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.

On the way home from work today I finally caved 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).

Even before 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, but also 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 once in a blue moon, 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.


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 quite popular within the wetshaver community. 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 a shoddy 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. Ladies, if you prefer Type A personalities who wear Bois du Portugal, okay, but 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.

Photo from the Creed Boutique web site.


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. There's some pretty 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 is in no way 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.


Nobile (Gucci)

Fougères are typically scent constructions built on lavender and bergamot in the top notes, coumarin and clove 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.


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 more 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, . . . nightmares, . . . 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.

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.


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. It makes me wonder how much it costs to pay the guy who determines exactly what the right concentration of a fragrance should be. 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.


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 I don't consider it the most prominent note. In any case, Oscar is a floral perfume - we can all agree on that - but it closely hugs the oriental category. Its spices and herbal complexities outweigh the green aromatics of a straight floral scent.

One of trickiest things for a guy to do is find a classic feminine perfume that passes muster on a man. Gender neutrality is the most common outcome, but occasionally I find a scent that successfully rivals masculine releases of the last fifteen years. Oscar is one of them. It's very dry, with a nice tension between its coldest and warmest accords, and never devolves into a pink cloud.

Oscar makes me wonder what happened to men in recent years that made them favor gourmand girls over chypre-wearing glamazons. But you know, I think that sentence right there has the answer built into it. Today's American guy gravitates toward skinny, stylistically immature girls, the kind who wear their pajamas to the supermarket. Those chicks consider sweatpants with the word SEXY on the butt a wardrobe upgrade, never know what to do with their hair, and resort to wearing stuff from Bath & Body Works (body mists are everywhere). Their boyfriends have been intimidated out of any aspirational lust for full-figured, high-heeled, power-lunch eating businesswomen, the types who consider weekend wear to be Versace jeans and a pair of Selam Yohans. It's sad.

But back to perfume. Oscar (original 1977 perfume) opens with a wallop of bitter lemon and lavender, lightly spiced by basil, and nuanced with a touch of tuberose. The lavender is frigid, herbal, probably Spanish. The drydown rapidly brings forth the warmth and creaminess of opoponax and sandalwood. The base is a masculine take on 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.


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?

My answer - Sunwater by Lancaster. Although it's reputedly discontinued, this bracing floral from 1997 can be had for a song from merchants online, and I'm surprised it hasn't gained more traction with the ladies. All things considered, Sunwater doesn't really work, at least not entirely. Its formula has balance issues. Still, I think it deserves more attention than it gets.

I have to admit, I don't have much of a back-story on this scent. I recently happened across a mini of it, and gave it a try. Sunwater starts off with a ridiculously wet celery top note. Even Yatagan's celery 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 of what has to be the weirdest bitter-green opening I've ever encountered. It gets points for trying to end on a positive, after what can only be described as a truly fugly opening.

Yatagan, in all honesty, doesn't really possess such a massive celery note after all. It's more of a touch of celery seed against a ginormous artemisia accord. Sunwater, however, takes the vegetal note directly, 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. Unfortunately, the beauty of the florals is meek in comparison to that strident off-green top, and I'm not sure the composition holds up against the pantheon of other feminine aquatics currently on the market. However, skin chemistry probably plays a role here. My coarse male skin definitely didn't take to Sunwater. That doesn't mean the finer skin of a woman wouldn't treat it better. If you happen across a bottle of this, and you're in a position to try it, I say go ahead and try. See what your nose does with it. If you happen to like Sunwater, then congratulations. You found a crisp aquatic that no other woman wears.


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, peppery 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.

Irish Spring photo by Dwight Burdette.


Polo (Ralph Lauren)

There's a theory being held by some of my male brethren that wearing the right fragrance will get you laid. The times being what they are, most resort to wimpy aquatics and sugary gourmands when going out on the town. Sometimes an oriental is thrown in the mix, but usually aquatics are at the forefront of their preferred stock. What amazes me about aquatics is their cultural tenacity - stuff like Acqua di Gio, CK One, and Nautica Voyage is still selling like hotcakes, and still considered fashionable to the non-connoisseur. As to why . . . your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it all boils down to the point I made in an earlier post about how no one really wants to smell like anything anymore, and so the soft ozonic scent of your garden variety aquatic is the least threatening, and therefore most popular choice.

