gs02 (Biehl Parfumkunstwerke)

Photo by Seb Tribie (Love you, buddy)
It was a hot day in July, 2004, probably about 110° Fahrenheit, but a dry heat, and I was on the isle of Capri with a handful of friends, looking for something to do. We wandered along the main Corso reading menus and taking pictures when we spotted her, a little old woman sitting on the pier at a folding table with a sign that read "RENTALS." Figuring she was sold out to Americans, my buddies elected me to venture over and mangle some Italian in an attempt to determine if renting a boat was a thing.

Turns out, it was. There, on the salt and sun-baked driftwood pier, this eighty-something year-old Strega Nona clapped her aluminum credit card slider across our plastic and handed us a key. Out of nowhere, a young shirtless guy with skin the color of aged bronze hoisted himself onto the wood and started gesturing for us to follow him, babbling in an indecipherable dialect. He had a fifteen footer with a massive outboard, and in forty-five seconds he'd taught us how to start the thing and guide the throttle. Then he monkeyed back up to the pier and vanished. My buddy Dave fired up the engine and we were, to our sudden amazement, flying across the Mediterranean's indigo whitecaps, salt, sun, and a few thousand years of history spraying our bodies.

That evening we spent a night on the town, and the girls were amused by the rows of Vespas parked along the streets, posing here and there for pictures on them. Italy is the one country in the world where young women don't have to worry about offending men by taking liberties with their possessions. As an Italian American, I can say with some accuracy that our mindset is almost always focused on meeting the most liberated women on the planet. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun that summer.

Biehl's second perfume from Geza Schoen is the olfactory encapsulation of free-spirited Italian fun, a sumptuous blend of sweet Campari, slightly vanillic castoreum, angelica, mandarin orange, artemisia, tonka, and musk. The Campari and citrus mixed with subtle animalics lends the perfume a distinctly sunny vibe, while the artemisia and angelica give it a dusky, early-autumnal feeling, the scent of earth well scorched. This composition is flawlessly balanced and pleasing to the nose. It's not the least bit challenging or even particularly unique, save for its handling of an unconventional liquor note, and material quality is decidedly designer grade, but the effects of the notes and their arrangement are very enjoyable to me.

gs02 is something I reach for from time to time. Something about its fragrance reminds me of burnt hilltops and warm ocean waters the color of spearmint and sapphires. I just want to thank Mr. Schoen for that.


Windsor (Creed)

My Royal Blue Fairfield Wingback Chair From 1983,
To Be Reupholstered In Dark Red Leather.

Let's get this out of the way first: I don't like Windsor. I don't know if mine is the earlier or later release, and I don't care. This perfume could never smell good to me. I would never buy it. There, that's out of the way.

I can certainly understand the appeal of the fragrance, however. Although it doesn't quite mesh to my nose, Windsor's structure is intended to be a sprightly splash of cold aromatics after an Old World English cologne, rife with clean eucalyptus, gin (essentially juniper with a cold, potato vodka off note), snowy pine, and a little warmth via rose, cedar, and musk. Though usually not mentioned in the pyramid, there's also an odd fruit blend with a distinctly butyric edge, which smells like pineapple layered under bergamot. Royal pineapple, perhaps? Whatevs. Not a fan.

It's clearly an attempt to appeal to guys who want that starched, upper-crust effect of older British masculines like Blenheim Bouquet and Arlington, using very high quality synthetics and a handful of naturals, and if you're someone who likes eucalyptus notes, very STRONG eucalyptus notes, you might love Windsor. Evidently many guys do, because this has always been a popular Creed. I'll go on record and state that I personally dislike eucalyptus in perfume for one reason only - it winds up being Vicks VapoRub. Who wants to spend hundreds of dollars to smell like Vicks?

Yet that's exactly how this smells, made a bit worse by an astringent gin note, and a surprisingly synthetic pine effect. It could be that my patience has worn thin, but I swear that this is the most synthetic of the latest round of Creeds I've worn. When I think of royal things, I think of crisp, timeless, streamlined design, elegant and conservative, perfectly balanced, like my old wingback chair above.

Windsor is none of those things.


Monsieur Rochas Concentrée (Rochas)

The above poster appears to be for the original Monsieur Rochas after shave, a product that was likely discontinued before the EDT and its "concentrée" version (why not just call it an EDP?), which is a shame. This is another oldie by the celebrated Guy Robert, whose influence on Rochas' masculines is felt strongest here. Monsieur is a crisp, lavender-strong fougère with a pleasantly grassy chamomile and coumarin heart accord, somewhat reminiscent of Moustache, but softer and arguably a bit less synthetic smelling. It's quite a nice fragrance, and worth seeking out.

