12/26/21

Eau de Minthé (Diptyque)


This fragrance was released shortly before this awful pandemic began, and I almost wonder if the world would know what to do if something this bright and fresh and happy were released in our grim times. Diptyque's 2019 eau de parfum is a clean, green little entry in their growing catalogue of exclusive EDPs (kaa-chiing!!) 

When it comes to mint notes, perfume houses usually stray into a distinct danger zone. Many fragheads are criminally unaware of what the government gold standard for mint is in contemporary perfumery, a pricy aftershave by Myrsol called Formula K. Now granted, there are several different types of mint, and no one fragrance can corner the market on all of them, nor can one represent a fair standard for each type. Formula K is the most lucid peppermint note you could ever hope to smell in a fragrance, and there's no doubt that at least some natural peppermint oil was used in its making. Paired with a healthy dose of added menthol, the overall effect is incredibly crisp, lucid, and natural, and because it's so realistic it doesn't fall victim to the thematic danger of smelling like toothpaste. It's just a beautiful herbal aroma that goes far beyond the call of duty. 

Formula K is about six dollars an ounce, making it expensive for aftershave, but a good value for 180 ml. When I turn to a European niche perfume brand like Diptyque, which asks seventy-five dollars an ounce, I expect at the very least that something called Eau de Minthé will be on par with Myrsol's peppermint. All considerations are made here - the mint note in Eau de Minthé is supposedly Oregonian spearmint (whatever that is), the concentration is EDP, hard to manage with mint, and there's no telling which stylistic direction they're aiming for - yet to my nose, the mint note falls short. This isn't a lucid herbal spearmint. This is drugstore aftershave mint, in the same league as Skin Bracer and Aqua Velva. It's a nondescript, mentholated, mint-like spearmint note. It's okay, but disappointing. But, to be fair, it smells serviceable and works in the composition. 

Diptyque was going for a mentholated patchouli here, an interesting choice. The top is a fizz of menthol, spearmint, and what feels like a drop of green apple, but the patchouli note steps quickly to the fore, and maintains a central stance for the three to four hour duration. Ghosted into the background are supporting notes of lavender, geranium, and nutmeg, all lending a familiar wet-shaver fougère thing to Eau de Minthé's midsection, and I think it's safe to call the fragrance a fougère. While the lo-fi mint note is annoying, the menthol effect is dynamic enough to elevate the proceedings into what smells like a niche-budget luxury version of some proletariat splash at the dollar store. Its Australian sandalwood drydown, which is subtle and lightly tinged with smoky patchouli, saves this fragrance for me. I might complain about the mint, but I can't deny that the woody structure underlying it is well made and smells great.

There's a hundred reasons to avoid spending big bucks on something that postures as glorified drugstore aftershave, but then again if you're like me, a total weirdo who loves drugstore aftershave, Eau de Minthé tugs at heartstrings in all the right ways. It's complex enough to be interesting, luxurious enough to smell great in all circumstances, and conceptually sound for something priced near the $200 mark. If it sells well enough, they might even reformulate it and upgrade that spearmint note, which would be the sort of bitch move that would force me to buy a full bottle. 

12/23/21

Lemon, Cedar, Amber (Pecksniff's)




My memories of England are fond ones: sitting in a hotel lobby at two and a half years old, playing with a toy double-decker bus and a London cab while waiting for my folks to check in (which incidentally is also my very first memory, period). Then at ten years old, peering through Cornish morning fog so thick I couldn't see my hand in front of my face. Visiting the apartment of Sherlock Holmes. Seeing the Queen open a police station in a London park. Fighting with my brother in the backseat of the car. Good times.

Nineties England was a land of wilted empire, its citizens proud and rather nationalistic, its weather glorious and catastrophic, its food abysmal. The country is known for its stiff and unadventurous perfumes, with esteemed houses like ye olde Truefitt & Hill, Floris, Penhaligon's, Trumper, and Pecksniff's offering a slew of proper things. I approach them gingerly and with the expectation that my teeth could wind up crooked and my wardrobe flush with floral-print dresses. To meet British standards, they must be quietly manly and forgettable. I didn't think I'd like Pecksniff's "Professional" scent, with its bought title of Lemon, Cedar, Amber. But my colonial nose does not deceive me - I fancy it! It smells very cheap, but nice. I'm interested in other Pecksniff's fare now, which is a surprise. 

There isn't much lemon detectable in the mix, no citrus aldehyde, although I do get the slimmest curl of woody rind behind the actual wood notes. There are also no top notes to speak of; the fragrance falls victim to an alarming blast of blatant alcohol in the first five seconds, which is usually a sign of bad tidings. Fortunately a robust accord of cedar with a touch of sandalwood emerges, and this one-note cedar carries on for a few hours before thinning into a discreet woody amber. It's very dry, and there's no sweetness to be found. It's perfect for after a shave, and pairs nicely with Clubman Classic Vanilla. 

Dull as the fragrance is, its cedar note is so nicely rendered that I can't help but enjoy it. Good cedar smells rich and rounded and not at all like pencil shavings, and Pecksniff's manages to hit close to the bullseye with minimal effort. Rather than blow his wad on unnecessary notes, the perfumer poured his rather limited resources into a single easy note, and the result is something that smells simple but quite good. I'm reminded of Krizia Uomo whenever I wear it, which is a compliment to the nose. Oh, and due to a sale, I paid $6 for 3.3 ounces, my nod to the Scots. 

12/19/21

Alcolado Glacial (Curacao Laboratories Ltd.)


Curaçao is a tiny island country of about 150,000 people off the coast of Venezuela, and yet it has given us Alcolado Glacial, a world-famous mentholated aftershave lotion. It isn't the easiest to find in stores, yet I managed to locate a massive bottle at an ethnic grocery store in Bridgeport, and snatched it up immediately.

Why is this stuff so loved by wetshavers? It smells good, it hits frigidly cold, and works beautifully after a shave. According to their website, the Alcolado formula was crafted by an anonymous chemist back in the late 1940s, and was then marketed to the islanders. I find this interesting because it smells like something that would've been more timely in the 1970s, with its hippie-like accord of lemongrass, mandarin orange, and eucalyptus, something truly charming and fresh. It's a little green, a little citrusy-sweet, a little soapy. Catnip for a guy with a safety razor and badger brush next to his sink. Hard to imagine it in 1948, but not such a stretch in the Nixon years. 

Menthol lovers rate Alcolado Glacial highly, putting it in the neighborhood of Osage Rub and Skin Bracer. It's easy to see why. It's pretty damn cold. The freeze comes on faster than anything else in my den, within five seconds of slapping it on. This stuff lives up to its name, as it's truly a "glacial" menthol. Thumbs up for me.

12/17/21

Florida Water (Lanman & Kemp Barclay)




With a birth year of 1808, Lanman & Kemp Barclay's 214 year-old original Florida Water is the ultimate American institution of colognes. For a history lesson, just refer to its interesting Wikipedia page, which is quite informative. What isn't mentioned is the implicit historical passage that such an antiquated water has taken along the riverbanks of time, nor are there any detailed imaginings of those who traveled with it. 

Florida Water joins the league of old-fashioned lilac and lavender waters as being the sort of thing the local general store carried while selling to barbers in bulk. A shave and hot towel were followed by a splash of this stuff, but its unisex utility meant women of all ages carried small bottles with them, soaked their kerchiefs with it, and relied on it to ward off ailments. Soldiers drank it and detered mosquitos when they sweated it out. In those days, cologne water was all-purpose, a luxury recognized as such, yet suited for many uses. Its endurance on the market is a testimony to its quality and durability. This cologne is something people still like - a lot. 

It begins with a bracing burst of warm citruses, mainly lemon and orange, which is soon suffused with spicy aromatics. I get a ton of lavender and clove, followed by a pleasant cinnamon note. There's also something terpenic in the heart of this accord, akin to pine sap, sometimes reminiscent of crushed needles. This wavers into a dusky territory oft shared by cedar wood. Its woody backbone carries the ghostly aromatic drydown to its rapid conclusion, where remnants hang for another hour or so before completely fading away. Florida Water, like 4711 and Extra Vieille, is a perfect accord. 

