7/9/18

Recognizing Faces (Part Two): How Youtube and Fragrance Guides Compete For Relevance While Leaving Classic Masculines In The Dust


'TV Static Screenshot 2' by Justin March at www.justinmarch.com

Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez have authored a new 2018 perfume guide, and having read the preview, I can say that it's as good as their first book. Meanwhile on Youtube, "MrSmelly1977" has offered a list of his "Top 5 Discontinued Fragrances." I won't ruin his video for you by revealing which frags he's listed, but hint, hint: a few are masculines by largely forgotten brands, frags that were on shelves over twenty years ago.

I have a few complaints, though. Let me preface them by telling you a little about myself. Look, I'm not a sensible guy. I have a very unusual habit. I tend to pick favorites in life, and then return to them in lieu of trying new things. This extends to many interests, especially fragrances and movies. With film, it's quite maddening to people. They'll ask me what I want to watch. They'll have extensive libraries of movies from the last five or ten years, they'll ask if I've seen any of them, and I'll say, "No, but why don't we watch Lovers Like Us?" Which is something I've seen about fifty times.

Turin and Sanchez's new guide is a little like my friends' movie collections. It's chock full of new. Which means it's chock full of fragrances I have no desire to try. If I did try a few dozen of them, I'd probably wind up buying a bottle of Lapidus Pour Homme afterward. These frags boast all the latest special effects in olfactory technology. Many are "smoky," or "oud," or esoteric picks from established lines like Acqua di Parma or Guerlain. Yet Sanchez writes of department stores, "the luxury floor has been having a hard time." Really? Doesn't look that way to me. Reference the ever-growing catalogue of Acqua di Parma and Guerlain. As usual, there's a logical disconnect between what I see and what they write in their book. Sure, the grey market has stumped Creed, Caron, and Guerlain (you can get Mitsouko far cheaper on Fragrancenet), but that hasn't really hurt them, unless the "La Petite Robe Noir" line is indicative of "a hard time."

An interesting thing that T&S do is discuss the historical arc of perfumery as a type of evolution, as if perfumes are biological species that have either gone extinct, or evolved into something new. The implication is that many (or most) twentieth century fragrances have failed to evolve, have been overtaken by newer and bolder predators, and have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Is this analogy fair? Have Lacoste's and Bogart's eponymous masculines been killed off and fossilized by brands like Maison Violet and Aedes de Venustas? If so, why? More to the point, why in all these years has nobody published an incisive historical analysis of the most interesting kind of perfume, the postwar masculine?

According to Sanchez, new frags don't have complex, enduring drydowns, and don't possess the complexity of bygone classics, yet many attempt to replicate the same smoky, spicy, woody, and musky scent profiles of their predecessors. Doesn't that make them inferior? Doesn't that make the superlative craftsmanship of a $10 fragrance like Halston Z14 more interesting than a $165 fragrance by Le Galion? I'm not sure why I should bother with any of these new niche scents. By omitting any expression of love for classic masculines, yet showing a lukewarm interest in frags that attempt to replicate them, I wonder if Turin and Sanchez wrote the wrong kind of guide.

My main complaint is that very few of the fragrances in the new guide are things I've ever heard of before. Turin is turgid about his love for "smoky" fragrances, "spicy" fragrances, things rich in "drydowns" and "soft, balsamic-salicylate" accords, which is all fine and well. But there's an irony here. Despite his proclivity for rich, woody, floral, and smoky frags, Turin appears to have little interest in reviewing classic twentieth century masculines from the golden era of the 1950s to the 1980s, frags that actually smelled rich, woody, etc. Rather than discuss classic gems like Acqua di Selva, Pino Silvestre, the first Davidoff scent, Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui, Jaguar for Men, Sung Homme, and hundreds of others, he would rather ponder fragrances that often cost far more money for the same effect, and which hold little interest for me.

I'm not alone; many guys share my taste. We populate the fragrance boards and tirelessly explore vintage beauties, things like the Ungaro series, tobacco frags like Vermeil and Havana, fougeres like Tsar, the Aramis line, Boss, No. 1, and any Bogart scent released before 1995. We know many of these fragrances by heart, and we continue to wear them, yet we hunger for a respected author like Turin to acknowledge their mark in the annals of history, and "guide" us through his opinions of them. Many are still available, inexpensive, and well made. Many embody the same qualities as the scores of brand new niche frags reviewed in the new guide. Yet there is no love for any of them. They are considered "cigar box" by Turin, as he wrote of them ten years ago.

So instead of reading the guide, I turn to Youtube. Oh Christ, Youtube. As I mentioned earlier, guys like Chris at "Scent Land," Dan, and Lex Ellis are still talking about classic masculines. But they're not the majority. I mean, that's ok, I totally get it. Times have changed. It's not 1989 anymore. We're living in the post designer, post niche, postmodern era. Obscure Italian companies are buying up niche lines, and in a manner not unlike the mega designer conglomerates of yesteryear, they're distributing them under umbrella licenses across Europe and select parts of North America. These fragrances often cost around $180 a bottle, sometimes over $200, and in fewer cases over $300. Many are true niche, smelling of very specific notes with intensity and attention to detail, but many others are just smelling like rehashes of vintage greats, without oakmoss and coumarin to fix the drydowns into "beastmode" territory.

These fragrances are expensive, have little to no legacy beyond a one or two year existence, and they're often discontinued before any real loyalty for them can form. This doesn't stop Youtubers from going on and on about them. Problem is, none of these frags interest me. And the new designer stuff they're talking about? Really don't care either. I don't care about Alien Man. I don't care about Parfums de Marly. I don't care about Xerjoff. I've been spending the summer meditating on midcentury fresh fougeres like Acqua di Selva and Pino Silvestre, which I just bought a new bottle of (updated review pending). I've been spending the last three weeks obsessing over Italian barbershop fragrances like Silvestre by Victor. I'd love for Youtubers to devote hours to these kinds of frags on their channels, but almost no one bothers with them.

If you asked me who has more cache online, Turin and Sanchez or Youtubers, I'd have to give it to T&S. Despite floating in a lake of olfactory obscurity, they are talking about fragrances that resemble the classics I've written about here. The fact that these new fragrances are judged against a hulking skein of multicolored and endlessly layered historical threads is what draws readers by the millions to their guide.

Youtube comes in a distant second place. I'm not interested in dupes of new Creed frags. I'm not deeply invested in "Top Five" lists. Someone needs to stop and breathe, and pull out a bottle of something by Parfums Mavive, or Antonio Puig, and wax poetic about it for fifteen minutes, while exhaustively discussing the fragrance's history, and offering new information, things never before disseminated to the public. Someone needs to have a channel with researched content, worthy of NPR programming, a kind of documentary series. Someone needs to stop leaving classic masculines in the dust.


6/27/18

Acqua di Selva (Visconti di Modrone)


Pine for the past.

Even if you're unfamiliar with Acqua di Selva, a quick glance at the ever-informative H&R Genealogie chart explains its characteristics with near perfect accuracy, sandwiching it neatly between Silvestre by Victor (1946), and Pino Silvestre by Vidal (1955). That's the "Italian Barbershop" section of the chart, a place where midcentury Mediterranean EdCs enjoyed a quiet little Rennaissance.

Acqua di Selva was introduced in 1949, and soon afterward became an archetypical 1950s masculine accoutrement, symbolizing post-war affluence, and the open-collared ease of the mad men era. How does it smell? The short answer is, it smells like pine. Italian colognes tend to smell like pine, usually garnished to varying degrees with kitchen herbs and lemon oil. Pino Silvestre is arguably the best of these earthy fresh fougeres, a bracing slug of sharp citrus and cedar that coalesces into a photorealistic rendition of pine needles and moist sap. I believe Acqua di Selva was its inspiration; Victor's version of this theme was minty, with significantly more lemon and oakmoss, and it has been well preserved by Visconti di Modrone's reformulation. You can occasionally find vintage Victor AdS on EBay and in shops, but I see no reason to embark on that quest. The new stuff smells right.

What makes this fragrance "barbershop?" In my opinion, the composition says it all. When I sniff its top notes, I recognize a familiar interplay between camphoraceous peppermint, lemon, and lavender, and am immediately reminded of vintage Aqua Velva Ice Blue, a minty herbaceous chypre from a few years earlier. This arrangement segues rapidly into a darker, mossier heart, and from there the pine, oakmoss, vetiver, and subtle shimmers of indistinct herbs recall shave soaps and talc, smelling green, dry, and natural, an effortless expression of manliness. Within two hours the whole affair rustles down to a toasted tobacco and oakmoss accord, like unlit pure tobacco cigarettes with a healthy dose of menthol in their filters. The man who shaves with AdS aftershave and applies the EdC afterward is essentially declaring to the world that his "dadness" is inspired by David Niven.

My only complaint, and it isn't mine alone, is that Acqua di Selva doesn't last as long as I'd like it to. I get one hour out of it before it fades down to a skin scent, and even sweat doesn't do much to reactivate it. Many guys complain about this. The truth is, it's a testament to the naturalness of the composition. These old Italian colognes were well made, and still are. They tend to use lucid materials, and there's precious little confusion over what the perfumer meant to say. There is no detectable synthetic musk molecule to help the scent drone on for hours, just a diluted composition of citrus, terpenes, and real oakmoss.

