10/12/21

Basenotes Has a New Look, a New Address, and Nothing New to Say. Mr. Smelly Gives One of His Honored Guests the Boot. Is It Harder To Blog About Perfume, or Vlog About It?


Quite the Facelift.

So Basenotes has had a makeover. It is no longer found at "basenotes.net." It is now "basenotes.com." I like what they've done to the place. I'm not technologically savvy, so I've no idea what Grant's options were when he decided to make these changes, but by the look of it, I'd say he's using a company similar to what Badger and Blade uses, as both sites now share similar features and functionality. This was smart. B&B has been the prettier of the two for a while now, and it's good to see Basenotes catch up. Having a "dot-com" address is probably a little bit better for browser searches and random discovery, as many people still consider it their most used address profile. The "dot-net" thing is probably second place in popularity, and who wants a silver medal, really? 

With that said, I've noticed a bit of uncharacteristic stagnation on the forum lately. Many of the "current" threads are actually resurrected from years past, some with barely any new input after the bump. Generally conversations have been pretty tame, and I wonder if the exodus of some senior members a couple years back has anything to do with that, although it's not like they all left for the same reasons. There's a thread from 2018 about oakmoss that was bumped by "slpfrsly" that hasn't regained any traction, as well as one from 2013 about Lorenzo Villoresi's Wild Lavender that garnered one of Hednic's usual pointless posts. I swear he comments just to rack up stars. Well, guess what, Hednic? Basenotes has ditched the stars. Now nobody knows you're a fake eight-star general. Anyway, with the exception of a thread about Dior Homme batches and some finky and poorly-worded "question threads" ("How long before you leave the house do you spray your fragrance?" "[What is] The repeat bottle purchase or house purchase you find most fulfilling?"), nobody seems to have anything much to say.

I find myself less and less interested in these threads. Conversations have grown stale. In this thread about Houbigant's Fougere Royale, members quibble over the length of the parfum concentration's legs. It's a fairly weak extrait from an ancient house that has only Fougere Royale as its claim to fame, and the real stuff was discontinued forever ago. At this point, who cares? If you're spending $600 for it, you shouldn't be asking strangers on the internet. Ditto this thread, by which a member asks the universe to name the "serious fragrances" offered on the open market today. Snore. The fact that the first response is Bois du Portugal only makes me want to leave the forum and read about gummy worm flavors or abortion laws in Texas instead. 

When one views this unfortunate conversational flatline with the marked decrescendo of voices in the beleaguered fragrance blogosphere, where even that very html term has become a dinosaur, it's easy to wonder if fragrance writing is in decline. Lately I've been quite depressed by the strange thought that Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez are frauds. Consider how Turin misquoted and misinterpreted Charles Talleyrand's verse, "Mistrust first impulses; they are nearly always noble," with "Beware of first impressions: they are correct," how he lauded Beyond Paradise when it was obvious to first graders that the fragrance was destined for discontinuation, and how he paired a perennial criticism of all species of aldehydic fragrances with a 5-star review of Chanel No. 5, high queen of boring aldehydes, and it isn't a stretch to question his expertise. Tania Sanchez's review of Montblanc's Individuel only cements the sense of uneasiness I get whenever I peer into their failed experiment of a tome, which inexplicably got a sequel.  

It raises a serious question: how hard is it to write well on this subject? Are writers losing steam because they aren't passionate enough or energetic enough to intellectualize perfume? Fragrantica considers itself a perfume magazine of sorts, and while its pieces are engaging, they strike me as being little more than popcorn for the casual speed-reader. They're entertaining as weekend clicks, but not deep-divers. Perhaps perfume itself is to blame? In the last ten years I've seen a veritable supernova of niche releases, with every new year introducing increasingly esoteric and expensive offerings from fly-by-night brands that offer the average customer precious little to go on before making a wallet-busting purchase. When I look at luckyscent.com, my eyes glaze over. What the hell are these brands? What is 4160 Tuesdays? And why in god's name would I pay $150 for an ounce of some finger pointing amber-colored thing called Maxed Out? What possible incentive is there to pay $145 for an ounce of Corpse Reviver by the idiotically-named Fzotic? When does anyone wake up and say, I'm so glad I spent $225 on a Rosendo Mateu perfume, today is a No. 3 day! Who is blowing money on this garbage? (Yes, I know, I know, spoiler alert, it's the richie-rich people.)

