Dolce & Gabbana PH (Dolce & Gabbana)

The only version of D&G PH that I've worn is pictured above, and it's very nice. Don't ask me which country manufactured it, because I couldn't tell you, but beware of the slight changes in the new version, which comes in a bottle without a label. The thing about this fragrance that vexes me is that it's awfully staid. As a fougère it performs nicely enough, with a pleasant and rather mellow lavender-mandarin accord that slowly segues into a spicy-woody base. Vague licks of tobacco and musk lurk in the shadows, but never develop into overwhelming or even somewhat-prominent notes. Everything fits with a directness seldom found in anything from this brand. It's a smart composition.

Still, for an Italian fragrance, there's something amiss. There's nothing particularly "Mediterranean" about the citrus notes, or the wood notes, or even the lavender notes (is that English lavender I detect?), which is fine, because the scent certainly doesn't have to be a swarthy seventies concoction in the Azzaro PH tradition to smell good. Its ingredients are of decent quality, with several good notes, not the least of which is the tobacco, which at its bravest smells a little like printer's paper for some reason. Mixed together, everything produces an olfactory "wall of sound," but set to a low hum instead of the rousing Spectorian chorus it could have been. There is a creamy sandalwood reconstruction behind all the herbs and clipped "manly" florals, and it dominates the far drydown.

Luca Turin called this fragrance a "drone clone done right," but I think it's more of a classical fresh-woody scent for low-key men. A man wearing D&G PH is very likely a nine to five guy in a brown suit, with two young girls and a pregnant wife who watches morning television and attends knitting circles between school runs. It's easy to wrinkle your nose and think, "that doesn't sound good," but actually it's not a bad picture. At least that guy has his shit together. This fragrance has its shit together, too. I understand the reformulations aren't as good (there are several), but I've seen the older version everywhere, so it shouldn't be a problem to find it, if that's what you prefer. In the end it's pleasant, but not enough to stir the blood.


Luna Rossa (Prada)

Luna Rossa strikes me as being a "modern lavender" of some kind, and the lavender is intentionally embellished with a boatload of overtly synthetic notes. What surprises me a little is how abrasive the fougère accord is here. Prada is perfectly capable of producing smooth, complex, soapy fougèrientals like Amber Pour Homme, so I don't know what happened with Luna Rossa. There's no reason why it should smell harsh and cheap, but it does. Prada is a luxury brand, yet wearing Luna Rossa feels surprisingly utilitarian and underwhelmingly pragmatic, like the exasperation felt after erroneously purchasing a first-class plane ticket and finding that you've been bumped to coach because your plane doesn't have a first-class section. I thought Luna Rossa would transport me to an interestingly rich and crisp rendition of the postmodern fougère, and instead I got what Luca Turin would call "sneaker juice."

Loosely translated from Italian, "Luna Rossa" means "Red Moon." So essentially this fragrance is called Red Moon. Strange choice for a name. There's nothing about it that feels especially "red" or "lunar." It seems to smell the way its bottle looks - cold, metallic, surface-reflective. Its lavender note is herbal, bitter, and immersed in bitter orange, which is to say, screechy grey citrus. There's an odd sweetness that creeps in as the top notes dry down, and I imagine it's the supposed ambrette seed note, with its soft, musky quality causing these hints of warmth. Within two hours of application, Luna Rossa develops a detached powdery aura, almost iris-like, and not entirely dissimilar to the stuff in Prada's "Infusion" line. One of the shortcomings of the Infusion line's offerings is their weird treatment of musk - it always feels odd, a little stiff and overly sweet, like a blatantly synthetic musk molecule that the perfumer mistakenly thinks is close enough to the real thing, and therefore doesn't dose correctly. That happens in this fragrance. When it arrives at around the ninety minute point, the musk note wrestles the other notes into submission, arresting them with its falsely-sweet demeanor. At least in the Infusion frags, some of the materials smell of quality. Luna Rossa smells cheap from the first second to the last.

