Steading (Pineward)

If I've learned anything about postmodern perfumery, it's that there's a Great Olfactory Divide between the two sexes. Men smell things one way, and women smell them another. A good male perfumer is prone to enjoying animalic and deeply woody (nudging into "urinous") notes of tobacco, unfiltered "raw" honey, maple syrup, stale grains, and decayed woods. His girl, on the other hand, may not share his enthusiasm. 

This poses an existential dilemma: should men wear things that they like, or should their fragrances be unerringly in sync with feminine sensibilities? If they cater to themselves, they risk eternal bachelorhood, but at least they enjoy what they're wearing. If they attend to their partners' tastes, they may eschew the impracticality of owning their favored "challenging" perfumes to better maintain happy relationships. This has never been more true for me than it is with Steading. I can attest to the allure of Steading. It smells intense right out of the atomizer, and remains so for fully seventy-two unwashed hours. And it smells challenging. Oh man, does it smell challenging. One-two punches of maple syrup, gingerbread molasses, waxy honey, and cigar tobacco assaults every nasal orifice within a three-mile radius, and the onslaught doesn't ease up. Eventually the maple, honey, and tobacco form a core accord of sweet and direly woody ("peat smoke," supposedly) machismo. Move over Havana. Step aside, Tobacco Vanille. Outta the way, Molton Brown Tobacco Absolute. Steading is here. You think you're an aggressive, king-making masculine tobacco fragrance? Hold Steading's beer.

I like it. But I'm sure I'd never wear it, because it's a nose-crinkler, even for me. I enjoy smelling it. I just couldn't wear it all day, or even for a couple of hours. Imagine the smell of raw, straight-from-the-hive honey, that intensely sweet, borderline stinky smell of almost-pee bee vomit, mixed with the wax they wiggle in. Now imagine wearing it. Now imagine wearing it in the car. Now imagine wearing it in the car, next to your girlfriend. 
Mine said, "Uh, no." Case closed. 


Alfiryn (Pineward)

The house of Creed is known for taking the commercial perfumes that have found resonance with the public and "upgrading" them using higher quality materials in similar but more elegant compositions. They are not unique in doing this, as Nicholas Nilsson makes clear with Alfiryn, the only blatantly feminine perfume in his line. Pineward's website states, "Deep white florals grounded in creamy massoia and sandalwood, vibrant enfleurage gives this inverted floral perfume a softly textured halo." I find this description strange but rather accurate, although I can't help but smirk at the suggestion that the painstaking and commercially unviable technique of enfleurage (the use of odorless fats to extract floral essences) was used to create Alfiryn. Why? Because it smells like an upscale copy of Wind Song by Prince Matchabelli. 

Wind Song dates to 1953, and it smells like the logical next stop after Chanel No. 5 (1921) and Tabu (1932). It's a smooth, lactonic woody-floral, its scent a mimicry of its bottle in studding a crown of carnation with jewels of Damask rose, jasmine, and lilac. It smells mostly of a clovey carnation brushed with a buttery lactone that is deeper and woodier than the milky peach lactone in Mitsouko, rounded off with the warmth of rose and jasmine, and tinged with cool lilac for a nuanced green finish. This describes Alfiryn to the letter, with the only difference being that Pineward's scent smells a bit richer, stronger, and warmer than its airier drugstore predecessor. Alfiryn's use of massoia lactone is evident in the balmy-coconut smoothness undergirding its florals, and there is perhaps a dollop of peachy Nectaryl in the top notes, lending a bit of sunshine to the duskier affair thereafter. 

Eventually a clovey carnation reconstruction dominates, and I smell the same three florals in the periphery: rose, jasmine, lilac. To my nose, the rose and lilac are noticeably larger in Alfiryn than in Wind Song, ten carats to Matchabelli's two, but they assume the same roles as supporting acts. So, do I like this fragrance? Although Alfiryn lacks originality, it succeeds in taking a classical floral perfume and giving it the "niche treatment" of better materials at higher concentration. I'm inclined to like it, but it gives me pause. Its only faults are that it's a little too dead-on, and I would argue that because it's so strikingly similar, the people who would spend $135 on a one-ounce bottle would do better to spend $10 on twice as much of Wind Song. Nilsson made Alfiryn richer and stronger than its template, but I think he took it in the wrong direction; this stuffy room-filler was begging to be lightened and modernized instead. 


