10/29/11

Old Spice Classic (Shulton/Proctor & Gamble)


Quick question: who the hell is Joan Daly? Anyone? Anyone? All well, it was worth a try. Hey Joan, pout a little more and you'll look just like Courtney Stodden!

It's snowing outside, and there's about four inches already on the ground. Seems awfully early in the year for snow, but when you consider how the world is ending, maybe not so much. In a few years, when the polar ice caps have totally melted and we're all living like Kevin Costner in Waterworld, snow and gallons of frozen rain will be old hat. Until then, I'll try not to get too excited by an early Nor'easter.

I finally caved today and picked up a bottle of Old Spice. It was an interesting visit to Walgreens - they already have their Christmas specials out! Tons of fragrance and toiletry gift sets. That's another thing it's way too early for. What's going on here? Can't we at least have Halloween first? There weren't any sets of Old Spice, but they had the usual aftershave and cologne boxes in the men's aisle. I call it the men's aisle, although it's really not. Just that there's tons of stuff in that aisle that only men would buy - face razors, hair tonics, Pinaud talc, a crapload of aftershaves, and a deodorant section that's suspiciously short on lady stuff. You know what? I'm glad that aisle exists. It's one of the reasons I'm a faithful Walgreens guy (I hate CVS and Rite Aid. And with Rite Aid it's personal).

As the cashier rang me up, I could tell that Old Spice had taken a lot of hits. For one thing, the box has a crappy new look. Gone is the big sail boat of yesteryear, and even the newer "shiny" design has been retired. I actually liked that design. The off-red box was eye-catching, and I liked how the over-sized font hugged the corner. The new box, however, is lacking. Proctor & Gamble recently revamped the entire original Old Spice look, favoring an odd "sewn patch" motif on the cologne, aftershave, and body wash bottles. In an amazing display of stinginess, they've pared the color palette down to two - red and grey, and I don't know why they bothered with the grey since it's only used in miniscule amounts. This saves them money because more colors means a more expensive print job. 

Not that Old Spice was ever a vibrantly colorful product, but at least the previous boxes had a few reds, a black, and a navy blue, in addition to the grey. The glossy design that came just before the latest version had a pretty gold font, which is also gone. Now there's just the white of the box, an overload of plain red, and a tiny dab of grey where it says "Classic Scent". It's pretty bad. I hope it was worth it to save an extra buck by eliminating the blue in the logo.

Then there's the bottle. It's now plastic instead of Shulton's exotic Egyptian white sand glass. It sucks. Rather than describe it, a picture is worth a thousand words:


Color-wise it's a negative of the box, with the exact same imagery. The design works a little better on the bottle, but that patch is still . . . not good. Someone over at P&C needs a little tutorial on graphics. You never want to print an impression of anything sewn, stitched, taped, or thumb-tacked. The eye instantly recognizes when an unnecessary visual substitute has been employed in lieu of the real thing. It makes a product look cheap. Either sew a real patch on there, or change the image altogether. It's not like they don't have better material at their disposal - their trademark ship is a terrific graphic, full of fun and easy lines. It's now so small that I can barely see it.

Also, the stopper is red instead of grey. That's no big deal. I think I like red better. Grey is so WWII. Oddly enough, after cheaping out with the plastic, they kept the metal stopper lip. Yet even this is barely there. The metal is whisker-thin and might as well be painted plastic. Shulton used a nice solid steel piece to hold the stopper in place, but even that got trashed. What a travesty.

The scent has also been changed, but that's no surprise. It's a fairly simple fragrance, and they've changed it a few times over the years, with the most recent reformulation for bottling purposes. Plastic does a number on perfume, and here they had to streamline the scent for minimal damage. Still, compared to the old Shulton formula from the 1980s, this version is lacking. My breakdown:

Shulton Old Spice: The scent opens with a crisp burst of orange and aldehydes, followed by a procession of spices. Cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, pepper, sage, benzoin, frankincense, tonka, and vanilla are all present and accounted for. It's definitely spicy, with excellent note separation for drugstore juice. The notes smell realistic, too. Cinnamon from the kitchen rack isn't a spice I enjoy, and here it's putting me out - it's the real deal. The drydown is sweet and rewarding, and very warm, although I wouldn't associate it with my generation. It smells like something old and traveled, an archaic oriental with good sillage and longevity. Nicely done, and appealing to men everywhere.

P&G Old Spice: Aldehydes, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, benzoin, and vague hints of orange fleetingly greet my nose in the first ten seconds of wear, but the drydown is much quicker than it used to be. The cinnamon is synthetic and toned down considerably, which ironically works better for me. The clove is a touch stronger, which adds a cleanness to the scent. The pepper, sage, and frankincense are nowhere to be found. Within a minute, a massive soapiness takes over. It's mostly vanilla, and something resembling anise. 

This accord weighs the base down, making it more aromatic and more linear. The anise note cleverly masks the bitter plastic smell. It's okay I guess. Better than a slew of pricier options, many of which are also sold at Walgreens. So it could be worse. But it's a little too facile now. Perhaps if used in conjunction with the body wash it scores highly with die-hard fans, but I'm not overly impressed. I still like it, though.

Old Spice is something I'd wear sometimes, and probably only on weekends. It has that casual feel to it, like something warm and familiar, a man's olfactory pajamas. I'm not one to delve too deeply into masculine orientals, but at least I know I'm safe with Old Spice. Unless you bathe in it, the stuff is as inoffensive as it gets.

I have to laugh at the new tagline printed on the box: If your grandfather hadn't worn it, you wouldn't exist. Thanks, grandpa. I think.

10/28/11

Bois du Portugal (Creed)


Portugal must have some smelly woods. The Portuguese theme is a hit with Creed, Pinaud, and Geo. F. Trumper. Kinda makes me want to visit the country, just to take a stroll through its woods and do a sniff comparison to something on my wrist. See if the real thing lives up to the hype. I'm thinking their woods will smell like mine here in Connecticut - bitter, dry, and earthy, with hints of green. Although if Creed's interpretation of Portuguese woods is anything to go by, New England may in fact smell more interesting altogether.

For some reason, Bois du Portugal is popular with wetshavers. The guys over on Badger and Blade have nothing but high praise for it, with many considering it their favorite Creed. I'm not as enthusiastic about it. It strikes me as odd that Creed's two most popular masculine scents are Green Irish Tweed and Bois du Portugal, with one a modern fresh fougère, and the other an old-world gentleman's club scent. GIT often lands the eminently-incorrect harangue of being a "boring and over-priced aquatic," while BdP is lauded for being the "epitome of masculinity." Neither classification is anywhere near correct in my view; GIT smells much closer to being the "epitome of masculinity," and BdP is just an over-priced and unbalanced clone of Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur - an ambery oriental with a prominent lavender note.

My understanding is that BdP's lavender is its bread and butter. Without it, the scent wouldn't be so beloved by wetshavers. That weirdly aloof aromatic accord permeates the top of the scent, making the first five minutes smell like cheap aftershave. For a Creed note, it's awfully mediocre. The lavender in Pour un Homme de Caron is miles better, and even Cool Water's minty lavender has more life in it. I'm not sure if linalool or some bland variety of Dimethylheptan is the culprit, but BdP's lavender isn't lucidly herbal, or buoyantly aromatic. It simply smells hollow and cold, not dissimilar to the vague wafts of purple in Azzaro's misguided Chrome, or the cologney linalool in Agua Lavanda Puig.

