Amber (Prada)

Hurricane Sandy is almost upon us, and this might be my last blog post for a little while, as I wait for internet and general power to be restored to my area, sometime later this week. I'm hoping this storm isn't as "perfect" as the ratings-hungry TV forecasters claim, and perhaps we here in Connecticut won't see the worst of it. Unfortunately it's already quite windy outside, and the damn thing is still 500 miles away, which begs the question, exactly how much windier will it get when it's only 50 miles away? The outlook is decidedly grim, and there are severe flood warnings blanketing the entire state. As Tom Petty once sang, "we've gotta get to a higher place."

Ambery orientals, I've decided, are generally unisex. I don't know if they always were, or if the forgiving multi-cultural zeitgeist of the twenty-first century has made them so, but nowadays it seems both men and women can pull them off without a hitch. Floral orientals, and sometimes even spicy orientals, can be trickier, but the smooth, warm, diffuse nature of well-crafted amber allows either gender its own way of interpreting the genre. Prada's amber is good, a thorough patchouli/amber/sandalwood composition with little intrigue, but affability in spades, and a bril bottle to boot. It somewhat resembles Shalimar, but with a lesser citrus top, and more scratch in its woody base. 

This isn't to say the citrus notes are bad - Amber's bergamot is bright and very pleasing - but Shalimar's citrus notes are simply superior to those of most orientals. From Amber's citrus comes a cool vanilla, made earthy with a generous dab of patchouli, followed by a woodsy-warm amber on a lush sandalwood base. Some get strong floral notes of ylang, jasmine, and rose, but I get none of those. Perhaps this scent is variable by skin chemistry. In any case, it's a lovely little amber, and worth every last penny.


Royall Muske (Royall Lyme Bermuda)

The brilliant post-Impressionist Paul Gauguin lived a fantastic life, full of contrasts, exotic adventure, and darkness. His biography could have been penned by Thor Heyerdahl, so packed is it with lusty exploits and read-it-to-believe-it failures of character, a true hooligan's daydream writ large. Whenever I stand before a Gauguin, I feel the Tahitian heat shimmering off the canvas, hear the island chatter in the air, unintelligible but still meaningful, and smell the naked skin of the native women wading in the rushes. 

The artist understood their allure; men are men, and they respond to natural pheromones secreted by skin (even through years of sand and salt), and palm-oiled hair. This human musk, commingling with spices, is sure to be intoxicating. Enough to stay away from civilization and slip into decadent obscurity, to die alone with little more than an unfinished winterscape of home on your easel.

When slipped into this context, the idea behind Royall Muske is uncomplicated but compelling, as it's just a sweet, nicely-rendered musk, with a faint touch of spice in the far periphery. It suffers a bit from excessive soapiness, especially in its first few minutes, and almost becomes a handsoap formula, but its balance and strong presence gives it a finer feel. The musk powders sweetly, clings to skin, and takes on a vague barbershop quality, before fading away. There isn't much complexity or movement beyond the one-step, but it smells good, and with the island allusions that accompany this brand, is capable of transporting the wearer to someplace southeast of wherever he may be. 

Don't wear Royall Muske as a serious signature cologne, but do give it a splash every now and then during the winter months, to relieve seasonal affective disorder. Following that thought, I'd say it also goes well with a Malibu bay breeze and a copy of Fatu Hiva.


360° Blue for Men (Perry Ellis)

Drakkar Noir is an incredibly underrated aromatic fougère that gets almost no air time on the blogosphere these days, but it's a very "serious" scent, all business and no fun, loaded with dark aromatics and a uniquely postmodern lavender note. This isn't the naturalistic lavender of older fougères like Caron's Pour un Homme, but rather a precursor to the synthetic, air-conditioned lavender of Cool Water (Green Irish Tweed contains linalool, but has no overt lavender note). It's a thick, chewy byproduct of a hybrid lavender called lavandin, which is made by the crossing of true lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Spike Lavender (Lavandula latifolia). Unlike lavender, lavandin contains excess traces of camphor, smells stronger, and is longer-lasting. Its use in Drakkar is quite good, and makes the scent.

360° Blue by Perry Ellis is a Drakkar redux, taking the leathery-pine snarl of Laroche's formula and taming it into a smoother and lighter effect. The good news is that it wisely emulates the specific hybridized lavender element of its precursor, and smells very fresh and purplish-blue. It's also cheap - you can snatch a 3.4 oz bottle of this stuff for under $15 if you peruse discounters like Marshalls (I thought I also saw it once at Tesco when I lived in Prague). This version of Drakkar lacks an evergreen bite, but still contains gentle suggestions of pine and various herbs. Accompanying the pervasive lavandin top is an admirable (but fleeting) rosemary note, and if you concentrate you can smell patchouli and vetiver, with hints of amber later on.

