7/30/13

Creed 1849: Is It Worth It?



So Creed has done it again: released a department store exclusive, this time for a department store people have actually heard of, and they're charging an arm and a leg for it, of course. How much, you ask? 1849, so named to commemorate the establishment of Harrods at Knightsbridge, is going for about $350 a pop in NYC while limited supplies last. Why they carted Harrods exclusives to New York is a question only Creed reps can answer with any accuracy, but I think the obvious applies here - broadening sales to the American marketplace is good business, especially if you're trying to gauge whether a future re-release, possibly under a different name, is worth it. Meanwhile I can't help but wonder at this phenomenon. 1849 is one of those super-rare Creeds that any old Joe can walk in off the street and buy (provided he knows it exists and his timing is good), but that's the only chance he has to test the stuff. Dropping $350 on a bottle without testing it first would be insane, right? Who would blind buy a two-ounce bottle without knowing what they're getting first?

Creed fans, that's who. Basenoters especially. This thread is really interesting, because you can read people's excitement, and literally follow along as they plunk their good money down, wait for their package, and then give their impressions upon its arrival. The general consensus is that 1849 is excellent. Most of the media on the fragrance has been positive. Creed has, by all accounts, done it again and produced a beautiful perfume, and for that I'm happy. I happen to love Creed, and the thought that they're still knocking people's pants off puts a smile on my face.

There's still the nagging question, though - is buying 1849 worth it? It's already more expensive than Creed's other department store exclusive, Scent of Oger. It's an unusual fragrance - apparently a unisex woody-floral with traces of vanilla and quite a bit of feminine sweetness. A few sources mention oud being in there, which naturally makes me think of Royal Oud, which I don't care for. And the bottom line is pretty stark. Because 1849 is so hard to come by, and sampling is nigh impossible, there's no chance on Earth I'll ever buy a bottle. It's not that I doubt its beauty. I fully recognize the merits of those who declare it a masterpiece, as many intelligent noses across the blogosphere and on BN/Fragrantica have said it's wonderful. I'm sure that if I bought a bottle and opened it, sprayed some on my wrist, I would immediately fall in love.

So what's the problem? It's the principle of blindly spending $350 that cuts this thing off at the knees for me. Whether I love the product or not is immaterial at that point. When so much money is being spent, it should by law be spent intelligently. The only way I can spend that much money intelligently is if I know what I'm buying. I mean, really know it. Not suspect. Not imagine. Not figure. Not believe. Know. I must have no doubt that the bottle I receive contains juice of divine proportions. I must know that its structure is lovely, its balance exquisite, its drydown divine. These expectations must be based on memory, and not precognition. Therefore, buying a bottle is out of the question, as memories of 1849 aren't happening in my lifetime.

Does that mean this Creed isn't worth blind buying at all? For me it isn't. Everyone else can do as they please. I don't think less of anyone who splurges on it. I understand completely. I'm just not gonna go there.







7/23/13

Laguna (Salvador Dali/Cofinluxe)




I'm becoming a fan of Mark Buxton. In the autumn of last year I got acquainted with Taxi, and thought it was excellent but hampered by its genre. I recently got my hands on an ounce of Laguna, the infamous 1991 fruity-floral that Buxton crafted for the partnership of The Salvador Dali Foundation and Cofinluxe, and my heart went all a-twitter when it touched my nose. There are times when fragrances generate instant love, and my first wearing of Laguna was one of them. This is fine stuff, the work of a man who takes pride in using cheap materials and alchemically transforming them into pricelessly classy fragrances. It's also historically important: Laguna was one of the first nineties fragrances to embrace the sweet-aquatic theme, employing fruit notes, lily-of-the-valley, and cleverly-disguised dihydromyrcenol to convey a languidly narcotic floral in a fresh, tropical style. The result is something brilliant and original. Nothing else smells quite like it.

The name Laguna refers to any one of several exotic locations (take your pick between Hong Kong, Brazil, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines), but I think it's an alteration of the word Lagoon. A Lagoon is a small body of water adjacent to the sea, with demarcations of coral reefs and small islands. Hearing Laguna transports my imagination to a little white beach, its coastline overflowing with green mosses and colorful flowers that dip their tendrils into sapphire waters. Indeed, the perfume conjures this scene, with a brief but rewardingly realistic pineapple-lemon-coconut accord, followed by a peachy lily, iris, and jasmine heart. The florals are blended, and almost flattened into a slick mess, but an airiness in the structure prevents it from smelling cheap. Then a curious thing: sweet but inedible vanilla and a very quiet sandalwood hold things steady as Laguna dissolves into a cool musk.