Eventually some relatively unadorned Amboxan sends the failed herbal arrangement to a gauzy, laundry-like denouement, and mercifully the show is over at the five hour mark. Longevity with Luna Rossa is fair, but nothing spectacular, and it's so subpar that I don't really mind. In reviewing this fragrance, I have to maintain some perspective, and bear in mind that perfumes like this are aimed at the young adult market, the scores of teenagers and young twenty-somethings with their inexperienced tastes. It comes across as surprisingly cheap and naff in the world of professional adults, but for a teenage guy to wear Luna Rossa suggests he's a little more refined than his peers, and it probably goes over well with the ladies. At least he's not wearing Axe, right? I broadly equate Luna Rossa to Chanel Allure Homme, in that I thought Allure was the be-all and end-all of masculine perfumery when I was in college, and it wouldn't surprise me if there are 20 year-old guys who feel the same way about this fragrance. I hope for their sake that it (a) works for them while they still enjoy it, and (b) it stops working at around the time the eight-hundredth flanker is unleashed on the unwashed masses. 


gs03 (Biehl Parfumkunstwerke)

Full disclosure: Jeffrey Dame sent me my sample of gs03, along with a few other samples from the biehl line. If you are automatically assuming that I am now a shill for Jeffrey Dame, stop reading. In truth, I'm observing the performances of these fragrances based on my tastes, and my reference points. I am not paid to write these reviews, nor am I under any restrictive "agreement clauses" based on Mr. Dame granting me an interview. This review is as objective as it can be.

Gs03 is one of the nicer eau de cologne-style fragrances on the market today. I could get into a complicated description of the perfume's structure and its lovely note pyramid, but I warn you, gs03 is not a perfume to be strip-sampled. There is no reliable way to sniff its sillage from paper and get any accurate sense of its structure. When it hits skin, and only when it hits skin, the true nature of this aromatic perfume unfolds.

Based on what I had read about Geza Schoen, I thought gs03 would smell like Iso-E Super with "trimmings," and little else. The man has a reputation for overusing this sometimes controversial aroma chemical. There are people who suffer from acute sensitivity to Iso-E Super, and they can't take more than a few seconds of it. Think of it as the olfactory equivalent of fingernails on a chalk board. I myself am not especially fond of the stuff. Jean-Claude Ellena uses it better than most, but Terre D'Hermes bugs me a little, and I'm not even sensitive to Iso-E Super. Bleu de Chanel is another fragrance that utilizes the material a little heavy-handedly.

Its effect is hard to describe. Think fresh, transparent woodiness, only with more weight than dihydromyrcenol, and markedly less finesse to its character. Iso-E Super can be scratchy, and can even be the antithesis of anything perfume-like, if its balance is off. Fortunately Geza used it well in gs03, as it supplies a crisp, woody-fresh spine to a pretty neroli cologne. If Eau Sauvage and Acqua di Parma Colonia got together and had a child, it would be gs03. The lemon/mandarin/pink pepper accord of the top notes is just as clear and fresh as Dior's citrus, and the musky vetiver base comes directly from Colonia. Neroli is prominent throughout the lifespan of the scent, and body heat elicits the sweetest little musk note this side of the Mississippi. There's also some fresh juniper to greenergize (new word) the iris, orange blossom, and castoreum in gs03's cool heart. Very nice.

Eventually the musk relaxes (combined with the florals, it sorta smells like hemp for an hour or so), and a light cedar note takes over, undoubtedly due to the Iso-E Super. Gs03 is a pleasantly modern take on the classical eau de cologne theme, and it's not spoon-bendingly amazing or anything - it's just a comfortable arrangement of clean woody notes atop a distinctive vetiver/cedar base. Projection is about four or five inches from the body, and longevity is a solid ten hours. You can tell Geza attended the Ellena school of material minimalism, because almost all of gs03's modest little handful of notes are apparent from the outset, and all live up to their fullest potential. Would I buy this? No, but not because I don't like it. My stance with EDCs has always been that cheaper (and more abundant) is better, so going down the niche line is, for me, completely unnecessary. However, I can see gs03 appealing to guys and gals who live in warmer climates, and want something a bit more "au courant" and "metro" in the shimmery-fresh fragrance department.


