11/30/12

Taxi (Cofinluxe) - Mark Buxton Gets Started



Thanks to reader LustandFury, who happened to mention this fragrance in a conversation we had about Halston 1-12, and also to Shamu1's excellent reviews on his blog, I decided to snag a bottle of this stuff and give it a try. I got lucky and had it delivered extremely fast, and I'm wearing it as I type. I just want to say, it's so nice to smell a traditional fougère that simply IS. Let me explain.

Aromatic fougères are traditional fougères with added spices, woods, and herbs. If you take a look at the pyramids for Drakkar Noir, Azzaro Pour Homme, and Paco Rabanne, you'll find there's an assload of green-woody stuff in them. Fir, patchouli, coriander, sandalwood, cedarwood, clary sage, rosewood, you name it. The basic framework is still there of course - lavender, oakmoss, and coumarin, with brief hits of citrus off the top, and aridity in the drydown. But the embellishments make them more complex, significantly louder, and sometimes harder to decipher.


Traditional fougères are much more basic, with simpler movements, fewer elements, and a directness not usually found in their aromatic brethren. It's rare to find a traditional fern these days because the style has become outmoded and "dandified", with oldies like English Fern, Fougère Royale, Dunhill, and Worth inhabiting rarefied territory. Aromatic and fresh aromatic fougères are still at the forefront of today's fougère market, catering to the proclivities of the masses. People still buy gallons of Cool Water and Polo Sport, but Arden's Sandalwood and Rochas' Moustache are no longer nearly as popular. They are not the default setting for people's notion of a crisp, clean fragrance. That's not to say they're not still sought after, but the general populace has moved on.

Taxi brings it back. Smelling Taxi for the first time, I pulled my nose away, closed my eyes, and smiled. There, in my nostrils, was a traditional lavender/coumarin/oakmoss fougère, arrayed with excellent raw materials in a timeless composition. Perfumers can take creative license with traditional fougères and adorn their spare frames with one or two additional notes, and in Taxi, the legendary Mark Buxton (of Comme des Garcons fame) used heady notes of juniper and star anise to keep things interesting. But the basic fougère makes its presence known from beginning to end: Taxi starts with a beautiful 10-second bergamot and spike lavender accord, brightened by a lovely non-toothpasty mint note, and when the bergamot burns away, juniper wells up from under the minty lavender, and dominates the top and early heart phases. Smooth coumarin eventually develops in the mid, but it isn't the saccharine honey-like coumarin of Paco Rabanne, or the coy nanosecond of sweet aftertaste to Drakkar's leather. Taxi's coumarin is simply rich, warm, sunny, salty, suggestive of weathered hay, and altogether the fulcrum from which everything else pivots.

And everything else is simply oakmoss, dihydromyrcenol, a faint touch of star anise, which bends things into an herbal zone, and a simple, soapy-green drydown. The one thing about Taxi is that it smells brighter and mintier than any of the aromatic ferns in my collection. LustandFury mentioned an association he made with Taxi to Irish Spring soap, and he's spot on - although it certainly doesn't smell just like Irish Spring, it has the same fresh-green ambiance that somewhat approximates the aura of Irish Spring. There's a very good chypre out there, which I've reviewed here and spoken of before, and it's called Sung Homme - Sung is nearly identical to Irish Spring, and carries all the brute-force manliness of the soap on its spicy-green tide. Taxi is much, much gentler, with fewer jagged edges, and more unisex appeal in its creamy freshness. It is what I want from a fougère, that classical and straight-forward masculine accessory from nature (and the lab), that exists without frills, without the need for anything beyond a universal notion of the hypothetical smell of "fern." Some have commented on how this fragrance strongly resembles Drakkar Noir, but I smell it a bit differently. Other than having identical spike lavender notes, the two fragrances don't have all that much in common. Taxi isn't really a simpler variant of Drakkar Noir. Taxi is what Drakkar would be if you pulled it out of the aromatic fougère category and placed it alongside the old-fashioned traditional fougères of days gone by. Instead of Warren Beatty and Robert Redford, think Cary Grant and Gregory Peck. What terrific stuff it is, and amazing to think it's already 29 years old!





















