Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male ~ fragrance review

Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male fragrance

In 1995, a scented bomb was detonated and the effects of the bomb were felt around the globe. The ‘bomb’ was the release of Jean Paul Gaultier’s flowery, powdery, spicy, sweet and strong Le Mâle. Almost overnight, Le Mâle could be smelled in clubs and bars, in dormitories, gyms (yikes! fresh out of the bottle!), elevators, parks, taxis, airplanes, supermarkets, theatres, deserts and rainforests. I was happy for Gaultier’s success (and that his cologne was more audacious than most men’s fragrances), but since every other man was saturated with Le Mâle, I had no intention of wearing it.

Twelve years have passed since Le Mâle’s debut and I’m finally giving the fragrance a try. To prepare myself for the anointing, I read many online reviews of Le Mâle. I was surprised when I looked at posting dates to see Le Mâle was still being discussed; it was, and is, a bestseller.

A slew of Le Mâle reviews were by young men who said (over and over and over again): “the ladies love this stuff!” “girls go wild when I wear this” “I get so much action when I put on Le Mâle.” There were gay commentators who praised the man-attracting qualities of Le Mâle. Then there were the men who wrote they were afraid wearing Le Mâle sent the “wrong message” about their sexuality (“I ain’t gay!!”). There were closet cases, men who wore Le Mâle “in private” only. There were the snobs (like myself) who felt Le Mâle was just too popular to wear with a straight face.

The women who wrote reviews of Le Mâle, and who wore it themselves, also applauded the fragrance and their comments were, for the most part, free of sexual anxiety (they made no assumptions about Le Mâle wearers’ sexuality).

Almost all reviewers felt Le Mâle was one of the most powerful scents they had encountered and that a “light hand” was needed when it was applied or something akin to olfactory calamity would occur.

Bearing all this in mind, I sprayed on some Le Mâle for the first time.

Jean Paul Gaultier Le Mâle was created by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian and contains mint, artemisia, bergamot, cardamom, lavender, orange blossom, cinnamon, cumin, sandalwood, vanilla, cedar, tonka bean and amber.

In interviews, Gaultier has stressed the barbershop angle of Le Mâle but Gaultier also uses a muscled, tattooed, bare-chested “sailor” as the model for advertisements. When I got my first whiff of Le Mâle on my own body, I was reminded of my childhood barbershop; Le Mâle’s aromas of herbal wormwood and lavender, mint and orange blossom recall the scents of old-fashioned talcum powders, pomades and aftershaves. Le Mâle’s sailor is certainly not Popeye, nor is he a sailor of the raunchy wharf-rat type one finds in Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest (or in Parfumerie Generale’s Querelle Eau de Parfum for that matter). Gaultier’s sailor is a marin-imitateur, a man who loves to dress up as a sailor, who is squeaky clean and perfumed, who is fresh from the barbershop after a shave (of his beard and his head) and who probably got his chest waxed while he was at it.

After a temperate application of Le Mâle, I smell mint and artemesia, then bergamot. The bergamot is industrial-strength and a tad harsh. Next up is the great combo of lavender and orange blossom; these two ingredients are in such a tight embrace it’s hard to distinguish one from the other but I feel orange blossom is being squeezed the tightest. Cumin is listed in Le Mâle’s ingredients but it must be in miniscule amounts, for I smell cardamom more than I do cumin and the cumin is very smooth. The base notes of Le Male are expertly blended and are sweet — but not cloying (which surprised me). I particularly like the dry vanilla-tonka bean finish. Near the last gasp of Le Mâle there is, yet again, a harsh chemical aroma but it quickly dissipates and leaves behind a “fruity”, almost apple-like, scent.

Le Mâle lasted on my skin all day and is certainly a unisex cologne.

Every now and then when I try a new fragrance I imagine who would wear it. When I smell Le Mâle, a woman, not a man, comes to mind and since this baroque diva is not alive to dispute my hunch, I’ll say this fragrance would have appealed to the famed ceramicist, Mama of Dada, and unashamed boy-chaser Beatrice Wood. And after wearing Le Mâle, a phrase of Wood’s came to mind: “I Shock Myself.” I was shocked — I actually liked Le Mâle.

