1/30/14

The Fougère: Why Use Lavender?





Have you ever wondered why lavender oil is necessary to make a fougère? Why linalool is always listed, but sometimes coumarin isn't? Let's take a very quick look at a couple of the earliest fougères, and we'll find our answer in just two paragraphs, followed by two short quotes.

These examples of early traditional fougères are also widely considered to be lavender soliflores: Atkinsons English Lavender from 1910, and Yardley's English Lavender from 1913. Aside from the fact that it smells good, one might wonder why these brands would resort to using high concentrations of lavender oil, especially in light of the fact that lavender was a common hospital disinfectant/deodorizer, and not exactly associated with sensual personal fragrance at the turn of the century. The answer lies in the complexity of the bud's oil, a material much like an olfactory prism, refracting essences of mint, camphor, and sweet hay, even to the extent of becoming vanillic. This unique material begs to be tampered with, and so perfumers began distorting the proportions of the natural essence by gussying up the herbal-camphor aspects (using things like geranium and bergamot), while also attending to the underlying ambery sweetness (adding more coumarin).

A common rookie mistake is to smell a lavender fragrance and call it a "lavender fragrance," without understanding what lavender is, or understanding its toxicology. When you appreciate the complexity and versatility of lavender, a true understanding of fougères is inevitable. Any fragrance that incorporates a noticeable lavender top note that permeates the drydown, or acts as a lavender soliflore, cannot avoid being a fougère, because lavender oil naturally contains significant amounts of coumarin. Where there is one element, there is the other. This is why fougères always use lavender - the mint is itself a fougère, complete with its own naturally-occuring camphoraceous and coumarinic chemistry. According to Burfield in the Leffingwell's January 2008 publication of Coumarin: The Real Story:

"Coumarin occurs widely in natural products, generally being liberated from corresponding glycoside (melilotoside) on drying coumarin-containing herb material . . . Lavender Absolute to 8% coumarin; Lavandin [Spike Lavender] to 5% coumarin."

This was expounded upon by Barceloux in the 2008 edition of Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals:

"Lavender contains a variety of coumarin compounds, and theoretically these compounds could increase the effect of anticoagulants, but the clinical significance of this potential interaction remains unclear."







1/29/14

Fougère Royale, Part One (Houbigant, 2010)



This is a first impression review of Fougère Royale (the 2010 reissue, not the original). I received my sample earlier today, and I've been wearing it for a few hours. My interest in this fragrance stems from a deep love of fougères, both traditional and aromatic, a genre of masculine perfumery that never ceases to amaze me. This fragrance has come under a lot of fire since its release four years ago, mainly because they named it "Fougère Royale" and set the bar about as high as it could go. Everyone expected this thing to smell like the original 1882 fougère by the same firm, just freshened up a little bit for the modern world with newer chemicals and perhaps an extra note here or there. Instead, Houbigant created an entirely different fragrance, an aromatic fougère, which is a real change-up. It disappointed people.

Some of my readers may be unfamiliar with what an old-school traditional fougère smells like, so I'll offer two good examples. One of the original fougères was a feminine "sweet floral," as the H&R Genealogy calls it, a little barbershop scent called Canoe, which was released in 1935 to compete with Liz Arden's Blue Grass. It wasn't long until guys appropriated Canoe (they weren't interested in Blue Grass), and it has since become the reference fougère for wetshavers, beloved by many a badger brush-wielding family man. It's basically a brisk snap of lavender, followed by a super-powdery coumarin and musk base accord. The other traditional oldie is Pinaud's Clubman Aftershave-Lotion. Same thing, but with more rose and a vanillic coumarin.

If you know these two fougères, you know what a traditional fougère is supposed to smell like. The wonderful thing about traditional ferns is that they're cheap, but they smell great. There's nothing about the fragrance structure that demands a premium budget. You just need a healthy shot of linalool, some geraniol for floral depth, coumarin, and your pick of any bland white musk. Combine those elements, and voila - you have a fougère. The last of the commercially successful old-fashioned ferns was Brut, which was eventually marred by the banning of musk ambrette, though it still smells quite good today. In a way, Brut was the precursor to the aromatic fougères of the seventies and eighties, with its clean-dirty herbal musk presaging things like Azzaro Pour Homme, Kouros, and Lapidus.

Interestingly, the 2010 version of Fougère Royale smells somewhat removed from the barbershop fougères I've described, yet it uses the same structure. I believe it references a different kind of old-school fougère, something a bit less coumarin-focused and sweet, something woodier, more herbal, more "outdoorsy." Think of Worth Pour Homme, Moustache by Rochas, and Patrick by Fragrances of Ireland, and you have a better idea of the kind of fragrance Rodrigo Flores-Roux created. I've read about his thought process in approaching this fragrance, and it sounds like he wanted to adhere to traditional fougère conventions without succumbing to the same-old, same-old. He also had a sizable budget to work with, so the materials at his disposal were of much higher quality than anything coming out of Idelle Labs.