Now the bad news: 360° Blue does not smell quite as good as Drakkar Noir, plain and simple. It's lighter, and lacks the intensity characteristic of good old-school aromatics. There's a slightly chemical edge to the far drydown, hinting at low-grade synthetics, and even for a clone, longevity isn't very good, clocking in at around three hours. Projection is equally timid, and extra application does little to remedy the issue. If you like this sort of scent profile and want the no-holds barred original, get Drakkar instead. Laroche has lightened its formula, and there's no reason to go any lighter.


Inspiration (Lacoste)

The further one delves into fine fragrance, the closer he is to realizing that vanilla is an incredibly versatile note. It's useful as a "warming" element to accompany rich amber orientals, but also right at home in fresh bitter-green chypres. Today's variety of "hybrid" fragrances offers several unique variations on multiple scent genres, with "sheer-fruity orientals" as one of the subsets under more traditional products. Inspiration by Lacoste is a good scent to consider from that fruity-fresh realm, as it does a few things very nicely, and rounds everything in its wholesome package out with a fitting name (one could go the extra centimeter and joke the joke to say its name is 'inspiring').

Inspiration's top is chemical and sweet, but if you use your imagination you'll get "pink pepper" and "plum" out of it. What you'll sense overall is a sweeping vanilla note that arches over everything else like a rainbow. The fruity opening rapidly assembles itself into a bouquet of white flowers, with hints of orange and some sort of berry (synthetic pomegranate I guess), but the vanilla remains soft, maintaining Inspiration's friendly soul. At the far end of the drydown is a tentative sandalwood that competently upholds the silky texture of all that came before, adding depth to whatever orientalism there is. 

This isn't the sort of fragrance you spray on and immediately think of as an oriental. Its primary purpose seems to be to smell fruity and bright, and ineffably modern. It's hard to argue with the blinding florals and fruits as being commercial stabs at contemporary hipness. Ironically, its sweetness grounds it, preventing it from becoming air-headed and dull by providing soft contrast against crisper, colder things. I think whoever put this one together succeeded on that front, but more importantly they composed a mature oriental that smells good without demanding a tux or a ball gown to be enjoyed.


Amor Amor (Cacharel)

With the Halloween season in full swing, it's time to take a look at one of perfumery's unintentional "creepy" perfumes, this one by Cacharel. It's none other than Amor Amor, an off-beat fruity-floral that I suppose qualifies as some sort of "lipstick floral," due to the waxy sweetness it exhibits in its heart. Bearing in mind that perfumistas take a generally dim view of fruity-florals (it's hard to say exactly why), expectations were rather neutral when I tried this scent. I liked its suggestive red bulb-bottle, wondered a little at the bloody looking rose-like flower on the box, the gothic lettering, and in the seconds before that first spritz, figured I was probably in for a standard sweet 'n sour aquatic. And then I spritzed, and smelled, and took a few minutes to think about what was on my arm.

The scent bears little relation to its packaging, which seems rather disturbing and industrial, and instead opens up as an unabashed fruit salad, with sparkling notes of mandarin, apricot, and apple. It's fairly well done, very fresh and light, with identifiable components. Eventually it blends into a chewy-sweet cherry, with darker berry and rose elements. The rose is synthetic and shrill, but tamed by the one-track mind of a scent that does "red fruit notes" as exclusively as this. Here they jockey loudly for the role of soothsayer, rounding roughly-hewn chemical contours with emphasis, not apathy. 

At the tail end is a sheer vanilla base with a dollop of cheap musk. Obviously intended for young women, I can't help but think this would go well on a sixty-something woman whose body has forsaken the concept of time, and bestowed upon her the gift of eternal sexiness, but I'm just extrapolating known variables from subjective experience.


Brooks Brothers New York Gentleman (Interparfum)

There's a saying in the multi-generational world of rock 'n roll: "Better to hear a good song played badly, than a bad song played well." In the case of New York for Gentlemen, we're dealing with a mediocre song played very well, which cuts both ways for the smart wearer. But before getting into the fragrance directly, I'd just like to say, take a look at that gorgeous bottle. Someone mated bottles from Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier and Christian Dior, resulting in this offspring specimen of eye-caressing design work. Put simply, and without getting into the florid language of which aroma chemicals are where, this fragrance is a rehash of a tired masculine formula: the citrus-floral chypre. 

