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 prior to trying it 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, 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 late 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), old-fashioned 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. Quite 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. Those of you seeking a pick-me-up in a green tennis shirt could find a multi-dimensional daily sport cologne in Original. Smelling it now, almost thirty years after its release, I can't help but wonder if that was its function back in '84. With only about three hours of detectable longevity, barring reformulation issues, this scent could never have been a real workhorse. It's definitely not a "powerhouse" fragrance by any means, although its first five minutes on skin aren't exactly meek, either. Original is punchy but inviting, never heavy and forbidding.

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 certainly 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 dull. Drakkar Noir makes a good office scent nowadays, particularly if you're working in an alpha-male environment where being taken seriously is essential. There's nothing light spirited or "fun" about this stuff. There's also nothing particularly refined about it, either. For a manly green fougère from the '80s, I'd rather wear Tsar by VC&A, or even Laroche's own Horizon. Still, Drakkar is a respectably conservative oldie that bears remembering.

I think of Drakkar Noir as the fougère that set the tone for masculine 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. After that, the party was never the same again, and people who thought they'd just do a little drinky and smoochie ended up with fragmented memories of unmentionable acts the next morning. For whatever reason, Drakkar Noir was perfectly tuned into the zeitgeist at that time, and was a massive smash hit among folks of either sex. It was the quintessential '80s prowler scent.

Odd then, that it should now be more associated with business than having fun. Times have changed, I'm afraid, and those dark, smoky perfumes of yesteryear elicit feelings of boardroom, not Bordeaux. We have other things to wear while mingling now, things like L'Instant de Guerlain, Fleur de Male, and 1 Million. In other words, things that Charles Bronson would never wear. It isn't such a stretch to imagine Mr. Bronson sporting a few spritzes of Drakkar Noir while out blowing street thugs' brains across New York City, however. This scent shares a strange social context, interchanging between identities as a business, pleasure, and murder fragrance. Well yeah, I suppose the murder part is just my imagination at work. But you have to admit, this one is certainly dark enough to play that role as well.

Sadly, for Drakkar Noir, I stand by my sentiments regarding its usability in my wardrobe. Greener, smoother fragrances like Tsar and Horizon are more desirable to me. I'm more likely to reach for Azzaro Pour Homme than Drakkar Noir. This Laroche release is a good reference scent for anyone who needs a reminder on what a common macho '80s fougère smells like. There's no mistaking that pungent smack of sugarless moss and lavender, that stinging citrus and leather combo that dries into something not out of place on a rhinoceros hide. I'd much rather smell a bit more refined, but suppose the bloke in those cool print ads has no complaints.


Tangent 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. I won't do it often, but occasionally I'll succumb to the itchy need to review a personal grooming product other 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

Last school year (which is the only kind of year I'm able to keep track of), two male co-workers stopped me and said, "you smell that? who has that sweet smell?" When I told them it was me, they laughed, and one of them added "you smell very pretty." I can say with total unadulterated honesty that this moment did not in the least bit faze me from wearing the scent that elicited these reactions: Tommy Girl.

It should be noted for the record that Guy #1 is a body builder with a beautiful blond girlfriend, and Guy #2 is an Iraq War vet who was part of an elite squad of "killers," i.e. soldiers specifically utilized by ground troops to infiltrate enemy compounds, rig them with explosives, and cremate their inhabitants from two miles away. I wouldn't consider these guys to be "girly boys," and I have the utmost respect for both of them. They're terrific guys. And it doesn't surprise me in the least that they would mistake Tommy Girl for being, well, a girl's perfume. The logistics of enhancing your pecs and vaporizing other human beings are well within their pool of knowledge; the logistics of tea florals are pretty fucking far beyond their bounds. As of two years ago, tea florals were pretty fucking far beyond my bounds as well, and I'm just a guy who likes to write, take walks, and engage in overly-dramatic unrequited love affairs with feisty European women, Woody Allen style.
When I read the Associated 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. There are several different types of isoeugenol applications, with various scent profiles, but I'm betting the "wet" dimension was what Calice Becker wanted to smell in Tommy Girl's lush heart. She succeeded, and enjoyed a historic victory in submitting this formula to the Hilfiger company. For the first time in quite a while, a proper tea floral was a smash hit.

