Is "Naturalism" In Perfume Valuable?

Nothing wrong with going natural in nature!

This question has come up numerous times over the years among those who enjoy fragrances at varying price points. The biophysicist Luca Turin considers "naturalism" in perfume to be a misidentified value, one that holds some interest from an aromatherapeutic angle, but has very little worth beyond that. Chandler Burr revels in finding accords that combine natural odors with blatantly synthetic constructs, even when the naturals are supposedly repulsive, like the scents of armpits and anuses. Intelligent people understand both Turin and Burr's points of view on this, although there are certainly morons at a sixth-grade reading (and writing) level who express difficulty with understanding these basic descriptive approaches.

Then there's the question of how well the common man perceives the transition between the "real" and the "fake," and how this bodes for his enjoyment. In my last post about Playboy's VIP for Men, I mention in not so many words that its old-school aftershave fern composition is largely synthetic in scope, yet still satisfying to me. I was glad to receive some comments by a man named John, who expressed his issue with enjoying truly "cheap" compositions:

"I find it really compelling the way a single, beautiful rendered piece of rendering (say, the hesperidic opening of Eau Sauvage) experientially anchors the abstraction that follows. At the moment, I'm a sucker for the slight-of-hand entailed by this transit from naturalism to abstraction. And I'm just not getting as much naturalism from the cheaper things I'm trying."

I understand his conundrum entirely. To him, the thrill of a scent resides with the movement from identifiable, recognizable notes into artistic, abstract, man-made accords. The more natural those top and early middle notes smell, the more enjoyable the transition, if such a thing actually moves into a successful place. Unfortunately, he doesn't get this thrill from super cheap fragrances like Brut and Skin Bracer. Neither do I.

However, is "naturalism" really that valuable? To me this is similar to how one refers to women. Some are "natural beauties" who don't need a single particle of makeup to convey their physical attractiveness, relying instead on healthy lifestyles and willing smiles to do the talking for them, while others are "average," and simply glam up nicely. Is one subset of women more beautiful than the other? Perhaps, but does it matter? True love doesn't stop at the surface.

There are perfumes like Garner James' Nature Boy that smell natural from top to bottom, with crystal clear notes that are blatantly representative of their material; they gracefully rope into a set of accords that maintain clarity on two levels, the singular and the collective. While the sandalwood, labdanum, and floral elements of Nature Boy maintain their identities and "separate," they simultaneously convey a new effect, a larger whole, without losing a shred of their natural feel. This is arguably the most difficult feat to accomplish in perfumery, and why Nature Boy is to date the most impressive perfume I've ever smelled.

Then there are fragrances like mb03 by Biehl Parfumkunstwerke that smell natural at first, but then transition into more synthetic and diffuse bases, and "waft" from time to time from skin. These little wafts are somewhat natural, and somewhat synthetic, retaining with clarity at least two of their initial naturals, but eventually rely on the synthetics to carry things forward. With a fragrance like mb03, which has generous amounts of pink pepper, patchouli, labdanum, incense, precious woods, and elemi resin, this works, even if the carrier is a relatively bland musk.

The majority of fragrance enthusiasts, those not wedded to making perfume a lifetime pursuit, encounter upper-shelf designer compositions like Eau Sauvage, and can be won over. This sort of fragrance falls just under the other two for me, because its naturalism is more limited, even in its top notes and early middle stages. While it certainly possesses a crisp citrus-woody opening of bright neroli, bergamot, and rosemary, very easily decipherable, a large dose of the synthetic Hedione is present, and remains prominent all the way to the far drydown. Eau Savage's naturalness is embellished from the start, and marks not so much a shift to more synthetics, but rather a rebalancing of more naturals and fewer synthetics to more synthetics and fewer naturals, a movement hinging on Hedione. The dihydromyrcenol overload of scents like Drakkar Noir and Cool Water are other examples of this type (for a Hedione bloodbath, Acqua di Gio).