The high priest of them is Eau Sauvage, with Diorella, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Guerlain Vetiver, and Monsieur Balmain kneeling at the altar. Yes, some came years before ES, but only two used Hedione (Clinique's Aromatics Elixir, released the same year as Diorella, was the third, and arguably only one truly intended for women), and at the time, Hedione is what propelled the citrus chypre idea into the stratosphere for perfumers and their work. The hint of decadent jasmine freshness implies that there's more to sell here than previously thought. It's not just about fruit and moss. It's about that crisp, green, romantic smell that accompanies anything that dabbles with flowers and musk. Which brings me back to NY Gentleman, a stripped-down and hastily-assembled redux of Eau Sauvage.

According to Richard Herpin, Brooks Bros. insisted on several expensive aroma chemicals and raw materials, presumably to make up for the slim formula. It has a brilliant opening of bergamot and lemon oils - genuine citrus oils - and it smells luscious, worthy of any $150 niche cologne. It segues into a pricey vetiver extract, also lovely. Standing in for Hedione is Calone, followed by a triad of musks, one of which is high-end, and the other two quite cheap. The drydown is vetiver/musk/carnation, and smells intermittently of peppery greens and clean cotton T. It's a damned good execution, but significantly clunkier, cheaper, and less compelling than Eau Sauvage, a scent that has yet to be rivaled by any fragrance, and sees no threat from this one.


Terre d'Hermès Eau de Toilette (Hermès)

Perhaps the greatest problem with minimalist perfumery is that aroma chemicals are not easily integrated into bare compositions, and tend to "stick out." Iso E Super, a light, clean, somewhat-woody, somewhat-peppery, and always dryly-sweet synthetic, is probably every lazy perfumer's first answer to masculine constructs, as it lends an easy warmth, woodiness, and depth to the cheapest formulas. While it smells very good, there's wisdom in using it as an inner cog, rather than a showpiece. It's hard to say which older masculines contain it, as most are complex and loaded with notes, but Jean-Claude Ellena's famous Terre d'Hermès is about Iso E, front and center.

I have a theory as to why this fragrance is so popular with young men. Twenty years ago, masculine scents rotated around the Cool Water/Fahrenheit axis, with fresh, woody, dihyromyrcenol-fueled designs dominating the scene. Dihydromyrcenol is an interesting aroma chemical because it smells "almost" like a lot of things: citrus, violet leaf, acidic pomaceous fruits like apples, and even wood, yet it maintains an elusive circumference around all, yielding no definitive character on its own. This is why it was used to such great effect in Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water. The twenty-first century equivalent of dihydromyrcenol is undoubtedly Iso E Super, as synthetically air-conditioned greens have given way to clean woods. Terre d'Hermès capitalizes on the fresh-woods scent profile better than anything else in recent memory, and therefore titillates its target audience, which has grown tired of the Calone molecule.

How does Terre d'Hermès stack up with me? Just okay. Its translucent orange-grapefruit opening is synthetic, but delicately rendered, and deftly avoids the sharp-chemical screechiness of lesser citrus accords. It slowly gives way to an ashen heart and base of patchouli, benzoin, and you guesed it - Iso E Super. The triad smells very dry and cool, a little sweet, and a touch earthy, thanks to the patchouli. It's inoffensive, a little above average in execution, but nothing to write home about. Further compounding my ennui is the fact that Ellena is given to self-parody; nearly a decade after crafting the infamous Declaration for Cartier, and four years after Malle's orange-fueled Bigarade Concentree, the same nose gives us the ultimate olfactory compromise of those superior structures, using cheaper materials. The average consumer isn't complaining, though. This stuff still sells, although I kind of wish it didn't.


Success (Five Star Fragrance Co.)

America's richest blowhard, otherwise known as "The Donald," recently attended a Yankee game, got fed up with Alex Rodriguez, phoned the organization to express his delicate position on said batter, and Tweeted, “A-Rod must be dropped in the Yankees line-up tonight if they want to win. He simply can’t perform without drugs.” Well, as it turned out, he was right. We all know what happened. Those two home runs were not hit by Mr. Rodriguez, and the second one should have been. 

