In My Opinion, This Is "Fake News"

A synthetic diamond. Even its flaws are fake.

In a recent post, our friend at Wordpress has penned another screed about Dior's Sauvage, this time slanting it against what he perceives to be "fake facts" about such frags. He writes with great condescension:

"And to be clear, yet again, I don’t hold anything against a person who enjoys Sauvage (or who has a social use for it), but it’s time to stop talking about it being great or special or unique or a breakthrough or a masterpiece."

So apparently we are no longer allowed to bestow high praise upon Sauvage, as for the thousandth time, the author has made clear that these "fake" tributes are intellectually and stylistically inappropriate. On what authority he rests his claims is not clear, but what is particularly interesting is that these admonishments were preceded by the following thought, without any hint of irony:

"The fragrance chemist I spoke to didn’t believe much thought went into Sauvage, and you don’t need to be a fragrance chemist to notice how 'chemical' it is (as the reviewer himself does)."

This brings us to what I think are "fake facts." This interview is entirely fact free, simply because it comes from an unidentified source. Because it lacks even the most basic citations, nothing there can be confirmed as factual. Yet it is packaged as an "interview" with a "fragrance chemist," a claim my own readers have easily debunked. There isn't a single sentence in the entire article that relates truth and technical accuracy to readers, and the supposed chemist's identity is not even given.

So it's fine for the author to convey his own ideas through this mysterious third party (who may not even exist), but when people give their honest subjective opinions about a fragrance like Sauvage, they're peddling fake facts?

Another sad case was the Monsieur Guerlain debacle from last year. Without any substantive information to support their opinion, people in the fragrance community were up in arms over the unsubstantiated narrative that evil corporate LVMH had destroyed Monsieur Guerlain's blog for containing some minor legal slip-up.

If you frequented basenotes, you were to believe that because some stranger on the internet (who only a handful on basenotes ever met in person) lost his blog, basenoters were tossing out their Guerlains. One moron even went so far as to post a picture of his top-tier Guerlain parfum extrait boxes sitting out in the snow, like discarded trash, to send the company a "message." Aside from conveying that he was intent on getting rid of empty boxes, this person's "message" was tied to a false narrative, a verifiable "fake news" story: that MG had been "closed down." Meanwhile, his blog lives on.

These are, in my opinion, examples of "fake news" in the fragrance world. Falsehoods, dubious facts, and unsubstantiated claims are not what plague the myriad of subjective amateur reviews on basenotes and fragrantica. We go into those sites knowing the majority of their reviewers are amateurs and enthusiasts who have little professional knowledge of that which they write about.

We automatically assume that someone who says Sauvage contains "high quality materials" is speaking subjectively, and no thinking person, no sentient reader, would ever ascribe more to such an opinion than whatever comparable opinion of his own would warrant.

The real "fake news" stories in our community take the form of half-baked interviews, contrived outrage at stories that aren't even partially fleshed out with any substance, and narratives that overarch the general public's perception coming into the community. Stuff like, "Vintages are more natural," and "Perfumes never spoil." These are falsehoods that have been proven false on this site by professionals in the industry, both through interviews and reader commentary.

If we're going to opine on "Fake Facts" and "Fake News," then we ought to be truthful about those terms, and how they apply. Subjective opinions with hosting site disclaimers, such as reviews on fragrantica, are not the problem. Those who "criticize the critics" are far more responsible for what comes out of their blog posts.


Pacino For Men (Cindy Chahed)

Good luck finding a 100 ml bottle.

Linear fragrances are perhaps the most difficult kind for perfumers to pull off. Done wrong, and they smell functional, like furniture polish, or Febreeze. With skill and a little luck, a limited palette can actually work beautifully, like fire engine red, or Yves Klein blue. When I first encountered Pacino for Men, my initial thought was that it would be another rich tapestry of old-school masculine hues, from the deep umber of smoked tobacco, to the burled browns of rosewood, with wisps of artemisia and pine to round off the edges. Boy, was I wrong! The house of Cindy Chahed surprised me.

The only information I can glean about it comes from this site, which I think is an impartial but unusually informative retail outlet. According to the (somewhat contradictory) information found there, the brand was founded in October of 1996, and closed soon after, almost three years exactly, in August of 1999. I guess they weren't moving units fast enough. Apparently Cindy never made anything more than minis, which may have contributed to her demise, although I think a brand exclusively dedicated to minis is an interesting idea, retailing solely from airports to frequent flyers. Pacino was apparently released in 1996, but I have no corroboration on that.