Last but not least are the hoi polloi splashes like Brut and Skin Bracer. While there are noticeable traces of natural materials in the surprisingly busy opening salvo of Brut, replete with lavender, anise, mint, moss, and lemon aldehyde, they're already fairly tightly "fused" into one soapy, oily characteristic, which only grows more vague and synthetic with time. This is why most super-cheap masculines are often described as being "soapy." They resemble the vague cleanliness of fresh soap smells and not much else, from up close or afar. If you're someone who values that scintillating effect of many natural notes mingling together into a beautiful crowd of new ideas and accords, with fluctuating balancing acts and constant movement, Brut will disappoint.

However, as I've outlined here, there are at least four different types of perfumes out there, ranging from most to least natural and well-blended, which means that people have choice, and probably a wide range of reasons for those choices. If I enjoy Nature Boy, or similar scents (as far as naturalism goes, and not necessarily scent) like Annick Goutal's Duel, Polo Crest, Sunwater, or Oscar (feminine), I'm looking for both note clarity and compositional balance. But I may also enjoy Brut and Skin Bracer when I'm in the mood for simplicity and feeling "clean," with no frills. The first set accomplishes what I'm after beautifully, and so does the second set.

There are some outliers to these broad categories I've mentioned. They are fragrances that smell uniquely synthetic all the way through, yet also smell good. Take The Dreamer, for example. It's a tremendous fragrance, a delicious celebration of woody tobacco delicately blended with a lightly floral soapiness over a nondescript amber. A true postmodern oriental, if you will. It breaks all the rules, defies all the conventions I've listed above, and still comes out smelling great. How?

In order for a perfume to utilize completely synthetic notes and still smell coherent and wearable, it needs to emulate synthetic materials, using the same compositional principles that more traditional compositions employ. So while it is entirely synthetic in material, structure, and scope, The Dreamer uses these synthetics in much the same way Nature Boy uses naturals. Instead of natural tobacco leaf, The Dreamer contains the wry sweetness of treated cigarette tobacco, which is the smoker's equivalent of cured supermarket Black Forest ham. Instead of natural lavender oil, a super sheer, ultra-soapy lavender essence is used. This is meant to convey lavender soap, not actual lavender. You get this gist, and perhaps with an open mind you also recognize that this is a conceptual fragrance, very boldly executed.

People seek this sort of thing all the time. Often they're not aware that synthetic notes are what they seek, and don't notice any correlation between them and the emotions they elicit. One person on Fragrantica, "Manny44," clearly enjoys synthetic compositions, namely scents that employ synthetic materials to deliberately mimic synthetic aromas, but doesn't particularly enjoy certain "natural" compositions, where the opposite approach is at least partially used. For example, he has this to say about The Dreamer:

"GodDAMNNNN this smells good. Worried this would smell dated but it is not in the least dated . . . Rose, Geranium, Fir, Sage, just a touch of sharp vetiver-on top of the 'can't go wrong' base of Lavender and Tobacco. These all make Dreamer a multifaceted scent that women and men love. A Fall and Spring masterpiece I hereby nominate for the Hall of Fame."

But this was his reaction to Tom Ford's Grey Vetiver:

"I don't hate this cologne but I don't like it either. Bit too earthy for me. Something in the spice notes here that is too old-school masculine in the way that a strong oakmoss note can be."

His sentiments sum up what I've been saying perfectly - tastes vary, and so too does the value of "naturalism" in perfume.


VIP For Him (Playboy/Coty)

Looks cheap and kinda fun. Smells the same.

I was watching one of my favorite Youtube channels the other day, "Fragrance Bros," and it got me thinking. In reruns of the channel are reviews by Daver and Jer that denigrate "cheap" fragrances like Royal Copenhagen and Brut, with the prevailing sentiment being that after experiencing a broad range of pricy designer and niche perfumes, your taste "trends up." It's the proverbial "your" being used in this case, because I certainly don't understand their point, but I understand what they're trying to say, at least to a degree: when you've smelled the good stuff, you can't go back to drugstore.

There may or may not be a kernel of truth to this for some folks, but it stymies me. First, why would smelling a three figure fragrance like the new Fougère Royale dent my opinion of five dollar Brut? Taking it a step further, why would it effect how I feel about any fragrance under fifty dollars, if that fragrance objectively smells at least good enough to wear repeatedly without offense? Sure, Fougère Royale smells great, and I'd love to have a bottle that I could use every day, but I don't. And I don't for a reason - it's hard to justify buying it when something as inexpensive as Brut smells just as good to me.

