8/31/13

Is It Better To Wear Nothing?



Should you go a day without a spray?


Cheap fragrances get a bad rap. Inexpensive formulas are invariably comprised of cheap materials, and often smell thin and fleeting, even if they smell fairly good - and that's not good enough for a lot of people. Some simply forego the act of applying fragrance if it means applying a drugstore cheapie like Aqua Velva or Brut, while others go to the extreme of posting Youtube videos to discourage the use of "interim frags." The thinking is that cheap fragrances simply don't smell that good, and everyone will know you're cheaping out, so why not opt for the even cheaper (and apparently better) smell of nothing at all?

I take issue with this. My first problem with it is that the entire premise is flawed from the start. Let's understand something about perfume: it is all cheap. I often read on other blogs and on basenotes that many formerly-great designers have "cheaped-out" on famous formulas, and have therefore degraded their fragrances' overall quality, to the point that it's no longer worth the sticker price, or even a discount price, to buy them. When you read something like this, bear in mind that its author is speculating without even realizing it. He is assuming that because a new licensing entity distributes his favorite fragrance, and a new package design has been established, the liquid inside the bottle has automatically been cheapened and degraded. There is no question mark on the end of any of this. To the sad clowns of reformulation, these changes are just more reasons to make their eye makeup run.

It is humorous, because many fragrances were never particularly natural or expensive to begin with. Take Brut, for example. Back in the sixties and seventies, Brut was a burly herbal-musk formula, a holdover traditional fougère. It commanded higher prices than it does now, but it was never a luxury product, and excluding gift sets, fell well below $30 per ounce. As the years wore on, Brut's character changed, with the biting herbal top notes tapering down from a shout to a whisper, and the hefty musks becoming crisper and cleaner. Today, Brut smells like it always did, but with manners. Yet despite the fact that it smells the same, people insist the old stuff smelled better. People say the formula was cheapened. People say a lot of things.

How do you cheapen an already cheap formula? What exactly has to happen? Do you remove the ten-carbon alcohols that comprise the herbal layer in the opening phase of the fragrance, and replace them with linalool? No, because linalool is a ten-carbon alcohol, and just as it did fifty years ago, it still smells like mint (usually lavender). Do you ditch the cheap, synthetic coumarin? You could, but coumarin is still detectable in Brut. Do you cheapen the musks? The musks were already cheap, though perhaps different; nitro musks were all the rage, and they're no longer allowed. So you find another set of low-volatility musks, of which there are dozens. That should be hard to do, except that Brut's formula is written down, and the chemists at Idelle Labs can read. Why pay them extra to change the composition when you're already paying them to make sure the cheap stuff that used to be in Brut is now the very same cheap stuff that used to be in Brut?

Brut's commercial strategy is about sacrificing profit margins per individual sales, for the greater good of high-volume sales. The $1.85 that went into the fragrance formula is buffered by an additional $6 in package fees and profit, plus tax. They don't want to sell Brut for four times as much, because they'd rather sell four times as much Brut to consumers who use it everyday like water (and they'll only use it like water if it's as cheap as water). The basis for Brut's survival rests on the cheapskate man whose entire approach to cologne is steeped in the repetitive cycle of mimicking dad, and setting an example for son. Nowhere in this equation does the idea that "Brut smells cheap" factor in. Why is that?

Let's look at Bleu de Chanel. This mediocre designer fragrance costs twelve times as much as Brut, yet smells like a spray deodorant in the Mens Section of Walgreens. The formula is no more sophisticated than that of Brut, save for a few trendier and pricier aroma chemicals that are being used in microdoses (amounting to pennies on the dollar), like iso E-super and dihydromyrcenol. Even with those, you're looking at what? Two, maybe three dollars of formula cost per bottle? Yet you're paying an additional $80 for Jacques Polge. For a magnetic cap. For all the painstaking months of color swatching it took to pick Bleu's "unique" bottle and box color. You're paying more for more of the same. Does it smell better? Let's see if Bleu is around in fifty years.

We can see that Brut's cheapness vs. Bleu's priciness holds the value of Bleu's image over Brut's smell. Brut happens to smell like a solid fougère, but according to some folks it isn't worth wearing something like Brut, because it's cheap. Its cheapness is not seen as an incentive to buy. It's considered a reason to stay away, and gravitate toward Bleu de Chanel, and its ilk.

What about the idea that cheap fragrances will send the wrong message to other people? There's the idea that if you splash some Old Spice in the morning and come to work with it, people will say to themselves, "That guy really needs to lose the drugstore dreck and visit a Macy's, or something."

It's another fallacy. First of all, every guy who warns against wearing cheap fragrances for that reason is pulling the reason directly out of his ass. People are not invested in how you smell. If you arrive smelling like Bounce dryer sheets, they think you smell laundered and clean. If you arrive with some of the leftover Febreze that you sprayed in your car clinging to your pants, they think you smell laundered and clean. If you arrive wearing some generic CVS brand aftershave, they think you smell laundered and clean. You could spritz some Pine-Sol on yourself, and ditto to all of the above.

People get invested in how you smell only when your fragrance smells good without you. Brut smells like alcoholic aftershave on paper, but Original Vetiver smells gorgeous on paper. It's just as beautiful on paper as it is on your shirt collar. Creed's approach is different from that of 99% of fragrance manufacturers, including Faberge/Helen of Troy, as it employs a minimum six-month maceration period for its formulas, prior to batching them into bottles. It's a truly beautiful, painstaking, and novel approach that almost nobody else bothers with, and you can smell a huge difference in quality, not just compared to Brut, but to pretty much any other fragrance on the market, for men or women. That's why people go apeshit whenever I wear OV. It's why they go apeshit whenever you wear OV. But with Brut, and most fine fragrance, it's a little different. People don't notice when I'm wearing Brut, because they don't identify it as a cologne, but as a nondescript, somewhat manly freshness. It just smells laundered and clean, inoffensive, and there's no reason to think one way or the other about it.

