12/29/11

Silences (Jacomo, original Parfum de Toilette)



Ever wonder what Van Goh's Wheatfield with a Cypress Tree would smell like if it could be distilled down to a scent? Yeah, neither have I. Silences eliminated that obscure little unknown for me, though. It was one of those odd instances where the answer came before the question - I smelled the original parfum de toilette, and was immediately transported to a secluded field in Arles, with its raw grasses fluttering in a cool April breeze. It was the closest I have ever come to a rapture.

I won't pontificate much on Silences because it's the nearest to perfection that a fragrance can get, and my descriptions and accolades cannot add to it. Yes, it's green, and a little floral, perhaps the High Priestess of verdant chypres. And yes, it's unisex, although Jacomo insists it's for women. Funnily enough, the bottle I purchased was in a narrow space between the men's and women's sections of the store, as if the shopkeeper wisely knew it belonged to neither demographic exclusively. Funny too, that I happened to try the reformulated version before the original parfum de toilette. I'm not sure what happened with Silences - the new one (in the black glossy box) smells like something straight out of the '70s, very dusty and heavy, while the older one (in the grey matte box) is smooth, airy, and timeless. What's the meaning of this? In the unlikely event that I ever meet a Jacomo insider, I shall ask him or her that very question. It niggles at me a little. The older version has a better bottle design - the black plastic cap lifts off the glass bottle and reveals a nice brass atomizer. The newer version is unwieldy because the atomizer is recessed into what used to be the cap, which means you have to hold the whole thing to spray. Also, they switched from glass to tin in the update, which is neither here nor there, except that I prefer a hefty chunk of glass over something in a plastic veneer. Just old-fashioned I guess.

Now, words . . . words can do no justice here. If you peruse the blogosphere, you'll encounter several apt descriptions for it. Just know that when people refer to perfume as an avenue of the sacred and divine, it's Silences they're talking about.






















12/25/11

White Shoulders Eau de Parfum (Evyan)



One of the many things that bothers me in this world is how difficult it is to find a nicely-done floral perfume on the cheap. I'm not really sure how or when it happened, but somewhere along the line people decided that flowers weren't cool anymore. I suppose it started during the '80s, when women were exposed to Andron, and all that weird pheromone psychology began applying to personal fragrance. Eventually a boatload of sweet synthetic musks and even sweeter synthetic floral ionones flooded the market (see Poison), and wearing quelques fleurs was no longer de rigueur. This used to seem like an attractive development, but now I'm not so sure. On the one hand, smelling of lilies and roses and violets puts one in danger of smelling like his or her grandmother. On the other, smelling like grandmother is no better or worse than enjoying grandma's taste in music, or movies, or food. I have yet to meet anyone who was ridiculed for liking depression-era American folk songs, Billy Wilder films, and Spam. In fact, a Spam truck actually visited my college during my senior year, and the guy made out pretty well. True story.

A little imagination yields another possibility with florals: smelling of royalty. When I consider what was available to perfumers in the 18th and 19th centuries, I'm reminded of how crucial flowers were to their art form. Six years ago, Le Château de Versailles commissioned Francis Kurkdjian to recreate Marie Antoinette's signature bergamot, jasmine, and rose perfume. The house of Lubin followed suit, naming it Black Jade, supposedly after the jade bottle she carried with her everywhere. Reading up on these scents brings to light a startling reality - history's most famous Dauphine liked and wore flowers. Lots of flowers. One can conclude that flowers were never considered "cheap." Her taste wasn't just feminine - it was royal.

Nearer on the perfume timeline are Guerlain's classics, stuff like the violet-tinged Après L'ondée (After the Rain), and the white floral L'Heure Bleue (Blue Hour). Both masterpieces were dependent on direct floral notes within modern compositions. They weren't considered dowdy when they were released, and held their own against D'Orsay's Chypre and Houbigant's own sunny Quelques Fleurs. The trend continued well into the twentieth century, as fragrances became rosy and white during the thirties and forties, and green in the fifties. Men and women liked what they smelled because flowers are always fresh, natural, and effortlessly sultry.

Evyan's White Shoulders was released in 1945, and somehow seems to signify, through scent, the end of the second World War. Its opening volley of floral notes is so fresh and serene that I'm immediately transported to an outcrop overlooking a dewy meadow in France. It is one of the most direct floral arrangements I have ever smelled in a perfume. Gardenia, tuberose, muguet, orange blossom, lilac, and jasmine (my god, the jasmine!) flood my senses in a manner devoid of the usual synthetic screech found in other $20 fragrances. The white blossoms possess a crisply gentle realism, and are gathered in an uncomplicated bouquet. I keep waiting for the scratchy peach and musk notes to arrive, but they never do. An apt stylistic and price-point comparison is found in Alfred Sung's eponymous perfume, now reformulated into a yellow chemical blob.

If White Shoulders is associated with grandma, then grandma has excellent taste. The basic accords here are artfully composed to produce a very proud, straightforward scent. There is no postmodern flourish, no antisocial contrast, no synthetic bombast. In this way, White Shoulders is elegant and dignified, an update of something one might smell in 18th century Versailles. Analogs of nature's finest buds bring with them a hint of antiquity, and at no stage of its sauntering development does White Shoulders feel modern. Instead it smells classical, sexual, refined. It is feminine, yes, but its honesty compels me to wear it myself. Could this be the second blatantly feminine fragrance that I unabashedly adopt? Very possibly. It's something to wear while listening to the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and munching on a Spam sandwich.




























Portfolio Green (Perry Ellis)



It looks like I found another critically neglected fragrance, and it comes in a slick bottle designed by Marc Rosen. Super duper last minute Christmas shopping is to blame here - I reached that point where I was sick of dropping greenbacks on everyone else, and had to grab something (preferably green in color) for me. I gave the men's section at Marshalls a quick perusal, and saw only Portfolio Green by Perry Ellis. I've seen plenty of Perry Ellis at Marshalls, but it's usually Portfolio, or Portfolio Elite. This is the first time I have ever seen Portfolio Green, so I figured, what the heck. It's got the word "green" in its title. How bad could it be?

As it turns out, Portfolio Green isn't bad at all. But it's weird, and sometimes weird translates to "unwearable." Fortunately, this doesn't smell quite that weird, but I'm inclined to think it might be the strangest thing in my little collection. Let's just say that it wasn't what I expected.

The opening is a restrained (and sweet) lime note, which casually slides into an absurdly saccharine green apple and neroli accord. The whole thing deepens in tone until the neon greens of the top become deeply floral greenish-purples, sort of an intense, coumarin-fueled olfactory illusion of violet leaf. It's at this stage that Portfolio Green becomes a fresh fougère, although it doesn't really play fair in a category full of staid aromatics. The heart is so dense and fruity that I can't help but wonder whose idea of "green" was indulged. Perhaps the muse was Larry Wilson from Weekend at Bernie's. The degree of imbalance is borderline comical (again, like Weekend at Bernie's). Portfolio Green is to neroli what Alien is to jasmine: a hyper-exaggerated synthetic bonanza. It's the olfactory equivalent of tuxedo pajamas at a black tie event. It's fun.

After a couple of hours the scent dries down in linear fashion to become a clean greenish musk. Green Irish Tweed and Aspen have done this sort of thing better, and without all the fruity gestures. Yet Portfolio Green is simple, wearable, and as bad an idea as dragging a dead guy with you to the beach. Cheers to Perry Ellis, and boo to everyone else for ignoring this entry - and all entries - in the Portfolio lineup.






















12/20/11

CK One Shock for Him (Calvin Klein)


The house of Calvin Klein has, in my estimation, one of the worst all-time track records in fragrance history. here's an abbreviated rundown (to spare myself from actually reviewing the scents) of its timeline:

1978 - CK releases their eponymous rosy chypre for women. It's a hit, but sales eventually stall and it's discontinued. I have yet to encounter a bottle.

1981 - Calvin is released as the masculine follow-up. Considered a conservative and spicy fougère in the tradition of Azzaro Pour Homme, with lower-grade materials. I have yet to encounter a bottle.

1985 - The company makes up for lost time and releases a notable fragrance called Obsession. This classical oriental has plenty of bombast and anachronistic qualities, and it sells quite nicely. Now reformulated into a bit of a blah.

1986 - Obsession for Men is the appropriate sequel, and the only "masterpiece" ever released by this company. It isn't all that different from the original, except it's better. Much better. If you can find vintage bottles, buy them immediately.

1988 - Now officially on the perfumista's radar, CK throws its newly-minted heft and taps the talented Belarusian nose Sophia Grojsman for its first foray into the world of modern fruity-floraldom. The result: Eternity. It's a major hit with the ladies, especially college girls. But its crude fruit and screechy rose haven't stood the test of time. Several flankers are spawned.

1989 - The brand's second most-famous scent, Eternity for Men, is released. It was then what it is today: a sweet chemical spill that no mop can sop. Several flankers are spawned.

1991 - The nineties are entered with genre-defining shrillness in the form of Escape. Its blaring sweet 'n fresh composition fits nicely into a league of like-minded oddball aquatics from this period. Many on Fragrantica seem to find Escape similar to Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden. I feel Escape was aptly named, as it suggests exactly what I should do whenever it's around. This scent is currently relegated to discounters like Marshalls and T.J. Maxx.