Nocturnis (Pineward)

There are a few woody-green fragrances from the eighties and nineties that I consider memorable. Tsar, Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, Red for Men, Laguna, Aqua Quorum, and Polo Crest are among them. They all toyed with evergreen notes in ways that accentuated a solid structure of some discernible rank, be it fougère or chypre, and their drydowns were remarkably durable and that most important of important things: versatile. 

Tsar was beautiful in a suit or at a backyard barbecue. Its languid fougère greenery elevated notes of lavender and coumarin into a glittering night sky ringed with spires of fir, evocative of a romantic night on the town, or stories by a campfire. Pineward's Nocturnis reminds me of Tsar. According to Nicholas Nilsson, Nocturnis is a stew of accords inspired by RL Polo ("Green"), overlaid with Fanghorn II, which is the house accord. This strikes me as odd, because Nocturnis doesn't resemble either thing. It opens with a buoyantly fizzy juniper-berry-gin-tonic-and-evergreen-sprig top note; a compact arrangement, yet legible. Eventually the juniper burns off, a mild lavender sweetness fades in, and everything steers into a gauzy-green haze of woodsy almost-pine notes. Hard to say what he was actually going for, but the nose wanted something pleasantly masculine, and he got it. 

The far drydown is a bit less successful, but still pleasant, a powdery oakmoss and patchouli, and little else. It's here that I'm wanting the versatility and structure of the aforementioned classics, but instead find that Nilsson reached the limits of his vision for Nocturnis at the halfway point. I missed something, or he did. A piece of melancholy, as found in Paco Rabanne, or the dream-like lilt of Laguna, or even the Calone breeze rustling the tree branches of Aqua Quorum. Nocturnis is nice but a bit bland, and overshadowed by vintages that can still be had for a fraction of its price. 


Boreal (Pineward)

Peppermint is tricky for perfumers to get right. Too much of it in isolation, and you have mouthwash. An overdose of menthol, and it's aftershave. Pair it with spice, especially cinnamon, and it's toothpaste. And accidentally convening all of these unfortunate outcomes results in something that smells like the spit in your morning sink. 

The top accord of Boreal is an unbalanced burst of peppermint, cinnamon, cedar, and pine, with the mint and cinnamon notes battling the woods to see which can smell more like Carly Simon's Converse Oat-Nut Organic Wholefoods Non-GMO toothpaste. This shaky takeoff settles into a turbelent mentholated pine needle heart, which smells okay and achieves its "Manly Man" ambitions, but not without a hint of sweaty curry-and-cumin funk in the background. This would be great if it were intentional, but it clearly isn't. 

Boreal's base is little more than the persistent sharpness of fading terpenes and menthol. It's a reminder that although many independent niche brands have made impressive inroads into the niche market, the noses driving many of them are amateurs, and this truth bomb explodes whenever perennial herbs enter the picture. I'm calling for a moratorium on all mint notes in indie perfumery until its people are given a formal training on how to use the stuff correctly. 


Pastoral (Pineward)

I'm not into "gourmands," which to perfume are compositions featuring predominantly food-like notes, but every so often I'm taken with an accord that is literally mouthwatering. Such is the case with Pastoral, which Nicholas Nilsson describes as "the embodiment of standing on one's porch on a crisp, clear autumn day, nostalgic for the idyllic rural past unexperienced and English countryside escapades." Dodgy grammar aside, I get what he's on about: a romantic picnic in a bucolic setting. His usage of lush fruit notes and a Watteau-sized coumarin leaves little room for a different interpretation. 

