9/2/14

Tuscany Per Uomo (Estée Lauder)



My bottle of Tuscany was manufactured in June, 2011, which makes it a recent formula, although presumably not the latest and greatest. I understand this fragrance has suffered tremendously from reformulation, to the point where its fans no longer want to buy new bottles. They seek only "vintage" and say that the old stuff was much richer and ballsier in the woodsy-herbal department. I'm probably writing in error when I say this, but based on what I've read, I can't imagine the original version was a particularly interesting old-school masculine. There are only so many ways you can take citrus, lavender, "Mediterranean" herbs, patchouli, tamed floral notes, synthetic sandalwood, and synthetic musk, and make them smell unique together. Azzaro Pour Homme already has quite the little Italian sports car with that package, as does Krizia Uomo, Quorum, and the original Davidoff scent. I think Azzaro's fougère is Tuscany's main problem, and was likely the fragrance that prevented Lauder's scent from dominating its corner of the men's market at the time. As far as the success of the eighties and nineties Aramis line goes, the brand has always been the Cyndi Lauper to someone else's Madonna anyway.

Owning and wearing the current stuff with no knowledge of the original is neither here nor there to me, though. What matters to me is that the current fragrance possesses the above laundry list of typical eighties genre notes, yet somehow manages to smell unlike any other middle class designer scent I've ever worn before. I say "middle class" because Tuscany does resemble an upscale designer scent in the heart and base, but I'll get to that in a moment. First, the start of the perfume on skin - expect an Azzaro effect in those first ten minutes, but with a defter handling of the anisic citrus/lavender accord, due mainly to a more naturalistic rendition of citrus, a much subtler use of anise, and a very Moustache-like blending of lavender into the potent citrus, almost to an abstract degree. Never does the lavender leap out and smack my nose, like it does in Azzaro PH. Instead, a vibrant accord of bergamot, lemon, and lime assails me, smelling very juicy and fresh. This crisp, shimmery citrus intro remains a deciding factor for how interesting Tuscany eventually becomes. First and foremost, it is a refreshing execution of citrus rarely found in a scent of any pedigree. It smells not of cleaning agents (as an accidental over-application of Moustache might), or of extra-fine cold-pressed soap (4711), but of very real fruits blended in discreet harmony. I really admire this aspect of the scent.

Two hours later an interesting note peeks through the dusting of herbs and spices. It's a citric note with a sweetly floral edge, which creates the illusion of citrus lasting well past the top note phase. This note is very clearly neroli, with a bit of bitter orange rind sprinkled on it, and its clarity puts Tuscany squarely beside Creed's Orange Spice for the remainder of its drydown. I feel no qualms in saying that the materials used for this floral accord are the exact same materials used in Orange Spice, only here they're used in a much lower concentration. There's just enough anise, patchouli, and zesty caraway to maintain complexity and herbal texture, yet Tuscany carries itself as a bracing citrus composition (perhaps with a drop of Hedione in the mix) for five hours before fading away to a skin musk. To design Tuscany as a citrus fougère makes perfect sense from a conceptual standpoint. I attended college in Italy in 2004, visited Tuscany, and stayed for a few nights in Florence. The Tuscan region is not known for growing oranges, except the bitter Chinotto orange, yet it is home to a slew of local recipes that feature the fruit in various salads, pastries, and even French-derived duck dishes. Funnily enough, Italian Fanta (the soda) is in my experience the fruitiest and most citric version available in mainland Europe, and is far superior to French, German, Czech, Irish, and English Fanta. And there's always Limoncello. Even in crap beverages, the Italians take citrus seriously.

Lauder is not an Italian brand, and the minds behind this perfume had no vested interest in being truly representative of the region, but it is a very well made EDT with a sublime citrus component, making it a desirable addition to the collection of any lover of twentieth century fougères. If you enjoy Azzaro PH but always wished its relatively harsh citrus and lavender notes were better calibrated, Tuscany is for you. I suppose seeking out the original formula is a worthy pursuit if you're interested in richer patchouli and sandalwood notes, provided its naturals and synthetics survived the decades intact. Just keep in mind that the wonderful citrus notes are not likely to have made it through thirty years unscathed. If my description of this perfume intrigues you more, then purchase Azzaro PH for your woodier fern variant on this theme, and go for the recent version of Tuscany for a brighter, fresher take on the Italianate fougère. My experience with the Aramis line is currently limited to the original Aramis and Tuscany, but now that I've worn the latter scent, I seriously want to give Havana, JHL, and New West a try also.