1993 - Escape for Men is introduced. One could speculate that it's an essay on coriander, woods, and musk, but it really reads as an extremely rough draft of CK One. The pencil shaving drydown is so crude that I'd rather roll in a tub of graphite than wear it.

1994 - Reacting to the lackluster press about Escape, Klein buckles down and releases CK One, a unisex citrus musk scent that is as pleasant as it is dull. At least it still smells good, and to its credit CK One is indeed suitable for both men and women. Several flankers are spawned.

1996 - CK Be is released, and its existential name gets my hopes up. The scent, however, is utterly forgettable. Something about white musk, with some green spices thrown in for good measure. The company refuses to discontinue CK Be, so I guess its fans are keeping it alive.

1998 - Contradiction follows up the Big CKs. Basically a stale fruity floral with an overdose of eucalyptus. Sells just well enough to stay in the market, which means it must be doing pretty well. Does it inspire anything beyond a footnote? As the Czechs would say, "ne." But it does exhibit Klein's deftness in package design.

1999 - Contradiction for Men predictably makes an appearance. Its humongous fake lemon/lime top does little to soothe my already-jangled nerves. I hate those who wear it - namely my peers in high school - with a seething passion.

2000 - The brand finally eschews its formulaic fruity florals in favor of a green scent called Truth. It's evidently a pleasant scent that rubs critics the right way for a change. I have yet to knowingly sniff it, and cannot comment, except to say that I believe what I read. Still, after 20 years of crap, who cares anymore?

2002 - Truth for Men is released. It's a tropical green scent with a beautiful central accord of bamboo and melon. Unfortunately its longevity clocks in at under fifteen minutes. A pity. Sales fall short, and Truth for Men is now no more.

2005 - Euphoria is released, and fails to elicit any. Some find it similar to Angel, others to Obsession, and still others to both. Currently lost in the latest multitudinous crop of rich fruity orientals for women. I can't be bothered with the non-entity masculine version.

2007 - The brand does something uncharacteristic and releases a lone masculine, unimaginatively naming it Calvin Klein Man. I've never smelled Man, but apparently it's a fresh fougère that somehow manages to bungle violet leaf. Rarely seen anywhere but at Marshalls, for what it's worth.

2009 - Continuing its weird new trend, the company releases another lone masculine, CK Free. Widely considered a dull woody-fresh scent with nothing saving it. More complaints about poor longevity abound.

2010 - "Ladies, we haven't forgotten you." That's the message conveyed by the isolated release of the feminine Beauty. With a name like that, a masculine follow-up isn't likely. Beauty is little more than a competent clone of Hilfiger's Tommy Girl. A little cedar in lieu of green tea, a few extra drops of Iso E Super, and voilà! We have a throwback scent. It's better than most of the above, but only marginally.

Which brings us to 2011, and CK One Shock for Him. I'm unsure as to why it took them thirty years to come up with a good fragrance, but worthy things come to those who wait. Not that I've been holding my breath. It's also a mystery as to why the brand decided to make this unusual woody-spicy oriental part of the world's lamest flanker mill, and not give it an original name. Perhaps it reveals how out of touch with quality the suits at CK are - they didn't even recognize when they had something worthy of distinction. Curiously complex in scope, Shock opens with a bright pepper and patchouli, spiked with sweetly-herbal lavender. The composition is softened by the arrival of warm cardamom and pipe tobacco in the heart, which takes its time in developing. Eventually these well-defined herbs and spices are conjoined, and a little blurred, by a delectable vanilla note. An odd minty citrus note (possibly the usage of osmanthus with clementine or tangerine) keeps everything from becoming overly steeped. Quite possibly their finest fragrance to date, and much better than the original. A CK scent that smells good? Shocking!


12/17/11

Hammam Bouquet (Penhaligon's)

England is a beautiful country, and London is currently the capitol of the universe. When I was there in the early '90s I strolled through the city's impeccably flowered and pruned parks, endlessly in awe of Britain's palpable dignity. Nothing English is ever common. Even the grimiest pub in Liverpool enjoys more than a modicum of the rarefied. You may still see a 32 year-old stenciling of a Sex Pistols tour promotion on its rain-whipped and craggy brick. And how about those Royals, huh? Try as I might, I can't think of an American equivalent to an ivory-toothed Duchess of Cambridge waving with gloved wrists from an Aston Martin.

It comes as a surprise then that the British have difficulty forging a credible identity in the world of postmodern perfumery. Two of their oldest houses, Penhaligon's and Floris, are prolific authors of classical British fragrances, with the former notable for its two oldest masculines, Hammam and Blenheim Bouquet (which are a whopping thirty years apart). Both are arguably Penhaligon's greatest achievements. Blenheim finds a particularly devoted fan base among wet shavers because of its cool, spicy aura. It is Hammam, however, that bears special consideration, as it is the firm's first perfume.

Hammam Bouquet is named after the famous Turkish-style bath, which involved lots of varying water temperatures, flowers, massage oils, and yes, perfumes. The original Penhaligon's building was located on Jermyn Street next to a Hammam, and sadly both were reputedly destroyed in WWII. The timeline suggests that William Penhaligon founded the company sometime between 1865 and 1870, and its original location was destroyed in 1941 - so let's generously round the dates and say that London's greatest barber shop enjoyed 75 years before a revamp. Why does it matter? For me, the problem with Penhaligon's fragrances, and especially Hammam Bouquet, is in the bloody revamp.

Sniffing Hammam Bouquet today, I can appreciate its nostalgia factor. It has a Victorian feel to it, a musty sensuality stifled beneath the artless frills of an opaque bodice dress. The first few seconds of lavender and rose are at once cold and alluring. Britain's imperialism, its tendrils into the furthest reaches of Asia, its Orientalism, all are evident in this fragrance's opening. Eventually a sweet orris note appears and pushes its way into a powdery amber drydown. Everything about Hammam Bouquet smells tortuously restrained, as if sin could overcome virtue by way of sexual apoplexy.

Conceptually, historically, theoretically, everything about the scent is good. And then the chemicals kick in. Hello awful 21st century revamp. The lavender and rose meld into an oafish caricature of Turkish luxury, smelling soapy and flat. The odd "dust" note that Penhaligon's currently employs in several of its floral-themed fragrances interferes with the powder, driving everything into drugstore territory. I'm reminded of Old Spice, except Old Spice smells better. From twenty minutes onward, Hammam Bouquet is a linear ode to staleness, made poor by pallid effects. Suddenly that opaque bodice dress is something I'm thankful for.

Penhaligon's has obviously reformulated this scent several times, but does itself no favors with the latest incarnation of its signature. For $120 I expect something with Creed or Czech & Speake-like clarity and note separation. My nose should be begging to decipher more analogs of Victorian boudoir culture, not wrinkling in disappointment. And why, pray tell, am I getting a headache with only a few drops on the wrist? Well okay, I'll give them a break there - rose does that to me all the time, and Hammam certainly has a distinct rose note in its heart. But still, I'm not impressed. The poetic reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes are enjoyable essays borne of unbridled enthusiasm, and while admirable, cannot be duplicated here on my blog. I will acquiesce to the fragrance's rich history, however, and note that while Hammam's current formula is lacking, its form is not. This type of British barbershop dandy scent is truly classical in scope, and I await the day that Hammam Bouquet is restored to its former glory.



















12/13/11

Pino Silvestre (Parfums Mavive)

Marketing is tricky, as any graphic designer will tell you. Having designed professionally myself, I can attest to the incredible difficulty clients have in determining the value of a product's appearance. The weird thing is that few companies seem to embrace a product's obvious assets. They favor abstract over representational styles. If something tastes like Oreo cookies, looks like Oreo cookies, and is called Oreo Cookies, better put it in a square bag with lots of blue. The thought of packaging the cookies in a big plastic Oreo cookie is apparently out of the question. Fragrance is mostly the same deal - Aqua Velva Ice Blue has been around forever and has an icy blue color, but there ends the allusion. I have yet to encounter an Ice Blue bottle in frosted glass.

My drawing professor at The Mason Gross School of the Arts used to say, "genius comes in stating the obvious." Don't try to embellish what you're seeing with fancy flourishes that aren't really there. Draw exactly what you see, for only in pure representation can a draughtsman approach the skill level of Leonardo, or Michelangelo, or even Michael Whelan. This makes sense, as reality is the only true pivot point into anything fantastic. Misrepresentation just confuses things, and leads to problems later. So with this knowledge intact, one might ask where such magnificent examples of "obviousness" can be found.

