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 pure spiritual 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 up with that? In the unlikely event that I ever meet a Jacomo insider, I shall ask him or her that very question. Meanwhile I'll float over lush fields as verdant wisps of crisp morning florals fill my lungs. Silences. 


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. 

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. Things remain congruent and naturalistic throughout the lifespan of this fragrance, which is refreshing, and a tribute to its makers.

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 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 a 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. 

As it turns out, Portfolio Green isn't bad at all. The opening is a restrained (and sweet) lime note, which casually slides into a 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. 

A few hours later 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.


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, although the novel blend of mandarin, lavender, and sandalwood wins points for oft-copied originality. 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 consider that it's a Calone-fueled essay on coriander, woods, and musk, but it really reads as an extremely rough draft of CK One, which is a far better fragrance. The pencil shavings drydown is so crude and annoying that I'd rather roll in a tub of graphite than smell Escape.

1994 - Reacting to the lackluster press for Escape, Klein buckles down and releases CK One, a unisex citrus floral musk scent that is as pleasant as it is innocuous. 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, a pallid fresh fougere, 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. I have no use for it. 

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 introduced. It's a pleasantly humid tropical green scent with a beautiful central accord of bamboo and honeydew melon. Unfortunately its longevity clocks in at under fifteen minutes. A pity. Sales fall short, and Truth for Men, despite being one of my favorite Klein frags, 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, other than to say it does a ginger note pretty well.

2007 - The brand does something uncharacteristic and releases a lone masculine, unimaginatively naming it Calvin Klein Man. It's a fresh fougère that channels Dior Fahrenheit, yet somehow manages to bungle violet leaf. Rarely seen anywhere but at Marshalls, for what it's worth, and as of now it's discontinued.

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.

Also 2010 - Klein's flanker mill churns out Eternity Aqua. It's no barn burner, but the attempt to blend aquatic fresh notes with hints of oriental spice ends up smelling surprisingly decent. I'd buy it if Marshalls slapped a $5 sticker on a full 3.4 oz bottle. 

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 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, although nowhere near as groundbreaking as the original CK One. A Klein scent that smells good? Shocking!


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 nineties, I strolled through the city's impeccably flowered and pruned parks, endlessly in awe of Britain's green thumb pride. And how about those Royals?

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 chilly, but alluring. Britain's imperialism and considerable reach into Asia are evident in the fragrance's opening. Eventually a sweet orris note appears and guides me into an amber drydown. Hammam Bouquet smells tortuously restrained, as if sin could overcome virtue by way of sexual apoplexy.

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 a bit, its form is not. This type of British barbershop dandy scent is truly classical in scope, and I await the day that it is added to my rapidly growing collection.


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 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 FX 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 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.


Azzaro Pour Homme (Azzaro)

If Green Irish Tweed 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.

Luca Turin wrote 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 GIT, this fougère is useful at any time, in any place. I find the use of anise to be a tad challenging, but that's okay - I like it. For the times I want something different, I have plenty of other options. My only complaint about Azzaro PH is that it isn't something I can wear every day, or even two days in a row. Something about the intensity of the anise and lavender accord makes it a once-in-a-while wear for me, but I know many guys who love this as their signature scent, so it's possible you might try it and decide you can't get enough of it. It's a fragrance for free thinkers and unique characters. For the times I want to attract unconventional people, I have Azzaro, and I'm thankful.

Tsar (Van Cleef & Arpels)

Tsar 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. The brilliant opening of Tsar's bergamot and lavender accord is pure sensory pleasure. The citrus is neither synthetic nor bland, and smells so bright, clean, and realistic that I'm transported to a verdant garden somewhere east of whenever I am. 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. 

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. Anyone curious enough to try it will find something forgotten since the early nineties - a green aromatic fern made of high quality materials. Sadly it has been discontinued, but if you keep an eye out for it in brick and mortar stores, it can still be found for reasonable prices. 


Halston Alcohol-Free Cologne (Halston)

It's hard to argue that Halston's 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.

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 bottles in the women's section. 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 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 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.


Sport Field (Adidas)

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. 

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. Highly recommended!


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.