There's a warm glow in my heart as I smell this fragrance today. For the first time in a long time, I'm smelling an expensive semi-niche perfume that feels like it's deserving of its exorbitant price-tag. This is the sort of thing I wish Creed would release, a straight-up woody fern with elegant floral and herbal flourishes. It's not a very complicated scent, really - we're talking about a strident, super-bright bergamot, lavender, and geranium accord in the top notes, which still reminds me of aftershave, despite the quality of the oils used. The mid brings a hay-like coumarin accord, with its dry, grassy quality balanced by patchouli and chamomile, a simple but effective arrangement. It smells green, fresh, and refined. I don't get an excessively powdery quality from this combination of notes, although there is a bit of a talcum powder edge, hinting at the oldies mentioned above.

The musk in the base is a mite cleaner than I would have liked it to be - I wonder why the perfumer didn't use a more animalic note here - but ultimately the base is mossy and warm, and very, very masculine. The men of yesteryear weren't inclined to wear fragrance, so if they did indulge, it was with something not to be mistaken for "ladies perfume." There's no mistaking Fougère Royale for anything other than a man's scent, and a very conservative one at that. I'm reminded quite a bit of Moustache as I smell this, and I wonder how my impressions will develop in the days to come. All I can tell you right now is that this is a very good fougère, and I'd like to own it. It is beautiful, a special composition made by a talented nose who knew what his formula had to live up to. He delivered it. Thank you Rodrigo, and thank you Houbigant.






1/27/14

Musings On My Collection (How And Why I've Divided It Into "Classifications" Of Fragrance)





My collection has, as one reader pointed out recently, grown. I used to only have fifteen or sixteen EDTs, as of a couple of years ago. Today I have about fifty or so, although several are not being officially counted because they're either super-cheap colognes (like Pinaud Lime Sec) or aftershaves. Is it good to have fifty some-odd fragrances in a wardrobe? Yes and no. The good thing about having more fragrances is that it allows me to experience more olfactory variations every week, with a steadily-changing rotation of four or five EDTs every five days. On the down-side, I find it harder to "commit" to a fragrance for more than two days in a row, because I have enough now where I'm always looking for something different, and guess what? I have whatever I'm looking for! That's what happens when you can wear a different scent every day for a month, and still not exhaust your options.

It has been especially fun to examine exactly what I own classification-wise, and break the collection down into its constituent genres. There are different ideas of how to do this floating around out there. Some people see no need to classify their fragrances, and forego the entire practice. Others invent their own classifications. I happen to enjoy adhering to the Haarmann & Reimer Fragrance Genealogy Chart, 11th Edition, because it has been cited by Luca Turin, Michael Edwards, and others as an industry standard for classification, and I think it is much more accurate than not.

The chemists Tiemann and Haarmann were innovators in fragrance material development, and discovered a way to synthesize vanillin from pinewood sap, which subsequently led to the founding of Haarmann & Reimer (now Symrise) in the forests of Holzminden, Germany, where there was plenty of sap to be found. More recently, H&R brought a semisynthetic oud reconstruction to the mass market (we can thank them for the dozens of oud scents since YSL's M7), and H&R's school of perfumery boasts such alumni as Mark Buxton, Patricia Choux, and Egon Oelkers. It is the first company to produce a fragrance genealogy, with multiple editions of an extensive fragrance guide in publication for many years.

The thing to understand about H&R is that its classifications are derived from a hybrid system, where subjective olfactory perceptions, the botany and chemistry of perfumery ingredients, and fragrance history are simultaneously referenced to produce distinct "families" of fragrance. Earlier editions of the genealogy charts elevated citrus, lavender, musk, spices, and woods to genre classifications, which in later editions became subdivisions of three classifications: fougère, oriental, and chypre. Like all hybrid systems, there are flaws, errors in classification, or at the very least there are hugely subjective points of contention for people who disagree with their designations. Some may feel that VC&A PH is a fougère, because it has a dry lavender note, a grassy coumarinic mid, and a musky drydown. Yet H&R's genealogy chart defines it as a chypre. Does that make the person who names VC&A a fougère wrong, and the H&R chart right?

This all depends on who you are. If you are an industry insider, a professional with academic knowledge of fragrance materials, perfume formulas, and how "flexible" one can be with classifications, then your disagreements with something like Symrise's old genealogy charts may be based on firsthand factual knowledge, which would render your opinion far more useful and valuable than whoever set the type on the last printing of the last chart.

