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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


"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.


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.