3/28/15

Buicks And Bleu de Chanel EDP



I've been a bit busy this month. The winter of 2015 will forever be on my shit list, because it killed my 2001 Pontiac Sunfire, a car that I really liked and enjoyed driving for the better part of ten years. It had a good transmission and a surprisingly roomy interior, with decent pickup for a four-banger, and a nice automatic sunroof that I'll miss. The unrelentingly frigid temperatures finally had their way with the heater core and head gasket, which forced me to look for a new vehicle. Which I found rather quickly, as you can see above (not my actual car, but identical to it).

I traded up on the GM ladder and went for a car that I've always loved, an eighth generation Buick LeSabre Custom. Whenever I see these things in parking lots I stop and drool, and given that I desperately needed a car on very short notice, and a local garage just happened to have a LeSabre with very low miles (and at a great price), lemons became lemonade. Maybe it's revenge for how the universe robbed me of my beloved 1985 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, or the car gods finally gave me a break after cycling me through two Cavaliers (the Sunfire is just a rebranded Cavalier), but I had to have this car, and now that I do, I love it even more than I thought I would.

It's big. Really, really fucking big. It doesn't look quite that big on the outside, but it's a 16 footer and a six-seater with enough trunk space to fit two adult bodies, with room to spare. These big romantic American cars are like catnip to me. We tend to screw up on most things, but when it comes to cars, America is where it's at. Sorry, Europe and Asia. You can keep your Opals and Peugeots and Toyotas and Suzukis. Don't care for 'em. Maybe having an 18 gallon gas tank and a hood the size of an air hockey table is impractical and more than a little dumb. I don't care. Big cars are hot.

Anyway, on to Bleu de Chanel EDP. What can I say? This fragrance smells amazing. The EDT is rather Chevrolet, but the Parfum is a Buick. Maybe even a Caddy. I'm still not wild about this fragrance, but I do like the EDP quite a bit. It's very, very similar to the EDT, but it's richer, smoother, deeper, and a little more dynamic, with a very shimmery, almost Creed-like ginger/citrus/labdanum top accord that shifts effortlessly into an ambery incense that goes on for hours, and smells incredible.

Why does it smell better than the EDT when it's basically the same composition? Maybe it's the richer labdanum note that clinches it, along with a more lucid ginger, and juicier citrus notes. It's pretty much the original BdC, now in digital surround sound. There's pink pepper in there also, and what smells like a faint hint of rose, sweet and almost boozy, which makes it more unisex, something I might prefer on a woman.

In any case, if I can ever afford another bottle of perfume again, I'll try and make it a bottle of BdC EDP. The EDT is a compliment mill, so I imagine the EDP will really drive 'em wild. Bravo, Chanel. Keep up the good work!




3/21/15

Let's Cut Costs By Spending More Money!



I guess there aren't many design majors on basenotes.

I'm not going to get long-winded here, because I've already made this point a few times before, but it bears mentioning again. Why? Because apparently there's only two or three of us in the fragrance community who base our thinking about reformulations on logic, instead of knee-jerk nonsense.

The point in question is simple: perfume brands do not change perfume packaging every time they significantly reformulate a fragrance. Reformulations happen more frequently than people realize, and they're never something a company wants to advertise. Repackaging a perfume requires considerable design work, paper purchases, press trials, and money. Reformulations are often conducted to cut costs in manufacturing, adjust an older perfume to contemporary trends, or both. If you're the head of a perfume firm, you're not going to cut costs in the formula but pay an unnecessary sum to change packaging just to "signal" to buyers that you've changed the formula. To do so would make absolutely no sense at all.

Yet people on basenotes put reformulations and repackagings in the same corner. Just read this thread to see how weird their logic is. As an aside, you can also see how they pile on a guy who believes many reformulated fragrances are just as good as, if not better than their originals, with an unnecessarily offensive air typical to the forum, unfortunately. But I'm more interested in how the thread participants blindly link reformulations to repackagings. These are often the same people who consider reformulations to be results of companies "cheaping out" on formerly complex and presumably expensive perfumes (actually the perfumes are rarely expensive).

