Socal for Men (Hollister)

After a year of reviewing cheap wetshaver ferns, it seems fitting that I close out 2016 with one more opinion on the same sort of thing, this time courtesy of The Hollister Company.

People talk about "iconic" masculines, the fragrances that shaped entire genres of scent, stuff like Acqua di Selva, Brut, Z14, Cool Water, Fahrenheit, A*Men, etc. And when the conversation steers into wetshaver waters, classics like Old Spice and Aqua Velva (and if you're European, Tabac) are always mentioned. But far less discussed is the eternally underrated great grandfather of semi-sweet, proto-gourmand fougeres: Skin Bracer.

In previous decades, fragrances were influenced largely by Old Spice and Tabac, with the "fresh" scents attributed to the long arm of Aqua Velva, but in the last ten years or so men have experienced an undeclared revival of Skin Bracer, and it's been quite a surprising journey for me. For instance, I never expected to smell Skin Bracer in Cool Water Night Dive. Nor did I reckon for it in Playboy VIP, or the somewhat older Cotton Club by Jeanne Arthes. Man.Aubusson Intense and Joop! Homme Wild were weird ones for the aftershave thing also, evoking memories of granddad after a shave, despite all their efforts to seem "cool" and "modern." Are perfume companies banking on something other than a great formula here?

I think they're counting on the fact that young guys have little to no interest in things from the past. This is a sad reality in America; "Millennials" are people who hold themselves and their generation's interests in the highest esteem, to the point where Katy Perry's songs are "oldies." I often wonder what would happen if I drove down to Yale, walked up to a random guy on campus, and handed him a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash's debut vinyl. He'd probably have a nervous breakdown right there on the sidewalk. Youngsters have no interest in understanding how prior generations lived.

They're not interested in knowing what music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies sounds like. You know, music from when people actually played instruments AND sang at the same time. And old movies aren't on their thumb drives, either. Humphrey who? Oh, Madonna copied Marilyn Monroe? None of these twits own a real suit; most own but one tie.

So it's not hard to understand why perfumers believe they can get away with this. Out of ideas? Fuck it, just dredge up some forgotten oldie. Sure, anyone over forty knows what it is, but the rest won't have a clue. Skin Bracer used to be in every bathroom, and now it's on the bottom shelf at Rite Aid, buried under mountains of Axe body spray. But tweak it, stretch its proportions here and there, and give it a new name by a new brand, and boom! New fragrance. Every asshole with a tattoo sleeve and gym membership must have a bottle.

Hollister's Socal for Men is basically a retread of Skin Bracer, although unlike many of the others mentioned in this post, it has whiskers of its own; it was released in 2007. Unfortunately it smells less complex than its drugstore progenitor, and most of the others. It's even inferior to Man.Aubusson Intense, which takes skill. It's bland in comparison, and a bit plasticky and "blobby" in its evolution, but it ticks all the right boxes: fresh, clean, lavender, powder, sweet, tonka, vanilla.

Needless to say, spending $50 for a bottle of this is insane. If you want a good variation of this theme, Cotton Club is still the best way to go, and it costs a third of what Hollister is asking. I still think the best bet is to just drop five bucks on seven ounces of Skin Bracer, but what do I know? I'm old. I'm in my mid thirties (gasp!). My younger brother just turned 30, and he likes Socal. He wouldn't be caught dead wearing Skin Bracer. Go figure.


"You Smell Like Powder"

"And so do you."

I work with a young woman who greets me, on many mornings, with a backhanded compliment, saying with a laugh, "You smell like powder." Now, it should be noted that many masculine fragrances do in fact smell like powder, and that I own and occasionally wear a few of them. If I were to wear Royal Copenhagen, and she were to tell me that I smelled like powder, I would say she has an astute sniffer. Ditto for Tabac, Old Spice, Caron's Third Man, Brut, Canoe, KL Homme, Lagerfeld Classic, and Rive Gauche Pour Homme.

But she rarely mentions the powder thing when I wear those scents. (Granted, some I rarely wear.) No, she mentions the powder thing every single time I wear Grey Flannel. That's right, Grey Flannel. Green, mossy, flowery, earthy, woody, dark, somber Grey Flannel. The greenest old school masculine I've ever encountered. And it doesn't matter if I'm wearing vintage or new; her reaction is always the same. It actually makes her laugh: "Bryan, you're wearing baby powder again."

That this girl should associate Grey Flannel, even Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel, in all its Green Irish Tweedy glory, with baby powder, is simply a testament to how differently our minds interpret things. And is she wrong? I've always felt that GIT has a bit of a talc-like powder element in its far drydown, and I've also noted a mild powder element in Grey Flannel's heart, so her comments aren't obviously "wrong."

However, I rarely think of Grey Flannel as being a "powdery" scent. If I want powder, I don't reach for anything Beene. I reach for any of the others mentioned here. I reach for Grey Flannel when I want dry, green, floral, mossy. I wear it thinking "soapy" and "woody" and "bitter" and "fresh." Galbanum has a powdery aspect to it, and this burst of hazy greenness greets me every time, but it is soon followed by rich citrus esters, and the brisk snap of violet leaf. So what's up with this powder thing?

There's a simple lesson here. No matter how well you think you know a fragrance, or how well you understand its effect on you, your interpretation of what you perceive upon smelling something will not be the same as someone else's. The other person will likely have a slightly different interpretation of what you're wearing, or an entirely different take altogether. If it's the latter, then this turns your perception upside down completely. Until I began working with Ms. Powder Nose, I always thought of Grey Flannel as "green."

Now I can't help but think of powder, specifically baby powder.

But it gets better. One day I wore Mitsouko to work, and again, the powder comment. "You always smell like powder!"

Does anyone think Mitsouko smells powdery? I don't. Of course, as with all scents, there may be an element of powder in the fragrance, and this is usually where the florals are. But to completely identify Mitsouko with "powder" is very strange.

Perceptions vary, and in the case of this person, I can only say that she apparently perceives many synthetic compositions as being powdery, or of having prominent powdery qualities, regardless of whether the fragrance is generally thought of that way. Grey Flannel and Mitsouko are two frags that I generally consider "mossy." But who am I to argue with her?


What NES Classic & Hatchimals Teaches Us About Buying Vintage Perfume On EBay

A little while ago, a friend and coworker came to the office excited about something. Just the day before, Nintendo did the unthinkable and rereleased their original 8-bit system with 30 pre-loaded games, including all the major megahits of the late eighties and nineties. It retails for about sixty dollars from most of the big box stores (Walmart, Target, Toys-R-Us, etc.), and in their usual fashion, Nintendo has strategically issued a very limited quantity, letting stores stock an average of ten systems at a time.

The catch is that these systems are being throttled out to the public just two weeks before Christmas, making them the most sought-after gift of the season, second only to Hatchimals. Yes, that's right, Hatchimals, a weird, gimmicky, oddball toy that children and parents across the country must, absolutely must, must, must have. Last week a Hatchimal was retailing for $50. Earlier this week their prices went up, and now you'll pay anywhere from seventy to eighty dollars for one, if you're lucky enough to find it in a store. Most buyers aren't that lucky, and are forced to buy their Hatchimal from eBay.

Which brings us back to eBay, a wonderful place where every predatory seller and gullible buyer can convene and engage in the 21st century's idea of open commerce. If you search for an NES Classic Edition system on eBay, you will find a few, most priced at $250, and some for $300. Think about that for a second. An 8 bit video game system - an 8 bit system - with only 30 available games, is being sold for $300. This system lost currency twenty-five years ago, when Nintendo 64 finally invaded every thirteen year-old's living room and unseated the little grey king.

If you search for a Hatchimal, the $70 store prices disappear, and you can say hello to $95, $115, and even one $5,000 item, none of which are any different from what Toys-R-Us had in stock mere days ago. The craze for these weird little stuffed animals is intense, and competition for them is fierce. What is less clear is whether the craze will even last until Christmas, or if this is a rare case of a holiday hot ticket item that supernovas into a black hole of disgusted parents who gave up and got little Sammy or Susie a Cabbage Patch Kid instead.

