2/10/16

The Passion, The Fall, The Nonsense of It All


Peek-a-booh! LVMH sees you!


In what is perhaps the most glaring evidence yet of the global impact and influence of fragrance blogs on the perfume industry, this month's topic appears to be the recent discontinuation of Monsieur Guerlain. His words:

"The attacks I received were about me posting about discontinuations, re-namings, future releases, and also the satirical visual comments I created, and they admitted that they found me too influential to deserve the use of their name."

So apparently a fragrance blog can be very influential on the fragrance industry, enough to make a major corporation take legal action against it. Then again, maybe my reporting the fact that LVMH is this concerned about Monsieur Guerlain is just me being a propagandist, and perfume blogs are of no interest to the industry. If you can figure out how that logic works, you should read more by the author linked in this paragraph. His blog is full of whoppers like that one.

Kafkaesque has updated the story on his own very influential blog, although lately his influence seems to impact basenotes the most. It would appear that an offending link on Monsieur's site was the cause of LVMH's ire. It was LVMH and not Guerlain that took action (surprise, surprise). Furthermore, it would appear that such action was taken against Guerlain's wishes, as the house was dismayed to hear of Monsieur's plight. However, this isn't really news to anyone who's been paying attention. Of course it was LVMH. Duh. Did anyone really think it was Guerlain?

Oh, shit. My bad. I should've known better. Sorry.

Welcome to basenotes, where people pretend to care, but over-act to the point of straining my credulity to its furthest limit. These people make Nicolas Cage's technique seem timid in comparison. To read the comments, you wouldn't believe that this was just an account suspension. No, they stripped Monsieur himself naked, tied him to a chair, sprayed him from head to toe with Mahora, and withheld a shower for a week.

One guy posted a photograph of a dozen Guerlain boutique boxes piled on his snow-covered porch, with a handwritten note to Guerlain on top saying he is ready to ditch this "garbage" because, booh-hoo, a blog got reprimanded. This is your typical basenotes member, evidently not smart enough to realize early in the game that LVMH is responsible, not Guerlain. Even if Guerlain were to blame, that's no reason to throw away those nice empty Guerlain boxes.

This has been going on for a while now, this David and Goliath narrative. Chanel recently cracked down on decanters, asking that their products be excluded from third-party sales. Shocking! And an older story is Bond No 9's strongarm tactics, which I honestly thought were borderline criminal, and so far is the only tale I sympathize with. But listen, if I gave half a shit about the legal insecurities of fragrance companies, and based my wardrobe on whether or not I approve of how they act out on them, I'd probably be down to a couple of Avon aftershaves.

No brand is without sin. No brand is 100% credit worthy. We have to roll with this shit, and stop acting like we're going to torch our collections every time someone's reputation gets dinged. Don't tell me you're never going to wear Mitsouko again. That's horseshit. You're probably wearing it right now. And when you run out, your ass'll be on Amazon with "Mitsouko" typed in the search box faster than I can say "hypocrite." So cool your jets. Think about it. Then get back to me.

Then again, having read that basenotes thread, I take it back. Don't get back to me. Keep it to yourself.


2/7/16

Gillette Cool Wave Aftershave: What It Means to Be A Wet Shaver vs. Fragrance "Connoisseur"


Circle from left: Feather DE Travel Safety Razor, Pinaud Styptic Pencil, Speed Stick Power Unscented
Antiperspirant, Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Shave Cream, Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Pore Toner,
Gillette Cool Wave Aftershave, Bleu de Chanel EDT, Derby DE Razor Blades, Astra DE Razor Blades



If you smell like the products in the photo above, you look like them, too.

Members of both Basenotes and Badger & Blade know that they're two entirely different communities. Obviously one is primarily a fragrance site, while the other is an organization of men who call themselves "wet shavers." The former is focused on perfume, the latter on shaving, and all that it entails. Basenotes delves deeply into the subject of smelling "good," while B&B probes the meaning of manhood via the oldest ritual of manhood itself. It's a pleasure to be a member of B&B, and I am no longer a member of Grant's site. I can attest firsthand, however, to the incredible differences in the mentalities held by members of the two forums.

The biggest difference is in the attitude toward scent, and what it means to smell "good." Basenotes is a place where people are constantly in competition with each other. It's not about fragrance as much as it's about which camp of fragrance appreciation you fall into: the hoi polloi of designer scents, or the aristocracy of niche. Generally the tastes "trend up," as the Fragrance Bros on Youtube like to put it, which means expensive perfumes are more desirable than cheapies. This is not a unanimous attitude, as many members are also openly appreciative of relatively inexpensive products by houses like Mont Blanc, Caron, Krizia, and Davidoff.

