Yves Saint Laurent Kouros

...louche and aspirationally "foreign".


A few months ago, I was invited by the UK edition of Cosmopolitan magazine to be a judge for their first-ever fragrance awards. The contenders were a grab bag of recent mainstream releases of varying distinction, along with an eclectic mix of favorites in the men and women’s “classic” categories.

It was entertaining and educational to plow through evaluations of 50+ bottles of perfume. There’s nothing an inveterate “checker” like me relishes more than comparing and contrasting, making notes and assigning ratings.

During the process, I enjoyed getting to know some previously unsnorted men’s scents, like Donna Karan Fuel for Men (intensely desiccated fruit and ashy leather) and Lalique White Pour Homme (bergamot and peppery cedar wood on a cushion of amber).

But there was one masculine offering that completely blew my fume fuse box: Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent. On my low-to-high, one-to-ten chart, Kouros was an instant “10”, and my favorite fragrance in the entire selection. Right out of the matte white ceramic bottle -- a futuristic Greek column circa Shatner-era Star Trek -- this 1981 warhorse stood and delivered.

This eau de toilette is a fiercely billowy incense, with camphoraceous notes and more than a soupçon of raunch. It shoots out of the canon with a salvo of spices -- clove gives it an emphatic snap. Then almost immediately, it envelops you in an animalic, powdery cloud.

Kouros fills the air like steam from a gushing hot water tap in a fancy old European hotel bathroom. An unfamiliar bathroom fogged with ghosts of all the other guests who’ve used it before you. And here’s where Kouros really starts to throb -- with vigor and borderline TMI.

The powdery cloud becomes mossy, physical -- some say brutishly masculine. On my skin, Kouros pulses with humanity. The composition of spicy florals, citrus, resins and musk smells distinctly lived-in, but still elegant. The vibration between civet, honey and florals (carnation and geranium are listed) evokes the smell of a sudsed-up inner thigh. Ooh, missus!

And Kouros does strike me as specifically “European”. It’s louche and aspirationally “foreign”. Or at the very least, not “American”: factory-sealed, sanitized for your sterile pleasure.

The genie in this bottle is muscular and scenery chewing. Many who’ve tried Kouros -- particularly younger guys accustomed to today’s ozonic, sweet, or fruity colognes -- find its ripeness repulsive. It doesn’t smell literally of sweat, or piss, or...um...”night soil”, but there is truly something of the essence of a human being inside every bottle of Kouros.

People who are yakked out by Kouros are putting too much on. It’s like the color red: wear it head to toe and you’ll look like a walking wiener. (Wear too much Kouros, and you’ll smell like one.) But wear just a dash, and it will add life to your whole gig.

Go easy on the trigger finger, though, because a little Kouros will live on your skin forever. Even with my modest application, I could still smell it eight hours later -- musky but oxymoronically fresh!

With Kouros, perfumer Pierre Bourdon created a remarkable tug of war between good hygiene and bad behavior. It’s a lion and a lamb: a slight bitterness, a pervading sweetness. It’s dirty, but also soapy. Kouros plays tricks on my head -- and takes my body on an enjoyably rough ride.

Kouros is available at Perfume.com and FragranceNet.com, from $38 for 50 ml

Photo: Brando by Avedon

59 comments:

  1. Katie: Yippee!! A Kouros review! You are so totally right about it being both soapy and dirty. Sometimes I wear it and I smell fresh and clean, and other times I smell like the kitty peed on my sweater. Sometimes the ripeness is just this side of repulsive; it never crosses the line but gets awfully close. It's one of THOSE fragrances that smells different on different wearings for me -- you, however, seem to be able to straddle dirty and soapy in the same wearing. Envious! I do love the musk in the drydown.

    Wishing you very Happy Holidays! --Scott

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  2. Yes! I do love that drydown musk too -- it's that slept-in sheets smell -- not unclean, exactly, but not washed, fluffed and folded into sterility.

    Happy snappy hols to you too, Scott!

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  3. Katie -- I always thought Kouros would be a winner on female skin. It's daring and spicy and with just that slight touch of powdery freshness that suggest a female reporter conducting interviews in the post-game men's locker room.

    I'm happy to hear that you were bowled over by it. It really is something special -- Chandler Burr insists that it smells dated and past its prime, but with the sudden trendiness of smoky, spicy, cumin-laced oud scents, Kouros could experience a popular resurgence.

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  4. Nathan, right on the button, bucko! "Female reporter...in the post game men's locker room." I can smell it from here!

    Y'know, having never smelled Kouros until a few months ago, I don't have any association with it smelling "80s" or "dated". I just thought "mmm, incense and sensual body smells!", which as you rightly point out, is as "à la oud mode" as you can be.