11/27/12

Cuba Grey (Cuba Paris/Fragluxe)



I'll be the first to admit that I don't know jack about Cuba Paris. I'm aware they exist, and I've read reviews that praise their scents, so when a fragrance salesman dropped a free bottle of Cuba Grey into my bag with a recent purchase, I was immediately interested in it. I'm not predisposed to liking Cuba Paris frags, because I find their packaging gimmick abysmal. The whole glass cigar shtick is ugly and unnecessary - Cuba is known for other things. Czech & Speake has a subtler approach that still pays homage to the culture. Still, it's wrong to write off a company just because you don't like their packaging aesthetic. So I'm glad I crossed paths with Cuba Grey.

I recently did a sniff test with my parents (who never read this blog) and asked them to compare Cuba Grey with Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein. I obviously had one of the pair on each hand. They both immediately acknowledged that these scents are similar, but not the same, and my mother felt Cuba was lighter, airier. My father had a more difficult time discerning a specific difference, but just felt they were different. It took him two tries to make that call. Both corroborated my findings: Grey is different, but very similar to Eternity for Men, to the point where it's a bit tough to tell the two apart.
Look Mom! Eternity's box is grey, just like Cuba's name!

The main difference is in ingredient quality and dosage. Eternity has been reformulated into a bit of a chemical blob (it always was one imo), and its current incarnation yields a deceptively fresh lavender note, chased by a gummy mandarin/lavender/sandalwood accord, a typical bottom-heavy late-eighties fresh fougère in the tradition of Cool Water, Drakkar Noir, and Skin Bracer, but without their transparency. It's heavy, forceful, and it travels across a room faster than a convict attacking his lawyer. In some cases, depending on who wears it, you'd rather deal with the convict than Eternity.

Cuba Grey is almost the exact same fragrance, a shameless Eternity clone, but it's lighter, its fruits more Calone-like, with a nineties fresh-sweet breeziness found in typical masculines of the day. Beyond that, I can't smell any significant difference. My parents couldn't either. Of the two, Grey has the edge, for the arguable reason that its aroma chemicals lend its construct a negligibly more natural affectation than Eternity's foghorn. Both are entirely synthetic, but they seem to diverge in the type of atmosphere their synthetics generate for the wearer. The all-business approach is Eternity, while the havin'-fun-in-the-sun spiel applies more to Grey. Its lither dosage of faux citrus and sandalwood means the freshness of old-school gummy lavender smells fun, not forced. Still, this could be splitting hairs.

Try Grey if you like Eternity, but can't bear its heaviness. Just know that if you apply Eternity and gently wash the spot where you sprayed it, you'll wind up with a 99.9% likeness with Cuba Grey. Kind of makes you wonder if you should eschew both frags, and just wear something like Horizon or Cool Water instead.























11/25/12

Individuel (Mont Blanc)



If you've read the famous book Perfumes: The Guide, and found its contents somewhat awkward and hard to comprehend, don't worry. It's not you. Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin are fragrance enthusiasts, but they're far from experts, and they often get basic descriptions of fragrances egregiously wrong. Case in point: Individuel. About it, Sanchez inexplicably writes:
Individuel, Citrus Green: "A laundry soap formula, apparently for individuals who can't yet afford the Mont Blanc pens."
If you were familiar with Individuel before reading her snippy one-liner, you've come to the immediate conclusion that for being a self-proclaimed fragrance expert, this perfume is her undoing, as there is absolutely nothing citrusy-green about Individuel. It's also about as far from a trite laundry soap scent as anything can get - Pierre Bourdon is the nose behind its dynamic formula. The way Sanchez angled in for that play on words with Individuel/individuals, it seems she got carried away and forgot to do her homework. Had she known Bourdon was behind it, she would have alerted Turin and had him review it instead. It's a masculine fragrance, after all, and Turin is a Bourdon fan. It is therefore evident that Tania Sanchez did not actually smell Individuel, got it confused with god knows whatever else she spritzed on a piece of paper that day, and forfeited her credibility as a voice on fragrance with a resolutely careless non-review. This, by the way, is the conclusion you're likely to reach if you've sniffed Individuel after reading her snippy one-liner. You'd be forgiven for hoping she didn't actually smell it and spit up that ridiculous remark knowing what citrusy green scents smell like.