B&B, on the other hand, is comprised of men who aren't as concerned about prices. They're more interested in smelling "like men" after shaving than they are in smelling "good." Clearly they want to smell "good" also, but it's a priority eclipsed by a stronger need to project manliness and bucketloads of testosterone. And the unspoken rule on the boards is that men don't fuss over perfume. Men splash on aftershave and maybe - just maybe - follow it with a little "cologne," in the more literal sense of the word (citrus, dry florals, sandalwood, musk). Aftershave, in both splash and balm forms, is more important than perfume. And aftershave, as we all know, is usually pretty cheap.

Granted, there are now plenty of high rent alternatives to the usual drugstore fare, stuff by Taylor of Old Bond Street, Truefitt and Hill, Myrsol, and Floid, to name a few. Some of these can cost a pretty penny. Then there's the added expense of stocking up on shaving soap and brushes (if you're a true wet shaver), or bottled shave creams (if you're a cheater like me), plus razors, toners, and talcs. But when it comes to how you smell, even the expensive aftershaves aren't aiming very high. Most are interpretations of the "Barbershop" concept, that fantastical, romantic ideal of powdery cleanliness achieved with minimal effort in every street corner barbershop of the nineteen fifties. Consider reviews of Myrsol's "Blue" aftershave compared to those of Aqua Velva Ice Blue, and you'll find many men prefer AV. Yet both are simply "barbershop" scents.

The other day I picked up a bottle of Gillette's Cool Wave aftershave. I've been familiar with it for a while, and never bothered with it, but out of boredom figured I'd give it a try. Interestingly, it's made in France, and housed in glass, which is nice. From the spout it smells like the nineties mixed with a little eighties, sort of a cross between Chrome and Lomani Pour Homme. Cool Wave was released in 1993, so its old-school vibe makes sense. The chemical properties of the stuff are bare bones: alcohol and fragrance. The smell is interesting, though. It's what is known on basenotes as a "grey citrus" scent, usually a derogatory term for a fragrance, as it alludes to a failed, overly metallic attempt at lemon, lime, and grapefruit notes. Typically "grey citrus" exists as a passing phase in a scent's evolution, such as in 4711 and Claiborne Sport, where the fruits are monochrome for a minute or two, and then blush back to color as more notes appear.

Cool Wave does something different - it embraces its "greyness." In fact, the citrus notes coalesce into what seems to be a blatant olfactory reconstruction of the smell of cold steel, not far removed from how my chromed razor and its blades smell. They could have called it "Cool Chrome," as it smells more metallic than Azzaro's take on this theme, and considerably cooler, with a fleeting hint of icy menthol (despite the formula containing no menthol at all). After ten minutes or so, it dries down to a mossy vetiver that actually smells pretty good. The fragrance's lifespan is extended by Gillette's use of hydrogenated castor oil as a carrier, instead of glycerin. If you use enough of it, Cool Wave will last a good three or four hours with some real projection. And its smell complements more sophisticated fare like Bleu de Chanel very well, making it the ideal "fresh" aftershave.

As I peruse the boards on B&B, I find generally favorable reviews of Gillette's aftershaves, including Cool Wave. This doesn't surprise me. B&B members embrace products like Clubman Aftershave-Lotion (and all Pinaud aftershaves), Old Spice, Skin Bracer, Aqua Velva and AV Ice Blue, Brut, Royal Copenhagen, Tabac, Royall Lyme (and all Royall products), various Florida Waters, Bay Rums, English Leather, Osage Rub, Jeris tonics, and dollar store Avon aftershaves. If I were to be objective about it, I'd have to say that most of these guys are walking around smelling like cheap cologne - i.e., smelling "bad." After all, who wants to smell plasticky dime store aroma chemicals wafting from the body of another person? When was the last time a woman told a guy (honestly) that his Florida Water smelled incredible?

But I can't be objective about it because I myself am a wet shaver. This is more than a grooming choice - it's a way of life. Wet shaving doesn't make sense until you start doing it. When I was a teenager and a young man in my early twenties, I used disposable and electric razors to shave. My shaves were adequate but clumsy. It was a joyless ritual, merely an exercise in shaving cream under a cheap skein of metal louvers that pulled on my hairs before chopping through them. It was a bumpy, irritating ride.

In my mid twenties (twenty-five or twenty-six), I realized that double-edged safety razors were a thing, and had been a thing for decades. They're far more approachable than straight razors, which in my opinion are the scariest things ever invented. Ever see the movie Drive, when Al Brooks kills Bryan Cranston's character? Yeah.

Furthermore, DE safety razors are so much better at what they do than those awful plastic disposables with five blades. Those things are terrible. Think about it - you execute one stroke on your face, and it's equal to five strokes, four of which are redundantly scraping into bare flesh. Sound good? Didn't think so. Whoever invented those things should be taken out back and shot.

