12/30/13

Eros (Versace)




My original Fragrantica review of Eros said:
"Anyone who finds this cheap, thin, synthetic fragrance erotic should unload their baggage and see a sex counselor."
About two minutes after I published that, someone on "Team Fragrantica" exercised freedom of the press and deleted it, forcing me to re-write my current review for this scent, now on the Eros Fragrantica page. I guess they weren't amused!

My feelings for Eros have not changed, of course. I approached Eros with The Dreamer and Red Jeans in mind, thinking it would at least rival those two in quality and respectability. My bad. Should have remembered the totally-forgettable Versace Pour Homme instead. This brand is just as capable of putting out total garbage, which is exactly what Eros is. Bear in mind that I walked into Macy's fully expecting to smell a typical department store amber, with tons of sweetness, and your predictable citrus-minty top notes.

What I experienced in lieu of that was astonishing. Cheap, barely-there citrus of no discernible origin - what the hell fruit is it supposed to be, anyway? Bergamot and apple? It's light and a little sweet, a little sharp, so I guess that's what they were aiming for. It doesn't smell very good. Plus, I have to shove my hand against my nostrils to get any of it. And oh yeah, there's just the faintest hint of menthol in there, pure aftershave-grade menthol, standing in as "mint." Then a scratchy amber, semi-woody, semi-musky, pretty much dominates the show for the rest of the scent's short duration on skin. It gets very sweet for about fifteen minutes as it crosses the bridge from top to heart notes, then simmers down to a low buzz of nondescript chemical nastiness.

Three hours in, and Eros is all but gone, with just a murky musk remaining as a sad afterglow to one of the saddest ambers in all of contemporary perfumery. To say I feel a sense of ennui about Eros is an understatement. I want them to cancel this terrible abomination of a fragrance and replace it with something, anything, be it a Dreamer flanker, another colored Jean, or even an "intense" version of the somewhat-bearable Versace PH (make the juice purple, just for kicks). Please, please Versace people, atone for your sin. I'm afraid the next time I catch sight of your trademark Medusa head, my heart really will turn to stone.






12/21/13

Joop! Homme Wild (Joop!)





The marketing copy for this fragrance is, in a word, absurd. The marketers opted to make this ostensibly "wild" fragrance sound anything but. Pink pepper as the top note? Wow! What a deviant and impulsive choice! Followed by . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . rum absolute! What exactly is "rum absolute," anyway? An absolute is a reduction of a substance via the removal of alcohol and water. So rum absolute is simply . . . dried rum. Without alcohol. Or water. Rum paste. Rum briquette. The gummy stuff that cakes around the cap after years of neglect in the liquor cabinet. Or, more accurately, a synthetic molecule in no way derived from actual rum, bottled and sold at a premium by Robertet. So much for absolutism.

Finish it all off with "woody blond tobacco" in the supposed base accord. So there's fruity-spicy pink pepper on top, rum paste in the middle, and "woody blond tobacco" on third deck, "for a twisted masculine drydown." Burley, or "flue cured" tobacco, is the "blond" stuff of cigarettes and any other cheap smokes, and I'll tell you right up front, I get absolutely no cigarette tobacco at all in JHW. Definitely don't get any cigarette vibe from it. What irks me about this scent is that the stated pyramid is immediately false, and yet almost all reviewers adhere to it, and claim to smell these things in there. Wake up, folks. Just because they say there's pepper and rum and tobacco, sure doesn't mean those notes actually reside in the composition. It just means they're trying to hide that this here is one helluva girly violet floral perfume for men. For whatever reason, they wanted to pitch it to men, possibly because more males purchase Joop! fragrances than females. I really don't know, but that's my guess.

I actually find myself liking the Joop! brand more and more with each new wearing of products in the range. I always had an interest in the original Joop! Homme, and for a while hated it. Then I gave it a few more chances, and came to really like it. Eventually I got around to trying Joop! Jump, and liked that one even more. Then I stumble across Joop! Homme Wild at a steep discount on the clearance shelf in Walmart. And I figure, what the heck? Might as well give it a shot, especially after Jump. I'm glad I did, because I really, really like JHW, even a touch more than Jump. The boys in the back room asked themselves what the least predictable spin on Joop! could be, and one guy raised his hand and said, "I know! Remember those simple parma violet colognes our grandmothers wore in the fifties? Let's make one of those, only better!"

Better means cheap but well made, and a whole lotta fun. The fragrance is loaded up with super-sweet ionones, which effectively make it a loud, near-edible violet. It smells like triple-milled violet-scented bar soap from a Victorian toilet, but the ionones alone aren't enough to build this beast - it requires more heft than that. Enter a pint of syrupy "fruitchouli," a pineapple/patchouli overlay, with subtle, salty-smelling lavender for lift, and a quiet, vaguely Coppertone-like jasmine, all atop a great big ambery tonka note. Underpinning everything are several fruity esters (an assortment of prune-like items in the figs-and-cherry axis), and a handful of ethyl-maltolesque musks. And there you have it, a pulsating fruity-floral fougère in a purple bottle, made for women, and inexplicably labeled for men. It's sweet, fruity, ambery, musky, and violetty. Someone in Joop!'s post-production team challenged the marketing director to a coin toss - heads, and the word "Homme" stays on the bottle - tails, it's "Miss Wild" instead. I'm thinking someone had a trick coin in their pocket, but if cheating on a coin toss for laughs is as wild as the Joop! people get, I applaud their conservatism.






12/17/13

Aubusson Homme (Aubusson)




Shamu's review of this scent, on what appears to be his now-retired blog, spurred me to blind-buy Aubusson Homme. He actually did not give it the world's most favorable review, but he does like it. This snippet is what clinched the purchase for me:

"It uses green, woody, spicy and semi-sweet notes in a way that smells a lot like the late, great Balenciaga Pour Homme, only not as powerful. Both make heavy use of cinnamon and patchouli, which give both fragrances their spicy, aromatic bite. Juniper and fir needles add greenness and sharpness to Aubusson's scent . . . Fans of Balenciaga Pour Homme who can't score a bottle should definitely check this out."

Balenciaga PH is one of my all-time favorite masculines. It possesses a richness, sharpness, and full-throated luster that very few nineties frags ever had. Its orientalism is tempered by fougère-like elements, reminding me of Lapidus PH and Kouros, with a bit of artemisia-fueled woodiness in its heart that is reminiscent of Caron's Yatagan. The handling of wormwood in Balenciaga is particularly astute, with the note gently combed through the pineapple and musk accords in a manner that allows its freshness to speak for itself, while toning back its medicinal qualities. Thus there are no "celery seed" associations, as there unfortunately are with Yatagan.

Shamu feels that Aubusson PH smells quite a bit like Balenciaga PH, but doesn't like the strange "apple pie and pine needle" accord in the top notes, apparently because it smells discordant and weird, like it's trying too hard to be different. This accord doesn't smell discordant or weird to me at all. I do get a touch of apple in the first five minutes, but I think the juniper berry note is especially prominent, loud even, to the point of smelling rather fruity. Both fruity notes are generously dusted with cinnamon, which unsurprisingly creates an apple pie effect. Thanks to the hefty slug of pine, this top is not sugary or gourmand, but when you pair apples with cinnamon in any accord, the association with pie is inevitable.

I love the smell of apple pie, and also piney juniper berry, so the top of Aubusson PH is wonderful to me. There's also a very subtle mandarin citrus note in there, and an animalic musk that is markedly easier on the nose than anything in Balenciaga, or Kouros for that matter. The musk smells almost identical to the musk in Balenciaga, but smoother, and a bit more polite. The juniper, pine, and mandarin elements freshen the top up, while the apple, cinnamon, and musk lend it a warmth and earthiness that seems nicely balanced and very natural. In the first hour of wear, the weight of Aubusson is in the musky apple pie, but within twenty minutes after application, a pleasantly spicy artemisia note appears, and leads to this scent's dry-green heart of patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum, a tiny smidgen of castoreum, and sweet cyclamen. Very nice indeed. One might call it "pleasantly rich."

The drydown yields a faded variation of the heart notes, with dried pine needles, patchouli, and campfire-burned musks holding on to the ghost of fruit and cinnamon from several hours earlier. Unlike its contemporaries, Aubusson PH isn't a "powerhouse" fragrance with endless projection and sillage. It's a solid, well-crafted frag, but it gets quiet a mere hour after application, and after five hours it's virtually a skin scent. This could be the way Aubusson PH is meant to smell, very woodsy-sweet and gentlemanly in that unusual early nineties manner that fragrances like Cool Water and Polo Sport eventually killed off for good. Or it's possible the potency and balance of some notes are a little off. I bought my bottle online for fifteen dollars, expecting to receive a reformulated bottle of "new" Aubusson. But the box it came in looks like this:


I don't know about you, but I think that looks like something from the nineties. There is a barcode on the bottom flap (not pictured), so it's not something that goes back to the stone age, but barcodes came about pretty early on in the nineties, whereas abbreviated ingredients lists like the one above are relegated to pre-1996 packaging. Then again, the bottle of Vermeil for Men that I received recently had a practically nonexistent ingredients label, slapped with the barcode on the back of the packaging like it was just a price sticker. Vermeil, like Aubusson, is supposedly another small French brand dedicated solely to perfumery, so who knows? Maybe these tiny French concerns don't concern themselves with updating their packaging. There's no Aubusson website, and nothing else written about Aubusson online, so I have no way of determining whether or not this brand is still operating, defunct, or what. This PDF is the only thing I could find.

