The Elusive Fougère, Part One

Few fragrance families have befuddled, confused, eluded, even angered men as frequently as the fougère has, which is worth mentioning because it's one of the most common types of masculine fragrance out there. It only befuddles fragheads of course, those of us who are far more interested in perfume than the average guy who reaches for his one bottle of Gucci Guilty and wears it without a second thought. An example of just how laborious it can be for us to understand the genre can be found in this thread, which dissects its history a bit, and then ponders what exactly a fougère should smell like. The OP asserts that it is "not beautiful," and "if you get too much of it, it can be even nauseating," which is at odds with my own experience, but then again I've been known to have an uncommonly tough tummy.

Here is my assertion: the fougère is basically a fresh, somewhat floral, somewhat woodsy, slightly mossy/musky concoction that in traditional format smells stereotypically "barbershoppy." Lavender and coumarin are the main players, but the handling of both notes can vary, even among traditional ferns. Nevertheless, all share a uniquely powdery, talc-like quality, with a lukewarm coumarin adding ambery heft and depth to an otherwise evanescent herbal structure. The fougères pictured above are a visual answer to the question, "What is a fougère?" If you own and wear at least three of those six fragrances, you fully understand what a fougère is, and if Drakkar is one of them, you also understand the basic aromatic fougère fairly well.

So why all the questioning? I suspect some guys have an unintentionally poor olfactory grasp of one or more of the key notes, which may or may not create an unnecessary sense of mystery. I attribute this to natural causes, a physical inability to detect a specific scent. For example, I know at least a couple of people who are anosmic to lavender. When faced with lavender, alternative adjectives are used to describe it, rather than just identifying it as lavender: it's "camphorous," it's "minty," it's "laundry musk." Contemporary perfumery methods have allowed perfumers to extend the life of lavender on skin by a considerable length of time, beyond the forty-five seconds you might get from dabbing pure oil mixed with perfumer's alcohol on skin. Missing the central lavender chord may ruin fougères for some people.

Another problem may be unfamiliarity with the similarities old-school ferns share. If your three frags of experience are Caron Pour un Homme, Drakkar, and Brut, I can understand that it would be hard to find their common link. There's still an experiential vacuum with ferns there. Add Pinaud's Clubman, Mennen Skin Bracer, and Canoe to the mix, and suddenly there's a familiar shape in the air. Take for example the musky talc drydown of Brut, Clubman, and Canoe, each very "barbershop" in their own right. Alone, their fragrances are anomalies compared to what's currently under glass in department stores these days, but together they're like triplets after a particularly trying birth - similar enough to be unmistakably siblings, but each with a slightly different face. Familiarity with all three ensures the confusion factor is minimal.

And while I'm discussing the confusion factor, I should add that contemporary releases generally eschew the conventions of old-school ferns, in favor of more aromatic and gourmand nuances. Compare Canoe to Bleu de Chanel and you see what I mean. One could argue that it's silly to say fougères are alien to guys, given their iconic status, but "iconic" can be synonymous with "forgotten." Just today I visited a local brick and mortar shop that carries dozens of hard-to-find masculines, and asked the owner for a bottle of Canoe. I didn't even bother looking at his shelves, I figured he'd hear the name, immediately know it, and simply hand it to me. After all, Dana frags are found in every drugstore across America.

I was in for a surprise - the guy had no idea what I was talking about. He's been in business for twenty years, is roughly sixty years old, and he gave me a blank, confused stare. I went to his shop and not a Rite-Aid or CVS because I figured that unlike the big-boxes, he would have a wider variety of sizes (I was looking for an eight-ounce bottle). I had to spell "Dana" for him. He eventually found it on his smartphone and showed me a picture to confirm the item, then apologized, saying it was out of stock. Indeed, he had English Leather and one or two other obscure Dana items on a shelf, but no Canoe. So it's getting to the point in America where cornerstone masculines like Canoe are not even being stocked in independent perfume outlets.

In the thread linked above, a Parfumo member named "LovingTheAlien" wrote, "I decided to blend myself what I had learned from various sources to be the building blocks of a 'real' vintage fougère: Oakmoss (my own tincture!), Tonka Bean (my own tincture again), a little amber (in place of labdanum, which I don't have), sandalwood (Mysore tincture - also mine), a light floral blend (jasmine and rose, a tiny bit of each), lavender (another tincture), bergamot, and a teensy touch of (regrettably) synthetic musk. It came out kind of muddled - something was weird. It had a spicy sweet edge, something like a fougère, but something was missing. A little investigation, and a drop (well, smallish tacky glob) of patchouli was added. And there it was: Pinaud Clubman, Avon Wild Country, Dana Ambush, and Canoe!"

He presciently added, "The 'aromatic fougère' genre certainly spans a large range of finished products, from the still very fougère-like Azzaro Pour Homme to the baffling Dali Pour Homme (one of my favorites), which emphasizes the metallic leathery quality of tonka with castoreum and plays with all kinds of bitter green notes in the top. I can still smell the fougère accord in most of these scents - it's kind of impossible to hide if you know what you're looking for, it seems!" I agree, the accord is unmistakable, but that doesn't change the fact that it's only unmistakable to those who can accurately discern the notes that comprise it, a major issue for some.

But knowing the fougère accord isn't essential to understanding what a fougère is. It's more important to recognize the traditional fougère's general scent profile - is it spicy, powdery, balmy, green, woody, or sweet? Is it all of those things? If so, what is it more of? In my opinion, it's more powdery than anything else. My nose is sensitive to the talc effect in the bases of these compositions, so when I smell that clean powder essence, I know I'm dealing with either a straight-up traditional fern, or something derived from it, like Royal Copenhagen. I'm also pretty good at detecting lavender, so for me there's an early warning sign that a fougère is in use. Essentially this combination of lavender and powder is universal to the classical fern.

The final frontier, and perhaps most daunting aspect of understanding ferns, is in assessing the aromatic variants, which take the classical structure and condense it, then surround it with additional notes, usually notes that fit each of the scent profile categories. They're much more complex and subject to change, these aromatic ferns, and therefore are often harder to define. I think fragrances like Azzaro PH, Paco Rabanne, and Drakkar are suitable gateways to the aromatic fougère, because their "barbershop" qualities are still prominent, and they show the progressive advance of dihydromyrcenol in masculine compositions. Even Kouros and Jazz hold some semblance of citrus aftershave and talc dust, enough to connect them to the family tree. Once you establish that the antiseptic citrus/lavender accord can be twisted around any make and model of coumarin, the sky is truly the limit.

Lastly comes the more amusing question that sometimes crops up, the plea to define "barbershop" as it pertains to scent. Some guys know what it means when you say, "It smells like a barbershop frag," but others are instantly lost. Either they went to a different barber, or they always cut their own hair. Or perhaps their culture is one where using talc and aftershave is rare. Barbershops across America use talcum powder after a close cut or shave, usually to dry out and soothe skin. I've been to barbers who used Clubman talc, and I've been to barbers who used Pinaud After-Shave Talc. I've even been to barbers who used baby powder, disguised by an unmarked tin. That powder is the essence of the barbershop scent, a dry, diffuse, slightly floral aroma, evocative of summer afternoons and rides in dad's car.

Peruse the Parfumo thread for some additional thoughts on the role of gender and personal taste in recognizing fougères, and consider this - fougères have been around since the dawn of perfumery itself. To know one fougère is to know a piece of history. To avoid fougères is to subjugate yourself to the pitfalls of attempting to live around a massive, maw-like hole in your education.


The Long And Short Of It

Frick and Frack. You're Tweedely-Dee.

The end of another year is finally upon us, and I find myself reflecting on the last twelve months with a mixture of pleasure and wistfulness. Lately I've been reaching for Brut more than anything else, of all things. You'd think a guy with seventy fragrances (most of them exotic, relative to what the average person wears) would, oh, I don't know, reach for something fancier than Brut, but what can I say? Brut I want, so Brut it shall be. After all, I don't just have Brut. I have Brut, Brut Classic, vintage Brut 33, Brut Splash-On, Brut aftershave, and Brut deodorant spray, so when I want Brut, I get the entire grooming regimen done, not just a wee dab of cologne.

