Stick With Your Love Of Perfume: You'll Evolve


The flameouts continue. Apparently there has been a shift in public opinion, and the perfume house of Creed is now home to "scumbags" of the, ahem, highest order. (Get out your paypal accounts: Aventus! Wink, wink.)

This week I happened across this thread on basenotes. You can read all ten tedious pages of it yourself if you so please, for I shall abstain from detailing its unholy contents by its godless authors here. I'll stop at saying that it is indicative of all that remains troublesome about that forum, still a community of classless heathens with more money than brains. To sum it up in a few short words: Creed's fragrances are cheaper in France than they are in America, which makes its owners greedy scumbags who should be boycotted, 'cause that'll learn 'em real good, real fast.

Honestly, I couldn't make this shit up if I tried.

If you're world-weary and wise enough to avoid wading into this horrendously sludgy runoff of backwards logic from third-world brainage systems, you're sharp enough to imagine the word warriors pummeling each other senseless. You don't need me for that.

Instead, I'd like to suggest what Creed perfumes could mean to you as a budding fragrance collector, or even an established fumehead junkie with a few hundred bottles in your collection.

Creed is the twenty-first century mercury switch of your perfume maturity.

Let's look at it this way: when you first start out in this "hobby," you look for the hot shit brand that'll put you a few cuts above your friends in the wearing game. On their best nights, your pals will sport seventy or eighty dollar department store frags, but you're going to wear one better. Much better. You get what you pay for, right? Creed is popular, and it's very expensive. You have to try it. Then you have to have it. And for a while there, it's impressing you, and some of your friends, and you figure Creed is important.

Then you grow up a little. You try three or four hundred other perfumes. Most can be had for ten or fifteen dollars an ounce. Without realizing it, you lose interest in "fresh" and "modern" and "sexy," and gravitate towards things that are sophisticated. With sophistication comes pedigree: Dior's lesser known releases, defunct and endangered brands from thirty years ago like Balenciaga, Guy Laroche, and Jacques Bogart. You're following perfumers, not perfumes, and smelling good is never about money.

Eventually you reach a point where you've been through at least five hundred perfumes, and a light bulb goes on - Creed, oh yeah, Creed. What did I think of their latest perfume again? Shit, I can't even remember. It was good. I liked it. Fuck it. If I see it on Amazon for under two hundred dollars, I may grab a bottle. Maybe Fragrancenet has a good deal today - let's see what they have.

And that's how it actually goes. By this point you're far more interested in the idea of a good, honest, straight-up fougère, like Rive Gauche Pour Homme, than you are in the extravagant glitz of an over-developed hybrid like Silver Mountain Water. And if SMW really intrigues you, you want to explore the idea of SMW by smelling frags inspired by it, or otherwise related to it. But traditionalism has won the day. Things from the "old school," wafting dry florals and talcum powder, make you smell and feel good. EROLFA smells very good, but also has you wondering if you'd have been better off buying a few backup bottles of Caron's Third Man instead.

So that four-ouncer of Green Irish Tweed on Amazon (sold by Amazon) for a hundred and forty bucks makes the rotation, but it competes for its place there. You still love it, still enjoy it, but you don't have to wear it. The bottle will last you. Know what you can't keep in stock? Francesco Smalto Pour Homme. Furyo. Zino. Tsar. The last thing on your mind as you're rocking your favorite Edmond Roudnitska composition is that it's Creed's fault you can't pay full retail for their perfumes.


Kensington Garden (Royal Apothic)

Quite the ugly box.

Royal Apothic used to focus on room sprays and scented homecare products, until six years ago, when they adapted their line to include personal fragrance. Their affinity for feminine fruity-florals, leaning either citrusy or just plain green, becomes pretty obvious when you read their catalog. This company has Millennial women in their crosshairs.

I recently had an opportunity to give Sean O'Mara's Kensington Garden a good wearing, and had to keep an open mind in the process. This brand is rather pseudo-British (they boast of gaining commercial traction in the U.S.), and their website looks suspiciously similar to Creed's, but I guess their founder's "story" is honest enough. But is there any wow factor here? Why "Royal Apothic?" Am I to gather there's something "royal" about these products?

Contemporary feminines are either paradoxically daring and conservative (animalic musks and overripe woodsy florals) or ironically pretentious and cheap (haughty greens and nondescript laundry soap), and unfortunately the latter qualities very generously apply to this fragrance. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view.

