7/12/20

Monsieur Musk (Dana)



There are a few different bottle types for this fragrance, and mine is identical to the one pictured above. I believe this is an interim formula, released between the vintage opaque black glass of the nineties, and the newest silver/black label in clear glass that Dana currently advertises on their site. It's probably four or five years old.

Many people say the musk is a minor player here, but Monsieur Musk is all musk to my nose. It conjures the image of Tom Cruise in Risky Business with Ray-Ban shades and a lit Marlboro. Released by Houbigant in 1973, it was eventually acquired by Parfums Parquet, and wound up with Dana, the humblest of humble outfits, with no masculine beauties to their name - except this one. Somehow they've abstained from messing it up, and I'm happy to say it smells like a Vietnam-era musk bomb. It possesses a kind of suburban bordello raunch, replete with the animalic and floral underpinnings found in pre-Clinton era fougeres. Imagine if you could scissor off the musks of Paco Rabanne PH and bottle them, and that's MM. The experience is a dirty/clean/soapy redolence, pitching freshness against skank, and it smells dated, but very good.

I'm not so sure why, but I get a slight eighties vibe from this scent, hence the Risky Business reference. Its fake citrus note and Castile accent evokes the Whatchamacallit candy bar commercial, permed curls, boxy Thunderbirds, dad building shelves in the garage next to the Caprice with a pack of Newports tucked in his shirt. It was a simpler time back then, though one could say that this type of simple and old-school musk scent was passé by 1985. Still, it's incredibly cheap, very well made, and worth a bottle if you enjoy unembellished 20th century drugstore musks.

7/1/20

Silver Shade (Ajmal)


Throwing it.

I figure this will piss off a few people, but hear me out.

Al Wisam Day is not the best Silver Mountain Water clone. Ajmal Silver Shade is much, much better. And no, I'm not saying this because I'm momentarily enamored with Silver Shade. I'm not creating a hype train. I truly believe Ajmal made a better fragrance than Rasasi did. Let me explain.

I'll start with why I'm not the biggest fan of Al Wisam Day. To be clear, I really like AWD. I think it's a well made tea rose fragrance, with a modern twist. I wear it often. But there are things I don't care for. First, there's its considerable weight; Rasasi made a heavy perfume, in perfume concentration. This is puzzling, because Silver Mountain Water is light, ephemeral, and tuned to a pitch that's often hard to detect. So why did the nose behind AWD strive for density? When I want a powerhouse, I turn to the fougeres and orientals of the eighties, full of woods, spices, and resins. Repurposing SMW as a powerhouse goes against the philosophical underpinnings of SMW.

Second, Rasasi strayed too far from the source material. Creed's fragrance is citrus and blackcurrant with green embellishments (tea buds, violet leaf). It dries down to a gentle twinge of violet and ambergris. Creed's "Millesime" drydown is just Green Irish Tweed with less violet and more ambergris. The nose for Al Wisam Day didn't replicate that. The composion has little to no citrus, a preponderance of lavender, and dries down to a sandalwood and shampoo-floral base.

Lastly, Al Wisam Day has a "metallic" twinge in its top notes. This element is not in SMW. Olivier Creed greenlit a unique citrus accord, not knowing how difficult it would be to replicate. SMW's frigid citrus interacts with aldehydes and ambergris beautifully. It smells similar to a citrus snow cone, where the pertness is underscored not by juiciness, but by temperature.

I get strong tea rose in Rasasi's scent, buttressed on both ends by super-synthetic lavender, and synthetic sandalwood. It's very nice, but reminds me more of Tea Rose, and less of Silver Mountain Water. Enter Ajmal's Silver Shade, a fragrance with a name apparently inspired by Gene Tierney's scenes in The Shanghai Gesture.

Why isn't anyone talking about Silver Shade? Why are there no discussions about it on Fragrantica, basenotes, or in the greater blogosphere? This fragrance is excellent. Where other clones lose the thread, Silver Shade remains on point, and tells the whole story. From top to bottom, it is beautifully conceived. Its smooth opening is full of lucid citrus notes that are rendered as "coldly" as possible, without sacrificing naturalness. They smell crystalline, not metallic and cheap.

Eventually the citrus tapers into a restrained blackcurrant and green tea accord, with a carefully balanced violet note appearing in the blend. The tea is very shy, and manifests as a transparent greenness. The blackcurrant is dark, pert, semisweet. Its fruitiness is accompanied with violet, and avoids the sugared vulgarity of other clones. Eventually a peppery violet leaf asserts itself. This "masculine" note sends the heart into a sheer version of Creed's Green Irish Tweed base.

