Black by Comme des Garçons (2013)

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Comme des Carçons Black (2013) is pretty much the modern masculine fragrance for the vintage purist “cologne guy” roughly in his forties or fifties, the man who hoards hundreds of discontinued varieties or first-edition bottles of venerable but currently-made male fragrances all dating between the 1960’s and early 1990’s (aka “the golden age”), and the kind of person who unwaveringly believes older is better and favors the most hirsute accords of perfume’s yesteryears over anything else. This is not a person who tolerates sweetness, transparency, or almost any degree of levity in their perfume, as they want only the stiffest, most aromatic, and sometimes dryest or animalic notes in their scent. Well guys, you can put those old bottles of Jacomo de Jacomo (1980) down because Comme des Carçons has you covered. Now don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff too, but I’m not shy around the 21st century’s modern sweet tobaccos, scratchy citric woods, or syrupy ambroxan bombs if they’re handled properly, and Comme des Carçons Black is certainly none of those things. I don’t think this is a strict homage to another era, it just recycles and intensifies some of the values found in masculine fragrances from the past then places them almost cynically in a perfume claimed as being unisex.

In fact, Comme des Carçons Black is truer to its name than perhaps any “black” flanker or themed scent has ever been, evoking the smell of burnt rubber, ash, woods, pepper, tar, and scorched earth. Black is the successor to Jacomo de Jacomo that Jacomo Anthracite Pour L’Homme (1991) wished it was, and even out-blacks Amouage Memoir Man (2010) and the later Tom Ford Noir Anthracite (2017). Scorching Madagascan pepper and bleakly dry bergamot open Black, which quickly moves through anise and birch tar in the heart. The bed of Black is murky olibanum and vetiver mixed with cedar and a rough jackboots leather note that makes fans of modern fresh masculines go “yikes” upon meeting it. Hints of burnt rubber come and go, making you smell quite brutish and imposing as the appreciable sillage trail wafts about. Fans of birch tar or severe treatments of vetiver are liable to be all over this too, as it is one of the smokiest fragrances I have ever encountered, housed in a plain black bottle unlike the usual ones used by the house. Wear time is pretty long but this stuff is so staunchly and traditionally male-leaning that it only feels appropriate when worn to a Moose Lodge meeting or a biker lounge. Something like this could pierce a hot day with how piquant it is, but I feel fall and winter serve the fragrance best.

Again, that “when a man smelled like a man” or “when oakmoss, leather, sandalwood and vetiver ruled the world” kind of fraghead could really get down with some Comme des Carçons Black (just don’t tell them it’s from 2013), but people less intent on staying within the lines of old-school straight-faced masculinity might still like Comme des Carçons Black if they enjoy aloof fragrances. Indeed, you’ll smell like a cross between a Victorian chimney sweep and a NASCAR pit crew member with a dash Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet (1901) and Puig’s Quorum (1982) mixed in, which is an extremely appealing vibe if you’re interested in visiting the Seattle Eagle for the atmosphere but don’t want to be groped without a hello. I can see why John Waters has an affinity for Comme des Carçons, but in the case of Black, this is over-amplification of yesterday’s masculinity to unapproachable levels of abstraction. Ironically, that makes Black feel more artistic in a modern way than it otherwise lets on, but just misses the mark of being trash culture chic. Comme des Carçons Black is definitely not blind-buy material, and even the most faithful lovers of smoky or rubbery perfumes need to sample this before taking the plunge. This stuff makes Ralph Lauren Polo (1977) look like sissy water by comparison. I like it, but I’m also a bit afraid. Thumbs up.

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