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.