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 deep 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, apparently from 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!
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.
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. Surely this level of saccharine cheapness is an abject failure, right? Surely no one would wear something as pedestrian and austere as this?
Oh-so wrong-oh. Citrus Musk is the perfect cologne - damn near a masterpiece. It's a guy thing. Men love anything that sinks to this level of "cheap" and "sweet," and I can see why - it smells appealing and lifts your spirits. You can keep your Trumpers, Truefitt & Hill, your stuffy $90 aftershaves with crown-shaped sticker labels. Ladies, Citrus Musk is what wafts from the open collar of the grey wolf who drives a black C3 Corvette with fuzzy dice on the mirror. It is the machismo you turn to after a dead-end conversation with a "metrosexual" dork in Dior who lives on his smartphone.
"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).
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.
Will anything happen in 2020? I expected more from the end of the decade. It's not like the pandemic, the police killings, The Chaz Autonomous Zone, Kim Jong Un's evil-but-kinda-hot sister, the rioting and looting, the wayward political campaigns, the blazing west-coast wildfire smoke that is somehow blotting out the sun in Connecticut, the death of a Supreme Court Justice, and the chaos at home and in the workplace for millions of people is the least bit interesting. It's September. This year had better put something on the table. Let's go, Father Time. Put down the nine iron and pull yourself away from your daily golf game with the Grim Reaper and Joe Biden, and give us something we can really sink our pearly whites into - NOT talking soups with winged mammals in them. But anything else is welcome. Anything else.
I've been getting into some weird things this year. Much of this is the result of coping mechanisms. Some of these things are good; some are probably controversially good, but I turn thirty-nine this year. My youth is gone. My young adulthood has been winding down for the last ten years. I'm entering middle age. I just don't give a fuck anymore. I've learned that life isn't about maintaining a self-imposed status-quo of "safe" and "clean" living; we breathe, eat, and drink our experiences for the pleasures they bring us, rather than whatever moral edification they might impart. We must all abide normal levels of modesty and restraint (civilization depends on it), but as the clock ticks onward we must also probe our collective consciousness by whatever means necessary, and spur our life force toward goals only we can set.
I'm into cheap wetshaver frags again. I've always been into them, but they're so cheap and easy to like that they keep my spirits up. Here's a "preview of coming attractions:" finally, after a decade of procrastinating, I purchased a bottle of Pinaud Citrus Musk. A full review is coming, but here I'll just say I really enjoy it, especially as an aftershave. It's not like I have any illusions about it. I know it smells cheap. But cheap citrus that smells like a cross between furniture polish and hard candy is catnip for guys. Here's to hoping Pinaud never goes out of business.
As many of my readers already know, I've begun exploring the benefits of cannabis. Marijuana isn't fully legal in Connecticut, but hemp flower is. That means THC is off the table, but CBD (Cannabidiol) sativa strains are fair game. I suffer from a couple of chronic physical maladies that frequently throw my body into a state of distress so unbearable that my mind transforms into a lump of overripe Monte Enebro by the third day. Many people use CBD oil - a couple drops under the tongue yields countless benefits - but my mouth is in a condition best suited for the hero in an eighteenth century picaresque novel. Bad gums, dodgy teeth. Modern dental accoutrements have kept the teeth in the gums, and the gums in my head, but rumor has it liquid CBD oil can cause oral cancer, so I'm given to smoking it instead.
The benefits are incredible. I was able to stave off a festering infection simply by taking a few tokes, and saved myself a month of antibiotics in the process. Freebasing CBD helps me sleep better. My blood pressure is lowered. My mind is cleared. My body feels great. Stress dissipates. I used to think potheads were nuts for spinning Big Pharma conspiracies, but having used hemp for a few months, the tin foil is firmly affixed to my crown. Still, there's always a downside. And the downside here is pretty obvious: I'm smoking something. My lungs aren't thrilled with it. It's nowhere near as bad as tobacco. One cigarette puts me out of commission for two days. Hemp smoke is much smoother, softer, easier to breathe. But it's still not wonderful for respiration in the long term. Therefore I severely moderate my use, and have relegated my sativa habit to weekends with lengthy breaks between smoke sessions. The brand I use recently came out with CBD gummy bears, and I plan on seeing if edibles work as well as hemp joints and cigarettes. Hopefully they do.
