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.



8 comments:

  1. "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"... So much truth.

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  2. Thanks for your review, Brian. Have you ever smelled Derby Club House Blanche by Armaf? The word is that DCHB is very close to SMW. I've noticed that Armaf makes clones of various frags, especially Creed e.g., their Club de Nuit Intense closely parallels Creed Aventus. I believe that you mentioned it in your review of Al Rehab's Avenue.

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    1. You're welcome, Kris. I haven't smelled Derby CHB yet, but I'm considering it. One thing putting me off it is that it's generally getting reviewed as being one of the lesser SMW clones, not quite as expensive in execution and suffering in longevity. As I'm not particularly enamored with Aventus, I haven't really bothered with many of their clones, so far just Avenue, which is nice, but frankly not something I ever wear. I'm interested in Tres Nuit, which I've read is a GIT clone that bears some mention. I'm thinking I may try that one.

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  3. Your coworker obviously has limited references when it comes to scents, in their world the fragrant palette is limited to a few body care products and perhaps some floral and culinary smells but not much else. Because of that they associate a nice smelling perfume like AWD to what their brain knows and registers as shampoo. Just like your female coworker once wondered where this weird old hotel soap smell came from when you were wearing Guerlain's Mitsouko. These poor chaps haven't extensively trained their noses to recognize delicate nuances when it comes to the perception of smell. You could compare it to someone who doesn't know the color blue, so when they see that color they can't say it looks like blue but they could instead say that it looks like the sky.

    I've experienced that when people are not into the perfume world they tend to keep their remarks about smells into 3 simple categories; The first is "it smells nice", the second is "it smells bad" and the third is "it smells weird". The first two categories are evidently subjective thus denoting if a smell is pleasant to them or not and the third is when they have a hard time placing it into any kind of context.
    Perhaps your colleague simply wanted to say that you smelled nice, then felt that saying that was a little to intimate or only reserved to the spouse and thus added the shampoo reference to make it sound more casual.

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    1. Agreed on most of those points. The coworker in question was female, so her sense of smell is automatically a touch more sensitive than mine is, as men have slightly lower smell receptors. However, I don't take her to be much of a fumehead. She likely owns one or two body sprays from B&BW or something, and maybe one serious perfume that she only wears on dates.

      However, this article and the one on Mitsouko are joined by another article I did a couple years ago about smelling like "powder." At the time I was wearing Grey Flannel, which frankly doesn't smell that much like powder to me. I tend to think wet leaves and green stems with GF, yet here a woman was convinced I smelled like dry talc. Scent perceptions of fragrances from several feet away are interesting.

      The moral of this article is that you should consider the number of times people reduced a Creed scent to some pedestrian aroma, and contrast that with how they perceive cheaper scents. GIT was once called "men's deodorant" by an ex of mine. It convinced me that the ocean of GIT-inspired deodorants that have flooded the market since 1985 have effectively ruined the uniqueness and "luxe factor" of GIT. Indeed, I have never received a single outright positive comment about GIT.

      However, Original Vetiver, Spice & Wood, Silver Mountain Water, Green Valley, and Chevrefueille have all received unique compliments. OV was repeatedly considered to smell "amazing." (Not just "good" or "nice.") S&W was "expensive." SMW was "very nice." GV was "realistic, like cut grass." And Chevrefueille was "really good." Some of those were gushing. In contrast, I once wore Mugler Cologne, which I happen to think smells wonderful, and received absolutely no response from some of the same people. Fahrenheit (oft compared to GV) had no visible traction with anyone when I wore through my 1.7 oz bottle. And so far my SMW clones get relatively negative comments. Al Rehab Silver got an adamant "Oh, you smell loud! You never smell loud!" And AWD got "You smell like Shampoo."

      In fairness, SMW never got anything beyond "very nice," so I guess I can't go too far with the comparison.

      I agree with your "3 simple categories" idea, but in my experience there are significant gradations to it. Certainly people tend to reduce their reactions to "nice," "bad," and "weird." But when something is more than just "nice," people will often attach an adjective or something like "very" or "super." "Bad" is sometimes "not so good" or "eew." And "Weird" is sometimes "you smell interesting," or even worse, "you smell different."

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  4. Well, given the price difference I wouldn't expect an exact dupe. Some of these Arab versions of popular western fragrances I do prefer to the original though.

    Those drugstore American brands like Olay, Axe, Jergens, & the Old Spice are really hitting out of the park with ever more sophisticated scents for their body care lines. I wonder if this has been spurred by competition by the likes of Bath & Body Works and Body shop?

    I would add to the non-fragrance loving person's limited descriptives of scent the caveat of "Anything different is bad" Meaning most people find anything unfamiliar fear-inducing & therefore bad. Then there is the modern American cultural thing where ANYTHING that does not smell 'neutral' or is more barely perceptible is toxic & a pollutant that triggers everything from asthma to cellulite.

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    1. When it comes to fragrance, Americans are sensitive butterflies. Our country is single-handedly responsible for the successful proliferation of IFRA regs.

      Olay impresses me, as does Colgate-Palmolive and Jergens. Old Spice's newer offerings are somewhat pedestrian and uninspired imo, but they're not awful.

      With the price differences in the dupes, my main concern is complexity. Ingredient quality isn't going to be top notch, and neither will the depth be particularly impressive, but if I can pick out more than four notes and perceive a significant degree of drydown movement over the course of three or four hours, then I'm satisfied, provided the price is under $20 an ounce. Rasasi is successful on all those scores, and manages to exceed expectations in longevity. Furthermore, what surprises me about AWD is that it definitely smells three times more expensive than it is, despite not being at Creed's level.

      Still, the type of fragrance - fresh fruity-floral - makes it something unlikely to move beyond soap and shampoo associations. I suspect SMW sometimes suffers the same fate, but if worn judiciously the Creed manages to smell like much more than your average perfume.

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  5. Although some would lambast me for saying this, I don't think Axe or other popular body sprays are really *that* bad (I don't count Bod since they are relatively decent clones of designer scents and not really body sprays). The Axe scents suffer from being linear, cheap, smelling like a messy accord, and associations with half a can gracing a high school kid or some guy in the gym's locker room. But with a better composition and higher quality materials, you basically have one of the phases from Sauvage or Bleu de Chanel. I wouldn't be surprised if the success of these scents inspired Axe to start focusing more on making the notes discernable.

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