Antaeus was the second fragrance I ever purchased. I have fond memories of wearing it towards the end of my high school years. This was one of Jacques Polge’s first projects having succeeded Henri Robert as head perfumer of Chanel in 1978. Antaeus was launched in 1981 and like many other masculine scents of its time, sponsored notions of masculinity and strength. Antaeus or Antaios in Greek mythology is the son of Poseidon, god of the sea and Gaia, mother earth. Antaios was known for his hostility, challenging travelers who entered his land to wrestle to the death. He showed invincible strength, a power he had as long as he was in contact with the earth. When Herakles wrestled Antaios, the goddess of wisdom, Athena, highlighted his weakness and Herakles lifted the giant into the air until his strength was drained, then promptly killed him. Antaeus is a leather chypre, a style that gained popularity in men’s perfume from the late 1970s until the mid 1990s. Polge’s formula shares some similarities in structure with other men’s chypres from the same period. Whilst Guerlain’s Derby feels sweeter and more indulgent (who ate all the cupcakes?), Antaeus is a well-defined Olympic athlete owing to the use of greener herbs, less vanilla and a pronounced leather note that is based on castoreum, a secretion from the castor beaver’s nether regions the animals secrete to mark their territory. The result is a highly sophisticated scent with a sporty theme. Antaeus has both brains and brawn.
Researching perfumes you often read of classically trained perfumers that were working during the 1970s commenting on the complexity of perfume formulas at this time. A basic rose note was often made of many complex sub compounds. In the end a final formula for a finished rose perfume could be a list of a few hundred raw materials. Today’s industry seems more accepting of diversity with some perfumers actively seeking to create formulas that contain as few ingredients as possible; this minimalist approach becomes their signature style. Antaeus belongs to the classic style of perfumery and Polge’s skill proves that a complex perfume executed well, results in a three dimensional space. It becomes like a house with many rooms the inhabitant can walk through, experiencing different spaces, with doors that interconnect. You walk through different levels from the top floor to middle and ground experiencing different interior designs, moods and levels of light. Antaeus begins with herbal green tones of clary sage, myrtle and thyme. The floral heart is predominantly rose (a very Chanel rose) which is paired with sandalwood and patchouli. In many Chanel creations you will find oriental references. With Antaeus, you get a glimpse of this accord once the dry spices and fresh herbs begin to fail. A faint trail of labdanum works wonderfully well with patchouli and sandalwood, giving off a subtle oriental character seen in Chanels such as Bois d’Iles and Coromandel. Beeswax absolute and castoreum provide the leathery base with a very large dose of fruity musk, a blanket of perfumed talc. In the ever-growing debate against perfume reformulation, some critics are adamant Chanel has reformulated Antaeus; an action large brands are known to do to update a perfume according to changing market trends. For me, Antaeus is as strong as it ever was. So strong I would not be surprised if it was the only thing left following a nuclear holocaust. Ok, maybe along with a few others, Jean Paul Gautier’s Le Male, Thierry Mugler’s Angel, Dior Poison…..
Any man who wore fragrance during the 80s and 90s would have surely worn or at least sampled Antaeus. Last year I bought another bottle with a friend whose ex-boyfriend used to wear the scent. Smelling my new purchase she commented that it took her back to that time in her life. It’s hard to propose this fragrance to my generation without it having some connection to past memories. If this is you, Antaeus is a great nostalgic perfume and the style is being revived, lowering the risk of feeling outdated. If you missed Antaeus the first time round, it could be a great discovery if you are a fan of what Chanel describes as an aromatic leather scent. But try before you buy as it has a big personality and you need to be sure you can coexist on friendly terms.
Guerlain Derby, Guerlain Heritage, Yves Saint Laurent Kouros, Caron Yatagan, Hermes Bel Ami, Tom Ford Japon Noir.
Perfumer: Jacques Polge, Francois Demachy
Bottle designer: Jacques Helleu
Release date: 1981
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Dry Woods