If you doubt what I am saying here, I suggest this: if you are a man, take a week to wear strictly feminine perfumes, and if you're a woman, devote a week to wearing masculine colognes. I guarantee that from Monday to Friday, any of the sugary-sweet, floral stuff you guys wear will fly right under the radar, and any of the crisp-woody stuff you ladies wear will do the same. People won't comment, because people will only notice that you're wearing perfume on the most cursory level, and as long as you don't bathe in the stuff, or blend civet oil with it, you are olfactorily transparent to them. They can't identify lavender, mint, coumarin, ethyl maltol, linalool, or musk. They just smell a whiff of "fresh" and "clean," and don't think twice about it.

If they don't think twice about it, neither should you. Wear the cheap stuff without fearing that it smells cheap. Hell, you don't even have to wear cologne if you don't want to. Just wear deodorant, even. If it's an established classic like Brut or Old Spice or Skin Bracer, you're in good company, and you'll always smell like it.











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.









8/23/13

Dihydromyrcenol: Understanding The Evolution Of Contemporary Aromatic Fougères




It bothers me a little when people don't know history. The old adage, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it" rings true. Because this is a blog that focuses on masculine fragrance a bit more than feminine fragrance, I think it's a good idea to give a brief rundown on the history of what Luca Turin loosely refers to as our "monotheism." For us guys, this theistic deity is the fresh aromatic fougère.

In all actuality, our olfactory god isn't so much a form of perfumery, but a single molecule, the "god molecule," dihydromyrcenol. Without dihydromyrcenol, I'm not sure where contemporary perfumery would be. Possibly a better place. Or perhaps nowhere at all. Many have lamented the discovery of synthetic "fresh" molecules, because they are considered the harbingers of modern aquatics and sport scents, things fragrance connoisseurs largely frown upon for lacking creativity. Sport fragrances are usually just continuations of soap by other means. Aquatics tend to be overly-complicated sport fragrances. And dihydromyrcenol is not to blame for any of them - Calone is.

Dihydromyrcenol is a fresh-woody aroma chemical that has a metallic quality to it, and a slight edging of sweetness. A relatively unembellished form of it can be found in Geoffrey Beene's Eau de Grey Flannel, which costs about three dollars an ounce, so if you're curious about dihydromyrcenol, I recommend stopping at your local discount merchant or jumping onto Amazon. I think of dihydromyrcenol as being similar to extra-fine wood shavings with a metal razor - you get the crisp freshness of the wood, tainted by the lingering smell of metal. Dihydromyrcenol is to blame (or credit) for recent developments in masculine perfumery, and also feminine perfumery for that matter. Without its discovery and integration into fragrance formulas, we would still be reliant on Hedione for freshness.

The first notable application of dihydromyrcenol was in 1973, the year Paco Rabanne Pour Homme hit the fragrance market and became a bestseller. Chandler Burr talks about it in his book, The Perfect Scent:
"Jean-Claude Ellena identifies [dihydromyrcenol] (not enthusiastically) as opening what he calls 'perfume's phase hygienique.' To Ellena, you could pinpoint the beginning of the hygienic trend as Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), which was leading away from leathers and ferns and spices and straight into the fluorescent-lit drugstore detergent aisle . . . " (p. 218)
PRPH contains noticeable traces of dihydromyrcenol, anywhere from 2% to 5% of the formula (depending on who you ask). In this context it was used mainly as a booster note for the lavender, fortifying the herbal freshness to give the fragrance an aromatic edge. As PRPH is one of the first aromatic fougères, it stands to reason that something must have been new about it, and in this case the newness is attributable to dihydromyrcenol. Jean Martel must not have known what he was starting.

Five years later, Azzaro Pour Homme was released, and dihydromyrcenol was detectable in slightly higher dosages, this time anywhere from 5% to 8% of the formula, again depending on who you ask. I personally do not smell the chemical as strongly in APH as in Paco Rabanne, and I wonder if it has been replaced or reduced in recent formulations. Its lavender note is definitely similar to Paco's, so that might be it. Many so-called fragrance experts feel that Azzaro Pour Homme is the greatest of the aromatic fougères, and I think that's possible, but debatable. There's a whole contingency of men out there who aren't convinced, and have said so in basenotes and fragrantica discussions. With APH it might be a case of the ivory tower noses saying one thing, and the unwashed masses saying another. Whether or not it deserves its "classic" status is entirely up to the wearer. In terms of how dihydromyrcenol evolved in mainstream masculine fougères, I find Azzaro to be a bit of a non-entity.

The next fougère is much more important, however. Four years after APH, Pierre Wargnye finished working on Drakkar Noir for Guy Laroche, and seriously upped the ante on dihydromyrcenol. It comprises 10% of Drakkar's formula, and you can really smell it. Burr continues in The Perfect Scent:
"The dihydromyrcenol revolution was formally launched in 1982 by Pierre Wargnye, who exploded it onto the scene by - ingeniously at the time - making it a jaw-dropping 10 percent of the formula of Drakkar Noir. There had never been anything like it, and frankly it was kind of sexy to smell like your shirts just out of the dryer." (P. 218)
Although Drakkar uses spike lavender instead of a regular lavender note, the fragrance's aromatic breeziness is not attributable to spike lavender's eucalyptus-on-steroids effect. It is fueled by a concentrated burst of dihydromyrcenol. This gives the scent its trademark eighties "fresh" feel.

Why did Wargnye decide to use so much "freshness?" Hard to say, but there are some factors to consider. Drakkar was released in 1982, not long after the end of the earthy, patchouli-heavy seventies, and it's no surprise that cultural players like to shake things up whenever a new decade is coming into swing. You can hear distinct changes in eighties rock compared to seventies rock, and likewise for the movies, and clothing fashions, makeup trends, etc. So I think Wargnye was just adding his New Wave touch to perfume by going heavy on the soapy-fresh vibe. I also think he was cognizant of the success of things like Azzaro Pour Homme and Grey Flannel (the original), and it is possible that he admired the dry-citrus freshness of Beene's chypre and the bright anisic lavender of Azzaro's fougère. Would his admiration for those two vastly different fragrances lead to something like Drakkar? Doubtful but possible. I think it's more likely he admired the usage of dihydromyrcenol in Paco and Azzaro, and simply wanted to try adding more of a good thing.

