Aqua Velva Ice Sport (Combe Inc.)

Aqua Velva Ice Sport. The aftershave that says, "Welcome to the nineties!" 1994, to be exact. Which, if memory serves me, is the year it was released, and two years before my freshman year of private Catholic high school (short skirts, short skirts, short skirts, short skirts, short skirts). Either way, it's been two decades since I smelled it. I was a teenager, secretly lusting after Natalie Merchant, and obsessed with science fiction novels and everything eighties. 

One thing I do remember with utmost clarity is smelling Ice Sport for the first time at the drugstore. Unlike the original, it was in plastic - it always came in 3.5 oz plastic squeeze bottles. I remember thinking, "This will smell like regular Ice Blue, and I'll just buy that instead." Ho boy, was I wrong. My first impression was what impressions are meant to be: lasting. This stuff embedded itself in my memory forever as being the best smelling aftershave of all time. One sniff had me shamelessly smashing my nostril into the little plastic dispenser like I was snorting lines. This was a religious experience.

I promptly bought the bottle, used it, then bought another. And another. And another. For a year or two, this was my aftershave. I used it religiously. I never tired of it. And then, inexplicably, the drugstore in my neighborhood stopped carrying it, as did every other store in the area. It was, what? Discontinued? Sent to a different region of the country? I'll never know. I grieved for a day or two, bought regular Ice Blue, and moved on. The greatest aftershave of all time was no longer available to me. 

By the time I reached my twenties, I was certain that Ice Sport had been discontinued. It was nowhere to be found in Connecticut, and must have been hard to find online, too, or I would've surely bought a bottle. Then, sometime in the last ten years, I noticed it had returned. Not to store shelves, but to internet listings for Aqua Velva, and I realized I could experience this wonderful elixir again. (I didn't until this fall.)

Why's it so special? It's Gillette Cool Wave, with the bitterness replaced by a lick of raspberry sweetness, the novel fruit note dosed so gently into the dihydromyrcenol that it hovers in the outer periphery of detectibility. There isn't much, if any, citrus. There's not even that much dihydromyrcenol. Yet it's so nineties that when I splash it on I see Carson Daly's big blue doe eyes pleading with hordes of post-pubescent bimbos to Total Request Live anything other than Ray of Light (does Charlie Sheen holding a candy bar to Kristy Swanson's back mean something to you).  Even the label, boasting a "vitamin-enriched" formula, hearkens back to the healthnut craze of the Clinton era. I can almost hear the Native American New Age music as I type this.

Ice Sport is potent. Nineties powerhouse potent. It would make a good cologne. This is what I would want an Ice Blue cologne to smell like, if such a thing existed today. It's fresh, but also warm, sweet. But not obnoxiously sweet. It's glacé, playfully saccharine, a lilting song of a smell that carries its CD tune on the air with a lightness that fills the room. It raises the obvious question: Why don't perfumers use raspberry more often? What prevents the judicious use of such a rich, wonderful note? When will someone invent a time machine so I can go back and browbeat my Victoria's Secret catalog-hoarding self into asking Jessica Janus out after study hall? 


Old Spice Cologne (Shulton, 1955 - 1963 Vintage)

To think, people turned their noses up at smelling this good.

The thing that irks me about Luca Turin's review of Old Spice in Perfumes: The Guide is the hint that he isn't reviewing the most recent formula (circa 2008), but a formula that dates back to at least 1963, with "the weird, thin little conical stopper."

It raises my ire because (a) 98% of his readers didn't catch his sleight of verbiage, and (2) they purchased a review they were unlikely to benefit from. I'd be more forgiving if he had referred this way to a lesser fragrance, but to garner Old Spice, the king of masculine orientals, with an elliptical and inaccurate review reduces the utility of his message to an anecdote without context. Why was he reviewing such an old formula? Was the exclusion of any comment on the Proctor & Gamble version meant to be an indirect dismissal of it, or is he only familiar with vintage Shulton?

I'll lay off Turin, a pleasant man who has always been nice to me, with this final thought: Eisenhower-era Old Spice is anything but "transient." Have you ever smelled Old Spice from six decades ago? I'm smelling it right now, and I'm here to tell ya, this stuff is potent. It opens with a kick of woody sweetness (think overdone Crème brûlée), and 90 proof Highland scotch. The whiff I get from the spout is one of the best things I've ever smelled, and I'm not exaggerating. It's a smoky vanilla that feels far sturdier and more comforting than expected. It's quite different from the 1970s formula, which was brighter and muskier. I have to admit, I love it.

It smells like time has altered the fragrance a bit. While the 70s formula radiates several feet but vanishes when sniffed up close, the 50s formula has presence from afar and up close. Just a couple of splashes fills the room, and keeps filling the room for a good four hours, minimum. Again, I attribute this in part to the fragrance's age. Time has turned the fizzy beauty of this vintage into a toasty vanilla base with incredible tenacity. Like its Vietnam-era younger brother, this version lacks dynamism, and doesn't move much after the first minute of wear, but its linearity shifts in subtle layers, with twinges of various resins weaving in and out of focus throughout the wear time. Its resinous texture must be the effect of its aged spice notes, with the cinnamon and nutmeg having adopted a beautiful incense-like tonality.

There's really no reliable way to know exactly which year my bottle is from, but my guess is it's a late 50s issue, maybe early 60s, possibly sold in Canada, as it says "Toronto" on the back. Again, not sure, but its trippy, thin little conical stopper confirms that this "cologne for men" is indeed the real deal, a somewhat deeper vintage than I've smelled before, and I'm happy I found a bottle on ebay for $11. Now, if only everyone could buy it for that price at their corner drugstore, we could all enjoy the fragrance Luca Turin and I have reviewed. Instead you're likely in possession of the current stuff in plastic, which is just as good, albeit different, and easier to wear.

To avoid confusion: Turin's review may have referenced a bottle of OS from the early 1950s (pre-'56) with stopper #2, which also had the "conical" stopper, but any difference in fragrance between these years is likely splitting hairs. My bottle, shown in the picture, has stopper #3 and the graphics style that predates the 1967 changeover. Bottles from '67 to '70 still had stopper #3, but changed over to #4 in the early '70s - my other bottles are from that period (cologne & aftershave).

I asked the creator of the invaluable blog Old Spice Collectibles if there was a way to more precisely date my bottle, but he was unable to help. Here's his reply:
"Thanks for your note. Unfortunately the dating cannot be more precise.  I base it on visible characteristics such as graphics, volume, etc.  As long as those stay constant over a period of years there is no good way to place an item more precisely."
Fair enough, but I still wonder if the manufacturing marks and the number stamped on the bottom of the bottle ("7" in my case) could indicate the precise year of manufacture. If anyone out there has verifiable information on this, and could refer me to a source, I'd appreciate a few tips!


That New Car Smell: What Is It, Exactly?

The 2021 Corolla LE sedan in "Blueprint" 

On Monday I bought a 2021 Toyota Corolla LE sedan in the "blueprint" paint color, and am struck by the familiar "new car smell" that fills its cabin. This smell joins my list of things that ought to be made into fine fragrance. (Others are the smell of bow rosin, Catholic holy water, and old, musty books.)

Many have asked, what is the mystery substance that makes a new car smell so good? Its very distinctive synthetic aroma, something not encountered anywhere else, is both potent and persistent - the typical new car holds the smell for the first few thousand miles before it disappears. Many have noted over the decades of car buying that when the smell vanishes, it seems to do so abruptly, but then returns under certain extreme weather conditions, like high summer heat. 

The straight answer to why new cars smell so good is summed up in three letters: VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). These are the domain of chemists, and I'm not educated enough to accurately describe what they are, but I can offer a snippet of the short version. VOCs are the man-made synthetic materials that comprise an automobile's interior. These include various glues, plastics, foams, rubbers, and textiles, all factory-made and derived from commercial labs. 

When these materials are used, they emit billions of microscopic particles into the air, which is called off-gassing or out-gassing. As one can imagine, a single synthetic material might not yield much of a smell, but eight or nine materials in an enclosed space will create a very noticeable smell. A point of reference for this is new carpeting. Think of a time when you were in a room that had been recently carpeted. It had a smell, right? The synthetic fibers of the carpet, and the rubber foam beneath it, were off-gassing into the room, leaving a relatively pleasant fragrance in the air.

