12/29/11

Silences (Jacomo, original Parfum de Toilette)



Ever wonder what Van Goh's Wheatfield with a Cypress Tree would smell like if it could be distilled down to a scent? Yeah, neither have I. Silences eliminated that obscure little unknown for me, though. It was one of those odd instances where the answer came before the question - I smelled the original parfum de toilette, and was immediately transported to a secluded field in Arles, with its raw grasses fluttering in a cool April breeze. It was the closest I have ever come to a rapture.

I won't pontificate much on Silences because it's the nearest to perfection that a fragrance can get, and my descriptions and accolades cannot add to it. Yes, it's green, and a little floral, perhaps the High Priestess of verdant chypres. And yes, it's unisex, although Jacomo insists it's for women. Funnily enough, the bottle I purchased was in a narrow space between the men's and women's sections of the store, as if the shopkeeper wisely knew it belonged to neither demographic exclusively. Funny too, that I happened to try the reformulated version before the original parfum de toilette. I'm not sure what happened with Silences - the new one (in the black glossy box) smells like something straight out of the '70s, very dusty and heavy, while the older one (in the grey matte box) is smooth, airy, and timeless. What's the meaning of this? In the unlikely event that I ever meet a Jacomo insider, I shall ask him or her that very question. It niggles at me a little. The older version has a better bottle design - the black plastic cap lifts off the glass bottle and reveals a nice brass atomizer. The newer version is unwieldy because the atomizer is recessed into what used to be the cap, which means you have to hold the whole thing to spray. Also, they switched from glass to tin in the update, which is neither here nor there, except that I prefer a hefty chunk of glass over something in a plastic veneer. Just old-fashioned I guess.

Now, words . . . words can do no justice here. If you peruse the blogosphere, you'll encounter several apt descriptions for it. Just know that when people refer to perfume as an avenue of the sacred and divine, it's Silences they're talking about.






















12/25/11

White Shoulders Eau de Parfum (Evyan)



One of the many things that bothers me in this world is how difficult it is to find a nicely-done floral perfume on the cheap. I'm not really sure how or when it happened, but somewhere along the line people decided that flowers weren't cool anymore. I suppose it started during the '80s, when women were exposed to Andron, and all that weird pheromone psychology began applying to personal fragrance. Eventually a boatload of sweet synthetic musks and even sweeter synthetic floral ionones flooded the market (see Poison), and wearing quelques fleurs was no longer de rigueur. This used to seem like an attractive development, but now I'm not so sure. On the one hand, smelling of lilies and roses and violets puts one in danger of smelling like his or her grandmother. On the other, smelling like grandmother is no better or worse than enjoying grandma's taste in music, or movies, or food. I have yet to meet anyone who was ridiculed for liking depression-era American folk songs, Billy Wilder films, and Spam. In fact, a Spam truck actually visited my college during my senior year, and the guy made out pretty well. True story.

A little imagination yields another possibility with florals: smelling of royalty. When I consider what was available to perfumers in the 18th and 19th centuries, I'm reminded of how crucial flowers were to their art form. Six years ago, Le Château de Versailles commissioned Francis Kurkdjian to recreate Marie Antoinette's signature bergamot, jasmine, and rose perfume. The house of Lubin followed suit, naming it Black Jade, supposedly after the jade bottle she carried with her everywhere. Reading up on these scents brings to light a startling reality - history's most famous Dauphine liked and wore flowers. Lots of flowers. One can conclude that flowers were never considered "cheap." Her taste wasn't just feminine - it was royal.

Nearer on the perfume timeline are Guerlain's classics, stuff like the violet-tinged Après L'ondée (After the Rain), and the white floral L'Heure Bleue (Blue Hour). Both masterpieces were dependent on direct floral notes within modern compositions. They weren't considered dowdy when they were released, and held their own against D'Orsay's Chypre and Houbigant's own sunny Quelques Fleurs. The trend continued well into the twentieth century, as fragrances became rosy and white during the thirties and forties, and green in the fifties. Men and women liked what they smelled because flowers are always fresh, natural, and effortlessly sultry.

Evyan's White Shoulders was released in 1945, and somehow seems to signify, through scent, the end of the second World War. Its opening volley of floral notes is so fresh and serene that I'm immediately transported to an outcrop overlooking a dewy meadow in France. It is one of the most direct floral arrangements I have ever smelled in a perfume. Gardenia, tuberose, muguet, orange blossom, lilac, and jasmine (my god, the jasmine!) flood my senses in a manner devoid of the usual synthetic screech found in other $20 fragrances. The white blossoms possess a crisply gentle realism, and are gathered in an uncomplicated bouquet. I keep waiting for the scratchy peach and musk notes to arrive, but they never do. An apt stylistic and price-point comparison is found in Alfred Sung's eponymous perfume, now reformulated into a yellow chemical blob.