Of course wetshavers love it, but what remains mysterious to me is why companies like Lanman & Kemp Barclay continue to degrade their products by selling them in cheap plastic. Putting something this nice in plastic is a crime. I'll give them a nod though for at least issuing this also in glass, albeit in apparently very short supply (good luck finding a bottle). I still prefer 4711, but Florida Water is a great alternative, and a must for any collector of 18th and 19th century eau de colognes. 

12/12/21

Polo Ultra Blue (Ralph Lauren)



"I'll take a pack of Ultra Blues, please."

If you're gonna go fresh, you need to know your options. There aren't many. Not if you want to go fresh, and still smell good, that is. Of course there are hundreds of freshies out there, most of them crap, but it takes a multifaceted understanding of perfume to make sense of them all. Market dynamics, the reality on the street, and the hierarchy of choices complicate things. How does one pick something shampoo-like and ubiquitous in nature, yet also truly beautiful to wear? 

Ralph Lauren issued his first Polo Blue in 2002, and since then has thrown a few others at the wall, hoping something will stick. We got Blue EDP, Gold Blend, Sport, Parfum, Red, White & Blue, and Deep Blue. Ultra Blue quietly joined the club in 2018, which is a funny story. Lauren seemed a bit unsure of Ultra Blue, and for several months released it only in 1.6 oz bottles, with fairly limited distribution. I saw maybe two or three of them, and not much on the internet. I think it was being road-tested at places like Macy's and Neiman Marcus. It was as if the brand wanted to know if this formula would sell before committing to the regular 4.2 oz size. I'm not even sure you could buy them directly, or if they were just bait for sales stats on pre-season preorders. 

It must have done at least okay, because by the fall of that year the bigger bottles were everywhere. Ultra Blue is the lone Polo in my collection, and I only own it because it's exactly the kind of thing that appeals to women. If you read reviews, you know the guys who like to sing the Polo Blues about blue frags. They're "boring," they're "safe," they're "not for me." Well, the joke's on them. The sad truth is that these are the fragrances that today's women want to smell on their men. They were raised around boys who wore this sort of generic stuff, their dads wore it, and the overpriced deodorant aquatics are the only things that really turn them on as adults. Believe me, every woman I've dated has insisted on my wearing the freshest thing in my wardrobe, whatever it was. 

The cool thing about Ultra Blue is it's the most unisex of the Polos in this line. A woman could easily wear it without anyone even questioning it. It's in the same wheelhouse as D&G's Light Blue, which is of course a big hit with the ladies. But Ultra offers something interesting: a minimalist approach to the aquatic, with heavy emphasis on a couple of high quality synthetics. Someone suggested that original Polo Blue, with its melons and cucumbers, could be just as compelling in an austere and streamlined state. It was made quite a bit colder with the complete removal of the melons and cucumbers and woody notes, and using only lemon verbena, heaping doses of salt, and a few sprigs of fresh basil as garnish held the temperature. It would be a lot cheaper to make, but also a little harder to market. What if this level of simplicity was just too weird?

The opening smells cheap to me, as if the bareness of the pyramid is struggling to cover the scent of alcohol. This only lasts about ten seconds before the lemon saves the day, smelling brackish, but, you guessed it, fresh. There's the mineral limestone tanginess of dry sea salt, undergirded with crisp lemon verbena and a pert basil that happily peeks through the chems. It's clean yet tony and mass-appealing, and most importantly, it's well made. It takes skill to make something this basic smell good, but they pulled it off. The citrus is ghostly, floating in and out of my consciousness, taking turns with the rich accents of pure salt and delicate herbal greenness in commanding attention. 

If you have the money, you'd probably rather buy something like Heeley's Sel Marin or Creed's Erolfa, both of which employ similarly direct aquatic-themed pyramids with only a handful of notes. But I'd caution you there. Sure, you'll get better top notes with those more expensive fragrances, but you won't get significantly better fragrances overall, and Ultra Blue destroys them in the longevity department. It's also more likely to appeal to your significant other, who might raise issues with the overly realistic low-tide effects found in high-concept niche. Buy all the macho musks and woody orientals that your bank account can bear, but leave at least one spot on the shelf for Saturday night. 

12/6/21

Ombré Leather (Tom Ford)




The round sticker on the bottom of my bottle of Ombré Leather says it's made in Switzerland, which is interesting because the Swiss are very well known for exporting only the finest luxury goods, and it's no accident that this 2018 Tom Ford offering falls squarely into that rare category of things. Ombré Leather in its current eau de parfum concentration is an elegant olfactory ode to the inimitable beauty of luxury leather, and an example of how great craftsmanship can yield a quiet work of genius. 

The fact is there's no such thing as a true standalone leather note in perfumery. It takes gobs of rectified birch tar, all sorts of oak and tree mosses, and burly woody notes like fir and castoreum and patchouli to reconstruct a typical treated rawhide effect, and my nose usually deceives itself by balkanizing the constituents of the accord before it even has a chance at imparting what the perfumer was trying to do. Instead of leather, I smell birch tar and oakmoss, fir, patchouli, and by the drydown phase I've written volumes on how great the castoreum is, instead of how realistic the leather accord might be. 

Sonia Constant opted against the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to leather, and wisely chose instead to reinterpret a classical Guerlainade chypre structure, using deft technical tweaks to bring its most leather-like characteristics to the forefront, while also adding abstract fruits and white florals for contrast. There's something lactonic and dreamy about the bittersweet apricot, jasmine, and oakmoss intro to Ombré Leather, and I'm immediately reminded of Mitsouko. But where the sweetness of the jasmine and the starkness of the moss intersect arises an affectingly smooth leather note. 

It's the smell of car leather, Italian alligator leather, luxury handbag leather. We're not in Knize Ten riding tack territory here, although as the drydown progresses the fruit warms and morphs into something sweetly raspberry-like, and not far from the hallucinogenic strawberry kiss of The Knize. The jasmine grows ever more expansive, and a genteel patchouli, steam-cleaned and mellow, grounds everything. At the four hour mark Ombré Leather becomes more about patchouli than leather, yet the smooth treated hide effect lingers sturdily in the periphery until seven or eight hours later, where the evernyl and a whisper of white flowers are all that remain. Excellent longevity from this stuff. 

I've described the notes, but how does the fragrance feel? It possesses something only found in great perfumes: the ability to move. It floats like a phantom in undulating robes, sometimes feeling masculine and leathery, other times feminine and floral, even a bit fruity and sweet, yet always shifting, always kaleidoscopic and elusive. Good perfumes give you the lay of the land in one or two chops, and maintain their luster by keeping still the things that smell nice. But great perfumes are kinetic, changeable, elusive, and flirt with their wearers' expectations one shape at a time. Ombré Leather is such a perfume, and its easy, effortless nature makes it all the more enjoyable for this connoisseur. 

12/4/21

Vanilla (Alyssa Ashley)



It took me several hours to write this post, not because of writer's block or editorial peccadillos, but for the simple and stupid reason that Blogger has inexplicably made the once speedy act of uploading desktop jpeg images an incredible technical hassle. It's one in which I'm forced to upload an image that I can't see on the page unless I do a deep plunge into my Google image archive and manually select the photo of choice to get it to show up on the post. Failure to do this means you see a minus symbol in a grey circle, not the desired image. Images seem to be Blogger's main weakness, and I hope they get it together, because this has been going on for years. 

The picture I shed blood for is of a full-color 1990 magazine print ad for Alyssa Ashley's Vanilla eau de toilette, released the same year to little fanfare. Alyssa Ashley claims to be the daughter of Italian Surrealist artist Enrico Donati, that she was born in 1968 (yet she's only 50), and with an autobiographical timeline that doesn't quite jive, lays claim to a 1970s heritage that has carried on to present day. She's managed to alter the time-space continuum by aging at a rate far slower than the rest of us, and she's also created a simple but effective fragrance that I think most red-blooded testosterone-laden men could use as a wetshaver scent. Vanilla doesn't smell so much like its namesake as it does canned vanilla frosting. It's a vanilla flavor bomb. 

