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Scents with a hint of nostalgia
Take a sniff of the new Fougère Platine from Tom Ford and you step inside a perfume time warp. The woods, the herbs, that barbershop lick of lavender: they instantly hark back to larger-than-life blockbusters from a few decades ago that emanated from shoulder-padded power suits and boardrooms across the world. These scents – the likes of Drakkar Noir, Cacharel Pour Homme and YSL Kouros – are considered classics of masculine perfumery. Tom Ford has long been interested in the aesthetics of the recent past, so perhaps it’s not surprising that his latest scent indulges in a bit of nostalgia. But far from being a quirky one-off, Fougère Platine marks a new trend. Several brands are using the styles of the 1970s and 80s to appeal to vintageseeking consumers, creating scents that showcase the hard-hitting personalities of bitter herbs, such as artemisia, as well as leather, resinous notes and, most importantly, patchouli. As trend forecaster and We Wear Perfume writer Amanda Carr points out, the latter spells “the past” more persuasively than most other ingredients. “It reflects the 70s fashion influences,” she says, “but I think it also taps into the 40-plus age group, as it reminds them of their youth, which they may like to now fantasise about as being romantically misspent.“Patchouli makes its presence felt in the Tom Ford fragrance, as well as in the new Imitation Man from Amouage, in which it is blended with an intriguing combination of materials designed to evoke the smell of a record. According to the brand’s creative director, Christopher Chong, this was an attempt to reference the colourful ambience of 1970s New York and the glamour of Studio 54. “I grew up on the Lower East Side,” he says, “and I took inspiration from the graffiti, the neon lights and the multiculturalism. In the heart of the fragrance, I wanted to recreate the smell of a vinyl record with violet and iris.”
Michel Almairac, veteran perfumer and founder of the new Parle Moi De Parfum brand, believes that, to an extent, perfumery is always turning to some aspect of its heritage for ideas. However, he claims that the development of novel aroma chemicals now enables scent-makers to inject modernity into their work and prevent it from turning into a mere clone of what has come before. For instance, in many ways, his Tomboy Neroli channels the heavy woods and musks of a bygone era, but its use of the so-called “woody-ambery” family of materials – “which you can find in all current top-sellers,” he says – pulls it firmly into the 21st century.
But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this olfactory phenomenon is its cause. Much like the world of fashion, perfumery tends to reflect the concerns of its time and it is interesting to consider why, at this moment, people should choose to turn to what came before. Carr says,
“As consumers, we look back to what we knew and understood, because it feels reassuringly familiar. It is a precarious world right now and seeking safety in what went before is a reaction to this instability. And fragrance is the fastest sense-route to memory.”