8/1/13

Cool Water(s)?



I see it a lot in fragrance forums: people review a contemporary fresh fougère or chypre and say things like, "It's a more-natural Cool Water," and, "I like this more than/as much as Cool Water." The name of that famous Davidoff fragrance is dropped all the time. Invariably the comparison is made because there is a perception of a shared aquatic element, or at least of a common synthetic freshness. In the world of masculine perfume, Cool Water is compared to more things than any other scent. You find references to it everywhere. Apparently every company in existence has put their own spin on it, with varying degrees of success.

I'm guilty of it myself, if "guilty" is the right word. I draw comparisons to Cool Water frequently. Comparing things to Cool Water is the easiest way of describing what something is like without resorting to complicated note break-downs. If you tell a newcomer to perfume that something smells like it, they're bound to know what you're talking about, and even if they don't know it very well, that allusion generates an association with the abstract ideas of "freshness," "blueness," and "cleanness." Therefore, calling a frag "another Cool Water" instantly categorizes it as being "blue-fresh, and clean." What else needs to be said?

There is a problem with doing this, of course. It's mostly a guy problem, because as I parse fragrance blogs written by women, I find they're not concerned with masculine perfumery at all. It is the guys who read frag blogs for guys (and by guys) that benefit or suffer whenever the Cool Water comparison is made. Often the comparison is careless and inaccurate, and sometimes it's maddening. Take Swiss Army Classic, for instance. On Fragrantica it gets compared to Cool Water by eight people. Now, bearing in mind that I constantly wear and love (and analyze) Cool Water, in both current and vintage formulas, I felt the comparison of Swiss Army Classic to Davidoff's fougère was reason enough to wear Victorinox's EDT, and compare for myself.

So I did. I wore it, I thought about it, and within five minutes of wearing it I knew that the eight people on Fragrantica who had made the comparison were dead wrong about it. Swiss Army Classic smells nothing at all like Cool Water. It smells like synthetic aroma chemicals, some of them intentionally "fresh," thrown together in a hissy, unbalanced citrus-woody deodorant, with the most prominent effect that of lemon. Lemon doesn't play any direct role in Cool Water, so right there is a major divergence. SAC attempts a cheap stab at amorphous green notes, none of which resolve into anything recognizable, before settling onto a a base of aftershave lavender and pencil-shaving cedar. That ugly graphite-dust effect, which I find in cheaper fragrances with cedar notes, dominated the fragrance. Cool Water never sets foot in that neighborhood.

Then there's Aqua Quorum. Again, several reviewers on Fragrantica and Basenotes compare this lovely fern by Puig to Davidoff's scent. Some even say that it's more natural than Cool Water. Before trying it, I thought Aqua Quorum would smell like a lavender-centric approximation of Cool Water, with maybe Puig's signature pine needle accord dusking its structure. I looked forward to smelling that. Then I bought it, applied it, and wore it for a few hours. Unlike Swiss Army, AQ took a while to really wrap my nose around. It didn't smell like much of anything at first, and I had to get attuned to the Calone molecule in it. When that finally became clear, I knew what I was smelling. AQ presented itself as a Calone-centered fruity aquatic fougère with a hint of pine.

If I were to walk up to you and say, "Cool Water is a Calone-heavy aquatic fougère with a hint of pine," would you agree with me? Probably not. I can't think of anyone who would say that Cool Water has Calone, aquatic notes, and pine notes. Some have said (erroneously) that CW has aquatic notes, but when pressed on it, they concede that dihydromyrcenol, and not Calone, is responsible for its synthetic freshness. Take away AQ's melon-sweet poolwater effect, and what are you left with? An attenuated Quorum with more lavender, and the original Quorum is a woody-leather chypre. Again, comparisons to Cool Water are not apt.

Wings for Men is yet another example. Wings gets compared to Cool Water a lot, with many people saying it smells sweeter and more synthetic - imagine that! There are also cases where people say it's "grapier" than Cool Water, implying CW has a grape note, which is not true. Wings for Men, like Swiss Army Classic, is a hideous fragrance. It smells like the original Windex. If anyone doubts that, just give the original Windex a spritz the next time you're at the store. Sniff the air. Then do the same with Wings. If you can detect any differences at all, write me. I'll publish them. Because as far as I can smell, these two are virtually identical. Windex smells rough, even on glass, and the idea of wearing it as a personal fragrance is nauseating. So here's a syllogism: Windex smells bad. Wings for Men Smells like Windex. Cool Water does not smell like Windex. Therefore, __________ does not smell like Cool Water.

Bleu de Chanel is, to a lesser extent, also compared to Cool Water, but here there is a rift - those who make the comparison are obviously grasping at straws, while those who don't aren't grasping at anything. People have been labeling BdC with names like "common" and "generic" since its release, but can't quite place what exactly it smells of. That's a rookie mistake, based more on carelessness than olfactory skill. Such carelessness doesn't apply to the other CW comparisons, as seasoned noses have compared Wings and AQ to CW many times. But the comparison of Bleu to Cool Water is particularly egregious. Bleu de Chanel is a chypre, loaded up to the brim with blue woody-ambers. The wood notes are dominant, with a loud musk underpinning them. There's a subtle labdanum note in the heart, and a bit of mossy citrus up top, seemingly grapefruit. Does any of that sound like Cool Water to you?

