5/18/24

Replica Bubble Bath (Maison Margiela)

Photo by Lokeswaran Kaliyappan
Everyone's mileage seems to vary with this one. Some get hotel soap. Others get a "warm" or "lavender" impression. I get the warmth and the soapiness, and also coconut. Lots of coconut. Some sort of coconut aldehyde? Who knows. It opens with a misting of soapy abstract synthetics, like getting an eyeful of shampoo in the shower. Within ten minutes, the musky white-noise aspect, fresh but forgettable, fills the headspace around me, and I'm bored silly ten minutes after that.

I guess you could say this smells good in a conventional sense, but I'm note even sure I'd go that far. Soap smells better. Actual soap, that is. I use a body wash by Native called Lilac & White Tea, and if they made it into an EDT, I'd buy a bottle and use it regularly. It's that good. It's way better than Margiela's Bubble Bath, and that's not good, considering the price these frags are going for. If you're applying perfume because you're looking for a cheap thrill and don't really care exactly how you smell, I guess you could use something like Bubble Bath and get the thrill, but not cheaply. So what's the point?

Again, I've said it before, and here it is: Just because you're a niche brand doesn't mean I'm interested in you. Your perfumes need to change the game, or I'm probably going to write up a bad review. You need to be shaping the landscape; you need to be inspiring a whole new generation of perfumers; you ought to be aiming for the stars. Olivier Creed spent most of his career getting shit on by industry insiders for needlessly spending a fortune on crème de la crème materials, but you know something? He was right. 

5/16/24

Oud Wood (Tom Ford)


I don't know
about you, but the 2000s were disturbing to me. Y2K. 9/11. Another George Bush. The Patriot Act. Abu Ghraib. Torture-porn horror movies. BIG sunglasses. It was the decade when dial-up gave way to broadband, and the useless but irresistibly charming "early internet" transitioned to something far closer to what we have now. Gone were the carefree nineties, the Friends-fueled ambiance of coffee on cafe sofas wearing oversized clothes and super-sweet fragrances. In with the weird seventies revivalist brown-study woody masculines, which were driven by an unfortunate cultural renaissance of a material from the Middle and Far East called agarwood, gaharu, oud. 

This movement was ostensibly sparked in 2002 by YSL's M7, authored by Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas under the supervision of then-creative director for the Gucci Group, Tom Ford. M7 was a little too serious for the milquetoast-but-collectively-disturbed sensibilities of post-9/11 America, and it failed to connect with buyers. It was flanked by M7 Fresh, then pulled, then rereleased in 2010, flanked again by M7 Oud Absolu, and ultimately all M7s were binned. I suspect Ford had a few mods of the original when he retired from Gucci, and one of them found its way into his own line in the form of Oud Wood (2007). Richard Herpin was on tap, and I find him to be the only interesting thing about Oud Wood, aside from my mod theory. Herpin is unusually fond of a sweet and powdery-fresh laundry musk, which was in his formula for New York Gentlemen by Brooks Brothers, a fresh-citrus cologne that lasted ages because of it. Well, it's also in the base of Ford's scent, but here it causes dissonance; creamy sandalwood, rosewood, and "clean" synthetic oud (mostly Givaudan's Kephalis) clash with the musk in the far drydown. 

I say the oud movement was "ostensibly" started with M7 because I have my own theory as to how and why oud became so prominent in the mid-to-late 2000s. I believe that oud in perfumery is all part of a CIA Op. After 9/11, a tragedy mainly caused by Saudi terrorists, America was outraged. The problem for the White House was that it couldn't afford to have the country openly turn against the Saudis, not if it wanted to keep them as an oil partner. The solution? Start by diverting everyone's attention with a pointless war in Iraq, and finesse the diversion by hooking America's "influential" upper class on what Saudis themselves love and use regularly, oud. Too crazy for you? Think about it. 

5/11/24

The Mystery of Brut . . . I Can't Solve


Brut is the one fragrance I've encountered on my fragrance journey that I haven't fully understood. Unlike most fragrances, there is no single pristine vintage specimen that I can reference, to shore up my olfactory memory and guide me past the imposters. There have been so many iterations of it that figuring out which one is worth the time hasn't been easy. For my entire adult life, men have said that Idelle Labs' Brut Classic (now discontinued) was the closest thing to the original sixties formula, and for a while, I believed that. I loved Brut Classic, a fresh and summery green-floral beauty that shared its brightness for far longer than the drugstore plastic-bottled version. But looking back at my 2012 review, I wrote something that now reads wrong for Brut: "The usage of ylang-ylang and jasmine is genius in Brut. Without these floral notes, the scent would smell like Mennen's Skin Bracer (which by the way isn't really made by Mennen anymore)." 

I wasn't misrepresenting or misunderstanding what I was smelling; Brut Classic did smell a few floral notes removed from Skin Bracer. But that isn't how Brut Classic should have smelled. It should have greeted me with those notes, and then dried down to a smooth and slightly animalic amber. Nothing like Skin Bracer at all, really, and even if there was a fleeting resemblance in the top or mid notes, that should have only been a mild perception. I purchased a bottle of vintage seventies Brut 33 Splash-On Lotion after using up my bottle of Classic, and it taught me that musk ambrette changes everything I thought I knew about Brut. My little Millennial pea brain had to struggle to comprehend how, from my birthday in 1981 to the present, my olfaction had missed out on what Brut used to smell like. My father never wore anything when I was growing up, so there were no real-life references, and because my parents rarely took me to drugstores or pharmacies, my opportunities to sneak a sniff from a store shelf were virtually nil. I know, hard to believe, but true. 

Last year, I bought the clear-glass (squat) Brut EDT by Parfums Prestige/Unilever, and that version is slightly better quality than Brut Classic was. However, it's also a unique spin on Brut, in that it smells woodier and a bit more vanillic than any other formula I've crossed in the wild. But these differences are piddling, and ultimately it's almost identical to Brut Classic. It's also disappointingly weak, and I've relegated it to being the Brut that I spray on clothes, just to get more than ninety minutes out of it. I'd read that Unilever had another version of the EDT in the original sixties-style green glass bottle, but assumed that it was merely the same formula in a different package. Then I rewatched a shaving video on YouTube in which a Brut fan exhaustively outlines which version of contemporary Brut compares the closest to an actual sixties vintage bottle that he'd borrowed from a friend, and he said the Unilever green glass was by far the closest. This piqued my interest, so I figured I had nothing to lose, and bought a bottle. 


There are a few things that are unclear about this version, and so far I haven't found enough information on it. First, there are several iterations of this formula out there, all from different countries, the most notable being Israel and India. The Israeli version is identical to the bottle pictured above, but has a gold cap and medallion, and is colloquially referred to as "Brut Gold." I read on Reddit and a few other places that "Gold" is the sturdiest and most reliable version of this formula, and it comes from a few European countries, but always smells immaculate (i.e., quality control is sound). Then there's "Brut Silver Medallion," which is my bottle. There are no Unilever markings on the packaging (that I noticed), and it comes in a clear plexi-plastic case, so the logo would be on a sticker, and mine came without one. My understanding from what I've read online is that my bottle might be from India, where they apparently import the fragrance compound and bottle it straight from bottling factories (i.e., the quality control is less sound). 

Another weird thing is the packaging says the bottle has a "measured spray." I'm not quite certain what "measured spray" means, because I've never heard of it before. I'm assuming it means the atomizer is designed in such a way as to release a specific amount of fragrance with every pump, and unerringly does so (no half-sprays allowed). But I'd always assumed this was the case with every atomizer bottle of every fragrance, so I'm not sure. Not super important, just strange. I tested the "measured spray" after priming it a few times, and indeed it shoots a fairly compact burst of fragrance, and the juice hits skin with a thud, which usually indicates high oil content. I expected it to smell identical to the other EDT, and frankly wasn't even anticipating enjoying it that much for that reason. As soon as the bottle freed that first spray, my nose perked up; this stuff was immediately and obviously different. I raised an eyebrow. I fumbled around for my make-believe detective monocle. I stroked my imaginary mustache. Something was afoot; I was experiencing yet another version of Brut. This one was, yet again, different. 

