5/21/17

Hot Spice (Arion Perfume & Beauty Inc.)



I did not expect to be writing this review, namely because I bought this fragrance at Dollar Tree for a whopping fifty cents an ounce. That's right - I bought a 2.5 oz cologne for $1. This is what people call a "dollar store scent." It is a dollar store scent. Why did I buy a dollar store scent? What could possess me to waste a dollar on an acrid, alcohol-scented piece of crap?

Well, for starters, I bought it based on how it smelled when I snuck a spray in the store. The plain grey box says, "compare to Spicebomb by Viktor & Rolf." I figured it would smell briefly like something in Spicebomb's ball park, perhaps for fifteen seconds, and then vanish into thin air. But it really doesn't smell anything like Spicebomb. What it does smell like is a sweeter version of Indian Old Spice, with a creamier shaving foam drydown. If you "stack" this thing and apply multiple sprays to the same spot, you wind up with a nutmeg-laden gingerbread cookie effect. Go lightly with it and it has a cumin, black pepper, and pink pepper top, which dries into a gentle sugared sandalwood, with that abstract powdery sweetness of Old Spice.

This could easily be considered a replacement for any iteration of Old Spice, and I like it a hell of a lot better than Vi-Jon Spice Scent, which is not bad but definitely overrated in the wetshaver community. Vi-Jon dries into a plasticky synthetic nastiness that ruins the niceness of its top notes, but Hot Spice never loses its subtle spicy sweetness to any overtly synthetic overtones. I do get a little bit of a Joop! Homme or Individuel type of sweetness in the blend, but it isn't overbearing and just complements the spice notes. The ingredients list says it has hydrogenated castor oil in it, and the liquid feels pretty soft on my skin, so I think it's a viable choice as an aftershave, which I will likely use it as in the coming months.

It's made in India, and I guess that explains the blast of skanky cumin accompanying the pepper notes on top. I'm shocked by the quality of this stuff, shocked that it smells complex enough for me to pick out eight different notes (cumin, pink & black pepper, nutmeg, vanilla, sandalwood, orange, and neroli), and completely shocked that it can compete with Old Spice for my affections.

If you live in the United States and have a Dollar Tree in your area, and you're into wetshaving and various "Spice Scent" aftershaves in the Old Spice vein, I suggest you get over there and see if they have a few bottles of Hot Spice. This stuff will make it into your shaving rotation, guaranteed.


5/20/17

Barbasol Brisk (Perio Inc.)



At least one Fragrantica member disagreed with me recently when I stated that Barbasol Brisk aftershave is basically a copy of Skin Bracer, which I thought was remarkable. If you're familiar with both aftershaves, you know that they both employ a fougere structure with prominent lavender and mint on top, a tingly coumarin in the heart, and a dry semisweet vanilla blended with a touch of clean musk in the base. Both are classic "wetshaver" scents with intensely cooling menthol that rivals even Myrsol's Formula K. Brisk may even have more than Formula K. It's a potent menthol splash, so if you're into menthol, you'll like this particular Barbasol product.

There are a few differences between Brisk and Bracer, not the least of which is Brisk's mintier quality; Skin Bracer has a mellowed top that focuses on lavender more than mint. Brisk truly lives up to its name, while Skin "Bracer," while indeed bracing after a morning shave, aims to give a guy more than just a briefly cold bite. I think of Mennen's formula as more of a thought out fragrance, with a distinct dynamism in the drydown that yields surprising depth, making it comparable to 1990s vintage Brut cologne. I always feel the smoothness of its lavender and vanilla accords "melding" into a subtle beauty. It's excellent stuff.

Brisk never quite gets that far for me. It makes a few of the same moves in the first five minutes, but eventually flattens out into a very one dimensional musky mint thing that feels good and smells nice enough, but isn't quite as arresting. Does it smell like Barbasol's original shaving foam? Not in the least. If you want a great reference for how the foam used to smell prior to reformulation, check out Rive Gauche Pour Homme. It's an anisic patchouli fern that accurately generates the familiar lavender, lime peel, and powder effect of a classic shave. Still, Brisk is fun if you can find it, and is recommended to anyone who enjoys old-school aftershaves.



