Baie de Genièvre (Creed) "Juniper Cinnamon"

The full name is Baie de Genièvre Feuilles de Cannelier, or Juniper Bay Leaves Cinnamon. Sort of a rum-less bay rum with extra aromatics, thanks to a generous slug of juniper berry. It's one of the recently-vaulted grey caps that is no longer available, except maybe for five random days of the year (they recently let Royal Scottish Lavender back out of the bag). However, this EDT is still find-able, and Luis is surely willing to track bottles down for American customers if you put it to him nicely, so all you wetshavers out there should dry your tears until the supply truly dwindles to near-extinction.

My personal feelings about BdG were never all that enthusiastic. Its top is a nice burst of spiciness, with big hits of juniper that shimmer into a masculine aftershave drydown. A wise basenoter once compared the base - which is complex for a grey cap - to warm, clean hospital bandages, and I see his point. It's well made of course, and the notes are very distinct, lively, and likable. But the hints of cinnamon, the dusty dryness of the spice mingling with the juniper, and the overall Old World wet-shave ambiance doesn't warrant spending $175, at least not from my wallet. Back when grey caps were $150, I'd say it's your call, sleep on it, don't feel guilty about spending the cashola, whatever. 

Now that Creed has jacked prices on vaulted fragrances, I'm almost prepared to reprimand anyone who concedes hard-earned coinage for BdG. There are other bay rums that smell as-good or close to it, and actually include the rum. So if you happen across this at a discount - like an $80 for the bottle discount - buy it without a second thought. But if full-price, or anything over $100 is all you can find, skip BdG and check out Badger & Blade for tips on great aftershaves and colognes that excel in this category.

See you in October!


Original Santal (Creed) "Modern Oriental"

Many Creeds are subject to the comparison game, something I've played before on this blog, but I won't play it here. I'll only mention that Original Santal has been endlessly compared to two modern orientals, Joop! Homme and Montblanc Individuel, with many claiming the three are interchangeable. To suggest that a Creed smells like a designer scent is like saying The London Symphony Orchestra's rendition of Holst's The Planets matches a Casio keyboard when you hit the "strings" button. 

The catch with Creed is, has always been, and probably always will be a matter of ingredient quality, i.e., Creed's synthetic and natural ingredients are top shelf and a few rungs above the competition. Approaching Original Santal with a skeptical mind (it's a fuzzy cinnamon oriental, and I'm rarely enthused about those), I placed a drop on my wrist and inhaled, thinking the top would be, well, warm and fuzzy. It was half that, and half piercing lavender, with an almost-resinous hint of evergreen lurking under piping hot cinnamon. The spice is extremely realistic, with a richness I've never encountered in an oriental anywhere . . . except fleetingly in the first three seconds of Old Spice. If you like the smell of cinnamon, you'll love it in Original Santal.

Five minutes later, the cinnamon recedes, the lavender becomes increasingly aromatic, and the wisp of evergreen resolves itself into juniper berry, with the whole thing sweetened by an amiable sandalwood reconstruction of tonka and musk. I'm not a sandalwood expert, but I'd hazard to say it's fair - not great. It does smell like sandalwood, with that semi-sweet brusqueness that's so refreshing in old-school masculines, but it's reserved, tucked behind an almost-frightening lavender, juniper, and vanilla. Three hours in, the vanilla, edged by lavender and fixed by the sandalwood composition, becomes the reassuring warmth, the pleasant light at the end of the tunnel.

Refreshing too is the absence of the usual Creed ambergris base. Sometimes it's just not possible to conjoin two good ideas into one. Smelling Original Santal and thinking of all the chatter it generates, I can't help but guess that Creed must be hated within the fragrance community, particularly among perfumers who frown on how a brand with so few avant-garde ideas can be so successful, simply by using high-grade materials. When Chanel does fresh amber, they get fruit salad; when Creed does it, they get Green Irish Tweed. Likewise, in Original Santal, the theme has been the same since 1990, but all the players are in perfect lockstep, and bring fluidity and elegance to a vulnerable form. It's a pleasure to wear, and emblematic of all that is right with the folks at 38 Avenue Pierre.


Sublime Vanille (Creed) "Inedible Vanilla"

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I hated vanilla in perfume. I'm not sure why, but it bored me. I associated vanilla with ice cream, girl's perfume, boring ambers and orientals worn by unadventurous academics who tortured English Lit majors with turgid third-period ramblings. Always nice, but never interesting, vanilla simply didn't factor into my chauvinistic and fougère-centric world.