I studied graphic design, photography, and print process. I hold a degree in graphic design. Redesigning a commercial package is a big financial task. Larger brands have in-house design firms. If they don't, then they outsource the work to whichever third-world company can undercut the competition and still produce the goods. Let's say it costs twenty or thirty thousand dollars to use an in-house perfumer for reformulating a scent, a job in which he merely swaps out ingredients at one price-point for ingredients at another, and then rebalances the formula to make the change as unnoticeable as possible. If he's in-house, this is simply salary money. The result is something that will be used for two or three years, and will save the company hundreds of thousands in manufacturing costs. But like any business, the motive for change is based on the here and now, and if that change involves cheapening something, it means current overhead is noticeably hurting profits.

You want to heal profits overnight? Cheapen the formula with an in-house perfumer without robbing the scent of its essential character. Sell it at the same price as before, in the same carefully budgeted packaging as before, and guess what? You'll start to see an improvement in your profit margin. Change one thing, and other things may change for the better.

You want to defeat the purpose? Cheapen a formula and add an additional one or two hundred grand to the bill. Prepare to pay anywhere from fifteen to thirty thousand for a logo redesign (the more known the logo is, the bigger the bill to redesign it), and another ten or fifteen thousand for a box redesign. Add another sixty thousand for millions of sheets of brand new hi-gloss paper, industrial print trials (with CMYK tweaks), and final press work. Expect additional bills from whatever packaging plant you're using, if it's not yours to begin with. And if the bottle is changing, look out for anywhere from ten to twenty-five grand for whoever is inking those lines and shaping the glass. Tangentially (and unavoidably) you'll also be spending millions of dollars to announce the "new look" with print ads, internet ads, and TV spots, if your perfume is relatively popular and still in chain stores. Brut is a prime example of this. By the time you're done, you could be looking at two or three million dollars just to "signal" to buyers that you changed the formula.

Some will argue that this is chump change for larger brands. If you've ever created a business plan, you know that there's no such thing as chump change. Every dollar counts. Every dollar is accounted for. Every dollar spent is a risk. This mindset is what keeps the big boys big.

Why not just change a package when you need to change it?

When these kinds of changes are made, it's due to market test results or a change in the packaging division's management structure. New blood brings a new approach. Such expenditures are made for their own reasons, but sending not-so-subliminal warnings about changed formulas to cynical buyers isn't one of them.




3/15/15

Z-14 From 06-14: Back To The Future



Halston's masterpiece has again endured reformulation, although this most recent formula is a return to the Z-14 of seven or eight years ago, at a marginally lighter concentration, with no dramatic change to the scent itself. I've owned four bottles of Z in the last ten years: one from 2002, 2008, 2011, and 2014, the last purchased a few weeks ago at Marshalls for $12. The code on the bottom reads "4HJ1," and checkcosmetic.net cites its production date as June of last year.

Internet chatter about this fragrance has declined in recent years. Last summer there was a thread about its variances over four decades, with many guys predictably lamenting the removal of oakmoss from the formula, and some even lamenting the removal of vetiver, which is a note that never really jumped out at me, not even in the 2002 formula, which did have a very slight vetiver note, but only the faintest suggestion of it. I actually got more of a "wet tobacco" note in that version, along with an intense cinnamon aldehyde explosion in the top notes. That was my first experience with Z-14, and I disliked it so much that I tossed it in the garbage.

My subsequent bottles revealed extremely subtle variances in the scent, with the overall fragrance almost 100% identical in each, barring mild shifts in focus between oakmoss, treemoss, aldehyde, and lavender. I chalk up the hugely unbalanced cinnamon bomb in the 2002 bottle as being the result of deterioration rather than reformulation. The 2008 batch contains smooth lavender and a distinct oakmoss effect in the drydown, but often smells a bit too bright, as if the mosses were given their own aldehyde. The 2011 batch contains a smidge less lavender and only treemoss, which I prefer by a slight margin. The difference is very small, but the treemoss is drier, darker, and the aldehydic effect is toned down, making the wearing experience starker and not quite as "fresh." The 2014 returns to the fizzy shimmer of the 2008 batch, with infinitesimally more lavender and a drop of extra aldehyde, but the concentration has been somewhat reduced here, to the point where it really does perform like a cologne rather than an EDT. It's gone in two hours, unless very liberally applied, which is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, I like that it's not as apt to offend anyone with its intense piney citrus notes. This quieter Z-14 has low throw, which makes it office friendly. On the other hand, if they dial the concentration back any more, the scent will disappear altogether. Might as well just release it as aftershave and forget calling it a cologne. I doubt they'll tamper with the concentration any more, but one thing I love about it is that the smoothness of the herbal effects in the 2008 batch is reiterated, yet smells rebalanced and more successful in the lighter juice.

