Gabe Oppenheim's The Ghost Perfumer: Creed, Lies, & the Scent of the Century: Did Pierre Bourdon Really Admit To Being Used? Something Smells.

Olivier Creed: Master Perfumer, or Master Manipulator?

I want to preface my remarks by saying that my thoughts on the Creed brand are not entirely favorable. Creed's self-image as "royal" purveyors of fine fragrance is, at its core, unintentionally funny. Nobody with an ounce of intellect wants to be recognized solely for being the personal perfumer for inbreds, no matter how wealthy they are. Lacking a Royal Warrant, the commercial projections of tassels and feathers and pomp and circumstance are merely a veneer over talent, which shouldn't be disguised in the first place. The irony is that Creed has always been ahead of its time, despite their insistence on stamping "1760" everywhere, as if the brand is universally known for its eighteenth century masterpieces. This is all to say that Creed doesn't need the extra flair. 

I think Aventus is overrated. Aventus is "the scent of the century" only insofar as we're seventy-seven years away from the end of it. A lot can happen in a lifetime. Several bigger and more influential perfumes are likely ahead. I've always felt that Aventus was more of a timestamp than a fragrance; its release coincided with the moment when internet hype had caught up with the fragrance community, and thousands of "fragbros" could assail the world with news of their chest-thumping expenditures in one unanimous and unending salvo. By 2010, it was clear that we had devolved from a casual word-of-mouth world to a blood-soaked colosseum of keyboard-warriors, and Aventus proved it. 

Lastly, Creed's retail prices have become utterly absurd. I remember when a four ounce bottle cost $250 directly from the boutique, which was bad enough. That 3.3 ounces now costs $500 is patently insane. Creed is good, but they're not that good. When a brand hikes itself over the $400 mark, it's time to pass. I don't care what the story is, or how good the fragrances might be. There's pricing for premium quality, and then there's just pricing to keep people out. Creed is clearly engaged in the latter practice. I'd have a modicum of respect for them if they kept churning out Aventus-sized hits, one after another, but Viking and Viking Cologne were both met with tepid reviews, and Wind Flowers has a flatulence-inspired name that the company should be embarrassed of. 

I mention all of this to point out that I'm not a "Creed Fanboy" who takes every simpering opportunity to defend Creed and defile its enemies. When someone like Gabe Oppenheim comes along, I give him the benefit of the doubt. His recent nonfiction book, The Ghost Perfumer: Creed, Lies, & the Scent of the Century casts Olivier Creed as a superlative perfume evaluator who twisted his credentials and used one of the best perfumers of the last fifty years to form a billion dollar company. The "Ghost Perfumer" in question is Pierre Bourdon, author of masterworks like Kouros, Cool Water, and Dolce Vita. Oppenheim's core contention is that every time the young and upcoming Bourdon lost a brief for a designer fragrance, Olivier swooped in and stole it for Creed.                           

For this to be possible, Oppenheim has to illustrate the character dynamics of these two men in a way that is both convincing and historically accurate. I haven't read the book, but I have watched Oppenheim give several lengthy interviews with various personalities in the fragrance community, and having heard the author's take on the subject ad nauseam, I have some issues with it. The dynamic he describes is one where Olivier was a rakish Hitchcock villain, all tweed suits and ties, tall and handsome, a man who was bored with his family's tailoring business and wanted to make a name for himself in the perfume industry. Pierre was the young and naive son of a Dior executive who sought fatherly approval from anyone who would give it, and somehow found it in Olivier, who promised him the world if he would just look the other way whenever his ideas were stolen. 

The first of these ideas was for Lancôme's Sagamore (1985). When Pierre's brief was rejected, Olivier was there to snatch it up and name it Green Irish Tweed. According to Oppenheim, Olivier paid Pierre nothing more than a few custom-tailored Creed suits. Oppenheim suggests in many interviews that Cool Water was Pierre's revenge bid against Creed; when GIT gained commercial traction, the perfumer sought to undermine its uniqueness by thrusting a near-identical and much cheaper alternative into the designer market. The rest is history: Cool Water wound up being the more famous and popular fragrance, and GIT remained obscure until the internet could lend it a hand. 

I find this anecdote fascinating. It rings true in the sense that there's no way Pierre Bourdon did not at least contribute to Green Irish Tweed. The similarities between it and Cool Water are too strong. Also, Jean-Louis Sieuzac is on record saying that he wished Sagamore had never been attributed to him, because it's been discontinued for many years, while GIT and CW remain in production. What's also interesting about this story is it suggests that something like Tres Nuit by Armaf, which is basically GIT on a designer budget, smells the way Sagamore might have, had Lancôme been a little wiser. But there's one thing that doesn't really make sense to me, and Oppenheim never attempts to explain it: If Creed wanted Bourdon's work, why didn't he just hire him? 