In any event, the success of Drakkar Noir was overwhelming, and by the mid eighties it was everywhere. I grew up smelling it on my father's friends, on teachers, in cars, malls, and restaurants. That juniper-heavy aromatic scent practically owned the air. It's hard to believe that Pierre Bourdon was not intrigued by it when he sat down with Olivier Creed to work on the greatest niche masculine of the decade. Indeed, by 1985 the application of dihydromyrcenol had been perfected in Creed's Green Irish Tweed, a loud, heavy, fresh aromatic fougère with tons of woody-sweetness, and a pervasive freshness that echos Drakkar. I don't know exactly how much dihydromyrcenol comprises the formula, but my educated guess would be anywhere from 12% to 15%.

It's important to note that unlike Drakkar Noir, GIT really does have a stylistic link to Grey Flannel, and to suppose that Bourdon was inspired by Beene's chypre is not as wild as wondering if Wargnye referred to it. GIT is the perfect marriage of Grey Flannel's woody-sweet violet notes, and Drakkar's brusque woody-freshness, with some citric flourishes of its own. It lacks the profound lavender of prior fougères, but it capitalizes on dihydromyrcenol's crisp, slightly-metallic freshness, which up until 1985 was still not fully exploited in a commercial fragrance. By letting Andre Fromentin and Pierre Wargnye lead the way, Pierre Bourdon added the "missing link" to the evolutionary puzzle of contemporary fresh fougères.

From there came the inevitable last stop on dihydromyrcenol's commercial journey, when Davidoff hired Bourdon to self-clone his Creed creation for the high school kids who couldn't afford to drop ninety dollars on a cologne. The result was Davidoff's Cool Water, which we have all come to know and love in the intervening decades. Burr writes in The Perfect Scent:
"[Dihydromyrcenol] reached its apotheosis in 1988's Cool Water, a dihydromyrcenol orgy made by Pierre Bourdon, who dumped in 20 percent." (P. 218 - 219)
Of particular note is how Bourdon used Cool Water to bring lavender back into prominence as a traditional part of the aromatic fougère accord, and also how his use of dihydromyrcenol complements the lavender to make it smell a little salty and ozonic.

From 1988 onward, aromatic fougères relied on variations of Cool Water's structure, without successfully copying the scent itself. We can see how this led to the frustrating creation of awkward, Hedione-based fragrances like Acqua di Gio, and overly-sweet barbershop orientals like Le Male. The nineties belonged not to dihydromyrcenol or aromatic ferns, but to gourmands and aquatics, with the return of Calone, Hedione, and Ethyl Maltol.









8/19/13

Grey Flannel (Geoffrey Beene / French Fragrances Formula)



In the case of Grey Flannel, I've come to the conclusion that it has never been a trendy fragrance. There is too much about it that goes against its own zeitgeist. In the 1970s, back when people had long hair and worshipped Halston and YSL, it wasn't a big deal to release something mean, clean, and bitter-green. People were into raw olfactory textures, and the louder it smelled, the better it was. So Grey Flannel must have been a monster back then, right?

Wrong. Judging by the way my Jacqueline Cochran bottle performs, the earlier incarnations of the Flannel were suave, smooth, refined, and downright gentlemanly. This stuff does not conjure images of Warren Beatty with a bare chest and fluffy Shampoo hair. It is more evocative of Roger Moore in, well, a grey flannel suit. My surprise at the Cochran formula is tempered by my knowledge of all that came after it - beautiful fresh ferns that put dry-woody notes (via dihydromyrcenol) to great use. So even though it doesn't smell like a child of the seventies, the early-eighties formula was at least inspirational.

I approached the French Fragrances formula expecting a distinct change-up in the scent. I have read Natasha's terrific comparison of the FF formula against the EA version, and figured my experience would mirror hers. I have to say though that my findings with the French Fragrances formula run quite contrary to hers. My 4 oz bottle of FF GF arrived a few days ago, and I've been trying to find the sharper, harsher notes that she detects in this version, particularly in the top accord. While the top is sharper, and smells very similar to the top of the current formula, it does not last long. Within five minutes it transitions into the same smooth, violet-sandalwood base of the Cochran formula. They are equal in richness and intensity. This is surprising, considering the possible 15 year gap between them.

This vintage is problematic because it presages the EA version by only a few years, and is also made by the same concern that currently produces Grey Flannel (FF bought EA and assumed its name). Finding the place where the smoother Sanofi formula ends and the pre-EA formula begins is probably impossible. I'm sure there's that one evolutionary bottle floating around out there that exhibits a perfect personality split between the two, but it is not in my possession.

I'm guessing from how the contents of my FF bottle smells that it's an older bottle, perhaps from '95 or '96. Several characteristics of Cochran's style are blatantly evident here, with an attenuated sample of the EA formula-to-come lurking in the first few minutes of the top notes. It's obvious that either Sanofi or FF changed things a bit, but I don't get an acrid sharpness, or any "plant that kills" effect. I get a very well balanced galbanum/lemon/violet leaf accord, similar to EA's, but a bit softer. Then, an oily violet/sandalwood accord, which smells pretty much identical to Cochran's base. This endures for hours before fading away to a clean, green glow. This leaves but one conclusion for the FF formula: it's a moving target. If you see it on Ebay or elsewhere, keep your expectations at bay, because you don't know what you might get.

Which brings me to my opening statement about Grey Flannel going against its own grain. The French Fragrances formula (and anything that came before) would likely do very well on today's market. But EA reformulated it into a sharper, meaner fragrance, adding more galbanum, accentuating the dry citrus, with a more complex violet leaf and a noticeably louder drydown. What is unclear is why they chose to go this route at a time when people are into smooth, woody-sweet stuff. The FF formula would have been popular in today's market, but in-house issues led to the change.

