An invasive species


 – a review of Amouage Bracken Man

Are you rubbing your metaphorical hands in anticipation? Looking forward to another Amouage “story”, where the perfume is used as a starting point for a short story that may – or not – tell you something about this perfume and set your own imagination alight? In which case, I apologize in advance for disappointing you. This won’t be one of thosereviews. But it very much will be a review of something I’ve literally been dying to try since its release in 2016.

Because … fougère! Because … Amouage! And last but never least, because this review is the mother and father of all avoidance actions. I have things to read, notes to take, empirical material to organize according to theoretical models and premises and other hazards to my sanity, and even an oral exam to prepare for in a week’s time. Screw all of that.

I’m reviewing a perfume, damn it!  To keep myself sane in the midst of academic anxiety. To retain the five readers who haven’t given up on me – yet. Because … perfume.

Damn it.

Amouage Bracken Man was released – along with its feminine counterpart, Bracken Woman, which I have yet to try, along with every other Amouage release since Myths – in 2016.

The reception was a bit more tepid than usual with Amouage releases, and since then, in remote corners of perfume discussion boards and other places where Planet Perfume tends to congregate, some members have come to dismiss Amouage altogether as a brand for committing that Cardinal Sin: going mainstream.

As evidence, they offered up all the floral Loves; Lilac, Blossom and Tuberose, as well as Beach Hut, Imagination and Figment. And of course, Bracken in either permutation.

These are the people who can’t get perfume avant-garde or edgy enough, ‘new’ enough, or perhaps I should say conceptualenough in order to applaud it. If it utilizes a raw material only obtainable in a tiny patch of rainforest accessible by two weeks in a canoe in some undisclosed, remote location on Borneo to capture the headspace before two weeks’ journey back to Port Moresby, say, or glorifies creosote, gunpowder, asphalt, or industrial-grade concrete as a perfume to wear, so much the better.

Serious perfume houses should be serious, damn it. They should push the envelope and the limits of what perfumery can do, and basically forget about, well, the basics; creating something beautiful, and if you’re (very) lucky, liquid literature, perfume someone like you or me would actually want to wear.

I have no particular interest of any kind in wafting industrial-grade concrete or creosote in my wake as I go about my day in classrooms, study halls or the library, but that’s just me. (You do YOU, readers!)

Most of the time, I just want to waft enough fabulosity to cut through the fug of ubiquitous Marc Jacobs Daisy whatevahs. Because by Golly, life’s too short for such ‘target demographic’ juice. Again, this is me.

It’s not that they’re horrible, because they aren’t. It’s that they’re – and this is where I show my own perfumista stripes – so goddamned ordinary and devoid of vision and creativity, transparent as chiffon in that millenial-pleasing, unobtrusive way. And Generation Y and Z buy them, wear them in their megagallons without so much as a smidgeon of irony, and search no further.

I would never in a gazillion alternate realities categorize the justly celebrated Amouage brand as ‘mainstream’. They have since Christopher Chong’s inception as Creative Director in 2007 indeed pushed the envelope and created perfumes that were liquid literature, fragrant epiphanies that had – indeed, still has – Planet Perfume in a swoon.

In terms of material quality, presentation and olfactory heft, you very much get what you pay for with Amouage, and if all you’ve known of perfume is the mainstream, you are really in for a visceral shock, which also applies to the price tag.

Mainstream pays nowhere so much attention to detail, but then again, you pay for that, if and as you can afford it. I can’t on a student grant, and it pains me infinitely more than you know.

So … does Bracken Man smell mainstream? Unobtrusive? Devoid of vision? My personal TL; DR version of those questions in that order would be yesno and depends on your perspective.

That may sound like a prevarication. Let me qualify.

Bracken Man is a fougère, by concept and association. Fougère = fern, bracken is the most ubiquitous variety of fern, therefore it follows that Bracken = fougère, that most ubiquitous of masculine perfume genres.

What many people tend to forget is that ubiquity tends to occur for a reason. Starting with the great revolution that was the original Houbigant Fougère Royale, and even more since the masculine fougère’s 1970s heyday, the green, spicy, herbal and earthy fougère has a lot to answer for. Barbershops. Shaving cream. Late nights in smoky clubs with super-obvious-scented ‘manly’ men who try those fatal nanometers too hard to impress. (These days, younger versions of those men who also fancy themselves perfume connoisseurs search for guaranteed panty-droppers. Argh.)