There's a milkiness to Laguna's drydown, and at first it seems like a typical oriental-vanilla amber was integrated into the structure, but vanilla is more than a sweet extract - it is also an orchid, with white flowers that yield their own cozy sweetness. I think Buxton replicated the scent of vanilla flowers in Laguna, and by doing so he managed to create an original amber accord that straddles edibility without betraying the promise of all those green top notes. I also get a whiff of tonka and spiced patchouli to round it out, and the dyrdown musk is of the salty variety. Laguna is soft, juicy, a little dewey, a little woody, and entirely wonderful. It's a great way to get exposure to Buxton's early style, perhaps to better understand how it evolved. When my ounce is finished, I'll be replacing it with a larger bottle, that's for sure!






7/21/13

Venezia Uomo (Laura Biagiotti)



Venice is a beautiful city. I was fortunate enough to visit it a few years ago, and enjoyed my time there immensely. It was by far the most exotic Italian town I stopped in. The masks, the gondolas, the outdoor cafes, the north Africans busking and selling things on street corners, the twinkling of Croatia's lights from the beaches of Lido at night, all were wonderful to take in. I don't know what it's like to live there, but I imagine it's something only the very rich can experience in full. The region is, put simply, e-fucking-gads expensive. Don't let that stop you from traveling to Venezia to experience its canal odors and bad singing for yourself. It's totally worth it.

Any perfume that adopts the Venetian moniker should by definition be equally plush and luxurious, full of exotic notes and accords, but Laura Biagiotti's Venezia Uomo is rather surprisingly staid. It is truly an ordinary ambery fougère in an early-nineties style of brusque, sweeping herbal accords. There's a crapload of lavender, bergamot, cedar, patchouli, and tonka. My bottle is by default "vintage" and I believe the top notes have turned a bit, as the citrus and lavender notes are not as perky and well-defined as they should be, but no matter - the patchouli and cedar drydown is rich, smoky, and sweet, lending the experience of wearing Venezia a pleasantness commonly found in these types of fragrances. This isn't a brutish powerhouse or a snarling musk-bomb like Kouros or Lapidus. It's more in line with Davidoff's Relax and the original Brut, with some extra smoothness and sweetness for good measure.

I like Venezia but I don't love it, and its discontinuation doesn't keep me up nights. Still available at brick and mortars for reasonable prices, it is perhaps overshadowed by Biagiotti's very own Roma, but still deserves consideration if you're a fan of nineties ambers. Someone on Fragrantica or basenotes called Venezia "a grown-up Dreamer," and I guess I can see that, as there is a tobacco-esque angle to the patchouli-cedar combo, but I don't find a true tobacco note in here. Nevertheless, if you like the Dreamer and oriental-boozy fougères, Venezia is something to seek out.






7/18/13

Je Suis un Homme (Etat Libre d'Orange)



I've come to find that certain marketing tactics adopted by niche brands are clumsier and more unintentionally transparent than those employed by designers. For Je Suis un Homme, the strategy is especially maladroit: make a clone of a famous seventies designer masculine, in this case a leathery chypre, and then claim that it's an eau de cologne inspired by antiquity (Napoleon's time, to be exact). Why not just admit that it's a copy of a great seventies chypre, you ask? Because then everyone would revisit the original, only to find that it's better. The hope is that some of the template's greatness will carry over into our impressions of the niche product, while the little fairly-tale about Napoleon distracts us away from associating it with something superior and cheaper. I say nice try, Free Orange State, but yours is no eighteenth-century cologne.

Je Suis un Homme is little more than a deflated Halston Z-14. It has the same crisp lemon top note as Z-14, and segues just as rapidly into the same cinnamon-leather base accord, which hums along dryly for a few hours before fading into a woodsy musk. From beginning to end, this fragrance mimics Z-14 with a shamelessness that would put Creed to shame. I say that because Z-14 is one-eighth the price of JSuH, and one hundred times better. While Free Orange State's chypre has perfect balance and fairly high-quality materials, it lacks depth and complexity. It possesses zero mossiness, and no floral notes to speak of. I'm doing a side-by-side sniff of JSuH and the treemoss formula of Z-14, and it's remarkable how the latter's jasmine note jumps right out. It's also strange that Liz Arden's materials seem just as vibrant as JsuH's. I think we're looking at a difference in mark-up here, not in materials.

As long as they keep selling the treemoss version of Z-14, I can't in good conscience recommend Je Suis un Homme. I appreciate that Antoine Lie considers Z-14 to be the essence of a man, and I like that he paid homage to it, but his version feels flat and more than a little boring in comparison. If you're going to do a woody-citrus, you want the citrus to be strange, i.e., an enhancement of its woody aspect, and you should marginalize the spices with heady flowers and moss notes. Throwing a conventionally dry lemon note on top of an equally-dry cinnamon-birch-musk accord is okay, but a little too simplistic. When all is said and done, Je Suis un Homme is a nice fragrance, but grossly overpriced for what it is, and no match in the manliness department for that boisterous brown blood cell from 1976.