5/6/17

Revisiting Red For Men



I've been meaning to return to this fragrance for a while now, and only recently found a large bottle of the latest formula at a discount store, so thought I'd give it another go. A few years back I reviewed an older formula in a smaller bottle that I now know had spoiled a bit, which accounted for the funky coriander-like "off" note in the first minute of wear that turned me off to subsequent usage (I gifted it to a friend).

The new stuff doesn't have that issue, and otherwise smells exactly as I remember it. Actually, it smells better. This "refreshed" and facelifted formula has no oakmoss, or even treemoss, yet somehow smells woodier than I remembered. The whole point of Red is to wear something both "fresh" and "earthy," with that familiar lavender deodorant effect of Drakkar Noir peering through a dense underbrush of late summer saplings poking out of seasoned evergreen logs. While technically a chypre, it's a bit disingenuous for anyone to deny that there are strong fougere elements in Red, with an obvious lavender note and coumarin in the printed ingredient list. And yes, it smells quite a bit like Preferred Stock, but softer, more textured.

It's hard to know exactly where Red fits into the world of 2017. Whenever I smell it I think of 1991. I was nine years old. My parents took me and my younger brother to Europe for the summer, and the highlight of the trip was peering out the car window while driving through Dublin and seeing a gorgeous redhead trot along the sidewalk wearing a skintight sweater and very clearly no bra. That and sitting by the beach in Strandhill eating ice cream. The world was simpler then; men were like my dad, strong and virile, and women embraced their femininity with brutal perfumes and short haircuts. Plus there were better movies and grunge rock.

I suppose I can see a potent but sedate patchouli chypre like Red for Men going well with the times. What I find discouraging is the lack of initiative in today's fragrance market. With interesting fragrances like Preferred Stock, Red, Stetson Sierra, and Polo Crest now relegated to discount bins, you'd think a more current brand would take a risk and try reviving the style. I'm not an oud fan, but I could actually see oud working in this type of composition. I guess we must work with what we have.

Donald Trump is the leader of the free world, North Korea wants us all dead, Theresa May is the new Iron Lady, and Le Pen will hopefully prevail in France. Time to kick the globalists out and bring the old world and its olfactory charms back. Red for Men is a good place to start.


4/14/17

Al Rehab "Avenue" Alcohol-Free Concentrated Perfume Oil (Crown Perfumes)




In light of the fact that Creed will soon raise prices again on their entire fragrance line, now might be the time to consider getting into other things. If some of those other things include "clones," so be it. When it comes to Creed clones, choices abound. There are ten times more Creed clones than Creed fragrances, with every recent release getting at least a dozen copycat iterations at various price points. Which brings me to Al Rehab.

A faithful reader of this blog has recommended on several occasions that I try Crown's take on Aventus, named "Avenue." I approached Avenue with an open mind, expecting a typical Al Rehab-style execution of a Creed. Which is to say, I expected it would approximate Aventus pretty well, but as with Silver to SMW, figured it would smell much simpler. In truth, Avenue does resemble Aventus, but when I break it down in detail I find it is very much its own fragrance, with its own unique characteristics.

I consider Aventus a conceptual perfume. The concept is "success," and Creed's idea of "success" is to smell literally like dollar bills. After an hour on my skin, that's what Aventus smells like. Sure, I get the pineapple on top, along with red apple, citrus, birch, rose, oakmoss, and vanilla. Eventually the rubbery rose, the dry birch, and the bitter moss coalesce into a "clean smoke" kind of accord that flattens over time, until it smells like Federal Reserve ink. American money has a very distinct dirty-clean aroma, and Aventus captures it perfectly.

Avenue more or less achieves the same effect after a few hours on skin, so in this regard it is quite similar to Aventus, although Avenue's smokiness is from a dry patchouli note instead of moss and birch. That said, I think Avenue is much "fruitier" and far more citrus oriented than Aventus ever was, in any of its batches. The fruits in question are bergamot and lemon.