Pastoral opens with a beautiful cinnamon-spiced apricot jam top note that rapidly dusks into a blackberry preserve, a very nice opening trajectory that is truly unique for this house. It gets warmer and spicier with time, supposedly with notes of propolis and woods, but the fruits remain for the duration and are upheld by a smooth, hay-like coumarin. This brusque, coumarinic warmth gets sweeter and sturdier as it dries, and marks the heart. Six hours later it gets a little thin, but remains pleasant, with the woody hay effect having taken on a freshly-baked raisin bread characteristic. Sweetness works when it makes sense, and although the base isn't all that complex, its digestible aura is focused and foody enough to avoid smelling overtly of Yankee Candle. Very nice. 

With Pastoral, I find myself wondering about the materials Nilsson uses. Every note in his fragrance is potent enough to emit a vague cloud of saccharine warmth, and they speak to a richness that is suggestive of quality, but in a pushy way. The brightness of apricot and blackberry is dimmed by a strange Rococo effect of every fruity facet feeling honeyed and ambery, and there are moments when the cinnamon note, which was clearly intended to be a bit player, seems to envelope me in its rustic warmth. Pastoral is noteworthy for being the only Pineward perfume that uses intense sweetness to its advantage. 


Caravansary (Pineward)

A Deer Musk Pod

Nicholas Nilsson knows that dedicated fragheads like samples. This fact is one that many niche brands have opted to ignore in recent years, as the economic wisdom of sending samples has been called into question by the millions who scratch and sniff, and then move on without buying. What Nilsson apparently knows better than his competitors is that potential customers who smell and move on are still potential customers, even if they wait a few weeks or months to purchase. So he wisely included in his sample package an upcoming perfume called Caravansary, which according to him is a work in progress, and slated for release this year.

The notes breakdown for Caravansary is as follows: fir balsam, deer musk, vanilla, black tea, lavender, blue spruce, blue chamomile, treemoss, incense, campfire smoke. I mention the list because I can smell most of these notes in play (minus the "blue" descriptors, which sound good but aren't relevant), and Caravansary is a perfume that evolves on skin over time to reveal different facets that are not obvious in the first five minutes, but become very obvious after five hours. It opens with a rather "pissy" terpenic pine accord of fir needles and sappy-resinous greens, with a soft lavender note holding the bitterness in check. Twenty minutes later a smooth vanilla note rises from the forest floor like a cool mist, adding a tempered sweetness to offset the angry woodiness at the start. 

Eventually the fragrance becomes herbal, with hints of a tea note, a few drops of chamomile, and a smoky quality within the vanilla. Caravansary's magic unfolds at the ninety minute mark, when a novel deer musk accord takes shape. It smells like 3-methyl-1-cyclopentadecanone (laveo muscone), aka deer musk, and deer musk, real or synthetic, has more weight to the nose than smell. It is a heavy, acrid, powdery, animalic, and subtly sweet sensation that fills the lungs with every inhalation, and holds them open for an extra few seconds. Caravansary's base is a deer musk note with its hard edges of motor oil and dirty horse stall sanded into an eminently wearable and somewhat animalic sweetness, an extension of the vanilla that preceded it. Note to Nicholas -- don't be so polite! This is his Kouros, and it smells great, but the unrealized promise of its musk has me, pardon the pun, "pining" for more. Luckily, he has time to tinker. 


White Fir (Pineward)

Vidal must not
have known what it was starting when it created Pino Silvestre in 1955. The Venetian firm spent months perfecting their iconic smell of nature, and after World War II it became an ode to Earth and the pastoral pleasures that armies had trampled over and forgotten. The Italian aesthetic of coniferous and herbal-green perfumes was adopted the world over, and Pino Silvestre was a slow-burn hit that found its way into the American lexicon of masculinity and sat among its cultural markers. 