At work today my coworker was surfing the web, looking for a cologne for her "man," and seemed pretty intent on getting him Gucci Guilty. She's nine years younger than me, so I guess I can understand her thought process here. She's young, and I assume he's close to her age, and neither of them have a clue what the other should smell like, as long as it smells "good." The woman in question told me, "The guy at Macy's said to buy him whatever I like, not what he likes." And she likes Gucci Guilty. If she likes it, he'll probably be at least OK with it, and will wear it until they break up, which by today's average is likely within the next two or three years. I have this little theory about relationships that people over the age of twenty-three who stay together for more than two years without tying the knot are actually, and despite what they might think of it themselves, in a poor relationship, but that's a conversation for another day, probably on another blog. All I can say about this woman is, I totally like her, she's as happy as can be, always brightens everyone's day, and I think her taste in fragrance sucks.

It took every ounce of willpower not to say to her, "Just get him a bottle of Brut Classic and call it a day." I actually have a bottle there, I could have pulled it from my cubby and handed it to her, and let her cluck her tongue and tell me about how old I am. There's still a work day left before we go on vacation, so the chance to spout off is still there, putting my better judgment in a half-nelson. But if anyone were to ask me which masculine to get for their "man," I'd recommend Brut as a safe, all-encompassing, time-tested win. Sorry people, but the damn stuff defies conventional wisdom in every sense, be it financial, fashionable, or otherwise. Yeah, three ounces is ten bucks at Walgreens. Yeah, it's fifty years old, and no, it's not going to turn heads.

But it's one of a precious few surviving traditional fougères men have at their disposal. Furthermore, it has been fairly well preserved over the decades, with the loss of musk ambrette the only real blow to its physical structure. On Badger & Blade the Classic version is heralded as being quite close to the original of the sixties and seventies, and I have the old 33 to compare it to, so I agree with their assessment. But what does it say of fragrance in general that a cheap, ostensibly outdated drugstore fern that nobody below the age of forty touches anymore smells so good? Why bother with anything like say, Green Irish Tweed or Bleu de Chanel if Brut is so nice?

Should we even bother with fragrance at all? There's a study from the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, which found that cologne for men turns women off, that "Men's colognes actually reduced vaginal blood flow," which is a scientific blow to any guy who thinks the fanciest fragrance will woo the prettiest girl . . . or is it? The study is questionable. Very questionable. The foundation's founder, Al Hirsch, had women wear surgical masks with different fragrances on them, and hooked their lady parts up to a vaginal photoplethysmograph (with unscented masks as a control). He found that pretty much every conventional masculine scent turned women off, at least in the physical arousal department (no accounting for whether the women were intellectually drawn to any of the scents), yet the smells of candy and cucumbers were arousing, which begs the question, do sweet scents with cucumber notes warrant attention here?

An obvious question is, were these women turned on to begin with, in a manner that made measuring how quickly and by how much they were turned off relevant? One assumes their vaginas were engorged with enough blood to begin with, and thus measuring the retreat of their biological arousal mechanism in the presence of fragrance was worth it. Otherwise you're just taking women who aren't sexually aroused at all, plopping surgical masks on their faces (very arousing), and pointing out the photowhateveragraph's notations because you literally have nothing better to do in your pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding. I think the study equates feminine arousal to olfactory response in a way that is much like saying, "If men fail to get erections in the presence of women's perfumes, women should abstain from wearing perfume altogether," which is an absurd statement to any man, because men know that perfume alone is pointless without a woman wearing it - the combination of her natural pheromones and delicate feminine notes is often intoxicating.

Studies like this require some translation, and I think whenever a mask is put on somebody's face, the strength of whatever it's scented with is magnified greatly. Just think of any rubber mask you've ever put on. The scent of the rubber is usually overpowering, but when you take it off it barely registers from a few inches away. What do I glean from Al's study? Go easy on the sprayer, unless you're actively studying a fragrance and want to really pick its structure apart over the course of a day, in which case you should spray at your discretion. Maybe lighter, more ephemeral cologne-strength scents are better on men after all, because they're only detectable "up close," for anyone who wants to be that close to you. Then again, what do I know? Maybe it doesn't matter at all, if your scent of choice is solid to begin with.

As the years wear on, I've come to realize a few things about the fragrance world, or more specifically, my fragrance world:
1. Fragrance is only one small piece of a person's puzzle. Just wearing a Creed, or Lutens, or Amouage is not enough to make you interesting, or sexy, or sophisticated, or all of the above. You have to possess enough character and personality to support whatever you're wearing, if you're hoping your fragrance will really mean anything to anyone else.

2. Expensive is not "better" in this game. Yes, Green Irish Tweed smells really, really good. But then again, so does Brut, Old Spice, Aqua Velva. Cheap fragrances can, and sometimes do match their expensive counterparts in quality and wear-ability, so why go nuts trying to break the bank? Any guy can smell good at any price-point. Just accept that wearing something like Brut or Old Spice is not a reflection of you anymore than a rare bee bottle Guerlain is a reflection of its owner's personal qualities. If you wear the cheap cologne with shame, you'll convey shame, and the cologne won't smell like anything memorable to anyone. If you carry yourself confidently, chances are your confidence and scent will be associated with each other.

3. Fragrance is truly gender-neutral. I can think of a dozen women who could rock Drakkar, or Allure Homme, or even Brut. Likewise, there are more than a few guys who would be much better off reaching for Tea Rose than that Axe crap on store shelves. Milan Kundera once said, "All great novels are bisexual." All great perfumes are bisexual. That said, there's nothing wrong with reveling in "guy's-guy" perfumes like the drugstore classics mentioned here. Old Spice really was worn by your grandfather, and yes, he wore lumberjack flannels and smoked cigars. Guess what? The smells of sweat, cigar smoke, and Old Spice got him laid.

4. There are no "experts." There are people who have smelled three or four perfumes, and there are those who have smelled three or four hundred, or more. The person who has three scents under his olfactory belt is just as qualified to pass judgment on something as the super-sniffer is. Our noses are biological instruments that can be fine-tuned, but never forget that they are survival mechanisms, and as Avery Gilbert said, "Humans can smell just as well as dogs." That's right, you could theoretically (pride notwithstanding) get on your hands and knees at an airport and locate exactly which suitcase is holding bricks of cocaine, in case the drug-sniffer dogs get tired. How is that possible? Your nose, even without fine-tuning, is capable of deciphering the oddest, most out-of-place aromas in a split second, the sort of instinct that kicks in when you raise a glass of spoiled milk to your lips.

As we slip into 2015, I intend on slowing down in my fragrance journey, so as to allow my impressions to be truly dimensional and well conceived. I'd like to wish you all a happy holiday and a happy new year. See you again soon.


Cathedral In Flames (Garner James)

In a perfect world all the cathedrals would burn, would go down, and stay down. I'm agnostic, formerly Catholic, not a believer in Jesus or any "nameable" god. Organized religion is a bad thing in my opinion, as it is little more than an unnecessarily complicated way of oppressing minorities and women, and driving patriarchal power into the heads of children so they can grow up to be servants of invisible men. There is nothing inherently bad about believing in god, any god, or trying to live after divinity with charitable acts and goodwill toward others, but to foist any belief system on the masses is an act of willful paralysis and ignorance.

My central issue with religion, particularly Catholicism, is its insistence on an afterlife. Think for thirty seconds - just thirty measly seconds - and come up with one good reason to want to go to Heaven. What could possibly be so great about spending an eternity in some fluffy incorporeal dimension full of sexless angels and "love" without reason? I don't care how much beauty and love there is, eventually I'd get awfully bored. Eternity is a long time. My soul is human. I am and always will be the essence of an Earth-bound mammal, and as such need variable tactile stimuli, pleasure and pain, love and hate, peace and bloodshed, corporeal contact with others, the physical touch.

When I was four, one of my first intellectual thoughts was that I was inexplicably relieved to be alive in the 1980s, a time of advanced medicine and rapidly advancing technology. This relief was profound, and guided me into my teenage years as a confused Catholic with a truly religious mindset - I was a believer. It took cancer and two surgeries to bring me back around to my sense of childhood relief, where I realized that I could not possibly be relieved to be born into a specific time unless I had an innate sense of a different and more difficult time to compare it to. Why would a child be relieved to have electrical appliances and synthetic fabrics to keep him warm, unless some part of his psyche was distantly attuned to not having those things at all?