Then I met Caron Pour un Homme, and everything changed. I hated vanilla? Where had it been all my life? Boxed cake mix? Cotton candy? Vanilla is stunning! Vanilla is masculine. Vanilla is elegant. Vanilla is in.

Shalimar, Guerlain's flagship oriental, is probably the most wearable treatment of vanilla on the current market. It's terrific, not because it smells expensive (that doesn't hurt), but because it smells at once luscious and inedible, like the whiff of a beautiful woman's bare skin on an October breeze. There's the dry, boozy sweetness, and a musty, almost-beige veneer of concentrated vanillin, brutally rich and modern, yet very familiar. Guerlain treats it well by framing it with citrus, opoponax, sandalwood, and musk.

Creed's attempt to do its own Shalimar-like oriental is Sublime Vanille, but with the "Frenchness" dialed back by a simplified form and amped-up atmosphere of starchy Britannia. If you compare the two, you'll find they don't smell anything alike, but share some basic structural elements and high-quality raw materials. Creed's citrus treatment is transparent, a little sharp, and very dry. It lacks Shalimar's ambery glow, and I think the Guerlain feels much warmer and more inviting. After that initial fruity burst, the "big vanilla" heart appears, and Sublime Vanille becomes a three-note tune: intense, grandiloquent vanilla, predictably mingling with tonka and musk. It's simple, it's loud, and it's very nice. But it's no Shalimar.

One day, Creed will find a reason for me to part with $640. Sublime Vanille ain't it.


Tabaróme Millésime (Creed - Brief Review)

Tabaróme Millésime is a soggy, citrus-ginger-tea EDC. This Vintage Tabaróme reboot does its prestigious name no favors, and simpers on the sidelines while a slew of better tobacco frags find their mark. As it stands, this Millésime is superfluous in a lineup crowded with fresh citruses and gentleman's club orientals. Creed should replace it with a traditional Fougère Royale-styled fougère, and a fresh pine fougère in the Pino Silvestre tradition.


The Leffingwell Fragrance Genealogie Charts

This post is just an aside to my readers. Many of you may wonder where I get my fragrance classifications from, when I refer to things as chypres, orientals, etc. I use the Leffingwell Fragrance Genealogie Charts, of which there is a "Masculin" and "Feminin" version, both extensively charting the timeline and fragrance grouping of all bestselling designer and mass-market fragrances. There are no modern niche fragrances in the charts. However, classical French houses like Caron and Guerlain are represented, and I suppose they could be considered niche.

Leffingwell charts have been published in The H&R Genealogy, a limited edition set of books that were the industry standard for fragrance classification. They are no longer in print. It is worth noting that in the original editions, fragrance types such as "Aquatic" and "Ozonic" were acknowledged not by these names, but as "Fantasy" fragrances, and were categorized as such.


Love in Black (Creed) "Fake Iris"

With Love in Black, Creed, somewhat rhetorically, proposes a new style of perfumery, asking adult women to try returning to stodgy Rococo florals rendered in a postmodern, semi-gourmand oriental style. No easy task, especially since Rococo-era perfumes are all but extinct, with almost no surviving formulas. "But Bryan," you groan, "That's not a new style of perfumery. It's been done to death!" To this I can only say, yes and no. If we delve into the canons of French form, we find dozens of examples, from Opium to Paris, Angel to Insolence, 28 La Pausa to Joop! Femme. 

True, all are bellowing foghorns of super-sweet orientalism, aldehydic caricatures of real floral accords, and/or unapologetic synthetic pastiches of every aroma chemical fabricated since 1964. One would be hard pressed to find anything original at this stage of the game, save for the occasional freak of nature among unnatural things, which is an oxymoron wrapped in cliche. Yet Love in Black pushes through the ramparts with a style of fragrance I have yet to encounter, not due to its scent profile, which is quite broad and widely imitated, but for its ability to change, evolve, and mutate, with every turn equally wide, and every note equally loud. 

My description may elicit shrugs, but consider this: when was the last time you sniffed an intricate fragrance that morphed into something new exactly four times in two hours, without ever decreasing in complexity or character? And when was the last time this fragrance resembled in equal parts a floral structure and a postmodern form?