To put this in proper perspective, I should back up and recap my experience with my 3.5 oz. bottle of early seventies Brut 33 Splash-On Lotion, which I bought in 2013 and used up by 2015. That stuff smelled really, really good, save for a touch of plastic contamination tinging its scent in the first five seconds. Otherwise it opened beautifully, a burst of soapy aromatics, rapidly followed by a drydown I had never associated with Brut before: a touch of musk ambrette. My understanding was musk ambrette had been gradually neutered down over the years, until it was eventually removed entirely. Nobody has come forward with clear information on exactly when this happened. Nobody has described the neutering process either, save for Luca Turin obliquely mentioning this unfortunate devolution in the 2008 Guide. Everything I've read and watched about musk ambrette has said that it lasts forever on skin and fabric, and smells fantastically clean/dirty and ambery. I got the clean/dirty and ambery vibe, but it was completely gone within two minutes, which isn't what I expected. My guess was that 33 percent of the fragrance wasn't enough to allow musk ambrette to sing. But, again, this was just a guess. 

Since then, I've purchased another bottle of Brut 33, this time in the 7 oz. size. This bottle appears to be a bit newer than my other one, and I'm guessing it's mid eighties (guessing, guessing), just based on the graphic design of the bottle, which looks like a later attempt at streamlining and modernizing the look of "entry-level Brut." The fragrance in this one has also been preserved better than in the previous bottle, and there is almost no plastic contamination detectable. 


This bottle smells the way my other one did, except it's a little "cleaner" in the base, and it lasts noticeably longer on skin, at least three hours at low volume. Even though the musky element lacks the raunch of its seventies predecessor, it's still much dirtier than anything on shelves in the past twenty years. It feels like a virile amber scent, and whatever musk is in there has presence. The seventies 33 smelled like bright soap for about fifteen seconds, then like really "sooty" musk for about ninety seconds, and then vanished completely. This eighties 33 has the same trajectory, but the sooty aspect lingers and smells more dimensional and soapy, just a touch better overall. 

These two bottles of 33 tell me that either one of two things is true: Brut used to smell like them, and the glass bottle version from the sixties was the same but more concentrated, or my new bottle from Parfums Prestige is how all of these smelled before time macerated the base accord of the vintage drugstore splashes into something that smells burlier than it really was. When I sprayed on the silver medallion PP formula, it smelled very aromatic and oily-green in the first twenty minutes, before getting brighter, drier, and more powdery, smelling the most similar to everything that I'd smelled before in this phase. Then I got to work, and about ninety minutes after application (and during a meeting), I suddenly caught whiff of this divine musk, and my heart skipped a few beats. It was strange, because at first I thought I was smelling someone else, but then I gave myself an up-close sniff, and it seemed as though my fragrance was the culprit. 

The aroma was potent but suave, semisweet but not sugary or bitter, woody without smelling natural or dry, and a bit sooty in the old way, but lacking overt raunch. It was also weirdly elusive, wafting in and out of my perception. The vintage Brut 33 formulas both smell of some sort of dry-sooty musk that feels very masculine and "alpha" for the duration, but the current green-glass version adopts an ambery tone that isn't quite as sooty, yet still alluringly masculine. No specific notes stand out, other than musk and amber. Complicating the comparison even further, I happen to have a late nineties formula Brut 33, which is at least seven or eight years newer than the 7 oz. bottle pictured above, yet smells raunchier and muskier in the base! 


This bottle seems to date from when Unilever took over in 1990, probably sometime before 2000, but as usual, hard to say. I tend to think they removed the Fabergé branding by 1999, but either way, this was likely on shelves when I was in high school. The weird part is how it smells, relative to its predecessors in opaque plastic, which don't hold a candle to it in the musky department. What was going on in the nineties? A raunch revival? I wore this formula the other day at work, and by mid-morning realized there's a fairly common nineties-era designer animalic musk tucked in the base, sort of that soapy clean/dirty thing found in stuff like Balenciaga Pour Homme, but in a much lower dose. Whatever it is, it really sings, lasting twelve hours with little to no change in tonality. 

The mystery is clearest in this particular formula: was this how it smelled new? Or is it how it smells now, no less than twenty-five years after production? Am I smelling Brut the way Brut was meant to smell, or am I smelling time-altered Brut? If it's truly preserved well, why does it smell stronger and burlier than stuff twenty years older? And why do I get the feeling that the silver medallion green-glass Parfums Prestige bottle is a more faithful rendition of how the original 1964 formula smelled? There's something about the ambery depth of the base in that one that seems to align well with how it might turn out smelling in thirty years; in other words, the vintage Brut 33 from 1985 might have smelled like my new PP bottle when it was new. There's no way to go back in time and find out (yet, that is), so for now I'll just have to settle on not knowing. 

I have one other point of "vintage" reference, a splash-on bottle identical to the one above, but sans Fabergé logo, and in that one the sooty/animalic musk is gone almost entirely (stripped down to a feeble whisper), with another musk that smells closer to the current stuff in its place. I put that bottle at whenever Unilever divested from the Fabergé Brut brand in North America, circa 2003. Both the nineties bottle and the early 2000s bottle seem to struggle with the plastic they've been housed in all these years, as I sense there's some contamination that especially effects the newer bottles, oddly enough. I have four altogether, and one was so rough I dumped it. They're clear plastic (green, but light goes right through), and that may be part of the problem. 

However, when I decanted a couple of them into an empty and much newer Helen of Troy bottle and let the fragrance sit for a couple of days, the funkiness disappeared. So even going to a new plastic bottle benefitted them! The only thing left on my Brut journey is to find a vintage Fabergé green-glass bottle from the sixties, but that is daunting, and I'm not easily daunted. The problem is that vintage Brut is a crapshoot. Brut clearly changes with time, and without knowing what I'm getting, or if what I'm getting is even legitimate, the risk is all on me. I also realized that musk ambrette is not restricted in India, so the thought did occur to me that they might be sneaking small amounts of it into the silver medallion PP bottles like mine, which might account for the stunning beauty of the drydown. 

But that seems unlikely, given there's no incentive for them to bother spending money to "adjust" the formula Europe sends over. Whatever is going on there, I can't actually suggest one version of Brut over another. I can just tell you that whatever version you buy is one of many. If you want what maybe feels like the truest original formula, I would say avoid spending a hundred bucks on Special Reserve, and put that money to better use by picking up a Parfums Prestige medallion bottle, either silver or gold. 

5/4/24

Replica Springtime in a Park (Maison Margiela)


Jacques Cavallier is
a well-respected perfumer, and author of such hits as Bvlgari Aqva Pour Homme, Cartier Pasha, L'Eau d'Issey Pour Homme, and M7 by YSL. But he's also an incredibly prolific perfumer, with roughly a hundred creations to his name. Not all of them can be memorable, and Springtime in a Park is as forgettable as a Crayola color. 

Bear in mind, I'm a fresh-floral enthusiast. I have Davidoff's Sea Rose, Bond's Chelsea Flowers, and Banana Republic's Peony & Peppercorn in my collection, among others, and I wear all of them, so I'm not biased against what Cavallier was going for with this 2019 Margiela release. I just don't particularly like it very much. It opens with a fairly pleasant if unoriginal musky pear note, followed by five hours of musky white florals, mostly a laundry-soap muguet and aldehyde affair, sweet and sour in equal measure. For what a bottle of this stuff goes for, I would at least expect a more dynamic floral bouquet, if not better ingredients, and in their absence the fragrance smells like shampoo.

