What Fragrantica (And Everyone) Gets Wrong About Creed's Success Story

Ghost Perfume

I've been fairly tight-lipped about Gabe Oppenheim's new "tell-all" book, The Ghost Perfumer, a light exposé of the true geniuses behind Creed's perfumes, and the strategic commercial underpinnings of the brand's questionable marketing tactics. 

To be frank, I find the subject boring. It's no mystery that Olivier and Erwin Creed aren't the real noses for the brand. It's no mystery that Pierre Bourdon and people associated with him are the real noses for the brand. And it's really no mystery, and no surprise, that Creed uses blatantly exaggerated historical claims to sell their wares. The topic of The Ghost Perfumer is a bit of a bland non-starter for me. 

What I do find interesting is Elena Vosnaki's recent editorial on Oppenheim's book, and on Creed. She pursues a line of reasoning about Creed that I've seen everywhere, one that has become a pet peeve of mine when lurking around protracted internet discussions about the brand. Vosnaki acknowledges that Oppenheim's contentions are well vetted, and she does well in casting herself as fervently opposed to and skeptical of the brand's ongoing practice of associating its perfumes with historical figures. But her article crafts a narrative that I find to be just as dubious as Creed's. 

In order to contextualize my sentiments about her sentiments, you should know that I find it distasteful when an attempt to discredit something brings little more than cynical language to the party. For example, in describing Creed's historical lineage, Vosnaki fails to connect Creed's commercial image to any perceived lies, and sidesteps the familiar "Creed started in the seventies" argument: 
"Creed has always claimed to hail from 1760, 'from father to son,' but there is only factual evidence of a tailoring business under the name, and not as far back as that. In fact, Olivier Creed burst onto the fragrance scene in the 1970s . . . It was in a Lille shop called Soleil d'Or where Olivier is said, going by the memoir of the daughter of the shop's founders, to have introduced his line in the 1960s. On page 41, she claims the first three perfumes 'he [Olivier] had them made to his own specification,' clearly alluding to outsourcing." 

Her suggestion that Creed's heritage is "only" a tailoring business that doesn't really date back to 1760 is directly contradicted here by professors Daniel James Cole and Nancy Deihl, who wrote in their 2015 book The History of Modern Fashion:

"Both [Queen] Victoria and [Empress] Eugénie favored riding apparel from the British tailoring firm of Creed, which had served men since 1710." 

I'll give both Oppenheim and Vosnaki the benefit of the doubt in their casual dismissal of the brand's provenance, and chalk it up to the forceful tide of social media sentiments, but I'm bothered by the obvious lack of research on Creed. Surely experts in fashion, now holding respectable posts at an American university, are trustworthy sources on the topic? Creed served Queen Victoria and the wife of Emperor Napoleon III. Who believes there weren't perfumes offered by Creed to such clientele? Sports apparel of the time was often associated with the trappings of country-clubby hygienic products, and fashionable riding tack connects pretty neatly to something like Royal English Leather. 

That a family member associated with Soleil d'Or said that Olivier "outsourced" his perfume line in the 1960s isn't news. Should we believe that Olivier created a bunch of niche frags by himself? Does anyone know how difficult it is to source materials? Long before the internet, and before social media, this relatively unknown fashion maverick mustered the funds to pay third party perfumers. They followed his "specifications" and handed over the results to Olivier so he could parlay them into a perfume brand.

How does this dent his credibility, exactly? 

Vosnaki goes on to assert many other things about Creed, but eventually lands on the main point of contention for me, something that I'm likely guilty of purveying myself at some time or another in the not-so-distant past:

"The timing was crucial, because despite Creed's claims to historical heritage, and the unhistoric claims of famous patronages wearing what is olfactorily surely modern stuff, realistically it was Aventus that catapulted their skyrocketing fame to the average perfume buyers with a (seeming) penchant for showing off." 

To which I say, well, no - I sigh. What can I say to this? Aventus isn't what brought up Creed, nor is it what let them sell out to BlackRock Private Capital. Green Irish Tweed was what put the brand on everyone's map. I was wearing GIT long before Aventus. My college friends were wearing GIT long before Aventus. Here in Connecticut, the "nutmeg state," whenever I mention Creed to anyone I know who has an interest in perfume, the words "Green Irish Tweed" are inevitably what they say. 