As the fragrance develops, the lavender grows more intense, not less. This proves it's merely a synthetic, but fortunately it's nicely welded to a crisp arrangement of tobacco and cedar. The woody aromatics elevate things from a base level of male medicine cabinet to the loftier realm of department store oriental. Before long, an amplified version of Creed's standard sandalwood accord rises through the composition, with hints of sweetness via the signature ambergris base. Still, the lavender persists, continuing to shout past the staid woods. The longer it sits on skin, the louder and less realistic it becomes. Eventually it's the only bittering agent to an otherwise-creamy amber drydown.

Bois du Portugal smells masculine, yes, and the composition is very mature, very grounded and reassuring. But it fails to deliver an emotional impact. I envision Wall Street executives striding to waiting limos with cell phones plastered to their skulls whenever I smell it. Its sturdiness is a refuge from flightier fare, but in the end I'm sitting with a guy whose only conversational subjects are highlights of the opening and closing bell. To my wetshaving brotherhood: gentlemen, if by "the epitome of masculinity" you mean what I think you mean, and are referring to guys like Winston Churchill and Henry Kissinger, then no, that's not heightened masculinity, it's stodginess. The epitome of masculinity is Lee Marvin, not the prime minister. If you prefer Type A personalities who wear Bois du Portugal, just know that always having cashola won't make up for never having sex.

I'm getting out of the sticks. Give me Green Irish Tweed, or give me death.

10/27/11

LouLou (Cacharel)



I rarely get defensive about a fragrance, but with this one I can't help myself. LouLou gets an unfair rap, particularly from adult men with better-than-average noses. The boys on basenotes toss some pretty tough words around:

"Think of this as the floral female version of Joop! Homme, very very loud and strong, with florals, spice, and heap-loads of sweet vanilla and helotrope."
- Scentimus

"Too much sugary and mellifluous for my taste."
- Darvant (I forgive your grammar because English isn't your first language - nice use of "mellifluous" by the way.)

"It’s “in for a penny, in for a pound” with LouLou. To enjoy it you’ve got to love the kind of retro, “perfumey” scents that granny wore, and you must feel no shame flouting your love."
- Off-Scenter . . . and ouch!

"... maybe this is a fragrance aimed just for attracting men . . . my friend also smelled it and said it was like vomit, a cheap fragrance she remembered from University."
- F_Frez . . . and double ouch!!

You get the picture. Dismal opinions on poor LouLou. And I'm not sure why.

LouLou is one big '80s floriental. The jasmine, tuberose, violet, rose, balsam, cedar, incense, and ambergris explode off skin in a harmony not seen in current feminine fragrances. It's all so thick and lush that, by today's standards, it could be masculine. Vanilla quickly washes into the fray, adding a sweetness to the woodsy and floral mix. Eventually the sugar from the vanilla dominates, and the entire affair melts into a sweet, warm, and powdery aura. 

Like most '80s boudoir masterpieces, this fills the air around its wearer, and follows her everywhere. It's not a subtle or subliminal scent, and I'm the happier for it. Who needs another sweet-but-meek white musk whisper these days? Enough already, I'd be thrilled to meet someone wearing LouLou, if only to engage her on the topic of what makes a strong woman in today's Live and Let Die world. A woman wearing LouLou knows exactly what it takes to conquer the men and women around her.

My point is that LouLou is Kouros for ladies. It's brash. It's sexual. It's vibrant, complex, colorful, dark, attractive, intimidating, magnetic. I could see LouLou on a man (not so with Kouros on girls), but that doesn't take away from its majesty. Few men would even notice it nowadays, and those women who remember it could either be tired of it, or lulled into thinking it's too "big" for common use. Nothing could be further from the truth - it's exactly what we need. Women are strong, usually stronger than men. They're capable of childbirth. Surviving Menopause. Living to be 98. I think it's time we guys admitted that, as the stronger sex, women should wear stronger perfumes.

I find it intriguing that Thierry Mugler's canon of super-sweet gourmand perfumes get a healthy dose of positive attention, while the Grand Dame LouLou gets second fiddle. What's wrong with a scent that smells sweet, like Joop! Homme? Everyone likes sugar, and I've yet to find a definition of "mellifluous" that makes the term sound cheap, or undesirable. "Perfumey" granny frag = Liz Taylor's White Diamonds, and there is no comparison. And how exactly is a fragrance meant "just for attracting men" a bad thing?

Here's my review blurb, take it or leave it:

"This is the sort of perfume that truthfully hints at the contents of its wearer, like the jacket cover of a Dick Francis novel. She who wears LouLou in the post 9/11 cityscape is, by default, deeper than her peers."
- Enough said.

10/25/11

Nobile (Gucci)



Fougères are typically scent constructions built on lavender and bergamot in the top notes, coumarin in the base notes, and anything else in-between. Aromatic fougères take things into a more surrealistic realm, adding to the basic framework any combination of spices, woods, and fruits. This can be a big plus, but unfortunately many aromatics are also fresh fougères. Some of the better ones are Azzaro pour Homme, Skin Bracer, and Francesco Smalto pour Homme, all of which fall into that "fresh" category. Alongside these distinguished entries are the hoi polloi: CK Be, Tommy, and Façonnable, to name a few. These scents try to smell fresh and edgy, rather like olfactory dares. 

They offer callowness, along with what their makers hope is a perceptible twist. One can only guess as to what they're shooting for. Perhaps the brightness of their accords is an attempt to infuse the empty Western-acculturated formula of Fresh + Clean = Sexy + Intriguing ÷ Sexual Tension² with meaning. I think they share a closer correlation with Alfred Hitchcock's philosophy on the difference between true suspense, and a mere surprise. In regards to the surprise, he says (and I'm paraphrasing):

"Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, ‘Boom!’ There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence. In [this] case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion.

Now, let us take a suspenseful situation . . ."


In other words, the tummy-butterflies that many contemporary fresh fougères hope to deploy are nothing more than indigestion. They're brief slices of drama, sandwiched between massive loaves of boring.

Gucci isn't known for peddling stylistic restraint, and the company's image is arguably all about sexual edginess, taken to the Nth extreme. When was the last time you saw a Gucci fashion ad that wasn't composed of starved, suggestively-posed hotties sprawled all over each other? I vote never. Yet Nobile comes across as the total opposite of this facade. Instead of smelling gaudy and contrived, this aromatic fougère is sleek, brooding, and - surprise, surprise - sophisticated. It smells more like a Chanel, or a Fendi, than anything Gucci. I guess the late '80s was a contemplative time for the kids down at 725 5th Avenue.

Nobile opens with a bracing lavender, rosemary, and citrus, all of which rapidly move into a dry green forest. The artistic license taken by whoever composed the scent (its author is unknown) is quite welcoming and masculine. A stunning mix of cool green notes are dabbed with hints of mace, thyme, and rose. Wearing Nobile is like riding a corvette through a forest of fir trees. Everything smells brisk, lucid, all the aromas tilled by a stiff wind through beds of wildflowers and unharvested herbs. I don't know why, but it reminds me of the Welsh countryside - a place I haven't visited since the early '90s. Even the woody drydown of cedar, sandalwood, amber, and musk smells rich.

