6/27/18

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.


12 comments:

  1. Hi Brian - thanks for writing about this - I love the stuff and am sitting here now wishing I was wearing it, despite wearing the lovely Mancera Sand Oud - one of the few niche fragrances I own a full bottle of. It has just made me realise that Acqua di Selva would have been a much better and more satisfying choice in this rare warm and sunny weather we are currently enjoying here in the UK. Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Acqua di Selva - sums it up perfectly. The only thing puzzling me is your experience of poor longevity - I get the complete opposite and have to be careful to limit myself to 2-3 sprays otherwise it practically knocks me out. I can still smell it clearly after 8+hours! I will have a look at the bottle & box and will try and report back to see if it is different in any way to what you have. I bought it a few years ago from a small, independent perfumery on the isle of Capri, Italy and am pretty sure it's not a 'vintage' bottle. Cheers!

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    1. Hi Derbyman, thanks for reading, this is a scent that almost nobody discusses anymore! It probably lasts a good four or five hours, but I think I get olfactory fatigue and can't really pick out the delicate green notes after an hour or so. Funny you mention Mancera, I've been meaning to try their scents.

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    2. I'm sure olfactory fatigue could be a factor - it's got a sharp greeness which I'm sure could tire out the nasal receptors! The Mancera range is a strange one - kind of 'westernised' Montales but oddly compelling and, aside from the many takes on the ubiquitous oud/rose combos, there are some really great scents. I think Black Gold would appeal to your old school sensibilities (as it does to mine) and straddles a fine line between masculine and feminine seemingly shape shifting between the two. Also, apologies for mispelling your name in my previous comment. Please feel free to correct it as it's playing havoc with my OCD..!

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    3. No worries about my name, happens all the time. You should see my last name lol!

      I'd have to keep Black Gold in mind. Looks like a good aromatic leather, a relative of things from the 1980s that are in my collection. Also interested in Wild Fruits for its SMW comparison. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but SMW and related fragrances give off a shaving soap vibe to me. Thanks for the suggestion!

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  2. Not trying to blow smoke up your ass but this is one of the reasons I admire and appreciate what you do here with your blog. While most of YouTube etc concerns itself with trendy, flash in the pan crowd pleasers, you understand the history as well as the scent and show respect for the classics like this. Maybe more of them should educate themselves and read your blog just saying. Anyway such a beauty I love this stuff and will always have a bottle.

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    1. Ben, in part two of my YouTube post, I'll address reasons, a few of which you've just mentioned, why YouTube struggles to be relevant to fragheads. Turin and Sanchez are issuing a new Guide this year, and it's interesting to note that their cache as book publishers is (still) greater than anything online. This says less about them and more about the abject failure of YouTubers (and many bloggers) to simply focus on good fragrances, and forget about the sneaker juice and obscure niche lines - although I understand there are quite a few obscure frags in their new book.

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  3. It’s an interesting topic and discussion to be had and look forward to part two. The reality is the more discerning, sophisticated noses and the sneaker juice brigade are like chalk and cheese.
    Perhaps things will change as they tire of the monotony of these populist fragrances and overpriced, wanky niche frags fit for imaginary Arabian princes and start delving deeper into the classics and more interesting lines. They’re good fragrances! Hell anything would be better than shit like Invictus Aqua or Versace Dylan Blue.. I would rather wear Windex.

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    1. Yeah, I'm going to meditate on the impulse to explore obscure, esoteric brands and niche frags over almost-forgotten classics from the 1930s thru to the 1990s. The "new" Guide is almost entirely obscure niche. It raises the question as to why anyone would write a guide for fragrances that most people have never heard of. In a sense, it's smart: if I'm unfamiliar with almost every frag in the book, a guide is necessary. On the other hand, where's that review of Zino I've been dying to read since Luca and Tania's first Guide ten years ago? The antediluvian masculines by brands like Davidoff and Halston may be extinct, but then again, who in ten years will care about frags by Le Galion?

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    2. I think there are a handful of guys like that on Youtube, like Mr. Smelly, Lex Ellis, Scentland guy, Lanier Smith, and Joy Amin. They run the gamut from popular stuff to old-school and classic scents; some more on one side than others.
      Overall though, I don't really care much for the whole "Fragcom" circle jerk of vloggers. Especially since it seems to become increasingly about mainstream best sellers, relatively popular niche fragrances, and overpriced clones from houses which I suspect just buy dupe oils and dilute them with some alcohol.

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  4. Yeah thank God for those lot and Matt C and Matt from MFO and a few others. On the blogosphere hats off to Bryan, Raiders of the Lost Scent and previously Shamu1.

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  5. Hi Bryan,
    My bottle's atomizer also unscrews, but mine has an overwhelming musk in the drydown. Way too much for my taste. Could it be defective? Could it be another formulation heavy on musk? Maybe I can layer it with Pino Sylestre or Aqua Brava to make it more palatable to me.

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    1. Think of AdS as a sort of "proto" Drakkar Noir, and the musk might not feel so out of place. Yours might be a different batch from mine. Keep in mind that the caramelic facet of peppermint in the drydown resembles musk.

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