An added perk: my bottle may or may not be defective - the atomizer unscrews and lifts out, leaving an old-school splash. So the longevity issue has an upside, as it can be splashed liberally to double as an aftershave.


6/17/18

Rant: P&G Takes Shortcuts With Nonsensical 80th Anniversary Old Spice Products


A Sad Joke.

It's pretty galling to think that after eighty years of Old Spice's existence on the world market, the best Proctor & Gamble could do to celebrate its anniversary was a minor tweak of the labels for limited edition deodorants and body washes. On its website, they state:
"[The] 80th Anniversary scent smells like 80 years of crisp, clean awesomeness."
Yeah, ok. Great grammar. Apparently they couldn't even be bothered to check the copy editing on their own site. But more importantly, after eight decades of providing a legendary oriental masculine to millions of wet shavers everywhere, and about fifteen years after switching the cologne and aftershave bottles from Egyptian ceramic to plastic, my question is, that's it? No limited edition Egyptian ceramic commemorative "retro" bottle? No brief return to the classicism that made this scent an icon? Not even an attempt to advertise the anniversary beyond a quiet product list on the site? What the hell is going on over there?

I have a theory as to what happened, and it doesn't bode well for anyone under the age of 35. I'm looking at you, Millennials. It's clear you have invaded American industry. You were born in the late 1980s and 1990s, and you were raised on TV, computers, cell phones, and the Internet. You have a "Swipe Left" mentality about literally everything you encounter. You're soft, you're weak, you're pretty stupid (most of you couldn't find Brazil on a globe), but you grew up entitled. Your parents told you that you were wonderful, that you could do anything you wanted to, that you could change the world, because you are special.

And as you moved through the 2000s, your middle school and high school years, you gradually began permeating American culture. It started sometime after The Matrix, but before Avatar, roughly the time Obama was elected, that you took positions of power in the manufacturing sector, and suddenly everything really started going to shit. Pop music, movies, clothing styles, furniture styles, cars, and fragrances all started looking cheap and undesirable. The Millennial mindset - a short attention span, an unwillingness to read books and learn, a self-esteem fueled binge of crude postmodernist creativity - began rendering everything, even simple things like aftershave, as less than they were before.

I would wager that whoever is in charge of the budget for the North American Old Spice Classic division at P&G is under the age of 35, a Millennial, and I'd also bet that he or she is pretty stupid. This person was likely raised to believe that their decisions are always worthy of praise, and therefore thinks their short-sighted decision to take shortcuts in the eightieth anniversary packaging of Old Spice was no big deal. Why should Old Spice fans expect anything to celebrate over?

I'm here to tell you, whoever you are: you really screwed up. You disappointed millions of loyal consumers who yearn for a return to the glass bottle, even if only for a few short weeks, and you made guys like me, born on the furthest fringe of the 1970s, wonder how his contemporaries could be so dumb. Do you think life is an App? Do you think that it's a great idea to end relationships when they begin to get challenging, when they begin to demand more of you and your precious time? Do you think it's a good thing that almost every other movie that comes out these days is from Marvel Studios, the least edifying movie culture phenomenon in the history of film? Do you look forward to the next Taylor Swift song, because you think pop music is fun?

Congratulations, you're a stupid Millennial, and if you're working at P&G, you probably have no appreciation for vintage Old Spice packaging, or for the long history of traditional celebrations that Old Spice has enjoyed over the last eight decades. That anyone over the age of forty who works for P&G would think that just going on Photoshop and revamping a pre-existing deodorant label was enough is nearly impossible to swallow. More likely some simple-minded moron who graduated from college in 2013 told the design department to just cut a new look on existing plastic, and called it a day.

Of course, I could be wrong about this. Maybe the design department and bean counters are all grizzled old guys in their fifties and sixties who just don't want to be bothered. But that wouldn't make much sense, would it? Guys that age would have more interest in reviving their own memories of a wonderful bygone era, when Old Spice was still popular among young men. A time when quality was looked upon as a source of pride in the manufacturing and commercial sectors, and high-grade materials mattered. They'd be cringing at the reality of their favorite cologne being packaged in plastic, and waiting for the day when they could justifiably break free of that financial constriction, even if only for a few weeks, and offer celebratory revival bottles on the anniversary of the product.

To the execs at P&G in charge of Old Spice, whoever you are, read this: your cheap, crappy shortcut approach to your flagship men's fragrance is embarrassing and unacceptable. I know you think it doesn't matter, because reasons, because this apparently forgotten "legacy brand" is just there to make you members of the nouveau rich, and everyone around you thinks you're wonderful anyway. But you're not wonderful, and you're not helping your bottom line, because had you spent a few million dollars and issued glass bottles of cologne and aftershave, you would have seen an incredible return on your investment. As it stands, you're seeing nothing, because you haven't offered this fragrance's faithful users anything at all.

Wise up. The 90th anniversary better be conceptualized by someone with an attention span significantly greater than that of a fruit fly. If you think manufacturing grey stoppers for 1930s styled ceramic bottles is a bad idea, you're a disgrace to the brand, and if I could, I'd fire you immediately. Would someone please create a startup page for an acquisition of P&G? I don't care if it takes you fifteen years to raise the capital; it's worth it. An icon like Old Spice deserves so much better. This nonsense needs to end.



6/3/18

Aqua Velva Musk (Combe Inc.)



Back in the late 1950s, Max Factor released a fragrance for men called Signature, and it smelled like a cross between Royal Copenhagen and Creed's Orange Spice, with the cheapness of the former subdued, and the richness of the latter abundant. Signature was "cheap" by 1950s standards. It was meant to be a fresh citrus musk oriental, and in lieu of real ambergris, it contained very potent, powdery aldehydes. But it also boasted several gorgeous nitro-musks, which undergirded the woody sweetness of orange and bergamot with a smooth, slightly animalic element.

Aqua Velva Musk reminds me of Signature, as a modernized version of it. The same basic structure is present: woody citrus, aldehydes, musk. But instead of powdery citrus richness, AVM offers a very taut, postmodern, reductionist approach. The citrus is neutered from fruit down to suggestive sweetness; powdery notes are just textural dessication; there is musk, but it's cheap skin musk, which Coty crated into the 1990s by the barrel. If Signature is the oil painting, AVM is the college dorm room poster, framed by a vintage-styled amber color to the fluid.

It makes me wonder if Aqua Velva Musk is actually the original Aqua Velva, released before Ice Blue took over the market. Has it simply been reissued as Musk? Given its similarities to a sixty year-old predecessor, I'm tempted to think this is the case. I also wonder if Olivier Creed considered American aftershaves (in addition to Kouros) when he hired Pierre Bourdon to make Orange Spice. It would explain why the Creed smells so disarmingly simple and versatile, as opposed to the complex masterpiece by YSL. All told, AVM is a very good offering, and worth checking out if you need another alcohol-based lotion with glycerin.



5/20/18

Recognizing Faces: How Youtube's Fragrance Culture Has Grown, Improved, Diversified, and Become Quite Crowded (Part One)


'TV Static Screenshot 1' by Justin March at www.justinmarch.com

Ten years ago, Youtube's fragrance community had room for improvement. Reviewer "Robes08" epitomized the drawbacks of amateur reviews, with blurry video, a long-winded delivery, and occasional lack of knowledge of what he was reviewing, sometimes fumbling info on release dates and notes. "BradW," or "bpwool," was arguably worse, offering short, low-res vids from his bedroom. "MyMickers" was so-so, worshipping Green Irish Tweed and hating Grey Flannel in the same breath. Remember "The Grey Flannel Challenge," which dozens of hair-gelled, inarticulate guys participated in? Yeah, that was all Dan. Thanks Dan.

I appreciate his enthusiasm, but watching a middle class guy with a family blow thousands of dollars on perfume is weird. Last but not least, "dracdoc" used to annoy me by frequently saying things like, "Really, the bottle is nothing impressive, or anything like that," and "It gets the job done." He fumbles for perfumers' names, talks with his hands, and has a very "low budget" approach.

These guys had something in common: they made me wonder why I should watch them. Why should I care? They're obviously just a few enthusiasts who enjoy fragrances, and they've taken the initiative to share their thoughts, but their chosen medium is video. Creating channels of blurry, unscripted videos is like attending a business meeting with bedhead and an untucked shirt. They're making a visual impression that is unpolished and uninteresting. Perhaps they could have been more helpful writing blogs, or just communicating their ideas in threads.

I think the limits to video technology that existed a decade ago are partially to blame for lackluster content from reviewers. Let's face it, even if you know what you're doing, it's hard to attract viewers with a channel in 360p. From 2013 onward, Youtube's digital video improved and became unerringly hi-def, giving more sophisticated content providers a means by which to showcase their wares.