When people discuss this fragrance, they mention its poor longevity. I don't share that complaint. I get seven hours out of it. It's not heavy. It's not overpowering. I can wear fifteen sprays of this stuff, and not be overwhelmed. The folks at Ajmal understood that SMW is fresh and light. They read a book about the perils of reinventing the wheel, and recognized the beauty of round things. The result is a product that smells balanced and kinetic. At the six hour mark, just when I suspect I'll encounter a pedestrian white musk, something lovely happens.

The drydown yields a delicate plum note, which is light enough to miss if you don't know it's there. It ushers in a base that smells just as lovely and unassuming. How many plum notes do we smell in the afterglow of modern unisex perfumes these days? So far I've only encountered this one. And I can't stress enough how discreet and gentle it is, with floral accents garnishing the fruit. The base smells expensive, which is ultimately why it succeeds as a clone - SMW is far from cheap.

Is Silver Shade a great replica of Silver Mountain Water? I think so. Captive molecules, a complex formula, and a huge budget made SMW a breakout scent. But perfumers have had 25 years to find viable shortcuts to its scent profile. You can weed through the novelty kitsch of Al Rehab Silver, the aquatic splash of Derby Clubhouse Blanche, or view Al Wisam Day through rose-colored glasses. None of them achieve the beauty of Silver Shade. At $20 a bottle, it's the deal of the century.


6/28/20

4711: Still Better Than Farina, Still the Best


Gorgeous Bottle, Gorgeous Contents


I just bought my second 27 oz bottle of this wonderful elixir, after finishing my first about six years ago. It still possesses an autumnal crispness and summery freshness that surpasses anything else I've ever smelled, including many niche "freshies." Its simplicity and timelessness prevail when I'm in need of olfactory air-conditioning, and the beautiful blue and gold label remains a symbol of Old World charm. I consider it a masterpiece of 19th century graphic design.

How many logos have lasted 200 years? Not many. How many products have waded into an ocean of time, survived two Antichrists (Napoleon and Hitler), dozens of wars, numerous pandemics, decades upon decades of economic turbulence, and emerged smelling of fresh fruits and sweet flowers? Well, Jean Marie Farina Cologne by Roger & Gallet did that, too. Except something about Farina's cologne water doesn't quite work, and it's hard to pinpoint what it is. Is it too sharp? Too literal? Not floral enough? Too musky? I don't quite know why I prefer 4711, but if I needed an alibi, I'd say it's the rosemary and neroli in Wilhelm Muelhens' cologne water that wins the day.

Farina's blend doesn't take 4711's "mélange" approach to cologne: bright citrus, woody herbs, and mellow white flowers. Instead, it needlessly dwells on impressing you with an intense blast of natural citrus. It then uses an excessively desiccated orange blossom to segue into a smooth woody amber and white musk base. The amber is attenuated to avoid the "designer cologne" effect of modern fare, and it's well done, but the sharpness of the top, bordering on sourness, and the minimization of herbal notes and cheerful floral chords, makes it an antiseptic and monochrome experience. It's a pointlessly masculine spin on what ought to be an entirely unisex fragrance.

Whenever I bring this up in conversations about cologne, outraged defenders of Farina's version invariably shout, "Muelhens was a huckster who stole Farina's name to sell his inferior plagiarized formula!" To which I say, "That's completely irrelevant." They usually retort with, "4711's citrus smells blatantly synthetic, and its drydown is equally cheap. Farina's citrus is HANDS DOWN the best." To which I say, "Tell that to Tom Ford." This is my roundabout (but unfairly effective) way of telling Farina's defenders that attacking the quality of 4711's citrus notes is the loser's way of telling me 4711 is a failed fragrance. The citrus isn't the point of 4711. Citrus notes, even when done perfectly, are just not that impressive. Sorry, it's the truth. That's why Muelhens' formula pulls my nose past the citrus, and into a handful of rosemary sprigs, which eventually expand into a lovely neroli, and neroli is what makes 4711 the winner.

