Shop Your Fragrance Wardrobe Shop Your Fragrance Wardrobe: Antonio Puig Quorum and Pierre Balmain Carbone

Shop Your Fragrance Wardrobe: Antonio Puig Quorum and Pierre Balmain Carbone

06/23/16 09:13:52 (10 comments)

by: John Biebel

Men are just as susceptible as women to fall into the grooming habit of allowing certain bottles of perfume and cologne to slide to the dark hinterlands of our wardrobes. Personally, I think there is some physics involved, or it has something do to with a mathematical calculation about “frequency of use," but there are times when some bottles that were once in weekly rotation fall to the back and we’re left wondering why there’s nothing new to smell. The truth is that there’s plenty to rediscover if we just push aside a few of the front-facing fragrances and look at what’s been settling nicely behind them. In challenging economic times, this also proves to be a smart move, as we seek to find sensible ways to economize.

This interesting experiment, already written about by our own Jodi Battershell, Miguel Matos, and Elena Vosnaki, has a particular appeal to men because we can often be creatures of habit. Not to make too much of a distinction between the genders, but I’ve met plenty of guys who will find something and then cling to it for a long time. It can make you forget that you have a lot of great fragrances that you’ve just temporarily forgotten about, but they’re still there. It’s times like these that you should shop your own wardrobe. I did this recently, with a distinct mission in mind: to reacquaint myself with some of the distinctly “male” scents of my stash, and to also use the opportunity to compare an older, traditional men’s standby (Puig’s Quorum) with a newer, elegant twist on the woody male formula (Balmain’s Carbone de Balmain).

Both perfumes are decidedly in the cedar-ish, patchouli, vetiver camp, and because of this quality they can unfortunately be overlooked. What is it that makes this so? It may be that we’ve become rather spoiled by the huge range of notes available to us in perfumes these days. Fig, cassis, rhubarb, tagetes, Corsican mint: we’ve grown to like some very specific and magical things. It can be quite a seduction. Yet at the same time, and specifically as I was “shopping” my wardrobe, I could detect a yearning for something a bit simpler, something with a deeper base and a throaty richness made from less of the cornucopia. This doesn’t necessarily mean less complexity for the nose, but something that recalls our own smelling roots.

Quorum is what we call in English “an acquired taste”: one of those strong, earthy, mossy wood perfumes that does not evolve so much as come out with a punch. I recall the first time I sprayed it about two years ago and being afraid of my purchase. I’d said “Where can I wear this?” It was just too strong, too masculine, too much. Then of course we learn to wait. Wait five, ten minutes, and a very sensuous lumberjack emerges from this dragon. It’s far more aromatic, balsamic, like bits of aged pinesap and musky lavender, than it appears initially.

Within an hour, it has tamed into an extremely wearable but slightly serious woody fougère that could be worn for a day at work, or an evening out with friends. It has that dignified, slightly aloof distance characteristic of men’s 70s perfumes, where scents were more formal and a fragrance marked the difference between an evening at home or an evening out in the city. Even though technically it was brought to market in 1981, the scent shows its 70s pedigree. Here on Fragrantica, the readers’ highest voted notes are leather followed by pine – a quintessential pairing from that decade.

Quorum has a transformative quality in its DNA. It’s also a time-tested formula, wearing well on the skin and lasting for a respectable 5-6 hours with excellent projection. I was happy to “buy” this perfume again, as it felt like meeting up with an old friend. It’s also a statement-maker. People notice Quorum. It shows them your warm but professional side; yet it has some nostalgia mixed in there as well.

When I shop for things, I tend to buy items that are related. I know many people are not like me, they actually want to get things that are quite distinct from each other, but I tend to want just slight variations from one thing to the next. As I moved some more bottles around, I spied an old favorite I hadn’t touched in some time: Balmain’s Carbone de Balmain. This sleek and minimal men’s scent came out in 2010, and felt somewhat like a companion to the house’s Amber Gris, that interestingly-named, sweet homage to both ambergris and the amber genre altogether. They are both housed in heavy, smoky, cubicle bottles, and both relay a kind of modern elegance that is neither fussy nor overly complex. Coming almost thirty years after Quorum, this could be its cousin, but a very distinct fragrance on its own.

Carbone de Balmain was one of a number of men’s scents to emerge in the 2010s that featured new twists on incense, smoke and spice. It offered up an alternative to the sandalwood-and patchouli-infused men’s options of previous decades. Focusing instead on cool brushes of whispering smoke, sweet and resinous elemi, and generous portions of black pepper and fig, it’s a dry, cedar-y, modern approach to the idea of masculinity. The scent also contains that incredibly addictive “pencil shavings” cedar smell that many of us love with a passion. For people who had fallen in love with the now iconic Gucci Pour Homme, which was sadly discontinued, Carbone de Balmain was enough alike this modern classic that it’s is often reached for in place of the first, though they are certainly different perfumes.

