Flying Toward The No-Fly Zone (of Fragrance and Other Things)

[This post was composed as I was leaving on vacation on March 17, 2011.  Instead of sleeping or watching movies on the airplane TV screen, I decided to blog.  The post, just uploaded from my iPad, remains unchanged from the original.]

Having just passed over the Sea of Labradoodle, and perilously close to St. John’s Wort, the good ship Kenzo Homme Bosie (OK – “Boise Woody” or whatever) flies on toward some kind of weird destiny, somewhere near the spiritual center of Europe and a reluctant Uncle Sam – the semi-retired originators of modern democracy, shuffling toward a confrontation with Yet Another Communist Monarchy. Drawn in by some kind of strange vortex in dimensions unseen, your friendly fragrance correspondent R.P. thus begins what is certainly his most colorful review yet.

And why not? These are certainly strange times, and strange times deserve a strange review of a strange but beautiful new fragrance. Admittedly, fragrance is rather meaningless in the greater picture, but perhaps that is only because of a certain lack of symmetry in other dimensions of our being. Indeed, when the thought of men turns to turning weaponry on their own countrymen – with the obvious intention of perpetuating a familial dictatorship – then perhaps fragrance is one of the few civilized things left in the bag. It certainly lends credence to the theory that if only things were more meaningless, then maybe we could accomplish something meaningful.

So let’s get back to the story. Kenzo Homme Woody. Oh, some may say that it’s just another Kenzo flanker, but that’s because they never learned the lesson that it’s what’s inside that counts. I was fully prepared not to like this one, but it only took five minutes on my skin to confirm that Olivier Polge is truly a force to be reckoned with in the world of perfumery. I’m not sure if it was Kenzo’s intention to have Polge do every one of his fragrances, but at this rate, he might as well.

We interrupt this review to note that we are now passing over the Atlantic. Not only that, but we are doing it for the first time since we learned that Atlantis itself may have been discovered in Spain, somewhere close to our flight path, but not quite down to Gaddhafi-land. Which used to be spelled Khadaffi-land, or something similar, but maybe I’ll just leave him out of the picture, since people who drop bombs on their freedom-loving countrymen don’t really deserve to be mentioned in the context of excellent fragrance.

The real point is that – thanks to the Atlantic Ocean – I finally got to sniff this stuff. Specifically, in the duty-free shop at Boston’s Logan Airport. Now I have to tell you, I’m not that much of a traveller, or even a fellow traveller. Thus, I was doing the total rube noob thing when I saw just how much quality fragrance is available in these places. I must have seen a good 25 or 30 frags which I have NEVER seen in American stores. It was quite overwhelming, to say the least. My wife eventually had to leave me sniffing by myself – just so she wouldn’t spend the entirety of our rather lengthy layover in one part of one store.

There was Fahrenheit Absolute. O.M.G. Yes, I know that one of our German bros has seen this in grocery stores (still angry about that), but come on, people – I was beginning to doubt that it really existed. Kind of like Atlantis, come to think of it. Granted, I’m not sure if I actually like the fragrance, but you have to admit that it totes major cajones – and in a world of insipid aquatic celebrity scents, that counts for something.

There was that new Guerlain that looks like it was made by Escada – what’s it called? Casablanca? No – sorry – I just keep seeing “Casablanca” on the overhead luggage-compartment kiddie TV here on The Good Ship Kenzo, and it makes me wonder if the city of Casablanca really exists, either.

Which brings me back to Africa. Why the heck do they want to show Casablanca on the kiddie TV? Is it really that important? Or is it just marketing? Is it simply because we need to see something that we recognize on the screen? Is “Casablanca” something like those fake notes that are used to market fragrance? Is “Casablanca” something like “teak wood” – which nobody short of a fine carpenter has likely ever really smelled, but which gives people some kind of imaginary reference point? And is an imaginary reference point such a bad thing? Maybe it’s a good lie, like most of science. You see, I finally realized that all our theories aren’t so much truth as useful lies. They tell the truth – sorta – kinda – maybe – but not the whole truth, and very lucky if you get nothing but the truth, so help you…. NO, NO, NO – you cannot use the word GOD anywhere near science, unless you’re an approved minority which is allowed to indulge itself in primitive ideas. SIGH. Sad to live in God’s Good Universe and we have to pretend like everything just kinda happened because our science isn’t up to the task of figuring it out. I mean, really. Evolution is no more a disproof of God than evolutionary programming techniques are a disproof of programmers. Whatever. Back to our little lies. But they are still very useful and well-intentioned lies. I don’t know – does that make science good? Hey, don’t ask me. I’m not really sure I’m a scientist anymore.