What interests me even more is the connection being made in male minds between smelling salty-clean and having sex. To me, the best fragrances conjure images from scent, and with those images comes a certain feeling. It's scent association, mixed with a (sometimes) gentle form of sensory coercion. Sex, by most accounts, isn't something people associate with being "clean" or "watery." Let's face it, sex is about getting very happily hot and sweaty. But we want sex with another person more if that certain someone looks and smells hygienically clean. Likewise, we feel more comfortable engaging in intimate acts when we know we're at our cleanest. Therefore, our preferred physical state before sex is to be a clean, blank canvas, upon which the act of sex throws a dirty brush. In post-coital mode, most healthy adults feel very good, despite knowing in the back of their minds that they are no longer physically clean. It's a yin and yang thing.

So back to aquatics - where the hell do they come into play? They're meant to accentuate, through scent, one's state of cleanliness. This makes sense to the playboys I've met. The ladies they pursue seem to like being chased by testosterone and Acqua di Gio. To them it works. Everyone's happy.

Except me.

I'm sick of the whole dynamic here. For one thing, I'm not pre-programmed to consider sweet citrusy water scents sexy. The beach is a nice place to visit, and I'm always happy to breathe salt air, but its scent association suggests whitecaps and steerage, not bedroom play. Furthermore, I have a system in place for being and smelling clean. It's called a shower, shave, and deodorant. As long as those habits are maintained, I have no complaints, and neither does my girlfriend. But just coming out of the shower and toweling off doesn't make me Spanish Fly, either. I find myself to be a rather common specimen, post morning ablutions. The definition of ubiquitous. No degree of fancy skinscent from strong soap, or pleasantly pungent underarm protection, has ever yielded extra attention from the fairer sex. They don't hurt, mind you, but they're not really a kind of social initiative. For that, I need something that accentuates my personality, not my body.

Enter Polo by Ralph Lauren. Carlos Benaim's 1978 formula was never intended to be a skirt-chaser's crutch. 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. The idea here was that by tailoring to a man's image of unshakeable personal convictions, inner sturdiness, and unambiguous sexual drive, a scent could become the ultimate illusion - it could actually seem like a part of him.

The proof is in the pudding. Sniffing Polo today, I'm immediately flooded by imagery of tough guys, silent types, heroes. That sort of guy is automatically sexier than the man-boys who trawl the clubs, trailing their insecurities behind them in clouds of calone and white musk. He also has the added benefit of being attractive to mature, independent women. The ladies who look his way are the ones who fantasized about being with Paul Newman, Clint Eastwood, and Bruce Willis when they were growing up. They thought Tom Cruise was a weirdo long before he foot-pounded Oprah's couch in a Katie Holmes fit. And they never understood how Brenden Fraser became a star. To them, a man wears blue jeans, a plaid shirt, and smells like an approximation of how their grandfather and father smelled - i.e. dark, green, spicy, and manly.

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, it makes my mouth water. 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.

And that's just it - Polo deals in the smells men follow: cut grass, tree clippings, 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.

That kind of smell comes from inside, not outside. It's a desire to be active, to be outdoors, to be communal with nature in practical and spiritual ways. A man's inner strength comes from how he views himself in relation to the world around him, and the degree of success with which he connects to that world. Work, relationships, and personal wisdom are serious things, and it takes a mature male to navigate them. Real maturity comes from a man's mistakes, his mother's lessons growing up, and the bond he feels toward the woman and children in his life. That doesn't smell like sugared pineapples. It smells like it sounds - solid, and natural.

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.


Passion for Men (Elizabeth Taylor)

Orientals are a problematic genre for me. Spicy profiles often raise my doubts regarding social consciousness, and leave me wondering if I'm smelling stodgy, and/or like a walking headache. Old Spice, for example, is the quintessential masculine oriental. Its explosion of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg make it a sweet accoutrement to any 75 year-old's wizened persona. Unfortunately, it just doesn't work as well for the under-35 set. Too much application, and you end up smelling like Christmas eggnog. Too little, and you get that "old grooming habit" vibe. That's not to say Old Spice isn't in demand - I once sold a set of Shulton-era cologne and aftershave on ebay for $28. The catch: a 75 year-old guy bought it.

If you take a quick look at the oriental genre for men, you see there aren't many successes. Old Spice tops the list, but beyond that, it's a tricky playing field. There's Royal Copenhagen, a powdery mess if ever there was one. There's the clove curtain of Jacomo, the rosewood-coriander-sandalwood beauty of Chanel Égoïste, and the famous YSL flanker, Body Kouros. It's a real hit-and-miss deal, but to be fair, that's the case with every category.

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. Launched at a time when the AIDS crisis was peaking, Passion and Passion for Men were olfactory expressions of Liz's concern for the prevailing sexual culture in America. She was very vocal about how difficult the decade had been for people, particularly for homosexuals suffering with AIDS, and felt that the '80s needed to close out on an honest note. 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.