What is the allure of Carbone de Balmain, and then why did it end up at the back of the wardrobe? It’s an exceptionally agreeable fragrance, something that has almost universal appeal. After wearing some edgy niche perfumes, it can feel a bit linear, clean – does it fall into a category of mass appeal that leaves us a bit cold? When I wore it repeatedly this time around, I had a deeper appreciation for Carbone, the sharp, dry hint of amber it leaves in the air, its flexibility (you can wear it anywhere, just about any time.) Along with some other classics like Givenchy Gentleman, and Chanel Pour Monsieur, it wears as both an everyday scent, and as something special at the same time. Perhaps it’s this dual identity that pushed it back to the nether regions into storage?

 

With both these scents, there’s an inevitable mental link with the scents of our fathers. Perhaps this is what I mean when I think of “masculine” perfumes, and what that communicates. We currently live in an age when perfume houses are moving more and more toward unisex perfumes, and wearers are much less afraid to spray a scent created for another gender. Do the strong, masculine perfumes seem a bit too much to our noses? I’d argue an enthusiastic “No!” As we often float in a cloud of the public’s slivery, fresh aqua-inspired body sprays, a healthy dose of solid tree-inspired scent is a welcomed addition.

 

Something I love about classics is that they endure for good reason – they’ve been tested by time and therefore earn a certain pedigree. Even the newer perfumes that haven’t been as tested by time can at least be recognized for their classic structure. Classics also run the risk of being pushed to the side because we’re all too familiar with them. They may seem to lack originality, or we feel that we’ve smelled them a thousand times before. Shopping the wardrobe is a great way to reacquaint yourself with these gems. In my case, I’ve found two new perfumes that I’d nearly let languish in obscurity. 

 

John Biebel
Writer
John Biebel (johngreenink) is a painter, musician, writer and software designer currently living and working in Boston, MA. He is a graduate of the Cooper Union in New York City where he studied fine art, and he currently works as a software and web interaction designer specializing in human factors. He is a student of the scent sciences and takes particular interest in the history and chemistry of perfumes, and created his first perfume in 2015 under the name January Scent Project.

[email protected]

MEH



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weegee
weegee

I suspect I'm one of very few women who enjoy wearing Carbone but I encourage more to do so if they want a "power" fragrance in their wardrobe. Wearing Carbone provides a feeling of assertiveness and confidence.

The pencil shavings aspect is so comforting, maybe a memory from grade school? Or maybe some sense of a walk through the lumber yard preparing for some long anticipated home/yard improvement project? Who knows? I just know I like it very much.

At first Carbone seem as harsh as Yatagan but after a few wearings I realized it didn't have Yatagan's harsh herbal aspects; instead it features a peculiar outdoorsy juiciness. Not pine sap exactly, but something similarly "foresty" and very, very fresh.

By the way, I don't consider myself a fragrance gender bender, I just wear what I like.

Jun
24
2016
Mando
Mando

I want to revisit Quorum and try out Carbone, haven't tried that one and it's been around awhile. I like this particular category of fragrances. TY John on the recs.

Jun
24
2016
HORACIOAG
HORACIOAG

Dear John, how long haven't you tryed Quorum de Puig? I used to love it in 1987 but i buy it again in 2005 and i swear it´s reformulated and it´s so different!!! a light and weak version from he original (a master piece)

Jun
24
2016
HORACIOAG
HORACIOAG

Dear John, how long haven't you tryed Quorum de Puig? I used to love it in 1987 but i buy it again in 2005 and i swear it´s reformulated and it´s so different!!! a light and weak version from he original (a master piece)

Jun
24
2016
missan
missan

One problem is that reformulations are normalized. Todays Quorum isn´t really similar to original Quorum at all.

Jun
23
2016
nostalgicnose
nostalgicnose

Carbone is def in my regular rotation i love it so... And quorum takes me back as i used to wear it in my teens, I liked them Strong lol

Jun
23
2016
Cassiano
Cassiano

I adore Carbone!

Jun
23
2016
cjas9298
cjas9298

"It’s times like these that you should shop your own wardrobe." I did just that the few weeks ago looking for something to wear this summer, as the frag I bought for that purpose proved a disappointment. I discovered that Polo performs brilliantly in heat and humidity, and that Royal Copenhagen was the musk for which I had been shopping. Anyone who likes Yatagan, 1-12, Polo, or Lauder for Men should also enjoy Quorum.

Jun
23
2016
NebraskaLovesScent
NebraskaLovesScent

Mr. NLS had a brief fling with Quorum a few years ago. It's definitely a classic but you are correct about it being an acquired taste. Glad you're rediscovering some forgotten scents from the back of the wardrobe.

And John, you nailed it on the head about men being creatures of habit when it comes to fragrances—sometimes to the point where they don't even try or buy any other fragrances and they miss out on some fantastic ones! Seems like kind of a "Dad" thing, at least in my dad's generation. Maybe we contribute to it, though, by knowing they like "X" fragrance so we're always buying them "X" for holiday or birthday gifts, etc.

Jun
23
2016
mapache
mapache

Carbone de Balmain is one of my VERY favorites.
I have sealed back-up bottles on hand.
I have not sniffed Quorum for years, maybe it is time to re-inspect that one !!!!

Jun
23
2016

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