Shalimar Eau de Toilette (Guerlain)

I was hanging around Marshalls today when I saw a bottle of Shalimar in eau de cologne concentration, which reminded me that I've worn and analyzed the EDT version. By the way, does anyone else find it odd that Shalimar is now widely available in both concentrations in places like Marshalls and Walgreens? Kinda sorta woulda thunk Shalimar was better than that. But then again, Walgreens sells Creed now. I know that comparing Guerlain to Creed may ruffle feathers, but what can I say? Everything is at a convenience in 2012, including luxury perfumes.

Due to its iconic status, my expectations of Shalimar were very high. Every now and then I realize there's a legend that I haven't worn, and I formulate an opinion before the fact. It's an unwise practice, but I usually temper the habit by bracing for the worst just before the juice hits my skin. Countless fragrance atomizers have been gateways to heaven and hell, and that first cherry-popping sniff is always make-it or break-it. With Shalimar (as with any Guerlain), I needn't have worried.

Shalimar's stunning array of citrus top notes is the brightest and most satisfying fragrance intro that I've encountered. The bergamot, lemon, and neroli accords sparkle and have my nose begging for more. Eventually animalic notes peer through the citrus haze, with civet and opoponax warming things up nicely. Everything coalesces into a very rich, leathery, inedible vanilla, its musty character both archaic and modern, and pure class. This accord hangs around until the incense and rose appear and highlight the dry down. I'm reminded of Caron's vanilla in Pour un Homme, a dryly stark note that never shouts, but also never shrinks. Shalimar boasts very good sillage, excellent longevity, and is the perfect vanilla oriental for adult women of all persuasions.

My only problem - and yeah, there's usually a problem - is with the question of Shalimar's utility in these energetic postmodern times. Jacques Guerlain's creation comes from 1925, which is almost 90 years ago now. Times have, for better or worse, changed. I suppose in 1935, '45, '55, '65, and '75, it was still stylistically relevant, as the modes of those decades were aligned with dry vanillic orientals. Even the bombastic '80s, with things like Opium and Cinnebar on store shelves, would have been a decade for Shalimar. 

But by the '90s, with the ascension of three re-invigorated styles (fresh fougères, aquatics, gourmands), orientals that predated Opium were losing market share. Die hard classicists still held onto them, but the ladies and gents I went to high school with weren't interested in grandma and grandpa's dusty old Guerlain. While out shopping this past holiday season, I happened to stop at Sephora. Despite the hordes of shoppers that were testing scents, Shalimar was lonely and neglected, and seemed invisible to them. They were too busy trying out the latest from Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, and Prada.

Still, I think this scent holds up well. I wouldn't wear it, but a sophisticated woman in her thirties could pull Shalimar off without a hitch. Too bad the ones I meet wear Innocent Secret and Pink Sugar instead.


Lacoste Original (Lacoste)

Somewhere between the chemical ginger grass of Adidas Sport Field, and the refined blue sprawl of Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green, is Lacoste's nameless premier masculine aromatic, "Original" Lacoste. Essentially a lime and fresh grass scent, with touches of basil and oakmoss to darken it up, Original's initial burst of juicy citrus is nice, though too brief for my liking. From there, everything rapidly opens into bittersweet grasses of lemon and vetiver. The drydown arrives after a mere twenty minutes, and peels back the darker greens to reveal a woodsy base of sage and cedar. 

It's a good green scent, but nothing tremendous. For the money, I'd rather go with Sport Field, and for something truly wearable at anything other than barbeques, I'd rather wear Bowling Green. It's hard to say when I'd want Lacoste's Original. There's also something deleteriously common in the aromatic effect rendered by Original. With no violet leaf ionones to hide behind, the aroma chemicals of spiced grasses and cool woods smell harsh, naked, conveying a bit of a "bargain perfume" feel. They never resort to the prosaic olfactory excuses found in unapologetically cynical releases like Curve Crush, or Eau de Grey Flannel, but Original feels like the least-inspired grassy '80s fougère in its class. 

Its only true point of distinction is its brightness; the scent's overall character is fresh green, true green, as opposed to oakmoss grey and dark pine green, and therefore is miles away from darker contemporaries like Quorum and Drakkar Noir. Green is an extremely important color in modern masculine perfumery, and if you're attracted to fresh green scents, Original should be tried. Like the game of tennis itself, this scent is best taken in up close, and with all faults accounted for. It can be enjoyed casually, and nowadays it can even be enjoyed formally, although there are better things out there for that.

Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche)

Oddly enough, the "black" flanker of Drakkar perseveres in an ever-changing market, while the original is now defunct (and has been for years). As ubiquitous as Cool Water, Drakkar Noir has now been reformulated into a lighter scent, no doubt to better conform with today's trends. The bitter citrus, wood, and herbal opening is still quite sharp and recognizable, but it rapidly dries into a hollow juniper, lavender (actually lavandin), and oakmoss accord, with hints of fir. Very nicely blended, very masculine in temperament and movement, and very conservative by today's standards. 

