Kouros is a prime example of the hairy chested, everything but the kitchen sink, aggressively animalic 80’s powerhouse genre, and that reputation precedes this fragrance in such a way that some enthusiasts commonly assume, automatically, that Kouros is “too much”, “unbearable”, even without ever having tried it. And at best, once they dare to try it, they find it unintelligible. Many times I’ve heard people say that it should have, too, stayed on the past.
Its aggressiveness, as has been notoriously debated on multiple times, comes from two things: first, the composition is complicated, and certainly the nose perceives it that way. Second, it is strong. Very strong. In fact, there’s not a hint of poise in it, and frankly there’s no reason why it should be any other way. I will say it outright: not all perfumes must be soft, delicate and considered to be good or valuable. Just like people.
However, there is a deeper aspect regarding the composition which could explain, in a more eloquent and detailed way, why Kouros is the legendary beast that it is. This perfume is an exercise in olfactory dichotomy. You see, many other fragrances have explored this concept. It is true. But not many have done it the way Pierre Bourdon did it in 1981 for Yves Saint Laurent when formulating this. Dichotomy in perfumery is usually based on the disparity between warm and cold or light and dark notes. In this case it’s a strong contrast between clean and dirty, groomed and unkempt. Not about shades or temperature, but on the agreeable against the unpleasant.
The structure is that of a fougère, which is the olfactory family traditionally considered as the epitome of the modern men’s fragrance. A fougère has as main notes lavender, moss and tonka beans (or more precisely coumarin, the main aroma chemical preset in those curious seeds), giving the impression of a forest. It often includes herbs and some flowers such as geranium as well. For decades, this category has been juxtaposed to chypres, one being marketed for men and the later as the feminine counterpart.
Kouros starts off aromatic and clean, with notes of bergamot, eucalyptus, clary sage and bitter artemisia. It gives the idea of soap, almost too soapy, as if disinfection was the objective and not just everyday cleanse. After an approximate half an hour the spicy floral heart becomes more noticeable. Carnation, jasmine and cloves are discernible, but trust me, there is a lot more going on at this stage. A sweetish amber is ever present along with a subtle honeyed-hay note (coumarin can smell like hay).
The tension comes from the thick, furry, animalic base which is detectable from the beginning but grows stronger and stronger over time. Castoreum gives it a leathery aspect and musk a savage but plush hirsuteness. However, the note responsible for its inherent beastliness is civet: a material with a pungent, fecal and urinal odor that used to be collected from civet cats, but now has been replaced by synthetic substitutes. This is where the tension of the symphony relies: an unapologetic cleanliness over profound filth. Contradictory? Of course, and your brain interprets it exactly like that, somewhat confusing, as if not knowing how to judge whatever fumes are coming up your nostrils.
I will explain the experience of wearing Kouros as follows: this is a man, not necessarily kind, very unapologetic but grounded, perseverant and consistent. He is a businessman and likes to start his days very early. His grooming routine includes a hot shower and soap, careful shaving and quick hairstyling. Once out of the shower, he dresses up in a crisp white shirt and an impeccable suit, polished shoes but no tie. Buttoned down he prefers. His routines are concise but effective. He means business and works hard all day long.
When the day is over he comes home with his jacket thrown over one of his shoulders and the cuffs of his shirt rolled up. You notice that he broke a sweat and, quite reasonably, he does not smell as clean as he did in the morning. His body odor is noteworthy and has melded with whatever products he used in the morning. At this point, if you fancy his muskiness or instead, it repels you, is absolutely subjective but the experience is precisely like this. It’s like spending a day with this man, from his groomed dawn until his worn out dusk.
Now, if you want to become this fellow by spraying Kouros over yourself is strictly up to you. On the other hand if you seek an introductory lesson on civet, this is the appropriate starting point. This scent will give you a clear idea of how civet smells and, once you get a proper grasp of all its characteristics, you will be able to easily recognize civet in perfumes so, for the sake of education I suggest to try this one, more than once if possible.
I like Kouros, and I wear it from time to time. I go easy on the atomizer, spraying some on my neck around half an hour before going out. I enjoy it most of the day and I would like to think other people do as well. I still have not received an explicit compliment for wearing it but I have received some salacious looks instead.
House: Yves Saint Laurent
Concentration: Eau de toilette
Nose: Pierre Bourdon
Release Year: 1981
Category: Animalic fougère
Reviewed Batch: circa 2014
From personal colletion.