Versace L'Homme (Versace)

Going Old-School

If you have any doubt about the classification of Versace L'Homme, just look at its bottle. Its glass shoulders are sculpted to look like ferns! Yet this is one of the most chronically misidentified fragrances out there. How it could be called a chypre or an oriental is beyond me, although even the H&R Genealogie chart gets it wrong. This is the very definition of a traditional fougère, as old-school as it gets.

It's also an odd duck in that it's from Italy, and should represent an Italianate style after Krizia Uomo, yet smells impeccably French. It reminds me most of Rochas' underrated Moustache, a classic mossy fougère from the forties. It opens with a similar barrage of lucid citrus notes (lemon, bergamot, lime) with a seamlessly blended lavender chord, and rapidly dries into a spiced floral heart, very clean and bitter, with distinct jasmine and gardenia notes. After a few hours the green notes soften to a powdery tonka, with a pinch of mild tobacco to round it off.

The current Euroitalia version is good, and likely preferable to vintage, at least for me. Older vintages had heavy oakmoss, but frankly I think a preponderance of moss would be overbearing in this style, teasing it into being chypre-like. Euroitalia's version has no moss at all, yet it still smells adequately mossy. It also has delicate nuances of basil, cinnamon, patchouli, cedar, labdanum, castoreum, and petitgrain, all of which are easily separable in the top and heart, but none of which are loud enough for a vulgar "aromatic fougère" vibe. Their subtlety is exact, for L'Homme's sharp focus is on an orthodox three-tier ensemble of lavender, tonka, and mossy musk.

There has been quite a bit of talk about the reformulation of this fragrance, including conversations about how vintage L'Homme's color is darker than current. I suspect this is a fragrance that gets darker with age, but I'll have no way of knowing until I've had my bottle for a few years to compare. I can say that these kinds of "green" compositions are changeable, because my EA formulation of Grey Flannel has darkened noticeably in the last few years. Now, citrus-heavy fragrances are often criticized for smelling "synthetic" after reformulation. In my experience, vintage citrus notes smell very "perfumey" and deep, but that's not exactly a good thing.

The reformulation's citruses are crisp and bright, and the lemon note actually has that sour muskiness of real lemon rind, so I can't complain about the citrus smelling synthetic. However, if I were to give this bottle fifteen years of room temperature storage, I wonder if the citrus notes would blush out and get "perfumey" on me. Some guys like that. I'm not one of them.

Is this the best traditional fougère to come out of the eighties? I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it deserves fair praise. Its longevity is perfect (about six hours), its sillage is very limited, its construction is solid (nothing chemical or unbalanced here), and it has that dry, powdery afterglow of a classic masculine for fastidious men. My favorite part is its rather sheer green tobacco note, which lingers long after the citrus and floral notes have faded. This is a nice one.


Gillette Cool Wave Aftershave: What It Means to Be A Wet Shaver vs. Fragrance "Connoisseur"

Circle from left: Feather DE Travel Safety Razor, Pinaud Styptic Pencil, Speed Stick Power Unscented
Antiperspirant, Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Shave Cream, Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Pore Toner,
Gillette Cool Wave Aftershave, Bleu de Chanel EDT, Derby DE Razor Blades, Astra DE Razor Blades

If you smell like the products in the photo above, you look like them, too.

Members of both Basenotes and Badger & Blade know that they're two entirely different communities. Obviously one is primarily a fragrance site, while the other is an organization of men who call themselves "wet shavers." The former is focused on perfume, the latter on shaving, and all that it entails. Basenotes delves deeply into the subject of smelling "good," while B&B probes the meaning of manhood via the oldest ritual of manhood itself. It's a pleasure to be a member of B&B, and I am no longer a member of Grant's site. I can attest firsthand, however, to the incredible differences in the mentalities held by members of the two forums.

The biggest difference is in the attitude toward scent, and what it means to smell "good." Basenotes is a place where people are constantly in competition with each other. It's not about fragrance as much as it's about which camp of fragrance appreciation you fall into: the hoi polloi of designer scents, or the aristocracy of niche. Generally the tastes "trend up," as the Fragrance Bros on Youtube like to put it, which means expensive perfumes are more desirable than cheapies. This is not a unanimous attitude, as many members are also openly appreciative of relatively inexpensive products by houses like Mont Blanc, Caron, Krizia, and Davidoff.