Meanwhile the Grey Flannel of yesterday, a pleasant chap in a snappy suit, floats about in an internet netherworld, occasionally surfacing for the price of coffee and a sandwich. Keep an eye out for him. He's someone you'll want to take to lunch.









8/13/13

Grey Flannel (Geoffrey Beene / Jacqueline Cochran Formula)



I happened to see a small bottle of the early eighties vintage Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel on The Bay, and having worn it and sampled it relentlessly, I'm here to tell ya, this is an amazing fragrance. I like it better than the EA version. I like it a lot better. Anyone who smells Grey Flannel and wrinkles their nose in disgust has never made the connection between this fragrance and Creed's Green Irish Tweed, and it's possible they haven't made it because they've never smelled the J. Cochran formula. The drydown of this formula is about 75% the same as GIT's drydown, which I find astonishing, even as a believer in the lineage between these two scents. There are a few differences of course, and some of them are significant, but overall the majority of the movement in J. Cochran's formula captures the smoothness, the balance, and the depth of Creed's, and using mostly the same notes. For nine dollars, it's . . . astonishing. I really can't think of another adjective for it.

The combination of blink-and-you-miss-it citrus and rich, violety-greens creates a crisp organic impression, the aroma of delicate leaves rustling against each other. My only gripe with this vintage formula is that the citrus doesn't last nearly as long as it should (or probably used to, twenty years ago). The current EA formula yields a better rendition of woody citrus, sort of the point of Grey Flannel - like Halston's Z-14, this chypre plays with lemon in an unconventional way. I wish the vintage held on to the dessicated citrus aldehyde effect of the new stuff. That aside, the dyrdown comes within a minute, and lingers for hours. It is noticeably warmer than EA's drydown. It is not as leafy or vegetal. It is woodier, with a definite sandalwood note, and it smells like the real deal is in there. The violet is soft, concise, and in perfect harmony with the wood. It's that dry, purple-sweet beauty that GIT boasts, here for nine dollars a bottle.

EA's version is a different fragrance altogether. Put simply, the most recent version of Grey Flannel has more in common with Jacomo's Silences than it does with GIT. EA's has more bitter citrus, more galbanum, and colder galbanum - it's a broader note, and it's used a little differently. EA's has a peppery, slightly watery violet leaf, and a definite anise note; J. Cochran's boasts a smooth, soft violet leaf, which only gets peppery when you breathe on it. EA's formula lacks a strong sandalwood, and has more moss-like notes and musk. With the bitter galbanum, the sharp violet leaf, and an even drier citrus, the EA version is a colder, spookier fragrance. Vintage is warmer, woodier, sweeter, quieter, and not as overtly vegetal. I like both versions, but I definitely like the older stuff better.

Strangely enough, the newer version has more notes, and feels mossier, even though it contains less oakmoss. I'm surprised that vintage does not feel mossier. There's definitely oakmoss in there, but it doesn't smack you in the nose like the newer versions do. Even the EA formula that came before this current batch (which had a bit more oakmoss in it) contained IFRA-challenging degrees of natural moss, enough to make my throat tickle. Not so the vintage, but then again it doesn't need it. The sandalwood makes up for it.





Above are the scent prisms for the vintage formula and the second-to-last EA formula. Note the slight variances in galbanum quantity, citrus quality, and the different kinds of violet leaf, plus the additional anise note in the new version. Also note that I left oakmoss out of these prisms, because that note pervades the entire structure of any version of Grey Flannel from top to base, and I figure it's unnecessary to parse the subtle differences in moss-movement (just associate it with the galbanum and violet leaf, and you've got the fragrance structure pegged). Whenever I wear the EA formula, I feel like I'm wearing a fresh, clean, mean-green violet fragrance that projects nicely and skirts convention. Whenever I wear the vintage stuff, I'll definitely be thinking of Green Irish Tweed. The vintage will always project a soft, rich, woody-sweet violet, sans harshness. Jacqueline Cochran's formula, if faithful to Epocha's late-seventies formula, was a continuation of olfactory design that borders on being the finest of fine art. A review of the French Fragrances formula is pending, if my order gets processed sometime before the Second Coming.








8/10/13

The Corporate Distribution History of Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel: From Epocha to EA Fragrances, 1977 - Present



There's a lot of material to cover here, so I'm not going to spend time on a prologue, except to say that much of what is assumed about the different vintages of Grey Flannel is wrong. While bloggers opine on finding "vintage bottles" and Youtubers upload "Grey Flannel Sucks" videos to humor Dan Mickers (love that guy), I went ahead and did some research on the commercial distribution history of Geoffrey Beene's beautiful violet leaf chypre. What I learned was very, very interesting.

The story starts in New York City, 1976. There are two dates given on the internet for when Grey Flannel was released - 1975 and '76, but most bloggers seem to believe it was '76, and indeed it won the FIFI that year, so I'll defer to the time when it was most likely that commercial units had appeared en masse in department stores, and cite the later date. If any reader remembers differently, please comment, and I will research further and possibly make a correction.

Geoffrey Beene's prestigious fashion brand was by this time a thirteen year success story, having garnered several awards and extended itself into the distribution of accessories and housewares. Licensing with a fragrance distributor was inevitable, and the first to file a trademark for Grey Flannel was Epocha Distributors, Inc., a company located on Seventh Avenue in New York City. Jeffrey Dame, former VP of marketing for Sanofi Beauty Products, revealed in a comment under this article that Epocha was Beene's own in-house design brand, so essentially Epocha is Geoffrey Beene. The Epocha filing is below, dated 1977:


This filing suggests that even though Grey Flannel was released in 1976, it was not widely marketed until the year after, when paperwork for distribution rights had entered the appropriate channels. It also corresponds with the resume of Denise DeBaun, current founder and president of DeBaun Development, Inc. According to Ms. DeBaun's employment history, she was Director of Brand Operations for Epocha Distributors from 1978 to 1980.



During this time period, the Epocha sticker was placed on the bottom of all Grey Flannel bottles.


