4/29/12

Perfume Is Design



If you spend a considerable amount of time reading through perfume threads on basenotes, fragrantica, badger & blade, and any other popular fragrance site, an odd trend becomes apparent. Half of the posters pose questions or thoughts about a fragrance's usability. There are questions like, "which vetiver is better for summer time?" and "do you think college-age girls will like an old-school oriental on me?" These questions pivot off performance ratings and sexual cache. They aren't queries about the relevance of a perfumer's self-expression, or the emotional conflicts generated by a certain combination of notes. When someone is wondering about seasonal and sexual viability, their concerns are about one thing: functionality.

The other half of the posting populace is more introspective. They're commenting about whether or not they like a fragrance, comparing fragrances to each other, and describing how fragrances smell to them. Their remarks are usually subjective, highly opinionated, and tethered to a finite scope of personal experience. These posts are about a different thing: interpretation. Often posters combine questions of functionality with interpretative commentary, and generate interesting discussions that suck all sorts of fragrances into the dialogue. A few words on one fragrance inevitably leads to many words on dozens of them.


If the dialogue were limited to interpretive conversation, then I would be inclined to think that perfumery is an art form. After all, the greatest works of prior generations of artists are engines for interpretation of the human condition. One glance at Guernica by Picasso can bloom into an emotional analysis of the horrors of war, which in turn can generate reflections on man's nihilistic hostility toward himself, and the shaping of the modern political spectrum of the West. One does not see Guernica and think, "perhaps it would look best in the foyer during spring time." Superficiality isn't invited to this cocktail party.

Conversely, if one were to pick a perfume, any perfume, and subject it to the rigors of intellectual conversation, this dialogue would extend into numerous human affairs, but would not end with them. An exchange on the Big Bang of modern perfumery as it evolved around Coty's Chypre would inevitably lead to considerations as to where and when Coty's Chypre is best worn, and on whom. Chypre's functionality is an inescapable part of its novelty.


Functionality is inherent to design, but not to art. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines design as the transitive verb, "to devise for a specific function or end," and the intransitive, "to conceive or execute a plan." In almost all its definitions, the word "plan" is used. There is an intent, based on a schematic, leading to something operational in nature. We can see this in anything that is designed, from cabinets and refrigerators, to cars and buildings, and even birth control products. Practicality and functionality are welded together in the best designs, and we reap the benefits of them constantly.

Art, on the other hand, is about philosophy, which is one reason why art history and philosophy are often combined in elective college courses. The artist has a view of himself and the universe in which he lives, and attempts to create his own meaning to fill the empty void of existence, and distract from the randomness of it all. Everything, from mechanical portraiture, to emotional free-associative abstractedness, is connected to a musing on man and his humanity. It takes art to convey the inner workings of the human spirit, and for this there are no limits to medium, or to the acceptability of line and image. An artist can present a series of finely-detailed paintings, or just plunk a Popsicle freezer in the middle of the room; as long as his philosophy exerts itself behind the expression, the offering is art.


Perfumery is harder to pin down as design than other designed things, like refrigerators and dishwashers, because unlike refrigerators and dishwashers, it's impossible to see the working pieces of a perfume. It's also hard to accept that perfume does not stray into the emotional grey area inhabited by most works of art. But emotional content is not exclusive to art - there are many facets of design that incorporate emotional and spiritual elements. European war posters of the 20th century are analogs of stubborn commitment to living each day to its fullest, expressed in hard lines and courageous imagery, and are loaded with archetypical renditions of men and women fighting to stay alive and sane. Still, these posters are graphic design, as they serve a purpose: to rally people against a common enemy. There is a subliminal and an overt purpose, with the aesthetics of illustration backed by a subversive manipulation of political allegiance for populist ends. Just look at the futuristic expressionism of Der Krieg by Otto Dix, or the Heroic Realism of Victor Borisovich Koretski's Peace, Friendship, Solidarity, No To Facism, and you see how closely wedded emotion and function can be.

Perfumery is its own form of subliminal and overt purpose. And yes, all of perfumery's working parts are invisible to the naked eye. The success of a perfume, like the success of a refrigerator, is not dependent on one creator alone. Unlike a piece of performance art by Raphael Montañez Ortiz, a refrigerator relies on the competence of the person who makes its parts, the person who develops a specific way of assembling them, and the person who does the assembling. A perfume is the same - it relies on a chemist to identify and create aroma chemicals on a molecular level, another chemist to identify how these aroma chemicals work together, and yet another chemist to interpret that data and assemble the chemicals into a volatile construction of multiple aromas which move together. This last phase, of chemical volatility on display, is trial and error, much like testing a new refrigerator model before it enters the market. There are times when parts malfunction, and need upgrading; there are moments when certain chemical combinations are lackluster and require changing. Eventually a perfect balance is achieved, and all parts are working well. Only then is a product ready for showcasing.


In perfumery, the very methods of obtaining building blocks for perfumery are challenging, and require considerable skill. Distillation, extraction by expression, extraction with volatile solvents, and supercritical CO2 extraction are all options. In each case, raw materials are mined for properties which yield the highest concentration of fragrance molecules. Once these materials are secured, the hard part really begins. In his 2011 book, Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent, Jean-Claude Ellena relays the conundrum of every beginner perfumer, with a particularly valuable frankness found in Chapter 5, page 43:
"As a lab assistant to perfume designers, I was exposed to different - often complex - ways of formulating fragrances (this stage is no longer part of the perfumer's training). As an apprentice, I learned things that would help me to fulfill the demands of international markets, aided in particular by the use of the then recent technology of chromatography. I was fed on a steady diet of market analyses and odor analyses: essential oils, bases, and perfumes. In my formulations, I combined materials and believed, naively, in the molecule that would change everything and would finally prove my creative talent."
There is little about this that correlates with the beginnings of an artist. Most artists serve no apprenticeships, rarely concern themselves with the finer points of market demands, and often seek to retro-engineer older technologies for new means - not make use of nascent technologies for future hypotheses. Ellena goes on to say:
"The turning point came when I read a little illustrated booklet with a bouquet of flowers on a black background on the cover. The firm Dragoco had dedicated the whole of their journal Dragoco Report to the perfumer Edmond Roudnitska. The subject was: The young perfume composer and odors. Though dated 1962, the approach was new. He spoke of beauty, taste, simplicity, method, in smelling and judging, but also of erudition and of his philosophy of life. He became a part of my life, to the point that I have long held a secret desire to be called, like the subject of the book, a 'composer of perfumes,' although on his business card he contented himself with the title of 'perfumer.'"
Although Ellena does refer to Roudnitska as having a philosophy of life, the two men do not fashion themselves after artists, but as composers and perfumers alike. Similarly, other designers adopt corollary titles of engineer, technician, and producer. Their tasks are based on the calibration of disparate qualities into new and original consonances, for commercial ends. Cars, for example, employ vastly different materials to transport people in a stable manner. Perfumes employ conflicting agents in a way that harmoniously balances skin chemistry with inorganic chemistry to produce scents that transcend nature. In short, perfumes serve the function of making people smell good, or at least different from how they would naturally smell. Without composition, this is not well achieved.
There is a difference between making someone smell of something, and making him smell like something. Certain naked aroma chemicals, like Ambrox, can successfully make a person smell of woody ambers, without the assistance of other materials. Even with one ingredient, a perfumer's ability to identify this particular aroma chemical as having an inherent complexity makes it feasible to bottle and sell Ambrox as perfume. But the same cannot be done with something like cis-3 Hexenal. Alone, this aroma chemical smells harsh and incomplete. If one were to bottle cis-3 Hexenal and sell it as perfume, its wearer would just smell like cis-3 Hexenal. Without the accompaniment of hydroxyisohexyl 3 cyclohexene carboxaldehyde, the floral elements to support the basic grassiness of cis-3 are missing. It takes a bit of compositional expertise to achieve the desired green, grassy effect.

It is the implicit goal of all perfumers to make people smell of something, namely perfume, and all the elements contained in perfume. They are not in the business of making people smell like something else. Perhaps it is tempting to point to Demeter, the fragrance company which sells products that smell like specific things, and say "what about them?" If I spray Demeter's Lavender, I will smell similar to lavender, but not actually like lavender - and it's still perfumery, because there isn't just lavender oil in the bottle. There are several aroma chemicals cleverly composed to mimic the natural scent of lavender buds. But if I apply some Caldey Island Lavender, and just identify the lone lavender essential oil, then I'm no longer using perfume, but simply a lavender ointment. I cannot say one way or another whether or not Caldey Island Lavender uses lavender alone for its fragrance, and will not try to peg the scent as being "not perfume" here, but one can legitimately question it. Ellena and Roudnitska wrote about the importance of composition in making perfume, for composition is everything in perfume. And composition is an act of design. How well do things function in this order? How well do they function in that order? And so on.