Other notable mentions that draw progressively closer to the truth are Polo Sport (in the same ballpark as CW), Aspen (closer than the others, but again very different), and of course the famous Green Irish Tweed. Of the three, GIT is the only one that sidles right up to CW and tries to hold its hand. The structures of these fragrances are obviously similar, and they both expound upon the abstract "green" accord of the eighties in like fashion. Cool Water's lavender/violet accord mimics GIT's lemon-verbena/violet accord pretty closely. The result is what we've all come to recognize as the standard "men's cologne" vibe of the last twenty-five years, and counting. But why, if CW has but one obvious comparative, do people then go on to link Davidoff's scent to so many others?

It's hard to say, but I expect it's because GIT and CW marked a turning point in how masculine "freshness" was handled in fragrances. After Cool Water, a lot of companies began experimenting with apple notes, woody citrus notes, lavender notes, mint notes, and what I think of as "mini ambers," those little sweet spots that mark the coumarinic hinge in fresh fougères as they transition from bright-herbal tops to woody-musky bases. Prior to GIT and CW, the only fragrance that used these notes (and a few others) in any way that was markedly similar was Drakkar Noir.

When people compare things to Cool Water, they're really acknowledging that specific fragrances exist because of the olfactory aesthetic inspired by Davidoff. The comparison is well-intentioned, and heeds the historical importance of Cool Water, but also overstates the case. While it is certainly influential and copied, Cool Water has never been successfully cloned, duplicated, improved upon, or even convincingly flanked by its own manufacturer. Cool Water exists in irony, where the success of its formula depends on its commercial crystallization in an aesthetic vacuum. Sure, without Drakkar and GIT before it, CW would not have been possible, but despite its progenitors, it is the first and last of its kind.










18 comments:

  1. All this talk of Cool Water has me wanting a Zino review.

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    1. Ha! Then do refer to my Zino review!

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  2. Oh yeah. I've read it. It was Pourmonsieur who never had a Zino review. Don't forget to get your nose on Bois 1920 Exteme. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how it compares.

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    1. god i miss Pourmonsieur. will look into Bois 1920 Extreme. have you tried Davidoff's Relax? can't remember if it was you I was talking to about that one.

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  3. Yeah I miss reading Pourmonsieur too. I hope he finds time to start writing again. Haven't tried Relax but I also don't think I've seen it in the shops around town. Only Goodlife. Sounds like something I might like from your review.

    1920 Extreme is not easy to come buy but they happen to carry the full line in a high end shop here. Very pricey but I think Extreme is a really killer bottle in the line. It's like Zino with high end ingredients and a boozy vanilla bourbon in the base that is just so good.

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    1. sounds like a good one. also I must try Heritage, which I've heard really takes the Zino vibe to a new level. if you try and like (or already know) Goodlife, I'd like to hear your thoughts on it.

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  4. I just got some Heritage on my skin today and I really don't think it's as close as some people say. Heritage has a green fir and aldehyde opening that lasts a while and lemony coriander that reminds me a lot of something like Chanel No. 19. After a while when things settle to the base I can agree they get a lot closer but it's still never a dark brooding scent like Zino (I find Oscar Pour Lui has a lot in common with Zino in this regard). And even in the base I find that Heritage treats the vanilla differently. It's very woody in the middle but not like Zino. Heritage has a more obvious wood note that smells like fresh cedar where I don't really get that from Zino. The rosewood just has a different vibe all together. Heritage is very fresh and sparkling for long while and I'd never say that about Zino. It's still really nice and has great development through the many stages, definitely worth checking out for sure. The bottle has a nice classy look that reflects the perfume well.

    Goodlife I've never tried. But a buddy has Silver Shadow Private Blend and that one really impressed me. The patchouli and cinnamon combo is sweet without being cloying. Francis Kurkdjian was the perfumer behind the original Silver Shadow but I have yet to try it. Looks like they share almost all the same notes just balanced differently.

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    1. That's great info on Heritage, thanks! Do you have the EDT or the EDP? I'm figuring it's the EDT because that's the most readily available. Your description is making me think my next Guerlain is going to be Heritage. I'm not going to repurchase Vetiver, and I keep waffling on Habit Rouge because my experience with it has been less than stellar (I do think it's a good one, tho). Heritage is kind of neglected as far as the blogosphere goes, haven't read a whole lot about it, at least not recently.

      Goodlife seems to have gotten very scarce in the last five years. I remember back in 2008 it was still available on Amazon at high prices but now the stock is diminished. Goes to show that one was well loved. Silver Shadow PB sounds nice also. I'll keep that one in mind. I know Kurkdjian put a lot of work into the SS brand and figure there's something high quality to be found there. Thanks again for your insights into Heritage.

