"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.


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.


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.