12/1/20

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.


28 comments:

  1. I never crossed paths with MI, and feel no need to track it down, but I do know GIT and Aventus;

    I remember holding the GIT bottle, many years ago, and back then it was the Holy Grail. Half of me wanted to go ape-shit with the nozzle, the other half resisted touching it at all. I felt it was too expensive, and I feared I would be disappointed.

    Now, I wasn't; GIT is a wonderful creation, and I bought new bottles later. But it's no longer a Holy Grail; I've smelled better, and cheaper, variants through the years. Nowadays it's more of a reference point, like a well-made, classic car.

    As for Aventus; I find it extremely over-hyped, and over-used. Bordering on passè, like an turbo-driven Ford Escort, or a red Trans Am. Once a cool possession, sure tool to pick up chicks and jealousy, but hopelessly irrelevent today.

    GIT will live on, gathering fans, for years to come.

    But poor Aventus? I'm not so sure about his coolness anymore.

    On the other hand; people still use Le Male and 1 Million, so it could be that Aventus will live on for years to come.

    I'm old, and it doesn't matter to me if mullets, pointed mustaches and sagging jeans will be the next trend.

    I won't sport it.

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    1. My first experience with GIT was with a very old bottle from the late '90s/early 2000s. Top and mid were kinda like Cool Water on steroids. Wasn't overly impressed. Then the drydown arrived, and the smoothest, richest sandalwood and floral musk accord lived on for five hours and really blew my mind. Ever since then I've just been a sucker for both GIT and CW. There's something masculine about them, but also something oddly androgynous and even a bit feminine (gee, could it be the intense floral notes?)

      Aventus has slipped into being a "yesterday" fragrance, albeit a decent one, given the field it plays in. My other hangup with Aventus, other than its inability to retain an impression on me, is the fact that it's the only Creed that has never come down in price, not even on the grey market. It's tough to find a bottle for under $300. For that kind of money it needs to be unbearably gorgeous, and it just isn't.

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  2. Cool Water was everywhere in my youth, so I guess that's why I never fell in love with it; I find it intrusive to my nostrils.

    Aspen, on the other hand; there's something about those mild green notes. I consider Aspen as one of my favorite summer smells. Sure, it's quality might be far from CW, and even further from GIT of course, but for a cheapie, it's remarkable.

    Then again, if I had to choose just one cologne, and one only, for the rest of my life, it would be a toss-up between Grey Flannel and Sergio Tacchini.

    Probably Sergio, since it's more suited to an all-season wear.

    It will never happen, of course.

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    1. Yeah CW was everywhere in my teenage years also. I regret not wearing it. I chose Chanel Allure Homme instead. Should have gone with CW. Now the reformulation is sketchy and the fragrance is almost as cheap in execution as Aspen. With that said, I agree with you that Aspen is wonderful, and probably a better bargain for the money (although you can get 4 oz CW for $18 on ebay, maybe $7 more than Aspen?)

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  3. Hi, Bryan. I can think of no other blogger who has turned out such consistently well-written pieces. You have provided me years of enjoyment as well as enriching my knowledge. Truly a pleasure. Thank you. If I may ask, I've always wondered why you haven't brought your content to YouTube. Your knowledge and unique voice would be a welcome treat for viewers, I think.

    I hope this finds you well. Best wishes and continued success.
    Please forgive me if this comment should have been sent to you a different way. If so, please advise for future correspondence not pertaining to a specific post.)

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  4. Hello John, thanks for your readership and for the comment, it is both well placed and well received. In answer to your question, I did review one fragrance on Youtube back in 2011 or 2012, and posted it to my now-defunct channel there, where it received 3 views in the span of 6 months. Meanwhile the blog's readership continued to grow steadily from 20 views per month to over 1,000 in the same period of time. So while the medium of YT is compelling, I found the results here on Blogger more rewarding, and simply stuck with it. Also for some reason YT reviewers garner far less respect in the fragrance forums than bloggers do, so that was an additional factor.

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  5. Your experience is eye-opening. YouTube seems to be persona driven. In that sense, viewers are attracted — or not — to the presenter even more than the content itself. Your reviews are categorically of a higher quality, often deeply researched, nuanced and stylishly written without ever losing touch with the common man. Perhaps it comes down to the difference between being a reader or a viewer, in terms of appreciation. In that sense, you have found your audience. We are fortunate to have you.