If, however, you're just an amateur enthusiast (as I am), someone who has no professional understanding of perfume, your opinion becomes by default secondary to an established authority like Symrise. I'm not so pretentious as to suggest that I know better about classifications than a company that invented and developed dozens of commercial aroma chemicals, and actually taught some of the world's most successful perfumers. If the H&R charts say that Moustache by Rochas is a fougère, then I smell Moustache searching for signs of a fougère, and indeed find a big, vibrant lavender note in its top, a beautifully hay-like coumarin in its heart, and a musky finish. I therefore conclude that the dozens of amateur enthusiasts who classify Moustache as a chypre on internet forums and on blogs are simply mistaken, because the H&R has guided me to another conclusion, which my nose has affirmed is correct.

This makes life much easier for me. People can argue that I've mis-classified certain perfumes, but I just point to the H&R Genealogy Chart, 11th Edition, and immediately have a citation, an official academic reference for why I've made a classification, and unless the other guy can come up with a genealogy from an equally influential cornerstone of the industry, I consider his rebuke the stuff of amateur guesswork, with little or no merit beyond his or her opinion. Another advantage to using the H&R is that it eliminates a lot of needless questioning and broad statements. One such broad and relatively meaningless statement is that there are so many things being classified as either a "fougère" or a "chypre" these days, that these classifications have become surprisingly meaningless - the genres have become over-saturated, and now "anything goes." So if people don't know what to call something, they just call it a fougère, for example, without any attention to whether or not it really is a fougère.

This humorous idea of reckless classification always puts a grin on my face. For one thing, the majority of masculines are, according to the H&R, chypres, with distinct subdivisions. Less than half of the masculines released since Fougère Royale are fougères, at least up until 2001. For those of us who focus on older "classics," going beyond 2001 is a rare thing. And looking at the chart, we see there are precious few fougères of note from 1882 to 1970 (I count sixteen). So for almost one hundred years, there were only about sixteen historically notable fougères made.

From 1970 onward, fougères became increasingly complex and "aromatic," which created a whole range of different fragrances, some of which might be considered "hybrids" of fougère, oriental, and chypre families. However, the genealogy organizes these very succinctly, with a narrow band of orientals standing between the most ambery fougères and the woodiest chypres. Thus, there is no basis for saying that terms such as "fougère" and "chypre" are meaningless. These terms, to me, are very meaningful, relevant, and well organized in a historical context, thanks to the H&R (with subsequent corroborative organization from Perfume Intelligence and the Leffingwell).

Using these sources as guides, I've been able to classify everything in my own collection. There are a few newer fragrances, or more minor fragrances that do not appear on the H&R, which forces me to take a stab at classifying them myself, but for the most part I'm covered by my references. My collection, broken down:

Fougères
Cool Water
Chrome Legend
Joop! Jump
Claiborne Sport
Boss Number One
Allure Homme
Caron Pour un Homme
Paco Rabanne Pour Homme
Azzaro Pour Homme
Caron Third Man
Arden Sandalwood
Moustache
Brut
Rive Gauche Pour Homme
Calvin Klein Man
Drakkar Noir
Taxi
Jazz
Francesco Smalto Pour Homme
Kouros
Lapidus Pour Homme
Joop! Homme Wild
Vermeil for Men


Orientals
Aubusson Pour Homme
Old Spice
Orange Spice
Sex Appeal
Royal Copenhagen
Laguna
Mesmerize for Men
Joop! Homme
KL Homme
Lagerfeld Classic
A*Men
Tabu
The Dreamer
Individuel
Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur
Tea Rose Amber


Chypres
Grey Flannel
Mitsouko
Silences
Z-14
VC&A Pour Homme
Bleu de Chanel
Sung Homme
Antaeus
Brooks Brothers New York Gentlemen
Eau de Grey Flannel
English Leather
Tabac


Florals
Tea Rose
Tea Rose Jasmin
Anais Anais
Cabotine

There's something fun about breaking the collection down into these classifications. For one thing, they're mostly accurate. There may be room to argue that something like Eau de Grey Flannel is really a fougère and not a chypre, for example. But then again, it's a reduction and re-balancing of the same components that comprise the original Grey Flannel, which is inarguably a chypre (light bergamot on top, a synthetic labdanum twinge in the heart, and a deep oakmoss base). One could also argue that Sung Homme is a fougère, and not a chypre, but here I think the issue meets its biggest problem.

