Jil Sander Man Pure 1981: too good to be forgotten

Jil Sander Man PureI am not very much into vintage perfume hunting for many reasons. First of all you never know what you get, how well it was preserved what how much of its original beauty was lost. This makes me a little apprehensive when I want to write about a perfume that has been discontinued. Who wants to read what I think about a perfume they cannot smell? After some serious thinking I concluded that since memory is such a big part of my journey into the perfume world I cannot avoid writing about those scents that have left a mark on my memory and on my tastes in perfume. Having said that, most of the discontinued perfumes I have are perfumes that I first new when they were still in production. Some of them are still in the bottle I first bought. Others I have managed to find replacement bottles after having  searched high and low.

Jil Sander is a house that has been through a lot. In a sense its history is proof that creativity can conquer in a world of  investors. You can read the full story here but to cut a long story short Jil Sander, a woman of striking beauty, started her own fashion house in Hamburg in 1968. Her style was minimalist, strict but effortlessly elegant. She relied on the quality of her material and stripped her designs of any adornments, even colour. Her collections were a huge hit with women climbing the career ladder and breaking the glass ceiling in the 80’s. When minimalism was the norm in the 90’s her designs became even more popular and this led to an acquisition of the company by Prada with Jil Sander remaining as chairwoman and creative director. What seemed like the ultimate success story, from one boutique in Hamburg to a multi million company sold to a fashion mega-conglomerate, soon proved to be a nightmare. She resigned 6 months later taking most of the staff with her. Next year showed record losses for the company with Prada’s CEO Patrizio Bertelli saying that a company as strong as Jil Sander does not have to rely on the name. Little did he know… Jil Sander returned to the company in 2003 but stayed only for a year and a half. Collaboration with Prada was impossible. This time she left in mutual agreement. The house continued releasing collections and Jil Sander launched her own fashion consultancy targeting Japan. There is a happy ending to this story though as she returned to the company in 2012, after Bertinelli left Prada. It looks like the real person was the strength of the company, not its shareholders and boutique property value.

Jil Sander Man Pure is a dear old favourite. If my memory serves me well it was the second perfume I ever bought and I have a vague recollection of buying it in an airport in the mid 80’s. Not to be confused with the woody aquatic Jil Sander Pure for Men which I also have but prefer not to talk about…. In the 00’s the house of Jil Sander was in a bad place…. No matter what you expect from a masculine scent released in 1981 don’t forget that we are talking about the high priestess of minimalism. It opens with the smell of dry herbs and grey suede. The herbs are dry and subtle, like opening a jar of oregano leaves, and the leather is clean and pale, like Jil Sander’s clothes. There isn’t the slightest hint of sweetness in this composition. As it warms on skin it becomes soapy, like the scent left after bathing with expensive soap and incense adds some warmth to the almost marble-like effect of coldness.

Man Pure, as the name implies is a ritualistic scent. It reminds me of a post I read in The Black Narcissus about kodo, the Japanese incense ritual and the importance of cleansing in Japanese culture. The more it develops the cleaner it smells in an almost obsessive way. It sheds the layers of delicate herbs and soft, slightly smoky leather and reveals a skin white as porcelain, flawless, clean, statuesque. Soap, incense and a texture that reminds me of rice paper stay on the skin and create an effect of relaxation and calmness. There is a dark side to it though. All this obsessive pursuit of purity from a perfume created in 1981 and the combination of soap and incense seem more like a statement than a perfume. Purity and cleanliness become ideas that point the finger and demand devotion. In the end Man Pure smells like political propaganda. It makes me wonder what drew me to this scent so much when at the same time I was interested in much stronger and expressive scents that were widely available in the market. The chill and austerity that Jil Sander Man Pure is has marked a side of my perfume persona that still exists alongside a more flamboyant one that seeks weird, bold perfumes, like the two faces of Janus. In a more concrete way Man Pure left me with an obsession for Jil Sander perfumes and I have enjoyed all of them until Sander for Man in 1998 , the last perfume of the line that had some spark of genius.