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. Who needs a fragrance with "grey" in its name?

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.


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 amping 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!


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.

Smelling AdG is like smelling the fragrance arc of perfumery from 1990 to 1996, a period defined by this fragrance. But the nineties were stylistically divisible, with everything from 1996 to 1999 reflected 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 resonance among its contemporaries. But sniffing AdG, one is pressed to find another match. Sniffing MI next to AdG yields an equally-bracing eau de cologne melon-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 fruits and white flowers in AdG is brilliant, and perfectly captures a feeling of warm Mediterranean sunshine. 

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.


Millésime Impérial (Creed)

Green Irish Tweed is one of Creed's biggest sellers; Millésime Impérial is (historically speaking) 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 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.


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.


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.

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 gentle intricacies of bergamot, carnation, 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 wins it fame. 

Grey Flannel is considered by some to be the inspiration for Fahrenheit, and there are some similarities, notably in the use of violet leaf. To my nose, Grey Flannel is an essay on citrus, violet leaf, and oakmoss, while Fahrenheit is a more modern interpretation of mossy greens, violet leaf, and 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. Its warmth is its greatest asset, and ironically is what makes it a little less attractive to me. I personally prefer the aloof chill of Grey Flannel, but Fahrenheit is still a great fragrance. 


Red for Men (Giorgio Beverly Hills)

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. 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. 

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 nineties ever employed. 

Nowadays Red is more curiosity than perfume - the smoky, jazzy-cool aura of America in 1991 is long gone. Part eighties leftover, part nineties haruspex, Red occupies a rare no-man's land of masculine perfumery, the great divide between Reagan-era powerhouses and Clintonian air-kisses. It's a testament to how wearing a perfume is often a truly nostalgia-inducing experience! 


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 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 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. 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.


Joop! Homme (Joop!)

What to make of Joop! Homme . . . let's see here. It's an eighties megahit. It joins Cool Water, Drakkar Noir, and Obsession as one of those Ultimate Men's Fragrances of the last thirty 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 eighties, 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 forties remember when it was new and cling to it; hip-hoppers clubbing at midnight appreciate 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.

Never has packaging been more fitting for a fragrance than it is for Joop! Homme. It smells pink. The juice is purply-pink (and gets darker as it ages). It isn't often that I say this, but I'm glad I purchased this 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). Yeah it's synthetic, and yeah it's going to wear me, but everyone needs at least one frag like that in their collection. I used to think I hated Joop!, but now that I understand that I simply wasn't in touch with my inner pink.


Obsession for Men & Obsession Night for Men (Calvin Klein)

Something about Obsession for Men appeals to my dark side. Perhaps because it's named after something in the DSM, or those weirdo '80s commercials successfully worked their subliminal magic, but this "cheap oriental" is noteworthy. I only know the original formula (still have a 25 yr-old splash bottle), and cannot comment on its current incarnation, but the classic stuff made a lasting impression. Bob Slattery should be applauded for his one and only masculine fragrance contribution. 

Obsession for Men is, in my opinion, the only serious masculine scent released by this company. Forget your Eternities (the flankers for which go on eternally), your Escapes, and your Truths. Obsession is the everyman oriental of the eighties. It has sex appeal in spades, particularly if you consider the breadth of its popularity. Its simple arrangement of herbs and spices, flushed with citrus and based on a familiarly warm amber, feels distinctly formal at first. Eventually it dries into a eugenol-fueled soapy cleanness that projects for miles and lasts for days. Obsession is like Old Spice on steroids. It isn't high art, but it has a manly aura I can appreciate. 

As for Obsession Night for Men . . .

. . . Well, things didn't quite work out they way I wanted them to. The concept is fair enough: take lemon, grapefruit, pear, and other fruity, apple-like esters; weld everything to cardamom, suede, a dollop of patchouli, inedible vanilla. Sounds nice enough, but it falls flat, and I don't know why. I'm tempted to blame the listlessness on a common issue with CK scents - their poor longevity. Obsession Night goes strong for all of twenty minutes before dropping like a sack of potatoes into the skin-scent abyss.

