Ralph Lauren Polo & Polo Explorer ~ fragrance reviews

Ralph Lauren Polo fragrance

I’m reviewing the “bookends” of the Ralph Lauren Polo men’s line of fragrances: Polo (1978) and Polo Explorer (2007). Though I’ve bought lots of Ralph Lauren products over the years, everything from paint to jeans to a pair of canary-yellow-and-lime-green cowboy boots (hey, I was 19!), I have only owned (and worn) one Ralph Lauren fragrance: Monogram (1985). I remember Monogram as a quiet, slightly powdery, wood scent with beautiful blue juice. Monogram was suddenly discontinued (some conjecture the blue coloring in the formula caused allergic reactions on skin). Since Monogram, I’ve never been tempted to buy a Ralph Lauren cologne.

Polo (1978, Perfumer Carlos Benaïm, ingredients: artemisia, basil, bergamot, cumin, a “green” accord, juniper berry, geranium, carnation, jasmine, pine needle, rose, thyme, amber, cedar, leather, musk, moss, patchouli, and frankincense)

I approached the original Polo fragrance with an open mind: I’ve never worn it and have never known anyone who has worn it. After reading comments and reviews of Polo on other blogs, I know that many men make fun of Polo and refer to it as either the ultimate WASP fragrance or a scent that conjures “the wild excesses of the late-Seventies and Eighties” — what a disparity in imagery! (I guess one of those handsome, preppy polo players could have hopped off his pony after a match at Meadowbrook Polo Club and continued sweating and breathing heavily at Studio 54?)

The scent of Polo reminds me of a “tragedy” I witnessed years ago. I have a friend here in Seattle who loves her garden but hates yard work. One day, she found a flyer in her mailbox: “Master Gardener: Let me Get you’re Garden in Shape! hourly rates apply.” The flyer was illustrated with a 1950’s-era photo of a desert garden, replete with cacti and succulents. My friend hired the Master Gardener and left him at her house as she went to work. When my friend returned home that afternoon with me in tow, we were astounded at what we saw: the gardener had not only mowed the lawn and weeded the flower beds (my friend’s only requests), he had pulled up a good number of healthy plants he assumed were “intruding” — daisies, white cosmos, and some poppies and marigolds on the verge of blooming. The Master Gardener had also severely pruned my friend’s lush arbor vitae, her (once) graceful cypress trees, junipers, pines, and a cherry tree that was, pre-pruning, fit to be the subject for a Chinese landscape painting. All over my friend’s yard were tall fragrant heaps of branches, leaves, cut grass, and dying, wilting plants; her yard looked awful, but smelled great.

Perhaps perfumer Carlos Benaïm came across a similar scene and was inspired to create Polo? Polo’s bold opening smells of mixed vegetation — grass, daisies and dandelions, crushed juniper berries, ‘green’ wood, waxy pine needles (and sap). Halfway through Polo’s development an “apothecary green” scent emerges: it’s as if the juice from all those plant materials had been blended into a petroleum jelly base to create a miraculous aromatic body rub: “Apply on knees, ankles, elbows to cure joint pain!” As Polo’s greenery fades away, a silky-sweet, slightly musky talc note becomes apparent and combines with a mellow cedar accord to produce a soft, soothing finale.

I like Polo: beginning, middle and end. Polo maintains its freshness from the top notes to the base notes and it has outstanding lasting power and sillage; I would think a small bottle of Polo would last ages since only a few sprays are necessary — and advisable — per application.

*I wish Ralph Lauren would use the Polo formula in limited edition, scented holiday home fragrance products: candles, room diffuser oil and room spray. Who in the fragrance industry made the executive decision in the last five years or so that Christmas smells like cinnamon and orange peel? No! Christmas smells of the forest…bring back the pine, cedar, juniper, holly and ivy!

Ralph Lauren Polo Explorer

Polo Explorer (2007, Perfumers Honorine Blanc & Harry Fremont)

Inspired by life without boundaries, Polo Explorer is a fragrance for men with a thirst for adventure and discovery.”

Note to Polo Explorer ad committee: we ALL need boundaries; the people I know who ignore “boundaries” are obnoxious — or ‘ill’. And if you are talking about the smell of “life without boundaries” — I suggest a scent that is brazen, a bit crazy, brave and forceful.

Using a travel theme for this scent of “adventure and discovery,” Polo Explorer has assigned a locale to each of its ingredients: Hawaii (aquatic accord), Australia (sandalwood), Indonesia (patchouli), Russia (coriander), Cuba (mahogany), Sicily (bergamot), South Africa (mandarin) and the North Sea (amber...as if nuggets of fossil resin were put into the fragrance!) We’ve all come to expect such silly ‘fantasy’ from contemporary perfume advertising.

