The history of Lime Sec is difficult to trace directly, as its name does not appear in the few remaining editions of The Pharmaceutical Era Weekly, which advertised the full Pinaud range during the nineteenth century. I keep combing its pages in search of anything similar to it, but haven't seen many citrus references (apparently they had a hell of a lavender water - world renowned). This makes Lime Sec's true age a mystery, and it should be further noted that the brand has not been manufacturing perfume since 1810, as Lime Sec's label suggests - Edouard Pinaud was born around 1810, and I imagine little Eddie's perfumery skills were underdeveloped that year.
Pinaud's history is interesting. Edouard ventured into pharmaceuticals at the sprightly age of twenty (or thereabouts), setting up shop in 1830s Paris. By 1833 he had achieved a commercial break-through with Lilac Vegetol cologne water, which is found in the aforementioned catalog, and which is still available today, oddly enough. I used to own a bottle of "The Veg", as members of the online wetshaver community affectionately call it, and found it nearly impossible to wear. Its pungent, urinous, spoiled-greens top accord is enough to put you off your lunch, and the powdery lilac drydown isn't quite nice enough to redeem it. Still, it's a good aftershave, and deserving of preservation as a reference barbershop "toilet water" of the time.
Unlike expensive niche brands like Penhaligon's, Creed, Truefitt & Hill, and Floris, Edouard Pinaud is exemplary in that he held a Royal Warrant, issued by Queen Victoria, to be sole importer of fine toiletries into England, and English colonial territories, yet never used this official designation to add prestige to his commercial exploits. The Queen's warrant is no longer printed on Pinaud's packaging because royal warrants can only be reproduced within the lifetime of whoever issued them. When Victoria perished, so did her warrant, and any of Pinaud's rights to it. Nevertheless, at the height of his popularity it was rumored that Edouard's toiletries were favored by Napoleon and his armies, and that this brought Pinaud into Europe's royal circles. Edouard reputedly had little to say about this, but didn't deny it. The timeline for Napoleon is off by at least twelve years (Napoleon died in 1821), but Queen Victoria's warrant remains very much a factual part of the brand's history.
It is suspected that Pinaud's labels bear the words "Perfumers Since 1810" because of their takeover of the French Legrand Perfume House, which was founded in 1810. Once the facility was under his ownership, Edouard was able to mass produce his toiletries, and began exporting to the States. By the middle of the nineteenth century his most successful export to America was his Eau de Quinine hair tonic, a much-loved product that is still available today. Most of Pinaud's products were too pricey for the American market, so a cheaper line was developed, and "Pinaud's Roman Smelling Salt Perfumes", a direct ancestor of the Clubman line, was born. The line entered the U.S. barbershop circuit in 1895, and Pinaud's Bay Rum was introduced in 1900.
For a concise summary of the company's split into producing both Clubman and Pinaud ranges, see my review of the original Clubman aftershave-lotion. Lime Sec is not a Clubman-branded product, and is one of the few remaining items to still bear only the Pinaud namesake on its label. Prior to buying Lime Sec, I assumed it was a cologne in the same manner as Clubman aftershave, with a very cheap execution of a cheap idea, affably rendered to satisfy wetshaver tastes. To get better insight into the wetshaver community, visit Badger & Blade, where devoted men gather to discuss shaving techniques, products, and history. Yes, that's right, history - shaving history. It's actually a really interesting forum. It's probably not pulling in many ladies, but the guys love it, and that's understandable, since shaving is mainly a guy thing.
Lime Sec has a bad reputation, and even on B&B it doesn't find much love. Many guys feel it's a poor lime fragrance because the lime note is way too sweet. I thought I was in for Lime Jolly Ranchers when I bought my 12 ounce bottle blind for eight dollars, so expectations were pretty low. I happen to love limes, and how they smell. Last summer the only thing I drank was sparkling mineral water with fresh lime squeezed into it, and I would sniff my juice-covered fingers for the raw smell of pure lime oil. It's a very dry, citric, bittersweet aroma, with a distinct greenness about it. I'd know it anywhere, and it stinks to imagine a cologne that touts itself as a "dry lime", but smells like lime candy. I've learned from reading other people's descriptions of Lime Sec, and then smelling Lime Sec for myself, that I cannot believe everything I read on the internet.
To my nose, Lime Sec is a wonderful lime fougère in a very old-fashioned style of herbal citrus, coumarin, and musk. It smells very crisp and fruity on top, with a gentle burst of semi-sweet lime (not candied), followed by a touch of lemon, and a faint dusting of cinnamon and clove. Very shortly after application a low-key rose note develops, and is devoid of any floral sweetness. Across this little green bridge struts a bone-dry coumarin, welded to a cheap-but-pleasant musk note. The drydown has a strangely airy feel of something both powdery and aqueous, a nice effect for a cologne that doubles as an aftershave. None of Pinaud's aftershaves contain menthol or skin toners, so slapping their cologne on freshly-shorn cheeks yields little to no difference in effect. If you're gonna wear a Pinaud, you might as well get dual use out of it.
I understand why some guys say Lime Sec is a sub-par lime fragrance. It doesn't have a hyper-realistic lime note, and you won't wonder why it's not more expensive. But the lime note isn't candied, either, and trends closer to realism than I expected. It isn't such a stretch to imagine that I'm smelling lime juice when I sniff Lime Sec. I'd say it's nearly identical to real lime oil, except that the synthetic nature of its constituent parts (this is a lime reconstruction, of course) prohibits it from being completely convincing.
That said, for eight dollars, this fragrance really does smell good, and is definitely a satisfying lime cologne. It does not scream "synthetic" or dry down to something thin and crass. The simple coumarin base note is very wry and direct, tinged with the after-effects of fresh, citrus-like aromas. I imagine there are guys who are anosmic to the one-note musk that accompanies the coumarin in the base, and that might detract from the experience for some. I'm impressed by Lime Sec, and it warms the cockles of my heart to think that a more natural formula may have been worn by mustachioed dandies over a century ago.