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.


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.


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.


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.


Acqua di Genova Colonia & 1853 Anniversario

Rather than get into note breakdowns (which can be tedious), I'd like to talk about these colognes in a very loosely comparative manner. Summer is right around the corner - it'll be here in the U.S. before we know it - and I'm looking forward to wearing fresh colognes again. Acqua di Genova is an Italian firm that started in 1853 with their "Colonia Classica," which they celebrated on the fragrance's anniversary with an "1853 Anniversario" edition. Colonia is unisex, but AdG created separate 1853s for men and women, which I find a bit odd. This post briefly discusses the masculine version. These are cheerful cologne compositions that employ typical cologne notes, yet their longevity is surprisingly atypical. I get a solid five, six hours from both, which suggests EDT concentrations, or perhaps my skin just loves them. I suppose their longevity would be just as competent on clothing, but I'd like them even if they only lasted thirty minutes. They're that nice.

Colonia smells almost exactly like Creed's Royal Water, minus Creed's signature synth-ambergris note in the base, and with a more vivid peppermint/herbal accord permeating its drydown. Price-wise Colonia is much cheaper, at about $100 a bottle ($1 per ml), and its ingredient quality is definitely on par with Creed's, if not better, so this is a superior value. A word of caution, however - as with Royal Water, AdG Colonia possesses an unusual unisex characteristic that may make "manly" men uncomfortable. If you drive a pick-up truck with pro-gun bumper stickers and habitually wear baseball caps, Acqua di Genova might not be your first choice. I have a difficult time picturing any of the guys I work with wearing this stuff with confidence, although I have no problem with it myself. These old-fashioned recipes employ a barrage of hesperidic notes that start out smelling sharp and tingly, but end up very powdery and flowery-sweet. The florals are transparent and vague, but they're definitely femme.

If Colonia is a sunny Mediterranean daydream, Anniversario is its evening afterglow, a warmer, mellower arrangement of slightly richer florals and woody notes. It lacks the crystalline citrus bite of its predecessor, but flexes a muskier bod, and it's the more masculine of the two by a landslide. When I consider how much mankind has changed in the last 200 years, it doesn't really surprise me that my "gender alert" goes off with 19th century fragrances. Modern western cultures have welded themselves to binary gender expectations, but the outlook may have been different 160 years ago. These colognes reside beyond the strictures of fashion marketing, in a realm where nature is reflected, and refracted, in one's choice of personal fragrance. For me, Colonia and 1853 are freeing olfactory experiences that fly me high above Connecticut's cultural norms and expectations, sending me to a warm inner place where work, commitments, inhibitions, and even clothing are optional.


Vetiver Extraordinaire (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle)

Vetiver Extraordinaire is easily my favorite from Malle. Special education workers use the phrase "mainstreamed" when referring to youngsters who possess skills that allow them to function socially and productively in normal society. In VE, Ropion took the limitations of a very dry, rooty, "niche-like" vetiver, and mainstreamed them. From initial application to the far drydown, his clever combination of saffron, bergamot, neroli, pink pepper, cedar, and vetiver is a pleasure to wear, always easy on the nose, and quite fertile in quality and complexity. It is detailed, enough to yield variables in its balance between dominant and subordinate notes per wear. It is also dimensional; VE does not just sit on skin. Ropion managed to make his vetiver fizz, as if the dew between fronds was carbonated. The effect is "in your face" and alive.

Last summer I wrote about the term "soapy" as it applies to perfume, and described the effect in a few notable fragrances. Soapiness is a personal preference of mine when it comes to fragrances, especially masculines, as it's a sort of style that always smells at least somewhat clean and fresh. It doesn't matter what notes are used. If they're representative of something in nature, closely and smoothly blended, and evocative of cleanliness, they're going to come across as "soapy" to me. Vetiver Extraordinaire reads as being noticeably sudsy, with a brightness and freshness commonly found in any one of your better bar soaps. Still, its close blending of spicy-green notes is surprisingly legible. The smooth, almost transparent quality found in many soapy frags is absent here, with a finely textured woodiness (vetiver, saffron, cedar, myrrh) stealing the show instead. It's truly lovely.

Perhaps the only thing I could cite as a possible flaw is also, ironically, the very thing that makes VE enjoyable - its easiness. There are no fun challenges to be had in deciphering VE, no unique "niche" characteristics beyond its obviously catering to worshippers of all things vetiver (and perhaps all things Safranal). Its pencil-shaving cedar note is reminiscent of a slew of woody designer scents, including Gucci PH, and yeah, I'd say this is another example of Iso E Super used brilliantly, but at its niche price, I could understand hesitating a little to put your good money down on this pearl. Ultimately though, VE is head and shoulders above many of the woody designer fragrances I've worn and owned over the years, and I definitely prefer it to Guerlain Vetiver, which is still a great scent, and the enduring standard for vetiver.


L'Air du Desert Marocain (Tauer)

Once again I want to extend a big Thank You to Jeffrey Dame for sending me a sample of L'Air du Desert Marocain, and to Jim Gehr for turning me on to Tauer's work in the first place. It was by a happy coincidence that Jeffrey read my review of Tauer's Orris and immediately sent me more from the line, and Jim had included a vial of Orris in the sample care package that I received beforehand. I can't stress enough how lovely Orris is. I've read so much about LdDM, much, much more than Orris (which is relatively obscure), and it did not disappoint.

Its introduction on skin is a rich array of spices that coalesce into something awfully close to straight-up leather, but I experience a very tight arrangement of aromatic materials as the scent unfolds. In the mix are cumin, coriander, sage, and an astringent terpene note that alludes to pine, of all things. In its first hour LdDM reminds me of Caron's Yatagan, but before long an oddly soapy floral accord overtakes the leathery dust devil. This is an interesting trick, and it makes me wonder what Andy was going for. Starting the scent off with a snarling desert scene that rapidly brightens into a sophisticated bar soap (I'm thinking of that triple-milled stuff you find in upscale boutiques) is, for lack of a better word, unexpected. Yet it smells really, really good.

The design of the fragrance is such that it allows relatively linear components to merge in an austere narrative that reads like Hemingway: "You come in out of the desert, smelling of the desert. You go into the bathroom and wash the desert off yourself." Two hours into the drydown, labdanum and jasmine peer through an oily vetiver and amber accord, and I'm convinced there's a third part to the narrative - "Some desert lingers after you've washed, and it won't come off." Fragrances like this send subtle messages to people - "I'm proud to be different," "My sense of style is unique, and so am I," "Real men smell like dirt and motor oil with a whiff of soap" - you can pick the line. This stuff sticks with you for seven solid hours, and it's compelling enough to make me reapply at the end of the day and start the whole story over again.

Whenever anyone asks me what the difference between niche and designer is, I usually say something off the cuff, like, "Niche fragrances are usually just pricier and simpler variants of designer scents." Tauer has me thinking I'll revise my response to, "Designer fragrances are designed to please everyone around the wearer. Niche scents, when done well, are designed to please the wearer." L'Air du Desert Marocain is a prime example, and it's a hit with those around me as well, which is nice.