Look no further than the total commercial embodiment of the phrase "truth in advertising," Pino Silvestre. Originally released in 1955, Pino is a fougère that exhibits remarkable honesty on every level. Housed in a glass pine cone, this pine-focused scent embraces its concept in an incredibly holistic way. Named after the evergreen Pinus Silvestris, the scent simply smells like pine. It opens with a bracing lemon note that sweeps into a crystalline accord composed of lavender, carnation, basil, clary sage, geranium, cedar, and moss. Trust me, you'll get none of these notes with your nose. They're all part of a brilliant olfactory illusion designed to give you the most bang for your buck. I consider it more a technical than artistic approach, as Pino is a very old scent with a conservative attitude. The bright pine hangs in for about two hours before drying into a slightly warmer, honey-like amber base. The whole thing is crisp, green, chilly, and as natural as that spruce in your back yard. My only gripe is that it doesn't have the sort of strength or longevity that I expect of older scents. With generous application I get about three hours, and need to re-apply or just forge ahead smelling like nothing at all. If they ever reformulate it, Pino needs to be made a leeetle bit stronger.

This is a terrific time of year to wear Pino Silvestre, and last season I wore it while picking out my Christmas tree. It's also very Italian, and I believe it's still manufactured in Venice. Pine is an amazing thing - it's a naturally fresh aroma, something clean and green, the way men used to smell back in the earlier half of the twentieth century. If you're a fan of straightforward and vintage approaches to personal style, this is the stuff for you.





















12/12/11

Allure Eau de Parfum (Chanel)



I'm not really sure why, but when it comes to Chanel fragrances, I'm curiously tongue-tied. It's hard for me to generate topical interest in them. Generally speaking they all smell very good, although some enjoy greater artistic success than others. I've been wearing Allure Homme a bit more often than usual lately, and when I get around to reviewing it I'll have a few sincere anecdotes to pass along - it's the only Chanel that is truly storied for me. Still, it seemed appropriate to give the original feminine perfume a nod beforehand, if only to defend it from a legion of critics.

The overarching criticism of Allure is that it's boring, uninspired, a drag. Apparently it is unworthy of the Chanel name, because somehow in the course of its colorful history the brand found the secret to olfactory Nirvana, parted the seven seas, became one with God. You'd think from reading about them that N°5, N°19, Cristalle, and Égoïste were unbelievable masterpieces that no one could top, least of all their own creators. They're all excellent of course, but put on a pedestal. Times changed, and so did perfumery. Inevitably the '90s came along, brought Allure and its flankers, and suddenly everyone gave up on Chanel. A collective groan filled the stadium, the seats began emptying, the game was over.

My beef with everyone else's beef is that people have forgotten context. The 1990s were culturally decrepit years. Music, movies, art, fashion, philosophy, all started sucking in a big way. Music, specifically rock music, suddenly lost its spine, its bravado, and went the way of the Goo Goo Dolls, or as I like to call it, Limp Dick City. Listening to the radio in the '90s was torture. Everything made me want to puke, from Cheryl Crow, to Mariah Carey, to Kid Rock, to Eminem. Especially Eminem, who found an unfortunate fan base in my high school clique. Then there was the whole fashion devolution of 1992 - 1999. Saggy, over-sized jeans, polo shirts three sizes too large, the return of bell bottoms for girls (aptly called "flare" pants, as my temper would flare every time a punk chick trudged past me in them), the "Caesar" haircut for boys . . . the agony was endless. This isn't to say that the whole thing went ramshackle - it didn't. Some movies held up particularly well. I'm thankful for Pulp Fiction, Jurassic Park, Grosse Pointe Blank, The Three Colors Trilogy, Home Alone, Goodfellas, Casino, and a few dozen other superb pics. But the talented animators that brought the world every Disney movie since Snow White were suddenly buried under the crippling influence of Pixar and Toy Story, which heralded the dawning age of the Great Special Effects Cop-Out: Computer Generated Imagery. This particular topic brings me so little joy to discuss that I'll just leave it here.

So it strikes me as particularly nervy for anyone to reckon that somehow, out of the accelerating decay, the House of Chanel would rise above it all and continue to give us the same 1920s, '70s and '80s-styled masterpieces. Do people like Luca Turin really think the brand had another Cuir de Russie in it? Was it really expected that something better than the insipid Platinum Égoïste would follow its bold predecessor in a year when a solo Sting, who should have still been fronting The Police, was crooning the unlistenable lyrics, if I ever loooose my faith in you / there'd be nothing leeeeft for me to do? Further to the point, do Chanel's critics ever stop as they continue to harangue the house for its recent Bleu de Chanel and Jersey releases, and wonder why it is the company continues to disappoint? Could it be that world culture has continued to decline, and so perfume remains in a stagnant, generally uninspired place? This is postmodern hell, and perfumery is no exception to it.

Sniffing Allure EDP today, I feel it's a marvel that the company managed to release anything like it. Somehow they fought past the Clockwork Oranges and gave us a serious, well-composed jasmine scent for women in their late twenties and early thirties. It's very crisp for a Chanel fragrance, and that's an advantage, as it smells wonderful. The bergamot and peach in its top are clean, sheer, and well within its class. Eventually a vanillic cedar and papery jasmine accord comes through, accented by orange blossom and vetiver. True to Chanel fashion, this scent is highly blended, and nothing really vies for a leading role (although to my nose the jasmine has the edge). Is Allure exciting? Definitely not. But it is a functional perfume, something a career-oriented woman can wear to the office without risking credibility in a male-dominated workplace. It's quite pleasant and friendly, but also prim and understated. Considering how disastrous other '90s feminines were, Allure isn't bad at all.

I'm sorry, but that's all I have to say about it.




























12/11/11

Azzaro Pour Homme (Azzaro)



If Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels is the best fougère of the last quarter century, then Azzaro Pour Homme is the best of 35 years, and counting. I used to dislike Azzaro PH because of its overwhelming intensity, but the recent reformulation has solved that problem, no doubt to the chagrin of its fans. I prefer the new version because it doesn't give me headaches the way the original did. In fact, the top notes resemble a high quality sport fragrance, with bracing lemon and sweet lavender dominant. It does lack the depth of its predecessor, but the core components are still very much a part of the scent. This is still a woody, anise-laden fern, full of freshness and life.

There are billions of young men out there in the world, and it's safe to say that most of them don't know a blessed thing about perfumery, nor do they care. They generally gravitate toward whatever smells conventionally good, things with high designer brand recognition. There are broad categories to choose from, and here in America you're either a 1 Million man (Paco Rabanne), a CK In 2 U man (Calvin Klein), or a more mature but academically-dense Boss Orange Man man (Hugo Boss). Those who are young enough to have attended high school in the aughts are cursed with having the same grey citrus aquatic in a gazillion incarnations to choose from, while those old enough to remember the '80s are surprisingly cursed with poor memories. Which is the long way of saying that American guys have either never been properly exposed to good things, or have forgotten them.

Sadly, such is the case with the modern fougère. Cool Water is a classic that has not been forgotten, and rightfully so, but it steered the entire fougère category into the olfactory equivalent of Edgar Allan Poe's maelstrom. Funny thing, though - the two best aromatics in fragrance history came before and after Cool Water. Tsar, released in 1989, was the last of the great aromatic ferns; Azzaro Pour Homme, released in 1978, was second to last. Azzaro's beautiful arrangement of lemon, bergamot, lavender, oakmoss, anise, vetiver, caraway, sage, and cedar is dry, austere, green, and Italianate in style. Its European sophistication was once considered desirable on western shores, but no more. People grew tired of walking through aromatic clouds everywhere they went, and the invention of fragrance-free zones put the final nail in the classical aromatic fougère's coffin.

Sometime during the 1990s, the last teenager bought the last full-priced bottle of Azzaro Pour Homme, and proceeded to ignore the unconventionally beautiful girls it attracted. I suppose passing on the sexy-librarian type named Zoey (okay, maybe her braces didn't help) in favor of the sultry, snow-haired cheerleader Amber is forgivable, except that Amber ended up a single mom with a studio apartment in Hackensack and a Ford Taurus in the driveway. Zoey, on the other hand, is currently modeling at five figures for upstart designers in Paris while teaching English to businessmen and sleeping with wealthy Russian expatriates. Given the circumstances, I'd regret snubbing Zoey that day she asked me to the junior prom in homeroom, especially since Facebook now makes regret a verifiable business.

But I digress - the point here is that Azzaro Pour Homme, and similarly-wrought conservative green fougères, smell mature and traveled. Luca Turin has argued that a man's scent should never be more traveled than he is, but I disagree. The world is a tough field in which to play, and one needs every possible advantage at his disposal. A few years ago I was hobnobbing with an elderly gentleman who ran an excellent vintage perfume shop. He told me, "perfume is an illusion. You apply it, you go out and about among people, and they get a sense of something special around you, but it should never be in their face." This perfectly describes the reformulated Azzaro Pour Homme. It is ephemeral, natural, green, masculine, and alluring. Like Tsar, this fougère is useful at any time, in any place. I find the use of anise to be a tad challenging, and that's okay depending on your mood. For the times I want something different, I have plenty of other options. For the times I want to attract those unconventional and worldly Zoeys, I have Azzaro, and I'm thankful.



