If White Shoulders is associated with grandma, then grandma has excellent taste. The basic accords here are artfully composed to produce a very proud, straightforward scent. There is no postmodern flourish, no antisocial contrast, no synthetic bombast. In this way, White Shoulders is elegant and dignified, an update of something one might smell in 18th century Versailles. Analogs of nature's finest buds bring with them a hint of antiquity, and at no stage of its sauntering development does White Shoulders feel modern. Instead it smells classical, sexual, refined. It is feminine, yes, but its honesty compels me to wear it myself. Could this be the second blatantly feminine fragrance that I unabashedly adopt? Very possibly. It's something to wear while listening to the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and munching on a Spam sandwich.




























Portfolio Green (Perry Ellis)



It looks like I found another critically neglected fragrance, and it comes in a slick bottle designed by Marc Rosen. Super duper last minute Christmas shopping is to blame here - I reached that point where I was sick of dropping greenbacks on everyone else, and had to grab something (preferably green in color) for me. I gave the men's section at Marshalls a quick perusal, and saw only Portfolio Green by Perry Ellis. I've seen plenty of Perry Ellis at Marshalls, but it's usually Portfolio, or Portfolio Elite. This is the first time I have ever seen Portfolio Green, so I figured, what the heck. It's got the word "green" in its title. How bad could it be?

As it turns out, Portfolio Green isn't bad at all. But it's weird, and sometimes weird translates to "unwearable." Fortunately, this doesn't smell quite that weird, but I'm inclined to think it might be the strangest thing in my little collection. Let's just say that it wasn't what I expected.

The opening is a restrained (and sweet) lime note, which casually slides into an absurdly saccharine green apple and neroli accord. The whole thing deepens in tone until the neon greens of the top become deeply floral greenish-purples, sort of an intense, coumarin-fueled olfactory illusion of violet leaf. It's at this stage that Portfolio Green becomes a fresh fougère, although it doesn't really play fair in a category full of staid aromatics. The heart is so dense and fruity that I can't help but wonder whose idea of "green" was indulged. Perhaps the muse was Larry Wilson from Weekend at Bernie's. The degree of imbalance is borderline comical (again, like Weekend at Bernie's). Portfolio Green is to neroli what Alien is to jasmine: a hyper-exaggerated synthetic bonanza. It's the olfactory equivalent of tuxedo pajamas at a black tie event. It's fun.

After a couple of hours the scent dries down in linear fashion to become a clean greenish musk. Green Irish Tweed and Aspen have done this sort of thing better, and without all the fruity gestures. Yet Portfolio Green is simple, wearable, and as bad an idea as dragging a dead guy with you to the beach. Cheers to Perry Ellis, and boo to everyone else for ignoring this entry - and all entries - in the Portfolio lineup.






















12/20/11

CK One Shock for Him (Calvin Klein)


The house of Calvin Klein has, in my estimation, one of the worst all-time track records in fragrance history. here's an abbreviated rundown (to spare myself from actually reviewing the scents) of its timeline:

1978 - CK releases their eponymous rosy chypre for women. It's a hit, but sales eventually stall and it's discontinued. I have yet to encounter a bottle.

1981 - Calvin is released as the masculine follow-up. Considered a conservative and spicy fougère in the tradition of Azzaro Pour Homme, with lower-grade materials. I have yet to encounter a bottle.

1985 - The company makes up for lost time and releases a notable fragrance called Obsession. This classical oriental has plenty of bombast and anachronistic qualities, and it sells quite nicely. Now reformulated into a bit of a blah.

1986 - Obsession for Men is the appropriate sequel, and the only "masterpiece" ever released by this company. It isn't all that different from the original, except it's better. Much better. If you can find vintage bottles, buy them immediately.

1988 - Now officially on the perfumista's radar, CK throws its newly-minted heft and taps the talented Belarusian nose Sophia Grojsman for its first foray into the world of modern fruity-floraldom. The result: Eternity. It's a major hit with the ladies, especially college girls. But its crude fruit and screechy rose haven't stood the test of time. Several flankers are spawned.

1989 - The brand's second most-famous scent, Eternity for Men, is released. It was then what it is today: a sweet chemical spill that no mop can sop. Several flankers are spawned.

1991 - The nineties are entered with genre-defining shrillness in the form of Escape. Its blaring sweet 'n fresh composition fits nicely into a league of like-minded oddball aquatics from this period. Many on Fragrantica seem to find Escape similar to Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden. I feel Escape was aptly named, as it suggests exactly what I should do whenever it's around. This scent is currently relegated to discounters like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.

1993 - Escape for Men is introduced. One could speculate that it's an essay on coriander, woods, and musk, but it really reads as an extremely rough draft of CK One. The pencil shaving drydown is so crude that I'd rather roll in a tub of graphite than wear it.

1994 - Reacting to the lackluster press about Escape, Klein buckles down and releases CK One, a unisex citrus musk scent that is as pleasant as it is dull. At least it still smells good, and to its credit CK One is indeed suitable for both men and women. Several flankers are spawned.

1996 - CK Be is released, and its existential name gets my hopes up. The scent, however, is utterly forgettable. Something about white musk, with some green spices thrown in for good measure. The company refuses to discontinue CK Be, so I guess its fans are keeping it alive.

1998 - Contradiction follows up the Big CKs. Basically a stale fruity floral with an overdose of eucalyptus. Sells just well enough to stay in the market, which means it must be doing pretty well. Does it inspire anything beyond a footnote? As the Czechs would say, "ne." But it does exhibit Klein's deftness in package design.