It was around that time when the "Fragrancebros" caught my attention, and I enjoyed the silly banter between Daver and Jer (and now lament Jer's departure), and learned a few things from them. Unlike their predecessors, D&J knew they were being watched. They had scripted presentations with accurate corporate information about what they were reviewing, and could draw relevant comparisons between scents, brands, and fragrance categories. "Redolessence" has a well-enunciated delivery, and more importantly, screen charisma. His videos aren't perfect, and his collection is obviously a money pit, but unlike "MyMickers," I get the impression that he fully understands every fragrance in his collection. And Lex Ellis, a Scottish brawler with a comical tough guy attitude, injected some much needed sincerity with his unpretentious reviews and surprisingly well composed theme music.

The current crop of reviewers is, weirdly enough, more polarizing than anyone who came before them. They inhabit a spectrum of being truly entertaining, all the way down to being blatantly boring. The two that I feel are currently worthy of subscription are "MrSmelly1977" and "Brooklyn Fragrance Lover," for their humor and "refined casualness." What do I mean by that? They make it look like they're just a couple of guys with cameras pulling amateur hour, but it doesn't take long to realize that they're savvy about their productions. "Brooklyn Fragrance Lover" employs original piano themes and conveys accurate info, and "MrSmelly1977" has a succinct delivery that cuts right to the chase, and he peppers his reviews with sardonic jokes. His humor is clean, dry as a bone, and quintessentially British. More importantly, he appreciates vintage greats, things like Kouros and Paco Rabanne PH.

Other very good reviewers worthy of a look are "Simply Put Scents," "Gents Scents," and Tiff Benson. Emitsu of "Simply Put Scents" doesn't take himself too seriously, which makes me take him seriously. Production value of his videos is high, his knowledge of fragrance is quite good, and he isn't afraid to say when he dislikes something, nor does he shy away from criticizing the fragrance community. "Gents Scents" is just OK, but it's the high end of OK. Ash's channel is also called "The Binge," and it got a little confusing when he opted to diversify his subject matter with reviews of movies and video games. I understand his desire to cover other topics, but it detracts from his channel; I visit channels with a focus. If I want movie and game reviews, I go to "Cinemassacre" or Rob Ager, and I'm good. I don't need media content clouding what was solely a fragrance channel.

Tiff Benson has a great channel, and she definitely has a keen grasp of light and camera. Women tend to inject a more human tone into their reviews, and that extra layer of subjective thought is valuable when regarding perfume. Tiff's combination of sharp wisdom and technical know-how lends her channel that little extra quality I look for on Youtube.

I get a little worried about the state of Youtube when I consider other channels in the fragcom, however. There are a few contributors who have me wondering if we're seeing a bit of a Youtube cultural hiccup. Among them are "Jeremy Fragrance," "The Fragrance Apprentice," and "CubaKnow." Now, bear in mind that all of the channels I criticize in this post warrant viewing, but I don't think their contributions to the culture have been as successful as the other channels mentioned.

One example is "Jeremy Fragrance." Jeremy is an odd case. He started out as just another guy talking about fragrances, with a competent grasp of light and camera. Over the years he has changed into a true showman, often dressing in a tailored suit and featuring gorgeous women on both arms, and he has essentially made the viewing experience something of a farce. You're not visiting Jeremy's channel to learn about fragrances. You're visiting to ogle his girlfriends. Another demerit is his misuse of Patreon funds. Instead of putting the money entirely into his channel, he used some of it to lease a Ferrari, and then made a vid thanking his viewers for making the Ferrari possible. This is a head-scratcher.

"CubaKnow" is perhaps a personal gripe more than a true gauge of our culture, but I take issue with the language on that channel. Everything he likes is "sexy," and (insert expletive), and everything he dislikes is a series of disgusted faces with multiples of "no," and (insert expletive). I feel that "Cubaknow" likes the idea of being a fragrance reviewer, and enjoys being on camera, but doesn't have much to say about fragrances. I'm not even sure he knows anything, even basic things, about the fragrances he discusses. And maybe I'm old fashioned, but being called a "ballsack" by a nobody on Youtube makes me want to exit. That said, I'm fairly certain he wouldn't care if I tuned out, so I suppose it doesn't make any difference what I think of "Cubaknow." His channel isn't to my taste.

The channel that makes me wonder if the culture is truly on stilts is "The Fragrance Apprentice." I don't think this channel, or its creator, are bad. I think it has very good (and recently upgraded) production value, with some notable camera and editing skill. I think George is a good guy, and quite talented. I applaud that he goes on camera and braves the world of Youtube, and its endless torrent of weird and sometimes abusive comments. But his philosophy about the fragrance world, his views on "fragrance politics," and his understanding of fragrances makes his channel one of the hardest for me to watch.

I didn't appreciate his video on the reformulation of Halston Z14. He mischaracterized the fragrance, inaccurately described the reformulation, and suggested Z14 has been destroyed, when in truth it's doing just fine. I wonder if he knows that Z14 is a pioneer of Iso E Super, and always has been? This isn't some super-natural vintage that was transformed into synthetic dreck. It has always relied heavily on synthetics. He doesn't contextualize the fragrance in his critique, and acts like it's a gorgeous brunette who died tragically in a plane crash. Newsflash: this beauty is still alive.

There are some things about George's defense of "Jeremy Fragrance" that also give me pause. He has it all wrong. Aside from making a slew of excuses for someone of questionable character, he suggests that content providers should offer something new in their reviews, and that they should review new stuff, because, and I'm heavily paraphrasing here, "We all know about the IFRA, we all know about reformulations, and we don't need another review of Original Santal, we know it smells like Mont Blanc Individuel." I'm not attuned to the finer points of cultivating an internet video audience, but I think George misinterprets his relationship with his viewers, and misunderstands its potential.

George describes fragrance reviewing as though it were cable TV. The problem is, Youtube is the opposite of cable TV. I make this claim as a dedicated member of the audience. Instead of having to make do with whatever cable decides to broadcast, I can tell Youtube what I want to watch, and have it instantly. If, on a whim, I want to see what people think of Brut, I just type it in, and I have videos for days. Youtube is fueled by whims. There is no competition in the traditional sense, because there is no need to fight for airtime. You can be the most technically inept person on earth, and your videos will still be aired. It certainly doesn't take millions of dollars to create content. As long as you have a camera and a decent computer, you have a channel. Maintaining a channel will cost some money, true, but we're not talking anything close to "big budget" here.

When I visit channels, I'm visiting to see straightforward reviews that are competently shot, and well informed. Humor, extra production value, graphics, music, all of that is nice, but not necessary if the reviewer knows his frags. And you can't assume that there are too many videos about older fragrances, or that viewers "already know." There is an endless, cyclical, generational supply of viewers from hugely diverse backgrounds and experience levels who have never heard of a chypre or fougere, and they appreciate new video about those scents. To assume the world is full of potential viewers who already know about IFRA regs is rather silly. Believe me, outside of the very small world of obsessed fragheads, and a handful of more than casual observers, nobody knows the IFRA exists.

George also suggests that pedigree comes with being a good fragrance reviewer on Youtube, as if it's earned. But the reality is that it isn't earned at all. George's opinion is one of tens of millions available, and nobody earned it. That's the point of YouTube. It's about you, and you upload content because you want to. You didn't have to fight for it. It wasn't a struggle. I mentioned guys who barely tried, and guess what? I still watched their videos. They're not on TV; they didn't have "bad press" to stop me from "tuning in."

Is it a struggle to get one million subscribers? Sure, that's an accomplishment, and that can make you real money. But let's not pretend that having a million subscribers on Youtube makes you the Roger Ebert of the fragrance world. You didn't toil for decades in the syndicated newspaper business to make a name for yourself. You bought a camera and voluntarily offered content after coming home from your day job. This is what makes Youtube great, and exciting to watch, but it also makes it very different from watching a movie or regular TV. It's not a competitive landscape. It's an endless landscape. Every 24 hours, Youtube has 68 years worth of viewable content uploaded to its servers. Good luck competing in that arena.

Videos will always be available. They're not competing for time slots. And it's no biggie if nobody watches your video this year. Decades from now, you'll have at least a thousand views. That sounds like nothing, but you're part of something so large that it eludes human understanding, which makes you pretty amazing.



5/12/18

Kirk's Original Coco Castile Pure Botanical Coconut Oil Soap (Kirk's Natural LLC)



A few years ago, I reviewed a scent by Penhaligon's called Castile, which was based on vegetable oil soap scents of the last few centuries. Released in 1998, Castile was an ode to a few of its themes: citrus, white floral, chemical, detergent, clean, fresh, etc. I disliked it, and felt that a soap scent is best relegated to soap itself. However, a faithful reader suggested that Castile is in fact a very good representation of Castile soap, and that it can be generalized from the mountains of Aleppo to any truck stop on Route 95.

The other day I found a few bars of Kirk's Castile soap at Walmart, and figured I'd try it in the shower. The company recently reformulated their standard Castile. It used to be simply coconut soap, water, vegetable glycerin, coconut oil, and "natural fragrance," presumably a little neroli and laundry musk. My packaging reads: sodium cocoate, water, glycerin, sodium chloride, sodium gluconate, fragrance. Translated, that reads as coconut soap (fatty acids of coconut), water, salt, and a natural byproduct bonding agent. The "fragrance" part still represents a hint of neroli and synthetic musk. Why Kirk's changed the formula is beyond me, but I see no reason to fret about it.

