However it came about, by the early 70s, masculinity teetered on a tight rope. Men had grown up assuming tht the privileges of their gender were as basic as air or gravity. They were unprepared to find the perks of their gender slipping away and took refuge in the fantasy of the singles bar, the swingers scene, and the leisure suits. And eventually, in the aromatic fougère.
Given the cognitive dissonance of the man of the 1970s, thank god they had the fougère, even if only as a point of reference.
Facetiousness aside, the fougère played a role in positively maintaining the self-esteem of the men of the time. There already were some fantastic, accessible fragrances for men, from the drugstore to the department store. I think particularly of Dana Canoe, Caron pour un Homme, Aramis by Aramis, Old Spice and Christian Dior Eau Sauvage. Despite the newness of Paco Rabanne pour Homme and Azzaro pour Homme, the middle-aged men of the 70s knew this style of fragrance from the 1950s and even the 1940s. They might not have known the names, but they were “barbershop” fragrances. Even as men were forsaking the barber for the stylist, the scent of the barbershop allowed Homo-Nuevo, this new species of man, to maintain a bridge between what they were taught about masculinity when they were young, and the dramatically different experience they had as adults. Where the 1970s suave guy marched forward with bluster and false bravado into a new world of gender, he could be comforted by the fougère, his tie to the masculinity he was implicitly promised as a boy.
Here is the genius of Paco Rabanne pour Homme. It’s thoroughly a fougère, barbershop sensibility and all, yet it’s also new. The recognizability of this fragrance was just enough to soothe and reassure, yet the same time it had a novel and contemporary tone. This wasn’t your father’s fragrance. The elements that distinguish it from older barbershop fragrances scents were exquisitely calculated for the time. Evergreen notes suggests the outdoors. The Colorado Rocky Mountain High and the appearance of outdoorsiness was important to the new liberated 1970s man. Herbalism, from cheap shampoo to Clinique Aromatics Elixir to Earth-Mother cultural feminism, was a topic of the liberated women of the 1970s. Paco Pour Homme provided an entrée into the new discussion of gender for the 70s man.
Paco Rabanne pour Homme, intentionally or by happy accident, intertwined with socio-gender flux as much as Caron Tabac Blond did in the 1920s and Aromatics Elixir did in the 1970s. Paco Rabanne pour Homme was generally associated with straight men. But look closely at the ideal: rugged, out-doorsy, undeniably beautiful. Imagine Paco Rabanne pour Homme worn with 501 jeans, workboots and flannel shirts. Paco fit well with these components of the Castro/ West Village clone look and identity.
The aromatic fougères of the 70s provided an on-ramp to the men’s power fragrances of the 80s, from Antaeus to Kouros (a fougère ‘cousin’) to Krizia per Uomo to Quorum. Any perfume used to bolster gender is as much a fantasy as it is a fragrance, but Paco Rabanne pour Homme was the fragrance for men who wanted to highlight their masculinity. It was affable, proportionate, and suggested a well intended interaction with the world. By comparison, Antaeus and Kouros had the preening quality of the new man of the decade, the GQ-poser. It’s easy to point to the caricature-like quality of the ’70s aromatic fougère, but compared to the power-fragrances that directly followed them, they seem unaffected and laid-back.