Country Chic (Bath & Body Works)

In 1999, Creed released its ill-fated supergreen chypre, Green Valley, to some critical acclaim, bringing to its logical apex the trend of fruity-green chypres that flooded the unisex fragrance world of the late nineties. Hundreds of similar feminines came before it, but only one masculine seemed to presage Olivier's masterful creation with any true prescience, and its name was Sport Field, by the maison athlète of Adidas. Isn't my French sublime?

I'm not suggesting Sport Field was the only precursor - Insensé was far more complex, and was released one year before Adidas' understated chypre. But Insensé was a startling essay on the masculine appeal of green floral notes, a failed cultural experiment about which one could write volumes, while Sport Field was an ultra-focused ginger-grass budget scent that somehow transcended its bargain basement pedigree by maintaining a hyper-realistic green profile without any embellishment. 

The framework for Green Valley was perfectly represented in Sport Field: bright, bitter, grassy accord on top, touched with a shimmer of ginger, and a sweetened berry-like fruit note, all of which dried down to an analog of warm hay. Simple, fresh, and snappy, it's a wonder Sport Field wasn't more widely used and appreciated, although Adidas has recently resurrected it, and it seems to be holding its own within their range.

While Green Valley perfected Sport Field's structure with violet leaf, oakmoss, blackcurrant, ambergris, and vanilla, it was almost too much of a good thing, and the market rebelled. When done well, the ubiquitous fresh-green cologne is almost impossible to variegate with any regularity. The theme must have become redundant and played out, because most of the bitter-grass experiments of the nineties were discontinued, Insensé included. But then the tacky mall-house of Bath & Body Works got creative, and released Country Chic. Presumably, this was another ditzy fruity-floral with no lineage, other than a legion of other ditzy fruity-florals. When I first smelled it, my eyes screwed up, my nose closed, my throat tightened. The sting of alcohol and aldehydes was pretty Kilgorian.

Then, something wonderful happened. My nasal cells pulled everything together, and presented me with a crystalline, feminine version of that archetypal bitter ginger-grass chypre of yesteryear. Bits and pieces of the nineties emerged, but streamlined for current tastes, with a brilliant fruit accord. Hints of berry, crab apple, and pear, welded and bundled together with floral notes like reams of spare piano wire, all hit the mark perfectly, and I couldn't help but grin. Its ingredients are admittedly cheap, and Country Chic lacks the focus of Sport Field, and the refinement of Green Valley, but its overdosed aldehydic opening and tenuously well-centered green heart stakes its territory in the grimly-underpopulated category of modern chypres. 

There are times when I smell Country Chic and think, "this is cheap and dull." Yet my nose always coerces me to give it a second chance, and on the exhale, Chic is beautiful, and reminds me of how brilliant even the most budget-bound fresh chypre can be. This fragrance is quite an achievement, and well worth seeking out.


Jōvan Black Musk for Men (Coty)

The word "nondescript" comes to mind. I know a couple of my regular readers shudder at the sight of this cologne, but if you asked me what it smells like, I'd have to say it's nondescript, to the fullest extent of the word. It's as forgettable as a Chinese arithmetic problem, sans the thrill of a real challenge. To smell like something, anything, wear anything else. Jōvan Black Musk is not for fragrance connoisseurs.

Who is it for? Simple answer: people who like how it smells. And it is a smell, more than a fragrance, a light, linear, one-note olfactory blurb, a sniff equivalent of something Justin Bieber might say. It's truly that bad - devoid of meaning, with no redeeming accents or inflections - something the likes of which no man should ever have to see on his side of the fragrance aisle. The bottle is dull, cheap-looking, although hefty glass, and one gets points for choosing glass over plastic. The juice? Flat, greyish-purple in color, silvery cool on contact, the languid smell of fruity suede, touched by a standard white musk. It's like one of those hologram stickers - shiny on one side, dull on the other. Sometimes it smells cool, fresh, luxurious. Other times a grapey blobby thing wrecks the romance, dragging the little pretties out by their bottle-bleached locks, leaving smears of cheap chemicals and a perfume-shaped hole in the heart. 

Jōvan Black Musk is a vile disaster, the worst of the worst, ill-conceived in every conceivable way, and it probably doubles as nail-polish remover for goth boys. Jōvan Black Musk is a rancid crime against all of humanity, plus a few other species, too. And I absolutely love it.


L'Homme (Yves Saint Laurent)

The nineties were long gone by L'Homme's release date, yet this scent takes me on a trip down memory lane, as though its fragrance molecules can bend light and reflect past events. My surprise at learning it hails from 2006 was the first and last time L'Homme did the unexpected - it all went downhill after that. Let my criticism be attenuated by the more favorable things to say about it, because this isn't a bad offering from YSL. In fact, it's quite nice. But is it worthy of regular wear in the adult world? Perhaps, if you're someone who dislikes fragrance, L'Homme fits your lifestyle perfectly. There's nothing about its simple citrus/ginger/violet leaf/woods structure to suggest an affinity for sophisticated perfumery. Wear this, and smell boring, safe, professional, you get the message.