7/16/13

Jubilation XXV (Amouage)



Myrrh is interesting. It has a sharp and bitterly-astringent side, and also a sweetly-resinous side, making its integration in perfume both easy and tricky. It's a fairly uncomplicated endeavor to use myrrh as a central note in a composition, as its cheery anisic characteristics cooperate well with many other resins and woods, like opopanax, elemi, cedar, etc. Opopanax shares myrrh's spiced sweetness, while elemi accents its piney-evergreen qualities, and woods like cedar and birch bring out its woody-ambery side. On some weird, clinically theoretical level it should be hard to pull off using myrrh in perfume without eliciting associations with antiseptic alcohols, as it's the primary scent and flavor in many antiseptics and mouthwashes (the original Listerine, for example), but when you consider that Myrrh smells good, it isn't surprising to find that it has been used successfully.

Jubilation XXV is a myrrh perfume, and a very good one. It has one of the richest fruity-resinous top notes I've ever encountered, loaded with blackberry, mandarin, opopanax, oud, and myrrh, myrrh, and more myrrh. The effect is syrupy, spicy, fresh, sweet, and very dense, but somehow coherent, especially when the incense begins to well up from the heart. There's the rosy sweetness of guaiac wood, an oozing honey accord, and a few other excellent materials jumbled into the mix, all working together to frame the myrrh. The last time I met a myrrh note this strong, I was wearing Eau Sauvage Parfum. It's hard to know when myrrh is appropriate, because in winter it dries out and smells smokier and thinner than it should, while summer over-amplifies its fuzzier and sweeter qualities, and I'm not ready to endorse Jubiliation XXV as a summer fragrance. I do think it smells good (possibly best) in cooler, damper air. Try it in the autumn to see if it feels right.

Would I ever wear this fragrance? Actually, no. I appreciate its structure, its focus, and its execution, but find its notes too dense for my taste. In heat it takes on a Yankee Candle effect, and is almost nauseating. Bay and cedar notes sustain a pleasant period in Jubilation's evolution, but it's not enough to convince me that $300+ is a fair price. Why is it that when I abandoned Creed to explore other niche brands, I began experiencing saccharine Yankee Candle notes? Bond no.9 and Amouage are offenders, with a few chemically-sweet "fresh" accords that seem destined for overpriced wax. When family members smelled Jubilation, they said things like, "It's kind of generic," and "It's harsh." One person said, "It smells like a cleaner" (had to be the myrrh). So it's not a hit with your average nose, either. This is not a compliment-getter on me. Disappointing.

I still think it's a good fragrance, and wouldn't be surprised if people in Europe and the Middle East think it smells nice. Perfumes that are both deeply resinous and fruity-fresh are pretty rare, and when a good one comes around you have to take serious stock of what you're smelling - vegetal hydrocarbon secretions that serve in nature to repel, rather than attract. Human nature diverges from animal tendencies in finding these materials attractive, but if we think wearing them enhances our own attractiveness, we may have missed the plot. Jubilation smells good, but doesn't smell good on me, and therefore remains a quality perfume that I tried and passed on. Even Amouage can't win 'em all, but good show nevertheless, and bravo Bertrand Duchaufour.







7/13/13

Sahara Noir (Tom Ford)



A great incense perfume has the advantage of boasting a material with its own olfactory polarities, which are in equal measure both smoky-cold and dusky-warm. Incense has a crisp, spicy, balsamic odor, which in some ways is similar to the world's greatest sneeze-inducer, black pepper. There's a flinty aspect to it (and frankincense in general) that always feels mysteriously cool and aloof, but also paradoxical, thanks to its warmer, ambery edge. In perusing the blogosphere, you would think Sahara Noir is an ode to Africa and the Middle East, a cultural nod via scent. I want to feel like Lawrence of Arabia when I wear it, but I was raised a Roman Catholic, and for many years attended mass in cathedrals across the U.S. and Ireland. Despite a searing awareness of frankincense's true geographical origins, Sahara Noir strips me of my tunic and keffiyeh, and drops me via scent memory right into Sunday morning mass at Sligo's Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception. Let's drop the exotic references in speaking of this latest Tom Ford signature release, for here there are no camel treks across arid desert sands, or carpet shops in Moroccan souqs. Sahara Noir smells of Catholic church incense, which is fairly common (and inexpensive) on the international market. Does that suck the air out of Tom Ford's sails? Not quite.