Why am I writing about Kirk's Castile? Simple. This soap works surprisingly well for shaving. I should warn you that I have very oily skin, with large pores, and a very delicate, damage-prone epidermis. Many have tried Kirk's for shaving and found it overly drying, to the point of burning their skin, but my experience is far better. Kirk's lathers exceptionally well, with a rich, creamy foam that penetrates hairs and softens them, while also offering a slickness that makes DE shaving easier than usual. The shave itself is astonishingly close and very efficient, requiring only one pass for large portions of my face, which is rare for me.

Do I think you should trash your other shave soaps and just use Kirk's? No, but I recommend trying it this summer, when skin is clogged with sweat and grime, and all you want is a quick, cleansing shave. Generally, for showers and baths, Kirk's is an excellent soap, and it does smell like synthetic neroli (truck stop style), but guys, you can get dual usage out of it for only a few dollars at any online merchant or at your local Walmart, and it will leave your skin like mine, smooth and clean.


5/2/18

Lustray Bay Rum Compound (Lustray)



Bay Rum is something only a man could invent. Imagine a sailor in the seventeen hundreds, adrift and disgusted by his own b.o., sifting through what little supplies remain aboard his floating barrel for anything to alleviate his stench, and all he can find are dry spices, a bottle of rum, and a handful of forgotten bay leaves from the cook's quarter. These miserable scraps are thrown together and left to sit for a few days. Sails are tied, pirate attacks are repelled, and when he returns to his weird concoction, he finds it grim, but amenable for use in lieu of real soap.

How does one account for its survival over four centuries? Supposedly the first bay rum emerged from the Virgin Island Saint Thomas in the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, a time when modern pharmaceuticals were nonexistent, and colognes were limited to 100% natural flower waters. Albert Heinrich Riise (1810 - 1882), a Danish chemist, stocked his St. Thomas Pharmacy with his own trademarked bay rum, and it gained commercial ground in the European market. Today it exists in many synthetic forms as a symbolic throwback to a bygone era, a relic of Western civilization's encroachment on exotic shores.

When I encounter today's hipsters, with their finely groomed beards and quasi-bouffant quiffs, I wonder if they're familiar with this part of their heritage, or if the iPhone age has overlooked bay rums. Amazingly, Lustray still offers theirs. It's an awful, cheap, fleeting phantom of a compound, only slightly oily, which doubles as aftershave and hair tonic. For five seconds you get a whisper of bay leaf and spiced booze, and it's gone (you might glean thirty seconds if you apply generously to hair). I'm fairly certain that this is the worst bay rum sold today, but hey, it's four bucks for fourteen ounces, and it works well on hot days. I can't complain.



4/15/18

"You Smell Like Shampoo" - Why SMW Clones Often End Up Smelling Like Something Else


Not Necessarily Lowbrow Scents.

One day last winter I was wearing Al Wisam Day, when a coworker said, "Bryan, is that you? You smell like shampoo!" I found this comment amusing, because AWD is supposed to smell like Silver Mountain Water, an expensive Creed.

To me, AWD smells like a soapy rose with hints of fruit and woods. It certainly has a quality freshness akin to SMW, and I understand why it draws comparisons to a fragrance five times more expensive, as it doesn't devolve into a "fuzzy" chemical cheapness, or lack longevity. But I feel it's important to refrain from saying that AWD is a suitable substitute for SMW if you're a fan of that particular Creed. If you like SMW, and you can afford a bottle, you should own one, and you should also look into owning AWD as another variation of the idea. However, anyone who thinks that AWD could replace SMW is kidding themselves.

To everyone on the internet who has ever said that AWD is better than SMW, let's get one thing straight: there is no way under the sun that Rasasi spent as much time developing their fragrance as Creed did. When I smell SMW, I smell one of what I consider to be the "lesser" Creeds. It smells expensive and of high quality, but lacks the dimensionality and richness of Creed's top tier products, stuff like GIT and OV and Green Valley. It's more along the lines of Tabarome Millesime and Royal Water (and note, I happen to really like RW). That said, SMW still smells leagues beyond your typical fragrance. The delicate fizz of sharp citrus in the top notes, the mineral tang of papery green tea against a translucent haze of blackcurrant and some difficult to define "ink" note smell well crafted and expensive, with photorealistic intensity. It may not be the most exciting fragrance Creed ever coughed up, but that gentle ambergris drydown is never duplicated by anything else.

Al Wisam Day opens with a piquant fizz of blatantly metallic notes that do not smell lucidly of citrus fruit (but are citrus-like), which rapidly segue into a clean blackcurrant and tea rose note, all of which dries down into a creamy, fresh, fruity floral essence, much stronger and a bit more linear than SMW. Now, here is where it gets interesting. AWD does not smell "cheaper" than SMW, nor does it smell "generic," or "designer," or "simple." It retains an expensive aura, smells unusual enough to be considered niche, and possesses enough complexity and dynamism to remain interesting for hours of wear. However, it radiates far differently than SMW. The Creed wafts off my body like Olivier's glacial mountain stream idea, always clear, always lucid, always offering something new with each sniff.

AWD wafts in a very creamy and opaque manner. The nuances of SMW aren't quite there. Instead, there is a soapy cloud of lavender (the "metallic note" rendered as a cold, herbal twinge), rose and currant, mixed with something like Sandalwood Lite soap. The tea rose is the most obvious to me, and to other people the scent smells very clean and shampoo-like, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as many shampoos smell quite good these days. (I consider "Invigorating Champagne Mango & White Ginger" by Olay Fresh Outlast an incredibly beautiful shampoo, with a scent bordering on being a work of perfumery genius.) But if you are looking to capture the exact same smell of SMW with AWD, it will fall short. This fragrance is, at its heart, a rose fragrance, and the damascones and damascenones used are the same type used in the dirt-cheap Tea Rose by The Perfumer's Workshop. This isn't an essay on mountain freshness, it's an essay on soapy rose freshness. There's a big difference, and familiarity with Creed exposes it.

Al Rehab Silver, on the other hand, captures the citrus and blackcurrant aspect of the Creed with more focus than AWD, and aims more for SMW's top notes. But ARS (oil form) remains stuck in those top notes for the duration of its lifespan. It's as linear and one-trick as it gets. The spray version expands the composition a bit, giving more credence to the inky muskiness of this type of fragrance idea, but winds up reminding me more of Royal Water (a darker scent) than SMW in the drydown. Again, there is no way the perfumer spent anywhere near the same amount of time as it took to make SMW. Creed's nose probably spent a couple of years fine tuning the original formula of SMW. Al Rehab's nose may have spent a week on it, if that.

The bottom line: if you want to smell like a Creed, buy a Creed. Ambergris, real ambergris, which is used in Creed compositions, is not a common note, nor is it easy for budget brands (or low end niche, like Rasasi) to replicate. When you buy a Creed, you're often buying something with a very unique ambergris accord. Still, ambergris isn't for everyone. If you like the idea of a Creed, but don't actually like its execution that much, then you may want to explore the clones. This is why I own Silver and AWD, but not SMW. I like the idea of SMW, but don't actually think the Creed itself is worth the money. I can get the same general idea in AWD for a fifth of the price, and be just as happy, or more so.

If you buy and wear AWD, you will be buying and wearing a shampoo-soapy tea rose fragrance with an hour to ninety minutes of SMW-like top accords that generally replicate the "feel" of SMW without actually replicating the precision craftsmanship of SMW. Don't expect anyone to say, "Hey, you smell like you're wearing Silver Mountain Water." Expect people to say, "Hey, you smell like a nice shampoo." Look, in the world of niche, smelling like a good shampoo isn't really that bad, as long as you don't spend $400 to get there.

I happen to think AWD smells like it could be a type of shaving soap, hence my inclusion of its review this year, the year of shave reviews. Maybe it's the ephemeral brushing of cold lavender on top, followed by a hum of smooth sandalwood below, that reinforces my impression. Though unisex, it smells "manlier" than SMW to my nose. Its clean richness would work well in canned foam, or a shave stick. I associate it with an imaginary $125 luxe version of Barbasol you can only find at one specific hotel in Dubai, if such a thing could exist. I'm hoping to get a bottle of Al Haramain's L'Aventure Blanche soon to compare it to AWD and AR Silver. Hopefully it offers a different twist on this Arabian shave soap idea.



4/8/18

Clubman Musk (Pinaud)


This is the only Clubman product left for me to review, and I've been debating whether I should bother with it since February. I would sneak splashes of this from a Walgreens when I was in high school, and it faded from memory for being the one Pinaud that was blatantly redundant. I knew every drugstore Pinaud but one (no store carried Classic Vanilla), and liked them all, but Musk was pointless. It still is.

The problem isn't that it's too musky (nothing is too musky for a wetshaver), or too sweet, or too synthetic, or too anything. The problem is that it's 99% identical to original Clubman, oakmoss and all. There is a slight tweaking to the formula that gives it a vaguely fresher citrus top accord, followed by a hair-splittingly sweeter drydown, but otherwise it's the same, with maybe one additional loud musk: Clubman with a boost kit. From the bottle, it's a little brighter than the original, and yes, it's quite good. But why buy it when it's so close to Clubman?