I've read that the 2014 batches contain intense cinnamon, but I smell no more or less cinnamon in the 2014 formula. The cinnamon in the 2011 batch is a little "flatter" than the same note in the 2014, which is a bit more textured, but again, that can be considered the effects of age and freshness. To my nose, the cinnamon note is dosed the same in the 2008, 2011, and 2014 formulas. The bergamot and pine notes are very fresh in the newest bottle, and the lemon aldehyde is clearly derived from citrus. The 2014 batch is definitely a natural-smelling "woody citrus" scent. I was a little disappointed, because I hoped the cinnamon would be more intense. I guess if I want a cinnamon fix I'll have to stick with Individuel.

I highly recommend the latest version, but be warned that it's subtler than prior versions of Z-14. If you were a fan of Z-14's formula from roughly ten years back, you'll probably enjoy the newest version quite a bit. This fragrance continues to smell like one of the more natural compositions still on the market, a combination of outdoorsy notes that play off themselves and complement each other beautifully, despite the formula being largely synthetic and dirt-cheap. It's just too bad EA never thought to make this stuff in a perfume concentration, and call it "Z-14 Now Intense." That would probably smell incredible.



3/1/15

New West For Him (Estée Lauder)



I must admit that I've only ever owned and worn the original formula of New West, an ounce of which I purchased for fifteen dollars at a shop in CT. This is one of those "fresh" masculines from the Cool Water era that some bloggers and reviewers consider a watershed cologne, marking a distinct move away from earth tones in masculine and feminine perfumery. The seventies and eighties offered one mossy, woody-herbal composition after another, but by 1988 the Calone molecule was fair game. New West was one of the first fragrances to showcase it, and despite feeling dated, it's a very nice scent.

Advertised as a "Skin Scent for Men," Yves Tanguy's composition features a bright aquatic blast in its top notes, which rapidly sweetens into a mellow, melon-like note. Particularly notable about its performance is how dry and herbal it smells, with a deep, dark, almost incensy artemisia and pine accord reminiscent of the dessicated and super oily pine accord in Yatagan. Tanguy is the nose behind Silences, Jacamo's infamous ultra-green perfume from Yatagan's era, and his handling of bitter herbal notes for Aramis is just as deft. Additional splashes of bay leaf, cedar, sage, and oakmoss tingle and fizz from skin for New West's seven hour duration, with the bay and sage smelling especially pronounced. There's a thin white musk upholding everything, but it merely supports the cast, and doesn't attempt a star turn. The far drydown is very brisk, woodsy, and clean, a perfume in pastels.

Guy Laroche put their own spin on this type of fragrance in 1993 with Horizon, a somewhat similar scent. Horizon's "gummier," lavender-like aromatics smell a bit different and are a little softer, arguably lacking the clarity of Tanguy's scent. The lavender in Horizon is more prominent, and I like the scent as a whole, but New West smells better to me. Laroche used a unique seaweed note in their scent, giving it a maritime feel that is in equal measure interesting and difficult to wear. I appreciate what Alain Astori was going for when he created it, but I'd sooner recommend New West to anyone seeking an early example of how Calone was used. Lauder's scent is more approachable, and exhibits the work of a superior nose.

Another scent New West is similar to is Krizia Uomo, although Krizia doesn't really have the same focus on artemisia and bay. Nevertheless, with New West it often feels like I'm wearing Krizia with dihydromyrcenol and Calone slopped all over it. I'd rather just enjoy notes of ambery pine, castoreum, labdanum, and cedar without all the synthetic harshness, but that's just me.

