Monday, September 10, 2012

Comme des Garçons: Original


A good ten years before I started collecting perfume in earnest, I visited New York, and made a stop at Barney's. I'd always loved perfume but I didn't wear it much, if ever. I had an old bottle of Coriandre and a few other things, and I kept these in the bathroom cabinet, back when there was room to do such a thing. I'm not sure what I was doing at Barney's, or why I felt it necessary to go - but Comme des Garçons had just come out, and it was heavily represented on the first floor, and there wasn't much time wasted between smelling it and purchasing it.

A few years later, I gave my practically full bottle away. A friend really loved it, and it was hard to make an argument with myself for keeping it, given I never wore it. Several years later, once I had quite a few fragrances, so much that there was no more room in the bathroom cabinet, I was in said friend's bathroom and saw my old bottle of Comme des Garçons sitting there on the counter. I smelled it again and tried to remember why I'd thought it rational in any way to part with it. Within a few weeks I'd purchased another bottle online.

Marc Buxton created this fragrance in 1994, and while there might have been a few things like it at the time, I'd never smelled them. Intensely woody and spicy, Comme des Garçons explores now standard territory for niche (and even mainstream) perfumery - CDG itself has investigated nearly every facet represented here in its own range of perfumes since - and yet, nearly fifteen years later, the fragrance smells entirely new each time I smell it.



Interviewed upon its release, Buxton spoke of the freedom he was given - and the responsibility that came with it. Given carte blanche creatively, he was limited only by his conviction that the fragrance should be something one could, and would want to, wear. It is wearable, but also stratifying. The alleged medicinal aspects of Comme des Garçons waver on a line that divides opinion. That said, this is no Secretions Magnifiques. I say alleged because I've never gotten any such medicinal thing smelling it. I get woods (sandalwood, cedar), spices (cardamom, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, coriander), incense (frankincense), honey, and something which conjures rose. The overall impression for me is something as boozy and illicit as a prohibition speakeasy - a little wood, a little leather, the sense of something you wear with the intent of getting yourself into some trouble.

Comme des Garçons is long lasting but not hugely diffusive on me. It falls into a category I have no name for in my collection but which includes Black Cashmere, L'Air du Desert Marocain, Yatagan, Norma Kamali Incense, Monk, Moschino de Moschino, and Jubilation XXV, among others. What is that category, exactly? You'd have to tell me. When I feel like what CDG has to offer, nothing else, not Lutens, Montale, the Incense Series, or even any other fragrance in this loose category will do. Of all the interesting things Marc Buxton has done, this remains my favorite.

17 comments:

Elisa said...

I haven't smelled all of the fragrances you named, but the category name that comes to mind is "brooding." Dark, spicy, and maybe a little antisocial.

Brian said...

Oh that's a good one. Do you have any in that category?

Elisa said...

Both Black Cashmere and Nu I think of as private, contemplative fragrances that I wear for myself, not usually when I'm going out in public. Maybe Egoiste a little bit too?

Brian said...

Oh, Duh! Nu is definitely in that category. Probably Ambre Fetiche too. Maybe: Eau de Iles, Bandit, H.O.T. Always, M/Mink, Coromandel, Fendi, Kolnisch Juchten.

Elisa said...

So incense and patchouli seem to be the running themes? I still have not gotten to try H.O.T. Always!

Kathryn said...

What a great description: "speakeasy scents" that "you wear with the intent of getting yourself into some trouble"!

In terms of notes and composition, most of these are Woody Orientals according to the Michael Edwards Taxonomy: Comme des Garcons, Black Cashmere, L'Air du Desert Marocain, Yatagan, Jubilation XXV, Nu, Ambre Fetiche, and Fendi. The others I could find in his taxonomy [Fragrances of the World, 2009 ed.] border on that category. Moschino and Coromandel are Orientals and Eau des Iles, Bandit and H.O.T. Always are Dry Woods.

Quite a few of my most favorite perfumes are in the Woody Oriental category, too, although the scents I favor are a bit heavier than your list: Attrape Coeur, Bois des Iles, Iris Oriental, L'Heure Attendue. For me, these fragrances feel like wearing very nice lacy underthings beneath an elegantly tailored white silk shirt. I like Bandit, too. It's my take no prisoners scent, adding a black leather jacket to the ensemble. (My husband on occasion wears Yatagan, which I think requires a lot of self assurance to carry off.)

I don't think of any of these perfumes, except maybe Bandit, as being antisocial and I definitely wear them all in public. But I wear them to suit myself, not others. I do think they send a message of being willing to take the consequences of charting one's own course.

Brian said...

Elisa, when I was at...Saks?...last winter, H.O.T. Always was conspicuously absent from the tester line-up. When I asked, the SA told me it was being pulled from the stores. They might have told me it was still available from the Bond website. In any case, I looked and it is. I don't know whether this was your typical bald faced lie from an SA intent on appearing to know what she's talking about when she in fact doesn't or whether there's some basis in fact.

I want to say that Broadway Nite was missing too and had the same story, but I can't exactly remember.

H.O.T. is one of my favorites.

Brian said...