Most would agree with me here, and I think this particular product is only for Pinaud completists. Since buying a bottle, I've struggled to find a reason to reach for it after a shave. I'd rather wear the truly sublime Classic Vanilla instead. Skip this one, especially if you already own Clubman and Coachman.


4/1/18

Blue Spice (Lustray/Clubman): Clean Shave




Of the five Lustray aftershaves in my bathroom, this one is my favorite. To my nose it is the only truly successful scent, and thus is the easiest to use. Oddly enough, it's the least favored by most of my fellow wetshavers. Apparently many are turned off by what they consider an "old lady powder" in its drydown, but I read it as a 1970s incarnation of Aqua Velva Ice Blue, with "aqua notes" instead of menthol.

AV Ice Blue spawned an entire universe of blue imitators, and most are variations on the fresh menthol theme. Lustray adopted a novel approach, synthesizing the smell of AV after dilution in water, with the water's scent as the source of its freshness. From there it gets powdery and softly sweet, a crisp talc. What elevates it in my esteem is a complete absence of the dreaded plastic note, which still plagues the Spice lotion. I decanted BS into glass, and within two days the plastic pollution was completely gone. This was interesting to me, because the plastic element was pretty intense from the bottle. Needless to say, I'm glad I decanted.

Blue Spice has considerable oak moss, and emits auras of clean, sweet, and powdery, in that order. Ask me for a recommendation of a different style of AV Ice Blue, and I'd probably point to mentholated congeners instead, but ask if there's an old-school "blue smelling" aftershave still on the market, and Lustray tops my list. "Blue" is a flavor concept: Blue Raspberry, Pepsi Blue, Marlboro Blue. Here, the flavor is your shave water, a swirling slop of used shave cream, witch hazel, and talc, unceremoniously bottled just before it goes down the drain.

3/21/18

Al Wisam Day (Rasasi)

Gorgeous bottle.

Being a lover of rose scents is a tough life for a male in America. Rose is forbidden to me here; I'm expected to appreciate it in small doses as a minor note tucked behind ballsier "manly" notes. I only have one rose soliflore in my wardrobe: Tea Rose by The Perfumer's Workshop. It's a fresh rose, with green leaves and dew drops in the periphery. It's beautiful, but literal. There are no embellishments to the flower. Ask me if rose water, or any successfully-crafted rose soliflore is "barbershop" in any way, and I'd have to say no. Although roses are associated with some western aftershaves and witch hazels, they are generally not at the forefront of the genre.

This changes as you move eastward, where it's fine for men to wear rose. Rasasi is one of many houses in the UAE that have found interesting ways of making fruity-floral roses smell masculine and modern. What sort of house is Rasasi? They have no tendrils in the US market, beyond the occasional Amazon or eBay merchant. By the looks of it, they're an upscale niche house, native to Dubai. They're given to lining their boutique walls with caskets of oud chips, which they sell as incense. I don't like oud, so this doesn't do much for me. But Saudis and I share a love of rose. This gives me a reason to step into Rasasi's luxurious boutique, despite the burning oud chips.

Al Wisam Day is a musky tea rose, and its drydown reminds me of Annie Buzantian's scent. While the photorealism of the rose is similar, Rasasi's florals are buttressed by blackcurrant and bergamot on top, lending a "fresh" effect, and creamy musk below, burnished by a lick of sandalwood. Its rose is fruity, perhaps overly sweet, but I suspect beta-damascenone and other quality rose ketones are used here. It performs in the inverse; top notes are soft, base notes crescendo. I really enjoy this one. For forty-five dollars, I have something that smells like four hundred. If there are barbers in Dubai, I imagine this is their aftershave.


3/10/18

Wild Country Cologne (Avon)

Here's one I'm reviewing because its reputation as a "barbershop cologne" precedes it, and not because I agree with the consensus. I respect Avon as a competent budget brand, but don't have much use for their products. Many older guys (ages fifty and up) are sentimentally attached to the cutesy aftershave decanters of the Johnson and Nixon years, those colored glass bottles shaped like sturgeons and Model T Fords, which are inexplicably popular decades after the Avon playground closed and went corporate. Millennials raise eyebrows when men old enough to be their grandfathers get excited over disposable trinkets. No grandpa, the cowboy boot decanter isn't cool.

Wild Country was released in 1967, and is one of the first offerings by the brand. Badger & Blade is home to its fanbase, and I've read countless reminiscences of Vietnam vets and retirees pining for a fresh bottle of the musky, Canoe-like fougère of their youth. Often they're referring to the aftershave, which is no longer made. Sadly, I cannot join the chorus. Wild Country has been reformulated into an anemic wisp of its former self. Yes, it smells archetypically "barbershop" and very "fougère," replete with standard citrus, lavender, musk, and powder, and if I really concentrate, I can appreciate its soft citrus and lavender notes. But unless I bathe in it, Wild Country barely registers to my nose. After twenty sprays, I get a mild waft of sweet tonka over a whisper of talc, and only the talc remains. It smells good, but it's too simple and short-lived. Thirty minutes later, it's as if I never applied a scent at all.

If Wild Country aftershave has held up enough to be worn, go for it. Mesmerize for Men is currently the only fragrance in my collection to have completely spoiled beyond recognition, so I'm not about to scour eBay for "vintage" Avon. Canoe, Clubman, Royal Copenhagen, and Old Spice are better options, and I wholeheartedly recommend using them instead. Canoe is a better fougère, Clubman and Royal Copenhagen are ballsier, and Old Spice is classic. Wild Country is, put frankly, pretty boring stuff.


3/2/18

Lustray Coachman (Clubman/Lustray): Why?


I remember attending a portfolio review at The Cooper Union College in NY City in 2000. Back then there was no tuition to attend the school, which meant competition for entry was fierce. The front lobby looked like JFK during a hurricane. Students and parents were crammed into every corner, with nearly a thousand applicants clutching their precious portfolios with nervous expressions on their faces. People lined up outside, napped under benches, and despite occasional reassurances from college staff that the review process would be expedited, a grim silence hung over the crowd. Rumor had it that The Cooper Union only accepted 0.5% of its applicants each year. This wasn't a place where people expected their dreams to come true. This was where dreams were re-routed. Rejection was almost a guarantee.

At 18 years old, I had a kernel of hope. I had spent the better part of four years developing a fairly attractive portfolio, but I doubted the bulk of my work would clinch it. Most of my artwork was original, and the original stuff was good, but I knew it wasn't great. This school accepts only those with greatness to foster. In my precocious way, I imagined I could outsmart the system by putting the best piece last. The best piece happened to be a copy of a small portion of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, done in crayon. It had garnered praise from people who were not given to dispensing kind sentiments, and I felt it was my best effort.

When I approached the review board, after six hours of sweltering with a sullen throng of tattooed brats in a dark, wood-paneled chamber, they predictably blew through my original stuff with some raised eyebrows, half-hearted nods, and wry grins. There were a few positive comments, but they were unimpressed. Oddly enough, I sensed that my years of being "encouraged" as a youngster had only yielded the same vapid, self-indulgent work that 99.9% of American teenagers produce, except mine was a little more polished, making it just barely worthy of consideration. I figured that my tedious efforts to truly "create" original content couldn't compete with the simple beauty of antiquity, and waited with bated breath as they turned the final page. At last, the panel's eyes rested on my copy of the Michelangelo.

The response was surprisingly muted. It only took a half second for me to know that I'd blown it. Or, at least, that's what I thought at the time. The only judge to comment gestured for me to come closer, and began making circular hand gestures over the paper. "Bryan, I'd like you to look at this with me for just a moment. First, this is a nice piece, you did a good job of capturing the spirit in the Chapel here, no pun intended."

He then took his hands and used them to partition off one of the calf muscles of the figure in my drawing. "But do you see this calf? When I remove it from its context, does it look like a human calf muscle to you?"

I glowered at the paper sullenly. "Well, no. I guess not."

"No," He said, and removed his hand. "It's a good effort, but I think you still need some work." With that, the portfolio review was over. I was never going to attend a prestigious art college for free. A much more expensive art college awaited me.

Lustray Coachman aftershave is the copy of a great work, and Clubman aftershave is the original. It looks a lot like Clubman (same exact color), and it mostly smells the same, but when my nose searches for the same proportions of notes in its drydown, it finds something that smells a bit disembodied and flat, lacking dimension and depth. Instead of the heady lavender aromatics of its template, Coachman begins with a stale burst of synthetic citrus that rapidly diffuses into a cloud of powdery oakmoss and musk. From the halfway point onward, it smells identical to Clubman, but that first five minutes smells dilute, like something's missing.

I can only ask, why? Why bother releasing a watered down copy of a masterpiece, when the original is already widely available, and only costs two or three dollars more? Why compete with yourself like that? To its credit, Coachman uses real oakmoss, which is listed on the label, and it smells just as pleasantly clean and powdery as Clubman does. It is, quite literally, a barbershop scent. But I already have Clubman, and Clubman smells stronger, richer, better. So why would I bother using Coachman?

