6/30/12

Bluebell (Penhaligon's) & Other Thoughts


The week in repose: what a great time. I learned a lot about Japanese culture, and met a truly nice woman, which is rare in Connecticut these days. During my time I had a few thoughts about perfume, my blog, and a sampling of Bluebell by Penhaligon's. Let me get these thoughts out scatter-shot and then settle into the review.

First, I have a few things to say/add to my Social Politics post on Creed. There were a couple of sarcastic remarks in the comments about my doing "great research" and "investigative journalism is in your future," etc. I assume some of this has to do with my contention that most reviewers of Creed are sampling crap and have no idea what they're talking about. Yeah, that seems like a sloppy assertion, but when you read what people write about Creed as much as I do - and buy new bottles of Creed from their boutique - you realize that the opinions being generated are ridiculous. When you read something about Royal Scottish Lavender, like: "A deceptively beautiful opening...rich, lush, expensive and expansive smelling lavender. Then it went away. Bye beautiful lavender...hello weird, burnt toast & dog food note," you're literally reading about a spoiled bottle, and I'm sorry, there's simply no arguing with that. Nothing fresh out of Creed smells like dog food, or burnt toast.

My mall-vendor purchase of Green Valley yielded the same beautiful opening, and weird burnt-toast and dog food note in the drydown. When Creeds go bad, they smell nice for a few minutes, and then morph into mud. It's no big surprise to read that people are having these experiences with Creed. Basenoters and Fragranticans will opine, and then reveal that they buy all their bottles from Fragrancenet, Amazon, or Ebay. The number of guys and girls who have actually come forward in conversations with me and confirmed their purchases from Creed or Neiman Marcus are few and very far between. Follow that up with disingenuous comparisons that mimic Luca Turin in The Guide, and you reach a saturation point for perfume bloggers' attempts to stay "chic."


When it comes to the rest of the blog post, in no section did I definitely state anything about Creed. I'm simply giving them the benefit of the doubt, and when it comes to my position on the vintage packaging of Olivier Creed fragrances from yesteryear, I'm positing my take based on my education, and what I see - which is what I have to go on. Could these bottles be from 1990? Possibly. But when it comes to Creed, there's a lot I don't know, and that's more than most of the skeptics are willing to admit. I guess Luca Turin saying Pierre Bourdon created Green Irish Tweed is enough for many people, but Mr. Turin failed to back it up with facts on basenotes several years ago, and after that conversation I decided his word wasn't the last one after all. One more thing: many people are suspicious of Creed because Laurice Rahme was the brand's sole stakeholder in its American distribution. She's also the woman behind Bond No.9. Why does this warrant suspicion of Creed? Because she's a good marketer? Because she's a successful businesswoman in a male-dominated industry? I guess I'll never know.

The second thing I'd like to talk about is "strong fragrances," perfumes that are perceived to be too much for gentle noses. My Japanese friend had a very light sensibility with perfume, and loved Eau Sauvage on me. She wears Escada Moon Sparkle and considers Mugler Cologne to be too much. Well, the first five minutes of Mugler Cologne. After that, she thought it smelled good.

There are plenty of Americans who prefer to go light and easy with perfume as well. I can understand that, but in all cases I'm not sure what the reasoning is. Aside from getting a headache, what's the harm in smelling something with overt sillage? We have no problem subjecting our eyes to bright colors, or our ears to the hundreds of decibels of New York City traffic. But inhaling a little too much perfume is a scary prospect . . . with Japan, I concede it is cultural. Japanese people favor restraint in all things. They also like classy brand names. Bvlgari fragrances are popular there, scents with breezy personalities. But here in the States, it doesn't compute. Then again, there are plenty of people walking around in hazy clouds of scent. Maybe they're the ones ruining it for the rest of us. I just don't know.

This leads me to Penhaligon's famous floral fragrance (say that three times fast), Bluebell. On Tuesday we went to Yale's British Gallery, viewed their permanent collection, and stopped off in the gift shop afterwards. They had a smaller-than-usual selection of Penhaligon's testers on a shelf. Usually there's twenty-five or thirty testers, but this time only eight or nine. It was a bit odd, but I can only conclude that they either sold out on the rest, or weren't selling them at all.


I don't know what possessed me to do it, but I gave Bluebell a few spritzes. The opening was harsh, astringent, full of sharp chemicals and alcohol, but it rapidly arranged itself into a semblance of galbanum and hyacinth, with a sort of fetid, powdery sweetness that resembles the floral note in Pinaud's Lilac Vegetal aftershave. I dislike Lilac Vegetal, but the mixture of unfriendly greens in the top of Bluebell was different. I liked it.

