360° For Men (Perry Ellis)

Here's another oldie that still manages to hold its own in the pantheon of almost-forgotten nineties masculines, a spicy chypre in the hybridized fashion of Cool Water, Kenzo, and Eternity for Men, the original 360° by Perry Ellis. I personally dislike this fragrance because it smells like Windex to me, but I can understand why others enjoy it. There's something very fizzy and pleasant about how its herbal elements play off each other. Many guys feel there's an evolution in how it dries down, although I don't get much of that - it smells rather false and flat to me. It simply smells of alcohol and something spicy-sweet: the synthetic equivalent of raw maple sap, overlaid with a heinously under-wrought accord of juniper and lavender. What annoys me the most about 360° is the knowledge that if it were balanced, fine-tuned, and composed with top-notch materials, it would smell divine, like a true classic.

There isn't much to state about its progression. It opens smelling like Windex, but in five or ten seconds manages to resemble juniper, lavender, thin citrus (presumably lemon and/or lime), and a duskier cardamom note. The cardamom pulls up as the other notes recede, and is joined by a pissy-smelling sage note, with a sweet white musk upholding everything. There's that vague "fresh-floral" feeling to the drydown that Fragrantica says is freesia, but I'm thinking it is simply geraniol and linalool duking it out in there. Some people would suggest pineapple, but if it's pineapple then it's sucky pineapple, with none of that note's acid twang or buttery (butyric) edge. Nonetheless, the sweetness deepens with time, broadening into a monotonous woody-musky heart with a masculine edging of sage and the memory of juniper, and provides an amenable warmth to a cheap chypre. 360° Blue, and even Aqua Velva, are vastly better than this.


Cabotine Gold (Parfums Grès)

One could argue that the practice of discerning "notes" in perfumes is overrated, but when something as bad as Cabotine Gold comes around it becomes clear that note recognition is part of what enjoying perfumery is all about, or more specifically, what contextualizing scents is about, more than just liking or disliking them. Contextualization is part of making an informed decision about whether or not we like something. If we recognize a natural or synthetic material (this smells like eugenol / this smells like aldehydes), then this keys us into what we know and what we think. 

Cabotine Gold is a perfume so pathetic in both construct and effect that few words can adequately relate the sense of dread it gives me, as almost nothing in it smells like a natural or synthetic perfume material. It's a chemical hairball of a scent, rife with disjointed elements and sporadic movements, an experiment lying on a table somewhere with its severed nerves still twitching up at the moon. If you're a fan of the original, and yearn to try one of its flankers, I say skip this one. It will actually put you off the original, and probably off the entire brand.

I guess there is one - just one - kinda, sorta nice thing I can say about it. Its mandarin opening is juicy and rather naturalistic. I've read that mandarin is a note which esteemed perfumers used to falsify by taking regular orange oils and sandwiching their molecules between tiny dollops of galbanum and rectified birch tar. I doubt I've ever encountered one of these reconstructions, but wish I could say it's what I'm smelling here. There is no cold-smokiness, but there is, for all of ten brief seconds, a sweet citrus punch that suggests Asian fruit. Then it's gone, and I mean completely, totally, utterly gone. Apply in high heat, because if you use CG on anything resembling a winter day that top will probably last far fewer than ten seconds, and your torture will begin all the sooner.

All that ensues is catastrophic: first a hairspray accord that literally smells like Aqua Net, followed by weirdly disheveled, digitally-pixelaled analogs of jasmine and patchouli, which I'm only able to list due to a rather forced sense of sweetness (must be the listed "jasmine" note), and a musty, oily soot note (must be the supposed "patchouli"). So what we really end up with is sweet'n sour Aqua Net. Bring on the laundry musk Frebreze-styled base, and the awfulness is complete. Now imagine all of these elements are globbed together in a dense ball of smell, rolling downhill in a manner that rapidly unravels these attempts at florals and spices and just leaves the shrieky laundry musk blaring away unhappily for seven hours, and you have a sense of how CG moves through the day. Cabotine Gold is the very definition of a "nasty floral," much more so than its predecessor, if I do say.


