IN THE SHADOW OF VESUVIUS ~ Oscar for Men by Oscar de la Renta

oscar de la renta

“Can you imagine the sound it must have made?”  I said almost to myself in the garden of the House of the Faun as I caught sight of Vesuvius over what remained of the ruined back walls of the villa.

“Or how frightened they must have been?’  My mother said as she came up beside me. She took my hand in hers and held it. She hadn’t done that for a long time. Not since I was a little boy. Not like that.


August 24, 79 A.D.

It was February 14, 1999, my mother’s birthday. My step-father had brought my mother to Italy on a tour with his old Alma Matter to celebrate her entry into her seventieth year. He had invited me along because since I was a boy I was fascinated with Pompeii and all things Roman.  I was so enamored of the civilization that after the rains came to Southern California I would build roman cites in the wet adobe mud. They would bake in the sun until the other kids in the neighborhood found my roman cities and destroyed them.  I called those children “the barbarians.”



Pompeii is deserted in February; it is the only way to see it. Our group of fifteen on the Cornell University Alumni tour was as it turned out on this chilly afternoon, the only living people in the entire city. As we wandered the remains of the House of the Dancing Faun our Italian guide explained that when the gardens of Pompeii were excavated the archaeologists found remains of the plants that had been living at the time Pompeii died. The remains were analyzed and all the gardens were replanted and look just as they did exactly 1920 years before. Almost the same as they had been that noon day in August when the city was full of people none of whom knew that there was a continent beyond the Pillars of Hercules that would one day be called America or for that matter what a volcano was. The guide explained that there is no word in Latin for volcano and that the Romans had no idea that Vesuvius was one.

 dancing faun gardens


After lunch we had a little free time and I told the guide I wanted to explore on my own. He gave me I had a half an hour before we were to leave and said we could meet up by the gate to the city. In agreement he volunteered to tell my parents where I had gone.

I strolled into the Forum and peeked into a warehouse full of objects found in the excavations. Rows of amphora behind a wrought iron gate, and in the center the plaster cast of a crouching man in the position he had been in at the moment that the pyroclastic flow from the mountain hit him.


Further on the garden courtyard of the temple of Apollo found me at its center.  I took in a quick and deep breath of awe as I stood before the one remaining statue of the god. He looked from where I stood as though he was about to set the top of Vesuvius alight like an ancient lamp. The smell of the garden was soft and full of aromatic evergreens, cypress and a few very early plum blossoms. I closed my eyes and I could hear off in the distant voices murmuring on the edge of reality.

“Hello? Do you speak English?”  I opened my eyes to see a beautiful young man standing under the statue of Apollo.  “Are you lost?”

I smiled and told him no, that I wasn’t lost. I turned to point to the entrance of the temple courtyard.

“I am with my family and a group off…..”   I turned back and he was gone. The wind came up from the sea and made a low moan as it pushed against the trees and through the columns of the portico. It was so sudden and strong that I staggered against it. The distant voices grew clearer. They were calling a name, my name.

What had just happened? Everything was suddenly intensified a thousand times, colors, sounds and most of all smells.  I was flooded by the smell of, rich resinous fir trees and garlands of roses, jasmine and lilies, violet leaves as purple as the roman sea. I could smell the ancient market filled with oranges, nutmeg and cloves and a bright sharp dark Indian pepper that bit into my senses.  There was leather and sandalwood from the humming workshops along the edges of the forum and the musky smells of pack animals entering the city. Above it all swirled the intoxicating heady aroma of temple incense. The perfume of the gods used to carry offerings and prayers to the very gates of Olympus.



I stepped back and reached out to steady myself against a marble column older than anything I had ever touched before. The voices were more urgent now that called my name seemingly over the centuries; backwards or forwards I could not tell. I walked to the gate leading to the street. Turned for one last look at the statue I shook my head to clear it.

“There you are!” My mother came up and swatted my arm. “Why did you wander off without telling anyone?”

“I did tell the guide.” I mumbled still in a fog.

The others in the group were laughing and my stepfather patted my back. “You gave your mother a scare.”

