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.


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.


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.