Perhaps it's easier to vlog about perfume instead. After all, it's more about putting on a good show than delving into an intellectual space, although the better vloggers, like Dan Naughton, can make a man think. I've found myself wondering if Youtube reviewers are winning the cold review war that has been waged over the years between bloggers and vloggers. In past years bloggers would scoff at Youtubers, and while I've tried to be as insightful and balanced on the subject as possible, I'm sure I'm just as guilty of being as overly-dismissive as the average Basenotes member. Lately the Youtube community seems to have the energy. Dan's channel, humorously titled MrSmelly1977, has been a safe haven for me when I'm feeling bored. He reviews and discusses various fragrances from every time period, and has many different guest Youtubers and perfumers on for chats, and it's all been very enjoyable for me. Dan also blogs, and while I consider his blog to be quality stuff, there's no doubt that Youtube is his main hub. 

A recent incident on his channel lit a lightbulb for me. Dan was hosting his weekly Friday night livestream, and had on one of his favorite Youtubers, an ugly little bugger named Paul Pluta, who hosts a rather odd (but funny) channel called Archie Luxury, as a guest alongside several other Youtubers in the fragcomm. Well, Archie awkwardly insulted the other guests, and attempted to fob it all off as a joke by being even more offensive and insulting, which led to Dan bumping him from the stream and apologizing to his guests. This was very entertaining stuff. I mean really, really, really entertaining stuff. And it was all unintentional, unplanned, and probably, from Dan's point of view, unfortunate as well. But it was good television. And it highlighted a power inherent to vloggers that bloggers and writers lack: the ability to veto something in real time. 

When something bothers me, I have to put it into words, which is done long after the storm has passed and the damage has been done. The luxury of expressing myself in the moment is unavailable to me, and even if I do somehow manage it, the chances that my readers will see it right after I've written it are fairly slim. But Dan streams and has realtime conversations about whatever pops into his head in the moment. His channel is cordial and geared for mature sensibilities, so there are almost no occasions where he's forced to take punitive measures against another person. But on that particular Friday, he demonstrated that when someone isn't getting the job done, he can simply give him the boot. In this case, Archie wasn't behaving himself, and Dan did the right thing and canned him. That's power. That's expression, and freedom of expression, at play. Dan set the standard for his channel in that moment, and from now on everyone knows what that standard is. I'd wager everyone, including Archie, will abide by it. 

Dan does get his fair share of hecklers. They usually appear in the comments under his videos, with some garnering little more than a heart emoji from him. However, there are at least one or two that I've noticed get under his skin a bit, enough for him to engage them and challenge them to appear on his channel. While this is certainly a show of force, I imagine Dan sees it as a bit of a frustrating aspect of vlogging on Youtube. You can post your thoughts in video format and host any guest you please, but then the snipers come out of hiding and take pot shots at your content in the comments. I'm not sure Dan has fully realized this yet, but the best way for him to deal with them isn't to challenge them to appear in his vids. The strategy he should employ is simply bringing his guests on, broaching whatever the subject of contention in the comments happens to be, and have them pick apart those comments one by one. His media format allows for his guests to be his strongest defenders, arguably even stronger than he is. The heckler might take satisfaction in seeing Dan frustrated by negative comments, but the fun would wane pretty quickly if every video had a segment devoted to picking on those comments. If it's attention-maintained behavior, which it likely is, the comments would continue, but Dan will have shifted the paradigm into a true show of force on his part by involving the commenter in his videos, despite his refusal to appear in them. 

The biggest advantage to vlogging is that it gives the vlogger an audience even when the subject matter is completely anonymous. Dan has had plenty of videos where he unboxes fragrances, but he often doesn't tell the viewer which fragrance he's unboxing. You have to watch to find out. One can argue that a blogger has this tool at his disposal also, because blog posts and videos both have titles that can be as obscure as the author wants. But you have to read a blog to get the message. All you have to do on Youtube is watch. Given the choice, people will always opt for the easier path. And watching a video will almost always trump reading a long blog post these days. Dan does this particularly well by incorporating nuanced and historically sensitive reviews of vintage masculine fragrances in his unboxing videos. I'm never left wanting after seeing one of those. They're the perfect mix of entertaining and informative. 