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  5. This is one of my favourite 'fumes! Dirty and clean, with more than a hint of those naptha blocks used in gents urinals. Fantastic. Great to see you reviewing one of the few real male scents out there. Yatagan comes a close second, but is a tad too refined.My other half loves Kouros on me so much that we actually agreed that I am not to wear it when we have arranged to go out. It's that raunchy! You have got to be in your forties to get away with this one as well. Pure alpha male territory. Screw your aquatics and woody ambers, this is proper scenting!

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  6. Stephen - Yeah Cool Water and Givenchy Play, eat my urinal cake! Heh.

    Being of the lady variety, I don't have urinal cake associations with Kouros, but it is mesmerizingly manly.

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  7. You like Kouros! A 10! Woo-hoo! Hey, Dimitrios - we got Katie Puckrik on board the Kouros train!

    Seriously - overjoyed, because it's just one more reason I know why I can trust your reviews! :)

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  8. (Smiling shyly, kicking an invisible rock) Aw shucks, RP - all I did was tell it like I smelled it.

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  9. Goodness. This is, without doubt, your best fragrance review to date, Katie. Totally brilliant. And now I properly understand why Kouros was my adolescent scent of choice.

    Strangely, somebody mentioned Kouros during a conversation over Boxing Day dinner and I immediately launched into an overly-enthusiastic monologue on its very special, enduring appeal and its apparent resurgence in popularity. When I described it as "like entering a steamy bathroom after a big, burly man has just finished some rather inefficient ablutions" there was a moment of uncomfortable silence.
    "More beef?" proffered the host.
    "Exactly!" I said, a little too pleased with myself.

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  10. Too funny, Andrew! Way to make a tableful of holiday overeaters regret their impending inefficient ablutions.

    And thanks for the props.

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  11. Brilliant, brilliant review of Kouros, one of the most misunderstood fragrances today due to the men's market being saturated with noisy screeching citrus affairs.
    Every time I spray this on it just takes my breath away. I know I won't smell like any other guy that day as they'll all be wearing something 'fresh' or 'energetic' or 'sporty'.
    Kouros is timeless and somehow 'out of joint'. It'll never quite fit in and yet it towers over most men's fragrances like a god on Olympus

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  12. Thanks, RogueMax. Yes, there's no real context for Kouros these days. Long may it tower!

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  13. Your review of Kouros made me buy it blind (well, with a gift card) online. I am so sick of men's fragrances boring me to tears with their aquatic-sporty-sheer blandness or sweet-woody sterility that I've started wearing some of the powerhouse stuff from the '70s and '80s that most guys my age wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. Everything I've heard about Kouros - rapture, revulsion, and all shades in between - makes me itch to smell it, and I can't find it at any YSL counter where I live. (They keep pushing L'Homme o on me, the beige wallpaper of men's fragrances.) Here's hoping I love it as much as you do.

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  14. Yes, Darryl! You are in for a scent adventure for sure. I can't think of any other fragrance in the world that smells like Kouros.

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  15. @Darryl I feel exactly the same way. I was given L'Homme as a gift when it first came out in 2006 and it was only then that I actually developed a real interest in fragrance simply due to its phenomenal blandness. I was determined to discover something that I actually truly liked rather than was expected to like by marketing men. I don't think its (and all the associated wannabes like Adventure by Davidoff) a really terrible scents ..but it is just a completely unexceptional smell. Totally inoffensive and, to my nose, doesn't really smell of anything in particular. I'm not looking for some ethereal experience with every fragrance but they should at least have a pulse!
    Kouros is one of those fragrances that makes me feel special when I wear it. It makes even the greyest of days (and there are plenty of them in London I can assure you) something of an ocassion.
    Habit Rouge is currently having a similar effect on me. Its actually changing the way I dress. Its so smart, elegant and refined I had to at least wear a fine cotton shirt and a solid pair of English leather shoes to match its sophistication.
    Give Kouros time. I did not understand it at first. I suspect if you already have a penchant for 70s and 80s 'powerhouses' you will have no problem realising what makes it such a winner. The civet note seems to polarise people. If you find yourself initially recoiling, don't give up. Let it settle and develop. Its very strong. For me just 1 spray to the chest is usually enough. Enjoy.

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  16. Love your insights and advice, RogueMax. "Something with a pulse" is a good way to put it. And Habit Rouge is such a joy, isn't it? Uplifting and comforting at the same time.