Where was I? Oh yeah. Fragrance. Kenzo Homme Woody is woody in the way that Casablanca is Africa, which is kinda sorta not really. O.K. – maybe it’s a little woody, but that’s not really the deal with this one. The thing that leans over the pool table and wakes me up out of a drunken leering drool by whacking me with a pool cue is the mint. What the hell? Yes, there seems to be a weird trend among every perfumer and her brother to use some kind of minty note and get away with it. We had Creed’s Windsor, which used eucalyptus in such a way that it turned rose from a slightly kinky/dandy guy note into a true olfactory image of retro aristocracy. Not exactly sure how the math adds up on that one, but it works. I don’t care who really did Windsor, or if the Duke of New York ever actually wore it – the perfumer who did Windsor deserves the FIFI medal, with Atlas Cedar clusters, or whatever they would logically use to magnify the thing.

And then we had Cartier’s Roadster, which used out-and-out mint in a big way, and once again got away with it. Granted, if you wear the stuff two days in a row, the synthetic base will beat on you real good, but still – bravo – I would say that Mathilde Laurent pulled it off.

The mint in Kenzo Homme Woody is subtle – enough to bring a really pleasing impact, but not enough to even make you sure that it’s mint. And that’s the point where I was at, five minutes into this fragrance. I was realizing that Polge had pulled off something really wonderful. The toasty-light-vetiver-dry-air-whatever thing that makes people rave on Homme – well, I would say that it’s even stronger here. Then put that in balance with an enhanced woodiness that borders on not quite detectable, and then throw in mint which is arresting by not overtly identifiable, and you simply have to walk around the duty-free shop, smiling at the planeload of British chicks who are descending on the fragrance section in droves, and who think you’re smiling at them, but you’re really smiling about a world where some guy who made something as cool as Kenzo Power, and the Dior Homme that you just sniffed (well, it was the Sport, but whatever), would go on to make a fragrance that you are SERIOUSLY considering buying before you even leave the country on your trip to Italy, where you KNOW you are going to encounter some seriously good and seriously unobtainable fragrances that you have zero chance of finding anywhere else.

It’s moments like this that make up for the stupidity of people. Now, before I jump on Muammar & Sons, I have to admit that my ragging on Gaddafi isn’t entirely pure. You see, the whole point of our trip was to see the ruins of Carthage. Which ruins are conveniently located in a place called Tunisia. When the revolution started there, our little archaeological and historical vacation looked to be very much in doubt. But after the relatively peaceful and successful conclusion – one of humanity’s better moments – I had really hoped that we could contribute to the much-needed tourism industry there, which has suffered because of these events. You know? Spend some money for THE PEOPLE. Not THEM, the people. WE, THE PEOPLE. Something that doesn’t know borders and stuff. People like the perfume sellers of Tunisia, who have something that they want to share with the rest of the world. People who have jobs in the fragrance industry in their own way, and who depend on those jobs to support THEIR families. People who we would have been supporting with our own hard-earned vacation money.

You see, we probably would have been going to Tunisia, until Gaddafi decided that the people of Libya need his “governance”, whether they want it or not. But – unfortunately – the people of not only Libya, but Tunisia and Egypt as well, are going to suffer for Gaddafi’s vanity. Our vacation tour is now – wisely but sadly – treating the whole North African coast as a hot-spot, and won’t be docking anywhere near it.

And there you have it. Gaddafi ruined my vacation! But Olivier Polge restored my faith in humanity. And we haven’t even gotten to Atlantis yet!

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