We walked through the city gates and down to the waiting bus that was to take us to Sorrento. I was seated next to our guide as the bus navigated the corkscrew that is the Amalfi road. He studied me with knitted brow and then smiled. “Something happened to you in Pompeii, didn’t it?”

“What do you mean?”  I said.

His look was all knowing and warm. “The city remembers you. It happens sometimes. ”

Not until today when I first sprayed Oscar for Men my Oscar de la Renta did I think again of that moment in Pompeii when time slid away and I just may have met Apollo, the god of the Sun.




Oscar for men opens beautifully and instantly transported me to the smell of Southern Italy and the gardens of Pompeii.  The Top notes of this very masculine perfume are mandarin orange, fir resin, bergamot and pepper; middle notes are nutmeg, lily, lavender, jasmine, violet leaf, cloves and rose; base notes are leather, sandalwood, musk, balsam fir, vanilla and incense. It lasts on my skin for a good ten hours and the projection is immense. This is a spicy, woody incense blast that would do any roman emperor proud. It could fill the Flavian Amphitheater and eradicate any other offending smells of bloodstained gladiators, lions, senators or saucy prostitutes under the arches.






  1. My dear, dear Lanier. What a small World this one we live our lives in. What are we? “We are made of the same (sorry I cannot remember the exact word in English) ____ fabric the dreams are made of” ( The Tempest, WS). I went to Pompeii last June, baking hot Summer day. As people usually do, I had planned to go to the Aercheological museum back in Naples but I couldn’t. Although I thought it was becasue of the heat, even for me a Brazilian, the fact is suddenly I felt so oppressed to leave soon after visiting the other two theaters half way from the amaphitheater that I just did that, I left. By the time I got back to Naples it didn’t cessed and I could do nothing, I couldn’t move, I sat and waited for about five hours for the train to Rome. So much beauty and destruction, how can one possibly bare all that in one afternoon? How could anyone? But before leaving pompeii I took one last photo of Vesuvius, so peaceful now, surrounded by olianders.It is now on my Facebook heading. I was on my own. I wish I could have had someone with me. People are very valuable at times like these. By next week I am receiving my Oscar for men, from Strawberrynet. I cant wait. I though you had written a review at Fragrantica about it before? Perhaps Oscar pour lui? Yes, that’s it. Please, do have a nice Sunday.

    • Oh how very interesting Jose! It got to you too, the city. An amazing and very moving place. The city of the dead yet so alive with whispers and memories.

      Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
      As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
      Are melted into air, into thin air:
      And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
      The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
      The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
      Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
      And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
      Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
      As dreams are made on; and our little life
      Is rounded with a sleep.

      I would love to see that photo of yours of Vesuvius.

      • Dear Lanier, I’ve been wearing ODLR for Men for the past two weeks or so, and it is funny how for me it reseambles churches, temples and religious rituals, of course. It is odd how the same smell can mean so many different things and emotions for different people. And yes, it does reminds one of Italy, Rome … along the pine/cypress I would say there is also a note of bay leaf. I would like to thank you once more for the wonderful review.

      • I am thrilled Jose that you like it. That is wonderful!

  2. Really beautiful post! Thank you!

    • You are so welcome Roberto. You know more than anyone how much magic there is in your country. I was so lucky to feel some of it when I was there. And you know how much I love Italy and her people.

      • You know a lot about Italy! I wonder if we Italians have the same knowledge… Sometimes we take it for granted that we live in a Country where we breath art and history in every place we go… Thanks for your wonderful posts!

    • Please, forgive me to say a word: no matter how beautiful and rich in culture and History is the place we live we all get used to it and take it for granted. Once an italian lady made me speechless on a train to Firenze by asking “what I was going to Florence for?” She was from Milan and said Florence was like a mouth. It was a litlle uncomfortable. Also, a friend of a friend asked me the same about Paris. And one tries his best not to be annoyed. Because some of us spend a great deal of our lives thinking, dreaming about going to Firenze and Paris. Not only these two, of course.

      • When you lice in the extaordinary it becomes ordinary. I have to remind myself that I live in a beautiful city…I stop and take it all in.