1999 - Contradiction for Men predictably makes an appearance. Its humongous fake lemon/lime top does little to soothe my already-jangled nerves. I hate those who wear it - namely my peers in high school - with a seething passion.

2000 - The brand finally eschews its formulaic fruity florals in favor of a green scent called Truth. It's evidently a pleasant scent that rubs critics the right way for a change. I have yet to knowingly sniff it, and cannot comment, except to say that I believe what I read. Still, after 20 years of crap, who cares anymore?

2002 - Truth for Men is released. It's a tropical green scent with a beautiful central accord of bamboo and melon. Unfortunately its longevity clocks in at under fifteen minutes. A pity. Sales fall short, and Truth for Men is now no more.

2005 - Euphoria is released, and fails to elicit any. Some find it similar to Angel, others to Obsession, and still others to both. Currently lost in the latest multitudinous crop of rich fruity orientals for women. I can't be bothered with the non-entity masculine version.

2007 - The brand does something uncharacteristic and releases a lone masculine, unimaginatively naming it Calvin Klein Man. I've never smelled Man, but apparently it's a fresh fougère that somehow manages to bungle violet leaf. Rarely seen anywhere but at Marshalls, for what it's worth.

2009 - Continuing its weird new trend, the company releases another lone masculine, CK Free. Widely considered a dull woody-fresh scent with nothing saving it. More complaints about poor longevity abound.

2010 - "Ladies, we haven't forgotten you." That's the message conveyed by the isolated release of the feminine Beauty. With a name like that, a masculine follow-up isn't likely. Beauty is little more than a competent clone of Hilfiger's Tommy Girl. A little cedar in lieu of green tea, a few extra drops of Iso E Super, and voilà! We have a throwback scent. It's better than most of the above, but only marginally.

Which brings us to 2011, and CK One Shock for Him. I'm unsure as to why it took them thirty years to come up with a good fragrance, but worthy things come to those who wait. Not that I've been holding my breath. It's also a mystery as to why the brand decided to make this unusual woody-spicy oriental part of the world's lamest flanker mill, and not give it an original name. Perhaps it reveals how out of touch with quality the suits at CK are - they didn't even recognize when they had something worthy of distinction. Curiously complex in scope, Shock opens with a bright pepper and patchouli, spiked with sweetly-herbal lavender. The composition is softened by the arrival of warm cardamom and pipe tobacco in the heart, which takes its time in developing. Eventually these well-defined herbs and spices are conjoined, and a little blurred, by a delectable vanilla note. An odd minty citrus note (possibly the usage of osmanthus with clementine or tangerine) keeps everything from becoming overly steeped. Quite possibly their finest fragrance to date, and much better than the original. A CK scent that smells good? Shocking!


12/17/11

Hammam Bouquet (Penhaligon's)

England is a beautiful country, and London is currently the capitol of the universe. When I was there in the early '90s I strolled through the city's impeccably flowered and pruned parks, endlessly in awe of Britain's palpable dignity. Nothing English is ever common. Even the grimiest pub in Liverpool enjoys more than a modicum of the rarefied. You may still see a 32 year-old stenciling of a Sex Pistols tour promotion on its rain-whipped and craggy brick. And how about those Royals, huh? Try as I might, I can't think of an American equivalent to an ivory-toothed Duchess of Cambridge waving with gloved wrists from an Aston Martin.

It comes as a surprise then that the British have difficulty forging a credible identity in the world of postmodern perfumery. Two of their oldest houses, Penhaligon's and Floris, are prolific authors of classical British fragrances, with the former notable for its two oldest masculines, Hammam and Blenheim Bouquet (which are a whopping thirty years apart). Both are arguably Penhaligon's greatest achievements. Blenheim finds a particularly devoted fan base among wet shavers because of its cool, spicy aura. It is Hammam, however, that bears special consideration, as it is the firm's first perfume.

Hammam Bouquet is named after the famous Turkish-style bath, which involved lots of varying water temperatures, flowers, massage oils, and yes, perfumes. The original Penhaligon's building was located on Jermyn Street next to a Hammam, and sadly both were reputedly destroyed in WWII. The timeline suggests that William Penhaligon founded the company sometime between 1865 and 1870, and its original location was destroyed in 1941 - so let's generously round the dates and say that London's greatest barber shop enjoyed 75 years before a revamp. Why does it matter? For me, the problem with Penhaligon's fragrances, and especially Hammam Bouquet, is in the bloody revamp.

Sniffing Hammam Bouquet today, I can appreciate its nostalgia factor. It has a Victorian feel to it, a musty sensuality stifled beneath the artless frills of an opaque bodice dress. The first few seconds of lavender and rose are at once cold and alluring. Britain's imperialism, its tendrils into the furthest reaches of Asia, its Orientalism, all are evident in this fragrance's opening. Eventually a sweet orris note appears and pushes its way into a powdery amber drydown. Everything about Hammam Bouquet smells tortuously restrained, as if sin could overcome virtue by way of sexual apoplexy.

