Clubman Special Reserve Aftershave-Cologne (Pinaud)

Chiaroscuro is an interesting artistic term referring to the study of contrast between light and dark, a practice that originated from a Renaissance style of drawing on colored paper which built lighter tones up from the base color. Paintings in chiaroscuro often have a burnt look to them, with a preponderance of umber and charcoal grey. Subject matter usually involves people, sometimes posed in scenes, or for a portrait. At the time of its popularity, it was a means for conveying a minimally-colored scene with maximal dramatic effect. Perception of space is achieved by contrast alone, with human physicality and the nuances of facial expression reliant upon the darkest darks and the lightest lights. Today, images in chiaroscuro are associated with antiquity, a time when oil paint glistened on crusty palettes and candlelight illuminated nocturnal events. It's the incarnation of history's illustration. There is nothing modern about it.

Years ago I often wondered what the olfactory equivalent of chiaroscuro could be, given the difficulty in rendering scent using equivalencies of light and dark contrasts. I wondered if it was even possible to develop a smell that could come close to this sort of visual dynamic. The problem with the parallel is that scent is not about color, but density. We consider smells based on their sheerness, or their opacity, with heavier scents eliciting considerations of complexity (the high number of interacting elements), and lighter scents raising questions about minimalism and reductionism (the low number of interacting elements). Grey Flannel invites its wearer to consider a complex blending of citruses, spices, mosses, and woods, with multitudinous elements weaving a broad tapestry. Arden's Green Tea is about airy citrus and cassis notes playing off a basic white musk frame, with only two components obvious to the nose. In either scent, associations of "dark" or "light" are limited to one, or the other. Neither of them involve the interplay of both, as this is impossible - a fragrance can not be light and heavy at the same time, and so considerations of hue are handicapped.

Despite this problem, my initial experience with Clubman Special Reserve made me think twice about it all. I remember receiving it in the mail, opening the box, unscrewing the cap, and taking a first sniff from the bottle. My nose wrinkled, my eyes screwed up, my tongue pressed itself into the back of my throat, and I immediately thought "wow, this stuff smells awfully thin and sweet." It seemed at odds with its bottle's rustic color scheme, and its proud name. Feeling doubtful about this reserve's "specialness," I dabbed some on my wrist, gave it a minute, and inhaled deeply.

What a surprise! The patchouli, which seemed comically unbalanced from the plastic spout, became smooth and refined on skin, blending beautifully with oakmoss, treemoss, lavender, rose, cinnamon, and leather. The result was a drydown akin to the smell of a freshly-oiled baseball glove, a crisp, dry leather with just a hint of sweetness. Of course, this smell in itself is very deep, dark, with very little contrast in an unusually congruent leather cologne. I personally don't believe in the concept of "leather" fragrances because I've found that many things labeled as "leather" scents are really just dark, woodsy, herbal compositions with little in the way of sweetness or luminosity - scents like Polo or Quorum. I can count on one hand, using one finger, the number of scents that have ever actually smelled like cured animal hide, and its name is Clubman Special Reserve. Truly, this cologne smells like chapped leather.

Special Reserve spurs imaginings of dark, smoky 17th century bordellos, with mustachioed men in feathered hats sloshing their steins of ale across the bare chests of mustachioed women in filthy apron corsets. At the same time, it generates an image of a teenage boy's baseball mitt, all spit-stained and creased at the thumb, ready for a neighborhood game. Could this disparity in associations be attributed to a form of olfactory chiaroscuro? One seems rather dark; the other is devoid of shadow altogether. But no, the true expression in Special Reserve is one of conceptual perfumery, a successful endeavor to emulate the simple smell of treated leather. The bordello and baseball glove associations are merely projections on my part, and in no way reflect what is actually going on in the scent itself, but rather what my experiences with this type of scent have been, either in theory or in practice. There's nothing unique about this; similar associations can be made sniffing a tray of freshly baked sugar cookies.

The blatant literalism of Special Reserve's leather is what makes it a no-go for me - I much prefer the more classical composition of the original Clubman aftershave-lotion to Special Reserve's one-note structure. However, I can understand and appreciate the concept behind it, and wholly endorse it as a worthy addition to the Pinaud gentleman's lineup. Anyone who likens Special Reserve to the original is looking for something that isn't there, as the two are very different scents. If you're a lover of riding tack leathers, you may find much to love in this scent's directness. If you're like me, someone who needs more nuance and abstraction, you'll find Special Reserve a bit dull, and probably not something you reach for very often. I ended up getting rid of my bottle, as I never wore it, and was hard-pressed to find an appropriate occasion for it. Still, like it or not, it's definitely worth more than the $9 price for a 6 ounce bottle.


