Fresh (Dunhill)

Can you believe I've been writing this blog for ten years now and have yet to review a single Dunhill fragrance? That review happens today, with Dunhill's Fresh. For whoever was waiting for it all this time, here it is. Be glad, because this is an interesting fragrance. 

There are many reviews written for Dunhill Fresh. Many of them address the same points, from various angles. This is Fahrenheit's kissing cousin, this is a "fresh" fragrance (truly shocking), this is a "green" fragrance (also shocking), this is an aquatic (not really), this is dull, safe, synthetic, etc. I agree there is a bit of Fahrenheit here - a good bit, actually. I like it a little more than Fahrenheit because there's a much lighter gasoline note, and it's less dense than Dior's composition. Yes, it's fresh. Yes, it's grassy-green with all that mint, sage, lavender, and coumarin. Yes, it's a bit familiar, and it's synthetic, because really, let's get crucial here, this is a derivative masculine.

To quibble a bit with the average assessment, I'd point out that Fahrenheit has a tightly-knit accord of honeysuckle and hawthorn, both of which add to the high-pitched petrol note that made it famous. Fresh shares only the honeysuckle, and eases out on the throttle, leaving no exhaust behind. It also shares something in common with Creed's original Silver Mountain Water. While one can wax poetic for hours on the myriad possible notes in the base of Dunhill's scent, I think it prudent to note that the woody violets that own the dry-down are the same or similar to the aroma chemical that smells of printer ink in SMW. Kinda has a glossy magazine paper vibe. Its far dry-down yields something akin to a blend of Cashmeran and Iso E Super, with maybe a hint of Ambroxan in there as well. A smooth and slightly buzzy woody smell that is far nicer than I expected in a cheapie like this.

But the review that I agree with most is by basenotes member chet31:
"I get a bit of a barbershop vibe from this, this scent would not have been out of place with one of my Dad's old aftershaves. There is a bit of Bengay to it on dry-down, but I don't find it objectionable. I don't hate it, don't love it, a sideways thumb seems fair. 

I agree with this assessment almost to the letter, although I admit I haven't used Bengay in years and wouldn't know its smell if it slapped me. Despite the similarity to Fahrenheit, Dunhill Fresh smells like a very good minty-green aftershave with an intensely watery violet leaf base. It's like a failed flanker of Fahrenheit, like if Dior had reinterpreted the acetylenic esters aspect into an Aqua Velva top, upheld by an oddly murky green-woody foundation. This inhabits an alternate universe in which Fahrenheit is what men splash on after morning sessions with their Gillette Techs. 

Still, it leaves me wondering what they were aiming for, because obviously it wasn't the barbers chair. When you name a scent "Fresh," it leaves little to the imagination, except the word on the box seems tinged with irony. Actually, I'm wondering what the brand is aiming for in general. The main reason I haven't gotten into Dunhill is that its eclectic selection and spotty reputation make it difficult to know which fragrance represents the house. Is it the retro-mod ambery 51.3N? Is it the apple cognac of Custom? The more obviously barbershop Dunhill 2003? The dusky woods of Dunhill Pursuit? The fruited tobacco-vanilla of Desire? 

These fragrances have ambition, but never quite reach any of their goals due to Dunhill's tight-fisted accountants. I like to joke that a Dunhill frag costs the same as a pack of Dunhills. There are tons of favorable reviews for their masculines, but I've done enough reading to notice that a sizable percentage of reviewers find ample use for adjectives like "cheap" and "safe." Dunhill Fresh does little to cut against that, but hey, it smells good enough for regular wear, isn't unforgivably cheap (quality of materials is fair), and is modeled after an institutional masterpiece by an upscale designer. Maybe I should leave the hypotheticals for another day, and just stick to this one: got a light? 


Black Pepper & Lime (St James of London)

I guess I haven't learned my lesson, because I'm back to review another British fragrance. For those of you who are new here, I wear it pretty visibly on my sleeve: I generally dislike English perfumery. Their stuffy and excessively dandified style is anticlimactic. There's no passion, no romance, no danger. They like their starched citrus and spice colognes, those Brits, and God Save the Queen. Their dull-as-dishwater citrus and spice goes well with their bubble and squeak, and it's gone by the last bite.  

St James of London is a midcentury barbershop house that was recently revived when someone bought it and retooled its range for twenty-first century sensibilities. There's the requisite nod to environmentalism; every fragrance is alcohol-free. There's the spiffy packaging, all blocky color fields and clean lines, with regal fonts on embossed boxes, as safe and "classy" as it gets. And there's the fragrance names, which simply tell the buyer what they will smell like. St James has opted for the "natural" approach, boasting of aromatic oils and earthy blends. So Black Pepper & Lime should be, by their metrics, a simple pairing of the two notes, with both smelling as realistic as possible. 

I expected the composition to be pepper-forward in the top notes, with the spice easing back after a few minutes to reveal a woody lime. I hoped the lime would hum along for an hour or two before fading into a woody (zesty?) musk. Maybe it would get powdery, or maybe it would just disappear completely. To my surprise, the polarities are reversed; BP&L begins with a blast of lime, very bright and acidic, and that lime note is all there is for a while. Great, except it doesn't really smell like lime. It smells lime-like, yet there's an unnecessary and nondescript sweetness undergirding it. This scent is supposed to be barbershop, yet manages a very non-barbershop lime. Strange choice.  