Do I regret being a blogger instead of a vlogger? Not at all. I've always preferred to write what I think, rather than appear on screen and speak about it. I intend to strive onward by pressing my deepest thoughts and ideas into the collective conversation being had by those in the fragrance community. With that said, in this age of Zoom business meetings and pandemic restrictions, seeing people on screen has been a lifesaver, and I'm glad that Youtube's fragcomm is alive and well, and populated with articulate and intelligent people. Vlogging about perfume is just as difficult as writing about it, but with the writing and Youtube communities united in their love of fragrance, there is no limit to where our imaginations can go. 

10/1/21

Basenoters Do Not Decide What Is "Vintage"





Usually the vintage forum on basenotes is duller than dishwater, but a 2016 thread there piqued my interest. In it, the OP states:

"Today, reading a post I have realised that we do lack a consensus when it comes to the characterization of a perfume as vintage. Which 'regulations' should be fulfilled in order to offer a perfume a vintage status? There are a lot of opinions when it comes to that, preformulation, before IFRA restrictions, and so on. I personally think and propose to call vintage all the following perfumes: 1. First formulation (and I mean just the first and not the rest that appeared before the first 'reformulation') and 2. At least 20 years old (in Germany as an example cars are 'oldies' when they reach a life of 30 years). Of course there are perfumes that are pretty old, like lets say 50 years old, and reformulations or new bottles and boxes appeared 20 or 30 years ago. In such cases I would opt to call them also vintages even if they are not the very first formulations.

This post suggests that people who are uncertain about the characteristics of "vintage" somehow feel qualified to retroactively establish these standards. Will the inanities ever cease? I wonder if outsiders who venture unwittingly into this community read what's above, along with articles by Luca Turin ("My spirits always sink when someone picks me up at an airport or a railway station and the car turns out not to be a 1934 Voisin Aérodyne"), and by soft-boiled blowhards like me, and then decide that it's the most conceited, pretentious, arrogant, and facile group of buggers on the internet.

When I say "facile," I direct the term, not so loosely, at this issue in particular. There are many parallels between perfume and cars, as I recently pointed out in a review for an Ungaro scent, but in this instance the OP's understanding of these parallels seems tenuous. That he mentions German makes becoming "oldies" at 30 is humorous - I can see the grizzled used car salesman slapping a "dies ist alt" sticker on the windshield - but it misses the point. You can't do that to perfume. There is no set time span that must be traversed before you can call a perfume "vintage." Twenty, twenty-five, thirty years, it doesn't matter. You can drop any number you wish, but it doesn't mean anything. Maybe it could have, once upon a time, if countless basenoters and bloggers hadn't insisted on emphasizing the mythically detrimental effects of reformulations, but the logic behind hating reformulations and loving vintages is fueled by the same brand of stupid.

Some responses in the thread are interesting, because they challenge the conventional wisdom of "old" vs "vintage." Take Jack Hunter's thoughts, for instance:

"I don't think a vintage fragrance has to be something say from twenty or so years ago. I mean some of us consider the first formulation of Dior Homme Intense to be vintage. Maybe its not strictly how the word was meant to define something but its easier for us to separate in our minds the old from the new."

Pretty eloquently put, and kinda tough to disagree with. However, identifying a "second formulation" is required to confirm a "first formulation." In this sense, the game is rigged, because the majority of us don't really know what we're talking about here. It's almost always speculation when someone accuses a company of reformulating something. First, there are few who can truly identity what it is about a classic fragrance that makes it "better" than subsequent versions (see Old Spice).

Second, I don't really see how anything short of a GC analysis can verify more than the most incremental change in something. And how many of us have this tool at our disposal? Consider what "Perfumedlady" says here:

"For me, vintage is strictly any bottle that is at least 25 years old. Anything newer than that is not vintage in my mind. Discontinued or not doesn't matter to me, I am referring only to age. I like the terms 'original' and 'reformulated' for newer scents that have had changes."