Tsar (Van Cleef & Arpels)



It pays to have an understanding of the essentials in masculine perfumery, in order to better understand the multitudinous non-essentials that plague the category. If a male college student, say around 19 or 20 years old, were to ask my advice on which masculine fragrance could serve as a perfect everyday and all-weather standby, I would immediately direct his attention to Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels. In doing so I'd also make him aware of the modern fougère, of which there are many. The two that bear the most discussion in my mind are Tsar and Azzaro Pour Homme, but Tsar is arguably the finest fougère of the last 25 years, and continues to be a contender for the label of Best Masculine Perfume Ever. With the Ever underlined at least twice.

The problem with fougères, as I see it, is their susceptibility to error. Orientals are largely warm, spice-laden fragrances with no fewer than thirty notes vying for attention at once, and therefore are more forgiving of blemishes - an overdose of cumin here, or a misplaced nutmeg there, do little to detract from their ambiance. Chypres, now generally a defunct category, are naturally unfriendly fragrances that rely on naturally unfriendly ingredients to make a statement. Olfactory grinches like lemon, oakmoss, and costus root lend chypres their bitter green and earthy qualities, and without them you have either a bland fougère, a citrus musk, or a simple oriental. Grey Flannel without its oakmoss is just a bitter lemon and violet leaf fougère, Z-14 without its vetiver is an oriental; displacing a chypre's core ingredients changes it into something else entirely. Fougères, on the other hand, are naked canvases. The entire concept of the "fern" fragrance is open to interpretation, as ferns have no natural scent. The formula is basically bergamot and lavender up front, followed by oakmoss and coumarin in the heart, and a dry, woody base of sandal or cedarwood (or both) to finish it off. But every designer and niche company must tweak the formula to make a fougère their own, and herein lies the rub.
Tsar, fortunately, had a terrific nose behind it: Philippe Bousseton. The puzzling thing about Bousseton is his apparently flimsy output - basenotes lists a meager four fragrances, and fragrantica only seven. Several of these are Adidas scents, and having recently opined on the lovely Sport Field, I don't see this as damaging to Bousseton's reputation. Perhaps if I sniff Ice Dive I'll feel a little differently, but Tsar more than makes up for anything inferior. Its brilliant opening of bergamot and lavender is pure pleasure. Bergamot is emphasized, and the citrus is neither synthetic smelling, nor bland. This intro is so bright, clean, and realistic that I'm transported to a verdant garden somewhere east of wherever I'm located whenever I smell it. Well-blended notes of oakmoss (in a subdued amount), pine, coriander, juniper, cedar, coumarin, sandalwood, and tarragon create a green, soapy aura that stays fairly close to its source, projecting politely and for several hours. There are none of the dark, earthy anchors of near contemporaries like Polo or Drakkar Noir. Everything is conservative, fresh, and elegantly arrayed.

What lends Tsar distinction is its drydown. Where other fougères smell a bit clunky and overtly soapy (see Sung Homme), Tsar is just smooth. The soapiness is predicated on freshness, not a simulated lye effect. It's the very definition of "gentleman's scent," in a traditional manner closely wedded to the British style of ferns. Everything is conservative and green, with a freshness inseparably tied in. Unlike musky fougères like Kouros and Paco Rabanne, Tsar is borderline "fresh" without crossing into Cool Water territory. It shares space with contemporaries like Jazz by YSL and Photo by Lagerfeld. Unlike many fresh fougères, Tsar is out of fashion nowadays, and that's a plus. Anyone curious enough to try it will find something forgotten since the early '90s - a tidy green aromatic made of high quality materials. Rain or shine, summer heat or winter snow, Tsar is never out of place, and always cool.

























12/8/11

Halston Alcohol-Free Cologne (Halston)



It's very hard to argue that the Halston brand is anything but the definition of "cool." The fashion, the fragrances, the man, all contoured the hazy, drug-addled blur of Studio 54's 1970s. Much of the designer's clout has faded with time, but current trends in fragrance are the clearest sign that Halston's fragrances are still cool - no one really wears them anymore, yet they endure. Elizabeth Arden holds the licenses for them, and I'm glad. EA Fragrances has generally done a conscientious job resurrecting yesterday's classics and keeping them as true as possible to their original formulations. Grey Flannel and Red for Men are wonderful, and Halston Classic meets the same high standards. My only gripe is its alcohol-free formulation . . . its oily solvent has a somewhat dirty feel and transports me to a patchouli-laden netherworld full of dead disco dancers. Weird.

Nowadays a perusal of store shelves is a challenge to stay calm, to not get angry. Bottle after bottle of endless chemical musks crowd the field, olfactory equivalencies of plastic feathers, brilliant pinks, reds, blues, neon lettering everywhere, overwrought and aimless decors, and total dependency on calone, sugar cubes, and fruity esters. Apparently today's mature woman is still a 16 year-old girl. The sight of anything with organic elements like oakmoss (gasp! what's that?) and treemoss (eeew, I think it's fungus?) renders a 37 year-old fragrance completely alien, utterly out of touch with the current aesthetic, colorless, vague, and a little scary. To this point: the Marshalls that I frequent is run entirely by women in their 20s who are constantly re-stocking the fragrance shelves, and they have yet to figure out which gender Halston Classic is meant for. I got my bottle from the men's section, but I've seen other bottles in the women's section, too. I expect to see it in the men's section again in the future.

I guess I can understand. Halston's box is a refreshingly blank beige, and its lettering offers no hints. The usage of "cologne," a term generally applied to men's scents, seems to suggest that it's a men's fragrance, but if you're an employee who likes to peek, the bottle inside certainly leans feminine with its narrowly curved neck and softly rounded glass. If you're an employee who likes to sample, you'll end up just as confused as before you ever opened the box; Halston's peachy top notes and dry mossy base are smooth and amiable, but altogether unisex. It's too floral for men, and too earthy for girls. Yikes, just put it in both sections then. Guys will buy it and give it to their girlfriends, girls will buy it and give it to their grandmothers. Their grandmothers will wear it for a while, decide it's too sexy, and resume wearing their dusty old bottles of Charlie Blue instead.

My take is much less flummoxed. I like that the scent has survived the decades, but understand that the alcohol-free cologne is a pale shadow of the original perfume. Still, it's a clear shadow, well defined in the glare of all that white musk surrounding it in the store. Perky bergamot and soft peach mark the opening. It's feminine, a little girlish even, but concise. Eventually the flowers and mosses push through the semi-sweet intro and sweep Halston firmly into a bitter chypre territory. Everything is blended and the green notes are abstract impressions of grass, leaves, muguet, and oakmoss. Treemoss (not sugar) is used to tinge the drydown's fuzzy edges with a gentle sweetness. It's comforting, and easy to wear.

Androgyny was thematic to fashion and pop culture in the '70s, and the best chypres of that time are very androgynous. Halston is no exception - it's probably a little too floral for most men, but it's no more feminine than Calice Becker's terrific tea floral, Tommy Girl. Any guy who is comfortable in his own skin can wear Halston and get away with it. I can wear Halston without qualms because I often wear green fragrances, and this is one incredibly green chypre. The rose, marigold, and mint notes are offset by a leafy mossiness that fits me perfectly. Thank you Mr. Halston, for making this fragrance and building it to last. And thank you Cindy Crawford, for all your nakedness. I'm much obliged to you both.

























12/7/11

Sport Field (Adidas)



Every year I go through "green withdrawal." It's frustrating because during the summer months I yearn for autumn, but by November and December I get pangs for effervescent spring-like scents, things I won't smell in nature until after a dreary Connecticut winter. I usually find myself exploring green fragrances around Thanksgiving, and try to steer my craving towards seasonally appropriate pine and artemisia scents, things like Pino Silvestre and Yatagan. This year I had a little luck with this approach, although to be honest I caved and went for something that would work best in summer time - Adidas Sport Field. Still, with its piney elements and bitter chypre characteristics, it's a respectable year-round treat.

Surprisingly respectable, actually. I've always avoided Adidas fragrances like the plague. They bear the stigma of inhabiting discount racks at Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. Of course they also share their namesake with sneakers, something frowned upon in serious fragrance circles. I tend to lump all mass-marketed and accessory-branded colognes into the "nonsense to try when you're bored" category, which keeps company with celebrity fragrances and mall-store "body mists" (whatever those are). Things like Jaguar, Michael Jordan, Zippo, and Moonlight Magic rightfully get short shrift, although I admit Jaguar isn't nearly as bad as it could be. Favorable reviews on various forums led me to believe there was something more going on with Sport Field, something that made it worth checking out if I could find it. It's been discontinued, but recently regained market visibility, and today I actually found two bottles in what look to be new packaging. This makes me wonder if it's been re-released, and I'll be happy if that's the case.

Sport Field reminds me of one fragrance: Green Valley by Creed. I have yet to review Green Valley here because I'm saving that one for the spring. I consider it a wonderfully bittersweet grassy chypre, with top notes to die for. Adidas developed a green scent several years before Creed's creation, one that similarly conveys the bitter aroma of cut grass in an open field. It's as though someone took a scalpel to Green Valley, removed its top notes and two minutes'-worth of its heart, shifted some ingredients around, and then repackaged it as the "new" Sport Field (I know nothing of the original green-boxed Sport Field). It's Green Valley on a budget.

