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.






7/23/14

Revisiting "Silver" By Al-Rehab



In 1995, the house of Creed broke new ground by creating a perfume that defied classification. It was neither fern, nor oriental, nor chypre, nor cologne, nor aquatic, nor even a hybrid of any of those genres. It was simply a "fresh" fruity scent with strong whiffs of green tea, bitter berries, an odd, blatantly synthetic "ink" note, and clean musks, and its name was Silver Mountain Water.

Another thing SMW defied was gender branding. This isn't a big deal in the post CK One fragrance world however, and Creed considers it a unisex perfume. It's not even alone in Creed's unisex range, either - there's also Original Vetiver, Royal Water, Virgin Island Water, and a few others. Like RW however, SMW is unique in smelling strange and hard to describe. Because of its unusual note pyramid, and its remarkable combination of bitter and sweet, SMW is different enough to spawn a whole group of imitators. These include Hamptons by Bond no 9, Casamorati 1888 Mefisto by Xerjoff, and a little three dollar cheapie called Silver by Crown Perfumes/Al Rehab.

I've not tried the others, but I've owned a 6 ml roll-on of Silver for a couple years now, and used exactly a third of it, I think mostly to testing (I've worn it as my SOTD two or three times). My primary issue with it is that it's ungodly strong and difficult to apply. I actually put the roller on a shelf in the sun in the hope that time and light would degrade it a bit, and recently returned to find it has indeed grown weaker, but not by much. Out of curiosity I spent eight bucks on 43 ml of the stuff in atomizer EDP form, both a travel sprayer and a one ounce bottle. I was interested in finding out if the spray smells different than the oil.

The answer is most definitely "yes."

The oil to me smells much more like SMW than the spray does. Maybe it's the concentrated nature of it, but I get a firmer top accord of citrus, blackcurrant, and metallic "fresh" from the oil, whereas the atomizer is mostly alcohol in the first three seconds, then an overbearing, olfactory fatiguing citrus, and a paler, "inkier" berry note, all infused with an odd, musty smelling musk. The spray is more muted, overall. The biggest divergence is in concentration, with the spray seeming more diffuse and even a bit powdery, while the oil is sharper. I get three hours of noticeable sillage from the spray, before the scent becomes much tamer.

What strikes me most about the spray is that it resembles Royal Water more than SMW to me. If you asked me to identify what this scent is a clone of in a blind test, I would sooner guess RW after smelling the spray version. Its bitter, musty, herbal, and powdery characteristics are better aligned to RW's strangely hissy citrus, basil, and juniper berry blend than SMW's brighter tea and currant accord. Royal Water is also incredibly gender neutral, and in some ways I think it should have been called Silver Mountain Water instead of something as tacky as "Royal" Water. It actually smells like silver right out of the atomizer, and continues to smell bitter and a little dirty for hours. Its juniper manifests as a distinctly sweet(ish) purpley note, much like Silver's atomized currant note, but it's not nearly as sugary. All told, despite what might seem like drawbacks to fans of the oil, I like the faded aspect of the Royal Watery Silver better than the roll on by a considerable margin.

I definitely wouldn't classify the spray as a viable replacement for SMW, but the oil could easily do the trick if applied judiciously in hot weather. The spray replaces Royal Water though, obviously. The thing that merges all of these fragrances is an acutely synthetic vibe. None of these frags smell even remotely like anything in nature. SMW has that metallic tang to it, and Royal Water has its own metallic note, and a distinctly "perfumey" aura that Silver's spray mimics well. Whenever I consider buying a bottle of RW, the thing that holds me back is its perfumey feel. I'm not sure I want to wear a Creed that smells generically like unisex, somewhat feminine perfume. Doesn't that defeat the purpose of owning a Creed?

But then I smelled Silver again, and realized that the unisex gender-bending potential outweighs that con. There's something fascinating to me about a smell that seems masculine in some ways, and overtly feminine in others. Luckily I don't have to drop a Benjamin on a Creed to attain that level of sophistication (if you could call it that) - all I have to do is wear Silver. It should keep people guessing just as effectively.




7/19/14

Cuir de Russie (Creed Private Collection)





Leave it to Creed to create a dry Russian leather perfume that smells just as fresh and sparkly-clean as Acqua di Gio. When I think of leather, I think of animalic, dusky, dark notes, dusty accords found in old-school classics like English Leather and the original Chaps. What doesn't typically enter my imagination is the idea of "freshness." For fresh, people don't buy bottles labeled "leather." They usually go for those pale blue things with breezy names that every guy and his cousin wears. So it was very surprising to find that Creed put such a concentrated effort into making their own classic leather smell of salty ambergris and sea spray, evocative of a sailor in a leather coat, and the smell of his garment after many hours exposed to rough weather. Not what I was expecting at all.

I consider this fragrance to be styrax heaven, its gloriously smooth, understated animal hide constructed with additional notes of bergamot, pine, neroli, and birch, most of which are evident in the first hour of wear before melding into an inseparable slating of salty dryness. The Russian incense analogies elicited by the heavy use of natural benzoin resins are taken out of church and into the wild, thanks to ambergris and salt notes, yet Cuir de Russie isn't a fragrance I would reach for before a sailing trip or a walk on the beach. While its references to wind and waves are obvious, its woody green notes are very starched and conservative, and the composition reads as a brisk formal scent for uptown dinner parties and executive board meetings. It's fresh, yes, but it's also quite direct and serious.

Nevertheless, like the aforementioned Armani bestseller, CdR is easy to wear, loud enough to be over-applied, and not entirely "natural" in tone or effect. This is a postmodern leather. Its unisex appeal, quality craftsmanship, and enduring reputation as one of the better Russian leathers to hit the niche market make it worth seeking out if you're a fan of this sort of thing. I was never much for leathers (I'd sooner wear something with strong tobacco in it), but if I were to spot a flacon of this perfume in a store somewhere, I would inquire about it. It's good enough to spend a few hundred dollars on, that's for sure.