Not everything is designed to appeal to finicky men, so I understand that if I don't like Springtime, I'm not saying much. But likewise, brands like Maison Margiela are trying to sell the all-fragrances-for-all-people line, subtly avoiding cliched terms like "unisex" in favor of "genderless" marketing. By that metric, I should be won over. Perhaps if the brand actually splurged on quality materials for their formulas, I'd be more inclined to join their tribe? We as a culture should expect more from our upscale designers; this fragrance should have been so much better. 

5/3/24

Lavender Water (Geo. F. Trumper) and What Elevates a "Lavender Scent" to a Loftier Fougère Status (For Me)


I recently visited 
an old college chum in Manhattan to catch up after thirteen years apart and out of touch. We were roommates at Rutgers for spring semester of 2001, lodging in the smallest dorm in Demarest Hall, and we developed a friendship based on our differences. He's an Israeli-American who was raised in New Jersey and separated from his family when they returned to Haifa; he stayed behind to pursue several law degrees, most of which he stacked up and never really used. I would frequently return home after a long day of classes to living quarters hotter than an Al Manzul spa. We had nonverbal arguments over me opening our one window and him promptly shutting it. We watched Seinfeld and laughed like hyenas, and goofed around on his electric keyboard into the early hours, irritating our lesbian neighbors. After a decade of zero communication, our reunion felt as if we had never missed a beat, a sign of true friendship.

One of the monikers he gave me was "Male Martha Stewart," presumably based on my limitless interest in men's fashion and fragrances, my unrivaled success with several necktie knots (I do a fantastic Windsor), and my frequent criticism of his leather Land of Jesus-style clogs, which frankly were the fugliest things I've ever seen on human feet. Well, I affirmed my Martha status by telling him that we should share part of our day in the city by going to C.O. Bigelow Chemists (called "Bigelow Pharmacy" from the street) so I could check out their supply of Geo. F. Trumper products. I had never been, and wanted to see what was in-store versus online. It turns out that Bigelow Pharmacy is packed with niche products, an impressive array of brands ranging from Musgo Real to Parfums de Marly, and yes, Geo. F. Trumper. Their selection of Trumper frags was actually a little disappointing, limited to Eucris, Sandalwood, and Lavender Water, but I was there specifically for the Lavender Water, and they had the big splash bottle. 

I bought this stuff blind because good luck finding wearable Trumper samples, and the only vendor I use is eBay (and rarely Amazon). After I purchased it, my buddy joked, "If people ask what you're wearing, you'll have to lie and tell them it's Geo. F. Bidener." I wanted the bottle for two reasons: I had modest expectations of it, as my bottles of Wild Fern and Bay Rum are very good but not exactly "great," but I still held out hope that I'd find a Trumper scent that I could truly love, and I wanted to have a bottle that was purchased from the brick-and-mortar Bigelow Pharmacy in NY City. I paid $100 for it, which might seem like overpaying, but it occurred to me that 1.7 ounces of Trumper usually goes for no less than $50, so paying twice the price for double the amount feels okay. It feels even more okay when I consider that I now pay $45 to get five things at Stop & Shop, so with inflation in mind, a Benjamin ain't what it used to be. 

I'm pleasantly surprised by this fragrance. It gets fair-to-good reviews online, with some saying it's a pretty natural lavender with a nice spot of oakmoss in the base, and others lamenting its lack of vibrancy compared to Oxford & Cambridge by Czech & Speake. Apparently O&C is the standard for lavender that all other lavender scents should aspire to be. I've never been okay with this because everyone says it's a "minty" lavender, which is only one side of the lavender coin. Lavender can tilt "minty" or "sweet," as in the case of Caron Pour un Homme, where the coumarinic angle of high-grade lavender is accented by semisweet vanilla and soft musk. I tend to prefer a little of both. (I am also on the market for a bottle of the newer EDP of O&C, which I understand is like the original but longer-lasting.) My expectations of Trumper's product were muted, as I fully expected this to be a semi-synthetic lavender that lasts all of five minutes, but I was wrong. This is an excellent natural/herbal lavender, and it lasts twelve hours or more.

First, a comment on the bottle: the paper tag looped around the spout says everything is "hand made." Beautiful little frosted glass lip peaks at a brass spout so tiny that you have to shake it vigorously to free a few drops. No chance of blowing through this stuff. It screws shut with a matching brass cap in the shape of a crown, an effete touch that loiters in the realm of gaucheness. Trumper has royal warrants, which should be enough for it; I can't understand the British fondness for emphasizing their monarchy. It's why I wonder at people who claim Creed is lying about their warrants. Who would do that? Anyway, it's clever and kitschy, just understated enough here to pass muster. Beyond that, the Trumper aesthetic is relatively cheap and unassuming, with thin paper boxes and little else. I do think the 100 ml. bottle is prettier than the 1.7 oz spray, which is the size of my Wild Fern and Bay Rum, and I like that it's so hard to splash. 

The fragrance itself is a basic but surprisingly natural lavender scent with a hint of spearmint and noticeable oakmoss in the drydown. Oakmoss is listed on the materials list on the box, and it's higher up there than expected, so they didn't skimp. It acts in tandem with some potent woody notes to fix the scent for far longer than needed, but I'm not complaining because it smells great. I agree with those who say this isn't a "radiant" or "vibrant" lavender, in that it is bright and fresh for all of five minutes before it adopts a sort of "dusty" quality, like a very dry and woody tone, evocative of nineteenth century photos and what I imagine the inside of a stagecoach smelled like. It isn't going for a summery feel, as apparently Czech & Speake are. This is aiming for understated old-school charm. 

One of the things about lavender scents is that they are often the subject of what I think of as the "Fougère Controversy." What is this controversy, you ask? It's stupid. But it comes up all the time. And it's an exhausting conversation to have. Whenever I discuss a lavender fragrance on the internet, there are inevitably four or five people who chime in to tell me that whatever lavender fragrance I'm on about is NOT a fougère, and it's very, very important that I understand that such frags are NOT fougères. 

To date, this has happened with quite a few fragrances. One example is Caron Pour un Homme. This is one of those silly examples of something that is obviously a fougère, and recognized by the industry as a fougère, listed as one by Haarmann & Reimer, yet armchair experts say otherwise. Their reasoning? "Where's the coumarin?" Or, "Where's the oakmoss?" Or, "Where's the geranium?" Or even, "Where's the fougère accord?" Apparently if a fragrance lacks a fougère accord, it can't be a fougère. Which is technically true, except that there is no universal fougère accord. The trick with a good fougère is to make its conventional accord secondary to the innovative identity of the fragrance it upholds. In Caron PuH, the fougère accord of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss is what perfumers refer to as "extended." The lavender top note is intense, metallic, cold. This eventually mellows a bit and becomes a bit more expansive and aromatic, and if it were a simple "lavender scent," that's where it would end.

But it doesn't; the truth about lavender is that it has a coumarinic drydown on its own, that soft, hay-like glow of sunset made smell. In Caron's composition, this naturally abbreviated hay-like ending is fortified and extended using a clever mishmash of synthetic aromatics and slightly animalic musks, which are made less obvious by the inclusion of a plush vanilla note. Thus the coumarin that naturally attends lavender oil is artistically manipulated into a new form, one that interprets this secondary phase of the traditional fougère accord as refined sweetness and warmth. Eventually the powdery nature of the musk becomes more apparent, and because oakmoss is naturally powdery, the wearer doesn't fully realize that this final nail has been hammered into the fougère coffin. Pour un Homme is a fougère, but you don't have to be a big fan of the fougère accord to enjoy it, because Ernest Daltroff went a few steps beyond it. 