Truth be told, I don't reach for this one all that often. It is far stronger than a "skin scent," the heady bay note dates it, and Cool Water uses a smidgen dose of Calone to far greater effect, smelling fresher and more modern. I have no idea when the round blue bottle formula was discontinued (I'm guessing mine is about fifteen years old), and can't say if the new formula is much different, but if you're interested in herbal proto-aquatics, New West bears checking out.







2/15/15

Zino's Reformulation Is Just As Great: The "Zinoization" Canard, and Some Information About Sandal Ore



Vintage fragrances tend to exhibit similar characteristics, at least to me. They possess abbreviated top notes, or no top notes at all. Their heart accords usually show up early and smell unbalanced, lacking a certain degree of note separation that I prefer in compositions. Most of the notes in them are dulled a bit with age, an effect of murky, muddled simplification where there was once texture and complexity. Their base accords are either a great big smoosh of several notes into one super-smooth "cologney" wood note, or a small handful of feeble, out of focus notes that further fade into the sunset a few hours after application. To date I have not encountered a vintage scent that smelled any differently, although Ocean Rain seems to be an exception, a living testament to the power of the genius behind its purely synthetic form, and even there it is hard for me to underscore my sentiment without prior knowledge of how Ocean Rain smelled when new. Things like Grey Flannel, Bleu Marine de Cardin, Feeling Man by Jil Sander, Davidoff's Relax, Dali Pour Homme, and Venezia Uomo did not fare as well. They typify all the issues described above.

This isn't to say that I don't like how most of these vintages smell. I love how my vintage Grey Flannel smells, and also enjoy Bleu Marine. I like the synthetically lucid sandalwood-like "smooshed wood note" of Feeling Man's heart and base, although it could use more texture and contrast. I also like Relax's miniature Zino base accord, and the darkness of Dali PH is terrific. I currently consider my Venezia Uomo to be borderline unwearable, unfortunately. It's that far gone.

My bottle of vintage Zino is no different from the rest in that it smells like current Zino, but simplified to a small degree. It's like someone went into the formula with a wet paintbrush and smeared notes of lavender, sage, patchouli, cedar, rosewood, sandalwood, vanilla, and musk, condensing the entire scent's dynamism into two or three accords. The "someone" in question here is Father Time. Many years in a closet will predictably smooth out a scent's rougher edges and leave it very close to the same as it was, but slightly different. In Zino's case, the only difference between vintage and current is that a bit of the former's complexity is lost, while the latter shows me how it used to smell, boasting better note separation, an increase in the tonality and balance of notes, and a more rewarding experience in general.

When I approach vintage Zino from a subjective standpoint, I have the expectation that it will smell 95% the same as current Zino, so I'm not surprised by how my vintage smells. The 5% change is attributable to some staleness from age, and not to any significant difference in the chemical formula itself. Well, maybe .01% is a formula divergence: the bergamot note in vintage smells microscopically fresher than the top note of current, but I waffle a bit on that. In low doses the bergamot jumps out at me, but if I do a full wearing of vintage the day after a wearing of the reformulation, there is no perceptible difference. It's still a lovely scent.

The longevity in my vintage is compromised, as I get only two hours out of the base before it becomes a skin scent, but that doesn't surprise me, either. I get four or five hours out of current Zino. This was never a "powerhouse" masculine, it's more a gentleman's scent. The bottom line here is that my Parfums Davidoff, "Made in France" bottling of Zino with a modified Edwardian script logo and moderately lighter reddish-brown glass is indistinguishable from my more current Lancaster block-font formula, save for a little weakness and staleness. Owning juice from thirty years ago makes no major difference with this scent.

Refer to basenotes threads on this to find that my impression must be mistaken. Vintage enthusiasts feel that vintage Zino boasts a beautiful sandalwood note. According to one of them, that sandalwood note was removed from the newer formula entirely, and its melange of remaining synthetics were made denser to compensate for that extraction. They were "amped up," apparently in an attempt to disguise the removal of that precious sandalwood. This has been coined the "Zinoization" of Zino, a term that its author applies to many reformulated classics.

