I Ran Out of Vintage Old Spice, So I Replaced It With New Juice. Then This Happened . . .

Back in August, I chucked the remainder of my European Old Spice Original aftershave and refilled the bottle with the new American formula by P&G. My thinking was that I would run out of vintage Shulton by mid-fall, and by that time I wanted the newer formula to be sitting in glass for three or four months, so it would be mellowed and ready for use when I transferred it to the milk glass vintage bottle.

The three months went by with me thinking the transfer would be seamless, but would be marked by a distinct difference in the two formulas. I figured the change from the smooth vanilla powder of vintage to the crisp, clove-laden P&G formula would be stark. Yesterday I transferred the liquid from the European Original glass bottle to the newly-emptied Shulton bottle, and topped it off with about a quarter of a four-ounce plastic spray I purchased at Walmart. I filled the Shulton bottle up to the top, stuck the little grey stopper into it, and let it sit overnight.

When I came back to it today, I braced myself for a disappointing change. I'd grown used to the vintage formula, and wasn't really looking forward to switching back to the stronger "butch" formula P&G sells today. At noon I showered, changed, and splashed the vintage bottle's new contents into my palms, rubbing the liquid across my neck and chest. To my surprise, I found it smelled a lot like the vintage cologne! I stopped and sniffed the bottle, then added a bit more splashed it across my arms. Another few sniffs later, I realized something had happened to the formula.

Either it changed a bit in glass, or it leeched whatever oils were clinging to the Shulton bottle and blended them into the new formula, but somehow the new stuff smells soft and powdery and sweet, with a distinctly musky vanilla note, much like vintage. Perhaps it's a combination of the time spent stored in glass and the vintage oils caked into the Shulton bottle, but the overall smell is very, very close to the Shulton formula. I don't get the sharp spicy accents that I usually get from the plastic spray bottle, I don't get the slight plastic undertone, and there's no harsh clove. Honestly, if I didn't know better, I might not notice any change from the 1970s formula to the new stuff.

My advice to any guy who buys vintage Shulton on eBay is this: buy a glass bottle and decant the plastic spray formula of OS "Classic" into it, and let it sit in the glass for however long it takes you to use the vintage juice. When your vintage is empty, transfer the cologne from the glass to the Shulton bottle, let it sit in there a day or two, and see if there's a big difference in the scent. You may find that the new formula has somehow morphed into something very, very close to the vintage.


Is Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme Worth It?

Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme was recently discontinued, and predictably the many unicorn breeders on eBay had a field day with it. The picture above is just one example of what a seller is currently asking for a 50 ml bottle (that's right, the 1.7 ounce itty-bitty bottle). You should feel privileged to spend three hundred dollars on a relatively obscure bitter-rose chypre from 1978, because Captain Random Price in his grungy grey market janitor's closet stock room says so. 

Should you, though? Let's break down what it means to buy a bottle of VC&A PH. Then let's consider whether it's unique enough, well made enough, relevant enough, and desirable enough to warrant spending cheese on it. Usually I would consider vintage and discontinued eBay fragrances a rip-off if they're priced beyond an inflation-adjusted amount, but VC&A's signature masculine is just oddball enough to make me stop for a moment and consider it in context. It isn't your usual forty year-old moth-baller. 

Is it unique enough? This is the easiest question to answer: Yes. Having smelled six hundred fragrances, I can say without any exaggeration that I have never encountered anything that smells like VC&A PH. There is an asterisk to this, however, for there's a common drugstore bar soap that does smell like it - Dial Gold. That presents a problem for anyone looking to high-roll a clever buyer. When I put my nose on VC&A PH for the first time, back about nine years ago, my very first thought was this is exactly and very weirdly like Dial Gold antibacterial soap! 

