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!