Monday, April 23, 2012

Thierry Mugler's B*Men

One of the perks of working in a restaurant kitchen is that I've become acquainted with a broad palette of culinary aromas, which then pop up like olfactory whack-a-moles in the perfumes I sniff. Thanks to my day job, I've picked up on the chili pepper note in Calvin Klein's Obsession, the pineapple in Mugler's Angel, the pickled ginger in Cartier Declaration, the rosemary in Dior Eau Sauvage, and the cumin in Ralph Lauren Polo. What I didn't expect to come across in perfume form was the smell of burnt maple syrup left over from glazing meat. Thierry Mugler's B*Men is a delightfully subversive gourmand fragrance, effectively roasting and distorting its foodie elements into disfigurement and sculpting a surprisingly wearable perfume out of the resulting goo.

An inital blast of black pepper fresh from the grinder segues to an accord that resembles crispy rhubarb crumble, slightly scorched on top and intriguingly tangy. The maple syrup effect comes into play here, along with a whiff of cinnamon, carrot cake, hazelnuts, dark caramel (think creme brulée), and toasted coconut flakes. If A*Men is the after-dinner caffe mocha, B*Men is the quirky dessert course. Despite the aforementioned sugar-coma accords, B*Men is more nutty than sweet, spicy rather than saccharine, and surprisingly crisp. As it moseys along, B*Men takes on a malty, grassy quality thanks to a restrained vetiver note, and a decidedly unrestrained patchouli offers up a peppery, herbaceous counterpoint to the sweet/smoky heart. As is the case with Angel, the patchouli hums a subterranean bass line while the top notes sing their sweet, enticing melody, and the patchouli is a crucial component, not an optional extra. Like celery in a stew, you might not taste it past all the meat, spices, and broth, but you'd know if it were missing.

Which brings us to (yet) another food metaphor: B*Men, in terms of the overall fragrance landscape, is that experimental, nouvelle fusion dish that bucks the status quo and gains a small cult following, rather than pandering to the masses. B*Men was released in 2004 and discontinued a few years later; apparently its scent profile was just too "out there" to gain footing in an increasingly crowded perfume market. Ironically, Thierry Mugler's biggest fragrance success to date is Angel, which aimed even further "out there" and eventually won over the average perfume buyer through sheer audacity and infectious word-of-mouth. But Angel also has an irresistibly trashy (and loud) candy-store vibe, where B*Men plays a softer, more earthy tune, with a less clear focus than Angel and less obvious intent to please. B*Men was either too inscrutable, too untethered, or too subtly marketed to duplicate Angel's success (or even that of its masculine followup, A*Men). It’s by no means a masterpiece, and the vetiver/amber drydown is rather banal in comparison to the bizarre opening, but B*Men is still a pleasant kick in the head. It can be had for a song at online discounters and eBay, as its large-scale production eclipsed its minimal sales, and it’s not exactly the kind of discontinued scent the perfumista community goes gaga for.