It's hard to say exactly what brand of masculinity this scent caters to. I suppose it's along the lines of Ryan Gosling or, if you want to go all sepia, Robert Redford. Nobile is one of the few fougères that literally sparkles when you wear it. It feels like the toilet water of someone dangerous, its charisma expressed in classic accords that are simply done right. It's a fertile playing field, however, full of vigor, boldness, vitality - all common characteristics of the modern alpha male. There's an edginess in there, but it's refreshingly direct. It drives fast, but stays in its lane. At no time does its inner tension succumb to the cheap thrills of overt fruitiness, or sweetness.

This scent is a unique and evocative fresh fougère, a distinctive presence in a crowded field. Its presence is fading, however; Gucci discontinued Nobile years ago, in an aberrant fit of self iniquity. I have no idea why they did this. I can only hope they get their shit together and undo it, and soon.

10/24/11

Bois de Violette (Serge Lutens)


This is one interesting fragrance. Evidently conceived by Christopher Sheldrake as the fourth variation of Féminité du Bois (which Pierre Bourdon shares credit for), Bois de Violette is also a descendent of Chanel's Bois des Îles, and Caron's Parfum Sacré. 

It stands among Bois et Fruits, Bois et Musc, and Un Bois Vanille as a most curious thing, and perhaps the most curious thing ever launched by Serge Lutens Les Salons du Palais Royal Sheseido. It is both beautiful and ominous, a testament to the strength and vitality of contrast in postmodern perfumery. A violet reconstruction has never been more lovingly crafted or better received by fans of things unisex and niche. It is perplexing, unnervingly memorable, and unarguably worthy of the accolades that it receives. Despite its many origins, this fragrance is one of a kind.

When I first wore it, I approached Bois du Violette from the wrong angle. As a male fumehead, my sole point of reference for violet is Grey Flannel. The problem is that Grey Flannel's violet note is also one of a kind. There isn't really anything else like it, and anything that comes close (like the violet leaf in Narciso Rodriguez for Him) is clearly derivative. Its dry and bitter-green casting of ionones emits a salubrious blast of unremitting masculinity - an ironic outcome considering the feminine associations surrounding violets. 

Bois de Violette, however, takes a different route altogether. While not exactly feminine-smelling, the methyl ionone is very sweet, and assumes a pivotal position against a dark and inanimate rendering of cedar and smoky spices. Its violet starts off smelling woody-sweet, then grows progressively sweeter as the minutes pass, until it threatens to become a massive Parma violet candy. Just in the nick of time, the cedar that magnified the woodiness of the initial violet accord returns with a vengeance and attacks Bois du Violette's saccharine center. 

The ashen wood stabilizes the scent, giving its sweetness a sophisticated feel. What once was an explosively feminine violet, now becomes a delectable array of cedar, honey, and spice notes. It's a striking evolution, and an utterly amazing experience.

My struggles with Bois de Violette lie in its crushingly-sweet violet accord, contrasted against the dense, suffocating intensity of Lutens-style cedar. Uncle Serge rules with a heavy hand, and nothing in this perfume is light, airy, or free. Sure, the violet is dynamic, a core component of a complex olfactory machine. Without its intensity, the woods would dominate, and all greatness would be lost. 

But just as the tension between dirty and clean makes Kouros a disquieting masterpiece, the placement of a massive violet reconstruction within a small cedar box is as magnificent as it is frightening. Free association words and phrases come to mind here . . . lost love, . . . frosty November, . . . death, . . . funeral parlors, . . . you get the idea. Not much in the way of purple violet fairies fluttering around. If you could bottle seriousness, Bois de Violette would be it. This fragrance is Russia against the Bolsheviks. 

I'll stick with Grey Flannel, either because I'm not mature enough yet to pull Bois de Violette off, or I'm just not that enthused about wearing something with this much cedar in it (I dislike cedar immensely). I'm not sure I agree with Luca Turin's appraisal of Bois de Violette as "a violet gem around which everything dances", as its notes struggle to shuffle under their own weight, but I agree that it's in the big leagues. 

It always plunges me into deep philosophical thought about the natural world that society has detached from and forgotten. It smells like an olfactory eulogy to a sacred treasure that's been irretrievably lost. They say that with every death comes a birth; Bois de Violette is a sacred treasure unto itself.

10/23/11

Narcisse (Chloé)


Good perfume is very much like classical music - all the notes are harmoniously composed in a way that elicits deep and genuine emotional responses. There is no price tag on emotion; one is either excited, or dissuaded, and no degree of fanciness can change it. Therefore, the pedigree of a perfume is not measured in dollars and cents, but in how effectively it impels others through its artfulness of smell.

In exploring perfumes, I'm often surprised by how inexpensive the successes are. Guerlain's Vetiver, for example, is quite inexpensive at about $20 an ounce. Yet it stands as one of the most famous reference vetivers of all time. Cool Water is another landmark fragrance that can be had for the price of a cab ride. Even some upscale niche scents are reasonable - 2.5 ounces of Royal English Leather is still well under $200. All things considered (it's 2011 people), that's pretty good.

So it wasn't a surprise to me that Narcisse by Chloé is a cheapie. The fragrance is incredibly lush, complex, and inspirational, and it joined a wave of '90s florals in setting a new standard for everyday women's-wear. By 1992, dry chypres for women were dead, but the classically-inspired floral arrangements that replaced them were masterpieces of their own. Narcisse (alongside Tommy Girl and Pleasures) is one of them.

I fine Narcisse to be very feminine, enough to discourage me from wearing it. If I were to vacation in Dubai or Calcutta, I might reconsider. There are places where sweet florals that border on being orientals are commonplace on men, but Connecticut isn't one of them. Nevertheless, I consider Narcisse to be beauty in a bottle. First, let me say for the record that it's an incredibly strong scent. I don't recommend liberal application, unless you don't mind being arrested for disturbing the peace. 

I mentioned in my review of Passion for Men that its limited budget is evident not in scent quality, but in strength; the same is true in regards to Narcisse, except unlike the Taylor scent, Chloé's is too heavily concentrated. Makes me wonder how much it costs to pay the guy who determines the concentration of fragrances. I'd like to be that guy.

Narcisse is sweet, warm, juicy, and full-bodied. It's one ripe perfume, and I mean that in the best way possible. The apricot and pineapple are inseparable in the opening, but they infuse the notes of marigold and plumeria with a velvety smoothness that holds up well as the perfume dries down. Eventually the gardenia/carnation/narcissus accord blooms brightly, producing a thick, heady floral aroma, tinged with spices. 

Nothing smells overproduced here - just rich. The effect is something that both warms and brightens its wearer. Later, daffodil and rose assert themselves against a creamy base of vanilla, orange blossom, balsam, and sandalwood. With its overt white florals, Narcisse smells a trifle dated in style (I'm flooded with images of Hillary and Chelsea Clinton waving from the White House lawn), but also sexual, and affable enough for today. I'd stick with a lady who wore this.

Are there still ladies who wear this? There must be. It's still on the market, and it's still affordable. It's also, incredibly, one of the only laudable things to come out of 1992. Sorry, Angel fans. And Lutens fans. And Safari fans.