Another example is Moustache Eau de Toilette Concentree by Rochas. This one is often mistaken for being a citrus chypre. Indeed, it contains a mighty wallop of intense citrus and citrus rind notes in the opening and early stages, and those fruity aldehydes and esters co-mingle with animalics, lending it a urinous edge that some find off-putting. Moustache EDTC has always been one of the "oldest" in my "old-school" collection, in that it smells totally outdated. Chypres from the late forties are usually also clearly in an antiquated style that has long fallen out of fashion. But Moustache EDTC isn't a chypre, it's an aromatic fougère. Unlike Pour un Homme, the lavender in Moustache isn't in-your-face and dead obvious. Instead it's a different approach to the fougère, with Edmond Roudnitska interpreting it from a different perspective. Instead of a flat screen of lavender, he louvered the aromatic into a rich citrus accord, diffusing its biting herbal qualities in a haze of lime rind and bergamot fizz. You aren't meant to dwell on lavender, you're only to smell it. 

Likewise, the heart of Moustache is a symphonic coumarin, similar in style to that of Lauder for Men, smelling dry and sun-parched and grassy, yet also impeccably rounded and dimensional. Instead of resembling hay, this coumarin resembles cut bitter greens. Yet get it on the retrohale, and there it is: unalloyed coumarin. Again, the fougère accord is disguised and elevated beyond the conventional by the nose of a genius. "But Bryan, it's obvious there's labdanum and oakmoss, and not obvious there's coumarin, so what are you talking about?" It isn't obvious there's labdanum in Moustache EDTC, not even a little bit. There's geranium, and there's the same urinous musk note, probably synthetic, that I smell in Pour un Homme. Here it's more intense, as if Roudnitska admired Daltroff's use of it and wanted to up it by doubling the dose in his composition. Eventually Moustache settles on a traditional oakmoss and sandalwood base, which frankly smells pretty great. The fougère accord is manipulated into something better than the sum of its parts. 

Yet another example of olfactory misdirection is found in Roger Pellegrino's Versace L'Homme. This one is kind of funny, because Versace actually embosses the ferns right on its bottles, yet guys constantly squawk at me, "It's a chypre! It's a chypre!" No, no, it's not. It's a fougère. Yes, there's quite a bit of citrus on top, but there's also geranium and a very subtle lavender in a more refined version of the Moustache accord. Eventually the mid sweetens (slightly) into a dry/grassy coumarin, with a clear oakmoss finish, but the whole affair trends to bitterness and heavy-handed maturity, and while I appreciate the technical work, I find Versace L'Homme a bit too stuffy to really love it. Instead of just focusing on the fougère accord and building off it, Pellegrino opted to take the Roudnitska approach and give us a citrus-heavy "fresh" woody fougère. Haarmann & Reimer consider it a chypre, but when you get really good at detecting lavender, you find that it's more of a chameleon than the broader public seems to think, and that occasionally includes the industry gatekeepers themselves (they got Moustache right though). 

But Trumper's Lavender Water doesn't do any of that. It simply opens with natural lavender, smelling like lavender essential oil. This endures for fully four or five hours, at a fairly low register, without changing, other than going from somewhat bright in the first few minutes, to adopting that "dusty" quality I mentioned earlier. Then, at around the six hour mark, the oakmoss comes in, smelling dry and green and solid, holding what is left of the aromatic lavender and spearmint accord of the opening phase until dinner time. I get a hint of natural coumarin at the tail end of the lavender, but it smells like the natural byproduct of lavender, and not an intentionally-inserted note. It sometimes adopts a smoky earthiness, reminiscent of Ungaro pour L'Homme II, depending on the weather. From beginning to end, Lavender Water smells like lavender, and pretty much just lavender. This makes it a lavender scent, not a fougère. I would never say that Trumper Lavender water is a fougère. I'd never say that anything near-identical to it is a fougère. There is no real fougère accord in Lavender Water. It smells of simple lavender. 

Now, someone could argue that Lavender Water is a fougère, and I'd entertain that argument. I could see how someone might interpret the attenuated coumarin note and the surplus of naked oakmoss as a fougère accord, and could also see how the inclusion of spearmint might be considered enough embellishment to label it "aromatic." I wouldn't agree with that assessment, but I think it would be fair. However, to me this is simply an excellent lavender fragrance, a "lavender soliflore," if you will. If you're interested in a robust and natural lavender scent that doesn't really stray beyond lavender, here you have it. I haven't smelled it yet, but apparently Czech & Speake's fragrance is also an excellent lavender scent. If you want a fougère but you don't want all the bells and whistles of the Caron or Rochas scents, I would recommend getting Trumper Wild Fern, which is a straightforward lavender/coumarin/oakmoss accord with the inclusion of some fennel, geranium, and musk, or I would point you to Brut Splash-On, which is similar, but with sweeter and more ambery/white floral qualities. 

5/1/24

They Already F*cked With It.

What's this?
So, remember when I told you that Brut's new licensee, High Ridge Brands, had actually improved the fragrance? Do you recall that little post about how they had taken a turd sandwich from Helen of Troy/Idelle Labs, and tossed it out the window to make room for a vintage formula from 25 years ago? Remember how I told you that HRB had taken the unprecedented initiative to actually listen to their customers, and not cheap out on something that was already cheap to begin with? 

Well, that's already history. After five minutes of doing the right thing, High Ridge Brands went and reformulated their product down. Goodbye excellent reboot. Hello not-as-excellent reboot 2.0. The worst part is, they're proud of this shit. And boy am I pissed. 

I'm not going to type a gazillion paragraphs about this, because there's no point. You can go to your local grocery or drugstore and pick up a 7 oz. "Splash-On" bottle for a few bucks and smell for yourself. You'll be disheartened. Just make sure you hunt down a bottle of the previous version, pictured on the left below. I have two backups of it.

Very Good Formula                   Very "Meh" Formula
As you can see, the latest formula is on the right and has a name and logo change on the bottle. The whole "For Men of Character" schtick is apparently the new High Ridge Brands catchphrase for Brut. We're back to the oversized shield logo, although this time with shiny gold trim, which I have to admit is actually not bad. Also, "Signature Scent" is no longer the fragrance's moniker. It's changed to "Classic." Again, if we're talking graphics alone, the bottle on the left isn't terribly designed or anything, but it's a little hard to read, and frankly the bottle on the right is easier on the eyes. But that's where the improvement ends.

Quick recap: the bottle on the left opens with a surprisingly good citrus top note, followed by a fairly cheap but honestly executed bushel of typical fougère aromatics. It then segues into a rich herbal coumarin note, with lavender and musk in attendance through to the base. It smells simple, but also inescapably smooth and coherent, a beautiful and affable everyday fragrance, much like Fabergé used to make. 

The bottle on the right opens with a disgusting rubbery note of no discernible origin, which rapidly burns off and becomes unexpectedly soapy and fresh-floral. It's a little like a "slice" of Kouros, its musky, neroli-esque brightness, only here there's just no budget for it, and it smells like laundry musk. I sense a bit of grassy coumarin, but now it's competing with that odd freshness. Weirdly, after two hours, the same lavender and musk of the previous formula returns, but at a much lower register. 

It's not surprising really, not if you stop and consider what the deal is with Brut. HRB execs wanted to try a Fabergé-branded late Unilever/Chesebrough-Ponds mod of this stuff (there must be at least fifty different mods for Brut accumulated over the years), and they settled on one that was likely used sometime between 1997 and 2000. They wanted to live dangerously for a change, and take a chance on a pricier formula. 

But here's the problem: the public doesn't really know what it wants. For twenty years, guys on wetshaver boards have been conversing about how pissed they are that Helen of Troy fucked-up their favorite drugstore fougère. This incentivized HRB to do that rarest-of-rare thing, and take a risk. They gave the public what they claimed they wanted: their "old" (i.e., as old as HRB could realistically manage) Brut back. 