In closing, I turn to a fragrance mentioned in the first part of this "Conundrum: Is Perfumery A _______?" series - Kouros. Pierre Bourdon's classic masculine perfume is a triumph of form and function. It employs natural and synthetic ingredients, composed in a manner to best highlight their effects on skin. It is a marvel of technical contrast, with bright hesperidic notes placed alongside dark-earthy and animalic ones. Smelling Kouros provokes a feeling of happiness, much like the feeling I get when I see a 1958 Chevy. Its natural ingredients stimulate a primitive epicenter in my brain. Its synthetics appeal to my fashion sensibilities. It works beautifully in the heat, and in all temperatures. It's sexy as hell. It is the very essence of modern design.
















4/26/12

The Old And New: Old Spice Fresh & Pure Sport



Sometime in the last few years Old Spice reformulated and re-released its famous "fresh" variant as Old Spice Fresh. Fragrantica puts the start date at 1988, but in fact basenotes has it right - Old Spice Fresh was originally released in 1980 as Old Spice Fresh Scent, and was a minor player in the Shulton lineup until its eventual discontinuation sometime in the 1990s. I don't know what prompted Proctor & Gamble to give Fresh another go, but apparently someone was nostalgic.

Fresh always struck me as being a product of Calone's "first wave," one of a handful of discreetly-clean and sea breezy masculines that were mass produced from the 1970s to the late '80s. Stuff like Wind Drift, Blue Stratos, New West. These weren't overtly aquatic, nor were they fruity bubblegum scents, but they all employed a clean Calone molecule that was subtly woven into their compositions for ozonic effect. The basic Calone smell is very marine-like in nature, and mimics the saltiness of a sea breeze. In Fresh, this clean sea spray element is central to the composition. It isn't sweet. It's bitter, mineralic, ozonic, salty, and a little green. It's Calone the way we're supposed to smell it, somehow relegated to the cheapest stuff in the men's aisle.


Even today, Fresh smells very old school and a little clunky. But here's a major point in its favor: it's an excellent ambergris scent, for anyone curious to know what amber smells like. Fresh opens with an incredibly bitter melange of salted lemon, bergamot, and frosted galbanum, and bitchslaps my sinuses for a good fifteen minutes before softer notes of dry cedar and amber emerge, perfectly haloed in Calone - or whatever they're using to imitate Calone nowadays. It smells like a cold Atlantic wave breaking against grey shale somewhere along the coast of Maine. It's harsh, very masculine, and more of a novelty act than a practical daily-wearer, but I'm glad to find 4 ounce bottles of it at my local grocery store.

I also find Old Spice's newest brand of "Fresh" next to them in massive 6.5 ounce bottles, labeled Pure Sport, from 2004. This fragrance is a more modern OS variant, and has seen immense success in bodywash and deodorant form. I like that they make it in aftershave form as well. Pure Sport is not your average formulaic sport scent. In fact, it's not a sport scent at all. A basenoter called Cipriano accurately states that Pure Sport smells of 60% Old Spice and 40% Allure Homme. Actually, I'd reverse the poles on that, as I get a stronger Allure vibe. But Pure Sport isn't really a fresh fougère - it's a fresh oriental, and to be honest, the aftershave version smells a lot different from the bodywash and deodorant. The bath products smell "sportier" and brighter, while the tonic is warm and smooth, with distinct notes of sandalwood and opopanax under light touches of grapefruit, clove, and anise. The fruity undertow is attributable to some variation of Calone, no doubt a cheap stand-in for the fruity Water of Joe Calone of the '90s. This is more wearable than Old Spice Fresh, but not nearly as interesting. Still, it's excellent value for the quality - Pure Sport smells like it should cost four times as much as it does.

If you're looking for respectable "fresh" scents, and don't have much dough to blow, P&G offers two excellent options for a combined total of $15. You won't smell like a big spender, but you'll definitely smell good, and a whole lot better than that fat asshole on the S-train who douses himself in L'Eau D'Issey.







Painting: Crashing Waves by Frederick Waugh



















4/25/12

Mimosa (Czech & Speake)



I like a dirty floral perfume as much as the next guy (assuming the next guy is sufficiently deranged enough to bear comparison with me), but some perfumes are a little too dirty. Mimosa by Czech & Speake is one such perfume.

Czech & Speake is one of those niche brands that consistently wows me. Rose is amazing, albeit a bit simplistic. Dark Rose is even better. Cuba is a pleasure to wear. Citrus Paradisi is problematic, but I respect what they were going for there. But Mimosa is, literally and figuratively speaking, one hell of a stinker.

It's not difficult to review because it isn't very complex, and it doesn't move much. It opens with a sweet burst of ylang-ylang and jasmine. The ylang is perky and lends the floral arrangement a bright texture, while the jasmine is velvety and tempers the sharpness of the ylang with a softer kind of "sweet." The pair is nicely rendered and provide a clever intro to a mimosa soliflore.

When the star note arrives, it is loaded to the hilt with dirty indoles, creating a bitter pungency that makes my nose wrinkle and my sinuses close up. It smells like an overripe flower and a burnt match. On the one hand, I like indoles, and gravitate toward their funkiness like a fly to a neon beer sign. On the other, I'm not particularly fond of how these indoles work. Their intensity is repellent, and they make the fragrance smell like a granny perfume on steroids. Mimosa has been compared to fancy hand soap, but this is closer to soap from a tawdry French brothel.

Once it reaches this starched and pooped apex, it gradually fades into a whisper of its former self, and becomes more tolerable. I guess it holds up the C&S tradition of being balls-out and red-blooded, but it's simply a bad concept, executed a little too well. It's a shame they missed with this scent - they were so close.













4/24/12

Violetta (Penhaligon's)

I have an odd relationship with violets, perhaps because I'm a man who likes how they smell, and doesn't mind wearing them. To me, violets are about green shadows, wet earth, night-blooming romance. They're the stuff of mystery, and the men who build mysteries. When rendered honestly, they smell incredible.

When rendered dishonestly, all the inherent good and evil of violets is tragically undone. It's a fine line because there's very little difference between a good violet scent, and a bad one. The best and the worst smell sweet and green alike, with only subtle variations to distinguish them. A good violet scent - perhaps the greatest available to men - is Grey Flannel. I feel like my soul is connected to my skin whenever I wear Grey Flannel. Swirling remnants of anything that is fair and foul about me manifests in its well-oiled machine of imploded lemon, violet, violet leaf, oakmoss. Any remote fleck of selflessness and personal sacrifice is nicely suited to its sweetness; duplicity and murderous impulses are the shadow matter of crushed greens under its mossy thicket, providing shadow to Grey Flannel's light. There aren't many fragrances that operate this way. While most frags simply accompany me, Grey Flannel becomes part of me.

Not so with Violetta by Penhaligon's. Is it any irony that Violetta was released the same year as Grey Flannel? Perhaps, and the meaning isn't lost on this violet fan. Where Grey Flannel conveys a natural scent profile, Violetta settles on blatantly synthetic aromachemicals to convey an empty expression of "chic." Violets have a natural sexiness built into their fragile scent, and if a perfumer frames their earthbound allure with other natural notes, as Andre Fromentin did, the result is beguiling. If the nose decides "natural" isn't enough, and filters violets through gobs of naked Ambrox and Galaxolide, the result is headache inducing. Needless to say, Violetta is a migraine in a bottle.


Despite its crudeness, I can sense what the perfumer behind Violetta was going for: a crisp, green, dusty violet, with hints of wood and musk as supporting players. Looks good on paper, but in practice it's a disaster. The opening violet note is piercingly bright, sickeningly sweet, and possesses the demeanor of an expensive air freshener - not a fine fragrance. It rapidly becomes obvious that the synthetic violet bombast is playing bicinium to coarse musk. The musk note is almost odorless, yet somehow louder than the violet. It was meant to lend the sweet greenness some loess for relief, but instead just expounds on the already-bad. There are precious few wearable violets for men on the current market, and this one bites the dust. Literally.

I find it amusing that Grey Flannel, at only $12 for 4 ounces, eclipses a $125 perfume by such a wide margin. But as a guy with an eye on quality instead of price, I don't find it surprising in the least. Experienced male fumeheads know how easy it is to smell amazing for under $15 - you just have to know that what feeds the soul usually spares the wallet. With their fragrances consistently underwhelming me, I see no reason to jettison this credo for Penhaligon's, and certainly wouldn't waste another day on something as offensive as Violetta.