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  5. I don't own it but it was the EDT (If I did I'd find a way to send you a sample). There are bunch of Guerlain counters here in Toronto. Basically at every major mall, as well as one of the few flagship stores, so I'm spoiled in that regard. I think it's something you might like because of the green Chanel like opening. I have Zino and Heritage on either hand right now. Heritage is much more refined and sweeter, I'm really surprised tonka and vanilla isn't listed on fragrantica. It must be a mistake.

    Vetiver is nice but I just couldn't find myself loving it. The only strong vetiver based perfume I've really liked is Chanel's Sycamore. It's really great but pretty expensive. The one Guerlian that really knocks my socks off is L'Instant de Guerlain Extreme. It's the best cocoa gourmand I've ever smelled. I only have a generous sample but when it's gone that's on my want list.

    Goodlife is at all the discounters around here. I'll try it out next time I'm checking things out. The original Davidoff Davidoff is hard to find though.

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    1. you are a lucky man. guerlain counters are not as plentiful here in the US. however I may have an occasion to check in Stamford, where there may be one here in CT.

      I haven't encountered a vetiver that I can get really enthusiastic about yet. not in love with the exact smell of vetiver, but perhaps in a certain composition it'll work. guess I'll have to wait and see, and keep testing.

      the original Davidoff is an elusive fellow and definitely a good fragrance based on what I've read about it, but I'm not dying to try it because it sounds like a standard eighties woody macho-frag, of which I have plenty. interested in trying the original Calvin though, and also L'Instant de Guerlain/L'Instant Extreme.

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  6. Yeah it's pretty funny they actually carry Guerlain in the local Shoppers Drugmart here. Hahaha. The original L' Instant is nice too. The opening is a lot brighter with lemon and anise. Extreme is just the most awesome cocoa, patchouli and star anise combo. The star anise vs. straight anise makes a big difference for me. They dry down to a similar base but Extreme is much more intense as you would imagine. I think they only carry it at the flagship stores or online as far as I can gather. The women who runs the boutique is pretty nice so I'll try and hook you up if I can. I'll tell her about your blog and see if I can swing something.

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    1. well now that is very kind of you, I appreciate that. I am a fan of both anise and star anise, but I find it interesting that they've found a way to integrate cocoa with it in Extreme. Good cocoa notes are hard to come by. Guerlain at drugstores? you are giving me more reasons to visit Canada.

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  7. Haha well you introduced me to some gems so I'll try and score you some Guerlains if I can manage. I'd be interested to see what you think. The Star Anise and Cocoa in Extreme is unmatched from what I've smelled from any other gourmand.

    Yes literally in the drugstores. You can fine the original L'Instant in most of them. But that's usually the only masculine. Most of the rest are the Aqua Allegoria line and various Shalimars. It's a bit crazy. Most carry a good amount of Cartier line for men too. I would imagine most people have no idea what a treat it is.

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    1. I'm glad I could steer you to some good stuff!

      The only Guerlain I've seen here in drugstores is the Shalimar EDC. I happen to really like Shalimar EDT (never tried it in EDC concentration), and figure the EDP/parfum are excellent. Best citrus notes I've smelled. Excellent inedible burnt vanilla. Really great. If I spring for a feminine Guerlain, it'll likely be Shalimar.

      BTW did I tell you Brut released two new flankers? Brut Black & Blue. Not sure if they're just experimental-regional releases because even the Brut web site doesn't show them, but I've tried them. Black has a nice anise note. Nothing out of this world, but good for the price. Blue is a Cool Water clone, and again it's pretty good for ten bucks. They're selling in the Brut classic glass atomizers. That's the exciting stuff you find here in drugstores!

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    2. Hey Brut in a glass bottle is killer. I'd like to try that Black.

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    3. I will try to remember to buy a bottle the next time I see it. I preferred it to the Blue, but yeah the original Brut in glass is awesome (and better than any flanker).

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    4. Bryan...at the risk of sounding a bit insensitive, NONE of the fragrances that you mentioned smell like Cool Water.
      Is there such a condition called being 'nasally' retarded? Or 'nasally underdeveloped'?
      Why people would compared different scent distinctions, and lump them together comparing it to CW...reeks of the totally ridiculous.

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    5. Hi Joseph, I agree, these fragrances share precious little in common with Cool Water. Except GIT, and Aspen by proxy. GIT is the only case in my olfactory journey of sitting bolt upright and saying "woah, wtf?" But to my nose the "bulk" of GIT's scent profile is better aligned to vintage Grey Flannel. The coumarinic violet note gets very rich and sweet in both GIT and Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel. Instead of those notes you get a bitter neroli and dry tobacco note in the dry down of Cool Water.

      I think a lot of people aren't nearly as invested in examining fragrance constructions in the way your average fume head is. So this leads to a log of people just shrugging "fresh" fragrances off and comparing them directly to CW. Luca Turin did it with the original Allure Homme as well. Does Allure resemble CW? Not really.

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