8/24/13

Creature (Kerosene)



When I was a kid, my grandmother would lean over in the car and whisper in a voice louder than the hum of the engine, "Wanna Lifesaver, Bry?" To which I inevitably said, "Yes!" Kids like Lifesavers, especially the Wintergreen ("Wint-O-Green") flavor. They have a uniquely dry, minty sweetness that leaves the inside of your mouth feeling like it's covered in chalk. I know those candies well.

John Pegg's homespun collection offers a woody-aromatic fragrance called Creature, one of the originals in the Kerosene lineup. I had read prior to sampling it that Creature smelled aggressively minty, and expected a Roadster-esque department store mint note that would be passable in anything but an expensive niche fragrance. It turns out I was in for an unpleasant surprise: Creature's mint is none other than Wint-O-Green Lifesavers, back from grandma's pocketbook, with a vengeance. Do you like the smell of Lifesavers? If so, Creature is lurking right up your alley. I happen to prefer the smell on the candy and not on me, thank you very much. After all, this sort of sugared, edible mint smells more like a food flavoring, and not so much like an aroma chemical for serious perfume. Given that good mint fragrances usually aim for the organic-herbal approach to avoid falling into the candy-toothpaste trap, I think it's safe to say that Creature tried to buck the obvious by going for an unabashedly edible "Wintermint." That kind of bravery is laudable, but like most olfactory crapshoots, it falls flat on its face and breaks everyone else's nose in the process. Creature's mint borders on the unwearable after only a few seconds, and unfortunately lasts anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour on skin, and even longer on fabric, which is amazing longevity for a mint note in a fine fragrance.

Things improve a bit within the hour, and subtle wood notes emerge from the plastic bowl of senior-center breath-fresheners. A fairly good birch and cedar accord helps to shed the sugar, and refocuses things onto an outdoorsy structure of woods, patchouli, and herbal tea. This woody sweet-tea vibe hums along for another fifteen minutes, until its constituent notes seem to melt together into an unadorned violet leaf. I also smell hints of something like Hedione, a faint touch of evergreen, and a transparent, IFRA-compliant oakmoss in the base. All arrows are pointing in the same direction: green. Creature is an aromatic green fragrance, very likely a hybrid fougère, with strong chypre elements of floral sweetness and moss. As a lover of green fragrances, I'm tempted to say it all smells very good. Problem is, I can't say that, because it doesn't smell good at all.

It's not that the individual notes smell bad - they don't. It's not that Creature lacks blending, or movement, or compositional finesse - it doesn't. It's not even that Creature smells like something concocted by an amateur. (It does.) It's just that this combination of pleasant notes, positioned in this type of drydown arch, ultimately does not work. The bad top note is one thing, but when the birch and cedar and patchouli notes begin to peek through, they seem to want something solid to hold on to, like perhaps a stonking tobacco note, or a muscular powerhouse accord of patchouli, honey, rose, castoreum, wormwood, and pine. Instead they meekly cling to an equally-meek tea and violet leaf, with just a little smidgen of fir (cypress?) and little else. Also, the Wint-O-Green flavor never entirely fades, casting a stale candy effect across this little marsh. It's pretty disheartening, to say the least.

Nevertheless, the fact that John has managed, with no formal training, to assemble high-quality aroma chemicals that exhibit distinct top, middle, and basenote stages is impressive. What robs his efforts of their luster is the manner in which the Kerosene brand has been marketed. It is featured in GQ Magazine (not really an endorsement for niche), and sells at Min New York, with the scents priced at $140 per 100 ml. This pricing is insane. Independent niche upstarts need to earn trust before they earn that kind of dough. Look at Ineke Ruhland, who launched her line modestly at under $80 a bottle. I guess it's a leap of faith to suppose that John Pegg's fragrances are truly successful works of perfumery, and so far I haven't tried enough of them to say that I've made that leap. I have other Kerosene creations to sample before I can render a fair determination of the line's quality overall, but I'm off to a very rough start.

In regards to Creature, I think it smells like a $40 fragrance at best for the same 100 ml size, and even then it's a tough sell, especially when you can buy rich, aromatic green ferns like Tsar and Jazz for that price without sacrificing ingredient quality. Creature is not a downright terrible fragrance, but I rank it as being among the least successful of the many things I've tried, and I can't help but wonder if it will be exposed not as a glistening beast, but as a shivering, naked little man when the high tide of independent niche perfumery goes out.









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