Pacino smells like an apple orgasm. Come to Connecticut in October and visit Lyman Orchards. Tread its rows upon rows of trees in bloom, and inhale the dry, sweet, woody kiss of the autumn air. Stop to grab one of thousands of wine-like dessert fruits, steal a bite, and savor the fresh flavor in your cheeks as it mingles with the crisp air in your lungs. That's the opening of Pacino. It's basically a medley of apples with a touch of pink grapefruit, and a drop of French lavender for extra dimensionality. I fully expected it to darken and get all pre-A*Men oriental on me, but instead it simply mellowed out, becoming warmer and a little sweeter. The apples have been picked and barreled, and their fruitiness radiates from pillows of cedarwood and hay.

It remains this way for the life of the scent, a full five hours, before fading to a skin essence more suggestive of dusty wood than pomaceous fruits. All told, this is a very good fragrance. Its sweetness never smells like candy; its freshness retains definition and clarity without becoming cold and grey. It's like someone took an X-Acto knife to Creed's Spice and Wood, excised its apple top note, threw in a few other cultivars, a little extra woodiness, and named it after a famous American actor. It's crisp, nearly edible, fairly natural (although not extraordinarily so), quite simple, and pleasant to wear. If you're an apple lover, a fan of scents like Boss Bottled, Cool Water, Nicole Miller for Men, and you happen across this stuff, I highly recommend it.


Why You Can't Trust Internet Reviews When Judging The Quality Of A Reformulation

Only the bottle has remained the same.

My main message in this post is short and sweet: Don't trust what I say.

It seems counterintuitive for me, a perfume blogger, to say this, but when you plug it into my larger message, I hope it makes more sense. That is, don't trust what I say alone, not without smelling things for yourself first. Use me as a rough guide, a vague starting point, the nexus of all your concern and enthusiasm for a certain fragrance. But do not consider me the authority, the voice of infallible knowledge. My sense of smell, my tastes, and my understanding of the fragrance world do not necessarily comport with your sensibilities. I am here to guide you, to inform you when possible, and to provide educated insights into the basic mechanics of how certain scents work (or don't work).

Perfume bloggers are tools. In my case, my personality conveys this explicitly. But as useful tools for gaining knowledge, we're small cogs in a big machine. Halston Z14 is an example of why this is true for all internet fragrance reviewers, including supposedly erudite noses like Luca Turin and Chandler Burr.

Z14 gets a bum rap. It turns 42 this year. That's a long time for a fragrance to be in production, and still widely available across the world. Roy Halston's original formula was released courtesy of Michael Edwards, who helped to engineer its place not just on store shelves, but in the pantheon of famous masculines, a realm where compositions endure the test of time. Yet Z14 has fallen on harder times in the noses of fragrance enthusiasts, many of whom consider it a mere shadow of its former self.

The narrative is that vintage Z14 is far superior to current Z14. I recently purchased my fifth bottle of Z14, a formula that dates to at least 2011, judging from its gift set packaging. I paid twelve dollars for eight ounces, cologne and aftershave. I would have passed on it, but my other 2011 aftershave actually spoiled. One day I went to use it and found that its oils had begun separating out of the alcohol. The liquid resembled olive oil vinegarette salad dressing. It was probably still ok to use, but I opted to toss the remaining ounce and just keep my eyes peeled for a replacement.

I also have a more recent formula, what some consider the "Big Red" formula. This version cropped up in 2014, and it continues to generate complaints. It supposedly has a massive, unbalanced cinnamon note, but to my nose the cinnamon is pretty much identical to all prior formulas I've tried. My perception is in stark contrast to some others, though. And that's the point of this post: to show you that the disparity in perceptions makes trusting any one reviewer on the internet silly.

Consider this review from Fragrantica of two "vintage" Z14s, and one "current" Z. Note how this person's opinions vary:

wesleyhclark: "My first take is that the [French issue] vintage stuff smells like serious perfumery. There's a note that I don't think I've encountered in that form yet. It's deep and strong. A dirty leathery smell, perhaps? It's bolder. Compared to it the current stuff dries in a less complicated, somewhat more modern fashion - cinnamon and cypress . . . But here's the weird thing! I tried some vintage Z-14 in Richmond, VA and it's different yet. It's certainly not current and it isn't this French mix, either. It has an initial oakmoss blast that is absent from both."