The majority of posters in the thread linked to above find little to no difference between the vintage and current formulas, and one person even questions if it was even reformulated at all. He challenges the assertion that a change in packaging automatically signals a change in formula. Only a select few feel they can detect major differences between the two. What I find amusing about their chief complaint is the notion that sandalwood was removed, and that it was really good sandalwood. Despite this, no one has ever come forward to contend that natural sandalwood was definitely used in vintage Zino, but it is strongly implied.

What is contended is that Zino's sandalwood note disappeared. Yet most find the current formula to be unchanged, or changed to a barely perceptible degree. Is it possible to remove a good and possibly natural sandalwood note from a formula and leave it changed to a degree so small that most would argue about it? I say no. In my opinion, the contention that Zino suffered a "Zinoization" at the hands of shrewd accountants is illogical. Let's take a brief look at what Davidoff's release was to the world back in 1986.

At that time, Zino was a middle-shelf designer masculine at lower middle-shelf prices. This was never a "pricey" perfume. It wasn't a "luxe" fragrance in the same league as products by Chanel and Guerlain. The likelihood that it contained natural sandalwood at its price-point is not especially good. Certainly natural sandalwood materials were not as expensive as they became in the nineties, but they were still quite expensive, and Zino never warranted that sort of expenditure. Remember, this is a Davidoff scent from before Davidoff became a household name, pre-Cool Water. As a purveyor of fine tobacco products, the brand had the money to spend on its perfumes, yet it didn't use much of that money to advertise them, which suggests the perfume division was on a tight budget, probably to minimize risk.

There are two or three print ads, and one television commercial from Zino's release. As a graphic design major I can tell you that most of the print ads are retreaded "comps," the same images in subtly different juxtapositions, a super-cheap way in the world of advertising to wring the most out of very little. I can practically see the Scotch tape and thumbtacks holding X-Acto knived prints against bristol boards.

The commercial is from the early Coty years, when its Lancaster division took over production in the nineties. Enough sales revenue had been generated to justify a TV spot, and those sales were from Cool Water. I used to catch it between shows when I was in middle school, interspersed with those weird black and white Obsession commercials, and those equally-weird Kate Moss CK commercials. Davidoff had the comparatively "normal" commercial.

So far I have not been able to find a commercial from the eighties, and doubt that one exists. Judging by its continued availability at absurdly low prices, I suspect that Coty Prestige continues to manufacture Zino under the pretense of still being Lancaster, in the same way that Colgate-Palmolive continues to print "By Mennen" on labels for Skin Bracer, a sly and well-advised commercial maneuver to keep finicky fans of certain "classics" coming back for more.

It is therefore relatively difficult to figure that Davidoff executives were willing to inject significant (i.e., "noticeable") doses of natural sandalwood oil into perfumes that had not yet been internationally successful, and which the brand seemed unwilling to aggressively market in the first place. The original Davidoff scent was hardly a hot seller, and was discontinued only a few years after its release. Zino came on its heels. This doesn't mean that the company wasn't interested in finding the best and most practical synthetics available, or that it wouldn't hire top talent to formulate their scents - to do so were smart uses of their cash, far smarter than dropping bundles on natural wood oils that are difficult to use. It just means that claims of smelling a "natural" sandalwood note in Zino smack of ignorance about the general importance of naturals vs synthetics in fragrance formulas, and the limits that were obviously being imposed on Davidoff perfumes in the eighties.

Even the worldwide renown of Guerlain didn't generate enough cache to justify using natural sandalwood in Samsara, a sandalwood perfume from the same era. Why would anyone with any comprehensive understanding of the industry imagine Davidoff thought differently about their fragrances?

There are really only two kinds of natural sandalwood that were ever used to great effect in classic twentieth century perfumes: Mysore sandalwood from India and Australian sandalwood from the country's southwestern region, both of which are very potent fixatives with unmistakable scent profiles. I'm familiar with their respective scents because Jim Gehr, a very talented perfumer and founder of Garner James, sent me generous samples of both oil types, although the Australian oil is from New Caledonia, an outlying island province.

Mysore sandalwood is deep, rich, buttery, and incredibly complex. New Caldedonian sandalwood is also rich and buttery, but it is significantly brighter and airier than its Indian counterpart. It has a more herbal and urinous quality to it, while the Indian sandalwood is earthier and smoother. Both smell very, very similar after two hours on skin, but those first two hours show remarkable differences. Mysore seems better suited for pungent, earthy notes like patchouli, while Australian would work better with strident animalic musks.

