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.


14 comments:

  1. Is it generally safe to leave the opened bottles on the shelf for a few months, or years?

    I bought a gift-set of the Eden's Mandate some years ago, it was on clearance and therefore a safe gamble. Tried it and loved it and then I forgot it.

    Recently I re-organized my stash and dug out some (largely) forgotten stuff, among them the Mandate. And, pleasure, it's nuclear. A very mature, confident scent, this, to my nose it's heads above many other brands who costs 10 times as much.

    Could it be that "heavy" fragrances tolerates aging better than the lighter, "fraicheur" variants?

    The half-empty bottle of Alyssa Ashley's Green Tea are considerably darker after all these years, it's wearable, but odd. True, it's low level stuff in the first place, but one of the few unisex I find pleasure in.

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    1. Of note in my past writings on this subject is the "window" or "goldilocks zone" with in-bottle maceration. A guy buys a bottle of something and uses maybe one-tenth of an ounce, then sticks it in the back of his wardrobe and forgets it for six months. When he comes back to it, it's stronger, more robust and rounded, more complex, fuller, and generally better. Another six months, a bit more use, and it continues to get better and better. A year goes by, plus another few months, and it's just gorgeous.

      But then two years go by, and now the beauty is beginning to fade. Notes are beginning to "hang" there. Accords change from being three or four distinct notes that are arranged together to being two notes that are no longer distinct. Three years go by, and suddenly the accords are no longer distinct, having softened into one big and rather linear accord. Four years, and, well, you get the picture. The goldilocks zone was at 1.5-2 years, with around 6-8 months of the time not even touching the fragrance after the first few wears.

      The pattern is always the same. People buy something, wear it a little, leave it, and come back later to find it much better than before. But it doesn't stay better indefinitely. Eventually it fades out and approaches a late-stage phase of a perfume's lifespan: spoilage.

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    2. Which is why when I encounter a "vintage" frag offered on ebay that is maybe 15-25 years old, I am wary of pulling the trigger to purchase. I have been burned on finding an old favorite that I have long since depleted and has long been discontinued, purchased it, only to discover my hard-earned dollars have paid for an obviously spoiled, unwearable mess.

      Your point about in-bottle maceration is well-taken, but like you say, beyond the goldilocks zone, it's like dealing with sour milk.

      That's why I'm puzzled I read so little about spoilage of these discontinued unicorns, well past their prime. Any thoughts?

      Getting back to Ferragamo Pour Homme, your review reminds me of a somewhat related frag: Quartz Pour Homme by Molyneux. I got my 3.4 for $14. Here is a crude analog of what it smells like: combine Opium Pour Homme Yves Saint Laurent for Men with Ferragamo Pour Homme. I love it!

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    3. Paligap, the longer I play in this fragrance game, the longer I spend on basenotes.net reading member after member heap praise on some 45 year-old cologne like it's good as new, the more I believe people are just full of crap. It sounds mean and cynical, but just look at the way veterans talk. Hednic tells a newbie that a good barbershop fragrance is Cassandra by Jean Arthes. He's a 7-star general on basenotes, and he's telling people a fruity-floral aldehydic is barbershop. People talk about vintage Jules by Dior like it came out five years ago. "Store it in darkness and cool temps, and it'll last indefinitely." Maybe. You'll be able to wear it. You'll probably smell better than if you weren't wearing it. But will you smell like you're wearing something that isn't past its shelf date? Not likely. People like to brag. People like to believe they're smelling an immortal product. People like to think they spent $199 on eBay for something worth $500 instead of worth $5. C'est la vie.

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  2. I too have heard some attempts to write off maceration, one example being the suggestion that as a person goes through a bottle, the lighter and more fugitive topnotes evaporate, leaving a sturdier, more persistent base defining the scent profile, projection and longevity of the scent. Considering my aging bottle of (new when purchased) Eau Sauvage, It seems to me that this argument defies rationality for several reasons. The most obvious one is that the essential stricture of the scent profile has not changed; the original opening defined by a fresh, almost watery (as opposed to watered down) impression of lemon, petitgrain, basil, etc. is still right there. A vintage 'brown box' mini of Eau Sauvage that I have also still has fresh topnotes, but with the unmistakeable sign of encroaching 'turning': a rubbing alcohol-like sharpness accompanied by a persisting acidity I think of as 'perfume heartburn'...this can be gritted out until one reached the basenotes, but that feeling of acrid sourness never really goes away. Meanwhile, my 'newer' bottle has become (per an earlier characterization you once floated concerning aging scents) a bit more blurred and 'perfume-y'...It is still very wearable, with discernible transitions and note separation, and has a good to excellent longevity, something that always makes me shake my head when reading reviews claim it lasts twenty minutes or less. Do take into account, of course, that I know these stages quite well but I will say that with a fragrance as lovely as Eau Sauvage, I still get surprised by its beauty from time to time, so it's not all familiarity guiding the ride. I readily could construct a similar walkthrough of an old but certainly not 'vintage' 30 OZ bottle I own of Azzaro Pour Homme. All to say that I'd argue that old topnotes don't vanish so much as undergo corruption, developing aspects of sourness, metallic tinniness or dissonant darkening.