Swiss Army Forest (Victorinox)

Victorinox surprised me, and released a fragrance that smells good. Hearkening from 2012, this woody aromatic smells crisp, fresh, green, and quite nice. After trying the abysmal Swiss Army Classic, I had very low expectations for Forest, but Fabrice Pellegrin and Jean-Pierre Bethouart pulled it off without a hitch. Why it would take two noses to design something as spare and direct as this is beyond me. 

It makes me wonder if these dual-authorship perfumes are really the two-man jobs they're billed as, or if certain misguided brands think that attaching two names to one fragrance lends it more street-cred. Not that it matters in this case. There's no one to blame for anything, because this is a good release.

Forest begins with a bright hit of juniper, dry pine (not the oily variety), and a few drops of fizzy lemon. Within twenty minutes the spicier elements tone back and leave a wry evergreen/cedar accord, conspicuously placed atop a fairly loud, somewhat cheap-smelling white musk base. From that point onward - all of four short hours - Forest is simply pine, cedar, and musk, with fleeting reminders of the lemon. There's no further movement, no further development, and no reason to get excited. 

What impresses me is how the evergreen notes are kept alive and well for more than an hour, as these notes tend to be short-lived. If you're looking for a straightforward woody-pine accord, Forest will do the trick, at least until you remember Pino Silvestre, at which point you'll quickly realize there's no competition, and no reason to spend forty to seventy dollars on Victorinox. You could have Parfums Mavive's masterful fresh fougère for the price of a deli sandwich, and it smells so much better.


Claiborne Sport (Liz Claiborne)

Jean-Claude Delville is not a major household name in the fragrance community, yet his work is fairly ubiquitous - he is the nose behind Clinique Happy, the masculine and feminine Wings for Giorgio, Organza Indecence by Givenchy, Cabotine by Gres, and Lucky You for Men. He's also responsible for Claiborne's little-known fresh fougère from 1997, Claiborne Sport.

I generally find Liz Claiborne products to be low-quality and disappointing. I've had Claiborne clothing literally fall apart, right on my body. Their signature masculine has always been nasal-searing and synthetic to me. So I approached Claiborne Sport with low expectations, inspired solely by this Fragrantica review:
"This is not really 'green,' but rather smells like wine, most likely due to the amber and spices, which simulate a 'dark' fruity quality, as well as the tomato leaf. This is rather dry and just a little sweet. It's reasonably natural smelling and it has a mild woody 'backbone.' Overall, this is rather interesting, and not that far from a niche idea."
The fragrance is a pleasant surprise. What strikes me first about Claiborne Sport is that it actually smells fairly natural, considering its price-point ($13 for 3.4 ounces). I'm not saying it's the work of an all-natural perfumer, not by any means, but there are clear, easily separable notes, which all smell pretty much like whatever they're meant to be - in this case a sturdy arrangement of citrus, spice, lavender, tomato leaf, hawthorn, sage, coumarin, and amber. The top accord is a burst of lemon and bergamot, very sharp and somewhat "grey," as is the tendency of inexpensive citruses, but it very quickly segues into a well-balanced lavender/coriander accord. Within five minutes the coriander is gone, the lavender intensifies (it's basically a laundry-soap lavender, but it smells good), and tomato leaf, sage, ginger, and coumarin combine forces to convey a pleasant herbal-green feeling for several hours.

The drydown is clean, mostly soapy lavender, a dry tannin-like fruity element, cedar and amber. The "wine-like" quality mentioned by the other reviewer is probably attributable to a subtle blackcurrant note, which is quietly blended in with the herbs, and imparts a bitter, semi-metallic fruitiness. Nothing earth-shaking, but still strikingly well-balanced, and amiable enough to wear without regret. Still, there are a couple of small points about Claiborne Sport that I feel I have to make: first, and despite all the embellishments, this is a clever adaptation of Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein, except that unlike other Eternity-inspired fragrances (like Cuba Paris Grey, for instance), this fragrance does a few of its own little twists in mid-air before diving into the shallow end of the familiar. I'm reminded of Eternity in the first ten minutes of wearing Sport, but don't expect to smell like Eternity for the duration of the drydown. Things change. Delville uses a deftly-dosed Calone note to freshen up some of the heart notes, which lends the composition sweetness and strength. The blackcurrant and hawthorn notes that follow create a smooth, almost leathery fruitiness that is not present in Eternity, but perhaps more reminiscent of Creed's Green Valley, or even Dior's Fahrenheit.

