6/8/13

Wings for Men (Elizabeth Arden)





I'll get right to the point here. I've worn a lot of fragrances in the past few years, but Wings for Men rates as one of the worst I've ever encountered. This bad news comes in one heavy little bundle, tied with noose-rope: Wings is a reference for "chemical mess" in contemporary perfumery. Its structure, from top to bottom, feels two hundred percent synthetic, and beyond functional - it's industrial. A quick comparison proves that Wings on one wrist and the original Windex on the other leads to instant olfactory fatigue, a sign that there are few divergences in how the two carry themselves. This thing is a mess.

The better news is that Wings is a reference for the value of oakmoss. I've grown weary of reading about how irreplaceable oakmoss is, because I wear fragrances that contain it, and find little to no extra benefit in either the overall quality of their scents, or their compositional strength compared to similar non-oakmoss formulas. Oakmoss is not a magic bullet. Brut aftershave contains none, but smells great, while Pinaud Clubman contains oakmoss and treemoss, and is equally competent but overbearing, sometimes even headache-inducing. The current version of Eau Sauvage contains zero moss, yet elicits positive responses all the time, while Grey Flannel is a virtual Nabokov novel about oakmoss, and barely registers with anyone (although I love it).

Last month I compared two different versions of Halston Z-14, and found that the truth behind oakmoss in a formula is pretty simple - when the composition is conceptually good to begin with, the presence of moss adds freshness and mossiness, which is a good thing if you happen to be someone with an intractable need for mossy effect, but otherwise inconsequential if the perfumer remained true to the fragrance's original concept in the reformulation. Oakmoss is an allergen, and for me the older formula of Grey Flannel (and Halston 1-12, for that matter) causes occasional bouts of labored breathing and raspiness. The quantity of moss in EA's second-to-last Grey Flannel is large enough to sometimes have my lungs tickling all the way to work, a severe, unpleasant side effect, and an unnecessary price to pay for smelling great. The latest Grey Flannel scales back the moss, but holds true to what the moss is a part of, and now I can wear it without any side effects, while enjoying the same design as before.

Because of its allergenic properties, and in light of the fact that many comparisons of moss-laden to IFRA-compliant formulas are usually biased and skirt the points made here, I point to Wings for Men as the golden idol for "oakmoss moderates" like myself. You can smell reformulations and gnash your teeth all you want, but the truth is that it isn't the oakmoss that made your love great - it was the design of the fragrance as a whole. Wings contains both oakmoss and treemoss, yet smells awful. Why does it smell awful? Because the design is awful. Comparisons to Aqua Quorum and Cool Water are not very apt. Two of the three use Calone to different effect, and woody spices to vaguely similar effect, while one (Cool Water) bears no relation whatsoever, and never needed oakmoss to begin with anyway. If the moss were taken out of the current formula of Wings, it would still smell atrocious. So where does that leave me?

It leaves me with no choice but to declare that oakmoss, as an allergen and a cheap crutch for cheap formulas, needs to be viewed with the rose-colored glasses off for a change. While moss certainly lends depth and longevity to a great many classics, its removal isn't a deal-breaker in reformulations. The deal-breaker is whether or not whatever remains can stand up to scrutiny after the moss is removed. If you think of a great, oakmoss-laden perfume as a beautiful woman in a pretty dress, and she takes that dress off, is she any less beautiful? If it was being used to hide something misshapen and flabby-looking, then yeah, you want that dress back on. But if it was simply accessorizing a gorgeous body, then its removal is not, deep down in your heart, something you're really missing.

We need to love successful conceptual designs, and not just on a material level. The materials are always changing, but if the concept stays true, then you will not be cheated. If your bias about certain materials gets in the way of recognizing the success of a design, then you are cheating yourself. And nothing about this blog post will make any sense to you if you hold the deeply-seated belief that perfume is a form of art, and therefore majestic and transcendental in some abstract way. Fine fragrance is, first and foremost, something that should simply smell good, and is therefore always a part of the functional world, which arguably puts it above art, depending on your orthodoxy (which you need only divulge to yourself).









