Antaeus (Chanel)

Chanel desperately needs to push the envelope with its masculine fragrances. To use the word 'desperately' actually underplays how badly they need this correction; unless the company releases an aggressive, civet-laden monster soon, an entire wing of their commercial line will slip into irrelevance. I don't care how they do it - oud is in lately, so they can spin their version of that, or they can approach the gourmand territory charted by Mugler. But whatever they do, they'd better do it.

This is how I felt when I tried Antaeus, which was Jacques Polge's woody chypre of 1981. I've read a lot about it, and many writers opined on the scent's in-your-face character. Some even compared it to Kouros by YSL. There were musings on how dynamic its honey note is, how it's a symbol for gay pride, and how nothing else in the Chanel lineup can touch its style and panache. Most of what I read was persuasive. Antaeus is a striking package, all sleek black lines and vintage lettering. It's as if the bottle is announcing itself as Chanel's Kouros, Chanel's black sheep.

So it was with little trepidation that I tried Antaeus recently, to finally smell what all the hubbub was about. The scent started out with a smooth blend of sage, coriander, bergamot, and something pungently animalic. After a few seconds, I figured the animalic note was castoreum. It was lively, but definitely not in-my-face. After about ten minutes, the patchouli, oak moss, labdanum, and myrhh arrive, all blended into an oddly creamy olfactory illusion of sandalwood and honey. It's a waxy sort of honey, and indeed, Antaeus boasts a beeswax note in its pyramid. The effect is quite smooth and a little bitter. Nice, but nothing extraordinary. An hour later, the composition slipped into a vague, creamy drydown of wildflowers and labdanum.

Every time I sniffed my wrist, I wondered when the party would start. Where was the caricatured note? Why wasn't the patchouli enormous? How about a slower castoreum, something that really saunters into the heart and base, staying the course to the drydown? What I smelled was calm, composed, stately. Sure, it was very masculine, but the right woman could pull this off (not so with Kouros). While by no means dull, Antaeus was a far cry from challenging. It had me envisioning stuffy British diplomats at a gentleman's club, smoking cigars and twirling their moustaches. Chanel had released a very mature-smelling chypre, all buttoned buttons and pursed lips.

In any case, it was artfully made, but its quality did not overcome its ubiquity. Antaeus is expensive when you can find it. Kouros, on the other hand, isn't. Between the two, I'll stick to the one with civet.


Medicine Cabinet: A Tale of Three Aftershaves

I know I said this blog wouldn't mix perfume and aftershave, but I lied.

The truth is, I have to get something off my chest. Perfumes I understand - aftershaves I don't.

What bugs me about aftershaves is that they're typically watered-down and cheapened versions of otherwise-classy compositions. I mean, I can't imagine listening to a live performance of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio and then settling on a scratchy cassette-tape radio recording as a souvenir. With Skin Bracer and Brut, the material for masterful opera is there, but the execution leaves much to be desired. It's like whoever was charged with formulating these fragrances graduated from Grasse in the top percentile, and immediately accepted briefs with $10 budgets.

Take, for instance, Brut:

Fabergé released their renowned ambery fougère in 1964, only to water it down and bottle it in plastic a scant four years later. Full of classical fougère elements, including lavender, lemon, oak moss, patchouli, and sandalwood, Brut's note pyramid exhibits all of the hallmark characteristics of a perfect masculine. And yet, it smells so . . . cheap. When I sniff the aftershave, I get the alcoholic vapors, something vaguely suggestive of mint and lemon, and then a massive, utterly unbalanced sweetness. Anise is in there, but instead of smelling floral and spicy, it's a bald cloud of coumarin. The cintronellol fields shallow against piles of oak moss and tree moss, and the whole thing ends up an odd combo of sweet 'n sour. It's like Clubman by Pinaud (which is an exceptional aftershave), only skanky, and unbearably sweet. It's a little too fetid for me to wear, even in the privacy of my home. I don't know. I really don't understand it.

Then there's Aqua Velva Ice Blue:

Originally by Williams, the makers of Aqua Velva got one thing right - psychologically, blue is more refreshing than green. After that, Aqua Velva loses me. For one thing, the scent doesn't smell blue at all. More of a dirty, minty greenish-brown. After a typical limonene (lemon), linalool (lavender), and peppermint opening, Aqua Velva slides into a weirdo combination of sweet musks and leathery woods. The leather note really presides over everything else, lending an unexpected darkness to the drydown. This is what makes Ice Blue a leathery chypre. Which would actually be a great thing, except the minty mouthwash top notes never entirely disappear. Instead, they mesh with the sweetened coumarin-leather whatever, which creates a sort of stained "freshness" accord. Me no likey. But me wanna likey, me wanna likey alot! All well. Perhaps someday someone from Combe Inc. can explain to me what the philosophy behind Aqua Velva's scent is. Maybe they could also explain why they've taken an already-challenged fragrance and doomed it before it even exits the bottle by making said bottle PLASTIC.

The best of the lot is Skin Bracer by Mennen:

I recently picked up a bottle of Skin Bracer, and I have to say, it's really nice. Nice enough that I wish it were a lot better than it currently is. It could also use a glass bottle, although Skin Bracer's switch to plastic isn't as recent as Aqua Velva's. If only these toiletry companies understood the deleterious effect of plastic on fragrance. Classified as a fresh fougère that trends ever-so-slightly into woody territory, this one is a little more abstract than its two compadres. It's like a Mark Rothko painting, with distinct blobs of scent transition that all somehow meld into one color. I get a distinct mint leaf from the top, intermingled with a very light lemon, which rapidly slides into a musty vanilla and leather base. The leather is more refined than the others, and the mint persists as the base fades. Eventually, when the darker notes are gone, the sweet freshness is all that's left. That, and my sense of ennui. Why, oh why can't this aftershave be made with better ingredients? 