The top is unadulterated cotton candy. An ethyl maltol sucker punch, like my visage is buried, ears deep, in a pillow of frosty sucre. Then it mellows into the decadent aroma of freshly-baked yellow cake. This rich gateau quality fortifies its insulin-deprived state with a comforting vanilla, its subtleties replete with the buttery accents that attend the finest mock creams. Longevity and projection are pretty great, weighing in at eight hours and several feet with minimal application. This sounds like it's a woman's world, but there are so few vanilla fragrances for wetshavers that it's exactly what men need in their arsenal. I find it unisex, even leaning a bit masculine, and look forward to wearing it post-scratch. Note: for longevity, get the edt, not the cologne. 

12/1/21

Denim Black EDT (Bellevue Parfums)




Givenchy released its famous eighties fresh amber thirty-five years ago, and called it Xeryus. Then, some twenty-odd years later, it re-released it in its Parfums Mythiques line. Having smelled both the vintage version and the newer PM, I can attest to the way the fragrance resembles Drakkar Noir. It has that smooth, dusky, lavender-like feel to it, and is certainly in the old-school barbershop tradition. 

Denim is the odd European drugstore toiletry brand that has accidentally cloned Xeryus with Denim Black, and that's a happy accident. It excels in both pyramid structure and ingredient quality, and smells about sixtyish percent similar to the Givenchy (the other fortyish is straight-up Noir Drakkar). Same brisk-green sage and citrusy accord on top, followed by a softer and somewhat vague spiced lavender, which mellows into what is almost the same warm fougere amber. The main difference to my nose is in the addition of Calone, which lends the woody basenotes a peripherally fruity effect reminiscent of New West. Also there's an aqueous note which runs throughout the drydown arc of the scent and lightens it up significantly, making DB more approachable and utilitarian than its pricier designer ancestors. It's the dusty sage note that wins me over. 

My guess is the word black on the label conjures up Guy Laroche's masterpiece, which would explain why everyone seems to think this is its clone. They're not wrong, exactly, as Xeryus was a reinterpretation of that dihydromyrcenol bomb, but there's no mistaking the resemblance to the Givenchy if you have any experience with it. If you can't find Xeryus anywhere, Denim Black is a suitable substitute. Good for after a shower and shave, as long as you're okay with only two or three hour longevity. 


11/25/21

Master Witch Hazel (Master Well Comb)



The search for a superior witch hazel continues, and I may have found it. It's funny to consider how public opinion changes. When I started reading Badger & Blade's forum posts in 2009, its members were enthusiastic about a polyol compound called glycerin. Men were adding glycerin to their aftershaves and boasting about it. Many were adding glycerin to aftershaves that already had glycerin in them. Glycerin was mentioned all the time. Guys wanted glycerin. Guys sought it out. Guys prized it when they found it, and added it as a magic ingredient, and nary a day passed without someone opining on its wonders. Like menthol crystals, glycerin was a hot wetshaver accessory.

Today, glycerin is the boogeyman. I'm always reading comments: "Too much glycerin," "The glycerin ruined it for me," "I prefer (x) because (y) has glycerin," etc. I suspect it's one of many reasons for why Master Well Comb has been struggling (the brand recently shuttered its website). The company seems fond of glycerin, and adds it to most of its products, including its double-distilled witch hazel. While the tacky drydown is debatably annoying in their other stuff, I find that it provides an ideal balance here: enough alcohol for the plant extract to work as an astringent, and just enough glycerin to prevent it from drying out my skin. Nice work all around, and very hard to find fault with. 

Cut-rate Hamamelis Vernalis beads all across my unprepossessing mug like raindrops on a freshly-waxed Studebaker Dictator, due to my reprehensibly oily and authoritarian epidermis. Pricier witch hazel behaves like aftershave and seeps in. Masters' formula is just witch hazel, water, alcohol, and glycerin, and it feels the nicest out of everything I've tried thus far. One might argue that it's too expensive, but I got 15 ounces for ten bucks even, and I'm lucky to get twelve for eight everywhere else, so this is yet another eBay purchase that I do not regret. Try to find vintage if you can, just for the cool label. 

11/20/21

Candie's Men (Iconix Brand Group)

A Candie's Shoe Ad from the 1990s

This stuff was everywhere when I was a teenager, yet it seemed to vanish with my teenage years, and had become a memory. The Candie's brand was synonymous with the nineties, but proceeded to follow the decade into sweet oblivion, much as the movie careers of stars associated with a certain decade tend to do. It was no coincidence that Jenny McCarthy, nineties bombshell and the then-face of Candie's, would gradually slip into obscurity by the middle aughts, or that sugar-sweet froot-chemical colognes would lose traction with subsequent generations. Its time had come and gone. Candie's was a thing of the past. The brand was losing too much money to recover. Story over.

So it's a little surprising that Iconix Brand Group has resurrected the men's cologne in 2021. What gives? One might well ponder how a forgotten and defunct brand could be viable with the youthfulness of a new audience, and I would argue that the suits at Iconix are targeting these inexperienced kids' noses in the hopes that Gen-Z money will validate their potential moneymaker. But to my experienced eye, they have the math all wrong. In 1999, Candie's Men was a synthetic watermelon/lavender thing that was just sweet and dumb enough on top to appeal to teenage girls (which should be the primary goal of every true masculine fragrance, including those aimed at adults), and just Boys Locker Room enough in the drydown to appeal to the teenage boys wearing it. 

In 2021, Candie's Men smells like a chemical spill, with nearly no discernible element to focus on. It yields a bright, nondescript "fresh" effect on top, which becomes vaguely sweet and froot-like, yet it can't shake the Windex vibe of badly conjoined accords. At times it smells like someone grafted a franken-pineapple to melon, but I'm told by Fragrantica that it's the coriander I'm meant to be smelling there. Then the cheap linalool and white musk base kicks in, and that faint herbal edge is signaling that I'm wearing a cheapo men's cologne. Gen-Z has moved past this already. Gen-Z is into no fragrance, or something with $200 oud and nail varnish in it. On top of that, the Candie's imagery, with its multicolored bottles and Marvel-meets-Vargas adverts, can't compete in today's Woke world. A blond cleaning a toilet? Fashion sin. That kind of fun is so two decades ago. 

11/6/21

Joy (Jean Patou)




The celerity with which a forty year-old vintage of Jean Patou's Joy develops on skin makes a hangry adult Cheetah seem laggard by comparison. Despite this, the fragrance maintains a core fidelity that is, as far as I can tell, unshaken in its years. The sparkling aldehydic peach of what were once luxurious top notes is now simply a candy-pert sweetness, and just seconds after application a true onslaught of jasmine tsunamis the senses. The floral chords are lush, and the beige resinous woods supporting them are representative of a perfume rarity: natural materials. I do not own a bottle of vintage Joy, but was fortunate enough to wear the contents of one, and I have some thoughts.

We should pause to absorb the sad (and frankly avoidable) development that Jean Patou, a brand that tailored clothing and manufactured perfume for a century, no longer exists. It is now just "Patou," and while clothing is still pitched, accessories for olfactory pleasure are not. I don't know who gets the blame for this. Patou's Wikipedia page stops short of painting LVMH as part of the story of their demise, while Fragrantica seems hellbent on blaming the boogeyman. You don't need a boogeyman for this one; if I ask a tenth grader why a ninety-two year-old perfume for wealthy Depression-era women no longer exists, the answer would accurately be something along the lines of, "Because wealthy Depression-era women are pushing up daisies right now." 

But do today's daisies for yesterday's jasmine blossoms sound like a fair trade? The fragrance community is plagued by rumors of countless products being crammed with natural materials, and Joy is no exception, save for the fact that the rumors are mostly true. It really did require the essence of an ungodly number of flowers, reaching well into the thousands, to yield a single ounce. And you can smell it. Henri Almeras, French perfumer for Patou, was trained by the legendary Ernst Beaux of Chanel No.5 fame, and he understood how the interplay of aldehydes and lactonic fruit esters can elevate an otherwise dowdy white floral arrangement into a "modern" sphere. His work in Joy is aggressive. The jasmine is rich, fluorescent; the rose note lends an interesting coolness to balance their tropical balm; the sandalwood and hints of animalic musk are a smooth foundation for such a poised model. 