He uses the descriptors "dirty," "leathery," "cinnamon and cypress." He also notes excessive oakmoss in one of the vintages, which is apparently not as prominent in the other two versions.

Now look at how different the tone is for this person's perceptions of old and new Z:

Bigsly: "Reformulated version (recent with a lot of cinnamon up front): Well, if you hate cinnamon forget this. There's something else with it, which reminds me of what I've encountered in scents listing tree moss as a note or ingredient. Whatever it is (tree moss, leather, a touch of galbanum), it sort of hardens up the cinnamon and gives it a bit of a dry and chalky/powdery quality. This dominates for an hour or so, and then the earlier version of Z-14 begins to shine through, with more lavender than I prefer. However, here the lavender never gets too strong. After a couple more hours the lavender recedes and blends into the mix. At this point it is at its best, unless of course you really enjoy the initial strong cinnamon."

So while the first reviewer notes the presence of cinnamon without emphasizing it, the second finds it especially noteworthy, and doesn't mention any "cypress" element at all. Reviewer one says "dirty," and reviewer two goes into some detail about lavender, which is usually never "dirty." Also, while the first considers the current stuff "modern," the second refrains from such a vague descriptor, instead opting to be vague about what he perceives to be a "trend" in scents with treemoss. Fine to read if you have plenty of experience with fragrances, but it's like wandering into a Black Forest of opinions for anyone new to fragrance reviews.

If I were new to Z14, and I read these two reviews, I'd be very confused. These are two guys who are reviewing multiple bottles of what is supposedly the same fragrance, from roughly the same time periods, and their reviews are quite different. Adding to the confusion is the suggestion by the first review that two bottles of vintage Z14 smelled different! If I were a total newbie, this would probably elude me. But if I were someone with at least a year or two of experience in reading reviews and trying classic fragrances, I might consider this to be a "clue" of sorts. I'll come back to this in a bit. Let's move on to reviewers three and four, both referring to "vintage":

ericrico: "The opening of citrus with integrated herbs and fresh-ground cinnamon takes me back to my youth."

kmarich: "I discovered a vintage splash for under $10. USDs . . . It has a smokey, hazy richness that made me feel warm.

So which is it? If I'm in the market for vintage, should I expect to smell like a Middle Eastern salad, or a campfire? These reviews seem to be for different scents. But if I connect them to the first reviewer's notes on two vintages (probably from different years), I begin to sense that maybe Z14 just smells different from bottle to bottle, regardless of what the manufacturer's "formula" was. Maybe this is an "unreliable performer." Maybe with Z14 there's no way to know exactly what it will smell like until you smell it yourself, simply because every bottle is a little different.

If I approach Z14 with this attitude, then I can comb through the reviews and find this last one to be consistent with my theory:

Aiona: "It smells like celery seed to me, even though I see no celery seed in the notes listed above. It's distinctive. Not a cool aquatic. Not really a gourmand, despite the celery seed. Just a nice greenish scent."

Very interesting. To her, Z14 is "Just a nice greenish scent." You could find a parallel in this description with the "oakmoss blast" description found earlier. But you have to know that oakmoss, while often "green" in nature, doesn't always smell "green" in fragrances. It can smell nondescript, bitter, powdery even. Vintage Canoe is loaded with it, but few consider Canoe "green."

But most notable in this last review is the description of celery seed, which is commonly attributed to Caron's Yatagan. This is a biting, extremely bitter, pithy, woody note. It does not exist in Z14, which is generally a smooth, ambery citrus and cypress blend. Yet this is what the reviewer describes, and if you don't know anything about the fragrance, you'll be left wondering who to believe here. Does it have lavender and oakmoss and cinnamon, or is it like Yatagan?

I chose Z14 for this exercise because of the divergence of opinions across the boards, and also because there's the added monkey wrench of Z14 being a very "batch specific," "bottle-variable" fragrance. As the years churn on, and my experience with this fragrance continues, I have to wonder if Z's formulation history crudely mimics Grey Flannel's. Perhaps when licensing changed hands, the standards of production varied inconsistently from year to year, or even from batch to batch.

