4/19/14

Bleu Marine de Cardin (Pierre Cardin)





Now discontinued, Bleu Marine is one of those strange proto-aquatic fragrances of the mid eighties that never got off the docks, but somehow lingered long enough to be remembered, and reformulated. It was composed by Raymond Chaillan (Ho Hang, Anaïs Anaïs, Marbert Man, YSL PH) and Martin Gras (Bogner Wood Man, Cerruti 1881 PH, Lapidus PH) in 1986, and doesn't have much of a following, although internet sellers seem to disagree. Currently the original 2 oz vintage in a splash bottle, pictured above, is no less than $38.21 on Ebay. Naturally this price is absurd. I picked up my bottle for $7 at Villa Fleur in Hamden, after doing a little checking on the labeling to ensure it was the real deal. If you see a 2 oz bottle of the original vintage, which is found in splash only, don't pay any more than $10 for it. It is 28 years old and isn't something Cardin was ever especially proud of. A great scent this is not. It's a good scent, at the right price.

Normally I wouldn't bother with Bleu Marine. I've seen it on several store shelves in a few locations (including mall islands), but had not gotten around to buying it until a few weeks ago. My interest in vintage scents is almost nonexistent, but fragrances like Bleu Marine have historical significance and make for good dinner party conversation. "Bleu Marine" is French for Navy Blue, a color the French consider to be always fashionable, unisex, and extremely versatile. One could take that to mean this is not intended to be an aquatic at all, but rather just a "neutral" masculine that can be worn anytime, at any place. It's another Reagan era fougèriental, and not a proper aquatic - not entirely. However, its pyramid is assembled in a manner that alludes to clear seawater by juxtaposing a dry amber and bittersweet lavender with green notes of basil, jasmine, and oakmoss. There's quite a bit of oakmoss, a fairly natural sandalwood effect, and plenty of dihydromyrcenol, which as we all know imbues accords with plenty of synthetic freshness. Spicy clove and carnation darken the waters with an oriental touch.

Given that it's almost three decades old, the perfume in my bottle smells unbalanced and somewhat off. The citrus top notes are all but gone, reduced to a whisper. I find in older fougères that the lavender note tends to replace all the other aromatics, probably because that material has a longer shelf life, and this has happened with Bleu Marine. Lavender is there, front and center, buttressed by a dank mossiness that becomes rather leathery in the drydown. The basil, artemisia, juniper, and cedar are all legible, but there's too much basil and too little artemisia. I sense the barest traces of artemisia in the base, which makes me think that when used properly, mugwort can actually smell very "blue" and fresh. Once upon a time, artemisia was a major note in Bleu Marine. I can't tell you how subsequent atomizer formulas smell, but the first Bleu Marine helped pave the way for scents like New West, Aqua Quorum, Bvlgari Aqva, and Polo Sport. It's more museum piece than anything at this point, but Bleu Marine remains a notable entry in the long list of interesting masculines from the 1980s.





4/18/14

Funny Name, Funny Countdown, Cool Bottle





Thierry Mugler is releasing another A*Men flanker this summer, hilariously called "Pure Wood," which immediately brings morning boners to mind. When you take a look on the Mugler web site, you find a grim countdown clock ticking off the seconds until the release time. When there's all zeros across the board, bottles of Pure Wood will spring from the Earth and fall from splitting tree trunks into everyone's yard. It's coming, folks. Pure Woodiness. Get ready.

The thing I like most about this fragrance concept is the bottle. Mugler encases most of its A*Men fragrances in matte rubber, usually dark grey or brown, and they're kind of a pain to use because the atomizer isn't touch sensitive, and requires extra downward force to disperse a decent spray. Some guys make it a point to cut the rubber off the bottle for that reason, but the wood-textured case on Pure Wood, framing an amber star, looks pretty cool to me. I own the original A*Men and a little bit of B*Men, both of which I like, and I've also spent some time with the reissue of Pure Malt, also very nice. Mugler has made a fan out of me. I'll be checking in on the Final Countdown in the coming weeks. When you consider it though, "Pure Wood" promises little more than A*Men's already woody coffee/patchouli structure embellished with designer-grade "woods" aroma chemicals, which will probably amount to your standard masculine woody amber. Given that it's an already woody scent within a wood-themed flanker, and the hundredth A*Men flanker, it's doubly redundant. If that's even possible.

