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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Perfume Releases: Ouds, Flankers & More

After seeing an extremely beautiful bottle in a Fragrantica posting for the new Lancome Oud scent, I thought it might be fun to post about some of the new perfume releases. At the very least, you’ll see some gorgeous bottles. All posts are taken via Fragrantica. (If I could figure out how to properly re-blog a non-WordPress article, I would but, alas, my technical knowledge does not go that far. I have tried to give credit via full quotes and source citation.)

Lancome jumps on the increasingly mainstream, extremely popular oud bandwagon with Lancome L’Autre Oud:

Lancome launched L’Autre Oud in October 2012 as a part of the luxurious and exclusive collection. The scent is inspired by traveling the Orient. Opulent, rare and mysterious, this new fragrance provides the Lancome vision of popular oud. L’Autre Oud is an allegory of the mythical tree located between shadow and light, strength and tenderness, freshness and sensuality.

The formula is simple: seventeen ingredients were carefully selected to convey the point and the theme as best as they can. It starts off with spicy notes of saffron, cypriol from India, labdanum absolute and aromatic clary sage. The heart consists of Turkish rose and Bulgarian rose absolute. The rich, powerful and woody base is made of guaiac wood, green and wet patchouli, vetiver, amyris wood, moss, gurjun balm and myrrh absolute. The perfumer is Christophe Raynaud. The fragrance is available in bottles of 75 ml at the price of 120 Euros.

Chopard, that famous old jewelry house, doesn’t want to be left behind either. It has teamed up with the legendary Dominque Ropion, the “nose” behind such scents as Malle’s Carnal Flower and Portrait of a Lady, Dior’s Pure Poison, Armani’s Acqua di Gioia, Givenchy’s Amarige and Ysatis, Lady Million, Krazy Krizia and many more. Together, they have created an oud perfume for men:

Chopard is launching a new fragrance for men which will first be launched in the Middle East. It is inspired by the Orient and contains dark and seductive spices, leather and dark wood. The composition signed by perfumer  Dominique Ropion, highlights oud, completing the oriental character of the edition.

The composition of the new fragrance CHOPARD OUD MALAKI offers luminous accords of grapefruit in the very top of the composition, along with an aromatic blend of artemisia and lavender. The heart accentuates masculinity with leather accords combined with tobacco and spices, while the base notes highlight oriental notes with a combination of oud, ambergris and mysterious, dark, woody notes.

CHOPARD OUD MALAKI
grapefruit, artemisia, lavanderleather, tobacco, spicesoud, ambergris, dark wood

Fragrance Chopard Oud Malaki can be obtained as 50 and 80 ml Eau de Parfum, available since 2012.

 

I know I keep writing about the popularity of oud, along with other bloggers like Scent Bound, but it’s really popular! So, here’s a third oud fragrance release: Reminiscence Oud by the french house, Reminiscence. Fragrantica states as follows:

After wonderful vanilla (Reminiscence Vanille) launched in 2012, the French house of Reminiscence is launching Reminiscence Oud which joins the collection “Les Classiques.” Its oriental character is accentuated with spices and surrounded with the main ingredient of the composition—oud.

Reminiscence Oud is beautifully composed. Harmonious and perfect for both sexes, Reminiscence Oud offers hot and comfortable aromas supporting the oriental rhythm. The fragrance balances between pink pepper, saffron and cardamom, providing dynamics to warm and pleasant notes of amber and chocolate patchouli. The new composition is enriched with the charm of rose enhanced by intense oud and castoreum.

Reminiscence Oud
pink pepper, cardamon, saffron, rose, patchouli, amber, castoreum, oud

Fragrance REMINISCENCE OUD arrives in a dark brown color and has the same form as its antecedent with one difference. The body of the new bottle bends in the opposite direction from the bottles of the entire collection. The cap is gold in color as well as the stars on the front side of the bottle. The perfume aims at men and women and is available as 100 ml Eau de Parfum.

