12/29/16

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.




7 comments:

  1. About midway through 2000 was the first time I ever heard someone say that it really didn't matter if one repeated the past with no knowing, dues paying or irony whatsoever. Interestingly, the proposition felt radical, but not the kind of radical I subscribed to (this was art school, and I was torn between art & art history... several more years of dues paying were to ensue, not without one kind of irony or another.) I suspect I was on the wrong side of a bigger history. In the art world, the word is 'atemporality' (you...are...welcome?), brought on, no doubt by the unreality of recyclical waves of echo-chamber opinion, staged debates and fake news that is social media on a bad day.

    But let's end on a positive note... Have you tried Alt Innsbruck? From 1953?

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    1. Haven't tried Alt Innsbruck, only because it's so damned expensive. I understand it's a very nice mint/tobacco flower arrangement, very simple and spare, but well made. However, at its prices, I can't really justify it. I figure that for an aftershave as rarefied as Alt is, its fans don't need another enthusiast's opinion to purchase it. If I ever come across sixty or seventy dollars to spend on an aftershave, I'll give it a go. Right now with my living expenses and mortgage I'm doing something I've never done before: budgeting out a year's worth of reviews, preferably at a grand total of something under $100!

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  2. I just looked at the Hollister website & their clothing looks like what was popular with teens in the late 80's. Distressed, muted pastel, non tailored clothing (T-shirts, hoodies, parkas, etc) where the brand logo is the most important and prominent feature of the design. I'm amazed how the 80's trend of status brand obsession has stuck around. From preppy to the SoCal surfer set there was Ralph Lauren, Bennetton, Esprit, Gloria Vanderbilt, Vuarnet, Stussy, Body Glove, OP, Jimmy'Z, etc. Gap is still barely hanging in there but now we have Hollister, Abercrombie and Fitch, and Victoria's Secret's Pink logo everywhere. Although supposedly Abercrombie & Fitch, Wet Seal, Delia’s, Aeropostale and more were all abandoned by Millennials in favor of fast fashion retailers like H&M and Forever 21.

    My sons wanted Abercrombie & Fitch shirts one year and we discussed how dumb it is to buy clothing embellished with a brand advertisement. They then decided they didn't want to wear anything with a huge logo on it.

    Actually Hollister Wave isn't that bad if you're looking for an inexpensive beachy scent though.

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    1. I was in high school in the 90s and remember Ambercrombie and Fitch being the next "big thing" for a few years, with one kid's dad an executive for the company making him free advertising - this kid always wore Abercrombie hats. I personally have a no-logo policy regarding my clothing. If a logo larger than a quarter is on the clothing, I'm not interested in wearing it.

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  3. One other quick anecdote, re: Skin Bracer. Awhile ago I found charming little vintage aftershave bottle for a couple of bucks at a thrift store... It looked like it dated to around mid-century (art deco lines kind of like the old Caron bottles, black octagonal plastic cap), and still mostly full! It was made by a company called Rawlins that sold cosmetics & perfume door to door here in Canada. What did it smell like? Just like Skin Bracer, with a slightly better menthol note.

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    1. That's really interesting, John. I wonder if it indeed was based on Skin Bracer, or perhaps was afiliated with it. Mennen no longer exists, but I imagine back in their day they had partnerships with other American markets outside the US.

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  4. Bryan & Bibi, have you read William Gibson's 'Pattern Recognition'? The protagonist is literally allergic to corporate branding. Here is a great quote from it, re: Tommy Hilfiger, but it seems very applicable to A & F as well...

    "My God, don’t they know? This stuff is simulacra of simulacra of simulacra. A diluted tincture of Ralph Lauren, who had himself diluted the glory days of Brooks Brothers, who themselves had stepped on the product of Jermyn Street and Savile Row, flavoring their ready-to-wear with liberal lashings of polo kit and regimental stripes. But Tommy surely is the null point, the black hole. There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul."

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