And then, what happened? Did guys celebrate online? Did word spread? Did sales pick up? Sure it did! As in, yeah, no, none of that happened. I'm not privvy to the sales stats for how Brut has done in the last two years, but I'd bet my house that despite the increased formula cost, things stayed pretty flat. Despite all the years of kvetching about the crappy Idelle Labs formula, and the discontinuation of Brut Classic, and the eventual clown show of Helen of Troy's ultimate defilement of Brut, the majority of wetshavers and men over forty ignored the little gift HRB gave them. So now it's gone. 

I have some thoughts on why this is. I'm just going to come right out and say it: the way all of these companies have been marketing Brut has been dead wrong, and it's been wrong for decades. The clear mouthwash-sized green bottles. The stupid shield logos. The weird blurbs about "men of character." The lack of any company branding ("Brut" is not a brand, it's the name of the fragrance). The preponderance of Kelly green on the website. The absence of a video commercial marketing campaign. All of this is wrong.

Here's what High Ridge Brands should do, and what they would do if I were in charge. First, I'd fire the entire marketing team, and I'd also can most of the graphic/package designers. I'd ditch the clear bottles and bring back the opaque earth-tone green plastic bottles in 3.5 oz. and 5 oz. sizes, the aftershave in the larger size only. 

"Brut 33" wouldn't return; it would simply be "Brut." No point using the "33" designator in a world where people need everything spelled out for them. But I'd find a way to get Fabergé back on the bottles. An actual brand, even if it's not the real one, so customers can stop feeling like their local Big Box store is shitting out bottles of aftershave. I'd axe the "Splash-On" and replace it with "Splash-On Lotion." Essentially the whole thing would go back to how it looked in the seventies. 

The formula would get modded back to something from the eighties. Post nitro-musk, but pre-laundry musk. I'd reintroduce a heaping dose of anise, which has gone conspicuously missing in the last half dozen iterations, and I'd make sure the musk is rich, deep, and slightly dirty. There would be a bit of that Kouros dirty/clean dynamic, which was inherent to vintage Brut, but with the naturalness dialed up beyond what it was even back then. 

You see, there's no reason why Brut can't smell alive. Patchouli oil isn't mind-bendingly expensive. Lavender oil isn't going to break the bank. Menthol is cheap as chips. Synthetic analogs of ylang, jasmine, and neroli are pretty commonplace. I'd hire a perfumer who could assemble a formula using small but sturdy doses of this stuff, and would "stack" the musks in the base to ensure that the cologne would last no less than twelve hours with normal semi-conservative application. 

My formula would be way, way more expensive than whatever they're using now. This would cut into whatever amazing margins HRB enjoys. But I'd reduce production. Dramatically. Brut is in no position to be in every single goddamn drugstore in the country right now. Brut has been humbled, and its output should reflect that. I'd slash production volume by sixty percent. Goodbye Brut in grocery stores. Goodbye Brut in drugstores. Hello Brut at Big Lots, Burlington, Target, Costco, Sam's Club. 

But it gets better. All of those stores would carry the plastic bottle cologne and splash-on lotion. You go to Dillard's, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's? Exclusively in those stores, you find the green glass splash in 5 oz. and 2.5 oz, with the cap, chain, and the medallion in 14k gold. The formula would be Creed level in terms of quality, with fine grade lavender, rich tonka, subtle anise, and stuff like methyl dihydrojasmonate and hedione for citrus lift and natural high-grade patchouli blended in with Ambrettex XNM. A 5 oz. bottle sets you back $275; 75 ml. bottle is $195. Brut is junk? It's 1964 again, bitches. 

The profits from the "luxe" Brut would join the marked reduction in manufacturing volume to subsidize the increase in quality and lower profit margin of Big Box Brut. All of this would be spearheaded by an aggressive video marketing campaign on YouTube and whatever lower-tier commercial-ridden package accompanies Netflix these days. The campaign would mimic the Kelly LeBrock ads of the nineties, with a gorgeous cisgender woman telling men what she finds attractive. 

The ad campaign would have two tiers, with one gorgeous woman selling the Big Box Brut, and another hottie selling the luxury version. The slogan for the cheap formula: "I don't wear anything around a man who wears Brut." The slogan for the luxe formula: "Your scent is your destiny." Ironically, the cheap formula gets the chick with the LeBrock-style British accent. The luxe gets the Southern country girl who spends thirty seconds opining about what real women are looking for. 

High Ridge Brands? Call me. 

4/19/24

Dior vs. Chanel: Which Brand I Prefer, and Why


I think of Dior and Chanel the way I think of Toyota and Honda: they are competitors, and one is a better deal than the other. Whenever I meet someone who is considering buying a new car, I usually tell them to look at Toyota and skip Honda. This raises the ire of my fellow car enthusiasts, who insist on the superior engine builds of Hondas, but I have reasons. Without getting too crazily in-depth about cars here, yes, Honda does make the best engines in the world. However, Toyota makes the best transmissions money can buy in the average-Joe car market, and their engines are only negligibly inferior to Honda's. 

Meanwhile, Honda's transmissions are markedly inferior, and while their engines are indeed a bit sounder and speedier, they require valve adjustments every 150K miles, while Toyota's require no such onerous (and pricy) maintenance. Also, Toyota isn't tempting fate by jamming turbos onto every tiny engine they make, which speaks better of their long-term potential compared to Honda's penchant for spooling speed. Lastly, Honda has always been the more expensive brand, and for what you get over Toyota (better "styling"), I think saving a few thousand and buying a Corolla is smarter all around. Sure, Toyotas are frumpy looking, but if getting you from points A to B is the priority, it shouldn't matter. 

Dior and Chanel are both luxury designer brands, meaning that while their popular ranges are firmly at mid-tier designer, they also offer ancillary top-tier "niche quality" perfumes that will set you back a few hundred a bottle. Both are old brands, with fashion labels driving their businesses, and both enjoy long legacies of commercial success. Both are historical game-changers in the perfume realm, both are excellent in terms of quality and variety, and both are wins, so regardless of which you prefer, if you own a bottle of something from either house, you've got something worth wearing. 

With that said, I do view them very differently on a subjective level. My perceptions of these brands are mine alone, so I encourage you to come away from this article with only a superficial interest in how my opinion tracks with your own. I have relatively limited exposure to both brands, so I don't claim to be an expert on either one. I simply have my thoughts on them, and what I think are some interesting reasons why I prefer one brand over the other. It bears mentioning that I'm 42 years old, so I'm of a generation of borderline Gen-X/Millennials that tends to view anything from the eighties and nineties through rose-colored glasses, so take that for what it's worth. 

I'm judging these brands using three metrics: Quality, Wearability, and Innovation. In terms of quality, I'm referring to the quality of materials, design aesthetic, and the overall conception of fragrances. With wearability I'm strictly considering which fragrances are "friendlier" or "easier" to just pick up and wear without having to worry about pissing anyone off. With innovation, I'm considering which brand is more forward-footed in style. There are some crossover winners in each category, but ultimately one brand of the two is a bit ahead of the game, and it might not be so obvious which it is, just from guessing. 

Let's start with quality, and Dior. Lately Christian Dior's marketing has been hyperfocused on Sauvage, their new flagship masculine. I say "new" advisedly; Sauvage is nine years old. For almost a full decade now, this fragrance has been the sun around which their other perfumed planets orbit. It is in their mid-tier line, priced at $120 for 100 ml, which is reasonable. What do you get for your money? I've never been all that enamored with Sauvage's aesthetic. The faded black-to-blue glass, the simple no-frills bottle, the black magnetic cap, all seem drab and uninviting. I don't see Sauvage on the counter and think, "I want to smell that." I think it's as dull and neutral as a brand can get, shy of putting out an unmarked tin. It's as anticlimactic as Clinique's Happy. was back in the nineties. "Savage" stuff, with all the savagery bled out of it. 

