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.


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.