I tried Polo Explorer on four occasions over the course of a month because the first time I tried it I was sure either my nose or my perfume sample was “off.” But on second and third and fourth tries, using my same nose, but different samples and bottles of the fragrance, I got the same results. Polo Explorer starts with an artificial smelling “fresh” (part ozone-part aquatic) wood accord, and where Polo Explorer starts…Polo Explorer ends. The fragrance seems to be created from a single scent molecule: ‘fresh wood accord’. The only developments Polo Explorer provides are these: it fades from your skin over the course of a few hours and as it fades it smells “stale.”

After reading Polo Explorer’s ingredients announcement and its online promotion (which includes a chance to win a trip to Machu Picchu), I was expecting much more from the cologne, but Polo Explorer is about as exotic and exciting as a trip to the local discount mall, the mall that’s wedged between two freeways in the middle of nowhere. It’s a shame that Ralph Lauren didn’t go for broke with this fragrance and create something truly thrilling, full of personality, and awash in rich ingredients from around the world. The almost-30-year-old Polo is energetic and alive. Polo Explorer? It’s spent, world weary.

Other fragrances in the Ralph Lauren Polo oeuvre are Polo Crest (1991), Polo Sport (1993), Extreme Polo Sport (1998), Polo Blue (2002), Polo Black (2005), and Polo Double Black (2006). Please comment if you highly recommend one of these colognes; I have not tried any of them.


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39 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I keep meaning to write you an email by way of responding to your comment on your trip to Italy (bows head in shame). One of these days…

    Loved your takes on the Polos and the garden story. The original I have a sample of somewhere at home, will get back to you on it later tonight. As for the Explorer, can't say anything as I haven't tried it yet; not that I'll be rushing to the shop anytime soon ;-) At the risk of losing my credentials of a serious perfumista, I recommend trying Polo Blue, which has been a summer favorite of mine for some time. Nothing spectacular about it, you might even find it to be veering on the generic end of the spectrum, but Polo Blue is incredibly nicely done and well, it doesn't exactly aim for the classics anyway. It opens on an airy/watery cucumber note and develops to a soft suede+musky skin scent, with a light touch of floral powder. The Romance duo is lovely too, the original being a spicy woody floral and the Silver variety a sparkling cypress-cum-violet leaves-cum-suede number. While the original has more character, I prefer the bubbly, if short-lived, Silver. I wasn't moved by either of the Blacks though I'm sure March will soon chime in to praise the Double Dutch. :-)

    Most importantly, did you try that He Wood at last? Needless to say, no luck so far in my part of the world.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I've never met a Polo fragrance since the original that I could really like, and a few that I could not stand. The original was okay but suffered from too many people over-applying; I think that's where it got the 80's excess rep.
    Yellow and lime cowboy boots eh? I'd love to see a photo of that….

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dusan: love cucumber so will try Polo Blue on YOUR recommendation… He Wood has arrived in Canada!! So I just need to drive up to Vancouver one of these weekends to get a sample:SOON. K

  4. Anonymous says:

    Tom: maybe I can figure a way to work a photo of those boots into a future post! They are in pristine condition since I wore them TWICE. My father burst into hysterical laughter when he saw me in them and then almost started sobbing when I told him how much HE had paid for them…those were the days! K

  5. Anonymous says:

    great review– i like reading reviews of older perfumes everyone is familiar with. a good girl friend of mine has worn polo for years and it totally works on her. it always reminds me of high school, for better or for worse (all the rich boys wore LL bean and polo).

    ;)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Nikki: I have a long list of older colognes I have never gotten around to trying…so it's nice to smell them decades after their “fame” has faded somewhat…especially since many of them are ridiculed by those who are TOO familiar with them.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, Believe it or not, I wore Monogram in 1985-86! I loved it. I even bought a gift set with the fragrance, a mini bottle of the fragrance, and a monogrammed (get it?) RL sterling silver key chain! Thanks for the fun memories of that year… and the very, very bad memories of high school dances and college dorm rooms in which *all* the boys reeked of Polo.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Great reviews.

    Love Polo – it reminds me of an uncle of mine who drove a Lincoln Town Car, played golf, smoked and drank too much & wore Polo shirts most of the time. Just 1-2 sprays lasts and lasts and it is one of those classic scents (like Terre d'Hermes) that shows its true colors worn outside in the summer heat.

    Polo Explorer sounds ghastly and I have no desire to try it after your (and many other) negative comments. Actually the entire Ralph Lauren line and I are not friends.

    One scent that I can recommend for those who love black pepper is the discontinued Polo Sport Extreme. The top black pepper notes are the STRONGEST I've ever smelled (stronger than Rose Poivree by TDC) and positively sneeze inducing. But, much to my chagrin, it dries down to the smell of…Polo Sport (duh) which is not my cup of tea.