The supposition at play here is that because of Pierre's daddy issues and personal insecurities, Olivier could save money by taking advantage of his vulnerability and pilfering his ideas for free, which might explain why he sidestepped hiring the perfumer. But that's a God of the Gaps theory, the Gap being what Pierre offered to Lancôme in 1985, versus what eventually became Green Irish Tweed. There's no way that the rejected brief that Pierre submitted to Lancôme was turn-key for Creed. Someone had to tinker with it, edit it, and eventually reformulate it into the Creed fragrance. And all of this had to be done in the span of a few months, if Oppenheim's timeline is to be believed. Who supplied Olivier with the finished fragrance? How was Bourdon's vision merged with Olivier's? 

The other problem is one of circumstance. By 1985, Pierre Bourdon had already gained global recognition for his work on Yves Saint-Laurent's Kouros. His landmark musky fougère was hailed as "The Most Expensive Perfume in the World." YSL launched the fragrance with a widely-publicized party featuring celebrities and industry names. Kouros went on into the eighties as one of the brand's bestsellers. It is still in production, and still commands a premium. Finding a vintage bottle of Kouros is like finding a nugget of gold. So the suggestion that Pierre Bourdon was sulking on the sidelines waiting for validation from Creed is a bit hard to swallow. 

But let's give Oppenheim the benefit of the doubt here, and say he's correct in his analysis of what happened. He says that Pierre told him this. He says that Sieuzac confirmed it. And he says that it didn't stop there; in 1995, Olivier stole another rejected brief from Pierre, this time for L'Eau d'Issey, and made it into Silver Mountain Water. He presumably did it again and again with Millésime Impérial, Spring Flower, and Original Santal, although there's not as much mention of these. The SMW story is a mirror image of the one for GIT, and yet here it's even less plausible. By 1995, Pierre Bourdon had authored Cool Water and Dolce Vita for Dior, both hugely successful. He'd also created Féminité du Bois for Shiseido, which was an iconic niche subvariant of the plummy violet-woods idea that eventually became a Serge Lutens mainstay. 

Are we really to believe that Pierre Bourdon was yet again a victim of Olivier's modus operandi? That his brief was pinched and turned into Silver Mountain Water? One thing that Gabe Oppenheim repeats in each interview is that Pierre Bourdon explicity joked with him about how bad Olivier Creed was at creating a formula budget. According to this story, because he was bad with numbers, Olivier would just tell his team to stack the formulas with the most expensive versions of everything. Can't decide which amber to use? Just use real ambergris. This is what Oppenheim claims Bourdon told him. But is that what Pierre Bourdon actually said? Because when pressed by Persolaise on the ambergris question, Oppenheim contradicts himself and says, "Oh no, it's all Ambroxan." 

Again, Silver Mountain Water didn't just magically materialize from the brief for L'Eau d'Issey. Someone had to sit down and reformulate the idea. There are moments in his interviews when it sounds like Oppenheim is saying that Olivier took the formulas and simply upgraded the materials, i.e., took the exact formula for Sagamore and instead of using cheap synthetics, used real iris butter, real lemon verbena oil, etc. But again, GIT never smelled that natural to me, and I doubt that the original formula that Pierre Bourdon submitted for Sagamore was exactly what was used by Creed. Same goes for Silver Mountain Water. So who was doing the reformulating, who was doing the modding, and who actually created these perfumes? Maybe the book explains, and I just need to read it, or perhaps we're all expected to take Oppenheim's word for it, full stop. I don't know. 

He describes Olivier Creed as a "Master Evaluator" of perfumes. He compliments Creed as someone who could identify a "hit fragrance" simply by putting his nose on a whole bunch of things. He suggests that the brand's success has relied on Olivier's ability to detect the exact version of something that will make it hugely successful. He implies that Olivier Creed has an excellent nose in this regard, but in the same breath says that he isn't a perfumer. Everyone says that he isn't a perfumer, and never was. But how can the man be an excellent perfume evaluator for an independent brand that doesn't employ an in-house perfumer, and not wind up being the perfumer himself? Is everything stolen? Are there eight or nine jilted perfumers floating around the industry, hating Creed? If so, why hasn't one of them ever taken legal action? There's a house, and there's a house of cards. Which one is Creed? 

Oppenheim is asked this, of course, and his response is always that Creed strikes a verbal agreement that the other man can never pass up. He tells them he'll help them launch their careers by giving them a crack at a Creed, or that he allows them to cite their Creed creations within the confines of the industry to get other work, or that he simply leases his name to their portfolios to lend them street-cred. Apparently Jean-Christophe Hérault was allowed to tell the public that he authored Aventus, the first to be given this freedom. But again, Hérault was apparently not paid much for his trouble. 

Whenever Oppenheim discusses this, I sense his confusion. He doesn't seem to have a strong grasp on the subject matter, and at times doesn't even seem familiar with the very industry he claims to have covered here. For example, in his interview with Persolaise, he slips up and claims that Thierry Wasser was fired from Guerlain. When asked about this, he backpedals and says he was "ousted," or that he thinks he was ousted based on a phone conversion he had with Wasser. Meanwhile, Persolaise and his audience are like, What the fuck is this guy talking about? 

