Keith Urban Phoenix (2011): Edgy, Complex Cowboy Cologne {Fragrance Review} {Celebrity Scent} {Men's Cologne}

keith_urban_phoenix_ad_2.jpgPhoenix is the debut fragrance by Keith Urban. The Long Hot Summer singer told USA Today that one of his sources of inspiration was his father, a drummer in New Zealand, about whom he said, "He was quite an aesthete. He always smelled good and had good clothes. He had an appreciation for the senses."

Apparently it's a family tradition because fans casually gush about how good the singer smells backstage, even going as far as locking the shirts he touched and imprinted with his scent in Ziplock bags. Amazingly, people don't say they want to listen to his music again, no, they want to smell him again... 


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Who knew that Keith Urban was another Jean-Baptiste Grenouille?

The new perfume helps quelch concerns about celebrity scents being just cheap, uninteresting money-makers. Created by perfumer Loc Dong based on a research of Urban's tastes, and bearing the seal of approval of fashion-savvy wife Nicole Kidman, it is not an all-too-readable library of previously bottled scents, which is one way to go about it, but which is a little too faithful to the celebrity's preferences.

The singer said that some of his favorite smells are  "Fresh-cut grass, clothes drying in a dryer. I love wood-burning fireplaces. Jasmine, gardenia" and that an analysis of his fragrance preferences revealed that he is attracted to woods and leathers. All the while, Urban had the unassuming man in mind, and even the neophyte, one who might be won over to the idea of wearing perfume for the first time if the blend was right.

"I was trying to find something I would wear and wouldn't be too much of a stretch for Middle American men. A lot of those guys I was interested in because they may not be the kind of guys who think much about the way they smell. It's a sensitive subject. I so get that. It's the reason I chose the name. I wanted a name that wasn't too city and not too highbrow."

Phoenix in a way can be seen as a creative twist on the Stetson type of manly cologne. Yes, there is leather, and yes, there are Western-culture references, and yes the country star wanted a cologne suitable for the middle American man, but at the same time, city-high-end-perfumery codes are clearly etched into the jus, and gourmand and a hidden floral notes turn it into a more complex type of cowboy cologne, suitable for cowgirls too.

Notes: Top: blackberries, cognac, a plum suede accord; Heart: dates, dark chocolate, fir balsam and musk; Base:  cashmere woods, tonka, gourmand amber, leather.



The fragrance opens on a very pleasant woody and plummy impression sustained by powdered woods and a sweet, overarching note of honeyed tonka bean. Once you know there is chocolate in the mix, the subtle, undefinable sensation of something a little powdery, a litte milky, makes better sense and becomes less mysterious. The chocolate is used as a softening nuance and turns the leather into a bit of a ganache. The featured accord of woods is dry and fruity, with brandy and wet-leather undertones, the official note being Cognac. Synthetic ambergris creates an animalic undercurrent with a salty edge.


Soon the fragrance increases its power thanks to an intensified salty, animalic yet clean ambery-musky accord. It's like a still rough but cleaned-up impression of Muscs Koublaï Khan by Serge Lutens. The animalic side of the perfume is softened down by stewed autumnal fruits as well as sweet and soft sueded leather, with hints of milk.

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If the mention of Serge Lutens led you to think that it smells somewhat like a Lutens, I would say that no, it doesn't. The perfume however does showcase a slightly unexpected sophisticated, recherché woods accord, but makes it nicer, more laid-back in feel than usual. It's more like the scent of a cowboy who has up-to-date taste than that of a fashion-conscious urbanite in control of every inch of his image.

The fragrance offers stylistically the kind of more elaborate woods you will find in, say, Bois Marocain by Tom Ford, but make them much more palatable and discreet. Bearing in mind the larger target audience, it makes more accessible the kind of perfumery language which is usually prevalent in creative niche perfumery. Even the patchouli in it can be compared to the one in White Patchouli by Tom Ford.

This choice to me is comparable to what Marc Jacobs did with Bang: the fashion designer brought to a wider market an overdosed peppery-woody accord which is typical of the more confidential perfumery codes influenced by the house of Comme des Garçons. Both Keith Urban - who said he wears Tom Ford - and Marc Jacobs - who seems to have a closeted affection for Comme des Garçons perfumes - are having an influence as individual taste-makers. For these two, it appears that rather than listening to advisers telling them what sells currently, they both followed their own inclinations and in so doing are exporting olfactory codes that are more prevalent in high-end perfumery.

phoenix_bottle_keith_urban.jpgPhoenix thus plays out a very likeable main accord betraying a sophisticated flair. The fragrance is evolutive but not dramatically so. There are no twists and turns, or coups de théâtre in keeping with a certain ethos which prefers fragrances which are what they appear to be from the start. In this respect, the linear aesthetics of niche perfumery meshes naturally with the working everyman's ethos, he who wants to rely on his cologne, not be entertained by it. After a while, a balsamic vanillic base appears with stronger hints of powder. Keith Urban said that, among other fragrances, he used to wear Brut and this is where I would see a linkage to the marked powdery fougère quality of Brut.

As the perfume progresses, it mellows down further, becoming rounder and velvetier like a good, warmed-up glass of Cognac, only it's a brandy cocktail mixed with sweet Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur for this sensation of a vanilla which is tipsy and sipped from leather tumblers. The next-day drydown is musky, with a bit of the dryer-sheet personality, but very pleasant, never harsh -- subtle on the contrary. What is even more interesting to the nose is when you start picking up on a well-hidden creamy gardenia note, another favorite smell of the singer. This allows the perfume to be more widely appealing to both sexes. The blend - it feels like a smooth blend - is a very nice commingling of cream, liquorishy dark fruits, leather and amber. And despite the fact that Keith Urban said that he does not care for the label "unisex", I would say that, to me, Phoenix has an unisex feeling. It could be worn by both men and women.

While aiming to recreate a chapter of the great Western myth, Phoenix visibly did not want to come across as being overly classic and conservative. For a more traditional feel, you could go with a McGraw. The sensuality that Keith Urban wanted to impart to his scent is veiled but not hidden by gourmand notes. Finally, he wanted to avoid a metrosexual feel, he said, and somehow perfumer Loc Dong managed to convey masculinity but with fashionable inflections and a hidden note of femininity which makes the genre of the manly cowboy cologne feel less like the signature scent of John Wayne and more modern in style.

Next year, a women's perfume by Keith Urban will reportedly appear; a trademark has already been registered for a perfume called Deeply.



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