Men worshipped GIT. From the mid-eighties onward, GIT was the cult favorite. Cool Water was the affordable EDT version, the alternative that most men preferred to drop coin on, but twenty-five years of GIT on the market bought Creed the wherewithal to create Aventus. It's true that Aventus was the biggest thing after GIT, and it's also true that Aventus, released when social media was really taking off, was a huge sensation, but we shouldn't get too absorbed by the narrative here. Let's remember what really happened with Aventus when it was released - it was lambasted.

I was there in 2010 when it was released, a member of basenotes avidly reading the forums. I was there to see member after member call it all kinds of names - it was "designer," "mall juice," "generic," "fruity," and "disappointing." Basenoters only changed their tune on Aventus when the fragrance was appropriated by an army of immature guys who claimed (immaturely) that Creed was a sexual good-luck charm.

The same army then pretended to know a thing or two about perfume by obsessing over "batch variations" of Aventus, which led to YouTubers getting in on the conversation, and before you knew it, a bunch of people were experts on Aventus. Mind you, these early YouTubers weren't buying their bottles. They were given their bottles. Much of their discourse led to a backlash, by which the troops were given to retracting and recanting. Merely five years after its release, Aventus was overexposed in the newly-formed social media bubble of the fragcomm, and people were eager to distance themselves from all the silliness, the Aventus "hype machine," and any suggestion that this was their favorite fragrance, or even their favorite Creed. 

My point is that Aventus has had a convoluted reputation in the world of fragrance enthusiasts, and drawing a straight line from the first bottle to Creed's BlackRock sale is ill advised, in my opinion. Sure, the fragrance has benefitted from a wider market of more buyers at untethered prices, which is simply a sign of the times. But Creed was building that success slowly, over many decades, and with many earlier and better releases. 


The Archeological Endeavor of Excavating My "Deep Vintage" Old Spice Cologne

I recently bought a bottle of "deep vintage" Old Spice cologne, a bottle with stopper #2 made between 1950 and 1955. To be clear, I consider any bottle with stopper #1 or #2 to be "deep vintage." My bottle is about 60% full (a light test reveals the level to be almost exactly where the taper of the buoy begins), and is in fair cosmetic shape - faded but legible graphics, a small dent on an otherwise pristine metal stopper cowl - yet it arrived with a problem. The kind of problem I only encounter with things as old as early 1950s Old Spice: the stopper top snapped off in transit, and the rest of it is lodged flush in the spout, completely blocking the removal of fluid. 

This sounds like a major setback, but in reality it's no big deal. It delays the experience of wearing and reviewing the stuff, but it's merely a delay - I have other bottles I can decant the cologne into. This situation demands some "excavating" be done to access the cologne, which is sequestered by a seventy year-old chunk of broken polyethylene, so I made a plan. When my 1955-1963 bottle is empty, I'll use a small nail to tap the stopper down into the bottle, and then use a decanting pipette to transfer the cologne (now with a piece of plastic floating in it) into the available container. I'll then use what is left of the stopper to reseal the older empty bottle, and simply use it for display. Issue resolved. 

This situation does have me reflecting on how vintage Old Spice is the only vintage fragrance that feels archeological in nature. The picture above is of an empty 1940s Hull Pottery bottle on eBay, and just take a look at it. Doesn't it look like something recovered from the wreck of the Titanic? It's a product of twentieth century America, and there are still plenty of people walking around today who were alive when it was made, yet it looks like it was recovered from the bottom of the ocean. Its glaze is cracked, there are oxidation marks everywhere, and its hand-painted graphics, likely stenciled on mere moments before the pottery was fired, are primitive in nature. It's Indiana Jones fare. 

My bottle, made by the Wheaton Glass Company, is not nearly as rustic looking, but it bears a similar overall design. The base is embossed with the words Early American Old Spice, which hearkens back to the days when Shulton pitched this fragrance to women. Old Spice is America's only true wartime cologne, released a year before the start of World War II, and issued in smaller, simpler bottles to troops abroad. It survived the war, and the intervening eighty years, and is a testament to American masculinity. My bottle stirs echoes of that time, and all of its mythical archetypes, and when I shake it and hear liquid sloshing around, I wonder how a pedestrian drugstore cologne managed to survive. It's amazing to me that it wasn't used up and discarded decades ago.