Critics rave about Tommy Girl, considering it the stuff of angels, a masterpiece, a cheerful little perfume that no one could possibly dislike. Generally speaking, I agree with these assertions, although I shy a little from using the word "masterpiece." In my mind, a true masterpiece is made of a master's materials, and not generic mass-market aroma chemicals. There should be an infusion technique behind Tommy Girl, an actual tea extract in use, for it to qualify as a masterpiece. However, Tommy Girl is incredibly striking in one regard - it is undeniably unisex.

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. I must concur with Luca Turin in applauding the scent for being simple, modern, versatile, and beautiful.


But. But. But.

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 that unusual tea smell wafting off 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 green 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.

Green Tea was created by the esteemed Francis Kurkdjian, of Le Male and Narciso Rodriguez fame. His approach to the modern tea floral was evidently heavily inspired by Calice Becker's, and a side-by-side box comparison proves that not only are the two scents virtually identical, but they're mostly made of the exact same materials! Both fragrances contain the following:

Hydroxyisohexyl 3 cyclohexene carboxaldehyde (floral notes, with emphasis on muguet)

Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane (UV protectant)

Hydroxycitronellal (muguet)

Citronellal (lemon)

Isoeugenol (calamus)

Limonene (orange)

Linalool (mint in Green Tea/laurel in Tommy Girl)

Geraniol (rose)

And of course, BHT, alcohol, and water. There are a few differences in the ingredients list, but only a few, with Tommy Girl possessing two or three things that Green Tea lacks, and vice-versa. A side-by-side sniff test of the two scents reveals that they're technically the same thing, but with some change-ups in composition and blending. Tommy Girl has an overt frontal tea note flanked with subtler berries and strong floral elements. Green Tea has an overt frontal citrus arrangement, flanked by subtler florals and strong tea elements. Both scents use green tea as a focal instrument, a tool that gives everything else a little extra pizazz. Both scents smell terrific. Only one scent actually smells like green tea.

I am not entirely sure if Luca Turin has ever lavished upon Green Tea the kind of praise he famously reserves for Tommy Girl, but if not, he should visit the former, and reconsider the latter. My quibble here is with three things: quality of materials, versatility, and commercial price. On every count, Green Tea outpaces its progenitor. Its materials are almost entirely the same, except for that one note - the important note - camellia sinensis leaf. Tommy girl has no camellia sinensis leaf. Green Tea's versatility is profound; the crisp citrus top is perfectly masculine all year-round, and utterly sweet and feminine in the summer time. The natural tea element is as genderless as they come, with a full-bodied Asiatic vibe that weaves around everything else, everything stronger, to maintain its perch in the center of the scent. Unlike Tommy Girl, Green Tea's florals are dialed back. The muguet, rose, and jasmine accord is there, but not as full-throated, merely complimenting the tea. This makes the fragrance more accessible for men, especially those who are daunted by sweet "bouquet" scents. The blending here renders everything in a sheer glaze of green waters, without a single petal taking center stage.

Last but not least, the price - oh, the price! Why spend $65 on 3 ounces of Tommy Girl when you can get the same amount of Green Tea for $15? I have both fragrances on separate paper strips as I write this, and they're now in the later drydown stage. At this point, about ninety minutes in, I cannot tell the two apart, save for a little extra citrus in one, and a more-prominent jasmine in the other. In terms of chemical quality, they're exactly the same.

Tommy Girl reserves the right to be held up as the standard for tea florals because it came before Green Tea, but I feel the Arden tea floral is the better scent. I wear Tommy Girl and enjoy it, but I can't really use it for more than a day at a time. Green Tea is something I can wear for a week straight, without getting tired of it. It isn't as strong as the Hilfiger scent, and doesn't thrust its destination in your face. In Tommy Girl, the tea is satisfying, but only for the first couple of minutes, and then becomes something peripheral, ephemeral, like background music. In Green Tea, the tea is the story, and everything else are props. The tea is central, the tea is floral, the tea is sheer, and crisp, and clean, and sexy, and unique. Kind of like me. We go very well together.