On the one hand, the need for an uncomplicated and inexpensive mid-shelf "green" scent with crisp muguet and jasmine notes will be satisfied with this, at least enough to wear it to work a few times a week. It's inoffensive, competently made, and doesn't trail off as something uncouth. It'll go well with your lemon yellow pant suit and pearlescent ivory organza blouse. Just don't expect it to add anything to your sex appeal, which I'm assuming you have in spades anyway if you're wearing that outfit.

On the other, you'll literally smell like a walking Lyral bomb. Imagine the bleached florals of Tommy Girl, with the bleach effect dialed up to eleven and surrounded by foiled reflectors, and you have a good idea of Kensington Garden. It's bright, it's sweet, it's shrieking and shrill and squeaky clean/green, an indelicate interpretation of "delicate white floral." I think, in all honesty, that it's too much of a rather questionably good thing.

As for its unisex appeal, I'm afraid it's a bit too caricatured to have any. Then again, with the ridiculous flea circus beard trend going on here in the States, maybe an overdose of drugstore soap isn't a bad idea.


"I wear fragrances for ME. I really don't care what anyone else thinks."

Panties were dropped here. The nerve!

You're a professional, a young woman in her mid twenties with a good job, and you've only been employed there a week. It's Friday. Casual Friday. So that morning you decide to break out your old torn-shoulder Madonna throwback shirt and skintight ripped jeans, and you're extra careful to let your pink Victoria's Secret wire bra strap show. You douse yourself in some chinsy Body Shop body spray and head off.

By day's end, every woman in the office has given you looks so dirty, you'd swear they'd mistaken you for Melania Trump. Conversely, every married male has made it a point to stop in and hand you something pointless to "look over." But the only thing they're interested in looking over is sitting behind your desk, drinking your coffee, looking an awful lot like you.

You say to yourself as you drive home, "I wonder what it was? I mean, it's Friday. And I'm hot. I'm making as much as anyone else in that place. This shirt is my favorite. I wore it for ME. Ditto these jeans and high-heels. I really don't care what anyone else thinks."

Monday rolls around, and the first thing you see is an office letterhead on your desk, with a hand-signed message from the boss. The boss is, predictably, a cantankerous Republican bitch on her second marriage. It reads:

"It came to my attention Friday afternoon that your attire was offensive to your coworkers. Please be sure to adhere to our dress code policy and only wear attire that is professional and becoming of our company image. This is the only notification you will given on this matter. If this issue is not resolved, the board will take the appropriate measures to ensure that our office does not become a hostile environment.

You're shocked, but should you be? After all, "Casual Friday" isn't a license to dress like a Reagan-era hooker. But you were so comfortable, and you actually got work done! It feels outrageous. It feels wrong on every level. The week goes by, and Friday rolls around again. This time you stop and think before you dress. Frustrated and intimidated by your options, you decide that the spare pantsuit will have to do. It's a straight-laced, colorless thing that would make Carmella Bing look frumpy. But it's safe.

I can't tell you how many times I read internet comments about "why" people wear their fragrances that mimic the same basic message: "I wear fragrance for me, and I don't care what others think about how I smell."

This is an interesting approach to society. Wear clothing to look good for other people. Wear your hair in a way that doesn't make you look like a dirty slob or a bag lady. Wear your attitude, with or without pretense, so no one could ever accuse you of lacking personality. But your fragrance? Ah, that - that's easy: people don't exist. The only nose on the planet is yours. The olfactory world is like that lame Times Square scene in the movie Vanilla Sky. How you smell does not matter beyond your own nose. You don't care what other people think about your personal odor. It's all for you.

I'm probably guilty of this sentiment myself, and given how often the subject comes up, it's likely that I've said the same thing at least a half dozen times across as many forums.

But let's face it - is this the way to go about wearing perfume? Is it appropriate to not give a shit when you apply your signature? Is it a question of your selection, or how much you apply? Is it passive aggressive to not give two shits about either one? Or are other people too sensitive to be bothered with?

I think these are questions without clear answers. The scenario described above is fairly realistic for many workplaces (and not for many others), but it addresses personal appearance, which is often the first vantage point for being judged. Perfume raises the question of personal smell, a far more subjective topic, one that even excludes a certain percentage of the population (the anosmics among us). Do we perfume wearers have to treat it as seriously as we treat our clothing?