It's pretty clear what happened there. Gabe had been bumping his gums about Wasser being on the outs at Guerlain, which obviously got back to him, and he phoned to set the record straight. He then grilled Oppenheim for saying he was "sharing responsibilities with Delphine Jelk," and added, "Well, if that's how it is here, why don't you just call Delphine, then?" and hung up on him. Gabe thinks the phone call proves Wasser was unhappy about being made a "figurehead" at Guerlain. It actually proves the opposite. 

This is idiocy of the highest order. It's obvious that Oppenheim was wrong about Wasser's position in relation to Jelk. Wasser knew it, got pissed, and called Oppenheim to make it clear that he wasn't going to discuss anything about the industry with him anymore -- he could call Delphine for that -- sarcasm served. Who knows what made Oppenheim think Wasser had been fired, but he's clearly wrong. If you're just getting into writing about the perfume industry, it's a bad look to offend Guerlain's top nose. 

That particular moment in the canon of Oppenheim interviews is the one that made me sit up in my chair. It was in that instant that I realized that Oppenheim has a processing issue. He reads into things, rather than listening to what is being said. It raises the inevitable question: If he bumbles a basic fact like Thierry Wasser's employment, how much of what Pierre Bourdon told him got scrambled-up in the book? What if Bourdon merely wasn't paid enough when he worked for Creed? In other words, what if Oppenheim simply missed the part about the perfumers wanting their ideas to go somewhere, rather than nowhere at all? If price was no obstacle, and if Olivier was really as carefree about budgeting as he is made out to be, why wouldn't perfumers take their ideas to him first instead of last? 

The thing I find least credible about Oppenheim's story is the daddy-issues angle of his biographical account of Bourdon. Supposedly his Dior-adored father found young Pierre's compositions to be inferior, and frequently said so. This created a sense of insecurity in Bourdon that Olivier preyed on, according to the book. It's silly to suppose that the man who founded Takasago Europe and signed no fewer than five blockbuster releases in the span of ten years was some insecure pushover who got steamrolled by a then-unknown businessman with an invisible brand. The polarities of who these men were was the opposite of how they're described. Olivier Creed was a nobody in the eighties. He was probably fumbling around for a marketing angle well into the nineties. By 1983, Pierre Bourdon had already conquered the industry. What need would he have to turn to an unknown entity? Creed would likely have begged Bourdon for a brief. 

Supposedly much of Oppenheim's book was spurred along by Jean-Claude Ellena, because Ellena's brother Bernard was apparently one of the first perfumers to be taken for a ride by Olivier. Oppenheim says that Bernard Ellena created Creed's Acier Aluminium, and that he was never compensated. Supposedly this gave Jean-Claude the impetus to help him write the book, and again, if this is true, it's mind-blowing. But this tidbit invites another gremlin into the narrative, because prior to Green Irish Tweed, the Creed brand had many "grey-cap" creations on the market, things that were considered excellent, yet which mysteriously have no attributions other than to Creed himself. The listeners can content themselves to say, "Bernard was behind Acier Aluminium," but who was behind Royal English Leather, Royal Scottish Lavender, Ambre Cannelle, Epicea, Orange Spice (which was pre-Kouros), Royal Delight, Santal Imperial, Chevrefeuille, and Zeste Mandarine Pamplemousse? 

I call this the Great Grey Cap Mystery. Nobody has been able to explain it. How did Creed churn out so many solid EDTs before they were even a household name? Who was doing all this work behind the curtain? How did the brand manage to maintain such a high level of workmanship and material quality decades before internet notoriety gained them hundreds of millions in annual sales? Where did this level of perfumery pedigree stem from? If Creed himself was merely an "evaluator," then who else assisted with creating his pre-millennium range? The EDTs were vaulted in the late 2000s, just before Aventus was released. I've read countless basenotes and fragrantica forum threads discussing how fraudulent Creed is, yet I've never seen anyone explain where these fragrances came from. How did Olivier manage it? It remains a mystery. 

Luca Turin thinks Oppennheim's book is excellent, which gives me pause. Turin is so fiendishly biased against Creed that I almost wonder if his real name is Luca Turin Creed, a black sheep trying to disassociate from his family. In the 2008 edition of The Guide, he repeatedly contradicts his glowing estimation of Bourdon. His reviews piss all over Silver Mountain Water and Millésime Impérial. He says, "Erolfa always smelled nasty to me." Tania Sanchez gives Individuel and Thé Brun two stars each, which Turin agreed with. Turin loves Kouros and Cool Water (calls Bourdon a genius), but the only Bourdon Creed that gets four stars and a nod is GIT. It doesn't figure. 