This person has excused herself from having to defend the implicit charge of "reformulation" behind labeling something "vintage." If it's "vintage," it's strictly a matter of age. This is highly problematic. As others pointed out, fragrances far younger than 25 years are now called "vintage," because of reformulations. By her logic, there is only one demarcation between formulas, because there are only ever two formulas to deal with: "original" and "reformulated," which oversimplifies the matter!

A few years ago I had a conversation with Shamu1 over at Pour Monsieur about how ridiculous the whole "vintage" obsession is in this community. He's the sort of guy who doesn't mind buying and wearing vintage if it happens by accident, but he's not going to bend over backwards to seek it out when newer formulations are available, often at a fraction of the cost. His review of Puig's Quorum reads:

"If you're going to nitpick about only wearing the vintage version of Quorum, you're not ready for Quorum."

This is a guy who gets it. Seeking out vintage explicitly for the sake of avoiding the most recent formula is a form of nitpicking. There's no reason to do it, unless you can qualify it with accurate comparisons to how current stuff smells. Well, maybe I should say there's no good reason. I suspect people hunt down rare vintages for the sake of writing about them, discussing them, usually to appear luckier and more knowledgeable than others. If you can get your nose on a bottle of Balafre by Lancôme, you have license to brag. If you're referring to your bottle of Francesco Smalto with a ridged instead of smooth brass-banded cap, you have nothing to brag about. 

That's no problem, until it infringes on facts. I don't care when people say things like, "Vintage Balafre is incredible!" Talk up Balafre, by all means! I start to get cranky when the dialogue becomes careless: "They don't make fragrances like Balafre anymore." That's the pedestal being rolled out. The implication is that perfumers aren't making testosterone-laden woody chypres anymore, which is nonsense, because all you have to do is say "Slumberhouse," and a chorus of voices responds with, "Norne!"

There's no reason to call something "vintage" if a formula is still in production, is there? Why buy a 30 year old bottle of something if the new stuff is the exact same fragrance (only fresher)? Does that sound like a perfume unicorn to you? You've probably not compared vintage Quintessence Aspen with current Coty Aspen. To put it mildly, after 27 years, there is absolutely no difference between these two fragrances. My best friend wore Aspen in the nineties, and it was just as synthetically green and powdery (and loud) then as it is now. Would I ever buy "vintage" Aspen? No, because why should I? The original formula is, to my nose, still in production after all these years. And why wouldn't it be? Aspen has always been a dirt cheap formula with even cheaper packaging. There's no gain in cheapening it further.

The term "vintage" attains meaning when it refers to something no longer in production that is clearly identifiable by changes in whatever replaced it. The "second formula" must stand out. But we can't really call it a "second formula," because we don't factually know if it is the "second," or the "third," "fourth," etc. It's better to consider it the first formula that smells different than what came before. Prior reformulations may have been so successful that we never even noticed them.

But all of this leads to the greater question: why does this matter? I suspect it has to do with the commercial mindset so deeply acculturated into Western (and many Eastern) customers. The old saying, "A bad product well-apologized for is better than a great product people actually want," seems to apply. Vintage perfumes are generally bad products. Reformulations of classics are, just as generally, pretty good, and in some cases great. Yet brands are appreciated more for their stale, expired, slightly spoiled products than they are for their new ideas. Vintage perfumes are widely considered superior; reformulated perfumes are for newbies and know-nothing noses.

My experiences with vintage consistently diverge from those cited by others. I have several vintages, not necessarily because I want them, but because being an effective fragrance blogger requires an experience-based knowledge of what I'm writing about. This doesn't make me an "expert" on perfume, vintage or otherwise. But it insulates me to a degree from accusations of knocking something I know little about. You can say whatever you wish about me, but you can't say that I've never explored this world.

Many, many people, some of them quite smart, claim to experience no spoilage at all in any of their dozens (or hundreds) of vintages. I flat out do not believe any of them. I own several vintages, purchased from different sources, and find issues with all of them, many hard to ignore. It's impossible for me to find fault with virtually every vintage I encounter, and then believe the person who says that none of their vintages have problems. Either I'm extremely unlucky and he's remarkably better at this game, or one of us is full of shit. I'll let you make that call for yourself. Meanwhile, I'll comment on some of my vintages and their problems here:

Furyo (Jacques Bogart) - Smells excellent, and quite wearable. However, top notes are gone, middle and base notes have fused together. Fragrance is now entirely linear, with its base appearing a mere five minutes after application, and remaining fairly static for the day. Furyo was far more dynamic and even more wonderful when new, I'm sure.