Avenue is bursting at the seams with crisp, vibrant bergamot, and conveys this note with such clarity and surprising quality that I'm shocked I haven't seen more accolades for Avenue from citrus fans. If you enjoy rich hesperidic scents, this scent should wow you.

Interestingly, Avenue has no pineapple or apple notes. So if you blind buy it hoping for a cheaper, more focused take on Aventus-styled pineapple, you'll be disappointed. The absence of pineapple definitely puts some distance between Avenue and Creed, to the point where I wonder if they were even trying to clone Aventus at all. But I prefer bergamot and lemon to pineapple, so this doesn't bother me.

When you think of Aventus, you automatically think of pineapple. When I think of Avenue, I can't help but think of bergamot. I believe there's even a subtler hint of Sicilian lemon blended into it, which makes the citrus effect that much more pronounced. At its price point I can safely say that anyone who wants a great citrus scent for pennies on the dollar would be remiss to not try Avenue. This is citrus heaven. I imagine enjoying this immensely on a sunny summer afternoon at a beach in Italy.

Also notable are quiet notes of silver frankincense, pine, and patchouli. The citrus explosion on top of Avenue lasts about twenty or thirty minutes, before segueing gradually into a very light accord of frankincense and pine. For a few seconds this early drydown stage resembles Pine Sol cleaning detergent, but fortunately the patchouli and frankincense rebalance things, and any chemical nastiness is short-lived. But look, that's the budget making itself known. What do you expect, right?

After an hour the patchouli, still heavily tinged with citrus, begins to "smoke up" the scent a bit, and the dollar bills idea appears. Here is where Avenue really resembles Aventus. It doesn't have the dry rose or the lucid birch notes of the Creed, but patchouli and incense can do interesting things, and here they shine.

Would I strongly recommend Avenue to someone seeking a faithful Aventus clone? Not really. I would mention it, however. I would say that Aventus is a concept that can be stretched and pulled into a few different directions, and one direction is to loosely take the concept of any fruit and mate it to something earthy and a bit "smoky." Avenue takes different fruits, distinctly tart citrus fruits, and tows them into that same "smoky" Aventus-like direction, without coming across as an obvious dupe.

I certainly would hasten to point out that Avenue is one of the best citrus bargains out there. Unlike other Crown oils I've tried, the fruits in Avenue actually smell like genuine citrus oils, and emit a feeling of depth and quality rarely found in fragrances that cost ten times as much, let alone Crowns' asking price of a few cents per milliliter.

This is a simple composition that achieves a sophisticated effect for the price of a bergamot at the supermarket. Buy it, wear it, and enjoy it. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain with Avenue. It's hands down the best Al Rehab I've tried.

Just don't tell people you're wearing Aventus. There's no point - Avenue smells great on its own merits, and deserves full credit for it.



4/7/17

Rethinking Jovan Musk (As An Aftershave)





About six years ago I got into the two big Jovan masculines: Musk and Sex Appeal. I liked and enjoyed both, but preferred Sex Appeal by a wide margin. Its rich patchouli-herbal twang, bolstered by a surprisingly mellow lavender note, simply worked for me. It helps that its fragrance profile is closely aligned to more classical orientals of its era, namely Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and (a bit later) Ungaro Pour L'Homme II. I can wear either of those two fragrances and use Sex Appeal aftershave without conflict.

Musk for Men was always a tougher sell. For one thing, it doesn't match well with anything, except maybe Lagerfeld Classic, and even then it's risky. Musk is also an unreliable performer; I've worn this fragrance enough to know that it can be like wearing three different fragrances, a gamble not entirely welcome when personal insecurities accompany me to my wardrobe in the morning. The stuff changes between wearings. Some days it's a grassy floral musk, and others it's a skanky, semi-animalic beast. And every blue moon it smells like the freshest, cleanest laundry detergent money can buy. That kind of split personality is a little unnerving.

It's been about four years now since I smelled it, and I recently happened across a super cheap bottle of Musk in aftershave concentration, so I decided to revisit my memories of the fragrance. My prior bottle was just the cologne concentration, and I always wondered about the splash. I have to say, I'm not disappointed. As an aftershave it performs exactly like Sex Appeal, with a gentle alcohol snap and bracing herbal camphor.