    I agree about the 'goldilocks' window. I suspect that some materials hold up better than others. I've heard it said that vetivers and patchouli tend to age well, which certainly bears out in the case of the vetiver-heavy modern iteration of Eau Sauvage as well as my bottle of Yatagan (about 4 years old, having demonstrated a notable progress of maceration from very thin to heartily robust to its current state of being well articulated but less formidable in terms of performance. I find that typical base materials such as musks and vanilla-heavy ambers also age gracefully. Meanwhile the heady aldehydes in an aging bottle I have of Caron's Third man have followed a very Chanel-like arc from sparkling steam-iron to the waxy, sweetish smokiness of a snuffed candle. My bottles of Caron Pour un Homme (probably a good two litres worth over five or six years -- I go through a lot of the stuff) tend to get brittle quite quickly, with alcohol and 'hanging' notes (a great characterization, btw) unsettling the top and heart after just a year or so... but I tend to have just about polished of a bottle at that point. Curiously, I perceived this less in splash bottles (even a 500 ml giant) than atomizer bottles of CPuH.

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  3. As for peal lifespan, I think that storage is a crucial part of the equation. Coolness is good, but I've heard a perfumer say that temperature stabilization is the big issue; keeping things out of ultraviolet light is also, in my experience, a major factor.

    One last thought/query... Back in the pre-internet days, we did not have people rushing to write reviews in the first week of owning a fragrance, let alone (as I have observed on a few occasions) before it had even dried down on their skin, often without a full wearing but a wrist spritz in a shopping mall Sephora, itself already a swamp of competing cosmetic musks. Back in the day, folks formed definitive personal opinions of fragrances (especially signatures, given that owning a single defining scent was much more common than the 'collecting/curating' tendencies of today) only after working their way through a bottle. Might this, as much as 'watered down reformulations' explain why people decry current iterations fragrances that they recall as enjoying much more staying power 'back in the (insert appropriate primeval youth decade: 70's, 80's, 90's, etc.?) To be clear, per IFRA, demographic focusing and rampant capitalism, watering down, swapping out or cheapening of ingredients is definitely a thing, but so is the inflationary economy of instant gratification bred by online reviews.

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    1. John one of the nice things about having a large and long-lived fragrance collection is that you don't need a time machine to witness and understand the effects time has on perfume. As you point out with Caron PuH, the crisp composition is, when new, just as noteworthy as the way notes "hang" there after a while of the fragrance seeing heavy use. My favorite example is Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene. When I bought my new bottle of GF back in 2012, the liquid was clear, the anise note was pretty much the star of the show, and the composition smelled thin and wrong. Fast-forward 9 years, and the half bottle that remains in my cabinet has darkened to pond-scum yellow/green, the anise note is nowhere to be found, and the performance is nuclear. Galbanum and all sorts of earthy notes has fused together in the base to create a rather nondescript (but clean) powdery aura. My experience with it is that things were optimal between 2014 and 2017. Since 2017 the clarity and coherence of notes and accords as dwindled somewhat.

      As for what you describe as post-internet era reviewer's haste, I can only point to our friend Bigsly, the poster child for what one of us coined years ago as "chronic sampling" (I can't even remember who came up with that great term). The epidemic of chronic samplers out there has polluted the discourse. When every other guy is just buying bon-bons to try, going to department stores to get wrist dabs, or swapping cheapies for more cheapies that they wear once and never touch or think of again, the result is a milieu of half-baked thoughts and opinions that don't help newbies and confuse veterans. This is why I always try to wear things and cite ownership before rendering my verdict. Anyone can incessantly sample. Writing 1,600 reviews of things briefly sampled so you can look like some sort of grizzled expert is as far from interesting or impressive as it gets, especially when 80% of what you're reviewing is obscure crap nobody cares about.

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  4. If wine can obviously macerate and improve to something better or worse (vinegar), why can't perfume? Both are alcohol based, wine did start with some extra critters that poisoned themselves with their own metabolic waste. But isn't the mix of organic & inorganic molecules undergoing reaction whilst steeped in alcohol similar?

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    1. Good points Bibi. I don't think anyone has argued (cogently, at least) that maceration never occurs. The issue has always been whether or not it happens after a perfume has been bottled and sold. For whatever reason, there's a contingency of readers and writers out there who feel strongly that the process ends at bottling and shipping. I've always suspected that the process continues long after that. Apparently the notion that fragrances can continue to evolve and improve with time after the customer has begun using them is laughable to some. Fine by me, but when it comes up I direct the laughers to the dozens of accounts that support the theory, most of which are posted ad naseam on Basenotes and Reddit.

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    2. Everything upon this earth changes, from diamonds to water.

      It's obvious that perfume does change during a lifetime, even if it's bottled, sealed and stored under perfect circumstances.

      If it comes from anything remotely "organic", changes occour. Even the most synthetic chemical, created as it is.

      A fella over at the Arctic Museum here in Norway, where they keep various stuff from Roald Amundsen's (and Randolph Scott's) expedititon to the Antarctic some 100 years ago, opened a can of sardines and ate them.

      Tasted delicious, he said, better than the new stuff.

      I've read something similar online. Sometimes I have my doubts.

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    3. I believe there was a similar account from archeologists who found a cache of ancient wine somewhere. They tried it and described its "notes." Which were likely akin to rotten fruit, dirt, bile-inducing acid, etc.

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  5. I have quite a few cheapies which I bought when I was a teen. Now, almost 20 years later (cry), they smell much richer and are much longer lasting than they were when I bought them.

    As far as Ferragamo PH goes, it's a shame that I keep forgetting to wear this one. It's a lovely, lovely fragrance. Very unique and beautifully composed. I actually get excellent performance from it, so I guess I'm lucky in that regard.

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    1. I expect it to do some changing over the next few months and will likely see an improvement in longevity

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