12/31/22

2023: Every Pineward Perfume To Be Reviewed


This post will give you a bit of a pre-game for what lies ahead in 2023. If you follow me on Fragrantica (username: karlovonamesti) you've seen that I've reviewed about half of the perfumes offered by Nicholas Nilsson's company, Pineward. Those are just snapshots of my impressions of these fragrances, and there are many other fragrances not included in Fragrantica's database that I'll be reviewing. Essentially I'll be rendering my opinion on every perfume offered by the brand, including one or two that are not yet available. 

With this in mind, I want to clarify the parameters and linguistic terms I'll be using. I view Nilsson's range as a product of the times. He's an independent ("indie") perfumer and I assume he's self-taught. He reminds me of John Pegg, a YouTuber who eventually self-taught his way into creating a perfume line that exists and thrives today, although I don't think Nilsson has a YouTube channel. He simply has an enthusiasm for perfumery, with a commendable focus on green-woody pine fragrances. Generally I find his fragrances to be well made and quite interesting, so my overview opinion of Pineward is that it's a worthy brand with several excellent perfumes. My one general critique would be that he offers too many perfumes, but he's not alone in that; nearly all the niche brands are crowding their boutiques with unnecessary and redundant offerings these days. 

With that in mind, I think it's only fair that I explain myself here. Every serious house has its own "house note" or "house accord" that is distinctly recognizable in nearly every fragrance it offers. Classic Guerlains contain "Guerlinade." Creeds dry down to "Creed Water," i.e., ambergris. Pineward has a "house accord" as well, but here it gets a little dicey: I don't particularly care for it. That doesn't mean the brand is a wash, because there are several in the line that deviate from this olfactory connective tissue, and most of them are Nilsson's greatest achievements by my lights. It just means that many of the fragrances that feature Pineward's unifying theme aren't scents I'd drop $200 on. It's hard to describe this "house accord" without sounding churlish, so I'll just say that it's a sweet woody amber, and for whatever reason it reminds me of Yankee Candles. Whenever I address this effect in Nilsson's perfumes, I'll dub it "candle amber," i.e., room-spray material.  

Having said that, I want to point out that there are two perfumes in the range that I want to bump past "good" and "great" to "transcendent." One I would wear on a daily basis and gladly fork over the big bucks for. The other is less my style, but still worthy of high praise and deserving of accolades across the fragrance community. They're so good that if Nilsson axed every other fragrance in his line and just offered the two, he would have the makings of a brand that could unseat some of the LVMH behemoths. He's clearly capable of replicating his successes. If I were his evaluator (if he had an evaluator) I'd recommend he do this and use his best work to develop a smaller product line.

I'll end by acknowledging that Pineward is a new Basenotes favorite, with a dedicated thread that at the date of writing is fully twenty-one pages long. I discovered this after penning my thoughts on every fragrance, and was not influenced at all by the contents of the thread. But I did find it interesting that a few members had impressions of the perfumes that were identical to mine, sometimes down to the exact same reference point (This one smells like *fill in the blank*). I find it mind boggling that there are guys out there who will drop thousands of dollars to own every full bottle Pineward sells, but it doesn't really surprise me. The love of perfume is an addiction, and I expect that in ten or fifteen years we'll see the emergence of therapists who specialize in perfume addiction counseling. Amazon accounts will be locked by court order, perfumers will be sued, and the first of twelve steps will involve dumping your niche purchases down the toilet. 

12/27/22

My (Very Late) Quick Take on the 2018 Guide



I was thumbing through Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's Perfumes: The Guide 2018, and I was struck by a few oddities. What really leaps out at me is the fact that the review breakdown is pretty asymmetrical compared to their previous guides. The 2008 edition featured a fifty-fifty balance of reviews by both Turin and Sanchez, with nearly every review alternating between the two. This is also true of their 2009 update, which was the same book with some additional fragrances that were previously overlooked. 

The 2018 edition is 90% Luca Turin. Sanchez barely contributes, which suggests she wasn't as enthusiastic about diving headfirst into another perfume guide. The new book departs from its predecessors by focusing entirely on expensive niche fragrances, and if memory serves me, Sanchez's impressions in the previous books weren't all that snobby. One gets the sense that while Turin sneers at anything under $30 an ounce, Sanchez is open-minded and prone to enjoying something as long as it smells good. She wrote the greatest line I've ever read in perfume writing: "The great secret of the nonluxury perfumes is that the only allure they have for the buyer is their smell." 

Another interesting thing is that many of Turin's reviews in the 2018 book were pulled from his column for Vogue Arabia, so I wonder how much work Turin actually put into writing it. He tweaked his thoughts and editorialized at length, but it's unclear as to which reviews are exclusive to the book (I am not an avid reader of Vogue Arabia). 

Some things of interest to me:
  • Roja Dove is the new Creed. Turin rates every Roja Parfums entry as "routine," and says little else about them. Reading between these sparse lines, it seems he's annoyed by the brand's pretenses and its price-to-quality ratio. As with Creed, I wonder how much of his opinion is fueled by personal bias instead of an actual distaste for the perfumes. 
  • Turin makes an interesting observation about several niche brands and what he suspects are perfumes made by A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). He concludes that some of these newer fragrance lines, which smell "samey" and bland, are being formulated by computer algorithms instead of people, and he points out that most of them don't even smell finished. If true, this is disturbing. 
  • Inexplicably, Turin rates Kerosene frags highly. This poses a credibility problem, especially when considering his history of trashing Creed. I've only tried two Kerosene frags, and they were both so indescribably awful that I remain rueful about trying any others. To call them "amateur" would be an insult to amateur perfumers everywhere. Copper Skies is an unwearable blotch of terpenic foulness, and Creature was a degraded version of Crest toothpaste. I'd rather bathe in a vat of Love in White than wear a single spritz of Copper Skies. Reading Turin's reviews of this house were the biggest WTF moments.
  • Perfumery has become perfunctory. Edmond Roudnitska, great historical perfumer, has thirteen perfumes to his name, while Alberto Morillas has over four hundred. People are just churning them out these days, and it's impossible to see how this degree of output could be worth it. The perfumery explosion has proven to be a supernova, and when it started back in the 2000s, people had no idea that it would continue into the twenties unabated. At this point the question of "newness" is worth a look, because how much of what we smell is innovative and interesting and not superfluous and conformist? 
Ultimately this new Guide is as fun to read as it is well-written, and I appreciate the new edition to my library. But I go forth wondering how much of what I've read is honest opinion, and how much is Turin trying to steer the ship, so to speak. By uptalking Kerosene and browbeating Roja, is he attempting to persuade us into exploring indie micro-brands and dissuade us from buying from larger and flashier "luxe" houses? If so, why? The folks who like niche perfumes tend to enjoy both worlds. Me? I think that a good designer, especially a vintage designer, is probably leagues better than a new niche frag any day. 

12/11/22

Revisiting Nautica Voyage After Ten Years



It's been ten years since I visited this one, and a lot has changed in that time. I used to think Nautica Voyage was a generic hum-drum thing, and to some degree my assessment hasn't changed. But there are degrees of prosaism, and Voyage inhabits a realm where ordinary components are made new again. Here Maurice Roucel's clever arrangement of pedestrian aroma chemicals resembles a grand floral aquatic fougère. 

The funniest review for Voyage on Fragrantica is written by "sebastiang071": "Amazing freshie for the price as long as you don't mind smelling like everyone's ex." And that's the trouble with run-of-the-mill aquatics. They usually wind up smelling more like someone instead of something. And what if that someone isn't so great? Do the unpleasant associations attributed to that person rub off on you? Can a fragrance steal your identity? Voyage has been worn to death in the last fifteen years, and at this point people will too-easily recognize its blustery array of aromatic florals and musks as a familiar trail through the sea of people. I recognize it as a thing, namely a rehash of Cool Water.

