While I would normally link to a variety of different blog reviews or countering experiences to give you some sort of sense of what people think about Aventus, I won’t in this case. The fragrance is too well-known, there is too much of a polarity between those who worship it and those who think it’s over-hyped, and there is the added complication of possible batch variations. The bottom line is that you either love it, or you don’t. If you’re one of those people who thinks Aventus is the best thing to exist in every possible solar system, I’m very happy you’ve found something you love so much. We should all have fragrances like that! My opinion is different: I think it’s an extremely pleasant, elegant, refined fragrance that is also linear, simple, mundane, ultimately unexciting, and not worth the cost. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to put on my bulletproof vest, and go into hiding….


Cost & Availability: Aventus is available in a variety of different sizes. It comes in: 1 oz/30 ml ($165);  2.5 oz/ 75 ml ($275); 4 oz/120 ml ($330); 8.4 oz/250 ml ($445); and 17 oz/500 ml ($675). Discount Retailers: You can purchase Aventus at a substantial discount in the 4 oz size directly from Amazon (US) which sells the 4 oz bottle for $188.30, instead of $320, or in the 2.5 oz size for $179.95 from a third-party vendor. You can find Aventus at a slightly less discounted price from FragranceNet which sells the bottle for $214.36 with a coupon. In the U.S.: You can buy Aventus directly from Creed (US) which offers free shipping and samples with any purchase. Aventus is also offered in 4 sizes from Bergdorf GoodmanNeiman Marcus, and Luckyscent, starting with the 1 oz bottle. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Creed is carried at a number of different stores. You can find one near you using the Creed Store Locator. In the UK, you can purchase all Creed products directly from the company at its London boutique. Aventus is also available from Creed’s UK online website, or from Harrods. Other UK and Irish stockists are listed on the Creed UK Stockists website. Prices start at £95 for the smallest size. In France, Aventus is carried at Creed’s Paris boutique on the Champs-Elysée. For all other countries, I had difficulty finding stockists on either the US or UK Creed websites. Plus, both sites offer very limited shipping, geographically. The American site only ships to the US, its territories, and Canada; the UK one only to UK locations. I couldn’t find an International Creed version, or any way of finding official vendors in other countries. So, I suppose you can try FragranceNet which ships worldwide, and has a number of different country-specific sites. Just go to the link, click at the tiny flag icon at the very top right-hand side of the page, and choose your country. Samples: Aventus is available from Surrender to Chance starting at $3 for a 1/2 ml vial. They say that they obtain their bottles directly from the Madison Avenue Creed boutique, or from either Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman.

Perfume Review – Vintage M7 from YSL (Original Version): Refined Masculinity

ZizouThere’s a man who comes to mind when I wear (vintage) M7, the groundbreaking oud eau de toilette from YSL. Each and every time, I see Zinedine Zidane (or “Zizou”), the legendary football/soccer player. He is dressed in the most beautifully tailored, sleek, expensive, dark suit as he sits in the shadows on the white marbled terrace of the Monte-Carlo’s Hermitage hotel one balmy summer’s night.

Zinedine ZidaneIt is the annual International Fireworks festival, and smoke filled the starry sky above, jostling with the aromatic scent of the Mediterranean. To his right, the vast yachts of the Monaco port lay down below; to his left, the dizzying array of the rare, unique, stratospherically expensive cars that are parked in front of the nearby Hotel de Paris, with the tinkling sounds of the glittering casino behind them. He sits, enjoying Spain’s fiery exhibition and the accompanying sounds of Ravel’s Bolero that play out somewhere from the darkened sea ahead of him. He is a sight, this man with his big hands lightly dusted with hair around a snifter of brandy, his long legs stretched out in front of him, his beautifully chiseled lips, his face so rawly sharp and contoured that it almost verges on the ugly were it not so fierce. There is a clattering of heels behind him; a beautiful woman approaches, leans down to whisper in his ear, and tries to sneak her room key into his jacket. He stops her with a gentle smile and a firm shake of his head, and she walks away with a sigh. One of many women who tried that night, entranced by the lure of the man, and the scent of M7.

Monte Carlo fireworks

ZindaneZinedine Zidane may be a forceful, brutal panther on the football field but, in a suit, he is the most perfect embodiment of raw, sharply-chiseled masculinity and muscular power sheathed in refinement. Tamed, he is sophisticated, jawdroppingly sexy, debonair and virile. He is exactly like M7 which is an oud fragrance that belongs in Monte-Carlo, my old home, and nowhere else.