8/30/14

Soon To Be The Coziest Room In America, and a Super Quick Review Of The One Gentleman (Dolce & Gabbana)


A Work In Progress

It's been another This Old House sort of month here in the fair hills of New England. There's a big difference between living in your own house vs. living in a room, or an apartment. Or someone else's house, for that matter. My one rule with my new home is to avoid buying furniture from IKEA. Not that there's anything wrong with owning IKEA products, it's just that I'm not 19 and living in a dorm room anymore. And even if I was, I'd probably feel like an American cliché if my decor consisted entirely of IKEA furniture. Plus, there's that awful thing now where people step into a sleek, modern-looking room, look around, and immediately say, "IKEA?" If they do that with my house, I want to be able to say with total honestly, "Nope."

I finally finished painting the living room, about two weeks ago now. It took me two months to paint it. I know, that sounds ridiculous, but one of the nice little features of owning a "midcentury modest" house is having plaster walls with genuine plaster crown molding. It's a mixed blessing, though. The molding is more striking than any prefab molding for sale at Home Depot, but its permanence means you can't fudge the details in a paint job, nor can you take it down to attend to the intricacies of the cut. That means I had to go up on a ladder with Q-tips and painstakingly paint the molding with them. That task, along with taping and painting the built-in bookshelf, took forever.

I finished just in time. My walls had barely dried when my furniture started arriving. I ordered a couch from Overstock.com, and an area rug to match. The rug came first, with no problems (it's very pretty, as you can see above), but the couch arrived severely damaged. It looked as though a forklift had missed its mark and plowed through the rear left leg, tearing a ragged gash in the fabric and leaving part of the frame in a million splintered pieces. I contacted Overstock and they declined to pick up the damaged goods, but offered to send me a replacement free of charge. About a week and half later the replacement arrived, also severely damaged, this time with an eight-inch gash along the top cushion. At this point delivery was refused, and I wrangled a full refund on the first couch. The damage has since been fixed, and you'd never know anything happened.

The current ongoing saga concerns my curtains. I ordered them from Best Window Treatments, a company in CA that specializes in custom curtains. They're not cheap, but they're nice. I ordered two panels when I should have ordered four. The two I received are up, a lovely spice color, and I ordered two more to go with them. Three weeks later I received the second set of panels, but they were the wrong color, so I sent them back on their dime, using a label they emailed me. More time goes by, and eventually I realize I still don't have curtains, so I call them to check. They tell me the replacement curtains were delivered two days ago. I have no idea what happened to those curtains, although I wonder if someone stole them off my front step. All I know is, I never received them. I've been told that a third set of panels is being sent to my alternate address, and that a Fed Ex guy will be visiting me to go over what happened with their delivery, but so far neither has arrived.

Today however I visited an antique store for the second time this month to purchase an old desk that I've had my eye on. In the picture above you can see a wooden piece holding a lamp on the far right - that's the "new" desk, pictured in full below. It's really a very old desk from the 1950s by The Maddox Table Company, which was originally headquartered in Jamestown, NY. It's a beautiful mahogany piece to go along with my cherry coffee table and accent chest.


It's in terrific condition, Pattern No. 464, and it was only $175. It even came with a piece of glass on the top that has these great molded glass feet to hold it just over the surface and prevent scratching. I love old items like this, and even though it took three hours to clean them, I'm really happy with how the brass handles on the drawers look. Originally they were a dark grey, almost black, they were so dirty. They shined up nicely, and really bring the piece back to life.

My next project is my 250 sq ft kitchen, which literally has a hundred cabinets. This one has been in the planning stages all week, with colors finally settled on, Congoleum flooring pretty much selected (although now I'm wondering if I should go with two different color tiles instead of the same color), and Formica still being selected, very carefully. I've located a manufacturer of metal trim for kitchen counters, and they have a few designs in the old-school fifties style, with the lines. That has me psyched. What doesn't have me quite as psyched is the prospect of having to power-sand and paint a hundred cabinets. I've also been taking measurements around the house, and a surplus door from Home Depot may or may not fit in the basement. The addition of another floor layer in the kitchen will require some serious shaving of the cabinet unit over the fridge, if I ever hope to get a fridge in there again (it's going to be vertically challenged once the Congoleum is put in). Oh, and ADT is coming in three weeks to install security. Tomorrow I have to get concrete to patch up the front steps. And, and, and . . . I have to get a chimney sweep over ASAP. It never ends.