When Tom Ford farted out Neroli Portofino, he wasn't aping Farina's cologne. Neroli Portofino is by all measures a redux of 4711, down to the color of its bottle. Weirdly enough, after benefitting from far more cash in its formula, Ford's fragrance lacks the gentle charm of 4711, and winds up smelling a bit strident to me. It's still an excellent frag, and likely the only Ford scent I would buy, but with the current Mäurer & Wirtz cologne at around $2 an ounce, it's a little hard to see the point. My point, however, is that Tom Ford recognized that 4711 is about neroli, not citrus.

Besides, the claim that Farina's citrus is better isn't even true. Farina's citrus is excellent, but it focuses on lemon and bergamot, while 4711 uses far more lime. After the explosion of lime-scented drugstore aftershaves of the 1960s and '70s, many of which were surprisingly well made, people unfairly associate even the best of lime notes with "cheap." My guess is 4711's lime was emphasized to lend a better intro to its rosemary middle, as these notes play off their green and woody qualities. 4711 also has a very good bergamot note, and one might argue its lemon is a touch weak, but again I say, who cares? It escapes smelling like lemon Pledge, it's quite a bit better than most of the lemon notes found in your average $50 designer, and it blends very well, so a less-than-photorealistic lemon note doesn't keep me up at night.

There's been no reformulation to 4711, as far as I can tell. If I had to guess at a tweak, I'd posit that the lime note has become a touch more prominent in the last ten years, but that could just be my imagination. Beyond that, I can't smell a lick of difference here. I've owned a few 3 oz spray bottles since 2014, and they all smelled identical. So we should consider Mäurer & Wirtz a very successful purveyor of a fine fragrance. They haven't mucked up a good thing. It smells fresh, natural, and entirely like what a classical eau de cologne should be. My ten year old bottle, empty now for years, smells like I've used it to store rosemary, so that speaks to the quality of the herbal note. It's excellent.

We live in scary, complicated times. It's comforting to know that 4711 has seen much worse. It smells like a guiding light, and in the heat of summer it's the only thing I feel like reaching for. Side note: the "gold" color on the current label is about a full shade paler than the same shade on my older bottle. Whoever makes the label has clearly trimmed some expense there. My message to Mäurer & Wirtz: No biggie, but quit while you're ahead. If you think we don't notice these things, think again.


6/11/20

Chelsea Flowers (Bond no.9)



This is the first Bond fragrance I've ever owned a full bottle of. I bought it blind, on the premise that it gets compared to Creed Spring Flower, and it generally gets positive reviews. It's also one of Bond's "foundational" offerings, released as part of their original lineup in 2003. I bought the 3.3 oz bottle for a little less than half of what Bond wants for it, so not a terrible deal. And I needed to know what Bond can do with a fruity-floral. A good brand will take an otherwise staid floral and raise it to new heights, so I was hoping to smell this in CF.

What I got was a gorgeously-packaged perfume that smells 90% like Tommy Girl by Tommy Hilfiger. What happens in the other 10%? Let me start with the notes - there's a fleeting chamomile tea note in the opening, instead of Tommy Girl's green tea, and no blackcurrant note. The lack of blackcurrant is the most obvious difference, as Hilfiger's scent has distinct elements of currant and cassis leaf throughout its evolution. There are fruity notes in CF, but I can't name them. They smell like a berry of some sort, and maybe a peachy-melon thing, as they're quite sweet.

Another difference is the ingredient quality. Tommy Girl's price averages at $50. What you get for that money is a bright and somewhat sweet tea floral that is just dry and dusky enough to be unisex. Its gender barrier is broken by an aquatic overtone, which refocuses the theme on freshness, rather than florals. The drawback is that TG smells pretty synthetic. Chelsea Flowers is also synthetic, but the quality of its synthetics is fully one notch higher than those used in the Hilfiger. Imagine if Chanel did Tommy Girl instead of Estée Lauder, and that's pretty much the quality of Chelsea Flowers. That sounds bad when you first read it, I know. But read on.

Chelsea Flowers smells satisfyingly good. It's a weird good, but good nonetheless. Its chamomile is tart and short-lived, and transitions into a very abstract white floral accord, with all the flowers blended into one living bloom, which occasionally smells greener and a bit more realistic than I thought it could. Its aquatic overlay is virtually identical to Tommy Girl's, but done with an aroma chemical that seems a touch more delicate and "dewy." There's a soapy freshness to it, and I've been told I smell like I just came out of the shower an hour after applying Chelsea Flowers. It oscillates between smelling like shampoo, and a serious study in floral abstraction. Laurent Le Guernec gave Bond its 1990s-style fresh floral, and they ran with it.