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 cool autumn days and frigid 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 those Almas-eaters behind the counter know it. Next time one of them starts looking down her nose at you, drill her on EROLFA, and see if she doesn't turn a certain shade of pink.

EROLFA is, in fact, the only properly aquatic perfume offered by Creed. Many mistake Royal Water for being an aquatic - it's actually a gourmand scent fashioned after a citrus eau de cologne. Imperial Millesime is an iris-based floral with aquatic touches; Virgin Island Water is Creed's take on Coppertone; Green Irish Tweed (so often compared to Cool Water) is a floral fresh fougère; Silver Mountain Water is a tea and berry scent with a weird, blatantly synthetic inkjet printer note; Acqua Fiorentina is a less-compelling version of Silver Mountain Water featuring plum against a backdrop of calone. EROLFA, however, incorporates all the components of a true aquatic. I smell the sea, the sand, and the brine matter in between. One should clearly detect notes of salt, sea air, sand, mineral water, and seaweed, with hints of citrus (like the lemons and limes of 18th century pirate ships) ushering everything in, and a well-rendered ambergris closing things out. With EROLFA, all these boxes are checked.

Practically speaking, however, EROLFA lacks the concentration necessary in making ownership worthwhile. I'm not compelled to buy a bottle because EROLFA's samples all end up the same way: gone after two hours. 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, filtered it into a semblance of something you'd breath from the Alps at 6 a.m., and threw it into EROLFA's core. It's a pristine coldness that smells only of its depressed temperature.

Eventually a somewhat herbal greenness shows up, with hints of moss and dampened pine, but these are soon eclipsed by a very dry and austere woodiness, which becomes fractured by the cooler ozonic notes into a semblance of sun-baked sand. This is where EROLFA leaves off, all sandy and dry, but only as 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.

It's a shame Creed changed the packaging for EROLFA. The original box had that little painting of the yachts, which was beautiful. 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 fuck with good things? Olivier must be a fan of Old Spice, and after seeing the latest tragedy that scent is packaged in, decided to have his revenge. Okay, you're right, that's not likely at all. But it's what I imagine happened, because otherwise it's completely inexplicable. Olivia, the OL part of EROLFA, is supposedly an accomplished graphic designer who works for her father's company. Maybe I should blame her.

If you're like me, and not in the least bit interested in aquatic fragrances, you should still try EROLFA, and here's why: the shit that's out there en masse doesn't really represent the standard. To measure up other aquatic fragrances, you need the perfect baseline of something like EROLFA, with its top notch ingredients, and its loving execution. This way, if you happen to find another scent that uses salt and brine without all the cloying fruits and musks, you'll know what it should represent without wondering if it's too weird to work. EROLFA is certainly a weird one, but unlike Insensé Ultramarine, it's a good weird, and it definitely works. Just a shame that it quickly drifts off to sea.


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, however, takes a respectable stab at it. The salty marine accord that spikes its top and middle notes is boldly pronounced against a dense and palatable mélange of fruit and flowers. A peachy rose, circumspect jasmine, and dewy magnolia/cardamom arrangement flesh out this perfume's core, and are smudged against calone and ambergris. A bit synthetic, and more than a little saccharine, yes, but all within the bounds of the prevailing zeitgeist at 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 main gripe is that a chemical-smelling salt note in the top and middle movement of Insensé Ultramarine is too loud and unbalanced. If you think you're getting a refreshingly sweet floral aquatic for men, you're in for disappointment. If you're expecting something that smells "sporty" or metallic, look elsewhere. This is a big, bawdy, blue-dyed French perfume, disguised as a masculine, and that's reason enough for me to explore it.

So pros and cons, starting with pros: this isn't a cookie-cutter aquatic. The scent is unique, an original twist on the maritime theme. The divergences from stuff like Polo Sport (blech!) and Nautica Voyage (double blech!!) are too numerous for me to list. Guess I could mention that there's tremendous sillage and eternal longevity, although it shares those qualities with Voyage. But all things considered, I can appreciate an aquatic that smells salty and floral instead of watery, white musky, and weak.

