10/28/22

Why BlackRock Should Bring Back Green Valley, Creed's 1999 Sleeper Hit (And Keep It)



Lately, probably due to acquiring Banana Republic's Grassland (I needed a lot of grassy land for growing my bananas), I've been thinking a lot about Green Valley by Creed. I'm going to make a bold statement here: I think GV is my favorite Creed. 

I have only ever owned two bottles, back in 2010 and 2011. I bought one directly from Creed. They had briefly "un-vaulted" GV, and I was lucky enough to score a still-fresh four-ouncer. I'm convinced the company refrigerated GV in storage, because I've seen several people say their bottles changed for the worse with age, with a couple even mentioning full blown spoilage. I bought my other bottle at a mall kiosk, and man, oh man, was it spoiled.  

Rumors abound as to why Creed discontinued this one. Some people figure that it wasn't really the right fragrance at the right time. The late nineties were moving away from "green-earthy" and veering toward "fruity-transparent." Others have suggested that it was a mash-up of other Creeds, and was superfluous in a range that already offered Green Irish Tweed, Sélection Verte, Silver Mountain Water, and Royal Water (GV containing elements of all of them). The implication is that Olivier axed it for being the one extra "green" perfume that was leeching sales off of the older and more established products. 

Others postulate that Creed deleted Green Valley because its formula wasn't reliably stable in "mass-produced" batches. I put that in quotation marks because Creed wasn't really mass-producing their frags in the late nineties. But to put it up as a Millésime meant the general public was buying it, which also meant the company would have to keep churning it out. I recall one basenotes member, someone who seemed qualified to make the statement, saying that a Creed insider admitted that Green Valley could not survive IFRA restrictions. But built into that tidbit was an admission that (a) Creed couldn't reformulate, and (b) surviving bottles wouldn't keep long enough for reference. 

I find the IFRA restrictions of the 2000s to be the most convincing reason for the discontinuation, along with the slightly more embarrassing (but less compelling) spoilage aspect. Digging into memory, I recall someone discussing that the use of oakmoss in the formula was offset by something else, something more volatile that didn't keep as well as it should have, but for the life of me I can't remember exactly what these materials supposedly were, or where that discussion ended up. It's possible Green Valley had a stability issue, but it's also possible that Creed could have reformulated it, and just chose not to, for reasons that will forever remain unknown. 

I think it was the wrong choice. Green Valley was a great fragrance, because it did something nothing else has ever done: it smelled like a living place. When people discuss perfume, they speak of notes and accords, and how they begin and end. The assumption is that a perfume is something that moves through resolute stages, each being relatively static, until it fades away. This places perfume on a different hemisphere from daily life and the smells of the world around us. We carry a perfume with us, whereas the smells of nature are moving essences through which we pass. These two streams of motion create a sense of awareness that is reliant on a fluid interpretation of olfactory stimuli. When walking through a meadow at eight in the morning, we smell the dewey grasses, and when a breeze blows through the green blades, it lifts the wildflower essences, only for as long as its momentum allows. That breeze, along with our stride, creates a brief sense of an increase in these smells, which then diminishes a bit with the deadening air. 

Green Valley captured more than just the smell of green grass and wildflowers - it also captured the breeze rippling through. I recall over-spraying it one day. I really doused myself in it. Then I sat on my front stoop and focused on what I was smelling. I closed my eyes. The air around me was still. Yet it wasn't: it was in motion, as if a crisp wind had whipped through a field. Wave after wave of this luscious bitter green beauty wafted through my senses, lending little snatches of notes that separated like the wings of butterflies before collapsing again into congruent accords. A touch of basil here. A hint of ginger there. And over there, some blackcurrant and honeysuckle. This hallucinogenic experience stayed with me, and I think I wore the entire bottle in two months. I just couldn't get enough of it. I wanted an endless supply. 

And then Creed "vaulted" it again, only letting it out once or twice after that. Oddly, it never appeared on any of the discount sites. I had purchased it at the start of a very demanding and ultimately unsuccessful relationship, and was distracted by that (I wore Chevrefeuille through the rest of 2011). It didn't occur to me to pull my head out of my ass and invest in another bottle, and by the time it did, it was too late. But I can only blame myself so much for that. Creed should shoulder most of the blame here. After all, if the IFRA regs were the reason for killing Green Valley, then that means the other supposed reasons for its extinction were bunk. Was it the wrong frag at the wrong time? No, not at all. Original Vetiver, the only other Creed to give me a full-blown hallucinogenic "green" experience, was released several years later, and was just as earthy and "nineties" in style. I think 1999 was the perfect time to issue GV.