I get the same dihydromyrcenol twang, with a very similar cold-pressed bouquet of lavender, neroli, muguet, jasmine, and violet, intermingled with green apple and hints of woodiness, a requisite in a masculine. This wasn't novel in 2006, but it took the Cool Water model a few steps further into Millennial gender-bender territory. Roucel's use of crisp cucumber and sea-salty aquatic notes served to push and pull the corners of mediocrity into something that resembles "interesting." Luca Turin labels Voyage as a "floral masculine," presumably because there are recognizable florals filtered through its aquatic haze, but I struggle with the idea that it is unusually floral. Sure, it has florals, but with such a basic dihydromyrcenol accord undergirding everything, what else should anyone expect from this? It isn't going to be an earthy-woody patchouli, a spicy oriental, or a rugged chypre, so all that's left are fruity-floral and watery tones.

I'd recommend Nautica Voyage to anyone who laments Coty's reformulation of Cool Water. Roucel picked up where Bourdon left off, and used a bright cucumber note to make this segue. Cucumber notes were once unconventional, but now they're pretty commonplace, varying from smelling semi-sweet to sour-green. Voyage uses the former approach (see Paris Hilton for Men for the latter), but I like how it adds a touch of beachside highball cooler to its sea-side atmosphere. 

12/2/22

Ungaro Pour L'Homme III (Emanuel Ungaro)



For the full
rundown on exactly what the Ungaro fragrances are, read my review of Ungaro Pour L'Homme II, which explains that this house issues re-badged Chanels. Ungaro pour L'Homme I and II were both discontinued years ago, but III is still produced and distributed via Interparfums. I've always believed that III was the brand's bestseller, because why else would it live on? The first two fragrances were familiar throwbacks, aromatic lavenders with robust Italianate flourishes of woods, herbs, and musks. But III was the only one of the bunch that was truly weird, and it has continued to captivate imaginations since its release in 1993. 

Ungaro pour L'Homme III's top note is vodka. I'm skeptical when a brand cites booze as a note. Cheap materials that are lazily rendered are often stand-ins for a broad spectrum of liquors, with whatever green or floral notes they were meant to convey made hopelessly muddled by inchoate sweetness. Still, the poison of choice is usually some form of whisky. But vodka? Yeah, that's a twist. Adding to the spectacle is my suspicion that the house might go so far as to simply put actual vodka in the formula, just to lend the note some extra clarity (pardon the pun). Indeed, it does smell as if III is pure vodka for the first ten seconds of wear, although that effect is rapidly embellished by a gentle wave of woody citrus and soft herbal accents that quickly grow in intensity. The weirdness is tamed. 

Within fifteen minutes it becomes clear that III is an exercise in nineties camp: a linear citronellol that one or two reviewers out there have accurately pegged as "the smell of eighties off-label bug spray." We could be accommodating to Ungaro's vision and pretend this is a "gothic rose" or something, but why bother? Anyone with five minutes of experience in this game knows a good citronella/dihydrogeraniol accord when they smell it. This one is the loudest and most obvious I've ever encountered, and it behaves like an image in a Magic Eye book. At a glance it looks like backyard candles. But stare hard enough, and a neon rose appears in 3-D. This one is wine-like, fruity, spicy, and rather fun. A Martian merlot on a box wine budget? Brilliant! 

11/17/22

Paris Hilton for Men (Parlux)




I remember Paris
Hilton in her day. Reality TV shows. D-Movie roles. Fashion Week. Filthy rich Hilton Hotel heiress who has never worked a day in her life. She did nothing (and still does nothing), yet she's famous simply for existing. Here's a toast to Paris: thank you, Madam Hilton. Thank you for existing. 

And yet her signature 2005 masculine smells great, and highly original. Is there more to her than meets the eye? This could've been a disaster. There was nothing stopping it from being a mutant apple shampoo, or some salty-synthetic bodywash aquatic. Instead it's a carefully measured non-aquatic (but still watery and aqua-based), a quietly fruity aromatic that you'd expect to smell in a Japanese duty-free shop. It smells like a sophisticated European feminine from, say, 1999. It opens with a polyphonic fig leaf and mango effect, green and juicy, and segues into a linear accord of cucumber water tinged with mango. 

Fragrantica user "Alces Alces" put it best:
"The fig leaf note is my favorite part of the scent, and it complements the sage and mango well. This is fresh but not sweet, aromatic but not weirdly herbal. Gives you a fresh feeling without being soapy. It's unusual in that it feels like a cologne yet has no citrus notes." 

This is exactly right. I suspect there's a smidge of Nonadienal/Nonadienol in the formula, potent violet leaf materials that impart a cucumber smell when used judiciously. As several reviewers note, this fragrance's fruity character is rendered in a style that is decidedly unisex in nature, and could easily be worn by either gender. Its greenness prevents it from veering too far into feminine territory, while its fruitiness and the absence of any overtly woody notes keep it from being obviously masculine. 

The weirdly sour-green cucumber water drydown of this stuff is unique, and I'm glad I happened across Paris Hilton for Men. Her idea of a man is a figgy mango explosion, followed by a brisk glass of iced cucumber water. That's hot.


11/15/22

Why I Don't Believe In High-End Niche Vs. "Cheapie Frag" Economics


Image courtesy of CFCAI

YouTube has become the premier place for perfume reviews and commentary, having unseated fragrance blogs like this one several years ago. A good friend of mine has suggested I switch to a Vlog format, but I resist because I enjoy writing so much. Vloggers do plenty of writing, but I'm not ready to script my reactions to things, and will simply continue to jot my thoughts here.

I've noticed that several YouTubers tout specific financial approaches to how they manage their fragrance-collecting "addiction." Many mention that they sell unwanted fragrances to finance buying new things, and use this "rotating door" method to keep a collection size and bank account mutually balanced. I find this to be a clever way to discard something you don't want anymore, but it raises the obvious question: If you don't want it, why is it in your collection to begin with? 

The answer is that this method of managing fragrance finances only works if I'm frivolous to begin with. And indeed, the YouTubers who do this are doing it with expensive fragrances, things that are well over $100 per 100ml. This only makes sense if I've fallen out of love with something that I was once enamored with. Let's say I bought a bottle of Amouage's Figment for Men, and was wild about it. Then, a year later, I'm tired of it. Whatever wowed me twelve months ago is now the thing that puts me to sleep. So I sell my 70%-full bottle of Figment for $80 on eBay, and immediately spend the remaining $60 (after listing and shipping fees) on a bottle of Vetiver by Etro. I've halved the price-point of the new entry (Figment was $120), but having used $40 worth of Figment, I haven't lost money. It's an even flip. 

Sometimes you can make an even better flip by barely using any of the frag, and after three or four wears you sell it for the same price as retail, which facilitates purchasing something else at nearly the exact same price-point. Based on what I've seen on YouTube, it seems the heavy-hitting collectors do this all the time. But again, it makes me wonder, why? Why spend on something you're only going to wear for three or four days? Why go through all the trouble of then listing it, mailing it to someone, and buying something else? While it can work out just fine, it's an awful lot of trouble. 

It's also not really feasible for all fragrances. Some frags are in higher demand than others. You can flip a bottle of Aventus easily. It's practically a currency fragrance. But can you flip a bottle of something by Hiram Green as easily? What about an extrait by Faviol Seferi? Or something by Pekji? The deeper you go into high-end niche territory, the more resounding the phrase, "buyer beware." 

Another tactic that I've heard at least one YouTuber espouse (Justin Copeland) is even more interesting to me, because it challenges the concept of price-versus-value in perfume economics. First, let me clarify what my view is on this, so that Justin's makes sense in contrast. I believe that price is never correlative to value in perfumery writ-large. There are individual products where it is true -- a Playboy scent from fifteen years ago that sells for eight bucks on Fragrancenet is worth exactly eight bucks, and not a penny more -- but I've encountered dozens of fragrances for less than thirty dollars that smell like they could easily cost more than eighty dollars. Malizia Uomo Vetyver employs many of the same chems as Creed's Original Vetiver, and it sells for around the cost of a deli sandwich. 