Jovan is, contrary to popular belief, a decent brand. They make surprisingly complex fragrances with good performance and longevity, they're adequately priced, and most importantly, they're memorable. Once you smell Musk for Men, you can't forget it. Ditto Sex Appeal. (I guess Black Musk is discontinued - I haven't seen it in a while.) Ginseng NRG isn't too bad either, although it really only works in the summer. Musk for Men's aftershave splash smells like I remember the cologne on its best days - rich, sweet, citrusy, slightly floral, with a shimmery skin musk in the old world tradition of Aqua Velva and Max Factor.

I don't consider this a must have fragrance for musk lovers. If you're really into musk, and you're interested in the incredible places it can take you, Kouros, Azzaro Pour Homme, Paco Rabanne, and vintage Brut will get you there faster. My feelings for this Jovan have gone from a half-hearted "like" to a whole-hearted "like a lot," by virtue of the aftershave concentration. Something about the extra dilution and sturdier carrier oils eases up the scent structure and allows the best aspects of the pyramid to relax and shine. You wear Musk for Men not because you want the best musk, but because you want an easy musk.

The retro seventies packaging and fragrance style are an added bonus, but then again that's why I like Jovan. I feel like William Holden in Breezy whenever I splash this sort of stuff. And that's not a bad thing.





4/2/17

What's With All The Aventus Clones?



When Pineapple Vintage was released last year, I quite literally threw up my hands and said to myself, "What the fuck?" It was as if the last truly popular idea in perfumery had been appropriated, rather like a "found object" in postmodern conceptual art (or if you prefer, Rauschenberg's existential "combine paintings"), and carelessly pasted to any upstart niche brief. This has been accelerating in the last four of Aventus' seven year lifespan, yet none of the clones have supplanted their template as the ideal "pineapple scent" of the decade. Club de Nuit Intense by Armaf seems to get the most votes on Fragrantica, but recent talk of Pineapple Vintage pushed it over the edge for me. Enough already.

Creed has always been a trendsetter, so in this respect Aventus is nothing new. But prior Creeds impacted the designer market, spawning one or two commensurately successful fragrances that either mainstreamed or floundered. Original Santal birthed the equally popular Mont Blanc Individuel (well, brought it to everyone's attention). Millesime Imperial became Acqua di Gio. Green Irish Tweed is Cool Water's blueprint, and sadly Cool Water is now all but dead. See the pattern? The obscure became the ubiquitous. But so far Aventus hasn't been "found" among designers, and I find this rather strange. Where is the Chanel, the Dior, the YSL frag that attempts to replicate the supposed beauty of Creed's smoky-woody pineapple structure? Why is the commercial exploitation constrained by the niche market?

My theory is that this fragrance isn't really as groundbreaking as its "fans" seem to think. Aventus is one of those "you had to be there" fragrances. You had to be there when it was released to remember exactly what happened. Its initial reception was not dissimilar to Bleu de Chanel's and Dior Sauvage's. At first guys were critical. They called Aventus "Creed's designer scent." The number one complaint was that it "Smells like a designer frag." This went on for months. My impression of this publicity was that Creed had finally tired of fidgeting around with the pretense of being a niche brand, and had openly accepted their quasi-designer status with a representative product, signaling a company transition to top-tier mainstream.

But then something interesting happened: Aventus became the "Holy Grail" scent. Bros everywhere were snapping their jock straps to get a whiff of this stuff. And within a year, Aventus was Creed's biggest hit, even bigger than GIT. How do you go from being a derided "designer" scent, to being the best thing since sliced bread? Easy. Just let the natural course of price point dictating value perception happen under its own steam. Had Aventus been released by Armaf first, nobody would have known it existed, and those who did would just think it was a nice inexpensive niche scent. But slap a $300 price tag on it, and suddenly the banal becomes fascinating. The lowly pineapple note, once used to excess in frags like Lapidus Pour Homme and Boss Number One, was suddenly metrosexual and "new."