Then came something else I liked - an earthy cinnamon/clove accord, which smelled very brown, like a pungent forest floor. It wafted across Bluebell's silvery-green notes like a cloud of dust. This effect stuck around for the better part of an hour, and at this stage I was starting to wonder what the hell all the negativity was about. I smelled a conceptual fragrance, understood the concept, and couldn't for the life of me get why people hated it so much . . .

. . . Until the far drydown, which arrived fairly quickly. Somehow the concept folded on itself, and the floral notes, which were light and semi-sweet for a while, suddenly became scratchy, stinky, and unremittingly chemical. This change seemed to sucker-punch the cinnamon/clove thing. The cinnamon became achingly bitter, and the clove smelled like a Glade air freshener. Before long, all I could smell was a sourmash floral note and artificial clove. What the hell happened?

I'll give Luca Turin this much - as far as I can tell, he has Penhaligon's pegged. I've only tried four of their fragrances. To use baseball lingo, they're the Golden Sombrero-wearers of the perfume world. But I'll keep on keeping on.
















6/21/12

Fahrenheit 32 (Dior)



Fahrenheit flankers always receive the same response from uninitiated fumeheads: a collective groan. Those who haven't tried them automatically feel they're going to suck, long before they make it to that mall tester. The reason is unclear, as Fahrenheit isn't an extremely popular fragrance anymore, and even in its hey-day was what I call a "Prequel Perfume", i.e. a stage-setter for better things to come. Jean-Louis Sieuzac and Maurice Roger created a sub-genre template for floral-musk chypres, one that infused postmodern design aesthetics into fresh, youthful, and seductive perfumes.

Fahrenheit 32 is the logical outcome of that. It's something that requires inquisitiveness and special consideration. What does its name mean? Why is the lettering in warm colors, and the packaging done up ice-cold? Is this an ice fragrance? A sport flanker? A sheer, piddling variation of its warm, dense progenitor? Something cold? Will it freeze my face off? What exactly can I expect from Fahrenheit 32?


As it turns out, not much of anything, and everything very much. It opens with a smooth rush of soapy orange blossom, tinged with sweetness beyond natural floralcy. There's also a muted citrus note darting between the aldehydes, providing F32 with much-needed snap. I'm interested, but only because it smells amiable, pleasant, very clean and modern. After five minutes a sea change takes place; F32's heart is floral, but not crisply so - this is a sweet, gauzy, lipsticky approach that seems oddly out of place on a man's skin. I'm reminded of L'Artisan Parfumeur's Drole de Rose, as Dior uses the same sweetly powdered violet and feminine blush rose accord, with honeysuckle culled from the original Fahrenheit. The smell is green, aromatic, smooth, and saccharine, but never tips into sugar overload. Ten minutes later, the florals have faded, leaving pink sweetness in their wake, and out comes rooty vetiver and vanilla as cool as ice cream, two notes perfectly balanced in the Pour un Homme de Caron/Green Valley/Habanita/Colors de Benetton tradition. I like it, but due to the syrupy floral interlude, wouldn't buy it. If someone gifted it to me, I'd seldom wear it.

Altogether a pleasant offering from Dior, but do test against the original, just to see if a truly avant-garde '80s honeysuckle composition from the same line is a better bet. I'll close by saying this: Fahrenheit 32 would make a terrific feminine perfume. Ladies, you really should give this one a try. It will hold its own against your lipstick florals.














6/15/12

Pure Soap (Demeter Fragrance Library)




Heaven has but one thing Hell doesn't: soap. Catholics, Jews, Muslims, all base their faith on a loving relationship with god, and envisage the afterlife's domain as something splendid, beyond words, truly miraculous and beautiful. Heaven, they say, flutters with clouds of angels trumpeting the glory of the divine.

As an atheist, I say no.

First of all, in all of my trials and tribulations, my gut reflex is not to ask god for help, for mercy, for a sign. My instinct is to internalize, process on a level of "me," and move on, for better or worse. God simply doesn't factor in, for the simple reason that he has never factored into my psyche before, and never will.



My non-belief is based on something that happened to me shortly after I was born. It was about memory. My first memory was not of something I did in the past, but of something I could not actually picture. My first memory - and consider the impossibility of having a "first" memory, yet everyone has/had one - was a comparison to something I knew to be, without possessing any formal way to know; my first memory was linked inextricably to my first cogent (or inexplicable, depending on your religion) thought: I am so lucky to be alive now, in 1984, and not then. Then, life was much, much harder.