Okay, okay. Other great things came out in 1992.

10/22/11

Oscar (Oscar de la Renta)


There seems to be a divergence of opinion concerning Oscar. Many on Fragrantica find an abundance of tuberose and myrrh in its construct; I smell far more lavender, herbal notes, and opoponax. Tuberose is there, but eh. In any case, Oscar is a floral perfume - we can all agree on that - and it closely hugs the oriental category. Its spices and herbal complexities outweigh the green aromatics of a straight floral scent.

Oscar (original 1977 perfume) opens with bitter lemon and lavender, spiced with basil and nuanced with tuberose. The lavender is frigid, herbal, probably Spanish, and the drydown brings forth the warmth and creaminess of opoponax and sandalwood. The base is cloves and ambergris, all haloed in a rugged aroma of rosemary and myrrh. This smells very expensive, beautifully and thoughtfully constructed, and surprisingly unisex. In fact, the top-note accords remind me of a classic masculine, R de Capucci. I don't know how the EDT version of Oscar interprets those sunrise-slapper lemon and lavender top notes, but I can say that the perfume is stunning, thanks to those elements.

I would wear Oscar myself, but I'm spoiled for choice when it comes to '70s feminines, and right now I'm uncertain as to which one to commit to. While I make up my mind, I'll yearn for a busty, beige suited, Oscar-wearing stunner who works somewhere on 5th Avenue, and lives within walking distance.

10/21/11

Sunwater (Lancaster)


Here's a good question for you: if you've sniffed Yatagan, Caron's bone-dry woody chypre, what do you think would make an appropriate feminine flanker for it?

Sunwater starts off with a big celery top note. Yatagan's is staid by comparison. I suspect it's the herbs intermingling with juicy citrus that produces such a distinct olfactory illusion, but my nose is pretty adamant here - it just smells like celery. Eventually a pretty jasmine wells up from beneath the bitter vegetal accord. The jasmine infuses the lush heart notes with hints of sweetness. I suspect the sugary heathen that lurks in the shade is the ylang-ylang, or maybe even the thin amber in the base. The effect is a little awkward, but at least it tries to be green, woody, and clean. Most perfumers just throw a drop of cis-3-Hexanal in a gallon of dihydromyrcenol and call it a day. Sunwater offers precious, blooming flowers (hedione?) in the drydown. It gets points for trying to end on a positive.

Yatagan, in all honesty, doesn't really possess such a massive celery note. It's more of a touch of celery seed against a ginormous artemisia accord. Sunwater, however, takes the vegetal note and plasters it against a cool aquatic ambience. It's actually akin to how the produce fridge at the grocery store smells after the mister hits the raw veggies in the display. My take is that this is a fascinating scent impression, fleeting as it may be. It's not the sort of thing I expect from a feminine '90s aquatic. It gets points for originality, but demerits for, well, smelling a little too weird. 

10/19/11

Sung Homme (Alfred Sung)


Soapiness is a fragrance quality not often desired these days. Darkly-woody oud orientals, and blaringly sweet 'n feminine gourmands are the latest trends. Those essential oil bars of the '70s and '80s are largely relegated to the consignment bins of history's fashion graveyard. Still, some have survived. If you were to ask me what my favorite surviving soapy fragrance is, I'd say that I have two: Grey Flannel, and Sung Homme.

Grey Flannel was a given the moment I first smelled it; Sung Homme had to earn my love. A few years ago, I picked up a small bottle of Z-14, and another small bottle of Sung Homme, and did something obviously foolish - tried them both at the same time. The result was that I could tell what Z-14 smelled like, and couldn't tell what Sung Homme smelled like, except it smelled really, really bad. Because my sniffer was having no problem with the Z, I figured the same for the Sung, but it wasn't so. The intense leathery-cinnamon Mack truck of Z-14 ran right over the more subtle and nuanced Sung, allowing me to discern bare facets of what should have been a complex olfactory impression. I mistakenly thought that I hated both scents, and got rid of them as quickly as possible.

Fast forward a few summers, and I suddenly found myself curious about Sung Homme again. It occurred to me that I probably didn't have the whole picture, especially since I'd given Z-14 much more of a chance (it was the first scent I tried that day). Also, I'd been reading about it. People were fairly consistent in their evaluation of Sung - it was widely compared to Irish Spring bar soap, especially the original 1970s formula. It was also described as being very synthetic, a "powerhouse", and of a world that, since the years immediately following its heyday, has long been abandoned.

When it arrived in the mail, I unwrapped the bottle and gave it a spritz. This time there was nothing interfering with my nose. Lo and behold, there was the scent of Irish Spring bar soap, emanating peacefully from my wrist. Better still, it was the original Irish Spring, not the current formula, which is a little too dry and stark for me. The original soap had a creamier, spicier, and more complex scent. It was also a tiny bit sweet, which contrasted nicely with its green effect. Colgate has re-released the original soap in body wash form, but I'm not convinced it does it justice. The original bar was just . . . better. I don't know if Alfred Sung intended for his first masculine fragrance to smell like Irish Spring, or if it was just a coincidence. In the extremely unlikely event that our paths ever cross, I'll mention it to him. My guess is, he'd roll his eyes and give me an I've heard that a million times already look.

Anyhow, I digress - from that soapy, synthetically-green opening unfurled a dense array of spices and aromatics. Sage, thyme, fir, black pepper, and juniper berry are combined into a smooth, but forceful scent sheen, one that reads as a synthetic construct of representational notes, blended into an abstract soap effect. It was like I'd just showered, there in the middle of a hot August day. The brisk afterglow of my soap still lingered in the air around me, cool and thick, like a cloud. I smelled like a lye-based product, but not really clean. Something here made me happy.

As the fragrance dried further, the bittersweet density of the heartnotes began to give way for a pleasant blur of fake pepper, pine, patchouli, and oakmoss. Actually, the pine doesn't smell all that synthetic at this stage. It was linear for another couple of hours before it faded away. The verdict: Sung Homme is very good. Unusual, yes. Synthetic, yes, yes. But crap? No way. Yeah, it's about as soapy as a scent can get, and it reminds me of a Christmas candle with those massive fir and juniper components. But this is cool juice, a bright-purple '80s masculine chypre in one of Pierre Dinand's gorgeous Art Deco-inspired skyscraper bottles. Its bright demeanor isn't hard to like, especially if you're a fan of Irish Spring.

I really wish they still made bold chypres like Sung Homme. But then again, if we were awash in a fashion-scape where chypres are the trend, Sung might be considered too synthetic to be a real contender. It isn't something I reach for all that often, but when I do, Sung makes me consider the possibilities of masculine perfumery, and that's more than I can say for most things.

10/17/11

Polo (Ralph Lauren)


Polo by Ralph Lauren. Carlos Benaim's 1978 formula was never intended for skirt-chasers. It wasn't meant to amp up one's "clean" factor, or convey to women a sense of impeccable personal grooming. Mr. Lauren's first major masculine scent was specifically designed to be a magnifier of one's inner macho. 