Often compared to Original Santal and Joop! Homme, Individuel is closer to the former than the latter, but still extremely different to my nose. While Original Santal boasts superior ingredients and a striking balance between cinnamon, juniper, and lavender, Individuel shares only the cinnamon note, which smells like the exact same synthetic aroma chemical in a much lighter dose. There's also a prominent lavender note, but unlike in OS, Individuel's is metallic, grey, a little hollow. It creates a contrast, but lacks balance, and for a good ten minutes after application, Individuel smells somewhat conflicted. Fortunately there are other elements to save the day - a chocolate-like berry note lurks in there, accompanied by a woodier spice accord of cardomom and juniper. Sandalwood, vanilla, and amber comprise the drydown, which arrives rather quickly for an oriental.

Is Original Santal a higher-fidelity clone? It bears some remote similarities, but I feel as though OS focuses more on the interplay between cinnamon and lavender, while Individuel attempts to reconcile the same cinnamon with a different lavender and a bushel of other notes. It's more complex, not as well calibrated, but nonetheless a really good fragrance, and something any Original Santal fan will want to smell, if only to find the same cinnamon note in a designer offering. Pierre Bourdon likes to create simple aura scents using complicated formulas and pyramids, and he does it successfully in Kouros, Cool Water, and Individuel. I like the first two more than the third, but Mont Blanc's EDT holds its own and is worthy of Bourdon, and of anyone who wears modern orientals.


















11/23/12

Tabu (Dana)


The banter about Tabu's various reformulated incarnations amuses me to no end. Orientals are generally the most difficult fragrance type for anyone to pull off, man or woman, prince or pauper. In the seventies and eighties they were the scourge of public businesses and meeting places, their heavy spice clouds and headache-inducing vanilla bombs prompting widespread demarcations of "fragrance-free zones." Application was key to success with these things, and even then it was a tricky game - too much, and you smelled like a hooker, and too little gave the impression of unwashed skin (suspiciously-complex b.o.). If you were lucky enough to find the perfect dosage, you still smelled like someone wearing perfume. Nothing subtle about that.

Then the times changed, fresh aromatic fragrances took over the scene, and orientals got sweeter and gradually became sugary gourmands, which still hold the attention of the unwashed Walmart-shopping masses to this day. There's a certain irony to the naming of the ingenious Angel by Mugler, as it reminds me of the movie Hellraiser, when Pinhead introduces his band of merry men by saying they're "Demons to some, Angels to others." I like Angel, but I'm sure there's a fair few folks out there who feel it's closer to being a demon. Some things never change, and orientals are still a risky gamble, especially if you live in America, where people are pretty fragrance-phobic.

Dana's classic oriental, seductively named "Tabu," used to be one of those risky perfumes, something only confident women (and men) wore, presumably in the vicinity of martinis and mink stoles. Oddly enough, it's also associated with prostitutes (must be because Jean Carles was commissioned to make it a "fragrance for a whore"), with its skanky-spicy floral and patchouli accords. Tabu used to have an ungodly amount of patchouli in it. By some accounts, it was up to 40% patchouli! Which makes Prada's 12% benzoin claim with Candy seem like nothing in comparison. I vaguely remember smelling the older formula of Tabu from a bottle my grandmother owned years ago, and thinking it was super strong, and pretty hellish. But I was young and ill informed.

The current Tabu is a watered-down version of the older thing, with cheapened ingredients and a reduced dynamic in the top and heart notes. There's movement and there's complexity, but no part of it smells deep. Labeled as an eau de cologne, this recent version is light, easy on the nose, but distinctive and well made, and in my opinion, still quite good. If you reference Tabu on basenotes and Fragrantica, you find people experience a root beer note on top, and strident patchouli afterwards. This also applies to the vintage version, which so many claim is the ONLY version of Tabu worth owning. Good luck finding vintage bottles of Tabu with actual vintage 1930's Tabu in it. It takes little effort to fill an old bottle with the current formula and empty a vial of patchouli oil into it, and post it for sale as the real thing on ebay, at a premium. But that couldn't happen with any vintage fragrance, because the world of vintage fragrance is blessed by the total absence of hucksters and frauds.