This sounds textbook by classical French perfumery standards, but I needed all of three minutes to realize that I was wearing the fragrance equivalent of what the Japanese call kanawa tsugi, or the joinery of building materials without the use of nails. Everything in Joy is familiar, everything is conservative and terrestrial by today's standards, yet the entire composition is a pristine example of obsessive fit and finish. Where the majority of feminines, including Joy's contemporaries, rely on heady mosses and musks to make sense of the fruits and flowers, Joy lets the secondary traits of each material match up with the next. Aristocratic names employ little more than pins, while the rest rely on railroad ties. Joy simply allows the overripe edge of peach to introduce the indolic facet of jasmine, which in turn finds the tawdry skank of civet, with the ensemble melting into the dried earthiness of resins and woods. This is as close to art as it gets.

As someone habitually critical of vintage and discontinued fragrances, my grey matter was operating on overdrive throughout the wearing experience. All the usual pitfalls were present - the aforementioned drydown speed, the slight muddling of accords, the unbalanced base - and though they jumped out at me, I didn't care. The sweetness of whatever was left of the top notes was uplifting, and, pardon the pun, "joyful," and the floral notes were so clear and realistic that I couldn't bring myself to feel disadvantaged by my proximity in time to this perfume's original materials. Sure, the petals were plucked decades ago, but they still felt as fresh and dewy and alive as they ever did. This is either the result of finally getting my nose on something good after an eighteen month pandemic, or Édouard Pinaud's words from his memoir are true, "Perfumes are really the most delicate beholders of our past life." 

Or perhaps it's both. 

9/20/21

Clubman Country Club Shampoo (Pinaud)



When it comes to shampoo, people like to break out the scorn machine. I'm guilty of it too, a derision often aimed at the low-brow work perfumers are forced to offer shampoo makers. I imagine the chemical composition of generic shampoo limits their options, and the result is a yawniverse of apple-tini and cherry blossom hand soap. Some five-star luxury hotels and resorts bring their A-game by spending cheese on A-list perfumers to perfume their toiletries, presumably with good results. I'm just another rube, so my hotel experiences are limited to the average airport layover boarding house, where they just decant Prell into little plastic squirt bottles with the hotel chain logo stamped on them. 

This doesn't deter me from fantasizing about what my luxury layover hotel would offer, if I were wealthy enough to golf with the Hiltons at their easy-entry country club (Paris, call me). The grounds would have male peacocks roaming freely, the lobby a tireless piano player, and every suite a jet-black tiled bathroom stocked with Pinaud products, with a smallish bottle of Country Club Shampoo flat on a black shower stall shelf. 'Tisn't by any means luxe, as it simply smells like the granddaddy Clubman aftershave, but customers would quickly realize that Clubman is just so goddamn good. That powdery barbershop fern smell is timeless and comforting, exactly what a guest needs after twenty-six hours in a cramped tin can with three-hundred disgusting strangers. Clean is king.  

What would the guest experience be like? It's a surprisingly dense shampoo that sits like half-set jello in hand and lathers very rapidly, filling the shower stall with Clubmanny goodness that admittedly requires an extra minute to rinse out. I do notice that the scent disappears pretty quickly during the rinse stage, but it leaves my hair feeling fairly soft and clean. Pinaud markets this as being pH balanced, protein-rich, and of course, for professional use only, despite there being a barcode on the back. Naturally my hotel's mini bottles would be customized for my brand; instead of touting Panthenol, they'd say Fitted for Theft Deterrence, and cables would tether them to hot water knobs.

9/1/21

Stephan Lilac Fragrant Skin Toner (Stephan)




I tend to approach barbershop products with love. I'm won over by their shabby and unpretentious looks, their schlubby labels, and their distinct sense of purpose. When it comes to vintage barbershop fare, few things go back further than nineteenth century lilac water. To date, I'm aware of only two that still exist, Pinaud Lilac Vegetal, which dates to the 1870s, and Stephan Lilac, which might date back to 1897, although there's no way to know. That was the year Stephan's company was founded, so I assume the lilac water was one of their first offerings. If I'm wrong, then at the very least it goes back to the early twentieth century. Either way, this stuff is pretty old. 

This particular old-school lilac water is hardcore American barbershop. It has its pros and cons, so I'll start with the good first: the scent. Although it isn't really a natural lilac aroma, it is far closer to the smell of lilac flowers than Master's Lilac Vegetal, and it's more straightforward than Pinaud's. Where Pinaud gets abstract with its green notes, and Master settles on nondescript sweetness, Stephan opts for a literal lilac flower, and comes awfully close to nailing it. The drawback is the budget, which limits the dynamism and "flattens" the floral tone, but I expect that with after shower/aftershaves. This stuff costs less than a dollar an ounce, and you get fifteen ounces. I don't expect high art, but I'm impressed by the degree of accuracy that this product achieves. 

The negatives: the first and most important thing is that the formula contains acetylated lanolin alcohol. This is a compound produced from lanolin, which is derived from wool fat, so if you're allergic to wool you might have a mild skin rash reaction to something with acetylated lanolin. Of secondary concern is the weird blurb on the product label, which states, Bay Rum is one of the few completely natural scents nowadays, followed by a description of bay rum. One problem - this isn't bay rum. But it is a good lilac water, and its scent lasts more than an hour, so buy some and try it if you're into this sort of thing. I don't regret the purchase, and the face feel is soft and soothing, so it achieves that distinct sense of purpose, and then some. Long live lilac water!

8/21/21

17 Oud Mosaic (Banana Republic)



It's August, and autumn is right around the corner here in the stormy and muggy Northeast. Although I'm growing ever fonder of barbershop stuff, and foresee a future of wearing inexpensive powdery things commonly found on Barbicide-stained hair salon shelves, there's still occasion to don something that is more mature and sophisticated. 17 Oud Mosaic by Banana Republic makes for a compelling option in that regard.

As everyone who reads this blog knows, I'm not a fan of oud. The oud craze emerged back in the late 2000s, mostly with niche releases, and carried steadily onward through the last decade, when it penetrated the designer market, but I never warmed to it. Real oud is a complex note of prickly rotted woods and barnyard animalic funk, and is usually polished with a silvery glow akin to incense, and while that sounds like my thing, there's something about the funk that turns me off. I'm all for animalics, but the weirdly sweaty aspect of quality oud doesn't register as anything particularly sexy to me. 

Fortunately, Oud Mosaic doesn't contain a detectable oud note, real or synthetic. I won't hold back here: this fragrance is a 2017 recalibration of a 1989 fragrance by Azzaro called Acteur. Claude Dir, who authored the original feminine Escape for CK back in 1991, clearly studied the budgetary constraints of Azzaro's formula, assessed Maurice Maurin's rose reconstruction, approximated the spiced-woody accord that segues into Azzaro's floral note, and relied on excess of fruity esters to present something arguably original. That said, the rose here is Acteur's (the far dry-down woods are Zino's).  

The very top of Dir's fragrance is an opulent cloud of cedar, cardamom, vetiver, pepper, saffron, and musk, . . . eh, no this is complete bullshit. It's really just a piquant raw apple cider with underpinnings of cedar and lime that swiftly blurs into a darker semisweet stewed red apple and dry rose accord, and this October rose stays pretty linear before fading away several hours later. Longevity and projection are pretty good, although not mind-blowing, and I do wish the opening brightness persisted for much longer than it does, but the rose is so pleasant and grounding that all is forgiven. For twenty bucks, this is incredible stuff, and the sort of thing I miss dearly. It's the early nineties again.

I'm not sure why it's called "Oud" Mosaic, though. Is the woodsy cider effect meant to create an olfactory mosaic that generates the impression of oud? The classic pairing of woods and funereal rose is what's presented, and maybe the dusty anachronisms of the two parts lend a psychological perception of oud's presence? I'm not getting that, which guarantees I'll be wearing 17 Oud Mosaic often in the months to come.