Polo captures this essence perfectly. It's a leathery chypre, bordering on freshness, but truly ensconced in an earthy rawhide. The incredible opening of basil, caraway, pine, artemisia, and patchouli is so indelibly green and earthy. The greenness is enhanced by a very pronounced patchouli note, which hoists the pine needles and degrading leaves over its shoulders of dry soil and spice. After a while, the bitter greens begin to recede, and the fragrance becomes a leathery affair. This leather is full of the aromatic riches that come with vetiver, sage, bergamot, and oakmoss. The mossy notes eventually dominate the sideshow, flanking the leather until the furthest reaches of the drydown. The whole show is truly beautiful, understated, unforgettable.

It's also a little menacing. Polo is like Yatagan, but with all the shadows and none of the bite. Nothing leaps out and shakes you, but the arrangement of evergreen, herbs, spices, discreet floral naunces, and mosses leaves its mark in one's scent memory. By aquatic standards, this doesn't smell good. This is the definition of smelling bad, of smelling uncouth and dirty. But I don't live by aquatic standards. I live by masculine standards, and I reserve the right to maintain my sexiness while smelling of fresh-cut grass and tree bark.

Polo deals in the smells men follow: cut grass, tree clippings, gardening gloves, stale tobacco, the great outdoors. Sure, it's 2011, and there are millions of metrosexuals out there whose last encounter with a pine cone was back when the Macintosh II was released. But every woman I know here in Connecticut refuses to cut her own lawn, and expects the man of the house to take up that chore. As far as I'm concerned, the way I smell after that chore is the way I want to smell, the way I should smell, and the way she expects me to smell. Polo conjures scent associations of a strong, physically healthy guy, a conscientious man who always follows through, a true adult. Images of drama-less masculinity, like the Marlboro Man, abound.

On a superficial level, Ralph Lauren's brand has moved far beyond the original Polo, and committed the multiple sins of its Blue, Black, and Double Black flankers. But make no mistake - Polo is never going to fade into irrelevance. The scent is a piece of American culture, American identity, and is sometimes overbearing, often difficult, but always part of the conversation. Ladies, the next time you pass a bottle on a tester shelf, give it a spritz. The earthy, dark scent that it produces will transport you back into the arms of a lover from long ago, one you may have temporarily forgotten. Hold onto that feeling, and remember it whenever some detergent-scented, gel-haired mimbo leans in to give you some cheesy line. You'll find yourself wanting to turn back the clock and make love to the man of your memories. And you'll be the better for it.

10/16/11

Passion for Men (Elizabeth Taylor)


Tucked neatly between the hated Joop! Homme and beloved Tiffany for Men is Passion for Men by Elizabeth Taylor. This was Liz's infamous follow-up to the original Passion perfume for women, which was THE blockbuster celebrity megahit of 1988. The two fragrances were shrouded in darkness, their bottles an austere, almost-black shade of purple, the scents rich with herbs and spices. This was her image before the sparkling gemstones of the '90s were introduced, and it's one I can get on-board with.

Passion is a very diffuse oriental. I'm always surprised by how dusty it smells. It opens with one of the loudest lavender notes I've ever smelled. Lavender is usually either sweet and chemical (Cool Water), or sharp and herbal (Pour un Homme de Caron), but this lavender is neither. It's aromatic and herbal, but densely so, almost funereal. The aromatic quality of it makes it seem ethereal, like it's tinting the air with its indigo hue. Its heaviness is tempered a little by a dessicated bergamot, which brightens, herbalizes, and rounds the accord out nicely. The nose who made this fragrance was clearly skilled.

Wait about ten minutes, and something interesting happens. The dry lavender slips gradually into a spicy combination of styrax, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The nutmeg and cinnamon lend Passion's core a subtle spicy sweetness, but it doesn't inflate into a sugarbomb. The styrax remains prominent, and broadcasts an aphotic incense vibe. Eventually the whole affair settles into a burnt, inedible vanilla. I have to say, for a drugstore oriental, this is leagues better than most of its competition. 

The Problem with Contemporary Perfumery Is . . .


Behold, Curve Crush for men, Liz Claiborne's disgustingly trivial 2004 addition to the cynical Curve line. As I was driving into work the other day, I found myself imagining what life would be like if I worked as a fragrance manager for Claiborne. Life would be very trying, not because the company lacks exposure or capitol, but because I would be a neglected cog, someone relegated to menial duties that are in no way related to production, and all for one reason: I'm creative.

Imagine arriving at the office one morning and having a robotic executive corral you into briefs for the next Curve fragrance. Everyone in the department is there, all sitting around a big boardroom table, peering intently at sales statistics and focus group charts. The brief has been issued, and the chemists (i.e. perfumers) are in attendance, sitting nearest to the Big Dog, their impeccable demeanor reflective of an acumen for number-crunching, not notes. As you sit down, someone hands you a booklet containing information about the latest entry in this esteemed collection. On the cover is a neon-green Curve bottle, with the familiar balloon lettering on it. It's called Curve Bliss, and under the title is a description - a floral green aromatic scent for women.

Intrigued (for the first time in your life), you register the possibilities in your head. It's a green theme, your favorite color! Instead of the usual trite aquatics, this could finally break some new ground. Still, in knee-jerk fashion, you understand the limitations before anyone has to mention them. You're working at Claiborne, after all, and if you think galbanum, petitgrain, and vetiver will come into play, you're delusional. But even after that sad gut-check, your hopes abound. Perhaps ionones can be integrated to simulate violet leaf, and may I ask the chemists how much cis-3 Hexenal they intend on using? What about some lily of the valley notes, and a nice brisk baltic amber note, something coniferous to darken things a little? Let's grab the bull by both horns and make this a unisex release, one that both men and women gravitate towards. And hey, while we're at it, why not spruce up the presentation a little? So the bottle is the same, okay, but how about changing the tin to dark green, with the letters in monochrome relief? You know, something minimalist, instead of childish. Just a thought.

As you open your mouth to speak, the Top Dog cuts you off. "Okay, folks. This morning we're going to discuss the pre-determined budget parameters for the product in hand, and I'm hoping everyone is aware that we've got eight million dollars, two of which are being paid to our partners in the lab, three for marketing, and three for distribution. That's less than we're used to. Sales are down, as you can see. We've got a brief that deals in dihydromyrcenol as a central element, with some nice linalool in the opening, a melon nonenoate construct for sweetness, and our standard white musk in the base. This is going to be a very simple formula, it'll have a longevity of no less than four hours, and it'll sell under the same distribution umbrella as the rest of the line. Any questions?"

The room is silent. You open your mouth, you want to speak, but you're trying to process what you've just heard without audibly sobbing, and nothing comes out. It's a bottom-shelf budget, another chemical melon aquatic masquerading as a green scent, and the creative part of the meeting just began and ended in all of thirty seconds. Stupefied, you drool as the topic is steered toward another tedious breakdown of demographic charts and packaging contracts. This isn't going to be a fun in-house image shakeup. This isn't going to be a product experiment. This isn't going to be an exercise in creativity. It's your standard-issue Curve nightmare, and it was developed long before you got the memo. Game over.

