One of the biggest surprises of 2005 was without a doubt Paco Rabanne’s Black XS for Men, created by perfumer Olivier Cresp. A subtle blend of lemon, kalamanzi (a citrus resembling a cross between mandarin and lime), tagete and sage with heart notes of cinnamon, tolu balm, black cardamom and praline, and base notes of palissander wood, black amber, patchouli and ebony wood, Black XS bears little resemblance to its XS predecessors and to put it as simply as possible, smells like a delicious blend of strawberries and patchouli.
Having been a huge fan of XS since its release in the early 90’s, I was eager to see how Rabanne would do a variation, and a supposedly youthful one at that. They got the bottle right, updating it to black glass and resin with a gothic feel and adorned with a rose and “Black” printed in script. The fragrance opens with a smooth citrus blend, surprisingly subtle, juxtaposed against a blend of woods and resins. Though no single note really stands out, the overall effect is “fruity”, so much so that I wondered how it would work as a sorbet. The praline, tolu and amber sweeten the composition, keeping it from being too sharp or linear, but never really make much more of an appearance. Instead, these sweeter notes take a back seat, blending with the warmer basenotes.
Black XS doesn’t develop much, and surprisingly, stays quite close to the skin — the aroma lingers but doesn’t project much. Over the last few years, I’ve become a huge fan of patchouli, but usually only when paired with other fresher or sweeter notes to cut the earthy bitterness, so I was thrilled when Black XS began to relax and the patchouli and woods began to make an appearance. So far I’ve experienced patchouli with roses, orange blossoms, musks and woods, but never with such tangy top notes. Now, I did mention strawberries, and oddly this note is not included in the olfactory pyramid. But I’ll stand by my word, insist that I detect strawberry and just chalk it up to the unusual kalamanzi fruit.
An instant love relationship that ignited when I first tried Black XS has blossomed into a deep devotion. I’ll explain. I first tested Black XS last October in Hong Kong, finally bought a bottle in February in Japan but shipped it to a friend’s house in Pennsylvania, where I’ll be moving to this August. Almost immediately, I began to experience regret and withdrawal, thinking fondly of my beloved Black, and upon a surprise visit to Pennsylvania, I decided to retrieve Black from my wall of boxes now waiting for me in my friend’s basement. Out of approximately 300 bottles, this was the one I most wanted to have with me for the remainder of summer.
One of my favorite men’s releases of 2005, Black XS just might surprise you. Patchouli lovers take note, and ladies, this is one you’ll buy for the boyfriend but you’ll want to wear yourself! Gentleman, if your bottle goes missing, you’ll know who to ask!
Note: image via Images de Parfums.