There are two ways to think about VC&A PH. You can buy into the internet mythologies people have built up around it - it's a gothic rose, it's a "powerhouse," it's testosterone in a bottle - and all of these notions lend it immense popularity among connoisseurs of fine fragrance. But you could also get your nose on a bar of Dial Gold and compare them both, and decide it's just a soapy chypre with vague floral flourishes. Over the years I've found myself leaning more and more to the latter sentiment. Still, aside from the bar soap comparison, it's strange that no other proper perfume even comes close to the scent profile. Its brusquely bitter juniper berry and uncured tobacco medley should be replicated a dozen times over in the pantheon of late seventies masculines, yet most travel a significantly different path. VC&A PH travels alone. 

Is it well made? This one's a little bit tougher. The easier way to state the answer is to discreetly point out that the fragrance is congruous, balanced, and totally wearable. You won't find yourself sitting down to lunch and regretting that you reached for it. There's no time spent wishing this note were toned down, or that note were more successful, or wondering what in god's name that note is. Sure, you'll probably experience the rose crisis that everyone eventually goes through with VC&A PH. As in, where the hell's the rose? Everyone keeps going on about it, yet I struggle to smell it in the composition. There's some floral notes, yes, but it's hard to say what they are, exactly. I often think it's carnation. Then I'll waffle and think, okay, yes, there it is: the rose. Roses or not, the fragrance doesn't smell like a near miss. It smells quite good. 

But it also smells very, very soapy, and herein lies another set of divergent paths to take in one's understanding of this stuff. Anything that smells overwhelmingly soapy is going to smell cheap. The trick is to smell luxuriously cheap. Luxurious is Irish Spring shower gel. That fizzy burst of crisp evergreen and mossy earth with a lick of sweetness, and all coming to life in water. Cheap is Dial Gold soap. Take a wild guess where the danger zone is for Van Cleef & Arpels. The problem with the fragrance is it attempts a soapy formula that also smells perpetually dry. Smart soapy masculines inject the illusion of moisture into their drydowns to better animate their complexities, and breathe life into notes that might otherwise be unrealized. Think Sung Homme and Z-14. But VC&A made the crucial mistake of keeping their chypre bone dry, which parches the fidelity of its constituents, keeping it overly blended, a little too tight, and not as luxurious as it should be. This is why it frequently disappoints me.

Add to that its reliance on mid-shelf designer-grade materials, and the issue is compounded. The fragrance doesn't smell natural enough, nor is it lucid enough at any stage to warrant Creed prices. And that brings me to the next question - is VC&A PH relevant enough? Is this a fragrance that every collector MUST have? The answer is decidedly no. Its uniqueness is a double-edged sword; the astute collector may value its rare character, but might also interpret its one-off nature as something not apt to inspire imitation. Where things like Drakkar Noir, Polo, Le Male, and 1 Million have each carved out their legions of clones, many of them disguised as original designer releases competing for marketshare, VC&A isn't setting the world on fire. Both of their signature masculines have been discontinued. Many of their ancillary releases have been minor hits, or have gone unnoticed. This isn't the world's most relevant brand.

All of this brings us to that final daunting question: Is VC&A PH desirable enough? Would you default on the month's heating bill for a bottle? Would you defer a car payment for it? Cash out on those political science textbooks and risk failing a course? At what point do people decide a fragrance isn't worth it? Or harder yet, when do they decide it never was? I think the answer lies in parsing the answers of all the previous queries. It's unique as a fine fragrance, but stick your nose in the soap aisle at Walmart and you'll find something for $1.79 that smells as close as possible to an exact match. It's competently made, but perhaps there were a few key miscalculations made in the design of its formula. Nineteen seventy-eight was forty-four years ago, and the glitzy jewelers image of VC&A has since lost its shine, at least as far as the perfume brand is concerned. Thus the desirability of this fragrance is limited to the achingly curious, or the die-hard fan, and neither party would be wise to spend more than $120 for a bottle - a large bottle. Sentimental value isn't as volatile as grey market prices. Its fixed nature means even the most devoted and ardent admirers would be stymied by a $300 tag. 