So I am a staunch believer that the landscape is littered with fragrances that are a tremendous value. This landscape shifts; Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme used to be a thirty-dollar fragrance. It is now listed online for prices that exceed $400, with even the aftershave commanding $200+ tags. But generally there are fragrances that cost less than they're worth, and weeding through the milieu turns them up in regular fashion. You don't need to know how to swim well to step into this pool, you just need to know that the shallow end gets deep fast. 

Since I believe in this, I see little need to dive into the deep end. Why should I build a collection where every bottle is roughly $200? When I see a Parfums de Marly perfume, I think that I could buy eight or nine very good fragrances for its price. If I'm looking to explore the landscape to the fullest, ideally I should be incorporating fragrances that are at PdM's level with things that are a fraction of the cost. I admit that in recent years I've strayed from that, as I no longer purchase Creeds. I haven't bought anything that costs more than $100 since 2020. So the collection is firmly in the average range of $40-$100. And in this regard, I think my collection could expand. I could look at higher-end niche frags and consider saving hundreds of dollars for that one bottle of something "special." But right now it isn't a priority, and I don't consider it a worthy way of spending my money. 

Several YouTubers, Justin included, have a different perspective. They talk about having done what I do. They used to look at "cheapies" that were under fifty bucks, and spend on brands like Franck Olivier and Jacques Bogart. But they claim they experienced a philosophical sea-change to their buying habits. They realized that instead of "wasting money" on "cheapies," fragrances that they feel aren't really of the quality that is worth extended use, they "saved" for things that are "well made." Things that are niche and high-end designer. Why spend $200 on twelve cheap frags made with cheaper materials when you can save that cash for something super expensive but high quality?

This is a valid way of looking at it. It bears mentioning that there are expensive perfumes that are expensive for a reason. Some of them were formulated by very talented perfumers who were given relatively unlimited budgets to use incredible materials, i.e., captive molecules, distilled essences of uncommon naturals, etc. The combined advantages of good materials composed by gifted noses can make some high-end niche frags smell like religious experiences. There's no denying that. If you can appreciate the rose in Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose, you can really get lost in Tauer's Incense Rose. When the point of the perfume is for the nose to experience the very height of something, then its price, however high it may be, is justified. 

But I don't believe in the high-end niche vs. "cheapie frag" theory of economics. Yes, it's true that I could wait a year and save up $185 to buy Tauer's Incense Rose. But then again, I could save the same $185 and buy several rose fragrances that are just as interesting as Incense Rose. The interest lies not in finding niche-level quality for cheap. The interest lies in finding inexpensive fragrances that are not held back by their lower price tag. Here's an example: Maurice Roucel's original Voyage for Nautica (which I'll be reviewing afresh in short order). Voyage had a limited production budget and yet was in the hands of a very talented perfumer. He knew the materials and lab tricks that enabled Nautica to put out a bestseller that persists nearly twenty years later. And it only costs $18 for 100ml -- and here's the best part -- you could see Roucel switch out one or two materials for a niche brand that releases the exact same scent for $180. 

Another example is Cool Water. Pierre Bourdon basically gave Davidoff an EDT version of Creed's Green Irish Tweed when he made CW. Creed's scent still costs over $300 for 100ml. It's denser, simpler, and often a little harder to wear than Davidoff's $20 scent. Same perfumer, too! This makes Cool Water (and several of its flankers) even more interesting to me than GIT. Let's face it, when the money is right and the materials are unlimited, a success story isn't exactly surprising. But when a perfumer is given a limited budget, the chances of releasing something great decrease. When it happens, it's even more remarkable than anything super expensive. Innovations occur when there are fewer variables to work with. 

I approach perfume the way I approach food. Sure, I could splurge on a steak house that charges $80 for a slab of beef, and maybe it'll taste like it's worth it. But I could drop $8 on a burger at Shake Shack and get a greasy thing with all the fixings that really does taste great, and do that ten times instead. The expensive steak is fine, but is it going to satisfy my hunger AND my taste buds? Or will one of those two get short-changed? With expensive perfumes, there are hang-ups. 

The biggest one is you don't want to wear them as often. If you make them daily drivers, they'll get used up faster, which makes spending on them seem pointless. But the longer you hang on to them, the greater chance of in-bottle maceration, and if you're not careful and cling to something for years, you could wind up with a totally different fragrance. 

Another problem with niche is wearability. A strange thing happens when you surpass the $150 price-point. Suddenly the value ratio comes dangerously close to reversing itself, almost by default (there are some houses that can maintain value beyond this point, but you need to know them). Now the question becomes, is this worth less than what I paid for it? The answer is usually "maybe." Other questions are where and when can I wear this appropriately? Should I be wearing an oud extrait with barnyard and indolic floral notes to work? Will my partner be turned off by this kaleidoscopic rendition of patchouli? Is this aquatic "clean," or will people at the barbecue think I smell like low-tide? Remember, by definition, niche perfumery is made to appeal to a niche audience. Many fragrances in the niche realm lack "mass appeal." This puts their viability in public settings in question. 

I don't want to overstate this. Let's be honest: even the weirdest niche perfume will smell good to at least several other people that you regularly come in contact with. But the fact that you have to ask yourself about that makes the price to value thing look a little more tenuous. Why should I stress about Tauer's Incense Rose at the Christmas Party? I can wear one spritz of Tea Rose and everyone will recognize that I'm wearing a rose fragrance that smells very clean and green and "rosy." No questions asked, other than maybe "Hey, that smells good, what is it?" 

So I don't think the current YouTube mentality of eschewing a bunch of "cheapies" for fewer expensive niche frags is the way to look at this hobby. I think it's better to recognize that in perfumery the price-to-value ratio doesn't follow conventional wisdom. Thus it's better to explore things at every price point, and to cover as much ground as possible in the "cheap" realm of sub-$100 fragrances, because that's where the bulk of the iceberg is. Your chances of finding a hidden gem in a discount rack store are slim if you don't know what you're doing. But if you read, if you understand fragrance families of chypre, oriental, etc., and you're familiar with at least a few of the commonly-seen downmarket brands, you stand a better chance of finding something interesting and easily wearable for not much money, which makes the perfume a terrific value on top of its interest, and you a smart buyer for not being sucked into the maelstrom of ivory-tower stuff. 

As Tania Sanchez pointed out, the secret of the non-luxury perfumes is that the only appeal they have for the buyer is their smell. This gets to the other problem with YouTubers who point to niche as being "where it's at" -- how much of their perception is being manipulated by price? A lot of these guys fawn over packaging. They even say things like, "Unfortunately they cheaped-out on this plastic cap," as if the cap actually matters. But a lot of the pricing for niche compensates for packaging. You can't smell packaging. Putting a perfume in a blown-glass bottle with an eight-ounce metal cap covered in gold flake and studded with flawed diamonds is flashy and aesthetically intriguing, but do I want to be paying for it? How do I know how the value breaks down here? 

It's almost impossible to determine how much of the price is based on the actual perfume in the bottle, vs. the bottle itself. If you're buying expensive niche, it might make sense to aim for brands that use simple, monochrome boxes and unexciting bottles. At least then you can see that the price tag reflects the contents more than their bottle, and the brand values contents more than cheap aesthetics. Perfume is about smell, and while visual aesthetics are an unavoidable aspect of selling things, we need to prioritize products that emphasize olfactory perception more than visual perception. There's an irony here, in that many cheaper brands also splurge on flashy bottles, yet they keep their prices low. What are they doing differently? It's not unreasonable to think that they're just spending money more wisely. If they can etch something into plastic instead of chrome and it still sells, all the better!

11/11/22

Alfa Romeo Black (Alfa Romeo)

Here's a fragrance that should be getting far more attention than it is. I suspect that its brand, its name, and its relative commercial obscurity are all to blame for people having never heard of it, but Alfa Romeo Black should be on Bergdorf Goodman counters for $150 a bottle. This isn't a crumby cash-grab. It's incredible stuff.