Maybe this is a fragrance where nobody is really "wrong" in their perceptions.

I would argue, from a strictly personal standpoint, that this is not the case. Although the oldest bottle I've tried, which dated to 2007 or 2008 (possibly a year or two older) had a markedly different composition, and a noticeable vetiver note that I have not smelled in any subsequent bottle, the overall feel of the composition, all notes accounted for, conveyed the same basic smell as the more recent versions I've owned and worn.

Every other bottle was either subtly different - to the point of really splitting hairs - or identical. I could get into concentration issues here, but I'll skip it to save time. (Concentration isn't that much of an issue with Z anyway.)

But as I said, I am but one voice. There are 42 years of fragrance to comb through with Z14, and that's a lot of material for study. If you're not interested in getting overly technical and picky about which kind of moss is in your Halston, just going to the nearest drugstore and buying the latest of whatever is in stock will be good enough for you, especially if you have no prior experience with this scent.

But if you're a stickler for material quality, complexity, depth, longevity, naturalism, dynamism, and whatever moss philosophy you adhere to, then clearly you need to eschew Internet reviews and do your own legwork.

I would warn you though, especially if you are the latter type of person, to use caution in how you write about whatever "vintage" you choose. If you disregard any potential concern for spoilage in perfumes, and think that perfumes last forever, you might mention that as soon as possible. That way I will know to avoid taking your review seriously, as will those who agree with my view that perfumes past the twenty year mark are not reliable expressions of their namesakes.


"People Are Reading Claire's Blog," And Why Andy Tauer Is Totally Full Of It

Friends, it looks like we have another diatribe against perfume bloggers, made by a successful perfumer who blithely throws shade at the practice of giving samples, while hypocritically extolling the the value of Facebook "advertising." Andy Tauer, one of the most successful indie-niche small-house perfumers of the last ten years, is evidently a bit nonplussed by something written by ClaireV at takeonethingoff.com (I not longer link to other blogs, simply because I don't want to make indirect endorsements).

To sum up, Claire simply observed the overnight success of relative newcomer Parfums Dusita, which recently smashed luxury market expectations, releasing new fragrances at $100 an ounce without feeling the familiar sting of shooting high and missing. Dusita's fragrances are selling quite well, apparently. There are many super wealthy people willing to plunk down four hundred dollars for yet another obscure oud perfume. Good for Dusita. What does this have to do with Andy Tauer?

Andy wrote a memo to fans on his own blog, addressing what he feels are the changing times in the business. According to him, free samples and "sample draws" on fragrance blogs bring no new customers - absolutely none. And Andy feels that fragrance blogs used to be useful sites, capable of drawing customers, but are no longer of any value. Bloggers don't understand, says Andy. They don't understand the market, they don't appreciate what it takes to succeed, they applaud $400 perfumes without knowing what they're doing, and nowadays they're no better than purveyors of "fake news."

Pardon my French, Andy, but I think you're full of shit. I distinctly recall a couple years ago your linking my reviews of your fragrances on your Facebook page, with plenty of "likes" to give your older fragrances an instant publicity bump - free of charge. My blog wasn't "useless" in those cases, was it? I was praising your fragrances, and rightfully so. Your fragrances are terrific. To my knowledge, most (if not all) fragrance blogs have done nothing but say good things about your fragrances, arguably the only reason you were able to clear the financial hurdles of the first few years of your business and eventually become an inspiration to us all. So what's with the sudden disdain for blogs? You didn't have it when you were reading and sharing mine.

Then we get the Basenotes echo chamber, with countless members weighing in on Andy's post, and Claire's by proxy. (If Andy hadn't mentioned the $400 thing, no one would have connected his rant to her post.) And we get a lot of the recycled bullshit we always get from basenotes members. Let's all agree with Andy! Let's all furrow our brows at Claire. Well not all of us. Let's some of us sympathize with Claire and Andy. Let's act like Andy has a point. Let's pretend that his perfumes are reasonably priced (they're really not).