But then again, whenever Creed enters the picture, things seem to get kaleidoscopically weird. Up is down, left is right, cats live with dogs, and Pierre Bourdon is the little guy who got taken for ride after ride. Or maybe Gabe Oppenheim is the wrong man to write a book about this stuff? He was just a sports writer before this book, so I'm not sure how much of what he says should be taken seriously. Then again, I'm just a blogger, so you shouldn't take what I say very seriously, either.  


My Thoughts On Post-Covid Cool Water

New Script to the Left.

Eight years ago I purchased a 4.2 fluid oz bottle of Cool Water by Davidoff, and I wrote that Cool Water's formula had officially been destroyed by Coty. It may have been a stale bottle, or it was truly a lame reformulation of a classic that should never have been altered in the first place. I took my time with that bottle and noticed two things: It grew subtly stronger over time, and the liquid changed to a light green. I guess this explains why old bottles look greenish-blue. The juice changed with age (although I think script-font bottles did use a darker glass). In any case, it improved slightly, but still smelled stale. 

Fast-forward to today, and I picked up a 2.5 oz bottle of the newest formulation. There has been a community rumor going around for years now that the smaller sizes for fragrances contain slightly stronger fragrance, while the larger and "jumbo" sizes (like 6.7 oz bottles) have watered-down concentrations, which may or may not be true. I really don't know. What I notice with the 2.5 oz Cool Water is it smells sharper, clearer, and fresher than the previous bottle did, and it comes in packaging that is noticeably different as well. 

This new packaging has yet another variation on the font of Cool Water. Now the "L" of "Cool" is a line with no loop, and the "W" of "Water" lacks the flourishes on either end (downward rake on the left, overhead swoop to the right), with nothing more than a slanted style. Also, "eau de toilette" is printed on one line instead of two at the bottom. The color of the glass, the bevel cut, and the cap are all the same. If anything, the new glass may be a shade darker, which might be an illusion due to the smaller size. 

The new formula smells pretty good to me. Longevity and projection seem to be the same, but I think they amped-up the top accord of crab apple and lavender, with brighter fruit and floral notes, and also perked up the peppermint and rosemary by a hair, which is nice. I get a bit more iris in the mid, and a bit less violet than I used to, but the iris and tobacco in the drydown play very well. Coty has been mis-marketing Cool Water as an aquatic for many years, and so it's interesting to me that they haven't attempted to make it smell like one. Thankfully they've still kept the original scent profile, and when I compare it to my 2006 bottle, it smells like its old self, albeit in a fresher tone. 

Covid-19 may have come for Cool Water. In 2020, a terrible pandemic swept the globe, and damaged the olfactory senses of millions of people, some temporarily, others for good. This scourge of the nasal passages punished not just civilians, but also fragrance industry workers. Imagine the Cool Water division of Coty in the thick of 2020. Several high-profile executives get Covid, and suddenly are unable to interpret perfume - any perfume. Things from Dior's Poison to Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille to, yes, Cool Water, were suddenly nigh undetectable to those who were accustomed to detecting everything. What were once vivid scent profiles with varying textures and weights had suddenly vanished into thin air.

Cool Water would have been especially undetectable. It's certainly possible that my previous bottle was stale, but I don't really think so. I think it was Coty's pre-pandemic formula of the 2010s that had been whittled down to a shadow of its former self. Greed and cynicism led to Coty gutting its flagship fragrance, and they basically took the deodorant formula and made it the fragrance formula. Predictably, this led to complaints by people on Fragrantica and YouTube, which further sullied Cool Water's reputation.

But then the Great Anosmia of 2020 took hold. Executives struggled to smell, which meant the formulas needed to reverse course. My theory is that they dug into the archives and retrieved the formula from the mid 2000s, and threw it into 2.5 oz bottles (I haven't seen any 4.2 oz bottles of this new packaging, but I'm sure they're out there in droves). A version of Cool Water that most people haven't smelled in years was revived, simply to make it possible for everyone at Coty to smell what they sell. By resorting to using a previous formula instead of yet another reformulation, they saved money (no need to hire perfumers), and put the savings into the formula budget. 

I don't think it's any accident that Coty issued Cool Water Parfum in 2021, or Cool Water Reborn in 2022, both of which were heftier than anything the company had released in a long time. To keep pace, I think they supercharged the original fragrance and hoped nobody would notice the timing. Now, is this to say that Cool Water is really going to behave the way Lancaster's version did twenty years ago? Maybe, or maybe not. It all depends on exactly how faithfully they adhered to their prior formula. It's possible they cut some corners, despite wanting to rejuvenate the intensity, and these betrayals will make themselves evident in the years to come. I'm not entirely sure how far back they turned the dial. All I can say is, it smells like they turned it back. For the first time in living memory, a company reversed their bullshit. 