Two other trends are also popular, though they’re more of a marketing ploy, in my opinion. They are: releasing flanker versions of existing perfumes, or selling special limited-edition versions of existing perfumes in more luxe (and therefore, more expensive) bottles. It’s an increasingly popular way for perfume companies to make money without expending the capital, effort or resources required to produce a new perfume completely from scratch. Which probably explains YSL‘s decision with regard to M7 Oud Absolu and In Love Again. Fragrantica provides the relevant information, along with photos of the embellished bottles:

On the eve of the holidays Yves Saint Laurent is launching limited editions In Love Again Crystal Edition and M7 Oud Absolu Crystal Edition. The fragrances are available in the same form as last year’s collection of classics which includes eight fragrances by Yves Saint Laurent, with stoppers covered with gold and black crystals.

In Love Again is one of the classics of the Yves Saint Laurent collection, composed of floral-fruity notes. Its composition encompasses accentuated accords of mandarin, currant, grapes, rose, peony, musk and blackberry. The new edition In Love Again Crystal Edition can be obtained in a bottle with golden crystals 80 ml eau de toilette priced at 200 pounds.

IN LOVE AGAIN
mandarin, currant
grapes, rose, peony
blakcberry [sic], musk

 

M7 Oud Absolu is a sophisticated and luxurious fragrance based on notes of the popular M7 edition combined with precious oud accords. The composition highlights intense oud surrounded by patchouli, labdanum and myrrh refreshed with luminous mandarin zest. New edition M7 Oud Absolu Crystal Edition is available in a flacon with black crystals 80 ml eau de toilette priced at 185 pounds.

M7 OUD ABSOLU
mandarin
patchouli
oud, myrrh, labdanum

 

There are also numerous, new, flanker versions for other best-selling scents such as: Armani Code, Coach Signature, Dolce & Gabbana The One, Dior’s Hypnotic Poison, Narcisco Rodriguez‘s best-selling For Her (just released in L’Eau for Her version), Issey Miyake‘s L’Eau d’Issey, Valentino‘s Valentina Acqua, Cartier‘s L’Heure Verteuse, and YSL Parisienne. If you’re interested, you can find more information on these (and the numerous other) releases at Fragrantica.

Modern Trends in Perfume – Part IV: Oud/Aoud – Elegant Wood or Medicinal Sexiness?

While the Fresh & Clean scents outlined in Part III have been around for almost two decades, our final category involves the very latest and hottest trend in the perfume industry: Oud or Aoud fragrances. These scents use, Agarwood, one of the oldest ingredients and most expensive ingredients in the world, and its distillation is responsible for a truly different, modern fragrance.

In its purest incantation, it can evoke a cold campfire in the outdoors. At times, it can have a definitely medicinal element to its woodiness, smelling of bandaids or, in one case, reminding me of a lime disinfectant sprayed in a cold, steely hospital morgue and creating the olfactory equivalent of Chernobyl on my arm. If done well and with the right body chemistry, it can descend into smoky, incense-y, sweet, leathery richness. Oud is always expensive and used mainly by the more niche perfume houses. It can also be an extremely polarising scent. In fact, the most controversial, polarising Oud fragrance of all may be the Tom Ford-created YSL “M7,” a cologne whose very advertising campaign broke all the rules by featuring a hairy, nude male model in full frontal… er… glory. We will get to that bit later.

Let’s start at the beginning. While spellings may vary, Aoud and Oud (I’ve even seen Oudh!) both refer to Agarwood which is an extremely ancient element found in the East. No-one explains its heritage, characteristics and its current usage half as well as the experts at CaFleureBon, so I will just link to their marvelous, brilliant analysis of it here. To make a long story short, however, Fragrantica states that Agarwood “is reputed to be the most expensive wood in the world” and that Oud is the “pathological secretion of the aquillaria tree, a rich, musty woody-nutty scent that is highly prized in the Middle East. In commercial perfumery it’s safe to say all ‘oud’ is a recreated synthetic note.”