Ten years later, I began to sense that there was an answer to the question, if no god, then what? Religious people are often taken with all that supposedly comes after death, but rarely seem to think that there are mundane clues about this outcome to be found in life. Religious clues are all sophisticated, moral, based on what sort of character you are. It's boring to suppose that the answers to the eternal questions of what happens after death are found in basic patterns of biological life. Yet that's exactly what I believe holds these answers: life itself.

Let's look for a moment at what we do as living beings. We eat, breathe, socialize, reproduce, shit and piss, combat diseases, love each other, kill each other, sleep, dream, age, and die. The patterns? We eat for energy to tide us over until we're hungry, and then we eat again. An endless cycle. We breathe in and out, another endless cycle. We make friends, lose touch with them, sometimes fight with and hate them, sometimes fall in love with them, this goes on and on. We'd perish quickly if we didn't shit and piss on a regular basis, making room for new food by getting rid of the old. We get sick, get better, get sick again, get better again. But most importantly, we sleep. We wake up. We get tired, and sleep again. Wake up, feel energized, live another day, then back to sleep.

Poe once said, "Sleep, those little slices of death," referring to the physically helpless, intellectually inert state of sleep our bodies require. In sleep, all is dark. Our minds flicker through their garbage, excreting excess psychic stimuli via dreams and nightmares. Sometimes this activity is so minimal that there is literally no cognitive record of the hours at rest. We simply close our eyes, and open them again seven or eight hours later, ready to face another day. We take for granted that sleep is available to us, or that we would die without it. But is sleep truly living? Why must all signs of life cyclically reduce down to their barest minimum to ensure survival?

I believe that sleep is a biological representation of the natural order of life, death, birth, and rebirth. In life, we sleep between days. In death, we sleep between lives. Not all of us, mind you - as in life, our outcomes after death are varied, with some simply vanishing into nothingness (feeling, caring, and regretting nothing as a result), while others are reborn as animals. Yes, the little critters in your backyard are alive, after all, and are sub-intellectual entities that sustain the ecosystem with pre-programmed instinctive behaviors. Still others are reborn as new people, but here is where my belief sticks to the basics. Instead of being reborn as new people, body and soul, we are simply reborn as new bodies, with the same essence of whatever carried us through previous lives. I believe this because I believe our "souls" are not unique to ourselves, but are rather the same common essence, pressed into different genetic structures.

Doubters of my philosophy should consider that we are composed of dead matter. Every microgram of ourselves is part of a complex structure of inanimate objects that neither think, feel, or perish. Human cells are composed of individual elements, all of them dead units animated by electrical impulse (itself a dead drive). Roughly sixty percent of our bodies are water. Simple water, dead as dirt, non-intellectual H20. Tissues, brain matter, the chemicals that comprise our vital systems, all technically dead. Ever taste your own blood? It tastes like metal, its high iron and mineral content. Liquid Earth flows through our veins. Taken individually, our biological parts are lifeless. Together they make us who we are, but that doesn't change the fact that we are essentially comprised of lifeless carbons. The only thing that animates us are our energies, intense electrical currents that interact with various chemical systems to produce movement, and behavior. When we die, our electrical systems shut down, and our already dead parts disperse, melting into the rest of this carbon-based planet.

Cathedral in Flames is the final perfume in the small lineup of fragrances gifted to me by Jim Gehr of Garner James, and it is a luxurious experience, something any thinking person should wear at least once in their lifetime. It smells of brisk citrus, silvery incense, something akin to chili pepper, and rich spices, with cinnamon the main player. As with all of Gehr's work, Cathedral is perfectly balanced, its woody incense lending sturdiness to the shimmer and shine of fleeting fruit rind and piercing herbal notes. It's perfect on an autumn or winter day, feeling both warm and solid, yet never wearing too heavily. The "hot" incense accord is likely the reason for the fragrance's name, and it's one of the few oriental accords I've encountered that I can wear several days in a row without losing interest.

This is what Copper Skies by Kerosene should smell like. That fragrance conjures images of acid chemical cleaners and cloying, chaotic eugenol, and is in no way evocative of golden autumnal days, but Cathedral in Flames is smoldering Earth in a bottle, crisp, natural, complex, and elegant. It's also designed to smell both masculine and feminine, its subtle floral notes lifting the fresh incense in a way that anyone can enjoy. Go forth into 2015 with courage to accept all that it means to be human, and enjoy this olfactory ode to mankind without missing what you'll never have.


Knot (Bottega Veneta)

Some scents manage somehow to get corners of our souls to themselves, their characteristics immediately recognizable and capable of instantaneous associative memory, very often steeped in nostalgia. Driving home from work today I caught a few whiffs of burning kerosene, probably from a trailer park I was passing, and it was 1987 again. I'm in my parents' basement playing with toys near a protective wooden gate my father used to plop between me and his kerosene heater. He'd fire that thing up whenever he and mom watched TV (they have since converted the "den" portion of the basement into an apartment for my grandmother, which I never really cared for).

The smell of freshly-opened peanut butter sends me to the same time period, even a few years beyond, and I'm sitting in the backseat of my father's Chevelle, a monster of steel and Naugahyde with felted strips, held together by a substance that years of baking summer sunshine and musty garages had imbued with the inexplicable odor of peanuts, or at least that's how my five year-old nose interpreted it. To this day I love peanut butter, not because it's delicious, but because its smell transports me back to that sexy junker, an obscenity on wheels that dad occasionally cleaned with a rag while smoking Newports.

Knot is a fine little fresh fragrance by Daniela Andrier of Luna Rossa and Candy fame, and a bit of a surprise. I knew Bottega Veneta had released it, I didn't expect to smell it anytime soon, but did anyway. Now that I'm a Neiman Marcus customer I'm allowed to cast eyes on their products, and even smell them. I guess it's more memory than perfume, because it takes me back to a woman's apartment, someone I loved dearly, and reconnects me fondly to the memory of her. She was very much a "girly girl" when it came to soaps and perfumes and lotions, a bit funny in light of her otherwise dark and sometimes downright anarchistic personality.

Nowadays it reminds me of a coworker who is the epitome of the phrase "girly girl," a young woman with enough estrogen for twenty of her kind, and whose sweat glands literally produce pink droplets. Laugh if you must, but she's my type, the sort of woman I gravitate to, the femme in knee-high boots who ceaselessly ponders her fingernails, and constantly paints them, pontificating on how delicious Chili's ranch dressing is and how awful boys are. She appeals to me because there is no mystery as to who she is. This type of woman is a heterosexual woman of the highest order, wearing her heart on her sleeve, emotive to the nth power, dedicated to the decimation of manhood while simultaneously loving men to their bones, and occasionally equating their beauty to food, which I admit is sometimes weird.

Knot smells like this woman, a fresh floral neroli and gardenia breeze on a light woody musk, a smell entirely without contrast or conflict, yet thoroughly pleasant, feminine without resorting to sugar-shock, of classic origins, and destined for a place among the best in years to come. It smells like someone I once knew, a brilliant woman who worked sixty hour weeks and drank even harder than me, but whose beauty was unmatched, and whose heart was once pressed against mine. Ladies and gentlemen, wear this perfume without trying to be anything other than happy, because even the hardest mercenary can find time for something as fresh and clean as this, Bottega Veneta's little twist on the contemporary mall-rat feminine.


Alpha Ionone At Little More Than 1% Concentration Responsible For Natural Sandalwood Effect In Grey Flannel

One of the many things I love about vintage Grey Flannel is its beautiful, smooth, natural-smelling sandalwood note, an effect one might surmise is attributable to high quality ingredients not found in today's iteration of the scent. I was fortunate enough to acquire from perfumer Jim Gehr a sample of Ionone Alpha at 1% concentration, something I requested, and I'm surprised to find after several days of scrutiny that this aroma chemical is in fact responsible for that velvety precious wood effect in the older vintage, although perhaps at a higher concentration.