Unlike Moustache, this composition possesses a certain timelessness, its ambivalence toward a specific period attributable to a lucidly naturalistic pyramid of earthy notes. Its pert and crystal-clear bergamot, galbanum, and lavender intro smoothly segues into a patchouli and vetiver accord. These dry green elements hold for about fifteen minutes before parting way for a central chamomile note, and from that point the fragrance is basically chamomile, coumarin, hints of herbal rosemary and sage, amber, and a very thin musk. Chamomile has a curiously flat, semisweet aroma. Here it manages to shine unadulterated, giving Monsieur Rochas' fougère qualities a unique dimensionality beyond hay-like coumarin.

As always, this is a vintage scent that suffers somewhat from age. Typically fragrances like this suffer from weakened top notes and at least marginal imbalances in the courses of their drydowns. These issues manifest in a kind of structural compression, with whatever is left of top notes vanishing in seconds to leave only the strongest of base notes, usually any combination of tonka, birch tar, oakmoss, and/or musk. Faded heart notes may be detectable for a minute or two, but they're usually gone altogether. An example of this is is Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel, where an extremely brief citrus and galbanum top note almost immediately become a concentration of violet ionones and synthetic sandalwood, with no real herbal or mossy textures.

Monsieur has, as far as I can tell, survived with more. The citrus notes yield within ten seconds to lavender and powdery galbanum, but fleeting bergamot is no big deal. Heart notes of carnation, cinnamon, vetiver, oakmoss, tree moss, and cardamom are very, very faint, more of the ghost effect mentioned before, but at least they're legible for a few minutes before chamomile and a handful of base notes take over the show to the end. What remains of this classic smells brutally frank, elegantly masculine in an all business sort of way, and somewhat memorable thanks to the chamomile. If you enjoy fragrances like Pino Silvestre, Moustache, Agua Brava, you'll probably love this.


Vi-Jon "Spice Scent" Aftershave

Ever since Proctor & Gamble reformulated Old Spice for at least the second or third time since its initial release, fans have sought "vintage" bottles and viable alternatives to the Shulton version that most wearers remember. I've owned and worn Shulton Old Spice from the seventies or eighties (its exact vintage wasn't clear), and presently own and wear the current stuff. While the Shulton version was pleasant, it lasted all of two minutes on skin before vanishing completely, its fizzy citrus and cinnamon spice scent literally becoming little more than a musky staleness, the afterglow of bar soap after a bath. Wetshavers have attributed its fleeting longevity to any number of things - its cologne strength (presumably even lighter in the aftershave), its cheapness, its potential old age - but I felt the main problem with Shulton's formula was its lack of dimensionality beyond top notes. As Luca Turin said, "A man is a woman consisting entirely of top notes."

Badger & Blade's forums are alive with comments about Indian Old Spice, the perfect answer to P&G's notorious reform, but I've never smelled it. The details on it are sketchy. Supposedly Shulton never closed down its Indian production line, even after shuttering every operation in the West (although I believe Menezes Cosmetics actually took over the Indian formula), and those lucky southeast Asians from Calcutta to Bangalore smell incredible, while the rest of us smell like cheap synthetics. Poke through the whole mess with enough patience, and voices of dissent are found. While many appreciate the Indian version, others feel it is noticeably different from the American stuff, and not really worth the hunt. I think P&G's version is about 90% the same as Shulton's with the remaining 10% difference attributable to concentration and the addition of a noticeably potent vanilla in the base, which gives the cologne a better lifespan than its predecessor. But there's another element to the Old Spice saga that gives old-schoolers new hope: Vi-Jon "Dollar Store" Spice Scent, also often referred to as the "Ivy Club" version of Old Spice.

Supposedly Vi-Jon's Old Spice clone is more faithful to the Shulton version than P&G's, and the kicker is that it costs a buck and change from your local Family Dollar (or whatever your local dollar store is called). I've seen it at Dollar Tree, Ocean State Job Lot, and X-Pect Discounts also, which may just be local Connecticut outlets. In May I found it at CVS, sporting the CVS generic label. I hadn't been to a CVS in years, not since their pharmacy made a colossal mistake on an expensive prescription and then gave me incredible attitude when I asked them to rectify it. A new store was erected in Oxford a few years ago, and I stopped by there on my way home to grab some odds and ends that I needed. I decided to let my old grudge go and give CVS another chance. Naturally I wandered into the shaving aisle, and was pleasantly surprised to find Vi-Jon's clone of every drugstore aftershave, each standing antagonistically beside its template, and all for a dollar less.

How does Vi-Jon rate? I like it, but I don't find it to be all that different from P&G's Old Spice, although it is significantly lighter, a little airier, and way weaker, lasting fifteen minutes tops. P&G's formula walks on for a good three hours after application, albeit at a very powdery and diffuse pace. I do recognize that Vi-Jon's initial five or six seconds on skin are perceptibly more textured and fizzy than P&G's, but after that extremely brief duration the formula resolves into a close match, becoming muskier and rather powdery. When smelling the two versions side by side, my nose cancels them both out, which tells me their differences are negligible at best. The bottom line here is easy to see: if you like Shulton's Old Spice but can't be bothered to hunt down vintage bottles, P&G's Old Spice or Vi-Jon's Spice Scent are equally good replacements.