Just when I'm beginning to think the carrier oils are the source of the sweetness, the fragrance reveals its true nature to be that of a generic woody amber. The citrus fades off and the black pepper appears, smelling better than the first act did. Fair enough, but the amber gets stronger when the pepper fades, and after an hour I'm left with a very cologney-baloney and contemptible blah. The smell of Mr. Blue Jeans. Of a mall island with a half-asleep Pakistani guy reading a newspaper. Of a fraternity open house at three in the afternoon. I can achieve this effect by blindly grabbing any random discount masculine off one of the lower shelves. I don't need to spend forty dollars on it. 


Elie Tahari Eau de Parfum (Elie Tahari)

Occasionally I happen across an inexpensive fragrance that is as good as any luxury perfume, and it raises the question, how? As in, how can something that costs less than twenty dollars square off with a two hundred dollar scent? What happened in the marketing maelstrom that sent this piece of gold to the bottom? How does a forty-five year-old brand succeed in every way except in capturing the intended audience? Or was the target demographic really everybody and anybody? 

I'll never know. What I smell is a well-conceived tea floral that is better than Creed's Asian Green Tea and a far better bang-for-buck than Tommy Girl, with materials and accords that are on par with Acqua di Biella's Ca' Luna, Goutal's Duel, Lauder's Beyond Paradise, and altogether reminiscent of Biehl Parfumkuntswerke's criminally forgotten pc01. When I think of "tea floral perfumes," I think of the diversity in the world of tea. There are so many different teas that one is hard-pressed to fully understand how much this genre encompasses. It's made a bit easier by the simple fact that market testing has its upsides, and most companies know that people are unlikely to recognize anything that isn't a blatant spice monster chai, a delicate gunpowder green, a citrusy Earl Grey, a smoky oolong, or your run-of-the-mill orange pekoe brown leaf. Fully two-thirds of tea fragrances aim for bagged Lipton, and Elie Tahari opted for 3-5 minute green. No surprises there. 

What is surprising is the synergism the fruity-floral notes share with the tea. Take pear, a note that is a mere click away from apple in most frags, yet in Elie Tahari's scent smells of Doyenné du Comice, that prince of pears. With the delicate papery greenness of tea, the two notes adopt a warmth inherent to neither on their own. Their magic is carried on a saccharine breeze of magnolia blooms, peony blossoms, a whisper of violet (not obvious), and a musk drydown like picnic satin covering green grasses underfoot. Everything is separable, yet when I relax my breathing it all coheres into a lovely bouquet that radiates without feeling loud or synthetic. Reader, you don't know what you're missing.


3 AM (Sean John)

There are some notes in perfumery that are inextricably associated with specific time periods, and fig is forever linked to the nineties. It's difficult for me to smell fig in fragrance without thinking of Tyra Banks, Honda Preludes, Jewel songs, and late night reruns of The X-Files. The familiar smell of woody sweetness just takes me there. 

Ilias Ermenidis, the nose for Givenchy's long-discontinued Greenergy, Halston Catalyst, and Tommy Bahama Very Cool for Men, was tasked with a fig brief that would consciously sidestep the nineties and embrace the current age, and in this regard I think he succeeded. Where something like Ferragamo pour Homme laces a sweet fig note into burled woods, the same accord in 3 AM is treated with the deft light-handedness of an effervescent classical citrus cologne. Where Dune pour Homme aimed for the artistry of Postmodern installation, 3 AM aims for the spartan architecture of Greek revivalism. Where Good Life strove for cushy clouds of sweetness, 3 AM aims for minimalist spice. Any recollection of the pre-9/11 world has been carefully sanded down and interrupted by a newer 2015 angle that is itself rather retro and pre-Covid at this point. 

3 AM's reputation precedes it; I've been reading that this is a surprisingly good fragrance, and was inclined to find a smaller bottle for a blind-buy. I concur with the accolades - this is a good fragrance. Its fizzy top accord of synthetic petitgrain, geranium, bergamot zest, fig leaf, coriander, and pink pepper is green and kinetic and pleasing to wear. An interesting feature of this fragrance is that it doesn't really change, but rather it transitions in intensity and segues into a more relaxed chord of cardamom, fig leaf, fig fruit, geranium, petitgrain, and soft woody musk. The only "top note" is the pink pepper, which scales back drastically after the first few minutes, leaving all the other players intact and fairly linear. Two hours in, and the echo of fig, petitgrain, geranium, and musk remain, humming softly (i.e., weakly) from skin, and perhaps a bit more noticeably from fabric. It behaves like an after-shower summer scent, a "modern" cologne composition that isn't meant to extend through a workday or compete in a nightclub. Its gentle unisex nature is welcoming and cheerful. There's nothing to hate here. Its light earthiness even makes it a worthy alternative to your typical minty aftershave, and lends it a barbershop quality. 

Don't expect 3 AM to be a longevity monster or sillage beast, as it would take half the bottle to wring any more than four hours out of it, but if you're fine with a sheer reinterpretation of 18th century woody-citrus splashes, it fits the bill. Also, don't expect a blatant citrus "freshie" here. The bergamot is dry, pithy, and outweighed by other green notes, so the tedious convention of the usual citrus is absent. In fact, I find the pink pepper is "juicier" in nature than the actual fruits. The whole thing smells reasonably natural, doesn't "fuzz out" and lose balance, and is sure to be a crowd pleaser. Women love stuff like this, for better or worse. Last point: 3 AM has the best atomizer in the business, one that behaves like the gas cans of the fifties. A little weird, but I'm not complaining!