Now I won't argue that Brut's quality is on par with Fougère Royale. It's not. It's just soapy lavender with powdery, semi-animalic musk in the base, and the ingredients are as pedestrian as it gets. But the composition is incredibly deft. Using only a few hundred super-cheap synthetics, the perfumer managed to make lavender and herbal aromatics come alive for ten minutes, truly sparkling and shimmering, before settling with dignity into a warm, burly glow of woodsy wannabe Musk Ambrette. It's fresh, it's intentionally raw, it's clean, it's streamlined, and it works. For five dollars. This is dollar store material that smells great. Furthermore, it lasts a good eight hours with liberal application. Many guys complain about Brut disappearing after fifteen minutes, but I can smell faint whiffs of it all day long.

Do I lump it in with Fougère Royale as being a great fern for the modern man? Yes and no. It's apples and oranges in the quality department - the Houbigant scent is simply divine on every level, the liquid apartheid of doubt and true love, with photorealistic accords that define true olfactory beauty - and certainly it's more presentable at weddings. But if something smells good, then price, guesswork about ingredient pedigree, and adhering to old stigmas regarding "old man" scents should get dusted into the can. Brut smells good. If I want to wear it to a wedding, I will.

So tastes don't "trend up." Because there is no "up." There's only "good," and "not good." And it's almost always subjective. I can't tell you how many times I've wished that Creed would just forget about these postmodern fresh concepts and simply compose a traditional wetshaver fougère. They're the kings of cloning (and improving upon whatever they clone), so why can't they just remake Brut or Canoe in the Creed image and call it a day? This is evidence that I don't believe Daver and Jer's contention. If what they're talking about were true, I wouldn't be wishing for more interpretations of five and ten dollar perfumes. I'd be wishing those super-cheapies would disappear.

There is one word that creeps into perfume dialogues from time to time, and it's "aspirational." When a perfumer tries to make his concoction smell fancier and more expensive than it could ever possibly be, he's falling into the aspirational pitfall of inexpensive fragrances. It's fine to embrace cheapness and make the most of it, as Karl Mann did in 1964. But it's another thing to embrace pretense and attempt the impossible, as countless perfumers have done since Mann's time. Luca Turin famously dubbed Carlos Benaim's 1989 entry into the Calvin Klein catalog "aspirational," and he's right.

Which brings me to one of the recent Playboy colognes, a fragrance formulated and released by Coty. They've done something that is neither slack-jawed, nor aspirational; bucking convention, Coty referred to one of the oldest masculines on the books, and re-tooled it ever so subtly for a much more current generation of unwashed masses. The hilarious thing about VIP is that it's basically the scent of Skin Bracer, that eighty year-old whiskered-codger aftershave that guys under thirty avoid like the plague. But I guess if anyone could sell a classic wetshaver fougère to twenty-first century youngsters, it's Hugh Hefner, the God of Manliness (in the cheesiest, most cliched sense imaginable). What surprises me even more is that Coty actually improved upon the idea by adding a sweet lick of red apple and a dab of smooth white chocolate, both notes accenting lavender and coumarin respectively. It's quite well done!

Interestingly, VIP is not the first fragrance to further stretch Skin Bracer's archaic formula. Several years ago, a small French concern called Jeanne Arthes issued a lovely woody fougère called Cotton Club, which has a very simple and clean lavender, coumarin, vanilla, and sandalwood structure. The sandalwood, though very synthetic, is more prominent in CC than it is in VIP, but the latter boasts a richer coumarin note, well-rounded with gourmandish flourishes not found in its progenitors. Fragrantica claims there's rhubarb and rum in there, but I honestly smell only a vanillic hint of something akin to powdered white chocolate. It smells very good, very clean, not quite gourmand, but close enough to be affable and comfortable. This sort of scent smells cheap, but it's supposed to. Skin Bracer never smelled expensive; men wear this kind of fougère to broadcast that they're solid, sturdy, no-frills guys that women can depend on, and VIP accomplishes this well enough.