Instead it's being sold at discount rack stores for abysmal prices, which gives the impression that it's cheap junk. I must admit, seeing its box wedged between Guess and Hollister fragrances nearly biased me away from buying it. But then I took a good look at it there, in its 4.2 ounce bottle, with a beautifully embossed Alfa Romeo logo scrolling in a dual finish on the left side of its box, and it occurred to me that car brand colognes have enjoyed a renaissance in the last ten years. Think Jaguar. Bentley for Men and its flankers. Mercedes has seen some success, as has Ferrari. Why not Alfa Romeo? 

My first impression of it was immediate and vocal: "Whoah." The experience launches with the speed and travels in the arc of a well-placed curveball. For fifteen seconds, there's an intense and unique citrus, red apple, and pink pepper top note that smells juicy, clear, and fresh, with just the right balance of tartness, sweetness, and tingle. I expected a cheap lavender note, given that this is yet another "black" frag, which are known for attempting some overly sweet iteration of lavender after Drakkar Noir. But no, this is a fruity-spicy opening that smells more like a summer morning in Urbino. 

The sunny freshness quickly overcasts into an ashy and very dusky accord, and adopts a serious feel. A casual sniff gives the impression of luxury textile (Alcantara, perhaps?), a powdery, smoky, cool evolution that grows stranger with a bit of the patchouli-driven tarriness of Thierry Mugler's A*Men. This stage lasts, and I'm drawn into it. It smells expensive, but more importantly, it smells like a classically-composed perfume, with discernible notes arranged like Tetris blocks into a new shape. There's patchouli, nutmeg, cardamom, unsweetened vanilla, rose, apple, and a lick of raspberry all tied into a heart that beats with life. It's here that AR Black becomes a fresher (less chypre, more fruity-floral) version of Tom Ford's 2018 Ombré Leather.

Let's give credit where credit is due. Cristiano Canali doesn't have a million famous perfumes under his belt. He's a young man who won Colognoisseur.com's 2019 Perfumer of the Year, and has only Rubini's Tambour Sacre and Zoologist's Bee to his name, neither of which became game-changers. His style appears to be that of cleverly layering notes, which he's inherited from the likes of Olivier Cresp, Jacques Huclier, Yves de Chirin, and Pierre Bourdon. His work for Alfa Romeo is clearly inspired, and he cites behemoths like Aprée L'Ondee, Rochas Femme, and Opium as favorites. That he was able to produce a masculine this lovely and complex without being noticed says more about the state of perfume culture than it does about him. People need to notice this perfume. 

11/1/22

No. 6 Cedarwood & Geranium and No. 7 Spiced Ginger & Rum (Goodfellow & Co)



Target has its own in-store brand of fragrances and toiletries called Goodfellow & Co, after the store's original name from over a century ago, Goodfellow Dry Goods. Usually store brands of anything are of spotty quality, and one would think perfumes are no exception, but in this case the two I've tried are actually pretty good!

I'm not sure I understand the system Target employs for their perfume line. Each fragrance is numbered, but I only see four fragrances, with two labeled No. 1 and No. 2, and two as No. 6 and No. 7. Where's numbers 3,4,5? Anyway, No. 6 is Cedarwood & Geranium, and it's basically a clone of Oscar de la Renta's Oscar for Men from 1999. There are some differences, mainly in the lack of citrus and jasmine notes in No. 6, which focuses more on geranium leaf. But the main similarity between these fragrances is their shared focus on pepper, in this case the peppery side of geranium. I only smell a hint of cedar in the top accord, along with some sage and lavender, and then Goodfellow' scent is pretty much a linear peppery geranium for five or six hours. Longevity is good, it's fairly loud, and it's not bad. If you already have Oscar for Men, you don't need Target's take, but if you missed out on it and want something that smells about 90% similar, here you go. 

No. 7 is called Spiced Ginger & Rum, and this is the weaker of the two projection-wise. Right at first spray, I have to push my nose into my skin to smell it. It opens with a watery ginger and citrus accord, and the ginger hangs around for about ten minutes. It gets just a touch spicy and a little warmer (and stronger) with time, and eventually a bay note appears, but to my nose there isn't much rum. There is, however, a clear birch note, with a synthetic oakmoss undergirding it. I think No. 7 is a type of bay rum idea, and the woody bay lends it a wet-shaver vibe that I find very attractive. I'm going to keep this one in mind for future reference. If I want a replacement for my Trumper Bay Rum, but something a little softer and more durable, Goodfellow & Co's Spiced Ginger & Rum is perfect for the job. It lasts about four hours before becoming very faint, and would follow Pinaud's Bay Rum perfectly on shave day. 

Many fragheads turn their noses up at commercial fragrances like these. When discussing them, basenotes member "Hednic" made the comment about Goodfellow & Co fragrances: 
"If they are a Target in house brand (not familiar with name) would be a pass for me."
This is the worst way to approach fragrances. Reader, let me give you advice: if you're looking for fragrances that you can wear every day and enjoy without worrying about breaking the bank on follow-up bottles, you should try as much as you can, wherever you can, from whoever is out there. Don't scoff at company brands and discount rack items simply because they're not high-end designer or niche. Don't ignore something because you're not familiar with it. Good items are out there. An open mind finds them. 

10/28/22

Why BlackRock Should Bring Back Green Valley, Creed's 1999 Sleeper Hit (And Keep It)



Lately, probably due to acquiring Banana Republic's Grassland (I needed a lot of grassy land for growing my bananas), I've been thinking a lot about Green Valley by Creed. I'm going to make a bold statement here: I think GV is my favorite Creed. 

I have only ever owned two bottles, back in 2010 and 2011. I bought one directly from Creed. They had briefly "un-vaulted" GV, and I was lucky enough to score a still-fresh four-ouncer. I'm convinced the company refrigerated GV in storage, because I've seen several people say their bottles changed for the worse with age, with a couple even mentioning full blown spoilage. I bought my other bottle at a mall kiosk, and man, oh man, was it spoiled.  

Rumors abound as to why Creed discontinued this one. Some people figure that it wasn't really the right fragrance at the right time. The late nineties were moving away from "green-earthy" and veering toward "fruity-transparent." Others have suggested that it was a mash-up of other Creeds, and was superfluous in a range that already offered Green Irish Tweed, Sélection Verte, Silver Mountain Water, and Royal Water (GV containing elements of all of them). The implication is that Olivier axed it for being the one extra "green" perfume that was leeching sales off of the older and more established products. 

Others postulate that Creed deleted Green Valley because its formula wasn't reliably stable in "mass-produced" batches. I put that in quotation marks because Creed wasn't really mass-producing their frags in the late nineties. But to put it up as a Millésime meant the general public was buying it, which also meant the company would have to keep churning it out. I recall one basenotes member, someone who seemed qualified to make the statement, saying that a Creed insider admitted that Green Valley could not survive IFRA restrictions. But built into that tidbit was an admission that (a) Creed couldn't reformulate, and (b) surviving bottles wouldn't keep long enough for reference. 

I find the IFRA restrictions of the 2000s to be the most convincing reason for the discontinuation, along with the slightly more embarrassing (but less compelling) spoilage aspect. Digging into memory, I recall someone discussing that the use of oakmoss in the formula was offset by something else, something more volatile that didn't keep as well as it should have, but for the life of me I can't remember exactly what these materials supposedly were, or where that discussion ended up. It's possible Green Valley had a stability issue, but it's also possible that Creed could have reformulated it, and just chose not to, for reasons that will forever remain unknown. 

