Stirling Spice (Stirling Soap Company)

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

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

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


Revisiting Bowling Green by Geoffrey Beene

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

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

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

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

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

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

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