Was it Trump's killer white-collar instinct that aided his unlikely call? Perhaps his esteemed, forty-five year career of struggling against the tide to earn a profit in the real estate business helped deliver his uncanny foresight? All those summers working at McDonalds as a teenager jogged his memory, and reminded him that Americans should only be rewarded with millions of dollars after sweaty, toilsome, thankless work, the kind that snaps bones and pulls muscles like Silly-Putty. After all, if you're not carrying your share, you don't deserve the immunity of an internationally-accepted comb-over, right? Right . . .

Trump is the embodiment of yet another American success story that doesn't really involve much in the way of actual success (for the headliner in this category, see Mitt Romney), yet he perseveres against all odds as the weirdest, wildest, most outspoken celebutante of our time. Despite what he may say, his true business model was always his father's, and can anyone blame him? When it comes to perfume, however, his strategy is based on, of all things, the most recent masculine offered by none other than Creed. Success is an English-version rehash of Aventus.

The scent carries a very standard "Mens Cologne" opening that loosely mimics the sweet-fruity topnote of Aventus, which is considered pineapple by the admirers. I appreciate Aventus and its crisp top, but it's not the most faithful fruit note from this house. For an easy example of how well Creed can do fruit, give Acqua Fiorentina a minute of your time, and savor its photo-realistic plum. But Aventus? Its pineapple is clear and fresh, and doesn't actually smell like pineapple (it resembles a more literal 'pine/apple' accord, with the apple picked from Green Irish Tweed). It lacks the curdled edge of ripened pineapple flesh and juice, and takes an almost-citrus approach instead. For comparison's sake, check out Lapidus Pour Homme. Lapidus is for pineapple what Pour un Homme is for lavender. Success is much less focused than any of these fragrances, and instead offers a vague shampoo-froot accord that could be anything: berries, melons, stone fruits, whatever grows for worms to nibble at. It's nice, and it's inoffensive of course, but it's not exactly an eye-opener.

The Donald's spritz eventually becomes woodier, with an ashen birch note that approximates Aventus' inky birch/man-rose core. Ginger and synthetic vetiver stand in for oakmoss, and an airy flurry of nondescript greens closes everything out. Five Star Fragrance Co. is known for rehashing classic masculine formulas, and often proves that a downmarket brand can flog quality with the best of them. Couple their expertise with that of Tom Ford nose Yann Vasnier, and Success has a fair shot at, well, success. How does it really fare? If you take a shower and wash your hair with something good, like Old Spice's only extant shampoo (which also resembles Green Irish Tweed), and enjoy your hair-washing ritual more than you should, then Success is a fine extrapolation of that, with its portability beyond the limits of your bathroom an added bonus. And we all know how important bonuses are these days.


Polo Blue (Ralph Lauren)

In the words of Don Henley, "Summer's out of reach," but that doesn't mean fresh, clean, aqueous fragrances are off limits. If you're one of those people, one who likes extending your shower experience by other means, then it's likely aquatics feature heavily in your rotation. I'm always phrasing things badly when it comes to aquatics because I hold them in relatively low esteem, not for any arch shortcoming, but for their inability to transcend the basic idea of elemental water, which can smell clean, musty, briny, and even dirty, depending on how it's depicted. Some folks love the smell of water in multiple incarnations - I am not one of them. At best I like it, enough to live with it without much complaint, but I rarely, if ever, yearn to smell it, and avoid aquatics.

Polo Blue represents the middle of the road in aquatic masculines, smelling neither earthshaking or bad. It exits the atomizer with a splash of sweet melon and an ozonic, somewhat chemical rendition of cucumber, which isn't a note RL should dabble with in the future, given its lackluster performance here. Cucumber smells very crisp, a little green, with a musty-water quality, the off-note of which resembles the scent of glossy paper. As it dries down, this fruity-fresh thing gets somewhat green and piney, but only remotely, with perhaps sage or geranium gently hinting at the original Polo. It's a fleeting effect, and before two hours have passed, Blue is little more than a woody-fresh skin-scent. I should add that generous application extends the scent's lifespan considerably, and there's something of an anosmic's nightmare to Blue; this fragrance can reach an olfactory pitch that overloads the wrong sniffer, creating a white-out of little more than watery-ozone and remote woodiness, and little else.

Quality of materials is lacking here, and the packaging is as dull as it gets, but trivialities aside, Blue is a competently formulaic cucumber aquatic that could only challenge someone who has smelled nothing of other scent genres. If you're a James Bond fan who wilfully ignores James Coburn's brilliant In Like Flint, this is probably your signature.