When we subscribe to the strict notion that all fougères MUST possess an unmistakable lavender/coumarin/musk accord, and all chypres MUST possess a bergamot/labdanum/oakmoss accord, one has to use process of elimination to determine classifications for the more unorthodox compositions of the last fifty years. Sung Homme could very well be considered a fougère - it has hints of lavender, coumarin listed as an ingredient, and certainly some musk. Yet smelling Sung Homme, I'm struck by how sharp and woody it smells. At no point is lavender obvious. The coumarin does not adopt a grassy or "biscuit-like" aura, and the musk gets lost to the moss in the base. Plus, there's a distinct labdanum note in its heart. I can't in good conscience call it a fougère, the H&R classifies it as a chypre, and it's certainly not an oriental. Process of elimination brings the classification choice down to calling it a chypre, plain and simple.

What about Boss Number One? Unlike Sung Homme, coumarin is not listed as an ingredient. Yet the nose does not lie, nor does the H&R - this fragrance has a very clear lavender note, a slightly ambery coumarin-like heart (despite there being no coumarin), and a definite musk accord, mixed with things like citrus, geranium, and tobacco, classic aromatic fougère components. I don't smell strong bergamot or labdanum (there is no labdanum), and the moss is minimal. I can't call Boss an oriental, and it smells much more like a fougère than a chypre, so even without coumarin listed, I'm comfortable in calling Boss a fougère - and indeed, it is classified as a fresh fougère there on the chart.

Whenever I consider adding a fragrance to my collection, the rules get ever stricter. I used to be fairly liberal about what I allowed into the wardrobe, mainly because I had room for several obvious classics, like Kouros and the Third Man. Around the time I got Drakkar Noir, I realized that I had all the major groundbreaking aromatic fougères in my collection, so any new fougère would have to exhibit interesting nuances to what was already on display. Enter things like Joop! Jump (Cool Water with extra pizzazz), Claiborne Sport (Eternity done right), Chrome Legend (Cool Water, proportionately tweaked), Rive Gauche PH (every single aromatic fougère out there, combined into one package), and Arden Sandalwood (likely the best pairing of dry-woody patchouli, sandalwood, and lavender, both historically and commercially). What else is welcome into that mix? It gets harder and harder to say. At this point the only fougère that I might welcome into the fold is Houbigant's 2010 edition of Fougère Royale - review pending.

The same goes for orientals and chypres. I actually feel I have far too many orientals at this stage. I'm not a lover of orientals by any means. I'm not even sure why I buy them. I have some for sentimental purposes - Royal Copenhagen was the one cologne I wore when I lived in Europe, for example, and it reminds me of Prague. Lagerfeld Classic and Individuel are excellent "modern orientals," one from a twentieth century mold, and the other from the early twenty-first century. I like wearing them whenever I feel the need to experience brisk fruity-woody accords, as both fragrances capitalize on those effects. A*Men is just a fragrance that smells very good, and very interesting, so I have to have it on tap for autumn and winter. It is extraordinarily unique, and I really appreciate and enjoy that about it. Aubusson is a great substitute for the rarer and more-expensive Balenciaga Pour Homme, which I love, but can't be bothered to track down. Fortunately Aubusson smells about 75% the same as Balenciaga, and the 25% that smells different smells very, very good. Laguna is a nice tropical departure from the norm in this genre, and Mesmerize is perhaps best considered a "fougèriental," in that it possesses vanillic ambery oriental accords in conjunction with ambery fougère accords that are reminiscent of Zino by Davidoff. I don't think I need any other orientals at this point in time, and do not foresee adding to this part of the collection.

The only chypre that I truly love in my lineup is Grey Flannel. Some have said that the sweet coumarin snap in the heart of Grey Flannel makes it a fougère, but there is no lavender in this fragrance, and more moss than is usually found in your average mainstream masculine, so true to the H&R, I consider it a fresh chypre. I used to own the current formula of Eau Sauvage. This is the only chypre that I miss, and would add to the collection, as I used up my original bottle. Mitsouko has become a new favorite of mine, and I intend on wearing it quite a bit more before the winter is over - and will probably wear it in the early spring, as well. Like the oriental section of my collection, I'm not looking to add much to the chypre section any time soon. Bleu de Chanel and Antaeus are just OK - I'm not in love with them. VC&A PH is nice, but a little hard to wear, although I do enjoy the tobacco note in its base. Z-14 is always enjoyable, but I have twelve ounces of the stuff. The rest of my chpres are not notable in any way.

That pretty much sums it up. When I reach for something from my collection, I know what it is, what it's classified as, and what historical period it hearkens from. It's fun to recognize Cool Water as the landmark aromatic fresh fougère, and connect its brisk crab apple and lavender accord to the brighter, saltier Granny Smith and lavender bombast of Chrome Legend. When I wear Joop! Jump, I also think of CW and Legend, yet Jump offers something new, a sweet richness neither of the others have. So when I reach for Jump!, I spend the day considering how similar-yet-different each of these fragrances are to it. Ditto for Brut, Rive Gauche, and Third Man, three fougères that share a distinctive "barbershop" ambiance, with powdery coumarin and lavender notes. Whenever I doubt something, or question where a fragrance comes from, I turn to the H&R chart.

