4/15/18

"You Smell Like Shampoo" - Why SMW Clones Often End Up Smelling Like Something Else


Not Necessarily Lowbrow Scents.

One day last winter I was wearing Al Wisam Day, when a coworker said, "Bryan, is that you? You smell like shampoo!" I found this comment amusing, because AWD is supposed to smell like Silver Mountain Water, an expensive Creed.

To me, AWD smells like a soapy rose with hints of fruit and woods. It certainly has a quality freshness akin to SMW, and I understand why it draws comparisons to a fragrance five times more expensive, as it doesn't devolve into a "fuzzy" chemical cheapness, or lack longevity. But I feel it's important to refrain from saying that AWD is a suitable substitute for SMW if you're a fan of that particular Creed. If you like SMW, and you can afford a bottle, you should own one, and you should also look into owning AWD as another variation of the idea. However, anyone who thinks that AWD could replace SMW is kidding themselves.

To everyone on the internet who has ever said that AWD is better than SMW, let's get one thing straight: there is no way under the sun that Rasasi spent as much time developing their fragrance as Creed did. When I smell SMW, I smell one of what I consider to be the "lesser" Creeds. It smells expensive and of high quality, but lacks the dimensionality and richness of Creed's top tier products, stuff like GIT and OV and Green Valley. It's more along the lines of Tabarome Millesime and Royal Water (and note, I happen to really like RW). That said, SMW still smells leagues beyond your typical fragrance. The delicate fizz of sharp citrus in the top notes, the mineral tang of papery green tea against a translucent haze of blackcurrant and some difficult to define "ink" note smell well crafted and expensive, with photorealistic intensity. It may not be the most exciting fragrance Creed ever coughed up, but that gentle ambergris drydown is never duplicated by anything else.

Al Wisam Day opens with a piquant fizz of blatantly metallic notes that do not smell lucidly of citrus fruit (but are citrus-like), which rapidly segue into a clean blackcurrant and tea rose note, all of which dries down into a creamy, fresh, fruity floral essence, much stronger and a bit more linear than SMW. Now, here is where it gets interesting. AWD does not smell "cheaper" than SMW, nor does it smell "generic," or "designer," or "simple." It retains an expensive aura, smells unusual enough to be considered niche, and possesses enough complexity and dynamism to remain interesting for hours of wear. However, it radiates far differently than SMW. The Creed wafts off my body like Olivier's glacial mountain stream idea, always clear, always lucid, always offering something new with each sniff.

AWD wafts in a very creamy and opaque manner. The nuances of SMW aren't quite there. Instead, there is a soapy cloud of lavender (the "metallic note" rendered as a cold, herbal twinge), rose and currant, mixed with something like Sandalwood Lite soap. The tea rose is the most obvious to me, and to other people the scent smells very clean and shampoo-like, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as many shampoos smell quite good these days. (I consider "Invigorating Champagne Mango & White Ginger" by Olay Fresh Outlast an incredibly beautiful shampoo, with a scent bordering on being a work of perfumery genius.) But if you are looking to capture the exact same smell of SMW with AWD, it will fall short. This fragrance is, at its heart, a rose fragrance, and the damascones and damascenones used are the same type used in the dirt-cheap Tea Rose by The Perfumer's Workshop. This isn't an essay on mountain freshness, it's an essay on soapy rose freshness. There's a big difference, and familiarity with Creed exposes it.

Al Rehab Silver, on the other hand, captures the citrus and blackcurrant aspect of the Creed with more focus than AWD, and aims more for SMW's top notes. But ARS (oil form) remains stuck in those top notes for the duration of its lifespan. It's as linear and one-trick as it gets. The spray version expands the composition a bit, giving more credence to the inky muskiness of this type of fragrance idea, but winds up reminding me more of Royal Water (a darker scent) than SMW in the drydown. Again, there is no way the perfumer spent anywhere near the same amount of time as it took to make SMW. Creed's nose probably spent a couple of years fine tuning the original formula of SMW. Al Rehab's nose may have spent a week on it, if that.

The bottom line: if you want to smell like a Creed, buy a Creed. Ambergris, real ambergris, which is used in Creed compositions, is not a common note, nor is it easy for budget brands (or low end niche, like Rasasi) to replicate. When you buy a Creed, you're often buying something with a very unique ambergris accord. Still, ambergris isn't for everyone. If you like the idea of a Creed, but don't actually like its execution that much, then you may want to explore the clones. This is why I own Silver and AWD, but not SMW. I like the idea of SMW, but don't actually think the Creed itself is worth the money. I can get the same general idea in AWD for a fifth of the price, and be just as happy, or more so.

