Perfume Review – YSL M7 For Men (Reformulated): The Lion is a Pussycat

YSL‘s M7 For Men ushered in the new dawn of oud fragrances, whether or not anyone wanted it. And, judging by the market bomb, no-one did want it. M7 was not just a trail-blazer and the first of its kind; it was also too original, unique, bold and, it seems, shocking for a world dominated by the freshness of Acqua di Gio. As I’ve discussed previously in my post on oud as the latest, new, incredibly popular trend in perfume, M7 was ahead of its time and its brash arrival on the scene was not helped by print ads featuring a beautiful, hairy, male model in full frontal nudity.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to below.

The abbreviated version of M7 ad that was run in most magazines. For the full, uncensored version see the review at One Thousand Scents, linked to above.

M7 was released by YSL in 2002 under the direction of Tom Ford. It was created by Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas and featured the following notes:

Top: Bergamot, mandarin, rosemary.
Middle: Vetiver, agarwood.
Base: Amber, musk, mandrake root. 

M7 was a huge failure for YSL, and was sneakily reformulated in 2008 — undoubtedly at the order of YSL Beauté’s new overlord, L’Oreal. The reformulated version lasted two years until 2010 when the whole perfume was quietly taken off the market. In 2011, YSL launched M7 Oud Absolu, a de-fanged version of the original monster. (And, somewhere in between all these changes, they found the time to release M7 Fresh, too! Clearly, they were at a loss with what to do with M7 and were trying every possible avenue to fix the problem and their loss in anticipated revenue.)

M7 is still available on eBay, but it’s hard to know which version you’re buying unless you check the bottles and boxes.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

M7 Original in the solidly dark bottle.

The original M7 is packaged in a deep brown bottle that is solidly brown all around and has a silver band at the top. Its box lists four ingredients.

In contrast, the reformulated version of M7

M7 reformulated bottle.

M7 reformulated bottle.

comes in a box that is really essentially clear with just a big solid sticker of brown on the front and back; you can tell it’s the reformulated version because the sides and bottom of the bottle are completely clear.

M7 boxes compared with the vintage original on the left and the reformulated version with its increased ingredient list on the right.  Source: Basenotes.

The different boxes for M7 with the vintage original on the left and the reformulated version with its increased ingredient list on the right. Source: Basenotes.

Its box is also different; it now lists 14 ingredients. Despite the increase in ingredients, however, the reformulated version is supposed to be substantially weaker than the original, emphasizes amber over faint oud, and lasts a fraction of the time. That said, both versions are said to have the same dry down.

I have often said that curiosity will be the death of me. (It definitely will be the death of my wallet one of these days.) All the Sturm und Drang around M7 were too much to resist. So, I ordered a sample of M7 from Surrender to Chance, and tried it with great trepidation.

I absolutely LOVED it, and that made me deeply suspicious. As I sometimes tell my friends, I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to oud fragrances. (You would be too if you’d had my experiences with Montale! Worst thing ever!)

So, I went about investigating, and I think it’s pretty clear that Surrender to Chance carries the 2007/2008-2010 reformulated version of M7, as do the other sample sites no doubt. It’s extremely disappointing. I’m determined to somehow get my hands on the original but, for now, let’s explore this version of the hairy, naked beast. (Sorry, that ad tends to stick in my head….)

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

A less censored version of the ad but this is still not the full, original one!

M7 (reformulated) opens with an absolutely stunning burst of citrus, sweetness, smoke verging almost on the side of incense, and rich wood. I love it and note, “I think I may have found my oud!” There is a soft, subtle touch of the medicinal, but far less than what I had expected. It certainly doesn’t seem to have the forceful medicinal nature that one of my best friends who has the original version of M7 had described to me. He had noted the smell of bandaids and he was absolutely right. But in my diluted version of M7, it is very subtle. The slightly rubbery, plastic quality to the outside part of a pink bandaid strip is noticeable but it is far outweighed by the smell of sweet ambered spices. It’s almost as if there is a touch of cinnamon and a whisper of honey amidst that  crisp, fresh citrus and the oud wood.