Released in 2002, YSL’s M7 was far, far ahead of its time — and its brash arrival on the scene was not helped by print ads featuring a beautiful, hairy, male model in full frontal nudity. M7 was a total bomb and marketplace failure, but in its legacy and its huge effects on the now-endless oud perfume market, it may be one of the most influential perfumes of the past few decades.


The vintage bottle and box for M7, original 2002 version.

M7 is an eau de toilette that was released by YSL in 2002 under the direction of Tom Ford. The actual noses were Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas. M7’s huge failure led YSL to reformulate it in 2008 — undoubtedly at the order of YSL Beauté’s new overlord, L’Oreal. The reformulated version lasted two years until 2010 when the whole perfume was quietly taken off the market. In 2011, YSL launched M7 Oud Absolu, a de-fanged version of the original monster. (And, somewhere in between all these changes, they found the time to release M7 Fresh, too! Clearly, they were at a loss with what to do with M7 and were trying every possible avenue to fix the problem and their loss in anticipated revenue.) M7 itself faded away, only to become a prized commodity on eBay where it is still available and where it is snapped up with ferocious intensity. I was lucky to have a friend send me a small amount of his bottle (which he bought on eBay), and I think it’s beautiful.

The official notes in M7 are as follows:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

I would bet my life that those notes aren’t even the half of it. I would bet you anything! I smell far, far more in M7, starting with walloping doses of labdanum, going through to spices like cardamom, florals and some sort of incense, before ending with vanilla. If there is no labdanum and incense in M7, I will eat my hat. (I will eat my hat, I tell you!) The amount of stuff I detect is so far in excess of those measly, abbreviated, 8 official notes that my personal list of what I smell would look something like this:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary, cardamom, clary sage.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood, Damascena rose, black coffee grinds, jasmine [perhaps Jasmine Sambac].
Base: Amber [probably something like Tolu Balsam], musk, mandrake root, labdanum, incense/frankincense, and something vanilla.

Vintage, original M7 opens on my skin with a beautiful burst of zesty, lemon-nuanced bergamot and rosemary. Within seconds, the citrus aromatic turned honeyed and warm, dusted by spices. There has to be cardamom in M7, I have no doubt. Subtle hints of oud flicker in the background, slow at first, and never medicinal or similar to rubbery pink Band-Aids. Instead, it feels warmly musked, slightly earthy, heavily infused with honey, and oddly floral in nature.

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

Labdanum compiled into a chunk. Source: Fragrantica

There are massive doses of labdanum under that wood. For one thing, that secondary burst of notes quickly turns into an aroma that can only be called “cherry cola.” For a number of people, “cherry cola” is a scent strongly and consistently evoked by labdanum with its nutty, masculine, dirty, sometimes leathery nuances. I don’t always get the note when I encounter labdanum, but the connection has arisen enough times that I can tell the source of the smell here. The combination of the earthy, slightly medicinal oud with labdanum’s very honeyed, faintly leathered, almost chocolate-y undertones turns the whole thing into something that not only evokes “cherry cola,” but even a little bit of “cherry cough syrup.” The medicinal tinge is so faint that it’s really more root-beer like in effect but, either way, I must admit, it’s not my favorite note in the world.

Clary Sage. Source:

Clary Sage. Source:

At the same time, and in contrast with those rich notes, there are fragrant aromatics and fruity nuances that cut through the spiciness. There are hints of oranges, feeling almost candied, accompanied by something extremely herbaceous in nature. It’s not just the rosemary; there is something that definitely feels like clary sage with its lavender-y but, also, floral quality that is underpinned by a light leather nuance. The lavender note adds to the fleeting fougère element of the opening, but it’s extremely subtle and muted. It feels like there are other herbal notes too, like bay. Possibly even something a bit papyrus-like in nature. As for the vetiver, it is definitely there, too — dry but, also, earthy. It flickers under the thrust of the main notes, the cherry cola and musky woods.



Ten minutes into M7’s development, I start to go a little mad with frustration. There are florals notes in M7 that far surpass that initial pop of something like lavender. I would swear that there is a minuscule drop of jasmine, accompanied by an even stronger, large amount of rose. It feels very much like a dark Damascena rose: fruity, jammy, dark, meaty and backed by some earthy, dark accords. It feels absolutely identical to the rose note in Tom Ford‘s Private Blend Café Rose. Absolutely identical, right down to the wet, black, coffee grinds in that perfume. The only difference is that, here, it is strongly intertwined with M7’s cherry-cola labdanum note.