Price is an issue here. As good as it smells, it doesn't smell grey market Creed good. Spending what I spent on this is a ripoff, although not by a ton. It would be fairly priced at about $110. Chanel would charge that much, and like I said, this smells like a Chanel. I happen to think Chanel's prices are fair. But $300 from Bond? Well, you decide, folks. It's not 2003 anymore, and the brand has at least 900 floral perfumes out of their 1500 perfume lineup. So it's not like this is the only stop on the ride. But my main takeaway is that the packaging is stunning, the perfume is quite good for what it is, with good longevity and decent throw, and it's just as fresh and unisex as Tommy Girl, if Tommy Girl were taken to the next level. Is it what I hoped it would be? No, I wanted a variation of Creed's Spring Flower. But if you like this kind of thing, it's worth a sniff.

6/1/20

Derby Clubhouse Blanche (Armaf)



Silver Mountain Water clones are weird. Two years ago, I bought Rasasi's Al Wisam Day, expecting it to be a dead ringer based on everything I was reading, and at best it approximates its template by maybe 60% (or less). So I had to stow expectations for Armaf's Derby Clubhouse Blanche, given its cheaper price point, and less than stellar reputation. I have never received a compliment on AW Day, and figured DCB would also be underwhelming.

Armaf's interpretation is fresher, lighter, and subtler than Rasasi's, and these differences are immediately obvious at first spray. It's also a much simpler composition. Al-Wisam Day is full of sparkling herbal notes, supported in the base by tea rose and synthetic sandalwood. Armaf eschews complexity and employs a quartet pyrmaid: fleeting citrus, green tea, sweet berry, and aqueous musk (presumably a stand-in for ambergris). Though somewhat basic, I think the nose for DCB calibrated its limited palette wisely, choosing a dusky green tea aroma chemical that darkens as it evaporates, respectably mimicking the "ink" in the Creed. The scent's musk was also a good choice, as it radiates an odd, somewhat watery freshness later in the dry down.

I'm not sure what the point of the citrus is, as it lasts twenty seconds off the top, and the "berry" note, which is meant to be blackcurrant, just smells vague and sweet (this is probably one of Creed's captive molecules, which no clone can imitate), but everything feels decently balanced, performance is reasonable, and I think I got a bit more than I paid for here. It's good to note that these kinds of scents are very high-pitched, making olfactory fatigue common, so longevity can be difficult to gauge.

Rasasi's fragrance is more complex, far richer, and probably a better scent all around, but I did receive two compliments from a woman who said she wanted to wear the Armaf herself, and after a week of unbroken wear, I've yet to tire of it. If you're on the fence here, all I can say is, try it. Given its $20 price tag, you can't go wrong. I'm looking forward to smelling how Franck Olivier's Sun Java White compares.


5/13/20

Exploring Silver Mountain Water Clones, and Why I'm Going Climbing



Silver Mountain Water is a weird one. Twenty-four years ago, Creed released a Millesime that has since been relentlessly studied and copied by a multitude of obscure brands, most of them Middle Eastern. These are fragrances you would never hear about if you aren't into fragrances. What makes Silver Mountain Water (SMW) weird is that no mainstream high fashion designer brand has ever picked up on the concept and copied it. Despite having a respectable place in the Creed canon, and being a widely discussed fragrance amongst fragcomm aficionados, SMW remains a "niche" artifact, with no direct link to popular culture.

Why aren't corporate leaders at Chanel, YSL, Gucci, Prada, D&G interested in ripping off this Creed? It's a proven money maker. Creed has openly cited it as one of their top sellers since its release. And it's a considerably easy fragrance to sell. Its fresh composition, loaded with crowd-pleasing fruity-green notes, is relatively timeless. Despite its age, SMW feels as bright and new as it did in '95. Adding to the mystery is the fact that several Middle Eastern companies have recognized the commercial potential of Creed's concept, and successfully monopolized the market with a variety of competent progeny. Why has the West failed to follow suit?

I suppose these questions wouldn't bug me so much if it weren't for Aventus. When Creed released Aventus in 2010, it hit the niche market with a whimper. Basenotes and general fraghead consensus was that Aventus smelled kind of "designer" and "generic." Many were surprised Creed went in that direction. It wasn't until around 2012 that guys began hyping it as liquid Spanish Fly. And it wasn't until 2014 that the term "panty dropper" became synonymous with it. There is some speculation that Pierre Bourdon was the author of Aventus, and I'll get into that in another post this year. But my quick take on it is that Aventus is a very good Creed, but not the most "Creedy" of Creeds. To me, SMW fits that bill much better.