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  17. Thanks Katie. Yes, Habit Rouge is very special. There's something about Guerlain fragrances, a certain well structured elegance. Everything falls into place perfectly. You could set your watch to Habit Rouge the way it develops like clockwork. Sparkling sweet citrus to smooth creamy vanilla with a soft touch of leather. Magical.
    I grew up in Stamford in Lincolnshire, home of the Burghley Horse Trials at the magnificent Elizabethan palace, Burghley House. Habit Rouge is that world encapsulated in fragrance.
    I should add that the Kouros aftershave lotion is very good indeed. The fragrance is slightly lighter and perhaps not quite as 'ripe'. It not only smells terrific but is the best aftershave lotion I have ever used. It is not overly alcoholic and thus really comforts the face rather than brutalising it after a close shave. Worth buying in conjunction with the Eau de Toilette in my opinion.

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  18. RogueMax - that's the magic of fragrance, that it can sum up a world, a time, a person.

    Good comparative analysis on the Kouros aftershave lotion - thanks for that.

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  19. So my bottle of Kouros arrived last month, and after a small adjustment period (it's so unlike anything I've ever smelled that my initial reaction was simply, "huh?"), I have to force myself to wear anything else lately. What a whopper of a fragrance. Having read about a million reviews of it, I can safely say that yours comes closest to my own feelings about Kouros. At various times it strikes me as smoky, spicy, soapy, creamy, sweet, bitter, musky, flowery, and that indefinable "other" that you nailed when you mentioned slept-in bedsheets. (My mind had settled on "unwashed groin", but I knew that wasn't quite it; besides, my mind lives in the gutter.) How DO they get that smell into a perfume bottle? It's intoxicating, and almost creepily makes Kouros feel like a living creature - it seems to exude physical warmth. Kouros actively excites me when I wear it, something no other fragrance does, and I can't think of anything I'd rather smell on a man I was attracted to. It puts all the Light Blues and Armani Codes to shame.

    Thanks for inspiring newbie 'fumeheads like myself to give it a whirl with your great review. (Habit Rouge is next on my list.)

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  20. Darryl, I'm really glad you checked back in with your fine experience with "the K". Fascinating how this fragrance inspires all the wonderfully evocative writing in everyone's comments here, including yours.

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  21. I'm American, and I'm wearing Kouros today. I STINK. And I'm loving every second of it (can't speak for anyone else though).

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  22. Bryan - to paraphrase the self-help book, "Smell the Stink and Wear It Anyway".

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  23. That phrase is such an apt description of the series of attempts I made at wearing Rush 4 years ago.

    Seen in the self-help context I now realize that I might have given up too soon - I didn't face the stink, I just ran....

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  24. Junelady, probably fine that you did run away. Don't think that Gucci Rush would've offered you much in the way of serenity.

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  25. "a remarkable tug of war between good hygiene and bad behavior" - Love it! I just got a decant of Kouros, after trying a decant of Jicky EDT. So much has been written about Kouros that I had to try it - haven't yet. You're review is a great piece of writing that just confirms my fascination.

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  26. bassavino -- Good idea to limber up with Jicky. You've got sensory juggernaut awaiting you with Kouros.

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  27. Oh, Katie, I wore it to bed and ended up smelling just like the long weekends I had with a bad, bad boyfriend, years and years ago. I was 18 and heedless, he was older and , well from here it's too easy to fill in the blanks. Let's just say I'm a woman headed toward 60 and bacl in the 90s when my therapist asked me "were your 20s wild?" - it was the 70s after all - I said I was glad I lived through them, or maybe glad I got through them alive. And that is Kouros to me.

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  28. bassavino -- So, are you saying Kouros triggered the perfume equivalent of a 'Nam flashback, or a happy/wistful memory? Either way, I marvel at the power of a scent.

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  29. ps - the Brando photo is perfect!

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  30. bassavino -- Yeah! I thought Brando had "that Kouros feeling" in that photo.

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  31. but wait there's more... I layered Kouros under Shalimar (EDT + extrait) this week. Might as well call it Eau de F*** and be done with it ;)

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  32. I'm surprised you didn't detonate your skin, or your nerve endings! Sensory overload!

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  33. OMG! Just emailed my first love that I woke up out if a dead sleep thinking of the distinctive raw sex/swag of Kouros that he used to wear in the 80's. We both vowed to buy some in our respective states and rendevous in the middle of the country to reminisce. All from an olfactory memory of Kouros! ;-) Came online to see if they still sold it and found your post!

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  34. G-Dub! What a torrid tale triggered by just a memory of Kouros! What's going to happen at that mid-country rendevous, I wonder....

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  35. You are insane. It's disgusting. It's actually used in my office as a weapon. It's over-powering, and smells awful on both men and women.
    Poor taste.