    Recently, you expressed your thoughts on paring down your collection; a feeling I've been struggling with, as well. With some hundred-and-thirty odd bottles in my possession, I often get the urge to purge.

    Philosophically, I imagine arriving at just one or two scents that would define me. Perhaps one for everyday that I'd wear in a manly, take-it-or-leave-it sort of way. The other for formal occasions. So far, no luck. I find moments to spritz any one of my fragrances when the mood strikes me. They're all great... classic fragrances. Still, I wish I could get rid of the lot, save one or two.

    I'm desperate. I may need a Viennese psychoanalyst. Although wouldn't he be inclined to endorse Knize Ten? What are your thoughts, Doctor Bryan? I need help.

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    1. I recently bought a brand new car, so I'll have to downsize (or at least arrest the development of) my collection. When it comes to sticking with one or two scents, the challenge is finding something that ticks enough boxes to be satisfactory in isolation.

      Does it smell good enough to please you every day?

      Is it unisex enough to not become offensive to others over time?

      Is it suitable for all weather? Day and night?

      Does it achieve a balance and harmony so finely tuned that a day where you suddenly smell it as different and unlikable arrives unexpected?

      Is it cheap enough to secure bottles regularly? (mono-wardrobes see faster turnover than large ones.)

      Is it expensive enough to not imbue an inaccurate sense of personal (and financial) austerity in your friends and coworkers?

      Is it something you will enjoy smelling, when you smell it, and not miss too much when your overly-familiar nose tunes it out?

      Is it unique enough to measure up as a "signature" fragrance?

      These are all challenging questions for the fragrance that dominates your life. They may seem daunting, but really it boils down to the three questions of quality, durability, and uniqueness. Price and value questions are a mirage in the perfume world, so when you ask "is it cheap/expensive enough?" you're really asking does it smell that way, not what the actual price tag says.

      I tend to believe that relatively inexpensive barbershop fragrances are more likely to be the sole survivors in my collection, simply because they have utility on top of smelling good. I just bought and used Trumper's wonderful bay rum, which I will review very soon. This is a fragrance so simple and well made that I can easily see it being a signature. It pairs perfectly with Pinaud's also wonderful Virgin Island BR, so the utility factor is there, as well as the price and all-season aspect (nothing is more all-season than a good bay rum).

      With all of this said, I wouldn't fret too much about cutting down the collection quickly. If limiting size is a priority, simply stop purchasing, and then use what you have. Over time your collection will dwindle down to but a few bottles, and by that point you'll know what you want to keep, and what you can do without.

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  6. Bryan! Wow — thank you for being so generous with your time and thoughts. Now, more than ever, living in Coronaville, that sort of interaction is a real joy. Your advice is helpful. More than that, it's brilliant.

    Funny, half way through, I started to mentally purge my collection. Royal Mayfair has long been a favorite, but I found myself gravitating to those less prestigious barbershop scents you later revealed to be stalwarts in your collection.

    At the risk of taking your council too literally, I doubted myself as I mused Tabac Original as my signature... not being expensive or exclusive enough, not to mention smelling grandfatherly to most folks. But I like. A lot.

    Thanks to you, I just bought Trumper's Wild Fern. Love it! That could easily be signature worthy. I remember smelling that wafting in the London air. I didn't know what it was as the time. I imagined it might have been Penhaligon's Douro/Lords. Trumper's Wellington was my very first cologne out of high school.

    Given your leaning towards the barbershop fragrances, have you found a "favorite" yet? How do you reconcile loving a cheap, pedestrian scent, when your nose says yes?

    I still reach for Royal Copenhagen — original and musk. I like Arden for Men Sandalwood, Zizanie, Knize Ten, Van Cleef Pour Homme, Lauder for Men, Aramis 900... fragrances I know all too well are decidedly old-fashioned. Sadly, when it matters — when I have a meeting either business or social, I chicken out and always take the safe route: One spray of Dior eau Sauvage, or Mugler Cologne.

    Forgive me for being self-indulgent in my reply.

    Enjoy that new car. Stay well. And thank you again for your gem of blog.

    Best,

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    1. I think Old Spice is my favorite barbershop scent, with Clubman and Lilac Vegetal placing second and third. As far as aftershaves go, another that I will review very soon takes the gold medal, and hint: it's made by Aqua Velva. That one i discovered decades ago and only recently reunited with, much to my joy.

      Thanks for reading! All readers and subscribers are appreciated!

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  7. Sounds like you have a handle on your fragrance collection. I’ll refer to your checklist often in my efforts to pare down.