Égoïste (Chanel)

Sometimes fragrance companies produce a scent that is so beautiful, so distinguished, so utterly peerless in both radiance and allure, that everyone misses the point, few people wear it, and whole nations refuse to sell it. Such a perfume is neither aspirational, nor avant-garde, but simply the stuff every obsessed fragrance fanatic's dreams are made off.

Égoïste isn't it.

It surely serves as fragrant manna for some believers, those who enjoy its rich, herbal-fruity orientalism for being unique in an ocean of banality, and for the elegant woody-fresh ambiance it imparts. If a man stands up to say that Égoïste is the greatest masculine ever made, he isn't wrong. Because fragrance is largely functional, this person is simply bearing allegiance to that which functions best for him. To expect him to get into the ins and outs about the scent, and what it does for him, is to expect too much; I have met people who claim to love the smell of skunk, and though it nauseates me, their right to sit at home and spend hours inhaling skunk fumes (easily replicated using a common weed found in New England, nick-named 'Skunk Cabbage'), is ironclad, and I hope iron-curtained as well.

As perfumery is about functional design, it's apt to compare Égoïste to staplers, namely Swingline staplers. There are many staplers in the world, manufactured by hundreds of companies. Somehow the Swingline has become the North American holy grail of staplers. How did that happen? It's unclear, but I'd wager Hollywood had something to do with it - a little corporate comedy named Office Space not only made Swingline a household name, but prompted the company to produce the first-ever red Swingline, to correspond with Milton Waddams' inexplicably-shaded desk ornament. Red Swinglines didn't exist until Office Space threw the scare into their inventory and forced them to do a little coloring. I believe they may have gotten carried away, but there you have it.

Égoïste is Chanel's red Swingline stapler. Prior to its release, the brain trust in the back lot released something fantastic called Bois Noir, which by several accounts smelled wonderful, full of rich spices and floral notes that were big, proud, technically impossible, a true large-scale monument in modern oriental-style perfumery. But it walked a fantastic line, entertained the few who had real money to spare, and was quickly discontinued, which simply meant clearing off a shelf at the boutique in Paris. The little show at Cannes was over, and what do you know? Some people really liked it, Chanel customers in particular. Remember that off-beat woody-fruity oriental you used to make, Chanel? The one with that delectable stewed fruit thing going on in its heart? Oh, of course it wasn't unique, or significantly different (Mouchoir de Monsieur, Habit Rouge, and Samsara all got there first), or even exciting to smell, but theirs are beige, yours was red, and we want it back. We want a red stapler to call our own.

Chanel obliged, and we were given Égoïste, a tidied-up version of Bois Noir, with less oomph! Which is problematic to start, since Bois Noir's reputation rests on its having lots of extra oomph! The main attraction was the spicy-fruity mix in the middle, but somehow Égoïste's nose decided sandalwood had more heart, and attached the citrus-herbal-woody Mouchoir-like structure to a judiciously integrated Polysantol base, which may or may not have been in the original. The real attraction here is sandalwood. If you'd like a florid little semi-sweet woody oriental with a big, smooth, expensive sandalwood base, look no further. After the crisp citruses and tangerine/raisin/plum notes start twinkling out, I'm left with a soft, vanillic sandalwood that is as boring as it is neat. Did I mention the lavender? Égoïste's terse lavender note runs like a silver spine through the amorphous composition, breathing some breezy, aromatic masculinity into an androgynous perfume. Nice enough, but is it enough?

Technically yes, perhaps Égoïste's composition is the stuff of greatness, and some fan can rattle off a dozen reasons why it's better and more interesting than everything else Chanel has released in the last twenty years. Me? I'm satisfied with the black and grey staplers, thank you very much. They perform their simple task just as well, and without all the chagrin that accompanies something fun you know is headed for the scrap bin, just as soon as everyone's forgotten why they liked it in the first place.


Tabac (Mäurer & Wirtz)

Somone once called Tabac "Chanel N°5 for men," and rather poetically added that it smelled "divine." Of course, having been a Bolshevik in my former life, my mind immediately jetted off to Eastern Europe, and roamed the black-forested hills of Russia, the mountain towns of Lithuania, the former Czechoslovakia's golden fields of mustard and rape. Wings of Desire, or Der Himmel über Berlin,the famous Franco-German motion picture directed by none other than Düsseldorf's Wim Wenders, also comes to mind. I can attest to the bleakness of life for Soviet-satellite nations only second-hand, having strolled on ankle-thin cement sidewalks between hulking cement behemoths holding upwards of six-hundred families in their colorless bowels. Naturally these are post-communist memories, and I've never been to Germany, but I have witnessed the fatalistic stoicism of a people so accustomed to repression as to expect it despite their hard-won freedoms.