Grey Flannel (Geoffrey Beene) - Also smells good, also very wearable. Top notes are gone. Other notes have fused. A powdery aspect intrinsic to the original fragrance has been replaced by an overwhelmingly soapy and unbalanced interplay between oakmoss and alpha isomethyl ionone. The result smells like a 1950s version of Green Irish Tweed. It's fun to imagine.

Joint Pour Homme (Roccobarocco) - Front-loaded formula is now painfully unbalanced. Dries down too quickly, then vanishes. Given how synthetic Joint is, this is surprising and unfortunate.

Ungaro Pour L'Homme II (Ungaro) - Top notes are unbalanced and attenuated, longevity severely compromised. Smells pretty great for two hours, then becomes a frustrating whisper.

Green Irish Tweed (Creed) - Composition as a whole is unbalanced. Musk note has become a top note. Drydown is too rapid.

Lapidus Pour Homme (Lapidus) - Composition is unbalanced, honey heart note overwhelms everything else.

Aubusson Pour Homme (Aubusson) - One of the better vintages. Very wearable, still fairly well balanced. Suffers from longevity issues and the heart and base stages are premature and a bit linear.

Zino (Davidoff) - Composition has "loosened" and disassembled, becoming a bit stale, simplistic, and diffuse. Lacks the punch of the newer bottles.

Cigarillo (Remy Latour) - Hard one to describe. I suspect that's because many of the top and heart notes have gelled together into obscure accords that were once legible. Otherwise, this fragrance was illegible out of the factory, which is possible, but not probable.

KL Homme (Karl Lagerfeld) - Judging from comments, the musks and citrus notes were tighter in this back in its day. Today it all reads as a very opaque, "fuzzy" fragrance that has deteriorated only as much as most well made orientals are allowed to after three decades. Not bad, but leaves me with an ennui that I can't blame entirely on Lagerfeld.

Touch for Men (Fred Hayman) - Noticeably more stale in the drydown than either of its two comparative congeners, Brut and Rainbath.

Bleu Marine (Pierre Cardin) - Significantly unbalanced, with top notes gone, wormwood remarkalby weak, and lavender gummed into a blaring, chemical note that overtakes the mossy base. A case study in what can happen when inexpensive fragrances are buried for thirty years and then suddenly unearthed. Smells wearably nice, and I never wear it.

Caron Pour un Homme (Caron) - Lavender is still very good in this, a black cap formula from the late eighties/early nineties. The vanilla and musk base accord is regrettably compromised, however. The musk is the main issue. I refuse to believe that this incredibly urinous, animalic skank was present when the bottle was new. It's also absent from the reformulated version on shelves today, which I feel is fortunate.

The Dreamer (Versace) - Vintage formula lost its tobacco a bit to the heady lavender, marking an unbalanced development. The current boasts far better interplay between these two notes, which I doubt can be attributable to any reformulation perfumer's skill. Vintage does have a more satisfying lavender note, however.

Granted, some of these fragrances are no longer in production, so it's a little unfair to discuss them in the context of how they might compare to newer scents, but it's still a legitimate complaint to say that many of them don't smell "right." Comparison vacuum accounted for, I still think things like Furyo and Joint were better new than they are now. So if you were to ask me whether I think vintages are superior to current formulas, I'd say no, although there were some deeper, stronger aromatics used years ago that are no longer widely utilized, stuff like birch tar, octyn esters, and natural lavender absolutes. When I think of the "quality" of "vintage," I tend to think of another, more nuanced kind of "synthetic" experience, far less subtle than my current experiences.

Today, a "synthetic" scent tends to smell "chemical," in that its lab-assisted analogs of natural raw materials aren't convincing. But in the eighties and nineties oakmoss was the only thing standing between a wearer and his religion. You could take most of the same synthetic aromachemicals found in things like Lapidus and Grey Flannel and make them smell relatively more "dimensional," and perhaps more natural, with the added depth of some oakmoss.