Of interest to me is how beautiful Cool Water is, and how well it stands against the ravages of time. I think Green Irish Tweed helped Coty keep it in production, with Creed's landmark perfume drawing men and women in to make the comparison, which had the unintended effect of bolstering Davidoff's fragrance and keeping it alive. The similarities between the two fragrances are undeniable, and Cool Water remains the best alternative to GIT if you're looking for Pierre Bourdon's work. 

I still consider it to be Bourdon's eau de toilette version of GIT, sort of the way Chanel has different versions of the same scent in different concentrations (Coco EDT is entirely different from the EDP). If Creed did EDTs of their perfumes, GIT's would inevitably smell like Cool Water. It's fascinating that Bourdon executed this concept while under contract with two different brands. I imagine that he wanted to give Creed the Cool Water formula for GIT, but just hadn't figured it out yet, and so Davidoff was the lucky winner. 

With its sprightly notes of minty aromatics, apple, lavender, neroli, tobacco, iris, violet, and musk, Cool Water remains a masterpiece, and something every man should have in his collection. It's a modernized and lighter variation of Green Irish Tweed, no more synthetic than its predecessor (if we're being honest), and well worth the twenty bucks you'll pay for a bottle. But a word to Coty: Bring back the original all-script logo and font. Bring back the brass-colored lettering. Give us the white rectangle on the box again, with the difficult to read words scrawled and crossed on the cardboard. It was classier, it was easier on the eyes, and it kept the riff-raff out. 


Tres Nuit (Armaf)

If you'd asked me twenty years ago if Tres Nuit by Armaf (which was actually released in 2015, but let's pretend for a minute) smells like Creed's Green Irish Tweed, I would have said it's pretty close, especially in the top notes, but that it's a tad soft, synthetic, and thin in the base, and falls short overall. If you ask me now? Entirely different answer. 

Green Irish Tweed has always been an aberration in the brand's range. It's the one Creed that is blatantly synthetic, yet it's that luxury soap quality that makes it smell great. The list of chemicals is astounding: Dihydromyrcenol (> 15%), Ambroxide, Galaxolide, Methyl Octine Carbonate, Methyl Heptine Carbonate, and it goes on. In isolation they smell cheap, but together they're heavenly. Pierre Bourdon's original 1985 fougère was a resounding breakthrough in masculine perfumery, and a singular masterpiece for Creed. 

Over the years, GIT has changed. It went from having the world's smoothest and richest sandalwood base, to having no sandalwood base. It went from having a grassy green apple top, to having a muted minty opening that resembles Aspen a little more than it should. To conceal the lack of precious wood notes in the drydown, Creed amped up the iris (irones) and violet (ionones), which resulted in a rich, purple-floral accord that smells great but linear. These changes made GIT vulnerable to the likes of Dubai-based Armaf and its well-tuned gas chromatographs. 

Enter Tres Nuit in 2015, right around the time when GIT lost its luster. Whoever put this scent together did two things soundly: They studied several vintages of their template, and spliced together their rendering of two different GITs. They used the diffusively aromatic top accord of pre-2005 GIT, which, when compared side-by-side with Lancaster Cool Water's top accord, is nearly indistinguishable, and they incorporated the simplified floral musk drydown found in the post-2011 version of GIT. The result smells so much like Green Irish Tweed (and not Chez Bond) that I no longer need to buy the Creed. 

Many reviewers claim that Tres Nuit contains a strong lavender note that isn't in GIT. I think the people saying this are just "joining the crowd," so to speak. One or two people said Tres Nuit has lavender, so now everyone says it has lavender. I don't really smell a strong lavender note, although there's certainly lavender blended in there, as there is with Cool Water. But there's also a soft lavender in GIT, so I'm not sure why detecting a bit of it in Tres Nuit is supposed to make it wildly different. These are all fougères, people. 

Edit 5/23/23:

I've been watching interviews of Gabe Oppenheim, author of The Ghost Perfumer: Creed, Lies, & the Scent of the Century. In them, he claims that Pierre Bourdon's brief for Lancôme's Sagamore was essentially the formula for Green Irish Tweed, and alleges that Olivier Creed pilfered it after Lancôme rejected it. Supposedly this was something Creed did repeatedly with many of Bourdon's rejected briefs, and he did it without ever paying him. If true, it's a hell of a story. (That's a very big "if," and I'll follow up soon with another article on the subject.) 

It would mean that Tres Nuit is basically what Sagamore would have been, had Lancôme been a little wiser. Lancôme is a typical cosmetics brand that shrewdly balances its formula budgets, and it doesn't spend absolute top dollar on its perfumes, so it's compelling to think that Sagamore would have been almost exactly like Tres Nuit, i.e., GIT on a designer budget. This really blows my mind, to be honest. Oppenheim's contention creates a very interesting list of "what-if" scenarios, and the Sagamore brief is one of them. 

Like all things, the credibility of the author's claims is problematic, and I look forward to unpacking why I believe he might be only partially accurate in his assertions concerning Bourdon and Creed. 