The beauty of the Polish, the Czechs, the Slovaks, is their casual understanding of the universe; the great unknown, as they seem to see it, is where we're all headed, and you might as well toke on a Djarum Black and walk your dog and ignore the impulse to substitute classical music for the din of rush hour traffic. God is another excuse for letting your emotions get away from you, and why bother talking to him through the tears when you can create something, save something, and move someone all by yourself? Eastern Europeans work hard. I mean hard. Harder than any American, possibly harder than the Chinese and Japanese, and to date I've yet to see another people who consider a twelve-hour day "short," or commute four hours a day without a second thought. There's no shortcut in a catch-up culture. Everyone has to pay their dues, and keep paying until they're dead or broke.

Háje, Praha

Tabac, probably the European equivalent of Old Spice, is what repressed people wore when their leaders were cordoning off their communities with cement walls and barb-wire fences. You might think, having never tried it, that it must smell weak, simple, without resource as a product of those with very limited resources. In fact, it's just the opposite. Tabac smells rich, smooth, complex, and very, very good. Prior to acquiring my little bottle I had no idea what to expect, and hadn't really done much reading on it. I spritzed some on my wrist, and what a surprise! It's a citrus chypre! And it's unisex! The top notes are loaded with aldehydes, bergamot, lemon, lavender, and a big spicy carnation that feels pink and clean and peppery-fresh. A powdery amber sets in later, lending this heady construct some warmth, with hints of sandalwood and rose. An approximation of tobacco is loosely achieved via the thoughtful combination of amber and moss, with just a touch of pine contrasting the sweeter floral notes. The result: divine indeed.

Despite its many virtues, Tabac is not what I consider easy to love. Its citrus is big, its floral notes are very heady, and its woody-mossy underbelly is crudely unapologetic. One could speculate that the construct was calibrated to mask bodily odors, which isn't far-fetched when you consider the days of public bath houses in diesel-fumigated city squares (had I been there, Tuesday and Thursday would have been my preferred "bathing days"). Perhaps a point of comparison would help - Boucheron Pour Homme is more refined, but the same basic storyline of rich citrus and floral notes is there to be had. It certainly sits on the same branch of the olfactory family tree. This review is of Tabac's Eau de Cologne concentration.


Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (Paco Rabanne)

To truly enjoy a family of fragrances, it's useful to revisit the first in a genre, that which spawned dozens of variations, the "originator." For most of the early twentieth century, European and American men wore traditional fougères, things like Fougère Royale, English Lavender, Dunhill, Pour un Homme, Moustache, and Arden's Sandalwood. In the early sixties the old guard began to transmogrify into the newer and more novel, due in large part to the invention of better fragrance molecules. Things like Brut and Agua Brava, with fifties-era nitro-musks and transcendent 10 carbon alcohols, were tailored to be rich, brash, and smelled the way the Rolling Stones played.

Then came refinement, and its name was Paco. Anything's possible, but I like to imagine the pre-game for selling the concept to the perfumer. "We like traditional Spanish ferns, and also the scent of Barbasol. Make it a little of both." Or, per Tom Ford, "Make it so."

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme is the premiere mass-market mega-hit aromatic fougère, and as such received accolades and suffered the outrageous fortune of having many pursuant releases improve what it first proposed: a fresh, sweet, woody-green fougère, capable of commanding respect without raising its voice. Paco gathered the familiar shaving-soap smells of every man's morning ablutions and distilled them down to a magnificent heart accord, which by all rights should be bolstered by two or three more aromatics and turned into a old-school perfumer's base (which then should promptly be sold to whoever makes Pinaud's aftershaves). 

The beauty of the heart is in its bold blend of oakmoss, coumarin, and a notably polite sage, which segregate over time into their sheer myrcene, myrcenol, rhodinal, aniba rosaeodora, and pelargonium constituencies. (This translates to bay leaf, lavender, citron, rosewood, and geranium.) Smell it up close, and the citrus note smells tart and bright, wedded nicely to sweet English lavender, with the herbs lighting the floral bay and spiced rosewood's subtle shadows. Kind of like an evening stroll through the autumn woods. From afar, I get a much less saturnine smell: shaving cream. Very nice.