    If I’m not spoiling the surprise, are we talking about Aqua Velva Musk by any chance. That gets my vote for best cheapie aftershave. I think it’s my favorite. Look forward to your review.

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    1. It beats Jovan Musk, that's for sure. Williams/Aqua Velva was a staple of my dad's. The blue one, the amber, a green juice I wish could I remember the smell of (it's an entry on Fragrantica) and finally a black version, with a slightly yellowish juice. Excellent smell, as far as I can remember... it's 30 years and more ago.

      The Williams/Aqua Velva line used to grace every shelf in every grocery store here in Norway back then.

      Fuck Axe body spray for chasing the great oldies away!

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  8. I'm taking bets, guys.

    The orange/amber coloured one or the other?

    And Bryan... you shouldn't waste your money on cars. They're just pieces of metal and plastic. There are gallons upon gallons of fragrances yet to review out there!

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    1. There's a review already for AV Musk here on the blog, so it's not that one, but look hard the the range and at what I say about it, and I think you'll figure it out. I consider it the best smelling aftershave of the last 30 years, and counting.

      If it makes it any better Sofus, I bought the cheapest most reliable car I could find, a Toyota Corolla, so my car buying days are hopefully over until I turn 70.

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  9. That won't please Greta Thunberg. Only a Hyundai Ioniq or a Tesla will do, Bryan.

    PC aside, the Corolla is a good car (I still own a Toyota RAV4 from 2003. It's a secondary car now, but what a mule. Rolling and rolling. It will probably outlive me)

    And shame on me for the lousy research. Sure looking forward to the review of the other one!

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    1. Greta would prefer I buy a sailboat and gently drift to work and home everyday lol! The Corolla (and Rav4 - my parents have one of those) are freaky in that I believe mine will outlive me by several years, and I'm only 39.

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    1. Don't forget AV Original Sport is still a contender John!

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  11. Do not know your favorite Mr. Ross, mine has always been Savane Verte

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  12. A worn-out nickel down for Frost Lime!

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  13. Okay, all bets are off until your review comes in.
    Bonus... Is the image for this post a still from the film Brigadoon?

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  14. It's actually a still from The Quiet Man with John Wayne, although yours was a good guess!

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  15. Yes, of course! The Quiet Man — I knew that! Great John Ford film. It was the Irish theme that confabulated my recollection.

    Incidentally, I must thank you again for providing such helpful criteria for discovering a signature fragrance. When taken to heart, those are some pretty deep and serious questions. I've since put them into practice. Notwithstanding my recent 3 bottle purchase, I have a good feeling about this.

    What has become apparent to me is my attachment to an "idea" of a particular fragrance — how it's image and history imbue a certain romance that aligns an image of myself.

    I know, it sounds silly to articulate, but these are powerful factors at work. Bryan, have you experienced this phenomenon?

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    1. I can't say that I have, John, although I get what you're saying. Frankly I've never encountered a fragrance that generated a genuine image for itself. There's the marketing by parent companies that rarely approximates anything similar to my personality. Sometimes there's the "mythology" of a fragrance, like the Cary Grant GIT connection (which is persuasive but only barely), and I consider Grey Flannel a better fragrance than GIT, and my signature, a fragrance with no public ad image or mythology of any kind. The "idea" behind something like Grey Flannel is clearly freshness, hence the heavy use of violet leaf and green notes. So in a sense, I guess I subscribe to the "Cleanness" and "freshness" idea - but who doesn't?

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  16. Fair enough. I like Grey Flannel, too. And if that satisfies your sense of "cleanness" and "freshness," you win. The problem I have is when I think clean and fresh, which, as you know, everyone likes these days, I'd opt for something like Mugler Cologne, Monsieur de Givenchy, Dior Eau Sauvage, even Pinaud Citrus Musk, before Grey Flannel. Of course, it's all subjective. We like what we like.

    BUT... Grey Flannel illustrates precisely the conundrum to which I was referring. I like the "classic" image of Grey Flannel, and that notion tugs at me — attracts me — beyond my reaction to the fragrance, itself.

    Bryan, in your list, you suggested "...something you enjoy smelling." That simple council, although seemingly obvious, is just what I needed to hear. At the end of the day, that should be all that matters.

    My hour is up. I'll try meditation and refer to your list often. Again, thank you for being so generous with your time. You are clearly a healthy, centered human being, with a strong sense of self... at least where fragrance is concerned.

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