This is what happens in a new car. The factory robots slapped the plastic and rubber parts together, the carpeting was glued down, and the headliner foam was inserted. In such a confined space, it's no wonder a new car smells so strongly of "newness." The off-gassing must be tremendous, at least for the first few weeks of use. Over time the effect dwindles, simply by virtue of the finite nature of off-gassing. After a certain point, the molecules emitted are reduced, and the smell fades. 

I believe the fidelity of a new car's smell can be preserved if the car is kept closed and clean for as long as possible, and I'm hoping to maintain it for as long as possible in mine. It's a synthetic smell, and hard to describe - a little sweet, a little musty, a touch of carpet smell mixed with a hint of silly-putty. As for how I feel about the car itself, I can say that so far I'm pleasantly surprised. For a compact car, it's not small; measuring in at 182 inches, the Corolla is only 17.7 inches shorter than the LeSabre. That's less than 1.5 feet. It's only a foot shorter than a 2003 Buick Century, which is also a large car.

Another odd thing about the Corolla is its tuning. It has a cartoonishly small 1.8 L inline 4-banger. In the past these teensy Asian go-kart engines revved pretty dramatically at low speeds, climbing past 2,000 and 3,000 rpms. My Corolla is tuned like it's a 3.8 L V6, revving at 600 rpms in idle (100 lower than my Buick), and only reaching 2,000 rpms at around 68 mph. Accelerating and passing at highway speeds brings it up to around 2,500 - 3,000 rpms, identical to the 3800 series 2. Pretty remarkable. My guess is the CVT, which is compatible with Toyota's newer "Direct Shift" aka "launch gear" - a single gear in the CVT that de-stresses the engine and transmission when accelerating from a dead stop - holds the engine in check. While my car isn't launch-geared, its CVT is a glistening work of art. Toyota has had 20 years of practice making these gear-less transmissions for the Prius.

Bear in mind that I'm not revving my engine much because my car has under 100 miles on it. When a car is that new, it is not advisable to push the drivetrain past 3,000 rpms for the first 1,000 miles. Once the car is properly "broken-in" I'll see what kind of pep it puts out. Right now I'm stuck in "Eco Mode." Otherwise known as little green leaf mode. Not my favorite mode.

I'm not going to recommend a 2021 Toyota Corolla to any of you because every sentient person knows that a Corolla is a good option when it comes to daily commuter cars, and everything has been said already. I'll just say that mine smells really good right now, and I wish that smell would last forever.


Re-Evaluating Millésime Imperial & Aventus (Spoiler: GIT Overshadows Both Fragrances)

Aventus with a pipe and his pal Green Iri-I MEAN-Millésime Imperial.

I usually disagree with famed biophysicist and fragrance genius Luca Turin, but recently realized that there is at least one pithy and Turin-esque fragrance review where he really nailed it. The fragrance in question is none other than Millésime Imperial.

In May of 2019, my brother and his partner were in Manhattan, and they happened to stop at a Neiman Marcus. They were a little overwhelmed, and fairly amused. They sat down on a luxurious leather sofa, before which sprawled a massive illustrated tome of unknown origin. According to them, the second their fingers inched toward a page, a woman sprang from nowhere in particular and hastily asked if they needed assistance, her demeanor suggesting they retire any plan to touch the mystery book, which they were told was worth over one hundred Benjamins. The Dalai Lama had yet to read his own good book, and so lowly pedestrians must merely ask, from the comfort of a leather sofa, why a scene from the last ten minutes of The Blues Brothers was playing out over the inkling of a page turn. Apparently the book section of NM has better security - and reading material - than Walmart's. 

When the air cleared and the army battalions withdrew, they found themselves at the Creed counter. This was not by accident. Five years ago I gifted them a Green Irish Tweed candle directly from the Creed Boutique, and they've been interested in the brand ever since.  They're affable guys, and the salesman at the Creed counter took a liking to them, and made up a few samples, about 5 ml each, of various Millésimes from the more recent line, including Viking, Millésime Imperial, Green Irish Tweed, and Aventus. Upon returning to Connecticut, they gave me their samples of Millésime Imperial and Aventus, stating that they loved Aventus and liked MI.

Aventus was the less surprising scent of the pair. It smelled just as I remembered it, albeit a bit smokier than perhaps my old sample from 2013, which I recall had more overt rose and apple notes, and a somewhat muted smoky drydown. This recent sample smelled like bergamot overload, with almost no distinct pineapple note beyond a faint whisper, and a muscular and very dirty birch note. The proportions were a bit different, and the performance more aggressive (two sprays from a tiny sample atomizer seemed like too much), but overall it was still Aventus.

Here's my thing with Aventus: I like it, but I like it the way I like sushi. Whenever I visit an expensive sushi restaurant in New Haven, friends tell me, "Bryan, you'll love it, and two days from now you'll want to come back. The yen for more will be irresistible. " And I'll eat dinner, and I'll enjoy it, and you know what? No yen. Forty-eight hours after the meal, I've forgotten the name of the restaurant, forgotten what I ordered, and forgotten how much it cost. Weeks later, when I'm reminded of it, I recall that I truly enjoyed what I ate, yet for some reason there isn't a single part of me that gives a shit.

Aventus is the sushi of the Creeds for me. I smell it and enjoy it. It's recognizable. It is by no stretch a victim of the "fresh" and "sweet" nonsense plaguing fragrance counters everywhere for the last fifteen years. It has bone structure. It has poise. It's beautifully made, and a wonder to smell in any form. But when the olfactory experience is over, I forget about it. No part of me feels a need to own it. My nose isn't fawning for more. And I really can't explain why. If I could get a bottle at a decent price (under $200), I would buy it and probably own it for eight years as a special occasion scent, and I'd likely enjoy every second of it. But I'm not on a tear to find a good deal for it, and I know that I'd buy a number of other Creeds before Aventus.

You know which Creed I find myself struggling to stay away from? Gree -

Well ok, wait a minute. I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's get back to Luca Turin and Millésime Imperial first.

I began this post by mentioning a review in The Guide that I agree with, and that review happens to be Luca Turin's derisive commentary on Millésime Imperial. He sums it up as "Metallic Citrus." He goes on about Creed's "dodgy" use of historical claims and Welsh crests, but the review itself, tacked onto the end of his rant, is surprisingly accurate, in which he says: "The fragrance is a mini-Green Irish Tweed with more citrus, utterly unremarkable." That's a classic Turin one-liner, right there.

I wore my Millésime Imperial sample in one day. I sprayed liberally on skin and fabric. It was six thirty in the morning. It was a fairly warm morning. I expected to be refreshed by dazzling citrus and then wowed by juicy melons. I imagined that Turin could not possibly be right about a fruity nineties Creed that almost no one has ever compared to Green Irish Tweed. What is Luca on about? Everyone loves Millésime Imperial.

And then I smelled it. The citrus? Not so dazzling. The melons? What melons? I smell Calone. Not even blended Calone - naked Calone. The note sticks out like a sore thumb, and at Millésime Imperial's price, everything is sore. This is the same Calone found in Acqua di Gio, and a few hundred other nineties designer frags. High-quality, super clean, unremittingly simple, laboratory-grade Calone, with its little yellowish-pink smile. And then ionones. The vague whisper of Ambroxan. An even vaguer whisper of octyn esters, like the ghost of GIT after a shower. And some sort of super expensive sweet musk, pretty much the same as what tails GIT after nine hours. That's it. That's Millésime Imperial. 

I could barely smell it, but what I did smell was 95% GIT, with the remaining five percent comprised of that little fizz of extra citrus on top, and that tiny dollop of slightly fruity Calone in the early mid, which frankly smelled more floral and less fruity. The Ambroxan was given a more rustic treatment, smelling a bit more prominent - was that the "sea salt" accord? In any case, none of it resolved into a fruity summer scent. It just melted into a violet-like sweet dihydromyrcenol effect, the same sort of "fresh deodorant" idea found in GIT and Cool Water, only here at a much, much quieter pitch. Very odd, very disappointing, and very much as Turin described it (with arguably more musk in the drydown, or maybe just less of everything else and the same amount of musk).