I'd gladly pay twice as much for this, especially since this formula costs $9. Pretty pricey. But it could be better. It could incorporate hints of orange blossom to compliment the vanilla. There could be a little cedar to brighten the leather. Instead of a Rothko Print, I could have an original Rothko! Skin Bracer turns 80 this year, and given its age, Mennen should celebrate and turn up the volume on the scent. Sure, it'll always be a lowly alcohol-based aftershave, but that doesn't mean it has to smell like one.

Then again, maybe it's better to keep these aftershaves low-brow. Whether you're working on a lounge lizard moustache with Brut, a Bertie Wooster impression with Aqua Velva, or a Swedish Girl with Skin Bracer, you're working something. 

Paris Jardins Romantiques (Yves Saint Laurent)

Green Floral fragrances for women ought to be marketed to men. Why, you ask? Because nothing throws people more than a guy who smells like muguet.

Back when women actually wore floral perfumes, a guy may have had a harder time pulling something as delicate as Paris Jardins Romantiques off. But since most of your standard lilies and roses and violets have been replaced with burnt sugar and Body Shop chemicals, smelling of actual flowers is a real departure from the new "norm." Considering the history of Victorian dandy toilet water, and how rose and lilac were barbershop notes, there's no reason why a modern man can't update. After all, if Pinaud's Lilac Vegetal aftershave were any more feminine, well, . . . I really don't know what would happen. Something weird, to be sure.

Which brings me to this 2007 flanker for the infamous Paris by YSL. Billed as Romantic Garden-in-a-Bottle, the scent lets loose with an airy blend of muguet, rose, and violet. The lily really steals the show, rounding off the floral accords with grassy notes. The smell of muguet always makes me think of grass, its blades rippling in a cool, dewy breeze. That's the feeling with PJR.

Eventually a smidgen of carnation gives a little spicy kick to a restrained drydown of rose and violet. The violet never gets a leading part, and is relegated to a supporting role, quite far behind the lily. Even the rose isn't all that forward, although it weaves in and out of the scent's heart. I'm inclined to think that this version of Paris is much less feminine, and far more unisex than the original. If the flowers were fuller, then no, not for boys. 

But with this much greenery, and so much lily, the garden is pruned to my liking. I can't say that PJR is an eye-opener, a mind-bender, or a magical garden. But it is quite pleasant, simple, and perfect for those days when you need a little romance in the garden. Would I buy a bottle? I much prefer the bitter tonic of Eau de Givenchy and Chevrefueille Original, but in a pinch, this would do nicely.

Patrick (Fragrances of Ireland)

Ireland will always be a happy memory. I grew up spending summers in Sligo. My parents used to take me out to Strandhill, and we'd stop at the corner store and get H.B. ice cream. I would sit on the stone wall overlooking the beach, eat my ice cream, and take in the vast expanse of green and grey before me. The shoreline curled around the bay, its green fingers floating in and out of existence behind curtains of cloud and rain. The air was cold and clean, and full of salt, seaweed, wet grass, and stone. It was like being wrapped in an emerald, freshly dug from the earth.

It's been a while since I've perched on that wall or smelled those incredible smells, but another advantage of visiting Ireland is finding Fragrances of Ireland. The small niche perfumery has quite a pleasant and accomplished range. Unfortunately, almost all of the fragrances are for women. Patrick stands alone as their token fougère. It's a classically-composed fern, full of citrus notes and greens. It opens with a pleasant lemon and aldehydic moss, then switches gears during the drydown. I get a good shot of pine, an impression of wet hay, and eventually a musky wood. 

There's a little peat smoke in there, which is a nice touch. Peat is decayed vegetation mixed with earth. When burned, it smells amazing, a gorgeous blend of woods and minerals. The effect is of standing in a field near a cottage with a peat fire going. The rain is pelting down in lazy drops around me, and I can smell the salty brine of a distant beach. Salt and ozonic notes fuse the pungent pine, oak moss, and dry musk. This fougère is smooth, atmospheric, and green.

If it were made of top-notch materials, Patrick might be Holy Grail material. Sadly, the citrus is a rather naked limonene, and the balance between aldehyde and musk is a tad off. Limonene reminds me of the famous 4711, and here it's virtually identical to that eau de cologne. Sometimes Patrick feels a little too hazy, and I'd prefer better separation between the pine and moss notes. The composition is saved by the peaty woods that snake through the scent's core. 

Having a familiarity with how peat interacts with country air helps me to better understand what the hay-like shadows in Patrick are about. If it were just a citrus, pine, moss, and musk scent, I'd get bored. But with peat and brine in the mix, this enters a very rugged, masculine territory. It's good stuff.

As a green-lover, I'm inclined to think that I'll be repurchasing Patrick in the future. It's a good year-round scent, and the most traditional fern in my collection. If you've never been to Ireland, let me save you $1200 in airfare and recommend you sniff this lovely eau de toilette first.


Clubman Aftershave-Lotion (Pinaud)

This blog isn't really all-inclusive of both eau de toilettes and aftershaves. Clubman is a fine exception because it doubles as a cologne. Actually as a perfume. The damn stuff is so strong. But as a piece of Americana and pure liquid nostalgia, it damn well better smell strong. If an early 20th Century American aftershave is going to survive into the 21st Century, its scent needs to embody the boldness and universality of its time.

A quick history lesson: Ed. Pinaud founded the American branch of his high-end perfume company in 1920. From 1933 until the later half of the century, the Ed. Pinaud building on 5th Avenue in New York City was renamed Klotz Family Business Co. by Victor Klotz, Pinaud's son-in-law. A French supplier had been grumbling about its association with an American toiletry company, and Klotz responded by re-branding his line. It was circa 1940 when Clubman was first exclusively distributed to barbers for use in their shops. 

Using very little advertising and a word-of-mouth driven campaign, the Klotz Family Business brought Clubman to every country club, barbershop, and bathroom in the country. Klotz's strategy of reaching the American everyman paid off, and the transition from fancy perfumes to barbershop lotions was a success. Still, the product was never marketed as widely as Aqua Velva, Old Spice, or Skin Bracer. Clubman was always the commercially-aloof, in-the-know professional's choice.

