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.