When I first smelled Versace Man, a little less than a year ago, I compared it to Guerlain L'Instant Homme. I sought out similarities between the two, comparing them as if they were immediate neighbors on some imaginary continuum. Ultimately I made facile connections. Versace was a good time at the disco, hairy chest sweating, shirt open to navel, gold chains, something like Armand Assante on a bender. L'Instant was closer to Fred Astaire, all buttoned up, impeccably turned out, never broke a sweat, skillfully gliding around like sleepy background music.
I doubt I would ever have considered these two in the same breath had they not arrived in the mail at about the same time, because, smelling them now, I see the only tie that binds them is a refreshingly femme-coded approach to the masculine: spice and woods through a veil of soft florals. When you spend a lot of time smelling fragrance, many things start registering as vaguely similar. Twenty tuberose fragrances, a thousand vetiver bases. A rose is a rose is thirty different perfumes at once.
Which isn't to say there's nothing to recommend Versace Man. But you smell so much that sometimes the finer points get lost. You overlook things, make snap decisions without realizing how rash they are. I always liked Versace Man, even when I rotated it to the back of my cabinet. I just never wore it--or decided I never would. It smelled enough like L'Instant, and L'Instant was Guerlain and, well, Versace is, as the white trash protagonist in Showgirls says, "Versayce".
Versace Man might still be at the very back of my cabinet had I not totally reorganized it last night. Finding it, I sprayed some on. I'd forgotten how much I loved the fragrance when I first smelled it. I hate so many masculines; like many feminines, they seem more an advertisement for or a reinforcement of gender, beating you over the head with their crudely contoured olfactory propaganda. It often seems the only way to get around this is to totally subvert their intended application. Poison smells like the eighties on women. On a man, it smells like the future. A guy in lily is a total collapse of sensory expectations. Modern masculines, even supposedly feminine masculines, often fill me with a nagging despair I liken to nerve gas, from which only tuberose can sometimes rouse me and clear the air.
I won't call Versace Man radical, but whoever came up with it (art directed by Donatella, created by...who knows?) seemed to understand the power of gender f*@-ing, the lure of slightly misaligning things, and this sensibility immediately distinguishes the fragrance from almost everything else currently on the same proverbial shelf. It smells even more like a departure when you learn it came out in 2003, well ahead of the current trend for masculine florals. Versace Man is unquestionably a precursor to Dior Homme, though Givenchy Insense predates it by a decade.
I do get a little of the neroli in the opening. I get none of the general fruitiness or synthetic buzz some register. From the start, I get just about everything else listed in the pyramid provided by Basenotes. For me, Versace presents one of the more attractive, intelligent uses of saffron in a male fragrance. This softens the whole affair in just the right measure. Cardamom and pepper are used so skillfully and judiciously you might think you've never smelled them properly before. Amber, labdanum, and tobacco notes waft up throughout.
No vetiver is listed but there's a ghost of it there, like a phantom limb. This is perhaps what vetiver smells like after a night of coitus with cosmetics, an Indian dinner date, and someone else's scent of choice. Versace has good longevity and moderate projection. It's the kind of fragrance others get closer to you trying to smell. It diffuses like the smell of sex around an unmade bed, daring you to make the connection. Part milk, part powder and spice, it exudes some of the dissonance found in more animalic fragrances without actually going there. It holds up in the summer. In the winter, it has stealth properties. And it has a little more Astair in its Assante than you might first ascertain.