  3. My goodness you are quick. This stuff sounds wonderful. Now I need to hope the bottle is still on the shelf when I go back. Great story as usual too. I’ve never been to Pompeii and will probably never go so it is nice to see it through your eyes.

    • I hope the bottle is still there too and that it doesn’t disappoint you! And if you ever get the chance to visit Pompeii …GO!

  4. I love this story. Of course, the city would remember you…
    You have a transcendent quality, Lanier.

    • Oh thank you! It was the most amazing place…I felt quite at home there.

  5. My dear Mr Lanier you have once again quite excelled yourself.
    You were seized by a moment by something reaching out across the eons of human history. Now I am seized by the urge not only to visit Pompei but to try the fragrance of which you talk.
    You have inspired me again into action this Sunday.
    You are an old soul my friend and I can only concur with the Italian guide;
    “The city remembers you. It happens sometimes. ”

    • These things do happen sometimes….remember the story I told you about the red paper carnation and King Charles I? (Saving that one to tell the rest of you out there another time.)
      I do hope when you get your hands on a bit of Oscar for Men that you find something there to like. And ….Get thee to Pompeii!

  6. Utterly spectacular! And that was my feeling *before* you got to discussing the perfume. How I wish I could see Pompeii. I always have wanted to, but now, even more than ever after seeing it through your eyes. I suppose I shall have to settle for smelling Oscar for Men which sounds utterly fantastic. Those notes! My word. I used to wear his Oscar de la Renta for Women — a white flowers powerhouse — decades ago, but this sounds like it would be much more my cup of tea. Thank you for creating an enormous lemming, my dear.

    • You are so welcome….. I hear lemming all the time on the blogs… What does it mean? I know what a lemming is…but …I am confused! Lol

      • I’ll quote you from the Urban Dictionary: “A lemming refers to a purchase/wished-for-item which results from reading an enthusiastic post about a new fabulous product. Overcome by compulsion, readers follow like lemmings diving off a cliff.

        Originally coined in the newsgroup in the late 90s, the term has permeated numerous beauty boards/forums/sites.

        May be used as a noun or verb. May apply to the buyer but more commonly to the item of desire.” 🙂

      • Oh wow! Thank you luv! I have been a lemming from time to time too. So now I am in the know.

  7. Truly, Lanier, your posts are poetry in prose form. I would love to go to Pompeii one day. I remember the first time I saw photos in National Geographic of the plaster casts of those poor people, when I was a kid—I was horrified yet transfixed. It must have been an incredibly beautiful place before that terrible, terrible day. Isn’t it funny how some places call to you? Obviously Pompeii *does* remember you! Oscar sounds like a compelling scent—maybe I’ll buy some for Mr. Weebles…

  8. What a beautiful story, Lanier! I was so mesmerize by it that felt a slight disappointment when it ended. Thank you.

    • Like Gypsy Rose Lee said…leave them wanting more! Thanks Undina!

  9. Well one benefit of arriving late to the party is… it’s a surprise! Although, I should never be surprised by the enchantment that is YOU. Pompeii and a voice that transcends time, and a touch of the divine, that’s just about perfect. xox and xox, V

    • I wonder what would happen if I walked all alone onto stage 18 at MGM?

      • Okay, I know “Singin’ In the Rain” was shot on stage 6 — but what went on at stage 18 (?) — inquiring minds want to know! This weekend I task you with consulting your perfumed oracles and revealing all…

  10. What a lovely remembrance of Pompeii. I did a double take when I saw Flora with the cornucopia in your storyline as I have a small fresco reproduction that I got near Florence which I love. It transports me back in time as does your wonderful scent.

  11. Lanier, I adore your stories! They are incredible and never fail to take me away and make me dream. Thank you!

    What an amazing one this is. You never know in this world, right? And a fragrance strong enough to eradicate gladiators AND saucy prostitutes? I gotta’ smell me some of this 🙂

  12. Pompeii, Here I Come!!!

    • I actually used to have a pretty sweet vintage Pompeii t-shirt in Highschool…I forgot it on the subway on my way home from an overnighter 😉 I hope someone is enjoying it!

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