It's like my Michelangelo drawing. Why did I bother copying a Michelangelo? Why did I compete with myself like that, including my interpretation of a legendary Master's work alongside my own original ideas? I should have just let whatever untapped genius existed in my original work say everything for me, and left the soulless dupe at home. When it comes to Lustray Coachman, get it if you must, but I suggest reaching for the original instead, to enjoy unembellished. Coachman is nice, but Clubman is great.

My Michelangelo.

2/19/18

Havana (Estée Lauder)


This fragrance is frequently discussed in wetshaver circles, and retains its popularity with users of all stripes, despite at least one reformulation in its 24 year run. It is not to be confused with its revered blue-bongo flanker, Havana Reserva, a "higher concentration" of the scent, released in 1996.*

Much is said on the internet about its busy structure, but I'll limit this review to my interpretation. Havana is essentially a 1990s "fougèriental" with a subtle bay rum lurking under a tropical storm of spices and aromatics. It is the bay rum element that appeals to wetshavers, and understandably so, but this isn't the main attraction for me. I smell Havana as one of the most complex fragrances of the last thirty years. There are so many things happening that it becomes necessary for me to detach from intellectual analysis of it, just so I can enjoy it.

Havana interests me because it is the best surviving example of early 1990s orientals. It is still in production. It is still made with good raw materials. It still smells very dynamic and "old-school." It is still quite loud, and still employs a particular fruity, high-pitched, and very animalic musk, now nearly extinct, which was emblematic of its era. If you are familiar with Vermeil for Men, Rémy Latour's Cigarillo, Balenciaga Pour Homme, Witness, and Aubusson Pour Homme, and any dollar store bay rum, just imagine these fragrances being chopped apart, and then sutured together into a massive hulking Frankenscent. This is what Havana smells like.

It has also been called a "tobacco scent," and it does feature a very clear pipe tobacco note that pervades the drydown. This, in tandem with a rich melange of woody and herbal accords, lends Havana a shimmer that is both pleasurable to wear and eternally fresh; Havana never feels boring or commonplace. An overture of lavender, anise, and tonka imparts the basic idea of an aromatic fougère, which then segues into the softer bay rum in the mid, before the whole brew coalesces into a woodsy-musky amber, similar to those found in Witness, Balenciaga, and Aubusson. No accord smells overtly synthetic, note separation is measured and beautifully balanced, and when it seems the whole thing will collapse on itself, an airy cedar cigar box element spaces everything out and saves the day.

Despite all of this, I find Havana difficult to wear, at least regularly. When I reach for a fragrance after a shave, I'm reaching for a focus. I want a fougère, or an oriental, or a bay rum, but rarely do I want all three, all at once. Another issue is its volume; Havana is a foghorn. One spray fills a room. This it shares with Joop! Homme, and thus is almost impossible to wear to work, for fear that I'll offend half the building. I can't even imagine what Reserva was like, although some claim that fragrance was actually softer.

I highly recommend this scent, not to tobacco lovers (you're better off with Vermeil), or bay rum lovers (just wear bay rum), but to those who remember the early 1990s orientals, with their rich resins, fresh spices, and apple-pie musks. If you enjoy Balenciaga PH and Witness, you'll love Havana.



*According to a response from Lauder to a basenotes member in this thread.

2/11/18

An Update On English Leather



A picture is worth a thousand words, so I took a screenshot of an exchange I had with another member of Badger & Blade. The member wrote to Dana and asked what their plan was for English Leather, and they said they were no longer making the cologne, but were selling aftershave through their website and Walmart only.

Upon visiting Dana's site, I found that the 8 ounce bottles were once again available for $30. What gives? Apparently they are dumping the remaining stock into the large bottles only, which actually makes sense if they're looking to end cologne sales ASAP. From now on the aftershave will be the only thing available. This also explains why they're not selling EL in regular 3.4 oz bottles. Those aren't being made anymore.

This is a sad day for EL fans, but I still wonder if Dana will sell the brand to another concern. At this point Dana has all but destroyed English Leather. Its packaging has gone downhill (they didn't even bother with a new logo for it), its formula has been reduced to bare bones, and they aren't even attempting to advertise for it. With any luck, a conscientious bidder will snatch it up and reformulate it back to its former glory, and give it a proper package. It would be nice to see a return to the vintage sticker, with its hand-drawn saddle and riding cap imagery.


2/2/18

Lustray Spice (Lustray/Clubman): Plastic Shave


Hello 1968.

I went to great lengths to get my hands on a bottle of this. Connecticut is in a retail dead zone, a place where no independent wholesaler outlets exist, where chains like Rite Aid and CVS sell the same three things, and if you want to acquire something different and experience some variety, a trip to New York City is your only ticket.

So on a frigid December afternoon, I drove to Queens to visit a wholesale outlet that had the Lustray line in stock. You may be wondering why I didn't just order them from Amazon. Well, Amazon is convenient, but they're asking over twice as much as the wholesaler is per bottle, and given that it's only a little over an hour drive, I figured it would be worth spending a couple extra dollars on gas if I could get the entire line for half of what Amazon is charging. Plus, why wait?

Lustray Spice is probably the most popular in the line, and from its name I expected a cheap, watered-down version of Old Spice. Oh, how naive I was! There were a few things I needed to learn about the difference between figurative "barbershop" and literal barbershop. Knowing Lustray isn't like knowing Skin Bracer and Brut. This is something physically and economically different.

Figuratively speaking, "barbershop fragrances" are conveyed by popular aftershaves, like the aforementioned lotions. This is the stuff sold to individuals in stores. They last for months, or even years. Their fragrances are soft, powdery, dry, and simple, at least compared to contemporary EDTs. When the average guy off the street considers a "barbershop" scent, it's likely a cheap fougere, or a minty thing like Aqua Velva.

But what happens when you actually set foot in a big city barbershop on the corner of 43rd and 9nth? A drab little place owned and run by three generations of African American guys with an hourly line of ten schlubs on a bench, all waiting for a cut and a shave? Cab drivers and delivery guys and retired neighborhood watchdogs are its loyal patrons, and amidst the street noise, the R-rated banter, and the hum of electric clippers, you wonder how such an establishment can maintain the energy to service what seems like every blue collar worker in the city. They don't make Aqua Velva bottles big enough.

How do they keep products in stock? There's really only one way to do that, and it involves stepping into the vast world of commercial products. This is where you cross the line from figurative to literal. Lustray doesn't exist to offer individuals their annual bottle of aftershave. It exists for that dirty little inner-city barbershop where twenty pounds of hair get swept per day. Lustray sells aftershave by the gallon. The gallon. Spice comes in a gallon jug alongside the rest. The 15 ounce bottle that I bought is for the struggling barber, the guy who only cuts sixty heads a day, instead of a hundred. For me, it's enough to last eight years. For him, it might last a month.

Lustray products aren't manufactured for glitz and glamour. Their labels are bland, generic. It took a graphic designer one lunch break to design them, and the printer one smoke break to print them. The juice comes in plastic, and it isn't even decent plastic. You know what comes in decent, relatively odor-free plastic? Old Spice and Brut. You know what doesn't? Any Lustray aftershave. The plastic for these is shit. It smells like burnt rubber. The plastic odor is, in fact, the one major problem with these products. It's one thing to make a cheap aftershave for thirty cents an ounce, but housing it in low-grade plastic means you're almost overpaying for it.

Almost. This brings me to the scent of Lustray Spice. When I opened the bottle for the first time, I noticed two things: the plastic around the spout was so cheap and crappy that it had little stray "hairs" of plastic flecking off it, and as I pulled them off, my nose was filled with the plastic smell, radiating like its own coherent fragrance right into the atmosphere around me. It wasn't until I buried my nose in the spout that I could get a whiff of the actual aftershave.

I shook some onto my hand. The restricter on the spout is tiny, letting literally a few drops out at a time, another conscious commercial decision. If the average barber is going to use this stuff like water, better make each application as stingy as possible, to save him time and money. It takes four good shakes to get a small pond of liquid in the palm of my hand. I rubbed it on my face, and was immediately hit with an alcohol smell, closely followed by the plastic stench of the bottle. My heart sank.

When I got home, I decanted the liquid into a clean glass bottle and let it sit for a couple of days. Then I shaved and returned to it, hoping that the solution for Clubman would be the solution for Lustray. This time I was only half as lucky. While decanting did reduce the initial plastic odor, it didn't reduce it nearly as much. However, what it did reduce (to the point of near total elimination) was the drydown odor. Instead of pervading all stages of the scent, the plastic odor now vanished in the early drydown. This appears to be the best I can hope for. The scent isn't really changing in glass.

And the scent isn't like Old Spice. To my surprise, Lustray Spice is a clove scent, with a hilariously ambitious stab at smoky lavender, a somewhat more successful stab at cinnamon and nutmeg, and a good base of powdery clove. This fragrance is an ode to saturnine masculinity, to seriousness, to "granddad-ness," and all the trappings of being a testosterone-driven male. Your hands are always dirty, you work on cars, you smoke, you run the risk of getting arrested every time you open your mouth around a pretty woman, and your barber slaps a little Lustray Spice on the back of your neck after a haircut. (This is the only perfumed product you allow your skin to touch.)