There is some passive aggression to the idea that we shouldn't care what others think of how we smell. It's not exactly the most considerate stance to take, particularly if you're in close quarters with others for extended periods of time. It also assumes that perfume has a very limited message to impart, one that does not reach beyond a basic olfactory summation of your style. Are you the "fresh prince" who smells like salty melons? Or are you the academic intellectual who finds solace in clove oil? Which stereotype does your scent make you?

I'm probably not going very far out on a limb in saying that it's likely you don't want your perfume to "sum you up." Gravestones sum us up, not perfumes. Isn't the marginalization of an outsider's opinion on your scent the same as saying your perfume is little more than a trite "impression" of you on that given day? Wouldn't you rather ascribe some meaning to that impression, abstract as it may be?

I'm certainly not a fashion icon by any measure. My clothing choices are so banal and forgettable that I could probably be the poster child for some futuristic anti-fashion movement. Yet I have a large rotation of fragrances, many of which are quite different from each other. Thus, my choices are reflective of my mood, and how I wish to carry the day. Perhaps there are times when it doesn't really matter "why" I chose something, and I simply threw something random on myself to smell "good." Full stop.

Then there are times when it's a more calculated choice. I'm wearing Tea Rose on the day after wearing Lapidus Pour Homme. What implications does this have for whoever smells me? If the same noses are sensing my presence on both days, they may infer from day one that I'm feeling "manly," and on day two "a bit femme." Or perhaps that my Lapidus day is me in a bad mood, while the Tea Rose day is me feeling cheerful. These could be the humorous musings they have about me, if they take all of five seconds to care. I'm sure it's happened many times.

So I can't say that how I smell doesn't convey a deeper message. With the "a bit femme" thought, there's a new line of questioning that comes up: "Is he gay? Maybe, but he smelled pretty straight and "frat-housey" yesterday. Is he bi? Perhaps. Is rose masculine these days? Or is he just a weirdo? I think he's that last one, for sure!" Judgments about my core self are being rendered, all because of what I'm sending through the airwaves.

Yet I carry on undeterred, blithely uncaring that coworkers are formulating relatively complex assessments and questions about me, little old me, the uncaring man who simply wears what he wears because he's wearing it for him, and no one else. Right? No, no, no. Wrong. I'm not an idiot. There's a message there for others to receive, and it means something, even if the message is mysterious, contradictory, or just plain unclear. My fragrances - all of them - are strung along together as one ongoing communication with the outside world, and this largely unspoken dialogue is borne out of care.

Granted, these perceptions are more likely to occur among people who don't know me, but are always around me, namely coworkers. Friends are privy to more information, but coworkers are all walking that fine line between familiarity and fired. Everyone is careful not to hit that wrong note. Let's not create a hostile work environment.

This includes me. I must try not to cause headaches, or whatever other form of fuck-all discomfort that could arise. I shouldn't advertise a symphony in D Minor and start playing punk, even though I'm dressed in a button-up shirt and blue jeans with Anaïs Anaïs in second gear.

And can I really honestly say that a comment from some equally unscrupulous asshole who is offended by my fragrance, or perhaps by its volume, isn't going to stay with me for a few years whenever I reach for that particular scent in my rotation? I'll be really as real as real can be here, and admit that the one that got an insufficiently hushed "Pee-yeew!" from the hot blonde at the front desk as I was walking away is the one I wear a bit less frequently than I used to.

I've seen the argument that if people are seriously offended by one's choices in fragrance, such people are "going out of their way to be offended." Most fragrances are designed to smell good, and most are hypo-allergenic, so what leg does anyone have to stand on by being "offended" by some perfume? They're reaching. They're looking for reasons to complain. They're Whoopi Goldberg.

I happen to agree with this, if we're talking about the random passer-by on the street. Strangers in a restaurant have no business being offended by your fragrance. For them to take offense, or to care in any negative way, is a major reach on their part, a blatant attempt to stir up trouble and waste your time. They're the ones who protested Michael Douglas and Sharon Stone, back in the nineties when they were making Basic Instinct. The protest was framed to show the public that it's offensive to "misrepresent" others, namely bisexual women and male rapists, with the implications being that Douglas and Stone were inaccurately portraying these two disparate minority groups.