To my amateur, untrained nose, L'Homme smells remarkably similar to the original Allure Homme by Chanel, although some notes are starkly different. YSL's scent feels dodgier, more "metrosexual," prissy, ambiguous. L'Homme's synthetic dry-citrus opening has the requisite department store shimmer we've all come to expect from things in this price range. It smells good, but not like real fruit, and quickly loses its luster. The ginger note is spicy-sweet, and lends a cool edge to the piquant proceedings of violet leaf and cedar. After two hours everything has fuzzed into a sweet, gauzy, Chanel-like musky amber, and I half expect to switch the radio on and hear the Spice Girls, or turn to the news and see Clinton giving a speech in the Rose Garden. It's my high school days, all over again.

Is it wrong for major designer labels to release unimaginative fragrances? No, especially when you consider the profit being made. People who aren't interested in perfume should still have something decent to wear to work, and they seek out stuff like this. I'll submit to the audience that it's far better for a middle-class American male to don something without frills, like Caron for Men, than something without soul, like L'Homme. YSL's product might say, "I'm reliable ladies," but with Caron you're classically male: a man who loves women who love men. It's unfair, even morally suspect, but I'd hire that guy; with L'Homme, I'd question his resume.


Eternity Aqua For Men (Calvin Klein)

Calvin Klein is an interesting brand. Their fragrance concepts are usually ambitious, and sometimes they hire superstar noses to formulate their juice. They've made one of the nicest modern orientals around - Obsession for Men. Their latest successes include CK One Shock for Him/Her. This company is still in the game.

What irritates me a little about CK is that I'm fully aware of their potential for greatness, yet always let down by their offerings, not because they're intrinsically weak, but because they're usually appropriate for the teenage set only. Teenage readers, take note: if you're having trouble finding a well-made everyday fragrance that doesn't condescend, take a good look at the CK range. You'll be spoiled for choice. For you ambitious business-types, the guy who works at a McDonalds, but dreams of owning a Zagat-favored steakhouse, I present to you Eternity Aqua.

Aqua has all the usual bells and whistles of a postmodern aquatic. There's a juicy citrus accord on top, made cold by a pleasant cucumber note, which smells a touch better than expected. Lavender appears as the fruit burns off, and within five minutes segues to an strange aromatic wood note (guaiac wood?), accented by piquant Sichuan spices, which I suppose are meant to lend contrast to that cool beginning. What it accomplishes is no mean trick; Aqua's banal Calone promises yield an aqueous oriental effect, which kinda-sorta works. The pepper smells clean and mature, and is very appealing. You know what, boys? I take it back - you can have regular Eternity, and I'll wear this.


Dark Rose (Czech & Speake)

Quality of natural raw materials. Quality of patented synthetics. Quality of note separation. Of composition, legibility, the divisibility of accords, the breadth of chemical evolution, its arch across time. Quality of synchronicity. The beauty of the inhale; the thrill of the exhale. The scent memory left behind.

These are all things a connoisseur factors into the experience of smelling a reputable niche perfume. It's different from smelling designer fragrances. With ubiquitous offerings, my standards are broader. I want to know if what I'm smelling is good, or bad, with Kouros, Cool Water, and Old Spice as comparisons. If it smells like it could keep company with any of those, then it has a shot with me. I don't go to tiresome lengths dissecting each accord, separating each note, ferreting out chemical synchs over seven-hour time frames. I just stay cynical about the top notes, and suspicious of the base, and if the top pleasantly surprises me, and the base doesn't kill the buzz, I have a good scent.

Niche, on the other hand, gets micromanaged. Especially the better niche perfumes, things from Malle, Creed, C&S. I expect a lot of things from those brands. C&S frags rarely disappoint me, so I'm always nervous when I first try one. Dark Rose was one of those moments - I knew their Rose was good, and I had heard good things about No.88, but really wasn't sure about Dark Rose. It seemed it would be a love-it or hate-it scent. And it also seemed like something I wouldn't want to wear, even if I liked it. And I wanted to like it, and wear it. So I dragged my heels before trying this well-known rose/oud perfume.

I shouldn't have been worried. Dark Rose is enchanting. The top is a brassy incense accord, so rich and balsamic that I'm overcome with emotion just sniffing it. It's one of those, "Oh, Dark Rose, I want to live in your bottle" moments. I could definitely feel the quality in that intro, which was likely made of very high-grade synthetics with a generous sprinkling of naturals. It's persistent, but also shimmers, like fireworks that refuse to twinkle out. It's also long-winded, as I get ten minutes out of that top structure. Very, very nice.

Then, enter the rose. It's a velvety, deep, brilliant red, full of rubbery nectars. Flanking it is a silvery medicinal note, which at first resembles dew on petals, but rapidly reveals its darker earthiness: the dry specter of oud. These two notes form a rich, intertwined accord, with the delicacy of wine petals swirling against hi-gloss onyx. It's feminine, but then it turns, and I'm struck by how unisex it feels. It's gorgeous, simple, and direct, but so utterly beautiful that I'm at a loss for words, especially as its amber drydown, glistening with animalic sweat, closes the show. Dark Rose does fade out completely on skin within a day - at least it did on my skin, leaving no perceptible trace after nine hours. As Marilyn Monroe once said, "A wise girl kisses but doesn't love, listens but doesn't believe, and leaves before she is left."