As you can imagine, this leaves me little time for perfume. In between the projects I managed to try my long-standing sample of The One Gentleman by D&G, which I'd completely forgotten about. I didn't really have any preconceived notions about this fragrance prior to wearing it, so my reaction to it after two wearings was pretty unbiased. It was also, unfortunately, quite visceral. I really don't like this scent. The second time around I took a look at some Fragrantica reviews, and only one hit the nail on the head for me, summing it up by saying it smelled crude and unpleasant. That's exactly right. This perfume is totally forgettable from beginning to end. It has that department store "rasp" that several middle shelf masculines exhibit these days, including things like Terre d'Hermes and Bleu de Chanel. Some people blame Iso E Super. I don't attribute the unpleasantness to Iso E though. Jim Gehr mentioned to me on Google+ that Iso E is very subtle, hypoallergenic, and almost odorless altogether, used primarily as a texturizing agent more than a singular note. I have some pure, unadulterated Iso E, and it's very soft and smooth.

There's definitely Iso E in The One Gentleman, but I blame the scratchy nastiness on whatever aroma chemicals are used to create its "suede" note. Suede is one of those random notes that some brands have been trying to pass off as "manly." So far every suede note I've encountered has smelled neutered and rough. Suede dominates the heart of T.O.G., but it's smooshed up between an unwieldy synthetic lavender, which for some reason is riddled with anosmia-inducing black pepper, and a bare vanilla base note that is as bland as it is unbalanced. The white-musky blah-ness of that vanilla note winds up being the whole story after forty minutes or so. Where does that leave me? The marketing for this one is typical Men's Mag fare, with Matthew McConaughey in a tux looking very unconvincingly dapper. These prints project glamour and worldliness, but what I get instead is cheapness that goes nowhere. If D&G promised me a box of Macaroons from Ladurée, I'd expect a packet of Pop Tarts instead.

Anyhow, enjoy the rest of your Labor Day Weekend, and I'll see you in September!




8/23/14

Joint Pour Homme (Roccobarocco)



I happened across Roccobarocco's Joint recently, and owning it has clarified a few things for me. It's a favorite of someone I know, and it is something held up as a bit of a masterpiece in the world of vintage masculines. To read about it, one would think that Joint defines the superiority of vintage perfumes over reformulations and recent releases, particularly niche releases. I expected it to be very heavy and deep for the duration of its presumably long lifespan on my skin, but I also expected its strength to be a product of unbalanced accords, due to its age. I was slightly wrong.

It begins with a gorgeous array of accords, but it's obvious from the very first moment that it's a clone of Zino by Davidoff. The resemblance is undeniable and the treatment of lavender in both fragrances is the same. The late eighties and early nineties saw the rise of the "dusky" lavender note in masculine perfumes, a sort of super-soapy, slightly toasted herbal blend that smells incredibly burly and aromatic. It is present in Zino, Joint, and Vermeil for Men. It's also present in Kouros (perhaps one of the first to showcase it) and Lapidus Pour Homme. This type of lavender is always highly blended with other rich aromatics, usually patchouli, rosewood, tobacco, artemisia, orris, sandalwood, and a variety of animalic musks. Joint possesses all of these notes, in conjunction with the dusky, burly lavender. For an even clearer idea of how this lavender smells in isolation from this kind of tightly aromatic blend, I recommend trying vintage Bleu Marine by Pierre Cardin. Time has wasted most of the aromatics in that one, likely because the materials used for its construction were cheaper naturals, but the sole remaining "power note" in Bleu's pyramid is lavender.