4/22/12

What I've Been Reading



I thought I'd mention that I've updated my blogroll, and added some preferred reading from across the world-wide interweb. Sadly, this meant editing out some "dead blogs" that are no longer being updated. But the new additions are terrific reads.

There's the insightful writing of Ron Slomowicz on Notable Scents.

Another humorous addition is Oh True Apothecary! which I'm hoping goes much longer than just 365 days.

Then there's Cheryl Quimby's literary blog, Perfumed Letters. A nice "confessional" blog with many perfumed letters to cover. By the way, I used to send a girlfriend perfumed letters. My confession of the day.

I think Scents of Place is a mesmerizing read. What a traveler! I envy this writer's mileage.

Can't get enough of Swig and Tipple, which is an extremely pleasant read.

And don't believe Jen Meade when she says This Blog Really Stinks, unless you're thinking perfume, which is what she's thinking.

I hope to add more blogs like these in the future!















4/21/12

Inis (Fragrances of Ireland)



I have fond memories of Ireland. If you conjoin all the months I spent there, you'll find I've given about two years to Ireland, and enjoyed every minute of it. My parents used to take me when I was a young boy, and in more recent years I've stopped in as a halfway point between continental Europe and the States. It's been five years since my last stop, and I do miss it quite a bit.

People often assume that I'm Irish (my history there, and my name), but there isn't a single drop of Irish blood in me. I'm Italian American, a quarter Polish on my mother's side, and my last name is Italian. As a privacy preference, I simply do not use my real surname online.

"But," you ask, "why spend so much time in Ireland then?" The answer is actually a lot simpler than you think - my family spent months at a time there because it was a good retreat from our fast-paced life in America. In 1993 they purchased land in Sligo, and in 1995 they hired an architect to design a house. The design was based on a crude drawing, done by my mother on a napkin at Bewley's. In 1996 the architect hired a local Spanish-Irish (called "Black Irish") builder and his small crew of six or seven guys, and the house was finished by the end of the year - without the use of any power tools. From 1996 to 2008 my family and I would visit and spend time, until all was sold in the autumn of 2008 to a local couple who wanted it for raising a family.


One of the things I remember was the introduction of Inis, sometime in the spring of 1998. Inis was a phenomenon in Ireland, possibly their best-selling fragrance of all time, even to date. You could find it in every gift shop, department store, grocery store, and airport. Touted as the "scent of Ireland" and backed with loads of oceanic imagery, it announced itself everywhere as being a fresh aquatic. My interest in fragrances was minimal back then, and I didn't give much thought to the banality of aquatics, or wonder why F.o.I. didn't opt for a "greener" fragrance, given the abundance of greenery there. Whenever I saw a tester, I spritzed some on my hand, and always thought the exact same thing: nice, but nothing special.

Revisiting it now, all these years later, Inis has held up rather well. I still feel it's quite nice, but nothing special in the least. By "nice" I'm saying Inis smells fresh, salty, a little beachy, and generally good. It's a skin scent and doesn't project beyond a couple of inches, which probably helps it. It opens with a piercing bergamot and lemon, which rapidly effloresce into a breezy, briny, and heavily-salted sandalwood and musk. I always interpret sandalwood as being driftwood in aquatic fragrances, and Inis is no exception - the wood notes are subdued, but very dry and warm, providing a muted contrast to the cool sea breeze washing over it. The heart is little more than a mild glow of sweet greenness, presumably the floral notes I see listed everywhere, which vary on every site. I get a touch of muguet, and the faintest hint of clove, which reality-checks all the freshness with its mentholated soot. The effect is similar to that of Hedione's in Eau Sauvage; Inis' clove is inherently spicy and degradable amidst all the fluorescence.


Fragrances of Ireland is a very competent niche firm, and they specialize in perfumes that approximate the olfactory assets of Ireland's geography. Driving through the countryside, one is exposed to an endless barrage of scents and accents - clean, salty air, bitter grasses and nettles, the gentle sweetness of Fuchsia, the occasional waft of fetid manure, and the singularly smoky earthiness of peat bogs, and burning peat. Many of these scents are captured in Patrick, an excellent fougère. But Patrick falls short of conveying the Irish coastline, so Inis picks up the slack. Salt and ozone, wet, woody sand, the remote greenness of nearby fields, all are well encapsulated in the basic effect garnered by a few sprays of Inis. It's a simple pleasure, well executed, but still . . . just aquatic. Atlantic-aquatic, very cold and brisk, but aquatic nevertheless. It had a modicum of originality in the '90s; today, Inis is just another pretty face.

It doesn't smell of detergent musks and watermelon gum, so these are points in its favor. It's also very unassuming and maintains a modest presence, even after generous application. This isn't L'Eau D'Issey and The Chemical Comanches playing your local dive bar. This fragrance is pleasant, demure, and very well behaved, a lonely solo player. I whole-heartedly recommend Inis to anyone with a hankering for a sugarless aquatic. It's a pretty little fragrance from a gorgeous country, and the loveliest people on Earth.



















4/19/12

Wind Song (Prince Matchabelli)



Luca Turin once said that classic feminine perfumes become masculines with age, and it's one of a precious few bits of Turin's wisdom I completely agree with (I'm a bit of a petulant asshole, you see). Those old chypres and orientals really don't match today's concept of "feminine." Wind Song is one of them, a fragrance that blares its woody and green notes from a mountaintop, and smells very adult, very sincere. It hearkens from 1952 or '53 - there are conflicting reports - and yet it makes me think that women in the 1750s smelled like Wind Song. Even though it's a twentieth century perfume, it is very classically poised, incredibly well composed, and ridiculously inexpensive. I wish I could build a time machine (or tinker with a DeLorean) and go back to check it out, just to see if this scent isn't on some French aristocrat's night table.

I've never knowingly smelled L'Air du Temps, but I do like Wind Song. Apparently the Nina Ricci perfume, which came only a few years before, was the inspiration for Prince Matchabelli's creation. Wind Song's massive bergamot/carnation/orange balm/coriander is an incredible intro, loaded with pungency, and unfortunately a little too much alcohol. Inexpensive drugstore frags sometimes smell nice in the opening and crappy in the drydown, but Wind Song suffers crudeness on top and becomes better as it dries. Its heart is full of spice, loads of clove and tarragon, and its base is rich with amber and benzoin resins. The far drydown is a nice clean sandalwood, very smooth and dry. There is something darkly alluring here, despite the associations with "old soap" that I get from the bergamot and carnation top notes. The richness of the sandalwood base wouldn't be out of place on a scheming, cold-blooded siren, like Hitchcock's Madeleine in Vertigo.

Would I wear Wind Song? I have to say, if I had one of those small $9 bottles, I would probably have occasion to wear it, here and there. I don't know if I could handle the density of the scent beyond an hour or two, but I'm not afraid to try it. One thing is for sure, though: I wouldn't worry about smelling like a lady. Le Male, 1 Million, and Acqua di Gio contain far more estrogen than Wind Song ever will.










4/18/12

Kenzo Homme (Kenzo)


Christian Mathieu is the nose behind Kenzo's first masculine fragrance, and his oeuvre includes the clove-filled Jacomo de Jacomo, and the fusty chypre Coeur de Parfum. His design sensibilities favor spiced woods and dry mosses, and with Kenzo Homme he continues that trend. It therefore comes as a surprise to find many reviewers calling Kenzo Homme an aquatic. I gave it a generous wearing today, and frankly found nothing aquatic about it at all. If anything, it's a fresh woody chypre in the esteemed tradition of Fahrenheit and Lacoste Original, full of dry green notes, without a hint of "aqua" to be found.

What disturbs me a little about Kenzo Homme is its similarities to Drakkar Noir and Horizon by Guy Laroche. It shares the exact same bitter earthiness, and in some ways surpasses its comparatives. Kenzo's composition is based on a dessicated citric opening of bergamot, eastern European fir, bitter sage, and the driest sandalwood I've ever sniffed. The movement doesn't get any friendlier from there; the heart notes revolve around a pungent pairing of oakmoss and vetiver, with biting hints of juniper berry, lemon zest, and caraway in orbit. To my nose the vetiver is most prominent, and the construction is welded together by a coolness that is as nondescript as it is ubiquitous: calone.

It isn't the summery fruit-laden calone we've all come to know and hate, but more of a crystalline cool breeze wafting through the trees, made extra subtle through its integration with other sour aromatics like fir and sage. I suppose if one were to consider all these notes in unison as analogous to the scent of a freshwater riverbank in Japan, I could, in a roundabout way, understand the aquatic label. But as it stands, my dominant impression is that Kenzo is a woody aromatic chypre with a decidedly "fresh" feel. Just because something smells cool and fresh doesn't mean it's aquatic. I really don't know why it gets this reputation.