I think it was the wrong choice. Green Valley was a great fragrance, because it did something nothing else has ever done: it smelled like a living place. When people discuss perfume, they speak of notes and accords, and how they begin and end. The assumption is that a perfume is something that moves through resolute stages, each being relatively static, until it fades away. This places perfume on a different hemisphere from daily life and the smells of the world around us. We carry a perfume with us, whereas the smells of nature are moving essences through which we pass. These two streams of motion create a sense of awareness that is reliant on a fluid interpretation of olfactory stimuli. When walking through a meadow at eight in the morning, we smell the dewey grasses, and when a breeze blows through the green blades, it lifts the wildflower essences, only for as long as its momentum allows. That breeze, along with our stride, creates a brief sense of an increase in these smells, which then diminishes a bit with the deadening air. 

Green Valley captured more than just the smell of green grass and wildflowers - it also captured the breeze rippling through. I recall over-spraying it one day. I really doused myself in it. Then I sat on my front stoop and focused on what I was smelling. I closed my eyes. The air around me was still. Yet it wasn't: it was in motion, as if a crisp wind had whipped through a field. Wave after wave of this luscious bitter green beauty wafted through my senses, lending little snatches of notes that separated like the wings of butterflies before collapsing again into congruent accords. A touch of basil here. A hint of ginger there. And over there, some blackcurrant and honeysuckle. This hallucinogenic experience stayed with me, and I think I wore the entire bottle in two months. I just couldn't get enough of it. I wanted an endless supply. 

And then Creed "vaulted" it again, only letting it out once or twice after that. Oddly, it never appeared on any of the discount sites. I had purchased it at the start of a very demanding and ultimately unsuccessful relationship, and was distracted by that (I wore Chevrefeuille through the rest of 2011). It didn't occur to me to pull my head out of my ass and invest in another bottle, and by the time it did, it was too late. But I can only blame myself so much for that. Creed should shoulder most of the blame here. After all, if the IFRA regs were the reason for killing Green Valley, then that means the other supposed reasons for its extinction were bunk. Was it the wrong frag at the wrong time? No, not at all. Original Vetiver, the only other Creed to give me a full-blown hallucinogenic "green" experience, was released several years later, and was just as earthy and "nineties" in style. I think 1999 was the perfect time to issue GV.

I also never bought the whole "Creed mash-up" reason. People compared GV to GIT. GV doesn't smell anything like GIT. In fact, if I were to blind smell them for the first time, I might guess they were made by two completely different brands! There may be some credence to the suggestion that there are elements of GIT and SMW thrown into GV. There's certainly a degree of shared grassiness, and also that same blackcurrant note. But the only fragrance I could kinda-sorta see a comparison to is Dior's Fahrenheit. If someone took Fahrenheit and just improved it, made it smell like the softest, freshest meadow on the planet, and got rid of the petrol effect, I guess you'd have Green Valley. 

But the reason BlackRock should resurrect this lost Creed has nothing to do with where it falls on the cloning spectrum. They should bring it back because it's a direct representation of verdant nature. It isn't a refined composition. The overwhelming bitter greenness of its opening salvo lasts a while, and is followed by lashings of twinkling ginger, bergamot, blackcurrant, vetiver, and ambergris. It all smells very much like the greenest, soapiest iteration of Creed's Millésime base, without any premeditated dawdling on a central accord, i.e., the heavy-handed pineapple of Aventus, or the eucalyptus and rose of Windsor. Green Valley smells flawless, yet effortless, like the perfumer just threw together a bunch of herbal and fruity and floral notes, tossed in doses of ginger and vanilla, and brushed them with a dry-hay accent to keep things from getting too juvenile or sweet. 

It's the sort of fragrance that works in a t-shirt or a tux. It embodies the classical twentieth century male, all talc and crisp aftershave, and yet it also feels timelessly modern and unisex. Where GIT sometimes feels a bit too stodgy, Green Valley is always relaxed. Where Silver Mountain Water can get a bit cerebral and strange, GV is instinctive and familiar. It's something that could revive an interest in nineties fashion, all while reinvigorating the market for green fragrances. At this point, could it really steal the thunder of other Creeds? Well, maybe. When you withdraw something from the market for fifteen years and then throw it back in, one might expect a bit of unbalanced enthusiasm from deprived customers. But Green Valley was a beautiful perfume, a true work of art, if perfumery ever was an art form. Bring it back!

10/22/22

Grassland (Banana Republic)



Grassland. A perfume. Imagine you are a seasoned fragrance writer with an affinity for "green" scents, and you happen across the rarest Banana Republic Icon fragrance, Grassland. There isn't much written about it on the internet, so you're really squinting to discern what you're in for if you blind buy. The box is seafoam green. This is all you see, but it's enough. It turns out to be a clue. 

I remember smelling a deep vintage of Jacques Fath's Green Water years ago. It was the frosted glass bottle version, probably the formula sold in the late eighties and early nineties. Its juice was the same color as Grassland's packaging. Green Water smelled like crushed mint leaves, a medley of grass clippings and floral stems, a bright but very bitter citrus accord of lemon and bergamot, moss, and quite a bit of geranium behind all the turf. It was essentially a rough green gemstone of all the crisp, fresh, masculine elements of twentieth century "green" colognes, its un-sanded edges foisting its rich earthy notes into my face. Its longevity was abysmal, but its scent was unforgettable. I wanted it, but in a different iteration. Its 1950s vibe needed a good lapidary treatment. 

Banana Republic's scent smells to me like what vintage Green Water would be after that sort of polishing. We're talking very heavy industrial polishing here, with many hours of smoothing out the raw elements of Fath's idea, until nothing but a polite sparkle of abstract greenness remains. Grassland's opening accord is a very brief but realistic burst of bitter grassiness, which rapidly segues into a translucent sheet of lavender, petitgrain, spearmint, and geranium. Each note is recognizable, but rendered as very sheer and pastel, with a soapy feel that erases the earthy connotations of its predecessor. There's a bit of citrus, a bit of Granny Smith apple juice tinging the grass blades, and ultimately the fragrance is 1950s men's cologne meets contemporary unisex shampoo.

The Icon Collection is entirely unisex, despite having some entries that are more overtly masculine and feminine. They seem to have been designed to appeal to everyone in some way. Grassland will probably hold more appeal for men, but I could see women liking its cool, gentle style as well. I find it pleasant, sort of an evolutionary end point to the European colognes of yesterday. 

10/9/22

Patchouli Perfume (Maroma)


"Patchouli" is as much a concept in perfumery as it is a note. Translated from Tamil, it means "green leaf," and has a rich cross-cultural heritage. It found its way to Europe via the eighteenth-century "silk road," wherein it was commonly employed as a bug repellant that protected pricy silks and other textiles from hungry little mouths. When aristocratic European women received their extravagant linens, they noticed the beautiful smell, and asked for more. Patchouli was adopted as an olfactory luxury for those who were fortunate enough to have its beautiful earthy aroma baked into their pantaloons. 

Maroma's take on patchouli is interesting. First, the frag price-point: 10 milliliters of perfume concentration fragrance costs fifteen dollars. That means a 3.4 ounce bottle would run about $145. I think a bottle that size would last me thirty years, because this stuff is pretty potent, in a good way. The box states three notes, a simple pyramid of patchouli, Himalayan cedar, and amyris (usually elemi), but I smell only patchouli and cedar. The duo is slightly unbalanced by a more dominant cedar note, but the patchouli is always there, adding a camphoraceous sweetness. I find the quality of ingredients to be very high here, with a distinct evolution to the star note, starting as a chocolate mustiness that rapidly segues into a more expansive musky wood, from which the cedar emerges. It's quite legible, and radiant beyond belief; a mere dab of Maroma Patchouli will announce your presence from twenty feet away and last for days.

With that said, the company is a bit of a mystery. It appears to be an Indian concern, until you visit its website, which partially explains Maroma's legacy. The brand was created sometime in the seventies by Paul Pinthon, a Frenchman, and his American partner, Laura Reddy. Pinthon was "trained in the field of pharmacy," while Reddy had "training in aromatherapy in France." The site suggests the perfumes are all-natural, which I find a bit dubious, but it's not impossible. Their patchouli is simple, but it holds two crystalline notes in a steady timbre, the sort of thing only the best materials can achieve. 