There are an increasing number of different Oud/Aoud fragrances on the market these days, from the 2011 Creed offering for men (Royal Oud) to Tom Ford. But the majority of the oud scents come from even more niche houses, from Juliette Has a Gun (founded by Nina Ricci’s great-grandson), to Montale, to the offerings of the Sultan of Oman who founded the ultra-exclusive niche house, Amouage, reputed to be the most expensive fragrance line in the world. If “clean and fresh” is a more commercial, mass-market scent, then ancient Oud goes the exact opposite way. It’s hardly surprising given the expensive nature of the ingredient.

I’ve tried a number of unisex Oud scents, thanks to the incredibly useful website, Surrender to Chance, which sells small vials or large “decants” of almost every scent imaginable – from department stores lines to the niche houses to the rare, discontinued and vintage. (I cannot recommend them enough and the shipping is a fantastic price for a fast turnaround: $2.95 for First Class Shipping on any order within the U.S., and starting at $5.95 for international shipping.) Thanks to them, I was able to try a selection of Oud/Aoud fragrances from such lines as By Kilian and Montale. By the way, you may be interested to know that Kilian is a scion of the famous Hennessy cognac dynasty. (The Hennessy company is now a part of the LVMH luxury conglomerate). You can find reviews for those Oud/Aoud fragrances here.

The very first mainstream fragrance to feature oud was M7 by YSL, under the direction

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 below.

of Tom Ford. It was 2002, and I don’t think the mainstream market was ready for either an oud fragrance or for the way it was marketed. As CaFleureBon put it in the article linked to up above, “[i]t was a resounding failure at the time, although it would probably be very popular if it were introduced today due to the current market’s new familiarity with oud. It was apparently too much, too soon, as it was a very powerful fragrance, but it has a cult following to this day, due in part to its provocative ad campaign.”

One Thousand Scents has an excellent review of M7 that I highly recommend, though I should warn any readers who are at work that it features that absolutely NSFW, full-frontal photo which we’ll talk about momentarily. The review states that official list of notes for M7 are:

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

I was very impressed by One Thousand Scents‘ review. I have not smelled M7 in person, but absolutely want to now as a result. A close friend of mine who adores it (but is not sure he dares wear it out the house yet) sent me a few sprays on thick stationary and I loved the sweet, smoky notes that linger on it.  I asked him to write a guest review, but he felt he wasn’t enough of an expert to do M7 true justice. However, he kindly agreed to let me share some of his impressions which I thought added to M7’s intriguing nature. He found it:

weirdly intoxicating. Medicinal yes, perhaps smokey as well? Like dousing a campfire with some antibiotic perhaps” but not in a bad way. After some time, the incense came out but not in a strong, pungent way that would nauseate one. “It does still smell medicinal, but in a more intriguing and less abrasive way.” Like “a clean bandaid or like gauze with a mild ointment on it. But less potent and unpleasant. I’ve read some comments that liken it to a hospital, but I think that does it a disservice…. Someone on basenotes described M7 as both hypnotic and comforting and I utterly agree. I am totally under its spell. It’s definitely for cool/cold weather. […]  M7 makes me want to mysteriously wander the streets of Paris on a cold, rainy day while wearing a trenchcoat.

[In the very end though,] M7 is basically Grenouille’s final scent where people don’t know why they are descending into a giant orgy!

As you can see, M7 is a complicated, complex fragrance, and I bring it up not to review it per se (I can’t, I haven’t worn it!) but to demonstrate how far the market has changed today. In 2002, the perfume world — mainstream or even, perhaps, as a whole — was not ready for such an aggressive, confusing, novel scent. As One Thousand Scents noted, M7 is “a smoky, incensey, bristly, growling thing. You’ll either love it or hate it; there’s no in-between. It is not kidding.” (emphasis in the original.)

M7 might perhaps have had a chance in the mainstream world had it not been for “That Ad”! One Thousand Scents talks about, very amusingly, the British reaction:

Some people were a little less sanguine than the French. The British, for instance. This article about the ad in the Sunday Herald tried to keep its tone light and amused, but it smells like borderline panic to me; it really boils down to OH MY GOD IT’S A NAKED MAN IN A MAGAZINE AD AND HE’S NAKED AND YOU CAN SEE HIS DICK AND EVERYTHING OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD!