Once you know this, it kind of takes the air out of the "vintages are more natural" bubble. Oakmoss is more natural, and vintages used it. Not that big a deal, in my opinion. Fragrances that really need oakmoss, like Mitsouko, still smell great with lab-created synthetic mosses, and cheaper formulas capitalize on treemoss, which smells a little different but still quite good, so the damage is limited.

I don't begrudge the vintage connoisseurs. Not in the least. I also appreciate and wear vintages. However, I humbly suggest that people develop a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of vintages and their limitations before setting out to define what truly makes something a "vintage" perfume. Hackneyed definitions prioritizing years over production histories (and chemical analyses) aren't advantageous to anyone. Perhaps we could have let advanced age be the standard, but years of internet whining about reformulations have made this issue more complex than we ever needed it to be.

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 their stations.

9/4/21

Renaming the Oriental Category is a Good Idea. Now Throw Away Your Smartphone.




My least favorite fragrance family falls in the "oriental" category. While I enjoy the open-collared ease inherent to fougeres, and love the austere and uncompromising nature of the best chypres, orientals tend to smell like too much of everything to me. They're usually too sweet, too spicy, too complex, too heavy, or just too grandoise for a given occasion, and wearing them makes me feel like I've maxed out my "Cologne Guy" risk factor. People think that the last two decades saw the rebirth of this fragrance type, but I'm convinced its zenith was in the late nineties, and it hasn't gained much since. 

That the woke fragcomm is fervently attacking the political incorrectness of naming an entire category of perfumery "orientals" should be of no surprise to anyone in 2021. Why, you ask? Because, it's 2021. Just think about how much western culture has seen in the last ten years. Is it really a shock that leftists have sniffed out things to disapprove of in perfume culture? Their argument is elucidated in Fashion Magazine's July 4th (how apropos), 2019 piece by Madelyn Chung, in which she questions the use of the term as it applies to fragrance by noting its connotations with European colonialism. 

Her view is echoed by Jessica Matlin in a Harpers Bazaar article from May of this year, in which she calls the label "problematic." The brief piece also makes a connection to The Age of Enlightenment, and those evil European colonizers, with Tania Sanchez approving, however obliquely, of a suitable replacement word. Priscilla Ki Sun Hwang's July piece for CBC News manages to connect it to "white supremacy," and elicits from Yosh Han, an incredibly successful Asian American businesswoman, perfumer, and Scent Festival producer, the following sentiment: 
"No other industry - not wine, not chocolate, not beer, not tea, not coffee - nobody else uses this term. [Oriental is] basically a fake marketing word . . . that just means anyone who's melanated. Then you realize, 'Oh my gosh, this is white supremacy . . . we realize the industry has been stacked against us. It's been primarily Eurocentric.'"
Global Cosmetic Industry Magazine proudly announced in June that Michael Edwards' Fragrances of the World has officially retired the term this year and replaced it with "Ambery," fostering "a truly new, global world of olfactive wonders." Earlier in the month, Victoria, author of Bois de Jasmin, supported the progressive value of changing the term, calling it "misleading and vague." She states:
"Under the layers of incense and roses, however, the term 'oriental' hides much more unsavory associations with exploitation and colonialism. For the colonized lands, the European quest for spices, gold, and raw materials had tragic consequences, many of which are still with us today."

The gist: "oriental" is a baddy-bad word in perfumery terms because of evil Europeans conquering, colonizing, fetishizing, sexualizing, exoticizing, "othering," and otherwise wantonly degrading people of color throughout history. While none of these magazines or blogs are able to give specific examples of how using the oriental category of perfumery is/was degrading to anyone, and are quite prolific at offering only the vaguest correlations to these unnameable race crimes in their historically-bemoaned contexts, I'll give you my hot take. I think at this point it's safe to say that people are full of it.  

To be perfectly clear, I'm not supporting the use of the term "oriental" in any context. Frankly I find the semantic argument boring and pointless. We don't need to call things "oriental." We can call the rugs by whatever country they're from, simply saying Turkish rugs, Japanese rugs, etc. Ditto for perfumes, although there is some utility in eschewing nationalities altogether by deferring to terms like "ambery" or "spicy." I'm of the opinion that if people are offended by the use of a word, and that word is applied to pursuits that all people should enjoy without an unreasonable sense of ennui attached, we should jettison the term and find linguistic replacements. The English language is wide and far-reaching, with tens of thousands of viable options. We can request substitutions. That's not a problem. Why not ditch an old-fashioned term? It's not a big deal to do so. 