Treng Waves (Ibrahim Fuhaid)

Treng Waves won Fragrantica's Editor's Choice Award for 2022, which caught my attention. Judging from Ibrahim Fuhaid's Instagram page, it seems he works with a diverse range of materials to create his fragrances, including a wide variety of natural tinctures and extractions. I'm not sure that he needs to, and I don't like this fragrance. 

I want to like it. The pyramid for Treng Waves appeals to me, with notes of tea, peach, citron, lavender, ambergris, and leather. The top accord of citrus and peach is delightful, with a juicy and green aroma that evokes a bright Saturday morning. However, it's quickly followed by a musky designer leather scent that reminds me of Ombré Leather, blended with a hint of Kouros. I've smelled this sort of thing many times before in old-school designer frags from the eighties and nineties. This one is a little more transparent than most, and a strange haze of peach lingers in the background during the six hours that Treng Waves lasts. Longevity is relatively poor, as is projection. Meh.

This fragrance isn't prohibitively expensive, and I like its bottle. Fuhaid is relatively new to the scene, and I think he deserves praise for taking his time and not flooding the market with releases, like many upstart niche houses have in recent years. He has one other perfume, Vinoud, and I'm interested in wearing it. But Treng Waves is just a smidgen too cheap and derivative to spur me along. It doesn't help that Elie Tahari's EDP, with its lush bergamot, pear, violet, and tea accord, smells infinitely better at a quarter of the price. 


MEM (Bogue)

Photo by inkknife_2000

It would be futile to attempt a long and detailed description of MEM, as others have done elsewhere. Instead, I will provide a basic testimony, and allow you to interpret Antonio Gardoni's creation on your own. As an amateur fragrance writer, I lack the skill necessary to do it justice. Its notes flicker like fireflies in the bleak pitch of understanding, providing a mere glimpse of the transcendent and elusive nature of great perfumery. 

MEM is a floral fougère, front-loaded with lavender. Many layers of lavender. These consist mostly of bitter French distillate, interspersed with sweet English. They're elemental but expansive, and speak to the gloriously aromatic facets of the flower. There are supposedly five kinds of lavender in this opening phase, and it smells so intense that I hallucinate other things, phantom flowers and herbs that loop in and out of perception, always returning to the familiar Lavandula. As time passes, the scent of jasmine sambac absolute merges with the creamy, almost-coconut aroma of aldehyde C18, and together they fuse with the spicy presence of sandalwood, creating a well-defined and sturdy accord. White floral notes are plentiful, almost overwhelming in their dynamism, with lucid orange blossom and sweet osmanthus vying for attention behind a purple veil. The heart of this fragrance is, to my nose at least, a white and yellow floral bouquet. 

There are moments of indolic blossoms, brief bursts of fruity sweetness, natural warmth, and freshness in abundance. At no point does MEM come across as a synthetic parody of itself. It maintains its playful hum for hours, exuding a carnal beauty that few would expect from a simple bottle with a soft rubber cap. It evokes the feel of an erotic encounter in a lavender field, a farmer's daydream bottled up and ready to go. Majestic stuff. 


Rosa Greta (Eau d'Italie)

Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale, the owners of Eau d'Italie, were inspired by Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, also known as Greta Garbo, and made her their muse when they created Rosa Greta. The story goes that Garbo and her lover once visited the Amalfi town of Ravello to share a night of passion, and with the locale's seaside ambiance and dense patches of roses, Murena and Sersale had their romantic brief. 

I happen to like rose fragrances, and I've been wearing Tea Rose by The Perfumer's Workshop for years. Despite having worn several niche offerings, I feel that $10 Tea Rose is still the most compelling rendition of the flower, but I'm open to Murena and Sersale's persuasive marketing. Say what you wish, but they have a concept here. Garbo's screen career transitioned seamlessly from the silent film era to the "talkies," and her offscreen persona was famously reclusive and mysterious. Also, it's rumored that she was gay, a fact that helps me to better understand Rosa Greta. It goes on brisk and green and translucent, with crisp notes of green tea and a tart fruit that resembles red currant. It's a strikingly modern and fresh intro for a scent that pays homage to a Hollywood icon.

Within twenty minutes, the green and fruity accord transitions to a dulcet and crystalline rose, and it's quite verdant and fresh. I'm intrigued by how Firmenich's Fabrice Pellegrin managed to strike a harmonious balance between the lushly floral heart of the scent and its woody lining. Upon its release in 2017, Sebastian Murena commented to Fragrantica that old-fashioned roses weren't his style, and that he wanted Eau d'Italie's newest perfume to reflect a more contemporary finesse. He complimented Firmenich for bringing his vision to life. What he didn't mention was how Pellegrin gave his rose perfume a five o'clock shadow; at about five hours into wear time, Rosa Greta gets noticeably heftier, with distinct notes of violet, violet leaf, and blackcurrant running parallel to the rose. 