This stayed with me, this first real impression of le monde. It was akin to wondering if I had come from somewhere prior to birth, somewhere else on this earth, and from a previous time period. It made me wonder if all men are immortal. Are we like Miriam from The Hunger, simply moving through time, with no end, and no beginning? And what frame of reference can a baby have? Whatever a youngster thinks of the world is isolated experience, to be extrapolated upon by subsequent years of well-contextualized experiences. In my three short decades on le monde, I have seen varying degrees of human goodness, humility, and grace. I've also seen varying degrees of human filth, degradation, and brutality, and have concluded that none of earth's ills would exist if everyone had unrestricted access to one simple thing - good soap.



Think about it. The angry dissidents in Afghanistan, throwing stones in the streets, hurling grenades, and firing ground-to-air missiles from mountaintops, all seem a bit over-scruffed and desert-sanded. When was the last time they washed their faces? There's a lot of B.O. wafting across them mountains. No wonder these guys are always fighting.

The same goes for North Korea, a pathetic totalitarian complex cordoned off from the rest of the civilized world, with its people stuck in a time warp of physically stunted growth, and intellectually stunted compliance to bitter authority. The top dogs, however, always have wry smiles on their faces. They bathe regularly; the North Korean people bathe when they can, between eighteen-hour military shifts and state flyer drops.



There are still segments of Europe that haven't adapted to post-Communistic cleaning rituals, and wait a week between washes in the defunct hope to meet the guys or gals on Bath House Monday (or Tuesday, or Wednesday . . . ) and converse about the latest news. It's a little sad, because of course those bath houses have been closed, and some, especially the elderly, seem to regard their shower nozzles with suspicion. "How, pray tell, did you get into my home, strange metal fixture with cleats and holes? Why do you hiss at me so? Be gone, Komrade!"

Americans are obsessed with cleanliness, to a fault. Soap is what we crave, and we don't even realize we're craving it. When we shower, we slather body washes and sudded bars onto skin with a collective hunger unmatched by other cultures. How else can we explain this incessant need to produce fragrances that smell like soap?


This is what renders Demeter's "Pure Soap" a bit superfluous. There is no such thing as "Pure" soap anymore - soap is everywhere, in a million "pure" forms. Dishwasher detergent. Laundry detergent. Dish washing soap. Hand soap. Body soap. Antibacterial soap. Olive oil soap. Home made soap. Even soap for cars. Soap for kids. Soap for pets. Soap for our houses, our fine China, our fingernails, our makeup. It's all pure soap.

Pure Soap by Demeter has that white, clean, lye-infused, and nondescript soapiness, commonly found in classic soaps by Ivory, Dial, and Yardley. As it dries, a hint of spring flowers rustles through the soap flakes, followed in lockstep by the sheerest white musk I've ever encountered. Ten minutes pass, and it's gone. Apply again, or forget it and move on to something dirtier.



Whatever your feelings about god, birth, death, humanity, religion, and oppression, your feelings about soap are the most evolved. You want it. You need it. When you don't have it for a day or two, you get cranky. When you don't have it for a year or two, you become a psychopath. Things are better now, they really are, compared to the world of a hundred, or even two hundred years ago. We have electricity. We have cars. We have pills for everything, and doctors with fancy computers to diagnose our problems like we're cars. And we have perfumes that take the feeling of having just showered, and extend it into our daily commute. Thus, we're civilized, moving peacefully from here to there, rarely entertaining the honest realization that without soap, everything goes to shit, and there's no one and nothing to stop us from slipping into nothingness.























6/13/12

Le Mâle (Jean Paul Gaultier)


When Francis Kurkdjian graduated from perfumery school, his first set of briefs included Le Mâle, and he created Gaultier's signature masculine using a small palette of 350 raw materials, which is the number of materials students at ISIPCA are expected to be knowledgeable of. This implies that Le Mâle is a wonder of structural focus and simplicity. It is certainly a phenomenally destructive strong fragrance, the kind that pounds with endless hours of sillage and projection for yards around. It's a perfume that precedes its wearer, entering the room long before he does, and hanging back for a good thirty minutes after he leaves. You don't want to go apeshit with the atomizer on this.

We already know Le Mâle is a seminal 90s masculine, a pivotal moment in the stylistic and cultural direction of that horrendous decade. I don't have to yammer on about that. Let me relate my impressions instead, based on things I've read, and my own experiences with this olfactory giant.