English Leather Black (Dana)

I have but one simple question: how is it that after sixty years of success with the original English Leather, the brain trust at Dana felt it necessary to release a "black" flanker? When the MEM Company issued the original it was followed by a few flankers, including EL Lime, and every one of them went bust. Seems this brand's flankers aren't in demand, except perhaps Lime, which is missed by a few wet-shavers. Incidentally, Lime's ghost lives on in the recent reformulation of EL, which is rather lime-heavy in the citrus department. There was also a yellow-bottled "Spiced" version, a "Musk" version, and a mysterious "Classic Form" version, which no one seems to know anything about. Funny how these things have their day and then disappear, never to be heard of again. 

I've read that EL Black is a rehash of MEM's Wind Drift (which wasn't attached to the EL brand), but somehow I doubt that's true. Dana's effort in this scent feels remarkably like every other drugstore brand's attempt at "black" versions of popular things. I'm starting to wonder if there's a synthetic base, like one of the famous Schiff bases, labeled "BLACK" for easy, one-stop use. EL Black is basically the dry-woody original overlaid with a piercingly sweet fruity musk note, which blares and blares for all of ten minutes before settling into a nondescript and suedey "leather" base. It gets points for having an ambitious approach to "black," one where crisp citrus is meant to marry metallic blackberry and yield hi-fructose offspring in meadows of manly musk. 

Yet I award a few demerits for being meretricious, offering virtually no material of interest over the course of thirty minutes, despite its rather playful and inviting introduction. Naturally the budget clocks in at around a dollar an ounce, and I'm speaking for the perfumer here, not the buyer, although he isn't expected to shell out any more than that either. Final verdict: try it and see - if you like that fleeting snap of berry enough to forgive the same-old, same-old drydown, there's surely no shame in it. I'm thinking the original is still the only one for me.


Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille (Roger & Gallet)

I've been having an off year with orientals, which doesn't surprise me much. I have to be really in the mood for spicy amber compositions, and even then I find it difficult to reach past my fougères for one. As the years plod by, I'm realizing that fougères and citrusy-green fragrances are more exclusively to my taste, and even in the bitter cold of January they're preferable. It takes a certain kind of crazy to wear an eau de cologne in winter, as they're the most short-lived and ephemeral of all perfumes, often killed in minutes by any temp under forty degrees Fahrenheit. Guess you have to count on people with extra-sensitive sniffers to appreciate your SOTD. If you have a citrus EDC in the classical style of Farina or 4711, give it a try this winter. You may discover a hidden pleasure in how icy air tints bergamot and lemon and crystallizes their piercing aromas. It may be short-lived, but it's interesting and smells amazing.

Jean Marie Farina's 1806 "Extra Vieille" brand, currently by Roger & Gallet, is not the first of Farina's Cologne Waters. The original, pictured below, was created in 1709, and is significantly greener and more floral than its nineteenth century counterpart. I have yet to do a skin comparison of the two, but I'm pleased to say that Extra Vieille smells good nonetheless, and should appeal to cologne enthusiasts. R&G released several variants with lavender, rose, ginger, etc., but the most direct experience comes from the first Extra Vieille, pictured above. It opens on a crest of bergamot and lemon oil, bright, sharp, fresh, clean, surprisingly fruity, and even a tad sweet. There's a little orange and orange flower in there to warm its edges as it begins to dry into an herbal-spicy base of basil, geranium, clove, neroli, and musk. Nice, but boring. The upside of owning Extra Vieille: it's a well balanced EDC, made with slightly higher-quality ingredients than 4711, and is arguably somewhat more satisfying for citrus fanatics because of them.

The downside of Extra Vieille is that the difference in quality isn't vast enough to justify the dramatic difference in price, or the reduction in quantity per bottle. 4711's citrus is equally fresh, but a bit harder and greyer in feel, with what I can only describe as a "colder" drydown. In other words, its various citrus notes coalesce into a dry metallic accord, which is almost odorless. However, its floral and herbal notes kick in and prevent it from smelling simple and cheap, and for the money, it's nice to experience such a chipper basil-rose accord. Farina's citrus is softer, a touch richer, with a warmer drydown. But the musky spread of light florals and herbs in its base doesn't really outshine 4711's in the end, and 4711 definitely lasts longer - sometimes much longer. So I'd say it's almost a draw there. But why spend fifty bucks on three ounces of one when you can have twenty-seven ounces of the other for a single Andrew Jackson?