The formula was deceptively complex, and also just plain deceptive: Lino Vidal included no actual pine. Instead, a clever amalgamation of lemon, basil, lavender, and a honeyed woody amber comprised his trademark evergreen accord. The citrus and cheery dry-needle interpretation of coumarin lent the fragrance an eerie freshness that felt akin to walking through a forest on a cool spring morning. It's the sort of smell you can't really imitate, which is probably why Vidal cornered the market. With so few selections available to men anyway, Pino Silvestre was a respectable daily splash, and reflective of the virility of the fifties Mad Man, the sort of scent that filled the morning train. 

Sixty-eight years later, Nicholas Nilsson has recaptured the austere beauty of pine in the Vidal tradition. White Fir is one of Pineward's more recent releases, and is just as crisp and smart as its European predecessor, thanks to its gorgeous pairing of citrus and pine. Nilsson subbed the morning brightness of Vidal's lemons with the sunset glow of oranges, and brushed some icy ginger into the greens to add frost to his landscape. The result smells the way I imagine Pino Silvestre did upon first release, which is to say, astonishingly beautiful. Pineward has in excess of twenty straight pine frags in its line. Frankly, Nilsson could can most of the others and just keep this one. A masterpiece. 


Apple Tabac (Pineward)

Good perfumery transports
me to a different time and place via my nose. It is January 1st, 2023, and I'm in the dullest part of the year. January is a month with few associations other than disappointment that the holidays are over and the chagrined acknowledgement that work must resume. But what if I could turn back the clock to a point where all the holidays are ahead again? Is there a time-travel device that would let me do that?

Turns out there is, and it comes in the form of a fragrance. It's by Nicholas Nilsson, an indie perfumer who heads a brand of woodsy, pine-focused perfumes, only this one isn't about pine. It's called Apple Tabac, and it's about the salubrious smells of apple orchards in October. One spray sends me back to early autumn, before Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I'm standing in an orchard on a cool day. A breeze sends ripples of fifty-eight degree air through row after row of apple trees, and carries the sublime aroma of fresh red and green fruits, a bouquet of leaves, dried hay bales, and fermented cores nestled in the soil underfoot. It's a dry and semisweet smell, smoother than silicon and as ethereal as choir music drifting past a cathedral gallery to the heavens.  

This is the simplest of Pineward's fragrances, which is what I like most about it. Its easy timbre of tree apples and fresh air is so pure and affecting that any other note would be disruptive. Prior batches had a maple note which has since been removed, and Apple Tabac is all the better for it. Maple would conflict and add unnecessary sweetness, and I hope Nilsson keeps it out of future bottles. There's only the mildest hint of tobacco, which is also a good thing. But would I spend $200 for this? Nicole Miller for Men achieves a similar effect for $10 per bottle, albeit at lower quality. The fact that I'm even considering the price says something. Apple Tabac is a gorgeous perfume, and if you enjoy the smell of orchards in autumn, it might be your last stop. 


2023: Every Pineward Perfume To Be Reviewed

This post will give you a bit of a pre-game for what lies ahead in 2023. If you follow me on Fragrantica (username: karlovonamesti) you've seen that I've reviewed about half of the perfumes offered by Nicholas Nilsson's company, Pineward. Those are just snapshots of my impressions of these fragrances, and there are many other fragrances not included in Fragrantica's database that I'll be reviewing. Essentially I'll be rendering my opinion on every perfume offered by the brand, including one or two that are not yet available. 

With this in mind, I want to clarify the parameters and linguistic terms I'll be using. I view Nilsson's range as a product of the times. He's an independent ("indie") perfumer and I assume he's self-taught. He reminds me of John Pegg, a YouTuber who eventually self-taught his way into creating a perfume line that exists and thrives today, although I don't think Nilsson has a YouTube channel. He simply has an enthusiasm for perfumery, with a commendable focus on green-woody pine fragrances. Generally I find his fragrances to be well made and quite interesting, so my overview opinion of Pineward is that it's a worthy brand with several excellent perfumes. My one general critique would be that he offers too many perfumes, but he's not alone in that; nearly all the niche brands are crowding their boutiques with unnecessary and redundant offerings these days. 