A friend of mine has been eschewing designer fare, usually going for at least twenty dollars an ounce, for cheapies like VIP. He's been saying that he can't imagine why anyone would want to spend on pricier fare, when it's unlikely to accomplish anything more than something like VIP, the 1.7 oz bottle of which currently costs sixteen dollars at Walmart. I honestly don't see the comparison between VIP and something like Bleu de Chanel, for example, which I think is also related to old-school aftershave smells. The same size of Bleu costs about seventy dollars, but it just smells better. Its ingredients aren't top notch, but they're of a higher grade, with much better dynamism. Also, it retains clarity and performance for eight solid hours.

VIP, despite smelling good, eventually muddles out after an hour, becoming a very two-dimensional semi-sweet "fresh" scent, essentially all you can ask for from this type of fougère. (Skin Bracer is the "proto-Brut," much less assertive, quite a bit simpler, and significantly flatter performance-wise; anything as closely related to it as Cotton Club and VIP are bound to feel just as simple and underwhelming in the performance department.) I find it interesting that Skin Bracer costs six dollars, and is the simplest of this type, basically super cheap mint, lavender, and a vanillic coumarin and musk.

For five dollars more, you get Cotton Club, an even smoother blend of caramelized lavender and synthetic woods, but still super cheap. And for five dollars more than that, you get VIP, which elevates similar super-cheap notes to a level where you can discern fruity, gourmand, and floral nuances, but only just barely. So each scent is cheap, but incrementally more expensive, with their quality commensurately improving.

To me, it goes too far to suggest that any competent department store fragrance like Bleu de Chanel or Dior Sauvage would have nothing to offer in the face of VIP, Cotton Club, or Skin Bracer. The latter three certainly can't eclipse the intrigue that more complicated compositions in the fifty to eighty dollar range offer. However, I would point out that a fragrance like VIP is not eclipsed by more expensive fragrances, either. If you expect a shorter experience, and are okay with that, then it's likely that VIP will be just as satisfying as a good department store fragrance, at least in terms of the smell. But I would never consider a fragrance like VIP a replacement, or apt substitute for a good department store scent. The prices for department store fragrances are not so high that they don't warrant fair judgment on quality and value against cheaper fare. With Fougère Royale, I avoid buying because I can't really justify the splurge. With Bleu de Chanel, the value at seventy dollars for a small bottle is much better, especially for what you get.

If you're into the proto-Brut fougère, and just want to have more fun with it, then I recommend VIP. I suggest using it as an aftershave, diluted with water. Or using Skin Bracer, and pairing VIP as your SOTD. Or even using Cotton Club as your aftershave and pairing with VIP. Don't expect designer quality material here, but enjoy the cheapness! Hey, it smells good, and something that smells "good" doesn't really smell "cheap" as a negative. Smelling good doesn't have to be expensive!


Invictus (Paco Rabanne)

It's ironic that when I first approached the Dior counter to try Sauvage, an eager salesboy cut me off to try Invictus, a scent I'd already tried twice before. Even more ironic is the fact that Sauvage is pegged as being "generic," "disappointing," "non-Sauvage," "boring," and "synthetic," when in fact Invictus is the real embodiment of those charges, a hundred times over. In comparison to Rabanne's scent, Sauvage is a delicately balanced niche act that only the best noses should deign to poo-poo.

When I think of a blatant designer masculine fragrance fail, I certainly don't think of Sauvage, nor do I think of Bleu de Chanel, Platinum Egoiste, or something as unfortunately ubiquitous as Rabanne's own 1 Million. No, I think of Invictus, a terrible fragrance from top to bottom. This scent is the epitome of cheapness. Its profile - sweet fruit and ambery, vanillic musks - is overtly synthetic, compositionally scratchy (the notes pierce my nose), and as innocuously forgettable as elevator muzak. Its eventual drydown to a bland, super-soapy "fresh" amber is none too convincing, even as far as "youthful" scents go, and if you're looking for a better soapy frag, look no further than Paco Rabanne's original masculine from forty years prior.

Invictus' citrus notes are perhaps its strongest feature, with a somewhat presentable grapefruit and mandarin orange accord that isn't outright offensive, but these are infused with a despicable "sea foam" note, a very chemical, fake-salty element, loud and ill judged alongside the relatively modest fruits. Again, if you want a woody citrus accord with a good sea spray accent, look no further than another terrific classic from the last thirty years, Cool Water (pre-2014 version). Why suffer through the unnecessary noise of Invictus' tidal wave chemical blast when Bourdon did it better, and for less money?

