KL Homme: Overrated Oriental

It's funny how tastes evolve, especially for fragrance. A few years ago I wrote a glowing review for KL Homme, Lagerfeld's "80s oriental." KL was his indirect response to the continuing popularity of the '70s classics Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and Jovan Sex Appeal. Lagerfeld Cologne was somewhat similar to Jovan Musk for Men, but the floral musks of the previous decade had limited appeal, and by 1986 it was all about powdery patchouli ambers, with Chanel's Antaeus, Giorgio for Men, and Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men leading the pack.

The 1980s were a continuation of the leading trends of the 1970s, which is why so many guys mistakenly refer to '70s scents like Grey Flannel and Azzaro Pour Homme as "80s colognes." Truly new and innovative concepts didn't emerge until the '90s, though things like Xeryus and Bogner Man were definitely "newish" for young men of the Reagan era. I confess that I'm not partial to oriental fragrances, but I do appreciate a good amber scent; Old Spice, Giorgio, Antaeus, Lagerfeld Classic, and KL Homme are all quite agreeable to me.

In the case of KL Homme, I realized last month that my feelings are changing. I still like it, and enjoy wearing it, but I'm not nearly as impressed with it as I was when I first purchased it. It's important to note that my bottle (and any bottle) is vintage, at least 25 years old, and probably older. It's also good to remember Jeffrey Dame's words about vintage orientals - they last longer than other fragrance types, probably because their complexity masks any subtle spoilage. With KL Homme, I sense no spoilage, other than perhaps a slightly unbalanced musk note, and some bland citrus.

My problem with KL is that it's dreadfully boring. It smells like the vaguest idea of an oriental, with all the most basic elements present, and nothing else. It has a crisp citrus with aldehydes and woody terpenes in the opening accord, followed by a polite cloud of patchouli, amber, benzoin, a hint of soapy rosewood, and talcum powder. The base holds a subdued non-animalic musk, and if you sniff very carefully you can feel the presence of cinnamon-sprinkled sandalwood under the dust. Sounds delightful, right? Well, it would be, if it weren't so carefully fitted and tucked and pruned into such insufferably inoffensive blah-ness. Fragrantica cites civet in KL's pyramid, but there is none, and I've no clue what Fragraticans are smelling in its place.

An oriental should have some magic, some characteristic "oomph!" that sets it apart. KL has no magic, and no memorable moments in its eight hour lifespan. It simply smells like a reference oriental. It's the skeleton of something fleshed-out and alive. It's just bare bones boring. I can't put it any other way. People rave about this fragrance online, but I don't share the love. Quality-wise, it's mediocre, its accords rather indistinct and functional, their execution surprisingly over-blended and soapy. In contrast, Lagerfeld Classic's musk, cigarette tobacco, and myrrh notes are quite realistic, and stand out.

If you're in the market for a "reference oriental," i.e. something that conveys the most basic, no-frills oriental imaginable, KL Homme is for you. But is it deserving of high praise? Nah, not really. I recommend Pierre Cardin's scent over it, and even prefer Sex Appeal, which isn't as pretentious, smells more focused, and contains clearer headshop patchouli and bolder wood notes at an ironically lower price point. If you must have a vintage from KL's era, I suggest you find a splash bottle of Obsession for Men, which has in some cases survived the decades intact, and may still smell reasonably fresh and complex (I had a bottle for 30 years).


  1. Overall Jovan's masculines have really stood the test of time. I still like'em! For the price you can't beat them either. Jovan's more recent release Black Musk just smells like Sex Appeal updated with a little sparkling citrus (grapefruit?) and a few aquatic notes- another nice scent with character at a great price! My husband likes boring, I'm not sure if he's tried Obsession or not.
    I just got Dear Husband's Springtime Clean & Boring selections out as the weather is warming-
    Hugo Boss Orange- sweet apple- woodsy casual blah
    Jovan White Musk for Men -Incredibly shampoo-ey clean, boring & minty fresh for only $7! Bonus!
    4711 - short lived but cheap!
    Elizabeth Arden's Green Tea Summer -Dear Husband stole this from my dresser
    Avon Exploration - gift from my aunt who sells Avon in Fresno
    Bulgari Aqva Pour Homme -yawn
    Gucci Sport -lovely & unique fig leaf/ambrette/cardamom accord after the customary sporty citrus blast
    Eau D`Orange Verte Hermes - greener version of Mugler for a lot more $$ and completely gone in 10 minutes. At least Mugler lingers close to the skin all day

    1. My recent purchase of Pacino by Cindy Chahed has me realizing that even when done very well, the concept of "fresh" is somehow so mundane and dull that one almost begs to wear something funky and spicy afterward. My love of Jovan Sex Appeal is for how it manages to take the freshness of crisp lavender and meld it to drier, funkier wood notes in a balanced, harmonious way. The "freshies" you list are all very nice, but also the sort of thing I'm fine with just owning one bottle of!

    2. In Husband's defense- he works with the public daily. By "public" I mean people from all over the world so he can't wear anything too funky.

      Sex Appeal has changed over the years, it is not quite the powerhouse with monster projection it used to be. My brother used to wear Sex Appeal in the mid 70's when it first came out. Even though I was only 10 I can recall the hypersweet blast of the synthetic musk ambrette that lingered for days.

    3. One of my fantasies is that Donald Trump deregulates fragrance manufacturing standards in the USA, allowing synthetics like Musk Ambrette to return to mass production - and that he meets with cosmetic execs to encourage them to bring back the funk and noise of '70s and '80s frags, once and for all.

  2. One of my favourite things about this blog are the little distorted glimpses we get of Bryan's life, including his (mis) adventures wearing Kouros and vintage Mitsouko to work... But in all seriousness, maybe it's time for a piece of writing that tries to tackle the dilemma of the work fragrance? I've found that something about working close to others, including the artificial, the authentic, the intimate and the etiquette-laden, changes the way I certain fragrances seem to behave, in ways that I think can help us understand their overall character. If I wear Eau Sauvage at home relaxing or on a walk, I feel princely and munificent, whereas if I wear it to work, I feel a bit uptight, intense, and a bit like an asshole... hmmm.

    1. A common mistake made by bloggers is to ignore the necessary balance of discussing the objective topic at hand (perfume and its politics) and prattling on subjectively about yourself to your readers. In this regard, I'll agree that I'm somewhat guilty of neglecting the latter component in favor of the former. While I'm quite enthusiastic about discussing the general merits & demerits of various fragrances and strains of community "group-think" that go on, I'm much less eager to share things about myself on a personal level. However, you've inspired me to comment on this further in another post, which is forthcoming now.


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