Moving against their own grain, the noses at Creed decided to take a risk with Love in Black and devise a formula with classical French forms bloated like beached whales, all done entirely with synthetics. Forget the natural tinctures of old, the antiquated nobility of true floral bodies derived from extracts and oils. Swap it all for expensive lab experiments, gallons of Ambroxan, ionones, aldehydes, and everything else Givaudan keeps under the counter. Perhaps Chanel's 28 La Pausa would be a reference point for how traditional modern iris is presented in feminine perfumery, but if you exacerbate the neon hi-gloss zeitgeist of 2012's feminine fashion zone and cull only the most obnoxious, shallow, artless styles, 28 fades out, and something like LiB's top note fades in. 

This is synthetic iris, plain and simple, with all its artifice amped up, deliberately exposing the crudeness of Ambroxan. It smells like someone weaponized Play-Doh and turned it into an aerosol spray. The note is dense, colorless, fuzzy, semi-sweet, semi-bitter, almost like turnips left out in the sun for days on end, and then suddenly rained on. The elegance of iris would be expected to jump ship, but instead somehow reverts to a classical poise, where the gauzy, haunted serenity of this note becomes self-effacing, tongue-in-cheek, and over-extended to the point of hilarious parody. 

But the joke isn't on us; LiB's swagger is bombastic but always beautiful, with a directness usually found in the stodgier eighteenth and nineteenth century compositions by this firm. Just as I'm starting to think this perfume is top-heavy, the cloud implodes on itself, becoming more of a low-lying haze, enshrouding the shimmering elements of Stage Two.

Enter rose, violet, blackcurrant, sandalwood, and cedar. Imagine these notes are not used to create an abstract Chanel-like accord, but are instead rendered individually, each with its own fidelity, distinct, separate, yet bundled together, and all shouting at the top of their lungs. The truth in this approach is beheld in older modes of French high perfumery, in things like Lubin's Black Jade, or Creed's own Fantasia de Fleurs. Before synthetics, the naturals could only be blended so much before their differences in viscosity and intensity became apparent, and notes stood out resolutely as their own players in an olfactory card game, betting stakes that they alone were what made the proceedings worth watching. If it contained rose, jasmine, bergamot, you smelled rose, jasmine, bergamot. 

This is also apparent in the current formula of Shalimar, which for all intents and purposes smells incredibly natural and boasts ridiculous note separation. To date, Shalimar is the only Guerlain I've sniffed that does this with naturals and synthetics. Creed decided to do it with the highest-quality synthetics it could find, and the result is like a Fragonard done in DecoArt acrylics.

Again, LiB strains credulity, not because things get boring, but rather for its absurdly bright insistence, with the rose and violet notes remaining unflinchingly sweet, the fruit lending them a crystalline edge that siphons feedback but not volume, the woods creating a solid base to this temporary stage, rounding things out warmly and with sophistication. 

Stage Three begins around the ninety-minute mark, and this is the part of LiB that scares me the most. Rapidly, the flowers fuse together, the fruit becomes yet brighter, the woods sweeten, and a frighteningly sweet musk composition appears. That's right, a musk composition - two or three separate musks, all sweet, all vying for supremacy, suddenly overtaking what has been, up until now, a purely postmodern interpretation of the classical floral chypre. But no! This isn't a chypre! This is a floral oriental, replete with woods and musks that defy explanation. 

This part could easily be misconstrued as a sugar-bomb (I myself reviewed it as such upon initially trying it), but further examination brings a different conclusion. The sweetness is purely synthetic musk, and it bludgeons the delicate overtures of Phase Two with saccharine smiles, dirty winks and nods. It smells good, but it's almost crass, and if it wasn't for the continued presence of Ambrox, I'd say it was the point at which this scent loses its mojo. Fortunately the balance between lovely and obscene is maintained.

This later phase is the shortest, and mercifully slips away as rapidly as it came, relieving me of its brutal hiss kiss. The far drydown is the most staid part of LiB, and perversely also the least enjoyable. The woods return, with sandal and cedar now flanked with birch and something akin to the saw-dusty wood of English Leather. 

Hints of jasmine, violet, rose, and iris linger in the periphery, with jasmine making a cameo before succumbing to the more overt syrupy tones of the other flowers. It's beautiful, it's unbelievably loud, it's ridiculously well made, but it's altogether the most demure part, a Belle du Jour who resists Madame Anais and really does keep her top on. But perhaps "Belle" is the wrong way of looking at things - Love in Black could very well be the best masculine Creed to come out in the last five years.


Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare (Creed) "Sour Rose"

Although publicly "discontinued," this Creed is still available via the boutique and official Creed merchants across the world, but supplies are dwindling with each passing day. If you're a rose soliflore fanatic, that means you'll want to grab the phone and call a Creed rep to see if you can snag a spare bottle, before it's too late. Creed habitually "vaults" their fragrances, meaning formulas get pulled from the line, buttoned into a back room, and occasionally enjoy brief returns at a premium mark-up, which is sinful given how marked-up Creeds already are. In any case, you can consider this scent vaulted until further notice, which is a shame for something so beautiful. 

