La Nuit de L'Homme by Yves Saint Laurent is the latest men's fragrance to be issued by a brand that has shown in the past that it could create some fascinating masculine compositions even and especially when you were not necessarily going to wear them. But at least scents such as Kouros and M7 made you, arguably, pay attention and L'Homme is, for all of its popularity, somewhat edgy. The new La Nuit de l'Homme (The Night of the Man) on the other hand is safe, oh-so-safe a launch in a time of recession and a big let-down in terms of creativity although it can still pretend to the designation of "sent-bon" (a smell-good scent), undeniably and unsatisfactorily so. Three obstacles were not surmounted it seems: 1) being an interesting flanker 2) being a celebrity scent that made sense when compared to the person embodying it 3) managing to add a big dose of warm oriental amber without losing all of its edge as that scent is so round and skin-friendly.
To refresh our memories we can turn again to the original L'Homme which I reviewed last week and which reveals itself to be a much more interesting concept with its central duetto of bilge and florals, like a gentler, more pastel version of Sécrétions Magnifiques.
Its transparent fruity undertones, including a trace of cool cucumber, make for a more complex, aerial blend than LNDLH. Although on a blotter the new La Nuit de L'Homme seemed in the first moments to project a stronger personality than its progenitor, on the longer run it turns out to be a more mechanical and conventional version of a masculine perfume. It is the difference between showing off and imparting a smidgeon of inner life to your perfume.
The obvious structural difference to my perception is that the new flanker went by a pattern, re-utilizing, the skeleton of L'Homme but emptying it of its inspiration and originality and decided to incorporate a twist. That new element is noteworthy in and of itself, or rather noticeable, but creativity was very limited. La Nuit de l'Homme is a true commercial flanker, unlike, for example the very personal Kelly Calèche EDP 2009 which is based on a perfumer's leitmotivs and feels authentic using the flanker category as a vehicle for personal variations rather than appearing to think in terms of mechanically applied "codes".
You know when you read the word "code" all over the place that the marketing forces had a heavy hand in the design of the scent and in this case the perfumers complied, a little too obediently. If sometimes, you are delighted to find the perfumer(s) using a secret language in her or his composition to say something a little more interesting than found in the official spiel, here it looks like they went by the marketing book. The trio of noses are the same ones that worked on L'Homme: Pierre Wargnye, Anne Flipo, and Dominique Ropion...
One might also argue that La Nuit de l'Homme is even more of a disappointment considering the celebrity that graces its advertising, Vincent Cassel. Mind our word, Cassel is the most unconventional facet of the new YSL fragrance. Cassel has played some iconic roles representing marginal characters from the mainstream The Brotherhood of the Wolf, to the more hardcore Irréversible and La Haine (Hate) and most recently Mesrine for which he won a 2009 César for best actor. He is someone who is acutely aware that movies can span the gamut from turkeys to art, as they choose, and he said in defense of the very controversial Irréversible "That's one of the points of art - to challenge your preconceptions," which could not be applied to La Nuit de L'Homme. He is not a pretty boy (he leaves that attribute to his sculptural wife Monica Belluci) and can be seen as acquired taste where classical physical beauty standards are concerned. La Nuit de L'Homme without being exactly pretty-smelling does not, unfortunately for his fans, display the asymmetry and edges of Cassel, and is certainly not acquired-taste, by a far cry. In fact La Nuit de l'Homme can be said to stand at a crossroad of deep mainstream influences like you say the Deep South when you want to say that things remain still. On the other hand, it perhaps tunes in more to the harmonious dandy side of Vincent Cassel and his predilection for dancing, Capoeira in particular, a trait inherited from his father, actor Jean-Pierre Cassel, an aspect which was stressed on the advert where he is wearing a tight suit that looks like that of a tango dancer.