It's come to the point where Mugler's A*Men flankers are feeling tired, and are even sounding a bit strained off the tongue (say "Pure Wood" out loud and try not to crack up). I sense that they should begin to rethink their line. Releasing flanker after flanker gets tiresome for consumers. The day does come for even the most die-hard A*Men fan where an original fragrance is more desirable than another iteration of an 18 year-old scent, especially when most of those iterations serve only to remind you of how superior the first is.





Xeryus (Givenchy, Les Parfums Mythiques)




Fougères come in many forms, but every so often a brand makes one that smells simultaneously familiar and strange, an experience I liken to having a false memory. I'll smell an accord that I recognize, and think, "Oh yeah, I have others like this," but then in a direct comparison find that the different scents are not quite as similar as I thought. Such is the case with Givenchy's reissue of Xeryus, a "fougèriental" that was originally introduced in 1986. Every time I smell the "Les Parfums Mythiques" version, I smell a convergence of vintage Drakkar Noir and Francesco Smalto Pour Homme, with the spike lavender of the former gussied up with textured woody spices, and the latter's motor oil leather swallowed by an identical artemisia note and the hardest amber known to man. Drakkar came before Xeryus, and Smalto's scent came after, which in some ways suggests that Xeryus is a crossroads fragrance. It clearly draws from an aromatic fougère template that Pierre Wargnye put in place in 1982, but also looks forward to the complex orientals of the late eighties and early nineties. The historical reach of something like Xeryus is hard to measure, but for Givenchy to reissue it suggests it was something the brand was proud of the first time around.

I've never smelled vintage Xeryus. The man who sold me my bottle of "Les Mythiques" Xeryus told me that he has the vintage and the new version, and to him they smell identical. Perusals of threads online yield mixed opinions on this, with some feeling they're very close, and others lamenting the changing of the guard. My opinion of current Xeryus is that its strength alone is a testament to some degree of faithfulness to tradition. Its top notes are bright, garrulous, and sharp, very aromatic, a little sweet, and definitely fruity in a green/herbal way. Grapefruit, lavender, clary sage, and basil are pretty obvious from the get-go, and together they create a palpable veil of smells that settles across my face and becomes denser and heavier as the minutes tick by. An hour into wear, Xeryus becomes a powerful perfume-strength cloud, radiating a good four or five feet away from me. People notice it. I walk in and out of rooms, and my Xeryus is there to greet me when I return, like a big green puff of Bryan-shaped smoke. There are some vaguely floral notes, presumably some jasmine and just the faintest hint of violet sweetness, but I can't say Xeryus is a "floral fougère" like Joop! Jump, or even the iris-laden Green Irish Tweed. The fougère accord is simply very, very effusive, and the sweeter amber in the base is just as outgoing.

I like Xeryus, and I definitely don't get the bubblegum associations that some attribute to this reform. Its strength aside, I agree with those who think it's kind of ho-hum and unremarkable. I know that my Drakkar Noir feeling is due to an obvious use of Cypriol, a smoky, woody note that becomes increasingly obvious in the drydown, and the mixture of guaiac wood, cedar, sandalwood, pine needles, and artemisia is comparable to the lucid complexities of Francesco Smalto PH. Yet Xeryus is strange, an aggressive oriental framed by fougère elements that smell "retro" but unique, the kind of scent that might stop people in their tracks on the second pass, but not the first. I enjoy the fragrance, and I'm glad Givenchy made it their contribution to the chest-haired world of eighties aromatic fougères, but its beauty isn't quite "swoon-worthy" when taken in with its peers. People seem to feel that Xeryus is a cool weather fragrance, but cold weather flattens it for me and just makes it a vague, soapy aura. Warmer temps and humidity bring out the spicier, more textured wood notes in its heart, so I recommend trying it in spring and summer - in a very small dose (two or three sprays, max). The green notes are somewhat soapy, and definitely fresh enough to compensate for the sheer strength behind this thing.