Metal DE razors are the way to go. They're classier looking. They're permanent, for they'll never break or wear out. And they're easy to use, once you get the hang of them. I was fortunate enough to get a snub-handled Feather before they were discontinued (Feather razors have since become rather expensive). Shaving with it has always been a pleasure. My skin's health has improved, and I have total control over my appearance. I admit that when I first started using it, shaving was something done on Saturdays, when I had the time to complete the ritual. My inexperience slowed the process down, and I was lucky if I could shave within an hour.

Now, nine years later, I'm able to get a close shave done in ten minutes or less. Once the hairs are gone, the fun starts. Bear in mind that the skin has been scraped by a piece of metal, probably the most irritating thing imaginable. So the strategy of restoring its vitality and soothing whatever injuries were sustained is essential to how the rest of my day goes. There are a few options: witch hazel, aloe, balm, or alcohol. Sometimes they're used together, and sometimes just one gets picked, depending on how successful and gentle the shave.

When aftershave is used, it is typically paired with something that complements its scent. If I use Clubman, I might wear Brut or Rive Gauche Pour Homme. If I use Aqua Velva, I may opt for Bleu de Chanel or Cool Water. Sometimes I spritz my face with Tabac cologne, or Royal Copenhagen. Skin Bracer, my favorite, is sometimes paired with Joop! Jump, Jeanne Arthes Cotton Club, or Playboy VIP. Rarely do I leave the house with just an aftershave on, because most aftershaves are undetectable after an hour, rendering null and void their viability as a personal scent. Yet whatever it's paired with seeks only to reinforce the sensory aftermath of my morning ablutions.

Notice the common bond between these products: they're all cheap. They smell cheap. Yet as a guy, that's how I want to smell. That's how the hundreds of guys on Badger & Blade want to smell, also. What gives?

I think it boils down to nostalgia. Men want to smell "the way real men used to smell." There's a scene early on in High Plains Drifter where Clint Eastwood visits a small town barber. He's about to get a shave, and the barber nervously asks if he wants it followed with lilac water. Eastwood's character isn't interested. But he does want the shave. And that entails being slathered in soap, and probably dusted with talc. The message is that the artifice of donning cologne is not as manly as the residual scents imparted by simply being shaved. It's these residual aromas that the cheap aftershaves attempt to simulate - the powders, the soaps, the whiffs of metal. These allude to real masculinity. These are "barbershop."

Shaving isn't something to be taken lightly. B&B members take it seriously because they enjoy it, but my best friend is someone who actually suffers from shaving. Without getting too specific about his personal identity, I'll just say that he suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and is fixated on the "perfect" shave. To him, it's about symmetry. He shaves one side of his face. Then he shaves the other. Then he re-shaves the edges of his beard on the first side, followed with an equal touch-up effort on the other. That's fine, except his illness kicks in, and he's never satisfied with how his beard looks. So he shaves and re-shaves and re-shaves again, literally dragging the blades (inexplicably, he uses disposables) over hairless skin.

He does this a few dozen times before he's finally satisfied. Then he applies balms, or just keeps the aloe shave cream on his cheeks, and tries to return to normal life. Meanwhile, he just spent four hours in the bathroom engaged in a ritual that should have been completed in no more than fourteen minutes. Shaving is literally consuming his life. This is only possible because, for better or worse, shaving is an integral part of being a man. It's the reason the recent "lumberjack metrosexual," or "Lumbersexual" trend of being fastidiously groomed with a chest-length beard makes no sense. Most of these guys would look a thousand times better (and more convincingly masculine) if they eschewed their fuzzy jawlines and just got a decent shave.

Wet shaving brings with it a variety of aromas from a range of different products, and thus the wet shaver strives to emit the "aura" of having shaved, as if it is a scent of its own. Achieving this mood does not require the use of expensive perfumes, though it can if you want it to. Clean masculinity is easily projected via the use of cheap products that have their own complementary scents, their combined efforts working to project a specific historical idea of manliness.

Products like Gillette's accomplish this with minimal effort. In a wet shaver's mind, it's okay if he smells like cheap aftershave, as long as there's a functional reason for it to be wafting from his collar in the first place, and he looks the part. Unlike the fragrance connoisseur, the wet shaver needs his scent to directly correlate with his appearance.




1/31/16

Old Spice Original (Rubicon Formulations, Ltd.)


"Smell Like A Man" . . . A man from Mumbai.