This stuff has no menthol, no glycerin, an extremely high alcohol content, and its scent is gone thirty minutes after application. Yes, you read that right. At maybe one whole percent of perfume by volume, the scent lasts thirty minutes. This is the most tenacious scent in the line, and I have all but Draggon Noir, Lilac, and Menthol at the moment. Menthol aftershave was discontinued several years ago, so I doubt I'll get my mitts on it now, and I wasn't ready to drop thirty bucks on a gallon of Lilac aftershave, nor did I feel like buying anything that riffed so badly off Drakkar Noir's name, so that'll also have to wait, and Spice will have to do. And "do" it does - I actually get projection and sillage out of this stuff.

I think its strength is in the darkness of its pyramid. A plasticky oriental lavender (with burnt vanilla) comprises its top note, and once that burns off, it sweetens into kitchen spice. By fifteen minutes, Spice is basically a fresh but austere clove, smelling one-note and medicinal in the clean, powdery way that cloves do. Shortly after that, it's just a whisper, but a stern whisper. I can't imagine this kretek effect wetting many lips. There's something "seventies Charles Bronson" about it. It's barbershop, but it's on the darker side.

How does a commercial aftershave play for the individual? Depends on the individual. If I were to get hit with some Lustray Spice on that corner barbershop in the city, it would be gone before I even walked out, simply because the barber would only use a shake or two, literally just a few drops, and some of that might not even get on my skin. He might shake a little into a hot towel and wipe down my face after a shave, but I'd wager you'd smell the talc more than the aftershave.

It's different for a private user. After a shave, I use the decanted Spice like I would any of my drugstore aftershaves. I'm using three or four times as much as the barber ever would in each application. Thus the effect is magnified, and even distorted. Is Lustray Spice meant to be used at home? Not really. And that's why it isn't available at drug stores. When I use it, I'm actually misusing it. I should only be using a few drops.

I don't love this one, but I like it. I think it's a shame that the plastic odor is baked into the scent, but I'm glad it doesn't pervade the entire drydown. The schlock lavender is bad in a good way, the fresh clove a welcome addition to my morning. This is a throwback scent; the look and smell of the whole thing is from fifty years ago, but that's just fine. I'm an old soul.



1/17/18

Understanding The Difference Between The Terms "Of Compound" and "In Concentrate," and Why Aftershaves Often Smell Cheap



Recently, a fragrance blogger who is given to disliking Terre d'Hermès made an embarrassing error regarding the usage of Iso E Super in the fragrance. He wrote the following on Fragrantica:
"From the Wikipedia iso e super page: 'The very popular Terre D'Hermes (Hermes, 2006) contains 55% Iso E Super (of the perfume compound).' But now: 'IFRA restricted to 21.4% in concentrate for perfume use.' That is from the evocativeperfumes site. When they use percentages it always means the fragrance portion, and does not include the perfumer's alcohol content, from what I understand . . . in any case, from what I've read about safety testing on iso e super I would not use the original TdH even if I preferred it to the latest formulation!"
Reading this would lead one to believe that the EDT now contains up to 21.4% Iso E Super, where once it was 55%. However, he misunderstands what he wrote. He cited percentages in two categories: "Of Compound" and "In Concentrate." There is an obvious difference between them, which was pointed out by another member, who calls himself "blonc":
"In order to help avoid confusion, I'm going to correct the review below by Bigsly, who doesn't understand the numbers he was discussing. From the Wikipedia iso e super page: 'The very popular Terre D'Hermes (Hermes, 2006) contains 55% Iso E Super (of the perfume compound).'

It's important to understand the phrase in parenthesis above: Of The Perfume Compound. That refers to the combination of ingredients before being diluted in alcohol to bring the final product down to eau de toilette strength (an EdT is usually 12% to 15% perfume compound and 85% to 87% alcohol).

But now: 'IFRA restricted to 21.4% in concentrate for perfume use.' That 21.4% represents the final perfume including the alcohol. In other words, the formula Terre d'Hermes is 55% Iso E Super, but that's before being diluted. The final product, after being diluted down to EdT strength, is more like 7% Iso E Super, which is far below the 21.4% allowed by IFRA (55% of the formula, diluted down to 13.5% strength). Hopefully that helps clear up any confusion. I mean, come on now, if TdH was 55% Iso E Super after being diluted in alcohol... holy moly, it would be at least twice as strong as the strongest EdP. It'd be an attar! And it would be unwearable."
There was never any doubt that the formula (at least at one time) contained 55% Iso E Super. Whether it still does is up for debate, but I never thought the EDT (or EDP) contained that much! "Of Compound" refers to the aroma chemicals combined in a formula before the addition of alcohol. "In Concentrate" refers to the concentration of the fragrance in alcohol as the final product: EDC, EDT, EDP, etc. Division by dilution is necessary. When you consider that the average EDT is roughly 87% alcohol to 13% formula, and you further consider what percentage of the formula contains one specific aroma chemical, the result is likely around 5% for Iso E in TdH. Put another way, with TdH EDT, almost 100% of what you smell is not Iso E Super.

When you consider that aftershaves are 96% - 99% alcohol, you realize just how little of the fragrance formula is available. I suspect there's a drop of Iso E Super in Clubman Classic Vanilla, along with roughly one hundred other conventional aroma chemicals, but I would be lucky to detect less than 1% of any chemical, its fragrance is so vague and, compared to most EDTs, relatively cheap (and Classic Vanilla's formula by no means smells cheap). Unfortunately, the percentage of alcohol in most alcohol-based aftershaves is so high that the alcohol itself becomes a note. With the average EDT, the concentration of the formula is meant to be just high enough to mask the alcohol, and sometimes it doesn't even do that adequately.

This is interesting when considering how people complain about being overwhelmed by Iso E Super. They pretend to smell huge amounts of it in fragrances like TdH, when in reality they're not smelling it at all. They're "Feelers," not "Tasters." They "feel" that something is true, even though it isn't. Instead of actually using their noses to gradually analyze, they chronically sample and make snap judgments. The result is chronic disinformation about fragrance materials and their effects.

I wish I could use magic to dispel the disinformation campaign waged against Iso E and other materials, like Ambroxan, but alas, I left my wand in my other pants. I guess the old reality-based mainstays of logic and simple math will have to do instead.

Update 1/23/18:
The blogger in question has published a rebuttal to my post in which he states the following:
"I certainly wouldn't be the one to applaud more restrictions on Iso E Super (because I seem to be one of the people who have become hypersensitized to it), but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be an issue with IFRA at the moment . . . I still don't understand why it's necessary to talk in terms of 'in concentrate' and 'in compound' when we know the alcohol content is going to be so high, and we also know that of course it's been diluted into the alcohol, or else it would smell differently when we sprayed it!"
His article basically admits that I'm right, and I'll answer his question here: we need to talk in these terms because they're distinctions. Without these distinctions the percentages lack specificity, and therefore lack meaning. If someone says 55% of Iso E is in a fragrance, I need them to clarify whether he is referring to the formula prior to dilution in alcohol, or if he is referring to an attar from Saudi Arabia. Generally the percentages aren't that high, so it's more likely I'd hear something like, "There's 8% Iso E Super in this frag." Again, is that the formula, or is that the final fragrance, where there's probably something like .8% ies?

Another humorous issue with this person's blog post is this snippet:
"As to claims that some people are imagining ies content, we only have to turn to the Wikipedia page on this aroma chemical to see the reality there."
Unfortunately the Wikipedia page misleads the blogger into thinking that Iso E Super causes olfactory hypersensitivity, when in fact it only says that it causes topical hypersensitivity, otherwise known as a "rash," and this is only proven via animal testing on mice. Thus far there is little to no information regarding olfactory sensitivity on the Wikipedia page, which only says:
"Iso E Super may cause allergic reactions detectable by patch tests in humans, and chronic exposure to Iso E Super from perfumes may result in permanent hypersensitivity."
"Hypersensitivity" has its own Wikipedia page, which states that these are a set of undesirable reactions produced by the normal immune system, "including allergies and autoimmunity." Since "patch tests" are skin tests, and because "hypersensitivity" is another word for "allergies," one can only conclude that the blogger has either misunderstood the material he has cited, or hopes that his readers will. I can say that any suggestion that miniscule amounts of Iso E Super in commercial fragrances will cause strong negative reactions to one's sense of smell are unsupported by my friend's "patch test" argument.

Getting out ahead of his Creed Viking post, he will argue that when Creed UK claims that Viking is "80% natural," they're referring to the alcohol in the EDP bottle. I have asked Creed if that is true. Their very brief response was that the percentage they cited refers only to the compound, or perfume portion of the fragrance, which rules out the alcohol. Thus one can easily infer that their percentage refers to the number of natural ingredients in the formula, and not the volume of natural materials in the bottle purchased. Technically Viking could be 80% natural in that, as an easy example, one ingredient could be synthetic and comprise 90% of the volume in the formula, while the remaining 10% could be broken up into four natural ingredients in 2.5% increments, a relatively low volume for each. Given that Creeds smell very strange compared to other frags, this seems likely, and my example is simplified - there are probably close to a thousand materials in Viking.