My sense is that the lofty prices for these two items on eBay signify a desperation on the part of the buyer, and a veritable goldmine for the seller. My buddy at work has stood frozen and exhausted in eight lines in front of as many stores, huddled next to his girlfriend in a tent for six to eight hours straight, amidst ten or fifteen other wackos, waiting for the moment the store opens its doors and hands the first few people their ticket to buy a Nintendo. So far he has made $850 selling eight systems, basically doubling his money.

In recent years I've gone on and on about the ridiculous prices for discontinued and vintage perfumes on eBay, pointing out that many of these fragrances are being billed as somehow "desirable," despite being taken off the commercial market or simply being reformulated and kept in the game. You could spend eighty dollars on a new bottle of Polo from CVS, or you could hop on eBay and consider buying a vintage bottle of Polo priced at $300 by seller bad_doggy! The choice is yours.

Despite how absurd the choice is, I have been told repeatedly that the reasons for the $300 bottle of Polo, and for any similarly priced vintage fragrance that saw perhaps a little popularity in prior decades, are abundant and self-evident: they have "fan bases," they are examples of supply and demand, they are products that never deteriorate in chemical quality, and thus appreciate in worth, etc. Of course none of these reasons actually address why someone like bad_doggy! might think their price is reasonable.

They touch on subjective interpretations of the state of Polo cologne, and how the public interprets its worth, but fail to find a causal connection for why anyone would attempt to sell a bottle for four times the current asking price of the very same fragrance, or for why anyone would be crazy enough to buy it. To date, I have still not read a cogent argument for why I should consider a vintage bottle of any fragrance to be worth anything more than its original price, adjusted for inflation.

A 4 oz bottle of Polo cologne in 1978 was probably priced at about $35. Adjusted for inflation, that makes bad_doggy!'s bottle worth $129. Where does he get the other $171 from? Not only is his bottle of cologne probably a bit skunked from age, but it is in no measurable way superior, in packaging or practicality, to the $80 bottle at CVS down the street. You can't even argue that his vintage is rare; I have seen at least a dozen other such bottles on eBay over the last five years. (All of them were priced at over $200.)

What I see with the Nintendo and Hatchimal phenomenon is how inflated prices on eBay are actually formulated. The Nintendo is currently in very high demand, but there are almost none of them available, making supply egregiously low. The physics of commerce suggests this is the reason their prices are astronomical at the moment. But there' a little wrinkle, a crucial wrinkle, to that theory. NES classic will be available in wider distribution in January, after Christmas. Prices will remain fairly static for them in stores. If you're desperate for an NES Classic, why not wait until January?

The Hatchimal situation is a bit less contentious than the Nintendo deal, because supply is slightly better, and resale prices are a bit more reasonable, especially at $90. But again, this is just a crappy toy. A carbon egg with stress lines that is gently crushed by a weak robotic beak from within. Kids may love it, but it's not high tech, it's not particularly rewarding (it only hatches once), and why would anyone think $5,000 is a reasonable price?

Well, maybe because the item is being sold by a self-described war veteran with a tall tale about how catastrophe has struck, and he must raise the money to save his house. In other words, we are supposed to believe a total stranger on the Internet, and spend a gazillion times more than the retail asking price, out of the goodness of our discerning hearts. After all, the vet's story must be true. Nobody lies on the Internet, and certainly not on eBay!

In the case of Nintendo and Hatchimals, we see that supply is limited, and demand is high. In both cases, especially with the Nintendo system, there are people like my friend who see a golden opportunity to cash in by braving the elements, buying the product at the store, and reselling it on eBay for four or five times its retail price. This constitutes a trend where buyers are only buying to sell. In this regard, I see how the Nintendo phenomenon mirrors the vintage perfume situation.

Many vintages are "chronic" list items on eBay. Despite how rare they supposedly are, we always see bottles being listed, with prices that usually do not reflect their actual supply. There are currently 18 bottles of vintage Patou Pour Homme EDT listed, with prices ranging from $80 (for a mini) to $1,998 (for 3 ounces). Patou is supposedly "rare." This supposedly justifies its prices.

Contrast this to Davidoff Cool Water, a fragrance far more sought after, particularly in vintage form. A current search reveals there are no bottles of vintage Cool Water available, yet the Macy's in my city has a bottle accidentally in stock for $75. I have a bottle of late vintage on my bookshelf. I probably couldn't get any more than fifty dollars for it.

So why is a fragrance as dated and heavy and downright anachronistic as Patou Pour Homme enjoying $800 - $2,000 prices, while the far more historically significant Cool Water remains in the commercial doldrums? Why is it that I have to peruse eighteen listings, all of them with contradictory prices, when I search for Patou, yet the truly rare Cool Water gets zero buzz?

It's the Nintendo situation. People aren't really buying Patou PH to wear it. I don't care how rich you are, if you see there are 18 bottles of vintage Patou on eBay, and all are priced over $400, you're going to wait a little longer still to buy one if you intend to actually wear and enjoy it. Some day, you think to yourself, someone will wave the white flag and take a loss. They will take a loss, because almost all the sellers bought Patou for the same reason people are braving wild overnight lines in front of big box stores to buy NES Classic: to resell it.

The difference is that buying Patou PH to resell means you have to raise its already astronomical price to an even higher plateau of absurdity, and then say a prayer that you aren't out $800 in vain, that there really is someone greedy enough to spend $1,900 on your bottle. There is currently an $820 bottle from Germany that I have seen a few times before. I saw it last year for $650, and the year before for around $500. Clearly this bottle will never be worn by anyone. It simply trades hands between sellers, and will continue to do so until someone realizes they fucked up and spent too much on a fragrance mislabeled as "rare."

The difference is also that those buying the NES system on eBay for $299 aren't going to resell it. This price is its ceiling. The prices are contingent on the holidays, buyers know that the window of opportunity is limited, and thus far more competitive than the market for Patou is. Yet Nintendo is around the same age as Patou, far more dynamic in its cultural value, and still far cheaper than the fragrance.

The situation with eBay Hatchimals is simply demonstrative of how "dirty" the Internet is for gullible buyers. For every reasonably priced Hatchimal, there is one with a few dollars too many tacked onto the tag. There are sob stories from fake war vets, unsubstantiated "rare edition" listings, and any other iteration of "scam" that exists. When you stop to consider just how unremarkable the toy is, you realize that spending anything beyond retail for it is a poor investment.

So what is the lesson here? It's not complicated, and easy to remember: eBay is for bullshit artists and people who lack patience and wisdom. If you buy that $300 bottle of Polo, I don't know what else to tell you, other than that there's a Hatchimal with your name on it, and an NES Classic that I'd love to sell you.


Pi (Givenchy)

"A Little Further Than Infiniti." Far Out, Man!

To understand Pi, it helps to be more than a mathematician; you have to remember the nineties, and what cultural changes occurred after the 1980s. Following the conservative Reagan era, when masculine fragrances were either loud "cigar box" ferns and orientals, or loud "musky" compositions with borderline femme floral elements, and downright funereal moss notes (as found in Antaeus and Tsar), people were attracted to fresher, friendlier ideas.

Ferns became sweet and playful (Cool Water, Aqua Quorum, Polo Sport), chypres were hybridized and sunnier than ever (Red for Men, Acqua di Gio, Green Valley), and orientals were divested of unnecessary accords, stripped and compacted and simplified, until only the basics of "amber" and "vanilla" were left. Fragrances like Pasha, Angel, and Givenchy's now Classic Pi were the result. Interested in "fresh" orientals? Try Cartier's idea. Want something "gourmand?" Here's an overdose of Ethyl Maltol and some cheap patchouli, ala Mugler. Need a more traditional citrus-amber fragrance? Pi was the way to go. It is essentially a basic mandarin orange and toasted vanilla accord, and little else. There's a smidgen of cedar and synthetic musk in the base, and that's about it. It smells rich, smooth, almost edible, very warm, and oddly "fresh." It's a nineties frag to the hilt. I hear Gin Blossoms and Sheryl Crow songs whenever I spray it.