With that in mind, I think it's only fair that I explain myself here. Every serious house has its own "house note" or "house accord" that is distinctly recognizable in nearly every fragrance it offers. Classic Guerlains contain "Guerlinade." Creeds dry down to "Creed Water," i.e., ambergris. Pineward has a "house accord" as well, but here it gets a little dicey: I don't particularly care for it. That doesn't mean the brand is a wash, because there are several in the line that deviate from this olfactory connective tissue, and most of them are Nilsson's greatest achievements by my lights. It just means that many of the fragrances that feature Pineward's unifying theme aren't scents I'd drop $200 on. It's hard to describe this "house accord" without sounding churlish, so I'll just say that it's a sweet woody amber, and for whatever reason it reminds me of Yankee Candles. Whenever I address this effect in Nilsson's perfumes, I'll dub it "candle amber," i.e., room-spray material.  

Having said that, I want to point out that there are two perfumes in the range that I want to bump past "good" and "great" to "transcendent." One I would wear on a daily basis and gladly fork over the big bucks for. The other is less my style, but still worthy of high praise and deserving of accolades across the fragrance community. They're so good that if Nilsson axed every other fragrance in his line and just offered the two, he would have the makings of a brand that could unseat some of the LVMH behemoths. He's clearly capable of replicating his successes. If I were his evaluator (if he had an evaluator) I'd recommend he do this and use his best work to develop a smaller product line.

I'll end by acknowledging that Pineward is a new Basenotes favorite, with a dedicated thread that at the date of writing is fully twenty-one pages long. I discovered this after penning my thoughts on every fragrance, and was not influenced at all by the contents of the thread. But I did find it interesting that a few members had impressions of the perfumes that were identical to mine, sometimes down to the exact same reference point (This one smells like *fill in the blank*). I find it mind boggling that there are guys out there who will drop thousands of dollars to own every full bottle Pineward sells, but it doesn't really surprise me. The love of perfume is an addiction, and I expect that in ten or fifteen years we'll see the emergence of therapists who specialize in perfume addiction counseling. Amazon accounts will be locked by court order, perfumers will be sued, and the first of twelve steps will involve dumping your niche purchases down the toilet. 


My (Very Late) Quick Take on the 2018 Guide

I was thumbing through Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's Perfumes: The Guide 2018, and I was struck by a few oddities. What really leaps out at me is the fact that the review breakdown is pretty asymmetrical compared to their previous guides. The 2008 edition featured a fifty-fifty balance of reviews by both Turin and Sanchez, with nearly every review alternating between the two. This is also true of their 2009 update, which was the same book with some additional fragrances that were previously overlooked. 

The 2018 edition is 90% Luca Turin. Sanchez barely contributes, which suggests she wasn't as enthusiastic about diving headfirst into another perfume guide. The new book departs from its predecessors by focusing entirely on expensive niche fragrances, and if memory serves me, Sanchez's impressions in the previous books weren't all that snobby. One gets the sense that while Turin sneers at anything under $30 an ounce, Sanchez is open-minded and prone to enjoying something as long as it smells good. She wrote the greatest line I've ever read in perfume writing: "The great secret of the nonluxury perfumes is that the only allure they have for the buyer is their smell." 

Another interesting thing is that many of Turin's reviews in the 2018 book were pulled from his column for Vogue Arabia, so I wonder how much work Turin actually put into writing it. He tweaked his thoughts and editorialized at length, but it's unclear as to which reviews are exclusive to the book (I am not an avid reader of Vogue Arabia). 