Tom Ford's fragrance conceptualization is typically hum-drum and a little tawdry, but in sniffing past Black Orchid, Gucci Rush, and Violet Blonde, I'm definitely smelling a serious, high-quality perfume in Sahara Noir. Its secret weapon isn't incense, but the shimmering accord produced by its pairing with cistus labdanum. The latter material exhibits its own internal scent polarities, with bright top notes of freshly-hewn wood pulling at earthier base notes of raw leather, sweet spice, and honeyed amber. It lends the composition a deeper warmth and creates a smooth amber over which the church smoke can waft. It also skilfully reinforces the brighter, almost citrus-like qualities of fresh incense. Sahara Noir utilizes both materials by putting them parallel to each other, with their convergent evolution yielding hyper-realistic solemnity. By replicating the smell of church incense, it offers something more: the suggestion of a spirit lurking in the smoke. In a stroke of genius, Ford seems to have demanded the integration of floral notes with a few drops of vanilla, as I often get little whiffs of rose, and an almost-edible sweetness under all the resins. It's really great stuff, really potent, and bound to satisfy even the most jaded incense lover.

It helps to be somewhat familiar with a few Amouage fragrances while wearing Sahara Noir, because their compositions are a bit less obvious about the use of incense. Amouage doesn't try to offer incense reconstructions. They simply use quality incense as a coherent bond for what are typically relatable materials, like wormwood, cedar, and ambergris. Because the perfumes are of such high quality, and because their noses are cognizant of incense's many facets, Amouage fragrances manage to make what little incense they contain sing out and sweeten the air. Ford's more literal interpretation goes for photo-realism by relying on the accuracy of memory, relating real-time experiences to thematic associations. Since incense is used in religious ceremonies, there's no shame in associating Sahara Noir with the imported oak pews in a Celtic country. I'm grateful to this perfume for eliciting those memories - I really love that cathedral. It's an architectural marvel, and whenever the priest waves the burner, its looming spires fill with the scent of a thousand sins gone unpunished. Now all of that mystery comes in a gaudy faux-gold bottle with matching gold tassels. Thank you, God!






7/11/13

Grenats (Keiko Mecheri)



I had high hopes for this one, based on Tania Sanchez's brief review in The Guide, which basically declared Grenats to be a green apple fragrance in the cliched masculine mold. I was thinking Cool Water with mostly apple. Grenats is not in the least bit an apple fragrance, and is anything but cliched. I'm disappointed. Blotter tests are all fine and well, but you need skin to expose the true structure of a perfume, and my suspicion of Sanchez's testing method deepens as I continue to delve into The Guide's back-catalog. (Individuel a citrus-green? Could have fooled me!) The tangy lemon top note could indeed be misconstrued on paper as a sort of greenish crab apple, but in actuality it's weedy angelica, mixed with the citrus and a hint of something sweet and coldly bitter, the scent of preserved peaches still in their tin. Yuck.

There's also a prominent jasmine-like hedione note, which intensifies as the fragrance dries down. Eventually it's clear - this is a green spring floral, not a million miles away from Spring Flower, but cruder, and without any of the Creed's complexity. In the far drydown (three hours later) it becomes a cheap, fuzzed-out mess. Grenats is unpleasant from beginning to end, with virtually no redeeming features, and I wouldn't wear it if you paid me to. Funny side note: apparently basenotes got its name wrong in the directory, and dubbed it "Grenades." As Grenats and grenade shrapnel share a kinship in scent, Grant's error is the very definition of the phrase, "bitter irony."





7/9/13

Agua Brava (Antonio Puig)



There are moments in my seemingly endless fragrance journey when I know I have encountered something valuable: an idea, liquefied and bottled and worn by millions of people, yet still rare. Such perfumes are not accouterments to dress, or accessories in fashion, but mantles into which certain individuals are to step, to assume their roles as the world's Alphas and Omegas. Such is Agua Brava, a coded message in brown glass. This flawless gem declares its wearers as mindful of the earth on which they tread, acutely aware of nature's master plan for all blooded vessels, and ready to bequeath this truth to loved ones, should their love be cut short. It is a fragrance one can live comfortably in, and die happily in. It is the simplicity of verdant beauty, expressed in three simple accords - citrus, pine needles, and moss.

This fougère's best feature is its amazingly natural feel. It is structurally unremarkable, as there are thousands of woody-piney old-school masculines in a similar caste, and it lacks assertiveness (it's all but gone in four hours), but the quality of its materials is humbling. Its bergamot and lemon top note is woven with enough skill to allow every one of its minuscule citrus molecules a chance to shine, and to pierce through the air with crystalline clarity. Its bay-laden pine accord is brisk, airy, and quite rich, a balancing act completely devoid of synthetic foundation and flourish. There are no white musks, no iso E-supers, no dihydromyrcenols, Calones, or Acetylenic esters. There are simply the expressed constituencies of 10 carbon alcohols, with vague wisps of lavender and mint interlaced into stronger notes of bergamot and raw fir, an entirely natural effect, complete with wood sap and dew.

