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.