~by guest writer AlbertCAN
History has a way of repeating itself, though from a pragmatic point of view it isn’t always monotonous. More and more I’m convinced that aesthetically modern perfumery shares a great deal of similarities with arts in the Shakespearean era: it’s not the originality of the subject matter that interests the audience as a whole, but the deliverance of a story or the treatment of the subject matter. After all, before Shakespeare there was Christopher Marlowe; before William’s “Troilus and Cressida” there was Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde”. Likewise before Chanel Coco Mademoiselle there was Thierry Mugler Angel, Narciso Rodriguez For Her before Guerlain Idylle. I am, of course, by no means implying that there’s a modern perfumery equivalent of Shakespeare, Marlowe or Chaucer among us (‘tis not my place to ascertain), nor am I condoning blatant olfactory plagiarism, so unfortunately flooding the market these days. Rather, nowadays it’s all about the paradigm-shifting quarter turns.
Enter Luna Rossa: the latest woody-citrus masculine offering from Prada affirms to me the notion that we, as a civilization, has reached a consensus on the idea of how men of the early 21st century to smell like, so much so that I am terming the olfactory backbone “Modern Urban Male Accord”, or MUMA for short (after the cultural phenomenon “Sensitive Female Chord Progression”). I am by no means implying that Prada Luna Rossa is the archetypical benchmark of the story, but rather a reflection that the world has really reached the critical mass on this front long ago that a proposed cultural moniker is in order.
Prada Luna Rossa, created by perfumer Daniela Andrier and named after the brand’s America’s Cup Challenge team, is supposed to be an “unconventional marine fragrance” featuring lavender. The unconventionality here refers to the novel derivations of ingredients, for instance the mint: the Maroccan Mentha spicata var. crispa Nana, which made its perfumery debut in the blue special edition of Montblanc Legend by Olivier Pescheux. Further, I have observed the following critique on Scent and Chemistry’s facebook page:
Albeit being fresh and minty, spearmint also has a dirty side to it. Leave a blotter with any spearmint oil for a day, and it will smell 'dirty wet cloth' the next morning. This fate is quite a danger in any fragrance heavy on spearmint, but not so in 'Luna Rossa', where the spearmint is softened by vegetal and dusty rose accents, green angelica, and a papyrus/blond woods accord heavy on Iso E Super.
The lavender used is an absolute, though surely further treated after extraction to clear off the burnt-sugar nuance often associated with the material. Then there’s the requisite modern masculine base notes: musk (ambrettolide in this case) and ambergris in the guise of ambrox. The overall effect ticks all the right boxes: fresh, soft, clean and sporty.
How does the fragrance stand in terms of its olfactory genealogy? I would position Prada Luna Rossa to be a kissing cousin of Chanel Allure Homme Édition Blanche, also having an herbal-white musk-ambrox alignment. The mint motif also positions it to be the neighbourhood of Cartier Roadster. In fact, to the readers of this blog I can sum up the genre in three words—contemporary sports cologne—and many shall have a firm grasp of its overall feel and sillage. Thus we have a basic feel of the Modern Urban Male Accord.
Now I know many readers among us may bemoan the examination of the greatest cultural common denominator, but the rationale behind MUMA is worth pondering here. Decades before, when the idea of an ideal gentleman was different, we had the fougères and the chypres. Chanel Pour Monsieur, a fragrance many has considered to be a masculine archetype, is within the same era such as Monsieur de Givenchy. Then Christian Dior Eau Sauvage. Then Calvin Klein Eternity for Men, etc. Years from now, when the tastes of the general public have changed, MUMA would simply be a reference point from the past. This too, as they say, shall pass.
The heart of the matter is that men’s grooming and sartorial trends have always been slow and relatively unyielding in their evolutions. Conformity may be too harsh of a word here, but nowadays most men dress to blend in, not to significantly stand out, to shock. Having fashion retail experience I can report that most men don’t view clothes shopping their ideas of fun, preferring to get what they need in the store and moving on. I think the sociology and the marketing catering to the men is beyond the exploration scope of this article, but if consumers vote their ideas of what a modern man should smell like with their money, based on the recent releases we have a fairly good idea on our perception of MUMA.
Perfumer Jean Guichard once quipped that every good fragrance needs a ‘duo’, meaning the interplay of two contrasting ingredients. It’s a summary on fragrance construction, of course, but an elegant mean of understanding the basic principles nonetheless. As far as I can tell MUMA is the contrast between aromatics (geranium/mint/lavender etc.) with modern fixatives (white musk/modern amber/others). Add dihydromercenol for a fresh laundry effect, generic spice and some metallic nuances. Repackage and repeat.
Needless to say major launches from big houses rely on MUMA not because of its artistic merit, but rather under the cultural and social norms there isn’t a great deal of room to negotiate the artistic direction. Enlightened consumers, however, can choose to layer MUMA in interesting combinations; Prada Luna Rossa, for instance, works very well with Hermes Hiris, as I pleasantly discovered today. (Mint and iris, where have thou been all of my life?) There: a contemporary male fragrance does not need to be monotonous. How it can be used is a far more interesting exploration.
Photo: Prada Luna Rossa via Moody Report