But there is perhaps one other aspect to Pi that goes a little deeper than just writing it off as a dull nineties scent. The decade was in many ways a throwback to the seventies. Big cars were momentarily back in style, the economy enjoyed a brief but luminous revival, thanks to the Dot-Com Boom, the President was plagued by scandals that had nothing to do with his political policies, and which threatened to undermine his office, and recent wars had caused an undercurrent of social discomfort and political dissent not felt since Vietnam. Perfume was fresh and sweet, but it was also loud, and very raucous in character, even conservatively speaking. Mugler and CK and yes, Givenchy, were putting noise into the air, competing with grunge music and Nicolas Cage movies to see which could be more obnoxious.

I was a teenager in the nineties, and remember it well. So to me, Pi smells not like a conservative gourmand, but like a boisterous vanilla crossover feminine, geared toward guys with Ceasar haircuts and subwoofed Iroc Zs. There's nothing demure about how one dimensional and fatuous this fragrance is. You can't wear more than two sprays and expect reactions to differ from the snickers and half-assed compliments elicited by Joop! Homme. In its original formula, Pi filled rooms, preceded wearers by ten minutes, and made coffee houses smell like whore houses. Is it an exciting fragrance? No, not by a long shot. But is there more to it than meets the casual nose? You bet. It's the Brut of the nineties, but it was never offered at Brut's price-point, fitting for the inflated ethos of 1998.

I'm not a wearer of Pi, and I don't personally know anyone who wears it, but the stuff is still being made, and still selling, so there must be stragglers from my generation keeping it alive. It wouldn't surprise me if it won over a few next-gen fans as well. Meanwhile, wearing KL Homme, with its crisp balsamic citrus top and warm, vanillic base, it feels like the twelve year interval between Lagerfeld's oriental and Givenchy's gourmand was lost entirely, and I want it back.


Virgin Island Bay Rum (Pinaud) & Why Old Spice Is Not A Bay Rum

A good bay rum is an olfactory sketch of two main notes, with a third note "bridging" them; bay is meant to be immediately noticeable, followed closely by a warm, sweet "rum" effect, with subtle spice connecting the two. Typically the spice is an amalgamation of several spices, be it a cinnamon and clove hybrid, or clove and nutmeg, black pepper and pink pepper, etc. Just as frequently, the spice note stands alone. The most common in popular bay rums is clove.

Eugenol is a miracle drug. Perfumers can take the dullest vanilla composition and give it teeth using but a hint of it. Too much conjures associations with a dentist's chair; too little impresses as merely a weird, camphorous aftertaste. But when it's dosed just right, clove is the height of manliness. Its woody-fresh bite can marry feuding accords like nothing else. Consider the bracing beauty of Z14's lemon aldehydes attempting a peace agreement with its cinnamon, vetiver, and oakmoss foundation, without the unambiguously stark eugenol underlying the citrus. And just as it can act as a savior, clove can also ruin the fun. Remember Copper Skies? What an awful composition.

Pinaud's Virgin Island Bay Rum is a popular cologne with several decades of accolades from several generations of "manly" guys under its belt. It is incredibly cheap ($7 for a 12 oz bottle), and readily available at almost every online retailer, although good luck finding it in your average brick and mortar pharmacy. Its spare plastic bottle and wan, tricolor label are easy to miss, but the liquid within is a bit harder to overlook. VIBR smells charmingly piquant and almost drinkable, with lively "rummy" notes layered under vague citrus, and what is without exaggeration the closest one can get to clove overdose without crossing the dentist's threshold.

That said, I must assert a measure of caution to those considering this fragrance. It's technically an aftershave, but in this case that means they merely added a skin toner to a cologne. You can expect four to five hours of longevity, with subtle but noticeable sillage. For the first hour, you'll enjoy a brisk and linear breeze of boozy clove, very old-fashioned, but undeniably charming. As you near the ninety-minute point, you'll begin to realize that aside from the alcoholic eugenol, there isn't much to play with. There's a very flat, almost stale wafer effect, which eventually settles into a gingerbread cookie. And two hours in, you will understand: Pinaud's VIBR doesn't have any actual bay in it at all. It's just a Christmassy barrage of clove over a cheap gourmand amber.

Now, every so often I visit wetshaver boards and encounter comments about Old Spice that go like this:

"Such a great bay rum. I love this better than my other bay rums!"

Or I'll read:

"A real shame P&G reformulated this. Now it's just a lame bay rum scent."

Comments like this really bug me, because Old Spice is not a bay rum. It has no bay, and It has zero rum. Furthermore, Old Spice's reformulation is actually less like bay rum than its previous formulas, for the simple fact that the massive clove note in the American version exists primarily to darken the fluffy orientalism of its relatively loud orange citrus and vanilla accords. Old Spice is doing other things with clove, things that have a lot in common with contemporaries like Habit Rouge and Royal Copenhagen, and nothing in common with homemade stews of bay leaves soaking in Captain Morgan's. Shulton's formula had an airy transience that I guess one could associate with bay rum aftershaves, but here the association is strictly subjective.

I would argue that Pinaud's bay rum isn't really a bay rum, either. After all, it lacks a bay note. But at least it nods to classical bay rum with its potent rum note. And that massive clove note is just the direction they decided to take the scent. Why they didn't bother with the bay is beyond me, but I would guess it was just too difficult to manage on Pinaud's paltry formula budget. I personally don't consider it a bay rum, but more of a spiced rum cologne with what is perhaps an unintentionally edible facet that makes it a little too "nice guy" for my taste. Don't go by me though, because I'm not really into this sort of thing. If I'm wearing spice, I want it to say "Old" on the bottle.


The Incanto Charms Problem: Why Cheap Gourmands Usually Don't Work

Coca-Cola Can Do It. Why Can't You?

In 2006 the house of Salvatore Ferragamo released a little inexpensive gourmand feminine called Incanto Charms. The fragrance features a fruity, saccharine opening, followed by an Ethyl Maltol bomb with abstract hints of cheap jasmine. The one and only time I wore it, I was immediately self conscious, wondering if my girlfriend would dump me for smelling like a preteen girl. It's not that IC smells "bad," because in all honesty, this is the sort of composition that young girls love, and it's relatively inoffensive, wafting in gentle clouds of nondescript "sweet." But as a fragrance, considered objectively and without any predetermined contexts, it's as dull and forgettable as a Ken Burns movie.

It raised the question as to whether or not the noses at Ferragamo were just lazy, or if their boring gourmand was part of a larger problem. With other gourmands by Paris Hilton, Beyonce, Coty (non-prestige), and Mugler in the mix, I realized that perfumers are largely missing the point of making someone smell "edible." They're operating in a vacuum, informed only by their communal accomplishments in a pseudo niche realm, and they never stop to ask themselves if they should try a little reverse engineering instead. After all, many gourmands on discounter shelves are being one-upped by something as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola, a mass market soda brand. That's shameful.

I often wonder if perfumers ever think seriously about the link between scent and flavor. Why, for example, hasn't anyone ever made a perfume that smells like Coke, or any of its flavors? Soda reviewer Patrick O'Keefe, creator of the prolific soda review site "Soda Tasting," once said that if Coke made an air freshener of Cherry Coke, he would buy it and use it all the time. Given that this guy has taste tested hundreds of sodas, his sentiment is quite an endorsement. (Vanilla Coke is perhaps the only soda that he awarded with five stars.) This got me curious about Cherry Coke, so I went and bought a few cans and tried it. I hadn't had it in twenty years, and my return to it was a surprise. This stuff is excellent.

When we think about soda, we think two things: "cheap," and "sweet." Sodas are usually just a few cents per can when purchased in bulk, and their flavors are generally disgusting, nondescript, and forgettable, much like the myriad of bargain gourmands being foisted on people here in the States. But Coca-Cola is the exception. Unlike their competitors, the Coke brand has paid extra careful attention to perfecting what they do, rather than just shoving HFCS and one or two fake flavors into a syrup. Cherry Coke has the potential to taste like Dimetapp and sugar cubes, but it actually tastes great. The cola is gentle and crisp, and complemented beautifully by an even-handed and well blended fruity cherry accent that leaves a clean aftertaste. The brains behind it all must have spent a year or two laboring over a way to make fruit cola taste elegant, and they succeeded.