Although I've always doubted the veracity of claims regarding the superiority of Indian Old Spice, labeled "Original," to the American Old Spice "Classic," I used the Indian version this week with an open mind. I truly love P&G's formula, and strongly feel that it represents the best version of Old Spice, at least in my experience with this scent, but I did my best to not let bias influence my opinion of the imported version.

I bought the aftershave by Rubicon Formulations, Ltd., now the only Indian manufacturer, and was pleased to find it housed in glass, not plastic. There's nothing wrong with plastic, but glass is classy (and ceramic is even classier). Rubicon's paint job is a little sloppy, but otherwise the presentation is decent. American bottles are throwbacks to the fifties, when inexpensive travel sets of Old Spice were introduced in market tests. Their kitsch factor makes them tolerable, but there's no denying glass feels better in hand.

P&G's foreign subsidiary makes a product that smells very good, but isn't as "serious" as OS Classic. It smells creamily effulgent in ways similar to Vi-Jon's dirt cheap and simplistic "Spice Scent." It's brighter and fresher, which is probably a plus in Bangalore's stifling heat, but what strikes me as particularly interesting is that it lacks the depth and darkness of the American formula. There's no clove, carnation, or cedar. No balsamic wisps or orange citrus nuances. No powder, even. It's mainly a shimmery aldehyde and allspice melange on a puff of musky vanilla, and little else.

Classic is dimensional, with subtle drydown stages. The soapiness of Original is not how I remember Shulton's version; Classic's duskiness is more evocative of vintage. Shulton had a strong cinnamon note, much like Classic, but Rubicon has relatively mild cinnamon. Shulton had an evanescent balsamic heart accord with hints of cedar and amber; Classic gets very woody in its mid. On fabric, Rubicon's scent performs better. It smells deeper, with a mellow, spicy-fresh drydown that lasts an hour longer.

You don't have to hunt for an Indian grocery store to buy and enjoy Old Spice. Just go to Rite-Aid and get the Classic version. You'll be fine. If you do happen to use the Rubicon Old Spice aftershave, a word of warning - it burns twice as much as the American stuff - more alcohol, or perhaps harsher alcohol is the culprit there. In the plus column, it leaves skin nicely toned, even a little better than the American version. For purely practical shaving purposes, it gets the job done very well.



1/23/16

Cigarillo (Rémy Latour)



"Cigarillo by Rémy Latour is an invitation to explore the
World of precious wood essences from the tropics."


The above statement quotes the text imprinted on the inner side of the paper band surrounding the bottle for Cigarillo. It's translated into six other languages, Creed style, and oh yeah, the rest of the packaging for this strange little fragrance is extraordinarily beautiful, at least by Rémy Latour standards.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so I offer the above photo as a visual description of the outside of the box. I didn't take a picture of the back of the box, but there isn't much to see. There's just a small white sticker with a super short ingredients list and a barcode. Below is a photo of what you see when you open the box.




And here is a photo of the side of the bottle, which is sealed with a sticker that matches the one on the outside of the package.




And here is the bottle itself, heavy glass moulded into the shape of cigarillos, the trademark Rémy Latour style. It's really well made, with "Eau de Toilette" and "Cigarillo" embossed on the bottom (not shown).




Cigarillo was released in 1996 alongside Cigar, and that's all I know about it. I guess it was intended to be a promotional product. It's been discontinued, and I seriously doubt there are more than a hundred bottles in existence today. Packages like this aren't made on a large scale. There is absolutely no information about it on the internet, aside from one rather uninformed "review" on an otherwise bare basenotes page.

I can't say I'm very familiar with Rémy Latour's fragrances, but this is a cool place to start. I happened across it on the discount shelf of a local shop for a very good price. The place makes me laugh because its priorities are plainly askew - its owner prices weird trash like Cathy Carden's Space at $50, but asks about half as much for a more extravagant item like this. Go figure.

Anyway, on to the scent: Cigarillo is a misleading name for this EDT. Its composition isn't really about tobacco, although it does have a teeny tobacco note. More prominent in the pyramid are dried fruit notes, and musky, nondescript aromatics, with smooth wood tones, mainly cedar. Conspicuously absent from the formula are any and all floral notes, as I detect nary a single petal in the entire evolution of this scent, on both skin and fabric.

I certainly wouldn't say this fragrance is sweet. Its only edible section resides at the top, which smells of a dessicated, prune-like, ambiguously "perfumey" fruit. Perhaps it's a musky citrus combed into the sugary rind of dehydrated pineapple? Hard to say, as there's no butyric element, but whatever it is, it borders on candy without crossing the line. These qualities are offset by a transparent bay note. It's a strange accord, unlike anything I've smelled before, and it lasts about fifteen minutes. Its dusky delectables draw me in; the grizzle of semi-animalic musks and sour bay hold me there.

