Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men (2004) is a fragrance that helped kick off the lower-price Kenneth Cole Reaction line on the male side, and is among one of the more popular Kenneth Cole masculines from the era, alongside the previous year’s Kenneth Cole Black (2003). What sets Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men apart from many of its other early/mid 2000’s Kenneth Cole siblings is that it takes the “ozonic grapefruit and cypress” house note that runs through most things from the 2000’s Kenneth Cole era (except Kenneth Cole Black), and pushes it in a much greener direction, surrounding it with green fruits, aromatics and vegetal elements. The casual jeans-oriented line couldn’t have asked for a more relaxed flagship fragrance to be honest, and the early 2000’s couldn’t have really asked for a more laid-back freshie either, amidst all the Iso E Superwoods, caramel gourmands, shrill ozonics, and surviving “Beige Age” 90’s scents filled to the gill with calone and geranium. Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men is indeed a reaction to the trends of the day, and managed to be safe and still invigorating at the same time. The caveat here is that haters of freshies will obviously hate this too, and there are plenty of musky animal glands and mossy barbershop standards still roaming the wild for them to snort off their shirt cuffs, and with over a decade on the market, Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men also has the benefit of not feeling too modern but not being old-fashioned either, for those seeking distinction without being seen as too dated.
The biggest characteristic note in Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men’s opening is the grapefruit carried over from the debut Kenneth Cole New York Men (2002) and a neat granny smith green apple note, paired astutely with dry lime, a honeydew melon note (that’s probably calone), and good old bergamot. From that stinging fresh and slightly-alcoholic opening comes in the real star of the KC and the Sunshine Reaction show: a very refreshing cucumber mixed with muguet and dry patchouli. The cucumber is love or hate with a lot of folks, but it is also used in the unsung Wild Country Outback (2003), which perfumer Frank Voelkl may have copied because he worked with Avon as well at that time and composed or co-composed many of their masculines in the 2000’s. Either way, the cucumber is just amazingly green and soft here, mixing with the dry patchouli and white floral muguet accord delicately. The base is where this does start to fall apart however, as the trademark Kenneth Cole cypress is flanked by laundry musk, a cheap sandalwood proxy made with Iso E Super, and a scant sliver of oakmoss for skin gravity. However, for as inexpensive as this is, you can really just refresh the middle and top after about 6 hours and be back in produce aisle heaven again for another few hours until home, especially on a hot day where something like this can be the difference between a good mood and a bad one in high humidity. Wear time total is about 8 hours without any extra sprays, and sillage is moderate unless you over-apply. It goes without saying that this is a purely casual affair, if the associated clothing line isn’t any indication.
I can see why this stays so endearing, as Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men is about as close to a Men’s version of Calyx by Prescriptives (1987) as it gets, and guys who love fruity fresh vegetal smells but are afraid to venture over the invisible gender fence can look to this for a good hot weather fix. Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men spawned 2 lesser-known flankers that rarely appear in stores these days, but still exist in some fashion, with face-lifted packaging to resemble the original pillar (as they initially didn’t), and they are: Kenneth Cole Reaction Thermal (2006), and Kenneth Cole Reaction T-Shirt (2009). Both of these fragrances take the main accord of the original Reaction for Men in different but less-interesting directions, and probably are only worth exploring for completists. Overall, if I was to recommend one Kenneth Cole masculine to stand as representative of the house, it likely wouldn’t be Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men despite its massive success, as it’s too narrowly-focused for that honor, but it is one of three that I would recommend anyone interested in the house during its heyday give a sniff, followed by Kenneth Cole Black and Kenneth Cole Signature (2005). Together, these three represent what it was all about to wear Kenneth Cole in the previous decade, although special honors also goes to RSVP (2006) for trying to staple on sandalwood-inflected oriental tones to that house cypres/grapefruit accord. For a 2000’s freshie not full of aquatic dihydromyrcenol or stinging ozonic citrus, Kenneth Cole Reaction for Men is a diamond in the rough, but won’t be enough for folks with more discerning tastes as it doesn’t really deliver in the base nor does much to hide its synthetics. Still, I give this my stamp of approval for creativity and I’d totally rock it on the rare 90-degree days we get here up in the pacific northwest. I don’t think I could daily-wear something this linear, but I also don’t think it was really meant for that. Thumbs up.