The more experience I have smelling and wearing unique fragrances, the more my taste forks into two distinct camps: the ones I want to wear and the ones I want to smell in the abstract. The wearable camp is increasingly populated with mild skin scents, subtle and not always masculine florals (roses, irises and violets), musks and sheer leathers. The other camp is made up of weird fragrances. Smoky, earthy, even musty ones. Ouds and animalics.
I find that I like my fragrances to complement me, not to compete with me; I want them to be quiet, not loud, and to relate to my skin, not sit on top of it like a layer of thick paint. Fragrances like this are for mature, confident men. They are like simple clothes in timeless colors, without logos.
S-ex, a fragrance I’d been wanting to sample for years, is the kind I want to wear. Luca Turin gave it a stellar review in Perfumes: The A to Z Guide, and categorized it as a leather fragrance: “S-ex is a leather fragrance in the grand manner of Cuir de Russie: rich, smooth and suitably soft, only overlaid with a shiny plastic accord that obliterates the retro feel common to most leathers and turns it into the smell of a machine nobody has yet had the good fortune to strap himself into.”
Turin’s “machine” comment references the beginning of his short review, which compares perfumer Christophe Laudamiel’s plastic and leather combination to an Italian coach builder’s encasing a 1940s-era leather dashboard in Lucite. It’s all a great image, but for me it didn’t match up to the reality of the fragrance. Nor did the comparison to Chanel’s legendary 1920s fragrance Cuir de Russie, which is much more overtly leathery.
Had I not read any of that, I’d have called it a light, unisex citrus floral with hints of musk and put it in the same category as Gendarme or maybe Odin 06 Amanu. I detect no leather at all in S-ex, but then I didn’t in Gendarme either. Both, as it happens, have jasmine and leather notes—at least according to Lucky Scent (the only retailer I’ve ever seen carrying S-ex). Oddly, in Lucky Scent’s scale, Gendarme skews slightly masculine while S-ex sits right in the center.
Another disconnect for me was that the name, pronounced “ess-ex,” clearly invokes sex, which conjures up all sorts of dirty, animalic scents. True, some reviewers have detected some more pungent notes in S-ex, but I cannot. It simply smells clean. I love it.
Most of those who do not love S-ex are either underwhelmed after reading Turin’s glowing review or just bored conceptually with a fragrance that doesn’t punch you in the nose. I’ve read complaints about its short staying power and low sillage but this hasn’t been an issue for me (I have to spray most fragrances into the air and walk through them).
S-Perfume is a small but celebrated fragrance house that was started by Nobi Shioya, a Brooklyn-based artist and surfer, in about 2000. S-ex is almost 10 years old now—perfumer Christophe Laudamiel created it in 2004. It’s the newest of the three fragrances currently available (perhaps exclusively through Lucky Scent) now. S-Perfume Jet Scent, created by Alberto Morillas in about 2001, was reformulated as Jet Scent Remix by Christophe Laudamiel in 2004; it’s now sold as S-Perfume Classic. The other fragrance is called 100% Love, and it’s a polarizing one. Created by the renowned perfumer Sophia Grojsman in 2003, it’s a chocolaty rose perfume that earned another five-star review from Luca Turin. Those who don’t like it say it’s too close to some unpleasant bodily fluids (vomit, usually).
But back to Laudamiel. Around 2000 he started a sort of scent soundtrack to Patrick Suskind’s 1985 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murder, which was then released as a movie in 2006. At that point, Laudamiel went to work with Thierry Mugler perfumes on a special edition of 15 of those scents, boxed, for about $600. (The blog Kafkaesque has a great recent post on the whole thing.) Laudamiel is also the nose behind the Tom Ford-driven reboot of Estee Lauder’s classic feminine perfume Youth Dew, called Youth Dew Amber Nude (2009). It’s a heavy, spectacular amber fragrance that men could probably get away with. He is now the head of a scent company called DreamAir, which creates what it calls Air Sculptures—essentially the scent version of lighting design or maybe background music. Even as perfumers go, a very interesting guy.
S-ex is available at Lucky Scent for $110 (60ml). This review is based on a sample vial purchased through Lucky Scent.