Wise girl.


Unforgivable (M.A.C.)

My distaste for Puff Daddy ("P-Diddy, Sean 'Puffy' Combes, Sean John) was crafted at the dawning of his miserable career, back in the early '90s when he launched the careers of several well-known rappers, most of whom are now deceased. When he launched his own music career with 1997's No Way Out, he leeched fame off of other musicians' successes. His two biggest singles, I'll Be Missing You, and Come With Me would never have been recorded were it not for The Police and Jimmy Page. Puffy's songs generously "sampled" Every Breath You Take and Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, relying so heavily on both tracks that I severely doubted the man had an original bone in his body. When Puffy stepped into the world of fine fragrance more than a decade later, he continued to stoke those doubts by blatantly cloning Millésime Impérial.

Unforgivable smells nearly identical to Millésime Impérial, with a somewhat "greyer" citrus accord, and a thicker watermelon note clumsily welded to ozone and amber. I'm not surprised by this, because Puffy has made no secret of his love for Creed, and apparently wears Original Santal regularly. Unforgivable's strength and tenacity is admirable, as I get a good six hours out of it - twice as long as the Creed. 

Does it smell good? Actually yes, as its inspiration is a pleasant citrus-floral aquatic with a lovely overall demeanor. This scent is scratchier in execution, and lacks a true ambergris base, but is still a good copy. Adults with a nose for fragrance will easily smell the difference between this and MI, but if you're a college kid with little cash to spare, you're in luck: Susie in the dorm downstairs won't notice you're an aspirational klutz. It goes to show, if you're going to plagiarize, you might as well do it to the best of the best; good artists borrow, but great artists steal.


Acqua 330 (Emilio Pucci)

Acqua 330 came in a set of Pucci samplers that my ex-girlfriend had sitting among several million other forgotten things. She had a prodigious collection of junk, mostly leftover items from a life gone by. It felt sad to be surrounded by the lonely aftermath of her parents dying and leaving her with their house. Picture an acre of land, eight-tenths of it grass, and a 30 year-old man cutting it with a small push mower in 85° Connecticut heat, until the abused machine literally shakes apart. Then imagine a perpetually annoyed 31 year-old woman coming home, passing the newly-shorn lawn without noticing it, and stepping into the two-tenths of her acre that isn't overgrown with a freshly-minted rant about her co-workers prepared and ready to go. This was our dynamic for six months.

Throw into that unhappy little equation an unhappy little aquatic by the Italian fashion brand of Emilio Pucci, and you really have Paradise Lost. Ostensibly a modern floral in the aquatic style, Acqua 330 should, by all rights, smell nice. After all, Tommy Girl works pretty well. Why shouldn't this have equal success with the same basic formula (floral aroma chemicals, plus Calone, and a dash of white musk)? It's hard to say, and I'll concede that it isn't the worst thing I've ever smelled, but it's hard to like. 330 opens with a confident burst of marine notes, very salty, briny, fresh. It's a synthetic accord that seems to be a clever mixture of old and new Calone variants, which produce an off-key Atlantic-aquatic vibe. This hums along nicely, and I mentally compare 330 with the smell of the salty crust that forms on my skin whenever I get splashed by sea water.

Then the fragrance gets ambitious, and things take a turn for the worse. Jasmine makes an appearance, smelling very sweet and synthetic, followed by a soapy musk that threatens my senses with its overbearing strength. They egregiously mis-calibrated that musk. Eventually the synthetics become the only perceptible element, forming an unpleasant soap-lye drydown of no particular interest. This astoundingly disappointing ending is compounded by the realization that everything else about the fragrance is interesting, from its beautiful bottle, to its uncharacteristically corporate title. If only they'd focused on jasmine's indoles, instead of its freshness, Acqua 330 might have been worth the trouble. Bvlgari Aqva is a good example to follow. In the meantime, Acqua 330 is perfect for bitchy thirty-somethings who treat the important people in their lives like numbers, and amass incomprehensible piles of crap in inherited houses they can't afford. Thanks for filling that niche, Emilio!


Aqua Velva's Reformulation Is . . .

Most shave-conscious men over thirty are aware that Combe Inc. reformulated Aqua Velva a few years ago and transferred it from glass to plastic. I remember the gnashing of teeth on Badger & Blade like it was yesterday. Die-hard fans were outraged. They cited Old Spice as an example of what happens when giant corporations cut costs and cheap out on formulas. Of course, the problem with their example is that Old Spice hasn't been hurt by the change at all. The Guide made a note of its former transience; Old Spice isn't just top notes anymore.

Aqua Velva "Classic" Ice Blue used to be a disappointing fragrance for me. Before I get into that, I'd like to say this: conceptually, Aqua Velva is brilliant. You have to remember that this aftershave hit the market in 1935, long before chemists had powerful synthetics at their disposal. But there were some useful man-made tools in their arsenal, and they were utilized well here. Ice Blue, though icy in name and color, was originally a minty-herbal-leathery chypre. 

