2023: Every Pineward Perfume To Be Reviewed

This post will give you a bit of a pre-game for what lies ahead in 2023. If you follow me on Fragrantica (username: karlovonamesti) you've seen that I've reviewed about half of the perfumes offered by Nicholas Nilsson's company, Pineward. Those are just snapshots of my impressions of these fragrances, and there are many other fragrances not included in Fragrantica's database that I'll be reviewing. Essentially I'll be rendering my opinion on every perfume offered by the brand, including one or two that are not yet available. 

With this in mind, I want to clarify the parameters and linguistic terms I'll be using. I view Nilsson's range as a product of the times. He's an independent ("indie") perfumer and I assume he's self-taught. He reminds me of John Pegg, a YouTuber who eventually self-taught his way into creating a perfume line that exists and thrives today, although I don't think Nilsson has a YouTube channel. He simply has an enthusiasm for perfumery, with a commendable focus on green-woody pine fragrances. Generally I find his fragrances to be well made and quite interesting, so my overview opinion of Pineward is that it's a worthy brand with several excellent perfumes. My one general critique would be that he offers too many perfumes, but he's not alone in that; nearly all the niche brands are crowding their boutiques with unnecessary and redundant offerings these days. 

With that in mind, I think it's only fair that I explain myself here. Every serious house has its own "house note" or "house accord" that is distinctly recognizable in nearly every fragrance it offers. Classic Guerlains contain "Guerlinade." Creeds dry down to "Creed Water," i.e., ambergris. Pineward has a "house accord" as well, but here it gets a little dicey: I don't particularly care for it. That doesn't mean the brand is a wash, because there are several in the line that deviate from this olfactory connective tissue, and most of them are Nilsson's greatest achievements by my lights. It just means that many of the fragrances that feature Pineward's unifying theme aren't scents I'd drop $200 on. It's hard to describe this "house accord" without sounding churlish, so I'll just say that it's a sweet woody amber, and for whatever reason it reminds me of Yankee Candles. Whenever I address this effect in Nilsson's perfumes, I'll dub it "candle amber," i.e., room-spray material.  

Having said that, I want to point out that there are two perfumes in the range that I want to bump past "good" and "great" to "transcendent." One I would wear on a daily basis and gladly fork over the big bucks for. The other is less my style, but still worthy of high praise and deserving of accolades across the fragrance community. They're so good that if Nilsson axed every other fragrance in his line and just offered the two, he would have the makings of a brand that could unseat some of the LVMH behemoths. He's clearly capable of replicating his successes. If I were his evaluator (if he had an evaluator) I'd recommend he do this and use his best work to develop a smaller product line.

I'll end by acknowledging that Pineward is a new Basenotes favorite, with a dedicated thread that at the date of writing is fully twenty-one pages long. I discovered this after penning my thoughts on every fragrance, and was not influenced at all by the contents of the thread. But I did find it interesting that a few members had impressions of the perfumes that were identical to mine, sometimes down to the exact same reference point (This one smells like *fill in the blank*). I find it mind boggling that there are guys out there who will drop thousands of dollars to own every full bottle Pineward sells, but it doesn't really surprise me. The love of perfume is an addiction, and I expect that in ten or fifteen years we'll see the emergence of therapists who specialize in perfume addiction counseling. Amazon accounts will be locked by court order, perfumers will be sued, and the first of twelve steps will involve dumping your niche purchases down the toilet. 


My (Very Late) Quick Take on the 2018 Guide

I was thumbing through Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's Perfumes: The Guide 2018, and I was struck by a few oddities. What really leaps out at me is the fact that the review breakdown is pretty asymmetrical compared to their previous guides. The 2008 edition featured a fifty-fifty balance of reviews by both Turin and Sanchez, with nearly every review alternating between the two. This is also true of their 2009 update, which was the same book with some additional fragrances that were previously overlooked. 

The 2018 edition is 90% Luca Turin. Sanchez barely contributes, which suggests she wasn't as enthusiastic about diving headfirst into another perfume guide. The new book departs from its predecessors by focusing entirely on expensive niche fragrances, and if memory serves me, Sanchez's impressions in the previous books weren't all that snobby. One gets the sense that while Turin sneers at anything under $30 an ounce, Sanchez is open-minded and prone to enjoying something as long as it smells good. She wrote the greatest line I've ever read in perfume writing: "The great secret of the nonluxury perfumes is that the only allure they have for the buyer is their smell." 

Another interesting thing is that many of Turin's reviews in the 2018 book were pulled from his column for Vogue Arabia, so I wonder how much work Turin actually put into writing it. He tweaked his thoughts and editorialized at length, but it's unclear as to which reviews are exclusive to the book (I am not an avid reader of Vogue Arabia). 