The effect feels familiar and comfortable, yet also original. It's as if a whispering breeze of Green Irish Tweed has rustled through the garden. The composition is acutely feminine to the casual passerby, but vaguely masculine to those who pause to consider it. Pellegrin's generous drydown of rosy esters and Ambroxan only bolsters the experience. Rosa Greta is beautiful, powerful, and very modern. Garbo would be proud. 


Orgasmo (Hilde Soliani)

Orgasmo was inspired by a cup of iced almond coffee that Hilde Soliani had one day at the beach. That must've been one heck of a brew. I envision Hilde receiving her beverage, taking an unsuspecting sip, and shazam! Her eyes roll back into her head, her lungs exhale, the surf crashes into the sand, and she gasps for someone to bring her a whole pitcher of the stuff. It was so good that life choices were made. Artists are like that.

Unfortunately, artists are also a bit narcissistic, and Orgasmo is a work of pure narcissism. It doesn't take much to do a flavor in perfume form. IFF stands for "International Flavors & Fragrances." It all comes from the same place, and throwing some amaretto, a few milky lactones, and a dash of vanilla into an EDT isn't rocket science. What would possess anyone to think that 100 ml of a digestif on the rocks is worth $175? 

As advertised, it begins with a cool and woody almond, followed by a sensation of plush milkiness that gets ever more vanillic on the retrohale. Eventually it settles into the staleness of a sorta-coffee, sorta-amaretto, sorta-milk thing. It is beige and well behaved and utterly torpid, with nothing else happening in its six-hour run. Orgasmo is as exciting as finding a copy of Ethan Frome on the Jersey Transit to New Brunswick. Crack it open, settle in, try not to smell anything, and know you aren't living your best life.


Ulysse (Vicky Tiel)

Contrary to popular belief, Vicky Tiel did not invent the miniskirt; Mary Quant did. With that aside, she did release a fragrance called Ulysse, which hit shelves in 1998. It's one of those oft-forgotten classic masculines that I'll occasionally spot in the dusty corners of fragrance shops, a relic of the nineties with a minuscule fanbase that has somehow kept it in production. I finally got around to wearing it this month, and I have some thoughts. 

Fragrantica claims that Ulysse conveys a prominent mignonette note. Reviewers there and on Basenotes also frequently mention that it has a yuzu citrus note in the opening accord. Here's my problem with all of this: Precious few Westerners have ever actually smelled yuzu (zest or juice), and even fewer have any clue what mignonette is. Reader, I suggest you take all reviews of Ulysse that mention in gushing detail its rendering of these notes with a grain of salt. They aren't truthful. 

However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit outright that I've spent weeks pondering exactly what Ulysse does smell like. As it lights on skin, it smells distinctly fruity, sweet, fresh, yet none of its top notes elucidate on a particular congener in nature, and thus they elude description. The perfumer briefly achieved the pinnacle of success in his field by cleverly assembling conventional materials into an unorthodox and original form. During its first ten minutes, Ulysse is a compellingly abstract fragrance that manages to evoke a wistful sense of mystery, despite the obvious presence of conventional citrus aromatics and "grapey" methyl anthranilate. It reminds me of Laguna, which was released seven years prior, although it's ironically more feminine. 

At around the ninety-minute mark, I notice the unique opening of the fragrance giving way to a more common powdery fougère scent that is reminiscent of Avon Wild Country or Pinaud Clubman. An inert and sour rose note resolves itself amid a green haze, and a woody and mossy side of Ulysse settles in. It's a puff of dehydrated lavender permeated by soft florals (rose, carnation) and moss. After seven hours, Ulysse hangs close to skin and fabric, but I still get complimented on it. This tells me it's potent enough, with respectable longevity and sillage.

Its strength reminds me that Vicky Tiel's fragrance is a product of the nineties. I can't appreciate its trees, but I like its forest, a pine-green and terracotta expanse with muted floral-patterned curtains and VH1 playing on a Sharp television. Ulysse was the fragrance that college students wore when they saw "There's Something About Mary" and "Saving Private Ryan." It's fresh, which appeals to women (my girlfriend perked up when she caught an early whiff), but it turns dry and floral and a bit old-school woody (she then wrinkled her nose). It's worth far more than I paid, and I'm glad it's still around. She may not have invented the miniskirt, but Vicky did release a very good and surprisingly emblematic fragrance for men.  


Hearts & Daggers for Men (Ed Hardy)

Ed Hardy fragrances are weird. I get the whole tattoo artist brand legacy, and thus the godawful packaging and "edgy" names, but the question remains as to who they're for. Love & Luck comes sheathed in a canister that looks like it was designed by a seventh grader, yet under the cheese is an unadorned column of glass containing a very good woody-floral musk, the sort of thing that appeals to adults with excellent taste. 