You know what would be refreshing? If companies like Parfums Dusita and Tauer cut the bullshit and released well made, adventurous compositions using excellent materials for ten dollars an ounce. One basenotes member claimed that people don't understand the actual prices of high quality synthetics, and that some are $100 a ml. Yeah, maybe for you to buy them, but not for professionals. Besides, you're talking apples and oranges when you try to parse the prices for quality synthetics into the retail value of a perfume. Most formulas are using miniscule amounts of each, with the cheapest and most effective pre-made bases comprising the bulk of what you smell, much like the Schiff base did decades ago.

I'm getting really tired of hearing a few things from the perfume industry. First, I'm tired of hearing from perfumers that blogs are useless to their business. If they were, then guys like Andy Tauer wouldn't be reposting my reviews for their own benefit, and they wouldn't be getting annoyed with other bloggers and "responding" to them on their own sites. As one basenotes member noted, "People are reading Claire's blog." The thread on this topic extended into what ClaireV wrote, and if blogs were irrelevant, Andy wouldn't be reading them, and wouldn't have read Claire's post.

Second, I'm sick and tired of hearing all of this false equivalency in the community. Claire, stop prattling on about production and market pricing. Any perfumer creating high-end fragrances is going to pour a bit more money into their formulas then your average mass-market designer brand would, but that doesn't really justify the markup. If I go to KMart and spend twenty bucks on a four ounce bottle of Coty Aspen, I know I'm getting a good perfume at a fair price. It's using most of the same ingredients that Creed uses in Green Irish Tweed, which costs fifteen times as much for no reason other than more expensive packaging, and greedier noses.

The idea that Parfums Dusita wouldn't sell their perfumes at the same volume (or better) if they priced for the lower end designer market is absurd. Can you imagine how many basenoters and Fragranticans would be swarming Parfums Dusita for their frags if they were $40 a bottle? The quality to price ratio would be the biggest draw, and news about it would spread like wildfire in both communities, and across the blogosphere. For the first time in god knows how long, people would have affordable access to unique, well-crafted compositions with perfume strength and the commercial cache of Middle Eastern exoticism. You could sell one bottle to hundreds of American enthusiasts instead of eight bottles to one oil baron in Qatar.

The synthetics and naturals being used are sometimes pricy, but you can price well under $400 a bottle and still make a profit if you're being honest. The sheer volume of perfumes sold would make up for any perceived overhead gap. Niche is struggling in America right now, and it's not because there's a shortage of people who want to buy. It's because niche brands have priced the average American consumer out of the market, and they've done it under cover of apologists who act like it's smart business.

What do true fragrance lovers complain about the most? The shortage of "quality" in what is available.

We all hear the complaints about reformulations, about how natural materials, note clarity, accord fidelity, and longevity have been abandoned by designers. Just think about what could happen if one - just one - perfumer actually kept the faith and produced complex, crystalline perfumes at a fraction of current designer prices. That's a business strategy that takes real balls. That's what nobody is doing, because it's easier to bitch and moan about how difficult the market is for newcomers, how they must price fragrances at a dollar a ml to keep from going out of business. Meanwhile, many still go out of business. Anyone remember J&E Atkinsons? B Never Too Busy To Be Beautiful? When was the last time you saw a Floris store in North America? Oh, I remember: ten years ago. How long do we have to watch L'Artisan gasp for breath before they go under?

Allow me to play the smallest violin for these poor suckers.

Go ahead, be a new niche brand, and enter the market charging $140 a bottle, like Kerosene did a few years ago. Tell me again about how you can't afford to charge anything less than that, when you can find online much of what comprises your formulas for pennies on the dollar. When people like Bigsly have supposed perfumers saying on his blog that naturals cost less than synthetics. Pour gallons of synthetics into a big jug, sprinkle them with a few native oils, call the whole stew "niche," and pray that a Saudi prince discovers you.

Then start a blog, complain about other people's blogs, and tell me that giving two or three free samples to readers doesn't generate any sales. Which brings me to my third and last complaint: perfumers bullshitting people about samples. No Andy, giving a handful of free samples to as many anonymous people online won't generate additional sales. What do you expect? You have to be generous with samples, and offer sizable coffrets for free, boxes with four or five samples. You have to send them out to anyone who asks for them. You have to give them away like candy. That's what designers did for years and years. Take a little loss on them. But take that loss knowing that if your perfumes are getting into people's hands for no money, just a few more may be willing to spend your asking price on a bottle of whatever they liked.