Another problem is that Obsession Night bears no relation to the original Obsession. Orientals automatically lend themselves to being "night" scents. One supposes a little darkening of the formula, with added spices and some burnt sugar, is enough tweaking to yield a whole new beast. Evidently the boardroom suits had their way and voted for the "safe" and genuinely cheap (not Luca Turin's cheap) formula. I don't mean to suggest that it smells bad - quite the opposite, actually. Obsession Night for Men is a very nice scent, a postmodern leather with a pleasantly fruity personality. But it doesn't smell dark, or serious, or like anything I enjoy in the original perfume. 


Rose Barbare (Guerlain)

Francis Kurkdjian is a very talented man. His range is amazing, yielding a portfolio with everything from Dior's coveted Eau Noire to Arden's easy-going Green Tea. The man also authored Le Male and flanker Fleur du Male, Acqua di Parma's magnificent Iris Nobile, and the notorious Grey Flannel clone Narciso Rodriguez for Him. In the early 2000s Guerlain commissioned him for their L'Art et la Matiere line, a series of perfumes based on different raw materials. His entry was none other than 2005's Rose Barbare.

His rendition of rose offers a smooth and well-rounded flower, dripping with honey and tempered by woody notes. I particularly enjoy how the woods fuse with the sweet rose and create a low-key, romantic, and genderless fragrance. It isn't particularly complicated, but this scent is the result of masterful craftsmanship. Thus far, after wearing several terrific rose perfumes and contemplating their strengths and drawbacks, Rose Barbare is my categorical favorite. The richness of the rose and sweetness of the honey and spiced amber is simply decadent, truly a work of olfactory art.

I haven't smelled them, but I'm fairly certain the rest of the L'Art lineup wouldn't move me. Cruel Gardenia reads like a poignant and modern white floral; Tonka Imperiale sounds like a redundant relative of Chanel's Allure Homme; Iris Ganache reminds me of how little I like white chocolate. Good thing I tried this one - it's feast or famine when it comes to Guerlain. Let's face it, this house isn't breaking new ground anymore. 


Green Water (Jacques Fath)

Some products are meant to be used in tandem with each other. I find this to be true mostly with colognes, as they're usually too weak to last very long on their own. A good shower with body gel conditions skin to support and project a matching eau de cologne. Green Water is the definition of something that needs total product-line deployment to achieve maximum effect.

Sadly, that's not really enough to exonerate Green Water's eau de toilette. I expect a composition to stand alone on its own merits, without a supporting cast. And Green Water isn't capable of it. The unripe citrus and refreshingly-minty herbal mix has a very fleeting eau de cologne feel, with abysmal longevity and zero projection. There's a burst of clean and bitter greenness, all awash in lemon, which evaporates into a hint of oakmoss and sour synthetic musk. I love the greenness, and its unique composition - when I can smell it. But the longevity and projection issues really kill the whole experience.

Despite its problems, Green Water still feels like a plus to me, if only for being another classic green cologne that's still in production and semi-available. I'm so absurdly addicted to green scents that I wouldn't rule out wearing Green Water, and I get a kick out of the nostalgia factor. People rhapsodize over Green Irish Tweed and how Cary Grant sported it back in the old days, but I figure it's far more likely that he wore the original formulation of Green Water. It's something to try if you're a green lover like me, and even better if your accoutrement is an Irish tweed suit.


Intuition (Estée Lauder)

Here's an equation all perfume lovers will recognize: Estée Lauder = Quality²

Thus far every scent by Lauder has been a quality product, with some better than others of course. The compositions are well arranged, notes usually crystal clear, and ambiance rarely lacking. Even the losers (Dazzling Gold for one) aren't really all that bad, considering what else is out there. They ooze class, even when they're oozing other things, too.

I recently happened across a mini and gave it a whirl. My test notes reflect something very rare - Intuition is extremely difficult for me to classify. I'm tempted to say it's an oriental; the spicy density of the scent definitely begs for judicious application, and preferably not at work. Meanwhile, there's a mossy greenness, a bitter chypre structure, floral and dewy notes grafted to the spices. Parsing my notes further, I see I've written the following sentence: There's certainly more to the name than just a word - the warmth of the oriental accords suggest the dregs of winter, while the greenery that sparkles within implies an unforeseen knowledge of coming change. In other words, and if I may reiterate myself here, this perfume intuits a change of seasons by straddling the best of both worlds.