10/1/22

Polo Earth? A Quick Thought on the Natural Perfumery Trend



Recently I read an article by Ítalo Pereira, in which he discusses the differences between "synthetic" and "natural" perfumes. Synthetic perfumery boils down to two things: formula stability and olfactory clarity. Natural perfumery boils down to one thing: murky instability. 

I've noticed the recent trend of natural perfumes hitting the market over the last two years, and find myself wondering what's behind the commercial push to "natural." It's clear that natural perfumery is a thing, but how much of it is tied to a cause? I happen to like the idea of my fragrances containing more natural materials, because "natural" has positive connotations. Want a neroli fragrance? Which would you prefer, the one that contains synthetics, or the one made with real neroli distillate? The latter is obviously preferable!

But what if a fragrance is more complex than that? What if we're smelling a composition with several tiers of floral materials, blended with woods and spices? Is it beneficial to go all-natural? As Pereira points out, not really. Synthetics are usually isolates of molecules that occur in nature. If you want a rich sandalwood note, you must examine what molecular components of sandalwood smell good, and which smell interesting, but not exactly desirable. It is then beneficial to separate out the best components, study their molecular structure, and convene in a lab to replicate them. 

The pushback against Pereira's article is notable. The comments are pretty rigidly on the side of "natural is better." But I notice that most of the commenters are posturing. They claim to be capable of discerning the differences between synthetic and natural materials, but can they? One person says, 
"I just don't like synthetic notes. I find they flatten the scent, make it dull and sort of 'expired,' meaning a weak, plasticky vibe . . . Naturals give depth, sillage, and staying power. Synthetics smell kinda trashy and not refined to me."

The opinion is written as if its author can actually smell the differences between these two worlds, but I have my doubts, as no specifics are offered. The same person reviews Bvlgari Jasmin Noir, which is clearly a synthetic fragrance, with the following:

"Very elegant and sophisticated. Smells expensive. It has character and depth which is captivating. Perfect for a gala or late night event." 

This individual also fawns over Dior's Hypnotic Poison. So clearly the whole "natural is better" schtick is just baloney. But there were many reviewers with similar hypocritical stances, by parsing their comments and reviews. Why is the public's perception of "natural" materials so biased, when they clearly prefer synthetics? What drives this overwhelming urge to ditch the lab and just use rough distillates and extractions, with all their un-sanded edges and off-notes? 

Polo Earth is probably the kind of product that gives this demand a voice. It's not really a fully natural product, and it's produced by a major conglomerate superpower with scads of synthetic frags in its portfolio. But it looks mighty chaste! Its simple, clear bottle. Its simple, clear name. The reliance on some degree of natural neroli oil, which gives it street cred. But if I buy it and wear it, am I making a statement, or just indulging in a chemically minimalist experiment? 

I tend to think I'm just being a tool. Regular Polo has been popular for almost fifty years, and never once has anyone asked that it be reformulated to be one-hundred percent natural. A "natural" flanker popping up in 2022 isn't going to change my view of Ralph Lauren, or its legacy. It shouldn't change yours, either.  

9/13/22

Does Aramis Have a Future?




In a recent Fragantica article by Eddie Bulliqi, he questions in pointed language whether the original masculine Aramis scent will be discontinued, and says,
"Aramis is not a 'believable' scent in the sense of evoking the personality or character of real people. It doesn't aim at verity or verisimilitude, neither in the presentation of its materials nor its subject matter. What you get instead is the pomp, drama, and theatre of olfactory allegory, in which the symbolic man of supreme might and unparalleled competence is represented by austere, almost aggressive component parts that convey harshness, aloofness, vitality, force, standoffishness, almost danger. 2020s perfumery, by contrast, can largely be thought of under the larger umbrella of the inviting and candour with its main branches of the delectable (sugary, edible), safe (clean, citrus), comfortable (musks, creams), and natural (green, field-fresh)."

I noticed a bit of sarcasm in his description of the "symbolic man" with terms like "supreme might" and "unparalleled competence," and that he ascribes negative traits to the scent itself, things like "harshness" and "aloofness." Positive traits like "vitality" are buttressed by negatives like "force" and "standoffishness," and he even takes "danger," the one thing that is often sexually exciting, and neuters it with "almost danger." According to Eddie, who sounds like he harbors some "almost danger" himself, Aramis tries to be exciting, but doesn't quite make it.  

His pairing of Lauder's scent to American Westerns, which he says (in an over-generalization) suffer from "stilted dialogue and farcical action," suggests his bias against Hollywood's romanticization of the West also feeds his opinion of the saddle-soap and chapped-leather scent by Estée Lauder, which is a bizarre comparison. He never mentions that Aramis was named after one of the heroes in The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, and conspicuously excludes any reference to how the fragrance's leathery nature alludes to the swashbuckling and horseback-riding done by Aramis in those novels. That would pin the origins and appeal of Lauder's concept for the fragrance on something European, and we can't have that! Better to shift the focus to twentieth century Westerns, which have nothing to do with the Aramis name. 

It seems the author decided to test the waters and see how far he could push the idea that a classic masculine chypre should go extinct for the great sins of being classic and masculine. One could argue that it's a legitimate viewpoint, and if it had been posed with less obvious disdain, I would entertain it on its merits. But Aramis exists because men still buy it. Perhaps some day it will be discontinued, as all things are eventually, but many of the feminines in the same cast have been dc'd for many years now. The extinctions of global trends always follow their own lines of capitalistic reasoning, and invariably boil down to dollars and cents. Brands yield only to their bean-counters. 

Aramis will, in my estimation, continue to enjoy production for at least a few more years, and will likely survive on the market even if it's discontinued, much like Zino does (dc'd for twenty years, and still dirt cheap and readily available). Leather scents, dry citrus chypres, and any combination of those genres has always harbored fans and detractors, and I see the argument that they're somewhat timeless in style -- maybe dated, but not out-dated. Sure, when I smell Aramis, it conjures up images of Alain Delon (must be the Western thing) and sixties malaise, but then again I generate olfactory parallels with traditional riding materials, leather saddles, oils and soaps, and the weirdly dirty-clean world of those in the distant past who used only horses for transportation. Time only outdates itself as far back as yesterday, not the day before. 

Aramis is a product of its time, first and foremost, and the sixties in America was a period in the country's history when the gender roles of men and women were under new strain, thanks in part to the invention of the birth control pill. In a push against any cultural perception of unseated male virility, companies like Lauder catered to the Alphas in the pack. So rather than ask, "Will Aramis Be Discontinued," the author might instead pose the question, "Will Classic Masculines Be Discontinued?" I have no problem with that question, phrased honestly. Just be straight about asking it. 

8/27/22

Cabochard Eau de Toilette (Grès)



Few fragrances have endured more criticism than Bernard Chant's Cabochard (1959). It's a midcentury animalic chypre that has seen sixty-three years of shifting social values and cultural norms, yet it remains on shelves. In my opinion, it still smells good. 

Cabochard sits somewhere between Balmain's Jolie Madame (1953) and Guerlain's Chant d'Arômes (1962), but it's most compared to Chant's own Aramis for Men (1966). What do I think it smells like? To me it resembles Jacomo's 1978 feminine, Silences, a super-green floral chypre, but mixed with a hefty splash of Aramis. Silences is largely forgotten, which surprises me because there aren't many perfumes that are greener or eerier. It's evocative of a foggy lakeside morning in April, full of green tall grasses, mosses, and bittersweet wildflowers poking through the verdant murk. Cabochard is suprisingly green and ever-so-slightly more floral, but it's brightened with a massive bergamot, lime rind, and lemon juice accord brushed with Chant's signature fizzy aldehydes. It's nice stuff, and in keeping with the unofficial tradition of old-school feminines, it's eminently wearable for men. 

