The debut masculine fragrance from Hermès is no small matter. Hermès was a big player in designer fragrances at the time, right behind Chanel and Dior. In fact, they still are mostly right behind Chanel and Dior to this very day, perhaps because Hermès is just a bit more expensive and less universally-appealing thanks to their dedicated theme (whereas the other two are somewhat more amorphous stylistically), so you have to be the type to go looking for them rather than stumbling across their wares. In similar fashion, Hermès Équipage (1970) was a little less accessible and pricier than it’s peers Chanel Pour Monsieur (1955) and Dior Eau Sauvage (1966), tying in a horseback riding leather theme into both the initial packaging and smell. Chanel had Henri Robert on retainer as house perfumer whilst Dior had almost exclusive use of Edmond Roudnitska (who had once also worked with Hermès previously), so without a preeminent perfumer to call their very own, Hermès did the next best thing and tapped Henri’s son Guy Robert to create Équipage. Guy would develop a penchant for heavy indolic fragrances with varnish-like leather notes or animalic musks in their bases (sometimes both), and much of that style shows up here in Équipage, which outside that trait goes on to become a kitchen sink of things in the typical complex baroque style of late 60’s through late 70’s perfume. A lot of men still swear by this, and it’s earned a latecoming flanker to boot, so Hermès must have gotten something right. Modern bottles have been streamlined into a collection of classics using the same homogeneous bottles as the eau de cologne range, so be on the lookout at Hermès counters.
The opening has sour bergamot and aldehydes mixed with orange and a little isobutyl quinoline, conjuring that varnish-like quality I mentioned, but unlike something such as Piguet Bandit (1944) or Grès Cabochard (1959), that tannery leather doesn’t stick around much and is soon buried under clary sage which acts in the capacity of lavender to add a familiar barbershop aroma. Since sage is nowhere near the sweetness of lavender, Équipage dodges the bullet of being a dandy scent but things do get more like a fougère once rosewood, nutmeg, geranium, and carnation enter the heart. A hint of very dry cinnamon comes towards the dry down into the base, with muguet and jasmine indoles adding some floral funk alongside the emerging foundation of oakmoss. Flanked with patchouli and the more-earthen aspects of vetiver, this oakmoss is touched by a kiss of vanilla before becoming skin scent left behind late in the wear. Some note breakdowns list pine, and it may be here, but it doesn’t leap out at me. With both oriental touches and leather touches to add nuance to what is otherwise a burly near-fougère structure, it’s easy to see how men of the time might have gravitated towards Équipage as a versatile signature (by the standards of the day), with the only real component missing being anything sharp or uplifting to give it some hot weather pop. As is, Équipage smells good in almost all weather types but sweltering hot, and feels too overtly-masculine for 21st century standards but otherwise very even-keeled, giving good performance and longevity too. Équipage will go for over 10 hours and eventually dies to moderate projection with intense personal sillage. People will smell you and think you’re going for a sneering Clint Eastwood a la Dirty Harry vibe, but you might be okay with that.
Hermès never really seemed to care as much about mass appeal as its main competitors, as evidenced by their slightly more-exclusive marketing and limited availability overall. They’re by no means niche in the context of what we consider such in the perfume world (unless their Hermèssence line counts), but Hermès shows here as they would again with Bel Ami (1986), Rocabar (1998) and Terre d’Hermès (2006), that they only care to reflect their own dedicated aesthetic through the prism of the period, rather than capitulate to the styles of the day 100%. For that reason, Équipage fans, like fans of any Hermès masculine, are fierce and loyal, since being a man of the times but also a man apart from trend speaks to certain aspects of conventional masculinity that instill a kind of stubbornness that implies integrity, without being too individualistic. Some compare Balenciaga Ho Hang (1971) to this and I can see where they are coming from, but that scent swaps lavender back into its proper role (in place of sage), has absolutely no leather, aldehydes, or carnation, and mixes labdanum-based chypre with fougère instead, plus was initially marketed unisex. This review was based on deep 1970’s vintage but I’ve also smelled the current edition and remembered liking it, I just don’t fully remember the differences so test and compare to my notes if you go that route. If you’re a fan of that “rich brown” aromatic smell so many 70’s masculines carry, one that implies well-worn leather jackets, a bit of perspiration, and cigarette smoke, you’ve got a real winner on your hands with Équipage. If your tastes veer a bit more socially-conscious and genteel, this one may not fit your bill. Thumbs up.