Bottle labels bore only the words "New York" under the fragrance name. Though not apparent in the picture below, the fragrance was also labeled with the word "Cologne" and not "Eau de Toilette" or "Eau de Toilette Spray Vaporasiteur."


Ms. DeBaun's updated resume, a snippet of which is shown below, might be a little more accurate about her starting date than the LinkedIn document, because it cites her employment record with Epocha as beginning in 1977, the same year that the company filed for trademark. Nevertheless, the LinkedIn resume above suggests that Epocha was taken over in 1980 by Jacqueline Cochran, Inc., resulting in the personnel shakeup that forced DeBaun out. She then went on to work for Oscar de la Renta and Parfums Stern, Inc.




This raises the question, where did Jacqueline Cochran, Inc., come from exactly? While Ms. DeBaun's career was taking off in New York, a corporate reorganization was happening in New Jersey. American Cyanamid, owner of Shulton and Jacquelin Cochran Inc., allowed Cochran to take over Contemporary Fragrance Group, and with it the manufacturing and distribution rights to all fine fragrances by CFG under American Cyanamid. Amazingly, someone saved a newspaper page from the end of 1978, which documents the transition, and also notes that esteemed entrepreneur and art collector Carlo Bilotti, the president of Cochran, would continue to head Cochran's division as an enterprise separate from CFG.






This suggests that Jacqueline Cochran, Inc. was well positioned to begin manufacturing and distributing Grey Flannel when it purchased the Epocha license in 1980. Cochran's cosmetics enterprise had been operating since the 1930s, and had also been bought out by Shulton pretty early on. Cochran herself was a famous racing pilot with an entrepreneurial spirit, and her marriage to Atlas Corp. founder Floyd Odlum proved fruitful in moving units of makeup, lipstick, and perfume.

Jacqueline Cochran, Inc. owned and distributed Grey Flannel for most of the 1980s. This is important to note for vintage Grey Flannel enthusiasts, as most of the older bottles still in circulation are from the nineties. Bottles of fragrance, aftershave, and balms bearing the Epocha sticker date from 1977 to 1980. From 1981 onward, Epocha's sticker was replaced by Cochran's.


The next chapter in Grey Flannel's life is intriguing. By 1987 American Cyanamid had decided to sell Jacqueline Cochran, Inc., along with another subsidiary, La Prairie. According to an 1990 affidavit from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Cyanamid sold Cochran to Sanofi Inc., on March 30, 1987. The heading for what was presumably the last motion can be seen here:




The sale resulted in some legal issues for Sanofi. The affidavit contends that a man named Mario Ronzani wanted to buy La Prairie from Cyanamid, but was told that the corporation wanted to sell La Prairie and Jacqueline Cochran "in a single transaction." Ronzani was apparently disinterested in Cochran, and approached Sanofi to see if they would agree to a joint bid. Their communication, according to Ronzani, established that Sanofi was amenable to this idea because they were disinterested in La Prairie, but wanted Cochran and its holdings.

Ronzani claimed that Sanofi agreed to a joint bid, and thus entered into a bidding partnership with him. One party would get all the shares of one company, and the other party would get the shares of the other company. This is described in lines six and seven below (click on picture to enlarge):




Then Sanofi pulled the rug out from under Ronzani (see line eight below):




This appears to have angered Mr. Ronzani, and he filed the first of several complaints. The court struck down his main complaint, citing in legalese that Ronzani's agreement with Sanofi was invalid because he was not legally categorized as a legitimate "purchaser or seller of securities," as highlighted in lines eleven and twelve below:




Why am I bothering to tell you all of this? This legal wrangling over Sanofi's purchase may very well have delayed production of its newly-acquired product line. Note that on line twelve above, the cited court date of Ronzani's complaint dismissal is August 22, 1989, about two and a half years after Sanofi purchased American Cyanamid's holdings package. Because Sanofi bought a company and not just distribution rights, they did not have to file for trademark, and there is no record of Sanofi filing for Grey Flannel's trademark at that time. (There is a record of Sanofi owning the trademark, which can be found further on in this article.) Based on the affidavit, I think the earliest Sanofi could have begun producing and distributing Grey Flannel is 1988, assuming they ignored Ronzani's complaints and forged ahead with business as usual. It is possible that Cyanamid allowed production to continue during the transition, but I think that is unlikely, and doubt there are bottles of Grey Flannel from 1987.

From 1988 to 1995, all Grey Flannel bottles bore the sticker of Sanofi Beaute, Inc.

A Sanofi Grey Flannel gift set.


Sanofi's tenure as Grey Flannel's manufacturer and distributor ended in 1995. French Fragrances, Inc. bought from Sanofi Beaute the license to manufacture and distribute Grey Flannel in March of that year, and their first batches appeared in 1996. From 1996 to 2000, all Grey Flannel bottles bore the sticker of French Fragrances, Inc. By this time Grey Flannel bore both "New York" and "Paris" on its label. The word "Cologne" had also been replaced by "Eau de Toilette," although that change supposedly happened during the Sanofi years.


A French Fragrances bottle.

French Fragrances bought Elizabeth Arden from Unilever in 2000, and changed its company name to Elizabeth Arden, Inc. This is interesting because it basically means that EA Fragrances is the same company as French Fragrances. According to The New York Times, about 1,500 of Arden's employees were expected to transfer to French Fragrances, which suggests that a segment of Arden's Unilever people were laid off.

Of note also is the trademark filing by French Fragrances, which had already assumed the EA moniker. It seems that in July of 2004, EA cancelled its original Grey Flannel trademark, and also owned all of Grey Flannel's previous trademarks. Note that the French Fragrances trademark is not listed.




From 2000 to the present time, Grey Flannel bottles have held the EA Fragrances sticker, and their labels have gone from saying "Eau de Toilette" to "Eau de Toilette Spray Vaporisateur." They also still say "New York" and "Paris."


The label for the current formula of Grey Flannel.