Sauvage is a blatantly synthetic fragrance, but that isn't surprising. Most of Dior's frags are blatantly synthetic. LVMH has access to the most expensive materials in the world, yet Sauvage smells like anybody could have cobbled it together. When it was released in 2015, the talk was about its intensive Ambroxan base, which was considerably louder and brasher than most of what came before. In Dior's case, the Ambroxan was clearly meant to be a "trendsetter" material, and indeed it was: after its release, Sauvage wound up spawning dozens of imitators, be they competitors (Luna Rossa Carbon), clones (Ventana), or just frags that wanted to cash in on what had become an Ambrox Craze (Office One). I found Sauvage to be a surprisingly unorthodox designer masculine, simply because the intensity of its accords and perversely traditional note structure (bergamot, pepper, lavender, cedar) seemed weirdly novel. 

Like it or hate it, the original Sauvage EDT of 2015 was well made, but not a standout in terms of material quality. It has that decidedly "designer" feel to it, of brash synthetic peppers comingling with equally loud woody ambers and fakey-fake ambergris/Ambrox, and at no point does wearing the original fragrance (the only version I mean to comment on here) make me want more. This isn't something I need to own. I'm not impressed with the "feel" of Sauvage. Yes, it's good. I get why guys love it. And yes, it works. This is a solid clubber scent, classier than most per its avoidance of trite caramel cliches. But Sauvage is something that endures in spite of itself, a fragrance that survives on the unlimited incomes of greaseball playboys who think every Thursday night is college night for the rest of their lives. This isn't a fragrance that serious fragrance connoisseurs think deep thoughts about. 

If the bergamot were a little less piercing, if the herbal/floral notes were a bit softer, if whatever chem is responsible for all that peppery "fizziness" were dialed back, and if the Ambroxan weren't so keyed up at the end, I think Sauvage would feel like something I could own. This gets us to wearability: Sauvage EDT is loud (the EDP is apparently not much better). Go easy on the trigger with this stuff. It fills rooms. It precedes its wearer. It's one of those things that sticks around long after you've left the building. Sauvage is wearable in that it's not a bad composition, but it's a bit tricky in the sense that you have to gauge how much is too much, and base that in part on weather conditions, temperature, and whatever activity you intend to partake in (indoor/outdoor). You can wear one spray with confidence, but two sprays might be too much. 

Is it innovative? Here's where Dior excels: Sauvage joins the esteemed ranks of older titles like Poison, Fahrenheit, Dune, and J'Adore as a marquee name that invented a new approach to synthetics. Here, the approach was simply to overload on Amroxan until your nosehairs hurt. But it worked, and it influenced literally every brand from here to Qatar in the years since. Here I am, nine years later, still writing about Sauvage. That says something. But like I said, Dior has always been avant-garde. Poison was terrifying in its intensity in the eighties, a floral nightmare in a black bottle that lasted for eons and boasted sillage that traversed city blocks. Fahrenheit was a novel accord of mown grass mixed with petrol and a hint of sweet florals. Dune was dry and fresh and weird. J'Adore was sweet and dusky and sultry, and all of these Dior fragrances are of a kind that are never forgotten once they've been smelled. Try them once, and you've irrevocably advanced your understanding of modern perfumery. 

This means Dior is the more stylish brand, the "edgier," faster label. If you want to play it safe, you don't look to Dior. Even Dior Homme, which is ostensibly their signature masculine, is a metrosexual homage to iris, a powdery lipstick kiss branded as a masculine. It doesn't get any more subversive than that. Yet Dior Homme's material quality isn't a heck of a lot higher than something like Michel Germaine's Deauville, which was a trailblazer in 1999 for having an intense iris note front and center in a mainstream masculine. Don't get me wrong, Dior is using better materials, but they're not so much better that spending the extra hundred dollars for a bottle of Dior Homme is a slam-dunk. I could just as easily spring for a ten dollar bottle of Deauville and get a satisfying iris fix, even if the material quality might be noticeably inferior. 

This brings me to Chanel. If we take a look at Chanel's flagship masculine, Bleu de Chanel, we find ourselves with something comparable to Sauvage in both presentation and scope. While it is just as muted in packaging style, a simple dark grey-blue glass square with a black magnetic cap, Bleu has something that Sauvage lacks: it is a true "remake" of a classic Chanel fragrance. The original Bleu de Chanel was released in 1931 alongside the accompanying "Rouge de Chanel" and "Beige de Chanel," and was a product of Gabrielle Chanel's salad days.


This fragrance smelled nothing like the current version, which is merely a revival of the name and not the fragrance, but it ties into a full-circle evolution of Chanel's branding, which by 1940 was largely limited to Chanel N° 5. Here we see that Bleu was indeed a smaller fragrance that was probably limited in release, and sat untouched in the archives at 31 Rue Cambon for decades before a brief ever crossed Jacques Polge's desk. Polge has divulged that his inspiration for his revival of Bleu was gleaned from years of shaving in airport lavatories, surrounded by men and their aftershaves, with a distinctly herbal-fresh glow following him all the way to the little square blue bottle we now know to be Chanel's modern masterpiece. 

The quality of Bleu de Chanel eau de toilette is leagues above that of Sauvage. This is inarguable. Where Sauvage's bergamot bites like a hungry wolf, Bleu's silvery lemon caresses the air in an aldehydic fizz, smelling life-like and rounded. Where Sauvage's peppery ambers ensconce the wearer, Bleu's minty ginger and vetiver ensemble settles into a refined hum. Where Sauvage's scratchy Ambroxan base bellows from the rooftops, Bleu's iso E Super and incense/patchouli base accord simply states that it is present, smelling crisp and civilized. Every note is accounted for, every element is crystalline, clear, and yet integral to the whole experience, the mark of a truly beautiful perfume. It may not win awards for being the world's most natural fragrance, but Bleu de Chanel EDT smells significantly better and more natural than Sauvage. 

Chanels are, in general, very conservative fragrances. Where Dior pushes the envelope, Chanel pushes the past. Traditionalism, civility, and maturity are all inherent to the Chanel brief. Look at what they offer: Antaeus is the most daunting of the line, and it is simply an animalic woody-floral chypre with an abundance of castoreum, which at this point has been neutered down to being barely there anyway. Beyond this one aberration, Chanel's range is unremittingly "safe," with things like Allure, L'Égoïste, Cristalle, and Chanel Pour Monsieur filling out their catalog. At no point in the Chanel lexicon does anyone think, "This shit is crazy." You might think that if you're not used to smelling gasoline in your grassy masculines and you've just sprayed Fahrenheit for the first time. Not so much after a spritz of liquid kitchen spice-and-sandalwood L'Égoïste. Even Platinum L'Égoïste is simply a familiar Cool Water-inspired freshie with your expected lavender and garrigue motif. 

Thus Chanels are intrinsically more wearable than your average Dior fragrance. When you really think about it, Diors aren't typically the safest perfumes out there. Conceptually speaking, their edginess is pretty established. If you're someone who wishes to smell unique, you wear Dior. If you're someone who wishes to smell unmistakably good, you turn to Chanel. This isn't to say that Dior's offerings smell less than good -- many Diors smell incredible -- it simply says that smelling incredible is a "maybe" with Dior, while it's virtually a guarantee with Chanel. I can't think of a single Chanel fragrance that doesn't smell indulgently beautiful. Sure, they may not be "exiting" per say, but if you appreciate beauty, you might find your heart flutters a bit faster upon smelling a Chanel. 

Pour Monsieur in its EDP form is yet another starched and buttoned-up offering, and I think it's a very good, albeit somewhat secondary fragrance. I was never one to jump on the Pour Monsieur bandwagon, as I consider it little more than a landmark masculine from an age when most houses did not offer masculines (but were starting to, 1955). Here is where Dior may have an advantage. Eau Sauvage, released eleven years after Pour Monsieur, took the fresh citrus chypre idea and one-upped it with Edmond Roudnitska's genius insertion of Hedione, which smells like liquid sex. Give me a bottle of the original Eau Sauvage over Pour Monsieur any day of the week. Eau Sauvage is simply the better fragrance, and it stands the test of time, smelling just as elegant and alluring as ever. 