Source: Tumblr

Source: Tumblr

Twenty minutes in, M7 softens — a lot. It is never a hugely powerful, thick, heavy fragrance to begin with but, even for an eau de toilette, I’m surprised by how quickly it becomes a gauzy, airy thing. But what a smell it is! M7 is quietly radiating: aromatic herbs with clary sage; labdanum cherry cola; spiced orange; a very honeyed oud with a tinge of medicinal earthiness; soft muskiness; heaping doses of a jammy, red, dark, coffee-infused rose backed by a touch of jasmine; and, now, sweet, warm incense. The incense smoke curls like tendrils that wrap around the other notes like a ribbon. It has the sharpness of frankincense, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the nuttier, slightly sweeter myrrh incense were also used. The smoke helps cut through a lot of the heavy syrupy sweetness of that cherry cola note (which I truly don’t like), and blossoms beautifully with the perfume’s development.

Forty minutes in, the perfume starts to shift. The oud becomes significantly more prominent, feeling creamy and smooth, while the cherry-cola labdanum and florals start to recede a little. The agarwood is accompanied by muskiness, an increased amount of incense smoke, and sweet, gauzy, light vanilla. All traces of citruses and rosemary have faded to a ghostly presence in the background, leaving behind primarily an oriental scent that is woody, creamy, slightly spiced, resinous, and earthy. Unfortunately, its sillage becomes absolutely terrible, requiring me to bring my arm right to my nose to detect it. (And it only gets worse.) By the end of the first hour, my skin has already cycled through most of M7’s top and middle notes, and the drydown begins right around the 90 minute mark. I’m shocked by the rapidity with which we’ve come to the end.

In its final stage, M7 turns from a labdanum-oud scent backed by incense, earthy notes, musk and vanilla into something considerably more abstract and ambered. The base smells beautifully nutty, spiced, creamy, supple, smooth and warm. There are flickers of that lovely incense sitting atop soft vanilla and a muted woodiness. Unfortunately, the whole thing so sheer and thin on my skin, so incredibly elusive, that I’m continuously preparing myself for it to end completely. It doesn’t, though. M7 lasts for another 2 hours in a state of miniscule, ghostly lightness; every time I think it’s finally gone, a iny, flickering note of amorphous, vague, spiced, woody, musky vanilla pops up. There are small patches of it on my skin that hang on tenaciously, making M7’s full duration on my skin clock in at almost exactly 3 hours. But, if we’re to be really candid, M7 really ended at 2.25 hours. I suppose that’s a lot better than what I got from the reformulated 2008 version which lasted a whole solitary hour on me — but I still feel a little cheated.

I really loved the 2008 version of M7, but I far prefer the original. Though the cherry-cola aspect to the labdanum is not my favorite, the very honeyed, spiced, earthily sweet oud is truly lovely. As I’ve said a few times recently, I’ve got oud fatigue but this is one of the most beautiful, refined, sophisticated and, yes, admittedly tamed, versions of agarwood that I’ve come across. There are obvious similarities between the two formulations, but the original vintage version seems like a much more amplified, concentrated version. (Well, relatively speaking, given just how sheer and light both eau de toilettes were on my skin in terms of weight and sillage.) With the 2008 version, I admired the lovely honeyed feel to the perfume, along with the spices which — in that instance — felt to me like cinnamon. However, I much prefer the richer, nuttier, duskier cardamom feel of the original M7, along with the significantly richer effect of the labdanum. (I no longer have the remnants of that sample to compare and see if there was labdanum in any serious quantity in the 2008 version.) I suspect there was a significantly lower quantity for two reasons: 1) I never once smelled “cherry cola” with the 2008 version and actually said so in my review back then; and 2) the oud had a far greater medicinal nuance there. It wasn’t huge and never felt antiseptic, but there was a clear tinge of pink rubber bandages that the original 2002 version lacks. My theory is that the lower levels of labdanum meant a lot less honey to soften, warm and tame the agarwood.

Zizou 2The whole scent is refined, sophisticated, elegant, and sensuous. This is not an Emir’s oud; it doesn’t evoke the Middle East and anything exotic. It’s not unctuously thick, screamingly aggressive, swaggeringly masculine or abrasive. There is some power underneath the notes, some very rugged, masculine qualities that linger, but it’s been refined, like a powerful Zinedine Zidane in an YSL suit. It’s smooth and flows like silk. The only part where Zidane doesn’t apply to this analogy is in who can wear this perfume: I think this is an incredibly unisex fragrance. Women who love rich, spicy Orientals with agarwood would absolutely adore this. The oud is so tamed, many may actually find it not to be enough. It is certainly nothing like a Montale oud — not even remotely! It’s also much smoother, richer, softer, spicier and deeper than many of the By Kilian Arabian Night oud fragrances. (There aren’t really any similarities between them, in my honest opinion.)