But "minty-herbal" doesn't sound as refreshing as "Ice Blue", and a stroke of advertising genius positioned the fragrance as just the thing to cool razor-ravaged mancheeks. AV made menthol a starring note, and in this regard it was commercially peerless. It shared its territory with nothing else. This is remarkable, given the number of classic masculine chypres that followed. Aramis, Monsieur Lanvin, and Signoricci are the only ones that come close, but they showed up to the party thirty years later. 

I've only ever known Ice Blue from the early '90s onward. Between 1990 and 2009, not much about Ice Blue had changed. It underwent some minor tweaks as the years went by, changing corporate hands, gradually getting tweaked down and cheapened, but they kept it in a solid glass bottle. I think the suits behind Aqua Velva thought the glass bottle was a license to keep the fragrance formula somewhat complex, as though walls of crystallized sand could make the cheapest aroma chemicals smell like a successful balance of mint leaves, petit grain, lavender, moss, amber, and leather. Wrong. It smelled fine for about two minutes, very minty, green, fresh. And then the supposed "leather note" showed up, and ruined everything. It smelled dark, off-balance, wrong. It was a cheap element in a cheap formula for a cheap aftershave. It didn't work at all.

Fast-forward a few years. Some bigshot over at Combe says to himself, "We can make more money without glass. Fuck it, let's do one more tweak, pare this thing down for plastic, and call it a day." The chemists (probably donning their white lab coats in China) get busy, for all of two hours. They sit down at a table with a sample of the old formula for Ice Blue and wrinkle their noses. Americans use this shit? Whatever. They basically sit around idly for thirty minutes, trying to figure out how they can possibly take an already cheap-as-shit formula and make it passable for seasoned customers. Finally, one of them lights up. "Let's take this nasty brownish note out," he exclaims excitedly. The others furrow their brows, "like, really? that's all you wanna do?" And Mr. Bright Guy nods eagerly, "Yeah, let's ditch the old-shoe note, and just leave in the minty-green crap. In fact, we'll turn the mint up a notch, to compensate."

Another hour goes by, they fax the new formula back Stateside, and go to lunch. Thanks to their little lazy-genius streak, I'm a happier person. Aqua Velva's reformulation is great! There's absolutely no plastic after-smell. It's minty, freezing cold on skin, and for the first time in its history, smells like a smooth block of ice. Now, if only they'd release the Sport version in a bigger bottle . . .

Molto Smalto (Francesco Smalto)

Although it was the mighty Green Irish Tweed which set the stage for the chaos that ensued in the world of masculine fragrance, Drakkar Noir launched the fashion campaign for GIT. Its bitter, lavender-fueled aromatics presaged the dihydromyrcenol-mosses of Creed and Davidoff. In its day, Drakkar was considered a leathery fougère, but I always suspected people had it pigeonholed wrong; there is a distinctly calone-like, men's-aftershavey freshness edging it, which makes sense, given its classification.

The interesting thing about this timeline is how the dense, chewy aromatics of fougères like Drakkar and Lomani Pour Homme gave way to the airier compositions of GIT and Cool Water, only to be followed by markedly denser fragrances like Eternity for Men, Horizon, and Molto Smalto. Despite the template for a New World Order being set, good chemists stubbornly held onto nose-stinging pyramids, until the last yuppie gave up and joined the '90s. Francesco Smalto's 1993 release was one of the holdouts.

Sniffing Molto Smalto is an exercise in nostalgia, one likely to conjure memories of high school for today's dad. Its opaque bottle is made of clunky black glass, and only hints at the complexity of its contents. Softer in nature than either Drakkar or Horizon, Molto follows their lead with a transparent burst of lavender, dry citrus, coriander, sage, and geranium. It's a civet-less Kouros, with re-calibrated lavender. Rapidly the citrus burns off, the lavender becomes dry and gummy in a "fresh" way, and a familiar bouquet of clipped florals, pungent herbs, and precious woods makes an appearance. Underpinning everything is a massive woody amber and musk.

These '80s-styled aromatic wetshaver fougères are never a bad choice for men, and always impart that hairy-chested manliness so many yearn to embody, but I think it's high time the ladies gave them a go. I'd advise against them wearing Drakkar Noir or Lomani, but it would be refreshing to smell GIT, the original Smalto, Cool Water, Eternity for Men, Horizon, and Molto Smalto on a thirty-something female in 2012. There's nothing wrong with a gal in dried flowers and herbs - if it wasn't intended to make men celibate, dihydromyrcenol was meant to be the great equalizer in postmodern perfumery.


Marc Jacobs Men

There are some fragrances out there that make me question my sanity. They're widely loved, enjoyed by men and women alike, boast interesting notes lists, and hearken from reputable houses. Yet when I smell them, I get nothing of interest. They're usually not bad per say, but they don't smell very good, either. Marc Jacobs Men is one such fragrance.

People say they smell green notes, vanilla, coconut, gardenia, fig, even cedar and moss. What do I smell? Nondescript sweetness, citrus, some vague "green" aroma chemical, and lots of gauzy powder. Everything is dense; everything is very loud. Each element is its own blob of color - yellow, lime green, beige, white. It's a comic book in scent: all melodramatic flourish, zero intellectual content. And people wear this all day? I'm lost.