The strange thing about Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare is that Creed used green tea notes in conjunction with Bulgarian rose extracts, instead of just using the pure essence of an actual tea rose, as The Perfumer's Workshop did in their infamous Tea Rose thirty some-odd years ago. I guess they wanted to imbue the scent with an earthy green flavor, but I think they went a little overboard. The opening is a strident burst of lemon, which rapidly simmers down to the smell of boiled water. Then, green tea. But the tea has been steeped a bit too long, and gets a little too strong. The effect is sharp, twangy, and loaded with crystalline green notes, wedded to a girlishly soft rose.

The tea becomes increasingly mineralic and bitter as it dries down, which helps make this scent a viable option for men, although I'd wager the only guy who'd willingly wear it would be safely married to a beautiful woman, or another man. Note to young bucks: avoid wearing rose soliflores while on the prowl in the Western world. Rose is strong enough to maintain a keen presence, even after a half-dozen beers. The ladies will either be freaked out by it, or will lie and tell you it's "cute" that you're wearing a feminine perfume. 

Either way, it's bad news. This isn't to suggest men can't wear rose - rose can be utterly masculine. But a delicate rose soliflore doesn't mix well with the hops at Fuddruckers, if you know what I mean. Working against this particular soliflore are various off-notes, which are found in all but the most exquisite rose constructs, like the slightly rubbery edge of real rose oil, and an occasional whiff of stale powder. I applaud Olivier for sticking with genuine raw rose materials in these soliflores (Fleurs de Bulgarie is the other), but I wonder if more buffering is in order: perhaps some aldehydes would enliven the blend, and distract from its razor-sharp linear nature.

Given its exorbitant price and recent discontinuation, I would skip Fleur and buy Jo Malone's lovely Red Roses instead. However, there is one sticking point - I usually get a headache wearing rose perfumes. I'm not sure why, but rose does it to me every time - except when I wear Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare. This is the only rose perfume that hasn't made me feel sick after two hours. It's perhaps a testament to the power of high quality ingredients, legibly arranged in a thoughtful, albeit off-kilter structure of little more than three discernible notes: lemon, rose, and green tea.


Acqua Fiorentina (Creed) "Sweet Water"

I have only worn three of Creed's "Femme" Millésimes, with Acqua Fiorentina being the first. Taking stock of each, I'd have to say that I understand why women aren't drawn to Creed, although I'm not so sure my reasoning aligns itself with reality. I suspect, rather strongly, that women find Creed's Femme range to be somewhat dull. There's a handful of stodgy florientals. The super-synthetic "Love In" duo. A few Royal Exclusives that are so ungodly expensive and impractical that even the richest of the rich should raise eyebrows. Nothing stands out as a breakthrough scent; Creed lacks a feminine version of Green Irish Tweed, Aventus, or a postmodern-gourmand floral, like Bond's Chinatown. They may want to buckle down, study the feminine market, and try giving the girls something to talk about. Things like Acqua Fiorentina ain't cutting it.

People have asked why this fragrance is named after Florence. It's actually named after an Italian football team. "Florence" in Italian is Firenze. So perhaps the perfume's name is cod French, or just something Olivier made up out of thin air. Wouldn't be the first time a niche perfumer picked a title out of a hat. Setting this little quibble aside, I was looking forward to an interesting melange of fruit notes in this one. I'd read about its luscious greengage plum accord, and hoped it was every bit as hyper-realistic as other Creed accords had been. Indeed, for the first two minutes of wear, the plum is beautiful. It smells sweet, delicate, full of complex stray notes that stretch from "grapey" to "pear-like," and back to full-on plum once again. It's a short and decidedly wonderful ride.

Then the plum exits, stage left. Enter synthetic Calone notes. I've smelled this before, a supple, nondescript, airy modern cologne, edged with expensive aroma chemicals, but banal nonetheless. Hints of cedar, dry citrus (grapefruit?), and a lightly spiced floral backdrop - presumably carnation - all comprise a silvery-grey sheen that is as forgettable as can be. It's surprising that something so well made could still smell so patently uninspired and tedious. Add to the dreariness the fact that AF lasts about four hours with generous application in high heat, and you have a perfume that ought to be an option only for the hyper-wealthy who don't know any better. 