Drakkar Noir is the fougère that set the tone for fougères of the 1980s. Things had been chugging along with plentiful doses of earthy pines and spices for some time, but this one came to the party, plunked down its armloads of oakmoss and patchouli, yanked the curtains shut, and replaced The Go-Go's with The Cure on the turntable. Drakkar Noir was perfectly tuned into the zeitgeist of that time, and was a massive smash hit among folks of either sex. It was the quintessential '80s prowler scent.

These days it's associated more with business than having fun. Times have changed, and the smoky and seductive perfumes of yesteryear now elicit feelings of boardroom, not bedroom. We have other newer toys, things like L'Instant de Guerlain, Fleur de Male, and 1 Million. In other words, things Charles Bronson would never wear. For those of us who yearn for a manlier time, Drakkar Noir is still on the market and selling well, and I'm sure there are many mature women of the world who are thankful for that. 


Soap Review: Coast Pacific Force Soap

A few months ago I did a review of some notable aftershaves, and admit it was a bit of a departure from the usual subject matter of From Pyrgos. Occasionally I succumb to the itchy need to review a personal grooming product rather than perfume. Just a heads up.

For some reason, I happen to love bar soap. I like shower gels too, but not as much. Contrary to popular belief, they're not actually soap. Shower gels are really just skinscent perfumes in gel form, and are washed away before their essences ever have a chance to shine. Kind of a waste, especially since the gel itself is utterly functionless, usually having no inherent antibacterial or cleansing properties. There are some gels out there that try to be soap, and conscientiously possess the requisite qualities of effective cleaning agents, but they're not as satisfying to use as a solid bar.

I enjoy bar soap because it is bar soap, you see, and not just because I prefer it over shower gels. Bar soap is a shower luxury, a traditional amenity that dates back to Medieval times and beyond, something people were enjoying long before showers and running water even existed. I'm fascinated with bar soap because it can come in any shape and size, be any color, and hold any imprint of text or image. Bar soaps are elements of design and aesthetics, and therefore reflections of personal taste. He who chooses a specific soap, be it Zest, Dial, Irish Spring, or any one of a gazillion other soaps out there, is choosing something based on a subconscious style ethos. People don't associate soap with personal style, but if you're drawn to a specific kind of bar, there's probably a reason.

Recently I got into Pacific Force soap by Coast. I've always been an Irish Spring kind of guy, with the occasional detour into Old Spice Land, but there are a few bloggers here and there that lament the demise of the original "original" Coast soap. They chalk this loss up to the introduction of a "new" original, and a soap "flanker" called Pacific Force, which by some accounts is an abysmal product. The parent company for Coast changed of course, and this explains the shakeup, but I'm not that interested in the details. What intrigues me is how Pacific Force smells - which is to say, almost like nothing at all.

Actually, Pacific Force smells like something, but it's hard to describe what that something is supposed to be. When I opened my first bar, I expected to smell something sweet, with hints of tropical fruits and flowers. Most aquatic soaps try to emulate the scent of a flamboyant bar drink, the kind that comes with a melon kebab, salt necklace, and umbrella. Not Pacific Force. This smells more like sea spray - it is bitter, a touch salty, a little briny, and a lot "fresh" without anything extra added. Oddly enough, for a cheap soap, Pacific Force smells a lot like the ocean. The real ocean, not a cartoonish Coppertone ocean. It's pretty darn good.

Another criticism of Pacific Force is that it supposedly lathers poorly. I think it's bunk, really. It seems to lather no better or worse than anything else I've ever used. It has a bit of a tacky feel to it, even when dry, which is strange. Usually soap feels like plastic before it gets wet. This feels more like an old Post-it note. But it's not like I'm carrying my soap around with me between showers, so it doesn't matter. Pacific Force's bowed shape serves it well, allowing the bar to stand above wet fiberglass when not in use, which prevents mushy scum buildup. Its lather is moderately rich, and releases more of that bitter, ozonic-salty scent. After toweling off, my skin retains the simple flush of fresh bitterness, a good template for my SOTD.

If you haven't already, and you're a guy in need of one, try this soap. It's a lot better than I thought it would be, it leaves me feeling and smelling perfectly clean, and its fragrance is anything but a sweet cop-out. It's very masculine and fresh. It's a winner.