Today, Clubman is found in Walgreens and Rite Aids for a few bucks a bottle. I've been using the scent for a couple of years as an aftershave, carefully. Many wetshavers choose to cut their alcohol-based aftershaves with water or witch hazel; I prefer to use Clubman straight, and usually consider it my SOTD due to its massive strength and sillage. Anything more than a thimbleful results in serious migraine material.

Classified as an ambery fougère, Clubman hits the skin with a pleasant array of floral and mossy notes. The top boasts a Victorian-era rose note, which isn't lost to the ensemble of lemon, lavender, cinnamon, oak moss, and tree moss comprising the base. The velvety concoction swirls into a powdery drydown that smells exactly like a barber's brush. In fact, every time I use this stuff, I feel like I just got a haircut. It's truly amazing how much scent-association is built into Clubman.

Flanked by Clubman Special Reserve, Clubman Vanilla, and Clubman Musk, the original Clubman stands alone as the ultimate barbershop fougère. That's a pretty coveted category, although it's one that gets overlooked by niche-loving snobs. Even YSL felt the need to address the barbershop fougère with Tom Ford's Rive Gauche pour Homme. Frankly, when I think of Clubman, I think of this:

Now I know that first impressions are the most-enduring, and when meeting a woman for the first time, concerns of which shirt to wear, which way to part your hair, and which cologne to use prevail. But consider what happens if you and the lady end up together, and she takes the time to peek at your toiletries. I can think of no cooler thing than to have a nice big 16 oz. bottle of Pinaud Clubman sitting by my sink - it tells her I'm a man's man, a little grizzled, a little neat . . . but totally refined. Attention to detail, in the end, is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Rose (Czech & Speake)

Czech & Speake used to only deal in bathroom fixtures, but at some point the company mysteriously decided to hire seasoned perfumers, keep their names from the public, and release a line of exquisite fragrances. What we end up with are a modest set of soliflores, with a citrus, three fougères, and a simple oriental to round it out. Among the floral fragrances, Rose tops the list.

If anyone were to ask me what makes a good soliflore, I'd have to steer them to Rose. Sweetened with hints of other white flowers, the central rose accord is so clean, clear, and delicate, that my nose almost swoons. The cleanness borders on being soapy, which snips a star off its rating, but this perfume is beautifully calibrated, enough to make even the staunchest rose-hater reconsider. 

This rendition is simple, ephemeral, effulgent. It educes visions of snow-skinned virgins, clad in nothing but translucent lace, and reclining amidst illimitable clouds of pink petals. It's a remarkable effect; Rose is chaste and seductive, a paradox within perfume.

The scent is linear, and doesn't develop much, or devolve. But it does suffer a terminable range of appeal, as very few women could consummately pull it off. That's not to say that only fair college girls can wear Rose - any woman can amp-up their femininity with this perfume. But let's face facts: Rose is a pristine soliflore that captures the essence of a budding flower. As such, it shines more on your Anne Hathaways than your Diana Taurasis. Women who can rock classic chypres; let the girly-girls have Rose.

Longevity is decent, at anywhere from 4 to 5 hours, and although labeled a cologne spray, Rose has eau de toilette strength and sillage. The nice thing about roses, and Rose in particular, is they're always "In" regardless of the time of year. Ladies, I say go for it.

Quorum (Antonio Puig)

The box for Quorum states that the fragrance is made with alcohol of "vegetal origin." Kind of a funny thing to mention, but I guess some people prefer all-organic perfumes.

Anyway, this is yet another masculine aromatic from the early 1980s that has zero presence in the blogosphere, and again I ask - WHY??? What is preventing people from writing about this scent? It's from a reputable house, it's 30 years old, and it's still around for a whopping $15 a bottle. For many, Quorum falls into the unofficial "Powerhouse" category, i.e. it's a fragrance with tremendous sillage and longevity. I disagree with that assessment, however. While by no means timid, Quorum has average sillage on me, and lasts about 6 hours before fading. There are rumors that the original formula was more assertive, but at its current price-point, I can't see forking over extra dough just to compare. Quorum is one of the best deals in masculine perfumery - it smells like it could cost at least twice as much as it does.

If I had to summarize the scent of Quorum in one sentence, it would have to be: smells like burnt grass in late September. The first few seconds yield a synthetic grapefruit citrus note, intermingled with a light touch of bitter cigar tobacco and a heavier dose of pine. At the three-minute point, the grapefruit recedes, and the pine steps forward, along with a very spicy arrangement of carnation, cyclamen, patchouli, cumin, and oakmoss. The overall effect is one of sun-singed greens mixed with expired evergreen, akin to the aroma of long-dead pine needles wafting up to greet you as you stroll on a path in the forest. Only the ravages of rainless summer months could yield this effect, and usually it's the first few crisp autumn days that amplify it. As an aromatic woody chypre, Quorum celebrates the season where some greens turn yellow, red, and brown.

When applied judiciously, Quorum has excellent balance and a nice, dry-green aura. However, the artificial grapefruit gets super-sweet and cloying if you over-apply. If the citrus was handled better (perhaps made of better ingredients), Quorum would be a five-star masculine. It enters Green Irish Tweed territory as a scent with situational duality; you can wear this at home, at work, or at play. As it stands, the scent could use a little freshening, but I enjoy it as a worthy addition to my autumnal rotation. Everyone sniffs things differently, and you may or may not get a leathery vibe from Quorum. I don't really smell leather here, and I'm glad. I'll take a musty pine over leather any day of the week.


Signature for Men (Max Factor)

I've always wondered what men smelled like back in the day. As a fan of old movies, it's not unusual for me to get stuck on some old Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart pic, and wonder what exactly the man off the street in 1950 wore before heading into his daily routine. Nowadays the answer is clear - most men either wear nothing, an Axe body spray, or some disgusting variation of Nautica Voyage or Tommy Bahama. But back then, before all the synthetic musks and ionones and esters . . . what was the air like?

About five years ago, I was helping a senior citizen friend of mine clean out the third floor of his 150 year-old Bridgeport home. The guy was a former graphic designer, print artist, and advertiser. He was also a Pepsi enthusiast, and a big fan of Eames chairs. In short, this guy's taste is really, really cool.