Pour Monsieur, in contrast, smells dated and a bit stodgy, simply because Henri Robert had modeled it on classical eau de colognes without looking to modern tech, which was more Roudnitska's bag. Edmond Roudnitska's name is inextricably tied to Dior, as he was the author of the famous "Dior Twins," starting with Diorama in 1949 and ending with Diorissimo in 1956. Roudnitska wasn't wedded to "naturals" and standard synthetics. He was pioneering in his embrace of novel synthetic molecules, famously adding Calone 1951 to Diorissimo, in perhaps its very first mainstream application in perfumery. If we look at Dior through the Roudnitska lens, we see a brand that achieved greatness. 

But while I appreciate the past foibles of its pioneering nose, I view the Dior of today as the Honda of perfumery, i.e., more style than substance. Yeah, Dior is stylish and edgy and "fast" and fun. You can better handle sharp turns wearing Fahrenheit or Dior Homme than you can in the languorous Allure Homme or L'Égoïste. But the truth is, Fahrenheit and Dior Homme (and Sauvage) will wear out faster. You don't see many guys who wear Fahrenheit as their "signature" fragrance, their daily driver. There's a reason for that. You don't see a lot of guys in the real world (outside our fragcom bubble) who actually wear Dior Homme to work every day. There's a reason for that. Even Eau Sauvage, as lovely as it is, isn't really in the rotation on the regular anymore. There's a reason for that. Dior is the brand you take for a test drive when you want excitement, but you don't take it home. 

Chanel is the take-home house. Chanel is the Toyota of perfumery. Rounded edges, no sharp curves, all fuzzy and soft and comfortable, but nothing so amazingly sexy or seductive as J'Adore will ever grace Channel's range. The Chanel girl is classic. She fashions herself after Marilyn Monroe. She wears pearls and N° 5, and it's the "nothing else" part that makes you perk up and notice. The Chanel guy is dependable, sturdy, the rock you lean on in hard times. He wears Bleu, or if he's really testosterone-laden, Antaeus. He rolls up in Allure Homme or Allure Homme Blanche, and he smiles, and he waves, and his teeth gleam, and you feel better knowing he's in the neighborhood, because there are still American men living here. You know you'll get there with Chanel. You're pretty sure you'll get there with Dior. It's not a fair trade, if you actually sit down and look at the specs of these two brands. One gives you excitement, but some of that excitement might be being stuck in the driveway at six a.m. with a dead battery. You thought you wanted to wear Sauvage, but the Ambroxan is already givin you a headache, and it's almost not too late to head back inside for Tylenol. 

Of the two, I prefer Chanel. Let's face it, people: Chanel manages acre after acre of its own fields of flowers, just so it can get natural yield of distillates and butters to use in their products. This is a brand that, despite the knocks it takes for being unadventurous and "safe," takes perfumery seriously. It continues in that direction, despite the more recent anodyne approach of aftershave-inspired Bleu. At least Chanel sticks to what it does best, and keeps its aesthetic timeless and "chic." Not once has the house jumped the shark. 

Dior is a little less dependable, a little more synthetic and abrasive, and perhaps even a bit less serious in overall scope. While I don't think the perfumers at Dior are phoning it in, I do think its LVMH corporate overlord is more interested in plastering Johnny Depp's face everywhere than it is in releasing a truly great perfume. Chanel remains privately owned by the Wertheimer family, and is thus not beholden to a larger conglomerate with all the potential conflicts of interest that can arise when a parent company has "visions" for brands in its portfolio. That's a better baseline, and helps me sleep better. 

4/17/24

I Bought Another Bottle of 'The Veg'



Someday someone will
figure out how to precisely date Pinaud products, sort of like that anonymous guy did with his exhaustively compiled Old Spice site. The bottle shown here was purchased by me on eBay last week, and as you can see, it is almost identical to the one that was shattered a month ago. 

I won't wax on about Lilac Vegetal, or how gorgeous its vintage bottles are, especially its drugstore "coffin" styled bottles, as I've already done that ad nauseam in a few prior posts. I'll merely point out several differences between this "new" bottle and the one I used to reach for when I wanted to smile. First, another look at the deceased bottle, which was several years older in vintage, shown below.


Note the paper band around the neck, and the 1.19 "plus tax" on the sale ribbon. Also note that it says Ed. Pinaud, and does not state the "alcohol contents" percentage. My newest bottle up top lacks the paper neck band, says 1.29 (and doesn't mention tax), says Pinaud instead of Ed. Pinaud, and states the alcohol percentage above the bottle size.

I would have saved the cream bakelite cap from the deceased bottle, except it also broke! Chipped a good chunk right off it, rendering it useless. Had it survived, I would've swapped it onto my new bottle and gotten rid of the bright green plastic cap that Pinaud switched to in later packaging. But the plastic caps have one feature that I do like, which is the "P" embossed on top. My other bottle cap lacked this feature.


Unfortunately my "new" vintage drugstore bottle is inferior to the other bottle in a couple of notable ways. Although still beautiful and in very good condition, the bottle's sides are embossed in a crumbier fashion, lacking the definition and beauty of the former design. You can still read "Insist on the genuine Pinaud," but it's a little more work to make it out. 

"New" Bottle

"Old" Bottle



The same problem applies to the "A La Corbeille Fleurie" logo, which on the "new" bottle is so pathetically vague that they should have just let the glass be. 

"New"

"Old"

With that said, one thing I like better on my latest bottle is the back label, which just looks cleaner and better designed than the older one did. It's so pretty that it could act as the front label without anyone thinking anything of it. 


I'm not sure, but I feel like the older bottle was physically larger than this one. But as always, I lucked out with the actual product inside the bottle, which smells fantastic, actually brighter, fresher, and more lucid than the other bottle, and perhaps even the barbershop bottle, although I wouldn't swear on that. My guess is this bottle dates to the late sixties, early seventies. My previous bottle was fifties/early sixties. No barcode, and no plastic other than the cap, so the one pictured directly above is definitely pre-eighties. 

I keep the barbershop bottle at my girlfriend's place (where it can't be broken) and the drugstore bottle at my house (also where it's unlikely to break). If anyone knows the age of this bottle, or any of my bottles, please hit me up on Fragrantica. 

4/15/24

Bird of Paradise (Avon)


Avon is sort 
of a mind-warping brand for fragrance enthusiasts. On the one hand, it's a cheap and somewhat gimmicky mail-order concern that is representative of every twentieth century archetypical "consumerism" paradigm imaginable. You want a fragrance? Don't have a lot of cash to spend? Here's the Avon catalog. It has two hundred items for quick order this season, and another two hundred available at the end of the year. Next year another few hundred will roll out, and none of them cost more than eight bucks. Pick a title and it'll show up at your door in a week. That was how Avon worked from 1940 to 2016, which was when Cerberus Capital Management inked an acquisition deal and sent the brand to Latin American countries, where it continues to enjoy success.

On the other hand, Avon is a serious historical oddity of a brand that has released more perfumes than virtually any other company. The casual observer may think it's a cheapo throwaway name, but those who are in-the-know view it as a playground for big-name perfumers, including Olivier Cresp, Harry Frémont, Laurent Le Guernec, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and Sonia Constant, among others. People of their pedigree consider Avon to be a safe testing ground for unusual ideas, a place where experimentation and freedom of expression can occur without much risk of their careers going up in flames. If you try out a new girly-floral idea that incorporates durian fruit and the result sends people running for the exits, you'll be given a good brief for Dior the next day, because nobody minds if an Avon perfume doesn't sell. Avon has something like three thousand perfumes under its belt. A failure could live in their range for years before they even notice it. 