Conceptually, historically, theoretically, everything about the scent is good. And then the chemicals kick in. Hello awful 21st century revamp. The lavender and rose meld into an oafish caricature of Turkish luxury, smelling soapy and flat. The odd "dust" note that Penhaligon's currently employs in several of its floral-themed fragrances interferes with the powder, driving everything into drugstore territory. I'm reminded of Old Spice, except Old Spice smells better. From twenty minutes onward, Hammam Bouquet is a linear ode to staleness, made poor by pallid effects. Suddenly that opaque bodice dress is something I'm thankful for.

Penhaligon's has obviously reformulated this scent several times, but does itself no favors with the latest incarnation of its signature. For $120 I expect something with Creed or Czech & Speake-like clarity and note separation. My nose should be begging to decipher more analogs of Victorian boudoir culture, not wrinkling in disappointment. And why, pray tell, am I getting a headache with only a few drops on the wrist? Well okay, I'll give them a break there - rose does that to me all the time, and Hammam certainly has a distinct rose note in its heart. But still, I'm not impressed. The poetic reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes are enjoyable essays borne of unbridled enthusiasm, and while admirable, cannot be duplicated here on my blog. I will acquiesce to the fragrance's rich history, however, and note that while Hammam's current formula is lacking, its form is not. This type of British barbershop dandy scent is truly classical in scope, and I await the day that Hammam Bouquet is restored to its former glory.



















12/13/11

Pino Silvestre (Parfums Mavive)

Marketing is tricky, as any graphic designer will tell you. Having designed professionally myself, I can attest to the incredible difficulty clients have in determining the value of a product's appearance. The weird thing is that few companies seem to embrace a product's obvious assets. They favor abstract over representational styles. If something tastes like Oreo cookies, looks like Oreo cookies, and is called Oreo Cookies, better put it in a square bag with lots of blue. The thought of packaging the cookies in a big plastic Oreo cookie is apparently out of the question. Fragrance is mostly the same deal - Aqua Velva Ice Blue has been around forever and has an icy blue color, but there ends the allusion. I have yet to encounter an Ice Blue bottle in frosted glass.

My drawing professor at The Mason Gross School of the Arts used to say, "genius comes in stating the obvious." Don't try to embellish what you're seeing with fancy flourishes that aren't really there. Draw exactly what you see, for only in pure representation can a draughtsman approach the skill level of Leonardo, or Michelangelo, or even Michael Whelan. This makes sense, as reality is the only true pivot point into anything fantastic. Misrepresentation just confuses things, and leads to problems later. So with this knowledge intact, one might ask where such magnificent examples of "obviousness" can be found.

Look no further than the total commercial embodiment of the phrase "truth in advertising," Pino Silvestre. Originally released in 1955, Pino is a fougère that exhibits remarkable honesty on every level. Housed in a glass pine cone, this pine-focused scent embraces its concept in an incredibly holistic way. Named after the evergreen Pinus Silvestris, the scent simply smells like pine. It opens with a bracing lemon note that sweeps into a crystalline accord composed of lavender, carnation, basil, clary sage, geranium, cedar, and moss. Trust me, you'll get none of these notes with your nose. They're all part of a brilliant olfactory illusion designed to give you the most bang for your buck. I consider it more a technical than artistic approach, as Pino is a very old scent with a conservative attitude. The bright pine hangs in for about two hours before drying into a slightly warmer, honey-like amber base. The whole thing is crisp, green, chilly, and as natural as that spruce in your back yard. My only gripe is that it doesn't have the sort of strength or longevity that I expect of older scents. With generous application I get about three hours, and need to re-apply or just forge ahead smelling like nothing at all. If they ever reformulate it, Pino needs to be made a leeetle bit stronger.

This is a terrific time of year to wear Pino Silvestre, and last season I wore it while picking out my Christmas tree. It's also very Italian, and I believe it's still manufactured in Venice. Pine is an amazing thing - it's a naturally fresh aroma, something clean and green, the way men used to smell back in the earlier half of the twentieth century. If you're a fan of straightforward and vintage approaches to personal style, this is the stuff for you.





















12/12/11

Allure Eau de Parfum (Chanel)



I'm not really sure why, but when it comes to Chanel fragrances, I'm curiously tongue-tied. It's hard for me to generate topical interest in them. Generally speaking they all smell very good, although some enjoy greater artistic success than others. I've been wearing Allure Homme a bit more often than usual lately, and when I get around to reviewing it I'll have a few sincere anecdotes to pass along - it's the only Chanel that is truly storied for me. Still, it seemed appropriate to give the original feminine perfume a nod beforehand, if only to defend it from a legion of critics.

The overarching criticism of Allure is that it's boring, uninspired, a drag. Apparently it is unworthy of the Chanel name, because somehow in the course of its colorful history the brand found the secret to olfactory Nirvana, parted the seven seas, became one with God. You'd think from reading about them that N°5, N°19, Cristalle, and Égoïste were unbelievable masterpieces that no one could top, least of all their own creators. They're all excellent of course, but put on a pedestal. Times changed, and so did perfumery. Inevitably the '90s came along, brought Allure and its flankers, and suddenly everyone gave up on Chanel. A collective groan filled the stadium, the seats began emptying, the game was over.