Tuscany Per Uomo (Estée Lauder)

My bottle of Tuscany was manufactured in June, 2011, which makes it a recent formula, although presumably not the latest and greatest. I understand this fragrance has suffered tremendously from reformulation, to the point where its fans no longer want to buy new bottles. They seek only "vintage" and say that the old stuff was much richer and ballsier in the woodsy-herbal department. I'm probably writing in error when I say this, but based on what I've read, I can't imagine the original version was a particularly interesting old-school masculine. There are only so many ways you can take citrus, lavender, "Mediterranean" herbs, patchouli, tamed floral notes, synthetic sandalwood, and synthetic musk, and make them smell unique together. Azzaro Pour Homme already has quite the little Italian sports car with that package, as does Krizia Uomo, Quorum, and the original Davidoff scent. I think Azzaro's fougère is Tuscany's main problem, and was likely the fragrance that prevented Lauder's scent from dominating its corner of the men's market at the time. As far as the success of the eighties and nineties Aramis line goes, the brand has always been the Cyndi Lauper to someone else's Madonna anyway.

Owning and wearing the current stuff with no knowledge of the original is neither here nor there to me, though. What matters to me is that the current fragrance possesses the above laundry list of typical eighties genre notes, yet somehow manages to smell unlike any other middle class designer scent I've ever worn before. I say "middle class" because Tuscany does resemble an upscale designer scent in the heart and base, but I'll get to that in a moment. First, the start of the perfume on skin - expect an Azzaro effect in those first ten minutes, but with a defter handling of the anisic citrus/lavender accord, due mainly to a more naturalistic rendition of citrus, a much subtler use of anise, and a very Moustache-like blending of lavender into the potent citrus, almost to an abstract degree. Never does the lavender leap out and smack my nose, like it does in Azzaro PH. Instead, a vibrant accord of bergamot, lemon, and lime assails me, smelling very juicy and fresh. This crisp, shimmery citrus intro remains a deciding factor for how interesting Tuscany eventually becomes. First and foremost, it is a refreshing execution of citrus rarely found in a scent of any pedigree. It smells not of cleaning agents (as an accidental over-application of Moustache might), or of extra-fine cold-pressed soap (4711), but of very real fruits blended in discreet harmony. I really admire this aspect of the scent.

Two hours later an interesting note peeks through the dusting of herbs and spices. It's a citric note with a sweetly floral edge, which creates the illusion of citrus lasting well past the top note phase. This note is very clearly neroli, with a bit of bitter orange rind sprinkled on it, and its clarity puts Tuscany squarely beside Creed's Orange Spice for the remainder of its drydown. I feel no qualms in saying that the materials used for this floral accord are the exact same materials used in Orange Spice, only here they're used in a much lower concentration. There's just enough anise, patchouli, and zesty caraway to maintain complexity and herbal texture, yet Tuscany carries itself as a bracing citrus composition (perhaps with a drop of Hedione in the mix) for five hours before fading away to a skin musk. To design Tuscany as a citrus fougère makes perfect sense from a conceptual standpoint. I attended college in Italy in 2004, visited Tuscany, and stayed for a few nights in Florence. The Tuscan region is not known for growing oranges, except the bitter Chinotto orange, yet it is home to a slew of local recipes that feature the fruit in various salads, pastries, and even French-derived duck dishes. Funnily enough, Italian Fanta (the soda) is in my experience the fruitiest and most citric version available in mainland Europe, and is far superior to French, German, Czech, Irish, and English Fanta. And there's always Limoncello. Even in crap beverages, the Italians take citrus seriously.

Lauder is not an Italian brand, and the minds behind this perfume had no vested interest in being truly representative of the region, but it is a very well made EDT with a sublime citrus component, making it a desirable addition to the collection of any lover of twentieth century fougères. If you enjoy Azzaro PH but always wished its relatively harsh citrus and lavender notes were better calibrated, Tuscany is for you. I suppose seeking out the original formula is a worthy pursuit if you're interested in richer patchouli and sandalwood notes, provided its naturals and synthetics survived the decades intact. Just keep in mind that the wonderful citrus notes are not likely to have made it through thirty years unscathed. If my description of this perfume intrigues you more, then purchase Azzaro PH for your woodier fern variant on this theme, and go for the recent version of Tuscany for a brighter, fresher take on the Italianate fougère. My experience with the Aramis line is currently limited to the original Aramis and Tuscany, but now that I've worn the latter scent, I seriously want to give Havana, JHL, and New West a try also.