Most surprising to me was the total lack of watermelon. Everyone is always gushing about the watermelon in Millésime Imperial. I smelled a much older batch of this stuff in 2011, and I recall that sample smelling very fruity and salty, with an Ambroxan drydown that just smelled like the basenote of every Millésime, but without embellishment. Has the formula changed? Hard to say. The sample I smelled matched whatever Luca Turin smelled back in 2007 or 2008. It's a competent fragrance, with a breezy and barely-there demure quality to it, and the gold bottle alone makes owning it a lot of fun. But it's no masterpiece. Green Irish Tweed, for all its faults (too loud, too eighties, too heavy, too common) is still a better, sexier, more memorable Millésime.

And that's what I was about to say earlier when comparing it to Aventus. As much as I like Aventus, Green Irish Tweed still feels like the stronger composition to me. It could be because I like violets more than birch smoke, or I enjoy the directness of GIT more than the somewhat comparable directness of Aventus (the intonation is what matters, not the message), but I can't really say for certain. All I know is, if push came to shove, and the choices were down to GIT and Aventus, I'd pick the one from 1985 over the one from 2010 any day of the week. Ending side-note: I happen to like Spice and Wood more than Aventus, and might consider that one over GIT (S&W is a recalibration of Aventus with a few different notes). Now hold on a second while I turn the page of this gorgeous book sitting in front of me.


Wild Fern (Geo. F. Trumper)

When people refer to a fragrance as "barbershop," it's usually a figure of speech, a casual reference that is not meant to be taken literally. But in the case of Wild Fern, it is quite literal. This is obviously because the house of George F. Trumper is, quite literally, a barbershop. A visit to 9 Curzon Street is "by appointment," for tucked in the rear of the shop are rows of barber's chairs, and an impressive battalion of straight razors gliding across upturned cheeks. Trumper's colognes are all, by royal warrant, "barbershop."

Wild Fern is perhaps the most barbershoppy of the barber's tonics. Created in 1877, this fragrance is no historical imposter (see Truefitt & Hill for those antics). The brand has indeed spanned two centuries, with a small array of colognes that have survived the years relatively intact. For most of its run, Wild Fern's chief competitor was Penhaligon's inimitable and gloriously faded English Fern (1911), a rivalry recently ended with Pen's unfortunate discontinuation of their flagship fougère. Today, Wild Fern stands as the sole surviving original English fougère, and is none the worse for it.

I'll keep it real: I smell a really lovely shave cream here. Exquisitely made shave cream. Citrus, lavender, geranium, mint, anise, coumarin, rosemary, musk, and oak moss, all melding into a medicinal and slightly powdery cleanness, evoking hot towels and badger brushes. Trumper doesn't use the cheaper synthetics that Penhaligon's succumbed to under Puig. Their formula smells lucid and natural. A dollop of funky patchouli draws the dry florals and greens back down to earth, and the cool, mossy base fades politely away by lunch. It's simple, it's functional, and it's perfect. 

This stuff is excellent after a shave, and I'm happy to see that the prices for Trumper frags have dropped in recent years. When I started this blog back in 2011, I couldn't find a bottle for under $65. I was able to snag my Wild Fern for a mere $34. At these prices, I'll be exploring more of the range in the days to come.


Lilac Vegetol Aftershave (Master Well Comb)

Master is another classic American aftershave brand that doesn't get the attention it deserves, and it's entirely because of poor market share. When was the last time you saw a bottle of Master aftershave at the local drugstore? For some reason they don't put themselves out there, and it's only wetshaver fanatics and professionals who know about them. I think that's a shame. 

The company was founded in 1935 as "Krew Comb," and released some early winners, leading to growth in the commercial supply market. Lilac Vegetol (now spelled "Vegetal" on newer bottles, and "Vegetol" on vintage bottles and the website) was one of their first. Pinaud held the lilac space, and Krew Comb fleshed out the market niche with their version. How does it compare? It's less vegetal, more violet-floral, a sweeter and non-powdery lilac note. Unlike Pinaud's 19th century masterpiece, it's significantly weaker, and doesn't really double as a cologne (but could in a pinch). 

A few years ago, Master wisely embraced a brand makeover. Their website was a late nineties HTML dinosaur (link), and their color-coded aftershaves bore labels with designs leftover from the Reagan era. Then, sometime around 2015, the brand image and the entire product line were rehabilitated, a handful of losers were axed, and winners were repackaged. Lord & Master, Jade, and Focus were canned, and Iceland Breeze was abbreviated to "Breeze." Filling the empty spots are the new Cannabis Sativa Oil and Smokey Oud aftershaves. Interesting.

Lilac Vegetal acquires a familiar "barber's comb" smell several minutes after application, an aroma that high-end hair salons emit in perpetuity. It isn't a sexy smell, but neither does it offend. It contains just enough glycerin and skin toner to leave my face feeling smooth and clean, more so than other splashes in my collection. That's what aftershave should do, and this one delivers at a dollar an ounce. Recommended. 


An Updated Opinion of Stirling Spice (Stirling Soap Company)

I reviewed this fragrance back in September, and said (somewhat snidely, regrettably) that it doesn't resemble any iteration of Old Spice by Shulton or P&G. Having worn it a bit more, I want to retract that completely, and issue an apology to Stirling Soap Co. While it isn't a dead-ringer for Old Spice, it isn't as far off as I originally thought.

This is one of the more unique scents I've come across in recent years. While it smells very old-fashioned and musty at first sniff, it's simply the perfumer's generous usage of natural oakmoss throwing my nose off the mark. Old Spice doesn't have oakmoss. In a typical dosage of moss, the effect is simply bold powder; things like Clubman aftershave lotion and Canoe utilize the note as both a fixative and an atmosphere. But in Stirling Spice, the moss is so noticeable that it adopts a rich, woody, almost green tone, feeling slightly sharper than it does in mass-market barbershop scents.

I find this disorienting in an oriental - pardon the pun. It generates a woodier tone that takes an hour or two to fade back enough to allow the subtle spice notes to peek through, but I've noticed they definitely peek through. They're smooth, creamy, very dry, comprised of nutmeg, cinnamon, and soft clove. A semisweet vanilla note balances them out nicely, and everything smells cohesive and surprisingly natural. There's also a beautifully huge floral aura, abstract and almost modern by its sheer scale, that presides over the entire composition. It's a massive, very creamy carnation effect, which is nice, but I also sense a buttery, somewhat indistinct white flower alongside it. Putting the Old Spice issue aside for a moment, and just appreciating the scent, I can say it's one of the better barbershop orientals I've smelled. It's good stuff.

I'm impressed by Stirling Spice, and recommend it wholeheartedly now. Beware that it's not really Old Spice, and I still think it's old-school to an intimidating level, but it's made with above-average materials and it works. They didn't cheap out, and that has me believing Stirling Soap Co. is worth more of my time - much, much more. 


Citrus Musk (Pinaud)

Years ago, Pinaud discontinued a cologne called "Naturelle Sec," which I believe was their one official eau de cologne, pre-2000. Sometimes you can find vintage Naturelle Sec on eBay in glass bottles, and it even survived long enough for Pinaud to put it in plastic, so it's a recent memory. It is described on Badger & Blade as a straightforward lemon cologne with a very light white musk dry down. It may have been recast as Citrus Musk, which is currently the most "eau de cologne" fragrance in the line.

Interestingly, Citrus Musk smells like 7-Up. It's mostly a sweet, one-dimensional lemon, spiked with Lime Sec's monotone lime. That's all there is to the smell. I applaud the perfumer for creating a five-and-dime cologne that doesn't grey out or become Lemon Pledge. The only viable option with citrus on a college budget is to steal (borrow?) from the pop aisle of the grocery store and hope no one is tempted to guzzle the stuff.  


Lilac (Demeter Fragrance Library)

Because screw reviewing orientals in the fall. The copy on the box reads:
"Be yourself. Please yourself. Reveal everything. Reveal nothing. Imagine anything. Dare anything. Remember what you please. Go where you want. Do what you want. Think your own thoughts. Smile to yourself. You get to choose. Make yourself happy. Then look around."

In other words, buy Demeter. Cheesy blurbs aside, my interest in their rendition of lilac flower stems (no pun) from the knowledge that lilac is akin to carnation, lily of the valley, and gardenia, a plant that poses problems for perfumers. 

One can distill its essence, extract its oils, process it via enfleurage, and attain some degree of yield. But it'll be low yield, weak, difficult to use. A refresher if you read my recent piece on Pinaud's Lilac Vegetal - lilac flowers are mostly water, which makes breaking them down for use in perfumes almost pointless. Reconstructions are usually necessary for any serious attempt to replicate their smell. (To the perfumers out there who disagree, direct me to your lilac soliflore to make your case.)