My beef with everyone else's beef is that people have forgotten context. The 1990s were culturally decrepit years. Music, movies, art, fashion, philosophy, all started sucking in a big way. Music, specifically rock music, suddenly lost its spine, its bravado, and went the way of the Goo Goo Dolls, or as I like to call it, Limp Dick City. Listening to the radio in the '90s was torture. Everything made me want to puke, from Cheryl Crow, to Mariah Carey, to Kid Rock, to Eminem. Especially Eminem, who found an unfortunate fan base in my high school clique. Then there was the whole fashion devolution of 1992 - 1999. Saggy, over-sized jeans, polo shirts three sizes too large, the return of bell bottoms for girls (aptly called "flare" pants, as my temper would flare every time a punk chick trudged past me in them), the "Caesar" haircut for boys . . . the agony was endless. This isn't to say that the whole thing went ramshackle - it didn't. Some movies held up particularly well. I'm thankful for Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Grosse Pointe Blank, The Three Colors Trilogy, Home Alone, Goodfellas, Casino, and a few dozen other superb pics. But the talented animators that brought the world every Disney movie since Snow White were suddenly buried under the crippling influence of Pixar and Toy Story, which heralded the dawning age of the Great Special Effects Cop-Out: Computer Generated Imagery. This particular topic brings me so little joy to discuss that I'll just leave it here.

So it strikes me as particularly nervy for anyone to reckon that somehow, out of the accelerating decay, the House of Chanel would rise above it all and continue to give us the same 1920s, '70s and '80s-styled masterpieces. Do people like Luca Turin really think the brand had another Cuir de Russie in it? Was it really expected that something better than the insipid Platinum Égoïste would follow its bold predecessor in a year when a solo Sting, who should have still been fronting The Police, was crooning the unlistenable lyrics, if I ever loooose my faith in you / there'd be nothing leeeeft for me to do? Further to the point, do Chanel's critics ever stop as they continue to harangue the house for its recent Bleu de Chanel and Jersey releases, and wonder why it is the company continues to disappoint? Could it be that world culture has continued to decline, and so perfume remains in a stagnant, generally uninspired place? This is postmodern hell, and perfumery is no exception to it.

Sniffing Allure EDP today, I feel it's a marvel that the company managed to release anything like it. Somehow they fought past the Clockwork Oranges and gave us a serious, well-composed jasmine scent for women in their late twenties and early thirties. It's very crisp for a Chanel fragrance, and that's an advantage, as it smells wonderful. The bergamot and peach in its top are clean, sheer, and well within its class. Eventually a vanillic cedar and papery jasmine accord comes through, accented by orange blossom and vetiver. True to Chanel fashion, this scent is highly blended, and nothing really vies for a leading role (although to my nose the jasmine has the edge). Is Allure exciting? Definitely not. But it is a functional perfume, something a career-oriented woman can wear to the office without risking credibility in a male-dominated workplace. It's quite pleasant and friendly, but also prim and understated. Considering how disastrous other '90s feminines were, Allure isn't bad at all.

I'm sorry, but that's all I have to say about it.




























12/11/11

Azzaro Pour Homme (Azzaro)



If Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels is the best fougère of the last quarter century, then Azzaro Pour Homme is the best of 35 years, and counting. I used to dislike Azzaro PH because of its overwhelming intensity, but the recent reformulation has solved that problem, no doubt to the chagrin of its fans. I prefer the new version because it doesn't give me headaches the way the original did. In fact, the top notes resemble a high quality sport fragrance, with bracing lemon and sweet lavender dominant. It does lack the depth of its predecessor, but the core components are still very much a part of the scent. This is still a woody, anise-laden fern, full of freshness and life.

There are billions of young men out there in the world, and it's safe to say that most of them don't know a blessed thing about perfumery, nor do they care. They generally gravitate toward whatever smells conventionally good, things with high designer brand recognition. There are broad categories to choose from, and here in America you're either a 1 Million man (Paco Rabanne), a CK In 2 U man (Calvin Klein), or a more mature but academically-dense Boss Orange Man man (Hugo Boss). Those who are young enough to have attended high school in the aughts are cursed with having the same grey citrus aquatic in a gazillion incarnations to choose from, while those old enough to remember the '80s are surprisingly cursed with poor memories. Which is the long way of saying that American guys have either never been properly exposed to good things, or have forgotten them.

Sadly, such is the case with the modern fougère. Cool Water is a classic that has not been forgotten, and rightfully so, but it steered the entire fougère category into the olfactory equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe's maelstrom. Funny thing, though - the two best aromatics in fragrance history came before and after Cool Water. Tsar, released in 1989, was the last of the great aromatic ferns; Azzaro Pour Homme, released in 1978, was second to last. Azzaro's beautiful arrangement of lemon, bergamot, lavender, oakmoss, anise, vetiver, caraway, sage, and cedar is dry, austere, green, and Italianate in style. Its European sophistication was once considered desirable on western shores, but no more. People grew tired of walking through aromatic clouds everywhere they went, and the invention of fragrance-free zones put the final nail in the classical aromatic fougère's coffin.