Your mentality is, "samples don't work." Yeah, they do. You just don't want to take the necessary risk on them anymore. So you're bullshitting us with the argument that they don't help sales. You tell readers that free sample draws, where one or two readers are privy to maybe three or four samples, do zero good for your bottom line. No shit. I'm stunned.

As long as the mentality shared by Andy and Parfums Dusita pervades the fragrance world, middle class buyers don't stand a chance.

The future is bleaker than these people realize. Making perfume unaffordable to all but a few only works when the few are allowed to prosper by all. With enough time, enough Trump, enough middle class anger and disgust, even the upper echelon of niche may realize they limited their growth potential and damaged their brands by only catering to the one tiny subset of people that isn't growing: the rich.


Socal for Men (Hollister)

After a year of reviewing cheap wetshaver ferns, it seems fitting that I close out 2016 with one more opinion on the same sort of thing, this time courtesy of The Hollister Company.

People talk about "iconic" masculines, the fragrances that shaped entire genres of scent, stuff like Acqua di Selva, Brut, Z14, Cool Water, Fahrenheit, A*Men, etc. And when the conversation steers into wetshaver waters, classics like Old Spice and Aqua Velva (and if you're European, Tabac) are always mentioned. But far less discussed is the eternally underrated great grandfather of semi-sweet, proto-gourmand fougeres: Skin Bracer.

In previous decades, fragrances were influenced largely by Old Spice and Tabac, with the "fresh" scents attributed to the long arm of Aqua Velva, but in the last ten years or so men have experienced an undeclared revival of Skin Bracer, and it's been quite a surprising journey for me. For instance, I never expected to smell Skin Bracer in Cool Water Night Dive. Nor did I reckon for it in Playboy VIP, or the somewhat older Cotton Club by Jeanne Arthes. Man.Aubusson Intense and Joop! Homme Wild were weird ones for the aftershave thing also, evoking memories of granddad after a shave, despite all their efforts to seem "cool" and "modern." Are perfume companies banking on something other than a great formula here?

I think they're counting on the fact that young guys have little to no interest in things from the past. This is a sad reality in America; "Millennials" are people who hold themselves and their generation's interests in the highest esteem, to the point where Katy Perry's songs are "oldies." I often wonder what would happen if I drove down to Yale, walked up to a random guy on campus, and handed him a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash's debut vinyl. He'd probably have a nervous breakdown right there on the sidewalk. Youngsters have no interest in understanding how prior generations lived.

They're not interested in knowing what music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies sounds like. You know, music from when people actually played instruments AND sang at the same time. And old movies aren't on their thumb drives, either. Humphrey who? Oh, Madonna copied Marilyn Monroe? None of these twits own a real suit; most own but one tie.

So it's not hard to understand why perfumers believe they can get away with this. Out of ideas? Fuck it, just dredge up some forgotten oldie. Sure, anyone over forty knows what it is, but the rest won't have a clue. Skin Bracer used to be in every bathroom, and now it's on the bottom shelf at Rite Aid, buried under mountains of Axe body spray. But tweak it, stretch its proportions here and there, and give it a new name by a new brand, and boom! New fragrance. Every asshole with a tattoo sleeve and gym membership must have a bottle.

Hollister's Socal for Men is basically a retread of Skin Bracer, although unlike many of the others mentioned in this post, it has whiskers of its own; it was released in 2007. Unfortunately it smells less complex than its drugstore progenitor, and most of the others. It's even inferior to Man.Aubusson Intense, which takes skill. It's bland in comparison, and a bit plasticky and "blobby" in its evolution, but it ticks all the right boxes: fresh, clean, lavender, powder, sweet, tonka, vanilla.

Needless to say, spending $50 for a bottle of this is insane. If you want a good variation of this theme, Cotton Club is still the best way to go, and it costs a third of what Hollister is asking. I still think the best bet is to just drop five bucks on seven ounces of Skin Bracer, but what do I know? I'm old. I'm in my mid thirties (gasp!). My younger brother just turned 30, and he likes Socal. He wouldn't be caught dead wearing Skin Bracer. Go figure.


Soap Review: Rad Soap Activated Charcoal Moon Rock Body Bar

This one breaks my heart. If you shop at Whole Foods, you may have spotted these soaps there, normally priced at around ten dollars a bar, which is about right for Whole-Paycheck Whole Foods. I'm not one to explore the "activated charcoal" fad in upscale soaps, mainly because charcoal is black and dirty and prone to staining white tubs, but occasionally a concept jumps out at me and makes me wonder. Such is the case with Rad Soap's Moon Rock bar.

