L’Homme Ideal Eau de Toilette by Guerlain Review
“This is a man!” the rosemary yells.
“A delicate one!” the flower whispers.
“Why am I here?” the citrus asks.
Oh, I had high hopes for Guerlain’s L’Homme Ideal, but alas I think he and I are not meant to be. I would have taken him out a handful more times had he not punched me in the face with that rosemary-floral-citrus accord upon our first meeting. The opening really is the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink of modern masculine fragrance top notes, and the warm gourmand backing makes it all even more bizarre.
The drydown, on the other hand, redeems him somewhat: our ideal man apologizes. He mellows to an inoffensive, restrained tonka-almond chord with a hint of good quality woody vetiver in the background.
Without the bizarre opening, this would be boring and inoffensive. Alas, it begins with an utterly confusing affront to the senses.
The joke that nose Thierry Wasser is making here — for you see, scents can, indeed, jest — is that the ideal man is wearing a little black dress. L’homme Ideal is clearly a discordant masculine riff on Le Petite Robe Noir, an iconic Guerlain perfume for women. This is a move that had the opportunity to be clever, albeit a bit lazy. Instead, it brought us this chaotic mess.
L’Homme Ideal opens with a puff of perfumer’s alcohol and herbs that quite frankly makes me think of Listerine mouthwash. Within the first few minutes, though, that alcohol scent mercifully fades away, and the herbs deepen and develop. For a second I smell something fresh like mint in the mix. It’s a pleasant aromatic accord when I can shake the mouthwash association, as it still feels a bit like the sort of nondescript herbal mix that would freshen up some questionable forest-green liquid of unknown origin that lives in your bathroom cabinet.
Within five minutes, the star of the herbal show comes to the forefront: rosemary. Don’t be put off by it: this isn’t a harsh kitchen-cabinet, pizza-topping rosemary, but rather a very gentle and clean aromatic note that really does feel right at home as the scent of a mouthwash product. It’s reminiscent of a certain category of fresh herbal mens’ aftershaves, pleasantly clean in a way that feels simultaneously fresh and snappy like mint and soft and creamy like the shaving cream that preceded it.
And, barrelling in right behind the rosemary, fighting it for dominance, we have… a prominent citrus accord?
Oranges are falling from the sky all of a sudden, and I’m uncertain why. The combination is awkward. It makes me think of the orange-juice-and-toothpaste flavor that’s a well-known synecdoche for horrible flavors. This certainly doesn’t smell horrible, just awkward and wrong. Minty-fresh herbs and bright orange citrus just don’t mix, or at least they don’t here.
As if things weren’t disjointed enough, there’s a slight white floral edge to the citrus accord: orange blossoms. Thierry Wasser might have gone with neroli here, with its slightly more fresh and green nuances, in a weak attempt to bridge the gap between the aromatic rosemary and the oranges, but instead he chose to go with the deeper, sweeter, more intoxicating scent of pure orange blossoms. Their gold-tinged sweetness is alluring and blends somewhat with the orange juice and the nondescript sweet backing of L’Homme Ideal, but it does no favors to the cohesion of the concoction.
All the while, there’s a growing soft and sweet accord in the background. It starts out as the subtle creaminess of the fresh rosemary aftershave scent, and grows in a steady crescendo from there. By thirty minutes in, the sweetness is more noticeable and dominant than the fresh rosemary from the opening.
The attempt to make a simultaneous aromatic-citrus-floral-sweet opening work is ambitious, to say the least. L’Homme Ideal is no Bolero, gradually picking up more instruments and volume as time goes on. No, this is an piece that opens with a blast of loud chords played together by everyone in the orchestra — I think of the sudden loud aggression of the first few loud notes of Georgy’s Sviridov’s The Snowstorm, II: Waltz — except those chords are disjointed and out of tune, the volume of each section entirely wrong, the whole experience feeling unbalanced and on the verge of falling apart. The conductor is drunk.
There’s a lot that happens minute-by-minute in the first half hour of the opening alone. It’s a little hard to keep track of, but it’s interesting and pleasant to watch how it evolves. On one hand, the evolution is smooth, stage by stage, yet on the other it feels confusing and chaotic because of the dissonance and struggle for dominance between the aromatic, citrus, floral, and sweet accords. No individual moment feels like a jaw-dropping twist, but it’s all happening so startlingly fast that it’s a disconcerting experience nonetheless. I literally can’t write down notes about everything that’s happening fast enough. The fragrance barrels on, shifting and changing in ways that are both admirable and strange. I’d call it well-blended for the remarkably smooth way the opening evolves from one stage into the next, but it barrels on in such a bumpy breakneck manner that the smoothness doesn’t do much to make this a more clear and pleasant scent experience.