These charts, courtesy of Leffingwell and Associates, are discussed further here.







1/26/14

KL Homme (Karl Lagerfeld)



Although my bottle is older, and its musk notes seem a bit off, there is still great beauty to be found in KL Homme. It reminds me a good bit of the original Obsession for Men, also a clean, spicy oriental for button-up chaps who enjoy making bolder statements with their workday colognes. KL is just as crisp and balsamic, with nods to Cinnabar in its handling of precious woods and amber (I get an evergreen tree-resin vibe), and its rosewood/patchouli/benzoin accord is stunning. Let me back up a little though and say that KL's top notes are incredibly fresh and bright, with a sweeping geranium and citrus note that smells the way running through a sprinkler on a summer day felt as a young child: cold, fizzy, and fun.

Smooth notes of clean jasmine, rose, amber, precious woods, cinnamon (for lift), benzoin, patchouli, and musk dominate the drydown, forming a rich, soft, somewhat powdery ambiance that rises gently from under the collar, perfectly pleasant and safe. There are no stinky civet farts or castoreum shadows to be found. Despite the aging of the juice, I'm fairly certain there never were any civet-like elements in here - I'm acutely sensitive to civet because I love how it smells, even at its raunchiest, and there's simply no sign of it in this composition. I do sense though that its non-animalic musk notes were stronger, perhaps more focused, and are now a bit diffuse, making its powdery base more extensive than originally intended.

As the years pass, I find myself reaching for orientals less and less. I'm not sure why. Sometimes I wish I had created a fragrance blog devoted entirely to fougères, with room for the occasional chypre. Yet orientals continue to impress me, and when I smell classics like KL, Obsession, Cinnabar, I can't help but wonder as to why this genre isn't the focus of my rotation. If KL had a big tobacco note in it, like Lagerfeld Classic, I'd probably have a new addiction to contend with, because the combination of bright, fizzy balsams and tobacco leaf would be too much to bear. Sadly there's no tobacco here, and while its clean, clear amber is delectable, I'd rather wear The Third Man's musky-coumarinic amber instead.





1/24/14

Eau des Baux (L'Occitane)



It is rumored that Eau des Baux is a poor man's Tobacco Vanille. This doesn't mean much to me, because I'm not interested in Tobacco Vanille, or any other flavored tobacco fragrances. There are two kinds of tobacco fragrance: (1) the raw/unadorned tobacco leaf (this sometimes strays into cigar and cigarette tobacco), and (2) the flavored pipe/cigarillo tobacco. I prefer the first kind by a wide margin. Flavored tobacco smells nice, but unnatural, fake, intentionally embellished with additives into something that smells like potpourri. The closest I've come to appreciating that sort of tobacco scent is Jil Sander's Feeling Man.

Generally though, I don't see the point of making flavored tobacco a perfumery note. Tobacco leaf, and even treated, unflavored cigarette tobacco smells excellent without the addition of sweet, fruity-woody notes. Lagerfeld Classic, VC&A PH, Cuba by Czech & Speake, The Dreamer, and Jazz are prime examples of how tobacco can smell in a simpler state. The Dreamer is a notably difficult fragrance for some people. It's unusual, marked with overtly synthetic notes, yet its spine is the basic aroma of unfiltered cigarette tobacco - treated, but not flavored (albeit very dry and "raisin-like"). Think original Gauloises, not Newport Lights.

Eau des Baux attempts to give consumers a luxurious flavored pipe tobacco experience "on the cheap." It's not a super-cheap scent, mind you, but you can get a large bottle for around fifty bucks. I think it's an OK bang for the buck, although I personally wouldn't pay more than twenty for a bottle. My problem with EdB is that it smells like a room spray, and not a fine fragrance, for reasons that are hard to pin down. I suppose it's the potpourri thing that L'Occitane's Vetyver had going for it, rendered here in a "vanilla theme." All the notes can be smelled with perfect clarity, with bright cypress, pink pepper, and cardamom on top, followed by a tight incense-cedar accord, which resembles Dutch pipe tobacco in tandem with the fresher elements.

Eventually it all devolves into a sweet vanilla amber, the ultimate mall-rat oriental, ready for a legion fanbase of hoodied crustpunk misanthropes who think shopping at L'Occitane gives them a worldly edge. Discontinuation rumors also swirl around this fragrance. The fact that my brother's partner can accidentally Christmas gift EdB to him - the wrong L'Occitane as it turns out - suggests this is still very much in production, and probably will be for years to come.