Like Zino, Joint quickly becomes dark and dry, its excellent note separation yielding various textures of Sicilian lemon, civet, honey, sage, castoreum (more vanillic than animalic), tobacco, rosewood, coumarin, vetiver, orris, sandalwood, labdanum, rose, coriander, cardamom, caraway, frankincense, opoponax, carnation, and amber. Although I can detect each of these elements in the mix, the notes that really stand out and dominate the body of the scent are lavender, honey, tobacco, rosewood, sandalwood, labdanum, and amber. The lemon, lavender, coumarin, and civet give the extended intro a decidedly "fougeriental" feel, a definite hybridization of fern and spicy amber facets. Eventually, after thirty minutes, the woods become smoother and more pronounced, and the whole thing begins to smell like a cross between Zino and Vermeil for Men. I'm impressed by the beauty of these accords, and by their relatively natural effect, as nothing smells particularly chemical or crass, although there is an obviously synthetic edge to the woods. Despite that, it's a very nice scent.

My enlightenment occurs at the forty-five minute mark, when something interesting occurs: Joint suddenly loses focus and balance. It's as if someone suddenly deflated its big red balloon. The woods begin to fuzz out, rather severely, and the tobacco slips away. The vanillic castoreum, which smells like the processed food flavoring in high concentration, suddenly defines the amber, and a semisweet blush of nondescript earthiness is washed out by a honey-like white musk. At this point it's clear that two things have influenced past assessments of Joint. One, the fragrance is shockingly top heavy, to the point where it's almost as if the top notes are the fragrance in full, extended in concentration alone. Indeed, that initial spray is so intense and loud and full of complementary materials that one could only expect it to last well into the heart phase, but that heart barely exists. Once the juice has mixed with natural skin oils, its dissipation occurs, and the power goes out.

The second issue is that time has effected the balance of the fragrance. Joint has been out of production for twenty years, and my bottle is likely that old, if not older. For anyone to say that this fragrance is a good example of how rich and natural and powerful vintage designer masculines can be negates the prime effect of degradation that has obviously occurred here. Does my bottle of Joint smell very good? Yes. As such, one could argue that it has not "turned" or "gone bad," but there's a better definition of those terms - the fragrance is no longer balanced, and no longer smells exactly as it should. In this case, the drydown was effected instead of the top notes, which is certainly atypical of vintage degradation, but is still degradation nonetheless. Also there's the question of whether this weakened, somewhat off balance drydown and sub-par longevity can be excused by the brilliance of the first few minutes. Although it's clear that Joint is a lovely composition, it's also clear that it's derivative, and doesn't add much to the genre of burly tobacco-themed scents from its period. Zino is better, in my opinion, and can still be had for much less money. Vermeil is also better, and also much cheaper, and it's arguably the best of the three.

Based on my experience with Joint, I continue to believe that some (not all) lovers of vintage perfumes live in a deeply-rooted and psychologically complex state of denial about the true quality and value of vintage fragrances. I can't help but wonder if their noses are simply not attuned to detecting when notes have gone stale, or when whole accords have flattened and weakened and ruined structural balance and longevity. These changes are often subtle and can perhaps be intentionally overlooked in favor of enjoying whatever remains, but as with other vintages, such deterioration is clearly present in this fragrance. It's still wearable, and still performs fairly well considering its age, but it definitely doesn't smell the way it did fifteen years ago.

Joint can be had in 1 oz and 1.7 oz sizes on Ebay for under $40 (the 1 oz is currently $29.99), and that's exactly what it's worth in my opinion. I paid $33 for my 1.7 oz bottle, which I bought at a brick and mortar shop in CT. If it weren't for the technically advanced skillfulness of its blend and the high quality of its materials, I'd find fault with anyone claiming it's worth owning at all. But given that its structure is, at least for most of an hour, quite good and memorable, I'd say that fans of this sort of darkly animalic gentlemen's club scent should consider $35 for Joint money well spent.





8/20/14

Jupiter to Juno (Garner James)


Candis Cayne

Just the name of this perfume had me fascinated, and it was expanded upon in a note from Jim:
"Originally made for my brother's wedding gift. Entire wedding party wore this, and the entire wedding was gifted 5 ml roll ons."
So I guess it's literally based on the passing of a man to a woman in matrimony, in this case the perfumer's brother. What a lucky wedding party that was, to have this perfume in the air, because true to form, it is incredible. The complete ingredient list includes sweet orange oil, grapefruit EO, lemon EO, clementine SCO2, rose maroc absolute, orange blossom absolute, geranium bourbon EO, atlas cedar EO, oakmoss absolute, fir balsam absolute, patchouli SCO2, tonka bean absolute, vetiver Haiti SCO2, Allyl Amyl Glycolate, Methyl Pamplemousse, Linalool, Stemone, Lilial, Hedione, Citronellol, and Iso E. Of the scents I received from Jim, Jupiter to Juno is the breeziest, a distinctly casual affair that lasts an average of five hours on skin (six on fabric) with moderate application. My sense is that this fragrance was sent to me not so much as a showpiece (Jim has Black Antlers and Nature Boy for that), but as an indicator of how to use Iso E correctly and effectively. Of course, it is also a lovely composition.