Some poor sap went through this dark fantasy during the production of Curve Crush for men. There's no doubt about it. Smelling it is like smelling every sweet teeny-bopper fruity detergent disaster to hit store shelves since 1990. There's your standard sweet citrus opening, a scratchy calone note that tears through your nostril lining like cheap liquor scalds the throat. Then, enter the fake violet leaf (one white musk paired with a dirt-cheap inone compound), and before long you're sniffing a jasmine-like floral edge that has attached itself to the dullest white musk imaginable. Then, after forty-five minutes, I smell nothing at all.

And that's the problem with contemporary perfumery. It's geared toward people who want to smell like nothing at all. The manufacturers are explicitly asked to develop something that offends no one, and in fact, is altogether undetectable. Just let the wearer experience it for five minutes, before letting the sheer elements create an olfactory fatigue that translates to little more than I Smell Clean. Big whoop.

Perhaps if perfume companies stopped nickle and diming themselves and their customers, our culture would begin to exhibit the panache of yesteryear, that confidence and attitude that brought great men and women their big success in the eras of Polo, Kouros, and Angel. Until then, we're doomed to smell clean, and slip into obscurity amongst the unwashed masses of the earth.

10/13/11

Violet Blonde (Tom Ford)


Black Orchid's reputation precedes Violet Blonde, to the latter's detriment. Where Black Orchid is renowned as being a challenging fruity-floral, Violet Blonde is considered to be accessibly haughty, the olfactory equivalent of a Poliform sofa. The fragrance opens with a brilliant array of citrus fruits and violet - sorry - make that sueded violet. The detached coolness of violet leaf is rendered against a sheer leather note that is so brisk and confrontational that it's wonderful. So far, so good.

Gradually the violet and violet leaf begin to fade, and a sparse vetiver accord takes their place. Just as it begins to show promise, the woodsy note is drowned out by a sweepingly "clean" Sambac jasmine. The white flower rides in like one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse, its indoles sped into a grandiloquent white rush, utterly devoid of character. The sweetness of the jasmine reminds me of the violet, and in the end I'm left with a very sheer, clean, and strong musk. That musk is like an echo chamber for all the other notes in the scent. They're memorable enough, and enlivened ever so briefly in the drydown, but are essentially neutered of their effectiveness. 

Like pieces of a puzzle, the violet top notes, vetiver-joked jasimine heart, and musky-blah drydown are all perfectly fitted into a dreamy landscape - the kind you see in a Thomas Kinkade painting. It's very pretty, very bright, and very dull, to say the least. I can see a classy, pearl-wearing Silicon Valley trophy wife wearing this to cocktail parties, but I also see her leaving the party early and alone, right after her Black Orchid-wearing friend, who snagged the only viable guy in the room. 

10/12/11

K de Krizia (Krizia)


I grew up smelling the original Fendi for women, as it was my mother's one and only perfume. She loved it more than anything else available to ladies in the late '80s, even classics like Chanel N°5. Whenever she came home from work I'd throw myself into her arms, and be immersed in the warmth of a cotton sweater and the smell of dry, rosy leather. Well, I'm all grown up now, and Fendi's original perfume no longer exists. The day she realized it was discontinued and priced beyond reach, my mother expressed intense displeasure. So last Christmas I figured I'd rally all the useless little fragrance factoids rolling around in my head, and find a suitable replacement for her.

It was quite a challenge, especially since there haven't been any notable designer releases of feminine chypres for years. My fist instinct was to do a total 180° turn on style, and find something "fresh" and "modern." At the same time, I was obligated to give a few classics some consideration. I dawdled around, poking at supposed masterpieces like Arpège, L'Air du Temps, Beyond Paradise, Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare, and even Tommy Girl. Eventually, the folly of it dawned on me, and I realized that I had to get technical, not tacky. I had to reconstruct Fendi from scent memory, and match it with another fragrance, probably of the same vintage. Mom wouldn't go for sweet saccharine bouquets or tea florals anyway.

Research paid off. From reading alone, I was eventually drawn to K de Krizia. It had a heavily aldehydic top, laced with civet, which brought memories of those bright and fizzy topnotes of Fendi. There was something animalic about that perfume, and by all accounts the civet brought out K's inner beast as well. The rosy heart of Fendi gave the scent depth, and reviewers consistently mentioned K's rosy core. To varying degrees, reviewers lauded K's mossy and leathery drydown, proclaiming it one of the under-appreciated leathers of the last 30 years. Fendi was, if nothing else, a vibrant feminine leather, bordering on butch and masculine. Without further hesitation, I decided to take a chance and blind buy K. 

After the purchase, I sampled it in the car. My nervousness was based on this initial test; if K de Krizia was the right stuff, I'd know immediately, and likewise if it wasn't. Luckily the scent was pristine, dry as a bone, immaculately balanced, and a blatantly fine effort all around. Feeling relieved, I returned home, wrapped it up, put it under the tree, and waited for the moment when she would unwrap it, and try it for herself.

In a nutshell: she liked it. Smelling it on her, I liked it even more than the first time. That old-world aldehydic top, all fizzy white powders and flowers, smelled so fresh and sheer that we couldn't believe it was of something under $50. The dank civet added a urinous-yet-earthy edge to what could have been a fluffy cloud, and grounded us for what would come next. Once the aldehydes blew off, the oakmoss and rose notes, flanked with a young peach, filled the air. The rosy, semi-sweet glow held on for a couple of hours, until eventually the leathery base followed mom everywhere she went. She enjoyed it more and more as the day went on, and so did I. In fact, I kind of wished I could have the bottle instead. K's incredibly delicate movement between bitter styrax, mosses, roses, and leather is intoxicating. She told me I did well. I agreed. Anything that starts with a soulful citrus and white floral explosion, and then smoothly transitions, like a lipstick chameleon, into a smoky mystery is always okay with me.

In retrospect, I can't help but wonder if K was the inspiration for Fendi, as it preceded its Italian sister by four years. I wouldn't rule it out, but there's no way to know without insider info. Recently my mother admitted that, while she does like K de Krizia, it's "sadly, still no Fendi." I'll give her that - Fendi was a masterpiece, while K de Krizia is arguably too urinous on top, and powdery in the drydown. Until the day she feels like dropping $300 on an old bottle of her former standby, she'll still smell classy, and most noses won't notice that something changed.

10/11/11

Pour Monsieur (Pierre Cardin)



The 1970s must have smelled amazing. That's what I think whenever I sniff a fragrance from that decade. The air was thick with citrus and leather, musks, flowers, spices, dense woods, and decadent fruits. Guys walked around trailing heavily-spiced chypres behind them, and women were mossy gardens on legs. It all led up to . . . behold, . . . the "fragrance-free zone." Thanks to the seventies. Thanks, seventies!

With that said, Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur is the perfect example of a polite, understated scent. I'm wearing it as I write this, and struck by how timeless the composition seems. It's also interesting how differently it smells on skin compared to paper. One is a warm, woody glow; The other drydown is cool, herbal, and spicy. The juice opens with a blended array of notes, including lavender, lemon, orange, pepper, and basil. They do pirouettes and switch roles - first the lemon and lavender explode forth, tinged by spiced orange zest, then the orange and basil roil forward, flanked by lemon and lavender. 

