On paper, Pleasures for Men by Estée Lauder (1997) looks stacked to be the ultimate 1990’s fresh fougère, featuring three IFF perfumers who each contributed a massive watershed fragrance towards the evolution of the genre, yet it wasn’t. Pierre Wargnye contributed Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche (1982), a fragrance that more or less defined the fresh fougère in the 1980’s; Carlos Benaim contributed Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein (1989), a fragrance that refined and further modernized the DNA for the 1990’s; and Jean-Claude Delville contributed Curve for Men by Liz Claiborne (1996), a fragrance that took the fresh fougère DNA to its mainstream apex into the 2000’s. The result of their collective brain trust here in Pleasures for Men is indeed very wearable and unique among others in the field, representing a sort of higher-end take on the style as houses like Laroche, Klein, and Claiborne were mid-tier at best; even Lauder’s own Aramis division usually consigned to masculine releases could not muster something like this as the reputation for the Aramis label still read too brusque and mature for the kind of person who’d want to wear a fresh fougère in the 90’s, so it makes sense to dump this into the main line. The drab gray box and nondescript bottle does this absolutely no favors.
Lauder for Men by Estée Lauder (1985) and it’s minty sibling Metropolis by Estée Lauder (1987) were also looking a bit too mature for the ever-younger male fragrance buyer in the 90’s too, so Pleasures for Men – clearly a reaction to the success of the feminine-market Pleasures by Estée Lauder (1995) with young women – was an equal offering to capture the same demographic from the male side of the counter. Notes for this fragrance read like a mood board, so don’t expect much from market copy without actually smelling it yourself. Even for me this is difficult to peg down, as the full brunt of 1990’s synthetic wizardry is brought to bear here by no less than three of the most-capable perfumers to ever wield such chemical magic; but what I get is some kind of grape thing in the opening which mixes with bits of Eternity for Men’s shimmery start. The “sky air” accord and fruity molecules eventually lead into rose, geranium, lavender, coriander, and some ginger. The base feels lifted somewhat from Clinique Chemistry (1994), with a certain soapiness, although the heavier tobacco-like tonka here pegs this as more fougère. In fact, this dry tonka riff with oakmoss and sandalwood materials reads heavier than most fresh fougère contemporaries. Performance is the one area I have to ding this stuff, as it wears a bit too light, even if it lasts a long time.
Ultimately, this is more aromatic, woodier, and drier than most fruity-fresh molecular-wonder fragrances of the same era, which helps it feel more luxurious and most-importantly, more appropriately an Estée Lauder fragrance. Being a slightly up-market fresh fougère exercise might have been enough for the average Joe in a Macy’s to feel like he earned his middle-management promotion; but the online cognoscenti that would emerge in the following decade wasn’t buying it, and Pleasures for Men was seen as just another banal beige 90’s masculine scent alongside all the things it technically sat upmarket from, especially since all brands were for a time created equal by early online discounters that didn’t really account for market placement with their discounts (yet). Being able to buy Pleasures this way for the same price as Curve, Eternity, or Drakkar made it seem more of a side-step than a step up, plus any of its more-unique qualities in the dry-down were lost once folks had access to cheap Creed or Guerlain bottles from those same early discounters. Plus, Lauder never really did make a name for itself with male fragrance buyers and eventually axed most male options. Pleasures for Men is enjoyable, but If you’re hunting and wearing this nowadays, it’s just because you want to be weird. Thumbs up