2/22/20

Dakar (Al-Rehab)



It's been a while, so I'm revisiting my Drakkar Noir clones. I ran out of the real stuff a year ago, and never restocked it for reasons that elude me. Yesterday I wore Taxi for the first time in over a year. I'm not sure if it macerated in the bottle, or I just never noticed its strength before, but it's a beast! I got fifteen hours and ridiculous tenacity out of it, and still smell it on the inside of my jacket. It's a lot better than I ever gave it credit for; Drakkar is a smooth, smoky fougere with near-perfect balance and adequate projection, but Taxi is even smoother, a little richer (at least compared to Drakkar's current formula), and a touch sweeter. It's great stuff.

People have been asking me to review Al-Rehab's version of Drakkar Noir for years, and I never got around to it. Aptly called "Dakar," their clone is a pale shade of green, and comes in roll-on and EDP spray. I bought the 50ml spray for ten bucks off Amazon, but that isn't the greatest deal. Parfums Belcam sells 75ml of their clone for eight dollars, and it smells surprisingly close to the original. And when I want something similar and at the same price-point as Drakkar Noir, I reach for Francesco Smalto's excellent version. Given how successful these are, I had high hopes for Dakar.

And Dakar did not disappoint! It's an interesting variant of the theme: all drydown. From top to bottom, it smells of an aged (and intensified) Drakkar Noir, conveying its wood-smoky characteristics with near perfect accuracy. The only noticeable changeup is a distinct cumin note, which adds exoticism to the otherwise familiar milieu. Its weakest phase is the top notes, very brief, unfocused, flat, and cheap. Nonetheless, this doesn't detract from the wearing experience. Dakar smells directly on point after two minutes on skin or fabric, and really blooms in its drydown. Vintage, full-throated Drakkar Noir is alive and well in this fragrance.

If you're into collecting Drakkar clones like I am, I highly recommend giving Dakar a try. After going through a few different versions, I've come to believe that Drakkar Noir is a remarkably easy formula to imitate. I suppose it's a straightforward case of GC analysis, with the understanding that roughly 10% of the main course is dihydromyrcenol. Dakar has a fairly complex ingredients list, with oakmoss included pretty high up the ranks. So yeah, this scent is about 98% identical to vintage Drakkar Noir from the 1980s, and maybe the 90s. It's strong, fresh, incredibly masculine, and smells like it belongs in a John Hughes or Joe Dante movie.

With that said, if you're someone who just wants a handful of Reagan-era classics, and you don't obsess over fougeres, just get Drakkar Noir. It's like $40 on Amazon, and you can get the 7 oz bottle, which should last you a hundred years. In any case, if you do opt for Dakar, just know that you're getting a powerhouse fern from a bygone era. This is going to raise eyebrows if you wear one spray too many, and even if you don't, you sure as shit won't smell "au courant." To me, that's a major plus!


2/8/20

Old Spice Cologne (Shulton, 1970 - 1973 Vintage)



In the world of "non-luxury perfumes," few have a reputation as gargantuan as 1970s Old Spice. Last year I was fortunate enough to find a bottle of early seventies Old Spice cologne for a great price, and bought it. I wanted a vintage cologne for the bottle more than the scent. As much as I appreciate vintage, I hate the Proctor & Gamble bottles (cheap, crappy plastic) more than I love the vintage scent.

I don't even hate the fact that P&G uses plastic. The change in container material isn't a big deal. What pisses me off is the piss poor logo they print on the new stuff. That dumb "patch" with its microscopic ship is an eyesore. I can't understand what the design department at P&G is thinking with that thing. I've ranted about this before, and won't go on about it here, but just wanted to briefly touch on it again. The vintage Shulton milk glass bottles are pretty much the same size, shape, and color as their successors, but are superior in sporting beautiful scarlet script and the iconic grey-blue graphic of the Grand Turk, and at a size I can actually see.

The scent's reputation precedes it, although this is not obvious to casual observers. You have to be a fraghead to understand the extent of cultural murmurings about seventies Old Spice. The decade is known for a plethora of loud and super musky (super "fly") compositions, and the idea is that Old Spice entered a more full-bodied era in the Nixon years, likely following the zeitgeist. The problem in 2020 is that the fragrance is now nearly fifty years old. Orientals are known for having good staying power, and a good formula can likely survive twenty or thirty years with minimal changes. But pushing a half century is, put simply, pushing it.

The fragrance has survived, but only barely. It's wearable, and it still smells good, but its dynamism is nonexistent, and its balance long gone. Instead of the fizzy pop of orange skin, orange flower, ambergris, aldehydes, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg familiar to me in my now long-gone 1980s vintage (which was only twenty-five years old when last I wore it), the seventies juice emits a super-smooth burst of aldehydes, which last a mere ten seconds or so, followed by an intense bourbon vanilla, very deep and musky, almost as if I've dribbled vanilla extract on my arm, which quickly dries to a powdery skin musk, made extra dusky by hints of cinnamon and clove.