I can rattle off a bunch of other classics that Invictus reminds me of, including Drakkar Noir, Eternity, and Aspen. Invictus is remotely similar to all of these in certain ways, except it's dressed like David Arquette, sporting a Justin Bieber haircut. Worth the designer price for a bottle? No. Enough said.


Kouros, September, My Readers, & The Danger of Trusting Others Over Yourself

It's September, that weird month where summer sees its end, and the bridge to autumn is raised (yet intense, July-like heat simmers on interminably). I used to hate September because it was "back to school" month, but I found a solution: just wear Kouros.

For the last six years, I've been wearing Kouros strictly in September, and loving the hell out of it. This year I ran out of my white-shouldered version of the scent, and had to seek out a new bottle. I decided to skip the most recent formulation (which lacks the term "Eau de Toilette" on the front entirely), and opted instead to find an older, chrome-shouldered vintage. I'd already sourced an incredible deal at a brick and mortar shop in Connecticut, $37 for the 3.3 oz size, so I just drove on over, grabbed it, and bought it.

The code on the back of this "new" bottle reads: 51AA, which puts its manufacture date at January of 2004, arguably making the actual vintage of the juice itself autumn of 2003. Which makes it the oldest version of Kouros I've ever owned. As such, I expected the fragrance to be incredibly dense, long-lasting, and viciously strong, the sort of frag you can only wear two or three spritzes of to take you through the day, twelve hours and counting. After all, most written accounts on the internet suggest as much:

"I have a bottle of vintage (pre-L'Oreal) Kouros and once splashed on the skin it opens with that fantastic sweet civet urinous scent which is like nothing else out there. For me this is well balanced with hints of pine (I see why some think or urinal cake when they smell this) , balsam and toluene in the background. As anyone who smells Kouros will know, the sillage is MONSTROUS (again, a reason to love it, not fear it) and its longevity is the stuff of legends (24 hours+ on my skin)." - scotrob

"I am smelling the vintage and oh- what a stunner! So rich and opulent." - Labaloo

"I have as good a vintage collection of this Legend as anybody...absolutely stunning stuff. The complexity, depth, power, and sex appeal of vintage Kouros has no comparison in the history of male fragrances." - Jude1321

"I had this bottle of Kouros (Sanofi-era/Vintage) . . . The barbershop vibe with the aldehydes, citrus, white florals, smooth honey, pungent herbs & spices, warming musk and pronounced civet (as well as costus root in the early formulations)...with smooth amber, rich oakmoss, and leather with a beautiful incense accord in the base is very different from the powdery talc infused with some of the original notes in the current. Everything is dialed down now." - ericrico

So imagine my surprise when I found that my pre-L'Oreal vintage smelled surprisingly smooth, mild, and tame in comparison to my 2009 and 2011 vintages. Instead of a monster, I got a mellow, super-smooth, relatively low-sillage fragrance that resembles a restrained seventies barbershop splash more than an intense eighties powerhouse.

Now, this isn't to say the scent doesn't have complexity, depth, or legs. It definitely has throw, it's as complex as can be, and much richer than the L'Oreal version. But judging from the reviews, I expected more. I figured an older bottle would be that much better, to the point where bothering with the new version is pointless. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case, and I've actually needed to use the 2011 version to help bolster the longevity and intensity of the older Kouros, literally layering them before going to work in the morning.

I also noticed something troubling about the reviews for vintage Kouros - none of them mention ambergris. I think a really old review on Now Smell This points it out to readers, but on Fragrantica the word isn't used at all (except in my review). And there happens to be a huge ambergris note in the 2004 version that is lacking in subsequent versions that I've smelled. If you're familiar with ambergris, you know it's a very salty/metallic sweet smell, with a clear mineral quality, and a decidedly musky edge, a note that "sparkles" when it is conveyed with good raw materials, as it is here. This is why it's so popular in Creed scents. In truth, vintage Kouros smells more like a Creed than Creed's own Orange Spice, which uses a rather pale ambergris in comparison.

