Cambouis (or dirty, used vehicle oil, axle grease) is Gaglewski’s playful ode to traditional masculinity. On first inhalation, I blurted an expletive. Cambouis opens with a blast of birch tar or juniper tar or something with a similarly medicinal, nostril-singing punch, as bracing as a whiff of gasoline in the morning. The initial sting is softened by green herbal (think basil) notes, on a drydown of smoke, squealing tires, and sea breeze. “Built upon slightly hydrocarbonic and burned notes, this uncommon fragrance is also refined, fresh, and dynamic,” says the ad copy. Cambouis made me think of another conceptual perfume (that I have yet to try), Pétroleum (Histoires de parfum). Each petrol-inspired confection plays with a provocative interpretation of materials. By joining the idea of oil to elegant notes of rose and oud, Pétroleum’s clean, swanky, modern image suggests a disconcerting connection between wealth, “Black Gold” from the wells, and high-end perfume: it makes me ponder the deeper cost of luxury goods–a topic Dana Thomas brought to light in her book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost its Luster. The more whimsical Cambouis brings the elegance of perfume to everyday sludge for the manly man who likes to get his hands dirty, literally or not (mettre les mains dans le cambouis). The whole gritty, sweaty-tee-shirt, oil-under-the-car presentation lampoons predictable perfume blends and traditional fragrance gender roles.
Cambouis has a sense of humor, but Didier Gaglewski takes his craft seriously. Be sure to visit the Parfums Gaglewski shop on 12 rue de l’Oratoire to sample his creations and to learn more about his approach to artisanal perfumery. You will be treated to a warm welcome and plenty of new fragrances to sample.