If any of my readers know more about Aubusson PH and the Aubusson brand, please comment. I'd love to hear about this company. I definitely like Aubusson PH. It DOES smell a lot like Balenciaga PH, to the point where if you were to present me with unmarked smelling strips of the two, I'd probably have a hard time telling them apart. Aubusson lacks the smoky incense note in Balenciaga, though. If Balenciaga were still in production and readily available, I'd choose it over Aubusson, but given that neither scent is hugely expensive, owning both isn't out of the question. In the absence of Balenciaga, and because it smells incredibly natural, well balanced, and very, very good, Aubusson satiates my need for a woody-fresh oriental from the early nineties, and I'll gladly wear it instead. Also, it has a really cool bottle design, boasting a sculptural combo of glass with plastic. Thumbs way up on this one.








12/16/13

Mitsouko Eau de Parfum (Guerlain, In Case You Didn't Know / Winter Review)





AAHH-Ha. NOW I get it.

A lot has changed since August. Before I get into it, let me reiterate what I wrote last summer. This isn't going to be an exhaustive note break-down and analysis of the EDP, nor is it going to be a romantic historical biography. There are literally a thousand of those sorts of posts already published on countless other blogs, far and wide. This is just an explanation of how I currently (and indefinitely) perceive the EDP concentration of this classic by the venerable Old World Parisian house of Guerlain. And yes, a lot about my Mitsouko situation has changed since August, both physically and spiritually. First, the physical. Then, I'll talk about my spirit.

Something strange occurred a little while ago. My Perfumed Court EDP sample was really bothering me. Even now, in twenty degree temperatures, it still doesn't smell very good. It doesn't smell right, so to speak. I still get an angular, angry, peach-lacquer effect, and the oakmoss sticks out like a sore thumb. The cinnamon is stale. The citrus smells like petroleum. There's the presence of elegance, but it lacks any and all of the requisite charisma and charm. So I chewed on that for a while, and realized that I hadn't read up enough on this fragrance, despite the thousands of available pieces written about it. I've read my fair share, mind you, but I had to go back to Monsieur Guerlain, and re-read his evaluation of the fragrance, and its history.

That's where I realized I had messed up big time in buying a sample online. It's likely that they wanted to be hip and chic in doing this, but the Perfumed Court sent me an oakmoss version of the EDP, very likely from a few years back, or a few years before Edouard Fléchier was hired to re-tool Mitsy for IFRA regs. This wouldn't qualify it as one of TPC's "vintage samples," because Mitsy is almost 100 years old, and I doubt anything after the late seventies or eighties would be considered true "vintage" in this case. But I think the ladies who run TPC are of the "older-is-better" school of thought, so whenever they can get something ten or fifteen years older, they feel it's better than getting bottles brand new.

There's a big issue with that, of course: the chemistry of the perfume may be damaged by time. If fifteen or twenty years have passed, and they're sending samples from this fifteen or twenty year-old "better" bottle with oakmoss, that would explain the inherent risk of buying a sample of Mitsouko from TPC. Some people appreciate receiving old stock. I don't. The fragrance will have inevitably changed, and what arrives in the sample sprayer will not be what went into the bottle in the factory all those years earlier.

This has been acknowledged elsewhere. As Andre Moreau so eloquently put it when discussing the vintage EDT version on his blog, Raiders Of The Lost Scent:

"Since perfumes 'mature' with age, the vintage EDT could have aged, and gotten even stronger."

Indeed, the same could have happened to the EDP, even one only a decade old. That could account for the shrieking strength of its bergamot and moss, and the unpleasant "shiny" aspect to its peach lactone. I'm inclined to think this sample was intentionally taken from the old stuff, which unintentionally gave me a bad impression of Mitsouko. Oh, the bitter irony.

Fast forward a few months, and I do something most people who are iffy about Mitsy would not do: I blindly purchase what I know to be a brand-new bottle, judging from the packaging and the ingredients list. Even though I'm expecting it, I'm still surprised to see there's no oakmoss listed on the box. This is the ultimate "reference chypre," but without oakmoss? What is the world coming to? And not only that - they put treemoss in its place! What is this, a cheapie from T.J. Maxx? I bought it anyway. As I was buying it, I thought to myself, "The oakmoss is what's annoying me in my sample, more than anything else. It's not the presence of oakmoss, but the fact that it smells unbalanced against the citrus and labdanum. This bottle has NO oakmoss, which means there is NO CHANCE that oakmoss will annoy me. The peach lactone might be integrated with a smoother, airier, sweeter construction. That's how treemoss smells, after all. I hope I'm right." I took my bottle home and did not use it for a few weeks. I was afraid to touch it, lest I find I should have spent $50 on 2.5 ounces of something I actually like. Then one day I said to myself, "What the fuck?" and made my move. I decided it was cool enough outside to wear Mitsouko, a new formula of Mitsouko, with renewed faith. I sprayed. I smelled. I fell in love, almost immediately.

Thierry Wasser's updating of the formula is, without any doubt, a triumph of postmodern perfumery. Everything I dislike about my sample is ironed out in his blend. There's a muted bergamot note, very high-pitched, but sniffed in the abstract, as if through a white veil, which makes it fresh, clean, but also ethereal, and softer than any other citrus note I've ever smelled. The peach lactone, the treemoss, the roses and jasmines, and even that difficult Biolandes iris synthetic, all smell unified, balanced, and pitch perfect. This is truly a soul-lifting chypre. I wore it again today to work. The ride to work was a happy one. The workday was frequently punctuated with Mitsouko, which made it a better day than it might have otherwise been. I sat through a very long and boring meeting with my arms crossed and my hands folded under them, up against my shirt. I went to scratch my nose, and caught a whiff of Mitsy's far drydown (nine hours in) on my wrist. Suddenly the meeting was a lot more bearable. I can't really describe just how wonderful this stuff smells, because words don't do it justice. Its template is from 1919, a template faithfully adhered to here, and yet it smells new.

See the quiet, and quietly depraved beauty of Catherine Deneuve above? Her flawless, peachy-soft skin is subject to a thousand imaginary whips and lashes in the auburn mood of Luis Buñuel's black tragicomedy, Belle du Jour. Watch that movie, and observe just how incredibly nonchalant she is in it. That's how my Mitsouko EDP smells, right from the nozzle. That's what I expected it to smell like all along.








12/15/13

Arden Men Sandalwood (Elizabeth Arden)





I recently purchased a bottle of Arden's Sandalwood cologne for men from a cute Indian girl working at a tiny brick-and-mortar here in Milford. She said she liked Connecticut, but would return to her native India in two months, presumably to go back to school or something like that (I didn't ask any further). I thought she was really sweet, but she didn't know a blessed thing about perfume. It's curious that roughly ninety-five percent of the people who get into the world of perfume retail don't know anything about perfume. Maybe I'll write more about that another time.

Meanwhile, finding the Arden Sandalwood was like finding the lost ark. This stuff is reputedly discontinued and extremely difficult to find at reasonable prices online, but from reading reviews, I'm suspicious. People are describing a reformulation, which means that either (a) EA still makes it, and has it in limited distribution, or (b) it was reformulated recently, and then discontinued not long after. Either way, the bottle I have is "new" in the sense that the box is in pristine condition - no dents, wrinkles, scratches, or color fading - but I'm pretty sure from the commercial markings (or lack thereof) that it's a somewhat older bottle - but don't quote me on that. I could care less either way, but for those of you who are obsessed with reformulations and "updates" of older colognes, just know that I'm talking about something that appears to hearken back at least four or five years.

In all actuality, Arden Sandalwood was released in 1956 or '57, and was likely one of two or three proper EDT-strength colognes available to European and American men for the remainder of that decade. Back then there weren't many fragrance releases each year, and men had far fewer options than their wives did. My guess is the wealthier, or at least upper middle-class men who could afford more than Old Spice and Acqua di Selva dropped coin on Arden Sandalwood, but I'm just speculating. Today it smells very "vintage," a scent from another era, and oh what a scent! Classified as a woody-ambery fougère, Arden Sandalwood is very much a rich lavender fougère, loaded with citrus and herbal nuances in the top and heart notes. There's a great big blast of bergamot, lavender, petitgrain, clary sage, and geranium in the top notes, which persist together for about five minutes, before the lavender separates from the pack and takes center stage.

The heart accord is lavender, sandalwood, coumarin, oakmoss, patchouli, and opoponax for some spicy sweetness. Fougères from this era often get pigeonholed into two categories, either lavender-green or ambery-biscuit, based on how coumarin is handled. Here it is treated in a very dry-ambery manner, with none of the "biscuit-like" effect. I smell opoponax and patchouli more prominently, and surprise, surprise, there's actually a vibrant labdanum note in there as well. The labdanum is extremely well blended and doesn't come across as piercing or animalic. It simply compliments the patchouli, opoponax, and sandalwood, lending the accord some additional nuance and texture. For the record, Arden Sandalwood's labdanum surpasses Guerlain Mitsouko's and Chanel 31 Rue Cambon's in both quality and temperament. Guerlain and Chanel are using synthetics - Arden is using the real stuff.