Overall, I'm not inclined to like this fragrance. I kinda sorta wish it were a flat-out aquatic, because maybe then I could appreciate it more. I need an aquatic with a bitter freshwater feel, but I don't need a chypre variant of Drakkar Noir disguised as a semi-niche avant-garde masculine. Unique it may be, but Kenzo Homme ain't for me.









4/17/12

Paris (Yves Saint Laurent)


There's so much hubbub in the blogosphere over Penhaligon's famous Hammam Bouquet, but YSL crushed that grape years ago with none other than Paris. Sure, Hammam is significantly less feminine, and pulls powdery roses from its ass with an impressive 19th century flourish, but in the end Paris comes out smelling better - better balanced, better poised, better designed, and just plain better smelling. Look, it's better, okay? Trust me on this.

People talk about how Hammam creates an olfactory representation of repressed Victorian desire, Turkish steam baths full of semi-nude concubines eating grapes from the magistrate's belly button, blah, blah. All the contrived imagery fails to correspond with what good perfume is truly about: association. We can't associate a perfume to things we've never known. It's simply not possible to sniff Hammam Bouquet and honestly say, "this takes me back to that lukewarm Turkish dip I took in Manchester back when Willy IV started remembering his bastard offspring." Unless you're 180 years old (or older), you wouldn't know. You just have to take Penhaligon's word for it.

Paris avoids the memory game by keeping within its own realm, with all associations based on perfume, specifically European perfume. There are no questions about bath soaps and oils, or who the queen is. Paris interprets the evening romance of a modern European square: roses, violets, woods, booze, powder, and the aura of every man and woman's perfume wafting on a breeze across the tables of an outdoor cafe. It's an association we can easily make, as everyone has had a divine moment of fume-overload at one time or another. It happens at dinner, at business meetings, at church. People mingle and gather, and so do their smells. Together, the combined perfumes form a new fragrance, something ephemeral in spirit, but ever-present on the exhale. That's Paris, a truly universal experience in the form of a scent.

Sophia Grojsman is incredibly skilled, and this is some of her best work. Her composition stands alone as one of the few contemporary feminine perfumes to successfully straddle old-world and modern styles. I personally think it would go well on me with a double-vented suit and a new pair of Florsheims. Paris is full of light and sound, and it's a terrific product from Yves Saint Laurent.








4/16/12

One Last Word On Brut . . .


I happened across the above advertisement for Brut. And I noticed that it mentions its price ranging from $7.50 to $100. Pretty broad range. But $100!?! I guess back in the day, this stuff could get pretty pricey. It certainly wasn't a drugstore write-off frag. I didn't realize it was ever that expensive! Okay, that's all I had to say.











Jōvan Woman (Coty)


Jōvan is a fairly prolific brand, one of Coty's workhorse manufacturers, and they've had their fair share of hits and misses. Sex Appeal is arguably their best, and Ginseng NRG is quite possibly their worst. Everything in between varies between being easily wearable on any occasion, to being situational scents with limited functionality and appeal. Jōvan Woman falls into the second group, neatly tucked between Island Gardenia and Black Musk.

One of the many quandaries of air travel (like going commando and then getting strip-searched at customs, or forgetting to pack enough inflatable condoms and dime bags, etc.) is personal fragrance - when flying long distance the question becomes, what works? What's appropriate? Something weak enough to not offend fellow travelers, yet strong enough to make the body smell fresh? A Japanese non-fragrance with lots of airy citrus and musk (I've been doing my research)? No fragrance at all? Maybe just really good soap and a slap-on cologne? The options are endless.

Situationally speaking, Jōvan Woman is a good one for air travel because its chemical components smell very clean, synthetic, and soapy, without being noxious or too in-your-face. Its top accord is a rich faux bergamot and kitchen spice explosion, and is perhaps the only part of the fragrance that comes on strong. Maybe apply it in the restroom to limit the damage there. The spice is mostly nutmeg, with a touch of cinnamon, and something analogous to carnation. The carnation introduces green, chypre-esque mid/base stages, and pulls JW's spiciness into a lighter realm. Each green tint incrementally deepens as the fragrance emits strong orange flower and sweet ylang-ylang notes, which settle on a nondescript detergent musk foundation. It's smooth, sweet, clean, and totally synthetic. It's like a fancy soap radiating from your open shirt collar.

Jōvan Woman is another unisex fragrance that would have you think otherwise - really, anyone can wear it. I can't recommend using it as anything other than a quick B.O. blocker, but there is a population of wearers who seek fragrance just for that reason, and as far as that goes, it's not too bad at all.










4/15/12

Brut Classic (Helen of Troy)



I get one day off each week (Sunday), and I used today to seek out members of the Brut family. There's no escaping it - I'm a fragrance nut.

There's a pretty good fragrance shop in Waterbury that sells all sorts of classic men's frags. I went there and snagged a 3 oz. glass bottle of Brut Classic. That's the one in the middle of the picture, with the silver medallion hanging on its hairy chest. Handsome, isn't he?

To its left is Brut 33 - i.e. Brut Splash-On - which was reviewed yesterday. To its right is the 3 oz. plastic bottle version of Brut Cologne, which I was able to find at Walgreens for the surprisingly high price of $9.56. In comparison, Splash-On was only $6.56, and you get 7 ounces of it. Brut Classic was $21.

Still, that's 13 ounces of Brut for a combined total of $37.12. Quite affordable, all things considered.

I'll do a two line review of the plastic bottle version of Brut Cologne: this fragrance opens with a smooth lemon balm/lavender/mint combination, quickly joined by ylang-ylang, jasmine, amber, musk, and a touch of powder. It reads as a significantly higher concentration of Brut Splash-On, with more punch in the top, and a tangible drydown that smells pleasantly green and barbershoppy.

Now, on to Brut Classic. This is the most summery-green barbershop cologne I've ever encountered. I can't remember if I've ever sniffed Brut Classic before today, but I know I've worn the regular "original" cologne in plastic. I'm somewhat neutral on the plastic bottle version, although I lean more toward liking it than not. The Classic version in glass, however, is simply divine juice.

Classic opens with a rush of mint, lemon juice, anise, basil, and lavender. The mint is mentholated and bright green, and its pairing with basil and anise makes for a warm, grassy feeling; the lavender lifts the opening accord over Brut's heavier heart notes. After a minute, sweet ylang-ylang and jasmine appear, very indolic and ripe. Here's where Classic approaches the barbershop feel of its plastic bottle brethren. The floral notes become soft and powdery, and an ambery vanillic drydown, still tinged by the greenness of mint and lemon, imbues itself into skin. The resultant smell is very clean, and quite wonderful.

The biggest difference between Classic and "Original Cologne" is in the treatment of the top notes and the drydown. The heart notes are very similar, too close to really dissect. But in Classic, the herbal minty greenness is much more pronounced, while the lemon and mint stands out more in Original. Also, anise is used more generously in Classic, and lends the scent some depth and balance it might otherwise lack. I also sense a higher fidelity to the floral notes in Classic than in Original. While both fragrances have a decidedly barbershop-like drydown, Classic is more of a fresh green smell, while Original holds more powder, and smells more abstract.


The usage of ylang-ylang and jasmine is genius in Brut. Without these floral notes, the scent would smell like Mennen's Skin Bracer (which by the way isn't really made by Mennen anymore). It would be an abstract mint, lemon, vanilla affair, very fresh and clean. Brut is classified as an ambery fougère, and hugs the outskirts of the category, coming very close to orientalism. Unlike other ambery fougères like Zino and Allure Homme, Brut embraces greener components and has a very naturalistic feel. I'm reminded of the barbershop oriental Royal Copenhagen when I sniff Brut Classic's middle development, as the spicy floral components mirror RC's overall vibe. But I also sense a touch of Kouros' earthy woodiness, particularly in the first ten seconds after the juice leaves the atomizer. Brut Classic is a very well defined scent.

Wise noses have asked lesser snouts why they hate on Brut so much, given its 40+ year commercial run. It seems en vogue to trash this fragrance in the face of newer, fresher offerings. Perhaps other things have surpassed Brut in quality and style, but then again, perhaps not. I'm convinced that there is an extremely small population of guys under the age of 35 who wear Brut. Maybe 1% of guys in that demographic. For those over 35, and even more so among those over 40, Brut enjoys more popularity. I'm guessing a solid 35% of middle-aged cologne-wearing males have at least one bottle of Brut in their bathroom cabinet. This is enough to keep it commercially popular and relatively cheap.