8/8/21

Eau de Quinine (Pinaud)



British Colonial Soldiers, early 1900s

I'd like to get this out of the way first: Pinaud's hair tonics are not meant to provide hold. Compare the ingredients to their aftershaves, and you'll find the hair tonics are merely alcohol, fragrance, preservatives, and artificial color. The only difference is it says Hair Tonic instead of Aftershave on the label. Hair tonics are meant to de-flake the scalp and soften the roots for healthier hair, and that's it. Use styling gel to mould your coif, but be sure to run some Eau de Quinine through first to clean your head. 

Pinaud's Eau de Quinine is the brand's oldest surviving barbershop product. According to the Smithsonian, it was originally released in the 1850s, and has survived nearly two centuries in various iterations. Today it is labeled for hair-care but easily doubles as an aftershave-cologne, and I find its scent to be one of the most durable in the Pinaud lineup, a lovely shaving foam tune with a bracing quinine and cherry chord instead of anisic lavender, followed by a minuet of patchouli and vanilla in the dry-down. 

People ask, why Eau de Quinine? What place does quinine have in a barbershop? The answer takes us back to nineteenth century England, when Britain's Imperial Century saw the expansion of its empire across Africa and Asia, continents where malaria was everywhere. The Brits knew quinine was useful in fighting mosquito-borne diseases, and put it in anything they could - water, tablets, alcohol, toiletries - and it became an essential tool in the belt of the English colonizer. Pinaud marketed their Eau de Quinine shampoo, hair tonic, and cologne to safari-bound parties, and it caught on in the 1870s, when expansion was fully underway, becoming popular as hair-care for women, and an all-over bug repellant for men. This required copious amounts of quinine extract from the bark of the South American and Caribbean cinchona tree. 

Synthesis of quinine was first achieved in 1944 by organic chemist Robert Woodward and Professor William Doering, and Pinaud's hair tonic made a comeback around that time, although natural quinine retained its status. Ian Fleming featured Pinaud's Eau de Quinine shampoo in chapter two of the 1963 novel On Her Majesty's Secret Service, detailing how a road-weary James Bond found hotel respite in a bottle of champagne and a cold shower using "Pinaud Elixir, that prince among shampoos." I find this interesting because it shows that Fleming himself used the shampoo, and held it in high regard. He likely booster-shot new life into Pinaud's product line, although sadly the shampoo has long been discontinued. Bring it back, Pinaud. 

Today, Eau de Quinine remains a historical novelty, but I think it's amazing that Pinaud sticks to its guns and continues making it. I wouldn't recommend it as a hair product, but heartily endorse using it as an aftershave and cologne. I get several hours of noticeable longevity from it, and find the smell very much in line with traditional barbershop tonics. It has a freshness, yet also a smokiness, a hint of tobacco, a subtle earthiness, and a masculine vanilla powder at the end that is tooled finely enough to compete with pricier fare. It gets mixed reviews, with one notable blogger calling it "utterly boring and uninspired." I disagree - this is historically inspired, and thus unavoidably interesting. 

A note on unicorn vintage hunting: for several years now some jerk has been listing a 30 oz bottle of 1960s Elixir shampoo on eBay for $1k. So far, no buyers. Let's keep it that way. Vintage Pinaud is best priced between fifty and a hundred dollars, unless the bottle is from the eighteen-hundreds, pristine, sealed, and full. 

8/1/21

Let's Keep the Terms "Designer" and "Niche"




A few years ago, Youtuber Daver of Fragrance Bros. fame posted a thought-provoking video in which he proposed retiring and replacing the terms "designer" and "niche" to distinguish between the two different perfume camps. His solution was to employ the labels "mainstream" and "boutique" instead. This got me thinking about why we might be more wedded to how we address these categories than we realize, particularly when he gets to the part about what "makes sense." 

Let's start by briefly considering what I like to call, "The Comedy of Semantics." This is when a description, a series of adjectives, a prevailing definition, is parlayed several different ways, with the same result each time, and without actually clarifying a subject in any iteration. Superman is the personification of The Comedy of Semantics, because we're exposed to three Supermans across his history: Superman, the supernatural alien god, Clark Kent, the supernatural alien god in plainclothes, and Super-ego Superman, the douchebag in a cape. For the record, Super-ego Superman is the real Superman. 

When I say "Superman," you think of a noble hero who looks and acts like a man, yet can literally reverse Earth's rotation if he walks fast enough. When I say "Clark Kent," you think of the same guy, except he wears glasses. But Super-ego Superman? This is the long-form name for him, which is to say it's just him, pure and simple. In the 1950s, Superman's entire legacy was book after book of him belittling and insulting his friends, creatively degrading women, unduly chastising his kids, and just being an all-around jerk. He wasn't a hero, he wasn't even "super," he was just an asshole. And American teenagers scarfed it up. When the pretense of heroism was stripped away, it revealed a boorish cad. But the boorish cad was Superman with his hair down. It was inarguably Superman being himself. With that said, the Superman who saves Lois Lane and pretends to be Clark Kent is also inarguably the guy being himself. Why bother with Kent, Superman, or Superman, "King of the Earth," when the man is the same? 

The answer, of course, is in why we might be drawn to these different labels, and who they represent. For some, the unvarnished Superman is the coolest way to take in his otherworldly majesty, flowing cape and all. For others, Clark Kent holds a peculiarly familiar charm, despite the obvious bullshit. For still others, seeing Superman act out after a long day in the office by berating and insulting his friends is his most "super" act of all. There's a different audience for each, and different levels of humor in attendance. And here is where the semantics of perfumery directly apply to Daver's argument. 

Daver suggests that there's no longer any practical use for saying "designer" and "niche," because the fragrance world has expanded to the point where nothing is clear anymore, and people don't even know why they're using the terms. This may be true to some degree, but he proposed using "boutique" and "mainstream" instead, and I expressed myself in the following comment beneath his video: 
"You have to ask why someone would buy something. With 'designer' fragrances, people are buying because they want a connection to the designer brand, and the product is sold to them via the perceived pedigree of that brand. With 'niche' there's no prevailing brand awareness to form the cultural tailwinds because the brand is entirely conceptual. Unlike a Chanel, where I can associate the perfume with the clothing and accessories (and commercial image), a Xerjoff stands alone with only the Xerjoff name and perfumes to speak for it. 
If I don't understand something specific about Xerjoff perfumes, like what kind of fragrances they make, and how those fragrances compare to everything else, I won't be inclined to bother buying anything. Thus I'm basing a purchase solely off of what I know, rather than what I perceive. This makes the act of buying one of self-stratification with niche, while buying designer is me adhering to commercial stratification; when I buy Xerjoff, I am distinguishing myself as someone who appreciates Xerjoff perfumes, whereas a Chanel purchase is Chanel successfully tagging me a Chanel customer.
The problem with your term 'boutique' is that it's a distinction without a difference. Chanel boutiques are literally what they're called. So does that make Chanel's frags 'boutique' frags, when they're clearly just 'mainstream,' as you say? Creed Boutique is another example. Creed's logo is a clothing tailor's scissors. They're not hiding the ball there, they're telling the world they're designers . . . These terms 'boutique' and 'mainstream' don't really address what customers are buying, because they negate why they're buying them. So basically let's just keep 'niche' and 'designer.'" 

While I think his argument is interesting, my counter-argument is that there's really no point in trying to separate the two categories with different language when the current language is clarifying from a consumer's point of view. Terms like "boutique" and "mainstream" are probably useful guidance for the suits wanting to know which market they should penetrate, but they fail to acknowledge the psychological motivation of the customer. Daver actually mentions this, stating that "niche" used to target a specific audience, which elaborates on the exact definition of the term, yet he deviates into the notion that the targets have broadened enough to warrant calling the whole mess "boutique." Certainly you could do this, but it would confuse many people as a colloquial term, especially when discussing designer boutiques. There's just too much definitional overlap there, a certain Comedy of Semantics. 