Those guys. The ones who wore Polo, Aramis, Azzaro pour Homme, or YSL Kouros to name but a few – all variations on the same overall, Fougère Royale-inspired theme of bergamot, lavender, spice and earth. Or to paraphrase Guy de Maupassant’s comment on the original 1880 Fougère Royale, an abstract representation of greenery, rather than a literal interpretation. And the fact is, that ‘abstract representation’ smells fantastic, not just to, but on very many people.

Many reviews on Basenotes and Fragrantica name Fougère Royale as a direct relative to Bracken Man, and even before you sniff it, one glance at the notes list confirms just how much DNA they have in common. It shows in the structure, if not the evolution, of both perfumes. To my nose, they are alike, but different, like brothers who share both parents.

My own bottle of the reorchestrated Fougére Royale – now reduced by the Dude’s heavy usage to fumes and a few droplets – is heavier on the bergamot, geranium, cinnamon and lavender. It is most emphatically g-r-e-e-n, a humid, well-manicured and maintained jungle green.

In contrast to Fougère Royale, Bracken Man is far dryer, more austere and pared back, without sacrificing any of the rich satisfaction of a) smelling a superlative-quality perfume or b) one fougère, flawlessly executed. Cypress – which could explain the dry feel of Bracken Man – and clove haul out the big guns for the lavender and nutmeg, and once you’re done for, the patchouli wraps you up for a soft, earthy landing in the bracken. Provided, of course, that you like fougères – and like how they unfurl as elegantly as any fern on you or on someone you care about.

If that reads as ‘mainstream’ to you, so be it. When the Dude took it for a five-spray test drive last Monday, he reported back on a lot of compliments from both men and women. Many more than he was used to wearing (my press sample) Opus VI.

Unobtrusive? As if. Amouage is NOT a brand for the perfume commitment-phobic. If your maximum attention span is below 10-12+ hours, stay well away from Amouage – anyAmouage, even this one. It will be noticed by your surroundings. It will remain on your sweaters for d-a-y-s, and your coat for weeks. A little goes a long way. Although Bracken Man doesn’t have the drop-dead sillage of Epic, Fate, Memoir or Lyric, and nestles closer to the skin after the first two hours or so, it still packs a mighty punch.

In unwrapping and dissecting Bracken Man, I also researched the name – or should I say, researched the fernPteridium Aquilinum, or Common Bracken. Common Bracken is considered one of the most common – and invasive – species of plant on Earth, and grows on every continent except Antarctica. We might admire them for their lush, green fronds, or their aura of fin-de-siècle curly excess, but they’d take over the planet if they could. Much like hairy-chested, gold-chain-wearing masculine fougères took over the 1970s Planet Perfume, only then, no one dared complain.

Devoid of vision? As I wrote above, that would depend on your perspective. If you’re coming from an avant-garde perspective, if you’re searching for industrial-grade concrete/creosote/gunpowder and ground-breaking, earth-shaking conceptualism, then yes.

It’s just a fougère.

On the other hand, it could also be that the original vision for Bracken Man was quite simple: Make a fougère. Make it inspired by the first of them all, but make it its own thing, give it its ownspin on ubiquity.

So they did. In so doing, they created their own kind of invasive species. And made it beautiful.

Like something people would actually want to wear.

A very, very special thank you to Ali Saif of Illum in Copenhagen, without whose kindness and enthusiasm this review would not have been possible. Find him on Instagram as @itsalisaif – he’s one of us.

Notes for Amouage Bracken Man (via Basenotes):Lemon, berganot, cypress, lavandin, nutmeg, clove, geranium, cinnamon, cedarwood, sandalwood, patchouli, musk

Where the Wild Things Are

– a review of Olympic Orchids’ “Olympic Rainforest”

Surrounded as we are by all the questionable odds and ends that in the Western hemisphere encompass the term “civilization”, it can sometimes be easy to forget that in spite of all we do or have done to “tame” them, there are still wild and untouched spots on the globe where the wind still whispers, and trees still gather to sing the songs trees always seem to sing to me.