Hey Kathryn,

Whenever anyone who loves clean florals or light scents in general comes over, they're really out of luck. I realized my collection is so heavy on woody orientals, florientals, incense, amber, resins, et al, that anyone who comes thinking perfume is all stinky will leave with an even stronger bias.

I've been wearing Bandit more and more lately. I love it even more now than when I first smelled/got it, several years ago.

I wear everything in public. No one comments on my fragrance - or at least so rarely that it isn't worth commenting - so I don't bother worrying about frightening the horses. It's only when they smell something I own out of the bottle that they react with disfavor.

What I DO get a lot of: people getting into my car or using my lighter who say it smells good. And sometimes when someone pets my dog they comment on how lovely SHE smells. So these antisocial scents make my dog a lot of friends. That and her wagging tongue.

FruitDiet said...

I love this CDG. The drydown I find verrrry animalic, honey with a sort of spit note. It makes me feel edgy no matter what I'm wearing, much more so than Avignon. I can't imagine how cool I'd have felt wearing it when it came out in the 90's. It is pretty timeless-- that ad with the black model wearing the Guess sweatshirt is one of my all-time favorites http://goodhoodstore.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/comme_des_garcon_advertising.jpg

Brian said...

Yeah it's one of my favorite uses of honey. Right up there with M/Mink. And still one of the best things CDG has done.

I don't know if I'd ever seen that ad!

Dionne said...

Wait a second..... my own fragrance stash isn't very large, but it includes Black Cashmere, LADDM, Coromandel, and Ambre Fétiche. It seems like a no-brainer that I need to try this.

Brian said...

You definitely do, Dionne, if you like those. It's pretty great. Have you tried YSL Nu? If not, give that a whirl too.

anomie et ivoire said...

Buying perfume in person in the wave of a unique release? I wanna know what that's like but can't imagine how much more confusing and interesting fragrance was pre-net.

This is one of the first perfumes I bought when starting the habit a few months back and have already gone through a period of aversion. I was going to give it away, but seeing your story and superior experience, winter may tell.

It smells like fast food apple pie filling to me--chemical and good/bad in equal parts. If over-applied, I find a mace attack aura emerges (a good thing). If dabbed, the unintentional loudness is unsettling, like turning down to almost silent a recording of someone screaming then going about daily business.

The whole medicinal bit I don't really get either. More of the scent of weapons, firecrackers, unseemly things. Antisocial, in the true meaning of that word, is right. This is sort of reminiscent of the gnarly bitch born out of a titan's head quality of old Magie Noire.

Brian said...

Nothing could be more confusing than, say, the release and rerelease, formulation and reformulation, and endless word play of the Miss Dior (Cherie) franchise. It was a simpler time. The first CDG fragrance, named after the company, the one and only. Now of course there are...how many separate CDG series? Confusing indeed.

You know, once, a friend borrowed CDG and reported that while driving with someone she wrinkled her nose and wanted to know who bathed in Yankee Candle. It seemed an odd comparison to me at the time, but adding it to yours I've revisited it. I've never gotten sweetness particularly from it, or maybe I read sweetness differently. That's easier to do now, with the reign of the fruity floral (which seems more like a code name these days for Sugar Syrupy).

I love Magie Noire.

mals86 said...

(Magie Noire the gnarly bitch! There's indeed something... unleashed... about it. The vintage stuff, anyway, of which I have a mini bottle.)

I don't really do Dark and Brooding. I mean, Loretta might truly be the darkest thing I own, other than the aforementioned Magie Noire, which is more like dark green in any case. I do really like CdG2 Man, but that one seems sort of transparent to me: woody, yes, but backlit. (Bought 2Man for The CEO. Promptly stole it back. It's okay, he has my Cabaret for Women, which he doesn't know is "for women" because I decanted it out of that hideous bottle.)

Is it wrong of me to have written Dior off? I mean, I thought MDC was terrible the first time I smelled it, and while Miss Dior used to be a landmark, it just isn't anymore. Hardly anybody knows what it even smells like, or should smell like, now. Diorissimo is screechy, Poison is no longer poisonous... the jerks in charge don't care, and I'm not sure it's even worth my getting incensed about. But then, I'm all cranky about how wonderful old Cotys smell and how awful the current versions are, and obviously Coty doesn't care so why should Dior? Maybe I am too cynical. The whole muddle makes me want to go buy stock in SSS.

Brian said...

I guess I'm writing Dior off too. There's lots to be bothered about and too much to waste too much time on, but it's the whole switcheroo of names and liquids that gets me. It's confusing enough as things stand.

I totally agree about CDG 2 Man. In fact for a long time I wouldn't wear it because it just seemed too transparent to me. Then one day I tried it out of the season I'd decided it belonged in, and it worked wonderfully and I could accept it on its own terms.

I was looking at your list of loves on Muse the other day, Mals. Mine would be so hard to narrow down. I think I'm way too promiscuous with scent. I have no single "type". So I'm pretty confused myself.

Katy McReynolds said...

Just bought the CDG as a blind buy. Quite fascinating. I get a lot of dry clove. When you open your bottle of cloves smell. The smell is gently diffusive, and evokes my childhood recollections of Japan and the houses constructed mostly of wood, many of them aromatic.