He argues that there's too much audience overlap between the two market segments, but by taking an introspective approach to that argument, I hoped to parse out the utility of maintaining the Old Guard terms. In some ways I see his point more in regards to saying "mainstream fragrance," simply because this doesn't confuse. Stuff like Bleu de Chanel and Dior Homme are "mainstream" and mass-market. But there's still a linguistic weakness inherent to applying this label; we live in a world where familiarity isn't always the act of knowing. While Chanel and Dior are familiar "mainstream" brands, there are entire swaths of their catalog that exist under the radar. Everybody knows Chanel No. 5, but a tiny subset of everybody knows of Chanel Boy. Yet the same "mainstream" brand makes both. If you're releasing perfumes that very few people are aware of, are you in the "mainstream," or simply successful at penetrating mainstream markets? How would a customer ever discover Boy? Oh, yes, because they're interested in something to go with a Chanel tweed sweater, and the knowledgeable salesman happens to mention lavender. Suddenly the clothing matters again, even if it has nothing to do with how anything smells. Clark's Glasses vs. Superman's Cape. 

If you ask me, "What kind of boutique fragrances do you like," my answer will be, "Huh?" Ask me "What niche brands are in your collection," and I'll immediately know what you're talking about, because I'm the niche audience that wanted specific items in my collection. Boutique fragrances are pretty much all fragrances, and it's hard to know what you're after if you use that word. 

We need to be clearer in the language we use. In a time where everyone has their own pronouns and "truths," where definitions are being adjusted and expanded upon on a minute-by-minute basis, it would behoove us to rope in meaning when we see it, and I'm fairly certain the demarcation of perfumery markets is a worthy subject for that. Then again, Super-ego Superman would probably reduce me to a blubbering mess for suggesting it, so let's keep this between us. 


7/16/21

Salvatore Ferragamo Pour Homme and Yet Another Irrefutably Clear-Cut Account of In-Bottle Maceration




The thing that interests me most about Salvatore Ferragamo Pour Homme is that it's a nineties fragrance that was issued in 1999, almost the end of the decade, yet it reverts back to 1991 stylistically. Couple this with the fact that it's yet another rebadged Chanel after the likes of the famous Ungaro fragrances, and also currently one of the best deals in masculine perfumery, packaged in a wonderful bottle, and there's some fascinating material to consider. At $18 a bottle, this smells more like $80.

I consider it a rebadged Chanel via the two degrees of Kevin Bacon separation between Ferragamo Group and the Wertheimer empire. In the nineties Ungaro fragrances were licensed by Chanel, and Ferragamo Group owned Ungaro, making their small line de facto Chanels also. Thus Jacques Polge, Chanel's master perfumer, created Ferragamo PH. Well, Jacques and Jean-Pierre Mary, who co-authored the scent. It smells rather like a typical Polge fragrance, i.e. a Chanel fragrance, but the central fig element is very unusual and puts an unforgettable twist on what would otherwise be a straightforward spiced vetiver. My theory is that Polge crafted the more conventional woody accords, Jean-Pierre Mary reconstructed the fig, and together the two men fiddled with marrying their work into one coherent perfume. The result is quite good.

Let's start with the fragrance's highly original top notes. Instead of citrus, lavender, mint, the usual stuff, SFPH opens with an intense blast of burly clove and cedarwood. It's the inverse of every other fragrance in my collection; instead of the typical fresh brightness, this fragrance smells darker and severely mature from the beginning. From that point it relaxes into a very subtle fig and fig leaf, but here I'll depart from the majority of internet reviewers by observing that the fig notes act as a framing device for a saturnine heart accord that smells like a typical post-eighties oriental. Well-rendered notes of cedar, geranium, pine needles, vetiver, hay, cardamom, cinnamon, caraway, basil, oakmoss, rosewood, and sandalwood sprawl across a green-figgy bed of sweetness that reminds me of the clovey cinnamon-spiced apple pie accord found in classics like Balenciaga Pour Homme, Aubusson PH, Bogart's Witness, and to a far lesser degree, Havana and Lapidus PH. The scent of Ferragamo captures what was, at the time of its release, the recent past, and this has me pleasantly surprised. Longevity is lacking however, and a mere three hours after application the fragrance thins down to a vetiver-infused green fig, as transparent as an organza veil. Still, a lovely effort all around.

Ferragamo's signature, despite being Italian, doesn't seem especially Italian to me (your regular Italian). There's an Italianate edge to how the pine and cedar notes are handled (they're crisp and fresh), but otherwise it's a creamy/spicy affair. I'd say it leans rather American barbershop in feel, maybe because of its deceptively potent clove note, but I really enjoy it. If you're looking for a unique and conservative woods fragrance, this gets my endorsement, but be careful - ya gotta like fig.

Of particular interest to me is a review of this fragrance that I found on Fragrantica by user "cvaile," in which the perception of in-bottle maceration is clearly and confidently described. For several years I've heard from various maceration skeptics who say that this phenomenon is impossible (and commercially impractical), or who posit the dubious alternative supposition that one's nose becomes more sensitive to some fragrances with increased exposure to them, yet I keep finding comments which suggest maceration of some sort is at work. User "cvaile" writes: 
"I must say, my bottle has matured spectacularly well over the past 5+ years. When I first got it I enjoyed it but had a distinct impression it was a bit watered down and I could spray the entire bottle on without sending people running. In the mean time it would seem to have concentrated but the bottle doesn't appear to have seen the juice contract that much. It's become stronger obviously, but also a bit sweeter and I can definitely detect many more notes than when I first got it."

When this person states that the bottle "doesn't appear to have seen the juice contract," he's referring to the chance of some liquid volume reduction due to alcohol evaporation, which would lead to oil concentration and a stronger perfume. I've had this happen with several retail-purchased Creed GITs and Orange Spice. Initial perceptions of GIT is it's weak and transparent in nature for the first few wears, at which point I'll put it away for a while. When I return, it's a completely different story. I recall one bottle starting out like water, and a few months later it had grown so potent it was almost unwearable (and had reached a Joop! Homme strength). Orange Spice also changed, going from a few thin hours to double shifts of pounding Valencias within five years. I've since then witnessed dozens of people commenting on the same thing happening to them. 

It's intriguing that Ferragamo's scent is cited as one that undergoes in-bottle maceration after first use. My take on my new bottle is that it's pretty potent for two hours, and then dies down to roughly less than half its original strength. This behavior is aligned with the behavior of other fragrances that kept macerating while in my possession. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it developed into a different performer over the next year or two, and I will keep you updated on that.


7/1/21

CK One (Calvin Klein)


Beautiful Ad, Beautiful Frag

It might surprise you to read that I consider CK One a great fragrance. I flirted with it throughout the nineties, but don't recall ever buying a bottle, although I believe I was gifted a half-ouncer one year for Christmas or something, and I wore it and enjoyed it. CK One is among the few openly chemical compositions I can forgive; Klein wished to create an androgynous anti-perfume, and he learned that this was only possible by eschewing form in favor of function. There are only three CK frags I truly like, and this is the third (Obsession for Men and Truth for Men are the others). 

Context is everything. The early nineties ('90-'94) were just a cultural extension of the eighties. It's true that grunge music, mainly by Nirvana, marked an irreversible cultural shift away from the glam-fueled excesses of the prior decade, but it wasn't until 1993 that the decade formed its own identity. Kurt Cobain's untimely death disrupted grunge's Berlin Wall-pulverizing momentum, but his immortal It-Factor genie was out of its bottle, and America went from Cindy Crawford to Kate Moss like someone flipped a switch. As with any past era, you had to live through this one to fully understand it. I was thirteen, and acutely aware of everything. Women had suddenly started to wear jeans to church. Makeup had become optional. Tattoo culture had escaped from biker bars. America's collective idea of sexiness could no longer be found in Robert Palmer songs. Sexy was the disheveled waif in a tank top, fresh off a weekend bender and with breath that could wake the dead. Hence the Kate Moss thing - she was everywhere. 