When I think of primeval places, wild and untouched forests without the human stain, places that epitomize “forest”, an immediate picture springs to mind – the temperate rainforest. They are nothing like the tropical jungles we normally associate with the term. Mosses and ferns grow so prolifically they almost take on a sentient life form of their own, ferns so lush, so large and so green it seems they could easily eat you under a full moon, and a few hours later, all that would remain would be one heavenly scented fougère burp, a sigh, a rustle of the trees above and order is once again restored – the order of the forest, where humanity is but a passing intrusion, until the next full moon. If any location on Earth could embody J. R. R. Tolkien’s Entwood to me and make me utterly believe in the existence of Ents, it would be a temperate rainforest.

Such a forest is what Doc Elly of Olympic Orchids pays homage to in her perfume “Olympic Rainforest” – an ode to the Olympic National Forest of Washington, and the largest expanse of temperate rainforest anywhere on Earth. I have never been to Washington, never seen that timeless forest or those monster ferns and mosses, but it just so happens that a member of my household went to college at Evergreen State in Olympia and has many happy memories of the Olympic peninsula. He was the obvious test subject. With no knowledge of perfume as such – beyond the standard male “I know what I like”, and with only the name to go by, his first statement was: “Oh. Oh! Oh, I like this! I’d wear this! This is great!” He promptly demanded I apply more – so I did. These few hours later, I have not heard a word of complaint, apart from the occasional “I still like it”.

Olympic Rainforest” is a fougère. Indeed, with those full moon man-eating ferns, how could it not be? But unlike so many other fougères of tarnished reputation and cursed ubiquity (Drakkar Noir, I’m looking at you!), this has nothing of the barbershop vibe so many of them nosedive into. This fougére is not your standard Harris tweed-wearing, well-mannered British gentleman exuding stiff-upper-lip suavity.

Instead, this fragrant green imp likes to take a walk where the wild things are, out where nature is never tamed or subjugated. It walks that verdant, fern-encrusted path where nature awes the human with its scale, its greenness and the splendor of its trees, that atavistic breath of growth and life that seems so much larger and more timeless than our own, exhaling the kind of oxygen that really does recharge all your interior batteries. And did I mention that just like the Olympic peninsula itself, it is…green?

Straight out of the bottle, there is that kick of lavender that characterizes so many fougères, but also a citrusy swirl, too, not lemon but bergamot, a bergamot with teeth, and I like bergamot with dentition. Beware the ferns!
Juniper sneaks in on stealthy feet, waking me all the way up to that atavistic forest, and a hint of wood, old-growth wood, rich in the centuries-old sap of the seasons, the quickening of spring and the slow drip of autumn, the deep, deep sleep of winter and the still of a breathless, warm summer day in the shade. There are florals in the mix somewhere, but I’d be hard-pressed to tell you precisely what they are. Cedar I found and maybe a dash of pine, a smooth, fresh cedar without any of that pencil-shaving edge that Atlas cedar can have. It smells redder and somehow richer, the pine without any aerosol associations whatsoever.

I’m reminded of a few lines from an old, old Welsh poem…The Câd Goddeu, or The Battle of the Trees, from the Book of Taliesin:

When the trees were enchanted,

In the expectation of not being trees,

The trees uttered their voices

From strings of harmony,

The disputes ceased

Breathe in. Breathe out. You are at one with the trees, the ferns, with every living thing that grows around you.

‘Olympic Rainforest’ is incredibly well-blended and tenacious – there are still verdant, woody traces over nine hours after I applied it on my skin.

If you love fougères, if you love to evoke that call of the wild and take an olfactory hike in a virgin, untouched forest, you will love this. I do, but it veers just a little too masculine to my nose. On my roommate, it’s heavenly. It must be all that testosterone. Call it the Green Man.

Thank you, Doc Elly, for that walk on the real wild side, and I enjoyed every minute of it! Somehow, ferns will never appear quite the same again…

If this is a taste of things to come – as indeed it is, since I have plans to review as many of Olympic Orchid’s scents as I can – then my nose is in for several treats. Doc Elly is undoubtably a perfume talent to watch for – and I haven’t even started on those orchids yet!

When I do…watch this space! 😉

Image: The Quinault Rainforest, WA