So it was with some surprise that, in the course of tossing decades of lost memories into a dumpster, we happened across an almost-full bottle of Signature by Max Factor. Labeled a Spray Cologne for Men, this scent was boxed and untouched since the day it was purchased, god knows when. Perfume Intelligence cites the scent as being made in 1950, and that's all there is. Being the fumehead that I am, I gave it a test spritz.

The gas-powered atomizer emitted far more fluid than desired. I was smacked with a massive wall of alcohol and decayed aldehydes, which smelled of nothing in particular. Then arrived a sweeping elegy of clovey spices and super-sweet musks. The arrangement smelled messy, powdery, and intense. However, after five minutes, it did cohere into a distinct, svelte-smelling musk. The closest thing I can compare it to is Aqua Velva Musk, which unfortunately is one of my least-favorite colognes. However, as its progenitor, Signature for Men certainly smells like a simple eau de toilette version of that sort of nondescript, sweetly masculine musk-smell that many men use as chaser to a shave.

Finding other bottles of this would prove difficult, as not even Max Factor itself acknowledges the existence of this long-defunct article. But no matter - I'm satisfied. I now know what the middle-class American man of the 1950s smelled like, at least some of the time. And I'm glad he's moved on to bigger and better things.

Pour un Homme (Caron)

When I smelled Pour un Homme for the first time, I wrinkled my nose, and almost returned the bottle. What the hell is that? I asked myself. Cold, not sweet, sorta-green, sorta-metallic, and altogether like nothing I'd ever smelled before. There was a urinous quality, too, like someone had pissed in a male sport aftershave. I sat there puzzled as this odd brew slowly resolved itself on my hand, and opened into the most gorgeous, natural-smelling lavender I'd ever met. Intrigued, I started my car and left the mall parking lot, certain now that the last thing I wanted to do was give this bottle back.

By the time I made it home, the lavender had receded, and a luminous, rich, earthy, and completely inedible vanilla had taken its place. The purple herbal luster of lavender hadn't entirely disappeared, and the urinous tinge to the base still appeared from time to time, but instead of smelling offensive, it was glorious. I smelled like I'd spent an afternoon in Provence running through the fields, and had finally returned to my chateau for a little cognac. It was wild and civilized, with an aura of something so simple and direct that it couldn't be ignored. Honestly, I felt like a changed man.

Pour un Homme is the fragrance for a conservative man. It's something a good woman gives to her man and makes him wear, even if it's against his wishes, because she knows it does him good (and she's right). It's the smell of someone who makes a home for his family, and protects it with love. It's a powerful essay on lavender, civet, vanilla, and musk, and it's 77 years old. Composed by Caron's founder, Ernest Daltroff, Pour un Homme was Daltroff's answer to the famous Guerlain masculine, Jicky. Unlike Jicky, Pour un Homme never found appeal with women - it was always man juice. 


Z-14 (Halston)

The realm between cinnamon orientals and leathery chypres is a dangerous one for me, mainly because I dislike the first kind and like the second. Leathery chypres are usually woody, dark; spicy orientals are often sweet, green, ambery, and dry. 

Z-14 opens with a pungent lemon, bergamot, vetiver, and oakmoss arrangement that rapidly warms into a woody accord of lavender, amber, and cinnamon. To my nose, the cinnamon balances against the dry citrus of the resinous heart accord, and is a subtle note. Interesting, because Z-14 isn't that different from its sibling, 1-12. Both fragrances feature elements of pine, carnation, patchouli, and tree mosses, yet both are remarkably different in design and performance. 

I do like the bottle, designed by Elsa Peretti, who designed all of Halston's classic fragrance bottles. It's simple but artful, in accordance with Peretti's "simple is better" aesthetic. This is a try-before-you-buy if you're attracted to retro colognes, but it's indisputably a classic that has survived the years intact.

1-12 (Halston)

Green as a color doesn't do much for me, but as an olfactory facet, it's the most important quality something can have. If it smells green, it's in. The less embellished green notes are by other "colors" in the olfactory rainbow, the better. Taking this into account, Halston's second masculine release, 1-12, is terrific stuff.

1-12 opens with the brightest lemon and galbanum I've ever smelled. The galbanum is front and center, sending a bracingly herbal chill down the scent's spine. About thirty seconds after application the pine shows up, complimented with the verdant spiciness of lavender, carnation and juniper, and bolstered with light touches of cedar and the earthiness of oak moss, tree moss, and more galbanum. All are very much there and identifiable, blended, but with excellent separation. 

1-12 is proof that masculine perfumery can be of Ivory Tower quality at Bohemian prices, and the size of the price tag isn't always correlative to caliber. It's also a great option for he who wants to smell original without sacrificing his sense of class and sex appeal. This frag shares the same box and bottle aesthetic as Z-14, so take a good look at what you pick up in the store when you go to buy! 

Aspen (Coty)

Aspen is one of three fresh fougères I actually like. The other two are Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water. Aspen doesn't seem to get much love in the blogosphere, perhaps because it's a drugstore fragrance by Quintessence, purchased and re-purposed by Coty. That's too bad. I think it's a very good scent.

I didn't always feel that way, however. When I first tried Aspen a couple of years ago, I anticipated something that smelled like piss, and that's exactly what I got. Little did I know, my tester was off. It figures - when perfume sits under fluorescent K-Mart lights all day, everyday, it's bound to suffer. Recently I gave it another try, and was shocked by how different it smelled. The urinous alcoholic top that blasted my nostrils the first time was transplanted with a fresh, crisp, and aromatic blend of lemon, pine sap and mint. Aspen's drydown yields a simple but pleasant combo of oakmoss, a nondescript fruity calone molecule, and amber. The calone element is restrained enough that the fruit notes never fully manifest, and hang back as sideline suggestions instead.

