Wild Fern (Geo. F. Trumper)

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

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

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

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


Lilac Vegetol Aftershave (Master Well Comb)

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

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

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

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


An Updated Opinion of Stirling Spice (Stirling Soap Company)

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

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

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

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


Citrus Musk (Pinaud)

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

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


Lilac (Demeter Fragrance Library)

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

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

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

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

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

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