Scents are constructed with very different philosophies and aesthetics and, as a result, differ fundamentally from one another. The works of every artistic medium, from painting to literature, lie along this continuum. Music, for example, can be pure art (Bach), intellectual art (Schoenberg), political philosophy (Dylan) and commercial product (Ashlee Simpson).
Allure Homme Sport illustrates this better than perhaps any other fragrance. Chanel still puts excellent, expensive raw materials into its juices: Ernest Beauxs 1922 perfume Chanel No. 22, re-edited by Chanel perfumers Jacques Polge and Chris Sheldrake and reintroduced last year, is one of the mediums greatest works of pure art. (It is a floral).
Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieus Rossy de Palma, for Etat Libre dOrange, is intellectual art (the smells of rose plus blood), and Jean-Claude Ellenas LEau dHiver for Frederic Malle is political philosophy (defiant utopianism).
Polges Allure Homme Sport is commercial product.
That Chanel would launch a scent whose sole reason for existing is to make money is not unreasonable. Chanel is a for-profit company. And Allure Homme Sport is by all technical measures — diffusion, stability, structure — a precision machine. Which is exactly the problem: It is a machine, of a very particular type.
This is Chanels version of the masculine cliché, the scent equivalent of Spiderman 2 and an endlessly repackaged formula. The masculine cliché smells, always, of generic citrus and generic spice with a bit of tin-can metallic.
Like those of a Hollywood action blockbuster, the ingredients are invariable: Throw in some linalyl acetate for fake bergamot, dihydrogeraniol for fake lemon, dihydromercenol for laundry detergent (tennis player in shower) and galaxolide for cheap synthetic musk. Youre done. (Theres nothing wrong with synthetic materials; the failure here is lack of imagination.)
The cliché sells — men buy it like automatons — so marketers love it. Its cheap to make, so accountants love it. Its easy, so creatives love it. Kenzos Pour Homme, loaded with methylbenzodioxepinone to add a fake-sea-breeze smell, is permanently atop the best-seller list in France, grinding out cash. Yves Saint Laurents Homme is found at Bloomingdales on Lexington, Creeds Acier Aluminium is found at Bergdorfs on Fifth, and Derek Jeter Driven is found at Walgreens everywhere. They all smell exactly the same.
And Chanels Allure Homme Sport? Undoubtedly it uses nobler versions of the formulas raw materials, one of the highest quality versions of the masculine cliché on the market. It doesnt matter.
It isnt, in fact, perfume. Masculine clichés are widgets. They are an olfactory product that is entirely fungible and could be traded on the Chicago commodities market next to wheat, pork bellies and steel.
Allure Homme Sport is a best-seller. It makes Chanel millions of dollars. It is a logical choice to sell it. But it is not a reason to admire that choice aesthetically, and it is certainly not a reason to wear it.