Like many bloggers and perfume reviewers before me, I feel the secret to getting the best out of Le Mâle is by applying it sparingly. I can’t imagine anyone needing more than three sprays. In fact, one spray may be perfect for this if you dare wear it in hot weather. When applied heavily, Le Mâle becomes an obnoxious, gauche bully.

I like Le Mâle’s blue torso bottle but I like the brand new all-white torso bottle for Gaultier’s Fleur du Mâle even more. I’ll tackle that scent tomorrow, it’s new on the market and I do not plan on waiting 12 years to try it; I plan on being in the vanguard on this one.

Jean Paul Gaultier Le Mâle is available in 75 and 125 ml Eau de Toilette, and in a wide variety of bath & grooming products. It can be found at discount, but not at the bargain-basement prices of some of its designer fragrance compatriots.

Note: image via Images de Parfums.

Shop for perfume

Parfums Raffy


Leave a comment, or read more about commenting at Now Smell This. Here's a handy emoticon chart.

  1. Anonymous says:

    My ex wore this and wore it well. He was a shave his head and wax his chest type, and the vanilla/tonka/cardamom goodness on him was quite edible.

    It is however so much a fragrance of him that I can't bring myself to try to wear it myself.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I'm seriously in love w/ several of Kurkdjian's scents and am currently on a quest to sample as many of his as possible. This has been on my list of ones to try. I've smelled it on other people, but have never given it a try on my own skin. Have to get out in the next couple of days and remedy that. I also adore scents w/ cardamom and cumin, so there's a very good chance I'll love this. The only problem might be the lavender, a note that I have a rather equivocal relationship w/.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Great review, I chuckled at “deserts and rainforest”! Back in the day I liked this well enough, got a bottle for my 18th birthday, but soon discovered that on no occasion did it fail to make me nauseous, not even with a single spray. So I gave it to my dad who fortunately applied the light-hand approach. Just when I got over the Le Male trauma, its monstrous sillage began wafting around everywhere I turned, much like you described it. The nightmare, sweet lord! Sometimes I was forced to get off the bus or I'd have thrown up all over some poor soul. Fast forward 11 years and I still can't wear it, but am no longer repulsed. Sometimes I like to sniff the bottle, hoping for an about-face and I actually enjoy the orange blossom and mint the first minute, but then my esophagus starts to swell and I just quickly shove it back on the shelf!

    I can't wait for tomorrow's review of FdM!

    P.S. Surprisingly enough, I liked the Gucci II ;-)

  4. Anonymous says:

    I will seriously have to give this a try! Thank you for the review.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Easy to come by and to sample…but in the Southern Heat?!

  6. Anonymous says:

    Maybe you can wear Fleur du Male…similar, but different enough not to evoke old memories, K

  7. Anonymous says:

    I never understood why this HEAVIEST of scents makes people want to pour it on…you'd think they would apply it lightly. I'm glad SOMEone likes Gucci II (HA!) K

  8. Anonymous says:

    You're welcome…hope you enjoy the cologne, K

  9. Anonymous says:

    Your review makes me want to smell it now! :) Strange, because I don´t like the bottle and the advertising at all. Gaultier's style is too much for me :P

  10. Anonymous says:

    Fleur du Male's ad campaign is “softer”…Le Male's ads are strong…lots of bright color, sharp edges, tough stances.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I refuse to succumb to the climate. :-) I continue to wear scents suitable for Russian winters in July, but in extremely minute amounts. I'm sillage phobic under any circumstance and decant all my spray scents into small vials (also good for traveling) and always apply by extracting near microscopic amounts w/ disposable pipettes. I really never want other people to smell what I'm wearing unless they're hugging me – actually, I don't apply perfume to my neck, so they'd have to be kissing my hand, which, shockingly enough, is not a daily occurence. :-)

  12. Anonymous says:

    Not kissing Miz Elle's hand?! I guess Southern manners have gone downhill since I left! K