Below is a basic timeline of each of the corporate distribution transitions that were made in Grey Flannel's 37 year history. Click on the image to enlarge:




And that brings us up to speed. How do any of these vintages of Grey Flannel smell? I'm only familiar with EA's version, but I have a bottle of Jacqueline Cochran's version coming in the mail, so I'll have an opportunity to compare it to the current stuff soon. Finding certain vintages of Grey Flannel becomes increasingly difficult the further back you go. It seems that the most readily available "vintage" version is French Fragrance's, before their acquisition of EA. You can sometimes spot a bottle by Sanofi on Ebay, but those are fewer and further between. There are usually no bottles of Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel on the internet, and you can forget about finding Epocha's vintage. I have yet to spot a bottle of the Epocha cologne, although rarely an auxiliary product, like the aftershave balm, will randomly appear (and very quickly disappear again).

There seems to be a widely-held notion that the Sanofi vintages of Grey Flannel are "eighties vintages," and while that may just barely be true (assuming Sanofi picked up production slipstream in 1987), Jacqueline Cochran's bottles definitely comprise the bulk of eighties vintage. I think the soonest Sanofi was able to get production underway would have been 1988, and given that the final legal motion by Ronzani took place in 1990, who knows for certain? Most of the Sanofi bottles are from the first half of the nineties, and all of the French Fragrances bottles are from the late nineties. EA Fragrance's tenure is already thirteen years old.

UPDATE

I received a comment from Jeffrey Dame of Hypoluxe, Inc., formerly of Sanofi Beauty Products, and he revealed some very interesting information regarding Grey Flannel. He was VP of marketing in the men's fragrance division of Sanofi, and he clarified some points about safety regs, and the various crossovers in batches and bottlings during each transition that Grey Flannel made. He also mentioned that Epocha was Beene's own in-house design brand (it's all in his comment below). I'm hoping I can persuade Jeffrey to participate in a brief interview, in which he can field some insider questions about his years at Caron, Sanofi, and the other top brands he has worked for. His stories and insights would be of immeasurable value to us all.











8/7/13

Implementing A New Fragrance Comparison System: Charting Similarities And Differences With Scent Prisms




Occasionally it becomes difficult to verbally convey my sense of similarities and differences between two fragrances, and as with all modes of communication, written language eventually reaches its limitations. Fortunately I have a good understanding of top-down fragrance structures, and can translate top, middle, and base notes into vertical bars, with each note assigned a horizontal color. Where this falls short is in the subjectivity of perception - for example, I may smell coconut in the top notes of something, while someone else smells it in the heart notes. Therefore my new Scent Prisms are strictly visual expressions of how I perceive a fragrance's structure, and cannot be standardized. Nevertheless, by using notes voted upon in forums like Fragrantica and basenotes, with the addition of notes that I subjectively perceive apart from public opinion, a fairly accurate Scent Prism can now be built for any fragrance. I've provided two examples of these prisms here, and will explain them.

I figured an easy way to learn how to use these prisms is to provide a comparison chart of two familiar fragrances, Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water. I've often compared the two, and indeed I find their fragrance structures compositionally similar. I have always acknowledged that the two fragrances are different, however. In the scheme of Cool Water comparisons, with dozens of masculines being compared to this aromatic fougère, there is little doubt that Green Irish Tweed is the closest anyone will get to wearing something directly similar to Cool Water, and vice-versa. Below are the two Scent Prisms for these classics - Please click on image to enlarge for detail:




As you can see, these fragrances are different in a few ways, but their general structures contain several similarities. As an aside, I should mention that I don't think there's a real lavender note in GIT, but there is linalool listed on its ingredients, and it is a fougère, so I suppose there could be a small dose, highly blended, in this fragrance. If we concede that there's a touch of lavender, that means both fragrances contain lavender in different proportions, and also citrus, green apple, violet, violet leaf, amber, and sandalwood. You may have noticed that the violet leaf in GIT is a wide band with a soft look, while the same note in CW is narrower and harder-edged. That's because GIT, being a simpler composition, relies heavily on octin esters for its violet/violet leaf effect, and that effect has a broad impact on how the fragrance smells - dense, a little fuzzy, and sweet. It comprises most of GIT's heart.

Cool Water's violet leaf is markedly less intense, but also sharper, crisper, and shorter-lived on skin. Where GIT gets about two hours of violet leaf, CW only gets around forty-five minutes. But CW is a more complex structure, boasting twelve detectable notes to Creed's eight. You can see the main similarity between the fragrances in their citrus-violet-violet leaf accords, which are sandwiched evenly between varying degrees of lavender and amber. GIT's amber is very full, while CW's is a "mini amber" that resides close to the base, and isn't alone in sweetening the structure. The additional notes of jasmine, tobacco, cedar, and musk conspire to make wearing CW a busier, multi-faceted experience. GIT is broad strokes, with fewer movements from top to bottom. Take into consideration that GIT's "muskiness" is largely attributable to ambergris, which is an animalic note comprising its base. This parallels CW's less exotic white musk base.

Because this chart compares two similar fragrances, I thought I'd throw in a comparison of two fragrances that are more different than they are similar. Below we have Scent Prisms for Dali's Laguna and Chanel's Egoïste:




Given that these two share strong oriental qualities, such as vanillic ambers and rich wood notes, there are some similarities between them. They both contain facsimiles of rosewood and sandalwood, and two variants of stone fruit notes. Laguna has separable notes of peach and plum, which are sweet. Egoïste has an inseparable "stewed fruit" accord that occurs fairly early on in the wearing experience with the most recent formulation. It isn't an overbearing accord, but it feels like a few fruit notes, perhaps cooked plum, apricot, and even dates, with a dense sweetness that snakes through the other notes. Laguna winds up smelling more floral, and much fresher thanks to galbanum and watery notes of grapefruit, pineapple, and coconut. The vanilla in Laguna smells more floral to me, so I have subjectively labeled it vanilla flower, while the vanilla in Egoïste is traditional and almost edible. Both fragrances have prominent sandalwood notes, but sandalwood comprises Egoïste's base, while a salty musk is in the bulk of Laguna's. Both have roughly the same degree of rosewood in them to my nose, although Laguna's is touched with tonka and smells a bit sweeter, and is not as definite as the rosewood in Egoïste.