These arguments were a colossal waste of time. Anyone with a sense of perspective could see that Basic Instinct was being directed by the reigning prince of schlock cinema at that time, none other than Paul Verhoeven. The flick was merely a B movie featuring two A-Listers, and Stone wasn't even really A-List at the time. Were Romanians offended in 1931 when Dracula was released? Maybe some were. But they were offended by a B movie, in a time when most B movies were being made to offend someone, somewhere, somehow. Studios hope a relatively small group of people will be screaming mad, and give them free press. They bank on them, really. There's always a group of screaming mad people, waiting for the next reason to get mad and scream.

They're the same folks who made "Fragrance-Free Zones" a thing twenty-five years ago.

So yeah, random people have no business being offended. What do they care, anyway? I'd rather smell a questionable perfume than the stink of a New York subway car.

But people who are part of your life, whether it be your professional or personal life (or both), deserve a little more respect.

I'm always careful not to over-apply, and I'm embarrassed if someone can smell me from across the room, as I should be. I'm also careful about what sort of scent I wear on certain days. If there's going to be a building meeting, maybe Kouros is a bad choice, and Pour un Homme de Caron is a better one. If it's "Casual Friday," a fruity-floral like Chrome Legend is a nice, non-threatening sort of thing to enjoy at a light volume, but let's not have too much fun and apply fifty sprays. Your friend's grandmother's funeral is a Grey Flannel affair; you should shelve your bottles of Laguna and Joop! Homme.

In all actuality, saying "I wear fragrances for ME, I really don't care what anyone else thinks" is a little callous, and should only ever be half-true. Say it if it makes you feel good, but if someone challenges you on it, don't pretend it's a non-issue that shouldn't be discussed further.

There's one other element to this that bears mentioning: the "Panty Dropper" meme that keeps cropping up on forums. The idea, if you've been living under a rock for the last ten years, is that certain perfumes make sexual partners swoon, and drop their panties (or boxers). These fragrances are purportedly Love Potion No 9s with guaranteed results in the bedroom, as endorsed by countless brain-dead "bros" from here to Algiers.

And this offends some people, because it's "sexist," and it's "untrue on every level." Oddly enough, the suggestion that perfume is inherently sexy, and a tool useful for attracting sexual partners, is also considered offensive in some quarters.

Let me say this: If you're seriously offended by this term, and with the idea that some fragrances on some people could, and against all odds, elicit strong sexual responses from whomever they wind up with on Saturday night, you're an asshole. Find something worthwhile to be prissy about, like the fact that Donald Trump might actually become the leader of the free world next year. Huffing about a term like "panty dropper" is just as tacky as the term itself. Perfume goes on our bodies, our bodies have a way of going on other people's bodies, and it's no leap to associate perfume with sex. Unless you're on basenotes, where the sexiness of wearing perfume is apparently an alien concept.

For the rest of us, it's perfume. It's at least a little sexy to wear it.

To varying extents, we all care about it.

Let's find it within ourselves to lighten up and laugh about it.


Giorgio For Men (Giorgio Beverly Hills)

It feels quite fitting to follow my review of Touch for Men with one of Giorgio. Before the "hygienic" shower gel fragrances of the nineties took over everything, the mysterious world of masculine perfumery dwelled mostly on olfactory impressions from nature and natural materials, with compositions using the combined smells of woods, spices, flowers, and resins. The seventies and eighties gave us compositions devoid of "fantasy accords." Earthbound scents like Givenchy Gentleman, Z-14, Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur, Grey Flannel, Quorum, Krizia Uomo, Derby, Caron's Third Man, Green Irish Tweed, Davidoff, Zino, Bowling Green, and Furyo were all the rage.

Giorgio for Men is of that ilk, a decadent, patchouli-centric woody chypre with strong oriental underpinnings, the kind of fragrance best used judiciously. Its premise is theoretically simple: to smell unmistakably masculine. Yet at some point it got lost in a haze of sweet gourmands and "fresh" aquatics, until EA revived it in the aughts as an eighties frag with enough swagger to make Charles Bronson seem effete. Giorgio's reputation precedes it, but to me the fragrance is unaffected by any external noise; from top to bottom, this scent smells inspired, unique, and refined.