Things get even more interesting when you look at what was released in the sixties and seventies. Take Bird of Paradise, for instance. Released in 1969, this stuff was a bridge between the patchouli head-shop vibe of the hippy free-love era and the open-collared Stepford/Nixonian decade that followed. It came in a variety of bottles, but its earlier incarnations were clear glass with gold caps that were shaped to fit whatever sculpted image Avon was having fun with that day. The original was a rather pretty peacock, but it also came in a fairly uninteresting rectangular bottle and a smaller "golden thimble" bottle, which is the one I own. How does it smell? It's formal but affecting, a Schiff base derived from methyl anthranilate and an aldehyde, upon which one of history's more opulent drugstore orientals was built. Bergamot, lavender, a hint of pineapple for fruitiness, honey for sweetness, florals and greens, sandalwood (a surprisingly high quality synthetic but not Mysore, contrary to popular belief), and incense. No masterpiece, but nice. You get more than you paid for here, which is how Avon has persevered for over a century. 

4/14/24

Lilac Toilette Water (1812 Apothecary), and the Problem With 'Natural' Lilac Scents


Lately I've been
studying William Poucher's approach to reconstructing the living essence of lilac. His formula, "Lilac Bouquet, No. 1194" is a list of twenty-two materials in parts per thousand, and nearly all of them are still available to perfumers today. Terpineol is the key material, noted as "extra rectified" and generously dosed at 120 ppt, yet eclipsed in weight by hydroxy-citronellol (165 ppt), cinnamic alcohol (175 ppt), and phenylethyl alcohol (155 ppt). Hydroxy-citronellol smells of muguet/soapy white floral, cinnamic alcohol of ambery florals, and phyenylethyl alcohol of roses. Terpineol, at any but the most dilute amount, smells piney, bordering on woody-citrus. But in high dilution, terpineol smells of lilac flowers, live on the tree, and works wonders. 

When I consider what a true "lilac water" is, I'm conflicted. Poucher's legendary formula dates back to the turn of the twentieth century, and is considered by many to be a marvel of modern chemistry. His late eighteenth century creation reconstructs the headspace essence of lilac flower using a clever workaround to the age-old problem of attempting to create lilac perfumes, namely that lilacs have no yield. Try gathering bundles of lilac flowers for distillation, and what you'll end up with, after agonizing your way through literally hundreds of pounds of flowers, will be a pocket flask full of something that smells very little like the actual bud. This elusive flower doesn't even afford our noses the luxury of enjoying it cut from the tree; wait an hour after snipping and you'll find that its sweetness has dulled, as if the blooms know they've been killed. 

This makes synthesis an inevitability. Perfumers have little choice but to reconstruct the smell by cobbling various disparate elements into something that closely approximates the living flower. But what did all of those early-to-mid eighteenth century barbers use? What were the cowboys in the 1850s and '60s being offered after a close shave? Lilac waters were in use back then but they predated the clever chemistry experiments of Pinaud and Poucher's era. The average barber wasn't going to pay a fortune for some enfleurage-made lilac perfume, which would only come in sub-fifty milliliter sizes anyway. We know that perfumery advanced when synthetics were discovered and employed, and by the 1870s that process was underway, but the midcentury toilette waters predated much of the scientific molecular revolution. How then did people make do?

It turns out they didn't. In Ashby, Massachusetts, there is a company called 1812 Apothecary, which is a subsidiary concern of the Second Chance Farm Sanctuary, an animal sanctuary that moonlights as a natural perfumery. I happened across their lilac toilette water on Etsy and bought a large bottle. According to their shop, their lilac water is seasonal, and is only available for brief periods in spring. It isn't entirely clear how they make it, but they claim it is "aged six months and of course made with our own farm-grown lilacs." The ingredients list is very short: spirits, lilac, lilac essential oil. It's that last part that raises my eyebrow, because lilac essential oil is very expensive and doesn't really smell like lilacs. And if there's actual lilac flowers in the brew, how were they "aged" to create this product? Steeped in spirits? Or were they actually given an enfleurage treatment? If the latter, this stuff would be a hell of a lot more expensive than it is. 

If the flowers were simply dropped in a vat of spirits and left to sit for months, then the result wouldn't smell anything like lilacs. This is a conundrum, because 1812 Apothecary's lilac water does smell like lilacs. Well, it dries down to the smell of purple lilac, that sweet and unforgettable aroma. But it starts out smelling like a failed natural perfumery experiment, a weirdly dissonant accord of flattened and condensed floral materials that seem to veer slightly into a bizarre zone of cinnamon and tree bark. What I've gleaned from the wearing experience is that the farm-grown lilacs were indeed steeped in spirits for half a year, then filtered into this perfume, and their yield is evocative of being surrounded by flowers that were felled and left in a wet field for a few weeks. Kinda-sorta lilac-floral, but hampered by a borderline-rotten vegetal scent tinged by a lick of geosmin.  

Just when I thought the whole thing was botched, the all-natural lilac burned off and transitioned to what must be the "lilac essential oil." Saying that your fragrance contains the essential oil of something that isn't represented by its EO is strange. It also gives the perfumer plenty of latitude to use a professionally-compounded concentration oil of the sort used by any mainstream or niche perfumery, and simply call it an EO because it sounds more "natural." Whatever the case may be, 1812 Apothecary's Lilac Toilette Water dries down to a truly gorgeous powdery-fresh purple lilac, and is probably the best lilac fragrance I've ever encountered. Whatever they're using, whatever their ace of spades secret formula happens to be, it works. I'm here to tell you, I'm pleased with it. If you're like me, and you're obsessed with lilac, this stuff smells absolutely beautiful. Does it smell exactly like living flower? No, but it clearly isn't trying to, and I like that it doesn't. It smells close, and puts its own spin on the idea by imbuing the floral sweetness with a dry and almost chalky quality. It's like Mary Cassatt's Lilacs in a Window interpreted as perfume. 

My guess is that the people at Second Chance Farm Sanctuary use some sort of IFF-derived (or similar) compounded concentrate, not a million miles away from Poucher's, and they simply dole it out across a limited number of bottles each year. It wouldn't be insanely expensive to buy a convincing semi-synthetic lilac base that also plays well with a quirky all-natural lilac brew, and it would be a smart approach for anyone trying to revive this genre. If they only used the natural stuff, it would be a complete failure, and would smell for hours like the first eight minutes of this product, i.e., nothing like actual lilac. My guess is this part of the fragrance is what those cowboy toilette waters smelled like back in the gunslinger days. Inject a little modern medicine into things, and suddenly you have a minor miracle. If I were them, I would scale back on the naturals and bump up the "essential oil" component. The result would be worth far more than four bucks an ounce. 

4/13/24

Moss  (Commodity)

Minimalism is something I've been thinking about for most of my life. The idea of abandoning the complex modern world and living on a desert island in a spartan hut with no extraneous belongings was a childhood fantasy. Just me, a pen full of chickens, a small vegetable garden, a fishing pole, and the open ocean. No concern about a job, or money, or social pressures. Just make my own food and live. Pretty appealing. 

So I understand the philosophical ethic behind a fragrance like Moss  (dubbed "Personal" by the brand), a bleached white bottle containing a scent so simple and spare that Millburn, Coleman, and Nicodemus would surely endorse it. It opens with a faint whiff of citrus, juniper, and some green spice, and rapidly the citrus and juniper coalesce around a piercingly sharp petitgrain that focuses like an arrow on conveying a brisk freshness with just enough oomph! to travel two inches off my body. We're talking barely there, folks. Sneeze and you miss it. Within three hours it's gone. 

Commodity was a little too successful here. While Moss  does smell good, and I enjoy the crisp green notes on offer, everything is a little too wan and washed out to warrant further wears. Why apply something that will be gone before lunch? Heck, before breakfast, even? I'm all for minimalism, but there's a difference between that and scraping by, and with its razor-thin drydown, this one leaves me hanging.