So where does that position this one in the wild west world of internet auctioneering? VC&A PH is eclipsed in both beauty and versatility by its younger brother, Tsar. I blew through my bottle of final-formula Tsar. It was, quite literally, the smell of an emerald. Thick, lush, green, kinetic, a perfume of shimmering woody and floral proportions that bloomed into a veritable garden party on my skin, Tsar was far and away the better of the two legacy perfumes by this house, and frankly I'd consider spending two hundred for it. (Three hundred isn't happening.) You can lead a unicorn to water, but it can't drink because its horn has a nasty habit of getting in the way.


French Lilac (Pacifica)

The copy on the box for Pacifica's French Lilac perfume reads, All of our perfumes are hand-poured in micro-batches using the best grain alcohol. Made in the USA with the best globally sourced ingredients. It's called a micro-batch, presumably because there are changeable aspects inherent to the production method for French Lilac, a fragrance that isn't mass-produced with cheap synthetics. At first glance, this might seem dubious, given its wide availability in Whole Foods grocery stores for twenty bucks a bottle. 

But looking at things more closely, it makes sense. It's twenty bucks for one ounce of French Lilac, which is actually a bit pricy. Also, there appears to be a limited number of bottles per store (I counted six at mine), which at an ounce a pop equals two 3-ounce bottles, which is about $120 worth of fragrance. With these eensy-weensy bottles and their restricted distribution (who else sells these?), it's probably not such a stretch to suppose the Pacifica production method incorporates variable natural materials, albeit in limited quantities, all used in relatively small commercial batches. Maybe the brand values a certain degree of quality after all. The perfume speaks for itself in this regard.

French Lilac is the best lilac perfume I've encountered. It's a rich and heady lilac accord, and it's nuanced with green sap notes, fruits, and inedible vanilla. It is to lilac fragrances what Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose is to rose perfumes: a cheaper alternative to the less-compelling and far more expensive niche variants on this kind of floral theme. What impresses me about French Lilac is its layers; the fragrance opens with a green wreath of magnolia and hyacinth, which settles against a lilac-centric spring floral bouquet. There's a hint of peach to lift the honeyed florals above their woody leaves and balance them against the sacchariferous warmth of heliotrope, which is in turn counterweighted by unsweetened vanilla. This isn't a soliflore. This is a pyramid. 

An hour in, and the bouquet coalesces, its distinct floral tones merging with that sturdy vanilla foundation to form a lilac note. This lilac effect is full, rich, rounded. It escapes sliding into that slightly plasticky off-note that lilac reconstructions often fall victim to (I'm looking at you, Demeter), and thanks to the strength of the underlying peach and vanilla notes, never strays into air freshener territory. To be clear, room sprays tend to smell overly harsh and strident to fill large spaces. French Lilac maintains a few degrees of smoothness and subtlety to keep its usage within the scope of personal fragrance, at least to my nose, although any perfume can double as room spray. 

Five hours after application, French Lilac's warmth cools and its lilac note thins a bit, becoming sweeter and fruitier, until I'm left with a simple peach base, which itself smells remarkably crisp and realistic, especially for something that's been simmering on skin all day. This far drydown tells me Pacifica's formula is something well thought out and executed, not corner-cut or trite. Unfortunately it has its share of internet detractors who annoyingly elevate Highland Lilac of Rochester's perfume over it at every opportunity, with some even claiming FL doesn't smell anything like lilac at all. I guess if you spray it on paper and give up on it after three minutes, you'd reach that opinion, as the other fruity floral notes smell like things other than lilac. But if you spend an hour with French Lilac and say it isn't a good lilac, your nose is broken. 

Every guy who is into old-school lilac water aftershaves should try French Lilac. Shave, splash some Lilac Veg, or whatever lilac water is in your den, and then give French Lilac a spritz or two, and it will top off the retro experience. This is exactly the kind of robust nineteenth century floral scent that was in vogue among well groomed dandies. In 2021, women owned the lilac fragrance space. In 2022, it's time for men to reclaim it.