My hope with Demeter was to smell a lilac reconstruction with a well-honed balance and an interesting array of constituent players. The experience has been mixed. I'll address the bad stuff first. In its initial five minutes, Demeter's Lilac smells like a chemical mess. Alcohol-laced, cheap, screechy, hairspray-musky with a nostril-singeing glue note, are all apt descriptions. Nothing remotely like lilac.

The star note appears on drydown. It remains lucid and all-lilac for about six hours, then fades to the smell of magazine pages. To me it conjures triple-milled gift shop bar soap. It's interesting because the main act is comprised of detergent-grade lily of the valley, disguised with a potently sweet musk. The result is "lilac," more so at a distance than up close. Lilac Vegetal smells more like lilac to me. 

That said, this is a decent cologne. If you're into lilac, and are looking for something to go with Pinaud's product after a good shave, Demeter Lilac is a good bet. The synthetic aspect doesn't hurt; men do better with florals when they're soapy. I like this fragrance, but I don't love it. Perhaps it'll grow on me (no pun). 


L'Anarchiste (Caron)

L'Anarchiste was released in the year 2000, a fitting end to the 1990s, and the year I graduated from high school. The decade was bookended with spiced-apple orientals on one end, things like Balenciaga PH, Aubusson PH, Boss Bottled, and Tommy, and on the other with weird, fresh-green curiosities like Green Valley, Snow, S.T. Dupont, and this offering from the relatively obscure house of Caron.

Its theme is like some of the fragrances mentioned. I get woody sweetness marinated in aldehydes and muted lavender, gauzy vetiver root, and a medley of aromatics (neroli, coriander, orange rind, apple, cinnamon, cedar, you get the idea). While the fragrance is soft and pleasant, its diffuse profile and carefully harmonized accords rob it of potency and backbone, making L'Anarchiste a bit nondescript. I'm glumly reminded of seasonal potpourri, the kind you see in those little bags labeled "Bright Autumn Day" or "Forest Fantasy." It's as subversive as a trip to Ikea. 

This has been compared to sixties aftershave on Badger & Blade. Meh. I don't know. Maybe, but how is that an endorsement? Rumor has it the formula in the copper bottle was denser, louder, and better articulated, with a sparkly mint top note absent from this recent reformulation. While likely true, I'm not interested in hunting down that version. The idea behind this one is uninspired for a Caron, and I vastly prefer Yatagan (1976) and Le Troisième Homme (1985).


Devin Country Cologne (Estée Lauder)

Devin was recommended to me recently by a faithful reader, who called it "the best in the Aramis family," and I see his point - this is an excellent fragrance. It's one I've been meaning to explore for years, but never got around to, until now. I've read enough about it to formulate a pretty good idea of how it smells, before actually smelling it. Well, now that I have smelled it and worn it, I'm ready to pitch in my two cents.

First, let's discuss the ironclad goodness of Devin. In a world of "designer frags" and "niche perfumes," it's refreshing to smell an American classic that conveys a natural, earthbound character. Released in 1978 as yet another humble masterpiece by Bernard Chant, Devin smells simple, relaxed, and timeless. It reminds me of Yatagan and Z-14, with the resinous wormwood of the former, and the crisply coniferous spine of the latter. Missing in Devin is any hint of bitter citrus, which I've come to expect in the top notes of forgotten classics. Instead there's a judicious dose of galbanum, which breezes nicely through the scent's forested heart. Beautiful stuff.

It transitions to artemisia and caraway, then fennel and cinnamon (Devin's box smells of cinnamon), balsam fir, labdanum, and oakmoss, with a sweet woody amber in the far drydown. True to form, I can't detect the leather note in Devin. Newsflash: I never detect leather notes. In anything. Leather has to beat me over the horn for me to recognize it (hello, Clubman Special Reserve). I'm glad I don't smell it, because I think it would weigh things down. Chant worked in an era when blatantly unnatural synthetics weren't yet a thing, and thank god for that. Devin smells like it was conceived by a man in touch with nature. I smell resins and herbs. I smell evergreen needles. Crushed leaves. Bitter florals. Woods. Patchouli. Even a hint of gardenia. I smell a walk through a dry forest in late October, with the ornaments of a gentle floral perfume.

Mechanics can gauge if an engine passes muster just by listening to it, and I can tell that Devin more than passes by how good it smells. With that said, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a few quibbles. While it's certainly everything I hoped it would be, Devin is a little too on the mark, in that I've smelled this ensemble before in countless other masculines of equal quality. Devin doesn't surprise me, and thus it leaves me wanting a bit. Yes, it elicits the sanguine imagery of people picnicking next to station wagons in campgrounds, amidst trees and grasses and wildflowers, but this sedate experience could benefit from some excitement, like a raunchy musk, or perhaps an unconventional edible. A lick of apple? Maybe a mélange of dried fruit? Hard to say.

There's a "guilt by association" factor. I associate Devin with perfumes that aren't Devin. It smells like two parts Yatagan, sans the intensity, and one part vintage Z-14. I can't get through a full wearing of Devin without thinking of those two scents. Also, the wormwood note is handled similarly in countless classics. Alain Delon's "AD Classic" comes to mind, and that isn't even a wormwood-focused fragrance. Balenciaga PH comes up, as does Witness and Red for Men and Jil Sander Man Pure. I've heard that Devin closely resembles some feminines Chant did for Lauder at the time, which might be true, but I have more experience with the aforementioned scents, and think of them instead. Sue me.

Nevertheless, this is something a true connoisseur of fine fragrance should get their nose on. Any vintage fragrance lover will fall for it helplessly. I'm glad I have a bottle, reformulated as it is (still has oakmoss, so whatever), and look forward to wearing it through the fall months. It might not be a groundbreaking scent, but it's comforting to know I can wear a walk in the woods, even when there isn't time to take one.


Stirling Spice (Stirling Soap Company)

The Stirling Soap Company is a trendy niche brand in Booneville, Arkansas, run by an entrepreneurial couple who exemplify the American dream. They specialize in shaving soaps, but also offer a wide range of fragrances aimed at the wetshaver community, which is where I was inspired to try their "Spice" scent. Stirling's website says it's "Our best attempt at recreating the classic Old Spice scent," and when I read that, I pulled the trigger and blind bought it. At $22 for 50 ml, it isn't super risky.

I don't regret the purchase, but do regret the fact that Stirling Spice doesn't resemble any iteration of Old Spice by Shulton or P&G. It's in the ballpark, but way outfield, as a musky, powdery amber. It's related more to Royal Copenhagen, a true powder bomb. It isn't very spicy, aside from a blast of nutmeg and clove in the top notes. There's a bitter vanilla note that cuts through the musk, and a natural oakmoss note in the base, which gives it a woody quality. I can smell the moss right off the atomizer. It's a quality extract, but I have no idea what it's doing in a supposed Old Spice clone. It makes for excellent longevity, at around seven (macho) hours, and it works in this composition. Powdery aftershaves and talcs from the 1930s and '40s come to mind when I wear it, and I think its austere nature would be great in talc form.

It's classical barbershop fare; it isn't "old-school," it's ancient. It harkens back to the Caswell-Massey Eon of Tricorn and Zizanie and Max Factor Signature, when musty pre-Nixonian ambers ruled Pangaea. I'm lukewarm on the scent, but I'll continue to explore their range. I like their aesthetic (beautiful green bottles) and their business ethic. They seem to ignore IFRA regs, which is always a good thing. They also gave me a free bar of bath soap in their new "Varen" scent, a retro fern that smells like it's 97% oakmoss. I enjoyed it thoroughly.


Revisiting Bowling Green by Geoffrey Beene

This one has been the subject of enough controversy to warrant another look. Many have questioned if the bottles being sold online are current or "new old stock" vintage that someone unearthed from a basement somewhere and inexplicably opted to sell for pennies (my 4 oz was $12 after taxes). Having just received a bottle from Amazon, I now have an answer.

My bottle is clearly not NOS or deep vintage. It's also not a weird middle-ages vintage from twelve years ago, but recent enough that there's no oakmoss in the formula, which makes it no more than five years old. It's marked with newer EA Fragrances labels on both the box and bottle, as well as several lines that read "Made in England." It's marked "eau de toilette" and the color of the liquid is medium yellow, not a rich beer gold. It doesn't have the cloth cover tied over the lid like older bottles did. This looks like a recent batch of a very good fragrance. I bought it, I received it, mystery solved.