Furthermore, I'd keep in mind that Extra Vieille's price in no way reflects on its strength or tenacity. You'll be lucky to get twenty minutes out of a few sprays, so be careful. If you're applying it because you enjoy citrus, however attenuated it may be, then this cologne is worth the investment. If you're looking for a brisk refresher after a shower, and aren't overly concerned about how refined your citrus notes are, 4711 is more than adequate. Its citrus is good and serves the same purpose with equal panache, and I think I like its drydown a bit better than Extra Vieille's. I'll get back to you about Farina's 1709 Original.


Salvador Dali Pour Homme (Cofinluxe)

Much is made of this weird perfume. Salvador Dali is an inexpensive conceptual brand, and it's unsurprising that their signature masculine is a cheap ambery fougère with a deep baritone voice. This is, after all, a surrealist concept we're after here. The Dali-lips bottle, the dark tinted glass, the brushstroke font, all precede a good, old-fashioned, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink macho-man composition. It's dark, it's lusty, it's bold, it's eighties baby. This is a goth clubber's elixir. I expected to hear The Cure play "Friday I'm In Love" when I popped the cap open.

People go on about Dali being a brute, an extreme powerhouse, a liquid nightmare, etc. "This smells like blood," "This smells like a psycho's perfume," "This is a frightening fragrance," are all distillations of basenotes sentiments. Don't get me wrong, people do like it, but it's challenging, and consensus says the appropriate situation for wearing Dali is . . . almost never. When do you wear something this heavy, and this dark? A funeral? I'm tempted to say it's a good fragrance for taking final exams, because finals are currently society's scariest thing, hands down. But in truth, Dali is just another classical woody-amber construction on an aromatic fougère chassis.

Dali has been reformulated over the years, and I concede that earlier versions may have contained animalics such as castoreum and civet, but I smell none from my bottle. Castoreum, real or synthetic, is an odd note to incorporate into any structure, as it is full of sweet, urinous, tarry, and floral off-notes, all orbiting an astringent core. I smell sweetness, tarriness, and flowery notes. But these elements are all attributable to specific and entirely separate elements. Interestingly, Dali conveys itself as a fragrance that begins in a super-duper heavy concentration of bundled notes which simply loosen and diminish with time. I'm not getting any big movement in the heart and base, and certainly the top's burn-off period is the most dynamic part of the show.

The note bundle is a brusque burst of lavender, geranium, artemisia, anise, patchouli, and oakmoss. The lavender and anise are sweet, the geranium and artemisia are a bit urinous and bitter, and the patchouli and oakmoss are earthy, straying into tarry. I don't think Dali smells like Balenciaga Pour Homme, but I'd compare it to Balenciaga sooner than Kouros by YSL because of its artemisia note (Balenciaga has it, Kouros doesn't), and the fact that Balenciaga has a pungent earthiness in its core structure, while Kouros is drier and cleaner. For some reason though Dali gets compared to Kouros an awful lot. I guess when something smells complex and confrontational, Kouros becomes the default measuring rod for greatness. But I like how artemisia is handled in Dali. It's a well blended fragrance.

After an hour the budget becomes evident, and while remnants of lavender and artemisia remain to lend woody-herbal spice, the other notes hollow out and become rather flat, forming a bitter envelope into which all of the above is sealed away and lost. The intensity of Dali's intro is what gives people the chills, but with such rough-hewn patchouli (could have used a smoother patchouli), bitter evernia prunastri, growly wormwood, and stark lavender/anise, that's understandable! I prefer Balenciaga, but Dali is a dark, intelligent, unmatched piece of modern perfumery, and despite a relatively lackluster second act, deserving of any compliment it receives. Just wear it with commensurate confidence.


Al-Rehab "Al Fares" Alcohol-Free Concentrated Perfume Oil (Crown Perfumes)

Another big thank you to reader LustandFury for bringing a really good fragrance to my attention. He recently commented about Al Fares, and said it smelled rather close to his card sample of Green Irish Tweed, more than Cool Water or Aspen resemble the Creed. Naturally this piqued my interest, so I bought it. I've worn Al Fares a few times, and partially kinda-sorta agree with him. It definitely has a weighty, eighties-styled structure reminiscent of a brisk violet leaf fougère, yet I find it far more similar to Aspen. 