What does this mean? Let's face it, ionones are not super expensive materials, and I doubt any perfumer would classify them as being exotic in any way. They're common to floral notes, with A and B ionones combining to make violet (B alone smells of roses). If it's a cheap material with a memorable aroma, why scale back on it in the newer version of Beene's perfume? In its pure form, Ionone Alpha smells of slightly spicy, violet-tinged sandalwood, albeit a rather soapy, creamy-smelling incarnation of it. Rich, buttery, and quite smooth, this element is obscured in Arden's Grey Flannel, which seems to contain a more textured and anisic cloud of galbanum.

Maybe the intense woodiness of Ionone Alpha was considered by the suits at EA to be dated. My suspicion with most reformulations of old masculines is that times change the scents more than executives, with new waves of young men favoring cleaner, sweeter concoctions than their fathers and grandfathers ever wore. Look at Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water - the former, while certainly classic and still sought after, smells rather loud in an eighties way, overly rich for today's blood, while the latter remains a throwback, but much crisper and cleaner. "Sheer" is the word I'd use to describe a key difference between them, because CW smells transparent compared to GIT.

Galbanum and spiced anise notes are lighter, and a touch closer to being "au courant" than dense, unremitting bergamot and violetty sandalwood, so unnecessary tweaks were made, and today's Grey Flannel is different and arguably more wearable for today's young men. Naturally most youngsters favor newer scents, but hey, they tried. The supposition that oakmoss is a factor here is something I've entertained in the past also, but to be honest the oakmoss concentration in this scent is better at a low dose for me, as I seem to be just a little sensitive to it. IFRA is on to something.

The moral of the story: ingredient quality in vintages is not necessarily better. Just the same at a higher concentration, or marginally different. No expensive sandalwood oils were used to make Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel the beauty it is. It was merely infused with a heady slog of Ionone Alpha, and of course the perfumer's talent in integrating other notes to yield a masterpiece of modern design.


Victory League (Adidas)

In sports, victory is usually attainable by putting the other side on the defensive and watching them squirm while you play through. Adidas appears to enjoy releasing cheaper variants of designer successes in the hopes that their competition will come from frags in higher price brackets. In this case the target is Allure Homme, a variant of Cool Water that has itself spawned numerous imitators, many from its own brand. Allure's market share is generally unshakeable; the scent has secured the admiration of millions of consumers in the last sixteen years, and woe be it to those who think a lowly twelve dollar cologne could distract from its beauty.

I think Adidas punted well in releasing Victory League, because it strikes me as a competent shot at Chanel's lofty goal post. While not exactly the same, and clearly a different structure in terms of specific notes used, VL aims to generate a lighter, sweeter version of Allure's profile, using distinct vanilla and spiced fruit notes. Some reviewers have said it resembles Boss Bottled, and that may be, but I get a definite Allure vibe when I smell the cinnamon-dusted citrus and apple notes in VL, and the drydown brings a pleasantly smooth and warm vanillic amber with hints of wood, mainly cedar. The requisite white musk plays against the amber, lending transparency and freshness to an otherwise sturdy gourmandish fougère. I find the lavender in this is light and transient, with its own soapy sweetness, rather similar in effect to stuff like Skin Bracer and Cotton Club. I'd classify this frag as being "Allure Lite."

I doubt VL was ever popular enough to make the suits at Chanel worry, or even take notice, but at least the boys in Adidas' back room tried. One might argue that it is a touch too sweet, and at times it does feel that way, perhaps due to the preponderance of vanilla, but as in Sport Field, the material quality seems decent enough to give VL some texture and prevent it from becoming "blobby." I find it's no sweeter than Avon's Mesmerize for Men, another underrated scent with edible notes. Victory League's longevity clocks in at eight hours, making it a viable option for an office scent. Why not drop ten dollars or so on this the next time you see it? At the very least it's something fun to wear while shopping with the family on the weekend.


Animale Animale For Men, and The Helpfulness and Helplessness Of Reviews

I have contacted Jeffrey Dame about this fragrance, as he was in charge of its marketing and commercial production in the early nineties prior to and during its international release. I have some questions for him about its conception in the backroom meetings, as Animale Animale for Men is markedly similar to both the feminine and masculine versions of Angel by Thierry Mugler. My interest stems from the fact that it does mildly mimic Angel, yet lends the boozy patchouli gourmand a distinctly masculine aura, thanks to judicious florals and an almost garrulous pineapple and honey top note. Put simply, my perception of AAfM is that it's a sort of "fougeriental," with a bold lavender note, and a woody tonka bean effect framing a vanillic sandalwood reconstruction in its heart and base. I understand that Dame wanted to call this fragrance "Animalaso," but was apparently forced to give up that idea. Why, exactly? Was it a play on words, giving "Animal" an "e" at the end to suggest the scent is primarily for males? That is the name of the fashion house, though, so I really don't know what the thinking was. It would be fun to find out more.

If you're wondering how this perfume smells, the best I can do is convey the brief description above, and add that it's essentially a fresher, brighter, and woodier reinterpretation of Angel (feminine). This is not in any way a clone of A*Men, for the simple reason that it was released prior to Mugler's infamous scent. One can speculate about whether or not Mugler cloned the clone in creating A*Men a full two years after AAfM hit stores, but without a direct line to the man himself, it's tough to say. I smell a rather loose but nonetheless lucid resemblance to Yohji Homme in AAfM as well, so perhaps that fragrance, with its interesting mixture of toffee-flavored coffee and anisic lavender, was also an inspiration. AAfM is a remarkably smooth masculine for its price (roughly $20 for 100 ml), and an entirely coherent olfactory experience that is a pleasure to own and wear. I also have A*Men and a generous decant of B*Men, and find the former more interesting, and the latter less compelling than AAfM. A*Men's mintier, more chocolatey structure contrasts beautifully against its burnt rubber note, making its drydown a bit more memorable than Animale's, but then again I love the sandalwood effect in the cheaper scent, so I guess it's nearly a draw between the two. B*Men is very nice also, but not nearly as memorable as the others.

AAfM is perhaps more notable than A*Men in that it seems to compel writers to over-analyze what they're smelling. Well, okay, maybe "over-analyze" is a bit unfair. Let's say that people "overthink" things when discussing it. I have yet to read a review that wasn't at least a little informative about the writer's perspective on this one, but I realized that AAfM has provided an unusual bonus, a special service to anyone aspiring to be a good fragrance reviewer: it generates both very useful, and completely useless opinions. When viewed together, these impressions create a roadmap to success in writing expressively and coherently. The following are three examples of useful, informative reviews that can serve as templates for budding writers (each review is edited for length):
"I found that the notes listed on Basenotes differ from the ones listed here on Fragrantica. What I picked up in the top seems like a combination of honey and pineapple to me. Underneath I find some chocolate, though it isn't mentioned in the notes here in Fragrantica. Also some tabacco. And something that reminds me of amber, though I am not sure that is really in there. Could be the mixture of notes? It reminds me a bit of Ralph Lauren's Polo Explorer, which also has amber in it. Vanilla is lingering softly in the background."

"A good cologne that is made all the better by it's comparatively low price. This is not a poor man's version of A*Men, it's another option that is comparable which happens to carry a more affordable price tag. It is a safe buy if you enjoy a sweet, chocolate, powdery cologne that is a very nice middle of the road scent between A*Men/Pure Malt/Pure Havane. If you aren't sure which of those you prefer or on a tight budget, I highly recommend getting this."

"I love this stuff. It is comforting, sweet but not too sweet, modest but just complex enough to hold your attention, and dirt cheap. Even the goofy bottle, with its cheap plastic clip-on front, has come to please me from its association with such a nice fragrance. I got it almost on a whim and it has come to win my affections over a number of expensive sweet gourmands, including A*men. If you gave it a classy bottle and called it "Vanille Orientale" there would probably be some market for it at 10 times the price. (Though this may say more about the wildly inflated price of niche perfumes than it says about Animale Animale.)"