People say the darnedest things, but the strangest comparison I've encountered is one of Pour un Homme de Caron and Le Mâle. A guy on basenotes once announced that he felt they're very similar, and asked if anyone else smelled what he smelled. Most of the responses were of the "what the fuck?" variety, but none of them were outraged, and some were surprisingly casual, even yawn-inducing. It might be because guys don't think much of Caron's signature masculine these days, or because basenoters are disinterested in anything as mundane as Le Mâle, but it was an odd exchange to be sure. I wince to think of it - these two fragrances have nothing in common, beyond perhaps a vanilla note.

I grew up with Le Mâle, as it was my best friend's signature scent. He wore it lightly, but with this scent, there is no "lightly." It is built on the chassis of a classic barbershop fougère (as is Pour un Homme), but its notes are cranked up to 11, with plenty of reverb, and 90,000 watts of ampage. At first it's a grandiloquent rush of lavender, vanilla, mint, then LAVENDER, VANILLA, MINT. The intensity is nose-searing, and this trio coalesces into a fresh powdery accord that eventually takes a half-step back to let anyone within a five mile radius breathe. Things warm up as spiced tonka and amber, infused with the vanilla from the intro, well from skin like a hot spring. Seven or eight hours later, the powdery amber begins to dissolve into scratchy notes of cedar, sandalwood, jasmine, orange blossom, and musk. Think Barbasol on steroids, and you've got Le Mâle.



Did I ever like it? I thought it was cool in a very French way, when I was 17. My feelings for this scent have changed, and they changed even before I became a fragrance connoisseur. I think it's unnecessarily loud, incredibly sweet, cloying, unrefined, just plain awful. There are a few thousand muscle-shirted meatheads with Red Bull & vodkas suffocating a few thousand pretty girls with their obnoxious sixty-six squirts of Le Mâle as I type these words. Gentlemen, to you I say now, avoid wearing Le Mâle, and go with something that actually smells like a perfume - not a chemical fabric detergent - and wear Pour un Homme, or Rive Gauche Pour Homme instead. To those thousands of pretty and unfortunate girls, I say this: Run. Run as fast as you can, and don't stop until the only thing you smell is the thrill of escaping with life and limb intact.













6/11/12

Infusion d'Iris Eau de Parfum (Prada)


Iris is a note of much contention within niche perfume circles. The issue is what, exactly, this note smells like. Some feel it is best represented by Orris root, which yields its aroma differently from the flower. Fabienne Pavia, in her book The World of Perfume, claims Orris root resembles the scent of violets. Dane from Pere de Pierre likens it to carrots (and thinks Infusion d'Iris is nice, but unnatural-smelling). To the awkward question, "What does the flower Iris smell like?", WebAnswers posits a broad response: pleasant flowers. It seems there is little consensus on this.

Infusion d'Iris doesn't smell particularly natural, and I wouldn't go as far as to say this should be a "reference Iris" perfume, but it is a very good rendition of the powdery, rooty essence of Orris, mingling with the sweet touch of Iris flower. Let me boil this down to the simplest explanation possible - Infusion d'Iris is very powdery. From the outset there's a blast of desiccated citrus, sharp orange and bergamot, followed by a cool, silky floral note. This stage reminds me of the iris in Green Irish Tweed, which is a dull, slightly floral note. Let not the snobs tell you iris can't smell floral, for it often does, and there's nothing remotely absurd about that, nor is it wrong to openly observe it. There is such a thing as an iris flower, after all, and certain kinds do smell nice.

After the silky interlude comes a darker, earthier element, built of vetiver, incense, cedar, and benzoin, which lends the composition a slight warming effect. Beyond these things, all my nose detects is dry, earthy powder. It's beautiful in its own right, although not a perfume I'd reach for very often. There is something very poised and stiff about Infusion d'Iris, and it doesn't match my personality. It's better for businesswomen, as all women in the white collar world need an elegantly uninviting fragrance - a perfume to command respect with. This does the trick nicely.

I'll stick to the silky coolness that thrums through the shadowy heart of Green Irish Tweed, although if I'm looking to switch off with another unisex iris, I know where to go.














6/9/12

Old Spice Smooth Blast (Proctor & Gamble)



Once upon a time, Shulton made a version of its famous aftershave/cologne called Old Spice Fresh Lime. It was the mid 1960s; JFK had just been assassinated, the Beatles were taking over the universe, and man was about to set foot on the moon. The Golden Age of Cinema was unfolding, in remarkable works by Stanley Kubrick, Michelangelo Antonioni, Woody Allen, Arthur Penn, and Blake Edwards. This was an interesting time to be alive, and wearing cologne.