Liz's grim mood is definitely conveyed in this scent. Smelling it today, I have no doubt that Passion for Men was something that she had a direct hand in. Men, after all, were being hit especially hard by AIDS, and some of her dearest friends were dying, or had already died from it. I believe she sat in on the briefs, smelled the test strips herself, and had heavy input on the final formula. She wanted it to smell serious, mature, and infinitely memorable. I think it ticks all those boxes. For a cheap celebrity fragrance, I'm very impressed by the end result.

Passion is, in short, a very dark and dusty oriental. The surprising thing is how dusty the scent really is. 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 very aromatic, definitely 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.

At first sniff, these top notes are actually forbidding. There's nothing cheerful here. With this much lavender, the scent is cold, and the dry citrus isn't adding any warmth. But 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 its peers. The lightweight pricetag was a concern of mine, particularly because orientals under $30 tend to be little more than gussied-up coumarin nothings. Fortunately, Passion's budget shows up in longevity, and not scent quality. I'm lucky if I can get two hours out of Passion, and with excessive application, maybe four. The drydown is pleasant, if a little unremarkable. Once the shadowy styrax dissipates, the clean, non-gourmand vanilla hangs on as a skinscent. Interestingly enough, the lavender never entirely vanishes, and I still sniff shades of it in Passion's afterglow. It's all very dignified, a bit aloof, a touch spooky, and altogether bottle-worthy.

The only other celebrity scent I would willingly and eagerly try is Catherine Deneuve's self-titled and now-defunct chypre. That, and perhaps Alain Delon's Iquitos, also discontinued and nearly impossible to find. But it's nice to see that not all celebrity fragrances are cynical fruity-floral abominations. Passion for Men's bottle is refreshingly bleak, like something you'd find on Morticia Adams' bedside table. The whole package represents a certain kind of grimly-optimistic capitalism that used to dominate the American commercial scene, one I'm nostalgic for. Nowadays, people are too afraid to peddle in dark things, unless by "dark" you mean a totally conformist "black." It would have been impossible, as things stand, for Liz Taylor to have released a "black" version of Passion for Men - if this got any darker, it'd slip into another dimension of time and space. As it is, I'm transported to a very good, and very exotic place.

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.


Bowling Green (Geoffrey Beene)

Of the three masculine Geoffrey Beene fragrances that exist, I enjoy Eau de Grey Flannel the least. Grey Flannel, on the other hand, is my favorite. Bowling Green falls squarely in the middle, inspiring neither love, nor hate.

I wasn't really around to witness it, but I can imagine the release of Bowling Green to the public back in 1986. There was a tepid fanfare of small magazine and department store ads, a little sample strip in a few men's magazines, and then just word of mouth. The whole campaign probably lasted no longer than two weeks. That's a shame, because Bowling Green deserved better. It's years ahead of its time, a very focused, very masculine aromatic scent.

The problem with Bowling Green, however, is one of perception: most guys write it up as a "bright" and "cheerful" summer green. I don't get that at all. To my nose, Bowling Green is shady, deep, dark-green. This is attributable to the hyper-realistic basil and rosemary in the top notes, melded with the equally-realistic cedar in the heart and base. Blended within the herbaceous and woody elements is a nice fir note, which gives it an evergreen feel. But that's the whole transition in Bowling Green; the fragrance opens with a dry basil and spicy juniper, then moves into a dryer lemon, pine, and artemisia, before drying down to cedar, sage, and fir. Very natural, very bitter, very nice.

Nevertheless, I'm not entirely won over. Cedar is a tricky note for me, and here it gets top billing. It's a semi-sweet, sometimes ashen, sometimes fetid smell. Usually it dominates whatever it's in. It isn't overdone in Bowling Green, but it is there. Some scents have cedar incorporated in them without making it very noticeable, but not Bowling Green. Another problematic element is that load of basil and rosemary on top. For the first fifteen minutes, I'm tempted to think I spilled a whole spice rack on myself. Eventually the basil melds into the lemon and atemisia, but until that point, I'm thinking kitchen, not Kentucky.

These quibbles aside, the broader development of the scent is very good, and quite enjoyable. For the right price, I could see myself owning a bottle. I'm a sucker for greens, after all. While sniffing my wrist today, I realized that the interplay of basil, pine, cedar, and citrus resembles a floral accord, notably honeysuckle. It's very subdued, but it appears occasionally in the mid-phase of the drydown. I really like honeysuckle, so that's a pleasant surprise. It's fleeting, though. Within an hour, the whole thing dries into a very close scent of fir and rosemary. Even sniffing two hours after application, I'm struck by how the herbs have reappeared to control the drydown, after dramatically stepping back from the scent's heart.