The fragrance remains familiar, an oily-green mélange of lavender, lemon verbena, and pine, with a dash of bitter herbs and a smidge of jasmine. This bottle smells brighter and more lemon-forward than the actual vintage from the nineties that I smelled ten years ago. That vintage was darker, drier, with less lemon and more basil, an imbalance likely due to age. But it smelled generally the same as this new one.

Bowling Green is compared to Drakkar Noir, which is the reason it annoys me. Grey Flannel was groundbreaking and original, but BG is derivative. It's yet another fresh aromatic fougère, but it doesn't rely heavily on soapy dihydromyrcenol, relegating that material to a minor supporting role instead. It redeems itself by smelling overwhelmingly natural in an herbal fashion reminiscent of Italian fougères like Acqua di Selva and Pino Silvestre, with rich woody nuances and a lemon verbena note that dwarfs the one in Green Irish Tweed, and dwarfs the Empire State Building. If you like lemon verbena, this is a fragrance you should stock up on. It's lemon verbena heaven. 

Drakkar Noir waded from the Precambrian ooze of midcentury Italian fougères, a unique brew from which fougères pushed past their citrus/musky traits and evolved into more complex woody-evergreen ensembles, without losing the connective tissues of clean fruit (lemon analogs instead of straight lemon) and floral musks (honey, juniper, mint). Stuffy Anglo-centric forms of triangular lavender/musks/mosses were reinterpreted, and rudimentary blueprints for postmodern ferns were issued to western five-and-dimes in square-shouldered bottles of emerald glass.

Pierre Wargnye followed that blueprint in '82 by fusing the bushels of herbs and cypress needles in those Mediterranean classics with a huge splash of dihydroyouknowhat, creating a new breed. Four years later, an unidentified perfumer gave us Bowling Green, using a lighter hand and a much larger bushel of the same herbs and cypress notes favored thirty years prior. When everyone was cloning and reinterpreting Drakkar Noir, Beene only nodded to Wargnye's creation before breaking for the Amalfi Coast.

I loosely connect the dots from Acqua di Selva to Drakkar Noir to Bowling Green, and I think few observe the connection as I do. Some think it's crazy to suggest that AdS is a proto-Drakkar, but I submit that precious few companies have revisited the ferns of the 1950s - even the pricey niche firms have sidestepped the genre - and Bowling Green might be the only homage to them that remains.


Old Spice Fresh Lime (Rubicon Formulations)

The Shulton version of this classic was first issued in 1966, and continued to exist in some form into the 1990s. Today you can only buy it from India in the Rubicon formula, and you may find yourself waiting a few weeks to receive it, unless you order from a domestic merchant. This review is of the Indian version, which comes in glass but is otherwise in regular P&G packaging. Mine is from the source, and inexplicably arrived in six days. If you want a bottle, I've got the skinny. Hit me up in the comments.

I want to remark briefly on the lime trend of the 1960s and '70s. For some reason lime was a thing back then, but it's not clear to me why, as I was born in 1981, and missed the party completely. Was it Royall Lyme Bermuda (1957) that started it all? Maybe, but lime notes live in shaving creams, along with lavender, anise, spices, oakmoss, and for whatever reason it got its own treatment. Various lime-themed lotions emerged in stuff like Old Spice, English Leather, Avon, Jade East, and enjoyed modest popularity. Men abided them, although my sense is they did not love them, and eventually lost interest altogether. The lime push was eventually outmoded by the dihydromyrcenol revolution of the '80s and '90s, and driven to extinction.

This Indian formula is probably not the same as the '60s version, but I'm happy to have it in my den. Unfortunately it doesn't exist in cologne concentration, but the aftershave is strong enough to serve that purpose. Opinions vary as to how "limey" it smells, with some on Badger & Blade saying the lime note is just a fleeting thing off the top that vanishes into regular Indian Old Spice before it can be enjoyed, and others finding the lime element pervasive and satisfying from top to base. My take is that the lime isn't really very limey, but it's noticeable enough.

It's a crisp lime-like note that smells synthetic and bright. After three minutes the citrus greys out and is tempered by an equally pallid talc note unique to this blend. It carries into the drydown, where it becomes a lightly-spiced powder that doesn't really match the regular stuff. It actually smells quite a bit like the powder note in Rive Gauche Pour Homme. The only spice I detect is white pepper, which isn't reminiscent of traditional Indian Old Spice. It's a generic scent, pleasant and dry. As an aftershave there's a minor bite, and I get an hour out of it as a cologne. It probably lingers longer, and I just get used to it and tune it out.

The standard blend of Indian OS is peppery (pink and black), but here the spice is tuned to a whisper. It's a well-balanced and discreet fragrance, very "barbershop" and classic in feel, very clean, but also very basic. If you're a fan and want to try the Indian formula, start with the regular version, and then give this one a try. I really wish the lime note were a little better, and would have been happier if it morphed into regular Indian OS, but Rubicon makes quality products, and should be of interest to hardcore Old Spice lovers - especially those who want the stuff in glass. For an added "lime" effect, check out the Fresh Lime shave cream, which gets fair ratings online.


It Preceded Fougère Royale, Chypre, and Mitsouko: How the Luxury Brand of Ed. Pinaud Mainstreamed Modern Perfumery With Its Simple Masterpiece, "Lilac Vegetal"

"Perfumes are really the most delicate beholders of our past life”. (Pinaud, Memoirs, 1860)

Lilac Vegetal, currently sold online for around $1 an ounce, is one of history's oldest survivors. It's also one of the most misrepresented and misunderstood perfumes in existence. When it comes to LV, I've seen and heard it all.

People call it by its nickname, "The Veg," and repeat the tired joke, "You don't choose the Veg; the Veg chooses you." There are numerous dodgy claims about it: that it was made for the Hungarian Cavalry on behalf of Napoleon Bonaparte (which makes zero historical sense); it emerged in 1810 as Édouard Pinaud's first composition; it once contained the essence of lilac flowers, and now contains a deftly-balanced blend of kitty litter and fresh urine.

I've researched Édouard Pinaud's story, and discovered that the tales of Napoleon and Hungarian Cavalries are pure fiction, that Pinaud was not clutching a bottle of Lilac Vegetal from the womb in 1810, and the essence of lilac is virtually impossible to attain, as its flower joins muguet and gardenia in having unworkably low yield. Pinaud's history is nothing like the rumors circulating around wetshaver forums. In truth, the company is even more interesting and unlikely than its legends.

Lilac Vegetal is the only perfume by Pinaud himself still in production. Its date of origin? David Woolf, executive vice president of American International Industries, stated in a New York Times interview published on February 16th, 1997, that it was released in NY City in 1878. Woolf's firm owns and manufactures the Pinaud/Clubman range.

If he's correct, then LV was issued a decade after Pinaud's death, making it older than every groundbreaking perfume of the last 150 years. It is more noteworthy than anything in your wardrobe today. It's not insignificant that Pinaud tinkered with various lilac waters in the years preceding LV; its concept, and the proliferation of similar floral colognes, helped to launch the brand. That pale green drugstore aftershave under your sink is a piece of perfume history that predates Guerlain's Mistouko (1919), Coty's Chypre (1917), and Houbigant's Fougère Royale (1882).

Age alone doesn't make it interesting. There are plenty of eau de colognes and esoteric European perfumes from companies with "royal warrants" that remain on the market today. LV's creation is a story because it's one of the first synthetic colognes to be mass produced on an international scale.

To fully unpack this, it pays to review the legitimate Pinaud history. The facts can be found in the Dumberton Oaks Research Library in Washington DC. Records there show that Ed. Pinaud founded "A la Corbeille Fleurie" in 1830 at 37 Boulevard de Strasbourg, Paris. In the 1850s he partnered with fellow businessman Emile Meyer. After Pinaud's passing Meyer's son-in-law, Victor Klotz, took over the company and renamed it "Victor Klotz et Cie," while continuing to sell perfumes under the Pinaud name. He wasn't running a corner shop - this was a heavy-hitter in the business world.

