There’s a lot of spiel around scents. Lofty concepts, mythic imagery, ridiculous names (usually French) – all carefully woven together by a branding team to fashion a smoke-and-mirrors snare, a promise that what you’re shelling out for isn’t a mixture of mass-produced chemical compounds, but something so much more than that.
Which is why Bulgari’s latest fragrance – the unassumingly titled Bulgari Man Black Cologne – is a scent for sore eyes. Unlike its predecessor, 2014’s Man in Black (a fragrance that cites no less than Vulcan, the Roman god of fire, as its chief inspiration), Black Cologne is of a more grounded disposition.
It’s a fragrance whose no-frills name reflects its contents, too. Like the original eau de cologne concocted by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709, Black Cologne is a spirit-citrus perfume at its heart, with rum and citrus notes packing the punch it gives on first spritzing.
So far, so plain and simple. But Bulgari’s latest release isn’t entirely void of the drivel the fragrance industry is famous for – an official statement from its creator, Alberto Morillas, describes it as the “scent of burning water”.
Ah yes. That unmistakable burning water smell. I know it well…
The odd thing is, as outlandish a description as it is, it’s pretty much on the nose. Well, the “burning” part is at least. Get too close for a sniff after spraying Black Cologne and you can expect at least half of your nose hairs to go up in flames, such is the clout of its top notes of pungent rum and acerbic citrus. (Which is about as a pleasant a first impression as it sounds.)
But what this fragrance becomes over time is something altogether more appealing. Allow the initial sting to dissipate and you’ll get to Black Cologne’s best bits: a faintly sweet tangle of orange blossom and tuberose that eventually gives way to a rich – but not headily so – dry-down of amber, benzoin, musk and sandalwood.
And maybe that’s exactly what Morillas intended. Billed as a fragrance that “plays skilfully on contrasts”, it’s definitely a play in two acts: its denouement is just a hell of a lot more enjoyable than its opening scene.
If you’re looking for a summer scent that’s masculine but not densely woody, light but not frothily aquatic, then Black Cologne’s definitely worth a punt.
Available at John Lewis, priced £51 for 60ml eau de toilette.
Bottle: Less than luxury. Its metallic silver plastic top leaves a lot to be desired.
Head notes: rum, citrus, green notes;
Heart notes: orange blossom, tuberose;
Base notes: amber, benzoin resin, musk and sandalwood.
Best for: Dark and stormy nights.