Eau de Minthé (Diptyque)

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

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

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

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

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


Lemon, Cedar, Amber (Pecksniff's)

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

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

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

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


Alcolado Glacial (Curacao Laboratories Ltd.)

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

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

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


Florida Water (Lanman & Kemp Barclay)

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

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

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

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


Polo Ultra Blue (Ralph Lauren)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ombré Leather (Tom Ford)

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

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

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

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

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


Vanilla (Alyssa Ashley)

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

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

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


Denim Black EDT (Bellevue Parfums)

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

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

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