The thing to keep in mind with this cologne is that it's more than just a simple citrus-lavender-sandalwood progression. However, the sandalwood is very distinct, and upholds the fougère structure from the early heartnote phase, all the way into the basenotes, some seven or eight hours later. The lavender note sidles up to the sandalwood note early on, and the former basically conjoins itself to the latter's dry spiciness, creating a crisply aromatic smell that is too beautiful for words. Another thing to keep in mind is that this isn't your contemporary niche sandalwood note, which is usually plush, creamy, and a bit sweet. No, Arden Sandalwood is bone dry, with very minimal sweetness. Whoever designed this scent wisely played up the dryness instead of trying to hide it, and added a smoky vetiver note to the base. It's clever work, and adds to the richness. The combination of brisk lavender, sandalwood, and vetiver creates a refined, slightly outdoorsy feel. It wouldn't be out of place on a fox hunter riding through autumnal woods, nor would it be wrong on a bookworm smoking cigars in his study. Arden Sandalwood is perfect for men, any and all men, wherever they may be. One caveat: this is for men only. It's not for boys.

As far as fougères go, this is one of the best I've ever encountered, better than Azzaro PH, Third Man, Rive Gauche PH, Jazz, Caron PuH, and even my beloved Cool Water. That's saying a lot, because I really love all of those scents. But Arden Sandalwood smells natural, complex, and quite deep, deeper than many woody ferns from the same general time period. Wearing it is a pleasure, an exercise in elegant masculinity, and something every man should experience at least once in his lifetime. Finding a bottle of this for under eighty dollars is a no-brainer: buy it. I'm sure glad I did.








12/14/13

pc01 (Biehl Parfumkunstwerke)



Last summer I had the displeasure of smelling a disgusting and disgustingly over-priced fruity-floral by Keiko Mecheri called Grenats. It was supposed to be a fresh, apple-centric summer spritz, but instead turned out to be a grating, metallic mess. The one thing that sticks in my memory about it is its awful peach note, which smelled quite literally like syrupy fruit slices struggling to get their odor past the overwhelming smell of a dirty tin can. That was the first of two terrible peach notes I experienced this year, the other being in none other than Guerlain's Mitsouko, which is up for additional review, pending the right weather conditions. I expect to like Mitsouko more the second time around, in freezing temps. Still, its peach note was decidedly not peach, but some strange, plasticky analog of dried fruit. It didn't smell fresh or natural in the least.

I loosely compared Grenats to Creed's Spring Flower, namely because of its acidic Hedione note, which I suppose one could liken to Spring Flower's biting greenness. Thus far in my olfactory travels, Spring Flower has proven to be the best of the unisex fruity-floral perfumes out there, sporting a magnificent lemon/apple/pear/melon accord, backed with the gentlest, sweetest little bouquet of dewy jasmine and rosebuds. Its fruit notes aren't candied and trite. It smells sharp, bitter, mouthwatering, and then grassy, cool, and moistly floral. It's a fragrance that takes you on a little journey. Thus it is the standard to which I hold any and all fruity florals I presently encounter. Because Creed's structure is so unlike your standard designer "sneaker juice," and because its notes are clear representations of natural materials (despite being synthetically replicated), I expect all higher-end fruity-florals to match its deftness of construct and cheerful scent profile. PC01 by Biehl Parfumkunstwerke does an admirable job in meeting the standard.

This one is perfumer Patricia Choux's first perfume for the line, and I admit I'm not familiar with Ms. Choux's portfolio. The word on the street says she's worked for Jo Malone and Marc Jacobs, but I don't know to what extent. The official press release for PC01 succinctly describes the scent as, "sun, finally. a breath of wind. the soul smiles." Using all lowercase letters is part of Biehl's style, and only they can explain why. One of the chief complaints regarding Biehl is that their fragrance titles, with the perfumer's initials preceding the line entry number, are confusing and forgettable. Some have written that they feel it's "homework" trying to remember which perfume is which, or that these names dissuade them from even bothering to approach the brand. I can understand their beef. When someone asks what you're wearing, you want to be able to say, "Sunlit Petals" or something like that, not "PC01." There's no romance in strings of letters and numbers, and Biehl's names are definitely hard to remember and keep track of. God knows there are now thousands of niche scents, and keeping track of them all is difficult, to say the least.

What can I say about how PC01 smells? It's fruity, and a little floral. There are three fruits that greet my nose on the initial spray - a tart lemon, sweet mandarin, and juicy peach, and I feel the peach is miles better than Grenats' and Mitsy's. Peach is like violet and gardenia: there is no accurate synthetic representation of it, but merely olfactory "ideas" of peach, typically rendered in a candied or creamed style. Grenats smelled candied; Mitsy smelled creamy (at best). PC01 actually smells like peach. It smells of peach skin, fresh peach juice, with even a bit of green peach stem. Peaches, like bananas, have a dry, fibrous aroma that mingles with the fruity sweetness, and exhibits slightly metallic off-notes. Patricia Choux avoided the off-notes and went for the best aspect of peach, using a few simple synthetics in total harmony.

After the stunning fruit melange of the first five minutes, PC01 slides into a brief artemisia accord, with accents of bay leaf and thyme. Then the mango note arrives, plush, sweet, smooth, and a wee bit under-cooked, as if the fruit were just a little unripe. I'm not a huge mango fan, but I can appreciate that this smells like mango, very much like it in fact, and it smells good. That it's bolstered by a pleasant neroli and peony accord does not hurt. PC01 hums along nicely with the mango and light floral notes for a solid six hours, before gently fading to a woody musk. Fragrantica cites iris in the pyramid, but I smell not a single hint of it in there.

I heartily suggest to any bonafide lover of fruity-florals that you try PC01 with an open mind, and expect the unexpected when it comes to the lucidity of its fruit notes. There is likely a subset of fragrance connoisseurs who appreciate good mango notes in their perfumes, and if you happen to be a mango fan, this could be your Holy Grail. From thirty minutes into the drydown, to the base several hours later, eighty to ninety percent of what you'll smell is mango, with some softly green floral notes accenting it.

The greenness in PC01 is reminiscent of the angelica note in Grenats, but I can't say there's angelica in Biehl's composition because the loud mango overpowers my ability to discern all of its subtler green underpinnings. Given a choice between this and Spring Flower, I'd still go for the Creed, but barring that option I would happily wear Ms. Choux's creation. Note to Biehl: you need to temporarily discontinue the entire Biehl line and re-release these fragrances with new names. Lose the initials-followed-by-numbers approach, because people hate it, and it's hurting your bottom line. Your fragrances are too good to be held back by something as silly as that.







12/8/13

Joop! Jump (Joop!)



Once in a blue moon, I'll encounter something that is excellent on every count. Is its fragrance good? Check. Is its bottle pretty? Check. Is its name interesting, perky, fun? Check. Is it a pleasure to wear, all day long? Check, and check. I kind of ran through that list with Joop! Jump, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the scent ticked off all the positive boxes that make some perfumes successful. In rare cases, a masculine comes along that defies expectations and transcends its genre. Joop! Jump is one of those cases.

When you get into perfume, you get into an interesting world of two binary gender definitions: "masculine" and "feminine," which are a short hop away from "heterosexual" and "gay." Whenever the question of gender identity is addressed in Western society, there is a distinct unease in the air, with every utterance tip-toeing around the notion that men and women ought to remain firmly entrenched in their expected roles. People's expectations are often used defensively. If you challenge a football jock's masculinity, he'd likely not counter-attack. He'd probably say, "Hey man, I don't swing that way." He's trying to shore up your expectations, and his own.

Michael Stipe once sang (and this has been translated a few different ways), "You wore our expectations like an armored suit," the implication being that wearing gender expectations, and ANY expectations like armor is something to reconsider. Expectations about gender are not protective. They're deceitful, they're porous blankets that shrink and fall apart when challenged. To some perfume connoisseurs, they're to be upended every day. If you're a man who loves perfume, you'll sometimes wear a "feminine" perfume to work. If you're a female fraghead, the occasional "masculine" cologne may find its way into your weekly rotation. Sometimes individual perfumes manage to throttle these invisible lines and create new gender territories. Sophie Labbé apparently knows this quite well. Her 2005 fragrance for Joop! is both masculine and feminine, and probably appeals to both genders in different ways.

As a man, I find Jump's spicy fougère structure very attractive to sniff, and to wear. The sweaty coriander, the soft lavender, and the woody fruits (apple, pineapple, grapefruit) are brisk, fresh, and allude to classical contemporary norms. That these brighter notes are placed upon a smooth tonka heart only adds to their appeal. Fougères often utilize the ambery-vanillic quality of tonka as a focal point around which other more-transient notes can move. Jump is no exception, and the tonka does a good job in grounding the fragrance. I can't think of any man who would smell the first three hours of Jump and think it's unwearable, but then again, I know better. To me, Jump's earlier stages read as expositions on the freshness of modern masculine style. The scent says, "This is the man who chases women, but does it discreetly, with humor, wit, and self-deprecation. He loves women, all women, and enjoys having them in his arms." You're kind of a 21st century Robert Redford with Jump's top and heart accord.