Since Aspen is a lushly coniferous variant of GIT, it's easy to smell Al Fares' relationship to either scent. (CW doesn't factor in as much, although there are some inevitable parallels to it as well.) My final conclusion regarding this oil is that it's actually a near-perfect clone of Eternity for Men, with a sprightly twist of wintergreen pervading its lovely heart.

One could splice Aspen's crisp, minty pine-sap top note with Eternity's woody base, connect the ends with an identical lavender note, and end up with Al Fares. In this regard you're getting the best of both worlds, while creating a whole new thing. But the latest version of Eternity actually has a brightened-up lavender, so any difference in smell is regrettably minimized. Al Fares is more successful in cloning Eternity than Cuba Paris Grey, which opted to transplant its progenitor's bulk with an airier Calone note. I think a better course of action in cloning is to take the template's strong point and amplify, even to the point of distortion, and that's what Al-Rehab did by greening up the lavender and intensifying it enough to stretch it across eight solid hours. 

If you're in the market for the finest extant clone of Eternity, one which captures with total accuracy the depth of that scent's original formula while nodding to the genius of Aspen's refreshing spirit - kind of a two-in-one classic mish-mash deal - then I heartily recommend this perfume oil. It won't disappoint. However, if you want a lighter, fruitier interpretation of Eternity, Cuba Grey may still be the way to go. Al Fares is stronger, heavier, and reminds me of why I avoid wearing Eternity: I don't like it. Adding a clean-green accord makes it much more attractive, though. I'll certainly wear Al Fares whenever I'm jonesing for Aspen (I'm all out of Aspen).

One more thing: I must say that I find it funny to encounter an Arabian perfume company that so nonchalantly shirks its geographical associations with exotic spices, rich incense, dark floral arrangements, and medicinal woods, to copy two cheap and immeasurably popular American frat house "fresh" fragrances. I know Al-Rehab's other scents are more characteristically Middle Eastern, but Al Fares suggests the guy under the Keffiyeh is Van Wilder. It's nice to know they have a sense of humor.


Coromandel (Chanel)

If you are at least remotely acquainted with the historic marvels that are Coromandel screens, you know they're very special and insanely beautiful items. Layer after layer of heavy lacquer is applied to each panel, with incised half-tone colored images inlaid between them. They've become rather rare to see nowadays, and are often found in museums. There's plenty of olfactory imagery built into the material concept of these screens, at least for me. I imagine old, dehydrated wood, the musty sweetness of lacquer varnish, the bitter, powdery twinge of trace precious metals and stones. The centuries of disuse has rendered this combination no less lovely now than the day a Chinese tradesman put it all together. The spirit of a past era is therefore indefinitely detained, harnessed by the power of a man-made inanimate object.

Translate this to perfume. Consider an opening of sweet benzoin, its lusty energy brimming with fragrant woods and the sharpness of lacquered turpines as they emanate from coniferous hairline fractures. Then there's the smoky essence of whatever street the tradesman works on, with a low hum of patchouli (Asian moths are purportedly a nuisance) flitting through incense and olibanum. The longer you stand there processing the screen, the closer you come to its dry, sacchariferous core, essentially comprised of whatever colorful spicy-floral nonsense neighboring grocers and merchants placed on the bare boards before they were painted and bejeweled into service. The scent feels like it is alive, pulsating, functioning beyond a perceivable realm. That's the mystery of good craft: it transcends function, and even art, and enters a singular space of its own.

Chanel's Coromandel smells this way - on paper. Spritz a strip and revel in the lush elegance of a structure that touts benzoin, patchouli, woods, and chocolate, without falling into the oriental perfume-trap of overzealous redundancy. You've been here before, of course, especially with that much sweet patchouli, but never in a way that felt this refined, and in some ways restrained. Coromandel never shouts, never loses its balance, and never feels immediately familiar - on paper. Wafting from the strip's fibers, it's a postmodern marvel, a succinct commentary on the importance of remembering customs and civilizations that were extinct a few dozen generations ago. You'd be hard pressed to find anything else that smells this good - on paper. Unless you spritz another strip with Zino by Davidoff. And then it gets interesting.