Pinaud Boutique, Paris, 1870

So where did that "1810" date come from? Well, a man named Besancon founded a perfume shop in Paris in 1810. It was sold to someone named LaGrand, who eventually sold it to Pinaud in 1830. So Pinaud bought a business originally founded in 1810, but the Pinaud enterprise wasn't founded until 1830, when Pinaud himself was twenty years old. What about "royal warrants?" Queen Victoria traveled to Paris in 1855 to visit that year's Universelle Exposition. Pinaud attended that exposition and named a perfume after her, gaining her lifetime patronage. He also won over Napoleon III (not THE Napoleon) and Empress Eugenie. This lofty clientele elevated his brand, most notably in England, and made it an international commercial success.

The company made serious efforts to capture the American market at the turn of the century, when Klotz opened an 11-storey office building on Fifth Avenue in NY City. Bear in mind that this was, for its time, a very large enterprise. Pinaud's Paris operation was large by 19th century standards, with about 700 employees at its factory in Pantin. The employees were given retirement accounts, securing their lifetime loyalties. A Pinaud showroom had chandeliers and columns and fountains and marble islands of his elixirs, so it's not surprising that the invasion of America started as early as the 1840s, with small adverts in 1845 editions of The Hartford Courant.

"He wasn't running a corner shop - this was a heavy-hitter in the business world."

Pinaud's products were marketed alongside those of Guerlain and Lubin, and by all appearances the brand was not considered "downmarket" or "drugstore." Nineteenth century perfumeries hadn't yet embraced the Industrial Age apparatus of mass production and widespread distribution. Pinaud was a pioneer in that regard, and while it garnered his line wide appeal and an ever-growing customer base, it ultimately diluted the brand's status in much the same way Pierre Cardin did in the 1970s. One can also blame a perpetual shift in cultural trends for why something as well conceived as Lilac Vegetal would be forced to retreat to the discount bins at Walgreens. In 1900, lilac waters were a thing. In 2020? Not so much.

Yet Pinaud was an international entity in the 1800s, and crafty ad campaigns sustained the brand's momentum for years to come. Consider that an 1893 Merck Report stated, "Long ago, demand for the Ed. Pinaud’s goods necessitated the establishment of branch offices in London, Brussels, St. Petersburg, Melbourne, and other leading cities of the world . . . " By the turn of the century their NY branch manager, Emile Utard, rained heavy advertising campaigns on American buyers. Utard credited his campaigns as the catalyst for Pinaud's success in the 20th century.

The Merck Report goes on to laud Pinaud's soap line: "This famous manufacturer recognizes that purity of ingredients, important in all toilet preparations, is most essential in soap; and uses only Sweet Almond Oil, Albumen, Spermaceti, and Filbert Oil, all of the finest quality."

Clearly this level of positive press influenced Pinaud's success, and was further bolstered when the report described the company's presence at the World's Fair: "the Pinaud exhibit is housed in a salon of the purest Louis XV style, exquisite in design, appointment, and finish. The furnishings are strictly in keeping with historical accuracy, and are the delight of all beholders. The following particulars have been kindly given by Mr. Utard; - 'The pavilion is upheld by toned marble pillars, the outer face being a portico of lattice-work, with intertwining wreaths of flowers, and along the pediment are scant draperies in soft hues. The walls, a la Watteau, due to the touch of the painter Ch. Toche, of Paris, stand out in dainty relief from the groundwork of blue and gold. Facing the aisle is a lovely fountain, in ivory white, of cherubs distributing flowers, balanced on a pedestal of rams' heads, upholding shell-shaped bowls, into which run continuous streams of delicious perfumes of the latest importation, emitting a soft fragrance which pervades the atmosphere of the whole department. This charming and artistic gem was specially designed for Ed. Pinaud by Noel Ruffier, of Paris.'"

Such descriptions cemented Pinaud's legacy as a global luxury brand, with the requisite flair its pedigree is known for. Merck adds: "[Pinaud's] preparations are so numerous, it is a most difficult matter to single out absolute specialties. Of perfumes, it may be well to mention their 'Musque Reine' Eau de Cologne. This, while remarkably delicate, is nevertheless so pungent that the odor has been detected on a handkerchief after two washings." I interpret this statement as a possible clue to Pinaud's use of synthetics. While it's possible a natural deer musk (or even civet) could render this judgment, I perceive the durability of Musque Reine as something entirely new to the author, and quite literally remarkable to Merck's editors.

Towards the end, the author gushes, "Famous among their toilet preparations are their widely advertised 'Eau de Quinine' and 'Extract Vegetal Lilas de France;' the shaving cream 'Au lait de Roses de Turquie,' and their brillantines and cosmetics."

"Facing the aisle is a lovely fountain, in ivory white, of cherubs distributing flowers, balanced on a pedestal of rams' heads, upholding shell-shaped bowls, into which run continuous streams of delicious perfumes"

In the 1997 Times interview, David Woolf describes Ed. Pinaud's most famous men's toiletry as being "Made from natural ingredients, including lilac and ambergris, until they became difficult to find or harvest, in the 1960s."

This is interesting for a company that was positioning itself for the mass market in the USA. Pinaud split into two entities in the early 20th century; one was French, the other was American. Over time, the interests of these branches diverged. As blogger Keith wrote in Teleport City, "Pinaud France felt the American operation was cheapening the lofty heritage of Pinaud as the brand of kings and queens . . . Klotz, however, was adamant about becoming the preferred brand of middle class men rather than upperclass women."

This is a sound assessment of how Lilac Vegetal became famous. It is necessary to trace the timeline, however. Victor Klotz died in 1906, and the momentum for Pinaud's American product line gained speed a full thirty years later, with FDR in office. Control of operations passed to Klotz's sons, Henry and George, neither of whom were as charismatic or capable as their father. Their personalities were overshadowed by Victor Klotz's nephew, Louis-Lucien Klotz, a French politician who pushed for reparations for Germany after WWI.

They had a difficult legacy to uphold. Pinaud had products selling not only in Europe and North America, but Asia as well. Customers hailed from India to Japan, with Pinaud's "Lifeguard Cologne" popular in the latter nation. There is photographic evidence of bottles of Lilac Vegetal as old as 1919 that bear stamps from that year, and by this point Ed. Pinaud was a household name everywhere except America. The onset of the Great Depression did little to help, and it was during this period (the 1930s) that the Klotz brothers passed the company to a Frenchman named Roger Goldet.

Goldet breathed new life into the company, using pop culture references to name new perfumes, and rebranding Pinaud's makeup and mascara line (oh yeah, Pinaud was in the makeup business also, competing with Guerlain for market share). Coming from wealth himself, Goldet fearlessly infused the brand with its 20th century identity and finalized its split into two separate companies on two continents. He carried the French company until 1979, when he turned it over to his son, Olivier. Goldet sold the American company to Zvi Ryman, CEO of American International Industries.

As of 2015 (the most recent info I could find), Pinaud Clubman's online business is licensed to a company called Corrado Cutlery, run by a man named James Bilger. However, American International Industries appears to hold primary control of the American-based online retailer. Also as of 2015, Ed. Pinaud remains a separate entity, with a couple of low-visibility perfumes, and not nearly as much market share in Europe as the brand once held. The name "Clubman" is basically the brand associated with Pinaud in America, but interestingly Lilac Vegetal remains the only product attributed to the man himself. The brand appears in literature by famous 20th century authors, including works by Clifford Odets, William Faulkner, and Ian Fleming. None bear mention of Lilac Vegetal, but there's still some cool associations to be made.

LV is a special fragrance. Marketed as an aftershave, it was once called "hygiene de toilette," and stands as the flagship fragrance that best symbolizes Pinaud's American marketing strategy, if not the American market itself. It is a utilitarian product available to middle class men of nearly every social strata, now sold for almost nothing in drugstores everywhere. Well, it used to be, up until about 2010, when it suddenly disappeared off store shelves. Its availability shrank down to online-only, likely due to poor sales at retail outlets. This is unfortunate, but as I mentioned earlier, the change in American tastes since the 1960s (which is when I suspect LV began to decline in popularity) precipitated its retreat to the nation's bargain bins.

"Pinaud France felt the American operation was cheapening the lofty heritage of Pinaud as the brand of kings and queens . . . Klotz, however, was adamant about becoming the preferred brand of middle class men rather than upperclass women."

