I get off the plane, and Milan isn’t half as hot as all the e-mails to New York would have had us believe. Hysterical fashion queens—always the drama. Fashion Week weather this year is beautiful—big white clouds, sun. We get to the Principe di Savoia, and everyone is there: the fashion editor of so-and-so magazine, of such-and-such paper, people speaking twelve different languages, luggage all over. The head of Prada PR meets us, and the first thing she says to me is, “Wait till you smell it!”

    For years people waited for Miuccia Prada to do a perfume. She finally did, in 2004—a feminine, and people held their breath, sprayed it on, leaned in. The juice—by Carlos Benaïm and Clément Gavarry of IFF—was an unqualified success: gorgeous, innovative, subtle, unsubtle, marvelously strange, and (everyone said) “utterly Prada.” It’s one of the reasons I’m a little nervous about smelling the new Prada for men. Prada, in my view, is about a certain indefinable perfection. So what about the first Prada masculine? Did she, late at night, worry about this one? Masculines are generally straightjacketed, creativity-free affairs. Stripmine out all beauty, slice away originality, suffocate fun. What’s left is “masculine.” Sometimes you escape the prison. Mugler’s B-Men. Dior Homme...extraordinary. But those are rare. What will hers be?

    They’ll only unveil the scent tomorrow. It’s a big buildup. Tonight I’m invited to the Prada fashion show, but before we go, let me introduce Daniela Andrier, the perfumer Miuccia chose to create her masculine scent. Andrier is German, married to Gilles, a Frenchman, and speaks Italian, which is what she and Miuccia use when talking to each other. I interview her at breakfast in the Principe’s restaurant. How did she and Miuccia build their scent together? She thinks about it.

    “Well, she wanted the fragrance not to be the tenth concept of some masculine perfume, and so the only brief she gave me was: ‘What is Prada man?’ She wanted it to symbolize the brand. That’s it. When you’re Armani and you’re doing another masculine, you must look at what you have in your portfolio and then make something new. This was Miuccia’s first, so Prada didn’t need all the marketing guidelines you often get, like ‘It’s for the younger market’ or ‘It’s for the older man.’ Just: Prada, man… I worked on this with Fabio [Zambernardi, Miuccia’s right hand]. I made a first idea [of the scent]; it was based around amber. But when I was working on it, instead of being obsessed with Prada, I was thinking ‘Oh, it has to test well, it has to be a success,’ and that was an interfering signal. Sure enough, she didn’t like it. I came up with three other ideas. She liked all three but really liked one. So we worked on that one. It took a year. She would smell versions of it and make comments. Once she found it a bit too much fougère [green, fern-like]. Another time, too much orange flower. She’s very good at helping you understand what is right and wrong for her. You’ll see when you smell it.”

    The fashion show is in front of the Prada headquarters. A line of people wait before a wall, hoping. Invitations? Invitations, please. I never got mine, and there’s a moment of tense debate, but when they find my name I’m pulled through the door, and I walk down the industrial white rectangular hall toward the music and lights.

    “I’ve had briefs where I’ve just wanted to walk out of the room! They say, ‘We want a fragrance that’s never existed before! It’s coming from Mars!’ To me that’s a pretension. Unrealistic. Everything is always reinvented, and Miuccia understands that. What there is with her is incredible creativity. You can do things that are very different. So this is absolutely not a ‘me-too’ fragrance. You can say, ‘It reminds me of amber, of suede,’ but the overall effect is that it reminds you of nothing. That’s Prada. A piece of Prada clothing may remind you of certain designs, of aspects, of images, of history, but the ultimate coherent effect is something that you have never seen before.”

    People flow around the vast, dark space. The music pulsates softly, and we watch each other closely, pretending not to. I’ve put on my new black suit. I’m watching an English guy in jeans and flip-flops, an Italian immaculate in a large orange tie, the requisite fashion woman with orange hair. “So,” a man asks me, “what do you think she’ll do?” “I won’t smell it till tomorrow,” I say, then realize he meant the clothes.