Eventually it settles into a smooth basil-spiced orange, with reminiscences of lavender. After a few minutes a massive sandalwood note steps in, and the basil transitions into the greener spice of carnation. The sandalwood is creamy, dense, and moderately deepened by patchouli. Within an hour, the base reveals itself as every note melds into an inedible vanilla, smoked with benzoin and leather. The whole affair is a rapid transformation, but with every dynamic stage brilliantly executed. It leaves an impression of something warm, woody, and a little sweet.

A Pour Monsieur guy is a polite guy, a mature guy, very solid, self-assured, knows what he's wearing the day before, dependable, unshakable. He might not be very adventurous, but at least he knows what he wants. Hey, for a few bucks, you could be that guy too.

10/10/11

Bleu de Chanel


I won't write much on Bleu de Chanel because there isn't much to say about it. Instead I'll summarize my experience and let you draw your own conclusions about the scent.

It hits my skin in a fizzy burst of sweet citrus notes: lemon, grapefruit, lime, and bergamot, all blended into a pleasant and heady freshness. Hints of mint, pink pepper, and jasmine accompany this accord and usher in a feeble heart of labdanum, cedar, ginger, and some kind of pink berry. I couldn't really identify that note. The drydown maintains a light eau de cologne woodiness, haloed by this fruity suggestion. 

It's sad that Chanel decided to go all fresh and generic, but then again Bleu smells rather like an old-school mentholated aftershave of some sort. It's very nice, and its quality is upper middle-shelf. Perhaps in the future I'll see a Bleu de Chanel deodorant at Marshalls and buy it. Otherwise, this fragrance and I will have a platonic relationship at best.

Mugler Cologne (Thierry Mugler) and Original Vetiver (Creed)


This is pretty serious. I finally got around to trying Mugler Cologne. Yesterday my girlfriend and I stopped at Macy's so she could get something, and I waited for her at the fragrance counter. Two of the SA's there were trying to hawk Nautica, Polo, Armani, the usual crapola. Polo Blue (really? still trying to sell guys on this?), Armani Code & Code Sport (both utterly useless), and I didn't even let the Nautica girl get within five feet of me. 

The other lady grew increasingly frustrated by my disinterest. The nicest thing she gave me was a mug of coffee beans to "clear out the nose."

When she finally gave up, I wandered over to the shelf with the testers. At this point my sniffer was already tired, so I wasn't going to try much else. But I wanted to see if they had anything special. Bleu de Chanel caught my eye (review pending), and so did Mugler Cologne. I've heard the rumors - Cologne and Original Vetiver are virtually the same scent. Rumors never mean much to me. I had to smell for myself. So I spritzed Cologne on my arm, waited a few seconds, and then dove in.

Surprise, surprise - Cologne smells almost exactly like Original Vetiver. Which is both dazzlingly good and wretchedly bad.

First the wretchedly bad: until this point, I'd always thought of Original Vetiver as the greatest green perfume. Whenever I wore OV, women would literally swoon. 

I wore it to work last year (I work at a school), and a teacher's assistant in the next classroom walked by, stopped dead in her tracks, and flat-out broke down on the scent. She had to know exactly what I was wearing. She then waved another female co-worker over to smell me. 

The second girl said "that's you? I was wondering what smelled so good!" Any time she saw me, she smiled and pulled the air over to her, saying "Mr. Smells-Good, gimme somma that goodness!" Dramatic? Maybe. But it was honest, and it was a clear signal that what I was wearing was working. Despite my penchant for fragrance, that doesn't happen very often.



As if this wasn't enough, I wore OV to a family barbeque that summer, and the woman whom I'm now dating smelled it on me. Months later, she asked me, "what was that stuff you had on at the barbeque? It was sex in a bottle." That pretty much sealed the deal - Original Vetiver was my Paradisi Parfum. But now I see that it is matched by another scent, one that came before it, and its cache is gone.

Another problem is that OV is Creed, and therefore absurdly expensive. I was lucky enough to get my 4 oz bottle at a deep discount, but counterfeiters have made me wary of gambling like that again. Creed's prices just went up another $10, putting a follow-up bottle of OV beyond my reach.

This is where the good comes in: I can now afford to smell like that again, only this time I'll be using the original fragrance, Thierry Mugler's fragrance. I no longer have to drop hundreds of dollars on the most modern, most cheerful, most green scent in the land. For a fraction of the cost, I can wear Cologne and emit that clean greenness that I love so much. Sure, my view on Creed's Millesime has changed, although I still love OV, and I've lost nothing in learning of its doppelganger.


There are, however, some differences between the two. First I'll break down Original Vetiver, as it's the more complex scent. Creed clearly wanted to flesh out Mugler's concept, make it more potent, more shimmery, and if possible, even greener. The citrus top notes are fast, sheer, and transition immediately into a lush heart of waving grasses, petitgrain, cool iris, and the light spice of ginger. A few hours later, the coolness of iris and spiciness of petitgrain allow the green notes to drift into a ginger-sweetened ambergris. 

The green never disappears - the grass notes merely step back, letting the ambergris glow through. There really isn't much of a vetiver component to OV, which is what draws the ire of many reviewers. Creed's excuse is that they're focusing on the grass instead of the root, which begs the question, why bother calling it vetiver at all? Why not call it Original Grass? Or if you want to get cute, Original Grasse? Regardless, the scent achieves an achingly beautiful effect of waving green grasses on a cool breeze. The ambergris enlivens the entire composition, and the iris and ginger balance the temperature somewhere between balmy and cold. Quite honestly, I think it's a masterpiece.

But it's not alone - Mugler Cologne is Alberto Morillas' creation, and it came three years before OV. Cologne opens with a more prominent citrus that Original Vetiver, with bergamot dominating. This dries into an accord of petitgrain and green notes. It's basically just green, green, green. But it isn't boring green. The petitgrain is illuminated by the strong bergamot, and the cis-3 Hexenol at Cologne's heart shows as a sweet green grass note. Unlike Original Vetiver, Cologne doesn't develop into an ambergris tincture, but instead slides into a more conventional neroli and white musk base. 

This detracts a little from its depth; Cologne's grass is merely there, while the grass in OV waves and lets hints of flowers, spice, and amber shine through. Also, the white musk in Cologne is something that can be found in a multitude of fragrances. I'm almost certain it's the same clean, semi-sweet musk that inhabits the base of Tommy Girl by Hilfiger, which is also a beautiful scent. So it's a nice musk, and I'm not averse to it, but it's nothing special. Still, Cologne manages to straddle the line between "clean" and "green" very well, and for an eau de toilette it has nice longevity and a very distinct character. Neroli and white florals fill in for Cologne where ginger, iris, and ambergris enliven Original Vetiver. The difference is that Mugler Cologne ends up smelling like the eau de toilette version of Original Vetiver. It has equal panache, and the scent profile is identical. But there's a bit of a difference in the details. One scent is definitely simpler than the other.

My feeling is that Cologne is suitably close enough to Original Vetiver to make owning and wearing the latter pointless. Why bother dropping all the dollars on OV when I'm not buying ginger, iris, and ambergris? Those are nice notes, and they work magic in this particular Creed, but I buy OV to smell green. I'm not looking for a multi-faceted experience there. Mugler Cologne delivers the exact same green, minus the frills. It's tenacious, well-balanced, and fresh. It's what I need.

