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 Review – Monsieur de Givenchy by Givenchy: Vintage vs. Modern

I like to wear men’s colognes. I admit that quite proudly. In fact, the modern commercial trend towards generic sugar bombs and gourmands has made me resort more and more to men’s cologne of late. So, from time to time, I will post brief reviews or impressions of ones I enjoy. One of them, deeply ingrained in the memories of my childhood, is the 1959 classic, Monsieur de Givenchy (which I’ll just call “Vintage” or “MdG-V” from now on) by nd.1968Givenchy. My father used to wear it, along with a number of other classic, legendary men’s fragrances. (In fact, it’s thanks to my father that I ever developed a nose for men’s cologne to begin with!) Recently, a dear friend of mine recently sent me a very large decant of the vintage version, circa 1970s judging by his box. And it was as amazing as I remember.

Being inquisitive and also lucky to have a father with a nice selection of colognes, I decided to poke through his current collection. There, I saw a new-ish bottle of Monsieur de Givenchy (hereinafter “Modern” or “MdG-M” with the “M” standing for “Modern.”) My father dates it to about 2004 or 2005. So, I temporarily stole his bottle and decided to do a side-by-side comparison. Bottom line: I think there is clearly a huge, HUGE difference between the two fragrances. And one of them is terrible.

First, I need to make a point of clarification about the different versions. MdG may have been reformulated a few times over its 50 year history. The array of boxes shown on different Basenotes threads could be a hint of that.

Modern version of MdG on the Left, Vintage version on the Right. Source: Basenotes.

Modern version on the Left, Vintage version on the Right. Source: Basenotes.

(I’ve seen at least 3 different ones.) Making matters more complicated, Basenotes states that Givenchy issued a fragrance called “Monsieur de Givenchy II” in 1993 as an updated version of the classic, but then discontinued it, before finally just re-issuing it as Greenergy. It is a totally different scent. So too is Givenchy Gentleman (1974). Givenchy Gentleman and Monsieur de Givenchy are complete opposites. The Gentleman is heavier with patchouli and leather, while the MdG is a citrus chypre. If you’re still with me, I fear I may lose you when we get to 2007.

2007 was when Givenchy launched Les Parfums Mythiques – Monsieur de Givenchy Givenchy for men, a fragrance that has very different ingredients listed.

Mythique version.

Mythique version.

For example, the carnation, cinnamon, and pepper in the top notes are now gone. And, by all reports, the oakmoss heart has been so diluted that it has essentially vanished. Despite these huge changes, Les Mythiques appears to have completely replaced the MdG — whatever its prior formulations. Adding to this belief is the fact that Givenchy’s Mythiques line consists of a number of its classical colognes like Xeryus and Vetyver; it would seem to be a complete rebranding and modernisation of all its oldest fragrances. So, for the purposes of this review, when I refer to “MdG-M,” I’m referring to the final version of Monsieur (1990s to 2006) prior to its reformulation as Les Mythiques. And the Vintage version refers to the 1970s/80s formulation (or older) that is the true MdG, in my opinion.

One thing I can assure you: you can easily find the Vintage version on eBay. And, in this case (perhaps even more than usual), the vintage version is best. It is absolutely something you will want to seek out if you love aromatic citrus scents that are very discreet.  But onward and upwards, to the fragrances themselves.

MdG (in all its permutations) is commonly classified as “Citrus Aromatic.” Its notes are not so clear beyond the basics which are: lemon, lavender, bergamot and sandalwood. The details, however, vary from site to site. Fragrantica lists the notes for MdG-V as follows: “Top: carnation, cinnamon, pepper and lemon; middle notes are lavender and lemon verbena; base notes are sandalwood, musk and oakmoss.”

Basenotes has even less details, with no reference to the carnation and cinnamon, let alone the geranium and civet that I know is there. NST has a much more complete list, though it’s completely unclear to me which version of MdG they’re talking about. Nonetheless, this is how NST described the original scent:

A hesperides lover’s dream come true, Monsieur is composed of bergamot, lemon, lime, petitgrain, lavender, clary sage, orange, basil, musk, civet and cedar. Don’t worry — if it sounds herbal, it is, but only slightly.