B&B, on the other hand, is comprised of men who aren't as concerned about prices. They're more interested in smelling "like men" after shaving than they are in smelling "good." Clearly they want to smell "good" also, but it's a priority eclipsed by a stronger need to project manliness and bucketloads of testosterone. And the unspoken rule on the boards is that men don't fuss over perfume. Men splash on aftershave and maybe - just maybe - follow it with a little "cologne," in the more literal sense of the word (citrus, dry florals, sandalwood, musk). Aftershave, in both splash and balm forms, is more important than perfume. And aftershave, as we all know, is usually pretty cheap.

Granted, there are now plenty of high rent alternatives to the usual drugstore fare, stuff by Taylor of Old Bond Street, Truefitt and Hill, Myrsol, and Floid, to name a few. Some of these can cost a pretty penny. Then there's the added expense of stocking up on shaving soap and brushes (if you're a true wet shaver), or bottled shave creams (if you're a cheater like me), plus razors, toners, and talcs. But when it comes to how you smell, even the expensive aftershaves aren't aiming very high. Most are interpretations of the "Barbershop" concept, that fantastical, romantic ideal of powdery cleanliness achieved with minimal effort in every street corner barbershop of the nineteen fifties. Consider reviews of Myrsol's "Blue" aftershave compared to those of Aqua Velva Ice Blue, and you'll find many men prefer AV. Yet both are simply "barbershop" scents.

The other day I picked up a bottle of Gillette's Cool Wave aftershave. I've been familiar with it for a while, and never bothered with it, but out of boredom figured I'd give it a try. Interestingly, it's made in France, and housed in glass, which is nice. From the spout it smells like the nineties mixed with a little eighties, sort of a cross between Chrome and Lomani Pour Homme. Cool Wave was released in 1993, so its old-school vibe makes sense. The chemical properties of the stuff are bare bones: alcohol and fragrance. The smell is interesting, though. It's what is known on basenotes as a "grey citrus" scent, usually a derogatory term for a fragrance, as it alludes to a failed, overly metallic attempt at lemon, lime, and grapefruit notes. Typically "grey citrus" exists as a passing phase in a scent's evolution, such as in 4711 and Claiborne Sport, where the fruits are monochrome for a minute or two, and then blush back to color as more notes appear.

Cool Wave does something different - it embraces its "greyness." In fact, the citrus notes coalesce into what seems to be a blatant olfactory reconstruction of the smell of cold steel, not far removed from how my chromed razor and its blades smell. They could have called it "Cool Chrome," as it smells more metallic than Azzaro's take on this theme, and considerably cooler, with a fleeting hint of icy menthol (despite the formula containing no menthol at all). After ten minutes or so, it dries down to a mossy vetiver that actually smells pretty good. The fragrance's lifespan is extended by Gillette's use of hydrogenated castor oil as a carrier, instead of glycerin. If you use enough of it, Cool Wave will last a good three or four hours with some real projection. And its smell complements more sophisticated fare like Bleu de Chanel very well, making it the ideal "fresh" aftershave.

As I peruse the boards on B&B, I find generally favorable reviews of Gillette's aftershaves, including Cool Wave. This doesn't surprise me. B&B members embrace products like Clubman Aftershave-Lotion (and all Pinaud aftershaves), Old Spice, Skin Bracer, Aqua Velva and AV Ice Blue, Brut, Royal Copenhagen, Tabac, Royall Lyme (and all Royall products), various Florida Waters, Bay Rums, English Leather, Osage Rub, Jeris tonics, and dollar store Avon aftershaves. If I were to be objective about it, I'd have to say that most of these guys are walking around smelling like cheap cologne - i.e., smelling "bad." After all, who wants to smell plasticky dime store aroma chemicals wafting from the body of another person? When was the last time a woman told a guy (honestly) that his Florida Water smelled incredible?

But I can't be objective about it because I myself am a wet shaver. This is more than a grooming choice - it's a way of life. Wet shaving doesn't make sense until you start doing it. When I was a teenager and a young man in my early twenties, I used disposable and electric razors to shave. My shaves were adequate but clumsy. It was a joyless ritual, merely an exercise in shaving cream under a cheap skein of metal louvers that pulled on my hairs before chopping through them. It was a bumpy, irritating ride.

In my mid twenties (twenty-five or twenty-six), I realized that double-edged safety razors were a thing, and had been a thing for decades. They're far more approachable than straight razors, which in my opinion are the scariest things ever invented. Ever see the movie Drive, when Al Brooks kills Bryan Cranston's character? Yeah.