11 comments:

  1. I have this frightening little blue box. Mine contains a mini of the women's version, which I received as a "gift with purchase" (ha!) from a discount emporium. I once took the top off, but was unable to muster up the courage to put juice to skin. Scary stuff!!!!!

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    1. Don't wear it Sher, it's absolutely ghastly stuff, even in the ladies' version I'm sure. Dirt-cheap and downright disgusting, really. Windex is better.

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  2. Hyperbole is the order of the day so often regarding fragrances. How often do we hear "dog poo" and "cat pee" references that are baseless as well as useless? That said, Wings is truly atrocious and among the lousiest fragrances that, much to my shame, I've owned. It really is the reference "cheape cologne." No, it doesn't smell like a dead skunk, but it is so chemical as to be almost a parody of cheap cologne. Some time ago I wrote a review of this on Basenotes with words to the same effect.

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    1. Indeed, few are bad enough to warrant hyperbolic statements, but to imply that Wings is anything other than "a parody of cheap perfume" is likely an offense to all that is decent and good about humanity. You've hit the nail on the head with this one. It is the most chemical-smelling thing I've ever met. Have you had a chance to try the new Brut "Blue" - which apparently as released along with a "Black" version? They both smell synthetic and flat. Blue attempts to copy Cool Water, and gets the top notes pretty closely, but then thins out into nothing. Black is a pleasant little ditty of lemon, ginger, cardamom, anise, and the faintest suggestion of cedar. These things are dirt cheap, and they smell rather chemical, but they somehow smell pleasant, and on a half-pence budget. They show that even with everything on the cheap, it's actually a bit difficult to create something that smells flat-out awful.

      If we can consider how well the maker of Wings has separated their creation from the Brut Blues and Blacks of the world, we might say they're some perverse kind of genius.

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    2. Oh, it's not that bad...haha. I own it, and don't mind it so much. It's definitely a "little goes a long way" fragrance. At least you're consistent. I believe that you both you and shamu rate this rather poorly, however, you make similar "windex" remarks regarding the original perry ellis 360. Shamu loves the original 360. I bring this up because I sprayed PE360 on the inside of the box in TJ max (It was already opened), and thought "this is similar to wings". Now, that was just the opening, but something was familiar. I respect both yours, and shamu's opinions on fragrances, in fact I normally just Ctrl+F on fragrantica to read your reviews. The real question here is how can Wings and Navy have sub $10 fragrances that last for 48 hours, while more expensive "reformulated" fragrances suffer...haha.

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    3. Jason, I appreciate your readership, and your comment. Wings and PE360 are two of the worst fragrances I've ever worn, in the sense that I dislike them, but they bear significant merit as objective fragrances with admirers, as you have shown. That said, Navy for Men is a fragrance that I appreciate, although I have little occasion or urge to wear it. In recent years I've noticed mild allergies develop strictly to super-cheap fragrances, including (very sadly) Brut, although I attribute my reactions to Brut to my own chemistry experiments of mixing different versions of it together in the search for a "Brutier Brut." Cabotine by Gres, Vanilla Fields, and Tommy Bahama Set Sail Saint Bart's have all become unwearable to me.

      Cheap (as you say, "sub $10") fragrances simply lack the attention to chemical dosage, concentration, and balance that frags above $10 an ounce have. Cheapies are often quite strong, but they're also laden with bottom barrel aroma chemicals, some of which pose allergy risks. More "expensive" fragrances, stuff like Drakkar Noir, Tuscany, Xeryus, which aren't really expensive, enjoy more attention to detail in the lab before being canned and shipped off.

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  3. "We need to love successful conceptual designs, and not just on a material level. The materials are always changing, but if the concept stays true, then you will not be cheated. If your bias about certain materials gets in the way of recognizing the success of a design, then you are cheating yourself." Amen! I get tired of the constant whining over reformulations. The question I ask is: Do I like the reformulation? If yes, I wear it. If not, then I will look for a fragrance of that style or category that I like better. There is a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over Mitsouko, but I am absolutely fine with its current version. To my mind, it is snobbery to dismiss it because of the lack of the true, original ingredient. Judge it by its overall quality, not just whether or not something had to be removed or substituted. Hate it only if it's a lousy perfume!

