Vintage Aston Martins, luxurious leather, and Cary Grant…. that is the mental image I had in my mind when I first saw the ads for the brand new, just-released Royal Vintage from the French luxury house, M. Micallef. Unfortunately, that is not quite what I experienced when I tried this sometimes perplexing leather fragrance for men.
On its website, M. Micallef describes the perfume as follows:.
ROYAL VINTAGE is a very subtle fragrance: opening on tonic scents of pink berries and bergamot, the assertive notes of cypress and leather are lightened by the patchouly and musk notes. Timeless and elegant. […] ROYAL VINTAGE is a perfume for men with timeless, sophisticated elegance.
The perfume opens with pink pepper and citrus in a way that evokes very classique, old-fashioned men’s colognes and barber shops. The citrus from the bergamot is not like Earl Grey (something bergamot is often associated with) but, rather, like crisp, light, fresh lemon. It calls to mind very classic aromatic fougères and colognes with their lemony start. Under the veil of the pepper and the lemon, there is the faintest hint of woody notes but it is far from predominant at this stage.
Less than three minutes in, the leather emerges. It smells soft and supple at first and, then, increasingly, like a very, very expensive, new car interior. It’s lovely but, as time goes on, it takes on a sour, almost metallic undertone that was quite surprising. One of the very few reviews already out for Royal Vintage is from the perfume blog, Sensate, which wrote:
The pepper note is very strong at first. It mixed with the bergamot and a woody note to create something resembling Old Spice. It’s a bit urinous too, which is a nice addition.
I was really surprised when I read that comment prior to testing Royal Vintage, but I think Sensate is absolutely correct on all of it. There is a faintly retro call-back to such scents as Old Spice and the sour undertone to the leather does smell a bit “urinous.” The latter soon fades, however, and what is left is a very cold, smoky, peppery leather with an undertone of citrus. I wrote in my notes how the combination seemed very masculine and how it would probably be extremely sexy on a man. But then, something else occurred.
About fifteen minutes in, Royal Vintage takes on an incredibly strong smell of old cigarettes and ashtrays. I blame it mostly on the combination of the pepper — which seems far stronger, blacker, smokier, and more biting than any mere “pink” peppercorn — in conjunction with the cypress. A professional wood-workers site describes the latter as follows:
Cypress trees have a distinctive odor when cut. Some describe the odor as earthy; others say it smells like cedar and a few references call the odor sour.
Others, however, find the aroma to be slightly smoky as well. Here, I suspect that the combination of the biting, smoky pepper, the cypress and the leather has resulted in something that is really a bit unpleasant for me. It’s as though a man dabbled on a very classique, fresh, aromatic, citrus fragrance and then went to work for 14 hours in a very smoky nightclub. Let me be clear, the ashtray note is quite different than the smoky pepper note. They are both present, but there is no doubt that what was wafting from my arm included the smell of stale cigarettes. I was so surprised by the strength of the note that I tried Royal Vintage on twice. The second time, I put on much less than my usual amount. And, still, I smelled stale ashtrays, though it was just slightly more subtle, more hidden by the citrus, and not quite so overwhelming.
At the one hour mark, Royal Vintage is still predominantly biting black pepper, smoke, ashtrays, and citrus on a base of soft leather. To my relief, the ashtray note is significantly less pronounced at this time, and eventually fades away entirely, leaving just the smoky note from the pepper and woods. The citrus note is occasionally a little closer to bergamot, though still never Earl Grey bergamot. As for the leather, I noticed that, at my first try with the higher dose of perfume, the leather was much colder than it was the second time around when I put on much less. To be precise, it retained the “new car” aspects of leather for much longer at a higher dose than the second time around when it seemed much sweeter, warmer and akin to buttery suede. I suspect it all depends on how much the black pepper and cypress notes dominate.
As time progresses, the notes remained fundamentally the same with the smoky pepper becoming much more manageable with every hour. The leather is soft and tame, underpinned by the sweetness of the musk note which starts to rise to the surface. Then, suddenly, at the three-hour mark, patchouli bursts onto the scene. It’s such an abrupt arrival, it’s quite astonishing — as is the fact that Royal Vintage suddenly becomes another perfume entirely. It’s now all sweet patchouli, soft musk, and suede with green, fresh bergamot. The perfume remains that way for another two hours before fading away entirely. All in all, Royal Vintage lasted around six hours on me. It was always a relatively discreet scent with average-to-low sillage and never loud, though it became very close to the skin around the third hour.
I can’t make up my mind if Royal Vintage is a very retro fragrance or not. Cigarette and ashtray notes are old, classique elements that were first introduced around the early 1900s. Perfumers intentionally sought to replicate some of those accords so that more avant-garde women who had picked up the new fad of smoking as part of their new, liberated or progressive lifestyle could disguise their habit. Hence, scents like Habanita from Molinard. The most famous, of course, is the legendary, fabled Tabac Blond (in vintage version) from the famous house of Caron which is beloved in part because of the leathery-cigarette aspects. But with modern society’s disdain for smoking and our recognition of its dangerous effects, cigarette notes are much less common nowadays than they used to be. Tobacco leaves, yes; cigarettes, no. Etat Libre d’Orange paid homage to the old classics with its Jasmine et Cigarette, but that is a perfume house which seeks to be different on purpose.
All in all, I don’t think Royal Vintage is a very old (or old-time) vintage scent, but its underpinnings can’t be ignored. I think how you interpret it may depend on how well you know (and like) the classics. I find the citrus cologne opening and the cigarette element to be a definite retro touch. And, to be honest, I wasn’t keen on the latter.
And yet, there is undeniable elegance to the perfume, especially in its final stage. For some reason that I cannot explain, it brings to mind Humphrey Bogart for me. He was one of the quieter of the masculine, old Hollywood stars. He wasn’t smooth, blatantly good-looking, or rugged (like Cary Grant or Clark Gable, respectively), but he had a quiet masculinity with a deep, underlying toughness. I always think of him in a leather jacket, too, though his trench-coated Casablanca persona is often more well-known.
Are you a fan of leather perfumes? Have you tried anything that called to mind cigarettes and ashtrays? And will that make you hesitate to try Royal Vintage?