Sometime during the 1990s, the last teenager bought the last full-priced bottle of Azzaro Pour Homme, and proceeded to ignore the unconventionally beautiful girls it attracted. I suppose passing on the sexy-librarian type named Zoey (okay, maybe her braces didn't help) in favor of the sultry, snow-haired cheerleader Amber is forgivable, except that Amber ended up a single mom with a studio apartment in Hackensack and a Ford Taurus in the driveway. Zoey, on the other hand, is currently modeling at five figures for upstart designers in Paris while teaching English to businessmen and sleeping with wealthy Russian expatriates. Given the circumstances, I'd regret snubbing Zoey that day she asked me to the junior prom in homeroom, especially since Facebook now makes regret a verifiable business.

But I digress - the point here is that Azzaro Pour Homme, and similarly-wrought conservative green fougères, smell mature and traveled. Luca Turin has argued that a man's scent should never be more traveled than he is, but I disagree. The world is a tough field in which to play, and one needs every possible advantage at his disposal. A few years ago I was hobnobbing with an elderly gentleman who ran an excellent vintage perfume shop. He told me, "perfume is an illusion. You apply it, you go out and about among people, and they get a sense of something special around you, but it should never be in their face." This perfectly describes the reformulated Azzaro Pour Homme. It is ephemeral, natural, green, masculine, and alluring. Like Tsar, this fougère is useful at any time, in any place. I find the use of anise to be a tad challenging, and that's okay depending on your mood. For the times I want something different, I have plenty of other options. For the times I want to attract those unconventional and worldly Zoeys, I have Azzaro, and I'm thankful.



























Tsar (Van Cleef & Arpels)



It pays to have an understanding of the essentials in masculine perfumery, in order to better understand the multitudinous non-essentials that plague the category. If a male college student, say around 19 or 20 years old, were to ask my advice on which masculine fragrance could serve as a perfect everyday and all-weather standby, I would immediately direct his attention to Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels. In doing so I'd also make him aware of the modern fougère, of which there are many. The two that bear the most discussion in my mind are Tsar and Azzaro Pour Homme, but Tsar is arguably the finest fougère of the last 25 years, and continues to be a contender for the label of Best Masculine Perfume Ever. With the Ever underlined at least twice.

The problem with fougères, as I see it, is their susceptibility to error. Orientals are largely warm, spice-laden fragrances with no fewer than thirty notes vying for attention at once, and therefore are more forgiving of blemishes - an overdose of cumin here, or a misplaced nutmeg there, do little to detract from their ambiance. Chypres, now generally a defunct category, are naturally unfriendly fragrances that rely on naturally unfriendly ingredients to make a statement. Olfactory grinches like lemon, oakmoss, and costus root lend chypres their bitter green and earthy qualities, and without them you have either a bland fougère, a citrus musk, or a simple oriental. Grey Flannel without its oakmoss is just a bitter lemon and violet leaf fougère, Z-14 without its vetiver is an oriental; displacing a chypre's core ingredients changes it into something else entirely. Fougères, on the other hand, are naked canvases. The entire concept of the "fern" fragrance is open to interpretation, as ferns have no natural scent. The formula is basically bergamot and lavender up front, followed by oakmoss and coumarin in the heart, and a dry, woody base of sandal or cedarwood (or both) to finish it off. But every designer and niche company must tweak the formula to make a fougère their own, and herein lies the rub.
Tsar, fortunately, had a terrific nose behind it: Philippe Bousseton. The puzzling thing about Bousseton is his apparently flimsy output - basenotes lists a meager four fragrances, and fragrantica only seven. Several of these are Adidas scents, and having recently opined on the lovely Sport Field, I don't see this as damaging to Bousseton's reputation. Perhaps if I sniff Ice Dive I'll feel a little differently, but Tsar more than makes up for anything inferior. Its brilliant opening of bergamot and lavender is pure pleasure. Bergamot is emphasized, and the citrus is neither synthetic smelling, nor bland. This intro is so bright, clean, and realistic that I'm transported to a verdant garden somewhere east of wherever I'm located whenever I smell it. Well-blended notes of oakmoss (in a subdued amount), pine, coriander, juniper, cedar, coumarin, sandalwood, and tarragon create a green, soapy aura that stays fairly close to its source, projecting politely and for several hours. There are none of the dark, earthy anchors of near contemporaries like Polo or Drakkar Noir. Everything is conservative, fresh, and elegantly arrayed.

What lends Tsar distinction is its drydown. Where other fougères smell a bit clunky and overtly soapy (see Sung Homme), Tsar is just smooth. The soapiness is predicated on freshness, not a simulated lye effect. It's the very definition of "gentleman's scent," in a traditional manner closely wedded to the British style of ferns. Everything is conservative and green, with a freshness inseparably tied in. Unlike musky fougères like Kouros and Paco Rabanne, Tsar is borderline "fresh" without crossing into Cool Water territory. It shares space with contemporaries like Jazz by YSL and Photo by Lagerfeld. Unlike many fresh fougères, Tsar is out of fashion nowadays, and that's a plus. Anyone curious enough to try it will find something forgotten since the early '90s - a tidy green aromatic made of high quality materials. Rain or shine, summer heat or winter snow, Tsar is never out of place, and always cool.

























