Thursday, April 4, 2019

Patou pour homme

So, is it the greatest men's fragrance of all times? That would almost be something of a backhanded compliment in a business where the all-time classics are almost entirely "pour elle" - the L'Origans, Mitsoukos, Shalimars, Tabac Blondes, Chanels. Let me thus boldly state that Patou pour Homme ist one of the greatest perfumes of all times, period. And this is not a question of subjective preference - the near mystification of this fragrance is for once justified, for Jean Kerléo truly created an aesthetic and conceptual masterpiece for the ages, a dazzingly beautiful and technically mindblowing astrolabe of scent in which the spheres of Fougère, Chypre and Oriental are entwined in perfect harmony, a miniature cosmos with an invisible and inexplicable mechanism.

Looking at the construction plan, i.e. the scent pyramide, in its most explicit and, I believe, accurate version from the "H&R Duftatlas," one first notices the plethora of materials: Lavender - Hay (Coumarin) - Moss form the Fougère-Axis; Petitgrain, Patchouli, Moss and Leather, that of Chypre; Cinnamon, Jasmin, Sandalwood, Olibanum, Castoreum, Ambergris, Vanilla and Tonka make up the Oriental. Added to this are clary sage, basil, carnation, geranium, vetiver and spruce.

In the beginning Fougère appears on the horizon, a tartly herbaceous lavender, almost strenuous by today's standards. But soon a spicy sweetness rises in the background and a three-dimensional scent-space opens up as the astrolabe magically unfolds. Patou pour homme becomes more accessible now and the cinnamon planet becomes increasinghly potent over the next twenty minutes, accompanied by jasmin and carnation. What an olfactory "sight": Fougère lighting up the sky and oriental waxing beside it and rather than interfering beginning a beautful cosmic pas de deux. But it doesn't stop there: the mediterranean herbs have already gently heralded the chypre (the petitgrain will have done so as well, but is probably weaker now than it was when the juice was young) which now rises on its green orbit, supported by vetiver and spruce, as a patchouli-moss complex (and yes, some components spritely jump between the genres or connect them. Amazingly, instead of growing thicker with increasing complexity, the masterpiece gains in transparency, it remains an aerial ballet. Ètonnant! Monsieur Kerléo, how did you do it?

When Patou pour homme is frequently identified as either a fougère, chypre or oriental, it is so classified by the famous blind wise men each touching one part of the elephant, by astronomers who can only see their segment of the heavens - but Kerléo's creation is the cosmic whole, an unfathomable transformation of the aesthetic brutalism of the powerhouse era with its sometimes excessive "everything but the kitchen sink" attitude into masterful harmony. I do not believe this has ever been achieved before or after with such grace and today it would be well-nigh impossible due to the unavailability of certain raw materials alone, not to speak of regulatory limitations. I doubt that most contemporary perfumers trained on post-modern fragrance aesthetics would even be able (or willing) to create such a perfume or even just copy Kerléo's formula. It borders on alchemy and one is tempted to embrace a Robert Johnson-like narrative, in which the ability to weave this masterpiece required a deal with the devil. But for that to be true Patou pour homme is too much the embodiment of a divine order of the fragrance world, which perfume adepts must and should admire and enjoy both with awe and deepest pleasure. For this is the ultimate of its achievements: that with all its amazing clock-work-like complexity and sublime artfulness, this weave of scent projects seamless, effortless perfection,which, moderately applied, will even smell agreeable to an unschooled 21st-century nose.