12/20/20

Aqua Velva Ice Sport (Combe Inc.)



Aqua Velva Ice Sport. The aftershave that says,
 "Welcome to the nineties!" 1994, to be exact. Which, if memory serves me, is the year it was released, and two years before my freshman year of private Catholic high school (short skirts, short skirts, short skirts, short skirts, short skirts). Either way, it's been two decades since I smelled it. I was a teenager, secretly lusting after Natalie Merchant, and obsessed with science fiction novels and everything eighties. 

One thing I do remember with utmost clarity is smelling Ice Sport for the first time at the drugstore. Unlike the original, it was in plastic - it always came in 3.5 oz plastic squeeze bottles. I remember thinking, "This will smell like regular Ice Blue, and I'll just buy that instead." Ho boy, was I wrong. My first impression was what impressions are meant to be: lasting. This stuff embedded itself in my memory forever as being the best smelling aftershave of all time. One sniff had me shamelessly smashing my nostril into the little plastic dispenser like I was snorting lines. This was a religious experience.

I promptly bought the bottle, used it, then bought another. And another. And another. For a year or two, this was my aftershave. I used it religiously. I never tired of it. And then, inexplicably, the drugstore in my neighborhood stopped carrying it, as did every other store in the area. It was, what? Discontinued? Sent to a different region of the country? I'll never know. I grieved for a day or two, bought regular Ice Blue, and moved on. The greatest aftershave of all time was no longer available to me. 

By the time I reached my twenties, I was certain that Ice Sport had been discontinued. It was nowhere to be found in Connecticut, and must have been hard to find online, too, or I would've surely bought a bottle. Then, sometime in the last ten years, I noticed it had returned. Not to store shelves, but to internet listings for Aqua Velva, and I realized I could experience this wonderful elixir again. (I didn't until this fall.)

Why's it so special? It's Gillette Cool Wave, with the bitterness replaced by a lick of raspberry sweetness, the novel fruit note dosed so gently into the dihydromyrcenol that it hovers in the outer periphery of detectibility. There isn't much, if any, citrus. There's not even that much dihydromyrcenol. Yet it's so nineties that when I splash it on I see Carson Daly's big blue doe eyes pleading with hordes of post-pubescent bimbos to Total Request Live anything other than Ray of Light (does Charlie Sheen holding a candy bar to Kristy Swanson's back mean something to you).  Even the label, boasting a "vitamin-enriched" formula, hearkens back to the healthnut craze of the Clinton era. I can almost hear the Native American New Age music as I type this.

Ice Sport is potent. Nineties powerhouse potent. It would make a good cologne. This is what I would want an Ice Blue cologne to smell like, if such a thing existed today. It's fresh, but also warm, sweet. But not obnoxiously sweet. It's glacé, playfully saccharine, a lilting song of a smell that carries its CD tune on the air with a lightness that fills the room. It raises the obvious question: Why don't perfumers use raspberry more often? What prevents the judicious use of such a rich, wonderful note? When will someone invent a time machine so I can go back and browbeat my Victoria's Secret catalog-hoarding self into asking Jessica Janus out after study hall? 

12/12/20

Old Spice Cologne (Shulton, 1956 - 1966 Vintage)


To think, people turned their noses up at smelling this good.

The thing that irks me about Luca Turin's review of Old Spice in Perfumes: The Guide is the hint that he isn't reviewing the most recent formula (circa 2008), but a formula that dates back to at least 1966, with "the weird, thin little conical stopper."

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!

12/9/20

That New Car Smell: What Is It, Exactly?


The 2021 Corolla LE sedan in "Blueprint" 


On Monday I bought a 2021 Toyota Corolla LE sedan in the "blueprint" paint color, and am struck by the familiar "new car smell" that fills its cabin. This smell joins my list of things that ought to be made into fine fragrance. (Others are the smell of bow rosin, Catholic holy water, and old, musty books.)

Many have asked, what is the mystery substance that makes a new car smell so good? Its very distinctive synthetic aroma, something not encountered anywhere else, is both potent and persistent - the typical new car holds the smell for the first few thousand miles before it disappears. Many have noted over the decades of car buying that when the smell vanishes, it seems to do so abruptly, but then returns under certain extreme weather conditions, like high summer heat. 

The straight answer to why new cars smell so good is summed up in three letters: VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds). These are the domain of chemists, and I'm not educated enough to accurately describe what they are, but I can offer a snippet of the short version. VOCs are the man-made synthetic materials that comprise an automobile's interior. These include various glues, plastics, foams, rubbers, and textiles, all factory-made and derived from commercial labs. 

When these materials are used, they emit billions of microscopic particles into the air, which is called off-gassing or out-gassing. As one can imagine, a single synthetic material might not yield much of a smell, but eight or nine materials in an enclosed space will create a very noticeable smell. A point of reference for this is new carpeting. Think of a time when you were in a room that had been recently carpeted. It had a smell, right? The synthetic fibers of the carpet, and the rubber foam beneath it, were off-gassing into the room, leaving a relatively pleasant fragrance in the air.

This is what happens in a new car. The factory robots slapped the plastic and rubber parts together, the carpeting was glued down, and the headliner foam was inserted. In such a confined space, it's no wonder a new car smells so strongly of "newness." The off-gassing must be tremendous, at least for the first few weeks of use. Over time the effect dwindles, simply by virtue of the finite nature of off-gassing. After a certain point, the molecules emitted are reduced, and the smell fades. 

I believe the fidelity of a new car's smell can be preserved if the car is kept closed and clean for as long as possible, and I'm hoping to maintain it for as long as possible in mine. It's a synthetic smell, and hard to describe - a little sweet, a little musty, a touch of carpet smell mixed with a hint of silly-putty. As for how I feel about the car itself, I can say that so far I'm pleasantly surprised. For a compact car, it's not small; measuring in at 182 inches, the Corolla is only 17.7 inches shorter than the LeSabre. That's less than 1.5 feet. It's only a foot shorter than a 2003 Buick Century, which is also a large car.

Another odd thing about the Corolla is its tuning. It has a cartoonishly small 1.8 L inline 4-banger. In the past these teensy Asian go-kart engines revved pretty dramatically at low speeds, climbing past 2,000 and 3,000 rpms. My Corolla is tuned like it's a 3.8 L V6, revving at 600 rpms in idle (100 lower than my Buick), and only reaching 2,000 rpms at around 68 mph. Accelerating and passing at highway speeds brings it up to around 2,500 - 3,000 rpms, identical to the 3800 series 2. Pretty remarkable. My guess is the CVT, which is compatible with Toyota's newer "Direct Shift" aka "launch gear" - a single gear in the CVT that de-stresses the engine and transmission when accelerating from a dead stop - holds the engine in check. While my car isn't launch-geared, its CVT is a glistening work of art. Toyota has had 20 years of practice making these gear-less transmissions for the Prius.

Bear in mind that I'm not revving my engine much because my car has under 100 miles on it. When a car is that new, it is not advisable to push the drivetrain past 3,000 rpms for the first 1,000 miles. Once the car is properly "broken-in" I'll see what kind of pep it puts out. Right now I'm stuck in "Eco Mode." Otherwise known as little green leaf mode. Not my favorite mode.

I'm not going to recommend a 2021 Toyota Corolla to any of you because every sentient person knows that a Corolla is a good option when it comes to daily commuter cars, and everything has been said already. I'll just say that mine smells really good right now, and I wish that smell would last forever.

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.