My spirits always sink when someone picks me up at an airport or a railway station and the car turns out not to be a 1934 Voisin Aérodyne. Worse still, when the driver clears room for me at the front by throwing things into the back. To tell the truth, I’m not fond of other people’s cars even when they’re swank and spotless. I remember visiting the parents of a girlfriend many years ago in their large house in Norfolk, and being driven around in a Jaguar along narrow country lanes, under an overcast sky that seemed to be moving all of a piece, driven by a polar wind. The father, who was old and somewhat stiff in manner, drove very slowly and with the irritating driving-test mannerism of moving the steering wheel by 15-degree increments while keeping both hands on it at all times. To compound things, this was a Sunday afternoon, always a time of doom in my estimation, and all I wanted to do was hole up in the chintzy bedroom I had been allocated (miles of squeaky floorboards away from my girlfriend’s, whose mother had the hearing of a bat) and read a book, any book. Instead, I was being shown bleak sights and catching the occasional glimpse of a bleak sea.
The father wore Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, and that plangent lavender never recovered from the experience. It became for me the embodiment of a particular type of accursed masculine sadness, typified by expensive semi-transparent socks through which you see calf hair flattened against pale skin. Many deplore the fall in masculine dress standards, and it is true that one can have too much of trainers, sweatpants and smoothie-colored polo shirts. But consider the fact that the alternative is not necessarily style, but business suits and ties. For the last fifty years, they’ve always looked like they’re going to finally seem laughable any time now, but they never do. As a child of the optimistic sixties I expected fogeyish stuff to die out, not realising that there is a genetic component to it and that suits (the tribe) are no more likely to disappear than tortoiseshell cats.
The upside of fogeydom is a bracingly realistic estimation of what life has to offer, shorn of supposedly unachievable dreams and delusions, first among which the notion that one is different. Such people find Rabanne Pour Homme way too distinctive, and hanker for something every bit as gloomy but less handsome. There used to be hundreds of such fragrances, usually sold as after shaves predicated on the notion that penance and pain purify the soul, and that razor burn should be flambé in ethanol. Only a few survive, reminders of a golden age when male models in advertisements fingered their cuffs and looked as anxious as Prince Charles. Perhaps the best extant specimen is Pitralon Classic, a fragrance as grimly beautiful in its own way as a Brutalist parking lot. Use it only if it lifts your spirits.
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