Vanilla & Bourbon After Shave (Nivea)

Connecticut isn't the sate for the sophisticated wet-shaver. Retailers across the region tend to stock only the most proletariat products and limit brand selection to the basics: Gillette foam, Barbasol Red, Green, Purple, Gillette cartridges, Old Spice, Aqua Velva, Skin Bracer, Brut (if you're lucky), and whatever generic store brand (save 75¢, take the wife to dinner). Then there's the expensive pseudo-niche bullshit brands like Cremo and Burt's Bees. Nivea, which is usually a little pricier, is often unfairly thrown in with them, but invariably just the "cooling" and "non-cooling" balms. Never their splashes.

All of that changed when I happened upon some splash at a seldom-visited Shop-Rite. Nivea's Deep line of aftershaves, which are wisely bottled in glass, was released very recently in North America, and yet I hadn't seen a single bottle anywhere (I'd seen the body and face washes). Shop-Rite's were reasonably stickered, so I brought one home. It may seem boring, but there's much more here than meets the eye. I bought their Vanilla & Bourbon Scent (the long and inefficient way of saying "Bourbon Vanilla"), and it fills a certain vanilla-shaped hole in my life.

If you Google Vanilla Aftershave, you'll get a few million hits of Clubman Classic Vanilla, which would be great, except CCV isn't a traditional vanilla. If it's straightforward vanilla you want, good luck finding it. For reasons that stray beyond my understanding, nobody offers a simple vanilla aftershave. Nobody, except Nivea. This splash is smooth, sweet, and a little spicy and woodsy on the back end. No, it doesn't contain glycerin, and yes, it's made in Mexico, but it smells like vanilla extract laced with cashmeran. It'll probably be discontinued by 2022, so I suggest you find some ASAP. 


Neroli Woods (Banana Republic)

I purchased this scent blind, not because I read about it beforehand (I didn't), or have any affinity for the designer brand (I don't), but because neroli is an uncommon example of a simple and linear note that usually smells expensive. Neroli is the creamy bath suds of triple-milled luxury hotel soap. Neroli is the salted citrus spritz of $30 beachside resort drinks. Neroli is the Ferrari of green floral materials. Neroli is sex with a very expensive woman. Neroli is Italy in a bottle. In this obscure Banana Republic scent, I expected it to be functional at worst, and likable at best. Well, I lucked out. I love this fragrance. 

It's important to gain perspective on neroli as a popular contemporary note. Tom Ford's Neroli Portobello Mushroom Sauce and Penhaligon's Castile suffer from imprecisions of balance and concentration, making thir over-produced flourishes smell loud and stodgy. At one-tenth their price, Neroli Woods smells soft, unpretentious, elegant. Here the nose employed excellent materials to conjoin a golden citrus top note to a delicate white floral base, and the result is refreshingly natural and luxurious for designer fare. I find that it extends the neroli of 4711 well past the ten minute mark, and into the workday. 

I would guess the name Neroli Woods is aimed at males, yet the only woody hues are whispers of jasmine and cedar undergirding the star note. If you're a wet shaver like me who wears hesperidic splashes and wants a solid neroli scent to pair with them after a shave, stop here. I don't fully understand the artistic concept behind the Icon Collection, I don't know how the pedestrian Banana Republic landed such first-world perfumes, and I've discovered it's better not to ask questions when such fortunes are granted. I just tell myself, "Be grateful Bryan, and enjoy." 


Malizia Uomo Vetyver (Mirato)

Cheap vetiver. Everyone in the nose knows that vetiver oil isn't an overwhelmingly expensive material. There are vast regions of the tropics and Asia where its essence can be found for the price of a ham sandwich. It's widely considered a healthy botanical, and used in therapeutic formulas. In perfumery it's a secret weapon for brands offering quality products in the toothpaste aisle of your local supermarket.  

Born in Italy in the 1990s, Malizia Uomo Vetyver was for many years the country's Brut. In the 2000s it found its niche in North America and attracted male attention on budding wet shaver sites like Badger & Blade. It appeals to aftershave fanatics as a postmodern hairy-chested masculine, and it's shockingly cheap. Mirato wisely extrapolated Vetyver's potential into every possible grooming tier, from aftershaves to deodorants, shampoos and soaps, building customer loyalty on a global scale. But its legacy doesn't stop there.

The dirty secret of pricy niche brands is that they often poach successful downmarket ideas and lift them into the luxury realm using relatively unlimited production budgets. It's reasonable to suspect that this is how we got Frederic Malle's Vetiver Extraordinaire. When you smell Malizia's Vetyver and compare its shimmery spiced-citrus brightness to the pink peppery fizz of VE's opening accord, then trace how both fragrances weave through thickets of soapy woods, you realize that Mirato's $10 drugstore cologne was likely the inspiration (and blueprint) for Malle's $225 perfume. Naturally this raises the question of why anyone would bother to spend so much just for higher note fidelity, when the same general effect can be achieved so cheaply. 

It's merely a question of what sparks your imagination. Cheap frags depend entirely on how they smell. Mirato isn't trying to "wow" on an aesthetic level. Its box is neon green, its bottle frosted and plastic-capped. I've seen prettier flasks of corn huskers lotion. The scent within is misrepresented in reviews as being dark and dry, but I consider it crisp and clean. Its soapy citrus top leads to a puff of earthier, elemi-spiced coniferous smoke that drifts like cold musket fire through the reeds. Its smolder goes from dark green to brown as its heart billows into a sublime fermented tobacco leaf (perhaps why many compare Vetyver to Dunhill frags), and I'll go on record saying that Mirato's tobacco note is one of the best budget tobaccos I've smelled - lucid, smooth, rich, yet transparent. Herbal notes flesh out the duskier elements with hints of cilantro, clary sage, caraway, mace, and thyme. The whole package is tied in a pink pepper bow.  

The beauty of pink pepper is that it yields fresh floral facets, and in Vetyver it reads as a rosy haze rising from a jade crypt. This cologne smells expensive. I get the Fred Malle connection, with shades of Original Vetiver (in the first thirty seconds), and even some Pino Silvestre when its resinous dry-down arrives. This is the soapy treatment; at this price-point the soapy approach is the easiest, the most practical. Everything is fused into a clean smudge, and picturing it in the shower is not a stretch. Oh, by the way, there's not much in the way of noticeable vetiver here, but that's not a knock. The barest trace of vetiver root surfaces in the base, but calling this a vetiver scent is like calling Kouros a lavender soliflore. Look elsewhere for a reverent framing of this material. 

I remember the 1990s as a decade of decadent optimism. Clinton and his sax, dot-com bubbles floating in the air, Shania Twain shaking her stuff on VH1, and powerhouses permeating everyone's houses. Things were probably the same in Italy at the time, and if the neighbor's Fiat reeked of Malizia Uomo Vetyver, I'd be smiling all the way to the Fellini Theater beachside matinee of Il Postino. If you're in the market for a fresh green cologne on the cheap, look no further. (Italian barbershop approved.)