4/16/14

mb03 (Biehl Parfumkunstwerke)





The one thing I dislike about standard Catholic church incense is its density, its shrill opacity. One little puff is enough to fill a cathedral and generate a hundred migraines. It's too much of a good thing; despite the pain it causes, it smells good. Mark Buxton knows this, and found a way to strip people of their painful psychological associations using spicy and floral notes with traditional three kings incense. mb03 is the result, probably unnecessary and definitely unoriginal (it's self-referential for Mark), but still a very nice fragrance.

Tom Ford's Sahara Noir, an incredibly literal Catholic incense perfume, is very rich and dense and dry. Its problem? You guessed it - too much goodness, especially in a concentration that lasts twelve hours on skin, and sixteen on clothes. Incense doesn't have to smell that blatant. Blended incense is an extremely complex aroma with several facets, including resinous-sweet, resinous-woody, resinous-green, dry-papery, dry-floral, and dry-woody qualities, and mb03 is an exploration of woody, green, and floral elements. Top notes of pink pepper and elemi lend a spicy-green characteristic to a heart accord of chamomile, styrax, patchouli, and labdanum, a bundle of sheer dryness, full-bodied and fresh. I also smell subtle touches of Cashmeran, Iso E-Super, and Ambroxan, which emit a low-buzz "woody" vibe from the organ pit, but its base of sandalwood and raw incense smells simply of those two components.

Word on the street says mb03 is a lot like Comme des Garcons 2 Man and Buxton's own Around Midnight, along with a handful of other scents, most of which can be had for less money. This is probably true, but it's good to remember that the fragrance world is huge and overloaded with perfumes that are similar to each other. Many items are not available in certain countries. Those who missed CDG 2 Man and Around Midnight might encounter mb03 instead, either at home or in their travels, and it makes for a superb introduction to this perfumer's love of wood sap and blue smoke.




4/15/14

Layering Fragrances: Not For Me.





I'm a firm believer that big talkers should either put up or shut up. If you want to impress me with your message, then be prepared to take me on, or mind your own business. Otherwise your talk isn't interesting to me, or anyone else - it's just drivel. In my opinion, the drivelers of the fragrance world are the perfume brands and their PR reps. We fumeheads are constantly bombarded with commercial innuendos about the sexiness and desirability of new and established fragrances, yet we're often disappointed when we get around to smelling them. I remember Chanel's massive push for Bleu de Chanel. They even enlisted A-List director Martin Scorsese to direct a mini-movie to advertise it. Then I smelled Bleu and thought it was surprisingly dull, which meant Scorsese's spot was really just for Scorsese (surprise, surprise). This happens to me more often than not. Usually the hype, which in fairness is also generated by consumers, does not match the reality.

The interesting thing about scent layering (and those who engage in it) is the implicit rejection of the yimmer-yammer behind individual perfumes. There are no major designer brands that currently endorse layering their products. Chanel, Dior, Fendi, YSL, all seem to feel that each individual perfume is its own country. Each are solitary creations intended to stand on their own. Perfumers formulated these creations for singular use. Their offerings are meant to be interesting and sophisticated enough to satisfy the wearer without any extra "help." Nevertheless, some of the more creative customers out there beg to differ. A perusal of online forums yields countless threads about scent layering, usually by women who feel they've created a "special" fragrance, sort of a personalized custom perfume that they may prefer to anything they can buy.

The idea does not appeal to me at all, but I figured I'd try two iterations of a quick 'n easy "custom" scent. These were more like experiments than serious attempts to pass something off as a "wearable" SOTD, and I ended up scrubbing the results. Last month I wanted to try making a "mossy rose" type of scent, so I layered two spritzes of Grey Flannel with one spritz of Tea Rose by Perfumer's Workshop. The result smelled like an odorific incarnation of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. My second try was an attempt to create Green Irish Tweed on the cheap, again using Grey Flannel, this time with a spritz of Cool Water. This was marginally more successful - it at least smelled good - but I found the blending of both fragrances to be annoying and pointless. Together they smelled no better than they did on their own.

In my opinion, layering is something that is best done with fragrances that are mutually intended for such a use - like pretty much the entire Creed range. It's also an extremely subjective practice, with those who enjoy doing it swearing that their combinations are amazing (or at least fun and interesting), while others cite total disinterest as their main reason for abstaining. After using three good perfumes in two unsuccessful skin-sample blends, I've come to the realization that layering is an endeavor that is better suited to someone else entirely. The perfume brands may not always be right about the individual greatness of their products, but when they are, I'm happy to accept it and leave it at that.