Vanilla Coke is even better. It could have been glorified cream soda, but no. They spent time and money on this flavor. The vanilla isn't candy-like. It's actually fresh, with a brightness that works incredibly well against the cola backdrop. It's so rich and smooth and appealing that it's worth poisoning your pancreas to drink it. It helps that Coke's original formula is a masterpiece, the veritable champagne of colas, full of subtle cola, coca, cinnamon, nutmeg, orange flower, and vanilla notes. If ever there was a crime against the genre of gourmands, it's the neglectful stance the perfume industry has taken in not giving Coke its due. These sodas, in all their simple beauty, should be cloned into wearable art. It wouldn't be too difficult for a decent nose to achieve, and I'd wager millions of teens would fawn over such frags.

Instead, we have Incanto Charms. But hey, at least I don't encounter shelves of Incanto Charms at the grocery store.


Bamboo Eau De Toilette (Gucci)

Perhaps the "Alt-Right" has a point after all; it's frightening to think that political correctness has neutered Italian bravado into the stuff of pallid white florals. Yet when I smell Bamboo EDT, a pallid white floral is pretty much the long and short of it. Yes, it's well balanced. Yes, yes, yes, I know, I know, it's well made, I get that. Every synthetic analog of fruit and floral is modestly rendered against a wan, woody, chemical background, all fogged up with white musk. It's a fragrance that smells pleasantly uninteresting on a woman when you're both crunching the company numbers, but which suddenly becomes intoxicating after hours, when fragrance is the only thing she has on. But that's not really a convincing argument for it. A great frag deserves higher praise.

The truth is that beautiful women don't need great perfumes. And by "beautiful women," I mean whatever women you're into. (Beauty is subjective, and honestly, I'm not being "PC" when I say that.) When a man digs a girl, the last thing he's worried about is the pedigree of her fragrance. She could be wearing her husband's Brut, and if a guy thinks she's sexy, he'll assume she's wearing "girl stuff," and his hormones will just block out the rest as they zero in on the score. Men aren't sophisticated when it comes to sex. We're not complex machines when it comes to spreading our genes. Our brains go into autopilot, our senses search out pheromonal stimuli - the invisible, musky smells secreted through skin, hair, mucous membranes - and our "conscious" noses, always eager to identify burnt toast and spoiled milk, take the night off.

Still, it would be nice to return to the days when women wore foghorn frags to dampen the essences of their competitors. Loud perfumes, often commissioned (without irony) by men, played into women's unending interest in the other women around them. Whether to arouse innocent, friendly small talk between office girls on a luncheon, or catty disapproval, with backhanded comments whispered snidely behind unsuspectig backs, feminine "powerhouse" fragrances like Paris, Poison, Chanel No 5, and Gucci's own Rush were patterned for sapphic and tribalistic mores. Women wore perfumes so loud and garish that sharing an elevator with them meant you stopped on whatever floor had the Tylenol. And even though I knew they weren't wearing them for me, I thought their olfactory egotism was charming.

Bamboo EDT just reminds me of everything we've lost.


Dior Homme Eau (Dior)

I never understood the appeal of the original Dior Homme. Its powdery and bittersweet iris pastiche never felt convincingly dimensional, lacked the fundamental warmth of classical orientals and chypres, and Dior created flankers for it, which seemed akin to flanking liver and onions with tripe. If ever there was a challenging, "stand-alone" composition, it's Dior Homme. Although I'm not sure what makes it popular, I appreciate it as a mature, competently crafted work that I do envision as acceptable fare to a funeral, or perhaps a brit milah. It says plainly, "I'm not smiling today."

I approached the "Eau" flanker with trepidation, but I needn't have, because it's lovely, a crisp, Mediterranean interpretation of the original. Where the first employed a strange, almost waxy iris note, Dior Homme Eau lets the heaviness go to the breeze, allowing iris' inherently cool and powdery freshness to shine. It still evokes the makeup counter at Dillard's, yet also brings me to the beach with splashes of pert citrus, smelling at once nondescript and unfamiliar. Here the alien strangeness of its progenitor touches down on friendlier terrain, yielding a fragrance not as challenging as the original, but quite interesting in its own right, and much easier to wear.

The unusual "lipstick" aspect of this line is not an outlier in masculine fragrance, or fragrance in general, with parts of Mitsouko and Miglin's Pheromone for Men employing a similar quality during various stages of their drydowns. Refined chypres aim to soften their balance of otherwise harsh components (bergamot, oakmoss, labdanum) via sweet florals, precious woods, and musks. What sets Eau apart is its ability to meld an ambitiously classical and dated chypre idea with an unexciting and contemporary woody-amber drydown, while always smelling cheerful and original. A solid effort from Demachy.


The Musky Orientals Of The Nineties

I have been wearing Witness by Jacques Bogart lately, and just wanted to comment on a few things that have come to mind.

This fragrance smells more and more like Balenciaga Pour Homme to me. Its central chord of artemisia, woods, fruity esters, and musk are almost identical to Balenciaga, with the main difference being that these notes are sweeter and less animalic in Bogart's scent. (It also contains noticeable cinnamon, which is absent from Balenciaga.) There are heady terpenes in Witness that evoke pine, juniper, and evergreen woods, and in this regard it resembles Aubusson Pour Homme, another musky gem from the same era. And though it generally smells different, Bogart's Furyo contains a louder, civet-laden version of Balenciaga's and Witness' musk. Can you guess what connects them?

I read a very interesting review of Balenciaga PH on Fragrantica the other day, posted by member "Michel Vaillant," which, if true, explains everything in one sentence:

"As far as I know, the house of Balenciaga was owned by the Bogart Group at the launch of this fragrance in 1990."

When I read that, it made sense. These spicy beauties were a very distinct style between 1989 and 1994, but their stylistic roots can be traced back to Kouros in 1981, YSL's epic fougere and landmark masculine musk bomb. Whenever people dismiss the importance of tracing fragrance genealogy, I nod to Kouros. From Bourdon's scent springs a generation of "powerhouses" and classical late 20th century masculines, but without this historical context people get confused. From Kouros to Witness, one follows the breadcrumbs to Giorgio, Zino, Boss No. 1, Dali Pour Homme, Lapidus PH, Sung Homme, Ungaro Pour L'Homme, Ungaro Pour L'Homme II, Balenciaga PH, and Joint. Witness is one of Kouros' logical end points.

In any case, I'm wearing it again today. Jacques Bogart is one of perfumery's most underrated houses, and Witness and Furyo are among the best in my collection.


I Bought Mesmerize For Men Years Ago And Never Wore It. The Weirdest Thing Happened.

The new bottle design, with a curlicue under the name.

Here's something that never happens. I blind buy a cheap fragrance, and by a stroke of luck discover I like it. It smells like a friendlier, fruitier version of Zino, with a pert apple top note followed by a dusky woods accord, rather like a gentle rosewood, sandalwood, and cedar melange, and surprisingly well balanced for the price.

It's right up my alley, I really like it, and inexplicably never, ever wear it. I'm drawn to its charm and recognize its value, but I snob up. It's Avon. I have Green Irish Tweed and Balenciaga Pour Homme in my wardrobe. Why the fuck would I ever wear an Avon?

So it finds its place amongst the other bottles and remains there, gathering dust for so long that I've lost count of the years. Yes, I wear it a few times, and get around to reviewing it, blog about it, etc. But is it in the rotation? No. Just no.

The other day, after my ponderous reacquaintance with Sex Appeal, I realized it was time to give Mesmerize another whirl. Extracting the bottle from its near-final resting place is like a scene from Indiana Jones. Then I crack open the Ark and whuh huuuuh-huh huh??? What. The fuck. Happened?

The crisp little citrus apple ditty of top notes is now a weird, purple violet thing, no longer edible. It slowly and painfully unfurls itself amid a howl of raw alcohol, revealing a twisted, garbled mangling of wood-like husks, the shocking remnants of what used to be a staid, coherent, remarkably conservative hue. Incredibly, the fragrance now strongly resembles my also-spoiled vintage Cool Water, with the unbridled ionones that once served the apple notes becoming a stark and abstract "fresh" scent.

A weird, messy saltiness also pervades the drydown, which I believe is how the anchoring musk note met its end. Where once it smelled clean and a bit drab, the musk now attempts an ambergris effect on a ten dollar budget. How does that work out, you ask? I won't mince words - it smells awful.