The same commentators find the new version also possesses that bright, citrusy sassafras top, followed by a balsamic spiciness, some patchouli, synthetic civet (barely there to my nose), and a mossy sweetness, which I suppose is benzoin. Yet it gets lambasted as being "too cheap." I don't get it, but it doesn't matter - Tabu smells really good. And better yet, it's easy on the nose. The top doesn't slice your sinuses, and is rather airy and fizzy, and yeah, that root beer impression is pretty vivid for a good ten minutes after application. The remarkable thing about Tabu for me is how unisex it smells. It reminds me a bit of Old Spice. Men and women can wear this in equal measure without raising eyebrows. And the nifty musical instrument bottle is kinda gaudy and fun, if you can find it. Is Tabu cheap? Yeah, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a lot. Let's not say it's cheap - let's go with "inexpensive," and given how good it smells, it feels criminal to only fork $10 over for it. Tabu is one of the greats.



























11/18/12

Spring Flower (Creed)



It's spring somewhere on planet earth, although not here in Connecticut. Nevertheless, I can't help myself, and must perversely poke and prod through several summery fragrances, just to sidestep the dreary dregs of November. Have I told you how much I dislike November? After the ragged-red blaze of October (our most glorious month), the battleship grey of our eleventh age sets in, its sky of bleach bone and ashen woods leaving little material for romantic imaginations. Enter Creed's Spring Flower.

I approached Spring Flower with more trepidation than any other Creed I've tried, simply because its reputation precedes it. This is not a widely-loved fragrance. Supposedly created for Audrey Hepburn, sometime during her twilight years, Olivier apparently invented the modern fruity floral in crafting Spring Flower. The word on the street says he created it in the eighties, then released it to the public in the middle of the nineties, shortly after Audrey's death. I'll admit that, of all the Creed taglines, the Audrey Hepburn association rings the most hollow. It's not that I don't believe Creed manufactured this scent for her. I just find it very difficult to believe she actually wore it.

Fueling my doubt is the actual scent itself, vulgar pink bottle and even more vulgar pink box set aside (Spring Flower exhibits the WORST packaging graphics I've ever seen, with that utterly un-readable gold font set against blotched soap-texture cardboard). Having read the often-misleading Perfumes: The Guide, and Luca Turin's two cents, I expected a twangy burst of citrus off the top of Spring Flower, followed by a sugarbomb peach note and some dreadful candyfloss drydown.


No such luck - Spring Flower's opening is indeed twangy, comprised of a piercingly sharp lemon and green apple accord, with hints of melon and pear fading in and out of the bitter melange. That top note is pure chartreuse made scent. Slowly, like erroneously over-exposed Polaroids, shy peach and red apple notes appear, broadening that nasal-splitting shank of watery "fresh" with their softness and subtlety. Dewey-sweet jasmine and rose elements accompany these fruits with sheer velvet-petal effects, and their delicate floral smell, not literally of flowers, but rather of the water sprayed on flowers in a greenhouse, lifts the sour apples, their aqueous green mist, and brings the main thrust of this perfume into soft focus.

And what is the main thrust, you ask? Freshness. Pure and simple. Spring Flower is bright, watery, sour, fruity, green, and all things fresh, from start to finish. It never gets definitively sweet, always remains bright and cheerful, refrains from becoming a full-on bouquet, and lacks the sycophantic qualities of your average designer fruity floral. It doesn't smell friendly, it doesn't smell nice, but it does't smell cold and forbidding, either. There is a high-pitched musky note lurking in the composition that lends Spring Flower a few extra hours beyond its call of duty - expect at least five hours out of it. Is it worth the sticker shock for a 2.5 ounce bottle? Perhaps, although it isn't the greatest bang for your buck (Original Vetiver is more remarkable). Is it feminine? It's not really feminine, but I'd say it's safely unisex. Men and women could wear Spring Flower without either gender feeling uncomfortable, and I imagine they'd interpret it similarly.

Ultimately there isn't anything out of the ordinary going on with this fragrance, except that it's made with very high quality materials. That makes a difference. I never feel like I'm treading a chemical bath with it on. It may be an unremarkable idea, but the execution is amazing. That makes a difference! Give Spring Flower a try when you get a chance. I'm considering a bottle for whenever spring returns to my neck of the woods.