The latter has an almost vegetal element to it that calls to mind moss-covered trees in the heart of a British wood. The notes definitely evoke the feeling of a walk through the woods surrounded by faint tendrils of smoke — perhaps from a pile of burning leaves in the distance. I feel very Downton Abbey-ish when I think of those notes, but the amber dominates too much for it to be more than a fleeting feeling. The oud wood is too warmed by the amber and the sandalwood to be a true oud scent like that of By Kilian’s Pur Oud which I have reviewed previously. M7 actually feels a bit closer to By Kilian’s Amber Oud, probably because there seems to be a substantially reduced amount of oud in the reformulated version of M7 (and seemingly little to none in the Kilian).

My version of M7 also calls to mind something unexpected: my beloved Opium in a shadowy form. I feel as though I’m going mad but, no, the opening definitely evokes Opium to me. I check Fragrantica and it suddenly clicks: Opium’s top notes are bergamot and mandarin, and amber is at its base. M7’s crisp, almost zesty opening burst of orange citrus and bergamot in an ambered cloak definitely shadows the magnificence of Opium’s opening (though nothing can or will ever – ever – really compare to vintage Opium, my Holy Grail bar none). Since Opium is perhaps YSL’s greatest success, it’s not completely surprising that the company would hearken back to its roots a little when creating M7. Perhaps that’s one reason why I keep writing “love” in my notes — complete with capital letters and exclamation points.

Unlike others, I never had the “cherry cough syrup” opening in M7. No doubt that is another casualty of the reformulation. I also don’t have much duration. I’m utterly appalled at how briefly M7 lasts on me. No more than 20 minutes later, it’s already starting to fade. An hour in, it’s a virtual ghost. I feel cheated and, truth be told, a little like sobbing. I have far too little to do what I’d like, which is to pour it on me by the handful. I’m crushed and desperately cling onto the remnants of citrus, sandalwood and amber. (The oud left the building long ago.) I’m slightly comforted by the fact that someone on Basenotes stated the reformulated version lasted only an hour on him. Clearly, it’s not all me and my wonky, perfume-consuming chemistry.

In slight despair, and fighting the urge to pour the remainder of my vial all over me, I go to Fragrantica to read about other people’s experiences with the scent. And, good God,  this thing (in original form) is a definite lady killer! One of my best friends had told me her boyfriend wears M7 and… well, I’ll spare you the blushes. But I thought her reaction was simply because he’s a bit of a hunk. Apparently, M7 turns everyone into a bit of a hunk! A small sampling of the comments:

  •  I received the best compliment ever from a sexy girl after she buried her face in my neck, ‘f**k me now, and again tomorrow, just so I can smell that again.’ nuff said.
  •  A woman at work commented the other day “You smell amazing you’re affecting my pheromones”
  • This is Hardcore Sex in a bottle!!! Its Sweaty, Its Dirty, Its Intoxicating…. Its so damn nasty…..I wouldn’t be surprised to know that this one has pheromones on it.
  • It smells like sex, just in a bottle. That’s all. Yes, there is so much more, but that’s all that you, dear reader, need to understand here. There’s nothing else quite like vintage M7, and it lasts for DAYS.
  • 1. Put a man in a blender. 2. squeeze. 3. add alcohol. M7 formula.
  • i like to wear even though i’m a girl. smells very dark, erotic, strong,wild …… it makes me think: “Take me!”
  • YOWZA! YOWZA! YOWZA!  [..] “M7” is unashamed of its sexy, primal, and animalistic bed-scent persona. Any man entering a room with a bunch of ladies better proceed with caution while donning this fragrance…..They won’t be able to keep their hands to themselves. I know I wouldn’t.

The comments make me sigh, deeply and sadly. What I’m wearing is nothing like the descriptions of the ferocious opening and the almost feral roar of a wild animal seeking its mate. My reformulated version is excellent, no doubt, but it’s clearly a pale substitute. I can’t even begin to imagine what the de-fanged M7 Oud Absolu must smell like given that people say that is a tamed kitten as compared to the savage beast of the original.

M7 is a scent that I urge all men and women to hunt down and try. Those fearful of oud may want to try the reformulated version that I have, though numerous women seem to love wearing the original too. It’s a little piece of perfume history and a whole lot of glory.

[UPDATE: I finally tried M7 in the original 2002 version and you can read my review of it here.]

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