The first review is very succinct in describing the notes being perceived by its writer, and this is merely an opinion of an opinion, but I feel that describing notes goes a long way in helping people to form a mental "scent profile," or a general idea of how something smells, without actually smelling it. It's true, you have to be knowledgeable enough to actually know what specific materials smell like to put this to use, but in AAfM's case, the notes are relatively ordinary and shouldn't pose any major challenges to newcomers. Most of us have a good idea of what pineapple, tobacco, and chocolate smell like. For slightly more experienced readers, the mention of amber helps to cement the general impression of the scent. This review also compares the scent to Polo Explorer, which at least gives experienced readers a new vantage point from which to consider AAfM. It's good stuff. I read reviews to get a sense of what something smells like, and this one answers more questions than it raises.

The second reviewer parries comparisons with more deftness, stating what AAfM does and does not smell like to him, and contextualizing the comparisons by mentioning price. Saying, "This is not a poor man's version of A*Men, it's another option that is comparable," answers pretty much any question a newcomer might have about whether or not AAfM smells like a "cheaper" version of A*Men. In one sentence the writer made clear that these two scents are comparable at different price-points, with equal (or near-equal) quality. Fears about the "safeness" of plunging in blind on AAfM are cleverly assuaged by adding that fans of a rather expansive category - sweet, chocolate, and powdery - should like this.

The third review does something that I always love to read - it diminishes any doubt regarding AAfM's quality, with one simple trick, the "label-swap," as I call it. It's something I've read now and again in reviews of cheap fragrances. Grey Flannel is a good example. A writer on PierredePierre once said something to the effect that certain cheapies are just as good as expensive niche frags, yet unjustly suffer in reputation by having low prices, and Grey Flannel was cited as one that would garner just as many positive compliments as something twenty times as expensive. This sort of idea isn't ironclad (I've occasionally seen guys on a certain wetshaver site compare some rather stuffy "man's man" cheapies to niche scents, which doesn't always wash), but in this review the writer states that he got AAfM "almost on a whim," yet was moved enough to consider it worth just as much as something in a much more expensive league. Reading this tells me that AAfM is, at the very least, a memorable fragrance, something that makes a strong positive impression.

Despite their best intentions, there are also reviewers who neuter their effectiveness by doing hackneyed work. Here are three examples:
"Don't think twice about buying it. It's around $20 a bottle and is great juice. One of if not the best bargain fragrance you can buy."

"It took me 2 long months to find a way to like this fragrance. Initially, I was turned way off by the oak moss and tobacco in this fragrance - it smelled very dated. But after awhile (maybe the notes finally settled after the treatment it received during shipment) I kinda like this fragrance with no more than 2 sprays (1 neck and 1 chest). You cannot overspray this one and you cannot spray the same area twice, this gets too cloying and too sweet - a real headache inducer. With two sprays, I get the honey, pineapple, vanilla, 'chocolate', and oak moss mixing to form a real relaxing gourmand fragrance, meant to be worn on a cold night with a thick sweater."

"I've changed my mind about this one to some degree. I now view it as an irritating 'blob' type of fragrance. Notes are not separated enough and so you get this nasty lavender/patchouli/gourmand that seems to pierce the nose. According to fragrantica.com, the notes are: '...nutmeg, honey, pineapple, lime, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, lavender, musk, galbanum, vanilla, jasmine, ylang-ylang, lily-of-the-valley, cedar, tobacco, rose and lemon.' I do not even get a hint of several of these. My guess is that this is made with cheaper ingredients than it should have been. Even Enrico Sebastiano Fine Cologne, which is selling now very cheaply, it considerably better that this one (ESFC is a lavender/patchouli/gourmand with a strong spice note). In short, I see AAfM as a real 'drug store' kind of fragrance, lacking seriously in basic components necessary for something worth considering by an aficionado . . . My old review: This is solid, and I'd say Foetidus' review is right on the money. However, AA is not only linear, but it stays at the same level of intensity for hours, which some may like and some may not. I like A*Men better, because it is more intense at the start, then in about two hours you get nice, gentle wafts (assuming you only use one or two sprays, as I do). This is important for me because the chocolate smell can become irritating after a while if it's too strong. It may be that AA gets a bit weaker too with the chocolate after a while, but because you don't get the A*Men blast at the beginning, you don't notice the drop off in strength as much as you do with A*Men. Still, AA can usually be found at about half the price (if not better), so if you don't mind this difference that I described (or prefer the smoother ride of AA), I'd say go for AA instead."

The first review is short and enthusiastic, but it just doesn't say anything. The writer feels it's one of the "best bargain fragrances you can buy," but no comparisons are made, and there's no clear reason for this opinion, other than that it's just "great juice," whatever that means. If I'm looking for information, I'm not going to find it here. Lots of "why" questions are raised. Why is it great? Why is it a "bargain?" Why shouldn't I think twice about buying a scent that I've never smelled before? Ultimately this review is not a review at all, and is therefore not helpful to me.

The second review is what I call the "Hedge." People sometimes (or often) start out by saying something like, "I didn't like this before, but now I kind of like it, although . . . " You get the idea. This is thin ice, and by the end of the thought, the logic has inevitably fallen through. This writer starts by saying, "It took 2 long months to find a way to like this fragrance - it smelled very dated." This guy had to "find a way" to like it? If you have to find a way to like something, then you're obviously not comfortable thinking for yourself. Why shouldn't your dislike be worth talking about? Why go on an unnecessary quest to do what you think other people want you to do, and modify your opinion to please them? This reviewer follows his initial admission, where he says he found the fragrance dated, with, "But after a while, I kind of like this fragrance." So you don't like something. You don't like it because it's dated. You give it additional time, dating it further. And now you like it. Right.

This review is troublesome because it then devolves into an "application manual." We've all read them before, those pesky reviews that attempt to dictate the exact terms on which a fragrance is acceptable, by describing exactly how many sprays you should use. "You cannot overspray this one and you cannot spray the same area twice . . ." To this I say, really? I used ten sprays this morning, with five of them layered on top of themselves. See what I did there? Funny. Got a problem with using more than one or two sprays of a perfume - any perfume? Get the fuck out of the fragrance world. It's like saying you want to be a restaurant reviewer, but you'll only try one bite of everything on the menu. Your opinion is based on unnecessarily attenuated experience, and is therefore pointless and useless to me and everyone else.

The last review is relatively rare to encounter, but when I do happen across it, it makes my head spin faster than Linda Blair's. The "I Changed My Mind Review" is possibly the worst kind of amateur writing on the internet, because it literally gives the reader two completely different reviews, all bundled into one, and it's up to you to decide which of them you should go by. Remember, you probably haven't smelled the fragrance in question. What good does it do you to read that someone thought highly of a fragrance at one point in time, and then completely fell out of love later on? Why not just clip out the old review and qualify your new impression with an admission that you (a) rushed the first review after the briefest of samplings, or (b) you now have an ulterior motive for supposedly changing your mind, which means your words should be avoided by readers at all costs?

In this case, the reviewer initially claimed that "This is solid . . . I like A*Men better, but it is more intense at the start, then in about two hours you get nice, gentle wafts (assuming you only use one or two sprays, as I do). This is important for me because the chocolate smell can become irritating after a while if it's too strong. It may be that AA gets a bit weaker too with the chocolate after a while, but because you don't get the A*Men blast at the beginning, you don't notice the drop off in strength as much as you do with A*Men. Still, AA can usually be found at about half the price (if not better), so if you don't mind this difference that I described (or prefer the smoother ride of AA), I'd say go for AA instead." So A*Men is initially more intense than AAfM. Then it gets softer with "gentle wafts." That same decrease in strength is harder to detect in Animale, because it's weaker to begin with. Animale is cheaper, but still a "smoother ride," so it is recommended. Being softer, smoother, and cheaper is a win in this comparison.

These claims are then followed up by entirely contradictory opinions. The "new" review turns all of the previous logic on its head and fails to make any specific comparisons, yet somehow expects the reader to understand. "I've changed my mind about this one, to some degree. I now view it as an irritating 'blob' type of fragrance. Notes are not separated enough, and so you get this nasty lavender/patchouli/gourmand that seems to pierce the nose." So what happened to the comparison to the "more intense" A*Men? Interesting how AA went from being a "smoother ride" to being a "blob." Reading this, I should now believe that Animale is TOO blended (usually the hallmark of "smooth" fragrances), yet also "nose piercing" in its strength. Something smells here, and it ain't the perfume being described.