Of the three fresh fougères listed above, Aspen is my least favorite, but it made the cut because of its pine sap accord. I don't often smell pine sap in other masculine fragrances, and certainly not in anything else by Coty. It's something you'd smell in pine tar soap, or maybe an expensive wintergreen-flavored gum. It elevates the fragrance a notch above the common fruity aquatic fougères that haunt the shelves at Marshalls and CVS, and puts it into a more serious, adult-oriented bracket. The sap note pervades the entire lifetime of the scent, reminding me that I'm wearing Aspen, a fragrance of leafy trees and pristine nature. Its slightly bitter greenness is rather nondescript, and arguably smells like a deodorant, but when it comes to almost any fresh fougère, that's just a fact of life.

Aspen's longevity is spotty. One generous application in the morning usually makes it about two hours before fading down to a skinscent. A second application thereafter lends it more strength, but I still don't see it lasting all day. For $20, what can you expect? Concentration issues aside, the fragrance appeals to me because it's the perfect Saturday scent. It smells simple and casual. It's somewhat green, although its greenness isn't the grassy, natural verdancy of more sophisticated niche scents, but rather that common abstracted greenness of post-Cool Water fresh fougères, with some extra nuance thanks to pine sap and mint. 

I'm sensitive to green smells, and this one excels in cooler, dryer weather. If you're on a budget, and both Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water are nowhere close to your spending range, Aspen is probably for you - and it won't scream I'M A WALGREENS FRAG! to everyone you meet. Hey, you could do a lot worse. I've got a can of Axe that I've been using as a paperweight.


Habit Rouge (Guerlain)

Understanding old perfumes can be challenging, especially if you delve into things that don't suit your style. It's the end of September, and cooler weather is coming. Before long it'll be time to break out the autumnal treats, followed shortly thereafter by ancient, moth-eaten winter blankets like Habit Rouge. The good thing about Habit Rouge, however, is that it's casual enough to warrant autumnal use as well. It possesses just the right gauzy temperament to lift anyone out of the dreariest October day.

I had an opportunity to try Habit Rouge recently at a duty-free shop in John F. Kennedy Airport. It was the Eau de Toilette, which I applied liberally to my wrist. Based on everything I'd read about it, I expected this Guerlain to be a tough sell, as I'm not a big fan of orientals. There's something about the smell of concentrated spices that makes me recoil, particularly if there are generous handfuls of cinnamon involved. For me, spice should be complementary, not central to a fragrance theme. If used judiciously, as in Kouros, aggressive spices like coriander and sage can become refreshing accoutrements to a lusty fougère's composition. If abused, spices like cinnamon, pepper, and nutmeg can gunk into a slightly-fetid overload of ick. That's bad for me because I try to keep my ick-factor as low as possible. I'm a geek to begin with; I can't afford extra ick.

So imagine my surprise when a very tame, powdery, not-so-spicy oriental wafted pleasantly up off my cool skin. What's this? Orange and lemon zest? Hints of rose, powdered lilac, talc, orange blossom, and vanilla? Well, vanilla I expected. This is Guerlain, after all. But the softness of Habit Rouge was such that I immediately associated it with being feminine. It's no surprise then that the fragrance is often adopted by women; the composition flourishes in a way that lets the spices intermingle seamlessly with the creamiest woody notes and just the barest hint of earthiness, perhaps tree moss? 

Or maybe it's oak moss paired with tonka bean that gives off the warm, earthy glow in the scent's otherwise-powdery base. Whatever the case, vanilla is still the central accord, flanked by the bold assertions of amber and carnation (for a floral spice). The composition is staid, warm, secure, and relentlessly friendly from beginning to end.

After my initial surprise, I became disappointed. Habit Rouge is pleasant enough, and of the highest quality. But it isn't my style. I'm just not moved by the fuzzy and pared-down Guerlinade of citrus, rose, and vanilla. I'm not inspired by the comforting warmth, or the fleeting woodsiness that laces the drydown. I smell none of myself in this kind of 1960s fireside, leather-bound library smell. My m.o. is freshly-cut grass and a morning breeze through a field of wildflowers in Sarrazac. When you think about it, the differences here are vast. When I thought about it, I realized that every scent can be abstracted in one's imagination, enough so that whatever image you end up with will either draw you, or send you away. The abstraction of Habit Rouge is a wall of old coverless books with a crackling fireplace and a dram of whiskey waiting on the hearth. You have to be an intellectual for that kind of thing. In case you haven't already noticed, I'm no intellectual.

Brilliant or not, Habit Rouge surely holds a good bit of appeal for plenty of other guys (and gals) out there, and I suppose that's all for the better. If soft orientals are your style, this fragrance could be right up your alley. Even though it's not my thing, I appreciate it as a classic fragrance that will never go out of style.

Green Irish Tweed (Creed)

Having spent a considerable amount of time exploring the fragrance blogosphere, I realized something: no one wants to review Green Irish Tweed.

What gives? Is there a general fatigue on the topic from all the chatter about it on basenotes? So much so that everyone thinks that actually reviewing the scent would be redundant? In an effort to not stoop "too low," one that perhaps unintentionally comes across as a little snobby, virtually no one has bothered to do a write-up on Olivier Creed's 1985 release. I suppose when the daily rhetoric surrounding the house of Creed boils into inane absurdity and devolves into name-calling, few feel like risking their necks. Well, color me brave, because here's a review of Green Irish Tweed.

Politics aside, I like the scent. I'm not in love with it, but I find the refreshing violet leaf and sandalwood with a twist of lemon and ambergris to be just what the doctor ordered on those rainy autumn days. I also smell distinct violet and iris notes pushing through the scent's heart of mossy woods and spices. GIT reminds me of Grey Flannel in that it is both dry and purplish-green. If the newer scent were a chypre, I might feel twinges of love for it, but as it stands (the ultimate fresh fougère), I just like it and find it very wearable. Creed can be applauded for never making flankers of their most popular perfumes, and so GIT stands alone as their masculine jewel in the rough.