Some things of interest to me:
  • Roja Dove is the new Creed. Turin rates every Roja Parfums entry as "routine," and says little else about them. Reading between these sparse lines, it seems he's annoyed by the brand's pretenses and its price-to-quality ratio. As with Creed, I wonder how much of his opinion is fueled by personal bias instead of an actual distaste for the perfumes. 
  • Turin makes an interesting observation about several niche brands and what he suspects are perfumes made by A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). He concludes that some of these newer fragrance lines, which smell "samey" and bland, are being formulated by computer algorithms instead of people, and he points out that most of them don't even smell finished. If true, this is disturbing. 
  • Inexplicably, Turin rates Kerosene frags highly. This poses a credibility problem, especially when considering his history of trashing Creed. I've only tried two Kerosene frags, and they were both so indescribably awful that I remain rueful about trying any others. To call them "amateur" would be an insult to amateur perfumers everywhere. Copper Skies is an unwearable blotch of terpenic foulness, and Creature was a degraded version of Crest toothpaste. I'd rather bathe in a vat of Love in White than wear a single spritz of Copper Skies. Reading Turin's reviews of this house were the biggest WTF moments.
  • Perfumery has become perfunctory. Edmond Roudnitska, great historical perfumer, has thirteen perfumes to his name, while Alberto Morillas has over four hundred. People are just churning them out these days, and it's impossible to see how this degree of output could be worth it. The perfumery explosion has proven to be a supernova, and when it started back in the 2000s, people had no idea that it would continue into the twenties unabated. At this point the question of "newness" is worth a look, because how much of what we smell is innovative and interesting and not superfluous and conformist? 
Ultimately this new Guide is as fun to read as it is well-written, and I appreciate the new edition to my library. But I go forth wondering how much of what I've read is honest opinion, and how much is Turin trying to steer the ship, so to speak. By uptalking Kerosene and browbeating Roja, is he attempting to persuade us into exploring indie micro-brands and dissuade us from buying from larger and flashier "luxe" houses? If so, why? The folks who like niche perfumes tend to enjoy both worlds. Me? I think that a good designer, especially a vintage designer, is probably leagues better than a new niche frag any day. 


Revisiting Nautica Voyage After Ten Years

It's been ten years since I visited this one, and a lot has changed in that time. I used to think Nautica Voyage was a generic hum-drum thing, and to some degree my assessment hasn't changed. But there are degrees of prosaism, and Voyage inhabits a realm where ordinary components are made new again. Here Maurice Roucel's clever arrangement of pedestrian aroma chemicals resembles a grand floral aquatic fougère. 

The funniest review for Voyage on Fragrantica is written by "sebastiang071": "Amazing freshie for the price as long as you don't mind smelling like everyone's ex." And that's the trouble with run-of-the-mill aquatics. They usually wind up smelling more like someone instead of something. And what if that someone isn't so great? Do the unpleasant associations attributed to that person rub off on you? Can a fragrance steal your identity? Voyage has been worn to death in the last fifteen years, and at this point people will too-easily recognize its blustery array of aromatic florals and musks as a familiar trail through the sea of people. I recognize it as a thing, namely a rehash of Cool Water.

I get the same dihydromyrcenol twang, with a very similar cold-pressed bouquet of lavender, neroli, muguet, jasmine, and violet, intermingled with green apple and hints of woodiness, a requisite in a masculine. This wasn't novel in 2006, but it took the Cool Water model a few steps further into Millennial gender-bender territory. Roucel's use of crisp cucumber and sea-salty aquatic notes served to push and pull the corners of mediocrity into something that resembles "interesting." Luca Turin labels Voyage as a "floral masculine," presumably because there are recognizable florals filtered through its aquatic haze, but I struggle with the idea that it is unusually floral. Sure, it has florals, but with such a basic dihydromyrcenol accord undergirding everything, what else should anyone expect from this? It isn't going to be an earthy-woody patchouli, a spicy oriental, or a rugged chypre, so all that's left are fruity-floral and watery tones.

I'd recommend Nautica Voyage to anyone who laments Coty's reformulation of Cool Water. Roucel picked up where Bourdon left off, and used a bright cucumber note to make this segue. Cucumber notes were once unconventional, but now they're pretty commonplace, varying from smelling semi-sweet to sour-green. Voyage uses the former approach (see Paris Hilton for Men for the latter), but I like how it adds a touch of beachside highball cooler to its sea-side atmosphere. 


Ungaro Pour L'Homme III (Emanuel Ungaro)

For the full
rundown on exactly what the Ungaro fragrances are, read my review of Ungaro Pour L'Homme II, which explains that this house issues re-badged Chanels. Ungaro pour L'Homme I and II were both discontinued years ago, but III is still produced and distributed via Interparfums. I've always believed that III was the brand's bestseller, because why else would it live on? The first two fragrances were familiar throwbacks, aromatic lavenders with robust Italianate flourishes of woods, herbs, and musks. But III was the only one of the bunch that was truly weird, and it has continued to captivate imaginations since its release in 1993. 

Ungaro pour L'Homme III's top note is vodka. I'm skeptical when a brand cites booze as a note. Cheap materials that are lazily rendered are often stand-ins for a broad spectrum of liquors, with whatever green or floral notes they were meant to convey made hopelessly muddled by inchoate sweetness. Still, the poison of choice is usually some form of whisky. But vodka? Yeah, that's a twist. Adding to the spectacle is my suspicion that the house might go so far as to simply put actual vodka in the formula, just to lend the note some extra clarity (pardon the pun). Indeed, it does smell as if III is pure vodka for the first ten seconds of wear, although that effect is rapidly embellished by a gentle wave of woody citrus and soft herbal accents that quickly grow in intensity. The weirdness is tamed. 

Within fifteen minutes it becomes clear that III is an exercise in nineties camp: a linear citronellol that one or two reviewers out there have accurately pegged as "the smell of eighties off-label bug spray." We could be accommodating to Ungaro's vision and pretend this is a "gothic rose" or something, but why bother? Anyone with five minutes of experience in this game knows a good citronella/dihydrogeraniol accord when they smell it. This one is the loudest and most obvious I've ever encountered, and it behaves like an image in a Magic Eye book. At a glance it looks like backyard candles. But stare hard enough, and a neon rose appears in 3-D. This one is wine-like, fruity, spicy, and rather fun. A Martian merlot on a box wine budget? Brilliant!