I'm inclined to accept the English interpretation of Agua Brava's name as "Brave Water," although there are variances in meaning, depending on where you look. It reminds me of Dior's Eau Sauvage, or "Savage Water," in that respect. Is Eau Sauvage "savage?" Yes and no - it is savagely beautiful, but ultimately a tame composition. What about "Brave Water?" I think this is closer to the mark, not because it takes an act of courage to wear Agua Brava, but because attempts to explain it to bystanders requires a leap of faith. You have to believe that your melon/aquatic-wearing brethren will accept your headscratch-inducing embrace of bitter, indedible fruit and dusky pine, twenty-five years after the death of that trend in fine fragrance. Furthermore, once your explanation has been proffered, an unflinching faith in the continued existence of kindred spirits is needed to get you through the odd reactions ("it smells like soup," "it's herbal b.o.") that are sure to follow. In any case, Agua Brava remains a stalwart member of a triad of Mediterranean herbal-pines, and continues to stand beside Pino Silvestre and Acqua di Selva as a timeless cologne that always smells great.









7/7/13

Shi (Alfred Sung)



Some fragrances break all the known rules of good perfumery, yet still come out smelling great. Alfred Sung's fragrances in general seem to do this to varying degrees, although the latest version of the original feminine isn't very good. Sung Homme is overtly synthetic, a little harsh, overly-complex in its pyramid and structure, yet it winds up smelling very clear and fresh, a soapy masterpiece. I approached Shi with one thing in mind: it looks like what Tania Sanchez has dubbed "sneaker juice," a mall-rat perfume with a target demographic of children and teenagers. Sneaker juice is usually fruity-floral, saccharine sweet, and something sophisticated adults frown on. Once you pass the age of sixteen, you should really start exploring adult fragrances, because in a few short years you're technically an adult, right? I beg to differ. Shi is a good example of a casual, fresh, sweet fruity-floral that gets it right, and smells good on all ages (I had the pleasure of knowing a girl in college who wore it).

It breaks all the rules of course - it's very simple (it lacks complexity), it's linear (it lacks development), it's synthetic (it possesses no discernible naturals), it's overbearingly sweet (it's not serious), and has zero depth (there's little to no texture). Sound like a disaster? Shi has remained on the market for thirteen years, no doubt due to one saving grace - it smells good. Fragrantica yields some clues to its commercial longevity, as it appears that Shi smells very similar to a discontinued scent by Yves Rocher called Ming Shu, which has an avid fanbase. Since Ming Shu is no longer available, it makes sense that Shi is considered a viable alternative, and that probably helps to keep it moving off store shelves. Yet the fragrance itself is delightful, a bright accord of orange blossom, lily, mandarin orange, pear, and the usual green apple. Holding the fruits together is a sweet violet note, and everything is layered atop one of those cheap-smelling aquatic musks. Shi is shampoo-grade through and through, but it works.

The hotter the weather, the less likely I am to enjoy fragrance, so anything with a cheerful and fresh disposition is more than welcome in my wardrobe. With women, particularly American women, the impulse is to wear "body mists," those one-dimensional sugar waters sold at places like The Body Shop and Bath & Body Works. I was recently at the mall with three female friends, and we had an hour to kill before a movie, so we wandered over to B&BW to do some shopping. Two of them are exactly forty, while the other is sixty. I was surprised (somewhat) to see the sixty year-old was just as enthusiastic about the body mists as the other women. And in a way, I was a little surprised that two forty year-olds were interested in these obviously cheap products. But then again, this is America, and people are "anti-fragrance" by default, in that they don't want to broadcast their presence via scent. Body mists do not broadcoast much of anything. They are simple, sweet, direct, but also very quiet, so I guess they make sense.

I still think they could take one step up the hierarchy and buy a decent fragrance from a real perfume brand like Alfred Sung. Shi only lasts about two hours on skin (less in extremely high temps), isn't complicated, isn't loud, and has all the same sweet and fruity overtures as the typical body mist. Its difference is in its structure - I noticed that the B&BW mists were all two-note compositions, usually pairing a sweet fruit with a sweet flower or a musk - while Shi offers at least five or six notes in addition to the musk. To me that's a lot better than these barely-there $20 mists (they're grossly over-charging), and maybe it's the soft bigotry of low expectations, but if my adult lady friends switched from mists to base-level sneaker juice, I'd be a happier man.