Fresh Lime has since been discontinued, for no apparent reason, other than perhaps flagging sales. Shulton has been sold off, its product line recommissioned by Proctor & Gamble. It's typical for fans of classic brands like Shulton to lament such buyouts, and criticize the inevitable reformulations, but I have to say, as much as I could appreciate the original Old Spice, I don't think P&G is doing such a bad job. Sure, they replaced those beautiful glass bottles with cheapy-cheap plastic, and did an awful job revamping the packaging graphics. But the fragrances inside these new bottles are quite good. Some even border on greatness.



Old Spice Smooth Blast is one such product. Consider for a moment the folly of fruity scents: they always smell like hi-fructose candy. You may want to smell that way once in a blue moon, but as far as blue moons go, the occasion for wanting to smell like a spilled can of Mott's is extra-rare. Why? Because fruit is sweet, and too much sweet is nauseating. This is where Smooth Blast got it right - it utilizes just the right combination of fruits, and avoids becoming overbearing and saccharine mush. There's a lovely pop of lemon and lime off the top, with the lime dominant. I can't help but think it's P&G's ode to Fresh Lime. Within a few minutes, this citrus moves into a transparent version of Old Spice Fresh. It's basically ambergris and cedar, but toned way down.

Eventually blackcurrant and kiwi assert themselves, bringing the fruits back to the fore. The effect is cool, somewhat green, a little sweet, and totally refreshing. There's a grassy, spring-like soul to this scent, one that sends clear waters rushing across berries with sophisticated abandon. It's perfect for a hot summer day, and never once smells chemical, cloying, or sugary. I suggest giving this one a try - you're not going to impress anyone by wearing it, but it's a good July picnic splash, completely appropriate for days when the majority of your activities involve lighting citronella candles and spooning fruit salad onto paper plates. Two thumbs up.













6/7/12

L.12.12 Green (Lacoste)


Lacoste's original masculine is an example of how close a fragrance can come to perfection, and still miss the mark. Sure, it smells good, and presents a green chypre in a contemporary mode, but low-grade ingredients and an unimaginative composition sully what could have been a classic. As it stands, Original is just okay, very wearable, and utterly forgettable.

The "L series" Lacostes are a hair better, and Green is my favorite, which is no surprise. It's a fresh fougère with nods to Original and Pino Silvestre, although I prefer Pino. Green opens with aromatic lavender and bergamot, tinged with bitter lemon verbena and heady thyme. Tart herbal citrus notes dominate the opening, until a clean birch note appears, flanked by something I can't quite identify. The mystery note might be an analog of pickled ginger, the kind that garnishes sushi. It's mentholated and fizzy, with a spicy edge. As the hours tick by, lavender reasserts itself, then fades, doing an intermittent tap-dance past the trio of thyme, verbena, and birch. A pine-like effect, reminiscent of Christmas juniper wreath, sends the fragrance to its apex in both strength and projection, before everything slides into a nondescript laundry musk.


photo by Lord Snowdon

Just as the drydown seems destined to join dozens of others in the Contemporary Fragrance Drydown Hall of Shame, otherwise known as the CFDdHoS, an unusual olfactory illusion takes place. From its lofty perch in the pyramid-cap of top notes alights crisp bergamot, seemingly resurrected from the dead. This movement rouses L's birch element, which by now has been infused with sweet ginger, and creates an incense-laden church pew accord. Everything is blended with musk, and the result is very nice.

Some fragrances speak to the sophistication of their wearers, but not by being complex and well-crafted. They achieve stardom by simply being better than the norm for an age demographic that has seen its share of unimaginative garbage. High school kids are drowning in oceans of Acqua di Gio, Curve, and CK One Summer 2012. Calone, laundry musk, and overbearing citrus notes are en vogue. For those who spend their mornings doodling on binders during home room, L.12.12 Green is a big step up. For the rest of us, it's just another pleasant designer scent, of which there are many.














6/6/12

Black Orchid (Tom Ford) - 1st Impressions

Everyone has a certain opinion of themselves, which waxes and wanes according to their self-image, the mantle upon which personal style rests. I know, I know, run-on sentences about fashion philosophy are a drag. But only a lazy, introverted, swarthily-handsome (in a guy-next-door kinda way), overworked, overfed, and underfucked American with an abbreviated artistic sensibility could start a blog post like this. Welcome to "Being Bryan Ross," the straight-to-text sequel to Being John Malkovich, the most unique and original motion picture Hollywood has ever crapped out. This straight-to-text version - not so unique or original.