Then, a change. The base begins to open up, and yikes! Labbé's composition is not the traditional ladies' man you think it is. It suddenly seems more David Bowie than Rob Redford. The original Joop! Homme's decadent-sweet floral bouquet blooms from under the tonka, and it's airier, fresher, sweeter, greener, allowed to breathe more. It's a floral accord with a reach that crosses rooms. This aromatic fougère wears eyeliner. At this stage, I'm inclined to believe that it takes a bit of sexual self-confidence and security to wear Jump. As its name implies, a jump - or even a leap - has been made, and we're no longer in Kansas anymore. A woman could wear this, just as easily as a man could. But it's not unisex. It's not masculine. Not feminine. Not strictly anything. Is it asexual? Polyamorous? Bisexual? It simply defies explanation and labels. I suspect the man or woman who wears Jump is okay with that, if he or she gave it any thought. Many compare Jump to Allure Homme and Allure Homme Sport, which immediately jolts these odd associations away from controversy and into rote comparison.

I guess it smells a bit like Allure Homme, although not by much. And frankly, it doesn't smell a whole lot like Joop! Homme, either. Jump is its own animal, a very flamboyant, crisp, well-rounded floral fougère that changes a few times with each wearing, and never picks a side. There's a way to do that, and Ms. Labbé managed to find it. Kudos to her, and thanks for such a pleasant and interesting fragrance! One other thing - the striking blue glass bottle is cut like a man in front, and rather feminine and rounded in back. It definitely suits the scent!







12/7/13

Chrome Legend (Azzaro)



I am certainly not a huge fan of the original Azzaro Chrome - not by any means. It's not the worst fragrance I've ever smelled, but it's close. It smells like someone sprayed down actual chrome metal with Garnier Fructis shampoo. Pretty revolting. I expected to find this 2007 flanker by Christophe Raynaud and Olivier Pescheux to be just as bad, if not worse. It isn't. Chrome Legend is better, much better, and although it maintains its progenitor's fresh-metallic identity, it never succumbs to the same banal-soap approach. I classify this fragrance as a "salty aquatic," because there's a major brine factor here, with a brisk sea-spray note, and an "amber" accord that smells suspiciously similar to the huge ambergris note in Proctor & Gamble's Old Spice Fresh.

Just imagine the smell of soapy white aldehydes on top, followed by a little green apple peel, some black pepper, a dry greenish note (purportedly green tea), a synthetic jasmine-like molecule, an incredibly one-dimensional, Polaroid-like analog of mandarin orange, a smattering of cedar chips, a tidal wave of salt, a pinch of anise, a dollop of ambergris, and a smidgen of white musk. Got that? That's Chrome Legend. It may not sound very good, and indeed it's not the greatest fresh scent in the universe, but I think it's a hell of a lot more interesting than regular 'ol Chrome. Unlike the original, this version smells like a true aquatic, featuring an ocean-watery element with surprising boldness and clarity. It reminds me a little of Bvlgari's more successful Aqva PH, but it's lighter, fruitier, and not as directly floral. Bvlgari's treatment of this theme features sharper jasmine and orange blossom notes, with distinctly indolic facets. Legend never gets indolic, but it does have a little skank of its own, probably due to the mixture of salt, cedar, and anise, plus that weird greenish thing in there.

I'm usually not one to praise aquatics, but Chrome Legend is a nice sea-spray scent for the conservative guy who just wants to smell casual, classy, and clean. For you young bucks out there, I don't have to tell you how much girls love fresh scents like Chrome and Chrome Legend. For the rest of us, these types of fragrances are olfactory reset buttons, to be worn between the Lagerfeld Classics and Z14s of the work week. Apparently Azzaro discontinued Legend a few years ago, but I can't remember the last time I browsed a Marshalls or TJ Maxx without seeing at least three bottles on a shelf. If you know someone who enjoys aquatics, this one is the perfect gift.






12/5/13

Vermeil For Men (Vermeil Paris) Part Two



The picture above is of 6 rue Palestro, Paris, and is Vermeil Paris' address, as stated on the box label of Vermeil for Men. As you can see, the location is all barred up, a bit in shambles, and there is no perfume headquarters visible. 6 rue Palestro is a dead end. If Vermeil's headquarters are there, then this is their front door, pictured below:


These images were culled from the "street view" function of Google Maps. They lead to a few questions: Where do Vermeil's fragrances really come from? Are they even Parisian? Are their easy-to-ignore bar-coded labels a clever way of focusing consumer attention away from that question? Was this address printed on the product packages precisely because it is abandoned? Does the company even exist anymore, or are these the pictures of the former Vermeil headquarters, now long gone?

My guess is that Vermeil Paris is still an existing concern. I believe they're still in business because their fragrances are still in production. I know their fragrances are still in production because there's no contrived black market for them. Usually when a fragrance is discontinued, it enjoys a very brief period of time when it maintains the same price on the internet, until all the major merchants are fully out of stock.

Then there are mildly inflated prices, with older bottles and forgotten bottles still circulating out of warehouse stocks for anywhere from $10 to $100 more than their previous price. The "canned" version of Rive Gauche PH is a good example of that. A year ago you could buy the larger size off Amazon for $35. Now it's $45. I suspect in a few years it'll be nigh unobtainable.

After the stragglers are sold off, the prices become artificially inflated by idiots on Ebay who think they can get $350 for something that only cost $35 three years ago. But just because these prices are attached to the products doesn't mean they sell, nor does it mean there is a market for them. Usually there is no market for them, and many of them don't sell. Ebay is not a site that any experienced fragrance connoisseur would use to gauge the current, discontinued, or vintage fragrance market anyway, because it's pretty common knowledge that it is nothing more than an every-man-for-himself auction of anything and everything. You know how your Ebay home page can look. That guy selling an ancient bottle of Shalimar has his ad stuck next to another guy selling a piece of toast with Jesus' face on it. Sotheby's this is not.

There are plenty of greedy people who want to exploit the scarcity of something that may or may not be in demand. I remember when Red for Men was being listed for $200 a bottle (or more) on Ebay, just five years ago. Then the positive reviews on internet forums revived the scent, and back it came - for $16 a bottle. The fragrance was never popular with the masses, and it's obvious that EA wasn't interested in taking a huge expenditure risk on the scent's budget. Red for Men was never a pricey item to begin with, and it certainly wasn't a slam-dunk for the company two decades after its debut. Internet popularity ensured that some units would sell, and word-of-mouth would trickle down from the small population that coveted the scent into the discount bins at Marshalls and TJ Maxx. Suddenly there weren't many "vintage" $200 Red for Mens on Ebay anymore. Judging from the fact that I'm not seeing any such ridiculousness on the Bay for Vermeil's scents, my guess is the company is still circulating fresh stock through the usual online merchant and merchandise channels, like Amazon, New Egg, Scented Monkey, and Fragrancenet.

So if Vermeil is still operating, where are they operating from? Why the empty nest at 6 rue Palestro? Judging from the quality of Vermeil for Men, this is a concern that can afford a decent office. Unlike Lomani (a super-cheap brand that has sold fragrances with dead insects in the bottles, leading me to believe they operate out of a garage), Vermeil's product smells classy and well made. There are decent aroma chemicals being used in there, and someone with IFF-level perfumery skills was hired to handle the tobacco accord. I'm surprised that their packaging has so little information.

Then there's the fact that an internet search yields nothing about Vermeil. There is currently only one Youtube video reviewing Vermeil for Men. There is no information about the brand from Yahoo or Google. As far as the scents go, there is only what is posted on fragrance forums, and there's not much on those, either. This brand has very low visibility. It has absolutely no commercial presence on the internet. And yet they are putting out at least one very good masculine. Supposedly from Paris.

If anyone knows anything about Vermeil, please fill me in. What's up with this brand? Inquisitive minds would like to know.












12/1/13

Tea Rose Amber (The Perfumer's Workshop)



The original Tea Rose is a marvelous fragrance, one of the seven wonders of the olfactory world (not sure what the other six are, but they sound good), something that delivers more than you'll ever pay for. Unbeknownst to many a fumehead, there are three Tea Rose flankers: Tea Rose Jasmin, Tea Rose Mesk, and Tea Rose Amber. Rumors of something called Tea Rose Rosebud abound, but I have never even seen a picture of that one. I'm not really sure it even exists. If someone out there has it, please speak up, I'd love to hear about it. Amber, Mesk, and Jasmin are a little more well-known, but all three are difficult to find, and probably impossible to sample. Fortunately they're cheap enough to blind buy without risk.

Tea Rose Amber can be found in one ounce bottles at Marshalls or TJ Maxx for $5. If you happen to see it, buy it. You have purchased fragrances for twenty-five dollars that are not nearly as good as this one is. I'm not saying Amber is as good as the original Tea Rose - sadly it isn't - but it's still very good. It's a simple amber, mainly synthetic sandalwood and vanilla with a touch of skin musk. Its top accord is very brief and rather interesting, an animalic honey note with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, but it's gone within five minutes. The warm vanillic wood note, enshrouded in soft musk, pretty much dominates the show from that point onward. These notes smell well crafted and lucid, but they weaken fairly quickly. It's also difficult to determine what the components of the amber actually are, beyond the handful of notes I've already mentioned. I'd like to think this scent is more complex than I've given it credit for, but can't say there's much in its pyramid. Maybe expecting more for $5 is unreasonable.

Unlike its progenitor, Amber is quiet and short-lived. Expect maybe three or four hours out of it before it fades off without a trace. I own this fragrance because I think The Perfumer's Workshop is a quality outfit that sells surprisingly high-quality perfumes for very little money (their's is not drugstore fare), and there is almost nothing written about Tea Rose Amber, so I wanted to get some info about it out there. I could be mistaken, but I think this is the only review of this fragrance on the internet. It was released in 1999, and the fact that it has flown under the radar for almost fifteen years is interesting. However, I will warn that if you're an amber fanatic, owning and wearing this scent will be an underwhelming experience for you. It can't compete with Amber Sultan or Ambre Precieux. It's something pleasant for a Saturday afternoon shopping, or baking cookies for the kids. If you enjoy collecting hard-to-find fragrances, you'll probably enjoy owning and occasionally wearing Tea Rose Amber.