7/6/13

Burberry Sport For Men (Burberry)



Some fragrances are so unpleasant that they make me wonder if their creators are clinically depressed. Burberry Sport for Men is one such item, a dry-spicy citrus fragrance with the usual woody gestures (cedar, juniper) and an overdose of pickled ginger. I'm starting to think of ginger as the "note du jour" for pretty much every house's sport release, with the pickled approach being an obvious way to bypass the swamp-ass effect, ginger's main shortcoming. Ginger usually winds up smelling very watery and weak after a few minutes on skin, but an analog of sushi-style ginger lends the note a camphoraceous warmth and intensity that isn't easily outdone. Such is the ginger in Burberry Sport, but I'm still not impressed. This fragrance is boring.

Does it deliver as a sports frag? Yes and no. On the one hand, its grapefruit, ginger, and woods structure is coherent enough to wear through tough work-outs, and it survives sweaty skin with no problem. On the other, there's no reason to choose this over any one of the bazillion other sport scents out there, many of which are cheaper. I can think of one right off the top of my head - Sport Field by Adidas. Amazingly this ten dollar cologne possesses a better (more realistic) ginger note, a grassier evolution on skin, and a more cheerful fruit accord that waffles between pink berry and unripe banana. That's preferable to the angry, hissy grapefruit in Burberry Sport.

Another better option is Polo Sport. At least with Polo you're getting an honest-to-goodness fresh fougère with a sprightly pineapple, to pucker the lips of the staunchest Aventus lover. And there's always Aqua Quorum, which is my sport scent of choice. I have limitless respect for how well it deals with Calone in conjunction with the original Quorum's herbal-piney heart accord, which is made fresher and breezier for summer heat. I'll take all of that over Burberry Sport's indeterminate chypre-esque form and generally unpleasant astringency. I do like how the Burberry avoids the predictable trappings of heavy Calone and "aquatic" notes, but whenever I wear it, I feel like it's the sort of thing my seventy year-old commercial graphics professor would wear playing racquetball. He was a smart guy, but he didn't have an anus, and neither does this frag. Too bad, really. On a side note, nice Darth Vader bottle.










7/5/13

Passion (Elizabeth Taylor)



Before Elizabeth Taylor's underrated oriental for men was released, she licensed her name to a bombastic fruity-floral chypre called Passion, packaged it in an eighties-goth purple bottle, and made a few million dollars from brisk sales to middle-aged women across America. The masculine (Passion for Men) is actually pretty good, a nice lavender-incense-vanilla accord that smells a bit thin, but still works. Passion isn't nearly as thin, and actually suffers from being too concentrated - this could pass as a perfume extrait - but it smells as good as the masculine, and borrows heavily from the eighties school of bombastic white florals like Giorgio and Poison. It's a sillage monster and longevity marathoner. You definitely get your money's worth from it.

The current formula is undoubtedly changed from the original of twenty-six years ago, and I think it's been cheapened, though it was always cheap. I recall Passion from at least the early nineties, when my grandmother had a big black bottle of it on her bureau. It had a much stinkier and more-citric top note, with probably a milliliter of synthetic civet, sinus-searing and borderline nauseating. The same white floral accord followed, albeit with a more indolic tuberose, and a similar concord grape note akin to the one in Giorgio, thanks to a whopping dose of anthranilates. Today's Passion holds the same soapy floral accord and grape effect, but the citrus and civet are toned down to a whisper, and there isn't nearly as much tension or contrast. When a perfume makes an indelible twenty-year impression, you return to it hoping to pick things up where you left off, as if your last encounter were only yesterday. That just isn't the case with me and Passion. I'm the same, but the girl has changed.

Nevertheless, the incense note that wells up from her powdery drydown is very nice, and I get a reference to the masculine in an herbal-spicy note that follows the florals. I suspect that all of Liz Taylor's fragrances are worn by geriatrics nowadays, with only a select few young men wearing the masculine Passion, and almost no young women bothering with any of them. I'm not losing any sleep over this notion, but I think women my age can pull this fragrance off without any problems, and also White Diamonds for that matter. These broad-shouldered eighties perfumes should get another go-around, especially after twenty years of apologetic Japanese-styled colognes and "body-mists." Ladies, for twenty bucks, why not try it? Maybe you can bring it back.






7/1/13

Defining "Soapy" As It Applies To Perfume



I've come across more than a few people on the internet who are confused by the term "soapy" as it applies to masculine perfumes, and perfume in general. To be honest, I find phrases like, "Its development turns soapy," rather confusing as well. When we think of fine fragrance, we think of something considerably well separated from soap and soap-like products. Fine fragrance, as opposed to functional fragrance, serves to perfume one's body as a fashionable accessory, whereas soap is simply meant to clean and maybe leave a very light, lingering skin-scent fragrance for a few minutes after washing. For a fine fragrance to adopt the transient and uncomplicated demeanor of soap seems uncouth.