As the rosemary fades out, the other elements slouch together, growing a bit more cohesive. It’s a bit of a shame: that fresh-but-not-biting creamy rosemary was perhaps one of the most interesting things about L’Homme Ideal. Perhaps it’s a bit of an aftershave cliche note, but this was a skillful and balanced take on it. Alas, it simply did not play nicely for the rest of the notes here. It fades into the background, becoming an awkward sort of aromatic edge on what is otherwise a predominantly sweet fragrance.
Does it work? Kind of, if you’re not looking too closely at it. Perhaps I’m bringing in preconceived prejudices, but that combination simply never feels right to me throughout the evolution of L’Homme Ideal. It’s like if you made a sweet almond cake, garnished it with orange spices and white flowers, and then poured fresh almost-minty rosemary on it. It’s just odd.
What you have isn’t a masterpiece, it’s an almond cake that kind of tastes like Listerine.
Within thirty minutes to an hour, that fresh rosemary is largely an uncomfortable afterthought, something that finds its way into your nostrils at the very tail end of each deep whiff. Indeed, after thirty to forty minutes that aromatic tail to L’Homme Ideal is mostly vetiver rather than rosemary. It was hiding behind the rosemary before, but I see now that vetiver propped it up and gave it some traditional heft in that opening aftershave accord.
Indeed, while you’re focusing on the fleeting rosemary’s pretty face, vetiver is the Cerano De Bergerac that has been writing the beautiful old-fashioned fresh aftershave love letters all along. This is a respectable aging vetiver note, not fresh grass in the sun but a refined sort of dry wood, a bespectacled grandfather sitting in his rocking chair rather than a young rascal. Its woodiness is actually blended rather nicely with the almond-tonka-bean sweet accord, a respectable feat. Somehow, the vetiver at the base keeps the sweets from floating off into the land of sickeningly sweet designer scents marketed towards women.
The vetiver sticks around in the distance like your father watching you sternly through a painting on a wall, disapproving of your iced-almond-cake nonsense, making you remember all the outdated and unhealthy things he told you about what it means to be a man. Still, it is what gives L’Homme Ideal any lasting suggestion of a traditionally masculine scent, though it’s hidden behind the sweet accord.
Within an hour, what you’re left with is a moderately sweet almond-and-tonka-bean fragrance with a faint vetiver backbone. L’Homme Ideal is self-conscious about his sweetness, making this an option for anyone of any gender who enjoys almond accords but typically finds them much too sweet. Still, that restrained and guilty sweetness is at the center of L’Homme Ideal, and, save for the vetiver and perhaps the faintest hint of something like leather, could very well be marketed as a fragrance for women.
Well, that just sounds like La Petite Robe Noir with extra steps.
I admire the ability to sell diet LPRN to men. I think mainstream sweet fragrances sold as masculine like this one are helpful in dismantling existing ideas about gender, fashion, how one ought to present themselves and smell. Still, it seems like Thierry Wasser has simply created a toned-down version of LPRN and driven a stake of old-fashioned-whiskey-sours-drinking-vetiver-aftershave-wearing masculinity through its heart. It feels like someone at Guerlain is gently coaxing men with L’Homme Ideal, reassuring them that it is okay to wear this, look, it’s got an accord in it that smells a little like your grandfather, see?
An hour in, there’s something that feels almost powdery about L’Homme Ideal. Oddly, it kind of reminds me of something in Ormonde Jayne’s Ormonde Woman. This powder is sweeter, simpler, made of tonka bean and almonds, with just a hint of woodiness at its edge, while Ormode Woman’s violet powder is more explicitly present but much less sweet and accompanied by a great deal of fresh wood and aromatic notes. If the two fragrances were presented to the public in a blind sniff 1 hour in, I’m willing to bet a significant portion would consider L’Homme Ideal the more traditionally feminine of the two.
I’m not sure whether letting the tonka bean and almond notes run away into powderiness was an intentional choice or an oversight. Everything else in this fragrance is such a disjointed chaotic mess that it could go either way.
The almond is not a bright almond extract, a colorful marzipan, or a bold amaretto, more of a subtle scent that is sweet first and almond-flavored second. After an hour it becomes just slightly boozy. This isn’t like any sort of realistic amaretto or almond bitters, just a dimension to the subdued almond note that smells a tiny bit like alcohol again, not entirely in a perfumer’s-alcohol, that-smell-isn’t-supposed-to-be-there way, but also not decisively characterized in any other direction.
This isn’t the most stunning almond fragrance known to man, but it is comforting. An hour and a half in, L’Homme Ideal settles comfortably into its identity as a simple sweet scent with a little bit of almond and tonka and not much else. It seems the ideal man has tired from the chaos of trying to be everything at once in his youth, and is now spending all day on the couch, content to be very little at all. He has gone from being indecisive by trying to do too much at once to being indecisive by sitting very still and doing the least amount possible, no longer trying to impress anybody.
Still, he’s cuddly and pleasant enough. The ideal man is thoroughly boring, with no quirks, no jokes, no tales to tell, but he’s a warm body and it’s pleasant to cozy up to him on the couch for a little while.