This highlights my point about Dior's new fragrance, Sauvage. The point is that you really can't know whether or not you'll like or dislike something, or why you'll like or dislike it, until you've tried it for yourself. Reading other people's impressions, and going by them alone is a sure way to be led astray. Now, you may be able to glean some half-truths from reading reviews. You may be able to get a good idea of what you're in for, and they may take the element of surprise away from your sampling experience. But until you've judged for yourself, no real judgment can be leveled.

An experienced reviewer that I sometimes read recently wrote the following:

"Therein lies perhaps the biggest problem with a release such as Sauvage – what does it have to offer someone like me, and after looking at the list of notes, none of which is compelling to me, why wouldn’t I think that the reviews, which seem to be as uniform as I can remember for any new release, are good enough for my purposes? . . . I would be very surprised if I didn’t like Sauvage, but that’s not what I’m seeking, and for someone to presume to know what I’m seeking (as some seem to) is laughable, considering all that I’ve written on the subject on this blog and the major fragrance sites!"

The question as to what it has to offer the writer can never be answered, as long as he refuses to try it. There can be some "good guesses," from impartial reviewers who are simply describing their experience with Sauvage, and there can be some misleading statements also, particularly from those who only try it on paper.

Pointing out the banality of the notes listed, presumably the Fragrantica notes list (and/or Dior's own notes list) is nowhere close to enlightening. Lately Fragrantica's note pyramids have been ridiculously inaccurate, leaving dominant notes out, and inserting notes that don't exist. An example of the former practice can be found in their pyramid for Old Spice, which inexplicably leaves clove out, even though it's the dominant drydown ingredient, front and center, rather loud and going on for ages. An example of the latter is in the pyramid for Mitsouko EDP, where lilac is inexplicably listed. There is no lilac element in this, or any version of Mitsy. So trusting Fragrantica's pyramids is a bad idea.

And Dior's pyramid is the very thing that this writer often rightfully touts as being untrustworthy "marketing," which shouldn't be taken that seriously. Popular ideas are going to be described, and not the actual fragrance sitting on the counter.

Then there's the curious fact that this person seems to view the collective reviews as being "uniform," which is shocking, since they're anything but! Many hate it, and many really like it. Sauvage is polarizing. You can see that for yourself in this basenotes poll on whether or not people like it. Opinion is practically split down the middle. Plus, on Basenotes alone, literally dozens of perfumes have been compared to it, most of which have nothing to do with each other at all in terms of their scents! Here's an imcomplete list of the masculines that Sauvage has been compared to on BN:

1. MFK Pluriel Masculin
2. Bleu de Chanel
3. Eau Sauvage Parfum
4. Platinum Egoiste
5. Acqua di Gio
6. Mont Blanc Individuel
7. Franck Olivier Sunrise for Men
8. Fierce
9. Mont Blanc Legend
10. Nuit D'Issey
11. CK Contradiction for Men
12. Dunhill Icon
13. Invictus
14. Fahrenheit
15. L'Occitane Cade
16. Aventus
17. Green Irish Tweed
18. Dior Homme Eau
19. Bottega Veneta Pour Homme
20. Prada Luna Rossa

That's just the first twenty. There's easily another twenty fragrances this thing is compared to on there! So if anything, Sauvage is the sort of fragrance that a reviewer worth his salt should try for himself, because there is no stable reference for it outside of that. If I believe Sauvage is truly comparable to even half of the fragrances in the list above, that means I believe it is the most complex fragrance ever released in the history of masculines, ever. Show me how Eau Sauvage Parfum and Invictus compare. Oh, wait a sec, nevermind - let me just smell Sauvage . . . not!

The last part of the writer's comment, about "someone [knowing] what I'm seeking," IS laughable, because nobody in the blogosphere has presumed as much. In fact, the encouragement has been for this person to not trust reviewers, and to trust himself only. But alas, this is what happens when you paint yourself in a corner with faulty logic. You wind up boxed into the idea that you shouldn't do something that might enhance your knowledge because your knowledge doesn't need enhancement.