So what does a lazy half-artist - one who believes he was a Bolshevik in his last life - wear when he's feeling most himself? When his mojo of cereal killer madness kicks on, and he kills, then eats a box (yes, A BOX, with milk judiciously poured into it) of Corn Flakes next to the body? Then kills again, this time using just his thumb, because he can't hold the controller with both hands while he's eating? What does a world-conquering geek-A-rama sport in the wee hours of the morning, while fantasizing about sexing that really tall female co-worker who is a little bizarre but a lot beautiful all the same? You know her, she played basketball in college, and now she's just doing what you're doing until she finishes school, which is why she doesn't really make eye contact with you or say anything to you. What does a guy like this, with all his free time, and all his video games, and all his spilled milk and leftover soggy cereal, do?

He wears Black Orchid. That's what he does. At least, I get the impression he does. Allow me to expound on this further.


Black Orchid is fittingly dark, glamorous, rich, full of textures and tonalities and spoiled things. I get semi-rotten fruit, but only marginally, and not even enough to say there's a "fruity" element. I get some sort of odd lipstick note, which smells really trite, sweet, chemical, greasy, and like nothing a heterosexual guy would gravitate to. I get bubblegum, I get makeup powder, I get grape candy. There's a very twangy and cold (read: frigid) orchid note, tempered with creamy ylang, and rubbed with indolic jasmine, but nothing smells overripe, per say. Just blotted. Densely mixed. Heavy. Acrid, even. This is a convoluted, aggressive, feminine, dramatic perfume. It boasts a darkness that few other perfumes in its class ever deign to convey. You wear this to the opera, and you wear it as you pull that silenced Browning Hi-Power from your cummerbund and aim it at the Sirroccan who sits, under the mistaken assumption that Americans give a crap about diplomatic immunity, three boxes from your cross hairs with his wife. The curtain call comes early for him tonight.

These are the first impressions I get from Black Orchid. More to follow. Stay tuned.















6/4/12

Island Hawaii (Michael Kors)



American fashion houses have problems and inconsistencies their European brethren do not share. Take for instance Michael Kors. Firstly, this guy has no business being head of a major fashion house - he dresses terribly, even for a man. Now, I know men enjoy the luxury of throwing on a T-shirt and jeans and calling it a day, while the fairer sex toils in wardrobe and makeup for ninety minutes every morning to look "presentable." But Mr. Kors has difficulty looking presentable by the standards of either gender, and as a man he fails miserably at something that is second nature to many of his peers (just check out how Ralph Lauren rocks his threads). Fellas, if you want to strike an enduring profile in a world of posers, don't wear skintight black shirts and black suits all the damn time. Avoid the whole "black is classic" thing, because it's overrated. It's unimaginative. It's played out. Wearing all black twice a week is once too much; wearing it every day is sheer insanity.

Secondly, I can't help but wonder how on earth Mr. Kors commands any respect when he dresses this way. Here's how my The Devil Wears Prada scenario plays out, with me as the inimitable Andy to Michael Kors' haughty Miranda:
Michael:
Bryan, It's come to my attention that you've been bad-mouthing my brand to other employees. You're an intern here, and that's a privilege, not a right. Because your conduct has been so incredibly disrespectful, I'm firing you from the internship. Please go, you're no longer welcome here, and I don't really care what kind of excuse you have, the information about you has been corroborated by seven sources in this department alone.

Me:
Yeah, I think I'll stick around, thanks. It's almost lunchtime, and there's stuffed tortellini on the menu today. Can't miss that, you know what I mean? Really, where else in the city can you get stuffed tortellini for free?

Michael:
Do you see a smile on my face? Is there something about my demeanor that says, "I'm joshing you Mr. Ross, stick around?" I don't want you within fifty yards of my stuffed tortellini, buddy, you're outta here. Go. Now.

Me:
(laughing earnestly, and pointing at Michael in jest) Oh! Oh-ho! I get it. "Fifty yards from your stuffed tortellini." That's sexual harassment in some places Mike, but not here. Not here. Nice one. Nice.

Michael:
Okay, I'm thinking at this point that you're trying to get yourself escorted off the premises by force. So let me say something that you have a much better chance of hearing, if you clean the stuffing out of your ears, that is: if you don't get the hell out of here in the next five seconds, I'm calling security, and then the police.