I'll get this out of the way first - Sport Field's ingredients are clearly pedestrian in quality, and there's nothing in the scent profile that raises eyebrows. However, the composition is a departure from the expected sweet waterfruit/violet leaf/white musk "sport" formula. It's a sport fragrance in the '70s tradition of Aliage, not Polo. The elements may be budgeted, but they're well chosen and composed. It opens with a bright burst of lemon and ginger, which rapidly transitions into a delightful wedding of coumarin (hay), and a nondescript pastel-pink sweetness that weaves between the greens. Light touches of pine, anise, and tomato leaf lend it depth and lengthen its lifespan, and its base is a simple hay and pine affair. The pine note is used judiciously to approximate the bracing spiciness of grass, and never oversteps its bounds or takes center stage, as in Pino Silvestre. All things considered, one could do infinitely worse with $15, and if you want to smell like fresh grass, this fragrance captures that essence perfectly. Its consistent bitterness is particularly refreshing, as the scent never once devolves into a fruity nightmare. It's a little broad, but Sport Field achieves its green effect with enviable simplicity and directness.

Having found love for Sport Field, I'll be exploring other Adidas scents with more enthusiasm. I'm realistic though, and doubt that Fair Play, Ice Dive, or Pure Game will yield anything for me. Still, I'm happy to have Sport Field, and find no shame in wearing it. Chypres are hard to come by, and to find one that nobly embraces the bitter verdancy of meadow grass is something special indeed. Try it if you like grassy greens - it's highly recommended!

























12/4/11

Tom Ford for Men (Tom Ford)


Today is my birthday, and I'm somewhat chagrined to report that it's a milestone - the Big 30. The only good thing about it is that it's the furthest point in time from turning 31. Otherwise, it's just plain scary. The roaring twenties are over, never to return again, and all for a staid decade of becoming a serious adult. Or . . . not. Depending on how you look at it, the future can be bright or bleak, but whatever the case, I trust it will smell good.

Last week I had a chance to wear a fragrance that I've been dying to try for a while now - Tom Ford for Men. In fact, I got to sample a good portion of the Ford lineup over the course of a few days, and other reviews will soon follow this one. Mr. Ford's signature masculine is somewhat controversial because many feel that it fails to live up to its marketing hype. Maybe it's my 30-dom chiming in here, but I refrained from posting the ad with this fragrance's bottle positioned suggestively between a naked woman's widespread legs, favoring Mr. Ford's self-portraiture instead. I have a feeling that the pornographic imagery is largely to blame for the collective disappointment here; thousands of guys were drawn to it like moths around a neon beer sign, all expecting liquid nirvana. Instead they got a conventional woody-fresh fougère in the accustomed post-Cool Water style. Quite a letdown if you let the visuals manipulate your imagination before the perfume's molecules can speak for themselves.

I wasn't really baited by the ads, however, so my nose was not struck down with melancholia upon smelling this scent. It was a bit surprising though, as I thought the fragrance would be darker and denser in nature, more of a "cologney" type of oldschool frag in the manner of Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur, or Aramis. Tom Ford's opening notes of lemon leaf and ginger are tart and refreshing, and the perfect intro to the sweet aromatics of pipe tobacco, cedar, patchouli, and pepper in the heart. This is as woodsy as it gets - about twenty minutes into its development, the scent's manly curtain is drawn to reveal a sweet violet leaf and orange blossom base. All is punctuated by crisp vetiver and warm amber notes, making Tom Ford for Men a likable and thoroughly unremarkable workhorse fern. It has good longevity, modest sillage, and not a single drop of confrontational innuendo anywhere in it. It's the perfect gift for the guy who has it all.

I prefer Chanel's Allure Homme and Coty's Aspen to Tom Ford for Men, but only because I have a history with those scents that I don't share with this newer offering. I can see this being a disappointment in the face of more exciting Ford scents, but I don't think it warrants so much negativity - it's well made and competent for its class. I would have made it woodier, perhaps with a touch of birch and a little fennel or anise to correlate with true fougère classics like Azzaro Pour Homme. But as it stands, there's nothing wrong with Tom Ford for Men, and wearing it is as comfortable as sitting by the fire in a leather armchair with a glass of cognac. It's not as sexy as a bottle blocking a vagina, but then again nothing ever is.





























11/26/11

Grey Vetiver (Tom Ford)



Tom Ford for Men: Nice, but I'd rather gift it, not own it myself. Violet Blonde: Also nice, but way too feminine for me. Black Orchid: I'll let you know what I think later, but let me just say it's a weird one, and that's an understatement. White Patchouli: Excellent stuff, and I see a bottle in my future.

Then there's Grey Vetiver, Ford's token masculine vetiver fragrance. Prior to wearing it, my expectations were as stark as the scent profile itself - this was going to be well made, but humorless, soulless juice. The sort of stuff unimaginative bankers wear while injecting loan interest rates with Botox. I'd like it for two or three minutes, and then dislike it for the rest of the day.

Whelp, lemme see here . . . yeeaaah. I was wrong.

While no vetiver scent will ever really excite me, Tom Ford's Grey Vetiver comes pretty darn close. The scent opens with an extremely dry and sugar-free lemon, bergamot, and grapefruit mixture, which grows even drier and starker as the seconds pass. Eventually a papery wood note, fueled stridently by black pepper, kicks through the bony fog of the top and presents the star note in its unadulterated glory. The vetiver is clear, beautifully rendered, and very clean.

As it dries further, Grey Vetiver grows soapier, and eschews the tobacco elements of classics like Guerlain's Vetiver in favor of a purer presentation. Its name fits it well; Grey Vetiver evokes images of cold grass on a misty embankment in the colorless hours of early morning. Well done, André Firmenich, and well done, Mr. Ford. This is the vetiver scent I'll turn to in the future, especially when I'm looking to impress. It's also the vetiver more guys in their 30s should turn to, lest they forget that sometimes it pays to smell like a blue morning, wrapped in the greyest strands of fist and bone.







Lyrics conceived of and hand written by Adam Duritz.























11/22/11

Une Rose (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle)




Roses, it seems, are not red. They're lust, and not just any lust. They're neon lust. Or at least that's how they're supposed to smell, according to Edouard Fléchier. Une Rose, his 2003 entry into the esteemed catalog of Malle's Editions, boasts the lustiest rose accord I have ever encountered, second only to Tea Rose by The Perfumer's Workshop. Sniffing it off my hand, the second of two techniques is apparent here - there was no obvious headspace technology employed, but rather an enhanced impression of old-fashioned rose oil absolute. A similar tone is struck by Annick Goutal's beautiful Rose Absolue.

This was how perfumers used to express roses in their works, blending precious concentrated distillations of thousands of flowers, enhanced only by complementary flower oils and aldehydes. Une Rose fits the general scent profile of an antediluvian rose perfume, but the amplification of rose's natural rubber using phthalate-like synthetics loops the fragrance back into the twenty-first century.

Few rose perfumes defy the dreaded "soliflore" label, but Une Rose seems automatically transcendent. At first, everything is simple. The perfume hits skin in a dulcet pooling of pure rose, free of saccharine fruits and musks. A few minutes pass, and this semi-sweet essence unfolds its scented Pelargonium capitatum and synthetic rubber notes. The complexity of the floral components allows several olfactory illusions to come into play: first is a distinctly quaffable wine accord, with emphasis on drier Chianti grapes of the Sangiovese variety. Then the lush interplay of fruits and waxy roses elicits a self-effacing tension with the rubber enhancers employed by Fléchier. His goal with Une Rose was evidently to capitalize on the plastic aftertaste true rose oils leave behind, and here he's done a magnificent job of it. From the heart phase to the base's afterglow, the perfume deepens from lust, to fire brick, to burnt carmine, and beyond. I find myself imagining what peering into Une Rose would be like if it were an old house; someone beautiful and without her clothes would be beckoning from the shadows of an obscene room, somewhere south of indecently.

Une Rose is colorful but not sanguine, and has a certain je ne sais quoi about it that makes it both daring and darkly alluring. The plummy fruit notes, combined with a bitter green rose and what smells like a dusty record make for quite the treat. For a so-called soliflore, this has a lot of character. It's utterly unisex and works fine on a man, and on my skin the rubber accord really takes center stage. It makes me think of sex, and perhaps that's what Flechier was aiming for. Une Rose is en fuego!




























11/18/11

Acqua di Giò (Giorgio Armani)


Just to summarize things, the prior posts are about Millésime Impérial by Creed and Unbound for Men by Halston, both of which lead up to Acqua di Giò, and all to illustrate one point: AdG is to Millésime Impérial what Cool Water is to Green Irish Tweed. Each are sets of popular designer clones and their niche originals. The difference between them is in spirit; Cool Water was the fresh fougère that defined the late 1980s, while Acqua di Giò was the fresh aquatic that defined the 1990s. Neither scent should have eclipsed their predecessors in the minds of perfume critics, but they have. Both scents are very good and likable on their own terms.