Like the story of Jil Sander company had its happy ending, so does the history of Man Pure. In 2008 Mark Buxton was called to revive the discontinued Jacques Artarit masterpiece and Scent 79 for Men was released. I haven’t been able to find this one but it is supposed to be a re-working rather than a re-release of the original and it was a limited release in select Jil Sander boutiques. Surprisingly the official notes of Scent 79 are much closer to my perception of Man Pure notes. in 2012 Scent 79 Man was released and I still haven’t been able to find out the exact connection with the two previous versions. In the end creativity has prevailed and the Teutonic beauty of Man Pure still exists

Notes from Parfumo:  Basil, Clary sage, Oregano, Lemon, Carnation, Geranium, Patchouli, Cinnamon, Castoreum, Oakmoss, Labdanum, Nutmeg

Jil Sander Man Pure original notes

Notes from my nose: dry herbs, incense, suede, soap

Creative Commons License
MemoryOfScent by Christos  is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas http://pantelismakkas.blogspot.com/. You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.


  1. ginzaintherain

    I like these grey marble-like old masculines as well; that granite, clenched thing. I can’t really wear them anymore, but you make this sound great.

    As you know, living in Japan there is a LOT of unwanted vintage perfume floating about, which is why I write about it so much, but I know what you mean about describing scents most people can’t get hold of. There is something almost cruelly tantalizing about it. At the same time, I remember the first time I read the original Le Guide by Luca Turin (before he turned into an arrogant grump), and his descriptions of perfumes I thought I would probably never smell were nevertheless so goadingly attractive they really let me dream.

    • Actually I DIDN’T know that about Japan and it made me physically drool. As much as I don’t like to go hunting for vintage but stumbling upon them must be heaven. What makes discontinued perfumes so attractive is that they allow us to project all our dreams on them with little chance of letting us down.

  2. Oh My. you make it sound amazing.
    Thanks Christos,
    Portia xx

  3. Thank you so much for this fascinating history and review, Christos! What a tale–I had no idea. I wonder if the problem was the age-old German-Italian rivalry? Now Puig owns Prada, right? So does that mean that Puig owns Jil Sander, too? Are these ownership deals transitive, I wonder?

    Somewhere I have an old bottle of Jil Sander Pure, which I have not worn in ages, but I think that I’ll wear it tomorrow, in honor of your piece. I also have the Style Pastels trio. I wasn’t that thrilled with the perfumes, but the cubic vessels are really sleek. 😉

    • If I were Jil Sander and somebody told me that my company is too strong to rely on me I can tell you it would stir up rivalries from the prehistoric ages! The fact is that she came and go and came and finally stayed. If you sample the lineup of perfumes there is a terrible decline in creativity in the 00’s. Pure for Men from 2004 is the olfactory equivalent of flying a transcontinental flight economy class sitting next to a drunk travelling salesman with a nasal voice and a speech impediment. It was quite successful in the market but not enough to save the corporate plans of Prada. The bottles have always been amazing and managed to convey a message of quality and sophistication.

  4. Thank you for this tale and excellent review.
    There was always something very well made and austere about the best Jil Sander clothes and perfume, especially in the male fragrance line.
    I still enjoy my Sander for Men when I’m feeling like I want to feel like I work in a large minimalist office for anonymous but benign enterprise.
    Admittedly this isn’t very often, but I feel reassured just knowing that it’s there.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  5. I love Man Pure, I love the house and its concept and of course I love the clothes they show so it was very interesting to read the whole story of JS which I didn’t know. If I could pick THE masterpiece from the line I would definitely choose Background (it would be nice to read your review of it sometime). Unfortunately Scent 79 (to my nose) has nothing to do with Man Pure, not to mention its price tag.

    • Now you burst my bubble…. I expected it would be close because my reading of the notes is so close to the Scent 79 note listing. I smell all this soap and there is no mention of iris, I really struggled to understand it. And notes also include castoreum but where can anything animalic hide in this chilled composition?

  6. Hoshan

    Where can I buy those old Jill Sander pure Man 1981? Please help…

    Is there any other older type better than this?

    • You have to search for it on ebay or other similar sites. As there are several Jil Sander Pure releases you have to search visually in the images to locate the right one. This is the first Jil Sander perfume release but I think all her discontinued releases, including Feeling Man and Man 3 (I have not tried Man 4) are excellent. A few years ago prices were very high and they are still not bargains but can be found at around 100 euros

  7. Joanna

    Hello, would you know when the Jil Sander Man Pure (1) was discontinued? Was it manufactured in phases? Were there any re-releases or changes to formulation?
    I can see some perfumes available on ebay but I’m not sure whether they are later releases or the old thing since the bar code repears every 10 years.

    • I cannot remember exactly when it was discontinued but I have owned several bottles, pre and post discontinuation and I have never noticed a change. Of course buying a scent that has been produced decades earlier has its risks but usually spray bottles keep better

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