Has reformulation ruined it? Well, I haven't smelled the original (few people have), but I find little fault with this bowtie EDT version that I'm reviewing. Sure, longevity is brief (five hours), and it's no longer de rigueur to wear it, but it smells like it was made in 1959, and that's good enough for me. Look for either the EDT or the EDP. 

8/9/22

Introducing My New Blog!

Photo as taken by DRs Kulturarvsprojekt


In the past few months I've been tackling a project concerning what is truly my first love in this world, movies! I would like to introduce my new blog of movie reviews, Fontaine's Film Wipe, link here. I fully intend to maintain both blogs in the years to come. Spread the word: I also review movies now, both new and old. 


8/3/22

Deauville pour Homme (Michel Germain)


Deauville pour Homme is one of those inexpensive fragrances I've seen a million times on discount shelves, and never thought to buy because it just seemed too cheap to bother with. But the fragrance has seen a revival in popularity in the last few years, due in no small part to The Scented Devil's review, which is an interesting essay on the historical context of Michel Germain's 1999 masculine release. People have come around to DpH, and I join them in finding it to be a sleeper hit. Customers must be buying it in fair numbers for it to remain in production, with exclusive flankers, twenty three years on.

This fragrance is a remarkably beautiful composition for appreciators of powdery-soapy barbershop masculines in the Le 3ème Homme and Chanel Pour Monsieur Concentrée tradition, i.e., dandified floral fougères with orientalist touches. Its brisk lavender and clementine citrus salvo greets the nose in a rush of astringent freshness, tempered by a warmer undercurrent of sage, nutmeg, and cinnamon on the outermost fringes of perceptibility. These notes coalesce around a thyme-like creaminess that gradually gets airier and grayer, until the overall aura emits an abstraction of iris and tobacco, with the sweeter accents of the latter elevating the somber propensities of the former. Lavender survives the opening melee, as it is wont to do in compositions built on fougère accords, and retains a peripheral presence into the far dry-down, as hints of coumarinic duskiness undergird the scent's iris heart. It's all very smooth and easy to read. Deauville never feels abrasive or synthetic, and keeps its expensive shaving foam feel through to the woody-tobacco and talc base five hours down the line.

While I largely agree with SD's review, I diverge a bit in my perception of Deauville's pedigree relative to its competition in the designer realm: I don't find it to be "entry-level" in the least. Quality of materials is as high as those in my Carons, and while the composition is simple, it's just as deft as anything I've smelled by Jacques or Olivier Polge (and better than something like Platinum Égoïste), while the durability of the scent over a day's wear is admirable, with nothing "fuzzing out" into vanilla-crème cliché. I don't find the use of synthetics objectionable if they manage a coherent message. The one Deauville sends says, "I'm a clean-shaven man, and I'm ready to get to work." 


8/1/22

Hummer (Formerly Riviera Concepts, now by AB Diversified Fragrances)





I bought Hummer on the basis of Luca Turin's review in The Guide. He gave it three stars and wrote it's "not bad," and "the random gods of perfumery struck again." He describes it as "a sweet woody lavender," which is exactly what it smells like to me. This is one of the simplest fragrances I've smelled in a while, composed of three discernible notes: lavender, sweet amber, and oakmoss. The amber smells like an extension of the caramellic-grade lavender being used here, and takes the toasted biscuit end of the herb into a sugary direction, without straying into gourmand territory. Whatever moss is in the mix (real or synthetic) gives it a powdery and woody dry-down. 

The most surprising thing about Hummer is how classy it smells. The lavender is reasonably natural, although it's obviously bolstered with synthetics. It isn't loud at all, and wavers in and out of perceptibility, with moments where I smell it on the exhale after failing to detect it on my skin. There's no sclarene or other amplifiers involved. The note is soft, dry, rounded, and warm. Its sweetness gives it a Skin Bracer and Brut-like feel, and overall I associate the profile of Hummer with "barbershop." The nearest thing to it in my collection is Ungaro pour L'Homme II. Avon Tribute is in the same neighborhood, as is Jovan Sex Appeal. They're all more complicated, however. Hummer is far more basic, but this makes it more appealing to me. Good lavender scents are hard to find. 

7/22/22

What Does a 280 Year-Old Book Smell Like?




One of my
great passions is antiquing. I enjoy finding new shops and poking around forgotten treasures in search of that one thing that is actually worth something, and genuinely "antique" (100+ yrs old). 

Last Sunday I was at a massive indoor market in Bridgeport, and happened across a bookseller's stall, way in the back. It was manned by a middle-aged British woman but stocked by a guy who was likely enjoying his weekend on a yacht somewhere. I scanned the shelves quickly, my eyes programmed to find one thing: calfskin binding. They had a hit in under a minute, but it proved to be a nineteenth-century book, which is a big thumbs-down for me. Nineteenth century books, though real antiques, aren't old enough. I kept scanning, scanning, and ten seconds later, hit number two. This one was entirely calfskin, not just a partial with bare boards like its Victorian neighbor, and I knew as soon as I pulled it that I'd hit the jackpot. The Brit didn't know how to read Roman numerals (a little weird), and when she called the owner, he didn't know what she was talking about, and just threw a generic $100 price tag on it. Sold!

The book is an original Dublin edition of Jonathan Swift's letters to the people of Ireland, compiled by George Faulkner in 1742 (several letters in the book are separately dated as having been published a year earlier.) It contains his famous protest against William Wood's copper half-pence, penned under the pseudonym, M.B. Drapier. Faulkner was a friend of Swift's, and had several editions of his letters published over the course of the eighteenth century, but few are as ornate as mine, which is full of intricate wood cuts of bucolic scenes gracing the chapter pages. Although the title is worn off the spine, the condition of the binding and pages is otherwise flawless. Holding the book, it almost feels like it's brand new, which is bizarre, given its age. The only things suggestive of antiquity are the shape of its spine and the light scuffing of its leather. Someone told me it might have been recently rebound, but its front cover has a library stamp bearing the name and family crest of Jonathan Lovett, Esq., of Liscombe Park, Buckinghamshire. It was in his collection, and still bears his crest -- and he died in 1770!

Aside from its condition, the thing I love most about the book is its smell. Its calfskin cover is gamey and a little sweet, its note of barnyard mixed with something like dry leather, and its laid-paper pages are so musty that I catch whiffs without even opening them. Part them ever so slightly and rest your nose in the valley, and it's just heavenly old paper and woodblock ink, an aroma that I doubt could be replicated in a lab. The unique smell of an eighteenth century book is one that predates the Industrial Revolution, and conjures images of men in small shops with panel after panel of woodcuts, and with letters shuffling everywhere as they align text by hand. My 1792 edition of Hugh Blair's sermons, which was published in America (different spine and binding technique) looks its age, but smells equally good, save for the chemical leather glue the idiot that sold it to me used in a rushed patch-up job. These books smell of the sands of time, and it takes a seasoned nose to appreciate that. To many folks they probably just smell of mold.

My aspiration is to find a seventeenth or sixteenth century book for a reasonable price. Once you pass the 300 year point, it gets significantly harder to find quality. Most of the books that predate 1701 are in rough shape, with loose pages, loose and detached cover boards, and god knows what going on in their spines. Ebay is a surprisingly good place to look, with a few obvious counterfeits here and there, but also a significant number of real articles in varying states of decay. Schilb Antiquarian is another (much pricier) place to browse. If and when I get lucky, I'll keep you all informed.

7/21/22

Nicole Miller for Men (Nicole Miller)

There are a few versions of this fragrance floating around out there. That's the bad news. The good news is that people generally feel the same way about all of them. The funny news is that nobody feels any iteration of Nicole Miller for Men is any great shakes. 

My bottle is a four-ouncer I grabbed at Burlington for ten dollars, and at that price I don't expect much. Released in 1994, NMfM has been through at least five formulas, from the original (presumably under Miller's brand), to Riviera Concepts, to Parlux, to Luxury Brands, to the bottle I have by Sheralven Enterprises, distributed by Kobra International. Naturally everyone calls Sheralven's version junk, which would mean something if you ignore the reviews of the last thirteen years.