11/14/12

Royal Copenhagen Spray Cologne (Five Star Fragrances)



I wrote a scathing review of Royal Copenhagen on basenotes, which I can't change because those fuckers banned me last winter, and I wore Royal Copenhagen Musk when I lived in Prague a few years ago, and disliked it intensely. My opinion of the original Royal Copenhagen has, rarest of rare things, changed. And changed for the better. The other day I bought a gift set of RC spray cologne, deodorant, shower gel, and bar soap. For $20 I figured I couldn't really go wrong, not with all that other stuff thrown in the box. I've been wearing the cologne and now I must say, this is not as I remembered it years ago. I wonder if it differs depending on spray or splash - I originally tried the splash, and it smelled awful. The spray, on the other hand, is quite nice. I'm enjoying it.

If you take a look at King Frederick VII of Denmark up there, and think carefully about what this chap from nineteenth century Europe might have smelled like (especially as his portrait was being painted), you should get an approximation of Royal Copenhagen. This stuff smells spicy, soapy, powdery, and pretty darned stodgy, but with little oriental flourishes that carry it into its own league. It's an ambery oriental with a brusque vetiver top note, playing loudly through heavy aldehydes, not dissimilar to the opening of Tabac Original, but without the intense citrus. Light notes of bergamot, orange, and lemon are detectable however, and provide a fresh lift to the vetiver, preventing its rootiness from overpowering the proceedings. Neat.


Within thirty minutes the scent simplifies, becoming very powdery, with hints of cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and oakmoss tinging the dusty-white winterscape of its wispy base. It reminds me a little of Gold Bond body powder, which sounds horrible, but I actually like how Gold Bond smells, so . . . so there. Am I damning an outdated oriental with faint praise? No, I hope not. Listen, there's only one way to say this: you gotta be a guy's guy to appreciate Royal Copenhagen. It's probably not all that easy to understand the vibe of this stuff if you're a metrosexual Manhattanite, or a postmodern woman with postmodern sensibilities. Ambery seventies orientals are not accessible to today's nose. Released in 1970 and bearing the namesake of an old Danish porcelain factory, Royal Copenhagen adheres to a rich tradition of scents like Old Spice and Tabac, which offer warm, diffuse, slightly soapy, and very powdery-oriental "fresh" profiles. Unlike its predecessors, RC comes as a blue-dyed barbershop juice, with a silvery royal-mark label, and a dated bottle with a royal blue cap. The blue suggests "stately masculine clean," which translates from Danish to "barbershop." Think warm citrus, smooth floral notes, sprightly spice, and that famous talcum drydown we've smelled on older gentlemen of bygone eras. If that makes sense to you, then RC is something you should own, or at least look into.

I like it a touch more than Tabac, and about the same as Old Spice, although I think it perfects Old Spice and creates a more dynamic oriental experience, in what can only be oxy-moronically described as a modern Old-World style. One more thing - wearing RC ensures you're wearing something only one or two other men in your country are wearing. No one wears this stuff anymore. I mean it. I'm amazed it still exists. There must be a lot of grandmothers buying it for their grandsons, mistakenly thinking, "it's blue - it must be that hairspray crap all the young'uns wear these days!" That's a shame, of course, but great if you consider that you can duck the cliche of donning Old Spice without sacrificing quality, and still smell unique. You could try to "bring it back," and make RC fashionable again. Maybe powdered wigs will make a comeback, too. Think of the possibilities.


























11/13/12

Musk Fire (Avon)



Musk Fire has such a simple title, yet somehow it's one of the coolest fragrance names out there. Somehow the idea of pairing cool sweet musk with Zippo spark turns me on. Too bad this scent disappointed me, because I was really hoping it would impress me as much as Mesmerize did. It was quite a let-down.

I want to point out that Musk Fire gets accolades from some very respectable noses in the blogosphere, so I shouldn't be your last stop by any means in pre-assessing this scent. It simply does not appeal to me personally, but it's well made and remains steeped in tradition. Musk fire's style hearkens back to the 1950s and '60s, the aftershaves and colognes that used nitro-musks and sharp citrus notes. It opens with a synthetic bergamot, lemon, and cardamom accord before switching to clean sweet musk. And that's pretty much it. Not much more to say.

A little fresh, a little spicy, a lot musky. Synthetic, yes, but no-muss, no-fuss. Still, it's kinda-sorta weird retro style isn't for me. Give it a try if you're looking for a light musk to impart that "clean shirt" vibe to co-workers and friends, without spending big bucks. If you grab another fragrance from Avon they'll probably throw this one in as a freebie.



