The reason I bring up Aventus here is simple: designers want a piece of the Aventus pie. And why wouldn't they? They've wanted a piece of the Millesime Imperial pie, the Green Irish Tweed pie, the Himalaya pie, etc. That's a lot of pie. Mount Blanc recently issued their version of Aventus. Pineapple notes are popping up everywhere. Established niche and designers are paying tons of attention to it, despite its being ten years old already. And rightly so - it's a great scent. But so is Silver Mountain Water. Why hasn't anyone bothered with little old Silver Mountain Water?

I'm going Silver Mountain climbing in the next few months, to explore some of the offbeat brands from downmarket Western companies, and from Dubai, that have given SMW the time of day. I've been wearing these fragrances for months, and have fully formed opinions of their varying degrees of quality and accuracy. In my opinion, SMW is an interesting, thoroughly postmodern, and utterly compelling fragrance, and exploring its clones has been a lot of fun.

Hopefully my interest in this Creed will help spur along some imaginations in the designer world. Come on, Chanel, come on Gucci, come on YSL, where's your Silver Mountain Water frag? It might seem trite to release a tea and blackcurrant scent in 2020, but given the abundance of smoky oud orientals on the market, I think it's time to switch gears and return to the nineties. Let's go.


5/4/20

My Thoughts on the Molton Brown Line


In 2019 I had the chance to try out some of the Molton Brown fragrances, and reviewed them on Fragrantica. They weren't all that impressive, and I don't feel like spending more than ten minutes on them, so here we go:
Tobacco Absolute: Tobacco is a tough one for any brand to do successfully. You can't use natural tobacco absolute in perfume because of the whole nicotine thing, so reconstructions are necessary. This one takes a sweet honeysuckle accord, a gathering of the floral and green-stem notes, and embellishes it with heavy shakes of black pepper, basil, oregano (yes, oregano), with a hint of something camphor-like, perhaps a kind of ginger effect, at the very top. Smells okay, but I would have vastly preferred a straightforward honeysuckle. It's an underrated note, there aren't enough honeysuckle soliflores out there, and the last one I smelled is the now-defunct Chèvrefeuille by Creed, which I dearly miss.

Russian Leather: Not bad. Lots of synthetic birch tar (IFRA correct birch tar, presumably), imparting a deep, rich, super-smoky bitterness that smells a lot like cigar tobacco. So Russian Leather smells like it could have been MB's Tobacco Absolute, at least for the first fifteen minutes. The drydown brings a bit of a floral sweetness, but it's vague, more ambery, and doesn't hurt an otherwise pristine depiction of the star note. It's hard to find a great leather for under $150. I wouldn't call this great, but if you like smooth leather, you might love this.

Re-Charge Black Pepper: Black pepper? Where? This smells more like white pepper, which is quite different in both taste and smell (and amazing in scrambled eggs). White pepper is creamier, subtler than its darker counterpart. I find this one to be the most "generic guy" of what I've tried from this brand. It's a simple woody amber with peppery overtones, and a cologney-baloney drydown. "Re-Charge" implies that I've purchased on credit one too many of these dull and forgettable designer scents. Definitely not for me, although fifteen years ago I might have considered it.

Geranium Nefertum: Otherwise known as "Geranium Lotus." This is a pretty good one. It's very green, very bitter, as geranium scents typically are, and actually smells fairly natural. Expect a big blast of galbanum and peppery geranium on top, followed by a gradual dusking effect of dew-covered meadow with nondescript floral tones. It's a cool amber, very unisex, and probably an alternative to whatever well-worn fougere you were thinking of wearing instead. Worth the money if you truly love geranium, but if you already have things like Grey Flannel and Jacomo's beautiful Silences, try before buying.
My takeaway is that this is one of those brands that a fraghead will enjoy sampling, but will probably walk away from, unless they're hard up for an affordable upscale designer scent, a scenario I can't imagine myself in. And that's the problem with designers nowadays. So much has been recycled that the inherent need to wear any of them has all but vanished. Hopefully the next decade will bring about some remarkable innovations in themes and structures that make the designer world exciting again. But right now Molton Brown is just holding someone's beer.