Where the vintage excels is in its depth. Proctor & Gamble managed to make their reformulation shimmery and pert, especially in freezing cold winter conditions, but it rarely gives an impression of durability. Shulton's formula achieves an odd trick; once applied, the wearer is treated to something that seems to radiate five or six inches from skin, without actually smelling like much up close. Although it pretends to disappear ten minutes after application, I often get a whiff of powdery vanilla five or six hours after application, and in a way that seems to drift through the air. This kinetic effect is remarkable for being both softly tenacious and engaging. It's essentially a rich vanilla base that doesn't smell cheap because it doesn't smell like a cologne.

How the chemists for Shulton developed this kind of oriental base is beyond me. I suspect there's real vanilla extract in there. But the powder, talc-like and quintessentially barbershop in nature, lends this simple note an abstract quality that I haven't encountered in recent fragrances. When I wear it, I feel like I'm emitting a vanilla essence from my sweat. The vague dusting of spice lends it animalism, but its sweet song is crystal clear, unembellished by chemical harmonies, a direct example of masculinity as melody. I wish the spices had held up more, and can't detect the ambergris that I know Shulton used, but I like it. It's really good stuff.

I also bought a bottle of 1970s vintage aftershave, but I got rid of the juice. It was probably fine, and I was probably just imagining danger, but something about using fifty year-old aftershave didn't appeal to me, and there was a touch of rancidity in the oils that sealed its fate. I refilled the bottle with current aftershave, and that works fine. The aftershave bottle dates between 1973 and 1980. I imagine it's from the late seventies, judging by the condition of the bottle.

If you enjoy Old Spice as much as I do, getting a vintage bottle is still a viable option, especially if you just want the bottle. But if looks don't bother you, the new stuff is still very good and worthy of use. Just don't make me look at that shitty packaging. I would give my left leg to take control of the package design department at P&G so I could dial the clock back to a more comfortable and less cost-efficient date! But with that said, I'd probably struggle to keep my job.


2/1/20

Why I Went Back to Vintage Old Spice (And Gave Up On Wearing Everything Else)



When I started my fragrance journey back in 2008, I was in possession of 1980s vintage Old Spice aftershave and cologne, made by Shulton, but had not yet acquired an appreciation for them, and sold both bottles on eBay for about twenty-five dollars. I've regretted it ever since.

Recently I repurchased vintage Old Spice, this time from the 1970s, and I haven't looked back. In the intervening years, I've explored every nook and cranny of the fragrance world, and it's been quite an interesting trip. My collection is roughly one hundred bottles (maybe closer to eighty-five "proper" fragrances), and most of them are fragrances I truly enjoy, or else I would never have kept them. One thing has bothered me though: it gets complicated when you own this many EDTs. All sorts of factors are considered. Is it too cold outside for this fragrance? Too hot? Is it the wrong occasion to wear this? Is this too loud? Is this too feminine? Am I sending the wrong message if I wear this to a cookout? At times the scale of choice, the sheer immensity of variety begins to feel like a hindrance rather than an advantage, and I've been keenly aware of how often that feeling occurs, and how pervasive it has become.

I've been a member of Badger & Blade for ten years, and the wetshaver community has many overlaps with the mainstream "fragcomm." Wetshavers are into colognes and aftershaves and eau de toilettes, but naturally the primary focus is shaving. A good shave requires all sorts of extraneous skin care, and the average diligent wetshaver, even a minimalist like me, has at least a half dozen products that work in tandem to keep shorn skin healthy and glowing. Witch hazel, balms, talcs, various kinds of alcohols and alcohol-based aftershaves, all are useful tools in the pursuit of the perfect shave. But even in this community, variety has taken over. Obama's second term saw the rise of "small batch" aftershave companies, an industry not unlike that of craft beer. Suddenly there are tons of inexpensive glass bottles with home-printed labels carrying liquids called "4:20," and "Red Hot Jeeper-Creeper," and all sorts of zany names, and when I dipped back into B&B a few months ago, I hardly recognized the landscape.

The fragrance industry as a whole has exploded to a size where Big Bang analogies are apt. I’ve watched Youtubers with collections that suggest a mall kiosk swallowed their homes. Some of these guys have around $100K worth of fragrance, all carefully organized on custom shelves, all averaging $250 a bottle. If thieves broke in with grocery carts and loaded up, they'd take a loss big enough to equal the cost of the newest Corvette. Even my collection, modest as it is, has a few valuable oldies that I could probably make a grand on. I can't even imagine what it must be like to have the entire Tom Ford range stacked under the entire Creed range, under the entire Guerlain range, and on, and on. How does a guy with that kind of collection get a chance to stop and actually enjoy any of it?