11/29/13

Written Into The Light: The Blog-Driven Rise of The Zombie Perfumes




I have been saying for years now that fragrance blogging, fragrance writing, and internet fragrance forums are largely responsible for the discontinuation and resurrection of perfumes. My position has been met with some critical acclaim, and many suggest that I am mistaken in thinking that the power of the written word extends that far, but lately there is evidence, circumstantial as it may be, that I am right. Several perfume brands have, for reasons that are murkier than squid ink, randomly decided to re-release long-discontinued perfumes. Three of these "zombie perfumes" are quite interesting: Patou Pour Homme, Yohji Homme, and Pascal Morabito's Or Black.

Jean Patou is a French brand that was acquired by Proctor & Gamble about ten years ago. People believe that the Patou fragrance line fell apart because P&G mishandled the brand, not knowing what to do with a semi-niche designer name. That's speculation, and I think it flies in the face of P&G's rather good record of managing large company portfolios. Without stepping directly into that argument, I will simply point out that Thomas Fontaine, the man tasked with Patou Pour Homme's revival, has only been given permission to recreate three of Patou's classic perfumes: Chaldee, Patou Pour Homme, and Eau de Patou. Classics like Adieu Sagesse, Divine Folie, Invitation, Le Sien, Moment Supreme, Nacre, and a little talked-about masculine called Voyageur all remain extinct. In the three years since Designer Perfumes, Ltd acquired the Patou brand, only three Patou perfumes are slated for re-release. Why?

On several internet forums, and in the blogosphere, Patou Pour Homme has achieved a mythic cult status. On June 26th, 2012, "WilliamVargas" wrote on Fragrantica:
"Finally got around to getting a small sample of this juice, and it is marvelous. I was afraid of this, dammit! But just looking around for curiosity's sake, it is like people are holding this fragrance hostage . . . it is truly an amazing fragrance, just beautiful in every way."
Sentiments like this abound, with wistful connoisseurs wishing they could simply hop onto the internet and buy a new bottle of Patou Pour Homme without spending an arm and a leg on ebay. One full year before William's review, Tony "Grottola" wrote,
"For me, Patou Pour Homme is an extremely rich and decadent oriental fragrance for men. It opens up on my skin with noticeable lavender and tobacco (yes, I smell tobacco) notes complimented by spices, pepper, and a cooling petitgrain note. The oily tobacco note reminds me of Havana by Aramis, sort of. There's also a dark leather note thrown in the mix. Overall, the feel is sort of like a big, oily, masculine Mitsouko (crossed with a resinous leather chypre like *vintage* Hermes Bel Ami). There are no unpleasant or "pissy" notes to turn people away - just raw, strong masculinity at its finest . . . It's my favorite masculine fragrance ever, and of course it's discontinued."
Tony's review roster is long and accomplished, and unlike many writers, he is balanced in his praises and criticisms, and remarkably well-versed in the language of notes and scent profiles. Presaging his opinion by three years, writer "Knightz" says,
"It's a shame Patou pour Homme was discontinued, it got nothing but positive reviews everywhere. Looking at the notes, I think I would have liked it as well."
No doubt this sort of thinking was fueled by many positive opinions written on the internet, which is currently the only place for people around the globe to opine on their favorite "lost gems." In 2009, Aromi Erotici wrote on his terrific blog, Il Mondo di Odore:
"For me, it is the best overall designer scent I have ever had the pleasure of owning and wearing . . . It's this quality, coupled with the fact that it's discontinued, sought-after, and commanding outrageous prices that makes me love this fragrance and hate it as well."
And "The Non-Blonde's" husband (who is called "The Blond") wrote on her blog:
"Jean Patou Pour Homme is the essence of comfort, calm and understated elegance . . . Sadly, Patou Pour Homme and its brother, the “Prive” version from 1994, are both discontinued and are extremely hard to find, so keep an eye open in yard sales and antique stores as prices on eBay are a bit insane."
You get the idea. Patou PH is widely loved. And out of over thirty-three perfumes, virtually of which are discontinued, and almost all of which are under-publicized, the most beloved of Patou's eighties masculines sees a reissue in 2013. It has, in effect, been written back into the light. It now walks again.

The same goes for Yohji Homme, which for a time in the nineties was owned by Jean Patou as well (its discontinuation, due to the brand's sale, followed Patou's own). Jean Michel-Duriez's licorice-lavender fougère was highly praised with five stars in Luca Turin's Perfumes: The Guide, and from 2008 to the present, has received nothing but high praise on the internet, with Turin's book the only high-visibility print publication to mention it. That Olivier Pescheux was tasked to reformulate and recreate the scent can only be based on the scads of praise it received during its intermission. "Grottola" wrote in 2011,
"The good: Yohji Homme is the crème brûlée of the fragrance world. The bad: Yohji Homme is discontinued and getting harder and harder to find."
The Non-Blonde wrote:
"The discontinuation of Yohji Homme by Yohji Yamamoto is one of those weird mysteries of the perfume world . . . Yohji Homme is fun, edible and sexy without losing its urban edge. Too bad the general public didn't get its charm on time."
In 2012, Clayton of What Men Should Smell Like wrote:
"It was Luca Turin’s glowing review of this extinct fragrance in his 2008 Perfumes Guide that encouraged me to find a bottle."
Dane on PereDePierre wrote:
"This scent shouldn't really appeal to me at all...I'm not crazy about licorice or anise, I generally don't like gourmande/foody scents (although technically its more of a Fougere), and you know how I feel about the bottle. Given all that, its hard to deny YH's beauty."
You can see how Turin's praise for Yohji Homme spurred bloggers to investigate it - the power of the printed word is not as surprising to behold - but it takes some cultural acumen to acknowledge the combined forces of perfume bloggers with good things to say about this odd fougère. This year saw the reissue of Yohji Homme, and Turin re-reviewed it, demoting it slightly to a four-star scent, but heralding it all the same. Why was Yohji Homme reissued at all? Why not just let it languish on ebay as an eternally discontinued perfume? The answer is clear: people wrote that they liked it. One of those people was Luca Turin. Back comes Yohji Homme.

Now comes the news that Pascal Morabito's discontinued Or Black will make a return in 2014, with a picture of the new bottle posted on Morabito's web site. I won't labor through all of the positive reviews of this one, but will settle on saying that nearly 100% of the attention is good, and it all bemoans its discontinuation. Simple phrases like "an amazing fragrance," "a fragrance for people who actually like fragrances," and "a true masterpiece" abound. This was also a Luca Turin favorite, and if not for him, probably would never have been discovered by anyone in the blogosphere. Virtually all online forum reviews come after 2008. Yet Morabito is reissuing Or Black. Again, the positive online attention since Turin's initial probe of this fragrance has, without a doubt, been the motivating factor in the company's choice to revive the scent.

What other perfumes will the internet community bring back into the light? We will see in the year to come.








11/26/13

Antihéros (Etat Libre d'Orange)



I have no problem with the fragrance. I do, however, have a big problem with its price. Antihéros is an abysmal perfume for a few reasons, not the least of which is its contrived approach to lavender, that most-volatile of minty herbs. With real lavender essential oil, you are lucky to glean thirty minutes of enjoyable wear, and more likely to get about ten or fifteen minutes before it simply evaporates into thin air. Twentieth century perfumers have found ways of extending lavender's lifespan beyond the half-hour mark, and into the two or three hour range, without compromising its delicate freshness. A good example is Caron Pour un Homme, which pairs a very bitter-herbal lavender with a cool, clean metallic note, to carry the feeling of dawn-frosted rawness through a few extra innings. The wearer is aware of an unnatural durability to the note, but not at the expense of its smell. If you want lavender, then you get it, and you get it for a time longer than the actual bud could ever offer.

Antihéros doesn't attempt to render lavender buds, but aims for cheap lavender-scented soap instead. It smells a bit like Yardley's English Lavender bar soap. Yardley's can be found at drugstores for a dollar and change. It smells good, but it's gone when the shower's over. If catching heady whiffs of synthetic lavender suds for nine hours straight is appealing to you, this little niche offering by Antoine Maisondieu might float your boat. I'll hand it to Antoine - the stuff never loses its faux-lavender edge. It's strong. It's loud. It lasts forever. A little goes a very long way. But movement-wise, where does the scent actually go? Fake herbal lavender on top for about twenty minutes, then bar-soapy lavender for five hours, then lavender-scented laundry-grade musk for another four hours, and then just a fuzzy hint of white musk at nine hours, and counting. Yikes.

Let's cut the bullshit and not pretend there's any cedar, or moss, or flowers, or anything but two or three massive lavender-like synthetics smooshed together in Antihéros. Yes, it's a likable smell, yes, it smells good for hours, and yes, it's something I wouldn't mind wearing, if Caron PuH didn't already exist. And therein lies the rub: Caron sells for eight dollars an ounce online. Antihéros is about fifty dollars an ounce. Sorry Free Orange State, but once again, I ain't falling for it. If your lavender actually smelled like natural lavender buds for ten hours, my money would already be yours. Your lavender smells like that Yardley soap I get at the dollar store. For ten hours. That means I should find bottles of Antihéros next to Yardley's bar soap. At the dollar store. You get my drift.







