Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar, 1989

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(image source unknown)

Perfumer Philippe Bousseton

I tend to talk about the fougère as a stern, towering perfume and it often is. But Tsar reminds me of how gentle the genre can be. Despite its ridiculous name, and blocky pseudo-Deco bottle, it’s one of the cozier fougères. Lavender and coumarin don’t crash against each other quite so much as in many fougères. Lavender is always prominent, and the overall tone is more floral than most fougères. It has a precise harmonic range. Imagine taking a slice out of the enormous range of Azzaro pour Homme, which goes from subterranean to stratospheric. Take that range and then zoom in close. Fill-in the colors, more matte and rosy, less metallic than Azzaro, and you find Tsar’s specificity.

If the fougère fragrances of the 70s and 80s implied masculinity, Tsar suggested an easygoing, smiling guy who was comfortable with his manliness, feeling nether the need to amp it up nor to justify it. It’s hard not to associate this era’s masculine fragrances with pick up lines and and amateurish performance of straight guy-hood. It has an odd theatricality like the stilted men’s western casual wear of the time. Tsar fits the person who can pull off formal wear, but looks even better with shirt sleeves rolled up.

In terms of tone and dynamics, Tsar lands somewhere between Azzaro pour Homme and Paco Rabanne pour Homme, which preceded it, and Jacomo Anthracite and Yves St. Laurent Jazz which followed. It is part of the cohort of fougères that were swept aside by the Cool Water tsunami.

(image Jane Birkin, 1975. Granger Historical Picture Archive)

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