Zino in both formulations does have a sandalwood note to my nose, but it's the same sandalwood note. The note performs identically in both. It lends smoothness and a woody backbone to the intense patchouli note in the heart and base, and also supports a strong rosewood note. The fact that the performance of this note is interchangeable in these formulas suggests that it's a synthetic molecule, which means it is just one molecule. I think it is Sandal ore, otherwise known as molecule CI4H260, which Givaudan trademarked in the summer of 1977. The molecule seems to be used very sparingly in Zino's original formula, and in the reformulation. Sandal ore was used in several other eighties perfumes, including Samsara, and yes, that's where Samsara got its sandalwood from, although with Guerlain being Guerlain, it's not implausible to suppose a smidgen of the real stuff was used in early Samsara formulas. Synthetic sandalwood's use in Zino would explain why its two formulas smell virtually identical to each other. With a synthetic molecule, the only variable to its performance is the degree to which it is used.

Contrast this to natural sandalwood oil, which is comprised of hundreds of different molecules. Using this material in a formula like Zino would certainly enhance its performance, but with distinct variations in smell. Since the wood notes in Zino are strong, one might deduce that the concentration of wood molecules is high. But if natural oils were used at high concentration (in this case it would probably have to be Mysore sandalwood, given the intensity of patchouli in Zino and lack of animalic elements), the perfume would smell different bottle-to-bottle, due to the variables of natural sandalwood. Different oil grades would slip in now and then, sources would vary, and the natural changeability of the wood would shade Zino as being noticeably "inconsistent" from batch to batch. We've all seen how guys perk up when Creed issues perfumes that smell inconsistent between batches. The boards fill up constantly with threads about it. No such hysteria exists with Zino. Not even close.

Now take into account that the nose for Zino is Michel Almairac, a man who studied perfumery at the Roure School in the early 1970s, and whose career took off around the time that Givaudan trademarked "Sandalore," and you begin to see why it might have been used by Almairac in 1986. Roure was a subsidiary of Givaudan; Almairac was probably exposed to Sandal ore's potential during his apprenticeship, and inspired to use it in his own creations.

The claims that the reformulation of Zino smells "busier on top" and "denser" can be attributed to the fresher perfume having more texture and dynamism in its top notes than older batches, while the suggestion that vintage lasts longer can be attributed to the possible use of oakmoss, which may have been reduced and/or eliminated in the reformulation, or possibly supplemented with treemoss (moss is not a prominent note in this composition). I find that the vintage actually lasts a shorter amount of time than the reformulation, so I can't endorse any of these longevity claims. And if any of my readers feel a contradiction between my positions on counterfeit vintages and the divergences between my experiences with vintage and those of others, proceed with caution. The majority of my vintages were bought in person from trusted shops (not anonymous internet sellers) with cosmetic codes intact, usually on the boxes and on stickers glued to the bottles, all carefully checked on checkcosmetic.net.

So was Zino ever really "Zinoized?" Was a natural sandalwood material removed from its formula and then disguised with the "amping-up" of several cheaper synthetics? This is unlikely. What is more plausible is that many of the textured patchouli and woody-herbal notes of vintage Zino fused together with time to form a quieter and somewhat blotted precious wood effect that some people mistake for better balanced top notes and natural sandalwood base notes. Meanwhile a very effective sandalwood synthetic pokes through, perhaps bolstering an illusion of "naturalness."

The older and newer formulas are so similar that I believe the Sandal ore molecule is present in both, and serves the same purpose in both. I also believe that the "amping up" theory, which is the backbone of the "Zinoization" claim, is nonsense. Zino's reformulation doesn't have "amped up" notes. Zino's vintage has "amped down" notes, due to age. The intense lavender and clary sage combination doesn't punch the nostrils as hard in the vintage, because those materials have waned a bit. Some folks argue that something like a "spiced vanilla note" is used to replace the sandalwood, but no such effect registers to my nose at all.