Me:
This chair is comfortable, by the way. What is this? This an Eames? Holy shit, it is an Eames! If I'm sitting in an original Eames lounger, whatcha got on that side of the desk, eh? Wait, wait, lemme guess: Armchair No.F 51 by Walter Gropius. Right? Am I right? Yeah, you bet your tortellini-stuffing ass I'm right. Tom Ford may have engineered Rush for Gucci, but you're sitting on it, big boy. You sit on his accomplishments, for they are nothing to you. That's how you roll.

Michael, as he hits 9 on his speakerphone:
That's it, I've had it. I'd ask why you're displaying this level of disrespect for a man who could have potentially helped you begin a successful career with one of the most successful companies in the world, but fear the answer would be too banal and incoherent. Security?

Me:
You dress like a dope.
Sadly, people don't treat Mr. Kors this way. Instead they grovel and hang on his every word, supplanting the obvious with some ridiculous fiction about the style of Michael Kors as American chic. And so America falls behind in all things fashionable. We still think wearing T-shirts with suits is cool. T-shirts with suits aren't cool, unless you're Alec Baldwin and you're on the run with your beautiful sociopath wife. This look requires accessorizing, after all.

Anyhoo, on to Island Hawaii. Having heckled Mr. Kors roundly, I'll clap in appreciation for his little feminine summer scent. Island Hawaii actually smells quite good, although it lacks balance. It's orange overload. Luckily, I like the smell of orange, but for those of you who can only take it in small doses, this scent isn't for you. Hawaii displays the tartness of clementine and the sweetness of pineapple, blended into a massive orange note. Adding to the composition is nicely-blended neroli and indolic jasmine. The flower never really stands out completely, but its semi-ripe freshness lends the scent some much-needed depth. Eventually the orange vanishes, the jasmine's indoles fade away, and the floral notes are illuminated briefly by the setting sun of tangy ambergris.

Island Hawaii isn't bad at all. It's a bit simplistic, but so it goes with summer scents. When it comes to the gender marketing here, I doth protest; unless orange and notes of clean, nutty ambergris conflict with his skin chemistry, I don't know why a man couldn't wear this during the warmer months. I also don't know why Mr. Kors doesn't put the same panache into his personal wardrobe, but if I ever meet him, I'll ask.













6/2/12

Chèvrefeuille Original (Creed)


Summer is almost here. When I think of summertime, I usually don't think of '80s fragrances, mainly because there aren't many light, summery compositions for men from that decade. You have to get creative if you want to wear a Reagan-era masculine in dead heat. Many people turn to aquatics and fruity-florals, and neglect another category of "fresh" that works better than those two. They're called "green" perfumes, and they smell of grass, flower stems, flowers, roots, herbs, coniferous berries, and moss. Things like Silences, Tsar, and Brut qualify (galbanum bomb, Rococo coumarin, white floral powder, respectively).

These three scents are great for spring, and somewhat acceptable for summer. I'm comfortable wearing Silences when it's rainy and a little cool, but not in blaring sunshine. Ditto for Tsar, unless it's a cooler, dryer sunny day. Brut is the only one that works in all conditions, except those over 90°. Last year I was searching various databases for a green and summery fragrance that would be easy to wear in rain, and sun, - even Ishtar conditions. I happened to spot Chèvrefeuille Original, and saw the date of origin posted next to it: 1982. Reviewers described a clean, grassy, semi-sweet floral scent that straddled the feminine side of unisex. My interest was piqued.


Before I get into Chèvrefeuille (which means honeysuckle in French), I'd like to make an observation: Creed's grey-cap EDTs are slipping into the dark nethervoid of extinction. Royal English Leather is gone, possibly vaulted, but probably unavailable 51 out of 52 weeks a year. Vetiver is not even on the radar anymore, it's the stuff of gerontological perfumery legend, and soon it's likely to be a topic of discussion among archaeologists. Ambre Cannelle is totally phased out. Santal Imperial is recently killed off, much to the chagrin of its ardent fan base. Epicea (i.e. "Spruce") is long gone. Royal Scottish Lavender is retired, vaulted, released only occasionally in small batches, and after the last release, probably never to be smelled of again. Baie de Genievre, well. Scores of wetshavers are still crying into their cornflakes over that one. Citrus Bigarrade - from what I understand, it was Creed's go-to citrus scent. Once. And last but not least, Chèvrefeuille - recently retired, very likely to make brief three or four-day appearances in Aril or May, but only once every god knows how many years. I just hope they've vaulted it, and not sold their last bottle off.

