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.  


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 using 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 . . . 


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.


Qaa'ed (Lattafa)

The funny thing about frags from the UAE is that there's usually a Western connection to their more popular stuff. They seem fond of copying and spinning off successful designer fragrances from Europe and America, which makes it difficult to distinguish the quality offerings from the drone clone crowd. In the case of Qaa'ed, the dilemma is especially ironic: this is ostensibly a clone of a clone, a variant of Icon Absolute, which is a variant of Oud Wood. Fortunately I'm not familiar with either of those two, and can interpret Lattafa's scent through my own lens. (It's possible Lattafa merely copied Dunhill's packaging.)

Qaa'ed is one of the best gourmands I've ever smelled. This is a sweet spiced oriental, but it's extremely well made, and I can't find anything wrong with it. It's known for its heavy reliance on cardamom, and indeed there's a buttload of natural cardamom in the top and early drydown, but to me the prominent note right out of the gate is vanilla - thick, rich vanilla. Hovering over it are soft layers of cinnamon, saffron, and sandalwood, but I also get a clear frankincense note and Catholic church vibes, which tempers the sweetness and imbues Qaa'ed with a mystical feel. The blend of incense and charred vanilla creates an olfactory illusion of a strange fruity flavor, almost like nag champa bubblegum, an effect most noticeable in high heat. It would all be too much for me if it weren't so well composed. Note separation is pristine, yet everything coalesces into a silky-smooth and carefully balanced accord. It's skillfully done, there's no arguing that. 

Eventually, at around the four hour mark, the smoky candy shop vanilla with its edge of burnt caramel overtakes the spices, and the far drydown is an aromatic vanilla experience that feels timeless and exotic. Echoes of cardamom and incense hang in the background, reminders of the beauty that preceded this comfortable base. Everything about Qaa'ed is good, and the materials used are excellent. Where other spicy orientals lose clarity and muddle out, Lattafa's creation retains its dry beauty for the duration. Lattafa succeeded in making Qaa'ed about ageless elegance, no easy feat for any brand. This is a great all-season fragrance, and I look forward to trying more from this house in the future.