What sets these two widely apart is the types of florals, the degree to which they're used, and Chanel's implementation of herbal notes. Laguna contains one prominent herbal note of patchouli. Linalool is loosely perceptible in its top accord, but it never settles into a true lavender note, and so lavender was excluded from Laguna's Scent Prism. Egoïste does have detectable lavender, along with thyme and several other herbs. Its herbal accord happens sharply, and settles itself in the heart of the fragrance. It is sandwiched between a massive rosy-carnation accord, and an equally-massive tobacco-vanilla-amber base. The top of Egoïste boasts a rich cinnamon note, tinged with lemon citrus, while the top of Laguna is very fruity and has no cinnamon.

I won't use these Scent Prisms very often, and people are bound to disagree with them. I figure they'll come in handy when a comparison is acutely difficult to make, and only a picture will do. When fragrances are more similar than they are dissimilar, you will see similar color progressions in their bars, but when fragrances are different, there will be fewer color consistencies between them. Hopefully these prisms will help people understand my comparisons, when the issue of making comparisons crops up here and elsewhere in the fragrance blogosphere.








8/6/13

Brut Special Reserve: Nothing Special



Last night I had a conversation with a loyal reader about Brut's flankers, which I mentioned seeing at a drugstore here in Connecticut. The flankers are Brut Blue and Brut Black, formerly named Azul and Titan. These used to be sold in a gift box in plastic bottles along with a third version called Special Reserve, but all have been repackaged in Brut Classic's trademark glass atomizer, chain included. They look very nice.

How do they smell? Brut Black is a simple and pleasant aromatic fougère consisting of four discernible notes, lavender, anise, ginger, and cedar, with a touch of coumarin and musk in the drydown. It's nice, and reminds me distantly of Azzaro Pour Homme because of its herbal-anisic characteristics. Despite its charm, I'm not inclined to wear it, simply because I own Azzaro PH and can't see ever forsaking it for Black. Brut Blue is a blatant Cool Water clone (shocking, ain't it?), with extra emphasis on the green apple note, and not much else. There's a faint hint of lavender and a cool white musk, with sweet apple spread all over it like cheap jelly. Again, why I would choose this over Cool Water is hard to fathom. But I admit it smells nice.

The most puzzling item in the trilogy is Brut Special Reserve. I hadn't encountered SR until today, when I spied it on the store counter. Its green glass bottle is a little darker than the regular Brut's, and its silver medallion seems a little frillier, but otherwise the packaging is identical to Brut Classic's. There was a tester, so I sampled it. I expected Special Reserve to be a deeper, burlier version of Classic. I was hoping it would have a stronger fougère accord, and better longevity. And instead it smelled . . . identical to regular Brut Classic. In fact, Brut SR is nothing more than Brut Classic with a different name and a slightly different bottle.

Just to be sure, I drove straight home and sampled my bottle of Classic on the other hand to compare. Indeed, the two samples are exactly the same. This begs the question, why has Helen of Troy opted to insult consumer intelligence instead of honestly offering a bolder, darker "reserve" of the original scent? Making heads or tails of the company's marketing strategies is a fool's errand of course, so I can't and won't belabor the issue, but I am disappointed. I mean, after all, if a real special reserve version of Brut existed, it would have to smell awesome, wouldn't it? Sadly, truth is duller than fiction in this case.






8/5/13

Reflection Man (Amouage)



I happen to like Reflection Man a bit more now than I did when I first tried it a couple months ago. Something about its greenness has grown on me (pardon the implicit pun). At first I thought it smelled like a marshmallow drizzled in lemon juice, but not anymore. Its bright neroli, pink pepper, and jasmine accord shines with total clarity, and I'm getting a huge dose of sandalwood and rosemary as well. There are a couple of comparatives for this.

My first thought is that it smells roughly the same as Perry Ellis Portfolio Green. That's a good thing because I like Portfolio Green's structure (although I dislike its execution - too chemical). Reflection is obviously made of better materials and is therefore a lot easier to wear than PG. But a part of me wants to say that this Amouage is a greener variant of the original Joop! Homme. That's tricky, because the two fragrances only have two notes in common - jasmine and sandalwood - but they treat the notes identically. Reflection's jasmine is really sweet and a little indolic, almost like an old-fashioned granny soap from around the time scented soaps were becoming popular, the 1940s and '50s.

Joop! Homme's jasmine is bundled into a very strange orange blossom, rose, and tuberose accord, the black-hole equivalent of a white wedding floral. All of its blossomy-green characteristics have been condensed down to a tight sweetness, tinged with indole. This is why Joop! Homme has always smelled a bit chemical to people - it's a highly blended composition with relatively poor note separation, and many of the notes share the exact same qualities, resulting in a sort of fuzzy effect. What saves Joop! is that it goes whole-hog in that direction and never compromises, with an equally fuzzy violet on top and sandalwood below. It never cops out and tries to apologize for what it's doing. It's the perfect postmodern floral, bright and alarming, like one of those neon-sign installation pieces you see at the MOMA.

Reflection is the same. Its jasmine is airier and fresher, but only the sweetness and slight funkiness of its blossoms peek through. Its sandalwood is also very smooth and grainy, with an abstract woodiness that is never like a natural precious wood. These strange chemical affectations work in the fragrance's favor, because they work together to create a fluffy, fresh effect. I'm pleased with what I smell. This is one Amouage scent that works pretty well in warmer temperatures, and I recommend wearing it during spring and late summer. Can I say it's a great value for the money? Perhaps. I'd never drop the big dollars on a full bottle, but I can see why someone else might. I'll stick to the two cheapies that work with similar elements at a tiny fraction of the cost, but I'm probably just a cheapskate.