Though it is somewhat interesting, I am appalled by how this fragrance smells now. It is completely unwearable. The base does not emerge unscathed from the wreckage of the top and heart accords. No stage of the wearing experience is salvageable. My barely-used bottle of Mesmerize for Men (a now discontinued scent) is spoiled.

If anyone, including our friend at Wordpress, doubts the veracity of my claim, I will gladly send my bottle to you so you can experience it for yourself. But since I doubt anyone will care that much, I'm happy to just share this unfortunate experience with you here, and leave it at that. Mesmerize deserved better from me. I should have wore it and enjoyed it while it was still good. Rather than throw it away, I'll hold on to the bottle as physical proof that a good fragrance, not abused or misplaced in any way, can absolutely spoil with nothing more than the passage of time.


Geoffrey Beene's Bowling Green Is Back. The Question Is Why?

According to numerous internet sources, the long-discontinued sophomore effort by Beene has been reissued to commercial markets at steeply discounted prices. Whether they are new stock or "new old stock" is not entirely clear, but my understanding of Beene's extensive distribution history suggests that it's highly possible the frag has been rereleased by EA Fragrances. Apparently a few people have received bottles with EA stickers, although at least one person has received a vintage Sanofi Beaute bottle, so the situation remains unclear.

I'm not interested in purchasing a 4 ounce bottle from Amazon, even though they're going for about $19 a pop, but the feedback on them is interesting. I remember Bowling Green as being very herbal, spicy, and woody in character, with relatively little "fresh," and a whole lot of old-school eighties-styled "green." It smelled like grass clippings, dried basil, rosemary, pine, lemon, cedar chips, sour citrus, and stale joss sticks. There was a weird, oriental, fake incensey undercurrent, probably because the cardamom and juniper notes had lost clarity and balance. The bottle I used was twenty years old at least. BG's opening accord was spiky and very ruggedly herbal, with only a hint of synthetic lavender. Think Drakkar Noir dressed as a hippie for the first minute, but BG is not a Drakkar Noir clone. It's unique enough, and a very good scent, but nothing great.

Why is Bowling Green back? Recent reviews on Amazon are overwhelmingly positive, and it's safe to say people missed it. But Grey Flannel, which is ten years older, is resoundingly superior in quality and composition. In the late seventies and early eighties, Grey Flannel was Beene's sole creation, a conservative chypre loaded with dry citrus and rich oakmoss, its ruggedness softened by the world's greatest violet note. To suggest that Beene needed a "green" fragrance to follow it is like saying Lincoln needed to offer a "full-size" car after the Continental Mark V.

Yet in 1986, Beene inexplicacably released Bowling Green. The world seemed to like it enough to keep it alive for seven or eight years, but something odd happened. Despite being lighter, airier, and arguably more accessible than its older brother, sales for BG slumped, and Beene had to kill it. Grey Flannel marched on, but Bowling Green was benched. I suspect that things like Lacoste Original, Quorum, Tsar, and Red for Men devoured its market share, and BG just couldn't retain its identity in the face of so much competition, but I'm not sure. Another possibility is that the fragrance suffered from being too ambitious. Beene had a good but limited budget for perfume. Grey Flannel was relatively simple, a stark lemon, coumarin, ionones, and oakmoss affair, but Bowling Green had a conventional eighties pyramid of two hundred different notes.

It smells very nice, but also busy and a bit cheap. The money to properly render and balance all the superfluous herbs and florals wasn't really in play. Inexperienced noses give the scent ten minutes and declare it a grassier Drakkar Noir. Advanced sniffers appreciate its unique interplay of citrus and woods, but in thirty years nobody can say why this fragrance exists. Has it been thirty years already? Well now, I just stumbled on why it's back: EA is celebrating its thirty year anniversary!


My Vintage Kouros Got Stronger - Again!

This is not the first time it's happened, and I'm sure it won't be the last. As you may recall, I wrote a post on September 7th of last year, in which I talked about an older bottle of Kouros that I had acquired. The bottle was full and unused. Its performance was unexpected:

"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."

Well, that was a year ago. Last September I wore Kouros every single day without deviation, and by the end of the month had only an inch of fragrance left. Fully aware that Kouros ages and intensifies, I packed up that inch and didn't touch it again until this week. Since Kouros is only worn one month out of the year, I forgot I had so little. I gave myself the traditional three small squirts and went to work.

I rarely worry about offending my coworkers with my scent, but by the time I arrived at my job I was worried I'd be sent home. It wasn't "loud." It was pounding.

What happened? I'm not sure what exactly transpires with this particular scent. Kouros is an oddity in that it takes dozens of musk molecules and somehow channels their shrill, stinky-freshness into a civilized and legible form, like fireflies carefully ushered into a jar. The result is a fragrance that smells bawdy but smart. I always know when I'm wearing too much because the interplay of incense, musk, lavender, and honey lingers in my nose. Likewise, I can tell that I've dosed it correctly when it disappears and occasionally wafts. Last year this particular bottle was potent enough to sense for roughly six of the eight hours in my workday, but was never too strong, and frequently not strong enough.

I suspect that the air in the bottle "oxidized" and partially evaporated some of the perfume, causing just enough water and alcohol reduction to concentrate my small pond of Kouros and make it twice as potent as it was twelve months ago. There is no evidence for the notion that fragrances get stronger the more you smell them, but there is plenty of evidence in the scientific community that our sense of fragrances can diminish with repeated exposure to them. So far no scientist has come forward to explain why I might perceive the same sample of Kouros as being stronger this year than it was last year, or whether my perception is real or illusory, but I invite one to comment here.

As it stands now, with three half sprays doing the job of eight from a year ago (I actually had to refresh this scent last year to make it through longer days), I'm going to go ahead and say that no, this isn't my imagination. My Kouros got stronger - much stronger. And that's a good thing, especially with less than an ounce left until I'm spritzing fumes.


Why Are Sales Associates So Inept At Their Jobs?

"Hi! Can I Hinder You?"

One thing that never ceases to amaze me in the fragrance world is the army of sales associates tasked with "moving units." I encounter them whenever I step into a store.

We've all read the complaints, usually posted in forums after members meet snotty sales reps who hear very little and understand even less. Sometimes they're in stores, and sometimes these insane conversations happen on the telephone. There are a slew of reasons why these people wander department store fragrance floors, but people outwardly wonder why they're working in a field they know nothing about. How can someone whose job is selling perfumes be completely ignorant about perfume? Why don't department stores hire people with experience? People who actually know and love fragrance? What's wrong with them?

I'll bypass the lengthy editorializing and cut right to the answer: America's culture. Or, more specifically, America's "meritocracy." You think that department stores don't know what they're doing when they hire morons? You think they're oblivious to their customers' needs? Think again. Upper management, those invisible nobodies who do all the hiring, know exactly what they're doing.

In America, we have something called a "meritocracy." It's the fantasy idea that if a person gets an education, his "merits" in his field will grant him access to an upper middle-class lifestyle, making six figures by age forty. First you have to spend sixty thousand dollars of the government's money on an institution that dispenses the degree of your choosing. Then you have to take a high paying job that will make paying down your debt while living in your own place feasible, which is no easy task. Eventually, the thinking goes, you'll come out ahead, and become one of America's prized elite.

This, of course, is utter bullshit. If it were true, our economy wouldn't be in the toilet. The majority of jobs gained since 2009 would be white collar careers, not minimum-wage crap. The middle class, the largest customer base for degree-awarding institutions, would be growing, not shrinking. America would be on the rise, instead of in decline.

The truth is that the "meritocracy" is a good way to keep most of the population from ever becoming wealthy and truly successful. It's a terrific way to keep people down, so a select few can stay up. Most of the world's biggest successes never earned a degree - they didn't have that sort of time to waste. Think about it: if an education is being "bought" so that someone can "succeed," and it isn't being sought after for personal enlightenment or truly educational reasons, then the maxim "buyer beware" suddenly applies. Instead of gaining ground, an educated person in America loses years of his or her future to paying back incredible debt. The average college degree costs $35K. Most degrees are actually much higher than that, in the realm of $50K - $60K. A not insignificant number of young Americans attend Ivy League schools, or "big name" schools with religious affiliations that can land them $100K+ in the hole.