I don't understand why some people insist that two identical formulas are different, when they plainly are not. I also don't know where the paranoid "Zinoization" concept comes from, but I find it ludicrous to extrapolate its theory to other fragrances when the logic behind it is so dubious, and so obviously erroneous from the outset. I have to wonder if the vintage enthusiasts who claim that Zino's older formula is superior have ever really owned and worn the reformulation, or if they merely sniffed spritzes in perfume shops somewhere and allowed their collective "Feeler" bias to do the work that their noses should have been doing instead. In any case, I'm glad I didn't spend much money for my bottle of vintage Zino when I bought it. The newer stuff is just as beautiful, if not more so, and I recommend it. Heck, the only reason to own the vintage is to have a bottle with that cool Davidoff script logo on it. I think it's the finest logo in the business, and it's a damn shame it was reformulated.






2/8/15

XS "Excess" Pour Homme (Paco Rabanne)




Every few years a novel accord is introduced and explored by a handful of perfumers with mainstream influence, and they either catch on and are expounded upon, or die an early death. Contrary to popular belief on Fragrantica and basenotes, XS Pour Homme never really caught on, and wasn't exactly a hum-drum, unoriginal clone. I held off for a while on investigating this one because I never really loved its comparatives, Platinum Égoïste and Himalaya, but I came so close to loving Himalaya (and just couldn't manage it) that I wondered if good 'ol Paco had done a better job with the "gunpowder" note of its niche brethren.

Platinum Égoïste also had an arresting fougère effect that was a biscuit away from perfection to me, but alas, I couldn't warm to it, probably because it was so resolutely chilly from top to bottom. There is a charmlessly wan, bloodless, listless nature to PE, yet it smells brisk, fresh, a little soapy, and well composed. I could occasionally abide it. It also has a bit of a "cold gunpowder" note, like some sort of frozen charcoal that resembles galbanum, minus the brightness. One thing about PE and Himalaya though - they're both reminiscent of soap. They smell like hi-res deodorant. Their negligibly warmer heart accords also have a Green Irish Tweedy feel, Himalaya more so in its base, which is unsurprising given the common "Creed water" base accord used in Olivier's line.

XS has been described in many ways, with all sorts of supposedly organic notes mentioned by reviewers: juniper, mint, lavender, coriander, sandalwood, rosewood, mandarin, etc, etc. Many of those notes are in fact lucid and easily detectable, and its top note of fizzy bergamot and lavender is strikingly pleasant. Gerard Anthony wasn't copying Creed when he designed this formula, but by coincidence his fougère wound up being Green Irish Tweed dressed in gunpowder grey. Its heart and base is about 70% similar to GIT, and at the end of the day we can't really pretend the notes are different, because both frags are incredibly synthetic and soapy-fresh. The only thing that stands apart in XS is a light, gunpowder-like note in its heart and base, a flinty, slightly charred aroma, very crisp and quite enjoyable.

Still, the juniper, precious woods, herbal twang, and freshly-cut fruit notes of XS are a welcome departure from the staid floral arrangement of more conventional dihydromyrcenol fougères, and that hint of dry darkness that lurks behind the brighter "fresh" elements is lovely. Too bad there weren't more masculines that tried to emulate the burnt aura of airborne ionic salts. Also a shame that so many people missed the point of the fragrance to begin with. XS was never meant to be groundbreaking or starkly different from its contemporaries. It was intended to show us that established concepts could still be tweaked in new and interesting ways.

Is there anything sexier than the smell of a clean, well-groomed guy who just fired his musket into the enemy's ranks? Ladies, you tell me.



2/7/15

Perfume Econ 101 (The Not-For-Dummies Version): Max Factor Signature for Men - And It Doesn't Even Have Your Name On It.




My belief is that many vintage fragrance buyers are being ripped off. There are some fragrances that are worth paying top dollar for, but most are egregiously over-priced. When you consider the number of high-quality fakes saturating the market, and couple that with whatever true historical context certain vintages inhabit, it becomes very difficult to discern the bargains.

