“Manly, yes, but I like it, too.” Anyone remember those old Irish Spring commercials? Perfume aficionados know that “male” and “female” designations serve best simply as markers — like “rose” or “fresh,” for example — on what to expect, not whether the perfume only suits a particular gender. On the traditional male-female fragrance spectrum, Masque Milano Montecristo weighs heavily male in the leather, wood and tobacco manner, right next door to Hermès Bel Ami. Despite my earlier reference to Irish Spring, believe me, Montecristo doesn’t smell anything like soap. But I like it, too.
Montecristo launched in 2013 and was developed by perfumer Delphine Thierry. Its notes include cabreura, ambrette seeds, rum, tobacco leaves, celery seeds, cistus, benzoin, golden stone, styrax gum, gaiac wood, cedar wood and patchouli.
Montecristo opens herbal, musky and almost vinegar-like before relaxing into leather spiked with tobacco, salt, cinnamon and cumin. Then the funk lifts a bit, and the smooth, elegant leather is sandwiched between sharp cedar and sweet resin. After an hour, Montecristo’s patchouli gives the leather an intimate, morning-after-skin feel. It lasts all day on my skin without ever feeling loud.
Sometimes I’m tempted to think of Montecristo as a classic leather along the lines of Estée Lauder Aramis and Bel Ami. It can have the cozy, grandpa-evoking feel of old armchairs, smoked pipes, cocker spaniels, and an oatmeal cookie next to a glass of bourbon on the side table. It's comforting.
Sometimes I’m sure Montecristo could be an old Serge Lutens, or maybe a cross between Cuir Mauresque and Muscs Kublaï Khan. It embraces Lutens’s love of spice and body odor, as well as his practice of playing with a traditional type of fragrance until it settles into that sweet spot between the familiar and the hyperbolic. It smells niche.
Then there are the times Montecristo feels unusually edgy, especially in its first few moments when the blend of tang, herbs and funk reminds me of what death might smell like.1 Let me quickly add that this whiff slides quickly into the safer territory of tobacco, wood, leather and spicy resin, but it might turn some people off — and intrigue others.
For leather, I tend to go for the softer glove leather or a leather chypre, but sometimes a big, thick, warm leather is just the ticket. If you’re a fan of the “manly” take on leather fragrances and aren’t afraid of a hint of funk, Montecristo just might be worth sampling, no matter what gender you identify with.
Masque Milano Montecristo Eau de Parfum is $130 for 35 ml or $215 for 100 ml. For information on where to buy Montecristo, see Masque Milano under Perfume Houses.
1. Not that I know how human death really does smell. In Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, author and mortician Caitlin Doughty describes it like this: “…the first note of a putrefying human body is of licorice with a strong citrus undertone. Not a fresh, summer citrus, mind you — more like a can of orange-scented industrial bathroom spray shot directly up your nose. Add to that a day-old glass of white wine that has begun to attract flies. Top it off with a bucket of fish left in the sun.” (Montecristo doesn’t smell anything like that, by the way.)