1/7/18

"Barbershop Fragrance" As A Traditional Concept: Defining The Phrase


Not Really Cheap, Not Really Cheerful.

I want to thank reader and fellow blogger Bibi Maizon for providing this link as a historical anecdote about Osage Rub. It reveals a brief but enlightening historical blurb on the product, which I tried and failed to uncover myself. I'm glad Bibi did this; the information solidified my theory regarding "survivor products" like Osage Rub.

This stuff is more of a survivor than I thought. According to the site, a man named Merton E. Waite registered "Osage Rub" as a trademark hair tonic as far back as 1903, and he had been selling it since 1901! That makes it 117 years old. You can still buy a bottle for $4 at barber supply stores (which is how I found mine), sold in cheap plastic, but in the 1900s it was packaged handsomely in glass, its label framed in gold flake, its manufacturer, the Bonheur Company, proudly broadcasting itself in bold typeface under the slogan: "Makes the Old Head feel like New." A eucalyptus plant is appropriately illustrated next to the name, and there is no doubt that the bottle's contents were meant to be mass produced.

What communities like Fragrantica and basenotes fail to emphasize is the importance of the early twentieth century barbershop in Western culture. This was the world from which current megahits like Dior Homme and Bleu de Chanel are cast. In the 1900s, the average gentleman wasn't interested in perfuming his body, but he was interested in being clean, and perhaps (if he was wealthy) in scenting the handkerchief in his breast pocket. The "being clean" part is central to understanding the upbringing of the masculine fragrance industry. It wasn't Paul Parquet who reached the guys. It was Merton E. Waite, and his competitors. By landing hair tonics and grooming lotions on barbers' shelves, these pioneers of archetypical modern masculinity shaped the behaviors of the luxury brands that followed.

Perfume was certainly interesting in those early days, but it wasn't as connected to the mainstream. Osage Rub, however, was very connected. Its ads stated that "All barbers get ten cents per application," evidence that this product, and its congeners, was instrumental to the proliferation and growth of its own incentivized, free market-driven industry. Civil War Lilac Waters and Old World European colognes informed New World perfumers in their pursuit of synthetics, and without delving too deeply into the cultural weave of capitalists like Waite and perfumers like Parquet, I'll get right to the endgame: the synthetics of perfumery supplanted the naturals of barbershop tonics, thus making these tonics the original gendered perfumes.

Looking beyond Osage Rub, the question remains, what is a barbershop fragrance? Every genre has connective tissue which conjoins its examplars. I have deduced, from a careful perusal of William Andrews' interesting 1904 book, At The Sign Of The Barber's Pole: Studies In Hirsute History, that barbershop fragrances are derived from sweetness and powder. The sweetness stems from 18th century floral waters, while the powder references hair powder, commonly used from ancient times to the late 18th century. Hair powder was made of various materials, but most commonly of flour. Eventually shortages in flour spelled the end of its use for anything other than cooking and baking, but the scent of perfumed powder persisted as a barbershop staple, leading to the amiable powdery aftershave fragrances of today.

When I look at the majority of my aftershaves, which includes classics like Tabac, Old Spice, Skin Bracer, Aqua Velva, Clubman, Brut, and Canoe, I find that they are all incredibly similar. They're all sweet, herbal, spicy, fresh, and very powdery. My collection also includes the Lustray line (pictured above), and each one checks these boxes as well. When exploring fine fragrances from designer brands, I encounter a variety of perfumes entirely unrelated to barbershop scents, but every so often an oriental or fougere that typifies the genre comes along, like Lagerfeld Classic, Drakkar Noir, Rive Gauche Pour Homme, Bleu de Chanel, and more recently, Dior Sauvage. What sets these examples apart is their nod to barbershop traditions, i.e., clean powder. It is this tradition that defines masculinity in perfumery.

Are their outliers to the theme? Perhaps. One can argue convincingly that Azzaro's Chrome Legend, an aldehydic tea floral with a massive green apple note, is a 21st century mutation of the archetypical barbershop. Its aldehydes and floral notes are excessively dry, like an olfactory crystallization of brightness; its fruity quality is strangely diffuse and nearly ambery, not unlike coumarin, and its notes interact in a simple way. Compare CL to Old Spice, and on its face the fragrance couldn't be more different, but consider the general qualities it shares with the classic oriental (aldehydes, dry florals, sweet powder), and odd similarities are found.

I find that when reviewers express confusion about the phrase "barbershop scent," they say things like, "This doesn't smell like any barbershop I've been to." This is a fundamental misinterpretation of the phrase. To say that Drakkar Noir smells like a barbershop scent isn't to imply that Drakkar Noir is used by barbers. Drakkar Noir employs notes and accords that resemble products used for shaving: its lavender and dry-herbal qualities are similar to the scents of common shaving soaps. The phrase extrapolates from a variety of shaving and haircutting products that have been traditionally used, ranging from talcum powders to shaving creams, to even Barbacide and other disinfecting astringents. Barbershop fragrances are typically subjective, based on the barber's region of practice.

Why is this true? Barbershops smell quite different depending on what part of the world you live in. I consider Z-14 a barbershop scent, but not a conventional American barbershop scent. I think of it as an Italian barbershop scent, not unlike the majority of classic masculine colognes from midcentury Italy, stuff like Silvestre by Victor and Pino Silvestre, and even Spanish oldies like Agua Lavanda and Agua Brava. Z-14 capitalizes on dry mosses, zesty citrus, and rich herbal tones, which were all mainstream Meditteranean themes. American barbers are more staid, relying on talcum powder and subtle floral tones. Pinaud Clubman is the American reference, and Clubman and Z-14 couldn't be more different.

Once you become familiar with the themes, you begin to smell the similarities between the different regions. Sure, Clubman and Z-14 are different, but when you parse their respective territories you find they inhabit a well defined space. Canoe, Brut, and Tabac are all pretty clearly in Clubman's ballpark; Silvestre, Pino Silvestre, and the cypress-heavy earlier versions of Z-14 are in their own league. All resemble aftershaves and hair tonics from their respective regions. If you investigate designer fragrances, you find that Dior Homme's lipstick iris has powdery American aftershave qualities, Bleu de Chanel smells like Aqua Velva with a huge budget, and Sauvage is a citrusy leather, a direct descendent of stuff like English Leather Lime (or even just the original English Leather).

At the end of the day, the best approach to the barbershop genre is to consider your associations, and see what fits. Maybe Skin Bracer doesn't really make sense in the context of your personal experience at a barbershop, but Clubman's powdery talc scent might ring some serious bells. Traditional barbershops, manned by old men in white coats, are becoming a thing of the past. Fortunately, the tonics and lotions they used are still with us, and this year I will be exploring a few of them for you, a pursuit I will enjoy immensely.



1/1/18

Osage Rub: Classic Coolness



I really wish I knew how old Osage Rub is. I haven't been able to find a history of the stuff. Judging from vintage bottles and advertisements, it seems to date back to at least the 1940s, when it was apparently used as a medicinal hair tonic. It definitely harkens back to a time when straight razor shaving necessitated the use of something infallibly soothing afterward. Men weren't concerned with smelling good in the forties. They were concerned with feeling good. The Depression was over, and the insanities of the War made life's little luxuries all the more important. Some genius barber realized that Osage Rub made even bad shaves feel nice, and ran with it.

Consider this: Osage Rub has existed for decades not to be an alluring fragrance, not to impress people as a trendy styling accessory, and not to compete with other hair tonics. Osage Rub has existed for decades to refresh and "invigorate," and has thus become a wetshaving icon. I've used my fair share of mentholated aftershaves, but I have never experienced anything like Osage Rub. This stuff is more than just cold - it is downright freezing. It's just a guess, but I'd say there's somewhere around 20% menthol in the formula.

Upon first slapping it on there's a brisk alcohol bite, coupled with a natural eucalyptus note, which makes sense because there's real eucalyptus leaf oil in the ingredients. Fragrance-wise, Osage Rub is a simple one note eucalyptus scent. Personally I'd be happier with a mint scent (I dislike eucalyptus), but what follows makes its smell inconsequential. Out of nowhere comes a blast of frigidity so otherworldly in its coldness that any fear of redness after a shave is instantly eradicated. You could trim your whiskers with hedge clippers and it wouldn't matter; Osage Rub's medicinal properties are super concentrated and unerringly effective. This is a functional product. Razor burn? Problem solved.

It isn't just about skin irritation, though. Hot summer day? Splash a palmful on your face and rub it through your hair. The icy tingle is weirdly calming and satisfying. Just need to wake up after a rough night? Splash it like water and you'll be running rings around your boss. The chill is so intense that it actually makes my eyes water, it's that cold. Speaking of colds, the eucalyptus vapors hang around long enough to clear your sinuses. Osage Rub has survived the years because it makes men feel physically well, either after a shave or just at the end of a long day. It is the best mentholated aftershave lotion in existence - nothing else comes close, not even Barbasol Brisk. And I suppose men don't mind smelling like eucalyptus because eucalyptus has been soothing men for thousands of years. Men evolved embracing its mystical properties. It is classic coolness incarnate.