Here's a good example of a vintage rip-off: current prices for Max Factor Signature for Men, an American toiletry line released in 1950. There were Signature colognes, aftershaves, aftershave talcs, and deodorants, until the line was discontinued in the eighties, probably around the time Proctor & Gamble took over. Take a look at this LIFE Magazine advertisement from 1963, in which the version of Max Factor cologne that I own was priced at two dollars and fifty cents. Now adjust that price for inflation, and view it in 2015 dollars. The same bottle should now cost twenty dollars. If you're selling it and want to double your money, you could ask forty dollars for it, no problem. The stuff is fifty years old, after all.

Let's be generous and say you want to triple your money and get sixty dollars for it. That's not completely unreasonable either, for a long discontinued fragrance that most people have never heard of before. It was a somewhat successful fragrance, surviving thirty years in several iterations, and I certainly would agree with anyone who said it smelled good, although it's not my taste. When I reviewed it in 2011 I said it smelled a lot like Aqua Velva Musk, a cologne I happen to dislike, but I've been testing it more in recent days, and now feel it has much in common with Royal Copenhagen. Still not my thing, although certainly a decent scent. It's very musky, very powdery, very old-world barbershoppy. Every once in a while it hits the spot.

Now take a look at this recent Ebay listing for the exact same bottle of Signature. The seller, a Mr. Goldstar972, is asking $100 for it. What the fuck?

This guy isn't looking to double, or even triple his money. He wants to quadruple it! Now if this were something by Yves Saint Laurent or Chanel, I'd say maybe that's reasonable, given the product's pedigree. It's an old, forgotten cologne by downmarket Max Factor. Why would anyone price it at a hundred dollars? One answer: greed.

I can tell you that if you're in the market for Signature, but are discouraged by Ebay prices, you're better off just getting a new bottle of Royal Copenhagen. It smells a little better (fresher herbal notes up top) and costs around ten dollars for a three ounce bottle, and maybe twenty bucks for eight ounces. Now there are a couple five ounce Max Factors on Ebay that are going for under fifty dollars, but they're all "splash" bottles that have probably been tampered with. One is not full, and the other is an aftershave. The same size is also being sold by other sellers for over one hundred dollars, which should also raise eyebrows. None of these prices reflect what the stuff is worth now in 2015 dollars, relative to what it was originally worth in 1963.

Contrary to what some might think, perfume is not a design product that becomes more valuable with time. Perfume is "perishable." It goes bad, it goes stale. It doesn't last forever. Even if it does last, it changes. It becomes distorted. Time is usually not very kind to it. In the rare cases where it survives time's ravages (Ocean Rain is one), it's a crapshoot hardly worth taking unless you simply don't care about the money.

I've had some conversations in the past about collecting vintage signs. Some people don't understand why a large metal Coca-Cola sign from 1950 is worth a thousand dollars. They say stuff like, "It's just a rusty old sign for soda." Well, yes. It is a rusty old sign, true. But guess what? That rusty old sign still does exactly the same thing that it did in 1950 when it rolled off the press and was hung over a gas station somewhere: it sells Coca-Cola. It has no moving parts. It cannot break. It has not deteriorated to the point where you cannot read it and understand its message, and it now has the advantage of being over half a century old, which makes it a vintage item, and most likely very rare.

That bottle of perfume from sixty years ago? The chances that it does now what it did then are slim to none. Sure, it still does something, and probably possesses enough chutzpah to make its wearer feel more confident on a Saturday night, but it was definitely MORE effective within three or four years of its release. The biochemical materials that comprise its formula have changed, degraded, lost their strength, their balance, and while they are still detectable and perhaps pleasurable to the nose, they are not performing nearly as well as they used to. Therefore unlike the Coca-Cola sign that continues to perform just as well now as it did then, a vintage perfume's true value has barely kept up with inflation. The jerk on Ebay who is asking $100 for a used bottle from the sixties should really be pricing it at twenty to forty dollars. That is its fair value.

Design elements only appreciate in value when they retain their functionality. When that functionality declines, so does the price (just look at old cars). Would I pay a hundred dollars or more for Max Factor Signature? Maybe, if I didn't know better. But I do know better, and so should you. Besides, I already own the stuff. I found it when I was helping my friend clean his house, and he gave it to me. I can tell you that it's in the best shape it could possibly be in given its age, and I sure as hell wouldn't sell it for more than fifteen dollars.