That’s for the Vintage version. In contrast, the notes for the Modern version are a quarter of that. Fragrantica lists them as follows: “Top notes are bergamot and lemon; middle notes are lavender and lemon verbena; base notes are hinoki wood and oakmoss.” (I have absolutely no idea what “hinoki wood” is, but Google informs me that it’s Japanese cypress.) My father’s bottle of MdG-M essentially lists the same, only with the inclusion of “coumarin” (a classic Fougère element), oak moss “extract,” and “cinnamal.” (No sight  of anything resembling “hinoki,” by the way.) Observe how different the ingredient list for the Modern scent is from both Fragrantica and NST’s listings for the vintage. For the Vintage, I think we should go with NST’s fuller version of the ingredients because they seem much more accurate to my nose.

I put on a 3-4 average splashes of the Vintage (circa 1970s or early 1980s) on my right arm, and about 3-4 sprays of Modern (circa 2004) on the left. From the very opening splash of the Vintage, I got a sparkling, super bright explosion of green. Green, green and more green, but never in a linear, one-note manner. There was lemon, verbena and mossy greens with depth, complexity and a lovely herbal note. In contrast, my 3-4 squirts of the Modern led me to actually mutter out loud: “What the hell is this???!” It was watery and diluted beyond belief. The difference was mind-boggling.

There was such a wimp factor that I hurriedly sprayed 2 more bursts, then an additional 2 to 3 for good measure. So, now, I’ve got about 7 or 8 sprays of the Modern on my left arm and about 3-4 good splashes of the Vintage on the right. And I still smell the Vintage more! The Modern version was all watery lemon with absolutely no oakmoss from the onset. After 15 minutes, I suppose you can say that it had turned into lemon-lavender soap. I suppose. There is really so little to say about it.

In contrast, the Vintage version had started to open up. The lemon, verbena and oakmoss accords began to include geranium and lavender. They emerged quite prominently, along with the carnation and a faint touch of soap. I wonder if I can smell the sage and basil, or if I’m imagining it, but it doesn’t matter. Oh, lordie, is that geranium lovely! I can smell no cinnamon or orange, but I’m glad for it because I think it would detract from the lovely green, herbal woodiness. The petit-grain also helps in creating that impression. (Petit-grain is the result of distilling the twigs from citrus trees, creating a bitter, woody, masculine scent.) The result is an incredibly  balanced, harmonious and sophisticated composition that oozes elegance and class.

An hour in, the vintage version has turned to a lemon lavender musk with soap, some lingering geranium and wood (especially the cedar). There is also some warmth. The musk, civet and sandalwood start a quiet purr. Some have said that the vintage contains real santal oil, and I can believe it because there is a real depth and richness to the warmth.

I think these base notes are what separate MdG-V from another fragrance that it is often compared to: Chanel‘s classic, Pour Monsieur (1955). Pour Monsieur is much, much soapier. It’s also greener and has spice (ginger, cardamon, coriander, basil) at its base, while there is none in MdG. Instead, MdG-V has warmth (sandalwood) and musk (civet). MdG-V is actually closer to Dior‘s legendary Eau Sauvage (1966) in its vintage form.

However, it is all very discreet. Verrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry discreet. Everyone always says that MdG is fleeting (in all its formulations), and that is especially true on me. While most give the vintage about 4-5 hours in longevity, on me it starts to seriously fade 2 hours in. A little after the fourth hour, I can smell it faintly on the skin only if I touch my nose to my arm and inhale forcefully.

In contrast, the MdG-M version died about 2 hours in. Died completely, if I may add. Dead as a door nail. And I have little to say about the rest of its development prior to that point. I think it’s an utterly undistinguished, worthless, and watery scent that is easily superceded by most drugstore lemon-lavender soaps. Yes, there is a hint of civet that adds some muskiness later down the line but, really, this thing is a travesty to the name of Monsieur de Givenchy! Others think that there is no difference between vintage MdG and its later incarnations but… bah, humbug! Not in my opinion. (And one can only shudder to think of how bad the Mythiques version must be, given the reports of even further dilution.)

However, I firmly believe that the MdG-Vintage is worth a small effort to track down on eBay. I am usually someone who opts for orientals, spice and warmth, but I can’t help but really like MdG-V. Despite its limited sillage and fleeting longevity, it’s pure class and refinement. I see MdG as something Cary Grant would wear with a Saville Row bespoke grey suit, double-breasted and with a discreet ,white pochette.