It leaves me wondering what is possible in the quest for deep vintage Old Spice. Are there pristine Hull Pottery bottles out there? (When I say 'pristine,' I mean bottles that still contain original fluid.) How many might exist? Ten? Twenty? What fractional percentage of vintages precede the Vietnam War? Of that small number, how many zeros go before the decimal point for extant Korean War bottles, i.e. bottles like the one sitting on my desk as I write this? And of those, how many more zeros must be added to the decimal to accurately convey the number of surviving WWII bottles? And of those, how many are original Hull Pottery bottles with rust-free stopper #1? A full four-ounce bottle of Hull Pottery Old Spice is, without exaggeration, the Holy Grail of wetshaver deep vintages.


Peony & Peppercorn (Banana Republic)

I find it interesting that Banana Republic markets its Icon Collection fragrances as entirely unisex, even when the packaging is pink and the name suggests "spiced floral." Such is the case with Peony & Peppercorn, which comes in a pallid pink box and bottle, and broadcasts to the world that this is a peony fragrance - peony, the most feminine-smelling flower in existence. Yet it is aimed at either sex. It's definitely 2022. 

A few things I've noticed: P&P has no peppercorn, and is mislabeled. It should be called White Tea & Peony, or even something more abstract, like Cameo Pink. The top note is a wan, sour, leafy smell, reminiscent of extra fine tea buds blended with a whiff of a metal spoon stirring them in warm water. Pepper notes are hard to do well, but fresh florals are another story; peony is the most common floral note in modern perfumery. It ranges from awful to excellent, and it's academic for a skilled nose to throw a good one into a fragrance. Vincent Kuczinski orchestrated everything, and he did a nice job.

Yet the peony is a conceit in this fragrance. Banana Republic's "peony" is the same as the blackcurrant notes in my SMW knockoffs! When I say "blackcurrant notes," I'm referring to the chemical(s) responsible for creating the feminine, berry-sweet effect in those frags. Kuczinski extended the fruitiness into a floral direction, finessing the palette (possibly a combination of dimethyl benzyl carbinyl butyrate and alpha damascone) into fragile petals, and an obvious fruity-floral feel. Fragrantica mentions plum as the only sweet fruit in the pyramid, but if we're being honest, it should be identified as "red berries." Side by side with Silver Shade, Sun Java White, and Al-Wisam Day, it's identical. Although there's no pepper note here, what I like about Peony & Peppercorn is that the execution of the peony shows how pretty it can smell in something composed by a talented perfumer.  

In a conventional mindset, it's hard to argue this isn't a feminine fragrance. It's perfect for women. That the company behind it is trying to snag both markets is fascinating, but I don't think men are on board. I am, because I'm a weirdo, and I appreciate a realistic fruity-floral scent, especially when it eschews sugar and shampoo effects and goes in a more natural and grounded direction. Nonexistent pepper aside, I'd guess in a blind test that Peony & Peppercorn is worth well over $100. Get it before it's discontinued. 


Friendship Garden (Shulton)

Released in 1939 and discontinued in the early seventies, Early American Friendship Garden by Shulton was the brand's "green" floral springtime splash. (How's that for alliteration?) I happened across two interesting things at an antique store last week, a stone head of Buddha that could be worth thousands and was only priced in the hundreds, and a four ounce bottle of this stuff, which I sampled. I didn't buy either, but they were the only items that piqued my interest and have me thinking of returning for purchases. 

Friendship Garden comes in an eau de cologne concentration; it only lasts about two hours and doesn't project beyond a couple of inches. It's an aldehydic floral that reminds me of the current iteration of Wind Song by Prince Matchabelli. The differences to my nose are its bitterness and the absence of stone fruit notes like peach and plum. Wind Song has the character of a typical fifties fruity-floral, with a sweet and powdery aura that grows woodier as it dries, but Friendship Garden remains fairly cool, green, and bitter from top to bottom. There's a lick of crisp bergamot and galbanum on top, followed five minutes later by a gauzy haze of geranium, dandelion, lavender, and the cut-grass generalized aroma of wildflowers, whatever they might be. Think the tart and very light smell of some random colorful bouquet you can buy for fifteen dollars at your local supermarket, and you have an idea of FG's heart. Green, vaguely floral and herbal, a bit flat, and totally forgettable.

The far drydown is a rather sour lemony musk, with just the faintest hint of woodiness, and little to no charm beyond a memory of what preceded it. Friendship Garden isn't really a great fragrance in my opinion, but it was a significant release for its time. I found a bottle advertised for $3 in a December, 1942 issue of Life Magazine. Adjusting for inflation to today's dollar, and that comes to fifty bucks. Not cheap. If you find a bottle for a few dollars, grab it, but this isn't anything an avid collector should lose sleep over.