  1. I have to agree with you on Special Reserve. It's really is the only fragrance that I've smelled that actually smells like leather. It's not something I wear often, but I like having it and reach for it on occasion.

    BTW, excellent blog. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hmm, you really got my attention, as I love leather notes! How would this work on a woman, in your opinion?

    1. The only answer I can safely give you is another question: do you like the smell of new baseball gloves? Honestly, this is what comes across very directly with Special Reserve. If you like clean treated leather, then this stuff will make your day. It's a true leather scent, through and through.

  3. I am still uncertain of how I feel about this product. For one, it says, "aftershave cologne", it should be ranked up there as eau de toilette because it is really strong. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this is like the original Clubman where you can splash it on your face and the scent will fade. It won't. It is a powerful scent that has long and strong staying power (for better or worse). So, this should not be classified as aftershave. It is strong stuff.

    Secondly the scent. Many wet shavers love the original Clubman because it has a timeless barber-shoppy scent that just smells good, refreshing, a little powdery and yet is masculine. This scent comes off mysterious, hard to place, maybe pine or some woodsy scent that immediately reminded me of an antique library with some very old books. It caught my attention as an old scent that I may have actually smelled someone using it when I was a child and haven't smelled it again since. A nostalgic and olde-timey scent. It actually smells interesting. You have to hand it to Pinaud for originality. This IS original.

    However, shortly after I used it, I had some sort of reaction to it and my sinuses went berserk. Maybe this was because I am used to the original Clubman where I splash my face with it and when I tried this, I did it in a similar fashion. Big mistake. And even after washing it off and washing my hands, I just could not get the smell off my hands. I literally had to take a shower to get this off of me completely.

    I have since used it again and put a few drops on the back of my neck and had no real problems, maybe a little bit of a sinus issue, but nothing terrible. I will probably use the rest of the bottle but I doubt I will purchase it again, though I do like its old smell, but it is really strong. And the reactions you get will be either people hate it or people love it. My girlfriend immediately said she liked it and said wow. Minutes later she had an allergy to it and told me she hated it.

    So, this is a strange one, a very strange, mysteriously good and bad cologne. Do not make the mistake of thinking it is an aftershave.

    1. Thanks for reading, John. It's true, this and the original Clubman are massive fragrances in terms of sillage and strength. I do feel the original version is stronger than this one, but that could just be a matter of perception. It sounds like you and your girlfriend are allergic to Special Reserve. I wonder if you've tried Clubman Vanilla or Musk? I've always wanted to give the Vanilla a shot but never got around to it. I've since replaced Clubman with Brut, which I think is a few steps better, but Pinaud's products are all very good. You know you can cut the juice with more alcohol or water to scale back the concentration and ease up on your sinuses, if that helps.

    2. I cut off my first comment accidentally, sorry.

      If you want to smell liquified, distilled leather - even MORE leathery than Clubman S.R. - get a bottle of Avon's LEATHER. It's from the '60s but easily found and never goes back. I have a considerable stock put back. If it's leather you want, you will be most pleased and not a little surprised.

    3. Really? Avon's Leather? That's interesting Joe. I'm assuming this goes beyond Black Suede in quality. But easily found? Don't see it anywhere online. A link to a source if you could.

    4. I still find it pretty readily at flea markets and some antique-type shops. It does turn up on the 'bay but it's so common in shops I haven't needed to go that route.

      It is a wholly different animal from Black Suede, which can barely be classed as leathery in comparison. I have plenty of it put back and would be happy to send you a small sample at my cost if you like...

      ephesians389 (insert usual symbol) gmail.com

    5. http://www.ebay.com/itm/AVON-LEATHER-AFTERSHAVE-WESTERN-SADDLE-FULL-BOTTLE-/160993729979?pt=fragrance&hash=item257bf95dbb

      I would consider this a reasonable overall price IF one has tried Leather and knows he likes it. Trust me, not every guy could or would wear it. I am wholly unrelated to the seller, btw, it's just the first hit that popped up for the right stuff.

    6. Thanks for the link, Joe. I always forget how many different toy-like bottles vintage Avon colognes come in. That saddle shape is a hoot. I'll pass on the sample for now (I'm backlogged as it is), but will keep it in mind in the future. I agree also, that seems like a fair price for something that old. And yeah I've heard Black Suede is fairly disappointing as a leather fragrance.


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