1/22/14

Eternity for Men (Calvin Klein)





This was my brother's signature for several years. He's an interesting fellow, a graduate of NYU with a Masters in social work. In recent days he gravitates more to L'Occitane fragrances than to anything by CK, but I do believe he still has a bottle of Eternity on his shelf. There are likely millions of young men and women who have worn it in the last twenty-four years, most of them of high school and college age, which is a plus and a minus. On the plus side, it makes the fragrance forever associated with youth, sex, and fun times. Many adults look back fondly on their earliest adventures whenever they revisit the fragrances of that time period. I'm sure that revisiting Eternity brings back memories for many people. However, when the majority of a scent's wearers are barely old enough to vote, it robs it of any sophistication it might have had. That can be a notable minus.

Most of the fresh fougères of the last thirty years share a common characteristic: frankness. They are fragrant one-liners, the olfactory equivalents of Jack Nicholson's famously-quoted movie comebacks. If some asshole pisses on your shoes and says, "this is power," piss on his and say, "this is asparagus." Or just wear a fresh fougère. You can cut through everyone else's b.s. but simply smelling better than them. Of this particular freshie, Luca Turin wrote:

"It smells good but cheap, which would be fine if the overall structure were unpretentious as in Cool Water, whereas it is distinctly aspirational."

I agree with him. The biggest drawback to wearing Eternity for Men is not its associations with beer pong and backseat whoopie. Its Achilles Heel is its attempt to be something more than it can possibly be. The whole point of a one-liner is for the message to arrive short and sweet, without any over-arching meanings tagged to it. In discussing Boss Number One, I stated that its simple soapiness prevents it from adopting any unwanted pretense (indeed, it is one of the soapiest fougères I've encountered), and I look to Eternity to achieve the same level of cheerful cheapness, with the same level of self-acceptance. It scowls and goes all serious on me instead.

Eternity is a fresh fougère that smells quite good, with a rather abstract rendition of lavender, coriander, sandalwood, geranium, basil, rosewood, amber, and musk. All the notes are blended together nicely, and like Boss, it smells quite soapy and clean. However, there's a seriousness, a grimness almost, that bogs it down. I sense whenever I wear it that Eternity wants to be more refined, conservative, stately, with all those muted spicy-herbal notes placed precariously atop precious woods. Yet its mid-grade designer ingredients really don't allow it to go that far. Perhaps if this fragrance were reinterpreted by an upscale firm like Creed or Parfumerie Generale, it would take on a convincingly sophisticated characteristic, but at its current price-point, it's far too cheap to pull it off.

Carlos Benaim's creation, like many of his works, is good. He might have tried to reinterpret the Ivy League elegance of Polo in his composition for CK - I don't know what his goal was here. Ultimately the fragrance tries too hard. Unlike Boss and Cool Water, two fougères that are very comfortable in their own skin, Eternity is a kid who thinks his smell makes him a man. "Aspirational" sums it up nicely.







1/19/14

Boss Number One (Hugo Boss)





The eighties were about the two Pierres: Bourdon and Wargnye. Both men defined contemporary masculine perfumery by creating the greatest fresh fougères of all time. Bourdon's two colossal claims to fame were Kouros and Cool Water; Wargnye gave us Drakkar Noir and Boss Number One. All four fragrances can be classified as "fresh," although Kouros falls more in line with the "woody-ambery" category, nodding to the musky pre-war ferns of the early twentieth century, rather than the marine-aquatic trends of the nineties. Cool Water paved the way for virtually everything found in the men's section of department stores. Likewise, it is said that Drakkar Noir is the most imitated masculine, even more so than Cool Water. But what about Wargnye's lesser-known 1985 masterpiece for that little German brand, Hugo Boss?

Boss Number One is a sadly overlooked fresh fougère. The H&R Genealogy places it between Lauder for Men and Givenchy's Xeryus, which makes sense - it's fresh, but not groundbreaking. Nevertheless, it's a pleasantly refined masculine, full of smooth, closely-blended notes that work strikingly well together. The interesting thing about it is how it manages to make tobacco, honey, rose, jasmine, juniper, and moss smell shimmery and bright, like a summer afternoon through a champagne glass. I smell in its heart a considerable hit of dimethyl anthranilate, that fruity-floral molecule residing somewhere between mandarin orange and Concord grape, and I'm reminded of the original Giorgio. However, the presence of lavender, patchouli, and orris elevates the fruity sweetness into a classier realm. This fougère adopts an affecting soapiness, a pureness and simplicity that makes it one of the least pretentious colognes of the European New Wave. If you like classic freshies, this one really is Boss.







