Old Spice Cologne (Shulton, 1950-1955 Vintage), & Some Incorrect Notions About Old Spice That I've Been Reading For Years
"The best take on bay rum ever - my favorite bay rum. Well, that's what it is!"
"bokaba" in 2008:
"The new version by Proctor and Gamble is garbage and nothing more than an overly synthetic bay rum."
"tvlampboy" in 2006:
"Bay rum with little to no lasting power. Big whoop. Burt's bees bay rum and Royall bay rum are SO much better."
There are a few other instances on basenotes and Badger&Blade, but I won't bother to post them here. Old Spice is an oriental fragrance from top to bottom, with no bay oil, no bay note, no rum note, and no bay rum accord at any stage of its development. Many bay rums employ a distinct clove note, and this is the only note OS shares with any them. That's certainly not enough to call it bay rum. How and why people insist on claiming it's a bay rum is beyond me, and I wish they would stop.
The last thing I want to mention concerns the incorrect notion that Shulton produced Old Spice until 1990, when Proctor & Gamble finally bought the brand. People gloss over the fact that American Cyanamid bought Shulton in December of 1970, and owned the brand for twenty years prior to selling it to P&G. From 1970 onward, Old Spice wasn't really being made by Shulton. This is evidenced by the fact that 1970s Old Spice is markedly different from the versions that preceded it.
If you really focus in on how that formula develops, there's a noticeably musky aspect of the base that amps up the powdery vanilla notes. The sweetness of the spicy top is also amplified, with that sweetness getting slightly animalic in the base, an evolution that makes sense given the musky profile. Then in the 1980s that musky quality receded and was replaced with a fizzier cinnamon-spice quality that to my memory wasn't especially tenacious. This eighties version seemed to cross over into the nineties, growing gradually weaker and less obviously powdery with each passing year.
When American Cyanamid took over they offered Shulton employees and shareholders $0.96 for every $1 of Shulton stock owned. This helped retain Shulton staff and keep the train running on time. But it's worth noting that this change of share value signifies an indisputable change of hands, with the Shulton brass officially stepping away from the main controls. Yes, subsequent generations of OS bottles bore the "Shulton, Inc." mark on them, but much as Colgate-Palmolive puts "By Mennen" on bottles of Skin Bracer, this was AC's way of keeping brand recognition alive. After all, "American Cyanamid" doesn't have the same ring to it.
It should also be noted that American Cyanamid operated under slightly different rules that were written in a slightly different world. Back in the 1970s there was value associated with maintaining brand recognition in as many ways as possible. Back then people weren't satisfied with keeping the glass bottle with the logo and typeface on it. They wanted to keep the maker's mark as well. Proctor & Gamble's haste in putting their name on the bottles (and completely discarding Shulton's) was a sign of the times; by 1990 companies as large as P&G wanted consumers to identify old classics with their portfolio alone, and routinely made the cynical calculation that buyers wouldn't care.
Sadly, they were correct. Today, thirty-two years after the final sale, P&G's products and marketing have all but erased the Shulton legacy. I read all the time about how P&G "saved" Old Spice, and to a certain extent it's all true. But look how they did it. This wasn't a repositioning of the brand in an ever-expanding men's grooming market. This was the total annihilation of the modest small-brand dignity which Shulton had maintained, and which American Cyanamid had preserved. Things called "Bearglove" and "Swagger" aren't manly or tasteful, but hey, teenagers will buy them! Who cares if forty year-olds are turned off? We still make the "Classic" for them!