4/14/14

Tom of Finland (Etat Libre d'Orange)





ELDO is one of those conceptual niche brands, and it's clear they have a good sense of humor. I reckon this scent was intended to be a type of gay male spoof, with its obvious leather-and-rubbers accord. If you use your imagination, you can kind of detect a whiff of a freshly-opened Trojan condom in this stuff. That may sound disgusting, but given that it's peeking past stronger notes of suede, vanilla, tonka, some kind of metallic note, pine needles, and musk, the "ick" factor is minimal. Except the suede is more like Naugahyde, the vanillic notes are stale aftershave, the "metal" is gunpowdery, the pine is an air freshener hanging from a car mirror, and the musk is b.o., thinly disguised as residual cigarette smoke. Sexy.

I find Tom of Finland to be both annoying and interesting. On the one hand, I'm a little tired of the synthetic quality of these ELDO scents, especially at their price point. At ELDO prices, they should smell very dynamic and complex, with excellent note separation and top shelf materials. Instead they all smell fake and surprisingly flat, exhibiting only subtle movements, and always a few notes short of "complex," with designer-grade bricks. On the other hand, sometimes the jokiness pays off in capturing the general concept behind the fragrance, and in this case it grabbed me right away - this is how Korben Dallas would have smelled. Bruce Willis played the futuristic cabbie in 1997's The Fifth Element, and ToF seems to draw together the collective aromas of faux cab leather, stale male grooming, handgun steel, and piney mirror clips.

Does this make me want a bottle? I love The Fifth Element, and I think Korben is an underrated character in the long canon of nineties movie characters, but that doesn't endear me to the scent. Maybe if the minty pine notes accented a stronger, dirtier leather, or perhaps if those sweet notes coalesced into a tobacco-centric heart accord, I might feel some love. ToF's structure is far too muted and understated to excite. Though it drips with testosterone (at least in spirit), this particular offering by Antoine Lie is outdone by cheaper, manlier scents. Good alternatives with fuller-throated oily leather notes and brighter minty-green spices are Francesco Smalto Pour Homme and Taxi by Cofinluxe, both attainable at a fraction of the price.




4/12/14

Krizia Uomo (Krizia)



This is a beautiful fragrance, and I'm glad to own it. Here's the deal with Krizia Uomo: it's an aromatic fougère that smells a little like a hybrid chypre in the same vein as Antaeus. I attribute this to the generous woods in its base, namely cedar, a touch of sandalwood, and vetiver. Like Antaeus, Uomo smells fairly natural and conservative, something a buttoned-up Wall Street maverick might have worn back when the world of American finance still appeared to be populated by human beings. Unlike Antaeus, it also smells barbershoppy and clean, its green notes blending with a mild coumarin and musk accord reminiscent of ferns like Azzaro and Paco Rabanne PH.

I own the current moss-less formula, and I know older versions were burlier, probably a bit richer, and doubtlessly louder than what Uomo is today, although I should mention that the brand has undergone another update, with a modernized box and bottle design. It's just a guess, but I'd say the "newest" Uomo is probably even tamer than the final incarnation of its original breed. It looks like they gave this scent a major overhaul, but then again, maybe not. In any case, I think I'll be buying a back-up bottle of the stuff pictured above, just to have the familiar version on hand for a bit longer. Amazingly, Uomo costs a mere $13 on Amazon, so keeping an extra bottle is no big deal.

Despite the absence of moss, the newer Uomo smells quite rich and natural, with a "clean mountaintop breeze" of lemon, grass, pine, and juniper top notes, dressed in aldehydes. Within fifteen minutes a pleasant lavender note whistles in the wind, its simple tune falling across fields of geranium leaf, cilantro, basil, and vetiver. Coumarin adds a bit of softness and also balances the bitterness of the herbs, and by lunchtime a solid cedar note anchors everything to a seafoam-green musk. This exercise in both clarity and diffusion creates a striking balance in the drydown, perhaps its most distinctive trait. Uomo is a great everyday work scent, very dependable, masculine, and alluring. Thank goodness fragrances like it still exist.