JtJ begins with a super-sweet citrus accord, accented peripherally with orange blossom, setting a decidedly fresh, feminine, fruity, and "fun" tone. Its quality is breathtaking. The fragrance's heart accord is quite floral, but also woody, with the delicate sweetness of rose and orange blossom wafting lightly across drier notes of cedar, balsam, patchouli, and vetiver, with a bit of ambery tonka for warmth, and Iso E for lift and clarity of texture. Unlike most woody perfumes, JtJ's woods are blended softy enough to allow their grains to peek through the leaves, imparting a dusty quality to the scent. The base adopts this same smooth, softly grained tonality, and reminds me most of the simple woody base of Cotton Club by Jeanne Arthes. In fact, I have JtJ on one wrist and Cotton Club on the other as I type this, and though the two are different, their similarities are notable. The fruity Juno top notes segue effortlessly into the suave, aftershavey woodsiness of Jupiter.

To me, fragrances like this are olfactory gender prisms, beautiful but challenging for some to understand, and perhaps wear. Another example of such a scent is Joop! Jump, which is derived from Cool Water and Allure Homme, yet sits several notches higher on the floral scale, to the point of seeming downright frilly-femme at various stages of its drydown. At a wedding, surrounded by flowers and liquors and sweets, Jupiter to Juno is an easy one, as it blends right in. I'm comfortable wearing anything anywhere anyway, so it's not a big deal for me to wear this to work or to a restaurant with friends, but I could see how some men and women might be thrown for a loop by it. Maybe it's perfect for a hot date, maybe not. Maybe only to the movies, or on a Sunday drive. I think it's a brilliant exercise in citrus, floral, and wood textures, executed in a style consistent with a legion of laid-back twenty-first century blue jean juices. This one just happens to smell like a million bucks.






8/6/14

Aqua Classica di Parma (Borsari)



Good luck finding a bottle of this in a store, but you may be able to hunt it down online. I imagine it's easier to find in Europe, but in the US it's a challenge, rubes that we are. The irony is that Aqua Classica smells very conservatively American in a "guy's aftershave" sort of way, but with a little twist. The structure is one we've all smelled a million times, several citrus fruits (lemon, bergamot, lime) layered upon a biting wood note (oak) with a pinch of spice (ginger), but woven into the mix are a couple of high-end "green" aroma chemicals, materials that enhance the sparkling fruits while also lending the woody spice some depth and finesse. The result is something to be worn when dressing to impress. You want to reach for this before a hot date to a classy Italian restaurant, or cruising the beaches for friendly platinum blondes.

Besides the fact that it's obviously been modernized at some stage of its one hundred year lifespan, Aqua Classica fascinates me. Actually, all of these eau de cologne frags fascinate me. They're all the same, sometimes nearly identical, yet somehow always different. I've realized in my years of wearing these things that the division between white collar and blue collar typically comes with the addition of two or three top-shelf "fresh" synthetics, mostly used as depth and texture enhancers. Acqua di Parma uses a pleasant musk note to extend the drydown, and Royal Water emits a crisp juniper berry that quashes its competition. Aqua Classica simply smells abstractly green in a way that balances the serene fidelity of its naturals. Bear in mind that f you already own AdP or RW, Acqua Classica would be unnecessary for you.

Unsurprisingly, the downsides are its feeble strength and longevity. Though it's impressive for this style, AC will really only command a presence for two or three hours, and gently at that. Then there's the extra cost of the stuff - it ain't cheap. Unless you're independently wealthy, I'd recommend (a) owning just one of these expensive EDCs, or (b) spending twenty bucks on twenty seven ounces of the equally charming 4711 and calling it a day.