8/3/13

Mitsouko Eau de Parfum (Guerlain / Summer Review)



This review is not intended to be a rehash of all the reviews that came before; there is nothing I can say about Mitsouko's heritage that hasn't been said better by Monsieur Guerlain. If you are a fragrance connoisseur, you are acutely familiar with Mitsouko in at least one concentration, and have already digested countless articles and blog posts about it. If you are new to the perfume scene, then let me direct you to the aforementioned blog, a terrific humanitarian guide to this "reference chypre," a French masterpiece of 94 years, and counting.

Instead of describing notes and aroma chemical impressions, I'd like to highlight a few emotional and cognitive responses to wearing Mitsouko EDP in the summer. I've had my generous sample for a while now, and have worn it a few times. I'm wearing it as I write this. My first feeling upon applying Mitsouko, every single time I apply it, is disappointment. This perfume is considered a classic, a bonafide masterpiece, a reference not just for traditional chypres, but for traditional French perfumery, something only Catherine Deneuve could forgivably spill all over her bathroom floor. This is iconic stuff. Yet whenever the top notes hit me, I'm awash in ennui. Or, more accurately, I'm awash in wall lacquer from Home Depot.

Forty minutes later, I'm immersed in something old, in a bad way: it smells musty, pretentious, and very grave. I need to try L'Heure Bleue before passing judgment on whether these are pre-WWII Guerlain qualities, or just exclusive to Mitsouko. I do know that by 1925 Jacques Guerlain had created Shalimar, which is decidedly more cheerful and accessible, so already I suspect these bad-dream qualities are unique to Mitsouko. Then again, it makes me think of the infinitely more-cheerful false chypre by Chanel, 31 Rue Cambon, and despite my reservations about that fragrance, I like it better. At least Chanel infuses the chypre concept with a brassy array of citrus and stone fruit notes! Guerlain's structure is bleaker, with only the undecalactone to stew in July heat.


That brings me to the idea of Mitsouko as a "fruity chypre." Classified by the Leffingwell as such, I find this to be highly deceptive, like saying a Christmas fruitcake meets your recommended dietary allowance of fruit. Humidity, sunlight, and gentle mistings of sweat fail miserably to elucidate on the peach note that supposedly resides in the heart of Mitsouko, and I'm left with only a stale, lipsticky labdanum sweetness instead. It feels bloodless and beigey-pink, if that has any meaning, an effect better achieved in chypres that are far less accomplished, like 31 and Bleu de Chanel (an unlikely champion of pink grapefruit-infused labdanum). In other words, Mitsouko's peach effect is monotone, and very sadly synthetic.

Then there's the hope of being transported to new places by good raw materials, dashed by the same cinnamon that resides in Grey Flannel, and a markedly smaller dose of the bready Biolandes iris molecule, which is again encountered in a richer form in Chanel's Les Exclusifs. That irritates me. Guerlain's perfume is almost a century old, and has been reformulated into the predictable style of mimicking naturals without adding anything to the abstract form. At least 31's materials collude to give me two impressions: one of bright fruits on a honeyed, resinous, faux-mossy base - I definitely smell real bergamot, milky-lactonic patchouli powder, iris, and labdanum - and one of a liquid radiance that rapidly swoons into a dusky amber, all curved lines and modern aerodynamics. There is a regrettable flatness to 31's base, but I like the fragrance's movement as a whole. Not so, Mitsouko.

Mitsouko EDP's disappointments are so multitudinous that by the time its powdery, rosy-ylang drydown arrives, I'm too annoyed to think much of it. How does it smell? Like wet paint, smeared by a chain smoker's lipstick. Summer heat only adds to its tobacco-induced halitosis. Perhaps I should try the pure parfum instead, but stay tuned for December's winter review of the EDP. I'm hoping cold weather improves it.







8/2/13

Hugo (Hugo Boss)


Remember Hugo? It was 1995. Bill Clinton was president. Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi duked it out in the US Open. Pierce Brosnan was James Bond. And we all had a few short months left before the Spice Girls ruined our lives. It was a good year, made better by Hugo Boss. Their fresh chypre reinstated some backbone into a market increasingly overrun with citrus chypres in the wimpy CK One and L'Eau d'Issey caste. It wasn't another glorified lemonade/sage/amber fragrance. Hugo had an earthier countenance, with more than a few nods to Cool Water, Sung Homme, even Aqua Velva, backed by a brusque melange of floral and woody notes. It was its own trendsetter, a template for a few dozen spicy-fresh chypres in the years to follow.

Despite Bob Aliano's talent and Hugo's cheerful demeanor, I could never get into the Hugo Boss brand. It seemed a little downmarket to me. Of course, back in the nineties I had no idea Boss No.1 existed, nor could I foresee the future arrival of Baldessarini. Hugo, Boss Elements, Boss Bottled, and Hugo Dark Blue were pretty much all I knew of the line, and I thought little of them. The nineties belonged to Hugo Boss, and I hated the nineties. So Hugo, while duly noted, made a vague impression on me. Fast-forward eighteen years, and I'm smelling this frag with a new nose, and finding it to be quite nice. It's nothing amazing, mind you, but it's very well balanced, smells fairly natural (although it "feels" synthetic overall), and has admirable complexity. Its structure is a true chypre - bergamot, labdanum, and oakmoss - but those bones are buried under loads of green apple, lavender, sage, mint, patchouli, cedar, geranium, fir, and nutmeg. There's a healthy slug of white florals in there, too.

This was popular when I was a freshman at Notre Dame here in Fairfield, Connecticut, and I can see why. Hugo is inoffensive, crisp, spicy, a little sweet, a lot woody, with a pleasant woody amber and plenty of laundry-grade musk upholding the pyramid. It's the sort of fragrance that a jock can spritz on before a party, and have all the girls treat him like he's wearing Dior or Chanel. I was never a jock, and wore Tommy by Hilfiger on the rare occasions when I wore anything at all, but I guess I could have made Hugo work for me. Then again, there's something a little anonymous about it, like it's trying a bit too hard to keep its array of herbs and woody notes in line, letting nothing stand out and take charge. The guy who wears Hugo might be introverted, shy, even overlooked, and we all know anonymity is a terrible fate for anyone in high school.







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.