Dihydromyrcenol is the engine of GIT, that which lends it its semi-sweet and semi-green freshness. Its integration into the formula is what makes the fragrance a bit of a mystery, and even a little confusing. Many seem to mistake GIT for an aquatic, and immediately associate the svelte freshness with notes of water. GIT is not thoroughly "green" because the dihydromyrcenol blends with the florals and creamy sandalwood to create a kinda-sorta synthetic chill at the perfume's core. In an effort to be a little more sophisticated, I've examined the note and come to the conclusion that Olivier Creed had Pierre Bourdon explain to him what a violet leaf reconstruction could offer the nose. 

The result was Olivier's emphasis on the smooth, slightly metallic, iris-like component of violet leaf's scent profile, and how an added bit of citrus, a powdery iris, and the luminescence of fine ambergris tinctures could result in the perfect fougère. Unlike many Creed skeptics, as I call them, I believe Olivier had a heavy hand in GIT's formulation and production, and that Pierre Bourdon wasn't the one wearing the lab coat. However, Mr. Bourdon surely helped Creed develop the formula (Erwin Creed has admitted this), and may have advised as to which version of GIT was worthy of release to the public.

I trust my nose, and go with my gut, and both tell me that Green Irish Tweed is a fougère that is appropriate for any time or place, and what it lacks in sex appeal, it makes up for in elegance.


Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent)

Every rule has an exception, and Kouros is it.

To be more specific, Kouros is the exception to the rule: gender barriers are made to be broken. Yes ladies, you should wear men's fragrances, you might find the effect delightful, and see a vast improvement in your quality of life, particularly your sex life. By all means, wear Cool Water, Aramis, Old Spice. I can think of nothing better than meeting a girl who wears Cuba, or Obsession for Men, or Himalaya. Even Allure Homme, my signature for 10 years, is not tied down.

Kouros, however, is a different story. Hearkening from 1981 (my birth year), this Pierre Bourdon fougère was the brainchild of Saint-Laurent while visiting Greece. It's said that he wanted to bottle the pure essence of sun-baked Mediterranean life, and the result was a fragrance named after the male statues that guard Apollo's shores. The smells of ancient dust, fresh lemons, wildflowers, and salted stone inspired a perfume of epic proportions, something that was both classical and unrestrained, pristine, but of the earth. It was the first, and possibly the last, truly masculine fougère. Anything before or since is either a variation of something unisex, or just another bottle with a label.

Unlike anything else, Kouros isn't something I could see a woman wearing. Try as I might, I just can't find a way to make it fit. Sure, the honey accord that wells from the clove and incense offers a misleading sweetness, but it darts and weaves past, of all things, civet. This anal excretion of the civet cat is also found in plenty of feminine perfumes, but its handling here is such that you're hit with all the note's sharpest edges, and all at once. 

The fact that French perfumers actually taste civet when selecting it for their formulas is somewhat-palatable when considering fruity feminines like K de Krizia and Chanel N°5. Not so with Kouros. Here, the very thought of such spoon-sipping could make you double over the toilet. It's not that there's too much civet, but that it's framed in a way as to exclaim to the world, I AM UNWASHED, UNASHAMED, UNADORNED MAN - HEAR ME ROAR! 

You can practically see the naked Hellenic soldiers running through the fields when this stuff hits your skin, and if that sort of homoerotic imagery isn't enough for you, you can also envision the bathhouses once the lemon, bergamot, and coriander of the top notes brace your senses. It's hard to even describe Kouros without describing a world where man-love is de rigueur because the gods haven't gotten around to creating Woman yet. I could go on, but I think you get the picture here. This is man juice, through and through.

For me, Kouros is a much different thing. Skin chemistry plays a part, and the coriander really leaps out with mine, bridging the honeyed gap between bergamot and incense. Civet-laced incense wafts from my shirt after an hour's wear, with the occasional whiff of herbal flowers. I find it equally useful at work and at play, and something I almost never have to reapply. You get a solid 7 hours out of it, and if you're blessed with just the right kind of oily skin, 12 hours is entirely possible. Over-application can give a cat-piss effect, but overall this perfume develops consistently regardless of amount. If you're light enough on the trigger finger, the tension between clean and dirty is broken, and clean wins.

This fragrance is the only thing I wear in September. I'm not sure why. September is one of those months that just hangs there in the middle of the year; I can never figure out what to do with myself when summer is over and autumn hasn't yet begun. Likewise, it's hard to know what to do with Kouros, unless you accept that it's too aggressive and too timeless for any occasion, anywhere, and just roll with it.

To quote the nostalgic musings of an old French fan of the scent, "Kouros . . . C'ette un grand parfum."

Red Jeans (Versace)

When I think of the nineties, memories of discontent abound. America Online, dial-up internet, The Spice Girls, and Seinfeld pretty much defined the decade. Oh, and Shania Twain music videos. Culturally, it was a time where once-awesome things started wimping out. The edgy rock of the eighties, acts like Peter Gabriel, Scorpions, the Greg Kihn Band, all got wiped off the table and replaced by The Gin Blossoms and Oasis. The Great American Slasher Flick also took a hit, getting a dose of reverse-adolescence with tepid teasers like Scream and Ice Cream Man. Quite a far cry from Prom Night and the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Anyone who had ever been a bad-ass growing up suddenly became a dork, or was forced to apologize. 

It was, however, an interesting time for fragrance. Everything got . . . sweeter. As the decade progressed, the basic classical structures remained, but old-standby notes like sandalwood, rose, clove, and civet were replaced with fuzzy ambers, sugared fruits, and as much ginger as Jamaica could harvest. Even flowers were remade into blatantly chemical amalgamations. Which brings me to Red Jeans by Versace.

Both Blue and Red Jeans were released in 1994, with the latter the feminine scent. Red Jeans opens with a bright burst of nondescript fruit and aldehydes, which rapidly transition into heart notes of jasmine, violet, and water lily. Don't for a moment think that these flowers are accurately represented. I was disappointed that the jasmine didn't hold up longer. It's relegated to a supporting role under an explosive Parma violet accord. An hour into Red Jeans has the floral elements receding into a chamber orchestra of vanilla, lily, sandalwood, and a surprisingly well-blended dose of amber, musk, and a fig-like dry fruit. The fruit and lily tinge the base with shades of green, while the vanilla and sandalwood, both frighteningly synthetic, cover everything in a layer of syrup. The overall effect is youthful and fresh, with a touch of earthiness tucked under a sugary overture. Red Jeans is the definition of a fruity-floral eau de toilette.