CK One was as much about the Kate Moss ads as it was about the fragrance. Its ad campaign was a rolling black and white panoramic film of half nude teenagers loafing around Mr. Klein himself, with the beautiful Jenny Shimizu and Stella Tennant making the occasional guest appearance to broaden the frag's cultural and international appeal. Did the perfume live up to the hype? I think it did. CK One is obviously the inspiration for Creed's Silver Mountain Water, and many writers note its nondescript and somewhat snowy freshness as laying the foundation for the endless acres of soapy-fresh frags that followed. I happen to smell it as more of a floral musk cologne, its lineage traceable to eighteenth century citrus eau de colognes, updated by Klein to smell new and a little strange. My nose settles on the white floral tones generously laced into the composition, and I find the principal thrust of CK One to lean very slightly feminine. 

This brings me to the vaunted concept of CK One: Oneness. An increasingly politicized notion of fashionable androgyny had permeated into the mainstream by 1994, and Klein wanted a fragrance that anyone, man or woman, could wear. Transgenderism had yet to become a bedrock talking point, but the conversation had begun, and Klein's fragrance needed to reflect these changes as artistically and accessibly as possible. The product came in a nondescript bottle that bore neither masculine nor feminine traits, a colorless flask with a dull grey atomizer and transparent script. The fragrance straddles the same delicate balance of its classical cologne progenitors, managing to somehow interweave the masculine nuances of precious woods and potent barbershop musks with distinctly femme notes of faux jasmine, freesia, and muguet. Never too dry, never too sweet, the package was as finely tuned as a Bechstein piano. It smells overwhelmingly synthetic because it was designed to, not because of budgetary or creative constraints. In this regard, hiring Alberto Morillas to compose the scent was a stroke of genius; Morillas' portfolio is populated with fragrances which are obviously soapy, designer-grade, and unabashedly chemical, earning him the nickname Chemical Morillas. 

How does CK One read today? Transgenderism has now become a bedrock American issue, and it's one that I'm far more open to that most of my fellow Republican friends. Oneness is a uniquely American concept: the idea that all are equal, and that everyone is someone. Gay, straight, or bi, transgender or cisgender, Klein's unifying goal was to coalesce identities into a perfume with universal appeal. We were all meant to smell as One. This is perhaps the biggest difference between the sexual politics of the nineties and the identity politics of today - instead of deference to some, Klein embraced all. The public embraced him back, and CK One was a bestseller for years, and continues to be. In 2021 we're faced with constant news stories about the plight of transgender people, and while I think that some of it is noise, I'm largely sympathetic to them. I was raised in an America where people from all walks were not written off just because they turned out to be complicated, or because they challenged established social norms. I've grown into a person who sees people of every persuasion as who they are: people. This goes for trans people too. People are alive, and as Charly Baltimore once said, life is pain - get used to it. Some transgender people struggle with their transition, with the medical and emotional intricacies of their gauntlet transition process, and with the harsh beauty standards society imposes on them. Then there are some transgender people who have survived the struggle of transitioning, have become beautiful examples of their gender, and have stepped almost effortlessly into their lives as model citizens. 

Many Conservatives get hung up on "men are men, women are women." I believe that people are defined by their behavior. You are what you do. We don't go to our graves being remembered as men and women. We go being remembered as husbands and wives, authors and mathematicians, artists and musicians, architects of our chosen or god-given identities. We live together, and we all die eventually. The Oneness of the nineties was perhaps more of a heroin-chic lip-lifting "whatever" sneer, but it has happily evolved into a contemporary conversation about what it means to be a human being. If there's a lesson to be gleaned from the original CK One campaign, it is that America's ideal of Oneness was once encapsulated in a lovely little smell that virtually anyone could pull off, on any day, at any place. For the cost of a pizza, the fragrance, and the sentiment it comes with, is yours. There's still hope for us, and it smells rather good. 

6/22/21

Post-Pandemic Update: Stuff I've Been Into

My Chinese knock-off of a brass Victorian mantle clock, cherub intact

So it looks like this pandemic is finally winding down. I've been vaccinated (Moderna) and after a few achy bedridden days, have emerged victorious over the 'Rona. For the last few weeks I've been enjoying going to public places without wearing a mask, and find it interesting that many people insist on wearing them, despite CDC guidelines now giving fully vaccinated people the green light to go naked-faced. Either folks no longer care to listen to the CDC, or they're not vaccinated. Neither of those possibilities are good, but I'm in the clear, so if they want to mask up for the rest of time, great! Not only do I get to go mask-free, but the air around me is that much cleaner. 

I'm off grape juice. After a few months of imbibing in nonalcoholic wine, I found the lining in my throat was beginning to wear, to the point where I suffered soreness for days on end. As of late April I am fully healed, and will no longer be pursuing grape beverages. I know, I know. Imparting this important news to you wasn't easy, but I thought it better to put it in writing, rather than tell you personally. Takes the sting out of it, at least for me. But on the bright side, I've been antiquing again. Not on eBay. In actual antique stores. Which brings us to my recent foray to Portland, Connecticut, and a truly wonderful little place called Never Say Goodbye. 

One sunny Saturday I was sitting on the computer perusing eBay when a buddy texts me. He and his girlfriend were at this "cool place," just slumming. The guy who owned it was swell, there were all sorts of interesting toiletries from the 1940s, and look at all these Messenger pictures! Colognes, talcs, makeup and soaps, hair dressings, oils, you name it. It was "new old stock." Apparently an old department store in West Haven closed recently and discovered in the furthest back corner of their basement two dozen boxes of things they never got around to putting on shelves. Nothing out of the ordinary, except everything's over seventy years old. I'll cut to the chase on the toiletries - I checked 'em out and they were great, but the only item that really tickled my fancy were the big full tins of tooth powder from the late 1950s. Here's the can I bought, looking as new as the day it rolled out of its New England factory:



It took me a minute to get myself together and hit the road. Forty minutes later I was talking to Bruce, the mad genius who decided to turn a hulking warehouse-sized garage next to his house into an anything-goes antique bonanza. It was a terrific afternoon. I really admire people like Bruce. He isn't in it for the money, which is rare and enviable. The prices on his items were reasonable, with some actually unreasonable for being too cheap. Case in point: the eighty dollar Crosa clock I bought for ten dollars, which Bruce had marked down from thirty. 

When it comes to the Crosa clock, your guess is as good as mine. From what little there is about Crosa on the internet, I'm gleaning that they're mostly made in China, although I see some comments here and there from people claiming theirs are made in Germany and Japan. One guy bought a variation of my clock for fifty cents. Mine has no markings on it, no "Made In" sticker, so I've no idea. It appears from pictures that Crosa's knock-off clock designs spanned a few eras, mostly eighteenth century French Louis XIV (rather Rococo), to nineteenth century English Queen Victoria (very Victorian). Mine isn't as waterskis-over-the-shark as a florid Rococo piece, but it's definitely in that Dickensian tradition of ringing in Ebenezer Scrooge's Christmas ghosts.  

How have I never heard of Crosa clocks before? They're incredible. They're made of hard rubber that looks indistinguishable from tarnished brass or cast iron. They weigh almost the same as cast iron. They're pretty well made, with intricate detailing, and I'm impressed by how anatomically accurate the sculptural elements are on mine. (Some are better than others.) I find that cheap sculptures are usually awkward in that regard, but this clock at least looks right to me. It keeps perfect time, which is to be expected from a standard quartz movement. I understand these were being made in the 1970s through to around 2000, but past that I'm not sure how far they go. Mine is notable in that the original design has been accidentally modified. There's supposed to be two cherubs, one on top of the clock, the other to its right. Well, looks like someone chipped the second one clean off. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see his little feet still planted to the base, but the rest of his body is nowhere to be found. 

I'm okay with one cherub. If both had survived, I wouldn't have bought it. One cherub is quaint, a flourish of compositional balance, a forgivable acquiescence to sentimentality. Two cherubs is a little too colors-of-the-rainbow, which I'm certainly not against at all - not at all - but it's not like I have to put that out there for houseguests to see on a central timepiece. If you didn't know about the second cherub, you'd never notice that the sculpture is technically "broken." But whatever. It still looks good, especially for a tenner. Now I want another Crosa clock. 