Guess I have to hand it to Thierry Mugler. His 2001 release presages Creed's 2004 perfume, and obviously Olivier Creed is a fan of Cologne. I'm not sure why he chose to create such a blatant rip-off, but it doesn't matter. Both fragrances are genius, and one is much more attainable than the other. Perhaps one day I'll own both. Better lock up your daughters.

10/8/11

Zino (Davidoff)


Every once in a while, someone starts a thread on a fragrance site asking what the "darkest" or "most goth" scent is. There are usually a myriad of answers, but a select few are guaranteed to be mentioned. No 88 by Czech & Speake always shows up, as do Montale's Black Aoud, Dior's Poison, and Kingdom by Alexander McQueen. Lately, Zagorsk by Comme des Garcons Series 3 Incense has gained traction in the black-heart market, while more debatable entries include Paestum Rose by Eau D'Italie, Jacomo de Jacomo, and Ungaro III.

All of these perfumes are expensive, hard to find, or obscure. With the exception of Jacomo, these "dark" items need some pretty deep pockets. They also require more than a little pretension; wearing Kingdom, Black Aoud, or No 88 outside the bedroom is a No-No unless you're accessorizing with a history of murder, a mental illness, or a bevy of friends from that Guggenheim gala you attended last weekend. If it's not being sold as a death-threat or art, no one's buying it.

Unless you're wearing Zino by Davidoff. The first cool thing about this ambery fougère from 1986 is that it's inexpensive. The second thing is that people are under the odd impression that it's discontinued, which puts it firmly in that netherworld of shadowy and rare retro frags that only true connoisseurs would wear. Last but not least, Zino is the darkest, sultriest, "gothiest" fougère imaginable.

It opens with a smooth lavender, bergamot, and sage accord that rapidly darkens into a huge heart of rosewood, rose, geranium, and patchouli. Many admirers of Zino seem to identify a rich rose note, but my nose finds the rosewood far more dominant. In fact, Zino's entire structure is made of wood. A simple trio of rosewood, sandalwood, and cedar lift the potentially-dull elements of citrus, herbs, and spices above a legion of turgid orientals and Victorian-fougère wanna-be's. Every facet of the fragrance is dusty and sinister, like David Bowie in the classic goth flick The Hunger.

My tastes tend to reflect my moods, and I slip into shadow more than light. It's not that I'm truly "dark" or mean. These are tough times, and life has been tough for me, and for almost everyone I know. The prevailing zeitgeist is dead, and the string of days we've all been living in are a requiem to it. The only thing left is a mere shadow of the past, that grim optimism that dominated the '80s and '90s. Saccharine gourmands and airy floral perfumes don't work anymore.

Zino, however, characterizes the quiet desperation of a 21st Century man perfectly, down to its last vapor.

10/2/11

Acteur (Azzaro)



Acteur was a hard-sell for me at first. Azzaro fragrances tend to be that way. The spicy Azzaro "house note" is one I don't care for, a strange blend of oakmoss, cedar, rose, and carnation that appears in most of their masculines. This one is getting harder to find, and there's a perception in the blogosphere that it's discontinued. I've read that new bottles are available at the Azzaro Boutique in Paris, but their numbers are limited. 

Acteur opens with a nice burst of fresh bergamot. The citron is a little green, thanks to calamus. The fruit is spiced by the bitter entrance of mace and cardamom. This spicey accord smoothly transitions into a unique heart of rose and carnation. The carnation meets the cardamom head-on, and establishes a nice floral piquancy. Touches of muguet and jasmine sweeten things, creating an olfactory illusion of apple cider. The cidery aura emanates from Acteur for a few hours, before sliding into a warm, mossy, musky-sweet base. As the fragrance evolves, the floral notes steal the show, tempered only by darker cedar and moss notes. It's all very well-balanced, fresh-smelling, and dry.

Acteur conveys that sense of elegant and masculine adroitness. There's something about its expression of greens, spices, and flowers that brings class and ruggedness into the same room, sits them down, and negotiates a truce. At first it seems like a spicy-woody monster, but when worn in early autumn it smells much lighter, airier, and not nearly as serious. It is a perfectly autumnal fragrance, and a masterpiece. 

10/1/11

Yatagan (Caron)



Autumn is officially here, and with it comes a need for crisp, dry things. Goodbye, flacid summer aquatics and fougères, and goodbye humid, unforgiving heat. Time to bring in the hearty, multifaceted woody chypres. I love October because it's the one month of the year where I'm always guaranteed a beautiful moment in nature - whether it's the stunning New England foliage, the gorgeous clarity of 50° air, or the sight of leaves fluttering to the ground, something always wins me over. This is my favorite month.

I can think of no better chypre to wear in October than Caron's Yatagan. Named after the curved Turkish sword, this scent boasts the driest topnote structure I've ever sniffed. It's a wall of celery seed, wormwood, and petitgrain. There's plenty of press about how intense the celery note is, but it's really not that bad - Yatagan does have a prominent celery accord, but it passes quickly, after only a few seconds, and is rapidly replaced by artimesia. The artemisia is what becomes larger than life. The woodiness is stark and medicinal, and becomes the focal point of the scent. It's this wormwood that people confuse with celery seed, mainly because the distinct whiff of celery compliments it so well. Vincent Marcello's deftness of blending never ceases to amaze me.

Embedded in the heartnotes are green and floral elements, all of a certain ilk, one not sniffed elsewhere. Distinct notes of pine, geranium, hints of lavender, and patchouli waft from the wood. This pine isn't green and fresh, but old, layered on the forest floor, and burnt. This pine forest is on fire. Its oils are thick and lusty and full of evergreen's astringency, yet also battened down by an underlying impression of carbonized woods. Smelling it, I'm given a sense of olfactory bi-location, as all surrounding smells disappear, and are replaced with a feeling of standing in the middle of a black forest. The rosy sweetness of lavender mixed with cooling geranium flits in colorful shadows between the trees, and if the sun beats down on your skin when wearing it, Yatagan's composition can become quite herbal and fresh.

Caron has been accused of wrongful reformulations in recent years, and many of its most prized perfumes have suffered. The entire masculine line has been rehashed, with certain ingredients pared down or replaced. Once upon a time, Yatagan was full of deep, funky castoreum and pungent styrax. Today, I smell approximations of the animalic in the earthy density of the woods, but no distinct note of castoreum comes through. Nor does a full-fledged benzoin emerge - the overall effect of its ingredients does suggest a bit of "churchiness," but not frankincense. I'm not really too hung up on these changes, as I've never sniffed the original version of Yatagan. 

But what does bother me is an incorporation of sheer musk in the base. As the fragrance dries down and ages on my skin, a soft white glow tinges the edges of pine and patchouli. It's very gauzy, almost a white musk, but not quite. It's out of place here. It makes me feel like I'm sniffing a log cabin built on a foundation of sugar paper. The clean, semi-sweet mystery note suggests weakness in an otherwise extraordinary effort. I wonder, too, if I can attribute Yatagan's mediocre longevity to this note. If you get five hours out of it, you're lucky. I've had to re-apply Yatagan once or twice a day.

All faults aside, this offering from Caron stands as one of the boldest, most unique masculine fragrances to ever hit the shelves. I think it's perfect for a rural guy, or someone who wants to approximate that kind of machismo. It's also a good choice for the unconventional woman. Vive Octobre!