1/13/14

Habanita Eau de Toilette (Molinard)



In my recent review of Thierry Mugler's terrific A*Men, I talk about the feminine aspect to every man's Ego, the feather boa draped across his Id. In direct proportion to that reality, an inverse truth applies to women. Within every girl is a silent man, a neglected fellow very often drowned in the bottomless pools of her soul. Women are deeper than men, much, much deeper. They're sensitive in ways that guys can only imagine; a woman can glance up at her husband as he walks through the door after a hard day's work, and see in a millisecond the kind of evening she's in for. A little over a year ago, I lived with a woman who possessed that very talent, and in retrospect I think my facial expressions when entering her house dictated more outcomes than all of our arguments combined. But I digress. Every woman feels the occasional testosterone-laden need to dominate, control, penetrate, sit at the head of the table and slash into a rare cut of beef without uttering a single word to anyone else. At least once or twice in her lifetime, her inner invisible man makes himself known.

Habanita is a fragrance for the man inside a woman. For the men reading this article, I can contextualize the scent by mentioning that it smells amusingly close to good old Royal Copenhagen, although Molinard's creation was released in 1921, forty-nine years prior to the arrival of Swank's barbershop oriental, so I should really say that RC smells very close to Habanita. Indeed, both orientals are snappy, with brusque herbal top notes evolving into dry, powdery, talc-like ambers. Where RC diverges from its inspiration is in the use of lavender as a top note, with a heavier (and simpler) orris powder base. Habanita's intro is more citric and fruity, with bergamot and peach adding sweetness, and the slightest hint of raspberry coloring the base. Everything in-between smells very clean, dry, and I dare say again: powdery. If I didn't know better and sniffed this blindly, I'd think it's a masculine cologne from the sixties. Yet there's a faint floral accord woven into the orris and talc, a blush of heliotrope and rose, suggesting that this composition is at home on a lady. I gave this scent to my mother for Christmas, and she loves it, which further suggests that Habanita is best suited for a classy lady.






1/4/14

Fleurs de Gardenia (Creed)



Gardenia is one of those wonderful notes that is more an "accord" than singular, its smoky sweetness enveloped in rich, buttery-white petals, brightened with edgings of green. I understand there is a very low yield for extraction of gardenia essential oil, with only about a thousand kilos of oil per every five thousand kilos of gardenia flowers, which is rather insane, if you think about it. In the book Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin, Steffen Arctander files the scent under "Tuberose Group," along with longoza, plumeria, and of course tuberose, suggesting that like tuberose, gardenia is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink note, full of variations and odd nuances. It leads me to think that chemists face an unsurprising problem with the oil: too little is fatal. If the extraction isn't concentrated and pure enough, it just isn't going to smell as complex and rich as the flower itself. Indeed, Arctander comments that although the Chinese make gardenia concrete for medicinal purposes, it smells thin and unremarkable. To use perfumery parlance, it lacks "tenacity," or staying power on skin.

Despite his disappointment, one can not blame the Chinese for producing an inferior, low-tenacity gardenia extract, because the oil's dynamism is poor even after the best extraction methods are employed. The proper way to get the oil is by a process called "enfleurage," or more specifically, cold enfleurage. Hot enfleurage is another method, but heat is detrimental to the delicate molecules of gardenia's aroma. The cold process yields a fairly high-quality, undamaged aroma. Enfleurage is a process of essential oil extraction using a very large plate of glass, called a "chassis," which is covered in a layer of animal tallow and allowed to set. Once the fat has firmed, botanical materials (petals, leaves, stems, or whatever is needed for extraction) is placed on the chassis and left there for days, so natural aromas can infuse into the fat. This process is repeated using the same chassis until it is saturated with aromatics, and alcohol is used to separate the infusion for use. The yield is apparently pretty good, with a faithful, headspace-like rendition of the smell of gardenia buds. Yet even after enfleurage extraction, gardenia is pretty weak and transient.

Creed would have us believe that at $275 a bottle, Fleurs de Gardenia contains exhaustively enfleuraged gardenia butter extract, enough to permeate the lifespan of a perfume (at least six hours) and beat nature at its own game. This brand has a habit of naming its fragrances after flowers that aren't in the compositions. For example, Tuberose Indiana reputedly has no tuberose in it, just as Irisia contains zero iris. To expect gardenia from Fleurs de Gardenia is expecting too much, especially if you're familiar with this house. FdG opens with a beautiful gardenia note, garnished with a bit of fruity pink pepper, and for a few minutes after application, it's easy to think they've managed the impossible, and created a true gardenia soliflore. Just wait another few minutes, though. Before the liquid has fully dried on skin, the gardenia is gone, replaced with an oddly masculine lavender and sour blackcurrant accord, which hisses along until a great big peony note steals the show. Am I surprised by any of this? Absolutely not. It smells great - it's fresh, clean, spring-like - but it's no gardenia. That's a shame, because gardenia smells better than peony.