Of the four fragrances, AdG is my least favorite. I do like Alberto Morillas, whose portfolio includes Mugler Cologne and Tommy by Hilfiger, two superlative scents. Puzzlingly enough, when pressed in casual situations with strangers to name one of his perfumes, Morillas thinks first of Ck One, which he cites as the ultimate expression of his "dream." His own description of it here seems more concerned with its widespread fame, and not much interested in the scent itself, except to mention that "when you smell, [it's] still very fresh, very modern." Odd, considering that Ck One would come in second place for most Americans, behind Acqua di Giò. After all, it was his greatest commercial hit, and he's had a prolific career.

I'm not particularly fond of either scent, but if I were limited to them, I'd choose AdG over Ck One without hesitation. I actually like the smell of Ck One better than AdG, but find its poor longevity totally unacceptable. At least with the Armani I get about five hours. The use of synthetics in AdG is laudable, particularly because he was commissioned to create a more marketable and affordable version of Millésime Impérial. Morillas has said that it takes at least 2 years to create a perfume from start to finish, and some might quibble with the plausibility of his copying MI, given they're only a year apart. I think Morillas had an inside scoop on Creed, smelled a fledgling sample of MI during the briefing phase of AdG in 1993 or '94, and decided it was a worthy act to follow.

Smelling AdG is like smelling the fragrance arc of perfumery from 1990 to 1996, a period defined by this quintessential aquatic. But the '90s were stylistically divisible, with everything from 1996 to 1999 defined by Chanel's Allure Homme, which is oddly a variant of none other than Cool Water. Allure's tonka-rich pegging point in the decade was 1995's super-sweet Le Male by Gaultier, a scent with formidable resonance among its contemporaries. But sniffing AdG, one is hard-pressed to find another match. Sniffing MI next to AdG yields an equally-bracing eau de cologne citrus effect, with one flushing the sweetness of ambergris against a salty iris, and the other tempering cruder citruses and sweet jasmine against a base of cedar and musk. The use of lemon, lime, bergamot, rosemary, jasmine, and white musk in AdG is brilliant in its own right, and something that perfectly captures the feeling of Mediterranean sunshine. But if I'm looking to project a tropical aura, I'd be better served to go with the original - its pairing of citrus with iris is far superior and much smoother than AdG's citrus/jasmine combo.

One can credit Armani with not intentionally over-exposing the AdG brand by strictly limiting its number of flankers. But really, how much more can one do with this theme? Successful aquatics inevitably spawn artless combinations of sweet fruits and flowers against salty and musky bases, with gallons of calone and Iso E Super carelessly employed to repeatedly deliver the same olfactory message. They wind up smelling generic, like soap and shampoo, and jade fans of the original into buying something else instead. Sometimes they even lead fans to blame the original for so many countless sub-par releases. It's a bad cycle to get into. I'm looking at you, Ck One.























11/16/11

Millésime Impérial (Creed)



Green Irish Tweed is Creed's biggest seller; Millésime Impérial is their second megahit, with a marginally smaller audience. Unlike GIT, MI does nothing for me personally, but I respect it as being arguably the most important fragrance in the history of masculine perfumery, and for one reason only - it spurred the release of Acqua di Gio. This alone means very little in the artistic sense, but on a commercial scale it's huge. For reasons that elude meaningful analysis, AdG remains the No.1 best-selling men's EDT in America, and a massive success around the world.

It's no wonder that Olivier and Erwin have snooty attitudes. Their brand is reviled across fragrance forums by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, subjected to countless slights, and labeled the "Gillette of niche perfumery." Meanwhile, two of Creed's contemporary releases spawned game-changing imitations. Luca Turin fawns in five-star fashion over Cool Water, and reluctantly shrugs four stars on GIT. AdG gets less praise, but also less attitude than MI. Generally speaking, GIT and MI are outdated fragrances with limited mass appeal at their price point. But if I were Olivier or Erwin, I'd continue raising prices out of spite. Maybe by whittling their customer demographic down with exorbitant fees, the haters will abandon ship. These perfumes deserve a little more respect.

Millésime Impérial is one of my least favorite Creeds, although this was the case before I even smelled it. The whole citrusy, melony-aquatic thing does nothing for me. It's conceptually boring. Perhaps I'm jaded by the armies of fruity-fresh shampoos, body washes, bar soaps, deodorants, aftershaves, laundry detergents, window cleaning solutions, dishwashing tabs, bathroom air-fresheners, reed diffusers, Yankee candles, and "body mists" (whatever those are). I went to high school in the '90s and wore Tommy for two years straight - I don't need sweet and fruity aromatics anymore. Quality it may be, but Millésime Impérial is an unnecessary fragrance as far as I'm concerned.

Back in 1995, however, it was a supernova. As with most niche scents, its commercial release was stealthy but influential. The whole eau de cologne category made a comeback, and variants like Versace's Baby Blue Jeans, Armani's feminine Acqua di Giò, and Goutal's Eau du Sud, all helped to define it. Then came Millésime Impérial, with its top-shelf ingredients, bold floral assertions, and flashy gold packaging. It opens with a brilliant bergamot, lemon, and salted white floral accord, the brine twisting the bitter citrus and floral sweetness into an olfactory impression of melon. These notes hold on for a while as the citrus burns off, leaving a salty-sweet iris and ambergris in their wake. Everything dances to the minimalist tune of smooth musk and ambergris, with the ambergris the showcase note. In the past, Creed paired judicious quantities of real ambergris with ample synthetic supports, but the company recently switched its entire line to some version of ambroxan, with no ambergris tinctures whatsoever. I have mixed feelings about this. For the money they charge, they should still use ambergris, but whatever synthetic they've chosen works nicely enough. It radiates a metallic sweetness with equal aplomb.

My only olfactory issue with this scent is its heaviness - that opening volley of salty notes is surprisingly powerful, and the ambergris is leaden. Millésime Impérial fits the '90s zeitgeist of syrupy aquatics quite well. Considered unisex by many, it reads more feminine to me, and its whole-hearted rendition of iris veers the opposite direction of Green Irish Tweed's. Hints of green spices with muted notes of rosemary and sage occasionally peek through the heart notes, presaging the overall gist of Acqua di Gio, and giving MI a dynamism that its successor lacks. I like the nuances to this scent, and wish I could love it, but it remains firmly in the "like" column. Unless someone sneezes a $60 1-ouncer at me, I doubt I'll ever own it. Its fans applaud its versatility on summer days, and I'm sure it opens up nicely in 85°+ heat. For what it accomplishes, I'll skip Millésime Impérial altogether and just wear Unbound instead. This is a try-before-you-buy adult aquatic by an exclusive niche company, and I credit it for generating several years of like-mannered things. Perhaps in another ten years, after we've been sugared to death by Lutens, Mugler, and Gaultier, Millésime Impérial will get its due.




























11/15/11

Unbound for Men (Halston)


Before I set about reviewing Creed Millésime Impérial and Acqua di Gio, I think it's a good idea for me to familiarize you, should you need familiarizing, with the dirty little secret about these scents: Unbound for Men is the truest clone of Acqua di Gio, which is the truest clone of Millésime Impérial. Therefore, Unbound is the best choice for cash-strapped 22-year old skirt-chasers. Unfortunately, 99% of the aquatic audience are cash-strapped 22 year-old skirt-chasers, making Unbound the most useful and culturally prescient brine-themed scent. I say "unfortunately" because Millésime Impérial is more beautiful, and Acqua di Gio is more appealing, so most youngsters will miss out on this scent. Ideally, in a perfect world, 22 yr-olds could shake their Bens for 8 oz flacons of Millésime Impérial, and use them to their sexual advantage until they turn 30. I must pinch myself now and remember that this is not, contrary to what my daydreams tell me, a perfect world.

But it's good enough, thanks to Halston's cloning apparatus. An unlikely company to successfully pull off an aquatic copy, Halston somehow roped the market with their original Unbound for women, and then translated the scent into a remarkable doppelganger of AdG. At $20 for a 3.4 oz bottle, you can't go wrong. I'm the sort of person who doesn't want to spend much on aquatics, so if I can find one that does what it's supposed to for under $50, I'm happy. Unbound ticks those boxes, and - surprise surprise - smells expensive. Many aquatics employ calone as a fresh burst of heavy fruitiness which penetrates the scent's entire lifespan before degrading into a hollow white musk. The members of the board seem to think that if it smells fruity and "fresh," it's an aquatic. Uhhh, no. A proper aquatic employs truly aquatic accords, namely notes of salt, any variation of weedy brine, wildflowers, spices, and something green for balance. There should be an impression of catching misty sea air on the bow of a sailboat, with glimpses of shoreline peeking over the whitecaps. Unbound gives this impression with minimal effort, and the sort of panache found in fragrances five times its cost.

It opens with a well-blended lime, an odd juniper note, and tomato leaf. The tomato leaf dominates, and grows stronger as the scent dries down, but the juniper, presumably the "Bombay Sapphire Gin" accord listed on basenotes, is intriguing. It smells wet and hazy, like it's wafting over high tide. The top threatens to fall flat, but this note saves it and adds significant punch to the salty greenness that follows. Eventually the tomato leaf blares past a polite arrangement of pink pepper and sage, with the latter slowly trumping the former as everything moves into the drydown. The woody base doesn't try to be intense and super-masculine, but instead opts for transparency. It smells realistic, dry, and full of salted timbres. The juniper remains prominent, and I almost feel a piney aspect to the drydown, which I think puts it above that of Acqua di Gio. I really enjoy Unbound, and can respect how it develops because it doesn't do the usual thing. It stays true to its concept - sailing unfettered across salt water - while holding the integrity of each individual note.