Great way to start your life.

What about those who can't afford an education? The single mothers who got knocked up at eighteen? The guys who simply lack the temperament for pointless lectures and filthy dorm life? The people who just aren't interested in going that deeply into debt for something so very far from a sure thing? What happens to those poor saps?

They wind up earning minimum wage, or around minimum wage, usually in the restaurant or retail sector. Waiters, busboys, sales clerks, cashiers, drivers. They won't rot away in a gutter, but they'll just barely get by. These are the folks working the fragrance counter at Bloomingdales and Macy's. They're kids off the street. They're women who wanted to bypass beauty school and work in "sales" instead. They make anywhere from $9.50 to $12 an hour. They work 37 hours a week, so the store doesn't have to give them full-time benefits. They work a "flex schedule," never knowing what the week will bring. They earn a 3% commission. They're not unionized.

They cost the stores very little.

This is how American companies want it to be. You see, if they actually required their employees to know something about the sector they're placed in, they'd tread dangerously close to needing people with "specialized skills." People who fall under that umbrella cost more, because they're usually educated. They're not looking to work for minimum wage. They want a salary.

So the stores decide to go the other way. They hire people with little to no knowledge of anything, and throw them on the floor. These people aren't there to know things. They're there to ring up sales. That's it.

And that's who we encounter when we have questions (and when we don't). That's who approaches us with samples and nonsensical comments about how much better some piece of garbage designer scent is than anything we've ever smelled before. These are the people waving coffee beans under our noses, as if that actually does anything. They're stupid; that's what keeps overhead low and profits high. That's Capitalism at its finest.

Of course, the job of selling perfume does require knowledge on the part of the SA, and it would be very good if SAs had an extensive background in fragrance, with intricate understandings of pyramids, families, and even a healthy dose of perfume history. It would be incredibly beneficial for every major department store in the USA to value knowledgable SAs, and hire based on how much they know. It would be helpful if they actually paid their SAs a competent living wage, but that's not how Capitalism works.

A Capitalist society values profit. You can only maximize profit by minimizing overhead and maximizing profit margins. You can only minimize overhead by hiring as few employees as physically possible, and paying them rock bottom wages. And that's only possible (and justifiable) if you can point to these employees and say, "Look, they're unskilled labor. That's why we pay them shit."

So the next time some little turd with a silver name badge and clip-on tie throws you a predatory grin and picks up a smelling strip, don't think of him as the problem. Remember how American society works these days, the miles of horseshit we've piled on ourselves with the "meritocracy" lie and the legion of twenty-somethings permanently damned to lower middle-class life because they're starting out with fifty times more debt than their parents or grandparents ever did. Remember the fact that Macy's can't afford to sell you a bottle of Bleu de Chanel if it can't pay the SA to "move units." Remember the Alamo.


A Note To "Newbies"

If you're new to fragrance and interested in exploring all that the fragrance world has to offer, I suggest you secure a steady confidence in yourself first, because there are dangers.

One danger, perhaps the least of them, is the issue of finances. This is in every form a pricy pursuit. There are certainly a few thousand "cheap" scents that can be had by the bottle for anywhere from $5 to $25, and running through them won't necessarily break the bank. But bear in mind that there are literally thousands of these "cheapies" out there, and if you're set on amassing a thorough collection of all of them, $5 a bottle suddenly takes on a different meaning.

Which brings me to the next danger: addiction. Yes, you're smiling. You're thinking I'm being an alarmist. Take it from someone who felt as you do; entertaining my interest in olfactory exploration seemed entirely innocent at the outset, but before long I found myself needing to own things I wasn't completely prepared to buy. I couldn't help myself. If I liked something, I wanted it, and eventually bought it. The feeling is not unlike that of "needing" a cigarette. You think you're in control by abstaining, but all the while you can't get it out of your head.

Another danger is what I call "collection confirmation bias." You have a fully formed opinion of a certain type of fragrance, and only partially formed opinions of others, and your collection is limited to your bias, and you automatically assume you smell terrific. Chances are only 50/50 that you're right. I see this all the time on Badger & Blade. That community is full of guys who collect cheaper "wetshaver" fragrances. Their bias is typically for things that are inexpensive and old-school. Many of these fellows wear this stuff exclusively, and they think they smell terrific. But do others agree? With such a limited range in their collections, it's likely they appeal to other people half of the time, and the other half they're actually annoying everyone around them. They've stopped on the one kind of fragrance they enjoy, and failed to diversify. A stopped clock is only right twice a day.

This brings me to the final and most relevant danger that you face. As a "newbie," you're hungry for information, for guidance, and you're impressionable. You scour the boards for tips, and take advice from others seriously. Most people are out to help you, but some have their heads up their asses. These are the people who imply that there are "wrong" fragrances and "right" fragrances, and that wearing and liking the "wrongs" makes you "inexperienced" and/or "naive."

In the fragrance exploration business, the "rights" and "wrongs" come in groups, not as individual scents. For example, liking and wearing Tuscany by Aramis is automatically "right." If you like it, you should wear it and enjoy it. But only pursuing aromatic fougeres, and strictly wearing those kinds of compositions is not the most open-minded and enlightening approach. You're better off branching out into other realms also, because who knows what else you'll discover and come to love? There are some excellent chypres and orientals out there as well.

Don't let anyone tell you that liking something specific is "wrong." Don't let people attach any meaning to your preference that strays beyond "you like it, and that's all that matters." If you like a specific designer frag, and many in the community do not share the sentiment, you're still "right," because what your nose appreciates is all that matters - your nose is the only one you have! There are no external social forces, no ideologies or beliefs that can outweigh your own feelings. There is no cost-to-value ratio that supersedes the priceless sense of pleasure gleaned from something you enjoy.

Why should anyone else dictate what you like? Why should you have to explain yourself? There are no reasons to entertain that audience, because there are no authorities in the community. Don't let anyone tell you that they know more about fragrance because they've smelled thousands of fragrances. A man with five thousand reviews under his belt has still only experienced 1% of what's out there. In 2016 there are as many perfumes in the world as there are stars in the sky. No man has experienced enough of them to claim the title of "expert."

Now go forth, and enjoy your new passion. A brave new world stretches yonder.


The Rise Of Niche May Be A Curse

Painting By Bruce Pennington

In the last ten years, the world has seen a proliferation of niche perfumes unlike any in history, with literally tens of thousands of independent and luxury perfume makers flooding the market. I won't go on and on about the nature of the industry in this post (this will not be a long post), as I'd rather ponder the implications that this phenomenon holds for society. In my view, things look grim.

Perfume is without question a luxury item, an unnecessary accoutrement to one's grooming routine that usually costs more money than it's worth. Yes, it's wonderful stuff, and sure, we're all the better for having it, but personal fragrance is the sort of thing that enters dead last on the list of Shit You Must Have. Food, shelter, steady work, transportation, all are infinitely more important.

What do we know about the fragrance industry as it parallels the global economy? We have seen in the last decade the formation of an incredible economic divide. In America, the top one percent of the population holds almost forty percent of the nation's wealth, while the middle class flounders at less than a quarter percent. The average niche perfume costs about $140 per 100 ml bottle. Which demographic do you think is buying these fragrances? Clue: the majority of middle class American families aren't blowing their money on niche perfumes.

The middle class makes up the majority of the population.

With this basic knowledge in hand, we must heuristically conclude that the majority of niche buyers are people in the upper class. They are a small subset of the population, but they are the drivers of the burgeoning luxury market, which sees continuing growth.

This bodes ill for society as a whole. While the majority of the American people (and European people, for that matter) struggle on a day-to-day basis to make ends meet, and an astonishing 43% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, a tiny subset of anywhere from 5% to 15% of the population is making enough money to fuel an industry. Part of that industry is niche perfumery.

Of course there are outliers. Some who firmly inhabit the middle of the middle class will be tangential spenders who are either (a) bad with money, or (b) so obsessed, they don't care how they spend every last penny of disposable income. These people will buy niche at any cost and accumulate bottles as collectors, or as investors looking to re-sell. You can't tell me Dan "My Mickers" on Youtube is a one percenter - although he may be upper middle class for all I know. There are certainly many Dans out there.