People have been complaining about this one as far back as 2009, claiming its longevity stinks and its notes collapse into a cheap blur. I think going back that far takes you to the Parlux formula, and complicating matters further, it was manufactured in both the USA and Canada. The USA version gets lambasted, while the Canadian stuff is praised. This all falls in line with expectations of how old (and relatively outdated) "vintage" masculines should be discussed in the wider fragcomm. 

Anyway, my bottle is brand new, and how does it smell? It's surprisingly good. I get a sharp burst of honeyed red apple in the top note, which quickly mellows into a highly-blended woody-amber, through which are bits of dry lavender and wood notes, vaguely similar to sandalwood and very stale pine. There's a hint of sweetness, which I guess is the vanilla note, but I get the familiar hay-like buzz of coumarin in there as well. 

It smells like a fruity "fougeriental," graced with a deceptively simple structure: a lucid apple note on top, a basic and very dry woody-amber with a subtle lavender anchor, and a musky/woody foundation. I get whiffs of a pleasant, woody-sweet base a couple hours after application, so I'm happy. It reminds me most of Cigarillo by Remy Latour, although that one is richer and noticeably better. Still, I've encountered pricier frags that are less agreeable than this.  

Nicole Miller's signature masculine was released at a time when trends for the men's market were shifting away from the eighties tradition of woody orientals, but it smells like a holdover from that era. Sniff it, and be instantly transported back to a decade when people still used rotary phones and lunched at Sbarro. 

7/1/22

Wildbloom Vert (Banana Republic)

Some "green" fragrances evoke another color, something like flamingo pink, or a cross between an equally flamboyant pink and chartreuse. Wildbloom Vert's packaging suggests the fragrance is a bitter-green wildflower affair, when in fact it's a very fruity shampoo floral with a couple of juicy, borderline gourmand notes, and a handful of soapy pink floral whatever-ness. Given this, you'd think I'd be pretty "meh" about it. Not so: I like it.

Wildbloom Vert is the second flanker of the original Wildbloom, and was released in 2012, a year after the debut. I haven't smelled the other Wildblooms, but assume they're all a variation on this pedestrian theme of artificial froot-flavor notes. This fragrance reminds me of Cabotine, almost as if that scent were updated, and is almost a pass, yet for some reason its crisp delicious red apple note and the whole rosy bushel of chemical nonsense under it wins me over. The sweetness of the apple, which is mated to a massive pear note, and with a bow of vaguely green sappy notes around them, just feels happy and approachable. It's by far the least impressive Banana Republic fragrance I've encountered, but it still hits the mark it aims for and smells comfortably familiar and forgettable.

That said, this is a feminine I'm not inclined to wear. If I want pink and grey floral tones, I can wear Peony & Peppercorn or Chelsea Flowers. Those are a bit more focused on the floral, and less so on the fruit. But consider this the perfect gift perfume, something so mainstream and attractive that few women would reject it, and most would probably enjoy it and seek out more bottles. There's plenty of room in the world for challenging frags, but likable fruity-florals like this one have their place, too.

6/22/22

Cool Water Sea Rose (Davidoff)


Davidoff is a quality brand with several masterpieces under its belt, many of which are on the masculine side of the aisle. Most of their feminine offerings are simply not as good. Cool Water Woman was a tepid fruity-floral that was amiable enough in 1996, but now smells a little cheap and flat. That it garnered many flankers is unsurprising, but Sea Rose (2013) is arguably the most banal of them all. 

It smells rather like the original CWW in the first minute, an overexposed and very shrill accord of sour citrus and super-synth pear, which is blended into the familiar "aqua" notes of Calone-like nineties molecules that no longer interest people. Think of any shampoo. It takes about five minutes for the off-notes to dissipate, and then the fruitiness resolves into something akin to rosy peony. Frankly, I find it a bit weak, dry, and nondescript, like a unisex sport fragrance. But heck, the pink packaging is as girly as it gets. 

At the eight hour mark the floral element vanishes, and all that remains is a laundry musk that leaves your shirt and skin smelling clean. So, yeah . . . boring. I can appreciate what Aurelien Guichard was going for here, and imagine his perfumery brief had a very limited budget. But Sea Rose is the olfactory equivalent of an airplane movie: mindlessly amusing, forgotten immediately upon landing.  

6/16/22

Metal Rain (Banana Republic)


Banana Republic will go down in history in ten or twenty years as being the last great designer perfume house, thanks to its Icon Collection. So far everything I've smelled from the line has been terrific. Metal Rain, an elusive fragrance retail-wise, is no exception. 

Many liken it to Silver Mountain Water, but it's closer to Millésime Imperial. Metal Rain reminds me of Club de Nuit Milestone. It uses Symrise's highly diffusive Ambrocenide, a sister chem to Ambermax, also comparable to Firmenich's potent and ambery Norlimbanol, and it emits a fruity-melon vibe paired with a woody-violet thing, like a "lite" version of GIT, only it's damper, darker, wetter. It's a kaleidoscope of muted pinks, purples, and greys on an overcast day. Its stark drydown makes me wonder if some perfumes are designed by men, for men, to appeal to men, and not appeal to women. Food for thought.

However, in keeping with the SMW tradition, much of the emphasis is on a tea and (pissy) currant accord which is deceptively difficult to do right, though Banana Republic manages it by dint of having good materials. Where other clones get fixated on sweet berry, Metal Rain is more nuanced, and all the better for it. The nose behind it is a mystery, but whoever it was did a great job. Now, if only I could find Grassland . . . 

6/7/22

Palo Santo (Cremo)


In 2022 it has become clear that spending hundreds on niche fragrances is passé. It's not that the quality isn't there, because it is. It's that you can get close to the same level of quality at a fraction of the price, and the general public won't notice or care about the cost differences. If you poke around you can find a $25 EDT that closely resembles a $200 EDP, and is actually easier to use and more desirable for being so inexpensive. Such is the case with Palo Santo by Cremo, the brand's dupe of Le Labo's Santal 33.

With a brand like Cremo, which targets the men's drugstore shaving and grooming demographic, one expects a middle-ground standard to be met. Their stuff should smell good enough, but there isn't a high expectation that the grade will transcend your premium shampoo with its material quality or longevity. I'm not predisposed to liking anything Cremo has to offer; a few years ago I tried one of their shaving creams and found it to be the most obnoxious chemical goop I've ever had the displeasure of using. Not only did it do a poor job on skin, but it also clogged my sink. It was with trepidation that I tried Palo Santo, which is currently the only Cremo EDT on sale at my local Walgreens. I am pleasantly surprised by it, as it's a decidedly worthy "niche alternative."

Cremo was smart in making Palo Santo. Instead of resorting to a more mainstream precious wood like sandalwood or guaiac, they opted for the lesser known holt of the South American Bursera graveolens tree. It's harvested from naturally-felled branches, often used as incense and in witch doctor remedies, and smells like a cross between Australian sandalwood and most varieties of North American pine. It possesses a distinct lemony-piney quality, but also has an underlying smoothness. By centering the scent on this complex woodiness, Cremo was able to take two excellent halves and conjoin them into something genuinely pleasant and easy to wear. There's the crisp-woody astringency of papyrus, the brightness of lemon juice, and a surprisingly lucid traditional vetiver accord in the first minute of wear, reminiscent of Guerlain Vetiver. Very good indeed.

The vetiver hangs around for at least thirty minutes before opening up and becoming much more expansive, with accents of pine, sandalwood, and eventually palo santo wood, albeit in a hushed tone in concert with the rest. Eventually the fragrance adopts a creamy quality, and a subtle gardenia note is detectable in the far dry-down. Palo Santo smells surprisingly natural for something at this price point, and its vivid nature bears five hours before tapering off into a light skin scent (budget constraints were mercifully limited to concentration, not composition). Classy stuff, and perfect for summertime.