  13. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I love this scent! Although you've gone and discussed one of the bits that most interests me … I find it unisex/feminine, and I am having, uh, trouble imagining a huge audience of buttoned-down straight men getting past that bottle. I'm actually sticking up a post about it on Thursday on the Posse (coincidentally, I swear!) because of the new one, which I find even more feminine.
    BTW to me, anyway, they both smell a bit, at the base, like Gaultier2 — that oddly compelling vanilla-amber-industrial thang. The barbershop/sailor association I had no idea about. Anyway, thanks very much for your review.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Butting in to say that JPG has said in interviews that he wanted to start out with a unisex scent, but it wasn't economically feasible, so Classique came first. If you smell Classique & Le Male & Gaultier2, you can completely see the lineage.

    But to my nose, it is sort of as though they took out all the really feminine elements of Classique & all the really masculine elements of Le Male, and what was left was less interesting than the parents. I thought Gaultier 2 was a disappointment, and even the bottle isn't quite as fun as the torsos. I mean, yes it is cool that you can stick it on your fridge, but otherwise, boring. I thought the print ads were dull too, which is a shame because the print ads for Classique & Le Male are fabulous.

    Apologies to Kevin, I will stay out of it now.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Like A*Men, Le Male smells good if one doesnt bath in it. The bottle and ads though are tacky and “fruity' – definitely not my style.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Apparently the Le Male bottle has stopped no man from buying this…it is a HUGE seller. You know straight men…they probably look at the bottle and say: “Yep, just like my body….” As for Fleur du Male…it'll be interesting to see how this sells in the States. K

  17. Anonymous says:

    R: you never need to apologize…and it's not 'butting in' when it's your blog!!!! HA, K

  18. Anonymous says:

    Robin, thanks for the info — I didn't know how their development went, and that makes total sense. I agree with you that Classique and Le Male are much more interesting scents, but I really like Gaultier2 — it's very comforting on snowy, bleh winter days along with stuff like KenzoAmour. I almost prefer the oil, it's fairly easy to overapply the spray (true for the rest of them, too!) The magnet thing doesn't work for me anyway, we have one of those silly non-magnetized fridges :-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Hah! That is *hilarious.* Although, ack. Reading your review. I could see being killed off by this in the locker room. I like it very much; I was contemplating my own bottle, but I was waiting for Fleurs. I'm going with regular Le Male; Fleurs is just too feminine for this gal.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Wow…I can't wait to see how many agree with you re the 'feminine' nature of FleurdM.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Looking forward anxiously for your review on Fleurs du Male.

    I tried it Yesterday on a duty free shop in Chile and I must admit that it surprised me …

    But I´ll wait for your review to elaborate…

    I never did care much for the original le male, I fin it as you said, too common (as in used by a lot of people) certainly it does ruin the experience for me.

    Great review as always!!!



  22. Anonymous says:

    I smelled this on the dancefloors of many nightclubs – and it kind of turned me off to the scent. Nice description about the orange blossom / lavender 'death grip' – about mid-drydown.

    Didn't like FleurdM either…smelled WAY TOO MUCH like L'Occitane Neroli (the one they discontinued) and I don't need two neroli powerhouses.

    Must say though, the advertising of LeMale I love (in the vein of those homoerotic Obsession ads from the 80's – minus the black & white photography). Very French :)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Yes, let me know what you think of Fleur later, K

  24. Anonymous says:

    Sometimes I wonder if French men even think the ads are that homoerotic…to Americans? yes indeed. Have you seen any TV spots for Le Male/Fleur du Male? K

  25. Anonymous says:

    I worked in a gay bar in London in 1995, and one of my regular customers was a certain JPG. He gave me a sample bottle of the scent which hadn't been released yet, and I was hooked from the go. I've been wearing it most days since, indeed when I use something else my friends notice immediately that I'm not wearing my 'signature scent'. To me it is not a winter/fall scent, more of a summer scent. One spray on the back of the neck [which is where I always spray scent as I have sensitive skin] is enough to last the day and I hope if they ever stop making this one, they will give plenty of notice so I can stockpile! I have a collection of the empty bottles, ranging from the standard striped t-shirt torso to a rubber clad torso. My favourite is the bottle with the JPG kilt. I'm glad that this scent is still a major seller, and is still being discussed. A true original, and a true success.