My suppositions about Brut's demographic appeal are musings on the proper time and place for Brut. I think Brut is a great all-season scent that really shines during the spring and summer months. And I think it's something very few young guys are wearing these days. This gives me all the more reason to wear it. There's an attitude that young women crinkle their nose at Brut, but I'm not so sure. Maybe some teenagers and party girls dislike it. But nothing appeals to all women of all ages. Some fragrances find love strictly with preppy college girls, while others appeal to women with retro sensibilities - there may be a smattering of hippies, vegans, artists, and philosophers in that group. There are all kinds of women in the world, and I'm sure a sizable number of them like how Brut smells on a man.

All I know is, they don't keep making this stuff because it smells raunchy and unwearable. Conceptual experiments end up gone and forgotten; Brut Classic is anything but forgettable.














4/14/12

Brut Splash-On (Helen of Troy)



Brut 33 was recently re-released in a new "Splash-On" form, and with the number 33 nowhere to be seen on the packaging. I find this amusing.

It's a good thing because Brut 33 hasn't been available in many years, and I've often wished it was. Regular Brut cologne is nice enough, but a tad . . . pungent. I get a little squeamish with those massive lemon, lavender, and basil top notes. The soft greenness of Brut is lost to the aromachemicals (which are cheap), and it's a Burt Reynolds car chase through the middle notes to the base. If it were distilled down to the smoothest interpretation possible, this cologne would be a soapy masterpiece of subtle masculinity. That's what Brut Splash-On is.


I'm not entirely sure why they opted to rename this scent, but I have my theories. Brut 33 made it a point to advertise its 33% concentration, an awfully technical angle for advertisers. It's hard to successfully submit a "less is more" campaign in a world where more is, very decidedly, more. Creating two concentrations of the cologne with the less telling "Splash-On" label gives Helen of Troy some extra leverage in a relatively lax market. With very few new drugstore colognes out there, Brut now has two versions up against one version of Old Spice, Skin Bracer, Aqua Velva, and Clubman. Well, there's four versions of Clubman, but only one is widely available. You get the point.

Shamu1 recently opined on the importance of Brut, and I must say that I agree completely with his assessment. I'm not an avid fan of the fragrance, but there's no denying Brut's place in the pantheon of classic masculine fragrances. There was a terrific perfume shop here in Connecticut that sold older formulations of the classics, things like Kouros, Zino, Grey Flannel, and it was run by an older, soft-spoken guy who knew his stuff. He related to me that his fragrance of choice was Brut. He said it was the only thing he wore. The man's inventory wasn't your typical Perfume Palace mall crap, and he could have worn anything he wanted (including any one of three genuine Creeds behind the cash register), but he chose Brut. Maybe it's not such a big deal to the average Joe, but it stuck with me. It was quite an endorsement.


If regular Brut is Burt Reynolds, then Brut Splash-On is Al Pacino in the movie Sea of Love. In a now-forgotten but spectacular performance, Pacino played the exhausted and disheveled Frank Keller with an understated elegance not seen from him in any movie since. I can't help but feel that Frank used Brut 33, a minimal fragrance in a maximal world of iron towers and endless subway tunnels. It's perfect for a cop because it's a skin scent, very low-key and hard to detect, yet remotely perceptible to an astute nose, even at a distance if the wind is right. It also affords a man some much-needed sensuousness, should the right (or wrong) lady lean in for a closer sniff. The no-frills, no fancy-pants attitude is utilitarian but focused, and intended for men living in a new and dangerous age. Just like a gun, it's easy to grab a bottle of Brut Splash-On, slather it all over, and lope out the door to catch up with your partner.

I may not be a Frank Keller, and dangerous New York dames may not be knocking on my door at two o'clock in the morning, but I recognize anything that smells fresh, green, and clean, and Brut Splash-On carries an old tradition of crisp cleanness very nicely. It has a place in any man's wardrobe, and is the ultimate "in a pinch" scent. I'm definitely a member of the 33%.










4/11/12

Lucky You for Men (Liz Claiborne)



For us fumeheads, perfume shopping (make that HUNTING) is all about information. We crave information on perfume. Without knowing what we're looking for, it's not only hard to search for it, but also difficult to interpret what we're smelling when we find and sample it. It's more than just a bottle with nice-smelling alcohol in it. It's a creation. It has a nose behind its existence. There's possibly a story attached to the brief. And what is this fragrance part of? Is it something that follows something like it? A first for the perfumer and house? A new construction of some sort, or just following an established trend? So much to know . . .

Then there are folks who simply want to sniff something once, immediately decide if they like it, give very little thought to the holistic experience of actually wearing it, and make a quick buy. For these people, I present Lucky You for Men by Liz Claiborne.

Let me get this out of the way - I'd be lying if I said Lucky You smells bad, in the generic sense, because it doesn't. It smells good, also in a generic sense. It's the sort of stuff you might consider if you're just looking for an inoffensive, "modern-smelling" type of bottled nothing.

Am I damning it with faint praise?

Yes. The truth is, to anyone who is serious about perfume and craves the backstory and cultural context to everything he smells, Lucky You is dull, faceless, and utterly soulless. It begs no comparisons with anything because there's an ocean of anything it can be compared to.

Lucky You is little more than the standard (and redundant) blueprint for classic fresh fougères like Cool Water, Green Irish Tweed, and Aspen. I'd say it resembles Aspen the most, although without any of Aspen's meat to flesh it out. This fragrance is thin, wane, exceedingly pale from start to finish. There's a brief hit of alcohol and nonadienal on top, which replicates wet grass and violet leaf accords in the most expressionless way possible. A remote melon note melds with a half-hearted white musk base. Nice enough if you're fifteen; anyone older who wants to smell of postmodern greenery should skip this scent and either wear - well, you know what, you know what, or Aspen. Lucky You inhabits a challenged scent category, and there's no point in using a half-assed fresh fougère. At least with the other three you get what you pay for, and not less. Lucky You isn't even worth the $13 on its sticker, unless you're fifteen, and wearing it gets you somewhere with the gorgeous strawberry blonde in Mrs. Crumwitz's biology class. If that's the case, then I have but two small words to say: lucky you.







4/9/12

Façonnable (Jacques Bogart Group)



In the '90s smelling fresh was everything, and the decade's noses were so devoted to freshness that they conjured fresh fougère/oriental hybrids that in no way resemble Green Irish Tweed, Cool Water, or Acqua di Gio. Façonnable for Men is one such fragrance - it was among the decade's first floral/amber/musk constructions to imbue the air with dense clouds of warm sweetness. This brand of plushness, ambery floral sweetness incarnate, was nice enough for three or four years, but eventually wore out its welcome. At the time I consciously skipped most of these fragrances and went straight for the total culmination of the decade: Allure Homme by Chanel. Looking back and sniffing Façonnable today, I think I may have missed out on a good thing.

A compellingly fresh "fresh" fougere, Façonnable hits skin with a pungent blend of sweet orange zest and floral notes. The scent's sweetness factor blurs itself dramatically in under five minutes, and its jasmine, rose, ambergris, and sandalwood never truly separate and step forward. Its middle phase resembles nutmeg, although it's chemical and not very spicy. I don't know why, but something about Façonnable reminds me of Himalaya, Creed's famous fresh oriental for men. Façonnable's amber is very soft, friendly, and saccharine, much like Himalaya's. But unlike any Creed, Façonnable winds up smelling spare and white-musky within a few hours, with every aromachemical nakedly evident.

This fragrance isn't bad for the budget-conscious guy. It's kinda-sorta dated, very lively and charming, and I'm not one to wax nostalgic about the '90s, but Façonnable brings back some good memories. It's the olfactory expression of an innocent - or perhaps not so innocent kiss on the cheek. Just use it sparingly. The orange blossom and jasmine can be a bit intense.






4/8/12

Green Tea Lavender (Elizabeth Arden)



EA Fragrances has plenty of money machines in its lineup, but none so popular as the Green Tea franchise, which has spawned nine or ten flankers since its introduction in 1999. The company, which is based in New York City, is responsible for some major American classics - Arden Men Sandalwood, Blue Grass, and Sunflowers among them. The range has precious few official masculines, but I've taken the progressive position of considering the Green Tea sprays to be unisex, and occasionally even blatantly masculine. In the case of Green Tea Lavender, they're definitely selling a gentleman's cologne.

I had a brief debate recently with an annoying basenoter on which gender can lay claim to lavender. My point was that lavender has always been a note used in traditional masculine perfumery; her position was that women enjoy lavender just as much as men. She mentioned Jicky, saying something akin to an Irish Spring soap ad, "Manly, yes, but I like it, too!" Evidently men used Jicky before women, and despite its feminine marketing nowadays, men still like it. Whether or not women actually wear and like Jicky seemed beside the point; marketing trumps statistics (kidding).