Sadly, Bowling Green has been discontinued for several years. But if you can find it, try it. It's worth exploring. Consider it the olfactory equivalent of taking a hike through the woods on an overcast day. The experience is fun, and a little sinister. If you want to find the "bright" side of the scent, consider this - at least with Bowling Green, you can't get lost.


Violet Blonde (Tom Ford)

Just a shot in the dark here, but if I had to guess, I'd say Tom Ford needs at least two hours to get ready before going out. His whole image says "Fuck your schedule, my hair needs desperate attention, like, yesterday." Indeed, there isn't a single hair out of place with this guy. He's all spit and polished, shoe-shined, shirt judiciously opened, visually superior to anyone within a hundred-mile radius of his given whereabouts. It's no surprise then that his fragrances are fashion statements of their own. Even less of a surprise that Violet Blonde, his latest feminine, is a fashion contradiction, a perfume paradox of opposing intuitions. It's both subtle and loud, chic and crass, beautiful and boring.

Tidiness is the issue here. The reputation of Black Orchid 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. All the young entrepreneurs overlooked her, favoring the sultry, Black Orchid-wearing coal baron's wife instead.

Better luck next time, darling.


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. And so I did.

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.


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 '70s, I am now asked to refrain from personal fragrance whenever visiting doctor's offices, hospitals, and restaurants. As you can see, the magic of yesteryear is a double-edged sword.

Not all of those classic scents are monsters, though. 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 into a brilliantly-blended array of notes, including lavender, lemon, orange, pepper, and basil. The notes pirouette and interchange 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.

On paper, the geranium and basil come alive. The initial burst of lemon and lavender (not much orange) quickly becomes a somewhat-minty and spicy combo. Sandalwood hangs back, never truly becoming a central player, and the geranium leaf, very fragrant and lemony, dominates. I have no idea why this happens on paper and not skin, but can only guess that the lack of natural oils keeps the warmer elements from showing up.

That's the fragrance - now let's talk about the bottle. Oh, the bottle. Subtle, isn't it? Yeah, about as subtle as a truck. Let's face it, Pour Monsieur competes with Le Male for the title of Most Homoerotic Flask. I guess the big round head on the end of that graded pillar could be construed as a shift stick for a truck, or perhaps as a microphone for some lounge crooner. It wins points for flamboyance and postmodern design, but I fear it's a little too "bad" '70s. Fortunately, the juice it holds is very much a product of "good" '70s, something that every guy should consider wearing. 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 himself. Hey, for $15, you could be that guy too.


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.

First, some context. Whenever I visit a department store, I visit the men's fragrance counter. And whenever I visit the men's fragrance counter, some middle-aged female SA taunts me with an array of samples. These fragrances invariably smell the same, that fresh, ozonic "blueness" that has pervaded masculine perfumery since the release of Cool Water. There's rarely ever an eyebrow-raiser in the bunch. Occasionally something exceptionally pleasant gets waved under my nose, but those instances are few and far between. Even the winners don't do anything to stand apart from the crowd, and I leave feeling like I just sniffed a fancier version of the entire men's deodorant display at CVS.

When I approached Bleu de Chanel, I tried not to pre-judge. After all, it's Chanel. It's an excellent house, with dozens of terrific fragrances, and several iconic perfumes. Even their worst decisions (Pour Monsieur Concentrée and Platinum Égoïste) are miles better than the best drugstore fare.

The juice hit 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 accompanied this accord and ushered in a feeble heart of labdanum, cedar, ginger, and some kind of pink berry. I couldn't really identify that note. The drydown maintained the light eau de cologne woodiness, haloed by the sweet fruit. The mint and ginger that played their hand so deftly in the opening reappeared in later stages of the drydown, as other elements dissipated. I was left with a fresh, grey-pink skin scent, somewhat reminiscent of Creed's Silver Mountain Water.

It's sad that Chanel decided to go all fresh 'n fruity on me. Bleu de Chanel smells very nice, and its quality is upper middle-shelf. But its pleasant, generic blandness says nothing much, and what little is said is nothing new. Perhaps in fifteen years I'll see a Bleu de Chanel deodorant stick at Marshalls and buy it. Otherwise, this fragrance and I have no future.

Scent Comparison: Mugler Cologne and Creed Original Vetiver

This is pretty serious. I finally got around to trying Mugler Cologne. Yesterday my girlfriend and I stopped at Macy's so she could find a new foundation for her makeup kit, so 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, but what can I say? 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 being the greatest green perfume ever crafted. 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 a grassy accord of petitgrain and green notes. It's basically just green, green, green. But it isn't boring green, drugstore green, or fleetingly 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.


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.