If you buy and wear AWD, you will be buying and wearing a shampoo-soapy tea rose fragrance with an hour to ninety minutes of SMW-like top accords that generally replicate the "feel" of SMW without actually replicating the precision craftsmanship of SMW. Don't expect anyone to say, "Hey, you smell like you're wearing Silver Mountain Water." Expect people to say, "Hey, you smell like a nice shampoo." Look, in the world of niche, smelling like a good shampoo isn't really that bad, as long as you don't spend $400 to get there.

I happen to think AWD smells like it could be a type of shaving soap, hence my inclusion of its review this year, the year of shave reviews. Maybe it's the ephemeral brushing of cold lavender on top, followed by a hum of smooth sandalwood below, that reinforces my impression. Though unisex, it smells "manlier" than SMW to my nose. Its clean richness would work well in canned foam, or a shave stick. I associate it with an imaginary $125 luxe version of Barbasol you can only find at one specific hotel in Dubai, if such a thing could exist. I'm hoping to get a bottle of Al Haramain's L'Aventure Blanche soon to compare it to AWD and AR Silver. Hopefully it offers a different twist on this Arabian shave soap idea.



4/8/18

Clubman Musk (Pinaud)


This is the only Clubman product left for me to review, and I've been debating whether I should bother with it since February. I would sneak splashes of this from a Walgreens when I was in high school, and it faded from memory for being the one Pinaud that was blatantly redundant. I knew every drugstore Pinaud but one (no store carried Classic Vanilla), and liked them all, but Musk was pointless. It still is.

The problem isn't that it's too musky (nothing is too musky for a wetshaver), or too sweet, or too synthetic, or too anything. The problem is that it's 99% identical to original Clubman, oakmoss and all. There is a slight tweaking to the formula that gives it a vaguely fresher citrus top accord, followed by a hair-splittingly sweeter drydown, but otherwise it's the same, with maybe one additional loud musk: Clubman with a boost kit. From the bottle, it's a little brighter than the original, and yes, it's quite good. But why buy it when it's so close to Clubman?

Most would agree with me here, and I think this particular product is only for Pinaud completists. Since buying a bottle, I've struggled to find a reason to reach for it after a shave. I'd rather wear the truly sublime Classic Vanilla instead. Skip this one, especially if you already own Clubman and Coachman.


4/1/18

Blue Spice (Lustray/Clubman): Clean Shave




Of the five Lustray aftershaves in my bathroom, this one is my favorite. To my nose it is the only truly successful scent, and thus is the easiest to use. Oddly enough, it's the least favored by most of my fellow wetshavers. Apparently many are turned off by what they consider an "old lady powder" in its drydown, but I read it as a 1970s incarnation of Aqua Velva Ice Blue, with "aqua notes" instead of menthol.

AV Ice Blue spawned an entire universe of blue imitators, and most are variations on the fresh menthol theme. Lustray adopted a novel approach, synthesizing the smell of AV after dilution in water, with the water's scent as the source of its freshness. From there it gets powdery and softly sweet, a crisp talc. What elevates it in my esteem is a complete absence of the dreaded plastic note, which still plagues the Spice lotion. I decanted BS into glass, and within two days the plastic pollution was completely gone. This was interesting to me, because the plastic element was pretty intense from the bottle. Needless to say, I'm glad I decanted.

Blue Spice has considerable oak moss, and emits auras of clean, sweet, and powdery, in that order. Ask me for a recommendation of a different style of AV Ice Blue, and I'd probably point to mentholated congeners instead, but ask if there's an old-school "blue smelling" aftershave still on the market, and Lustray tops my list. "Blue" is a flavor concept: Blue Raspberry, Pepsi Blue, Marlboro Blue. Here, the flavor is your shave water, a swirling slop of used shave cream, witch hazel, and talc, unceremoniously bottled just before it goes down the drain.

3/21/18

Al Wisam Day (Rasasi)

Gorgeous bottle.

Being a lover of rose scents is a tough life for a male in America. Rose is forbidden to me here; I'm expected to appreciate it in small doses as a minor note tucked behind ballsier "manly" notes. I only have one rose soliflore in my wardrobe: Tea Rose by The Perfumer's Workshop. It's a fresh rose, with green leaves and dew drops in the periphery. It's beautiful, but literal. There are no embellishments to the flower. Ask me if rose water, or any successfully-crafted rose soliflore is "barbershop" in any way, and I'd have to say no. Although roses are associated with some western aftershaves and witch hazels, they are generally not at the forefront of the genre.

This changes as you move eastward, where it's fine for men to wear rose. Rasasi is one of many houses in the UAE that have found interesting ways of making fruity-floral roses smell masculine and modern. What sort of house is Rasasi? They have no tendrils in the US market, beyond the occasional Amazon or eBay merchant. By the looks of it, they're an upscale niche house, native to Dubai. They're given to lining their boutique walls with caskets of oud chips, which they sell as incense. I don't like oud, so this doesn't do much for me. But Saudis and I share a love of rose. This gives me a reason to step into Rasasi's luxurious boutique, despite the burning oud chips.