11/24/13

French Lover (Frederic Malle)


French Lover has been on my radar for one reason: it's by Pierre Bourdon. I happen to be a Bourdon fan, and expected this Malle perfume to smell amazing. Pretty much everything by Bourdon smells amazing, from his stoic Cool Water, to his variable Féminité du Bois, and with the exception of his relatively unknown work for Romea D'Ameor, Faberlic, and Ulric de Varens, French Lover marks an endpoint in his career, the last of his "blockbuster" fragrances. It's hard to say that anything niche could be blockbuster, but I was around and paying attention in 2007 and 2008, when this Malle scent was brand new. I'm here to remind everyone of just how excited they were when it hit the world stage. It wound up being one of Malle's most successful fragrances, something that put the brand on the map, and for a short time was a basenotes and blogosphere darling. People love this stuff. They should - it smells good.

I happen to like it, but not love it. It reads as a very minimalist composition on my rather dry skin, a simple combination of notes, namely bergamot, black pepper, angelica, vetiver, and cedar. It smells wispy and transparent - not what I expected - and focuses its energies on vetiver and cedar in the drydown, losing most of the astringent citrus and peppery angelica after an hour. For a good five or six hours, French Lover is a slightly grassy cedar, loosely resembling stale cigar smoke, and at the six hour mark it fades away. This tends to happen with popular niche scents that I try for myself - the expectations are high, in large part because of the hype. Then I wear the fragrance, and inevitably think to myself, "Okay, this is very nice, but if it were by Ralph Lauren and sold at Macy's, it would already be forgotten." Ditto for French Lover.







11/18/13

L'Eau Bleue d'Issey Pour Homme (Issey Miyake)



Discovering olfactory doppelgangers is loads of fun. Finding something for $30 that smells 90% like something for $300 is even more fun. Enter L'Eau Bleue d'Issey Pour Homme and Amouage Epic Man.

The other day I blind bought a bottle of L'Eau Bleue at a steep discount. Normally it's priced at $45 here in CT, but this bottle had been sitting around for a while, and found its way to the discount rack, priced at just under $30. Issey Miyake's fragrances are generally of high quality and usually smell pretty good, so finding a large bottle at this price isn't bad. I vaguely remember trying the original L'Eau d'Issey PH many years back, so long ago that I can't even write a review of it, but I know it smelled good. Something fresh, herbal, and citrusy, but how fresh, how herbal, how citrusy? I'd have to revisit it to tell you. One interesting factoid about L'Eau Bleue is that it's actually Miyake's second masculine fragrance, right after the original L'Eau. There was a L'Eau flanker called "Lumieres d'Issey," which was released in 2002, two years prior to L'Eau Bleue, but I don't think that one caught on, nor do I think it really qualifies as a serious entry in the line, given its flanker status (it's probably been discontinued anyway). L'Eau Bleue marks an interesting new direction that the house went in after their Japanese-lemonade debut in 1994.

I sprayed L'Eau Bleue on my arm, waited a few seconds, and took a deep whiff. Immediately, before the fragrance molecules even had a chance to filter through my nose hairs, I exclaimed out loud, "Epic Man, but no oud!" The resemblance is uncanny. Actually, it's Epic that smells like L'Eau, since Miyake's scent came first. What's even stranger is that L'Eau Bleue smells good, and Epic is just so-so. There's the exact same camphoraceous green accord, loaded with a very naturalistic rosemary note (rosemary smells a bit pine-like), juniper, cedar, and an anisic element, possibly fennel. Vick's VapoRub comes to mind, as it did with Epic. The difference is in how L'Eau Bleue's weird, balmy notes accompany rosemary, pink pepper, and patchouli, smelling like a fresh, watery accent to very literal renditions of herbs and spices, instead of sneeze-inducing muscle rub. The absence of oud proves that this sort of woody-chypre structure needs no extra medicinal qualities - the combined forces of juniper, rosemary, ginger, cypress, and pepper are medicinal enough.

There's also a prominent "fresh-fruity" note in the mix, which becomes increasingly apparent as the fragrance dries down, and I'm wondering if Jacques Cavallier dumped a thimbleful of plain old Calone into the formula. If so, it works. Its breezy sweetness permeates the base, and balances the oddness of the scent's earlier stage. It's a nice denouement for what could have been a disaster; L'Eau Bleue's pyramid is chock full of difficult notes, and it could have very easily crashed into a disgusting essential oil bar-soap mess. There's still a soapiness about it, but its herbal and woody elements remain prominent throughout the lifespan of the scent, and it never fuzzes out into something cheap. After four or five hours, it just fades away.

If Epic Man smelled more like an expensive, Creed-ified L'Eau Bleue - in other words, like itself, but with higher quality ingredients, and without any oud and frankincense - I might be tempted to buy it. I think there may be a combination of herbs, and even a geranium note that unifies these two and makes them so similar, and it's not even like Epic Man is loaded with oud. I think there's more frankincense in there. But in Epic, the camphoraceous/herbal accords smell uninspired and cheap. In L'Eau Bleue, they smell revitalized, streamlined, freshened, and very good. Miyake made this idea a versatile scent profile. They also made it a very rich scent profile, full of lushness and dimensionality. I think it's pretty mainstream, and not mind-bending in any way, but well conceived and quite memorable. If you like Epic Man and want to wear an improved version of it "on the cheap," L'Eau Bleue is for you.






11/13/13

Vince Camuto for Men (Vince Camuto)



One of the great mysteries of our time is why in the living hell an upscale fashion and accessories designer would choose to skimp on his brand's perfume. Granted, a $500 suit isn't considered an "expensive" suit in the world of suits (you're probably looking at $10K - $25K per outfit to earn that label), but it's pricey enough to figure on a well-made fragrance, made with above average materials, and packaged in a classy bottle. No such luck - Camuto's signature masculine smells inexpensive and uninspired, another aromatic afterthought in an ugly jug from a lazy brand.

Harry Fremont is one of those wildly successful Firmenich perfumers with a few dozen titles under his belt - Kenneth Cole Black for Men, Halston's Catalyst for Men, and Polo Sport to name a few - and his middle-of-the-road pedigree shows in abundance with VC for Men. The scent is actually quite pleasant, a spicy fougère with a fairly common scratchy-woody accord that people call "leather" nowadays. VC for Men has become somewhat ubiquitous as of late, with leather-wrapped bottles appearing everywhere, and I attribute that to broad distribution and a wide market net, not popularity. This is an inoffensive and safe office scent that no perfume enthusiast would need for any reason other than to have an inoffensive and safe office scent on hand.

I wish I could say more about it, but Vince Camuto for Men is about as boring as it gets. Smelling the fragrance makes me want to avoid the brand's clothing, which looked dull to begin with. Mr. Camuto obviously holds perfume in low regard, or he would have asked Firmenich to custom-design something interesting for him, and to not pull a ready-made formula off the "Harry Fremont" shelf. Try harder, Vince.








11/11/13

Grand Cuir (Parfums Retro)


My sample of Grand Cuir is courtesy of Jeffrey Dame. Two fragrances come to mind whenever I smell Grand Cuir, and it's, well, curious. The first is humble old English Leather by Dana, a cheap citrus chypre with a dry, woody-floral base. The second is none other than Mitsouko. I'll explain.

First, a little background info: Jeffrey Dame and Hugh Spencer founded the house of Parfums Retro, and Grand Cuir is its first offering. Mr. Dame has informed me that a sandalwood scent will follow it up next year, which is something I look forward to, as GC is quite nice. Its top accord of citrus - namely bergamot, lemon, and an astringent (non-sweet) lime immediately calls to mind the current version of English Leather, with its similarly piercing citrus notes. But Grand Cuir is far more sophisticated than this, and its bergamot eventually dominates, bringing the classical chypre fashion, via Mitsouko, to mind. A bitter splash of oakmoss further bolsters the allusion, and although it's a very IFRA-compliant accord, you'd think there was nothing holding Hugh Spencer back. Subtle hints of pine needles and sage add their own green complexities, and elevate the experience into something very pleasant indeed.

As the hours pass, GC's floral heart unravels, revealing an incredibly dry, austere pyramid. What I like about GC, which is also what I hate about Mitsouko, is that its freshness smells fresh, and never slips into Mitsy's flaky old-paint effect. Spencer uses the lemony freshness of geranium to introduce a dry rose and carnation element, and here an amazing feat is accomplished: I am given an olfactory impression of real, animalic leather. That almost never happens! If I didn't know better, I'd say there's some castoreum and/or civet neatly tucked between the organic compounds, but I think this is really an achievement based on a skillful balance of woody materials, including vetiver and an inkling of sandalwood. Everything is smooth, congruent, relaxed, and rendered in an impressively effective manner. This fragrance is a pleasant surprise.

Grand Cuir is a beautiful perfume, and it's beautiful because the ingredient quality is very good, but more importantly, the ingredients are used in a natural, even-handed way. There are no "synthetic" accords, just one languorous, incredibly stark leather. If the brief read "Make us a beautifully stark leather," then it's a mission accomplished.