This suspicion is reinforced as I read further. I find that despite the author's prior contention that AAfM's low price is a reason to choose it over the pricier A*Men, now he feels that "this is made with cheaper ingredients than it should have been . . . I see AAfM as a real 'drug store' kind of fragrance, lacking seriously in basic components necessary for something worth considering by an aficionado." These "basic components" are so important to mention that they are not elaborated upon at all by the reviewer. Taken together and translated, these two divergent reviews say, "AAfM is a good buy because it's a lighter, smoother scent that is similar to but cheaper than A*Men, but I dislike it because it's an irritating, nose-piercing drugstore-quality blob that 'aficionados' shouldn't bother with."

With the "I Changed My Mind Review," it's helpful to figure out who the writer is - it can establish an ulterior motive for the supposed change of heart. In this case, it doesn't take long to discover that the author is someone who does not like Jeffrey Dame, and seems a bit threatened by him. This is made clear when you read the reviewer's blog, in which he spends plenty of time attempting to refute Mr. Dame's experience by comparing it to his own. Upon discovering that Jeffrey Dame had an influential hand in the creation of AAfM (Dame posted a comment on Fragrantica), the reviewer's opinion changed quite suddenly, and AAfM went from being desirable to being forgettable crap. Of course, the writer overplayed his hand by a long shot, and I doubt anyone could read the review(s) without scratching their head in confusion. All of it taken together suggests that the reviewer is not only incompetent as a writer, but not a credible voice even if the language in his reviews made sense.

Bear in mind that when it comes to the praise and criticism that I've heaped on these examples, I can take credit for some of the good points, and am also guilty of making the same mistakes. I'm not writing this as an attempt to elevate myself into the stratosphere of "wise sage" who can dictate what is and is not acceptable. I'm just observing reviews that are and are not helpful to me, and elaborating on why I read them as I do. There is no chiseled-in-stone rule of law for how to write reviews, no absolute right or wrong. But opinions are like assholes - everyone has them - and some shit smells better than others.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! See you in December.


Shooting From The Hip, Hitting Empty Bottles

Expended Art?

"All art must lie by definition, but in the best possible sense." - Chandler Burr, "A Fragrance Critic on the Problem With Perfume," by Kathleen Hou, nymag.com, October 22, 2014

My boss recently said, "It amazes me how often people come to me with problems that they have not thought all the way through." He is an intellectual person, a doctorate with a few decades of experience in his field, and his message was multi-faceted. In one sense, people do not think their arguments through, and when they approach him with something that they perceive to be a problem, they are usually not prepared to answer his questions as to why they feel it is a problem. That sounds stupid, but I believe him when he says it happens all the time. Usually people don't think things from their cranium to their corns - they're content to stop at their gut and just spout off from there. Feelings reign supreme.

The other sense of his statement is where its genius rests: people must consider an issue very carefully before they can declare it a problem. Usually our perceived problems bite us in the nose, and there is little need to stand around rubbing our chins about them, because their deleterious qualities are readily identifiable. However, we should ask ourselves if we've considered the issues at hand thoroughly enough to actually define them as "problems." With enough careful thought, solutions are generated. The birth of a solution marks the death of a problem. A person who stops to ask himself if he or she really has a problem is likely to weigh its importance against other factors, and consider strategies for dealing with the issue at hand before it can ever actually manifest in the outside world as a definite "problem."

Reading some of the press for Chandler Burr's new book about Dior's perfumes has me believing that Mr. Burr is continuing to behave in a way motivated by gut instincts more than the whole self (mind, body, spirit, etc), and it's troubling, because he is one of a paltry few people who tries, again and again, to generate honest dialogues about perfume, and its place in our post-postmodern world. The problem here, as I have carefully considered it, is that Burr continues to insist that perfume is art, when it is in fact design. That one of the few contemporary voices to define perfume could be so wrong is almost as distressing as the fact that there are hardly any other voices to counter his opinions. The man's logic exists in a vacuum, not entirely of its own making.

The quote that precedes this blog post establishes that Burr believes perfume is art, and thus he also believes that perfumers are artists, their works are "lies in the best possible sense." Does this idea have any intrinsic value, any sturdy basis in fact?

I detected a hint of incredulity in Ms. Hou's tone when she asked Burr about his opinion on perfume as a part of fashion, "You don't think there is a link between fashion and perfume? That is a bold statement coming from the author of a book about Dior."

Burr answers this in the predictable manner, one that supports his Perfume As Art philosophy, which is only remotely tenable if we establish that Perfume Is Not Design, which he attempts to do, rather brusquely, when he answers, "there is no link between fashion and perfume."

It only takes one sentence to destroy Burr's logic: Christian Dior's fashion designs, when presented to the twentieth century fashion world, grew in popularity, which led to his branching into the perfume industry, producing works like Diorling, Diorella, Poison, Fahrenheit, and Dune, all of which irrevocably strengthened our appreciation for modern perfumes with their beauty, in turn creating another way in which people could appreciate the Dior brand.

There. In one run-on sentence, I have established a clear link between perfume and fashion. It is a link any thinking person can make. Except Chandler Burr, apparently.

But Burr's opinion on fashion is not what irks me. I get annoyed whenever I read his canned candy-cane answer, a seemingly stock answer, to the implied question, "What is art?" He constantly spews the same nonsense. Art, according to him, is "artifice." Art is artificial, a sort of intellectual white lie people tell each other to enrich their minds, if that could possibly make any sense. "All art must lie by definition."

First question - where exactly did he get this definition from?

Second question, why doesn't Burr mention specific artists who corroborate his view? Contrast Burr's view of art with Jonathan Fineberg's definition of both art and artists, from the second edition of his book, Art Since 1940: Strategies of Being. Fineberg writes,
"For all sincere artists, their art is an evolving perspective on events, and it is who they are. 'I realized that I had things in my head not like what I had been taught,' Georgia O'Keefe wrote to her friend Anita Pollitzer, 'not like what I had seen - shapes and ideas so familiar to me that it hadn't occurred to me to put them down. I decided to stop painting, to put away everything I had done, and to start to say the things that were my own.'"

Can an "evolving perspective on events" be a lie? Can it be packaged in a lie? Are all messages inherently lies? Even good lies?

By including the quote from Georgia O'Keefe, Fineberg gets to the heart of the matter very succinctly. Some art is a lie. The lies are those that fail to express the self. They are academic still lives, illustrations for children's books, attempts to mimic style and content using similar styles and subject matter. Even great artists like Georgia O'Keefe go through periods of their lives where they literally live a lie, drawing, painting, sculpting things that are in no way attached to the hand that makes them.

A true intellectual sees past these works, to the very different works that express the self of the artist. This is the "A-Ha!" moment O'Keefe refers to in her own artistic development. It is at this tier of artistic comprehension that the fallacy in Burr's logic is exposed, for if art is a lie, then those telling the lie and perceiving it must be susceptible to something other than the truth, a state which no thinking person finds himself in when he confronts artworks. We do not approach paintings and sculptures and installation pieces with blank slate, filterless minds, absorbing their content through a literal lens, and walking away believing untruths, nor do artists seek to manipulate viewers with their work. Art is an extension of being, and to simply be is profoundly at odds with even the most well-intentioned deception. Art is an expression of self that is also an extension of self, taking the inside and placing it in an outer context, "to say the things that are one's own."

What does perfume say? Perfume says nothing. How do we know? Because perfume, unlike the self, is finite. Great works of art exist on a spectrum of historical space that extends indefinitely into a potentially unending future (several thousand years from now, man will leave Earth, colonize other worlds, and take art and creative impulses with him). Perfume, on the other hand, can be used up, and there must be a conscious and usually commercially-driven decision to replenish it, if we are to continue experiencing it. Words and images about ourselves, once expressed, can not be taken back. Perfume, once made, can be used up. Recalled. Spilled. Forgotten under a medicine cabinet somewhere. Discovered under a medicine cabinet, tested for freshness, and thrown out.