This is a real shame, because all of these fragrances have good reputations, and all draw on old-school formulas, without pandering to modern mores. The only remaining grey-caps are Bois de Cedrat (its days are definitely numbered), Orange Spice (I'm amazed they're still selling this one), Zeste Mandarine Pamplemousse (probably their bestselling grey-cap, and unlikely to see its demise anytime real soon, although I wouldn't bet on it being around three years from now), and Acier Aluminium (considering Creed is selling 8.4 oz flacons of AA for $235, it's probably the one product they're dying to get rid of, and just can't, no matter how hard they try). Four grey-caps are all that remain of Creed's EDT legacy. It's a shame, and that's an understatement. I hope Erwin is planning on replacing them with a whole new line. Otherwise, there's not much to look forward to with the house of Creed.


Chèvrefeuille Original is third fiddle to Green Valley and Original Vetiver's super-green super-stardom. It doesn't fall into the same slot as Green Irish Tweed, because Olivier's flagship is about dihydromyrcenol-as-green, a more mainstream '80s approach to the scent profile. Chèvrefeuille is a more naturalistic green scent, based instead on bitter grass notes, camphorous fennel seed, mint, and delicate honeysuckle leaves, touched ever so slightly by their flowers. The remote presence of actual honeysuckle creates a suggestion of powdery pollen, appropriately underscoring rippling fields as they pass, breeze-like, through this perfume's lovely heart. Fennel, which is often mistaken for anise, anchors the pyramid, and balances its divergent poles. It provides a useful fulcrum for bitter grasses and sweet honeysuckle. Indeed, Chèvrefeuille Original is one of the proudest, and best poised green perfumes I have ever had the pleasure to sniff. It is clean, fresh, and full of life.

This surprisingly complex EDT can still be found on some discount sites, and if you can visit either of the two Creed boutiques, you can probably snag a spare bottle. Here in New York, Louis is likely to ameliorate concerned customers by pulling Chèvrefeuille out from behind those dusty flacons of Acier Aluminium. This honeysuckle scent is totally unisex, and doesn't smell the least bit dated, so try to rid yourself of those Drakkar and Smalto associations. This grey-cap, like all grey-caps, is timeless.















6/1/12

Beyond Paradise (Estée Lauder)


When I think of floral perfumes, images of dowdy old ladies and the golden bygone days of yesteryear flood my imagination. There's no reason for this to happen really, as the older women I've encountered tend to wear powdery fruity florals by Liz Taylor. My grandmother is addicted to Violet Eyes, for example. And I've never really experienced the golden bygone days of yesteryear. I was born in 1981. The term "yesteryear" doesn't apply to me in any way.

I often find myself yearning for a good floral perfume, probably because they were popular years ago. They are not as popular today, and certainly aren't popular with the women I regularly encounter. Foody fragrances have overtaken the female market, and everything is loaded with sugar. The collective sweet tooth, with its abysmal brown sugars and cake batter vanillas, has overtaken our olfactory landscape and driven greenness into the sea, where it can no longer challenge anyone. 'Tis a pity.

Few have offered to update the lush floral arrangements of the '40s, '50s, '60s. Things like Or et Noir, Fleurissimo, Capricci. If you browse the history of perfume, you'll be surprised by how few florals there are. There are many floral chypres, and even more floral orientals, but not as many pure floral fragrances for either sex. This is why Beyond Paradise is a breath of fresh air in the world of contemporary perfumery - it allows the traditional floral fragrance to step into the twenty-first century's marketplace, and be alive. There aren't very many perfumes that can match its brilliance, or share sunlight with its garden of open buds. It's a true masterpiece.

Its opening is a bit strange, a heavy whiff of alcohol and sweetness, but this quickly becomes a moist floral arrangement, so tightly bound as to resemble just one magnificent flower. This supernova of pollen can be dissected into jasmine, honeysuckle, gardenia, and tuberose. Moistness tinges the entire scent, and makes it feel like I'm standing in a humid greenhouse, where blasts of cold water are being sent across every leaf and petal. Estée Lauder's perfumes share a "house note" that isn't particularly good - it's a kind of synthetic sweetness that comes across as "lipsticky," - but in Beyond Paradise this note works. It infuses the full-bodied flower bed with a necessary ripeness. As things dry down, the flowers grow ever more delicate, like bulbs awash in hot sunlight. All things considered, the experience is very pleasant, has definite progression, and doesn't smell the least bit "dowdy." It doesn't smell antiquated either, which is a plus, sometimes. I, for one, am impressed.