11/11/12

Guess by Marciano for Men (Guess)



Every so often a low-brow designer brand teams up with a low-brow perfume division of some other designer brand to create low-brow swill for guys who consider perfume the perfect substitute for a shower. When they opt for "fresh aquatic" no one really loses, because at least they smell like shampoo. When they opt for "fresh fougère" we take a slight hit, because traditional fougères are usually sexier, better-wrought, and ferns always make a statement, so going "fresh" with them implies a hollow message. Still, not so bad, considering. But when they opt for "fresh oriental," everyone suffers, no exceptions. Orientals are a tricky genre. You either know what you're doing and do it well, or you're clueless and offensive - there is no middle ground. Sadly, Guess for Men fast-tracks the oriental, and comes up empty. Given the possible fallout of such a flub, things actually aren't so bad here, but I really wish they'd have (a) done another fresh fougère, or (b) done nothing at all.

The scent smells like your classic barbershop vanilla-amber, which touches of orange citrus, pepper, and powder on top. The nose must have been aware that he was out of his depth, because this scent remains staid, safe, incredibly dull. I'm reminded of Brut and Pinaud Clubman (two iconic barbershop fougères, oddly enough), but those smell better and are more distinctive. They're stronger, too - Guess is gone in an hour. Is this "bad" per say? Not really, but I don't wear fragrances that "aren't bad," I try to seek out the intentionally "good" ones. Your mileage may vary here, and if you find this a superior alternative to those other barbershop masculines, more power to you. I'll bypass this more expensive and less successful composition for less expensive and more successful ones any day of the week, brand gaucherie be damned.

























11/6/12

The Scent of Power



Thanks to Ari over on Scents of Self, I now know that President Obama is a fan of Brut. He wore the deodorant in his youth (unclear about the cologne), which was a factoid cross-referenced here. Yet another reason to wear Brut and vote for Barack!



















11/5/12

Charlie (Revlon)



There's a certain irony to Charlie. Look at those women up there. They're wearing pants! The ad campaign featured Shelley Hack and Naomi Sims, and was geared toward feminists who wanted to eschew the role of housewife and take the workforce by storm in the seventies. Charlie is a bitter green-floral chypre, full of citrus, aldehydes, orange blossom, hyacinth, lily, and moss. And today, it's far better on a guy than a girl, or at least that's what contemporary under-40's would likely think if they smelled it. Its ingredients have been cheapened a bit, but the composition is still tight, and every note plays its role well. Even though the whole bitter chypre trend has seen its day with modern women, Charlie would still be a treat on them. It's a shame that I don't smell this on people. Only my grandmother wears it.

Tania Sanchez likened the current formula to an older version of Balmain's Vent Vert, yet disparaged it and said a gal can't be expected to drop hard-earned coinage for it, or some such thing. Makes little sense, unless Ms. Sanchez disliked older versions of Vent Vert (Luca Turin loves the stuff). You can take that odd sentiment for whatever it's worth, or you could just take it from me: Charlie smells good. The opening is a crisp snap of bergamot, very bright and a little dry, rounded out by a hint of muguet and an early bitter edge of oakmoss. After five minutes, the muguet intensifies, bolstered by orange blossom, all sandwiched between remnants of citrus and a cool, mossy base. It's basic, it's green, it's fresh, a touch powdery (might be a healthy shot of galbanum in there, similar to Silences), and altogether pleasant. Does it capture the imagination and send its wearer to tranquil places? Definitely not, as it's too cheaply made for that sort of romance, but if you're the type that doesn't want to bend light with your perfume, and would rather settle for a simple "smell-good," you should see if this is signature-worthy. For the price, it's definitely worth a blind-buy and a few outings.


























11/2/12

Al-Rehab "Silver" Alcohol-Free Concentrated Perfume Oil (Crown Perfumes)



If Creed could be said to operate on the law of negative returns, then Al-Rehab, which is a trademark of Crown Perfumes, operates on bending the laws of all known returns, much as a high-quality prism bends and refracts the dullness of white light into a full-color spectrum. The feat of their magnificence isn't recognized in the quality of their products, but rather in what they charge for them: next to nothing. It's more expensive to purchase a bottle of Aqua Velva at Walmart than to buy a 6 ml roll-on of Al-Rehab perfume oil. With Aqua Velva, you get what you pay for, and not less. With Al-Rehab, you get more. Much, much more.