Vincent Cassel himself said different things about his involvement with this project. First he confessed to Votre Beauté magazine to not liking to scent himself. He also described to Au Féminin his initial instinct to refuse to be a perfume spokesperson until he realized that in every actor lies an actress,
"For me an actor does not indulge in this kind of things and then I reflected a little bit more about it and I told myself that in the end, an actor is always a little bit of an actress."Finally, he expressed to French Vogue that he saw in this venture an opportunity to be an ambassador for French elegance,
"It is also an opportunity for me to promote a very French image of luxury throughout the world.
And I enjoyed the concept of the perfume. This idea of mixity, multi-culturalism, of contrasts and decadence. It is a beautiful image and I am very proud to be part of it."
How It Smells
The official description: Top notes are cardamom and bergamot; the heart rests on cedar and lavender notes; the base has vetiver and coumarin notes.
La Nuit de L'Homme offers a conventional opening with a mainstream woodsy signature, perhaps with a dash more of a fruity facet; there seems to be a secret blackcurrant note. It is the typical woodsy, peppery, wet rumy opening of your average men's cologne. It gradually softens down to a new soft sueded impression that is not to be found in the original L'Homme, with a discernable hint of discreetly fruity bitter almond. This incursion into a different texture and facet continues with the development of a cottony tonka bean staying close to the body, that is without it becoming fluffy and vaporous. The ambergris and musk are a bit hard and synthetic-smelling. The animalic component of the fragrance stifles any impolite connotations pulling the furriness into the direction of a chocolatey impression with a hint of dark and wet cognac accord and wet tobacco leaves note. The scent is clearly hinting at a conservative masculine atmosphere with all the requisite trappings. The shirt of this man remains well tucked in, in his trousers.
Next, La Nuit de l'Homme reveals a prune-pit accord, that I associate with sweet dried dark Chinese prunes, an accord also found in Azzaro for Men. But here it lies deep within the folds of a vanillic impression. Not surprisingly for a men's cologne obviously aiming to be eminently commercial, it is a safety-net reference to a major bestseller that will ensure many an unconscious nod of approval.
La Nuit de L'Homme makes its goal clear to develop a mainstream, very mainstream actually, men's smell. The two twists I see are 1) a soft chamois-like impression oscillating between the scent of almond and iris and lingering on as doughy; 2) a hefty dose of maple-y ambergris which gives off some more coded masculine mineral sparks (just to refer to the bolt and screw aspect of the scent and appeal via a subliminal men's machine accord).
As this soft flour-like impression is what distinguishes La Nuit de l'Homme from L'homme, one is tempted to see a different take here on what made the success of Dior Homme, a big dollop of sueded iris. Comparing them side by side reveals that La Nuit de l'Homme succeeds in making the iris-y impression of Dior Homme feel coarser and less refined. At this point you realize that some perfumes are moved more by industrial science than art as they benefit from technological progress.
The almond-y creamy impression here is more in line with an accord found in another YSL men's scent, Body Kouros created by Annick Ménardo.
The blend is pretty sweet and ambery. The drydown is doughy than resinous and a bit sticky.
All in all La Nuit de L'Homme is a rather sedate and safe composition that smells pleasant enough, but without the spark of inventiveness or inspiration, it smells pleasant and dull as dishwater. Cassel and his admirers, not to mention Yves Saint Laurent admirers, deserve better. Where has the audacity of M7 gone? You might think, like I do, that Kouros smells outrageously vulgar and loud, but at least the evocation of an over-perfumed pimp in white shoes waiting in a greasy ans sweaty garage while dangling his keys as his car is being repaired brings something to the perfume landscape that yet another conservative rubato does not. L'accent pathétique in La Nuit de l'Homme seems to be put on greater softness and a hushed and dimmed-lights oriental atmosphere, but unfortunately for this reviewer, it leaves her cold. You can always decide to use a pinhead sized drop of Kouros, but you could use any measure of La Nuit de L'Homme and it would still smell its same predictable self.
The original L'Homme seems to have been eviscerated and made up with some iris powder and drinking chocolate at the table of a marquis at the court of Louis XV. The only thing that smells really good is the scent of wooden furniture polished by discreet and silent chambermaids. La Nuit de L'Homme suffers from a disease which one hopes will not reach epidemic proportions, the conservative recoil reflex.