But their numbers aren't enough to keep the insanely expensive niche perfume industry alive and well. Someone else is doing that. It's no coincidence that the niche market exploded after the crash of 2008. In the ensuing eight years, the economy stagnated for the majority of the population, but boomed at unprecedented levels for the already rich.

The chickens may be coming home to roost. The rise of niche may be a curse.

This election season has been many things to many people, but one thing I've noticed is that everybody is very, very scared. Everybody. Not just the lower and middle classes. Even the rich are terrified. The Koch brothers are scratching their heads, trying to fathom how we got to this point, with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton the two major candidates. Two terrible choices. And if you know anything about the Koch brothers, you know they usually aren't scratching their heads during an election. They're usually rigging the shit out of our make-believe democracy. The fact that even they don't know what's going on has me, quite ironically, a little worried.

If Hillary wins, America's relationship with Russia will deteriorate further than it already has. A new Cold War will begin, which will be a gateway to WWIII. President Putin has already expressed rankling concern with America's missile defense system, stationed in Romania and several other remote outposts flanking his country. He astutely holds our "democracy" in low esteem, and considers anti-American foreign policy justifiable not only in bureaucratic terms, but also on moral grounds.

It's also reasonable to suppose that a Hillary victory would do little to stem the tide of ISIS attacks in Europe and the Middle East. And I'm a firm believer that we're headed for another catastrophic recession, possibly even a depression, with our fundamentally unsound stock market sitting a little too pretty.

A Trump presidency would guarantee a recession, triggered by evaporated investor confidence alone, and an emboldened Russia would simply go ahead with whatever plans it has to retake annexed Soviet territories, spurring all kinds of conflict. North Korea would grow the stones to act on its fantasies, our domestic economy would crater those tidy jobs numbers Obama's been bragging about, social politics would mudslide back to the fifties (in the last two years we've managed to make it as far back as the sixties), and the world would soon label America's vacationing travelers "refugees."

This all falls shy of being apocalyptic, but consider that at near negative interest rates on bonds, and certain commodities holding on by a thread, the Federal Reserve has no bullets left in its gun. Another crisis means we're on our own.

What does this have to do with perfume? Nothing and everything.

I'm not suggesting that these bad political choices are directly related to the world of niche fragrance. But I am suggesting that the burgeoning luxury market of niche is a symptom of a greater problem. It's nice that the wealthy have so much money that they can finance these start-ups and buy their overpriced compositions. It's wonderful that brands like Memo and Byredo and Clive Christian and Creed have sprung from the loins of Europe and found homes on the napes of lily-white necks across the continent. There's nothing wrong with it on an objective business level.

But the fact that there are so many of these niche fragrances, thousands of them priced at $250, $300, $500 a bottle (or more), signals danger on a social level. As Nick Hanauer said two years ago, "The pitchforks are coming." He couldn't be more right about that.

Don't let your scent trail lead them to you.


A Quick Note On Cheap Scents

Sometimes I get asked about whether a "cheap" scent that by all measures smells good is worth buying in the place of something similar but more expensive.

Ninety-nine percent of the time I recommend the better fragrance. I know, you're wondering what I mean by "better." It's not difficult to define the term: the fragrance that smells better is the one you should consider first. If cost is a concern but not a deal-breaker, why not wait and save for it? A few weeks, or even months can't hurt. I firmly believe that price should only be factored in when there's indisputable parity in both quality of construction and legibility of performance.

Many cheap fragrances that can be purchased for fifteen dollars or less per 100 ml are solidly constructed and very good performers. But beware. Always keep this phrase in the back of your mind: "cologney baloney."

We've all done it. We spot a cheapie, 50 or 100 ml bottles of some obscure drugstore thing that samples nicely and seems to be an apt addition to the wardrobe as a "novelty purchase."

We wear the frag and enjoy it, but in the back of our minds wonder, what's the catch? Did I really just get a fresh-fruity cheapie that I like? Or am I paying for its cheapness somehow, in some manner less obvious to me, but not others?

It's what I call the "headspace test."

Always have a large fruit handy, like a smooth melon or even just a large apple. Spritz it with your new find, and let its skin simulate yours. Sit several feet away from it. Walk past it quickly.

Is what you're smelling on the fruit the same as what was on your hand in the store?

With very cheap fragrances, there's a higher chance that the headspace off the fruit will emit something bland, clean, and nondescript. Close up, with your nose mere millimeters from where you sprayed, you may get a very complex blend of lucid accords and individual notes.

But from a natural social distance of four to six feet, you may get a very blobby, washed-out "cologney baloney" chemical smell, as faceless as a Swedish guy at the Winter Olympics. All of those perky green-woods and musk notes may become Bounce dryer sheets. A few ounces of extra air between the scent and your nose may reveal where the fragrance company's budget fell short.

Cheapies like Caron Yatagan and Krizia Uomo don't suffer this fate because their profit margin is modest. In fairness though, Caron charges premium prices for their scents at retail, and only grey market prices are reasonable. Ditto for Krizia.

This fact makes typical internet sales for them excellent deals, and the kind of "cheapie" one can buy without second guessing their judgment.

Stuff by Jovan, Playboy, Nautica, and Avon are not as likely to fare well in the headspace test. This isn't to say that all scents by these brands are "cologney baloney" in nature. But some are. If you want a super cheap "cologney" effect, and don't mind smelling like ivory-white laundry, you may as well just wear 4711. For that effect, the fault is exclusively found in any and all pretense.


What Does Tobacco Smell Like? And Would A Great Tobacco Perfume Change Our Uptight World For The Better?

Tobacco, or 90% dark chocolate?

Tobacco has been justifiably under attack in most developed nations for a while now, for obvious reasons that directly relate to nicotine addiction and various types of cancer. I can’t help but feel though that there comes a point during the anti-smoking spiels being rattled off by health advocates where you have to shrug a lot of the histrionic condemnation off, and reassess the actual danger quotient for yourself.

We all know whatever feels, tastes, or smells good carries health risks. That chocolate cake you lust after can clog your arteries pretty quickly if you eat too much of it too often. Casual sex can bring all sorts of unexpected and unpleasant consequences if you’re not careful, and even sometimes when you are careful. Playing video games for hours on end can degrade your body’s stamina and circulatory system, raising the risk of heart attack and stroke. Too many brewskies can kill your liver. And smoking can lead to lung cancer and a handful of other health problems. Is it wise to completely eliminate these things, or is the enjoyment of the occasional vice a vital part of living life to the fullest?

I often think of this when I wear Versace’s The Dreamer. Here’s a fragrance that took a type of person and bottled him, representing him as a perfume. He's someone we’ve all known. He's artistic, a little flaky, prone to wanting “quiet time,” or even “alone time.” You’ll sometimes catch him out back smoking a cigarette and gazing off at nothing in particular. He's literally a dreamer, and Gianni Versace knew this guy well – perhaps he was a dreamer himself. America is losing this facet of its culture, its league of dreamers, as we incrementally chip away at the casual carelessness we used to live by, and replace it with hollow platitudes about how to be “successful” and “healthy.” As always, moderation is key. We shouldn’t demonize the occasional cigarette, because some of the best things can happen when we're able to detach from reality in a puff of smoke.

I spent half a year in Prague, Czech Republic, back in 2007. People ask me what living there was like. I often tell them that traveling to Prague was more like traveling to a different time than to a different place. People there smoke and drink a lot. I mean, a lot. Restaurants, bars, clubs, and even people’s homes are usually filled with cigarette smoke and the clink clink of beer mugs and shot glasses. I indirectly worked for a major tobacco company there by providing educational services to its staff, and I recall my student being a very friendly, mild-mannered, almost innocuous young woman, who seemed oblivious to any moral implications that her position at the firm held.

Looking back at it, I now realize that there was no concrete reason for her to be worried about where she worked. When she went out at night with friends, every other person had a cigarette in their hand. In Prague, people aren’t as worried about cancer and death as Americans are. They believe in living life, and living it hard. Work hard, play hard. They work fourteen hour days, commute four hours round trip, consume liters of alcohol and packs of cigarettes a day, and some solicit prostitutes, some spend hours in hazy underground nightclubs, and they sleep fine, because Prague, in many incredible ways, still lives in the 1950s. The girl I went with chain-smoked Djarum Blacks. My friends frequented Hookah bars. People drank beer and wine and vodka and whiskey like it was water. I was experiencing a portal to the past.