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  36. You are insane. It's disgusting. It's actually used in my office as a weapon. It's over-powering, and smells awful on both men and women.
    Poor taste.

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    1. I may well be insane, Ashley, but it smells good on me (applied lightly). However, I did note that it was used as a punchline in the play "God of Carnage". One of those divisive perfumes, it would seem.

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  37. Sometimes I enjoy something that is interesting more than something that is pleasant.

    Pleasant gets boring after awhile.

    --Nora

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  38. I'm with you, Nora...unfortunately..seems I feel more and more that way every day..I consider myself a novice , compared to most of the other folks on this site, so my question is: Is this need for more and more "interesting" fragrances just a result of too much experimentation? Are there perfume connoisseurs out there, who have tried everything under the moon and still gravitate towards just really "pretty" scents- whether the "interest factor"is there or not? In other words, if I keep this obsession up, am I going to wind up like some Michael Jackson/ Howard Hughes perfume eccentric, where I will only satisfy my urges by getting my hands on the weirdest stuff imaginable???

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  39. "am I going to wind up like some Michael Jackson/ Howard Hughes perfume eccentric, where I will only satisfy my urges by getting my hands on the weirdest stuff imaginable???"

    Yes.

    I cannot afford really "interesting" perfumes, so I have to settle for just plain "smells good."

    But I want those interesting perfumes.

    --Nora

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  40. ok- at least I have been warned...and my question about becoming a "fragrance freak" and using bizillonaires as a point of reference.. Obviously, if I had one tenth of the fortune of either of the aforementioned, none of this smellin hobby would be problematic at all!.just worried that if I keep up this mad "sampling" behavior, and my tastes keep evolving..I'm going to become more and more of a thrillseeker ( to use K.P's term). What used to cut it as a beautiful fragrance, now seems a tad boring in my book...maybe Jacko was happy just having a couple kitty cats at one point, but as he realized just how many cats were out there, and after having had a few, next thing you know, he found himself ordering up some Bengal tigers...

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    1. The chocolate gets darker, the drugs get harder, and the perfume turns into Bengal tigers.

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  41. And we all end up smelling like kimchee and formaldehyde sandwiches. With a toasty oak finish. Because oud became too mainstream.

    --Nora

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  42. Ahhhhh brilliant!Now off to order sample of this fruity chemical samich combo!!!cant wait to try!!

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  43. Katie,great rewiev,i must say.Kouros is epitom of fascinating French lover,he knows and he does.I wear Kouros because it just symbolise the ritual of shaving,showering,and the smell after that remains clean and naughty,it is sophisticated and demands certain taste,it is not dirty,it is manly.You are great Katie,keep on.
    Ivan

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  44. Katie,are the testers in perfume stores identical to the original juice?

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    1. Yes, testers are identical to the original fragrance.

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  45. Because i have a tester of YSL pour homme...

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  46. Could a woman pull off Kouros, you think?

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    1. Yes. I wear it. It has the same muggy honey allure of JPG Fleur du Male, which I also wear.

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  47. I love Kouros. My father uses it since before I was born (and I'm 24 now) so I always had a bottle at my disposition. When I was a kid I remember smelling that heavy incensy spiced smell when he drove me to school on his way to work and I still associate the smell of Kouros with that "just came out of shower" feeling. Then, when I was a teenager I started to use it and my friends used to say it smelled old and weird, but when I got to college people (girls) thought it was distinctive and manly (though I'm not really sure if they were complimenting me or not :P). I still use it in a weekly basis and I'm never bored by it.

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    1. "Distinctive and manly" is a compliment all the way!

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  48. In love with this. Took only a few hours, after two months preparation. It is addictive and comforting.
    I'm not scared of "shocking" anybody so add me to the list of young women using Kouros almost daily. Mostly for layering as it adds the beast to other scents...
    Weird as it is one of the rare perfumes I wish I could be smelling all the time! I have the version before the latest reformulation and don't find it offensive. It's great. And layered together with Shalimar is like wearing the King & the Queen together!
    Reka

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    1. Reka, you are just as bold as bold can be! Between Kouros, Shalimar and you, you're the entire kingdom.

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  49. Is there a scent like the smell of my ginger cat, Figaro, just after he has come in from the rain? If not, there should be.
    Aidan Tagg. Kidderminster, UK.

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    1. A wild guess might be Méchant Loup by L'Artisan Parfumeur. Or Kouros.

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    2. I'm impressed. http://www.artisanparfumeur.com/shop/perfumes/m-chant-loup-eau-de-toilette-1019195.html
      My cat is the shadow behind the tree. I am the rogueish charmer - oi oi. :-P

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