Lavender is currently more favored by men than women. It is a vital component of traditional fougères, which are generally just for men. Caldey Island Lavender is the brainchild of Caldey Abbey monks, who have an abundance of the purple stuff and see no reason to let it go to waste. They wear the soliflore and have it shipped out to the rest of the world, but you'll find men are its target audience if you peruse wetshaver sites. The inclusion of lavender in feminine perfumes often tends to sway the fragrance more toward the masculine - take Oscar de la Renta's famous feminine, simply titled Oscar. This fragrance is rather mis-marketed in my opinion. Sure, women can wear it well, but the boatloads of sandalwood and lavender comprising its top and heart notes make it something I'm completely comfortable wearing - in fact, I can wear it better.

The same goes for Green Tea Lavender. This fragrance opens with a very aromatic lavender note, very nicely rounded, save for a hint of opaque chemicals in its earliest stage. After ten minutes the synthetic twinge vanishes, leaving a purple mark on the familiar green tea note accompanying it. The remarkable thing about GT Lavender is that it never loses the lavender - the note accompanies the simple structure into the far drydown. Naturally this makes it seem more synthetic than its scent indicates, but it's no problem because it smells quite good. In fact, between this and the original Green Tea, Lavender is an improvement.

It also lends this simple "fresh" fragrance some much-needed structure. GT Lavender feels very loosely like a fougère instead of a sport scent. It also feels a touch more formal, and I could see wearing it to spring functions, like graduation ceremonies (not so with Green Tea). While the other flankers may waffle in character, GT Lavender holds a very confident and mature poise, imbuing the air around its wearer with a clean and dignified attitude. It's nice stuff.

Unfortunately this version is available exclusively at Macy's and other department stores. I have yet to see it at discounters like Marshalls or TJ Maxx. It seems a pity to have to pay $40 for it. But if you're the kind of person who only uses one cologne in the summer, then this is a worthy investment, especially if you like the original Green Tea. Go ahead guys, check it out. It'll fit right in with your fougères.









4/7/12

Platinum Égoïste (Chanel)



The summer of 2003 was a bad one for me. I suffered a severe sinus infection that no doctor would acknowledge, and was couch-ridden, peering through pressure-addled eyes at old movies between work shifts. There was a severe drought, and a brief brown-out that resulted in a run on water and non-perishable food supplies. It was also the year that I ran out of Allure Homme, and for whatever reason couldn't quite swing the cost of another bottle.

My budgeting priorities were wacky back then, and the difference of ten or fifteen dollars was enough to crimp my style on everything from shirts and jeans, to liquor and fragrance. My shortfalls were numerous. I threw parties with Red Dog instead of Heineken. I bought polo shirts from Walmart instead of JC Penney. My bank account yo-yoed between co-pays for doctor visits and prescription drug purchases. I managed to finagle a semblance of my normal lifestyle, but everything was just a little . . . off.

I don't know if it's still priced this way, but a 3.4 ounce bottle of Allure Homme was about $65, while the same size for Platinum Égoïste was $56. I distinctly remember that Saturday at Macy's, staring at the glass display (back when they actually put prices next to the product), weighing the pros and cons of coughing up an extra ten bucks for Allure vs. taking a chance on this relatively unpopular silver-capped flanker of Égoïste. The irony is that I probably would have paid an extra ten bucks for regular Égoïste, had Macy's offered it. But I was resigned to spending a little less for everything, and my Chanel purchase was no different. I bought Platinum blind and took it home.

I regretted it. The original formula of Allure Homme was a rich, creamy tonka and pepper affair, very velvety smooth and bittersweet. At this point, in my sophomore year of college, I'd already gone through four or five bottles. I was attuned to Allure in a way that I've never been attuned to anything. And I expected all Chanels to possess the same rich, decadent nature. Imagine my surprise upon encountering the sharp bitterness of Platinum Égoïste.

It opens with a barrage of screechy herbal notes, rife with lavender, rosemary, petitgrain, and the spicy aloofness of geranium. Nice enough, but harsh, and a little too dry for my liking. It also smelled a trifle hollow, despite its "busyness." I always felt as though something were missing from Platinum Égoïste - a dollop of grapefruit or lemon perhaps, or maybe even a contrasting accord of honey and civet paired with the neroli and jasmine in the heart. As it stands, Platinum smells very crisp and silvery - and then like nothing at all.

After an hour on skin a woody base asserts itself, throwing a half-assed cedar and vetiver arrangement against the usual Chanel aldehyde hangover, putting awkward earthy struts against a nondescript chemical haze. Some compare Platinum Égoïste to Cool Water, but frankly I don't get the comparison at all. Cool Water offers a pleasant aromatic lavender, mint, cedar, and jasmine, all accompanied by a muted tobacco flower, and winds up smelling very fresh and sweet, with a certain degree of watery softness. Platinum Égoïste just smells pungent, stinging, full of frozen lavender, sage, cedar, and moss. It's a very cold scent, very unfriendly. I imagine Darth Vader would fancy some PE after shaving space dust off his metal face with a laser.

My experience serves as a lesson to guys who incorrectly assume it's worth keeping up appearances in fragrance, rather than find something that just smells good. Even though it was crap, I had to buy something from Chanel, because at least it was Chanel. I should have known that price and brand name aren't correlative to quality, but I was naive then.

I know now.











4/6/12

Polo Sport (Ralph Lauren)



It's hard to know which of the aromatic fougères of the '90s are still good, and which have had their day. Cool Water really started a megatrend, a tidal wave of "fresh," "green," "cool," "aquatic," and "blue" tonics that range from smelling heavenly, to reeking of Jim the janitor's cleaning chemicals. I spent many years as a janitor; I have a good point of reference for this.

I will give an objective review here, because I think it's important to keep aromatic fougères in fair standing against other genres, and not blindly join the bandwagon of fresh fougère haters. It's true, the commercially understood definition of a fresh fougère yields fragrances that are far from my ideal, but good citrus/green/lavender fougères (things like Cool Water, Tsar, Sung Homme) are among my favorites - perhaps my own subgenre of "fresh" fougères - and ought to be given respect. The popularity of calone-based constructions brought us Polo Sport, which was probably the most successful designer offering, at least until Acqua di Gio came along.

The "sport" tag is something of a redundant clause in perfumery. If it's got "sport" in the title, it may as well have "marine," or "fraiche," or "acier," or even "blue" in there. It's all the same stuff. Think fresh, citrus, herbal, spicy, woody, ambery - and if nothing else, clean, clean, clean.

My theory on why Polo Sport was such a hit rests on its opening notes. The reference fougère for Polo Sport is Mennen's Skin Bracer - both fragrances employ a startling mint in their openings. Skin Bracer's mint is pert, green, and very sweet (not to mention utterly synthetic), while Polo's is very sharp and herbal, more naturalistic. Watercolor strokes of lemon, grapefruit, "water notes," and lavender swiftly move Polo into a very lush heart phase, setting the stage for the white floral/musk finish. The feeling is quite fresh, but also very dense. This is what dates Polo a bit - its rich array of elements are piled upon each other, all very similarly conjoined into one deep greenish-blue hue.


Polo's "sportiness" isn't the minimalist interpretation of current "sport" scents. You're not getting lemon, mint, naked calone (usually some nondescript berry-melon hybrid smell), a thimbleful of Iso E Super, and white musk like today's Cartiers, Diors, and Chanels. This fragrance assumes its wearer is accustomed to heady fare like Kouros, Iquitos, Acteur, and would therefore find find bitter citrus, mint, cloudy lavender, and a massive glob of old-school calone, 1960s-style calone, to be refreshing. That's essentially what stuff like Cool Water, New West, and Polo did - they updated the barbershop calones of the '60s and '70s, things like MEM's English Leather Wind Drift. In this case, it was done very nicely.

History is never kind to things like Polo Sport. Sniffing it today, I can't help but think the same effect can be garnered using a Gilette gel-stick deodorant, at a fraction of the price. Indeed, any one of your Gilettes and $10 drugstore aquatics approximate the exact same effect. This may bode ill for Polo Sport, but it doesn't really change the fact that it smells good. It hasn't changed much in the decades following its release, and wearing it today means attracting youthful female attention, feeling clean, and going easy on noses around you. If this is your goal, then Polo Sport, Cool Water, Skin Bracer, Wind Drift, and a myriad of similar products will get the job done.