This isn't to say that I'm not reminded of other things when I smell it. Three fragrances in particular come up - Arden's Sandalwood, Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur, and Krizia Uomo. It shares Sandalwood's woodsy smoothness, Cardin's semi-sweet amber, and Krizia's moss/patchouli buzz, but I also get an overwhelmingly potent raw honey note in Giorgio's opening, similar to the viscous, urinous, and intense honey note that I encountered in vintage Lapidus Pour Homme (1987), and to a lesser (and more enjoyable) extent in Boss Number One. This note eventually relents, and segues into a milder blend of patchouli and coumarin. But the honey, oh the honey! Wow.

Now, this is important: if you read a review that neglects to mention honey, its author's nose and judgment can't be trusted. It should be the first thing anyone notices with this fragrance, aside from perhaps a transparent wisp of mandarin orange and aldehyde. Giorgio has the biggest, boldest honey note that I've ever smelled.

The drydown is very pleasant, its honest interplay of patchouli and soft precious wood notes given depth and duration by an herbal amber. There are even gentle touches of cinnamon, nutmeg, carnation, and jasmine in the blend. My bottle's code indicates that it was made in January of this year, yet nothing smells overtly synthetic or out of tune here. Oakmoss is even listed in the ingredients, and I can smell it quite clearly.

There's been talk on fragrance boards of a change in Giorgio's color. Apparently older bottles are a deep yellow-green, while the current stuff is much lighter. I've noticed that my relatively new bottle of EA Grey Flannel has darkened in the last few years; the perfume was transparent and colorless when I bought it. Vintage Jacqueline Cochran and French Fragrances Grey Flannel is indeed quite dark in appearance. I can't help but wonder if Giorgio's color will also darken with time and use, as air mixes with the fluid. Is this something some EA masculines do? I guess we'll see.

If you like honey and patchouli, and share my affinity for old-school woody chypres, then Giorgio for Men is something you should go for. Even sticklers for natural wood essences should be able to appreciate Giorgio's salubrious sandalwood reconstruction, abstract as it is. I only paid eight dollars for a 1.6 oz bottle, a real steal. Thanks, Mr. Hayman!


Soap Review: Rainbath (Neutrogena)

It seems that I can't read about Fred Hayman's Touch for Men without encountering comparisons to an old soap scent by Neutrogena called "Rainbath." I'm not sure when this product was introduced, but I'm guessing it's been in stores since at least the seventies, as there are scores of adult women out there who reminisce about growing up with this stuff. One gal even mentions her grandmother introducing it to her, so perhaps it has been around even longer. Judging from the fragrance, I'd say it's entirely possible.

Does it smell like Touch? Almost! It seems that between this, Touch, and Brut, I've discovered three variations of the same old-fashioned mid-century fougère theme. Brut is the traditional fougère, with mentholated lavender and musky coumarin comprising its soapy drydown. Touch spins the same basic scent profile into a warmer musk accord, with softer lavender effects, whispers of undefined fruit, and rich, vanilla-laden musks. Rainbath ups the ante on the fruit idea, with more distinct (and rather startling) cinnamon, mandarin peel, and mango notes peeking through the mist. Yet it is essentially the same sort of smell as the others, with a nearly identical musky amber "drydown," if you can call it that. Soap is usually wet, after all.

I also smell a lavender note in Rainbath that matches the one in Touch. It's intriguing to find a clear olfactory ensemble of notes and accords in a shower gel. These products typically possess flat smells with zero dynamism; they're mostly "fruity" or "aquatic" ideas that simply fade against water, but Rainbath is definitely different. It's complex, and blatantly retro. It smells Brutish, powdery, musky, and "fresh," but this last characteristic is conveyed warmly, with spiced fruit notes, which puts it in stark contrast to the Dial, Axe, and Irish Spring gels sitting beside it on store shelves. They advertise themselves as being "for men." Are they, though? Not when you consider Neutrogena's offering. Rainbath is the only one that truly smells manly.

I'm a little surprised it has such a loyal following with women, but imagine its quality accounts for that. Rainbath is the finest drugstore shower gel I've ever used. Its cleansing qualities are gentle (Sodium Laureth Sulfate), its lather is foamy, bubbly, satisfying. It rinses clean without any unpleasant menthol tingle or desiccating after effects, and its powder note lingers very lightly for an hour or so. It's not exactly like Touch, but it sure goes well with the EDT, and I've found that wearing Touch after using Rainbath enhances the experience. My only qualm is the price, for Rainbath is surprisingly expensive; I have yet to see an eight ounce bottle for under ten dollars.