Fougères Marines by Montale (2007) is one helluva sure-fire way to get the Boomers and early Gen-X’ers up in arms, as evidenced by the disparity in written reviews between Basenotes, Fragrantica, and social media at large, plus the various videos on YouTube posted about the stuff. You can almost tell who was at least over 40 when this stuff dropped in 2007 (likely pushing 60 by the 2023 date-stamp of this review) by way of their knee-jerk reaction to Fougères Marines when it landed in what was up to that point a flawless catalog for Montale. After pumping out so many consecutive odes to traditional Arabian perfumery, in addition to the occasional stylistic lark a la Montale Black Aoud (2006), nobody was prepared for the brand to tackle a staple of masculine-market Western perfumery circa the 1990’s. This particularly stung Boomers and X’ers hard because many associate the prime of their lives with the scents of their generation and have a particular loathing for the “changing of the guard” in the early 1990’s through to the early 2000’s, marked by more-androgynous and abstract ozonic-fresh “eau de toilettes” replacing their burly, naturalistic, and musky “men’s colognes” focused more on tobacco, petrichor, animalics, and leather. Imagine moving up into the niche spaces to leave that losing battle behind, only to discover the calone-1951 monsters that haunted your olfactive nightmares had infiltrated that sacred realm too. Was there nowhere left safe from the aromachemical ghosts of Pierre Bourdon and Alberto Morillas? Probably not by 2007.
So what Fougères Marines does, which is such a trespass for some, or tremendous boon for others (depending on age of person being questioned it seems), is bring that early-mid 90’s style of what was then contemporary men’s fragrance home to roost in a Middle Eastern context. As is the point of Montale all along (much like the higher-end Amouage), Fougères Marines brings the West-meets-East values of Western perfumery techniques with Arabian style. Previously this manifested as something ostensibly Arabian in theme, like ambery ouds and dense floral-musks done in an oily format cut with alcohol Western-style; but with Fougères Marines we see Pierre Montale and his uncredited perfume lab staff reach back to stuff like Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger (1994), or Calvin Klein Escape for Men (1993), and give it a Persian Gulf shot in the arm. The end result is a denser, heavier take on that shimmery tart-sweet melon mix, no doubt to survive desert heat, smelling the most like the aforementioned Tommy coming out of the sprayer and living in those top notes for a lot longer than Tommy itself actually does; this making some look at Fougères Marines as the vintage version of that scent on steroids, even if they’re only half-remembering how Tommy smells. The rest of Fougères Marines is much saltier thanks to the Middle Eastern penchant for that type of ambergris treatment, with sparkling geranium, and camphoraceous patchouli playing a big role. While not natural, Fougères Marines is definitely more natural-smelling than Tommy ever was, regardless of vintage. Still, you have to at least be a lover of 90’s-era Creeds to really dig Fougères Marines.
There’s also a lot more complexity and roundness in the dry down of Fougères Marines than literally anything from the 90’s of this particular type, so every Millennial looking a “niche version” of their favorite high-school or college scent of the 90’s and early 00’s might find some comfort in Fougères Marines, while everyone else not waging a personal culture war against generational shifts in style – but also not particularly enamored with aquatics or ozonics in the first place – will find Fougères Marines perhaps too boring or too familiar to be worthy of its niche price tag, no matter the potential upgrade in perceived quality. Therein really lies the dilemma when niche brands “punch down” and co-opt styles once belonging to the Hoi Polloi, even if it’s the Hoi Polloi of other cultures in the case of Montale copying formerly-ubiquitous American brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, particularly when those styles aren’t so old yet that they haven’t been removed from collective memory. I like Fougères Marines, even if I don’t really find a bit of fougère in it at all, let alone much marine either, and it was a sign of things to come with fragrances like Montale Red Vetiver (2008) and Montale Sandflowers (2009), which go more-directly Western in appeal; perhaps all this being a precursor to the launch of the more intently-Western sister brand Mancera. Whether or not you consider this “niche Tommy”, you’ll either love it or hate it all the same depending on how you feel about things like calone-1951, ambroxan, and the usual salted-melon and shrill freshness of the 20th Century’s final years. I don’t feel ripped off by my purchase of Fougères Marines, but it isn’t a top recommendation from the house. Thumbs up