Some things of interest to me:
  • Roja Dove is the new Creed. Turin rates every Roja Parfums entry as "routine," and says little else about them. Reading between these sparse lines, it seems he's annoyed by the brand's pretenses and its price-to-quality ratio. As with Creed, I wonder how much of his opinion is fueled by personal bias instead of an actual distaste for the perfumes. 
  • Turin makes an interesting observation about several niche brands and what he suspects are perfumes made by A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). He concludes that some of these newer fragrance lines, which smell "samey" and bland, are being formulated by computer algorithms instead of people, and he points out that most of them don't even smell finished. If true, this is disturbing. 
  • Inexplicably, Turin rates Kerosene frags highly. This poses a credibility problem, especially when considering his history of trashing Creed. I've only tried two Kerosene frags, and they were both so indescribably awful that I remain rueful about trying any others. To call them "amateur" would be an insult to amateur perfumers everywhere. Copper Skies is an unwearable blotch of terpenic foulness, and Creature was a degraded version of Crest toothpaste. I'd rather bathe in a vat of Love in White than wear a single spritz of Copper Skies. Reading Turin's reviews of this house were the biggest WTF moments.
  • Perfumery has become perfunctory. Edmond Roudnitska, great historical perfumer, has thirteen perfumes to his name, while Alberto Morillas has over four hundred. People are just churning them out these days, and it's impossible to see how this degree of output could be worth it. The perfumery explosion has proven to be a supernova, and when it started back in the 2000s, people had no idea that it would continue into the twenties unabated. At this point the question of "newness" is worth a look, because how much of what we smell is innovative and interesting and not superfluous and conformist? 
Ultimately this new Guide is as fun to read as it is well-written, and I appreciate the new edition to my library. But I go forth wondering how much of what I've read is honest opinion, and how much is Turin trying to steer the ship, so to speak. By uptalking Kerosene and browbeating Roja, is he attempting to persuade us into exploring indie micro-brands and dissuade us from buying from larger and flashier "luxe" houses? If so, why? The folks who like niche perfumes tend to enjoy both worlds. Me? I think that a good designer, especially a vintage designer, is probably leagues better than a new niche frag any day. 


Revisiting Nautica Voyage After Ten Years

It's been ten years since I visited this one, and a lot has changed in that time. I used to think Nautica Voyage was a generic hum-drum thing, and to some degree my assessment hasn't changed. But there are degrees of prosaism, and Voyage inhabits a realm where ordinary components are made new again. Here Maurice Roucel's clever arrangement of pedestrian aroma chemicals resembles a grand floral aquatic fougère. 

The funniest review for Voyage on Fragrantica is written by "sebastiang071": "Amazing freshie for the price as long as you don't mind smelling like everyone's ex." And that's the trouble with run-of-the-mill aquatics. They usually wind up smelling more like someone instead of something. And what if that someone isn't so great? Do the unpleasant associations attributed to that person rub off on you? Can a fragrance steal your identity? Voyage has been worn to death in the last fifteen years, and at this point people will too-easily recognize its blustery array of aromatic florals and musks as a familiar trail through the sea of people. I recognize it as a thing, namely a rehash of Cool Water.

I get the same dihydromyrcenol twang, with a very similar cold-pressed bouquet of lavender, neroli, muguet, jasmine, and violet, intermingled with green apple and hints of woodiness, a requisite in a masculine. This wasn't novel in 2006, but it took the Cool Water model a few steps further into Millennial gender-bender territory. Roucel's use of crisp cucumber and sea-salty aquatic notes served to push and pull the corners of mediocrity into something that resembles "interesting." Luca Turin labels Voyage as a "floral masculine," presumably because there are recognizable florals filtered through its aquatic haze, but I struggle with the idea that it is unusually floral. Sure, it has florals, but with such a basic dihydromyrcenol accord undergirding everything, what else should anyone expect from this? It isn't going to be an earthy-woody patchouli, a spicy oriental, or a rugged chypre, so all that's left are fruity-floral and watery tones.

I'd recommend Nautica Voyage to anyone who laments Coty's reformulation of Cool Water. Roucel picked up where Bourdon left off, and used a bright cucumber note to make this segue. Cucumber notes were once unconventional, but now they're pretty commonplace, varying from smelling semi-sweet to sour-green. Voyage uses the former approach (see Paris Hilton for Men for the latter), but I like how it adds a touch of beachside highball cooler to its sea-side atmosphere.