Another thing I've been engaged in to pass time is reading. Now, I'm not a big reader. I enjoy habitually perusing nonfiction subject matter, mostly news, current events, special interest articles, fragrance blogs. Books are a little tougher for me to stick with because I have an attention deficit for anything longer than two thousand words. Nevertheless, this summer I was intrigued by an eBay merchant who wished to part with a compilation of sermons by Hugh Blair, an eighteenth century Scottish minister. He wasn't asking much for it, considering the edition for sale was published in 1792, so I bought it. It has been on my bookshelf for the past two months, and for the first time in at least a century, it is not gathering dust. I am reading it. And I am loving it. It's falling apart little by little every time I sit down with it, mostly crumbling from the spine (the title flaked off today), but it is still in the original leather binding, so no surprises there. Biggest lesson gleaned from Minister Blair so far: religion and fealty to God is what makes modern man civilized. There are passages in his sermons that are eerily relevant to today's many social problems. Buying a 228 year-old book changed my life.
I am a member of the Church of Eternalism, which houses the believers in everlasting human life. We do not die. We shed bodies. We find the next womb. We are born. We live as people who have changed, but who have risen again the same. Death is a cycle, not an end, an endless procession of Jack Torrances endlessly tending to the Overlook Hotel. We've always been the caretakers. We've always been here. Science calls it "evolution," but how did we evolve? Consider the praying mantis. How do its cells know to go green and mimic tree leaves? No scientist has ever articulated an answer. The mantis prays to nature. The line is always, "organisms evolve." Sure, Jan. Organisms have what I call "interlife memory." Our bodies carry their memories over from previous bodies in previous lives, stacking the experiences and inclinations and weaknesses into what eventually becomes the Divine.
I'm mentioning this because I'm drawn to things that have nothing to do with me. I'm obsessed with the 1940s and 1950s, and the midcentury aesthetic. My house is literally a recreation of that time period. I've had lucid dreams of falling from a ladder in one of NY City's inner boroughs, sometime in the late 1970s, and breaking my neck. I've seen the faces of the African American boys who found me paralyzed and unable to breathe, their eyes wide with disbelief, their mouths moving with words I can not hear, and the last thing I see is the youngest boy running off, presumably to get help. For me, this explains my deathly fear of heights, and the cancer of an organ in my neck that was removed twenty years ago. But my sensibilities go beyond the twentieth century. I'm also drawn to the eighteenth century. I obsess over eighteenth century art, eighteenth century period piece films, eighteenth century food. When I saw Blair's Sermons on eBay, I needed to own it.
Second to last but not least, there's the new thing in my refrigerator: Kedem grape juice. I don't know why, but I recently had a yen for grape juice. It's probably because I don't get enough fruit in my diet. I try, but fruit is expensive and spoils quickly, and I'm always on the go, so it's hard to do. So I went to the grocery store and perused the juice aisle. All the usual stuff - Welch's, Ocean Spray, Minute Maid - and my eyes drifted to the top shelf, where they came to rest on bottles of Kedem.
I've been vaguely familiar with Kedem my entire adult life. It's stocked in every store. It's widely regarded as the premiere American kosher wine and juice manufacturer, the stuff Jews buy without hesitation. Kedem's winery isn't as widely known as its juice outfit, but again, in Jewish communities, Kedem wine is a thing. I'm on the wagon and cannot comment on their alcoholic beverages, but I can and will comment on their flagship grape juice, "Made with Concord Grapes." I'd never tried it, though I'd always admired its oddly dull-yet-attractive label, and figured what the hell.
What the hell, indeed - this shit is incredible. When I say incredible, I mean it isn't ordinary grape juice. What made my yen for purple stuff odd is that I don't even like grape juice. That all changed when I popped the cap off Kedem's bottle (mine isn't as elegant looking as the one in the picture, but they have a few different bottle styles out there). This juice is on another level. It isn't acidic at all, and has a soft and light body, with just a hint of tang under a burst of smooth sweetness. The sugar level is there in force, but it accentuates a fruit flavor that is so pristine that I wonder how they did it. Usually with grape juice there's a harsh, somewhat metallic quality that taints the experience, but Kedem's juice manages to taste like Bacchus himself did the pressing. I've tried it from the big plastic bottle, and from the smaller glass bottle, and while glass does a superior job preserving the flavor, the plastic isn't that far behind, and is completely acceptable. Let Kedem sit on your tongue, and the retrohale of flavor is akin to a medley of blackberries and grape jam, haloed by a deep woody note.
Meanwhile Ned Lamont, in all his infinite wisdom, thought it was a fine idea to let every school in the state go back full-force. Predictably, Covid cases are back up to near 2% again. By this time next month the state will look like it did in April. This is what happens when you vote blue. Fortunately Ned is looking into it, "trying to figure out what is behind the uptick," as NPR put it. Mask up, folks. The fun's just gettin' started.
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.
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.
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"
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.
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.
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."
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.