8/20/20

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.

8/7/20

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.



8/1/20

Sun Java White for Men (Franck Olivier)



Al Wisam Day is a musky-metallic tea rose, Derby Clubhouse Blanche is a green tea scent with girly cassis and watery vibes, and Al-Rehab Silver is a metallic citrus with pink "froot" notes that vaguely resemble blackcurrant. What do these Silver Mountain Water clones share in common? The blackcurrant note. I don't know what the chemical is, but it's very sweet, somewhat jammy, and dark enough to pass as "blackcurrant." But it's not blackcurrant. And it's certainly not what Creed uses in SMW.

Sun Java White by Franck Olivier puts its own twist on it. Instead of going in the floral direction of Rasasi, or the green direction of Armaf, or going overboard with the metallic vibe of Al-Rehab, or attempting the magnificent balance of Ajmal's little gem, Franck Olivier focuses on sweetness. Their team must have studied SMW and nineties pop culture (starting with Nirvana, and ending with Abercrombie & Fitch), and went all in on the American Pie theme. The result is an aldehyde-laden fruity musk. There's a smoothness and richness to SJW's blackcurrant that smells focused and expensive, like the entire budget went into elevating that single, ever-present note. It's buttressed by an "inky" material, which works, but there's little else to speak of. The first hour is especially femme, an incredible sweetness overlaid with aldehydes. Two hours later, I'm left with a thick base of white musk.

It sounds a bit dull, but something interesting happens as this fragrance evolves. I'm not sure what it is - Ambroxan, maybe Iso E Super, maybe a little of both - but the berry note adopts an extra dimension and becomes woodier, with the familiar "buzz" commonly found in designer masculines. This olfactory hologram is understated and restrained, and adds a sense of intrigue without sinking into cliché. The drydown gets musky, ambery, and a little salty. Of all the clones, this one reminds me that SMW is a nineties phenomenon, and I really like it, but still prefer Ajmal's interpretation of this type of scent. The mountain in the bottle is a nice touch!