I'm tempted to say MJM is a disaster, but that implies it works for no one, which isn't true. It's a well-liked scent. I don't hate it, but I'm not feeling any love. There are $9 fragrances at Walgreens that smell much better than this. Perhaps one day I'll meet a lipstick lesbian who makes this bottled charlatan smell like Chanel N°18. C'est la vie.


Pleasures (Estée Lauder)

If you have an opportunity to visit Japan, as I do, consider your fragrance choice carefully, and only pack one. The Japanese aren't keen on scents that act like anything more than an extension of soap. Loud fragrances are taken as insults, and should be avoided at all costs. If given a choice between an eau de cologne and an EDT, go with the cologne. It'll pay off because Japanese people like fragrance, but only when tuned to very low volumes, with zero longevity and sillage.

I'll be bringing Eau Sauvage with me to Osaka in December, which is cheating a little because technically it's an EDT, but of course it's a light variant on the cologne theme, so it'll work fine. Another possibility is Pleasures by Estée Lauder, which is an essay on soapy "clean" aldehydes and floral notes. Pleasures is also an EDT, but again it resembles a cologne. Its bright, fresh, snowy character is anything but offensive, and delicate enough to pass muster at a crowded sushi bar. I think it's a good scent, but this sort of nineties translucent-floral style never seems complete to me. It tends to smell like something very important got left out. In most cases I'm not sure what that "something" is, but in this case I know exactly what got left out.

Pleasures is basically Intuition without the warmth. It is decidedly "cleaner" in feel than Intuition, completely unisex, and boasts a limited but garrulous array of green florals, including honeysuckle, geranium, freesia, and tuberose. The tuberose is dialed back to the extreme, lending the construct just a touch of earthiness. The geranium, on the other hand, stands in for violet leaf and/or iris in cooling down the composition. I think they would've been better off using either of the other two ingredients instead; Pleasures smells a little too fresh and clean and lacks any real definition in its greenery. The whole thing dries down to a slightly-sour musk. It's okay, but I'd go with Intuition instead - even though it's a touch louder, it's still quiet enough, and has a certain je ne sais quoi that puts it in another league of soapy Lauder perfumes altogether.


R.S.V.P. (Kenneth Cole)

Yesterday I went to Marshalls and found a 4 ounce bottle of Cool Water for $40, so I grabbed it. I wore it yesterday, and I'm wearing it again today. I'm always struck by how good Cool Water's composition is. Even though it's made with designer-grade synthetics, those elements are perfectly used. Cool Water is the Corvette of the fragrance world - inexpensive, flawlessly made, capable of sweating similar vehicles in higher classes without losing its center of gravity. 

That tantalizing combo of green apple, woody citrus, lavender, mint, cedar, jasmine, tobacco, and musk is brilliantly arranged, very legible, and timeless. Tobacco is essential to Cool Water's construct - without it, the whole thing would smell like Aspen, i.e., smooth, green, sweet, and flat. Nestled in its sweet base, the crisp green tobacco note lends Cool Water a darkness, a masculinity, that certain something every great beauty possesses but doesn't flaunt, akin to a borderline-ugly mole over a pretty woman's full lips. It's nature's nice finishing touch. Bourdon did a good job with Cool Water's.

It is important to stay true to a good formula if you want to imitate it. Frank Voelkl, who is responsible for several Le Labo scents, and the much-maligned Zirh Ikon, crafted R.S.V.P. for Kenneth Cole in the early 2000s; it saw its release in 2006. Some say this scent is based on Gucci's Envy for Men, but I don't really smell that. I'm getting a cross between Calvin Klein's Eternity for Men and Cool Water, with emphasis on the latter. Let's look at the similarities: R.S.V.P. opens with woody-citrus, lavender, red apple, cardamom, and pepper. Cool Water opens with woody-citrus, lavender, green apple, and mint. There isn't enough in Kenneth Cole's offering to distract me out of my Cool Water reverie.

The Eternity comparison comes into the picture later, as "Répondez S'il Vous Plaît" dries down. The lavender strengthens, the citrus notes sweeten, the cardamom fuses to the apple, creating a fuzzy wood accord, but it's too overbearingly blobby to discern separate wood notes. Hints of Cool Water still abound as the pepper ratchets up the spice factor, hinting at a darkness in the base that never fully manifests itself. This thing loses sight of its own plot-line long before it fades away, but just late enough in the game to fool me into thinking I liked it. My response: Screw you, Ken. I'm not another rookie who buys things based on top notes. But the wooden box is a nice touch.


Agua Lavanda Puig (Antonio Puig)

In the early 1940s, America was a strange country to live in. The majority of its male population was overseas, fighting on any one of several fronts in Europe and Asia. Left behind were women, children, and the elderly. Perfume releases were few and far beteween; men had no women to impress, and women had no men. Those who wore perfume were wearing it for nostalgia's sake, for love of husbands battling the enemy, or to celebrate their successful avoidance of conscription. 