The connecting rod between soap and perfume is not found in the various aromas the two may share, but in the singular message being broadcast by them: "I'm Clean." When I was younger I always assumed that perfume automatically signaled cleanliness and good grooming. What guy would wear fragrance without bothering to shower first? I figured that if you were fastidious enough to spritz yourself with something sweet, you had the basic necessity of washing your body covered well beforehand. Then I got older and wiser, traveled, met a few Europeans and Middle Easterners, heard some cultures reference themselves jokingly (one girlfriend introduced me to the concept of the Puerto Rican Shower), and realized that fragrance was often used to cover-up bodily odors, rather than complement their removal. Nothing about perfume being worn by clean freaks like myself was a given.

Still, there are perfumes that seek to enhance that just-after-a-shower feeling of clean. They consciously embody fragrance profiles that resemble your typical bath soaps, like Zest, Irish Spring, Dial. Some hearken back to the days when bath soaps were stronger, richer, loaded with real essential oils. Others are intended to capture a kind of drugstore deodorant quality. Many masculines smell soapy, seemingly more so than feminines, though I'm not sure why that is. It could be because women don't want the subject of their wash habits being brought up by their perfume. Hard to say. Masculines, on the other hand, are not shy about communicating to bystanders that the wearer takes washing seriously. Again, I'm not sure why, but if I had to guess I'd say it's because there's a cultural sense, particularly in the West, that men are rugged and given to dirty activities, like fixing cars and digging sewage wells. Perfume can put that in perspective and help dirty guys tell their cleaner girlfriends that they're really okay to snuggle up to after all.

The soapiest fragrance I own is Sung Homme. It's a textbook example of a soapy masculine, and it even conveys the aroma of a specific brand of bar soap, the original Irish Spring. Sung Homme says, "I'm clean, and I washed with green-smelling stuff." Another soapy fragrance, arguably next in line, is Grey Flannel. This one goes back to the seventies essential oil soaps, which were popular before corporations started cheaping out on mass-produced soap formulas. Grey Flannel is smooth, rich, spicy, and completely clean in both its structure and its execution. Two other super-soapy masculines are Original Vetiver and Mugler Cologne, both kissing cousins in terms of fragrance structures, but significantly different in their executions. OV is bright, green, grassy, and so achingly clean that it almost hurts to wear it. Mugler Cologne begins with a similar green-floral freshness, like an expensive niche shampoo, and then transitions into a hissy white musk note that wouldn't be out of place on a soap tray.

What do these perfumes have in common? Structurally they're based on natural elements, like citrus, aromatic spices (juniper, ginger), floral notes, and abstract "green" accords, suggestive of pine needles and grass. In execution however there's an even tighter common bond: their blending. These fragrances enjoy very smooth blending, with lower fidelity note separations. Sure, you can pick out the juniper, cinnamon, vetiver, and musk in Sung Homme, but only if you work at it. If you just let the fragrance do its thing, the experience is very abstract and vague, with many notes smooshed together into one or two bright, clean accords of no particular character, aside from smelling clean. It's that clean characteristic that gives soapy fragrances their moniker, because the enduring presence of indoles, civet, rubbery notes and hi-fidelity wood tones, like vetiver and agarwood, prevents a composition from smelling clean.

Civet doesn't kill soapiness if it's just in the top notes, and vanishes by the heart and far drydown stages, but if it hangs around for the entire life of the fragrance, you've got something other than a "clean" smell. Likewise for the rest. Kouros is rather soapy (in any of its formulations), as is Drakkar Noir. These aromatic ferns possess what could be considered "non-soapy" notes, especially in the clarity of their wood accords, but because their whole forms are rendered in "fresh" and "green" ways, their executions are more suggestive of soap. Kouros possesses a white sung-glare of musky citruses and heavily-blended wildflowers (with heather very prominent in the latest formula), while Drakkar has a deeply aromatic and equally-blended accord of super-bright lavender, bergamot, juniper, vetiver, and musk. Aside from Kouros' civet and Drakkar's leathery/smoky coumarin, the fragrances are very clean. Paco Rabanne and Rive Gauche PH, with their Barbasol shaving cream associations, are also somewhat soapy.

