For women, haute couture remains the pinnacle of sartorial indulgence. For men, the bespoke suit serves a similar purpose. Over the past century men have sought out the expertise of master tailors in London’s Savile Row to create suiting that is made-to-measure. The term ‘bespoke’ originated in Savile Row when cloth was considered to ‘be spoken for’ once a client had made their selection with their tailor. Vienna does not have the same reputation as Savile Row but the Austrian city has a long history of men’s tailoring. Amongst the names associated with Viennese tailoring is Knize. Josef Knize was a Czech master tailor who settled in Vienna in the mid 19th century. His company passed hands and by the 1920s, the Knize name was a global symbol of bespoke style amongst men who were accustomed to such services. Around this time, Ernst Dryden was hired as Knize’s chief designer. He reworked the house logo making reference to the English game of polo, a symbol of elegance for the designer. Soon after he launched a line of men’s colognes, the most popular was Knize Ten- ten being to the highest handicap in a polo match. Legendary perfumer Francois Coty and Vincent Roubert were commissioned to create the fragrance. Roubert had worked on several other Coty projects such as L’Or and L’Aimant. Coty and Roubert based their composition on leather, no doubt a trend in Paris with Lancome, Chanel and Lanvin all launching leather themed fragrances around this time. To this day, if you look hard enough, you can find bottles of Knize Ten on Parisian pharmacy shelves. Along with Guerlain’s Mouchoir de Monsieur and the Shulton Company’s Old Spice, it is one of a small handful of pre-1950s men’s colognes that is still manufactured today.
Knize Ten begins with green galbanum and aromatic tarragon. Classic citrus notes are extended with an orange flower accord. Pairing this with medicinal clove and soapy aldehydes, the result is the smell of an old fashioned barbershop. Very quickly the leather notes come into focus and you can visualise the barber sharpening his razor, moving the blade back and forth across his leather strop. The leather accord is shaped with animalic notes, patchouli and a dose of sandalwood. Unlike the recent Knize Ten Gold Edition, which has a distinctly muguet heart, the floral heart of Knize Ten is dominated by orange flower and powdery iris. Overall the fragrance has a remarkably fresh feel from top to bottom. With the recent trend revival of leather fragrances, it is easy to see why many perfume fans have revisited Knize Ten and why it enjoys a reputation as one of the best perfumes of its genre.
As the inspiration of Knize Ten comes from Knize tailoring, the fragrance is naturally a good match with a well-tailored business suit. A line needs to be drawn between good vintage style and costume, as I can imagine a three-piece suit and Knize Ten could become a caricature. If vintage fashion is your thing, Knize Ten is the perfect olfactory accessory. I like to tone the formality of the fragrance down with a relaxed open collar or a rolled sleeve. Although the fragrance has been around since the 1920s it has found new fans in a younger generation of men. A middle aged Parisian friend confessed to me he couldn’t wear Knize Ten because his father wore it. To him, it was his father’s smell. Having skipped a generation, younger men have no olfactory baggage with Knize Ten. If you have an interest in retro fashion and Cary Grant is your style reference, I highly recommend seeking out a bottle.
Heeley Parfums Cuir Pleine Fleur, Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, Keiko Mecheri A Fleur de Peau, Knize Ten Gold Edition, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Robert Piguet Bandit, Cabochard Gres
Perfumer: Francois Coty, Vincent Roubert (Givaudan)
Bottle designer: Ernst Dryden
Release date: 1924 (some date Knize Ten at 1927)
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Dry woods