Tommy Girl (Tommy Hilfiger) & Green Tea (Elizabeth Arden): A Tale of Two Tea Florals

When I read the press releases on Tommy Girl, I was filled with curiosity. This scent is a modern tea floral, a well-organized construct of green tea and floral notes that form a thoroughly enjoyable fragrance. Since its inception in 1996, young and middle-aged women have adored it, and in more recent times, men of all persuasions have taken to it also. Having worn the masculine Tommy back in high school, I was familiar with the level of quality this brand is capable of, but had qualms about buying its feminine counterpart blind. After lengthy consideration, I did, expecting something affable, nondescript, pretty, and totally unwearable. I was in for a real surprise.

Tommy Girl opens with a kick of potent aldehydes and camellia tea, which is a very crisp, sheer, green-hued tea note with a subtly sweet edge. For the first minute of wear, this tea note is central. Eventually sweet black currant, apple tree blossom, honeysuckle, and jasmine notes bubble out from under the camellia, forming a fairly linear floral perfume of considerable strength. The floral notes coalesce into a prominent jasmine and tea accord, with a watery calamus underpinning it. Calamus lends the scent an aquatic dimension, although it's worth noting that isoeugenol is the chemical component at work here.

You would think with all those fruity floral notes that it would strictly be a young girl's fragrance. Amazingly, the camellia and calamus propel things in another direction entirely. The tea is a supporting player to the central roles of the flowers, but it tinges the sweets with a strident crispness. The scent of tea, with its uniquely Eastern flavor, is very specific, and an acquired taste, something considerably beyond the mores of teeny-bopper sensibilities. Furthermore, the floral elements are darkened by black currant, a note that for whatever reason denies gender classification. Tommy Girl's currants are sheer, but they help to anchor things to the middle of the spectrum. It's the jasmine that keeps this scent on the women's counter at department stores. That buoyant jasmine is so rich and wet that even the homeliest woman could benefit by having its grace on her skin.

But it's not alone. Surprisingly, it's not even unmatched. Considering the dearth of interest in tea scents, one would suppose that Tommy Girl has a monopoly on the mass market. After all, how many people want a tea smell wafting from their personage? What company could compete with such a well-crafted and well-timed perfume? Why, Elizabeth Arden, of course. Conspicuously missing from all the positive press that surrounds Tommy Girl is a reference to a terrific fragrance that emerged only three years after it: Green Tea.
Herein lies the rub for Tommy Girl. While it offers a splendid composition through synthetics, it lacks any natural infusions, and natural tea infusions in particular are nowhere to be found. One might suppose this is understandable, considering how expensive such an infusion would be, right? I mean, after all, natural elements are relegated to top-shelf stuff, things by Creed, Czech & Speake, Frederic Malle, Guerlain. No mass-market scent could successfully employ the same standards held by such companies to their own little tea floral, could they? Well, as it turns out, Arden's scent contains a generous amount of camellia sinensis leaf extract. When you smell it, you're smelling real tea. You're smelling the sort of thing normally found in those $285 Creeds. It smells really, really good. Oh, and by the way - it only costs $5 an ounce.


Frankincense and Myrrh (Czech & Speake)

Knowledgeable noses often opine on how the house of Aramis is grossly undervalued and should someday get its due. Aramis is great, but I'm pulling for Czech & Speake. Of those I've tried, it's one of a precious few purveyors of hi-fidelity perfumery. The notes of C&S scents separate beautifully, are quite realistic, and coalesce into scents that are very non-"perfumey." Frankincense and Myrrh is one of their best, and I'm not even a fan of spicy orientals. If you purchase a bottle, you're getting something that should cost twice as much as it does. This, in my book, is the hallmark of something that is truly undervalued.

With its austere title, the scent promises one thing, and delivers another. I expected a dark, roiling cloud of exotic warmth, full of olfactory smoke and shadow. Instead, Frankincense and Myrrh opens with a very bright and festive orange note, made herbal with a touch of lavender. Greener notes of sage and bay introduce the frankincense, in all its spicy glory. This is soon followed (and softened by) myrrh, and the composition settles on a sandal and cedarwood base. With its remarkable luminosity, Frankincense and Myrrh inhabits a different corner of the oriental hemisphere, tucked away from its extended family of Opiums, Cinnebars, Zagorsks, and Obsessions. This part of the map is where a hybridization of eau de cologne and oriental occurs, creating something that is at once lively and fizzy, while also dry and just a little caliginous.

The caveat is that Frankincense and Myrrh is not, despite its classification, a complex fragrance. Once the citrus/herbal top burns away, the frankincense dominates, with quieter myrrh and wood notes lifting the base into a haze of dry sweetness. I'm left with something subtle and masculine, a pleasant wear for autumn days and winter nights. It's sexy without being overt and obvious, and nowadays people tend to ignore the two star notes of this scent, making it unique. The fizziness of the citrus and lavender lends it a unisex air, which makes this scent accessible for women, too. I'm sure there are those who would complain that C&S doesn't invest enough time and imagination into their compositions, and I see their point; Frankincense and Myrrh is a scent that does the bare minimum with what it has, but to maximal effect. 