And, yet, I hear that it was Freddie Mercury’s signature scent. Freddie Mercury! Queen! Tight, red leather pants, a bare, hairy chest, bouche à pipe lips, and hot, smoldering sexuality! Freddie Mercury, the original sexpot rebel that Adam Lambert only wishes he could be. Freddie Mercury and MdG!!! Honestly, there aren’t enough exclamation points to convey the incongruity of that pairing in my mind. One thing is for certain: it proves that MdG is not necessarily your grandfather’s cologne. So, if you like herbal citrus colognes and you’re in the market for a refined office scent that is both sophisticated and elegant, you may want to consider this one.

But I don’t promise that anyone will think you’re Freddie Mercury….

Review: “Karl Lagerfeld For Men” cologne or vintage “Karl Lagerfeld Classic”

A rave perfume review for one of my old favorites that smells better than I ever remembered: the original, classic, pre-formulation Karl Lagerfeld for Men (now named “Karl Lagerfeld Classic”).

IMAG0022Imagine your boyfriend’s leather jacket, covered with honey, and in an old Russian or Greek Orthodox church filled with smoky incense and the whiff of a passerby in rose and jasmine…. this is better. If there were a honey seller in a stall sandwiched between a musky spice vendor of nutmeg, tarragon and anise, and one who sold sweetly fragrant tobacco that your uncle put in his pipe — all in a giant leather store filled with the finest British leather saddles, which was in a Turkish bazaar… this is better.

 Karl Lagerfeld for Men opens with a sharp burst of super-bright lemon (and a hint of some orange blossom) that vanishes in 45 seconds to be replaced by notes of tarragon, anise, nutmeg and cinnamon on top of pure golden, amber honey. That lasts for about 20 minutes before the leather, smoke and tobacco come out. As time progresses, the leather and honey get stronger, but there starts to be a faint whiff of powdery rose and a touch of jasmine, mixed in with rubbery resin and church-style incense. You almost wonder if you actually smell the flowers because of the power of the leather — which at this point TOTALLY reminds you of your BF’s leather jacket — but now the warmth of some Tonka bean, sandalwood and musk join the parade. No, you say, I do smell jasmine and rose, but is that smoky wood now, too?

Some say that it’s like a male-version of Shalimar and I suppose it’s the faint touch of powder in it. But if Meryl Streep wears Shalimar (and she does), then Tina Turner would wear this. If Shalimar is a Rolls Royce, this is James Bond’s Aston Martin or perhaps a BEAST of a muscle car driven by a Russian Orthodox monk in a leather jacket. That’s it! This is the smell for Rasputin, though one commentator elsewhere said that they thought Robert Redford in the Great Gatsby would wear this. I disagree. This is pure leather smoke covered with honey.

And….. it’s sex on a stick. I’ve worn it for 2 consecutive days and it really lasts and LASTS — 10 hrs plus on me (when almost nothing lasts more than 4-5 hrs).

I urge all you women and men who love spicy, smoky orientals to hunt this down on eBay. Make sure you get a bottle that does NOT have “Karl Lagerfeld Classic” on it. Ask if the writing is not totally visible on the box or bottle from the listing photo. Do NOT get the “Classic” which supposedly smells not just synthetic (post-reformulation) but like Jovan Musk. Get the original because it’s the kind of smell that makes women ask what a complete stranger is wearing (as evidenced by repeated such stories in the Makeupalley reviews), and also because it’s the kind of smell that will make you feel powerful and like ROARRRRRRRRRRING. Just be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart and that, depending on your body chemistry, powder may predominate over leather, tobacco or honey. Also, if you’re not into powerful scents, do not put on more than one spray.

For me, though, it’s going to be hard to wear anything else for a while.

~~~ Official description from Fragrantica : “In 1978 perfumer Ron Winnegrad created an oriental-woodsy fragrance for prestigious house Karl Lagerfeld, named Lagerfeld Classic. The fragrance opens with aldehydes, bergamot, nutmeg, sweet orange and estragon. The heart is composed of cedarwood, intense and sweet jasmine, iris, patchouli, rose, sandalwood and tobacco. The base reveals amber, musk, oak, Tonka beans and vanilla.”  http://www.fragrantica.com/perfume/Karl-Lagerfeld/Lagerfeld-Classic-1309.html