Considering that the Merck Report mentions Lilac Vegetal as a popular toiletry product all the way back in 1893, and taking into account that men of that time wore suits with top hats and perfumed handkerchiefs in their breast pockets, it's no surprise that a fragrance from Victorian times is ill-suited for 21st century sensibilities. The problem facing critics today is that sourcing an unopened vintage bottle of Lilac Vegetal that predates the 1970s is nearly impossible. Occasionally used bottles from the 1980s or '90s crop up, but pristine midcentury vintages are generally scarce.

From my perspective as a critic, the ideal situation would be to have an unopened bottle of at least late 1950s vintage to compare to the current version of LV. I'm sure that you, the faithful reader, would be interested in that comparison also. Well, we're both in luck! I happened to score a vintage bottle from that era, unopened and in mint condition, and also happen to possess a brand new bottle for comparison. I went into this comparison with an interest in three things: freshness (did the vintage hold up, or has it spoiled?), quality (is there really natural essences of lilac in there?), and fidelity (how close is the current stuff to vintage?), with the concession that my assessment may be tempered by my own imperfect perceptions.

It's important to remember the time period LV is from, and balance its intended effect against what will be the humorous real effect on this Millennial snoot of mine. Powdery lilac with a crudely-distilled "green" top note is bound to smell peculiar, outdated. I had a bottle of LV back in 2009, and while I appreciated its uniqueness and its history, had difficulty getting past its smell. It was the weirdest thing my then-novice nose had ever encountered. I think I got through half the bottle before I chucked it. In fairness, I did the same with Clubman Special Reserve, an aftershave that annoyed me enough to act against it without remorse. I regretted chucking LV, and sorta regret SR, although I'll eventually repurchase that one, just to round out my Clubman collection.

First let's discuss the current stuff in the context of how lilac flowers smell. Today's Lilac Vegetal is in plastic, à la American International Industries. Before the 2000s, bottles were glass. It should be said as clearly as possible, Pinaud aftershaves and colognes need glass bottles. Their fragrances suffer, albeit minimally, from plastic. I find that they carry a bit of the plastic smell with them for the first minute, after which the effect fades and allows the scents to evolve correctly. This is particularly true of the new Lilac Vegetal. The plastic is definitely not kind to its scent, and from the bottle the fragrance clashes, throwing urine-like off notes that surely put potential buyers off. Remember, people cheat and steal sniffs of these products in the store. One bad whiff of LV is all it takes to ruin its sales potential, even though the plastic is responsible.

Lilac is a difficult note to render. According to William Arthur Poucher's 9th edition of Poucher’s Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps, a "Lilac Bouquet" requires no less than 22 materials, apparently in parts per thousand, to smell adequately of lilac.

It's clear lilac requires "reconstruction" to work. In this basenotes thread, a hobbyist mentions a formula similar to Poucher's, with many of the same chemicals. Another member mentions using lilac tincture, with a picture of an ink-colored liquid. Its darkness might be another reason why natural lilac isn't used in commercial formulas.

This thread gives brief insight into the difficulty of attaining lilac via solvent extract. A member suggests the "pomade from enfleurage" approach, a time-consuming process that is unlikely to yield high amounts of usable extract, but interesting nonetheless. More information on the pomade approach is given in this thread, in which Chris Bartlett hints at Pinaud by saying, "At one time this was made as a commercial product by one of the big, French players so it can certainly be done." As I read through the thread, I saw that member "mumsy" struggled to extract usable (practical) lilac essence, with various problems cropping up along the way. Another member, "indigo," notes that a blend of beef tallow and pig lard worked fairly well. However, the moral I gleaned from this story is that rendering lilac essence with the pomade method is difficult and unreliable.

An easy answer to why that is can be found in a simple assessment of the lilac flower itself. Your typical purple lilac is a fairly thick-petaled bloom that bruises easily and has a gentle, elusive scent. A healthy lilac tree has hundreds of flowers working together to emit a sturdy "headspace" aroma, but in isolation the flowers smell weak. The density of their petals, relative to rose and jasmine, is due to their high water content. Water is an enemy to the extraction process because it dilutes and obstructs the essence that perfumers wish to extract, and yields a "vegetal" smell instead of sweetness.

Reading through the threads, I'm amused by how people struggle with this material. It supports my argument that any successful lilac perfume is either (a) delicately and painstakingly constructed using millions of flowers (and thousands of pounds of fat), and therefore expensive, or (b) synthetically reconstructed using readily available chemicals. Given that Lilac Vegetal is a mass-produced product, and always has been, I'm inclined to believe that Ed. Pinaud's formula has always been a reconstruction.

"The problem facing critics today is that sourcing an unopened vintage bottle of Lilac Vegetal that predates the 1970s is nearly impossible."

The current Lilac Vegetal smells unchanged from the bottle I had eleven years ago. What has changed since then is my nose. I was a total newbie to the fragrance scene back in 2009, and hadn't developed an understanding of how to parse notes, hadn't gained familiarity with subsets of scent profiles found in perfume organs, and hadn't honed an ability to describe what I was smelling. For those reasons, smelling LV today is a different experience altogether.

Sniffing the bottle, my first impression is of a powerful animalic musk, tinged with an undertone of raw earthiness and a hint of floral sweetness. The musk is intense, and from what I've read about Musque Reine and its atomic persistence, I'm fairly certain the musk I smell in contemporary LV is a good quality synthetic deer musk, an analog of the male musk deer. This is a commendable thing to smell in a drugstore aftershave being sold on Amazon for $10. I'm impressed that American International Industries has refrained from reformulating LV into a tamer and less musky scent, which they could have easily done in the last thirty years. They've instead opted to maintain the musk profile, using an aromachemical musk (probably four or five of them) that replicates the intense and eclectic nature of true animal musk.

On skin the effect is greatly magnified. The top note is an overpowering animalic musk, one so strong that I'm certain the only other fragrance that rises to its caliber is Kouros. This is not a green vegetal note when you recognize what you're smelling. However, a minute's time brings out a powdery, galbanum-like off-note that gradually segues into a diffusive rendition of lilac flower. This powder "bridge" in the drydown is key. It marries the acerbic musk to the greener, fresher floral base. What I'm left with is an obviously synthetic but well done floral accord that smells oddly abstract and restrained.

The Current Lilac Vegetal.
Note the faux Pinaud Stamp Printed Adjacent to the Label.

As a wetshaving product, Lilac Vegetal is a gem. The Victorian musk, the intense drydown arc, the discreet floral base, all smell authentic and true to the traditions of the genre. It has retained its identity for 150 years, and for that reason I consider it a masterpiece, and a rare piece of unaltered perfume history. Sold as an aftershave, its concentration is potent enough to use as a cologne. As you can see in the picture, the label is basically the same as its always been, with the trademark "Lilas de France" at the top. On the back is a description of the fragrance that acknowledges its floral tones and a "warm musk" in the formula, as well as an encouragement to splash it all over the body after "cleansing." This isn't meant to elicit shocked responses. It's meant to do exactly what it did in 1878: smell great.

If I had a complaint about the current stuff, besides its plastic bottle (and ugly barcode), it would be the sharpness of the musk. Synthetic musks, not unlike natural musks, are large molecules that possess several facets, often described as "sweet," "fecal," "powdery," and "soapy." (Oddly enough, companies must employ at least three or four different musks to ensure you smell any musk at all, as everyone is anosmic to various musks.) Had they used a couple drops of natural deer musk, the effect would have been a mellow explosion of each of these qualities. The synthetic musks that are actually in there convey an aggressively fecal and powdery aura, which does blend well with the base, but comes across as a bit unbalanced. I suppose there could be an analog of ambergris in the mix, but with a musk this strong there's no way to isolate that note.

What does it take to wear this today? The current formula is not especially challenging to someone like me. I've explored a variety of musky orientals and "power" ferns of the '70s, '80s, '90s, and I find LV an enlightening experience. It requires clean skin and an extensive understanding of form. Most guys smell this stuff and crinkle their noses. They often say it smells of "stewed cabbage," and it's fascinating how the power of suggestion affirms that. Green label, green liquid, "vegetal" in the name - it must be a boiled green vegetable note. This doesn't smell "fresh" or "crisp" or "modern." It smells Victorian. So why do men today associate it with skunked greens?