12/8/11

Halston Alcohol-Free Cologne (Halston)



It's very hard to argue that the Halston brand is anything but the definition of "cool." The fashion, the fragrances, the man, all contoured the hazy, drug-addled blur of Studio 54's 1970s. Much of the designer's clout has faded with time, but current trends in fragrance are the clearest sign that Halston's fragrances are still cool - no one really wears them anymore, yet they endure. Elizabeth Arden holds the licenses for them, and I'm glad. EA Fragrances has generally done a conscientious job resurrecting yesterday's classics and keeping them as true as possible to their original formulations. Grey Flannel and Red for Men are wonderful, and Halston Classic meets the same high standards. My only gripe is its alcohol-free formulation . . . its oily solvent has a somewhat dirty feel and transports me to a patchouli-laden netherworld full of dead disco dancers. Weird.

Nowadays a perusal of store shelves is a challenge to stay calm, to not get angry. Bottle after bottle of endless chemical musks crowd the field, olfactory equivalencies of plastic feathers, brilliant pinks, reds, blues, neon lettering everywhere, overwrought and aimless decors, and total dependency on calone, sugar cubes, and fruity esters. Apparently today's mature woman is still a 16 year-old girl. The sight of anything with organic elements like oakmoss (gasp! what's that?) and treemoss (eeew, I think it's fungus?) renders a 37 year-old fragrance completely alien, utterly out of touch with the current aesthetic, colorless, vague, and a little scary. To this point: the Marshalls that I frequent is run entirely by women in their 20s who are constantly re-stocking the fragrance shelves, and they have yet to figure out which gender Halston Classic is meant for. I got my bottle from the men's section, but I've seen other bottles in the women's section, too. I expect to see it in the men's section again in the future.

I guess I can understand. Halston's box is a refreshingly blank beige, and its lettering offers no hints. The usage of "cologne," a term generally applied to men's scents, seems to suggest that it's a men's fragrance, but if you're an employee who likes to peek, the bottle inside certainly leans feminine with its narrowly curved neck and softly rounded glass. If you're an employee who likes to sample, you'll end up just as confused as before you ever opened the box; Halston's peachy top notes and dry mossy base are smooth and amiable, but altogether unisex. It's too floral for men, and too earthy for girls. Yikes, just put it in both sections then. Guys will buy it and give it to their girlfriends, girls will buy it and give it to their grandmothers. Their grandmothers will wear it for a while, decide it's too sexy, and resume wearing their dusty old bottles of Charlie Blue instead.

My take is much less flummoxed. I like that the scent has survived the decades, but understand that the alcohol-free cologne is a pale shadow of the original perfume. Still, it's a clear shadow, well defined in the glare of all that white musk surrounding it in the store. Perky bergamot and soft peach mark the opening. It's feminine, a little girlish even, but concise. Eventually the flowers and mosses push through the semi-sweet intro and sweep Halston firmly into a bitter chypre territory. Everything is blended and the green notes are abstract impressions of grass, leaves, muguet, and oakmoss. Treemoss (not sugar) is used to tinge the drydown's fuzzy edges with a gentle sweetness. It's comforting, and easy to wear.

Androgyny was thematic to fashion and pop culture in the '70s, and the best chypres of that time are very androgynous. Halston is no exception - it's probably a little too floral for most men, but it's no more feminine than Calice Becker's terrific tea floral, Tommy Girl. Any guy who is comfortable in his own skin can wear Halston and get away with it. I can wear Halston without qualms because I often wear green fragrances, and this is one incredibly green chypre. The rose, marigold, and mint notes are offset by a leafy mossiness that fits me perfectly. Thank you Mr. Halston, for making this fragrance and building it to last. And thank you Cindy Crawford, for all your nakedness. I'm much obliged to you both.

























12/7/11

Sport Field (Adidas)



Every year I go through "green withdrawal." It's frustrating because during the summer months I yearn for autumn, but by November and December I get pangs for effervescent spring-like scents, things I won't smell in nature until after a dreary Connecticut winter. I usually find myself exploring green fragrances around Thanksgiving, and try to steer my craving towards seasonally appropriate pine and artemisia scents, things like Pino Silvestre and Yatagan. This year I had a little luck with this approach, although to be honest I caved and went for something that would work best in summer time - Adidas Sport Field. Still, with its piney elements and bitter chypre characteristics, it's a respectable year-round treat.

Surprisingly respectable, actually. I've always avoided Adidas fragrances like the plague. They bear the stigma of inhabiting discount racks at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. Of course they also share their namesake with sneakers, something frowned upon in serious fragrance circles. I tend to lump all mass-marketed and accessory-branded colognes into the "nonsense to try when you're bored" category, which keeps company with celebrity fragrances and mall-store "body mists" (whatever those are). Things like Jaguar, Michael Jordan, Zippo, and Moonlight Magic rightfully get short shrift, although I admit Jaguar isn't nearly as bad as it could be. Favorable reviews on various forums led me to believe there was something more going on with Sport Field, something that made it worth checking out if I could find it. It's been discontinued, but recently regained market visibility, and today I actually found two bottles in what look to be new packaging. This makes me wonder if it's been re-released, and I'll be happy if that's the case.