I began noticing something about myself. I would watch a Charles Bronson movie, or a Steve McQueen movie, or any pre-1980s movie, with the sort of testosterone-laden, ultra-masculine star that Hollywood is no longer allowed to cultivate, and I'd find myself thinking, "That guy wasn't obsessed with cologne. That guy was an Old Spice guy." Sure, Bronson danced around in those Mandom commercials from Japan, but in real life he probably used whatever drugstore cheapie was available, and didn't give it a second thought. He was more interested in spending his millions on cars and women.

These men depicted characters that were simple and direct. They perform heroic feats that defy imagination. They bed gorgeous women without a glimmer of self doubt. They aren't real life. But they were templates of the ideal that men once admired. Today they're victims of cancel culture, the toxic zeitgeist of perceived misogyny, symbols of the "patriarchy," and probably considered bigots and racists by humorless, self-hating upper middle-class white people. Bronson, McQueen, Lee Van Cleef, all are lucky they're dead. Last year on WNPR (a public radio network), a black woman said she considers the movie Gone With The Wind a Confederate monument. Clark Gable wouldn't stand a chance with her. But Clark Gable was probably an Old Spice guy. I can't imagine that he would bother with anything stronger, anything more expensive, or anything less American than the Shulton classic.

Then last June I got a promotion at work. The new position has me working in closer quarters with two women who are very olfactorily aware of their surroundings, and I realized that sheer necessity would switch my macro frag world down to something micro. I needed something I really liked, something easy to wear, something cheap enough to bring and leave in the car, and most importantly, something that wouldn't piss anyone off. My position is a sort of "middle management" role, which means people are looking to me for some leadership. It didn't take long to figure out what I needed. The only oriental I ever really liked was Old Spice, and the only drugstore frag that doesn't smell "cheap" is vintage Old Spice. So I hopped on eBay and found what I needed, an aftershave that dates between 1973 and 1980, and a cologne that predates 1973. I wasn't buying vintage for their contents, however.

As much as I appreciate the vanilla smoothness of vintage Old Spice, I think the current formula is actually quite good. Proctor & Gamble did an excellent job maintaining the overall quality and identity of the scent, despite the odds. They royally fucked up the packaging though. It has gotten to the point with those godforsaken plastic bottles, with their godawful "patch" logos, where I couldn't abide them anymore. That P&G thought it necessary to switch to plastic is one thing, but to strip the plastic of the beloved Grand Turk is another level of stupid. So back to the Wheaton-style milk glass, with their beautiful script font, and those glorious ships. If I'm wearing something every day, I want to like the bottle I'm reaching for.

Am I done with fragrance? No. I still enjoy fragrance, I still value variety, and I still see exploring the fragrance world as something worthy of pursuit. I'm not through with fragrance, but I'm through with a "rotation." I'm working on developing a very small wardrobe for regular use. But for the time being, I'm enjoying simplicity. I don't want to be an overly perfumed Millennial jerk anymore. I don't want to smell like a fourteen year-old girl, or spend four hundred dollars just to piss off a woman fifteen feet away. I want to smell like a man. I want to smell like a man from the past. And I want to smell discreet. In this day and age, discretion is key to my survival, and also the key to my success. With Old Spice, discretion is handled very, very well. Thank goodness for small favors.


1/18/20

L'Homme Ideal Cologne (Guerlain)


Nothing says "buy me" like a panicked man fleeing a hundred bridezillas.

I can't remember the last time I had such mixed feelings about a fragrance.

I recall reading Perfumes: The Guide for the first time in 2009, and thinking that its authors' credibility was shot because they found Guerlain, at least generally speaking, to be pretty amazing, and Creed to be mostly crap. In my years of exploring fragrance, I've yet to fully get on board the Guerlain hype train.

My problem with the brand is that it issues great fragrances made of subpar materials. Their Vetiver smells good, but its top notes are chemical enough to draw comparisons to bug spray. Shalimar is nice, but boring. It smells like high quality citrus blended with mediocre vanilla and an even more mediocre musk. Mitsouko is impressive mostly in how it handles oakmoss. I can't say I was ever blown away by the supposed "peach" that I've yet to find in its abstract (and ancient) composition. Habit Rouge is a decent powdery dandy fragrance, but isn't worth fifty dollars when Pinaud Clubman achieves the same effect for seven. I've only put my nose on two or three in the Aqua Allegoria line, but those I've smelled were good, competently made, and instantly forgettable. What's the deal with them? And why so many?

The L'Homme Ideal line has people abuzz about how "fresh" its frags are. Lately there's complaints about Guerlain's discontinuation of L'Homme Ideal Cologne. Majority sentiment declares it an excellent summer fragrance, with an unusual and memorable accord of grapefruit and "almond" that will be sorely missed a couple of years from now when bottle supplies dry up.