Eventually this unique top segues into a ghost of treated snuff, wedded to a very dusty cedar and musk base. The "tobacco" effect is representative of an artificial flavoring, rather than actual tobacco leaf. Fragrances like Cigarillo and Vermeil for Men, which Latour's scent resembles for roughly an hour or so, are priced to mimic the synthetic aromatics of processed tobacco, not the burly radiance of the real stuff. With that in mind, the perfumer hit a homerun. Cigarillo smells like a cheap cigarillo. As a former cigar smoker, I can attest to this firsthand.

This all eventually becomes a relatively simple cedar fragrance. It isn't pencil shaving cedar, or woody amber. It's just a sooty cigar box smell. There's something "niche" about it. They were going for a concept: a perfume that smells of cheap tobacco aromatics at the start, with a little steer sweat baked into the middle, all resting in an Old World wooden container. And it actually comes in that very same container. Well done, Latour. Well done.

The packaging was obviously handmade, probably by a single craftsman, or maybe a very small team. The lettering on the box is a dead giveaway. When I caught sight of this fragrance, it resurrected dormant creative juices from my graphic design days.

I'm friends with a retired designer who was commissioned, thirty some-odd years ago, by Anheuser-Busch. They needed him to create a promotional line of wooden crates, to be filled with beer bottles and sold at company events. Each crate was constructed with plywood. Each had the company logo etched into it. All were hand packed with straw.

The order was overwhelmingly enormous for one person to manage, at ten thousand units. At the time, it wasn't cost effective to outsource, nor practical to fill within the U.S., but that didn't stop him from trying.

The same happened with Cigarillo. Someone at corporate headquarters was riding high on a Clintonian dotcom bubble, and decided to throw a little surplus pocket change at some small time commercial artist, either in Europe or North America. Three thousand man hours and several gallons of blood, sweat, and tears later, this magnificent faux cigar box with its colorful stickers and waxed parchment rolled off a basement assembly line and was shipped to Latour. Now, twenty years later, I'm enjoying it. Ain't life grand?



1/3/16

The "Confounding Factor"


Or maybe she put hers on twelve hours ago, and yours was just applied.


On this page of yet another very lengthy Badger & Blade thread about vintage Old Spice, member "GoneRetroInOH" writes:

"There is a lot of speculation as to whether any reformulation across time (old Shulton vis-à-vis new P&G) or distance (USA / India) ever occurred. IMHO the most confounding factor is aging on the shelf. I have Shulton bottles that I used from time to time. A little always went a long way and I used them only intermittently, so they have lasted 30-35 years. Your 1956 bottle has outlived a lot of people who were babies at the time. Even though the classic bottle stores well, the product still may have subtle changes with age. It is entirely possible that there were no formulation changes, yet the old would seem somewhat different from the new."

This statement nails it. The reason vintage lovers can't reconcile their appreciation of classic formulas with their feelings for reformulations rests simply with the issue of time. For whatever reason, they chronically ignore the issue mentioned above. Time can do incredible things to bottled fluids. Supposedly superior vintage formulas are credited with being "more natural," and "made of better quality materials," and "more complex," but are these traits the result of superior manufacturing weighed against the "cheapening" of classic brands, or are they attributable to their age alone?

Time is the inescapable third variable in comparisons between the qualities of old vs new. When it comes to judging something against its older self, you must consider the discrepancies between the two sets of conditions. On one side you have the "new" stuff, and on the other the "old," but theoretically they're still the same item. Despite this fact, something about the old stuff usually smells better or worse than the new stuff. Why?

Let's think about the "better" part first. Here we suppose that the vintage smells richer, more complex, and chemically superior to its counterpart, based on smell alone. Is this assessment objective? Unfortunately it can't be, because interpreting odors is subjective (smelling odors, on the other hand, is quite objective). You and your buddy will likely agree that the residual odor of the loaf he pinched in your bathroom is vile, but you may differ in opinion on just how good a particular vintage perfume smells. Perfume is harder to interpret than shit.

The reasons for this vary. You may have a broader frame of reference for perfume than he does. Your nose may be more sensitive than his. Your idea of what smells "good" may be, in an abstract sense, somewhat different. The social nature of the perfume may be an influencing factor. If you've had bad experiences with someone who wears the fragrance in question, your association with any version of it may be negatively biased. Conversely, positive associations are made with fragrances that correlate with positive experiences.

Now let's consider the "worse" part. What if you think the fragrance smells "spoiled," and he doesn't? What happened there? Apparently one basenotes member has decided that there are specific issues that preclude fragrance spoilage, and that these issues require consideration by people who might otherwise mistakenly suppose a perfume has spoiled on them. Of course, most of his points aren't based on anything factual. They are assumptions one should never make, and I'll get to them in a bit.

