Kokorico is the latest masculine fragrance by Jean Paul Gaultier due to launch this fall 2011. It benefits from the unmistakable enfant-terrible touch by the couturier known for his unconventional outlook on life and his easy sense of risk-taking. The name behind one of the best-selling men's perfumes in the world, Le Mâle, cannot but be hyper-conscious that the public will expect both a good and challenging scent on all three meaningful levels: the olfactory, visual and story-telling planes.
To some extent we get everything that is implicitly promised by the name of JP Gaultier. The name, the ads, the launch party, the bottle, which is great, ensconced in a movie reel box. There is also a "secret drawer" aspect to it: if you turn the flacon sideways, it recreates the famous silhouette of the leotard-wearing Le Mâle in charcoal black.
The new cologne itself plays with both more classic and more extreme codes of masculine perfumery. As often with perfume, and in particular fashion-house born perfumery, the touch has to remain elegant and restrained even when expressing manifesto-like ideas. There is no way that a raging bull will be set free in a market destined for wider consumption although paradoxically revolutions are relayed by and do affect the masses. Kokorico is therefore an exercise in balance flirting with the extreme...
The name of the fragrance means "cock-a-doodle-doo" in French, with the exception that the usual "c" was substituted with a "k", which is part of the slightly disorienting games the couturier likes to indulge in, usually around gender-bending efforts. While Guerlain does propose a masculine cologne entitled Eau du Coq (Rooster Eau) since 1894, it is by no means a common semantic field to be encountered in perfumery. So when the news fell hot off the wire and after that at the launch for the press in Paris on July 6, it genuinely benefited from the flavor of the unexpected.
In French culture, the rooster figure is a national symbol but also an icon of masculinity. To say "faire le coq" means to strut around and deploy all signs of masculine seduction, beauty and pride in an amorous-parade-like context. If anything, Gaultier has made a point in his career as a fragrance-couturier to turn men from the perceived role of chasers into the role of desirable objects. If perfume always contains an element of the feminine in it especially in today's world which likes to think that real men do not need powder and flowers to please, Gaultier has made sure to twist that proposition by saying that men have a birth right to wearing floral perfumes, just like their ancestors did. His position became even clearer with Fleur du Mâle, than with Le Mâle although the latter already harbored a massive, closeted dose of tuberose. By doing this, Gaultier was tapping into a neglected tradition of masculine perfumery which is floral, just like in the Medieval ages there was a war of the roses or just like the symbol of French kingship is a lily. So, he is basically telling people get over your floral hang-ups.
One cannot but note that the fashion designer is very much tuned into the past for designing his fragrances as his debut scent Classique, was inspired by his grand-mother. But what he does as a general rule is use this energy from the past to turn it into arresting, code-defying fragrances rather than remain stuck with nostalgic scents (for him that would mean being in a rut, for milliner Jean-Charles Brosseau with his Ombre Rose, that is just fine and it's the whole point.) The question is to know how far these defying, demystifying stances really go or can go.
Kokorico is also, despite its clamorous stand, a return to ancestral roots, but in a more tribal sense this time. When I first smelled the perfume words like "primitive" and "brutalist" came to mind to describe the stylistic orientation of the composition. And to offer you another oxymoron, it is both wild and super civilized.
Official Notes: fig leaf, patchouli, cedar, cocoa, vetiver.
The fragrance composition is signed by perfumers Olivier Cresp and Annick Menardo of Firmenich. It was developed with Beauté Prestige International (BPI), Puig being at the helm now only of the fashion side of the brand name. The noses, as they are colloquially called in the industry, said that they had turned the codes of masculine perfumery upside down. More generally, it seems that by overdosing musk the scent gives off an impression of starting with heavier base notes and drying down to a lighter finish, which is the reverse of what takes place usually. This is in keeping with the idea for the scent, which was to feel like a cry, a cry of battle, victory and you guessed it, love-making. The opening of the fragrance is therefore punchy, betraying an affirmed personality in the first instants.
Initially, the composition appears mostly laden with patchouli and amber. It is both animalic and sweet. There is something of the spirit of Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent in this perfume, but with more of the smell of burnt tire - a discreet hint - than of a sweaty guy working in a garage.
The formula has pushed the musk which tends to be high-pitched: it mimics the effluvia of urine, in particular by alluding to its pungency, while ultimately remaining a clean musk at the same time. This is not a contradiction: perfumery is much of the time a lot about balancing oxymorons. A note of iris which is only ever so powdery underscores the rougher palette of Mad-Max smells: leather, musk, dry and hot sand. Even before I laid eyes on the press materials, these barbarian aspects were perceptible to the nose.
Taking a step back one realizes how strong the musk note is. It verges on the shrill really. After wearing the perfume further, you get surprisingly used to that overdose effect. The iris recalls Dior Homme but it is treated within this composition in a different manner, like a distant echo of kid glove and civilization in a much more primitive taking-over of emotions and a sense of witnessing an adrenaline rush, as expressed mainly by an animalic accord of brassy sensuality.
Indeed, now the name of the fragrance makes more sense, in the way you can feel that the fragrance is strutting around, parading its overt sexuality and intentions.
A mellower chapter opens as the iris brings its softness more visibly to the perfume. This is when Kokorico becomes more toned down, velvetier, with hints of patchouli and vetiver smoke. There are secondary aromatic and phenolic aspects to the scent which remind me of Gucci pour Homme, but with more iris and more musk. The longer drydown confirms this affiliation as it now feels like a memory imprint of the former which was devised by Tom Ford and perfumer Michel Almairac.
The gourmand touch, the big style, the patchouli, and now even the fig, of course all also recall Thierry Mugler A-Men and Muglerian codes.
As the perfume dries down, it feels more like wearing a veil of cacao powder dusted onto the skin. Apart from the Gucci pour Homme impression, there are soft vegetal-y sensations, a bit papyrus-like, thanks probably to the vetiver, but also to the fig leaf, which is treated almost in a dewy manner (this is of course another wink in the direction of Adam the first man.)
After the inital outburst and the not-so-subtle yet polished erotic signals comes a final gentle lulling down. It might very well be Jean Paul Gaultier's own rendition of la petite mort. They probably had quite a bit of fun making the perfume and the playfulness is evident and very Gaultier.
The feathers the couturier chose are black. Within the story-telling of the scent, they are meant to signify the hurts and wounds potentially caused by love as in the French expression "y laisser des plumes." You will lose feathers when engaging in the battle of love.
While expressive, affirmed, and a joy for the imagination from the visual standpoint, Kokorico does not really break any creative mold in the olfactory realm. In fact in does the contrary, it plays willfully with popular masculine perfumery lingo and codes, but only the best really. You can be grateful to the perfumers for knowing how to quote and weave their classics and offering high-caliber choices. It also employs the technique of overdosing to create an admissible sense of strength. While a perfumisto might expect more hard-core olfactory challenge and mind-teasing, there is no denying that Kokorico has the capacity to please and seduce by strutting his stuff around.
Note: I will post more materials about the fragrance in the weeks leading to the launch as I think that the whole-package aspect of the fragrance is great and should not be discounted in the pleasure that a fragrance can offer.
3rd image: Gaultier fall-winter 2011, The New York Times