Al Wisam Day is a musky tea rose, and its drydown reminds me of Annie Buzantian's scent. While the photorealism of the rose is similar, Rasasi's florals are buttressed by blackcurrant and bergamot on top, lending a "fresh" effect, and creamy musk below, burnished by a lick of sandalwood. Its rose is fruity, perhaps overly sweet, but I suspect beta-damascenone and other quality rose ketones are used here. It performs in the inverse; top notes are soft, base notes crescendo. I really enjoy this one. For forty-five dollars, I have something that smells like four hundred. If there are barbers in Dubai, I imagine this is their aftershave.


3/10/18

Wild Country Cologne (Avon)

Here's one I'm reviewing because its reputation as a "barbershop cologne" precedes it, and not because I agree with the consensus. I respect Avon as a competent budget brand, but don't have much use for their products. Many older guys (ages fifty and up) are sentimentally attached to the cutesy aftershave decanters of the Johnson and Nixon years, those colored glass bottles shaped like sturgeons and Model T Fords, which are inexplicably popular decades after the Avon playground closed and went corporate. Millennials raise eyebrows when men old enough to be their grandfathers get excited over disposable trinkets. No grandpa, the cowboy boot decanter isn't cool.

Wild Country was released in 1967, and is one of the first offerings by the brand. Badger & Blade is home to its fanbase, and I've read countless reminiscences of Vietnam vets and retirees pining for a fresh bottle of the musky, Canoe-like fougère of their youth. Often they're referring to the aftershave, which is no longer made. Sadly, I cannot join the chorus. Wild Country has been reformulated into an anemic wisp of its former self. Yes, it smells archetypically "barbershop" and very "fougère," replete with standard citrus, lavender, musk, and powder, and if I really concentrate, I can appreciate its soft citrus and lavender notes. But unless I bathe in it, Wild Country barely registers to my nose. After twenty sprays, I get a mild waft of sweet tonka over a whisper of talc, and only the talc remains. It smells good, but it's too simple and short-lived. Thirty minutes later, it's as if I never applied a scent at all.

If Wild Country aftershave has held up enough to be worn, go for it. Mesmerize for Men is currently the only fragrance in my collection to have completely spoiled beyond recognition, so I'm not about to scour eBay for "vintage" Avon. Canoe, Clubman, Royal Copenhagen, and Old Spice are better options, and I wholeheartedly recommend using them instead. Canoe is a better fougère, Clubman and Royal Copenhagen are ballsier, and Old Spice is classic. Wild Country is, put frankly, pretty boring stuff.


3/2/18

Lustray Coachman (Clubman/Lustray): Why?


I remember attending a portfolio review at The Cooper Union College in NY City in 2000. Back then there was no tuition to attend the school, which meant competition for entry was fierce. The front lobby looked like JFK during a hurricane. Students and parents were crammed into every corner, with nearly a thousand applicants clutching their precious portfolios with nervous expressions on their faces. People lined up outside, napped under benches, and despite occasional reassurances from college staff that the review process would be expedited, a grim silence hung over the crowd. Rumor had it that The Cooper Union only accepted 0.5% of its applicants each year. This wasn't a place where people expected their dreams to come true. This was where dreams were re-routed. Rejection was almost a guarantee.

At 18 years old, I had a kernel of hope. I had spent the better part of four years developing a fairly attractive portfolio, but I doubted the bulk of my work would clinch it. Most of my artwork was original, and the original stuff was good, but I knew it wasn't great. This school accepts only those with greatness to foster. In my precocious way, I imagined I could outsmart the system by putting the best piece last. The best piece happened to be a copy of a small portion of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, done in crayon. It had garnered praise from people who were not given to dispensing kind sentiments, and I felt it was my best effort.

When I approached the review board, after six hours of sweltering with a sullen throng of tattooed brats in a dark, wood-paneled chamber, they predictably blew through my original stuff with some raised eyebrows, half-hearted nods, and wry grins. There were a few positive comments, but they were unimpressed. Oddly enough, I sensed that my years of being "encouraged" as a youngster had only yielded the same vapid, self-indulgent work that 99.9% of American teenagers produce, except mine was a little more polished, making it just barely worthy of consideration. I figured that my tedious efforts to truly "create" original content couldn't compete with the simple beauty of antiquity, and waited with bated breath as they turned the final page. At last, the panel's eyes rested on my copy of the Michelangelo.

The response was surprisingly muted. It only took a half second for me to know that I'd blown it. Or, at least, that's what I thought at the time. The only judge to comment gestured for me to come closer, and began making circular hand gestures over the paper. "Bryan, I'd like you to look at this with me for just a moment. First, this is a nice piece, you did a good job of capturing the spirit in the Chapel here, no pun intended."