Second, and with the exception of the Calone note, Sport smells classier and much more natural than it needs to. What's interesting about Eternity for Men is just how synthetic it smells - the lavender/amber accord is clear and pleasantly rich, but nowhere close to natural. Cuba Paris Grey and Claiborne Sport both use synthetics that feel fresher, airier, and gentler than those of their template, and in Sport's case the ingredients are on par with those of Fahrenheit, albeit at a lower concentration. This gives the impression (probably an illusion) of naturalness. The use of coriander, tomato leaf, and ginger is an attempt to differentiate Sport from its congeners, but because Claiborne's lavender is so pervasive (like Eternity's), the familiar nature of Sport endures, and you feel like you've smelled this composition, or at least something like it, a dozen times before. Despite that, I actually like Claiborne Sport, and I appreciate its spicy-fresh characteristics. If you're going to draw from the success of major masculines, it helps if your formula smells as good as, if not better than the competition. In that regard, this fragrance is a success.


Epic Man (Amouage)

Epic Man is little more than a "woody-fresh" masculine with a surprisingly lackluster drydown arch, especially when one considers the supposedly high-quality materials Amouage uses. One reviewer on Fragrantica writes of Epic:
"Amouage have been known to imitate French style. God knows they have made a few ten-course perfumes. Epic man is their five-course meal. It is the perfect middle ground between opulent and edited."
That's a good way to put it, but I think the editing is a little choppy. I don't smell the tea note that is supposedly in there, nor do I get a concise oud note (although oud is definitely there). I do smell quite a bit of fresh frankincense, which in its own way is rather nice, but Epic Man isn't about incense. I'm not sure what it's about, to be honest. It's one of the few Amouages that smells a bit cheap. It begins with a surprisingly unpleasant arrangement of camphoraceous notes, a weird accord of pink pepper, incense, caraway, mace, and geranium. It's very bright, and instantly reminds me of Vick's VapoRub. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure the smell of Vick's belongs in a jar of Vick's, and not in a perfume.

The drydown blends patchouli, saffron, the usual resins (myrrh, olibanum, elemi) with accents of mace, sandalwood, and cedar. To my nose, the drydown consists mostly of saffron, patchouli, and elemi, with just the faintest touch of sandalwood, and hangover hiccups of that nasty top accord. I read there's castoreum in Epic Man. I don't smell it. I do in earlier incarnations of Dali PH (fortunately not in its latest reformulation) and Chanel Antaeus, and in the end I don't care for castoreum. But perhaps castoreum could lift the composition above and beyond the ordinary, which is what Epic's drydown is: painfully, painfully ordinary. It's all very generic, old-school "men's cologne" at the four-hour stage, and from there I get patchouli, a smudge of precious woods (basically a disassembled woody amber), and the final peppery tang of elemi. 

If you like elemi resin, you'll find Oscar for Men to be a more rewarding experience. It costs about $15 at Marshalls, and actually smells quite natural and easy-going. If you want a no-frills "fresh" masculine, I can think of thirty fragrances that smell better, and at least five that surpass Epic on every count.


Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme (VC&A)

Van Cleef and Arpels Pour Homme has been reformulated, but it's cool. My new bottle smells good, and reasonably natural. I won't go crazy seeking out vintage bottles, because the difference between the old and new is negligible, by most accounts. When it comes to reformulations, my position couldn't be clearer: change is a part of life, so just roll with it.

Although I've never smelled the original formula, I think this one is complex and natural enough to convince me that VC&A PH has been reformulated well. Shamu1 wrote of this scent in 2010:

"I sampled the current formulation of VC&A, and the only difference I can tell is that the top notes are a bit subdued compared to the old version. The top notes in the old version were harsh green, and they practically jumped out of the bottle at you from the get-go. The new one doesn't do that, and the top notes are softer. However, after about 20 minutes, all of the old magic comes right back. Great job reformulating this scent."