What gets tiring is the persistence of the leech brands in cloning this thing. Yes, a dry pineapple note mixed with a bitter smoky accord and a hint of VC&A-like rose is quite pleasant, but enough to eschew original ideas for it? I personally don't think Aventus is that good. I like it, and can appreciate the balmy fruits against the November backdrop, but in the end it just smells like a well-made "crowd pleaser," in the same vein as Bleu de Chanel.

Cynical attempts to cash in on Aventus' popularity are clear examples of just how similar the niche world is to the designer. When something sells, everyone else wants a slice of the pineapple pie. Just be prepared to pay a little more for it.


3/10/17

The Danger Of Misusing The Term "Niche"


A Niche Scent.

On a recent basenotes thread, the following exchange occurred:

Dougczar writes:
"Of course niche houses use synthetics, but designers seem to [generally] use a much higher concentration of the worst offender aromachemicals. The sharp screetchy notes and ISO-E that I smell in a LOT of designers, I don't usually detect in niche - and if I do, it's much more subtle."

Bigsly writes:
"Well, what I've found is that the 'super cheapos' I buy tend to be more natural-smelling than quite a few niche scents I've tried lately."

To which L'Homme Blanc Individuel says:
"I assumed you're so anti-niche because it's expensive. As you said, you're not willing to pay more than $20... but now I'm wondering if it's also that you're picking the wrong niche scents to try."

Bigsly responds:
"With niche samples, it's whatever comes my way. I don't go out of my way to acquire them. Stash is certainly an attempt at niche. You can call it niche pastiche, niche light, or something along those lines (as others have, though most seem to think it should be considered niche, in terms of smell, how it's constructed, etc.) but it's the kind of scent I'm referencing."

L'Homme Blanc Individuel retorts with:
"If you're getting niche bottles for under $20, your understanding of what niche is will be wildly skewed. It's a lot like trying to judge steak when your examples are $10 steaks you'd get at a pub."

And Bigsly parries with:
"I've found that some CK scents of recent years seem to be really loaded with some nasty aroma chemicals . . . If my choice was between this type of scent and niche of recent years, I'd say, sure, niche is a lot better (generally-speaking, obviously), but then there are the 'super cheapos' I've purchased that don't have any kind of 'synthetic' or 'chemical' element (or it's very minor). Just some I can remember offhand: Unbreakable, Cuba Prestige, Magnet for Men, Legend by Michael Jordan, and the aforementioned. For more money, but lower than designer, are Ferrari's Oud and Leather Essence scents, which are among my favorites of the last few years among any scent categories."

L'Homme Blanc Individuel dispatches this nonsense with:
"You complain about how expensive niche is, but look at how much money you've wasted on scents you're trying to get rid of. My entire wardrobe costs less than that."

Spoiler: Although the list is nine years old, it was updated as recently as February of this year, and most of the frags mentioned cost around $10 an ounce, or less.

When you use the term "niche," you're using a word for a sector of an existing commercial market. Most markets can be divided into two sectors: "mainstream" and "niche." A mainstream car is a Chevy. A niche car is a Tesla. A much larger swath of buyers are interested in the cheaper, easier to maintain Chevys than the smaller subset of buyers who prefer the esoteric battery-powered world of Tesla.

In this case, the initial purchase of a Tesla is far more expensive, and the cars are trickier to maintain (hello hi-end extension cords) than the lowly Chevy, but in terms of savings on gasoline and saving the environment, one can see why a sizable fraction of the population buys them. These long-term cost-savvy folks are the ones this particular niche is targeted at.

But guess what? Another niche (call it "new niche") is a car that cost less than $6K back when it was new: the Plymouth Horizon. Yeah, remember those? Little tinny hatchbacks with Volkswagen Rabbit engines and surprisingly fun rack-and-pinion steering. There's a small community of car guys who are devoted to them. They're a far cry from any Tesla, and yet they're a type of niche vehicle, particularly because they're no longer made and a tiny group would donate their left testicles to own one in pristine condition.