The EDP opens with chilled grapefruit and bergamot. It's a good beginning to a green perfume. These notes, particularly the bergamot, are analogs of unripe or semi-ripe fruit, and have a vague greenness to them. A darker interpretation of gardenia and spicy carnation prickles through the evaporated citrus, but soon (as in within ten minutes) is tempered by sage and cool freesia. There are mysterious floral notes fluttering in this scent's breeze, but I'm not really sure what they are. I suppose one could say they're just hints of wildflowers. In the end the season goes coastal, and a mild ambergris, meticulously blended with remnants of all the floral notes, warms the base. It's complex, strong, a little astringent, a little cluttered, very spicy, yet breezy and clean. It's lovely stuff.

The oriental aspect of Intuition makes it suitable for men to wear, and I'm realizing as I try them that well-made orientals are generally unisex, despite any marketing to the contrary. However, the floral arrangement is perfect for a strong and independent woman, albeit a mature one. I see this working for the over-30 set. Anyone younger might want to consider trying Pleasures instead. I'm not as enamored with Pleasures, but I'll get to that in another review. Intuition says "I'm smart, easy-going, but serious about life." It's a simple message, conveyed in an ornately suggestive perfume. In short, it's a concise scent for winter wear, and it keeps spring within arm's reach.


Big Pony 1, 2, 3, & 4 (Ralph Lauren)

The Big Pony series has me wondering why Ralph Lauren hasn't caught on that redundancy is a cheap thrill. You capture the public's attention for all of two weeks, rake in some extra holiday-season profit, and eventually wind up discontinuing, discontinuing, and discontinuing some more. There's no big picture here. I thought the 1980s were supposed to teach us about the Big Business Big Picture. Apparently I was mistaken. Each of these fragrances tries to put a spin on something that's already been done a million times, and they fail miserably. I would never wear them, but I suppose if teenagers are faced with the choice of any of these, or Justin Bieber's new scent, they're better off picking a number. Here's my take:

Big Pony 1: The perfect example of what not to buy, for two reasons: 1) you'll wind up smelling like a cheaper version of Polo Blue, and 2) Everyone smells like Polo Blue. This is a thin watercolor sketch of that tried-and-tired "blueness" that has pervaded perfumery since Cool Water. Not to say that it comes anywhere close to the specific nature of Cool Water itself; BP 1 is a rather air-freshened and abstract blue sky concept, with a dryer ozonic texture. I'm fairly certain that Polo Blue has already failed at making this type of fragrance anything more than a teenage diversion.

Big Pony 2: I don't get the dark chocolate that supposedly distinguishes this scent, and I certainly don't get anything specific out of Big Pony 2. It reads to me like a spicy, cinnamon-type musk. It's rather nondescript. There's a heated amber lurking around in there. Oh, I get it - red bottle, hot scent. $65 for this? Really?

Big Pony 3: I probably shouldn't be doing it, but I'm giving Big Pony 3 a pass because it's the most likable of the BP lineup. Some ginger-mint and an incredibly synthetic greeny heart. The fresh notes are slathered over a faceless white musk. I'm a sucker for green, even when it's as soulless as this. I suppose if I were 17 and sexually frustrated, this would be my spring spritz. Anyone even a smidgen further along in life should just man up and wear the original Polo.

Big Pony 4: Amazingly, this is the most faceless scent in the series. It has an orangey, ambery, raspy wood & musk essence. The scent feels a bit like a Chanel in its muted affability, yet lacks refinement, distinction, or anything to set it apart from the mindless league of colored Polos. If scratchy wood is your thing, you're better off with Polo Blue, Black, or Double Black. Me? I'll steer clear of Ralph Lauren's 21st Century fragrances altogether, with more emphatic route diversions thanks to Big Pony 4.

And there you have it. They're better than any of the Calvin Klein scents of the last ten years, but that's not saying much. I'm thinking Lauren's fragrance department is downwind of the lavatories, and their Glade air fresheners aren't working so well.