At this point, L’Homme Ideal has finally settled into its homeostasis, fading out with a great deal of consistency compared to the rambunctious way it came barrelling in. The whole affair is over in some six hours, an entirely respectable period of time. The projection and performance are good, better than most scents in the ephemeral niche crowd, worse than most scents among the bright-blue-aggressively-fresh “beast mode” after-gym colognes.
In conclusion, L’Homme Ideal is… fine. It’s as good as any other of a range of mainstream scents to be worn by men who don’t care much about fragrance and just want something to smell nice. I like that it brings a sweet option to that mainstream table for any self-conscious dudes out there who just want to smell like almonds and tonka bean. I certainly find it preferable to the headachey the-year-is-2011-and-I’ve-just-walked-into-Aeropostale blue deodorant-y scents that have seemingly dominated the mens’ fragrance market in perpetuity since the invention of calone.
Lots of reviews suggest this as a formal or date night fragrance. I’d say that suggestion is also fine. For someone who usually wears the aforementioned blindingly-fresh style of blue fragrance, L’Homme Ideal is indeed going to feel just a touch more serious and refined. A date could very likely find this soft, cuddly, and carrying more cultural promise of thoughtfulness and relational skills compared to something sporty and loud. I can see this being something very reasonable to wear to a candlelit dinner.
I’ve also read some reviews expressing that this is an old man smell. It isn’t, really.
(I wouldn’t think someone smells old – whatever that means – if I smelled this on them. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with smelling like something that was popular in a bygone era, and our hair-trigger sensitivity to scents one might call “old lady perfume” or “grandpa cologne” is nothing more than heavily conformist fashion ageism, but that’s a rant for another day.)
Yes, it has a fresh aftershave vetiver-and-rosemary accord, which is certainly different from the suffocatingly-bright blue fragrances that are popular today, but that doesn’t automatically make it smell like the men’s fragrances that were popular fifty or a hundred years ago. The enduring hint of vetiver is buried in the background beneath the sweet almond and tonka bean scent, with hints of orange occasionally flickering by on top. It simply isn’t the dominant accord in the fragrance.
Even in the first half hour, L’Homme Ideal is predominantly aromatic and aftershave-y in a way that is too minty-clean and fresh to be truly reminiscent of the wood-and-dry-grass dour chartreuse character of a classic vetiver scent. The fresh aromatic herbal notes at play in L’Homme Ideal just weren’t around in this loud and brightened state in your grandfather’s day.
Put simply: if you like sweet scents that aren’t as sickeningly cloying as many perfumes marketed towards women are, and you don’t mind a bit of strange discordance for the first hour or two and a lasting faint vetiver aftershave note, give L’Homme Ideal a try. If you’re a woman who thinks that sounds great, don’t let the name deter you. L’Homme Ideal belongs to the same category as Maison Martin Margiela’s Jazz Club: scents with an unmistakable herbal element alongside a colossal spoonful of sugar to help the traditionally masculine go down. In fact, I find L’Homme Ideal much more traditionally feminine than many for-men fragrances in that category, including Jazz Club.
Maybe not every fragrance need be a mind-blowing artistic masterpiece. Perhaps it is enough that L’Homme Ideal smells decently good — nothing to write home about, unremarkable, but nice — once it’s settled fully into its role as a subdued and indecisive almond fragrance.
Still, the weird tantrum of over-ambitious performed masculinity that makes up the first hour and a half of L’Homme Ideal leaves me with a mildly negative impression of a fragrance. The grabbing at straws to try to make this feel more masculine seems a little insecure and silly to me, and the result is a mess of disparate sweet and aromatic notes that just don’t blend well together.
If you’re a cherry-almond-orange-cake man, that’s great. Own it. You don’t need to pour mouthwash over it in a demonstration of manly prowess.
The waltz from The Snowstorm really does embody L’Homme Ideal in a way: a blast of a few very loud notes, followed by a rather delicate section led by the first violins. The trouble is that the orchestra performing is rather out of tune and falling apart. Several sections are late jumping into the beginning. The opening just doesn’t work, and the conductor desperately wants to wave to the orchestra to stop and start over, but you can’t just do that in concert and oh look, now we’re past the loud, brusque opening part and things are kind of coming together.
So… it’s fine. L’Homme Ideal is fine. It isn’t super interesting or unique and the opening is a mess, but it’s passably nice. Compared to nothing at all, it will probably make you smell mildly more formal and attractive. Compared to your typical cloud of bright blue masculine calones, it’s cozier, cuddlier, feels less dudebro-y, more considerate and romantic, more in touch with and unafraid of your innate feminine side, and is much less likely to give your date a screaming headache.
But the ideal man?
Meh. I don’t think so.
Where to Find L’Homme Ideal Eau de Toilette by Guerlain
You can find full bottles of L’Homme Ideal EdT at StrawberryNet.
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