Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.Well MTC, you said a mouthful.
Marcus Tullius Cicero
Way back in the very early 90s I became good friends with a work colleague called Andrew, and his friend (and flatmate) Chris. I was new in Sydney, in the second half of my twenties, and Chris, Andrew and I became a tight knit trio. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard and so often as I did with these boys, especially during our regular Saturday morning shopping expeditions. Much of which was conducted in our own lingua franca that we developed.
This was also just a year or two before I would become a fragrance and cosmetics buyer for the Duty Free chain that Andrew and I both worked for.
Somewhere along the line Chris mentioned a fragrance that an ex-boyfriend of his used to wear. He had lived for a while in Japan, and came back with a bottle of an unusual cologne made by Shiseido, called "Tactics". Chris raved about how great it smelled, and how much it was tied in with his memories of the time they were together. My curiosity was piqued.
Even then it was hellishly hard to find, but I eventually tracked a bottle down in a department store. And I loved it too! It was the the most curious of things, a big green floral for men.
With memory in mind, I decided to revisit some of the fragrances of my youth and the first one I had to revisit was Tactics. So the search began. Basenotes currently list it as 'in production', however blogs and other fragrance sites talk about it in the past tense. In "Perfumes: The A-Z Guide" by Turin & Sanchez, Luca Turin wrote "There used to exist a lovely Shiseido masculine called Tactics, a galbanum-aldehydic confection sold in a Courrèges-like white and silver bottle. I won the right to buy the last bottle of it by threatening to handcuff myself to the metal stairs in Luten's Palais Royal store."
Hmmm... and quelle dramatic, non? Handcuffs! So, discontinued or not? I'm still not sure! However as the interwebs is my friend, I let me pinkies do the walking and tracked down a bottle via www.amazon.com from a retailer in Japan called Aoyama & Co.
And it was cheap! Even with a wee bit of shipping costs it barely set me back $40 for a 60ml bottle. (In hindsight I should have ordered the big bottle, but knowing my faulty memory - and fearing reformulation nightmares - I was conservative.) It arrived, I unboxed, I splashed, I enjoyed, I remembered and when I got into the dry down I wondered if it was the same as I remembered it. (Which says as much about the fact that memory is not an exact science for me as it says about the fragrance.)
Tactics, by Shiseido (1979)
Head Notes: bergamot, galbanum, green note, juniper berry, lemon, peach
Heart Notes: cedarwood, clary sage, jasmine, pine needle, spearmint, thyme
Base Notes: amber, fir, moss, musk, tonka, vanilla
(Note: I'm not sure how accurate this list of notes is, as I haven't been able to track down any official description of the notes by Shiseido.)
Pow! A big hit of white flower notes and powdery laundry musk, stopped on just the right side of cloying via the green galbanum and herbal notes. At first splash this thing is a sillage beast. Honestly I don't really smell many of the ingredients listed; peach and lemon might well be in there, but if they are they are playing supporting roles of incredible subtlety. I think Turin was right, to me there is a big slug of aldehydes in Tactics. The sparkly, white flower, jasminic notes that are so distinctive of aldehydes. Fresh and clean, which are two things masculine fragrances often aim for. The huge musky floral hit however is what makes it so odd and so distinctive.
Good quality soap. White musk, white flowers, with some of the green notes still present. A softer floral chypre. It might be a fault of the cologne format, and to be fair Shiseido do (did?) market this as a splash cologne, but much of the intensity is already gone. In testing this for this post I placed a small amount on both wrists, when in reality I tend to be a lot more liberal with this when I'm wearing it (and wisely stay downwind in a stiff breeze from anyone for the first 15 minutes or so).
Everything is pretty faint by now, but very pleasant. (Is it even fair to try and review a splash cologne after 2 hours?) The fir, moss and musk are still present, with a little bit of the aldehydic floral. From start to finish Tactics is part clean laundry and part flower garden. Which is not to say that it is totally linear, because hooley dooley it smacks you 'round the chops at first.
I was worried that I'd be disappointed in Tactics after all these years. Having misremembered it, or maybe the formula having been changed. It's still love, and Tactics still takes me back to those happy days when I first discovered it. I'm not 100% convinced that the formula hasn't changed because the laundry musk aspect of it was more powerful and surprising than I remember, but then as I have already said, memory for me is not an exact science.