What amuses me to no end on internet fragrance forums is the collective need to "cheat Creed." People are always looking for a way around dropping hundreds of dollars on a Creed perfume, and they usually do it by finding a designer scent that duplicates the overall scent profile of a Creed at a lower cost. An obvious example of this is the Cool Water/Green Irish Tweed situation. Mont Blanc's Individuel has been accused on more than one occasion of being exactly the same as Original Santal. Paco Rabanne XS is, by many accounts, a better deal than Himalaya. And Mugler Cologne has no business being copied by Original Vetiver.

People's preferences are their own, and far be it from me to tell anyone what to like and not like (I review fragrances on the assumption that anyone bothering to read me cares what I think); we can only wear what we enjoy, and avoid what we don't. But it's pointless to kid one's self into believing a designer (or inexpensive niche) frag is capable of matching a Creed in quality and complexity. Even if its pyramid is fuller than the Creed's (Cool Water against GIT again), the quality of ingredients in Creed perfumes are such that individual aroma chemicals are multi-faceted, yielding their own vague "off" notes, their own facets. The depth of their compositions is not easy to match.

Many in the internet community of fragrance lovers find Al-Rehab Silver to be a dead-ringer for Silver Mountain Water, and it's very interesting because the believers are even more ardent than any of the staunchest Cool Water and Individuel fans. They don't think this smells "like" SMW - they think it smells EXACTLY like SMW. Any difference is negligible, detectable to only the most acutely sensitive nose. To quibble with the usual Creed sticker shock is criminal in the face of Al-Rehab Silver's existence, or so they suggest. This is, by many accounts, a surefire replacement for Olivier's signature scent. Look no further to smell like a Creedie.

How do I feel about all this? What do I think of the comparison? More to the point, what do I think about Al-Rehab Silver? I think the whole thing is a little overblown, but I say a little, not a lot. Quality of ingredients is not quite up to par with Creed (their Givaudan cassis-tea accord is far from easy to duplicate), and complexity is lacking, as Silver is rather linear, and SMW is not. That said, the quality of ingredients is nevertheless shockingly high, given what it costs for a 6 ml roll-on perfume oil. Three dollars? This is amazing. You could go tens times higher and still have room for price-gouging. Silver smells vibrant, alive, multi-dimensional, especially in its first five minutes on skin. I don't know how they did it, and more to the point, I don't know how they did it with inexpensive synthetics, but it's no small feat of technical wizardry, that's for sure.

How to compare? SMW opens with a crisp 7-Up citrus pop, bolstered by sweet blackcurrant and a bitter mineral/metallic accord. Depending on batch, it can either smell very citrusy and tea-forward, or very sweet and berry-strong. Eventually, SMW's synthetic element, that cold metallic thing, begins to separate into more decipherable components, yielding notes of mint, musk, petit grain, neroli, sandalwood, and ambergris. Blackcurrant stays the course, but gets very dark and "inky" before fading away. The fragrance remains sheer, sparkly, and fresh for the duration of its lifespan. It's pleasant and unique at all times, and there isn't a whole lot out there that aptly compares to it.

Al-Rehab's take is nearly identical for about five minutes. The top is a magnificent dance of lemon, blackcurrant, tea, and something metallic and redolent of hairspray. It's criminally close to SMW for this limited period of time, and all the better for it. Once that first pop subsides, things become significantly less remarkable, and diverge greatly from the Creed. The blackcurrant strengthens, nearly eclipsing the tea and the metal, and becomes almost cloyingly sweet, although it never quite crosses the line. For a good three hours, there's isn't much else to be had. If you're not wild about blackcurrant, you're not going to love this. Fortunately the tea note is just strong enough to balance things, and the metallic vibe fades in and out during the drydown, reminding me of the unique and indescribably modern characteristics to this type of fragrance.

