Calling all skank-o-philes, do you read me? Put down your Oudhs, your Kouroses, your Muscs Koublai Khans, and pick up a bottle of the unassuming-looking Aramis for men. It may be politer than some of those scents, and without their lore and glamour, but strangely, it's more compelling because it dares to be beautiful as well as shocking in its animalic stinkiness.
This glorious leather chypre starts off with a wonderful fresh/bitter herbaceousness combined with a very prominent body odor note from cumin. Please note: the cumin here doesn't suggest just your run-of-the-mill body odor, either. The BO note in Aramis is the smell of a man's arm pits who's been exercising for a while and possibly hasn't bathed in a couple days. It has that almost metallic sharpness that accompanies the aroma of an especially ripe pair of pits. Jarring — but sexy, in the way that smelling the body odor of someone you're attracted to can be both repellent and erotic.
Beautifully blended gardenia, jasmine, amber and sandalwood sweeten and warm the scent almost immediately, giving Aramis a comforting softness that invites you to snuggle with it on its Naugahyde couch.(Just snuggling — it promises!)
Top notes: Artemisia, aldehydes, bergamot, gardenia, green note, cumin
Heart notes: Jasmine, patchouli, orris, vetiver, sandalwood
Base notes: Leather, oakmoss, castoreum, amber, musk
But don't believe Aramis's innocent act — this cologne has carnal intent. As it starts to dry down, the well-worn suede portion of the scent comes forth, primarily through the amazingly creamy and smoky castoreum* and leather accord. The base notes join forces with the initial cumin note like (forgive me) a leather daddy's big strong arms giving you a bear hug.
It's the scent equivalent of Burt Reynolds' Cosmo centerfold in the 70s: smiling, naked and leering on a bearskin rug. (In fact, I bet the perfumer was given something along the lines of this perfume brief: "Make it smell like Burt Reynolds' chest hair as he reclines naked on a Naugahyde couch.") Aramis is good natured and friendly, but it still wants to rip your clothes off and get it on.
On a recent perfume-sniffing outing with my budding perfumaniac pal Jonno, we went to Macy's and stopped to smell as many scents as our noses could take until they screamed uncle. At Sephora, they just line perfumes up against a wall and let you spray, sniff, and discuss to your nose's content without bothering you. Macy's? It still has corny displays and perfume box sets, but the worst part is that the hapless sales associates shadow your every move, arriving suddenly while you're in an olfactory revery to ask, Nurse Ratched-like and suspicious, "Is everything all right?"(Grace, I'm talking to you!)
On one drab and nondescript glass counter sat Aramis and various box sets of Aramis cologne with deodorant (ha — deodorant that smells like BO!), Aramis cologne with after shave, etc."Doesn't this just remind you of dads and the '70s?" Jonno asked wistfully. Not particularly dazzled by the bottle or what Luca Turin describes as the "burl-walnut-veneer-effect" box that Aramis is "still touchingly encased in," I sprayed it on a scent strip anyway.
"Hmmm," we both said, raising eyebrows at the same time. "Dirty." "Body odor." "Amazing." "This just gets dirtier and dirtier!" "I smell mint, herbs, BO and Naugahyde," I said. Jonno: "It's a scent that can only be described as postcoital," and, later, "It reminded me of my stepdad and the stack of Hustler magazines he kept under his bed or a hairy-chested man from the 70s." (Hello, Burt!)
Needless to say, we were hooked. We were still wandering around Macy's, spraying and sniffing, and we even moved on to Sephora. But for both of us, amid all the other nice and even beautiful scents we'd sprayed on ourselves, we kept sniffing our arms for that cozy, furry, animal warmth of Aramis.
We soon both ordered it — Jonno got the modern reformulation, which is clearly still amazing, and I got the vintage. (Here are how the bottles differ.) I would say the reformulation is really close to the vintage; I wonder if I'd be able to even tell the difference in a blind sniff test. (I hope so?) The initial blast of cumin in the vintage seemed a little more feral and rude, and I wonder if the castoreum in the vintage is natural rather than synthetic. Vintage Aramis seems a little "rounder" overall. (I'll get Jonno's impression on this and update this when I can).
Aramis, as a Basenotes commenter astutely suggested, is Azuree's masculine sibling. (Both were Estee Lauder scents.) These two leather chypres are surprisingly multidimensional, with green, herbaceous, sweet, and floral notes that take your olfactory imagination in many directions and, although animalic, have the chypre category's chic formality.
Although this is a masculine scent, I'm going to wear it myself. It's one of those scents you could cozy up to while reading a book, before falling asleep. Someone once said of Muscs Kublai Khan that it was their favorite olfactory pet — Aramis is now mine.
* Castoreum comes from the castor sac of a North American Beaver. It's a yellowish secretion that, mixed with urine, is used by the beaver to mark its territory. It's an important animalic note used in leather fragrances, now only in synthetic form. I got some synthetic castoreum from The Perfumer's Apprentice for $3, and once you get a whiff, it's easy to recognize its suede-like, animalic softness in perfume. Yum.