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. Before 1964, Ice Blue was a loner.

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, give it a sniff, 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 enthusiastically, "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 . . .


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