Many Hollywood actors were given the generous option to enlist, and I imagine more than a few of them lived it up while their fellow countrymen got shot at. One of the many reasons I admire Jimmy Stewart is that he was willing to serve his country, when he could just as easily have kicked back at home and enjoyed his money. Fragrance was probably something he had no interest in at all.

Agua Lavanda Puig was released in 1940, which makes it a bit of a mystery. Who was it marketed to? Was it strictly a European release, worn by the war-torn men and women of Spain and France? Not likely, although I understand it is currently very popular in Spain. Was it imported into America for the Left-Behind generation? Perhaps, but I can't figure out exactly why. There were certainly some middle-aged men left in America, mostly successful businessmen in the upper middle class. I suppose they might have been given to wearing something like Puig's lavender water. The thing is, it doesn't smell like something any American male of the 1940s would wear. It is unremittingly Mediterranean. It is fresh, mossy, loaded with lavender, basil, and a beautiful woody lime note, which became much more popular in the 1960s. 

Agua Lavanda is, without exaggeration, the greenest example of early twentieth century perfumery, save for Coty's Chypre, Guerlain's Mitsouko, and Green Water by Jacques Fath. It does not get any greener, fresher, or southern European than Agua Lavanda Puig.

Puig's original formula has survived the decades and can still be had today at a whopping $20 a bottle. However, a word of caution: the fragrance comes in two different forms, one in a plastic shampoo bottle, the other in a seven ounce glass flask. Get the one in glass; the plastic version smells like a 33% concentration.


R de Capucci (Roberto Capucci)

Leather fragrances are an odd bunch because most of them don't smell anything like leather, at least not to me. English Leather comes the closest, but my over-sensitive nose has no problem dissecting EL's simple structure. There's really no such thing as a "leather note" and EL certainly doesn't have one. It uses a clever leather analog of dry lime, wood, and pine to create the olfactory illusion of treated hide. 

Quorum does the same, with grapefruit instead of lime. Luxury brands resort to sophisticated blends of birch-tar and floral notes to get there. Avon utilizes a blatantly synthetic suede note in its leather scents, which I suppose is somewhat accurate, but then again suede never smelled like leather to me, either. When I was a kid, I visited the gift shop of a Native American museum, and purchased a rabbit skin. It smelled amazing, and has been my standard for leather ever since.

R de Capucci is right up there with English Leather as coming closest to the leather illusion, without relying on synthetic nuances. Released in 1985, this classically composed chypre bears a resemblance to other chypres of its era, including Z-14, Fendi Donna, and Antaeus, but doesn't share their distinctiveness. RdC's characteristics extend from the bergamot-labdanum-oakmoss framework of older references like Coty Chypre and Mitsouko, with masculine flourishes of lemon, lavender, carnation, patchouli, vetiver, sandalwood, and the faintest touch of rose. I was fully aware of RdC's complexity prior to wearing it, but was a little disappointed by the result.

The freshness of lavender and citrus on top of R de Capucci has promise, but my chief complaint is that it doesn't hold. After five minutes, the bracing aromatics give way to sweet powder and sandalwood, with a hint of moistureless greenery on the periphery. Some say the powder is tempered by the greens; I find the plush heart too overpowering. Its dryness yields a smooth animal-skin effect, a commendable rendering of leather, but its density kills RdC's appeal. This is the definition of "perfumey" to me, albeit a pleasant scent. 

If I want lavender that slips into softness, I'll use Pour un Homme de Caron. Its lavender is better rendered, and its vanilla-musk closing feels classy, not dated. Meanwhile, R de Capucci is very dated, but has appeal for being structurally faultless, obscure, and classically composed. I guess it's good for the office, but I think you run the risk of being labeled "cologne guy" by your coworkers.


Royall Spyce (Royall Lyme Bermuda)

Modern perfumery styles have come a long way. Back in the old days (anytime before 1850) a man smelled "fresh" if he was covered in citrus oils and flower absolutes. The eau de cologne did then what aquatics do now. Likewise, if a man wanted to smelled refined and sophisticated, he doused himself in extracts of kitchen spices, which was akin to wearing an oriental. Was this real perfumery? Yes. It was crude design. Citrus and spice, with dashes of floral oils, were pretty much the only available building blocks. Today we have things like Calone, ionones, burnt-sugar orientals, and neon fruity-florals. We've also dispensed with ruffled collars, from what I understand.

Royall Lyme Bermuda has prided itself for years on the skillful re-capture of Old-World styles in updated glass flacons of good quality. Royall Lyme was its first foray into fragrance, and to date their most famous. The simple concept of taking lime extracts and making it into a tonic was as popular in the 17th century as it was in the 20th. I'm glad they upheld that tradition, as limes are my favorite fruit. It's hard to beat the clean, woody smell of limes. (See also English Leather.)