Other things I'm into: Cop videos on youtube. The smell of spring flowers. Women who manage to get through a day without mentioning food. Men who manage to get through a day without saying "Bro" a thousand times. People who think their Robinhood account is trustworthy. Speaking of stock accounts, my Fidelity account holds 167 shares of ACIC, an SPAC that supposedly will merge with Archer Aviation, an electric "air taxi" startup that recently inked a $1 billion deal with United Airlines. Cathie Wood, the new Warren Buffett, has invested significantly in it, and so far I've lost a buttload of money. So here's to hoping ACIC picks up, both literally and figuratively. It would be nice if these WallStreetBets jerks short-squeezed these hedge fund jerks by targeting special purpose acquisition companies. But no, instead they squeeze garbage like GameStop and AMC. I kinda get the GameStop thing, but short-squeezing AMC? Do we really need to buy up loads of a dying movie theater chain, just to spite hedgies that weren't even interested in shorting AMC to begin with? SPACS are begging to be squeezed, they're being shorted into the deepest bowels of the earth, yet nobody bothers with them. It makes little to no cents. For me, anyway. 

I'll close off by saying that my summer plans are up in the air. I have to pay off my student loans in September. If my stock market investment comes through, I'll finally get to put the master bedroom together, and polish off the living room and kitchen. If not, well, the struggle continues. But hey, at least I have you guys, to read my blog, and feed my fragrance obsession. As Trump would say, "I love you. You're very special." 

Too soon? Too soon. 

6/12/21

Club de Nuit Milestone (Armaf)

Eat your heart out, Laurice.

Youtube reviewers have a bad habit of jumping on bandwagons without actually using their noses, or their brains, for that matter. When Armaf released Club de Nuit Milestone in 2019, everyone was dazzled by the pageantry of its Millésime Impérial-like visual cues: the gold bottle, the folded company card under the box flap (just like Creed!), and the fact that its predecessor, Club de Nuit Intense, is a bestselling clone of Aventus. It walks like a duck, right? It must be one, then. So let's hop on the noisemaker, boys. We have to talk about how Milestone is an amazing clone of Millésime Impérial. La Dee Da. 

Well, guess what, Youtube? I smell a Bond no.9 frag here. Sure the packaging is made to trick buyers into thinking they're in for a Creed clone, but the perfume itself is clearly a Bond. It's like Armaf cloned the top of Wall Street and conjoined it to the base of Chez Bond. Which makes sense, when you consider that Millésime Impérial is just a Green Irish Tweed with salty ozonic melons on top, and that Chez Bond is comparable to GIT, and that Wall Street is comparable to Millésime Impérial. But let's talk about why Armaf's decision to clone Bond frags, but then pretend they've cloned Creed frags, is genius.

Armaf knows it can't afford to convincingly clone a Creed. But they know they can afford to convincingly clone a serial Creed-cloner brand like Bond. See, Bond doesn't use old-world maceration techniques and unicorn tears. Bond uses top-tier synthetics, which are pricy but not that pricy, and then banks on perception. What if Armaf did a GC analysis of Wall Street and Chez Bond, bought all the same chems, and hired a skilled perfumer to Tetris them into something 99% similar to both? The result is an hour of salty-sweet ozonic melons that smell amazing, followed by seven hours of milk-sweetened black tea and violets, which smell even more amazing. 

But Bryan, you cry, there's nothing impressive about cloning a Bond! Exactly. But Bonds smell pretty damn good. Like grey market Bond prices good. About $130 a bottle good, to be exact. What if Armaf can give you the exact same experience for $40 instead? And since Bonds smell so luxurious, why not use that quality to convince buyers you've sold them a brand-killing clone of a Creed instead? Just shellac the bottle in rose gold, call it Milestone instead of Millesime, and let the dummies on Youtube do the rest.

6/1/21

Tribute Cologne for Men (Avon)



The sticker on the bottom of my 1976 Liberty Bell-shaped bottle

It's been a while since something impressed me, but I'm about to review a fragrance that has impressed me to no end since the moment I accidentally happened across a full bottle. It's a little fougere from 1963 called Tribute, and it's excellent. I truly enjoy this stuff, and wish Avon still made it.

As one of Avon's first masculine colognes, Tribute was a bit of a Hail Mary pass to the market. With only two or three relatively obscure predecessors, the brand must have been nervous about how their fragrance would land. The masculine perfume landscape of the early 1960s hadn't fully resolved itself, and only a few commercial hits, including Chanel Pour Monsieur, Arden Sandalwood, Tabac, Monsieur de Givenchy and Vetyver, Guerlain Vetiver, and Royall Lyme and Spyce, had formed the terrain. The execs at Avon had a choice: imitate or innovate. They decided to imitate Jicky by Guerlain, and made one of the best manly lavenders of the time period.

This fragrance is just a big burnished (buurrrly) lavender note, plain and simple. I could get into abstract notions of notes and accords, but that wouldn't be an honest account. Instead I'll simply point out that there are vague accoutrements to the lavender note, things that you could probably label, but names don't matter here. This isn't a minty-herbal lavender. This is a furniture-polished woody lavender. This is a saturnine beauty prancing through sunburnt grass lavender. A chiaroscuro oil painting lavender, under a fresh coat of linseed oil. An austere father to Sex Appeal lavender. Its ambery tones are suggestive of orientalism, yet there's a clarity to the star note, and a bit of a cushioned, musky, hay-like sweetness, which gives me an unmistakable French fern vibe. 

Avon's everyman pitch was likely bolstered in the years following Tribute's release, and I imagine it made them plenty of moolah until the 1980s, when men finally lost interest in buying barbershop stuff in kitschy, toy-shaped bottles. Tribute is probably too simple to succeed today, but if they ever reissue it - make that correctly reissue it - I will eagerly seek it out. It's a fougere lover's dream. 

5/16/21

Why I Don't Believe In DIY & Layering Frags




The wet-shaver and fine fragrance worlds are interconnected in many ways, and I've observed that various DIY and layering ideas exist in both. I've never been seriously interested in making my own frags because I'm not a chemist, and never will be. A few years ago I discussed starting a fragrance company with a friend, but neither of us really believed we were the right people for the job. And I've always felt that layering perfumes that are made by the right people robs the wearer of an "identity." 

DIY is more popular among wet-shavers. B&B members proudly swear by their recipes, their concoctions being "solutions" to problems the market doesn't know it has. I've seen mention of "Bootlegger's Bay Rum," and never wanted to try any version of it. Same too for various homemade spice and leather elixirs. One guy mentions blending Pinaud Lilac Vegetal with Osage Rub to make what he calls "Frozen Veg." Sounds interesting, in a Matthew Barney-meets-Birds Eye sort of way. 

I can't shake the feeling that people don't know what they're doing, that they're flying blind. Unanswered questions abound, like which materials truly interact with each other, or am I just creating a chemical stew by eyeballing and winging it? Sloshing in random ounces of Pinaud, Masters, and Superior 70 Bay Rums might work beautifully, but then why didn't anyone ever throw them together and sell them commercially as one glorious product? I have some scruples there. Is it a good idea to sit at a table blending essential oils and internet-acquired aroma chems until something clicks? Meh. 

For me, layering is an even more dubious prospect. Again, I don't know what I'm doing. It's easier to road test layering - all it takes is a few even sprays of a couple different things. But why do it? I don't want to mix Tea Rose with other florals in my collection, because I want to smell Tea Rose when I apply it. When people ask what I'm wearing, naming one perfume sounds normal. Naming two or three doesn't. A sizable percentage of my collection are vintage or old-school masculines. Each item is powerful enough on its own. There's no call to combine nuclear forces into a Japanese monster of smell. 

DIY and layering aren't new things. They've been around for decades. But consider how unbearable it must've been in the hippie era to walk into a club and smell six hundred different patchouli and musk oils. Think about that asshole in 1970s middle school who thought layering Z14 and Paco Rabanne was a good idea. Remember that time in 1985, when you dreamt of making your own Drakkar Noir? It wasn't any better when women actually added shit to Angel. Some people have bad taste. Don't be one of them.