1/3/14

Francesco Smalto (Francesco Smalto)




One of the cool things about fragrances from the seventies and eighties is that many of them were designed to complement cigarette smoke. Back then, people smoked a hell of a lot more than they do today. If you sat in a waiting room for five minutes, there could be someone else smoking next to you, and by the time you got out of there, you'd smell of smoke. For wearers of things like Quorum, Drakkar Noir, and Francesco Smalto for Men, the smoke-cling wasn't much of an issue, because these "powerhouse" masculines already smell dry, bitter, and smoky. I imagine that putting a quality tobacco oil in a composition jacks its price up a bit, so perfumers would skip that and just hope your surroundings filled in the blank, which they most assuredly did whenever you stepped outside (or if you were a smoker yourself). Smalto for Men was a little late to the party, arriving in 1987, and I think of it as the first of several "transitional" chypres and fougères that bridged the eighties to the nineties (Jazz, Tsar, and Sung Homme were others).

I actually think of F. Smalto as a combination of the elements found in those three scents, along with a dihydromyrcenol freshness via Drakkar Noir. There's something about the dusky herbs and clipped, bittersweet florals that strongly resembles Tsar, which means it also resembles Jazz, by proxy. Smalto is more leathery than those two, which is interesting. A sun-dried leather effect is subtle but noticeable at all stages, and at the drydown's two hour mark there's a surprisingly Sung Homme-esque carnation-cedar accord, very woody and wry. If you're someone who likes macho masculines from this time period, but dislikes the thickness of Tsar, the coriander of Jazz, or the Irish-Spring freshness of Sung, F. Smalto might be the perfect alternative. Likewise, if you kinda-sorta like Drakkar Noir, but feel the dihydromyrcenol is overkill in that one, F. Smalto plays with synthetic lavender in the same way, but tones it back significantly. There's a unique tarragon note, along with a pinch of anise in this scent that sets it apart and lends it a kind of gentlemanly warmth, which is also nice. This scent is, by all measures, a modern classic.






1/1/14

A*Men (Thierry Mugler)

Somewhere inside every man is an imprisoned and carefully stifled woman. She's stronger in some more than others, but she's there, tucked behind everything else, waiting for the darkness of night to peek out, and see what's hers. She's quiet; for most of us she's a silent passenger, and many a poor boy lives his entire life not even realizing she's there. For those of us who suspect we're not alone, her song is gentle, but ever-present, its lilting words bearing a warning, a message, a desperate plea for release, or a threat to be silenced, lest consciousness be touched by its verse and pushed into the seas of confusion. Life has meaning with and without her, but without her there is no true life for a man.

Some smart-ass working for Thierry Mugler in the nineties knew all that, and then some. It was the same smart-ass who came to Mugler himself with a fully fleshed-out draft of A*Men, with curled lips twitching in a barely-there smirk of pride as his boss smelled the stuff, and exhaled in some kind of olfactory Nirvana. The fragrance has the ability to teleport its wearer to a place where rules, and straight lines in general, are all bent gleefully out of shape. For a heterosexual man to wear A*Men and not feel a twinge from his inner lady friend would mean his denial and fear runs deeper than his worst nightmare could ever reach, for this fragrance does a weird primitive dance along every cerebral nerve, and summons various emotions from the depths (bisexual men may take to it with greater ease). There's a bit of gluttony that rises up, thanks to the seriously edible minty-chocolately coffee accord, which features decadent edgings of caramel and spice. I find a few evil impulses wash over me whenever I wear A*Men, the sort of evil Vlad the Impaler might have known, as if I want someone to approach me, attempt to have their way with me, and then realize their action has somehow sealed their doom. The devil is ostentatious after all.

The far drydown arrives about two hours in, its smooth warmth full of sweetness, patchouli, rich amber, and edible notes that toast the air. It becomes a feminine perfume that straddles two territories: the fizzy smell of sugary-sweet gourmandite tartiness, and the earthy, bitter snarl of a mature woman with a seductively rough side. Spliced down the center is an ungodly tar note, which marries the two perfectly and nudges A*Men's credibility as a masculine just barely back onto the page. But the notes aren't really important. A*Men smells a bit disturbing at first, an incredibly potent and heady burst of peppermint and lavender mixed with a concentrated semblance of the edible notes to disperse later, but when all of that settles down, the magnet is switched on, and everyone within a twelve foot radius of your body is, for better or worse, in significant danger. Ultimately though, wearing A*Men is an invitation to the wearer, to acknowledge that smelling edible in a feminine way is holistic and honest, even for a man. Whether or not he chooses to embrace this expression of feminine masculinity is entirely up to him.