Hints of sweet musk, just a little skanky, and the vaguest hint of jasmine accompany the far drydown, and to Silver's credit it remains fresh and well-made to the very end. It's a pleasure to wear, truly remarkable for what it is, and worth the barely-there price tag. If you're someone who appreciates this scent profile (Tommy Girl by Hilfiger is yet another option), but don't want to commit to something as egregiously expensive as Silver Mountain Water, then Al-Rehab's concentrated oil is the way to go. Aside from SMW, it does not get any better than this, and since SMW isn't a hugely popular fragrance, those who smell Silver on you won't have a clue that you're sporting a Creed clone. You're doing everyone a favor by sporting a great one. And if you insist on considering perfume an art form, it bears mentioning that some of France's greatest art forgers command incredible levels of respect from critics and collectors alike, so there's not necessarily any shame in flagrant imitation.

But if you're someone who truly loves this kind of scent, appreciates all the fragrances that cover its territory, but still feel that only the best will do, Silver Mountain Water is, in the bitter end, still superior, and still worth the money. It has suffered from batch variations in recent years, and isn't quite as reliable as it used to be (am I getting more berries, or more tea this time?), but its design is flawless, its execution is unparalleled, and its originality is a trait that can never be taken away. Silver is what happens when a talented nose wishes to pay homage to such greatness without sacrificing the integrity of his product. While it's not exactly a winning battle, I can certainly respect the effort, and the end result.





























11/1/12

Andy Warhol Lexington Avenue (Bond no.9)


Franco Scalamandré's "Zebras" wallpaper, seen in the iconic and now-defunct restaurant "Gino" on Lexington near Sixty-First Street.


This fragrance is one of the prettier things I've worn, tucked neatly between the usual designer fare and some better scents (Creed, Guerlain). Let me say this about Bond: their image is all that stands between me and fandom. I've heard all the horror stories about their lawyers ganging up on a poor little indie niche label for daring to use the apparently-trademarked word "peace" in a fragrance name. I've read the possibly-scurrilous accounts of Laurice Rahmé's allegedly racist ways with customers and employees (anyone need a light bulb changed?), although the word "hearsay" keeps popping into my head whenever I ponder these tales. It isn't their bad rep, but rather their entire design aesthetic that holds me at arm's length and prevents me from purchasing. The sometimes tacky names. The downright awful bottles. The gaudy colors. It's all a major turn-off.

In fairness, other brands are guilty of the same crimes. I mean, seriously now, Royal Water? Really? Doesn't get more vulgar than that, even for Creed. And Guerlain's bottles go down in history as some of the ugliest things ever placed within the immediate vicinity of Catherine Deneuve. I once saw a vintage container for Derby - two Tylenol and several eye drops later, I was still traumatized. So it's not like the external design sensibilities are an anomaly. One could reasonably argue that Bond's bottles are beautiful, or at least easy on the eyes. I'd agree that their shape isn't so bad, but still get queasy at the idea of a star-like thing showing up in my luggage. And the graphics are generally abysmal. Lexington Avenue's "boots 'n shoes" theme is no exception. This isn't class, this isn't style, this isn't chic. This is just wrong.

Fortunately, the fragrance is oh-so right. It opens with a lovely lemon-citrus accord, which swiftly shimmers into crisp star anise and cypress, a sweet, camphoraceous, green, and utterly delightful feeling. They maxed out the budget on those top notes, allowing for natural materials and top-shelf synthetics to provide extra "pop" and depth. This simple two-note opening gradually melts into a warm and spicy patchouli heart, full of pink pepper's fruitiness, cardamom's zinginess, an amber touched by fleeting hints of peach and vanilla. Different people smell it all differently, and come away with various interpretations, but I smell the archetypical shopping mall Christmas candle here. Even after it fades into a soft melange of precious woods, Lexington feels rich and cozy. Applied judiciously, and you get a sexy-by-the-fire come-hither effect. Overdose it, and you may as well wear the word Yankee somewhere on yourself and carry a wick. Despite the ingredient quality, the excellent note separation (all things accounted for, but working together successfully on the bigger picture), and the cheerful vibe, there's still something a tad off-pitch here. It's a bit too much, like the olfactory equivalent of Phil Spector's famous "Wall of Sound." If Creed did Lexingtin, it would smell a little more transparent, a touch weaker, and probably just a few hairs better. They'd likely use slightly better ingredients, or perhaps just fewer synthetics. If Guerlain did it, the citrus top would be more vibrant by a few shades. Still, it's good stuff, and something to look for when the holidays draw near, which they're doing as I write.