SCENT OF A MAN: THE RETRO FRAGRANCES OF THE 1970’S

In Bygone by Augusto ToledoLeave a Comment

What were you doing in the Seventies? Tripping the light fantastic at Galactica in Greenhills, Velvet Slum in Hotel Frederique or Delirium in Greenbelt? Or maybe disco dancing to the booming music at Club Valentino in Manila Midtown Ramada, Jungle Bar in Manila Hotel or Wells Fargo in Roxas Boulevard? You were probably in flared or bell-bottomed Nicholas Stoodley trousers, or maybe a Travolta-esque beltless hip-hugger, and a Nik Nik shirt with a floral pattern.  And if you were vertically challenged, chances are you were in chunky platform shoes or Glenmore boots.  Perhaps you were in a turtleneck, Sergio Tachinni designer stretch jeans and a classic pair of Puma sneaks. Were you listening to the live Manila Sound of the Boyfriends (Sumayaw, Sumunod), Hagibis (Katawan), VST & Co. (Awitin Mo At Isasayaw Ko), Hotdogs (Bongga Ka ‘Day) and Cinderella (T.L. Ako Sa ‘Yo), or merely pre-recorded music on a C-60 TDK or Maxwell cassette tape?  And were you perfecting your bakuran technique with a co-conspirator screening everyone else to help you dance with that sought-after coed?

MEM & Co., a cosmetics and toiletries company founded in 1877 in Vienna, Austria, launched English Leather Cologne back in 1949. It was a blend of wood, citrus and moss notes packaged in a large rectangular bottle with a wooden lid, and encased in a wooden box. A then unknown Jaclyn Smith, who would go on to become one of Charlie’s Angels, promoted the cologne’s sex appeal – the favorite positioning strategy in advertising in the Seventies – with a commercial in which she claimed that “All my men wear English Leather, or they wear nothing at all.”

It is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure.” Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971), defining perfume.

Whatever you were doing during this tumultuous decade – the crowning of beauty queens Aurora Pijuan and Margie Moran, the Ali-Frazier Thrilla in Manila, Pope Paul’s attempted assassination (foiled by President Marcos’s timely karate chop?), Martial Law and curfew hours – you were, as likely as not, swathed in the heady bouquet of your favorite fragrance.  Men’s perfumes in the Seventies often had citrusy top notes of bergamot, lavender and lemon, and woody base notes of musk, cedar and sandalwood, and the trendiest of the time were unquestionably English Leather, Brut and Jovan. The waft of these masculine colognes was the first sense that defined you, the individual signature that intensified, or potentially ruined, your initial contact with your inamorata.

Faberge introduced Brut in 1964 as a luxury scent in that distinctive green glass bottle, and extensively used celebrity endorsers like English boxing champ Henry Cooper, American footballer Joe Namath, and the West Indies cricket team. Elvis Presley was known to have sprayed it liberally, and Roger Moore’s James Bond used an aerosol version of it as an improvised flame thrower in Live and Let Die. With top notes of lemon, bergamot, lavender and anise, and base notes of sandalwood and vanilla, the brand continues to be available today after successive takeovers by Unilever in 1989 and Idelle Laboratories in 2006.

Could your grooming ensemble possibly be bereft of Brut by Faberge? In a scene in Saturday Night Fever, arguably the quintessential disco movie of the era, John Travolta’s Tony Manero flexes his biceps in front of the dresser table as an ubiquitous classic green bottle of Brut with the silver-colored medallion chained on its neck conspicuously stands within reach. This fragrance was, after all, “The Essence of Man,” as its commercials trumpeted, and “If you’re not going all the way,” as Joe Namath asserted in the cologne’s 1973 television ad, “why go at all?” Yes, you had that in your bedroom, and heck, you had that in your hand-held Pierre Cardin leatherette clutch bag, ready to spritz on a mist at the men’s room just before the dancing erupted.

Jovan, Inc. launched its eponymous cologne in the familiar orange box in 1972, describing it thus – “a blend of exotic spices and woods meets with the seductive power of musk.” Musk is an aromatic substance originating from the musk deer and used as base notes for perfumery or in traditional Chinese medicine. Today, all musk fragrance is synthetic. In 1974, the company introduced Jovan Grass Oil, an instant hit among the so-called Love Generation with its strains of basil and lemongrass, a kind of earthy, outdoorsy, back-to-nature scent which evoked the romantic liaisons from the 1961 film Splendor in the Grass.

Admit it, you fell for that urban legend that Jovan Cologne was made from the glandular secretions of the testicles of the male musk deer (now an endangered species), a key constituent in perfumery since ancient times. Lee Horsley (of the Matt Houston detective series fame) gained some measure of fame with the tagline “We help American men stay sexy.” You all thought you were, and splashing even a whiff of that essence on your bespoke wide-collared shirts tailored by Sir, Arthur’s, R.M. Manlapat or Exclusively His – top three buttons undone and a gold pendant swinging on our necks – distinguished you on the dance floor, and gave you the supreme confidence to boldly ask for her address and 6-digit telephone number.

Wherever one wants to be kissed.” – Gabrielle Bonheur “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971), responding to the question “Where should one use perfume?”

For sure, there were other scents for men that stamped their mark in the Seventies era. There was the legendary Eau Savage, the first fragrance released in 1966 by the House of Dior, which combined lemon and rosemary with a masculine woody base. Estee Lauder introduced Aramis is 1964, naming it after one of the swordsmen in Alexandre Dumas’s classic novel The Three Musketeers. And there was the traditional German eau de cologne 4711, originally produced in 1794 at House No. 4711 on a street in Glockengasse, Cologne. But in the “Me Decade” of the 1970’s, the effluvia of English Leather, Brut and Jovan were the aromas that celebrated the carefree individualism and broad-mindedness of the day, the essences that unabashedly turned on the women and swept them from the dancing floor into your macho arms. Jovan Musk Oil’s advertising slogan said it all – “In a world filled with blatant propositions, brash overtures, bold invitations and brazen proposals…..get your share.”

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