The bar is hefty, pitch black, and pitted to look like a rock. The scent is charcoal and black currant, and I can verify that both notes are beautifully rendered, striking a harmonic balance usually reserved for high performance engines. The charcoal is sooty and dry, almost bready, and the currant is mild, not urinous or fetid, a soft sweetness suggestive of ripe berries. On skin this combination is even better, emitting a clear freshness very similar to Claiborne Sport's saturnine, wine-like essence.

What saddens me is that the bar itself is a disaster. Texturally it feels like a solid, somewhat oily compound that becomes quite greasy as you lather, and actually melts off itself in water. Cue the black streaks, with sizable fragments of soap dropping from the bar and clogging my tub drain. The thing just won't hold together. After two washings I gave up and had to toss the bar. Adding to the misery, I noticed black streaks had formed under the soap holder built into my shower wall; the Moon Rock continued dissolving long after the showers were over.

These soaps aren't especially hard to find, and I think there are ten more in the line, give or take. Maybe the others fare better, but the Moon Rock just doesn't pass muster. I wish it did, because its cleansing properties and fragrance are both quite good. Note to the Rad Soap company: you're almost there - just tweak the density of your product. Meanwhile, back to Irish Spring for me.


"You Smell Like Powder"

"And so do you."

I work with a young woman who greets me, on many mornings, with a backhanded compliment, saying with a laugh, "You smell like powder." Now, it should be noted that many masculine fragrances do in fact smell like powder, and that I own and occasionally wear a few of them. If I were to wear Royal Copenhagen, and she were to tell me that I smelled like powder, I would say she has an astute sniffer. Ditto for Tabac, Old Spice, Caron's Third Man, Brut, Canoe, KL Homme, Lagerfeld Classic, and Rive Gauche Pour Homme.

But she rarely mentions the powder thing when I wear those scents. (Granted, some I rarely wear.) No, she mentions the powder thing every single time I wear Grey Flannel. That's right, Grey Flannel. Green, mossy, flowery, earthy, woody, dark, somber Grey Flannel. The greenest old school masculine I've ever encountered. And it doesn't matter if I'm wearing vintage or new; her reaction is always the same. It actually makes her laugh: "Bryan, you're wearing baby powder again."

That this girl should associate Grey Flannel, even Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel, in all its Green Irish Tweedy glory, with baby powder, is simply a testament to how differently our minds interpret things. And is she wrong? I've always felt that GIT has a bit of a talc-like powder element in its far drydown, and I've also noted a mild powder element in Grey Flannel's heart, so her comments aren't obviously "wrong."

However, I rarely think of Grey Flannel as being a "powdery" scent. If I want powder, I don't reach for anything Beene. I reach for any of the others mentioned here. I reach for Grey Flannel when I want dry, green, floral, mossy. I wear it thinking "soapy" and "woody" and "bitter" and "fresh." Galbanum has a powdery aspect to it, and this burst of hazy greenness greets me every time, but it is soon followed by rich citrus esters, and the brisk snap of violet leaf. So what's up with this powder thing?

There's a simple lesson here. No matter how well you think you know a fragrance, or how well you understand its effect on you, your interpretation of what you perceive upon smelling something will not be the same as someone else's. The other person will likely have a slightly different interpretation of what you're wearing, or an entirely different take altogether. If it's the latter, then this turns your perception upside down completely. Until I began working with Ms. Powder Nose, I always thought of Grey Flannel as "green."

Now I can't help but think of powder, specifically baby powder.

But it gets better. One day I wore Mitsouko to work, and again, the powder comment. "You always smell like powder!"

Does anyone think Mitsouko smells powdery? I don't. Of course, as with all scents, there may be an element of powder in the fragrance, and this is usually where the florals are. But to completely identify Mitsouko with "powder" is very strange.

Perceptions vary, and in the case of this person, I can only say that she apparently perceives many synthetic compositions as being powdery, or of having prominent powdery qualities, regardless of whether the fragrance is generally thought of that way. Grey Flannel and Mitsouko are two frags that I generally consider "mossy." But who am I to argue with her?