Shortly thereafter a series of Royall scents emerged, and Spyce was one of them. Launched in 1961, it adopts the "fresh-spicy" profile of other fragrances in that style, like Old Spice, and Coty's L'Origan. Royall Spyce is considerably simpler than either of those two, featuring a bracing and short-lived burst of lemon oil up top, followed by a warm drydown of black pepper, clove, and cinnamon. The pepper/clove accord is central, and creates a cool, piquant aroma. Cinnamon is an afterthought, seemingly added to keep the composition from being too simple and dull. It adds some heat, and does a good job of propping this mundane style up. I can't recommend Spyce in lieu of Old Spice - P&G's classic oriental is far more complex and satisfying - but when you need a little noncommittal kick after a shave, this gets the job done nicely.


Castile (Penhaligon's)

Everyone knows the House of Creed is a polarizing one, capable of generating fist fights between basenoters (no mean feat, considering basenotes is an online community), tears, and even the gnashing of teeth. Some feel it's a great company; others despise it for its perceived dishonesty. Those who are bluntest about their distaste simply feel Creed fragrances don't smell very good and aren't worth the sticker shock. Those guys annoy me, but I can relate, because I feel the exact same way about Penhaligon's.

This brand mystifies me. It's an old company - like Creed, claiming to go back hundreds of years - and they've produced a royal warrant or two to publicly uphold their pedigree. They're expensive: a 3 oz bottle will run you about $140. Stylistically, they're very stodgy. You can almost smell the bookshelf dust before the perfume. It's as though each fragrance were crafted with hand tools in a candlelit shop to the sound of Mendelssohn. By all rights, such a legacy should inspire fragrant beauty of unmatched proportions, works that would bring the staunchest Francophile to his knees. Penhaligon's fragrances ought to smell amazing. Why then do they smell like crap?

Allegedly derived from the Spanish soap of the Castile region, this fragrance was a true challenge for its maker, because it's to closely match a very specialized product. Quality of ingredients is essential when replicating a certain heritage toiletry; a skilled nose would gather necessary components, selecting only the highest-grade materials, and intentionally avoiding redundancy with a new accord, made of three or four original elements. A touch of Mediterranean citrus perhaps, and maybe some Spanish lavender. Only the finest naturals would do.

Mediocre, designer-grade materials were used to make Penhaligon's Castile. It smells chemical and waxy, like truck stop restroom soap. I'm unfamiliar with the smell of real Castile soap, but if it's anything like this, I'm sticking with Irish Spring.


Versace Pour Homme (Versace)

Someone somewhere is having a very difficult time getting citrus top notes to smell good. A sizable number of recently-tested masculine fragrances suffer an oddly sulfurous off-note that wrecks whatever impression of "fresh" the perfumer was going for. Versace Pour Homme's top continues this trend. It sticks out like a sore thumb, a bitter metallic sourness that clearly doesn't belong. The fact that Alberto Morillas, the Master of Fresh, is responsible surprises me.

What also surprises me is that most reviewers consider Versace PH an aquatic fragrance, and I get nothing of the sort. It has an aqueous-metallic opening, very reminiscent of Azzaro Chrome, but this gradually dries into a woody-spicy heart and base that feels more in line with CK One Shock for Him. In fact, I consider this a fresh oriental. Many compare it to Allure Homme Sport, and there are some similarities, but Versace is less refined, "spikier" in feeling, a scent-within-a-scent. Actually, it's more like a scent under a half-dozen blaring laundry musks, which is pretty sad given how much Sephora asks for a 3.4 oz bottle of the stuff.

Under the ill-judged citrus accord lurks a nice spicy melange of pink pepper, cardamom, rose, black pepper, cedar, carnation, and geranium. To my nose the cardamom, pink pepper, and cedar are most prominent in the heart stage. Ninety minutes after application, the scent unravels and disseminates its olfactory information via broad strokes of blurred freshness, rather than a legible composition. It isn't a five-star masterpiece, but it smells better than one would expect, particularly coming from a bottle of blue fluid. Fresh-blue fragrance fans should check this one out, but if you want a better alternative, try Allure Homme or the aforementioned CK One Shock.


Silver Mountain Water (Creed)

Basenotes.net, which is little more than a male fragrance frathouse, has entire forums and subforums devoted to one topic: Creed's batch variations. I can only imagine how tiresome these conversations must be for female BN members. If there are female BN members - I count around six that participate in forums, and only irregularly.

I say it must be tiresome because Creed isn't popular with women. They offer a whole line of "Femme" Millésimes, some of which are unisex, many of which are too stodgy for modern tastes. But Creed's overall marketing approach and perfume range is geared toward male tastes, with the ladies seemingly an afterthought. The girls don't get their own Green Irish Tweed. They get Love in White instead.

So it must be a drag to have to endure all the batch variation chatter. The notion that Millésimes change from year to year, with stark differences per batch, has many men in a cold sweat. It actually puts them off when looking at Creeds online. Inevitably the question arises: "I called Fragrancenet and asked them what batch of GIT they had in stock, and they said """"""". Can anyone tell me if it's a good one or not?" Which leads to pointless code comparisons, arguments over quality, and whole threads devoted to de-coding numbers and letters. Here's the kicker - Creed batch variations are a myth. 