These two perfumes share nothing in common. One is a mellow patchouli oriental, the other a lavender-rosewood fougère. Coromandel is soft and possesses Chanel's trademark fuzziness; Zino is characteristically sharp, and more herbal. Zino's opening definitely does not match the sweet, smiling grace of Coromandel's, and intead feels brutish, more than a little mean. And yet . . . and yet thirty minutes after application to the strip, Coromandel begins to resemble (stripping away the notion of bright lavender and woody citrus) Zino's early drydown, if it were reduced to mere amber. There is enough patchouli, smoky rosewood, and amber in Zino to make me think about Coromandel. Conversely, Chanel's use of resins and incense zeros in on Davidoff's ambery-fern approach. I'm sure you think I'm insane to write this. But do this: apply Coromandel to a strip, wait an hour, and really get a good sniff. Apply Zino to another strip (at the same time as Coromandel), wait forty minutes, and inhale. Switch between them, recognize their differences, but feel their respective vibes, and feel your eyebrows rise.

On skin, Coromandel is not quite up to par with expectations, but significantly better than 31 Rue Cambon. Its richness is apparent, but so too is its prettiness, that quality in every well-conceived Chanel. After the spicy opening and the ambery heart, this fragrance dries into a creamy, white-chocolaty, and surprisingly flat base. I'm told Borneo 1834 is the rough draft of Coromandel, but I've never smelled it, so cannot comment. I feel that, expensive and classy as it is, this Chanel has its masculine counterpart over on the designer shelf at the mall. But still, Coromandel has soul, generates wonderful associations, and every fragrance lover ought to try it.


Love in White (Creed)

This is a tough one. Love in White would be just another hum-drum offering from Creed, eliciting neither love nor hate from the masses, except for a review by one Luca Turin in his oft-mentioned "Guide." The man basically says that if LiW were a shampoo offered with your first shower after sleeping rough in the desert for a few months, you'd opt to keep the lice. Silvery-sharp words there. Hard to ignore this perfume after press like that, particularly as it seems to be in some ways the most ire-fueled negative review in the entire book. One is therefore naturally curious as to what it actually smells like. 

Shampoos generally smell pretty bad in my opinion, and it's almost impossible to imagine a Creed smelling like a bottom shelf shampoo. (Perhaps a top-shelf luxe shampoo, but even that's a stretch - I'm looking at you, Acqua Fiorentina.) Trying LiW on my wrist was one thing. It smelled nice to me, with a lovely orange-fresh top note that segued rapidly into Creed's recent note du jour, which oddly enough, of all things, is rice. Rice. Go figure. It's a challenge trying to determine a reason for Creed's fixation on integrating rice into compositions, and in this case, even more of a challenge to determine if it works. 

So with two or three drops on a small portion of skin, it's already a tough one. But the final conclusion for that part of the testing: LiW smells good, a little unusual, but basically fresh, clean, unremarkable. Time for a full wearing, to see what kind of legs it has. The other day I gave it one, and was struck by a few things, not the least of which was just how downright odd this stuff is. If you want to smell "odd" in the truest sense of the word, perhaps LiW goes on your shortlist.

It opened the same way, with an aromatic orange note that actually smells a touch better than the orange in Orange Spice. Surprising, given how orange-centric that one is. But it's a trade-off; Orange Spice possesses a long-lasting orange note, which persists for no less than four hours on skin and longer on fabric, while LiW's orange endures for little more than five minutes. You do feel as though the tart richness of a real orange peel has been infused into perfumers alcohol for a fruit-hologram effect.

Interestingly, I found out today at work that orange peels are gathered into paper bags and huffed by methadone clinic patients, usually in a weird, last-ditch effort to buck the system and still get high. Supposedly the citrus interacts with mold spores in a way to give huffers the feeling of an altered state. In reality it's just an illusion, with the huffer simply cutting oxygen off from his brain and inhaling the fragrant smell of orange. With this in mind, I imagine the note that follows LiW's top is something akin to what the huffer experiences.

The rice accord that ensues is welded to a distinctly unbalanced mixture of narcissus and jasmine, sweetened I guess by what is supposed to be some ylang-ylang. That's how it goes on paper in diction, but stepping outside the elementary and into the real world, one has a more visceral response: huh? Let's get this straight, LiW is meant to be a white floral fragrance (hence the name), coupled with untreated white rice. The white rice dominates. The white florals lose, big time. In some ways, for their interest in being novel, I think Creed would have been better served to have made LiW completely about rice, and left the flowers out of it. 

