Claiborne for Men by Liz Claiborne (1989)

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Liz Claiborne Inc. was a slow-burner of a fashion brand that, like Calvin Klein, served the upper-middle late-80’s to mid-90’s white-collar yuppie crowd that eschewed domestic automobiles and always needed the latest portable technology, at least before it all became consolidated into smartphones we now carry. Claiborne wasn’t really a fragrance house and made their name off of Liz’s penchant for stylish clothes for working women through the 70’s and 80’s, but once they launched their first feminine fragrance in 1986, the mainstream focal point seemed to shift -to- fragrance (outside J.C. Penny where most of their clothes went), with the men’s version of the eponymous Liz fragrance appearing 3 years later. This scent was quite the trend setter at the very end of the 80’s. Davidoff had just launched it’s genre-defining Cool Water (1988) the year before, and the aforementioned Calvin Klein would also drop Eternity for Men.(1989) into stores the same year as this, breaking most of the hold that sometimes-overbearing powerhouse fragrances had on the male side of the market in favor of lighter, wispier fare. We all know that “Aquatics” would reign throughout most of the 90’s because of Cool Water, and Eternity would also lay tracks for all the new age fresh fougères (with no tonka or moss in most of them as all the old ones were almost required to have), but this debut masculine informed all future fragrances that would carry the term “Ozonic” as part of their descriptor. As a separate category, they’re barely distinguishable from aquatic fragrances but for that “ozone” chemical-burn nostril-tinge that makes them uncommonly sharp and even more “fresh” than the former, plus they seldom focus on oceanic or water-borne notes.

As a category, I was never too enthralled with ozonics but for the sheer fact that like aquatics, each design house pushing the trope through the time it was popular had to outdo the previous one by upping the presence of the main accords that gave the fragrances their categorical descriptions; this was okay with aquatics as it just resulted in cleaner and “bluer” smells until that brick wall was found and struck. However, with ozonics, this made fragrances that were increasingly sharp to the nose to the point of instant sneeze-fits. I can’t say that this scent authoritatively christened the genre, but for all I can tell, it was the first to appear, and in my opinion, the best one. Claiborne for Men (1989) opens with bergamot, lavender, lemon, melon, and a calone note similar to Aramis New West (1988), and it’s not enough to cause nose hairs to singe. Ozone shows it’s face in the middle, with cyclamen, juniper, rose, and carnation adding a sharp, dusty quality. Perhaps why I like this so is because it’s still built like a traditional floral fragrance despite some then-new chemical themes. The ozone does act as a sort of semi-fixative for all the juicy bitter top notes to zing on up and into your face, making a modern dandy floral with a lot of unisex multi-gender appeal. The fragrance eventually dries down to something a little warmer and comfortable with cedar, patchouli, musk, leather, oakmoss, and amber, but almost-bleached variations thereof to tie in with that freshness in the top. The ozone never makes itself tiresome with that irritating chemical burn by the end of the wear, which is the usual hallmark of later creations in this style.

Claiborne for Men is an astringent kind of clean fragrance in the way aquatics are akin to detergent. When wearing this, you’ll be reminded of pore-opening skincare and disinfecting odor eliminators. I know this sounds negative, but bear in mind that some people really enjoy the smell of clean, and I happen to, so this is a good association. There are a lot of notes here, but they all get blurred into this crisp chemical cleanliness that to me, just comes across like something one would wear to smell structured, professional, and 100% completely safe. Zero dirt/funk means zero romanticism and zero risk. Supposedly there is musk and leather here, but they must just be fixatives for all the fruit, citrus, and light florals that impart the aesthetic. What this fragrance really, really, really informs is L’eau d’Issey Pour Homme (1994), which would be the next step in this train of thought, cranking up the clean to OCD levels with huge injections of Yuzu, Cypress, Sage, etc. LDIPH is nice and another early favorite of this trope, but I feel it is a tad overboard and unbalanced in the same way Wings for men (1994) goes too far with the blue notes, making Claiborne better simply by it’s show of restraint. I like this best right when the weather starts to turn, and the crisp fall air still mixes with the departing summer sun, making this project in bursts of come and go all day. It’s definitely one to spray on the shirt due to it’s lack of any fatty or oily notes that would stick well to the skin, and I’d keep it well within the realms of work and casual use due to it’s strictness with clean. It’s a milder precursor to the Issey Miyake staple, and in it’s own right, a pioneer for the lighter and brisker near-androgynous state of masculine fragrance in the 90’s. It was discontinued shortly after Curve for Men (1996) became popular then thankfully brought back, so few know it. Later Liz Claiborne male fragrances would get really itchy with powder or spice-rack-grade warmth, especially into the 2000’s when the legions of flankers made the name so ubiquitous. I think this first attempt at a male scent is still their best. Thumbs up.

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