11/7/13

Vermeil For Men (Vermeil Paris) Part One




This fragrance is a bit of a mystery. The whole Vermeil brand is a mystery, actually. Who is Jean-Louis Vermeil? Where did this brand come from? Who really produces its fragrances? Where are they really located? Someone out there may have answers to these questions, but thus far I haven't been able to unearth any of them myself. I have a suspicion about who is behind the Vermeil line, and I'll elaborate on that in Part Two of this post. This part is a straightforward review of the fragrance itself.

I read a review on Parfumo.net that compared Vermeil for Men to the original Davidoff fragrance, which is long discontinued. The reviewer called Vermeil "Davidoff Lite." Because I love Davidoff's masculines, and can't find a reliable sample of their original masculine, I figured trying the dirt-cheap Vermeil would be the next best thing, given the reputation of the reviewer, who tends to be spot-on in many of his assessments. Complicating matters further, another little birdie whispered in my ear that "Vermeil Pour Homme" is actually much more similar to Davidoff's Relax than it is to the original Davidoff. That intrigued me, because I have a mini of Relax, and I'm familiar with its rendition of tobacco. Internet opinions unanimously hold Vermeil to be a very good tobacco scent. Relax has a subtle tobacco note, and it's decent, but it's nothing much to speak of. I happen to really like Relax, but not enough to spend two hundred dollars on a large bottle. Show me something close to it on the cheap, and I'm all in.


One would be inclined to assume that Vermeil is strictly a masculine - it comes in a bottle ingeniously shaped like a lighter, its color scheme all browns, blacks, and faux brass, and it just feels rather "manly" to look at and hold. Plus, it says "Vermeil for Men" in small print on the box label, which is slapped on as a barcode sticker, like an afterthought. The fragrance is a burly herbal tobacco, with a beautiful bergamot, basil, thyme, and geranium top note, framed in little brackets of lavender and vetiver, and followed by a delightfully simple and eerily realistic tobacco leaf, with some sandalwood and animalic musk. It's safe to say it's a masculine perfume, and it's a piddling point, but it's not actually called "Vermeil Pour Homme." I guess it's supposed to be called "Vermeil for Men," judging by what is printed next to the barcode, although nowhere on the bottle or the rest of the box does it say that. When I think about my life, I realize that I've encountered far more female smokers than male, and the smell of tobacco, no matter how aggressively presented, is not exclusively the domain of men. I had a four-year relationship with a girl who was a walking chimney, for crying out loud. She might have plenty of use for Vermeil, if she didn't already smell like it (and if gender marketing hadn't convinced her to buy a silly pink bottle of liquid candy).

What you need to know, if you're looking for a good, solid tobacco frag, is that Vermeil for Men delivers. My only complaint is that longevity on it is relatively poor, at around four hours with modest application. I guess that's where the super-low price tag comes home to roost, but while it lasts, it smells amazing. That said, the tobacco note is pretty natural, and doesn't try anything fancy. It lets the simple beauty of pure tobacco leaf speak for itself. Furthermore, this scent is VERY similar to Davidoff's fabled Relax, minus the bright mint top note, with a much, much stronger and clearer tobacco note, and with some of Relax's sweetness shaved off the end. Both scents share a near-identical sandalwood/musk accord, and to me it smells like "Relax 2.0" The Davidoff treatment of florals, precious woods, and musk is heavier-handed in comparison (in many ways, it's an attenuated-but-intensified variation of Zino), which makes it harder to wear. I prefer Vermeil's treatment, because it's airier, more relaxed, a little less conspicuous and demanding, but not at the expense of quality. If you love the smell of dry tobacco leaf, please make it a point to buy this and wear it. It's very cheap, so if you hate it, no biggie. It's rare to encounter a well-made fragrance in a cool bottle for less than the price of a Zippo.












11/3/13

Gold Man (Amouage)



Gold Man is my favorite Amouage fragrance. I have decants of six masculines from this brand, and Gold is the one that stands out the most. Actually, despite their obvious quality and originality, the other five Amouages aren't products I would ever purchase and wear. If someone told me I absolutely had to buy an Amouage, Gold would be the one I'd drop coin on.

This is an old-school fragrance, through and through. The first thing I think of when it hits skin is none other than Royal Copenhagen (by Swank or Five Star). I think it's telling that Luca Turin compares Gold to Mouchoir de Monsieur in The Guide, because MdM has a prominent lavender note, and so does Royal Copenhagen. Thus, I must say that a powdery lavender note (and equally powdery mimosa) is responsible for the pop of freshness from the top of Gold Man, which aligns its scent profile ever closer to the ever cheaper RC. Adding to the stark beauty of the top notes is the sweet funk of civet, which emerges in the first thirty seconds, a natural-smelling animalic twist that puts a smile on my face every time I smell it. I happen to love civet, and don't encounter it enough in contemporary masculines. Here it is very satisfying.

What ensues is hard to describe. There is a listed jumble of notes that supposedly inhabit Gold's structure, but few of them will reach out at you during a full wearing. Gold is powdery, but I wouldn't say it's a powder bomb. It's just very, very dry. Almost too dry, as if Guy Robert were trying to bottle the essence of the Sahara desert when he crafted it. Many guys flock to Amouage to experience the brand's signature rendition of frankincense, and Gold showcases incense better than the rest of the range. After about twenty minutes, the incense note appears, smelling incredibly crisp, cool, and downright silvery, despite the composition's namesake. It pushes past a condensed barrage of clipped florals, mostly rose, jasmine, and muguet, with hints of mimosa and heliotrope. The floral accord, which persists throughout the lifespan of the scent, is what really accounts for Gold smelling so close to Royal Copenhagen, because both fragrances exhibit the same dessicated, pressed-in-book bouquet.

Accompanying the incense is a strong muguet-infused greenness, with just the barest hint of fruit, possibly peach. This effect comes and goes, but it all leads in the far drydown to a soft amber, comprised of equal parts spiced myrrh, powdery patchouli, and genuine sandalwood oil. Of all the Amouages in the classic lineup, Gold is by far the most masculine, and begs for a suit and tie. This is a diplomat's scent, something to be worn by men who keep apartments in New York City for downtime between speeches at the U.N. It's expensive, it smells expensive, and it's made expensive using good raw materials on a seemingly unlimited budget.

I think the real key to Gold's success is the nose behind it. Guy Robert is responsible for several masterpieces, including Dioressence, Gucci Pour Homme, the original Calèche, Èquipage, and Doblis, and Monsieur Rochas. He was one of those rare talents that always took purity and elegance to a higher level, and you can be sure that the understated exoticism of Gold has its rightful place in his esteemed list of masterful accomplishments. This scent is one of the greats.





11/1/13

The Notable Differences Between Natural-Smelling Scents And Synthetic-Smelling, Pre-Fab Perfumes



I think of perfume as being similar to wallpaper. Every wallpaper is different, with pricier patterns, like the one pictured above, costing an arm and a leg, and simpler monochromatic themes costing much less. Sometimes, depending on brand, the price range is quite small. It all depends on who is making the paper, who is distributing it, and who is buying it.

When I consider a perfume to be natural in its overall scent profile, I don't think of it in terms of all-natural perfumery. I've never tried an all-natural perfume, though I've read mixed reviews about them. I'm not sure I understand the people who strongly dislike all-natural perfumery, guys like Luca Turin and Chandler Burr. Their position seems to be predicated on the false notion that perfumery is an art form, and therefore must, by all measures, be a labor of artifice. I think perfumery should be held as a practice of combining safe ingredients, any safe ingredients, in a manner that results in a coherent, congruent product, which subsequently smells better than its constituent parts. Some might complain that "better" is a vague and subjective term. Human beings have reference points for everything, but when you consider man-made materials, you also have to consider the hemisphere in which those materials are commonly known. Truly universal materials are of nature. Therefore, from Seattle to Moscow, Toronto to Cape Town, the fragrances of citrus fruits, flowers, and woods are known and appreciated, with many also doubling as flavors.

Let's argue for a moment that the wallpaper above is one of the cheaper patterns in a relatively inexpensive line. It's not dirt-cheap, mind you, but you could easily afford a roll or two for fifty or sixty dollars. You feel that the white birch wood pattern has a pleasantly retro, nineteen-fifties orientalist character, which would go well in your den, and perhaps on one wall of the master bedroom. When you look at the wallpaper, you know you're not seeing real woods, but a commercially designed rendition of woods. You know this is a two-dimensional space, and that if you walk into these woods, you'll break your nose on sheet-rock. Yet it's tempting. There's something about this pattern that is natural in feeling and ambiance, like the greyest woods of November somewhere in New England. Ultimately it's mostly synthetic (although paper is derived from nature), yet it provides customers with a kind of satisfaction from having a "natural" or "Earth-bound" aura in a living space.

Now take a perfume like Halston's Z-14. When you look at the bottle, you see an earthy brown and dark umber tone in the glass. Spray its contents on skin, and there's a rush of citrus and spice, with clear notes of lemon, citrus aldehydes, cinnamon, pine, woods, and moss. Its dry starkness is arresting. It's a very good smell, suggestive of freshness, earthiness, things from nature. Smelling Z-14 is like taking a stroll through the woods on a cold day in November, except you're well aware that you're not actually taking that stroll. The effect is superficial, a commercial product, a subjective rendition of something using the objective odors of many natural, and some synthetic materials. If Z-14 were wallpaper, it would probably look something like the paper shown above.