The criteria for assessing whether "spoilage" has truly occurred are simple: you must know what the same vintage of a perfume smells like when it is both new, and not new. If you can identify changes between new and old, and these changes detract from the experience of smelling the old, you have spoilage.

Though simple, this criteria is difficult for people to utilize. It's pretty common to have an isolated sample of a scent that you're generally unfamiliar with. This makes interpretation difficult. How do you know if what you're smelling is "spoiled" if you can't accurately interpret it?

And even if you are familiar with the fragrance, you can't compare accurately unless you have an infallible memory of the way a vintage smelled decades ago. Reformulations change how perfumes smell all the time, making it impossible to trust a direct comparison of vintage to today's formula (they're different vintages). Since you're not Marty McFly, you'll have to settle for an understanding of degrees of spoilage, and how they inhabit the "performance patterns" of vintage fragrances in general.

There are two degrees of spoilage: "extreme" spoilage, and "slight" spoilage. The first degree is very easy to recognize; the second is trickier because it relies on the employment of an inexact methodology to determine quality.

First, the "extreme" spoilage - in this instance, we're right back into objective olfactory territory, the same realm as your loaf-pinching friend. You spray the perfume, and wow! That stinks! Instead of Fahrenheit, your arm wafts extreme odors of sour florals, with a rapid drydown to burnt shoe. You have a recoil reaction, and instinctively recognize the odors as being inarguably bad.

Now, the "slight" spoilage - here the perfume seems wearable. It doesn't offend, but also doesn't impress, at least not as much as expected. There are fuzzy textural qualities, limited movements, and a surprising linearity. The sample appears to be fine, and projects fairly well, with some pleasant qualities, but something's off.

This is where the inexact methodology of recognizing "performance patterns," (otherwise known as the "drydown arc"), is necessary to determine the true nature of the beast. For example: your vintage Fahrenheit smells okay, but its excessively bitter floral top notes segue into a dry, hissy base within thirty seconds, and then this relatively flat accord remains static. You don't know Fahrenheit well enough to make a judgment as to whether or not this smells correct, and you have no other samples of this fragrance on hand. What do you do?

You may not know how to interpret what you smell, but you're trying to interpret the wrong thing. Forget about how your Fahrenheit smells. How does it perform? Make note of the transitions - super brief and unpleasant top, rapidly followed by clumsy base, with no heart to speak of. The fragrance seems very smooth, but also very linear.

Check out a bottle of vintage Cool Water. Does it perform similarly? Same short top, followed almost immediately by a droning, smooth base accord of barely distinguishable notes? How about vintage M7? Vintage Zino? Vintage Drakkar Noir? Do these exhibit the same performance patterns? Some vintages will seem to perform in distinct and measured triads of top, heart, and base, while others will collapse in on themselves within seconds. Those with triads are well preserved and minimally degraded; those that collapse are more severely compromised.

Compare the qualities of performances across a wide range of vintages to the performances of an equally wide range of new fragrances, and make mental (or literal) notes of your experiences. Remember, you're observing performance qualities, NOT material qualities. From this you can create some semblance of a "standard" to hold vintage fragrances against.

This methodology requires extensive experience with fragrances of all ages. You'll probably have to become familiar with at least a few hundred perfumes to really fine tune your nose into spotting degraded performance qualities. Once you've gained this experience, recognizing deterioration in perfumes that you are otherwise unfamiliar with becomes easier.

Most degraded vintages display attenuated or nonexistent top notes. You have vintage English Leather, and you're expecting citrus at the start. Instead you get a bitter epoxy effect, immediately followed by dry, smooth woods. The top notes are gone. With time, that nondescript and usually acidic top note characteristic becomes recognizable in itself, as you encounter it again and again in older perfumes. It gets to the point where you immediately recognize that a fragrance is missing its top notes.

Overly smooth, monochromatic base accords are also common in degraded vintages. These can be the most misleading, because they often smell good. However, they lack note separation, and tend to remain "frozen" on skin. Once this base arrives, it just stays there, unchanging, for hours. Good smell, but no distinct complexity, and very little evolution. In most of the vintages I've encountered, this effect is usually musky/woody, like an invisible finger smudged a handful of wood notes and a couple of sweet synthetic musks into one semi-sweet wood note, which usually resembles sandalwood. I've experienced this quality in vintage Feeling Man, Zino, Grey Flannel, etc.

Balance issues are also a recurring theme. This is really a question of compromised movement, not elemental deterioration. I once had a vintage bottle of Green Irish Tweed, dated to 2001. The crisp violet, powdery iris, warm amber, and clean sandalwood notes were offset by an unbalanced musk note, which had somehow pulled free of its tether and plowed its way to the front end of the drydown. The result was something that smelled like a musk scent with some light green nuances shimmering in the background.