My gripe with Paco is that it needs a spirit level. Its stages are all beautiful and deceptively complex, but I've ridden Japanese jeeps with smoother transmissions. Paco's bright, crisp, ebulliently-green top accord is the sort of thing one encounters only four or five times in a lifetime of smelling hundreds, if not thousands of perfumes. That it only lasts ten seconds is a travesty. Fortunately its lavender lives on to freshen the proceedings and hold their components together, as lavender typically does in masculine compositions, but from this forest-glen emerges a bubble of sweetness, the slightly-bitter nuttiness of coumarin flanked by honey. Together they form an accord that should send every dentist within a thirty miles radius on high alert. 

This shit is sweet. I'd say it's definitely too sweet, but then again, it's a variant of traditional fern, which was reputedly quite sweet at heart, with stray tonka and hay accords amplifying rich coumarin effects. So maybe Paco's coumarin, heady and sugary as it is, really isn't out of place, but just way out there, the man at the wedding in the robin's-egg blue seersucker and paper pants. The rapidity of transition in this fragrance is a mixed blessing - here it allows the sugar rush to pass within ten minutes, and from there it's cool, woody-dusty goodness, with vibrant green accents.

Has Paco been eclipsed by its successors? Have Azzaro, Drakkar, and Rive Gauche taken the same floor plan and used better furniture? Yes and no. I find Azzaro tedious on a good day, although its earlier incarnations smelled captivating. But wearing it made me wonder if I wasn't taking myself too seriously. Drakkar is beautiful, perhaps the freshest mossy lavender on a bed of evergreens since Polo. I enjoy it, but wonder if it isn't taking itself too seriously. Things like Rive Gauche are merely variants, extensions of the barbershop wet-shaver aura peddled by Pinaud's Clubman, all the way up through history to Brut and Paco. YSL's version keeps the original furniture and re-upholsters it in black velour. Nice, but nothing new.

Maybe the most refreshing thing about Paco Rabanne is that it holds its best facets out where they belong: in a cool, musky sillage at five paces. Everything since has re-hashed and repeated the same structure, with negligible results. The aromatic fougère is dead; Long live Paco Rabanne Pour Homme!


Mesmerize for Men (Avon)

Masculine fragrances of the last thirty years have generally trended in two directions: woody-fresh and fruity-fresh, with the first category hosting things like Grey Flannel, Drakkar Noir, Zino, and Ungaro, and the second seeing Cool Water, Acqua di Gio, and Mugler Cologne. They're terrific realms to explore, with specimens of the first genre enjoying a second (or even third) wind. I was complimented today by a young female co-worker when some warm rain re-activated my Drakkar, a mere seven hours after application. Her reaction in a long line of similar reactions suggests, contrary to popular belief, that women in their twenties and thirties gravitate toward herbal-piney scents, and not just your ordinary saccharine musky-florals.

The fact that most female perfume bloggers ignore the aromatic power-fougères of yesteryear amazes me; things like Paco Rabanne, Azzaro, and Drakkar are still as effective now as they were on their release date. Today's blogroll is loaded with comments on fruity-chypres and borderline-unwearable florientals. I love you ladies, but enough with the obscure niche stuff already. Pepper your posts here and there with something about these mainstream masculine masterpieces, and address the poor, pedestrian fougère. I'm fully aware that Parfumerie Générale and L'Artisan are amazing, but I'm dying to meet the girl who dons Skin Bracer in the morning, and would much rather read what she has to say. I understand the French turn their noses up at Mr. Drakkar because he was over-used by lesbians in the eighties. If that's true, I'd like to see a fashion revival, not strictly limited to that demographic.

Which brings me to Mesmerize by Avon, a humble firm with only one notable chypre on the niche-snob radar, a certain retro celebuscent called Deneuve. With no hi-power beauty queen fronting it, I can understand how the feminine Mesmerize floundered, but the masculine version flogs all expectations. I purchased Mesmerize from a co-worker who recently decided to become an Avon rep. She let me flip through her little catalog, and I was very close to changing my mind and declining a purchase, or maybe giving Ironman a try. I don't know what happened, but I suddenly realized I liked the royal blue bottle for Mesmerize, which is the only Avon bottle that isn't Hellishly ugly, and ordered accordingly. I'm glad I did, because Mesmerize is very nice. 