Oddly enough, I have problems with Millésime Impérial and Acqua di Gio that I don't have with Unbound. MI is awfully headstrong for a Creed, and its heavy iris/melon top notes pierce its delicate salty ambergris base. It's beautiful, but headache material for me. AdG smells good, but I find myself wishing it were greener. It has the potential to be, yet never goes there. Unbound is neither cloying, nor lacking in greens, and illuminates the essence of being seabound as deftly as it conveys the sensation of being free.



























11/14/11

Fahrenheit (Dior)


If you're a man's man, then wearing Fahrenheit is redundant to you, as you would already smell of motor oil and freshly cut grass. If you're a woman, wearing Fahrenheit would make you the sexiest woman alive. Fahrenheit, like Grey Flannel, was a fragrance that I put off trying for a long time. I felt it was right there with Cool Water and Polo as one of those "blah" scents, the kind you've smelled a million times on a million people over the course of millions of parties, pow-wows, and Pinot Noir tastings. Well okay, maybe not Pino Noir tastings. But you get the idea.

The peculiar thing about this perfume is that it accomplishes masculinity without dwelling on conventionally masculine accords, things like lavender, coumarin, or sandalwood. Like all great scents it exhibits a steady tension throughout its lifespan on skin, with an odd petroleum note performing against an array of sweet and grassy floral elements. It's a minimalist concept executed as a flourishing Rococo olfactory aesthetic. The gravity of the petrol note is such that any woman who attempts to pass Fahrenheit off as an elegant lipstick floral will be as successful as a disgraced investment banker's wife at a PBS fundraiser. If you can't accept what you're wearing here, you may as well dab some bottled fart to your pulse points and call it a day. This is man juice, and while it works for a confident gal with butch sensibilities, it can't and won't work without the right attitude.

Jean-Louis Sieuzac and Maurice Roger's composition is unique; Fahrenheit opens with a highly-concentrated mixture of violet leaf, hawthorn, and honeysuckle, so condensed as to make the accord seem propellent. Gradually the floral notes drift apart, fleshing out the sharply upholding bergamot, carnation, vetiver, and patchouli, all very fresh and delicate. As green meets clean, its oily top-note slips behind a sweet violet and honeysuckle, which eventually merge on a light base of sandalwood and benzoin. The effect is one of freshly-cut grass, including oil-stained clumps from the lawnmower bag. It's this lingering petrol note that seals Fahrenheit's masculinity and weds it to its time. It's a daring, elusively simple idea that few contemporary houses have bothered to update. That's a shame, particularly because there are plenty of Saturday's outdoor-chore guys who could use more oily-green themed fragrances to further color their macho identities.

Grey Flannel is considered by some to be the inspiration for Fahrenheit, and there are some similarities, notably in the use of violet leaf. I don't think they're that close, though. To my nose, Grey Flannel is an essay on citrus, violet leaf, and oakmoss, while Fahrenheit is a more modern interpretation of honeysuckle. Its green sweetness is attributable to several flowers, some of which are invented synthetics, but the drydown of honeysuckle, tinged with spicy carnation and sandalwood, sets Fahrenheit apart. Also, Grey Flannel lacks the piercing oily top structure of the Dior. My love for Grey Flannel goes unchallenged, but my admiration for Fahrenheit ends there, with little possibility of feeling any closer to it. My personality, temperament, and overall persona is outdoorsy but aloof; something with a dank, shady feel defines me better than anything in direct sunlight. Fahrenheit's warmth is its greatest asset, and ironically is what makes it less attractive to me. But given the choice between this and bottled fart, I'll go with Fahrenheit, and skip the PBS fundraiser altogether.


As an aside: Fahrenheit is also compared to Creed's Green Valley, which I will review in the spring. They are distantly related, but anyone hoping for an upscale Fahrenheit in the Creed would be sorely disappointed, if only because of how truly different they are.






























11/13/11

Red for Men (Giorgio Beverly Hills)


Love. Passion. Hunger. War.

Some colors are singular treasures, but red is four: it's why we associate Valentine's day with hearts, equate lust with high heat, stop at McDonald's for lunch, and forget our fear of blood in a fight. Red is about desire, anger, the sacred and profane. Without it we'd only have orange and yellow, two clearly-inferior shades. It's a fitting name for a perfume, and I'm glad Giorgio Beverly Hills thought of it. This fragrance used to command a very high premium off ebay and other vendors, presumably due to its discontinuation. Red is now back in production, and costs less than a pastrami sandwich at a New York deli.

This fragrance seems to polarize its audience. You either love it or hate it, with most loving it. It's classified as a leather, but the scent defies labels. Those who are hellbent on categorizing it call it a hybrid aromatic fougère and woody oriental, but I think it's an aromatic fougere with hints of orientalism. edit: having refreshed my nose on this scent, I realize that the fougere-like aspects of it are more prominent than I thought. There's an odd minty-fresh element paired with woody spices that gives it a more fern-like appeal. If it is a hybrid aromatic/woody oriental, it's a very subtle one. I'm not getting any fougère-like traits, and as I read the back of the box, I see that lavender is at the end of a long list of synthetics, although real oakmoss is used - wonder if I have a bottle of the original formula?


Red opens with a very sweet burst of rose and artemisia. This accord is darkened by a subdued cumin, and blended seamlessly into a heart of juniper, dewy jasmine, peppery carnation, and oakmoss. Sometimes I catch a whiff of mint, but it's fleeting if it's there at all. I read on forums about how synthetic Red smells, but I'm inclined to disagree - I can pick apart the juniper, jasmine, and carnation pretty easily. The jasmine lends sweetness to an otherwise-spicy moss scent. The blending here is impeccable, and makes it tricky to identify everything, but that's obviously intentional. Red conveys a smoothness that few other masculine orientals of the '90s ever employed. This EDT is a definite "smell." A man wearing this emits a complex dryness that transcends your average cologney vibe, and moves into a higher atmosphere of mature masculinity. It's obviously designed for cigarette smokers, and more sophisticated than some give it credit for.

Nowadays Red is more curiosity than perfume - the smoky, jazzy-cool aura of America in 1991 is long gone. Part '80s leftover, part '90s haruspex, Red occupies a rare no-man's land of masculine perfumery, the great divide between Reagan-era powerhouses and Clintonian air-kisses. To wear it is to defy both eras, and approach life from today alone.




























11/12/11

4711 (Mäurer & Wirtz)



On basenotes, a presumably-German critic who goes by the_good_life writes:
"I can't believe serious perfume lovers like this. To Germans it rightfully embodies the epitome of cheaply synthetic drugstore granny cologne. It's agressively sharp, short-lived and tacky and does not hold a stick to a genuine, natural-ingredient Eau de Cologne by Roger et Gallet, Berdoues, or, to stay in Cologne, the original Kölnisch Wasser by Farina. Btw. if you forget about the 4711 myths for a moment - its originator was a speculator and conman who sold it as a cheap imitation of the original Farina cologne under the same name. After decade-long court battles the company had to give up the name Farina and switched to 4711 in the 1880s. The story about the monk's gift of 4711 at Muehlen's wedding and the French officer writing the house number 4711 on the wall are PR-poppycock. To all connaisseurs of perfume I can only say: next time you're in Cologne, avoid the 4711 tourist trap and check out Farina, who are still in business (since 1709)"
Mr. Good Life's criticism is the perfect distillation of many critiques of this cologne. He has gut checked many 4711 and Creed enthusiasts in the past, and seems to know an awful lot about the history of both brands. I won't delve into the question of how he could possibly know 4711's stories are "PR-poppycock." My problem with his analysis is twofold: (1) it's based on facts according to Farina, and (2) 4711 actually smells good.

Regarding the first point, Farina goes into an extensive historical summary on its vendor site, chronicling the invention of its cologne, its impact on Renaissance Europe, and the rise and fall of its many plagiarists. Regarding the plagiarists, their site states (translated from German):
"In 1804, William Mülhens bought one license of a pseudonym for Farina. Thus began the Farina inflation. Its plagiarists mushroomed from the ground. FARINA and COLOGNE were names forfeited to the obscure copycat practices of insolvent companies. It would take too long to name everyone who has risen and gone. Individuals are singled out here: Wilhelm Mülhens' actions were speculative, and initially sold under "Farina, Franz-business", although it was not clear where he pulled his [trademark] permission. In any case, the inflation caused by "Farina, Franz-company" brought trouble and processes for Mülhens and Farina."
So in short, William Mülhens came along at the turn of the century and stole the names "Farina" and "cologne" (even though cologne is the name of a German city and cannot be stolen). Why he bothered using the Farina name is anyone's guess, but apparently his venture was purely speculative and based on profiting from the success of Farina's cologne. But Farina goes further:
"Mülhens' buyers were quite the opposite of Johann Maria Farina Jülichsplatz's. Modern chemistry made low-cost production possible, and "4711" took over the market when the second World War was underway. Cheap refreshment water took a disastrous turn and Cologne, once a city of fine fragrances, became a synonym for "cheap." The Mülhens family sold their company in 1994, Wella AG in Darmstadt, which was re-acquired in 2004 by the American company Procter & Gamble laundry detergent.