Coppertone's New Formula Smells Like Brut



Just a funny observation, something that I would never have guessed in a million years. I hate suntan lotion, the sticky aspect of it, and the fact that its fragrance conflicts with just about everything known to man. Coppertone used to have a creamy, nutty odor, sort of a cross between coconut and vanilla. They recently revamped their line of lotions, and work forced me to grab a bottle, lest hours under midday summer sunshine should have their way with my fine porcelain skin. Reluctantly I slathered it on my neck and shoulders, and was immediately struck by the familiarity of its scent - Brut.

It basically smells like the heart of Brut, that warm coumarinic lavender, the grassy notes, and a very bold, soapy musk. So it doesn't smell difficult anymore, which is nice. I can wear Coppertone with Brut (or just Coppertone) and go about my day. No need to try and match the old coconut thing to some super-seasonal Tommy Bahama-esque type of frag. I wore the combo to work, mainly a few generous swipes of Coppertone and a couple of spritzes of Brut Classic. A female coworker smelled me coming in and said, "Suntan lotion?" Another woman also commented to someone else shortly after I passed by her that the hall smelled like suntan lotion. The two odors of lotion and Brut had melded perfectly into one. There was literally no conflict between them.

Why in hell does Coppertone smell like Brut now? I think I might know. Women don't wear Coppertone like they used to. Once upon a time there were only a couple brands of tanning lotion out there, and Coppertone was king here in the USA. Those days have passed. Now women have a metric fuck-ton of options to choose from, a gajillion creams, lotions, makeup products that double as tanning lotions, skin hydrators that also double as tanning lotions, and pretty soon we'll be seeing SPF labels on gallons of milk. But men don't use all that shit. We're afraid of the sun? We buy straight-up suntan lotion. And now we can wear it and smell like men. Neat.



7/26/14

Drakkar Essence (Guy Laroche)


I can see it now, the entire arc of Drakkar Essence's lifespan, encapsulated in the blink of an eye. This relatively mundane, shampoo-like designer offering is welcomed briefly by North American and European consumers, who find it competent enough to stand beside their bottles of Bleu de Chanel and Bvlgari Aqva, until it is all used up. Then the majority of first-time purchasers decide not to become second-time purchasers, and Laroche's sales figures for this product nosedive dramatically in the fourth quarter. There are some in the fragrance community who actually do like the stuff, and go to buy back-up bottles of it, mostly Guy Laroche completists whose girlfriends wear Fidji on special occasions, but when they get to the department store perfume counter, uh-oh, just kidding! Drakkar Essence is discontinued, sorry.

A couple months go by, and the threads on the online boards have by now lit up with some mild chatter about the scent's fleeting presence on the legit market of "authorized retailers" (in most cases, Macy's), and some wonder where they can still score a bottle at a reasonable price. That's when the grey market retailers on the internet catch wind of the scent's limited availability, and the hawks swoop in to buy up whatever stock remains. Those that are late to the party network on it non-stop until they have at least a few dozen bottles to sell. But of course, when these bottles are posted, their price has been increased forty, sixty, eighty percent. Then one hundred percent. Then two. Those who are actually familiar with how Drakkar Essence smells see the gouging and tell themselves, "You know, it was nice enough, but not worth these prices. Guess I'll have to pass on more Drakkar Essence."

But those who haven't smelled it yet and who have money to burn - real money to burn - pony up. They take one wearing of the stuff out on the town and decide they wasted their money, so they attempt to turn the loss around on Ebay and, just to sweeten the deal for themselves, jack their asking price about twenty percent higher than what they paid for it. The same hawkers that had a go at it the first time snatch up these second-round rejects, and the number of Drakkar Essences that sell on the Bay appear to be terrific, at exhorbitant prices. Two hundred and twenty-five bucks for three ounces? Sold. Of course, by this point the buyers are just people looking to resell at an even higher mark-up. Like many discontinued perfumes, the sales are between sellers, a fragrance trading hands. The sparse fan base for this fragrance dried up long ago. It's a stunningly mediocre and uninspired arrangement of synthetic mint, citrus, lavender, cheap woods, and white musk, little more than a shower gel at Walmart. But it's discontinued, and it's a successful brand name. You may never score another bottle of Drakkar Essence again. It must be worth a mortgage payment.

Having smelled it, I can save everyone the trouble: it isn't.