Hearts & Daggers holds similar intrigue as something by the same perfumer, Oliver Gillotin, and of course the packaging is bilious. What I've read online has me believing that even the best fragrance writers are overthinking this scent. Many say it's a bizarre aquatic with cocktail accords of martini and olives alongside a pear-flavored umbrella drink, but I don't think it's quite that complicated. H&D was released in 2010, only a few years after 2007's Chrome Legend, in which Chrisophe Raynaud and Olivier Pescheux famously veiled a jasmine bouquet under a bevy of aldehydes and salinated musks. They used congeners of Muscenone and Habanolide to abstract its feminine core, and it smells like the same trick is used in H&D, except here the chemicals overlay a pear note. While pear isn't quite as compelling as jasmine, it's still interesting to smell an inexpensive salty musk accord that can elucidate on the various facets of something ostensibly familiar and simple. Sometimes I get whiffs of the juicy sweetness of the fruit, while in others I get drier and woodier nuances. Why Gillotin stopped at pear and didn't include a few other fruits is beyond me, but I imagine the budget was his main constraint. 

I do think he misjudged the degree to which Raynaud and Pescheux imbued Legend with its sea-spray effect, because it feels like H&D is the 8-bit version of Azzaro's 64-bit display. But when the prickly saltiness recedes, the story of Hearts & Daggers rests on one clear little thing: pear. It's $12 for a large bottle of this, but for a similar frag done much better, you might as well pay a few bucks more and get Legend. 


Gravitas (Naughton & Wilson)

Dan Naughton is a YouTuber and fragrance enthusiast, and I've been watching his videos since 2018. He shares my love of old-school masculines, the fragrances of the seventies, eighties, and early nineties that are rife with rich woody and musky notes. It shouldn't be a surprise then that his first collaboration with Scottish fragrance entrepreneur Scott Wilson and Master Perfumer John Stephen (of Czech & Speake fame) yielded something that smells like it was formulated in 1980. That it hit shelves in 2020 is, in a word, amazing. 

Gravitas Pour Homme (no women's version, btw) isn't a complex fragrance, but what it does, it does well. The first hour of wear is strongly reminiscent of Le 3e Homme (1985), only it smells more natural than Caron's current fragrance. In lieu of jasmine, John Stephen paired a very heady lavender with a fruity-musky accord, and the spring-like bracken effect is sweet, powdery, wet-shavery. When the sunny opening subsides, the lavender grows sturdier and woodier, and a patchouli and sandalwood duo imbue it with a familiar cigar-box feel. It sort of veers into Ungaro Pour L'Homme II territory by this point, as it hums along for another five or six hours before fading into a mildly animalic musk. It feels a bit hum-drum at times, but the quality of materials is high enough for me to bear some admiration here. Gravitas smells good, like a square-jawed and reliable man. 

I find it positively bewildering that they aren't shouting from the rooftops about it on Basenotes. This is exactly what the riff-raff there have been wishing would return to the world: an old-school masculine made of quality materials. Here it is boys, in its unadorned glory, IFRA be damned. I'm also more than a little confused by the reviews. Way Off-Scenter calls it "a minor variation on the familiar post-Cool Water/Green Irish Tweed ambroxan-flavored fougere genre," which Gravitas is the antithesis of. StylinLA says "it just died" on him - I get seven hours. But whatever. This is a good fragrance, it isn't over-priced, and I'm glad that Naughton, Wilson, and Stephen made it so. 


Guess Man (Guess)

Guess is one of those generic discount designer brands that is easy for enthusiasts to ignore, simply by virtue of its commercialized ubiquity. A day doesn't go by that I don't see at least a handful of Guess fragrances marked for clearance somewhere. But it raises the question, do they deserve to be overlooked? Or are they diamonds in the rough? 

I want to think Guess Man went straight to discounters upon its release in 2006, but technically I'd be wrong. It spent at least a couple of years on tester counters at Macy's, priced at $65 a bottle, but probably sold poorly. Then Guess opened the distribution channels to places like Ross and Burlington Coat Factory, and wham! Well, maybe not, but it sold much better at twenty bucks. People are eager for the next big thing, but don't want to be culpable for financing it. Guess Man smells of the 2000s zeitgeist of woody-fresh synthetic masculines, in the most timely of windowed, silver-plastic packages, but also harkens back to the eighties and nineties with its aggressively woody intro and nitrile-driven dry-down. The fragrance packs a little punch at the start, with bright orange zest and herbal aromatics closely mated to a decently sturdy artemisia, which aligns it more with things like Caron Yatagan (1978), AD Classic (1980), and Smalto (1998) than with the gym-bro aquatics and ozonics of its time. Quite the welcome surprise. 

It takes about an hour for its big top to settle down, and for a standard-issue lavender, violet leaf, and cedar accord to step in and carry the next few hours into oblivion, but this green-woody affair is just cool and smooth enough to remind me of Dunhill Fresh, and (by proxy) Fahrenheit. This cheapy isn't bad at all, and is worth a sniff for lovers of transitional 2000s classics. Who would've Guessed?