Fragrances inhabit the same cost spectrum as cars, and in many cases the spectrum is more elastic, since you can vary the amount of the same given fragrance you want to purchase (but you could never buy half a Tesla). If you want Green Irish Tweed, and can't afford a full bottle, you can purchase a sample of just a few milliliters. But my point here is to make the distinction between calling fragrances "niche" because you're addressing that they sell to a small share of the overall market, and calling them "niche" because you think this is automatically what any elusive or expensive fragrance is.

When Bigsly or anyone else says something like, "Stash is certainly an attempt at niche. You can call it niche pastiche, niche light, or something along those lines," they're misusing the term. What is "niche pastiche?" What is "niche light?" What are these invented names meant to describe? They suggest that niche fragrances all share a common olfactory quality, and that some are a mishmash of this and other qualities, presumably drawn from other kinds of fragrances that are not necessarily "niche." And "niche light" suggests that predetermined qualities are being scaled back, or "lightened" in a given scent.

Clearly this makes no sense. Scent-wise, niche fragrances are not products that you can pigeonhole as being any one specific thing. Xerjoff Dhofar and Harley Davidson Legendary are both niche scents, simply because they are both targeted at vanishingly small sectors of the buying public: those who enjoy expensive Italian perfumes, and those who love all things Harley Davidson. Would anyone say that these two fragrances share anything else in common, other than their both having tiny audiences?

If you doubt their audience size, ask yourself how many people you know who wear either of these brands. Then consider yourself in the equation. For example, I've never driven anything but GM cars my entire life. I've never owned or ridden a motorcycle, and have only known one person who had a Harley (and he didn't even like it). If I wasn't predisposed to trying as many different fragrances as I can get my nose on, why would I want to buy a bottle of Legendary? If I'm not interested in Harley Davidson, what would make me buy their scent?

When the term "niche" is misused, it leads to the assumption that niche fragrances are a type of fragrance, instead of a variety of fragrances that are sold in the niche sector of the fragrance market. It ascribes technical meaning to something that should only be considered in economic terms. Some of the "myths of niche" that I frequently see:
- Niche fragrances are "simpler" than mainstream fragrances
- Niche fragrances are more natural
- Niche fragrances are universally rare
- Niche fragrances are expensive
- Niche fragrances are hard to find
- Niche fragrances should be characterized simply as "niche"
- Niche fragrances are more desirable than mainstream scents
- Niche fragrances are more exotic than mainstream scents
- Niche usually focuses on specific aroma chemicals

Let me briefly rebuff each of these points:

- Almost all of the niche scents I've encountered had the same complexity as the average designer or mainstream scent.
- Niche fragrances use similar amounts of naturals and synthetics compared to their mainstream counterparts, and in many cases niche fragrances rely on synthetics exclusively.
- If you want a rare niche fragrance in the age of the internet, surprise! You can find it on the internet! Even if you can't buy it directly online, there's always contact information to discuss a purchase.
- Some niche fragrances are very, very expensive, equal to the cost of a new car. Some are dirt cheap: if you're a wetshaver, you probably own and use daily one of at least ten niche fragrances that cost $5 an ounce (or less).
- If a fragrance, any fragrance, is hard to find, you need to join the 21st century and get broadband.
- Just calling a niche fragrance "niche" doesn't describe the fragrance. It describes the sector of the market it is sold in.
- Niche fragrances are equivalent in variety and range of quality to their mainstream counterparts. Therefore they are interchangeable with mainstream scents, and should only be judged on individual merits.
- All niche fragrances are at least somewhat "exotic" in the sense that they are made for a smaller group of potential buyers than mainstream fare is. If you call niche fragrances "exotic niche" you're being redundant. You're also describing the exoticism of their fanbase, not the scents themselves.
- Some niche fragrances focus on specific chemicals; some don't. Ditto for mainstream.

With niche, the question to ask is always, "Which niche?" The word describes a very broad spectrum of subsets. Are we talking about designer niche? Wetshaver niche? Brand-name niche? Natural perfumery? Soliflores? Orientals? Chypres? Fougeres? More information is needed to understand what is being discussed. Just saying "niche" is like saying "perfume." The possibilities are endless.