    I can't speak to Wings for Men, but I loved Wings for Women when it was new, and it became my signature fragrance for a while. Haven't smelled it in years. Shera Pop, you must try it for us and report back! Thanks for taking one for the team. ;-)

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    1. And Mitsouko has had a re-reformulation, BACK to using the magic ingredient that so many seem to miss, in a new, IFRA-friendly form. So even some of the reformulated classics are arguably better, the same, or at the very least SAFER than what they were.

      It's odd that EA Fragrances took over the Wings franchise of Giorgio Beverly Hills and did such a lousy job with the formulas, but I suspect they were never very good to begin with, judging by older reviews I've read.

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  4. This stuff is terrible indeed, and over at Fragrantica you see people claiming "this is Cool Water ramped up!" or "this is what Cool Water should have have bwwn!". Madness. The lavender in this is so overpowering even with the absolute tiniest of sprays and goes into this awful powderiness that is so overpowering with the smallest of applications. I sprayed it on the sleeve of a hoodie to test it when I first bought this as I bought a few other fragrances too, and the smell stayed on that sleeve for a good 10 days easily.

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    1. It's truly awful stuff. Comparing Wings to Cool Water is like comparing a cereal box comic to the Mona Lisa. A nightmare industrial cleaner spill disguised as a masculine cologne.

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  5. Well, I must admit that for some time I did also think that oakmoss was a great ingredient. I don't really suffer from any reactions to it (although all the fragrances I own are post ifra regulations so it could be that the amounts contained are safe) but I realize that some people do and therefor I have to let go of personal bias.
    However I have tried to educate myself on the subject and it became clear that the rules set by ifra and other organisations are not here to punish or dimish the industry, instead this rules are set so that everybody can enjoy a product without the fear for health conserns. I have stated this previously, the art of making perfumes should not be left in the hands of amateurs and therefor I stand behind that perfume making should be strictly regulated. Without the required knowledge one simply doesn't know and may inadvertly create a harmfull concotion. IOW perfume making needs to be taken out of hands of the hobbyists.
    Another point is that people need to be educated on the matter of so called "natural ingredients". To illustrate my point here is an excerpt from a review on the internet I found while browsing for a perfume:

    Like the fresh fragrance, but very disappointed at the use of irritants and chemicals in what appears and claims to be natural. "At Bronnley we use handcrafted methods to blend nature's finest fragrant ingredients into enchanting toiletries that captivate your senses" They don't tell you that they blend nasty chemicals with any natural ingredients they use. Don't touch with a bargepole if you are into natural products like me. I failed to look into the ingredients. More fool me! Big business using cheap ingredients and don't give a damn who it harms!

    Obviously the person got a reaction and jumped to the simple conclusion that it was those "nasty chemicals" that provoked it, while the real reason is quite probably the contrary. Natural ingredients are much more hazardous than simple single molecule fragrant synthetics. People like that have this preconception that natural equals better and / or healthier.

    Because of the restrictions, skilled chemists and perfumers are forced to find alternative ways to create or reformulate perfumes. And they do, Mitsouko had to be reformulated and in the process they created an new oakmoss without the molecules that causes allergic reactions.

    Unfortunately even some professionals like Thomas Fountaine still feel the need to criticize the tight rules set by the scientific committees on consumer safety. Diminishing the allergen dangers, because it only causes problems to 3% of the population. People like Fountaine and Thévenin (owner of the Lubin perfume house) obviously doesn't care about people like you Bryan who are sensitive to oakmoss, giving themselves an air of rebellion against those "technocratic bastards" that try to regulate them. Even going as far as saying that "they are killing the french perfume industry".

    Lucia Caudet EU spokeswoman for industry, said that any ban of the allergens would aim to protect not only those consumers who had had an adverse reaction to them – through labelling – but also those who have not experienced any problems, to prevent them from acquiring a contact allergy.

    I too believe that removing oakmoss or the offending molecules is the way to go and does not spell the end of perfumery as we knew it.

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