    Here, here for a Polo holiday candle! I'd buy it.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Jessica: So many people remember Monogram…some even mourn it still! How could I have missed Polo…??? K

  10. Anonymous says:

    Mike. OF COURSE the peppery one is discontinued! I love a rich black pepper note in scents too. K

  11. Anonymous says:

    Kevin: You've NEVER known ANYONE who's worn Polo?! You did live through the 1980s, didn't you? If I'm inclined to take your word for it (maybe you went to a very strict Jesuit boarding school?), please humor me and tell me you at least know someone who's worn Drakkar Noir…?

    I'm sure I had a bottle in my senior year of high school in New Jersey (that may make it the first cologne I ever owned), possibly preceded by a designer knock-off in my junior year. Polo is SUCH a sillage monster, but it's a well-crafted scent and I think that's merely one reason it was SO popular. However, I'm not sure I could wear it for a whole day now, even in the name of scientific research! What i remember most vividly, I think, are the juniper and pine needles, which actually seem like they'd be very warm and comforting on a fall or winter's day (yes, a bit like Tiger Balm would!). I'm tempted to apply a dab next time I walk through Macy's, but I know I could never actually *wear* Polo again with a straight face. I've also never really been tempted to try any of the other Polo/Lauren scents; it's as if the original were more than enough for one lifetime.

    Entertaining review as always. I must tell you I harbor an intense desire to read your review of Kouros some day.

  12. Anonymous says:

    JOE: I SWEAR I've not known anyone who wore Polo! I grew up in the smallest of small towns and the only scents I remember from high school are: Brut! and Old Spice!…one student wore Brut and a shop teacher wore Old Spice. One had to drive a long way to get something as RARE as Polo in those days in my town! I did know people in NYC and LA who wore Drakkar Noir. I can understand COMPLETELY not wanting to wear Polo if it reminds you of high school — I'd be the same, and I probably won't wear Polo myself even though I like it because you have all made me self conscious about it!!!!!!!! I love to fulfill “intense desires” so if I can find a sample or tester of Kouros this weekend I'll review it in late Nov. or Dec…recently Chandler Burr said Kouros was 'unwearable' today, and I find such statements a bit silly so I want to wear the unwearable! K

  13. Anonymous says:

    Um, well, I think he meant unwearable in the sense that if you're going to wear Kouros, you may as well wear a urinal cake as a pendant around your neck. I bought Kouros blind because I found it cheap…and it was YSL. Now it's at the top of my hall of shame of times I had been burned the worst in my fragrance purchases.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Vance: now I'm even more curious about Kouros…must search it out today. A friend of mine found Amouage for Men to smell “exactly like the urinal cakes at Radio City Music Hall.” One man's urinal cake is another man's elixir of happiness! I have to re-read the Burr passage on Kouros but he felt the ingredients were old fashioned/too powerful for today's noses and sensibilities…K

  15. Anonymous says:

    I have to say I'm really disappointed that I can't wear Polo. I really like it — on other people. I didn't see any mention of tobacco notes in your description, but I'm sure I've read somewhere (likely Polo ad copy) that that is a component, and it would seem that's the note that gives me the most trouble. Polo winds up smelling very musty and not unlike an empty (but well-used) ashtray.

    Come to think of it, I get the same quality with Crest, Sport and Blue as well as Purple Label. I haven't tried Black or Double Black. I really wanted to like Explorer, but…nope.

    Polo just isn't for me, I'm afraid. When it comes to Ralph Lauren fragrances, I'd much rather wear Lauren.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Haha! I really need to look up Burr's take on Kouros now.

    It's definitely hard to wear and, er… “powerful”… I can't believe I wore it regularly in my early twenties. I foolishly threw out my almost-empty bottle a couple of years ago and now I'd be happy to have 10ml just for SPECIAL (and maybe solitary!!) occasions. I don't know about urinal cakes, but comment threads about Kouros are *always* entertaining…

  17. Anonymous says:

    By the way, Vance, if you're looking to get rid of your “steal” of a purchase, I just may be able to help you out. Haha.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Joe: they still make Mini's of Kouros…K

  19. Anonymous says:

    Tim: I didn't even get a HINT of tobacco on my skin with Polo…but the cologne stayed very fresh-smelling on me

  20. Anonymous says:

    Great review. Love the original Polo. I'm with Tim (above) about the tobacco/smoke smell, but I actually like it. I get a smoky/leathery note after it has dried down. Not a raunchy or biker bar sort of smoke and leather (I tell myself), but a more sophisticated sense, like a study or den (maybe the wood notes are book cases) with leather chairs; a place that has been smoked in, where scotch has been sipped, and great ideas discussed.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Devin: that sounds nice…I wish I got some smoke/leather with Polo but I still like what I DO smell. And there's always a place for the raunchy leather in your cologne arsenal! K

  22. Anonymous says:

    Doesn't anyone get tobacco in Polo (green) ?