With a drop on my wrist, it seems as though there's too much laundry musk in it, but when I give it full wearings, the oakmoss, juniper berry, lavender, tobacco, and cedar coalesce into a fruity complexity that is very rewarding, and laundry musk doesn't factor in. I guess it is an olfactory illusion based on brief, small-dosage samplings. I'm beginning to think that soapy fragrances can pull this olfactory trick, where many relatively natural-smelling notes are bundled together and smoothed-out, to the point where they collectively take on a specific tangential characteristic. 

In this case, that characteristic, due to the soapiness, may be one of laundry-muskiness. Some (myself included) have even likened VC&A PH to Dial Gold bar soap, and I definitely get the comparison, but I think the fragrance also resembles an Edwardian-era Turkish Hammam soap of some kind. There's something stodgy and "fusty" about how carnation, rose, and lavender are rendered, but it doesn't really smell dated, just old-school. It's like Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet without the sentimentality. I like it.


Copper Skies (Kerosene)

When you hear the name "Copper Skies," you think of an autumnal dusk, with the final rays of sunlight filtering through rows of apple trees, brushing their fruit with fingers of crimson and gold. You think of how rich the woodlands smell in October, the one time of year when even the dirt wears its own brand of perfume, and the leaves rustle underfoot. The sky can't help but reflect all the warm colors, the desiccating wilderness, the collective smell of cider and campfires floating through the air, wrapping every nose in its embrace. Such is the magic this name conjures.

Copper Skies is the name of John Pegg's fragrance, and I think it's a blasphemy. October is like a holy month to me (although I dislike Halloween immensely). It's a very special time of year. I reconnect with nature, photographing foliage during leisurely walks along Connecticut trails, inhaling with each step the blissful aromas of dried leaves, cracked tree bark, oily pine needles, and countless other subtle, beautiful things. Copper Skies smells like none of it. Copper Skies forfeits October's romance, favoring instead a sinus-searing cacophony of cresylic odors, ranging from Pine-Sol cleaner, to clove-infused isopropyl alcohol, to just plain alcohol. As it dries-down, the clove note deflates in the composition in a confused manner, like a bit player without an accompanying ensemble that walked out on stage alone after missing its cue. Which doesn't mean it can't get any worse - it does. About ninety minutes into wear, a stinky analog of honey attempts to switch the composition into an oriental amber, but it's like mixing old, stiff, dehydrated honey with toilet cleaner. It's awful.

If you doubt that this is an awful fragrance, I encourage you to wear it for yourself, and take the day to observe as an object lesson just how polite and full of shit your family, friends, and coworkers can be when faced with an abysmal perfume. In my case, people weren't even that polite. I had someone wrinkle their nose when they smelled it on me and say, "Oh god, no. That's a chick repellent." I wholeheartedly agree with her. Copper Skies is a chick repellent. Bear in mind that I don't wear fragrance to attract women. But I am cognizant of fragrances repelling women, and people in general. This one seems to have that effect. In closing, I will say this: John Pegg has created nine fragrances. I have only worn two of them. Therefore, I cannot say that he is a bad perfumer. Not yet, anyway.


Déclaration (Cartier)

To categorically condemn any one perfumery material as being "unpleasant" is difficult to do, because inevitably someone finds a way to use it correctly. Such was the case in the mid nineties, when Jean-Claude Ellena managed to integrate Iso E Super into a formula without making its presence intrusive or harsh. Its usage contributes greatly to the elegance, the sheer beauty of Déclaration, a fresh chypre from 1998 by the moderately reputable house of Cartier. One could argue that Cartier should stick to jewelry and give up on trying to compete in the fragrance world, but for whatever reason they've entrenched themselves in it, so here we are. Thankfully they have a few good scents, and Déclaration qualifies as a magnificent fragrance, and also one of the best masculines of the nineties.