When you employ the inexact methodology of performance patterns, don't miss the forest for the trees, as our friend on basenotes has. Sure, liquid in atomizer tubes could spoil sooner than the rest of the juice, but there's no evidence that this happens, nor is there any evidence people have recurringly had this issue. Sealed spray bottles are no more or less prone to spoilage than splash bottles, though the latter are easier to tamper with. I'm not sure where the idea that splash bottles should be excluded from these considerations came from, but suspect it's another instance of this particular basenotes member "moving the goalpost" of how to assess spoilage.*

In the end, weighing the merits of a vintage rests with how accurately you know a fragrance. Those who have smelled and compared fresh perfumes to aged perfumes of the same vintage can determine whether degradation has occurred with the greatest ease. But even then, they must account for changes. This brings us to the confounding factor in any study, scientific or otherwise, of vintage against new: the simple test of time.

If the supposition is that yesterday's perfumes are chemically superior to today's, I suppose a simple CG analysis could shed light on the veracity of this claim, but it wouldn't convey the nature of the drydown arc, or its variables. It wouldn't compare "performance patterns." As the B&B member quoted above aptly pointed out, time may very well explain why an illusion of higher quality persists with vintage fragrances like Old Spice. I hope that an improved understanding of this confounding factor will one day, with great irony, render condemnation of recent formulas obsolete.





* This particular basenotes member seems hell-bent on proving to the world that I'm wrong in my assertion that perfumes spoil. The thread he participates in (link here) is full of firsthand testimonies by people whose perfumes have spoiled.

12/31/15

Welcoming 2016 With Open Arms!


I want YOU for armageddon!

I often dream of a world devoid of all life, except for mine. Selfish, isn't it? Or perhaps Sartre's "Hell is other people" is a phrase I've internalized somehow. I sometimes envision myself in a dilapidated room, an empty, L-shaped room, with no furniture or other objects in it, constructed of beat-up plywood boards painted a peculiar shade of purplish blue, with flecks of mottled grey from a previous paint job showing through. The room has two modest horizontal panoramic windows; one faces west, and looks upon a desolate cityscape of barren rooftops, set ablaze by a bright orange sunset eternally frozen in its first stage of civil twilight, while the second overlooks the south, and a highway overpass a half mile away, with a smokestacked factory just behind it.

The overpass appears to contradict my heavenly solitude by hosting a clamorous rush hour, the reddish-orange light reflecting glints of metal and glass as featureless cars and trucks cross my line of vision. Surely these are people driving home, right? No - closer inspection from the ledge of that splintered window frame reveals that these vehicles rest on tracks, spaced across four bidirectional lanes, which carry in an endless loop via electrical current (presumably from the factory in the background) this false display of evening bustle. They aren't cars and trucks; they are toys, rattling noisily along, repeating at intervals of ten or fifteen minutes the same sequential order of trucks, tractor trailers, and cars. These vehicles go nowhere.

Is this a detailed description of something? Can you see exactly what I see as you read my words? Does it elicit profoundly strange and mysterious feelings within you? This is the exercise perfume writers engage in on a constant basis: describing the indescribable. The goal is (usually) to convey to readers what something smells like, for people without perfumes on hand. Sometimes we're successful, but I think we frequently fall short.

Describing something with true clarity is hard enough when the subject is visual, like the scene above. It's even harder when dealing with the sense of smell. If I tell you I see a sunset, you can imagine a sunset you've seen recently, with all its reds and yellows and pinks and greys. But If I say, "Lily," there's a number of ways to interpret it. Is it sweet? Is it green? Is it bitter? Is it truly lily, or some synthetic analog of the flower? You get my drift.

I look forward to another year of doing this. When I look back at the years of writing this blog, I find some high points and low points, some clear ups and downs. What ties them all together is my fascination with how things smell. So how does this mysterious room that I envision myself in smell? I'll leave that one wide open. Sometimes the effect works better when the reader inserts his or her own sensation into the scene.

Looking back, I can't help but notice some high tide moments, like when I finally got my mitts on Le Troisième Homme, and found it to be just as hard to describe as pretty much every other person who has ever tried to describe it. Or when I interviewed Jeffrey Dame, and learned more about perfume in a day than I'd learned in ten years. The piece I did on Grey Flannel's corporate history, which precipitated the Dame interview, was probably the most enjoyable research post I've written for From Pyrgos. And somewhat unrelated to this blog, but still tremendously enjoyable, was reading this thread, in which one of the most intellectually shallow arguments ever made is roundly trounced by someone who calls himself "Lomaniac." I ate popcorn MJ-in-Thriller style as I read all seven pages of it.