But we come back to the "Farina". . . "
. . . And the eye rolling begins. According to Farina, Mülhens' customers were the hoi polloi, while Farina's were implicitly genteel. 4711's big break happened sometime during WWII, and their success cheapened the entire concept of cologne water, which was disastrous for the city and the industry. Eventually the 4711 brand was sold to Proctor & Gamble's laundry detergent division, which placed the cologne on Tesco's store shelves next to bottles of Tide and Gain. Puh-leese.

It is true that P&G licensed the 4711 brand for a while, and were its sole purveyors until 2006, when it was sold to Mäurer & Wirtz, a European subsidiary of the Dalli Group. These are hard facts. The other facts . . . not so hard. Cheesecloth-soft, in fact. Farina overreaches in its account; not content to simply mention the old legal tussle between Mülhens and Farina over the brand name (which was probably not well-protected to begin with), and the labeling of "cologne" (not protected at all), the site goes to the trouble of parsing through which of the two brands was more prestigious, while carefully negating the overwhelming success of its competitor, calling it cheap and disastrous to the industry as a whole. This logic is incontinent and in pretty bad taste, if you ask me. 4711's success was arguably disastrous for Farina's monopolization of the cologne industry, not the industry itself. There's an obvious difference.


Then there's the_good_life's opinion, quoted here because I've tried Roger & Gallet's eau de cologne, and respectfully disagree with his assessment - it's unremarkable at best. In fact, it's much lighter and more evanescent than 4711. I know colognes are light by nature, but I want to get at least thirty minutes out of one, and with Roger & Gallet's I only got five. Both colognes smell nice, but 4711 wins me over.

Germans must be sick of the stuff. I can only imagine being a young German guy and smelling it on every woman over 65. Seeing it in back alley window displays everywhere. The general impression must be that it's commonplace and overrated. It may be commonplace, but that doesn't really mean it's overrated. 4711 opens with a very herbal and spiky citrus arrangement of lemon, bergamot, lime, the tiniest dash of orange, petitgrain, neroli, and basil. There's a very well-blended rose note supporting the acidic fruitiness, one that trends further green than red. It's like young rose petals were briefly soaked in the tonic and then removed. Rosemary keeps the bitter herbal essence alive well into its clean dry-down. I get nothing sharp, egregiously short-lived, or tacky out of it. But that's just my nose.

My beautifully-massive 27-ounce bottle is almost empty, and I know I'll repurchase when I've used the last of it. It comes in handy during summertime, especially when I'm not feeling aquatic florals and vetivers. It's also useful after work. I teach mentally impaired children, and one in particular has a habit of scratching my arms up pretty badly. I occasionally douse the cuts in 4711, which eliminates any leftover germs and saliva odors.

4711 doesn't get a fair shake these days, and that's a shame. It is, in my opinion, a victim of its success. It's doing something right, though. There's a reason it's been around this long, and it ain't by smelling like cheap junk.




4711 Photo from the 4711 web site.




























11/11/11

Joop! Homme (Joop!)



I was going to punctuate the entire first paragraph of this post with exclamation points, but realized the joke's not that funny. Perhaps a pink perfume in a pink box is funny enough, or the idea that a 30 year-old man finds it wearable. That's my prerogative folks. Laugh away, I care not.

Many people subscribe to the notion that fragrances are seasonal, and I agree. The idea that fragrances are also divisible into "day" and "night" categories is less compelling. I have yet to understand the meaning of a "night" or "black" scent. Are they supposed to be more formal? Sexier than their AM counterparts? More mysterious and alluring? One could argue that any "night" scent worth its salt would be just as intriguing during the daytime. Any nocturnal activities that go beyond a late-night snack and sleep are generally uninteresting to me anyway, with a few (ahem) exceptions. I will concede that if there's any category that can successfully characterize the concept of "night" in perfumery, it's orientals. Anything with dense florals, heavy spices, and precious woods is more evocative of the darker side of the moon. Joop! Homme, however, is not.

What to make of Joop! Homme . . . let's see here. It's an '80s megahit. It joins Cool Water, Drakkar Noir, and Obsession as one of those Ultimate Men's Fragrances of the last 30 years. It is bold, aggressive, and a little obscene. An oriental coated in Ranier maraschino cherry sauce. There's a decadent quality to Joop! that transcends the oriental genre of the '80s, and moves into a territory of its own. It conjures memories of a Python-wielding Christian Slater from the movie Heathers. This guy might be all charm on the outside, but there's something waaaaay serious going on under the facade.


Meanwhile, the tagline is Real Men Wear Pink. This is obviously something that came from Europe, as no American guy would buy it. Indeed, the Old World sees sales of Joop! regularly through the roof, which keeps it alive in overseas markets, including ours here in the States. In New England it's a curiosity worn mostly by older men and black youths. Guys in their early 40s remember when it was new and cling to it; hip-hoppers clubbing at 12 am like that it projects for miles and rubs onto lingerie and car seats. This stuff is a territory marker. It's possibly the strongest masculine scent ever produced.

For a while there Joop! Homme fell out of favor. People can only take so much sweetness before sugar cubes start dancing in their heads. The '90s were forgiving of saccharine smells, but the last decade saw a shift into denser gourmands and oddball woody orientals. Well it's 2011, and the oud craze seems to be almost over. Gourmands are also losing their grip. Yet woody, spicy fragrances remain, a hangover after all the dessert. Stuff like Dunhill Custom, A*Men Pure Havane, and Yuzu Man define the year. There's still sweetness, still freshness and earthiness, but the unrefined bombastic sugar of things like 1 Million, the strange spiciness of stuff like Corduroy and Silver Black, are falling by the wayside. Just as legions of insipid aquatics jumped ship after the '90s and left Adidas Classic, Cool Water and Acqua di Gio stranded, the insanely-exaggerated woody-oriental gourmands of the 2000s leave Joop! Homme, Allure Homme, Individuel, and Original Santal behind. I wish I knew how these things survived, but it's rather beyond my scope of knowledge to say the least. The others survived too, but their stars are fading against the ceaseless effulgence of the classics.


Joop! Homme shares with Mugler Cologne the distinction of being an olfactory doppelganger of a fairly-recent Creed, in this case one called Original Santal. I'm not sure why they did it, but it seems Erwin and Olivier Creed copied these eau de toilettes. Sure, they gussied them up with more components, a broader note range, and top-quality materials. But in the noses of public opinion the scents appear to be very, very, very close. However, as a disclaimer, I must admit that I've never actually smelled Original Santal, and cannot personally testify to any similarities it shares with Joop! Homme. I can only say that while a sampling and review of this popular Creed EDP is pending, I do believe the blogosphere copy that likens the two. After recently testing the brilliant Mugler Cologne and finding myself wearing a watered-down version of Original Vetiver, I can only imagine that a spray of Original Santal would yield a richer and spicier Joop! Homme.

What puzzles me, though, is why anyone would try to elaborate on Joop! Homme when it's already too much of a good thing. It's like taking the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and adding more genitals. The fragrance practically implodes on skin in a heavy thunder of sweetness, weighed into pores by an amplified combination of blood orange, bergamot, cinnamon, heliotrope, and orange blossom. These notes combined produce an olfactory illusion of candied cherries, which is further intensified by an underlying eruption of indolic jasmine, patchouli, sandalwood, and surprisingly inedible vanilla. As the minutes pass, Joop! becomes more floral, with the candied cinnamon leftover from the heliotrope-bittered cherry sauce still lifting the rich blossoms of two white flowers. Gradually the sandalwood, spiked with musk and patchouli, becomes the central accord. It's a slow burn, very dense, dizzingly sweet, and unforgettable to anyone unaccustomed to sweet oriental scents.


Never has a packaging style been more fitting for a fragrance than with Joop! Homme. It smells pink. The juice is an odd purply-pink. It's brighter than the true purple of Sung Homme, but Joop! seems more floral/edible in its color expression. It wears its simmering cinnamon, blushing heliotrope, and warm tonka on its sleeve. Joop! is definitely something to be worn with extreme caution during summer months, although it might bloom nicely with a little external heat. I feel it's more suitable for chilly late-autumn afternoons and frigid winter days. It may or may not be too cloying in the morning, depending on how reliant you are on your senses to wake you up. Unlike most contemporary EDTs, Joop! is something that requires light application. This fragrance works just fine with one or two sprays. If you wear three, four, and five sprays before work, you ask for a pink slip to go with your pink perfume. Even a causal evening out with friends will make you enemies with too much. I repeat: Joop! is strong. Be careful.

It isn't often that I say this, but I'm glad I purchased an old, ultra-sweet oriental today. I've been reminiscing about the eternal sugar of Joop! Homme lately, and had to snatch up a cheap bottle (with matching aftershave). I used to think I hated it, but realize now that I simply wasn't in touch with my inner pink.