If ever there was a case for sticking with a fragrance into its far drydown, it is made with Déclaration. Its structure is so complex and multi-faceted that mere top and middle notes cannot illustrate the full extent of its abilities. It starts with a sparking, clean, fresh burst of orange citrus, full of juice and pith, before rapidly segueing into a dense accord of herbs and spices. Cumin swims out of the juice first and hits you across the nostrils for a good ten minutes, threatening to tip the whole balance into chaos with its sweaty aggression, but that part quickly subsides and makes way for more pleasant fare. Cardamom, coriander, black pepper, ginger, juniper, birch, and cinnamon unravel in unison, and what strikes me about this procession is how incredibly rich and natural it smells. I love formulas like this, because they boast good note integration and balance, but also enough note separation to discern exactly what its constituent parts are, and how well they function. The coriander is especially impressive (I think it's right up there with Jazz's), and the ginger doesn't get soggy and weird, but stays crisp and clean, thanks to the juniper, a lithe dose of artemisia, and pepper. For two hours this citric-spicy marvel hums along, unscathed by skin chemistry, air pollution, bad attitudes. It's excellent, a true treat to wear.

What stuns me about this is that it isn't even Déclaration's best phase. Three hours into wear, the spices dial themselves back, the Iso E Super becomes more noticeable, and suddenly there's a sweet jasmine/neroli bouquet, tinged with spices and mandarin. The Iso E Super lends the woody-floral accord some radiance and depth. It never asserts itself beyond a modest supporting role, unlike what it does in Bleu de Chanel, where it gets raspy and a bit unbalanced. I understand there's actually quite a bit of it in Déclaration, but Ellena's minimalist, pitch-perfect approach to using three or four complementary and durable aroma chemicals to maximal effect pays off. Déclaration winds up smelling luscious, airy, clean, earthy, and altogether beautiful. If you're a person who enjoys earthy fragrances with a clean-green edge, you'll appreciate this one. Unlike Terre d'Hermès and Chanel's Bleu, which smell nice but rather synthetic and "modern," Déclaration comes across as being textured, natural, and only as "modern" as the best of the late seventies/early eighties powerfrags smelled - which is to say, not much at all (although it's much more refined than your Polos and Quorums). Given the choice between the Hermès and the Bleu, I'm going with the third option: the Cartier, and throw in a diamond-encrusted watch to sweeten the deal even further.


Dior Homme Eau de Toilette (Dior)

Dior Homme strikes me as being the perfect fragrance for a church deacon. The muted, somber iris. The muted, somber "fruit" notes, if you can call them that. The muted, somber, borderline-narcoleptic cacao in the base, swept over with funereal talcum powder, and a nondescript suede fuzz. Colorless, flavorless, and entirely sober, Dior Homme is the perfect thing for a man who gives time-killing sermons about the pitfalls of avarice and prodigality. Sound sexy to you? No, didn't think so. It smells about as sexy as a backache, and is likely just as painful for anyone to wear (anyone with an imagination, that is). It is by far the most boring fragrance that I've experienced this year. It astounds me that it is so popular and widely lauded. Then again, sometimes the most popular things are also the most overrated (Breaking Bad, anyone?), so maybe I shouldn't be surprised.

My one point of admiration for Dior Homme is in its treatment of iris, rendered here by the famed synthetic Biolandes material used in every top-shelf designer chypre since 2008 or 2009. You can smell it in Mitsouko's most recent reformulation. You can smell it in Chanel's lovely 31 Rue Cambon. And you can smell it here, except here it doesn't stick out like the sorest of thumbs. Unlike the other two, this fragrance's iris note peeks out to say hello, and recedes into a complementary array of drab notes, which include a gauzy leather/vetiver accord, an unsweetened amber, cool powder, and a soft, chocolate-like musk. It's not really an unpleasant composition, because every phase has its own muffled sweetness, and nothing grizzles, growls, or shouts. The edges are all rounded here, so there's no chance of bruising. Longevity and projection are fair, so expect about two feet of quiet reach within a seven-hour time span. Believe me, by the end of those seven hours you'll want to bathe in Kouros for a week.