What we have with the original M7 is — without a doubt — the template for many of the fragrances that Tom Ford would go on to put out under his personal label. The closest and most obvious progeny is his Private Blend Oud Wood, but there are also traces of M7’s impact in Tobacco Vanille, Café Rose, and even to a minor extent, the new Sahara Noir fragrances. I have no doubt that M7 was a work of love for Tom Ford, even if he didn’t actually blend all the notes together himself. For this, his very first fragrance, he must have directed Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas to include all his favorite notes or combinations: oud with cardamom; oud with labdanum; oud with frankincense; labdanum and frankincense; a jammy rose with bitter, earthy elements; woody notes with vanilla and vetiver; and more. M7 is a roadmap that branches out to all sorts of Private Blend fragrances, but, honestly, it is better than almost all of them with two exceptions: sillage and longevity. On my skin (which admittedly is wonky) M7 had maybe 0.01% of most Private Blends’ potency and duration. I’ve often said that Tom Ford’s Oud Wood was an attempt to remedy the mistakes he went through with M7 but, clearly, he also decided to make up for M7’s sheer body and lifespan as well. Is Oud Wood a better fragrance? That’s a personal, subjective matter. I think it’s a very different fragrance; and I much prefer M7.

As a general matter, M7 is not only a much adored fragrance but it is also one that seems to have a startling, seductive effect on those who smell it. Review after review on Fragrantica seems to imply that this is an absolute lady-killer. One of my closest friends had told me her boyfriend wears M7 and that it made her… well, I’ll spare you the blushes. But I thought her reaction was simply because he’s a bit of a hunk. Well, apparently, M7 turns everyone into a bit of a hunk! A small sampling of the comments:

  •  I received the best compliment ever from a sexy girl after she buried her face in my neck, ‘f**k me now, and again tomorrow, just so I can smell that again.’ nuff said.
  •  A woman at work commented the other day “You smell amazing you’re affecting my pheromones”
  • This is Hardcore Sex in a bottle!!! Its Sweaty, Its Dirty, Its Intoxicating…. Its so damn nasty…..I wouldn’t be surprised to know that this one has pheromones on it.
  • It smells like sex, just in a bottle. That’s all. Yes, there is so much more, but that’s all that you, dear reader, need to understand here. There’s nothing else quite like vintage M7, and it lasts for DAYS.
  • 1. Put a man in a blender. 2. squeeze. 3. add alcohol. M7 formula.
  • i like to wear even though i’m a girl. smells very dark, erotic, strong,wild …… it makes me think: “Take me!”
  • YOWZA! YOWZA! YOWZA!  [..] “M7” is unashamed of its sexy, primal, and animalistic bed-scent persona. Any man entering a room with a bunch of ladies better proceed with caution while donning this fragrance…..They won’t be able to keep their hands to themselves. I know I wouldn’t.

I don’t agree with all parts of the comments. For one thing, I honestly don’t think M7 smells dirty in the slightest. As for animalistic, I suppose it depends on your definition of the word. M7 is not “animalic” in the real perfume sense of raunchy, skanky, intimate, sweaty, or fetid. With regard to the claim of M7 lasting for “DAYS,” I know I’m not the only person who had terrible longevity with it (though there are very few of us out there). Other than that, however, yes, this is an incredibly sensuous smell and yes, I can see how it may lead to thoughts of sex.

As for other comments on Fragrantica, you may be interested to know that a large number of people write about the “cherry cola” opening to M7; a small amount mention that they smell lavender, florals or incense (which supports my argument that M7 has perhaps double the officially listed notes); and a handful talk about how it is fleeting in nature. Women love to wear it on themselves as much as they love to smell it on men. In fact, in a He Said/She Said assessment of vintage M7 on Now Smell This, the male reviewer thought it was simply too, too much, while the female one adored it:

He says: I first tested M7 on a warm spring day in Kyoto and immediately thought, “Well this isn’t the best time of year to launch this.” The scent was heavy and rich, masculine and earthy. The most prominent feature was the centerpiece of vetiver — and I’m not a huge fan of vetiver. Having had countless chances to re-visit it, and even more chances to purchase it (I haven’t), I still come to the same conclusion: this is simply too much of a good thing. As a candle, yes. As incense, yes. But as an Eau de Toilette, it’s just too much. If there was some way the fragrance could have been lightened, sweetened, smoked, anything, it could have helped… […]

She says:  […] on the right day, it is one of my very favorite fragrances for men. [¶] As with most fragrances containing agarwood, it starts with a bit of a medicinal edge, but that fades along with the short-lived citrus top notes. After that, it is dark, warm, and dry, with a mild spiciness and deep earthy woods. To my nose, it isn’t heavy in the least, but it does make a statement, and the intensity of the vetiver and agarwood are not likely to suit you unless you like both notes. [¶] It is rare that I find a scent too masculine to wear, but M7 probably qualifies on that score. I do wear it, but I rarely wear it out of the house. On a man, it is one of the sexiest fragrances I can think of.