I've reviewed the better part of a thousand perfumes in my time on From Pyrgos, and my readers have their own expectations. I get messages on Fragrantica all the time from people who enjoy my impressions, and openly thank me for them. Doubt that? Just take a quick look at this screenshot of my Fragrantica mailbox (click the pic to enlarge):

Many are spurred by my words to try certain perfumes for themselves, and thus far nobody has ever lost anything in doing so. Trying a perfume is a "nothing to lose" scenario; if you don't like a fragrance, you don't have to apologize for it, nor do you have to buy it. If you do like it, then you've found something else new and interesting to think about.

I'm glad I read all the reviews about vintage Kouros that I could find, and equally glad that I found an older bottle and bought it. Is it what I expected? No, not at all, really. I never expected a mellow Kouros with less citrusy civet and more ambergris. But I found it, because I went for it myself. It's possible that this eleven year-old vintage has aged out some of its top notes, which would be a ruefully consistent experience I've had with vintages (and I really love a fresh citrus/musk top note in this scent), but having read about vintages and tried many myself, my experience here isn't surprising - I expect some degradation, and the older a scent, the more I expect it.

But all told, trying is the key to enlightenment in this pursuit. It's the reason people read this blog. I thank you for that!


Sauvage (Dior)

Surprisingly, after all the chatter about Sauvage on the interwebs, I have little to say about it myself, having now worn it. I have a sample on paper also, which I think smells remarkably better than the skin tests.

On paper, Sauvage opens with an aggressive salvo of fresh, "gummy" fruit notes, a veritable cavalcade of bergamot, red apple, pineapple, and something very dry, perhaps lime. This accord is so synthetic that I wonder if I couldn't get the same effect from one of Old Spice's recent animal-themed colognes. Wolfthorn is in the same league, for seventy dollars less. There you go.

Except that roughly thirty minutes in, the "gummy" notes fade, leaving a crisp, bright, realistic bergamot, which drones on for a while, and smells very good. On skin, the bergamot remains far more restrained, but seems to accompany an equally fresh musky amber, presumably the slug of Ambroxan that many report as a primary element in the formula. Sixty or seventy minutes into the drydown, this aspect dominates with its vague hints of black pepper and creamy suede. Anytime suede is a note, it bodes ill for the overall wearing experience in my book, and it doesn't take long for the reality to set in: Sauvage is a fresh leather scent. That's unfortunate, because as anyone who has worn Calvin Klein's recent masculines can attest to, there's nothing more trite than a "suede" cologne.

The best notes here are the bergamot and the Ambroxan, and I appreciate the tiny butyric dab of sweetened red apple on the fringes, which lends the fruitiness some depth and character, but unfortunately there isn't much else to do with Sauvage. Longevity is good, but that's not saying much. Two hours in, the fruitiness has faded to a bland sweetness with no distinct qualities, and five hours later I'm left with just a clean muskiness, with perhaps the softest touch of pepper, that incredibly mild woody accent, which Dior had to include. I'm a bit disappointed that the composition is so simple and clean, little more than a well-made soap smell.

I'm also annoyed that the comparisons on fragrance forums have been so far off. Some have said it smells similar to Creed's Aventus. There's absolutely no similarity to Aventus here. Others mention Bleu de Chanel. I've mentioned that scent in the context of Dior's commercial strategy, but here I'll compare the two by saying that Bleu is a much nicer and more distinguished fragrance. Acqua di Gio, Mont Blanc Individuel, B*Men, and a dozen other fragrances were also mentioned elsewhere. There is zero similarity to the Armani, only the faintest hint of a connection with Individuel (mainly in how the sweetness is handled), and perhaps a passing similarity to B*Men in the loosest way possible. I can't say I had an "Aha!" moment when I initially smelled Sauvage, as no other popular scent came to mind.

In some ways, this makes Sauvage rather special - I can't say I've ever smelled a fragrance quite like it. Its combination of notes creates an accord that is very unique, and whether it smells good or not is as subjective as can be. There are no comparatives online that reliably classify this scent.

But maybe that's also the problem with it. Bleu at least resembles old-school aftershave, and the other scents have their niche in the high wall of famous masculines, but nothing in particular connects Sauvage to its progenitors. It's as if the facelessly bland freshness of its structure exists in a sad vacuum, pleasant enough to wear on the weekend, but entirely alone in its banality. A shame.