Another fragrance type that is often linked to the term "soapy" is the soliflore. Floral fragrances in general can adopt soapy tones - Hilfiger's Tommy Girl, Balmain's Ivoire, Chanel 19, Jacomo's Silences, and Lauder's Pleasures are some examples - and in every case the aldehydes and green resins (like galbanum) claim responsibility for those effects. Tea Rose, which I'm wearing as I type this, is a very pure soliflore, representing one flower and little else. Yet its form is so crisp, so unpretentious and literal, that I'm reminded of those little pink rose soaps sold at L'Occitane. When all is said and done, Tea Rose could easily be the fragrance for one of those soaps.

Bleu de Chanel (and to a lesser extent, Platinum Egoiste) smells very much like a high-end deodorant to me, and to others. It's a dry, ambery chypre, but from a distance you get a powdery, nondescript, and completely synthetic vibe from it. The use of aldehydes and fake citrus aroma chemicals works against its sophistication, but it still smells good in that generic, my-body-smells-fresh kind of way.

So the measure of "soapiness" comes down to how the fragrance interacts with your perceptions of cleanliness. If thoughts of bar soap, shampoo, or deodorant pop into your head upon smelling a fragrance from its top or heart stage, down to its base and far drydown, then you have a genuinely "soapy" fragrance on your hands. If your fragrance seems to broadcast to others that you've showered and completed your usual morning bathroom ablutions, that's great - you're wearing something "soapy." Pretty simple, huh?








Revisiting A Classic




I'm sure many of you have had occasion to take advantage of good deals in fragrance sets, and I got lucky at Marshalls the other day by finding a 3.4 oz Drakkar EDT, aftershave balm, and deodorant set for $40. I usually see the 2.5 oz and deo stick together for about half as much, but I've never encountered the larger set with the balm. I'm struck by how much better the atomizer is on the larger EDT than on the one ounce bottle. That shouldn't be too surprising of course, but the quality of the spray is definitely way above average. Perusing threads on basenotes, I found a conversation about the many different reformulations of Drakkar, with the OP stating that he felt the latest formula returns to the original's strength and longevity. That's not really the case - the latest Drakkar is lighter and a little less complex than yesterday's version - but the 3.4 ounce bottle does something interesting: dispenses enough fragrance to make the formula seem different from the one contained in the smaller bottle.

I've owned smaller bottles of several fragrances before trading up to the larger sizes, with Azzaro Pour Homme a recent example, and never really noticed any difference in strength or sillage, but I agree with whoever says Drakkar's larger bottle size yields a stronger wear. It's a small thing, but it's significant enough if you're feeling let down by today's version and only have the smaller size. I recommend giving the larger bottle a try. It's the same formula, but two sprays feels like eight or nine from the small bottle, and I'd think twice (or three times) before applying half that many from the larger bottle. Drakkar is, by all measures, still a powerful old-school beast.

So far I haven't had a chance to try the deo stick or the balm, but I'm thinking of giving them a shot this week. I'll definitely be using them in the course of the next three months, and will get back to you with my opinions. I'd like to leave off by reiterating what I wrote in my original review of Drakkar - this is a fresh, green, bitter, and eminently dark aromatic fougère. But my opinion on it has changed a bit. I don't find it nearly as dull as I did last year (or the years before that), nor do I feel that it's something a magnum-wielding Charles Bronson would wear. In recent months I've had some success with Drakkar, as it has garnered compliments. It works well on cool, rainy days. It's complex enough to feel mature and sophisticated, but direct enough to avoid being stuffy and dated. The latest formula is full of spike lavender, mint, juniper, and fir, with a little hint of tangerine. It reads as naturally green and soapy, which rates well with me, a bonafide green lover. But there's something else about it.

Drakkar Noir, with its 10% dihydromyrcenol and cleverly integrated laundry musks, feels like it has aged nearly as well as Cool Water. I've always felt that Drakkar and Cool Water were related, and the more I read about it, the more I see that I'm not alone in that regard. When Drakkar came out in 1982, it must have felt like a completely new animal, with its fresh, woody structure piercing through people's patchouli-laden preconceptions of what popular fragrances should smell like. If you refer to the Leffingwell, you find that Drakkar stands in historical isolation, just far enough away from precursors like Agua Brava, Paco Rabanne, and Monsieur Rochas, as well as near-contemporaries like Azzaro PH and Lauder for Men. Few other masculines lay claim to that much free real estate. My guess is that the use of dihydromyrcenol (introduced in smaller quantities to the mass market as early as Paco Rabanne) must have lent Drakkar a unique edge in a market full of European herbal elixirs and powdery orientals. Drakkar wasn't about barbershop powder or Mediterranean zest. It was about modernity - a new sort of clean, bright, piercing soapiness that seemed to be of nature, but not from it. It continues to feel just as bracing and well-wrought thirty years down the road.

Good stuff.