Sport Field reminds me of one fragrance: Green Valley by Creed. I have yet to review Green Valley here because I'm saving that one for the spring. I consider it a wonderfully bittersweet grassy chypre, with top notes to die for. Adidas developed a green scent several years before Creed's creation, one that similarly conveys the bitter aroma of cut grass in an open field. It's as though someone took a scalpel to Green Valley, removed its top notes and two minutes'-worth of its heart, shifted some ingredients around, and then repackaged it as the "new" Sport Field (I know nothing of the original green-boxed Sport Field). It's Green Valley on a budget.

I'll get this out of the way first - Sport Field's ingredients are clearly pedestrian in quality, and there's nothing in the scent profile that raises eyebrows. However, the composition is a departure from the expected sweet waterfruit/violet leaf/white musk "sport" formula. It's a sport fragrance in the '70s tradition of Aliage, not Polo. The elements may be budgeted, but they're well chosen and composed. It opens with a bright burst of lemon and ginger, which rapidly transitions into a delightful wedding of coumarin (hay), and a nondescript pastel-pink sweetness that weaves between the greens. Light touches of pine, anise, and tomato leaf lend it depth and lengthen its lifespan, and its base is a simple hay and pine affair. The pine note is used judiciously to approximate the bracing spiciness of grass, and never oversteps its bounds or takes center stage, as in Pino Silvestre. All things considered, one could do infinitely worse with $15, and if you want to smell like fresh grass, this fragrance captures that essence perfectly. Its consistent bitterness is particularly refreshing, as the scent never once devolves into a fruity nightmare. It's a little broad, but Sport Field achieves its green effect with enviable simplicity and directness.

Having found love for Sport Field, I'll be exploring other Adidas scents with more enthusiasm. I'm realistic though, and doubt that Fair Play, Ice Dive, or Pure Game will yield anything for me. Still, I'm happy to have Sport Field, and find no shame in wearing it. Chypres are hard to come by, and to find one that nobly embraces the bitter verdancy of meadow grass is something special indeed. Try it if you like grassy greens - it's highly recommended!

























12/4/11

Tom Ford for Men (Tom Ford)


Today is my birthday, and I'm somewhat chagrined to report that it's a milestone - the Big 30. The only good thing about it is that it's the furthest point in time from turning 31. Otherwise, it's just plain scary. The roaring twenties are over, never to return again, and all for a staid decade of becoming a serious adult. Or . . . not. Depending on how you look at it, the future can be bright or bleak, but whatever the case, I trust it will smell good.

Last week I had a chance to wear a fragrance that I've been dying to try for a while now - Tom Ford for Men. In fact, I got to sample a good portion of the Ford lineup over the course of a few days, and other reviews will soon follow this one. Mr. Ford's signature masculine is somewhat controversial because many feel that it fails to live up to its marketing hype. Maybe it's my 30-dom chiming in here, but I refrained from posting the ad with this fragrance's bottle positioned suggestively between a naked woman's widespread legs, favoring Mr. Ford's self-portraiture instead. I have a feeling that the pornographic imagery is largely to blame for the collective disappointment here; thousands of guys were drawn to it like moths around a neon beer sign, all expecting liquid nirvana. Instead they got a conventional woody-fresh fougère in the accustomed post-Cool Water style. Quite a letdown if you let the visuals manipulate your imagination before the perfume's molecules can speak for themselves.

I wasn't really baited by the ads, however, so my nose was not struck down with melancholia upon smelling this scent. It was a bit surprising though, as I thought the fragrance would be darker and denser in nature, more of a "cologney" type of oldschool frag in the manner of Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur, or Aramis. Tom Ford's opening notes of lemon leaf and ginger are tart and refreshing, and the perfect intro to the sweet aromatics of pipe tobacco, cedar, patchouli, and pepper in the heart. This is as woodsy as it gets - about twenty minutes into its development, the scent's manly curtain is drawn to reveal a sweet violet leaf and orange blossom base. All is punctuated by crisp vetiver and warm amber notes, making Tom Ford for Men a likable and thoroughly unremarkable workhorse fern. It has good longevity, modest sillage, and not a single drop of confrontational innuendo anywhere in it. It's the perfect gift for the guy who has it all.

I prefer Chanel's Allure Homme and Coty's Aspen to Tom Ford for Men, but only because I have a history with those scents that I don't share with this newer offering. I can see this being a disappointment in the face of more exciting Ford scents, but I don't think it warrants so much negativity - it's well made and competent for its class. I would have made it woodier, perhaps with a touch of birch and a little fennel or anise to correlate with true fougère classics like Azzaro Pour Homme. But as it stands, there's nothing wrong with Tom Ford for Men, and wearing it is as comfortable as sitting by the fire in a leather armchair with a glass of cognac. It's not as sexy as a bottle blocking a vagina, but then again nothing ever is.