Furthermore, DE safety razors are so much better at what they do than those awful plastic disposables with five blades. Those things are terrible. Think about it - you execute one stroke on your face, and it's equal to five strokes, four of which are redundantly scraping into bare flesh. Sound good? Didn't think so. Whoever invented those things should be taken out back and shot.

Metal DE razors are the way to go. They're classier looking. They're permanent, for they'll never break or wear out. And they're easy to use, once you get the hang of them. I was fortunate enough to get a snub-handled Feather before they were discontinued (Feather razors have since become rather expensive). Shaving with it has always been a pleasure. My skin's health has improved, and I have total control over my appearance. I admit that when I first started using it, shaving was something done on Saturdays, when I had the time to complete the ritual. My inexperience slowed the process down, and I was lucky if I could shave within an hour.

Now, nine years later, I'm able to get a close shave done in ten minutes or less. Once the hairs are gone, the fun starts. Bear in mind that the skin has been scraped by a piece of metal, probably the most irritating thing imaginable. So the strategy of restoring its vitality and soothing whatever injuries were sustained is essential to how the rest of my day goes. There are a few options: witch hazel, aloe, balm, or alcohol. Sometimes they're used together, and sometimes just one gets picked, depending on how successful and gentle the shave.

When aftershave is used, it is typically paired with something that complements its scent. If I use Clubman, I might wear Brut or Rive Gauche Pour Homme. If I use Aqua Velva, I may opt for Bleu de Chanel or Cool Water. Sometimes I spritz my face with Tabac cologne, or Royal Copenhagen. Skin Bracer, my favorite, is sometimes paired with Joop! Jump, Jeanne Arthes Cotton Club, or Playboy VIP. Rarely do I leave the house with just an aftershave on, because most aftershaves are undetectable after an hour, rendering null and void their viability as a personal scent. Yet whatever it's paired with seeks only to reinforce the sensory aftermath of my morning ablutions.

Notice the common bond between these products: they're all cheap. They smell cheap. Yet as a guy, that's how I want to smell. That's how the hundreds of guys on Badger & Blade want to smell, also. What gives?

I think it boils down to nostalgia. Men want to smell "the way real men used to smell." There's a scene early on in High Plains Drifter where Clint Eastwood visits a small town barber. He's about to get a shave, and the barber nervously asks if he wants it followed with lilac water. Eastwood's character isn't interested. But he does want the shave. And that entails being slathered in soap, and probably dusted with talc. The message is that the artifice of donning cologne is not as manly as the residual scents imparted by simply being shaved. It's these residual aromas that the cheap aftershaves attempt to simulate - the powders, the soaps, the whiffs of metal. These allude to real masculinity. These are "barbershop."

Shaving isn't something to be taken lightly. B&B members take it seriously because they enjoy it, but my best friend is someone who actually suffers from shaving. Without getting too specific about his personal identity, I'll just say that he suffers from OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and is fixated on the "perfect" shave. To him, it's about symmetry. He shaves one side of his face. Then he shaves the other. Then he re-shaves the edges of his beard on the first side, followed with an equal touch-up effort on the other. That's fine, except his illness kicks in, and he's never satisfied with how his beard looks. So he shaves and re-shaves and re-shaves again, literally dragging the blades (inexplicably, he uses disposables) over hairless skin.

He does this a few dozen times before he's finally satisfied. Then he applies balms, or just keeps the aloe shave cream on his cheeks, and tries to return to normal life. Meanwhile, he just spent four hours in the bathroom engaged in a ritual that should have been completed in no more than fourteen minutes. Shaving is literally consuming his life. This is only possible because, for better or worse, shaving is an integral part of being a man. It's the reason the recent "lumberjack metrosexual," or "Lumbersexual" trend of being fastidiously groomed with a chest-length beard makes no sense. Most of these guys would look a thousand times better (and more convincingly masculine) if they eschewed their fuzzy jawlines and just got a decent shave.

Wet shaving brings with it a variety of aromas from a range of different products, and thus the wet shaver strives to emit the "aura" of having shaved, as if it is a scent of its own. Achieving this mood does not require the use of expensive perfumes, though it can if you want it to. Clean masculinity is easily projected via the use of cheap products that have their own complementary scents, their combined efforts working to project a specific historical idea of manliness.

Products like Gillette's accomplish this with minimal effort. In a wet shaver's mind, it's okay if he smells like cheap aftershave, as long as there's a functional reason for it to be wafting from his collar in the first place, and he looks the part. Unlike the fragrance connoisseur, the wet shaver needs his scent to directly correlate with his appearance.