I'm struck by the idea that this fragrance is a precursor to a slew of like-smelling products, things like Ralph, Incanto, and even Paris Hilton. You could gather every fruity-floral teen spritz made since 1995 and attribute some aspect of it to the headstrong composition of Red Jeans. While certainly not the first in the genre, Red Jeans was a standard-bearer for bringing feminine perfumery into contempo-casual sweetness. Even Tommy Girl takes cues from it.

Red Jeans is suitable for the under-25 crowd of college girls, those who possess the strange knee-jellying power that ladies under 25 have. For those who remember the eighties (i.e. those who were alive in the '80s), I encourage you to stay strong. They say fashion is cyclical . . .


Eau de Grey Flannel (Geoffrey Beene)

With his re-release of Grey Flannel in 1996, Geoffrey Beene green-lit the first and only flanker to his trademark scent, Eau de Grey Flannel. Commonly thought of as an aquatic, EdGF is really a fresh fougère, comprised mainly of spices, florals, and woody notes, with touches of ozonic notes throughout.

Summer this year was particularly hot and sticky, and I found myself reluctantly needing a cheap fresh fougère. With three minor exceptions (to be discussed in future reviews), I generally loathe the category. To me, a fougère (meaning "fern-like") isn't something that needs the redundancy of "freshness." Good fougères capitalize on the essentials: bergamot, lavender, violet leaf, clove, and any assortment of precious woods. To me, there's more freshness in a single clove than in a hundred gallons of Chanel's Platinum Egoïste. But maybe I'm just a little stodgy. You decide.

Not wanting to go crazy, I stopped at a nearby Marshalls and decided to exercise some brand loyalty by purchasing a bottle of EdGF. I've been through the ringer with blind buys before, but this time I felt pretty safe (the $9 price tag didn't hurt). Having read everything available on the web about EdGF, I knew exactly what it smelled like, even before I sniffed it. As soon as I got back to my car, I popped the cap, gave it a spritz, and yep. No surprise whatsoever. There, on my hand, was the pure smell of male sport deodorant. Actually, it's the pure smell of dihydromyrcenol, that woody-citrus-"fresh" aroma chemical found in practically everything since Drakkar Noir. This should be called Eau de Dihydromyrcenol.

Naturally, I delved a little further into the scent profile. Fragrantica lists notes of cypress, star anise, and mandarin orange off the top. While I concur with the cypress, I don't get much else, other than a sweet citrus, which I suppose is mandarin. The middle contains a bit of Calone, gussied up with eucalyptus and sage, which are identifiable. The result is something clean, a little spicy, a little sweet, and a lot disappointing.

The problem with EdGF is that it's boring, plain and simple. Only a slightly-metallic "blue" vibe emanates from this scent, and not much else. It's the same tried-and-tired "blueness" covered by Cool Water and Polo Sport. Its ingredients are obvious, cheap, and predictably arranged. This isn't to suggest that EdGF doesn't smell nice - it does - but let's face it here. You're not going to win an award for originality wearing this. I think the bigger issue for me is the fact that Beene slapped the Grey Flannel name on this thing. In terms of artfulness, Grey Flannel is many leagues above EdGF. It's a masterful chypre, whereas this is just '90s teeny-bopper juice. The two scents are nothing alike, not even in the same ballpark. It's apples and oranges. It's ridiculous.

All well. If you need something fresh for the ides of August, you could do worse. Just don't be surprised if you've already forgotten it by September.

Grey Flannel (Geoffrey Beene)

In the past ten years or so, niche perfumery really launched itself onto the world stage. This worried me, as most niche fragrances are only affordable if you refinance your home and send your kids to a trade school instead of college. In my experience, niche scents smell better, mainly because they're more complex than mainstream frags and made with high quality ingredients. Ideally, I would never shop at Marshalls again, and stock my wardrobe with Creed and Czech & Speake until the day I die. That could still happen, but I have to win the lotto first.

Fortunately, there's a mainstream masculine out there that smells like a niche scent, and only costs $15 for a 4 ounce bottle. Grey Flannel is a modern marvel because when André Fromentin formulated it in the early '70s, he had successfully tackled one of the most difficult concepts in perfumery - the dreaded violet reconstruction. Back when it was released in 1976, Grey Flannel boasted a great big violet/violet leaf wallop that was both ethereal and against the grain. It stepped from a pantheon of leathers and bombastic orientals, and stood apart. The original formula survived for the better part of the '80s, before it was discontinued in the early '90s. One could argue that Grey Flannel's last production date was a sad one indeed.

Except it wasn't. In 1996, Beene's flagship scent was reformulated and re-released. Usually reformulations strip something vital out of an old-school perfume (oak moss has been under the knife for a while now, particularly in newer versions of feminine '70s chypres), but with Grey Flannel, things were different. There were new technologies and a broader range of aroma chemicals with which to compose violet notes, and so the central accord in Grey Flannel wasn't butchered, but in fact improved. Instead of smelling harsh and "perfumey" the violet note was smoothed out, flanked by complimentary accords of citrus and moss, and allowed to breathe.

Grey Flannel's current manufacturer, Elizabeth Arden Fragrances, boasts a note pyramid with multiple spices, flowers, and woods. Yet I really don't smell anything other than the basic structure of this chypre. The top is a dessicated lemon accord, bone dry to the point of almost smelling woody. Once that impeccable citrus lifts, moss-studded violet leaves arrive, ushering along with them the lovely powdery violet note. Although the sweetness of the flower peeks through the dank shade of the leaves, it never develops into the sugary floral caricature found in many feminine releases these days. It stays bitter, and very green. Everything is set against a coriander and oak moss background, until the notes fade in the drydown, leaving oak moss close to the skin.