  23. Anonymous says:

    I'm willing to give Polo another go. Who knows, maybe my skin chemistry has changed some over the past 15 years since I last attempted to wear it.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Here are my two cents on the new Polo.

    It has nothing adventurous on it. You can say that I am the type of person the perfume is targeting, I hunt, I fish, I dive, I have more binoculars than I need and I collect shark jaws, yet the Polo Explorer tells me nothing, it is just a dull and plain perfume, it has nothing wild about it.

  25. Anonymous says:

    As a 41 year old woman, I remember Polo well! The original smells incredibly sexy on certain men, so-so on others. Definitely dependent on the individual wearer. Another similar fragrance is the drug store cheapie Aspen, which is surprisingly good.

    Haven't tried Explorer yet, but your review will save me from rushing to the mall. ;-) My favorite of the Polos is Double Black, and Blue is nice if you like aquatics.

  26. Anonymous says:

    One thing I have discovered since I have immersed myself in fragrances the past two years is that everyones noses pick up different scents in a fragrance.

    The original Polo, to me smells like nothing so much as a freshly opened can of pipe tobacco and brings to mind an old gentleman wearing a cardigan sweater. I think of it as a scent for the senior crowd.

    Explorer on the other hand is sexy and masculine good for an outdoors man. raawwrrr!

  27. Anonymous says:

    Danu6403: Vive la Différence! In this case I'll choose grandpa-dom if it means I don't have to get near Polo Explorer!

  28. Anonymous says:

    Polo Explorer, for me a bit bitter. I've sniffed better bitter perfumes.
    I really like Polo Black a lot. It fits me, don't know why. Makes me feel mysterious and sexy (I wish.. :D ). Now I'm in my 2nd bottle. What do you think of Polo Black?

  29. Anonymous says:

    I just found this website and I really enjoyed this article. My father uses this perfume so the scent reminds me of him. I actually thought this perfume had pepper in it, but i found out it doesn't from your article.

  30. Anonymous says:

    btw, i was just wondering what you thought about Calvein Klein In2u for men

  31. Anonymous says:

    PriH: I'm not a fan of Polo Black, but if I had to choose a RL scent other than Polo I'd choose it.

  32. Anonymous says:

    Mark: I don't care for the In2u; I have sniffed it a few times but it didn't leave much of an impression.

  33. Anonymous says:

    To me only Polo Black that fit me. I don't like other RL's scent. To me nothing special from other RL's.

  34. Anonymous says:

    The reviewer says that Explorer smells a bit too boring and fades quickly, again leaving behind a dull scent …
    Isn't it so that every skin is different ? To make a very simple example: on some people the standard nivea deo smells almost disgusting, as with other people, it's ok …
    I would like to hear some other opinions … but you all seem to easy at believing the reviewer. I got myself a tester and will experiment with it myself.

  35. Anonymous says:

    Hey Sideshow,

    You must have missed my comment.

    I like Explorer and find it very masculine, outdoorsy and sexy.

    I look forward to seeing your review after you've tried it for yourself.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I smelled this today, and my first impression was of a very overwhelming and slightly unpleasant sort of leafy smell, almost minty. I realize now that it was the way the pine fit into it. Not a fan.

  37. obssernity says:

    This is now my favourite woody fragrance, though I’ve subsequently found more subtle smelling alternatives with oakmoss. One thing that sold it to me is the longevity: a test spray on my wrist at lunchtime, lasted till I got home well into the evening!
    Two sprays: okay; three is oflactory armageddon! LOL

  38. Subhuman says:

    I find it hard to wear Polo due to my current boss’ tendency to bathe in the stuff, and the scent does conjure up images of an ’80s Wall Street exec or country club patron to my child-of-the-’90s nose. But it IS an excellent fragrance, distinctive and incredibly rich. So many “green” fragrances end up on the sheer, watery, Eternity/Explorer end of the scale, when greenery should really smell thick, damp, and dense. Polo smells literally of fresh cut grass, and Dior’s Fahrenheit smells like that grass after it’s been chewed up in the lawnmower. I wish THAT kind of green would make a comeback in modern fragrances, with perhaps a bit of the intensity dialed back for modern noses. You’re not kidding about Polo’s strength and sillage; I’m used to a lot of the ’80s scent bombs being toned down with age, but Polo isn’t one of them.

  39. Inmo I think Ralp Lauren likes the original Polo a lot because I find it is part of every scent they produce. Even “Romance” is a slightly more feminine version of Polo. The only scent that does not have the Polo base is Notorious which I find cloying after awhile and then just mostly boring. Polo smells great in small doses. However, every boyfriend I dated in college wore it, so I find it unappealing now.

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