Now, the cons: Insensé Ultramarine has never been successful in convincing me of its legitimacy as a serious perfume. It smells far too synthetic, absurdly dense, throat-catchingly bawdy, salty, loud, borderline suffocating in its pinks and yellows and dirty off-whites. There isn't a single "blue" note in there, which normally would be a good thing, except here I desperately need "blueness" to lighten the load. Why would I want a fragrance that successfully bucks the usual trends to embrace those very trends? It's weird, very weird. As in, bad weird. Not good, creative, inspirational weird. Bad, shit my pants in Walmart weird.

I gave my bottle of Insensé Ultramarine to a gay friend who moved to NYC with a manager for an upscale supermarket. Was it the Givenchy that brought about his good fortune? All I can say is, in a sensible world, not a chance.

But it's not a sensible world, now is it?


Voyage (Nautica)

And now, on to an example of a "bad" aquatic. How do I say this nicely ... Nautica Voyage smells like the olfactory equivalent of an off-Broadway showing of Antony and Cleopatra; the fragrance is monotonous, loud, tacky, and totally off-key. Okay, that wasn't said nicely. But it pains me to think that the same man responsible for K de Krizia and Iris Silver Gris produced such a horrendous designer scent.

The problem is mostly a matter of volume. As it exits the atomizer and hits the skin, Voyage explodes with a thunderous combination of ozonics and fruity musks. These remain blaringly loud for the first hour of wear, with only minimal settling. Eventually the fruit burns off entirely, leaving nothing more than a dull chemical spill, comprised mostly of white musk and calone residue. It's neither pleasant, attractive, or refined. Voyage is, to be fair, an aquatic scent, and it does successfully reference a wild oceanic wind. Unfortunately, there's not a whit of subtlety to its composition, nor any interest invested in its balance, and the result is something that could have been great, but ends up smelling juvenile and crude.

Every great perfumer is given his or her share of turkeys, and no doubt Maurice Roucel wanted to do more with better materials, but was simply too limited by Nautica's budget constraints. Another cynical aquatic fragrance is what we're left with. It should be noted that I have a considerable little collection of fragrances in my wardrobe, and a girlfriend who is stoically tolerant of all of them. However, when she smelled the test spritz of Voyage on me, her nose wrinkled up, and something akin to a gag reflex crossed her face. It was a long drive home from the drugstore.

Guys (and gals), do your significant other a big favor, and don't pretend that this is a sexy fragrance. If it has to be wet and "fresh," go with Horizon or Cool Water instead.


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. I think it's interesting to observe how thick the sillage from these scents are. Stuff like Drakkar Noir, Polo Sport, 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 citrus blue. As the herbs settle, the abstract blue "marine" note, which is ostensibly calone, mingles with a warmer sandalwood and patchouli base. Maybe it's my imagination, but I swear this note smells like ambergris. It is very vague, but it has that mineral twinkle to it, and I feel a parallel with the ambergris element in Creed's Green Irish Tweed. Both scents share a sweet maritime smoothness - which is remarkable when you consider that I purchased my 1.7 oz bottle for $4. Horizon's grapefruit finally sweetens (and thankfully never sours), lending a certain brightness to the proceedings. Its drydown is considerably more civilized than its wild opening, and the scent is artistically all the better for it.

If you're like me in finding mainstream aquatics distasteful, this unusual aquatic fougère from Guy Laroche might be your cup of tea. I think Horizon is terrific stuff, upper middle-shelf juice, worth far more than I paid for it. Simply stunning, considering what else is out there for ten times as much! And I don't say this often, but I will say it here - Horizon smells like nothing else out there. This fragrance is truly a unique scent. It's aquatic, yes, but it's also greener and more complex than your standard Acqua di Gios, Nautica Voyages, and Azzaro Chromes. That said, it's much chewier in texture, denser, and less au courant. I find that the marine and wood notes in Horizon are dynamic, but still a bit "perfumey" and synthetic, perhaps due to their heavy-handed integration into the scent's core. Ironically, it's this accord that reminds me most of Drakkar Noir, and not the bitter citrus or pine needles. Nevertheless, Horizon is unisex, very well-made, and for the price it's worth checking out.