4/5/12

Drole de Rose (L'Artisan Parfumeur)



Olivia Giocobetti's 1996 fruity floral fragrance for women, poetically named Drole de Rose, is also Ms. Giocobetti's only bald-faced fruity floral creation. Oh, I suppose one could point a finger at D'Orsay's Tilleul and its melon note, but Tilleul isn't very floral, it's more of a green, spring-fling sorta thing.

Malle's En Passant is quite a bit more floral than anything else, although one might argue it has little to no sweetness beyond soft, rounded lilac. Giocobetti has a simple soliflore in that scent.

The same holds true for Hiris by Hermes, this time with the focus on iris and a few other flowers, but not a drop of fructose to be found.

Honore des Pres' Bonte's Bloom is a straightforward floral.

L'Artisan's own Mandarine Tout Simplement is really just a mandarin scent, spruced up with some woods and perhaps the ghost of frangipani. Doesn't seem to have its heart in it.

Maybe Le B by Agnis B comes close, although far more aquatic/musky than fruity floral.

Remarkable how someone so talented and respected could successfully skirt all the current feminine department store trends and offer but one lone cliche.

Sadly, this is what Drole de Rose is - a cliche, bottled at a premium. I'm an open-minded man who enjoys experimenting with gender norms in fragrance, and it's not beneath me to throw on a sweet floral with hints of fruit. But Drole de Rose is simply a sugary, lipsticky, neon-pink, abstract berry-infused rose and violet affair. It's not something I can connect with on any level. Which is frustrating, because it resembles a fragrance I can connect with: Paris by Yves Saint Laurent. The sharp sweetness of the violet is similar in both. Drole de Rose isn't a true rose soliflore, and this detracts from it. I don't know if the violet and sweet notes are meant to make the composition feel younger, or just "deeper," but whatever the desired effect is, it doesn't work. The fragrance just feels saccharine and unoriginal.

A truly disappointing offering from this firm, particularly for lovers of rose soliflores. Stick with Paris if you want this sort of powdery sweetness. It's more classically composed, and not nearly as gauche.












4/4/12

Aventus (Creed)



Not since ancient Greeks discovered Spanish Fly has anything been as revered for its aphrodisiac properties as Creed's newest Millésime, Aventus. Just google the stuff to read dozens of accounts, mostly written by men, of how a few spritzes makes for blushing bosoms and fluttering eyelashes. One guy recently swore that his wife, who was presumably disinterested in him prior to his fragrance choice, passionately kissed him goodnight - for almost an hour. Another claimed that he simply could not pass a female co-worker, or any woman anywhere, without her complimenting him on his scent. Still others have written of renewed sexual interest from their partners, incredible romantic gestures, and mind-numbing sex, all courtesy of the mysterious colorless elixir of one Erwin Creed, Master Perfumer to be. It makes for enchanting reading.

More compelling are the accounts from women, found on basenotes and fragrantica, of how the smallest drop of Aventus makes their knees wobble, their tongues water, their hearts go all a titter. Oh, wait a minute - there are no such accounts. Sorry, my bad.

Perhaps it would be easier to believe the internet hype surrounding Aventus if it weren't so incredibly one-sided. It's easy for walking balls of testosterone to mist themselves with the latest nouveau riche parfum from a house that unfortunately appeals principally to the nouveau riche, and misinterpret every glance, every blink, every friendly word from a woman as an affirmation that their fragrance is divined of liquid rape molecules, capable of ruining the daughters of paupers and world leaders alike. The claims are abundant and grossly thematic, but where's the corroboration? Where are the female forum threads on basenotes devoted to how beguiling Aventus smells on a boyfriend, a husband, a stranger at the office, even a lesbian lover? Why aren't the female bloggers - a few of whom I'm familiar with - singing its praises? Where are the accolades from the so-called fan base of this new Creed?

There is the odd comment here and there from a female admirer, and several ladies have openly admitted to finding Aventus irresistible, but several ladies have also admitted to finding Green Irish Tweed, Millésime Imperial, and Silver Mountain Water irresistible, too. This sort of offhand commentary does not a bedroom legend make.



My take on Aventus is relatively staid in comparison. It opens with a flinty, semisweet pineapple and apple accord, which evaporates off dry birch and blackcurrant. When its fruity opening subsides, its floral heart opens, and the birch is joined by a velvety rose and jasmine. The flowers are clipped of sweetness and possess a rubbery edge, a middle stage flattened and preened into a tidy bed of petals and moss. This part of Aventus resembles newly-printed dollar bills, its inkiness reminiscent of the Ryobi printer note in Silver Mountain Water.

After four hours on skin, Aventus begins to give up its floral tones for a pleasant drydown of moss, ambergris, musk, and vanilla. I mostly get ambergris and musk, but a hint of vanilla is always in the periphery. It's a very non-gourmand vanilla, and smells entirely inedible. It's very nice, and altogether a solid offering from Creed.

But an aphrodisiac? I'm not sure I get that. I suppose it's possible, but what does it mean? The only thing Aventus resembles, with any clarity beyond the notes in its pyramid, is money. Cold hard cash. Perhaps this is why Creed chose to name it "Success" in Esperanto. In today's world, success is no longer measured by cultural accomplishments, or by integrity of personal character. Success is gauged solely by how much dough a guy has in his bank account. It's also measured by how much power and charisma said dough affords you. If you're a rich schlub with a beer gut and a framed lottery stub, you're still a loser. If you're Robert Redford, then all your mediocrity is forgiven - you're successful. Sad to say, but very true. No offense, Rob. I loved Out of Africa. But Three Days of The Condor, Brubaker, Legal Eagles, Indecent Proposal, The Last Castle, Spy Game . . . thank you very little.

If this is to be taken literally, then what does this say about the ladies who supposedly flock to men wearing Aventus? The smell of clean money is a turn-on? A strapping inky wad, fresh from the wallet, is now Spanish Fly? Some guy who rolls around in his own ATM fee is more desirable than any plastic-carrying pansy? Money talks this much? Really??



Perhaps my interpretation of the main accord in Aventus is inaccurate. Maybe it doesn't smell so much like money, but rather like the generalized Western ideal of a man. The pineapple/apple combo is very rich and clean, and far from feminine. The mossy rose oil heart is dry, sugarless, solid, elegant. The musky ambergris base is typical Creed, with some added vanilla incandescence. It's not a bad construction. It's quite user-friendly. The blackcurrant masks the rose; the rose masks the moss. And the pineapple - which I'm not crazy about - masks everything. The resulting scent is clear, slightly earthy, ephemeral, expensive-smelling. It's the reason I buy Creed.

But I'm not sure I have a good reason to buy Aventus. I tossed around the idea of wearing it for my Japanese lady friend, just to see if it lives up to its reputation. Japanese sensibilities are sometimes volatile, even outlandish, and watching a native's reaction to this juice would be interesting. It's certainly worthy of the occasion. But pitting it against other contenders, I'm not so sure it's worthy of that occasion specifically. It could be too strong, or too flashy, or (shudder) too generic. Nothing about Aventus blows my mind, and I'm left doubting it would blow hers. Couple this with the niggling desire to give Aventus a year of my time, and you see the predicament.

Well, maybe not so much a predicament - more like a possibility. Aventus definitely has possibilities as a successful Creed. But so does Original Vetiver, which I should point out has actually been a head-turner on me. And let's not forget the infamous Green Irish Tweed, which I think is still the best Millésime in the masculine range.

I don't know what else to say about Aventus. I wore it once, and no one noticed it, at least not enough to comment. It's good stuff, there's no doubt. But in today's world, good stuff doesn't always cut it. Great stuff does - and just barely. I'm not comfortable applying the word "great" to this fragrance. Sorry guys.












4/3/12

Eau Sauvage (Dior)



True story: last year I dated an American woman who lives five minutes away from my current residence. We went together for about eight or nine weeks, and then I foolishly moved in with her (it helped that we were friends for two years prior to dating). Our relationship was predicated on a mutual love of travel, and culture, and adventure. We both wanted to visit Japan. Her father lived and worked in Japan, and her home was full of Japanese souvenirs. The idea of going together to this foreign land was very compelling, but not compelling enough. I lived with her for about four months, and our relationship steadily deteriorated during that time. When I finally moved out we held on for another month, and then I ended it. One major point of contention was that somehow, in this short span, her attitude toward visiting Japan went from a chirpy "we'll do it the minute we're ready," to a dour "we don't have enough money, and when exactly do you suppose we will?", to a downright bitter "we'll never be able to go, it's not worth talking about anymore."

I could get into the intricacies of this tonal transformation, but it's boring. What happened following my lawyerless divorce, however, is rather interesting: I decided the same day as the breakup that I wanted to try my hand at a relationship with a Japanese woman. I figured, hell, I had a long relationship with a Polish woman once, and for all its calamities, it was far more rewarding than this futile stint with an American. And I want to visit Japan, so why not consider incorporating Japan into my love life?