The original version, reviewed here, is still widely available at merchants online, and via contacts at the Creed Boutique in NY or Paris. I haven't tried it yet, but I hope the "Encore" version smells a few nods better than its progenitor.


Orange Spice (Creed) "Technicolor Orange"

The baseless rumor, stoked by many, that Pierre Bourdon was the sole nose behind Creed's range, stems from the common comparison of Cool Water to Green Irish Tweed, and of Kouros to Orange Spice. Many feel it is far too coincidental that GIT and Orange Spice so closely resemble these designer offspring. I contend that Bourdon certainly had a small hand in GIT, but that GIT and Cool Water are sufficiently different enough for discerning wearers of both to spot massive divergences of personality in these scents. Likewise, Kouros feels reminiscent of Orange Spice, but is a dirtier, muskier, more complicated composition, one which focuses more on incense and wildflowers than citrus. Taken together, the differences between these scents are so stark that it's just as easy to wonder how on earth they were ever compared in the first place.

Luca Turin pointed out that Creed's fragrances employ generous mixtures of synthetics and naturals, and stated that Creed's naturals are "only slightly better" than what is used in designer brands. This misses the mark entirely. It implies that Creed overcharges for their compositions because their fragrances are more natural. To be fair, Creed's press usually feeds this strange fire. In actuality, the fat money shows not in the naturals, but in the synthetics, and anyone who doubts it should wear Orange Spice. This fragrance is, hands down, the most vibrant, durable, and crystalline synthetic composition in Creed's range, and showcases Olivier's talent in accepting the strengths and limitations of manufactured aroma chemicals. The reason to pay extra is in his ability to do it with the most difficult scent profile: the "dirty citrus."

You may think I'm blowing smoke up your ass. If so, stop reading, because I'm following this train of thought to its apex, and back again. I'd like to give you an example of just how well-made Orange Spice is. A few weeks ago, I was walking at the recreational field in my town. It was a scorchingly hot and humid ninety-degree day. Prior to my walk, I perversely applied a generous amount of Orange Spice to my chest and stomach. While walking, I noted that soggy heat was having no perceptible effect on the gorgeous orange and clove combo in this Creed's heart. But about a half-hour in, I had to use the bathroom. Unfortunately, there's only a porto-potty at the track. I tend to avoid portable toilets in the dead of summer, for obvious reasons. But in this case, nature was a bitch. So I took a detour and stepped into that little plastic room.

It had to be 135° in there. I sweat profusely in heat, but this was ridiculous. It was as though the sun's rays had eroded the plastic molecules enough to let their radiation enter that little chemical enclosure, and build up into a nuclear-strength reactor. In ninety seconds, my body had sweated so furiously that my shirt was thoroughly soaked. When I stepped back out into fresh air, it felt like an icy January wind. I paused, and realized that despite the torture I'd just endured, I still smelled fresh. I tucked my nose under my shirt and inhaled, half-expecting Orange Spice to have morphed into a sour monster. No such luck. The citrus accord of tightly-woven orange, mandarin, and neroli remained as crisp and fresh as ever. It literally smelled as though the sweat sliding down my body had been replaced with farm-squeezed orange juice. It continued to smell that way, ever so subtly, as the afternoon drew to a close.

So if Orange Spice is so citrusy and clean, why is it compared to Kouros? I suspect the reason is Creed's top note. OS opens with a blast of sweet orange, touched with a tiny dollop of synthetic civet. This little flourish accounts for why these fragrances are so frequently compared. Few masculine scents use civet, and those that do rarely attempt to foray into "dirty citrus" territory. Orange Spice and Kouros are unique in this regard, and share the same goals. But where Kouros becomes animalic, sweet, and floral, OS stays fruity, with a tenacity that belies its reinforced naturalism. You have to love the smell of civet, orange, and camphoraceous clove, and how they're underpinned by subtle green and spicy notes. But if you're enthusiastic about these things to begin with, Orange Spice is the Creed for you.

One last thing - many dispute the stated release date of this scent, and argue that it was made more recently than 1950. These suspicions hint at a certain shared ignorance among the doubters. The general character of Orange Spice is perfectly aligned to the fragrance style of the late forties and early fifties. If you swap the synthetics out for real civet cream and citrus, combined with a touch of some potent nitro musk, you get a good idea of how this would have smelled back then. It's actually not that far removed from Max Factor Signature for Men, which hails from the same era. Musky citrus fougères were all part of the barbershop tradition of wetshavers, now carried over to the present in this delightful (and painfully expensive) update.