While smelling Z-14, it's impossible to not notice the cinnamon, which jumps out at the nose. It's just as difficult to miss the strong, almost tarry odor of birch and pine, and if your nose is a bit more experienced, the moss as well. These notes smell like specific things from nature. They don't smell like the hand of man, as much as the hand of God. I'm not suggesting there's anything divine about the perfume. I'm simply suggesting that, as a partial work of nature, it's something that owes its success to the nuances of the land, with man upholding the rest. Clever chemistry resulted in this interesting structure of citrus, woods, muted flowers, and moss. The clever part isn't the composition, but the choice of materials. These materials were obviously chosen to impart a very specific kind of texture, one where notes can separate and be recognized. This is a natural-smelling fragrance.

On the other side of the wallpaper aisle are geometric patterns in pastel and neon colors, mostly manufactured and sold for contemporary interiors. These papers are anywhere from forty to a hundred dollars per roll. When you look at these bright, hard-lined patterns, you think of all the TV themes of the last thirty years. See a squiggly triangle and a neon square? Does it make you think of the patterns shown during the theme song to Saved By The Bell? And what about those gaudy stripes? Fruit Stripe gum, anyone? The connotations are seemingly limitless, except for one crucial little limit: they're all about mankind's devices. TV, movies, architectural movements, fashion trends, whatever it may be, it's not of nature, but of man. Some would argue that anything from man and of man is natural, as man is a product of nature. A worthy opinion, but we need to segregate ourselves from the raw biological patterns that surround us. We can be self-referential, but not in the same context as oakmoss and orange zest.

Think of perfumes like Armani Code and Bleu de Chanel, and ask yourself whether they possess the same earthy, kinda-sorta dirty qualities of things like Z-14, Quorum, Azzaro PH, and Paco Rabanne. Ask yourself if clear lavender, citrus, and spice notes are easily separated from Code and Bleu. Better yet, take a truly abysmal fragrance like Luna Rossa and compare. But wait, there is no comparison! And with Code, I smell a weird, synthetic, pre-fabricated "vanilla gauze," a semi-sweet, warm-fuzzy texture that smells like fancy Airwick. The entire fragrance smells like room-freshener chemicals. You see splashes of latex paint colors when you smell Code. You don't see dark, gnarled trees on a foggy day. Same for Bleu. Yes, Chanel attempted to place a designer-grade grapefruit and ginger note on top of a massive, bittersweet woody amber accord. Sure, one could argue that the citrus and ginger notes are easily detectable and fairly lucid. The problem is not in the choice of things rendered, but in how they are rendered - Bleu's fruits and spices smell needlessly cheap, with the same "fuzzy" aerosol quality of Code.

The funny thing about this is that classical old-school scents like Z-14 aren't "natural," but are just as synthetic as most of the designer stuff of today - and generally they're much, much cheaper! The difference between the natural-smelling and the synthetic rests in how connected to nature these scents are. With Z-14, Azzaro, Paco, we smell herbs, woods, and musks. Many are synthetic, true, but they are rendered to smell literal, and placed within a composition. Their combined strengths make the perfume. Code and Bleu are from places not connected to nature, but to concrete and metal foundations. They hearken from a mindset of crunching numbers and reaping profits. Their notes are what the Leffingwell and Michael Edwards might have referred to, twenty some-odd years ago, as "fantasy" notes. If I recall correctly, that classification was reserved mostly for "fresh" and "aquatic" perfumes, but in this case, if asked to re-label everything, I'd say a perfume like Bleu de Chanel deserves a "fantasy" tag, simply because anyone who thinks they smell like a pleasant combination of fruit and wood notes is living in fantasy land. The rest of us are wishing we didn't have the deodorant aisle at the drugstore as our reference point in the matter.

In the end, we all use wallpaper at some time in life, and many of us use perfume. We are living in a time when human beings automatically disassociate from their natural surroundings for safety and comfort. We dwell above the soil and grass in abodes built of stone, wood, metal, and plastic. Our interiors are decked out in the same materials. We come in contact with plastic more often than petals, rubber more often than stone, particle board more often than wood. We remember nature, and when we encounter wallpapers like the one in this post, we think of it fondly. The same occurs when we smell a natural-smelling fragrance. It is just the way of modern mankind.









10/28/13

Stetson (Coty)



Stetson is one of those rare fragrances that is targeted for one demographic, and works better on another. I've always had a clunky rectangular bottle of Stetson "cologne" (really an EDT) splash, and I've never liked on it my skin. My bottle is at least fifteen years old. On paper it smells great, a pleasant medley of citrus and woody notes against a dusky amber backdrop, an olfactory expression of Spanish siesta. I've always felt it smelled more "spaghetti western" than American western, with the European flourish of animalic musk in the base, layered under an interesting honeyed patchouli. It is unmistakably an oriental, although I've heard people call it a leather, perhaps because its name and packaging evokes images of gallon hats, boots, spurs, and saddles. Ultimately it reads as a cheap citrus-oriental to me, but its quality surpasses its price. With Stetson you get more than you pay for.

On my skin, the fresh lime-lemon-orange accord is immediately urinous, smelling flat, fetid, and downright disgusting for the better part of an hour. Eventually the honey note takes responsibility for that, and separates from the top as the fruitier elements evaporate. The amber is just okay, a little spicy, but overwhelmingly comprised of blurred woody notes and a heaping dose of sweet vanilla. I attribute the spicy-woody vibe to patchouli, and since it's the only texture in the amber, my sense is that there's quite a bit in the formula. Later the musks arrive, with a brighter musk briefly segueing from the amber before darkening into a skank-fest, at least on me. Whatevs - this stuff is surprisingly complex for a cheap cologne.

I recently gave the latest formula a wearing, and found the citrus accord to be much brighter and "fizzier" than of old. It lasted longer too, a full fifteen minutes on skin. The amber felt simpler, with that familiar vanillic sweetness offering a lighter, airier presence, enshrined in peppery carnation, and sitting atop a simple white musk. No frills, no surprises, and nothing to suggest a thirty year-old perfume, aside from perhaps the unusually-hefty dollop of patchouli still lurking under the amber. The new version doesn't go all sour on me, but it's still uncomfortable to wear, and it took me a while to figure out why. It wasn't until I wore Shalimar again that I realized there's something intensely feminine about Stetson, to the point where I'm amazed they even market it to men. It doesn't share anything in common with Shalimar except bright citrus notes and a "warm" amber accord in the heart, but that's an old-fashioned feminine style that somehow crossed over to the men's aisle in the early eighties.

I'm glad it did, but unlike the equally-femme English Leather, Stetson has a cushy warmth and musky sexiness that's probably better on Rachel Warren than Jed Cooper. For a more masculine, more sophisticated alternative, try Obsession for Men instead. For comparatives between the older and newer versions of Stetson, see the scent prisms below, and note the size of that massive Old-Spicy carnation note in the heart of the new stuff!




One other thing to note about Stetson is that it has become increasingly downmarket in recent years, with larger bottles selling for $18 at Walmart, instead of the $30 of yesteryear. I'm not sure what accounts for this, but I have some theories. One is that most young men and women are not buying Stetson, and it has become a big Christmas gift cologne, purchased primarily by people's grandparents. That means it's not moving units during non-holiday seasons, and the price has dropped with the demand. Another theory is that this style of fragrance has simply seen its day. It smacks of classic fifties orientalism, the sort of thing powdered women in mink stoles wore in their cleavage to cocktail parties. It definitely exudes a touch of antiquated glamour, and being that out of step with the times is bound to hurt sales. It's a shame, because it's a good composition made with materials of fair quality, and it should see a revival, perhaps with a different name and by a different brand.







10/26/13

Dolce & Gabbana PH (Dolce & Gabbana)



The only version of D&G PH that I've worn is pictured above, and it's very nice. Don't ask me which country manufactured it, because I couldn't tell you, but beware of the slight changes in the new version, which comes in a bottle without a label. The thing about this fragrance that vexes me is that it's awfully staid. As a fougère it performs nicely enough, with a pleasant and rather mellow lavender-mandarin accord that slowly segues into a spicy-woody base. Vague licks of tobacco and musk lurk in the shadows, but never develop into overwhelming or even somewhat-prominent notes. Everything is fitted together very keenly, with a masculine directness not often found in anything else from this brand. As a signature, it is a smart composition.

Still, for an Italian fragrance, there's something amiss. There's nothing particularly "Mediterranean" about the citrus notes, or the wood notes, or even the lavender notes (is that English lavender I detect?), which is fine, because the scent certainly doesn't have to be a swarthy seventies concoction in the Azzaro PH tradition to smell good. Its ingredients are of decent quality, with several good notes, not the least of which is the tobacco, which at its bravest smells a little like printer's paper for some reason. Mixed together, everything produces an olfactory "wall of sound," but set to a low hum instead of the rousing Spectorian chorus it could have been. There is a creamy, ever-so-polite sandalwood reconstruction behind all the herbs and clipped "manly" florals, and it dominates the far drydown.

Luca Turin called this fragrance a "drone clone done right," but I think it's more of a classical fresh-woody scent for low-key men. A man wearing D&G PH is very likely a nine to five guy in a brown suit, with two young girls and a pregnant wife who watches morning television and attends knitting circles between school runs. It's easy to wrinkle your nose and think, "that doesn't sound good," but actually it's not a bad picture. At least that guy has his shit together. This fragrance has its shit together, too. I understand the reformulations aren't as good (there are several), but I've seen the older version everywhere, so it shouldn't be a problem to find it, if that's what you prefer. In the end it's pleasant, but not enough to stir the blood.