About two months later I received an email out of the blue from a Japanese marriage agency that I had enrolled in several years earlier, and completely forgotten. The header read: Japanese Lady Interested in Contacting You. I checked it out, and sure enough, a well-educated travel agent in Osaka was interested in meeting me. I wrote to her. She wrote back. This went on for several months. Then, out of the same blue, this woman tells me she wants to visit me, and is flying into New York City. She's staying at a hotel. She wants to try her hand at a relationship with an American man. And she eventually wants this American man to return the favor and visit her in Osaka, a trip considerably more affordable than Tokyo. This ticket may be writing itself.

With this development, I began to ponder many things - how's my Japanese these days? (Horrendous.) Will I have to bow whenever we meet? (Maybe.) She's serious as a heart attack about this - am I? (Yes.) What fragrance should I wear when we meet?

That last question is probably the least pressing concern, but for the sake of my blog, I'll make it the focus here. For whatever reason - I'm not sure why - the same fragrance keeps popping into my head: Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior.

Eau Sauvage is a rare bird. Tailored after classical unisex Eau de Colognes, Edmond Roudnitska's masterpiece has weathered the many style storms of the last forty-six years to come out well ahead of anything released in the last fifteen or twenty. It's just that good. The citrusy lemon and bergamot top-to-heart structure balances coriander, basil, jasmine (Hedione, in its mainstream debut), oakmoss, vetiver, patchouli, and musk with such delicacy and finesse that it seems to incorporate the very aura of spring and summer into its character. It wears close to the skin, which makes it unobtrusive, and its spartan freshness is unlikely to offend. Eau Sauvage has the added benefit of smelling incredibly adult, very "grown man" without being stuffy, and light enough to avoid seeming dire (Encre Noire it's not). Eau Sauvage is a safe bet, a quality fragrance, and classical enough to smell new. How many young Japanese guys are walking around in Eau Sauvage?




Recent headlines are trumpeting its upcoming flanker, Eau Sauvage Parfum, which is actually an EDP. Evidently this version will feature bergamot up top, myrrh in the heart, and vetiver in the base. It sounds divine. It'll be released a month before my lady friend arrives, so it bears checking out. But even if a Japanese woman isn't coming to visit, anything by Dior bears checking out. Hopefully my local Sephora will stock the EDP concentration, but if not, no biggie. Regular Eau Sauvage is surprisingly inexpensive and readily available. I should own it anyway.

There's no telling how my date will turn out. But if I do choose to wear Eau Sauvage, at least I can't blame my fragrance if things go to shit.

I'm not so sure I can say the same about another potential scent for the occasion, which I'll review next . . .










4/2/12

Lomani Pour Homme (Parfums Parour)



There was a time during the 1980s when, stylistically speaking, masculine fougères straddled Drakkar Noir and Cool Water. Of these, my favorites are Molto Smalto and Lomani Pour Homme. The former is a punchy herbal/lavender concoction with a fresh indigo flavor. The latter is a fougère grafted onto a chypre, yet oddly the lesser of the two. It's also less compelling than Drakkar and Cool Water, but that's a topic for another post altogether.

Today I'll stick to the basic rundown on Lomani - it's dirt cheap, of Parisian origin, and very utilitarian, extremely functional. I can see how it managed to survive for 25 years in an ever-changing market: it found in broad strokes a categorically desirable scent profile, entered the stage when this profile was nascent to the perfume world, and stayed within the budget buyer's reach at all times, hovering just under the unaffordable Cool Water and Drakkar. It became the plausible alternative to plausible alternatives.

My issue with Lomani PH is that it only smells like a plausible alternative to its pricier brethren for about ten minutes. After that it turns into an unlikable one-note wonder, and that note is oakmoss. Let me say a word about oakmoss - it strikes me as somewhat odd that this component is so revered in perfume circles. Every time someone on basenotes gripes about how oakmoss was stripped from a classic, or neglected in something new, I shake my head in wonder. Sure, oakmoss is an excellent component for a wide variety of scent types, but I can certainly live without it, and fail to see why it deserves automatic love. Unlike dozens of other notes, oakmoss isn't something that works very well on its own. Isolated and ungarnished, oakmoss is simply a flat and bitter moss smell. It isn't very attractive, isn't sexy, isn't even approachable. It's cold, remotely medicinal, somewhat boring. It needs a few good friends to bring out its desirable qualities, and even then acts only as a foil for the more amusing antics of things like honey, incense, violet leaf, bergamot, and lavender.

Speaking of lavender, Lomani is all about lavender at first, a very Cool Water-esque aromatic lavender that is as potent and sweet as it is fake. This blatantly synthetic note is paired with a refreshingly realistic lemon note, but rather than form an accord, the two notes remain disparate, creating a sort of duo-tone opening that's both astringent and classical. Nature has its own way of freshening the air, and nothing cleans up better than a cool wind through rows of lavender, or the mist of lemon juice expelled by a knife in fruit. The nose behind Lomani decided to reinterpret these effects with a sub-par budget, and wisely embraced his limitations. The lemon/lavender would have formed a repulsive blob when combined; Lomani's entrance is very lucid, thanks to an ironically alchemical act of separation.

Then, presto! The amazing technicolor dreamcoat is dropped, and there stands oakmoss, stark naked and shivering. The air goes out of the room. The allure is all but gone. I'm left with something better left in the bowels of some forgotten 1950s chypre, a hard-pressed fleck white green that ruins everything it touches. Lomani's budget constraints boiled down to funding one lonely aromachemical. A shame. This really coulda been a contender.













4/1/12

Angel EDP (Thierry Mugler)


Gourmands are, for lack of a better word, difficult. The "foody" exercise can be taken to such extremes that there are few companies capable of reining things in. It seems there is no limit to how obscenely a scent can mimic fruit, candy, sugar. Step into any Bath and Body Works, and you're immediately assaulted by the full range of gourmandom, with berries, caramels, vanillas, even whole pies (apple is especially popular) splashing you in the face with their cavity-inducing charms. I'm convinced that today's teenage girl would be lost without a wardrobe that makes her smell like a walking See's.

What started it all? I can't be bothered to find out. I do know that Thierry Mugler is largely to blame. Angel was one of the game-changing '90s perfumes that set all the dusty chypres and orientals aside to make room for sweetness, and lots of it. In 1991, just one year before Angel's release, the market was crowded with losing bids for the future of perfumery. Things like Lauder's Spellbound and Cardin's Choc weren't exactly inspiring, or inspired. Dior's Dune was popular, but oddball, its transcendence something only time could qualify. Instant breakthroughs were all but nonexistent.

Then came Mugler and his sugar bomb. Sweetness, quite suddenly, became all the vogue. The rest - Blue Jeans, Le Male, Lolita Lempicka, Allure Homme - is history.

I've smelled Angel on many people, but they've mostly been adult women well beyond their teenage years. I attribute this to the distinct tremor of patchouli that radiates from its saccharine core. In fact, for its first five minutes on skin, the patchouli pushes past the other fuzzier notes and makes its presence very well known. It's an adult note, a throwback to the dirty '70s. There's nothing streamlined about it, but its presence is what reins Angel's sweetness in and keeps it from being overbearing. And its potency is tremendous; one spritz sends you to a head shop.

Eventually the sweet notes claim the day, with a dense bergamot, honey, pink berry, vanilla, and white chocolate accord sweeping all earthiness aside. At the twenty minute mark these edible elements become a nuclear cloud of richness, smelling very plush and European, the olfactory equivalent of the dessert table of a breakfast buffet in a Viennese hotel.

As skin eats the food, Angel becomes minimalistic, leaving only a faint patchouli, vanilla, and berry haze in its wake. The fruit, which I can't help thinking is raspberry, fuels this stage with its piercing sweetness, guiding the softer components to an elegant conclusion. The entire experience is quite sexy, and to be honest, a lot of fun.

I'm not sure how they do it, but the marketing brains at Mugler manage to deceive the masses into adhering to their gender advertising ploys despite the staunchly unisex nature of all their scents. The ladies can wear A*Men and B*Men; men can just as easily sport Womanity, Alien, and Angel. There's absolutely nothing about any of these fragrances that pins them definitively to one gender. The same can't be said about how fashionable they are, however. Alien smells out of time and place with its egregiously synthetic bombast, while Womanity smells like something that would have been better left forgotten in some '70s porn star's trailer.

Angel managed to survive its zeitgeist, and stay relevant in the 21st century, smelling just as new and wearable as it did twenty years ago. If that's not transcendence, then I don't know what is.