    “How many materials I put in? Close to forty. For the fougère note I used natural geranium and vetivèr and a synthetic called amyl salycilate. Like in Brut and Old Spice; they have a lot of this fougère. I think when materials do not play nicely with each other, that’s interesting. Harmony comes out of what’s interesting. I used a captive [a patented synthetic molecule] called Nirvanolide. I used aldehydes C8 and C10. You could say they’re the go-betweens with the natural rose, they help the cologne effect, this fresh, traditional scent, interacting with the mandarin and the bergamot. They play with the barber-soap effects. I gave Miuccia more naturals—which vary according to skin more than synthetics—so that the Prada will be different on everyone.”

    Huge screens all around us. At a signal, we find our seats on long, low benches. On my right is Manuel Puig, handsome and immaculate and quintessentially Spanish, the head of Puig, Inc., which licenses and distributes Prada’s scents. “Wait till you smell it,” he says as the music suddenly bursts upward, the screens flare up with images, the lights go down, and the cameras begin to strafe the first boys like World War I artillery fire in the night sky.

    “She never said, ‘Put in this’ and I put it in. She said, ‘I’m thinking of this,’ and I would do it. No, no, I just don’t remember how I did it exactly! Because my procedure in my head is extremely schizophrenic, and I think I would shut down if I tried to get a distant look at what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Maybe other perfumers see creating perfume as a—I don’t know—a methodology. For me, it’s very much something like—I could almost say…transcending? It’s something that is coming, not something controlled, and so it’s very difficult for me to analyze the steps of creation.”

    I watch the guests. An insanely handsome Italian opposite me, perfectly dressed in a navy blazer, tie, no socks. Cornflower blue eyes, Roman nose, and two-day beard. He glances only occasionally at the models. He looks anxious. A 50-something woman scrutinizes every single article of clothing. Maggie Bullock from Elle is next to me. I glance at her notebook. She writes down, “Eddie Klint.” I figure it’s some artist who inspired Miuccia. I look at the boy in front of Maggie, strutting. Bright orange glossy nylon shorts from Mars with a classic, elegant jacket. The screens flash images of Masai warriors.

    “The idea of conflicting elements is central to this scent—barbershop clean hitting suede leathery notes. I never built a fragrance like this before, doing it in contradicting elements. Usually it’s harmonies. Well, I may be telling you bullshit because, you know, you’re always trying to find a story for the journalist. And as a perfumer you might present a scent to the press, and you know you’re sort of feeding them marketing, but in this case this really is how this scent was built. I love that when you smell it, you think for an instant ‘traditional cologne,’ and then you think, ‘no—it’s conflicting with a cologne.’”

    As the applause echoes through the space, people in the back are already maneuvering toward backstage. The last boys are exiting, and Maggie points at one (“There’s Eddie Klint,” she shouts over the clapping, “he’s the face of the Prada masculine”), and Miuccia appears in the doorway. She comes all the way into the room, stands, waves, smiling, bows a few times, a little awkwardly. Turns, disappears. People are now sprinting to follow her. I hear astonished murmurs: “She never comes out like that!” After fifteen minutes in the jam, I’m backstage before her. We speak for a few seconds. She’s as tiny as they say. Calm, unimpressed with it all. She greets everyone the same way. I tell her I still haven’t smelled the scent, and she smiles. Tomorrow. As I wander off, I see a youngish Italian guy. “That’s Fabio,” Andrier tells me.

    “I just really love her universe. It was very beautiful, for me to work for her. It’s different from how I’ve worked before. It’s the perfumery I love, and they love. It’s very rare that your work meets such—…I always felt, before I met my husband, the other men I would meet? I would want to be really in love and for it to be the right person, but I would always sit a bit on the side of my chair, and it hurts your back and you feel, no, it’s not the right person. And when I met Gilles, I sat straight and it was easy. And so that was my husband.”

    Fabio and I are talking in the deserted space, the benches vacant now, people leaving for the Prada dinner. He is like Miuccia, calm, smiling. Dressed very simply in a T-shirt. He chats with Andrier easily; they’ve created this thing together. “Wait till you smell it,” says Fabio. He adds, “I’m wearing it now.” Where? “On my shirt.” He takes his fingers, pulls the shirt out toward me. As the room finally empties of people, echoing with the last footsteps, I lean in toward his neck to smell the scent. Chandler Burr

Photography Dan Forbes

Prada Male Fragrance is in stores now