Oh, I'm sorry, was that last sentence too "Donald Trump" for your liking? That was intentional. Last but not least, I'd like to mention the new American culture of Donald Trump, a nascent sociopolitical phenomenon that threatens the core of our humanity in a way not seen since the rise of the Third Reich. The spectre of 2016 as Donald Trump's election year is something that is both dire and inevitable, because frankly I don't see Hillary winning the country.

But maybe it's the chaos that needs to happen in America before things can actually improve here. For too many years the Obama politics of same-old, same-old have gripped the nation in vice-like fingers of political avarice and economic injustice. The President has taxed us to death, and his administration has fudged the numbers on the unemployed and underemployed in ways not seen before in our history.

Maybe we need a fat billionaire buffoon who hasn't a clue on how to govern to step in and really fuck the country up. Then, when all chaos has broken loose, and angry masses have stormed whatever passes for America's Bastille, the tide for true change can sweep across the nation and bring social justice and order back to our shores in angry, cathartic waves. Things must get worse before they can get better.

Fear not, dear reader. If Donald Trump is elected, and all bad things come to pass, From Pyrgos will continue on, unfettered by craziness, your comforting voice on the one thing that symbolizes civility and refinement: perfume.


12/29/15

Stick With Your Love Of Perfume: You'll Evolve


Scumville?


The flameouts continue. Apparently there has been a shift in public opinion, and the perfume house of Creed is now home to "scumbags" of the, ahem, highest order. (Get out your paypal accounts: Aventus! Wink, wink.)

This week I happened across this thread on basenotes. You can read all ten tedious pages of it yourself if you so please, for I shall abstain from detailing its unholy contents by its godless authors here. I'll stop at saying that it is indicative of all that remains troublesome about that forum, still a community of classless heathens with more money than brains. To sum it up in a few short words: Creed's fragrances are cheaper in France than they are in America, which makes its owners greedy scumbags who should be boycotted, 'cause that'll learn 'em real good, real fast.

Honestly, I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.

If you're world-weary and wise enough to avoid wading into this horrendously sludgy runoff of backwards logic from third-world brainage systems, you're sharp enough to imagine the word warriors pummeling each other senseless. You don't need me for that.

Instead, I'd like to suggest what Creed perfumes could mean to you as a budding fragrance collector, or even an established fumehead junkie with a few hundred bottles in your collection.

Creed is the twenty-first century mercury switch of your perfume maturity.

Let's look at it this way: when you first start out in this "hobby," you look for the hot shit brand that'll put you a few cuts above your friends in the wearing game. On their best nights, your pals will sport seventy or eighty dollar department store frags, but you're going to wear one better. Much better. You get what you pay for, right? Creed is popular, and it's very expensive. You have to try it. Then you have to have it. And for a while there, it's impressing you, and some of your friends, and you figure Creed is important.

Then you grow up a little. You try three or four hundred other perfumes. Most can be had for ten or fifteen dollars an ounce. Without realizing it, you lose interest in "fresh" and "modern" and "sexy," and gravitate towards things that are sophisticated. With sophistication comes pedigree: Dior's lesser known releases, defunct and endangered brands from thirty years ago like Balenciaga, Guy Laroche, and Jacques Bogart. You're following perfumers, not perfumes, and smelling good is never about money.

Eventually you reach a point where you've been through at least five hundred perfumes, and a light bulb goes on - Creed, oh yeah, Creed. What did I think of their latest perfume again? Shit, I can't even remember. It was good. I liked it. Fuck it. If I see it on Amazon for under two hundred dollars, I may grab a bottle. Maybe Fragrancenet has a good deal today - let's see what they have.

And that's how it actually goes. By this point you're far more interested in the idea of a good, honest, straight-up fougère, like Rive Gauche Pour Homme, than you are in the extravagant glitz of an over-developed hybrid like Silver Mountain Water. And if SMW really intrigues you, you want to explore the idea of SMW by smelling frags inspired by it, or otherwise related to it. But traditionalism has won the day. Things from the "old school," wafting dry florals and talcum powder, make you smell and feel good. EROLFA smells very good, but also has you wondering if you'd have been better off buying a few backup bottles of Caron's Third Man instead.

So that four-ouncer of Green Irish Tweed on Amazon (sold by Amazon) for a hundred and forty bucks makes the rotation, but it competes for its place there. You still love it, still enjoy it, but you don't have to wear it. The bottle will last you. Know what you can't keep in stock? Francesco Smalto Pour Homme. Furyo. Zino. Tsar. The last thing on your mind as you're rocking your favorite Edmond Roudnitska composition is that it's Creed's fault you can't pay full retail for their perfumes.