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!

If that was the British reaction, one cannot begin to fathom what the American one would have been!! Of course, that would require the full advert being shown here in America and that would have been highly unlikely given the puritanical mores. (The lingering effects of Janet Jackson’s “Nipplegate” are still not over!)

How did M7 have a chance to make it, and to introduce the mainstream, soccer dad world to Oud? It didn’t. Not a chance in hell. Even if the perfume notes hadn’t made it too alien for the time (mandrake root?!), that ad simply sealed its doom.

Poor M7, it was not only ahead of its time but, then, it suffered in inquity of being utterly emasculated. Adding insult to injury, a new version was put out in 2011: M7 Oud Absolu which, contrary to what its name would seem to imply, was most definitely not a more intense version of the original. By all accounts, it is a de-fanged meow of a scent as compared to the ROOOOOOOOOOOOAR of the original.

If 2002 was too soon for Oud, look at the market now. What a difference a decade makes! Givenchy, that old, extremely conservative house, now has Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy Bois de Oud! Demoiselle (or “young lady”) and oud… what a surprise. (Particularly from a house as conservative as Givenchy!) Givenchy is not alone. Dior, another mainstream house, has a Fahrenheit flanker, Fahrenheit Absolu, with Oud. Jil Sanders, Jo Malone, Armani, Calvin Klein (Euphoria Intense), Trish McAvoy, and even Juicy Couture (Dirty English) have now gotten into the act with fragrances containing some degree of oud.

But perhaps few things better epitomize the increasingly mainstream acceptance of Oud than the fact that, in 2009, Bath and Body Works came out with a fragrance whose notes include oud! Honestly, I’m not sure I believe it. And, yet, Fragrantica explicitly states that Bath & Body Work’s Twilight Woods includes “oud wood” in its dry notes. I’ve owned the candle version of Twilight Woods, and I don’t detect any oud — at least not proper, true oud which would seem to be far too expensive for such a line — but far be it for me to dispute the official ingredients for the perfume.

Regardless, the point remains the same. Oud is entering the mainstream in a way that was not imaginable at the time of M7’s launch, or even 5 years ago. And Oud fragrances are no longer extremely hard to find. Tom Ford now sells mainstream perfumes featuring oud (but not featuring male genitalia!) at Nordstrom’s and Saks. Juicy Couture’s Dirty English is available at Target and KMart. Interestingly, however, Sephora — that key destination for most mainstream beauty buyers in the U.S. — doesn’t carry Tom Ford’s Aoud perfume, though it does sells several of his other fragrances, and it doesn’t have any oud fragrance that I can remember seeing. (Perhaps Oud isn’t truly mainstream until it’s commonly sold at Macy’s and Sephora?)

I haven’t found the perfect Oud fragrance for me, though granted I’ve only tried 6 variations on it. It doesn’t help that my body seems to process the ingredient in a less than charming way. Most of the time, though not always, it is incredibly medicinal, bandaid-like, metallic, screechingly sharp and acrid with a peculiar lime note that really shouldn’t be there. (Particularly when lime isn’t listed as one of the ingredients in the perfume.) One iteration of it drove me to utter and complete madness. And not in a good way….  On many other people, however, oud can be sweet, woody, leathery, evocative of cold stone, vegetal, and/or very outdoorsy. I’m still on the hunt for one which will work on me and I will probably turn to Tom Ford’s Oud Wood next. I also plan on trying M7 for myself, if only to understand the huge polarising nature of the cult hit and to see if I fall into the camp of admirers.

Are you interested in trying Oud? If you have, do you have a favorite that you adore? What makes it so great and how does it smell on you? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any suggestions that you may have.

____________________________________________
For Part I: “Sugar, Spice & Even More Sugar,” go here.
For Part II, “Sweat, Genitalia, Dirty Sex & Decay,” go here.
For Part III, “Fresh & Natural, or Soapy Detergent?,” go here.