What does exist are age cycles for Millésimes. This is what confuses people about Creed. A guy will purchase a brand new Millésime from Neiman Marcus, take it home, spray it on, and immediately complain that it's not as strong as the tester was. Sometimes the item is returned. But he's mistaken. Let's take Green Irish Tweed. When brand new, fresh into the bottle, Green Irish Tweed is a rather weak perfume. It smells very green and crisp, but has limited longevity, and almost no sillage. But if you notice, Creed bottles aren't airtight. They're actually very poorly made. My last bottle of GIT used to leak from the atomizer base. That means air is getting inside the bottle, and mingling with the fragrance. It also means alcohol and water is evaporating out.

After a few wearings, let a bottle of Green Irish Tweed sit for six months. Then come back to it. When you spray again, you'll be blown away by its strength. Suddenly, this perfume is an eighties powerhouse. Full-blown violet. Huge verbena. Sweeping sandalwood. One spray will do ya for a good six hours, no problem. Of course, given enough time, GIT (and likely any Creed) will age past its prime, and begin to smell a little skunky, as did my 1 oz bottle of GIT from 2001. The scent was basically the same as my 2011 bottle, except the musk in its base was actually a little stinky. Its balance was definitely off.

The age cycle applies to all Millésimes. Except Silver Mountain Water.

With SMW, age is just a number. It is to date the only Creed in which I have distinctly detected a batch variation - or more accurately put, a reformulation. Earlier vintages yielded a very pungent mineral-like green tea note, married beautifully to blackcurrant to create a uniquely dark freshness. It opened with clear citrus, touched with currant, and slid rapidly into that tea-centered heart, which was bolstered by a sizable dose of ambergris. Lurking in the mix was a blatantly synthetic ink note, somewhat similar to those Hitachi inkjet cartridges. It sounds disgusting, I know, but it smelled pretty terrific. The balance was right, each note was proportionate to its role in the composition, and Silver Mountain Water evolved on skin as a very masculine fresh fragrance, with just a touch of the weird.

I sampled a new bottle, and was disappointed. Gone are the citrus top notes. Gone is the pebbly tea note. Gone is the generous ambergris base. In its place is a limpid ambergris, barely enough to keep the synthetic berry top afloat. Once the pink-smelling top evaporates, there is only a combination of ink and amber. The tea, however muted it may have been, now seems absent from the composition, with its synthetic companion as a stand-in. That's a shame, because on its own the ink note doesn't cut it. It smells too stark and strange, and is poorly wedded to the fruit-punchy top. That top has become awfully screechy, by the way. It isn't the playful lemon-lime 7-Up of yesteryear. It's Snapple on steroids, no longer "made from the best stuff on Earth."

Gentlemen readers (those new to Creed), I don't mean to throw the scare into you. I know you're already feeling a little flighty about Creed, what with all the static about batches. Rest assured, all Millésimes are solid offerings, are consistent from year to year, and so far only one has been obviously reformulated. Until further notice, stay away from Silver Mountain Water. We don't need new threads about it. We don't need anyone's feelings hurt. Just get Green Irish Tweed instead.


Boucheron Pour Homme Eau de Toilette (Boucheron)

There's a whole category of powdery dandy fragrances out there, and many legendary perfumes fall squarely into it, but I'm not a fan. I don't know what it is, but the prospect of wearing scents like Hammam Bouquet or Floris No.89 with any regularity makes me queasy. It's like the idea of wearing a top hat to work. That type of retro style is fun in very small doses, like Halloween. But beyond that . . . not so much.

Boucheron Pour Homme is part of the powdery retro-dandy crowd, but unlike its peers, seems far more modern and wearable. It's also made better than the two mentioned above, is significantly cheaper, and boasts superior longevity and sillage. I haven't tried the EDP version, but the EDT is lovely. Ladies, take note (particularly those of you who consider masculine perfumery uninteresting), Boucheron for Men is unisex, often straddling the feminine moreso than the masculine, and would be a real stunner on a woman. She just needs to look past the first five minutes of somewhat-manly citrus and lavender. But even that opening accord isn't strictly masculine. It's more like your standard eighties feminine in drag. This is Marlene Dietrich in a tuxedo. 

I went into lengthy verse on this fragrance in my Fragrantica review, and won't repeat myself, but I'd like to emphasize a few things. Boucheron is soapy. VERY soapy. I actually smell a lye note simmering under its velvety florals and woods. Oh, that's another thing - Boucheron is very smooth. It's the perfume equivalent of Bailey's Irish Cream. It wins some sort of prize for smoothness, even beating Creed's Green Irish Tweed. You're wearing liquid silk with Boucheron, only one cool layer, so there's no scratchiness. The sweetness of lavender, rose, jasmine, and geranium are represented, with touches of spicy carnation. Later, a massive sandalwood note appears, comprising most of the base. It's finely-textured, fresh, and charming.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the citrus top. Boucheron is, for a good five or ten minutes, a citrus fragrance, bellowing its rich lemons and oranges for miles around. They're sharp for only a few seconds, and then rapidly tone themselves into sweet powder, reminiscent of Habit Rouge. The citric edge never disappears, and remains into the far drydown. If you want a sharp, juicy citrus fragrance, this isn't your man. Go give Monsieur Balmain a sniff instead. But if you'd like something that uses citrus as a template for plush luxury, Boucheron is the last stop.