I'll preface my opinion by stating that one should be wary of buying into company-issued note pyramids. While Guerlain might say there's "almond" in this fragrance, I smell none at all. Of course, the fact that almond is in the pyramid is enough to make dozens of reviewers on both basenotes and fragrantica remark on how good the almond note is. Why Guerlain felt the need to relabel the massive vetiver in this fragrance is beyond me.

Vetiver can possess a dry, nutty quality, and it can lend a composition an austere earthiness when used well. That element is very much at the heart of this "cologne" (really an EDT). It is preceded by a burst of synthetic citrus and pink pepper, mostly grapefruit, and while it smells overtly fake, it nonetheless smells very, very good.

The citrus and pepper accord smells so good that I'm tempted to say it's the best use of these notes I've encountered in years, except there's a niggling feeling about the grapefruit I just can't shake. And then - a lightbulb flickers - I've smelled this note elsewhere: this is the same grapefruit found in Bleu de Chanel, only at a much higher volume. This realization made me smell L'Homme Ideal Cologne as a mini Bleu with more grapefruit on top, and more vetiver in the base (Bleu has a subtler vetiver). When you think of L'Homme as its own fragrance, it seems generic and affable enough. But when you consider it the offspring of Bleu de Chanel, pangs for Bleu overshadow the experience. If I'm gonna go nightclub playa, I'd rather reach for the Chanel.

That said, it's still a pretty good scent. Yes, the ingredients are disappointing as usual, and yes the composition isn't as original as it could be, especially with citrus playing a central role, but it still works. The blend is smooth, gentle, soft. The balance is pitch-perfect, with the ghost of sulfur following the citrus fizz to remind me of real grapefruit, and the sweetness of pink pepper providing piquant contrast. The vetiver is shaded into the background with detail rarely experienced in mainstream perfumery. The freshness lasts for hours, no small feat. And the overall effect is simple, clean, and inviting, a laundered white T-shirt in a spring morning breeze.

Fragrances like L'Homme Ideal Cologne are made for flirting. In 2020, that's the truth. Once upon a time they were made to denote hygiene, to complement a "type," but these days they're made for dates, for intimate gatherings, for getting closer to someone of interest. Women have been exposed to a multitude of masculine clichés over the decades, and at this point their collective opinion is firm. Clean smells are the winners.

So while guys like Luca Turin bemoan the "fresh" culture, guys who want to get laid wear stuff like this because it works. But is a fragrance that is guaranteed to attract women merely a functional tool for the proletariat? Are the reasons for preferring stuff like Lapidus Pour Homme and Giorgio for Men automatically contrarian? Is it bad that this fragrance bores me? Is it even worse that it seemed to find favor with a beautiful woman that I met in passing the other day?

Guerlain really aggravates me.


1/1/20

Thé Brun (Jean-Charles Brosseau)



In 2005, Pierre Bourdon created this now-forgotten tea fragrance for the somewhat obscure firm of Jean-Charles Brosseau. Thé Brun is an oddity, a Bourdon creation that flew under the radar, and never landed. It has attracted a bit of attention in the past few years via basenotes threads such as this one, with speculation that Bourdon is the nose behind Creed's Aventus, and that he "tested" the Aventus concept five years earlier in JC Brosseau's scent.

To my nose, no such "test" occurred. Thé Brun's note pyramid lists pineapple, but I get none from any stage of the fragrance. If the idea is that Bourdon rehearsed Aventus' "smoky" accord in Brosseau's frag, then it was by accident, because the smokiness in Thé Brun smells like an extension of its sweet, milk-and-sugar black tea drydown. The scent evolution is as follows: a trite fougere top note of cheap and unnecessary lavender, rapidly followed by a cloud of campfire smoke, which coalesces into a bitter, somewhat smoky Lapsang souchong note.

In Aventus the smokiness is papery, birch-like, reminiscent of American bills, and it lasts forever. Here, the smoke communicates a specific kind of aromatic Chinese tea, and is more complex. The Lapsang trails off after an hour, leaving a hyper-realistic British Colony mug tea in its wake. It smells like cheap English Afternoon tea, a commonplace beverage you might sip on your lunch break. It is recognizable, mellow, and pleasant when used judicously.

What does Thé Brun signify to the culture? Newsflash: Bourdon was obviously making charming niche scents for down-market brands while also allegedly creating upscale niche for Creed and Frederic Malle. He may have authored Aventus, but I wouldn't point to this frag as proof of that. There's no tea in Aventus. Thé Brun, on the other hand, is 100% about tea. When I sniff its atomizer, it smells like a cup of Twinnings. Truth in advertising! By the way, its minimalist gem-cut bottle is a nice touch.