I must really have wonky skin, because, damn, it was so sheer and light on me! If only it had been heavy, rich, and “too much of a good thing” — I would buy it immediately! And, obviously, I found it quite wonderfully, perfectly sweet in an ideal balance of smoke and woods. I’m also surprised that the male reviewer thought M7 was too much. Judging by the comments on Fragrantica, men are writing in screaming all-caps of euphoria about M7, with many stating that it is the King of Ouds, bar none. That last comment is repeated to such an extent, it too leaves me a bit baffled since, on my skin, there truly was not a huge quantity of agarwood during any of my repeated tests. It was far too refined in amount and feel. (Hence, the analogy to Monte Carlo.) I’m also confused by the repeated comparisons to Nasomatto‘s Black Afgano, though the commentators think M7 blows it out of the water and is infinitely superior. I haven’t tried that oud fragrance, but since it is famed for smelling just like marijuana, I truly can’t see the similarities.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

Regardless, I genuinely believe that M7 lives up to the hype, so if you are want to take the next step and try to find a bottle on eBay, I’ll tell you need to look for. I’ve previously written about how to find true, original M7, in the context of the 2008 reformulated version, so I hope you’ll forgive me for repeating a chunk of that information because, you see, the bottles and boxes are key.

M7 reformulated bottle.

Reformulated bottle. Note the clearness which is on both sides and, also, on the bottom.

The original M7 as shown above is packaged in a deep brown bottle that is solidly brown all around and has a silver band at the top. Its box lists four ingredients. In contrast, the reformulated version of M7 comes in a box that is really essentially clear with just a big solid sticker of brown on the front and back; you can tell it’s the reformulated version because the sides and bottom of the bottle are completely clear.

M7 boxes compared with the vintage original on the left and the reformulated version with its increased ingredient list on the right.  Source: Basenotes.

Its box is also different; it now lists 14 ingredients instead of 4. Despite the increase in ingredients, however, the reformulated version is substantially weaker than the original, emphasizes amber over faint oud, and lasts even less time (both on my skin and on others). That said, both versions have the same dry down.

In terms of pricing, almost anything goes. Like much to do with vintage fragrances on eBay, it’s a matter of luck, timing, and who else is bidding. I’ve seen almost full 1.7 oz/50 ml bottles go for $80; I’ve seen full 3.4 oz/100 ml bottles go for around $300 (especially on Amazon); and I’ve seen everything in-between. There is always someone selling samples of the vintage on eBay which is lucky because nowhere else carries it. Surrender to Chance’s listing for M7 is for the 2008 reformulated version; I know because I ordered it. But on eBay, right now and for a short while, there are listings like the one here where a seller has 10 mls of vintage M7 for $21.99 (only 1 decant left), or this British eBay listing for a tiny 1 ml vial for GBP 3.75. Or, you could get a large 3.4 oz slightly used tester of vintage M7 for about $110 here. (As a side note about M7 on eBay, “M7 Fresh” and “M7 Oud Absolu” are totally different things. The Oud Absolu is the very final, current formulation of M7 and nothing like the original! Also, I have no clue at all about the M7 after-shave that is often sold there too. Be careful and make sure your M7 Vintage is not M7 Vintage After Shave because the bottles do look alike.)

Obviously, these listings will soon end and the links will be of no use, but my point is to that you can absolutely find bottles of M7 out there without paying an arm, a leg and a house. Is it worth getting a slightly used bottle? That’s up to you. For vintage perfumes of any great renown, it’s not easy getting a sealed, full bottle at a truly low price, but I suppose it is possible if you’re very patient and very lucky. For me, personally, I think $110 for a 3.4 oz bottle of some famous perfume that is almost full is a great price, especially compared to the cost of some niche perfumes out there today.  

Man or woman, I think M7 is worth tracking down, even if it’s only a sample to begin with. It’s seductive, sensuous, creamy, sometimes utterly mesmerizing, and always incredibly refined. It is truly the Monte Carlo interpretation of oud fragrances. It’s also a little piece of perfume history, and a whole lot of glory.