  26. Anonymous says:

    peteireland: the way you wear this, just one spray, is probably why you can bear it in the summer months. Did you ever try Fleur du Male?

  27. Anonymous says:

    Hi K,

    I've only smelled the Fleur du Male from a card, and I didn't like it at all. I haven't tried it on my skin, but I intend to. I'm looking forward to finding out what the new 2 will smell like! P

  28. Anonymous says:

    I tried this for the first time today. I oversprayed on my left arm, which led to my nose having a little nasal panic attack. On my right arm however it was sweet and spicy. Though it did remind me of my dad's aftershave when I was a kid, I totally agree that this is a unisex fragrance. I think I'll spray my hair since the scent is so strong.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Excellent report.

    I finally bought Le Male this year after my boyfriend let me do a tester from his bottle.

    It would have been nice if someone had told me that you have to use it s p a r i n g l y . First time I tried it just before picking up 3 colleagues to take to work. They had to roll the windows down.

    It gives my wife migraines (she says that there must be synthetic aromas), but I am absolutely addicted to this original mixture of striking aromas and refuse to stop wearing it.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Briffin: HA! I guess you'll have to start wearing Le Male in seclusion…. Everyone says ONE SPRAY will be all you need.

  31. Anonymous says:

    this scent is enjoyable on its own but also works well for those of us creative/brave enough to layer and blend our fragrance . my guy mixes his le male with a variety of other fragrances creating his own unique and utterly sexy scent and i often spray a more foody (or vanillaish) fragrance over top of my le male creating my own yummy scent with positive reviews. we both love fragrance and we have fun with it. our bthrm resembles a perfume factory! lol

  32. Anonymous says:

    I have to say that I've never been a fan of JPG – I love his flamboyance, but the women's fragrances have never really appealed to me (I'm more of an Annick Goutal/Donna Karen/Paul Smith/Serge Luten girl!). Having said this I hadn't really encountered JPG for men up close and personal. Undoubtedly I'd smelled it on the train and in clubs, but not up close against someone's skin.

    Until now – recently I've started dating a guy who wears it – he's pretty light handed but he really does smell delicious. Having realised what the smell is I am somewhat dismayed that the fragrance is as popular as it is as I associate people by their scent – which means unfortunately I keep smelling my boyfriend around the office as there are a couple of chaps who wear it also. However I am willing to forgoe my usual abhorrence for mainstream fragrances (yes, call it snobbery!!) because this one is too good to give up.

    Love your blogg by the way, please keep going!

  33. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, HellsBells…AND glad you are expanding your perfume horizons! HA!

  34. Subhuman says:

    Unlike most of the commenters here (and the reviewer), I don’t smell Le Male anywhere – maybe it’s a symptom of my age group (early-mid 20s), which leans more towards the Lacoste/Armani Code/Sean John/Davidoff sector of the men’s fragrance market. Even few of my fellow gays wear Le Male. Must be a generational thing – we weren’t the target market when Le Male debuted and experienced its heyday. Regardless, Le Male smells wholly unlike any men’s fragrance I’ve worn or sampled. From the online reviews and comments I assumed it was in the same league as obnoxious power scents like Obsession or Aqua Velva, but after sampling Le Male it strikes me as gentle, powdery, and calming, like talcum mixed with shaving cream and a splash of lavender bubble bath. It does have a ludicrous amount of staying power and sillage, so I can see where a heavy hand would make it intolerable, but I only apply 1-2 sprays and it lasts all day – hints of it remain on my clothes and jacket as well, and I love catching random whiffs of it throughout the day. It’s a very pleasant scent; old-fashioned in a fresh-from-the-barber way, yet sharp and modern. And it’s a million times more interesting than most of the men’s fragrances taking up space on the department store shelves, the “woody, musky, citrusy” ones that don’t have any of the interesting qualities (or power) of classic woody, musky, citrusy fragrances but try to make up for it with celebrity faces and monstrous ad budgets. I hope this doesn’t get reformulated or discontinued, it’s a rare jewel in a mostly dull market.

Leave a reply