If I could go back to the gas station I worked at 13 years ago, to rummage through the greasy shelves of brake cleaner, axle grease, motor oil and other chemicals, I could tell you exactly what Knize Ten smells like to me. It’s a sweet mineral/petroleum fragrance with faint undertones of leather.
Knize Ten came out in 1925, the first fragrance of a Viennese men’s clothing shop that opened in 1858. It was created by François Coty and Vincent Roubert of Coty, now one of the largest perfume houses in the world. The flagship Knize shop in Vienna was designed by the Austrian architect Adolf Loos in 1913, and apparently hasn’t changed much since. Knize was once a big brand, with stores across Europe. There was even one in New York from 1956 to 1974.
The concept behind Knize Ten came from Ernst Deutsch Dryden, a fashion designer hired by the shop in 1924 to revamp their style and image. Dryden chose English polo as a sort of theme and backdrop for the burgeoning Austrian brand. For the fragrance, the number ten—the highest handicap in polo—was added to the name.
Knize Ten’s notes, as listed by the company, are:
Top notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Orange, Petitgrain, Rosemary.
Middle notes: Geranium, Cedarwood, Rose, Orris, Carnation, Cinnamon, Sandalwood.
Base notes: Leather, Musk, Moss, Amber, Castoreum, Vanilla.
Some fragrance fans have compared Knize Ten to Bulgari Black, and while they are quite different, they share a handful of notes, including vanilla, cedar, sandalwood, and musk. With Black, the odder notes of rubber, leather, and black tea are subtle—it’s what makes it so wonderfully complex. Knize Ten on the other hand is like a smack across the cheek with a leather glove (a description that seems so apt, I wonder if I read it somewhere or thought of it myself). Is it the sandalwood? The castoreum?
Another fragrance to compare it to is Santa Maria Novella’s bizarre Nostalgia, billed as “the scent of a vintage racing car.” Here again, is that familiar vanilla note that appeared in Knize Ten and Bulgari Black. But with Nostalgia, the garage scent I picked up in Knize Ten is boosted to an intriguing level that borders on novelty, and forces even car fans to ask themselves, “do I really want to smell like oil, tires, and benzene?” If Knize Ten takes the leather and rubber notes of Bulgari Black to the next stage, Nostalgia, launched in 2002, goes even further.
I like Knize Ten, but I don’t love it. I find the leather note distractingly artificial. It isn’t quite the leather of a motorcycle jacket, or a saddle shop, or a club chair. It’s something else that I only identified as leather with some effort. To me, it’s more like a leather cleaning product, or, as I said in the beginning, some petroleum-based chemical from a garage. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s certainly not for everyone. (The next leather fragrance I sample will be Santa Maria Novella’s Peau d’Espagne (Spanish skin), a rich, deep leather that truly conjures up images of saddles and reins.)
I got my sample vial of Knize Ten from The Perfumed Court, a decanting service run by three fragrance enthusiasts (one being the woman behind the blog Perfume Posse). If there’s ever been a fragrance you need to smell, something you can’t find in stores, this is a great resource. Their selection is broad and their service is rapid. For about $5, I got a tiny 1.5 ml spray bottle that gives me more than enough of the scent to sample.