I'm fairly sure that Grey Flannel is as close as I'll ever get to the coveted Holy Grail perfume. It has simplicity, freshness, greenness - and all for pennies. I have yet to find anything that touches the beauty of Grey Flannel, although there's little doubt in my mind that Pierre Bourdon paid homage to it when he developed Green Irish Tweed some ten years after the Beene's initial release. I suppose one could complain of a perceptible "soapiness" to the Flannel, but once you get past the '70s zeitgeist aspect of virtually any late 20th Century chypre, you're left with the freedom to smell like flowers without fearing social repercussions. With this particular floral chypre, you can dress in a suit, spritz some violets on, and conquer the day as 100% pure and unadulterated Man.

When the aliens do come to save our desolate planet, keep your niche stuff. I know what I'm taking with me.


In Defense of Masculines

Welcome to From Pyrgos, my fragrance blog. As a lover of perfume, I'm always exploring masculine scents and trying to find what basenoters refer to as the "Holy Grail". After three years of searching, I've come to the conclusion that Holy Grail fragrances are ridiculously hard to come by. I think I'd have better luck at finding the actual Holy Grail itself, even if drugged, blindfolded, and randomly airdropped into a desert of some distant third-world country. When I began exploring male perfumes, I did so under the misguided notion that gender marketing was meaningful, was something with artful rhetoric behind it. I know, I know. Naive. Heck, I figured ladies smelled like sugar and fruit and flowers, and guys smelled like motor oil and old wood. It never occurred to me that sugar doesn't really have a definitive smell, fruit comes in all sorts of edible and poisonous forms, and flowers are presented at virtually anyone's funeral, regardless of sex. 

To stereotype the three elements as being strictly "feminine" was not only silly, but patently false on all counts. Guys can smell sweet, fruity, and floral, and still maintain heterosexual identities and a daily regimen of shaving, chasing women, and shooting small game. Likewise, women can leave trails of motor oil, wood, leather, tobacco, and bitter greens in their path, should they choose to. Everyone's skin takes differently to the chemical compounds in perfume; even if Anais Anais smells of sunny and delicate flowers on me, it might come across as a sultry come-hither fragrance on you. It took a while, but after trying everything from Chanel N°5 to Yatagan, I finally realized the fact that most noses in the know have known since they started smelling: gender barriers don't really exist, and those that do are meant to be crossed.

With that said, there's a problem in the fragrance world, or as I see it, a misconception. It is something many bloggers and forum posters elsewhere in the worldwide web lament - the perceived lousiness of masculine scents. Luca Turin, famed biophysicist and co-author of Perfumes: The Guide feels that a man would do better to sample and wear feminine fragrances over almost anything within "his" fragrance domain. There's a general attitude swirling around out there, that masculine scents are basically feminine fragrances with all the heart and soul stripped out of them. This philosophy conjures images of soulless suits chastising their artistic perfumer underlings for daring to keep rich feminine notes of original fragrances in their masculine counterparts, and demanding that such elements be tossed and replaced by dull chemical woods, calone, and musks.

Western acculturation puts men at a psychological disadvantage when it comes to perfume. There is the stigma of smelling "girly" or just plain funny. There's the requirement that fragrance be tied into an old-fashioned guy's wetshaving routine, lest he be perceived as someone who has no reason for wearing perfume. Nowadays there's always a question as to WHY a man would wear something other than his shirt and blue jeans. Is he trying to pick up chicks? Is he playing for the other team? Is he just confused? We can thank the fact that most guys have no idea what perfume really is for their inability to capitalize on this cheap luxury and fashion statement. Once you go past Aqua Velva and Cool Water, or any other drugstore body spray or aftershave, most men-off-the-street glaze over when you bring up note pyramids and fragrance categories. Try pulling a random guy off a sidewalk in Boston and asking him to list his favorite chypres. Good luck with that.

To me, the tragedy is not in the general male malaise toward fragrance, but in the fact that yes, there is some truth to the lament of those who hate male fragrances. It's true, there are far too many banal aquatics, saccharine sugarbomb gourmands, and cheap chemical abominations posing as perfume. When I walk through Walgreens, I'm always amazed by how many Nautica, CK, and Axe products are available for testing. Who the hell wears that shit? Furthermore, who the hell thinks they actually smell good? Apparently the taste for that stuff begins in high school, and some either outgrow it and end up wearing Cool Water, or nothing. And so the idea persists - masculine perfumery is a wasteland, a place consigned to those with no sense of style, no knowledge of fragrance, and no care for further exploration of the subject.

I'm here to rip that notion to shreds. The world of masculine perfumery is full of very pleasant surprises. Many of these surprises will be reviewed by me here. But I'll offer a few examples of why masculine fragrances - defined as those fragrances that are marketed solely to men - can be wonderful. First, there's the fact that gender-crossing in regards to masculines, and particularly '80s "Powerhouse" masculines, requires of women a certain chutzpah, a distinct pizazz, an unmistakable quality of forward-thinking, steeliness, and magnificent style. One could argue that men need these qualities to don women's perfumes, and to an extent that's true, but not in the same way. I've smelled plenty of aftershaves that could double as women's perfumes. 

But for a girl to spray herself with, say, Kouros, requires nothing short of sheer determination to get one's point across. When you get into the land of masculine masterpieces, you enter a territory that anyone, man or woman, should be glad to visit. This is where Kouros, Yatagan, Grey Flannel, Green Irish Tweed, Pino Silvestre, Acteur, Zino, Chaps, Fahrenheit, Hammam Bouquet, Allure Homme, and Lapidus Pour Homme reside. It's a place where contradiction, olfactory expression, and the ultimate reward of knowing yourself comes together and helps to form a new and daring style. It's where you can have your cake, and eat it, too.

This blog will follow a simple format of providing you, the beloved reader, with direct and in-depth reviews of all kinds of fragrances. Much of the photography is my own. I invite you to keep reading, and look forward to providing you with insights into my olfactory explorations!