The untrained nose smells a mutant urine puck vegetable, but mine detects a complex animalic musk with a floral finish. The perfumer crafted the current formula simply by wedding a sophisticated musk (almost complex enough to be its own perfume) to a few drops of synthetic galbanum, and a mild "lilac" reconstruction that complements the musk's natural drydown. The resulting scent is "barbershop" - simple, sweet, powdery, and not especially feminine. Also, it makes for a great talc scent.

I'd like to touch on a sentiment expressed by some about LV's drydown, which is that it smells a bit like "Play-Doh." In my experience the far drydown does yield a Play-Doh-like effect, although I encounter it in the airspace after I've left a room and re-entered it again. It's a plasticky, iris-like accord. Hobbyists compare lilac reconstructions to lavender and iris accords, so perhaps there's a connection. I think it's a hangover from the intense musk that comprises 95% of LV's pyramid.

"The top note is an overpowering animalic musk, one so strong that I'm certain the only other fragrance that rises to its caliber is Kouros."

My vintage of Lilac Vegetal dates from between 1959 and 1965. It's not a 1930s/40s vintage because many bottles from the early Goldet years had (ironically) the "Club Man" of Clubman's logo on its label, with his top hat and tuxedo. The graphic changed sometime in the late 1940s or '50s, and reverted back to the original "Lilas de France" image of text bannered against a bouquet of flowers.

Lilac Vegetal Ad From 1937.
The "Bombay" Reference Wasn't a Joke.

I date my bottle to a later period because of its cap. Early 20th century bottles used cork stoppers topped with metal. By midcentury the cap had switched to plastic screw-tops, which my bottle has. It's cream-colored and a bit smaller, but otherwise identical to the brown top on my contemporary bottle. I do not date it to any later than the early 1960s, chiefly due to its price. My bottle has a sales ticker printed right on the regular label, discounting the 12 oz size from $1.75 to $1.19. By the late 1960s and 1970s, very few items of its caliber were being sold for $1.19. The US inflation calculator suggests this sale price in 1960 is equivalent to $10.36 in 2020, which sounds about right.

Another giveaway that my bottle predates Nixon is the presence of Helvetica on the label, front and back. The Helvetica font was invented in 1957, became commercially accessible in 1959, and maintained popularity until the late 1960s, when the hippie movement foisted curlier and less "rigid" fonts on the culture. My bottle has more Helvetica lettering than the entire NY subway system.

Below is a photo gallery of the bottle I received after winning a recent auction on eBay. It was a contentious bidding war because this bottle wasn't just vintage - it was sealed. It's a 12 oz bottle, hefty glass, and feels like it weighs almost two pounds. Given its size and heft, I'm not surprised they switched to plastic. There are several details of note in my pictures: the plastic seal around the cap, the product attribution to Ed. Pinaud under the seal, the "Sale" ticker printed across the label, the embossed glass on the sides of the bottle, the absence of a barcode, and the playful, quasi-poetic blurb on the back label. Also note the pale green color of the liquid, which is crystal clear and hasn't faded to yellow. Collectors often seek vintage Pinaud bottles because they're graphical treats, visual feasts for enthusiasts of bathroom antiquities. Had mine been listed as empty, it would have been no less difficult to procure.

There's something to be said about the presentation of this vintage bottle. For one thing, a four-color print job on the label with intricate silkscreened graphics is indicative of a firm with serious cash. Consider that Old Spice only had two colors, Brut 33 usually had two, and the average drugstore-grade product manufacturer usually limits the palette to under four colors whenever possible. To have intricate paisley detailing and several vivid colors is quality design.

Embossing adds to the cost, and they didn't skimp in molding and manufacturing. The bottle is history, a remnant of a time forever lost, and I'm melancholy about it. The screw cap, snug on the glass, and the ornate label, all imbue this commonplace product with luxurious flair.

The aftershave itself is starkly different from the current formula in every conceivable way. Instead of emitting a raunchy synthetic musk, the top is very fresh and sweet, with a serious perfumery accord of marine-like musk that reveals itself to be genuine, beach-cast ambergris. There's a sassafras effect that gets sweeter, almost like bubblegum, but it veers into medicinal territory with a light interplay of herbs and something akin to mint. This quality is amplified by an anise note that gets muskier and slightly animalic as it dries. Five minutes later there's just a light base that more closely resembles the current stuff - powdery, with a ghostly lilac effect that never really detaches from the ambergris and musk notes.

Oh, the ambergris. Before smelling vintage, I assumed David Woolf's comment about sourcing real ambergris and lilac tinctures was marketing hype. Now that I've smelled what he was referring to, I'm sure there's a few drops of ambergris tincture in there. Having smelled several older Guerlains and Creeds, I've developed a positive sensitivity to ambergris, and it jumps out at me now. It isn't nearly as well articulated in LV as it is in full-fledged Parisian perfumes, but it's there nonetheless, a salinity that imbues this Pinaud tonic with sparkling, mineral-rich dimensionality. Imagine a discreet musk with a warm, powdery, milky vanilla finish, each facet kaleidoscopically presented to your nose, and you've imagined the base of vintage Lilac Vegetal.

The lilac note is barely there. The intensity of the musk in the current formula convinced me that "new" LV is simply an exotic musk that uses marketing psychology to convince users that lilac is present. Vintage LV confirms my belief. Any lilac I may smell in there is simply the power of suggestion. I mean sure, there could be a couple drops of actual lilac oil in the formula, which might explain the vague floral element woven into the pyramid, but the midcentury stuff is mintier, more medicinal, and altogether brighter than the current blend. It actually smells more modern than the new stuff. And I can't get over the ambergris note. Ambergris is both a note and a fixative, and here it acts as the former more than the latter. I get up to five hours out of the new formula; vintage lasts two hours before vanishing, and most of that time it's a ghost.

I would be remiss to tell you all this without noting that my bottle is at least sixty years old, and thus can not be considered 100% reliable scent-wise. Time has had its way with this product, but it was merciful. Maybe when new it wasn't so medicinal, maybe the lilac note was more obvious, maybe its longevity was better, maybe a lot of things. I'm not one to use old aftershave - it generally skeeves me out - but I use this one without a second thought. It looks, smells, and feels right. Doesn't bother me in the least. When I slap it on, I'm surrounded with a sweet, slightly medicinal, anisic musk. It leaves my skin feeling smooth, tight, and hydrated. Not much alcohol sting - newer Pinaud aftershaves have more bite. It is the definition of a barbershop fantasy.

How to account for the difference in smells between new and old? Is it possible the formula changed sometime midcentury to better reflect the minty, vanilla-forward trends of postwar aftershaves? Could the company have dispensed with the Victorian musks and reverted to something closer to Skin Bracer? It's entirely possible. Does that mean the current formula is a reversion back to an even earlier formula that preceded WWII? Perhaps from the 1870s to the 1920s the formula smelled closer to the current blend, with an animalic skankiness up top and a drydown that evokes lilacs. My vintage bottle doesn't really evoke lilacs at all, at least compared to the newer stuff. I sense there's another chapter to the story here, but lacking the ten or twelve vintage bottles needed for a chronological side-by-side-by-side comparison, I just don't know the answer. All I know is I winced a little when I cracked the seal on this bottle. After all these years, all the guys who swore they'd never take its virginity, I come along and do that.

If American International Industries reverted back to the midcentury formula, the jokes about "The Veg" that I'm constantly reading in wetshaver forums would disappear overnight. There would be no "The Veg has chosen me" jokes, because there's nothing challenging or unpleasant about the old formula. Literally nothing. Truth is, every man with a strop and blade would "choose the Veg" over most of the other aftershaves on the market today. But I enjoy both versions, and feel they're special in their own ways. Lilac Vegetal is more an intellectual challenge than an olfactory one. It's a simple, solid, expertly-crafted masterpiece. Every serious wetshaver should seek out a vintage bottle. They're out there, but they're extremely difficult to find. If you want one, go to estate sales. Go to tag sales. Visit antique stores. Check and recheck eBay every week. Eventually a bottle will show up. When it does, do not hesitate, even if there's only a half ounce left in it. Even if they want $200 for it. It's worth it. Trust me.

In closing, I thought I'd mention that when the vintage is gone, which will likely happen a couple years from now, I'll decant the new stuff into the vintage bottle and see how it mellows in glass. I suspect it will retain its musky character, but it will probably ditch the plastic undertone and become considerably smoother and more rewarding to use. God bless Pinaud for still making Lilac Vegetal. It is truly the prince of wetshaver tonics, and makes this wetshaver feel like a prince.