As it stands, what you essentially wind up with is the smell of chalky powder (Creed's insistence on using synthetic iris adds to that), with hints of soapy-sweet funk lurking underneath (thank the narcissus-jasmine), for an all-out effect of "it's so bad, it works." Final analysis is, unreservedly, that LiW smells good because it smells adventurous and strange, saved from the reject drawer by its top-shelf synthetics and fleetingly successful use of naturals. It's definitely not what I was expecting at all.

There's a caveat to this, however. Here's why I started out by saying this is a tough one. LiW, on its own, in a vacuum, with no references or comparisons, smells good, like a meanderingly quirky white floral with powdered bone guiding things along into a smooth, slightly vanillic base. There's an erotic component here, and I'm having a difficult time figuring out what it is or where it comes from, but I'm getting snatches of memory from various period-piece movies set in eighteenth century France, with high-bosomed young women floating through sunlit gardens. It's like something they might wear, if the powder from their wigs mixed with a stodgy old-fashioned perfume. And they'd be more inclined to wear it if they'd never smelled anything else Creed made, because when taken out of the vacuum and put into context, LiW winds up smelling like the worst thing Creed ever made. 

Mind you, the worst thing they ever made smells infinitely better than the best of countless other houses (Claiborne's associates might dream of one day reaching its heights with something a hair better than Windex), but in this situation I must say, given a choice among everything in Creed's full range, LiW would be my last. The briefness of the orange, the breadth of sneeze-inducing un-puffed rice, and the strange muted skank of the florals simply doesn't play against Love in Black's sincere violet bloviation, or Spring Flower's bright fruitiness. It's just too strange, and too off-putting to compete. But still, if you're a fan of Creed fragrances, and a fan of unusual white floral arrangements, perhaps the acqueous magnolia and the silky vanilla that pops out here and there will be enough to win you over. Do try it and see.


Moustache (Rochas)

Lavender. Coumarin. Oakmoss. Musk. They're the basic elements of a fougère, all easily recognizable in a composition. We take them for granted nowadays, but a century ago they were a novel construct. Sixty years ago, however, not so much - fougères had hit their stride, and geniuses like Edmond Roudnitska and his wife Thérèse were hard at work creating incredible variations on the theme. Moustache is one example, and the version pictured above (which precedes the more recent re-release) is fascinating to pick apart.

It's a beautiful fragrance, one masquerading as a citrus chypre, with the most elegantly fizzy bergamot-lime accord sweeping its herbal and mossy aspects through the nose on a golden breeze. There's something redolent of overripe stone fruit lurking in that opening, due I suspect to the use of aldehydes (C14? C18?) and a subtle interplay with softly aromatic lavender. The grade of lavender used is similar to the one in Caron Pour un Homme, with a doughy tint that trends closer to warmth than minty coolness, but when blended with natural citrus oils, discreet lemon verbena, and old-fashioned aldehydes, one could miss it. Try not to though, because it's right there with the lime as being the most vibrant rendition of its kind.

Ten minutes on skin brings a pretty basil / jasmine / geranium heart accord, very cool, a little peppery, completely terrestrial. Gradually the musky mossiness of the base asserts itself, with coumarin sweetness holding these two stages together. It's a very soft, hay-like coumarin note, the sort of thing you encounter in more recent aromatics like Kouros and Drakkar Noir, but while those fragrances buttress it with powerful notes, Moustache aims to soothe, letting all the elements cascade together in a comfortable manner. The far drydown is a ghost of lime, still brisk and woody, coupled with hay and oakmoss. Amazing.

Is this the perfect fougère? Perhaps it is Edmond's perfection of the form, with the rare chance to smell some of his wife's elusive talent in there. I think of Moustache the way I think of Pino Silvestre, as a fern that advertises a specific natural element first, and puts its classical form second. But Pino had no pine in it, and the blatant essay on lime in Moustache is built on the best rendition of lime in twentieth century perfumery. If you love citrus fragrances, especially citrus chypres like Eau Sauvage, and haven't tried Moustache, now is the time, before the older version becomes an endangered species. Right now it can still be had from mall stores for under forty dollars. This is one of the greatest citrus-forward fougères ever made, so don't wait.