He then took his hands and used them to partition off one of the calf muscles of the figure in my drawing. "But do you see this calf? When I remove it from its context, does it look like a human calf muscle to you?"

I glowered at the paper sullenly. "Well, no. I guess not."

"No," He said, and removed his hand. "It's a good effort, but I think you still need some work." With that, the portfolio review was over. I was never going to attend a prestigious art college for free. A much more expensive art college awaited me.

Lustray Coachman aftershave is the copy of a great work, and Clubman aftershave is the original. It looks a lot like Clubman (same exact color), and it mostly smells the same, but when my nose searches for the same proportions of notes in its drydown, it finds something that smells a bit disembodied and flat, lacking dimension and depth. Instead of the heady lavender aromatics of its template, Coachman begins with a stale burst of synthetic citrus that rapidly diffuses into a cloud of powdery oakmoss and musk. From the halfway point onward, it smells identical to Clubman, but that first five minutes smells dilute, like something's missing.

I can only ask, why? Why bother releasing a watered down copy of a masterpiece, when the original is already widely available, and only costs two or three dollars more? Why compete with yourself like that? To its credit, Coachman uses real oakmoss, which is listed on the label, and it smells just as pleasantly clean and powdery as Clubman does. It is, quite literally, a barbershop scent. But I already have Clubman, and Clubman smells stronger, richer, better. So why would I bother using Coachman?

It's like my Michelangelo drawing. Why did I bother copying a Michelangelo? Why did I compete with myself like that, including my interpretation of a legendary Master's work alongside my own original ideas? I should have just let whatever untapped genius existed in my original work say everything for me, and left the soulless dupe at home. When it comes to Lustray Coachman, get it if you must, but I suggest reaching for the original instead, to enjoy unembellished. Coachman is nice, but Clubman is great.

My Michelangelo.

2/19/18

Havana (Estée Lauder)


This fragrance is frequently discussed in wetshaver circles, and retains its popularity with users of all stripes, despite at least one reformulation in its 24 year run. It is not to be confused with its revered blue-bongo flanker, Havana Reserva, a "higher concentration" of the scent, released in 1996.*

Much is said on the internet about its busy structure, but I'll limit this review to my interpretation. Havana is essentially a 1990s "fougèriental" with a subtle bay rum lurking under a tropical storm of spices and aromatics. It is the bay rum element that appeals to wetshavers, and understandably so, but this isn't the main attraction for me. I smell Havana as one of the most complex fragrances of the last thirty years. There are so many things happening that it becomes necessary for me to detach from intellectual analysis of it, just so I can enjoy it.

Havana interests me because it is the best surviving example of early 1990s orientals. It is still in production. It is still made with good raw materials. It still smells very dynamic and "old-school." It is still quite loud, and still employs a particular fruity, high-pitched, and very animalic musk, now nearly extinct, which was emblematic of its era. If you are familiar with Vermeil for Men, Rémy Latour's Cigarillo, Balenciaga Pour Homme, Witness, and Aubusson Pour Homme, and any dollar store bay rum, just imagine these fragrances being chopped apart, and then sutured together into a massive hulking Frankenscent. This is what Havana smells like.

It has also been called a "tobacco scent," and it does feature a very clear pipe tobacco note that pervades the drydown. This, in tandem with a rich melange of woody and herbal accords, lends Havana a shimmer that is both pleasurable to wear and eternally fresh; Havana never feels boring or commonplace. An overture of lavender, anise, and tonka imparts the basic idea of an aromatic fougère, which then segues into the softer bay rum in the mid, before the whole brew coalesces into a woodsy-musky amber, similar to those found in Witness, Balenciaga, and Aubusson. No accord smells overtly synthetic, note separation is measured and beautifully balanced, and when it seems the whole thing will collapse on itself, an airy cedar cigar box element spaces everything out and saves the day.

Despite all of this, I find Havana difficult to wear, at least regularly. When I reach for a fragrance after a shave, I'm reaching for a focus. I want a fougère, or an oriental, or a bay rum, but rarely do I want all three, all at once. Another issue is its volume; Havana is a foghorn. One spray fills a room. This it shares with Joop! Homme, and thus is almost impossible to wear to work, for fear that I'll offend half the building. I can't even imagine what Reserva was like, although some claim that fragrance was actually softer.

I highly recommend this scent, not to tobacco lovers (you're better off with Vermeil), or bay rum lovers (just wear bay rum), but to those who remember the early 1990s orientals, with their rich resins, fresh spices, and apple-pie musks. If you enjoy Balenciaga PH and Witness, you'll love Havana.



*According to a response from Lauder to a basenotes member in this thread.