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.