I also never bought the whole "Creed mash-up" reason. People compared GV to GIT. GV doesn't smell anything like GIT. In fact, if I were to blind smell them for the first time, I might guess they were made by two completely different brands! There may be some credence to the suggestion that there are elements of GIT and SMW thrown into GV. There's certainly a degree of shared grassiness, and also that same blackcurrant note. But the only fragrance I could kinda-sorta see a comparison to is Dior's Fahrenheit. If someone took Fahrenheit and just improved it, made it smell like the softest, freshest meadow on the planet, and got rid of the petrol effect, I guess you'd have Green Valley. 

But the reason BlackRock should resurrect this lost Creed has nothing to do with where it falls on the cloning spectrum. They should bring it back because it's a direct representation of verdant nature. It isn't a refined composition. The overwhelming bitter greenness of its opening salvo lasts a while, and is followed by lashings of twinkling ginger, bergamot, blackcurrant, vetiver, and ambergris. It all smells very much like the greenest, soapiest iteration of Creed's Millésime base, without any premeditated dawdling on a central accord, i.e., the heavy-handed pineapple of Aventus, or the eucalyptus and rose of Windsor. Green Valley smells flawless, yet effortless, like the perfumer just threw together a bunch of herbal and fruity and floral notes, tossed in doses of ginger and vanilla, and brushed them with a dry-hay accent to keep things from getting too juvenile or sweet. 

It's the sort of fragrance that works in a t-shirt or a tux. It embodies the classical twentieth century male, all talc and crisp aftershave, and yet it also feels timelessly modern and unisex. Where GIT sometimes feels a bit too stodgy, Green Valley is always relaxed. Where Silver Mountain Water can get a bit cerebral and strange, GV is instinctive and familiar. It's something that could revive an interest in nineties fashion, all while reinvigorating the market for green fragrances. At this point, could it really steal the thunder of other Creeds? Well, maybe. When you withdraw something from the market for fifteen years and then throw it back in, one might expect a bit of unbalanced enthusiasm from deprived customers. But Green Valley was a beautiful perfume, a true work of art, if perfumery ever was an art form. Bring it back!

10/22/22

Grassland (Banana Republic)



Grassland. A perfume. Imagine you are a seasoned fragrance writer with an affinity for "green" scents, and you happen across the rarest Banana Republic Icon fragrance, Grassland. There isn't much written about it on the internet, so you're really squinting to discern what you're in for if you blind buy. The box is seafoam green. This is all you see, but it's enough. It turns out to be a clue. 

I remember smelling a deep vintage of Jacques Fath's Green Water years ago. It was the frosted glass bottle version, probably the formula sold in the late eighties and early nineties. Its juice was the same color as Grassland's packaging. Green Water smelled like crushed mint leaves, a medley of grass clippings and floral stems, a bright but very bitter citrus accord of lemon and bergamot, moss, and quite a bit of geranium behind all the turf. It was essentially a rough green gemstone of all the crisp, fresh, masculine elements of twentieth century "green" colognes, its un-sanded edges foisting its rich earthy notes into my face. Its longevity was abysmal, but its scent was unforgettable. I wanted it, but in a different iteration. Its 1950s vibe needed a good lapidary treatment. 

Banana Republic's scent smells to me like what vintage Green Water would be after that sort of polishing. We're talking very heavy industrial polishing here, with many hours of smoothing out the raw elements of Fath's idea, until nothing but a polite sparkle of abstract greenness remains. Grassland's opening accord is a very brief but realistic burst of bitter grassiness, which rapidly segues into a translucent sheet of lavender, petitgrain, spearmint, and geranium. Each note is recognizable, but rendered as very sheer and pastel, with a soapy feel that erases the earthy connotations of its predecessor. There's a bit of citrus, a bit of Granny Smith apple juice tinging the grass blades, and ultimately the fragrance is 1950s men's cologne meets contemporary unisex shampoo.

The Icon Collection is entirely unisex, despite having some entries that are more overtly masculine and feminine. They seem to have been designed to appeal to everyone in some way. Grassland will probably hold more appeal for men, but I could see women liking its cool, gentle style as well. I find it pleasant, sort of an evolutionary end point to the European colognes of yesterday. 

10/9/22

Patchouli Perfume (Maroma)


"Patchouli" is as much a concept in perfumery as it is a note. Translated from Tamil, it means "green leaf," and has a rich cross-cultural heritage. It found its way to Europe via the eighteenth-century "silk road," wherein it was commonly employed as a bug repellant that protected pricy silks and other textiles from hungry little mouths. When aristocratic European women received their extravagant linens, they noticed the beautiful smell, and asked for more. Patchouli was adopted as an olfactory luxury for those who were fortunate enough to have its beautiful earthy aroma baked into their pantaloons. 