My counter-argument would be that brands like Floris, Czech & Speake, and Creed harness natural aromas, arrange and amplify their assets, and stop short of contrived embellishment in the name of elegance. Frankincense and Myrrh is essentially the most elegant oriental I have ever encountered, and one that I hope to eventually own and wear regularly. It's the perfect antidote for the soulless rows of calone-drenched deodorant sprays that pass as perfume in the men's section of your local department store. Seek this one out - you won't regret it.


EROLFA (Creed)

Creed SAs in stores like Neiman Marcus and Harrods are reputedly snooty, and quick to fire off snarky comments at the hoi polloi that pass by. If they hand you your ass, you deserve it, because the Creed line has its own pop-quiz scent, designed specifically to give those pesky salesmen pause. The name EROLFA, which belongs to the only true "aquatic" masculine offered by Creed, is comprised of equal parts Erwin, Olivia, and Fabienne, Olivier's son, daughter, and former lover, respectively. All of this is elementary, and openly advertised on the Creed Boutique website, but that doesn't mean the SAs know anything about it. It's fun to give pop quizzes. 

The first hour with this scent is quite nice, a simple citrus intro with a dry, electrical ozone note. It's as though someone took static-charged air, mixed it with sea water, and threw it into EROLFA's core. An herbal greenness shows up in the heart, with hints of moss and dampened pine, but these are soon eclipsed by a very dry and austere woodiness, which is fractured by the cooler ozonic notes into a semblance of sun-baked sand. This is where EROLFA leaves off, all dry and sandy, an extremely close skinscent. Even the ambergris doesn't amplify the base beyond a slight sweetness. After ninety minutes, I have to squish my nose into my arm to smell it. After two hours, it's all but gone.

If you want this effect for less money, give Mario Valentino's Ocean Rain (Roudnitska's last creation) a try. I think it's a shame Creed changed the packaging for EROLFA. The box had a little painting of yachts, which was nice. I believe the current version has the plainer blue felt label, similar to the off-green felt of Green Irish Tweed's box. Pretty for sure, but not as unique as the yachts. Why, oh why do these companies fix things that aren't broken? If I'm going to buy a transient aquatic that barely makes it to lunch, at least give me the satisfaction of feeling special when I reach for its gimmicky, overly-ornate packaging!


Insensé Ultramarine (Givenchy)

I generally dislike aquatics, not because I dislike the concept of smelling like cool sea water on flowery tropical air, but because most aquatic fragrances come nowhere close to smelling like that. Insensé Ultramarine takes an unfortunate stab at it. 

The salty marine accord that spikes its top and middle notes is boldly pronounced against a dense and unpalatable mélange of fruit and flowers. A peachy rose, circumspect jasmine, and dewy magnolia/cardamom arrangement flesh out the heart accord, and all are brushed with Calone and ambergris. A bit synthetic, and more than a little saccharine, but it's within the bounds of the time of Ultramarine's release. 

This is a '90s fragrance, with all the bells and whistles that came with aromatic scents of that decade. My biggest gripe is that a chemical salt note in the top and middle of Insensé Ultramarine feels way too loud and unbalanced for regular wear. If you think you're getting a refreshingly sweet floral aquatic for men, you're in for disappointment. This is a bawdy floral that should be dyed pink and marketed as a feminine. I'm not a fan, but YMMV.


Horizon (Guy Laroche)

I chuckle in good humor when reading fragrance reviewers' chief complaint about Horizon by Guy Laroche: its incredible strength. Before even sniffing this scent, I knew it would be heavy. Most of the proto-aquatics of the '80s and early '90s (pre-1994) tend to pack a wallop. Stuff like Drakkar Noir, Molto Smalto, and Insensé Ultramarine make their presence known, and Horizon is no exception. In light of this, unless you intend on making it your signature, I recommend sticking to the 1.7 oz. bottle, as it will go a very long way.

Now, on to the scent. Horizon opens with a bitter accord of grapefruit, lavender, pine, mint, and a "marine" note that is as bracing as it is heavy. The lavender - which is stunning - is the first horse out of the gate, followed by a minty grapefruit note. After ten or fifteen minutes, these elements meld into a more herbal and peppery fennel midsection, although the grapefruit continues to blare away. It's at this stage that things go from an evergreen color to a mellow, abstract, and fruity shade of blue. 

As the herbs settle, the abstract blue "marine" note, which is ostensibly Calone, mingles with a warmer sandalwood and patchouli base. Horizon's grapefruit finally sweetens (and thankfully never sours), lending a certain brightness to the proceedings. Its drydown is more civilized than its opening, and the scent is artistically all the better for it. Keep your nose on the drydown and see if you can get a sense of the ambergris note in there - it's actually pretty good, and smells surprisingly natural for such a cheapie!