Burr's account of art and artists is very pedestrian, very piecemeal and one dimensional, and what irritates me is that he attempts to elevate perfume to the status of fine art without actually understanding what fine art is in the first place. A rudimentary art history course, conducted by a decent professor with the guidance of a good textbook, is enough to shatter Burr's entire philosophy like an empty perfume bottle. I fear that unless someone speaks up and argues against his nonsense, we'll be subjected to more of it in the years to come. And that, my friends, is a problem.


Thoughts From Me, To November, To You

So I just read Luca Turin's latest review, this one for Amouage Sunshine, entitled "Chemical Floral," an attribute given to any floral composition he dislikes, it seems (Amirage and Cabotine spring to mind). I've been enjoying the Good Doctor's reviews lately, probably for two simple reasons above all others: (1) he has been missed, as it's been a few years since his last major publication, and (2), he seems to be getting less poetic and more cantankerous in his old age, letting the ivory tower invectives fly with more abandon than I recall.

Take this sentence, for example:
"Sunshine feels like the sort of 'safe' white flowers fragrance that bean counters demand to replenish coffers depleted by artistic license."
Translated, that's saying something like, "This perfume is unfortunately designed to save Amouage from the dire financial straits it has found itself in after years of foisting borderline unwearable, buy-once-for-prestige, faux pas orientals on women who would rather just smell good." Kinda makes me want to run out and try Sunshine for myself. It can't be any worse than Epic Man.

Anyway, it's November, one of the drabbest months of the year, that block of rainy grey sandwiched between the fiery opulence of October and the electrical festivities of December. Boredom rules here in Connecticut. The only thing I'm doing is starting work on my kitchen, which will eventually look exactly like this:

I'm not even that enthused about Thanksgiving this year, not because I can't muster an appetite, but because the holiday has been inadvertently hijacked by invisible forces beyond my already tiny cosmic purview.

If Thanksgiving existed to do my bidding, I'd have family and only the closest of close family friends for dinner, but reality dictates that people I've never even met before can come to the table, all in the name of "giving thanks together," which is better in theory than in practice. Hell, I'd sooner have Bigsly over for dinner than total strangers.

My folks used to entertain friends of theirs, a very pleasant (and sadly childless) middle-aged couple, having them over for Thanksgiving every year for about ten or eleven years, until they retired and moved to Florida last year. My parents thought their "goodwill" and "sharing" would at least buy them occasional social contact from the Sunshine State, but their investment has not once reached out, nary a single phone call, and it has them feeling a bit bitter, if you know what I mean. Out of sight, out of mind, apparently. This year a couple that my brother's partner knows from sometime way back in his past will visit us, and I can't say I'm very sure what to think of it. I'm all for sharing and being friendly, open, communal, whatever, but when you toil in the kitchen for a combined total of eighty hours cooking, basting, table setting, the least a person could do is call once in a while and ask how life's been treating you. And just popping up randomly as friends of a friend? That's already one degree of Kevin Bacon too far removed for me to do much more than nod and grin as I sit down to eat. If I were calling the holiday shots, these people would be better off ordering Chinese takeout.

One little tidbit from all the November boredom involves my recent infatuation with an old fifties classic, Wind Song by Prince Matchabelli, which I've already given a complete review on this blog. I've never owned a bottle, but I saw the stuff at Walmart the other day going for $14, and figured it might make a good aftershave for a certain feminine I've been wearing lately. That's the difficulty with wearing feminine fragrances, really - there are no shave sets for them. The scent in question is Guerlain's Mitsouko, which puts me in a Catherine Deneuve, Belle du Jour, rolling in the leaves state of mind every time I wear it. The stuff is gorgeous, but I don't have anything to complement it on my shave days. Enter Wind Song.

The trick is to shave with either the citrus or the original Gillette shaving cream and then spritz Wind Song on my freshly-shorn skin, followed by a copious cold water wash, to literally remove 95% of the Wind Song from the equation. The remaining five percent of the fragrance is basically a dry, woody citrus afterglow that blends beautifully with the rich bergamot/iris/labadnum accord in Mitsy. Would I just full on wear Wind Song in lieu of Mitsouko? Actually no. It smells great, but without utilitarian application it smells a bit dowdy, frumpy, grandmotherly. In this manner, however, with the hot razor resting nearby, Wind Song has a very specific, very Francophile-icious purpose.

While I'm talking about shaving creams, I just want to devote a few words to the original Barbasol. I don't know if any of you wetshavers out there are Barbasol users like I once was, but after buying and using the original the other day, I must state for the record that the fragrance of Barbasol shaving cream has been reformulated, and reformulated badly. I haven't the slightest idea what they were thinking, but the product now smells like some sort of makeup creme. It stinks. It in no way resembles the anisic, spicy sparkle of old-school manliness that I knew and loved. I am now using Gillette cream exclusively - the original Gillette in the red can is a dead ringer for Old Spice - although Burt's Bees may get a fair shake. I gave it a sniff this morning at Stop & Shop and really liked it. (Very expensive, though.)

Looking forward to wearing Garner James' Cathedral in Flames in December, a month when I shall deck my halls with all sorts of things that people thought went out of production thirty or forty years ago.


Cool Water Coral Reef (Davidoff)

I'd say that I don't understand Davidoff's need to issue annual Cool Water "summer" flankers, but it's not really true, because I know exactly why they do it: Cool Water, like other classic eighties masculines, has a fan club. A very LARGE fan club. Fragrances like Cool Water, Eternity for Men, Joop! Homme, all have yearly reissues in some new style to cater to the hundreds of thousands of hardcore, sales statistically verifiable fans, those guys and girls who repurchase the namesake again and again. This stands in stark contrast to those perfumes that are discontinued after just one release, yet appear online at wildly inflated prices. Fan clubs, like any buying demographic, should inject the commercial shelf-life of a product with numerous spin-offs and continued success.

This is the second Cool Water flanker I've put my good money down on, and I don't regret it. The first was Cool Water Into The Ocean, which is a very pleasant, somewhat briny, Calone-infused aquatic variant of the original. I won't get into purchasing all the summer flankers, nor will I adopt the mindset of a "Cool Water completist" who must have every single bottle ever made, but I thought it would be interesting to delve a little further into this seemingly endless commercial phenomenon. Cool Water Coral Reef is an odd one, not because of how it smells, but because it continues to perpetuate the false notion that this fragrance is first and foremost an aquatic. It's really a green and somewhat woody fresh fougère, with a few clever aromatics in play, dihydromyrcenol and Calone among them.

Coral Reef is in no way representative of an aquatic, but is actually a near exact replica of Coty Aspen for Men, itself a bit of a Cool Water clone, although lately it's more often compared to Green Irish Tweed. I respect the collective opinion of those who smell GIT in Aspen, but I've never been one to see the connection, mainly because Aspen is far woodier than its Creed and Davidoff progenitors, boasting a sizable wintergreen mint note, a brusque pine sap effect, and a warm, cedary amber that is more reminiscent of lumberjacking in the woods than drinking martinis on a gorgeous woman's veranda. Coral Reef possesses the exact same mint-heavy top, charmingly fresh pine notes, and a slightly more textured woody amber drydown, with strong hits of lavender, jasmine, and violet. Other than those extra florals, it's Aspen through and through.

Why own Coral Reef when you can own Aspen for fifteen dollars less? There's no great reason, except that Davidoff's scent uses slightly higher quality synthetics that don't fuzz out after thirty minutes on skin, which helps it retain its complexity and minty nuances for an extra ninety minutes or so. Also, Coral Reef has some of the original Cool Water's lavender and neroli lurking under all the mint and pine. To smell it is to experience the cold mountain air freshness of a postmodern fougère, filtered through a Russian forest. Ironically, it's also a good choice for the autumn and winter seasons, thanks to its evergreen elements. Nothing original, not going to turn heads, but timeless, very masculine, and very nice.


Brut Actif Blue (Fabergé / Helen Of Troy)

This fragrance is still in production, but is labeled simply "Brut Blue" now, for whatever reason. I don't fully understand the marketing behind any of the Brut products, if you can even call it marketing, and I suppose that when Idelle Labs finally sells the line to someone else, we'll see a big change-up in advertising. The current marketing strategy is an almost comical attempt to bury the brand six feet under. It's a shame, because I see the Brut line as something that possesses incredible sex appeal. These fragrances are the sort of thing that women and men are drawn to.