Where I get annoyed is when people resort to bullshit reasons for making the change. They needlessly complicate the issue and obfuscate the rationale for a solution. If the word offends you, just say it offends you because you feel it's politically incorrect and could lead to hurt feelings. Just say you'd rather use another more neutral word instead. I respect that. I can get behind that one hundred percent. But don't start lecturing me on the language's link to European colonizers. You have a smartphone in your pocket as I'm typing this, and you're going to lecture me on how Europe "othered" their way into Asian cultures? Do you have any idea how awful smartphone companies are to Asian countries? Yet none of the well-covered evils of these technological giants, evils that are happening today, concern you enough to swear off owning and using smartphones.

Selective outrage is de rigueur among those who magically profit from the very things they're offended by. For all of their Asian pride, I can't find any info on Madelyn Chung's website about which part of Asia she's proud of, nor will anyone say "Yosh Han" and "Thai American" in the same sentence. These women claim to be concerned about perception of and respect for East Asian peoples and cultures, yet keep their own ethnic lineages out of the dialogue. This is passive aggressive. It's like Chung wants me to dig into her biography, so if I have occasion to ask her about wherever her family is from, she can ask me why I thought it was important enough to research it. I've dubbed this behavior "Proactive Indignation." Instead of doing the decent thing and exonerating everyone for their confusion, people like Chung would rather foster the conditions for committing future faux pas to perpetuate their emotionally cathartic cycle of outrage.  

That's the problem with the pseudo-intellectual conversations being had on the topic. Oriental perfumes, or those categorized as "orientals" in perfumery, are named so to clarify that these perfumes are of Eastern origin. Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, or just generically Eastern, the "oriental" moniker covers everything. And there are issues with nationalizing these fragrance classes. If we rely on saying things like Chinese perfumes, Thai perfumes, Japanese perfumes, we're still not saying anything specific. Every scent category exists in these countries. So which category are we referring to? Saying "Ambery" is a little better, although it gets us into a different kind of trouble.  

Old Spice has historically been recognized as an oriental because it relies on orange citrus, powdery spices, musk, and vanilla - things found by merchants in what were considered, at one time, lands of the Orient. Yet it isn't really an amber. Can we call it an amber anyway? What if we call it a "Spicy Vanilla" instead? Isn't that an oxymoron? I guess the soapy powder effect is still an amber of sorts. I suppose we can settle for a less concise labelling of Old Spice. But we've only labeled one frag. By nixing a term, we've removed a simple and effective way of knowing which family it belongs to. Still, I can settle for vaguer language, if it's just a word game we're after. My motto: The fewer feelings needlessly hurt, the better. We should all live in a world where all people and cultures are loved and celebrated. The oriental perfume category isn't that important.

But what I won't settle for is being perpetually called a racist. I don't own a smartphone. I get made fun of all the time for that, but I don't want one. Unlike the majority of the people who tell me how awful it is to ignorantly ride the racist coattails of my colonizing predecessors, I'm cognizant of how easy it is to limit my complicity in today's most racist industry. There's nothing easier than not owning a smart phone. Virtually all of them are made in exploitative sweat factory slave-labor conditions, and it's tough to own one for less than $500 (the most competent phones on the market today are upwards of $1000). I'm not going out of my way to pony up for a product that drove somebody in another country, someone considerably less advantaged than I am, to consider suicide. 

These Foxconn nightmares should be today's outrage machine, and instead we're whining about Enlightenment values and getting twisted in knots over what we call our perfumes. Enough already. If you care that much about being "sensitive" to the plight of foreigners, ditch your smart phone, delete your Twitter account, and live a relatively frugal lifestyle. Let's see how long you last. I've been gifted two iPhones that I never activated. Those are my values. What are yours, and how are you living them? Do you still want to re-label Enlightenment values as "white supremacist" values? Cuz I see 500 GB of white supremacy sticking out of your butt pocket. 


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.