Maroma's take on patchouli is interesting. First, the frag price-point: 10 milliliters of perfume concentration fragrance costs fifteen dollars. That means a 3.4 ounce bottle would run about $145. I think a bottle that size would last me thirty years, because this stuff is pretty potent, in a good way. The box states three notes, a simple pyramid of patchouli, Himalayan cedar, and amyris (usually elemi), but I smell only patchouli and cedar. The duo is slightly unbalanced by a more dominant cedar note, but the patchouli is always there, adding a camphoraceous sweetness. I find the quality of ingredients to be very high here, with a distinct evolution to the star note, starting as a chocolate mustiness that rapidly segues into a more expansive musky wood, from which the cedar emerges. It's quite legible, and radiant beyond belief; a mere dab of Maroma Patchouli will announce your presence from twenty feet away and last for days.

With that said, the company is a bit of a mystery. It appears to be an Indian concern, until you visit its website, which partially explains Maroma's legacy. The brand was created sometime in the seventies by Paul Pinthon, a Frenchman, and his American partner, Laura Reddy. Pinthon was "trained in the field of pharmacy," while Reddy had "training in aromatherapy in France." The site suggests the perfumes are all-natural, which I find a bit dubious, but it's not impossible. Their patchouli is simple, but it holds two crystalline notes in a steady timbre, the sort of thing only the best materials can achieve. 

10/1/22

Polo Earth? A Quick Thought on the Natural Perfumery Trend



Recently I read an article by Ítalo Pereira, in which he discusses the differences between "synthetic" and "natural" perfumes. Synthetic perfumery boils down to two things: formula stability and olfactory clarity. Natural perfumery boils down to one thing: murky instability. 

I've noticed the recent trend of natural perfumes hitting the market over the last two years, and find myself wondering what's behind the commercial push to "natural." It's clear that natural perfumery is a thing, but how much of it is tied to a cause? I happen to like the idea of my fragrances containing more natural materials, because "natural" has positive connotations. Want a neroli fragrance? Which would you prefer, the one that contains synthetics, or the one made with real neroli distillate? The latter is obviously preferable!

But what if a fragrance is more complex than that? What if we're smelling a composition with several tiers of floral materials, blended with woods and spices? Is it beneficial to go all-natural? As Pereira points out, not really. Synthetics are usually isolates of molecules that occur in nature. If you want a rich sandalwood note, you must examine what molecular components of sandalwood smell good, and which smell interesting, but not exactly desirable. It is then beneficial to separate out the best components, study their molecular structure, and convene in a lab to replicate them. 

The pushback against Pereira's article is notable. The comments are pretty rigidly on the side of "natural is better." But I notice that most of the commenters are posturing. They claim to be capable of discerning the differences between synthetic and natural materials, but can they? One person says, 
"I just don't like synthetic notes. I find they flatten the scent, make it dull and sort of 'expired,' meaning a weak, plasticky vibe . . . Naturals give depth, sillage, and staying power. Synthetics smell kinda trashy and not refined to me."

The opinion is written as if its author can actually smell the differences between these two worlds, but I have my doubts, as no specifics are offered. The same person reviews Bvlgari Jasmin Noir, which is clearly a synthetic fragrance, with the following:

"Very elegant and sophisticated. Smells expensive. It has character and depth which is captivating. Perfect for a gala or late night event." 

This individual also fawns over Dior's Hypnotic Poison. So clearly the whole "natural is better" schtick is just baloney. But there were many reviewers with similar hypocritical stances, by parsing their comments and reviews. Why is the public's perception of "natural" materials so biased, when they clearly prefer synthetics? What drives this overwhelming urge to ditch the lab and just use rough distillates and extractions, with all their un-sanded edges and off-notes? 

Polo Earth is probably the kind of product that gives this demand a voice. It's not really a fully natural product, and it's produced by a major conglomerate superpower with scads of synthetic frags in its portfolio. But it looks mighty chaste! Its simple, clear bottle. Its simple, clear name. The reliance on some degree of natural neroli oil, which gives it street cred. But if I buy it and wear it, am I making a statement, or just indulging in a chemically minimalist experiment? 

I tend to think I'm just being a tool. Regular Polo has been popular for almost fifty years, and never once has anyone asked that it be reformulated to be one-hundred percent natural. A "natural" flanker popping up in 2022 isn't going to change my view of Ralph Lauren, or its legacy. It shouldn't change yours, either.