I vaguely remember Actif Blue in the mid nineties, probably shortly before it was discontinued. It was in drugstores next to regular Brut, and my local CVS had it going for around nine or ten dollars, even back then. In retrospect that was expensive, but I've realized that Blue was Fabergé's one and only attempt to copy Davidoff Cool Water, with a hint of Drakkar Noir in the mix as well. It was one of the earliest clones, having been released in 1994. What else can I say? It smelled fairly pedestrian (still does - I gave it another whirl the other day), but not bad, fresh, but not "aquatic," masculine, but not butch, and rather sweet, which put it squarely in sync with the zeitgeist of its era.

You really have to be cash-strapped (or careless) to spring for Brut Blue today, when Cool Water is only ten dollars more, and of considerably better quality. Nevertheless, some men really don't care, and there are plenty of high school and college dudes who would rather drop that Hamilton on a case of beer than a cologne. Financial circumstances aside, buying, owning, and wearing Actif Blue or its current glass bottle incarnation doesn't hurt anyone. Despite its cheapness, it smells good. Sure, if fuzzes out after forty-five minutes into a nondescript green apple and white musk accord of little distinction, and you'll never win an award for originality wearing it, but it smells crisp, clean, masculine, and approachable. It's pretty good stuff for the money.

Another congener for the same price is Aspen for Men by Coty, which I personally prefer for its clever use of wintergreen and pine sap notes, but I guess there are reasons to favor the more lavender-forward Blue. When you look at what's available to women in the ten dollar range, you find that most of their "body sprays" are awful in comparison, sloppy syrups of shrill floral aldehydes, ethyl-maltol, and fake fruit esters that I wouldn't give to anyone over the age of ten. While thrifty guys may sacrifice uniqueness in the fragrance department, our options are considerably better, and Actif Blue remains a respectable one.


Armani Code Ultimate (Giorgio Armani)

The German brand, Joop!, is known for infusing its masculine range with a very synthetic heliotrope note that is equal parts rich and fresh, like having an over-ripe bouquet shoved in your face. It's hard to manage in Joop! Homme, somewhat easier to use in Joop! Homme Wild, and given true artistic treatment in Joop! Jump (my favorite Joop! frag). It's a very late eighties and nineties style, that tonka-heavy breeze of plastic-flower sweetness, something that filled the halls of my high school and wafted off every girl and guy at my prom. Hindsight is twenty twenty: had I known then what I know now, I might've enjoyed myself more. I always took the nineties to be a wussy follow-up to the eighties, a decade of neutered rock (Goo Goo Dolls, Collective Soul), piss-poor pop (Puff Daddy, Madonna's ill-advised comeback), and unforgivably stupid styles (oversized flannels, baggy jeans, the Ceasar haircut).

Turns out the decade was actually better than I gave it credit for. As I reference the landmark scents of the decade, I find that it was another powerhouse era, only this time the fragrances were more overtly synthetic, less representative of anything in nature, disarmingly affable, and very, very sweet. It was a time where sweet was done LOUD. Le Male, A*Men, and for the Joop! fans, Joop! Homme (original), along with my beloved Tommy, these are just a few of the trendsetters of the era, and all shared a common trait - sweetness. For some reason Armani figured men hadn't had enough sugar, and released the first Code in 2004, by which time I'd become a disciple of Allure Homme. I never wore Code, but I remember smelling it here and there, in malls, perhaps on the occasional bloke, and it reminded me of the nineties. It was cut from that cloth, a sweet, powdery, friendly scent with good sillage, and a remarkable tendency to remain in the room several minutes after its wearer had left.

Armani Code Ultimate is merely Code with a massive heliotrope note, and a heavier, tonka-rich amber. The heliotrope is sweet, synthetic, in your face, but there are some crisp fougère elements in the mix as well, with a brusque lavender on top, and a subtler woody amber lurking under the sweetness. As a whole, the fragrance resembles Joop! Jump the closest, which by a few degrees of separation makes it somewhat similar to Allure Homme, though I'd rather wear Jump and Allure than Code. Armani's take on this genre is a little too faceless and "safe," and feels rather tired. It's a faded rerun of sweet fougèrientals, and many of the originals were better. Even the original Code handles powdery amber in a more full-throated, unconventional manner. Comparatives like Jump and Allure Homme have much more memorable accords also, like the coriander/vodka notes in the former, and the labdanum/rosewood bit in the latter.

Despite my personal preference, I recommend Code Ultimate as a middle-shelf, everyday work scent for the young man (or woman) who admired its more daring nineties progenitors, but never found one tame enough to wear. You'll certainly smell good wearing this. Just don't expect to smell exciting, or original.


Play (Givenchy)

It might look like 1953, but it's really just two hours ago.

Work on my living room is, after four months, finally nearing completion. My classic wingback got reupholstered and delivered on Saturday, I finally found time to add the third bookshelf (and my books), and a fern was gifted to me, an unexpected but somehow totally appropriate addition to the space. On Saturday I did some wandering through antique stores in Seymour, CT, which is actually a little mecca for antique collectors, as there are literally ten or eleven shops within a two block radius. In one of them I stumbled upon a decorative bowl (sort of a cross between a plate and a bowl, seen above on the coffee table), and was told it was heavily discounted because it had some kiln damage, which honestly wasn't very noticeable. It was eerie how well it complemented the room. When I bought it, I had my fingers crossed that it would at least look good on the bookshelf, but it turned out to have all the colors in the room swirled together into one piece. Really fun stuff.

When you look at the picture above, you're looking at my living room, and I hope it evokes the fifties, a bygone era. That was my goal. Bringing that time period back to life is a lot more difficult than you might think. I know it was harder than I thought it would be, and frankly I didn't do that good of a job, but it's at least in the ballpark. There was plenty of cheating, of course. The wingback chair, now dark reddish-brown leather, is actually an eighties piece directly from the Reagan years, and those aren't real Stiffel lamps in the corners, but that didn't matter to me as much as capturing a certain feel of the time, something that could be put into a few simple words. After extensive research, the words that came to mind were, "Classy as shit." The fifties were years with a polarized aesthetic, as there were either very campy colors (bright pinks, seafoam greens, platinum blondes), or very stuffy schemes (greys and taupes, rough-hewn wicker, Tom Ewell's apartment in The Seven Year Itch). I decided to go for stuffy, simply because it's easier to live with than campy. At least stuffiness, if done with attention to detail, can slip quietly into the realm of a classiness reserved for people with limited means, but good taste.

Givenchy's mall offerings are usually not my thing, but Play is, to me at least, a bit of a throwback scent. It took me three months to figure out what it smelled like, and then it hit me: Cotton Club. Play has the exact same fancy aftershave vibe, something only a wetshaver can truly appreciate for what it is (and what it isn't). The ergonomics of perfumers is hard to understand, but I don't think it's unrealistic to suppose that many of them resort to imitation to save time, and in this case Emilie Coppermann and Lucas Sieuzac were turning to the old-fashioned alchemical pizzaz of Barbasol-and-Styptic. Someone was thinking of their dad when they threw this together, and I say "threw" because it smells like an intentionally hackneyed scent, a handful of musky aroma chemicals with requisite notes of saccharine citrus, simplistic florals, and thin woods that were incrementally measured, mixed together by hand, and left to sit for forty-eight hours before being pushed off to the marketing department.

With Play, try to ignore the blurbs about its notes, and tune out the salesman. Ignore even the Basenotes and Fragrantica pyramids. There's no serious coffee note in this scent, nor is there "tobacco blossom," or "amyris." There's linalool (or something like it), literally a half dozen musks, a very faint woody amber, just enough citrus aldehyde to give it lift, and not much else. Its overall tonality is a couple shades darker than Cotton Club's, but otherwise they're both colors on the same paint strip. Despite its casual airiness, the old-school aftershave approach is always an unpretentious, no-bullshit, classy direction for a fragrance to go in, and I have to award a major thumbs up to Play for keeping it real. The only problem of course is that this sort of fragrance costs ten times as much as your average aftershave, but in this case you're paying for better longevity, and hopefully a firmer presence in this shameless world we live in.