Say what you will about tobacco, but it has its charms. Yes, it’s a nicotine bomb, and yes, there’s nothing beneficial to your health about indulging in any tobacco product, but reality check: few things on the planet smell or taste as good as tobacco. I have some experience with this. When I was in high school, I occasionally smoked cigars. These ranged from cheap Swisher Sweets (what a morally reprehensible company Swisher is, by the way, with their flavored cigarillos clearly aimed at youngsters, and I’m not being sarcastic here), to Cuban Partagas cigars, which would drip tobacco tar down my shirt and take hours to finish. Both ends of the quality spectrum were olfactory treats, although cigar tobacco is admittedly the most difficult to appreciate. I smell its analog in Quorum, which has the tobacco note found in real Cubans, an incredibly deep and rich smell.

Then there’s cigarettes. I don’t smoke cigarettes, and never really smoked them in the past, mainly because I never inhaled them. Cigarettes are a smell/taste experience for me. An unlit, midgrade, Virginia-cut cigarette, like any of the Marlboros, has a dry, semi-sweet, raisin-like aroma. It's the scent that Versace captured beautifully in The Dreamer, which showcases a lucid analog of a freshly-opened pack of Marlboro Lights, although come to think of it, Marlboro Lights have probably been discontinued.

Things change a bit when you shift to a slightly higher quality cigarette, like the original unfiltered Camels pictured above, which are nicknamed “studs.” This is Humphrey Bogart stuff. These have a markedly better, richer aroma out of the pack. They smell very dry, woody, and rather like unsweetened dark chocolate. The blend of Turkish and American tobacco is responsible for the scent, with Turkish cuts being a bit richer and mellower than standard Virginian fare. All cigarette tobaccos are “treated,” and laced with wildly unhealthy additives, so if you’re interested in experiencing the smell and a bit of the flavor of these things, I can only recommend proceeding with caution. Don’t get into the habit of “enjoying” them. Just have them around for reference and the rare toke for a flavor idea. If you like the smell of cigarette smoke as much as I do, you can appreciate it by lighting up and just letting the thing burn itself out.

Unsurprisingly though, most fragrances bypass cigar and cigarette tobaccos, and take the pipe tobacco route instead. This is a double-edged sword. Yeah, pipe tobacco arguably smells the best out of all the varieties, mainly because it’s treated like potpourri by its manufacturers, with a number of flavors infused in the blends. And yeah, pipe tobacco’s aroma usually works in tandem with the naturally woody, bitter flavor of an old-fashioned wood pipe. My grandfather had a wood pipe, and he passed it down to my dad, who let me play with it as a kid. By the time it got to me, it had been retired for a decade. I’d stick it in my mouth and pretend to smoke, and all the years of dry tobacco particles that had crumbled and powdered into the thing would gradually filter through the old cherry stem and into my taste buds, registering as a weirdly serene, smoky flavor.

In college, two of my professors had handlebar moustaches and smoked pipes. I shit you not. They’d stand outside on their lunch break and puff away, looking like a pair of Edwardian politicians. It was pretty anachronistic and surreal. The smell was incredible. Very rich, mellow, with a papery quality adjacent to a light sweetness that no other tobacco cut replicates. These guys were probably packing cheaper blends, and that familiar “cherry” nuance that often accompanies pipe smoke was present, but I can’t deny that pipe tobacco, lit and unlit, smells good.

But there’s one problem with all of this, at least in my opinion. The smell of pipe tobacco is a holistic olfactory meditation on both the treated tobacco, AND the pipe it gets smoked in, with too many non-tobacco elements in the mix. The flavorings that usually accompany pipe tobacco have nothing to do with tobacco. The materials of pipes also have nothing to do with tobacco. And you really can’t get a good sense of how pipe tobacco smells unless you’re smoking it through a high-quality wood pipe. So sure, it’s a great smell, but for a tobacco purist, there are some red flags. Of all the tobacco aromas, pipe tobacco is the most embellished. (Cigar tobacco is the least.) It’s also the strongest, and in many cases the most complex.

I guess this is why it’s so popular in perfumes. I have one fragrance in my collection that seems to be a close-up study of pipe tobacco, and that’s Vermeil for Men. Here’s a list of the rest of the tobacco scents in my collection, along with some descriptions of their tobacco notes. If you notice, most of them eschew the pipe tobacco theme and opt for less conventional cigarette and cigar motifs:

Ungaro Pour L’Homme II – ashy cigarette tobacco, very noticeable

Cigarillo (Rémy Latour) – fruity pipe tobacco, easy to miss

Lagerfeld Classic (Karl Lagerfeld) – smooth unlit cigar, noticeable

Joint Pour Homme (Roccobarocco) – musty pipe tobacco, blatant

VC&A Pour Homme – burnt tobacco, a lit cigarillo, easy to miss

Boss Number One (Hugo Boss) – light cigarette tobacco, easy to miss

Furyo (Jacques Bogart) – pipe tobacco, closely blended with patchouli

Sung Homme (Alfred Sung) – cigarette ash, very noticeable

Cool Water (Davidoff) – “blonde” cigarillo tobacco, easy to miss

Versace L’Homme – miniature of The Dreamer, noticeable

The Dreamer (Versace) – standard cigarette tobacco, blatant

Some of you might be wondering why Tabac cologne isn't on the list. I have a bottle, but I've honestly never detected a tobacco note in its composition. I have an older bottle that dates back at least six or seven years, and it's the eau de cologne concentration, which I sometimes use as an aftershave. It's beautiful stuff, but I get no tobacco out of it. Instead it smells like talc, dried herbs and flowers, and animalic musks, with a huge aldehyde and citrus top note introducing everything.

In closing, I’d like to say that I was inspired to write this post by a recent basenotes thread, in which members ponder the varying scents of tobacco. There were some interesting points made. I think member "Tmoran" summed it up best:

"It really depends on whether its pipe tobacco, flavored pipe tobacco, blonde tobacco or any other of the endless varieties. It would be impossible for me to sit and describe the smell of something to you without you having ever smelled it or something similar. It would be like trying to explain color to a blind man who has always been blind. I think your ability to like it may hinge on whether the scent is intending to portray smoked tobacco or unburned tobacco. Some scents do try and mimic the smell of a burnt cigar or cigarette but most of the mainstream tobacco scents are mimicking the smell of processed pipe tobacco. Which many find extremely pleasant."

This really describes the situation well. Right now we’re faced with a fragrance market that is seldom attracted to tobacco notes, and when it is, it focuses on pipe tobacco, and sometimes on fruity Hookah tobacco. It’s likely that many perfume brands have boardroom meetings where some uptight suit invariably shoots down the rare suggestion of a tobacco-themed scent on the absurd grounds that it would "negatively influence brand image and consumer market share." Yes, I can literally hear these corporate-speak phrases being tossed around by people who have never touched a pack of cigarettes in their lives.

It would be nice for a brand, niche or designer, to give us a tobacco scent as a comprehensive celebration of every variety of tobacco I’ve discussed here. Perhaps something with a top note of fresh green tobacco leaf, followed by the raisin-like mellowing of sun-cured leaves, treated cigarette tobacco, the dark chocolatey nature of high-grade studs, the floral spiciness of a lit pipe, the sophistication of a cigar, ending on an ashy base. Maybe not in that exact order, but something like it. I'd name it "Bogart's Break" for fun. Seriously, how awesome would that be? I don't know why it hasn't been done yet.

My takeaway with tobacco in perfumery is that the note is very difficult to render, and even harder to use in a composition. Perfumers can't use straight absolutes in their formulas because of the nicotine issue (nicotine seeps through skin, which is why the patch exists). They can use certain tobacco molecules in isolation, and they can "reconstruct" tobacco by other means, and sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. Lately, with fragrances like Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille, the note is rendered as a semi-gourmand element, very sweet and aromatic, with light hints of vanilla and other edibles. The burlier, woodier, smokier nature of real tobacco seems relegated to the forgotten classics found in discount bins, and that’s a shame.