Its sweet green-apple and bergamot top note is reminiscent of Cool Water and every fresh fougère since, and this aromatic fruity edge persists into the drydown. But wait - there's more to it than this - Mesmerize rapidly transforms into a warm, woody oriental in the Zino/Ungaro axis, with similar ambery overtures of precious woods (rosewood, sandalwood), vanilla, and musk. Though admittedly middle-shelf, for twenty dollars you could do much worse, and in many ways this scent is much better than competition at twice its price. The fruit notes aren't blatantly synthetic or obnoxiously "fresh" and I get a pleasant balance between the softer aromatics in the heart and base. Longevity and sillage are decent but average, clocking in at six hours and two or three feet respectively.

Given that this is sort of a Franken-scent, an unexpected combination of two hugely popular scent profiles, one might ask, 'if not Zino or Cool Water, why Mesmerize?' For the sizable phalanx of adult men under forty, this respectable little oriental (or fougèriental, if you prefer) eliminates the need for an either/or commitment to the two camps represented by those scents, and binds them both into one. Many fragrances since 1992 have tried doing this, and most have bombed. This one stays aloft, and just plain smells good. Ladies, Mesmerize is eminently wearable as an off-beat feminine, and I think female skin would bring out its mandarin and vanilla notes better than mine does. Consider this one of those share-wear frags, and go guilt free after sneaking a spritz or two in the bathroom. And yes, by all means, ignore the feminine version - Avon is capable of impressive things, but they dabble in the mundane far more often.


Le Troisième Homme (Caron)

Perhaps the nicest thing about having 100 years of modern perfumery behind you is the ability to trace the thematic evolution of popular scent profiles. It's as easy to connect the dots between Skin Bracer, Caron Pour Homme, and Agua Lavanda Puig, as to follow the gilded path from Grey Flannel to anything "fresh" and "green" from the last twenty-five years. The fact that one could miss genuinely unique and distinguished entries is the only possible downside, as those rarest of rare diamonds-in-the-rough sometimes have an elusive way about them. Which brings me to Le Troisième Homme, Caron's "Third Man" in its esteemed masculine range. 

Released in 1985, this brilliant fougère stands aloof, safely away from a myriad of woody-fresh fougères of that era, although I contend it's loosely book-ended by Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur cologne and Creed's Bois du Portugal, with Guerlain's Héritage further afield. All parallels aside, comparing Le Troisième Homme to anything misses the point: this fragrance is one of a kind, and its nose is undoubtedly the sort of slightly-eccentric woman who voluntarily reads Ada and Beautiful Losers and plays Fruchtchen! for fun.

Le Troisième Homme, created in a Givaudan laboratory by a Japanese perfumer named Akiko Kamei, takes a yuzu-tinged citrus and lavender note and enlivens it with a fresh, cool, almost-lactonic woody-floral accord of surprising strength and tenacity, thanks to synthetics that extend the lavender well past its sell-by date. Its herbal coolness is flanked by a judicious touch of oakmoss, and forms a subtle tension against a warm and musky base. Coriander lends a feral edge to clean jasmine and an anisic, ephemerally-camphorous base of cedar, vanilla, and sandalwood. 

Although its drydown is lovely (and dare I say it, sexy too), I'm more enamored with LTH's champagne-fizz top. It's comprised of nothing special, yet somehow smells new, unprecedented, successfully inventive. A standard arrangement of orange, lemon, lavender, and oakmoss is passable on paper, but in practice here it astonishes me, as it smells of nothing else, and smells very, very good. You could blame it on the angelic touch of aldehydes in the first five seconds, or perhaps the liqueur-like dulcitude of syrupy orange and lemon as they mingle with a tempered version of Pour un Homme's unmatched lavender. Whatever it is, it works, and the somewhat-questionable sheer musk that plagues other Caron masculines, Yatagan in particular, is right at home here as well. Nice work.

It took me four years to get around to trying this scent, due in no small part to the scattered reviews about it in online forums. I'd come close to a blind-buy, and then read more about it and get spooked. People have the most divergent opinions about Third Man, with comments ranging from "Tom Selleck with his shirt open," to "a great scent to wear on Easter, with its association of flowers and candies." Some say it's too feminine, too "pretty," while others claim it's almost unisex, but in some ways too masculine for the ladies to pull off. Still others suggest that it's completely unisex. Having finally worn it myself, I can say that I fall firmly into the last camp, finding LTH neither overtly masculine, nor overwhelmingly feminine, but somewhere in the middle, a terrain inhabited by everyone, from the girliest of girly-girls, to the butchest lesbians, the strongest archetypical silent types, to the classiest bisexual Hollywood players.

Ironically enough, virtually no one wears it. Their loss - I'm definitely keeping it in my rotation for the rest of my life.