Siberian Rose (Fragrance du Bois)

Fragrance du Bois has only been around for ten years, and in that time they've collaborated with a YouTube reviewer, released "pure ouds," and set a high standard for perfume packaging. I tend to look askance at brands that prioritize packaging over content, and even more so at those that partner with twenty-something females on YouTube for social media clout, but the firm employs fourteen well-known perfumers, so I figure there must be something there. Siberian Rose is part of their "Nature's Treasures" collection, which FdB says is "simply an original collection of hand-blended perfumes using only the finest and sustainably sourced natural ingredients." I read this, and had to know more.

Siberian Rose's opening is a very natural ehtyl maltol and pink pepper affair, which is an interesting combination, both sugary-sweet and piquantly sweet. The cotton-candy element dances with the spices in a way I've never smelled in nature. In that first minute, I'm wondering if I'm dealing with another Angel clone, but luckily my initial fears are unfounded. Eventually fir and oak moss cut in, with a hint of cinnamon and leather in the periphery. The leather note intensifies and seems to become the main player, but that only lasts for fifteen minutes, after which a juicy pear note appears and envelopes everything in fruity esters. I find this stage interesting, because it presages a dry and somewhat powdery rose, and the rose hugs the fruit closely enough to imbue it with a woody and vaguely cidery tang. I've encountered this effect in other woody roses, like Guerlain's Rose Barbare, Azzaro's Acteur, and Banana Republic's Oud Mosaic. 

Perfumes that do rose the way these frags do rose are doing it right. Look, the smell of straight rose is pretty unmistakable, and it asks for artistry. Most brands turn to fruits and musks that turn the flower neon, but a few are smart enough to offer a more "grown-up" interpretation. We all like our standard-issue fruity florals, and there's nothing wrong with that. But eventually we need a dose of high culture, and Fragrance du Bois has followed the French chypre tradition of seventies haute couture to its logical endpoint, a stunning woody and mossy rose that isn't above having a little fun. 


Creed Broke People's Brains. I love it.

Perfume criticism is the bastard child of critical writing, although it has all the same smatterings of expository rumination and philosophical sermonizing as other, more popular forms. One of the things that struck me about the fragrance community when I first joined it is its collectively derogatory stance on the house of Creed. I thought it was inarguably strange that so many esteemed writers felt it was necessary to harp on what was Creed's relatively benign form of advertising: attributing perfumes to famous dead people. It was as if the act of citing a long-deceased queen as being a wearer of something like Jasmine Imperatrice Eugenie was a crime against humanity. How dare they besmirch the dead with such lies? And how dare Olivier suggest the perfumery began in 1760, when it clearly got its start in the 1970s? This cannot stand!

The truth is that it is wrong to lie about such things, but it's also wrong to question them to no end. When answers are available, our civic duty is to dig them up and hold them aloft for all to see. In the case of Creed, much digging was done, and several answers were found and revealed to the world. We now know that Olivier isn't really much of a perfumer. We know that Erwin isn't, either. And we know that Olivier didn't want to continue his family's tradition of tailoring clothing for the wealthy, and instead wished to invest in fine fragrance, which formally launched his career sometime in the early seventies. All of this has come to light, thanks in part to Gabe Oppenheim's The Ghost Perfumer: Creed, Lies, & the Scent of the Century, and in larger part to years of fanatical hand-wringing on social media and perfume threads. People have submitted photographs of Creeds from the seventies and eighties, and have gone to great lengths to figure out the family's "royal warrants," so in terms of its veracity, the brand now stands corrected. 

These are the ends to which Creed has been questioned, and there are precious few others outstanding. We still don't know who authored some of the earliest Creeds, and a number of the discontinued "Grey Cap" EDTs. We still don't know how much involvement Olivier really had in the development of the Millésime range, aside from his being an expert evaluator. Nobody has any clue about whether Olivier fairly paid his perfumers, and Oppenheim's logical inconsistencies and clear misreading of some of those facts puts his account in question. And when it comes to the brand itself, there is only so far back one can go before the haziness of time obscures every detail, at which point it is only right to say, "I don't know." Did Creed really start in the seventies? I don't know. Did Creed tailor fragrances for deceased kings and queens, as they seem to today? I don't know. Where did Royal English Leather come from? I don't know. How has Olivier managed to steer the ship so easily through the fraught waters of the contemporary beauty industry, to the tune of $3.7 billion? I don't know. Is he some kind of genius? I should know, but I don't. 

If openly admitting to having no firm knowledge of Creed's provenance in perfumery beyond the 1970s is our heuristic for understanding the Creed that exists today, it could easily be argued by critics that Creed wants it that way. After all, the less we know, the murkier the picture is, the easier it will be for the company to continue fibbing and exaggerating to further its financial gains. But in the absence of evidence that Creed's fragrance legacy preceded the Nixon-Ford administration, should I consider that evidence of absence? That Creed was never a part of the rich tapestry of perfumery that was being woven through the twentieth century? My biggest problem with this is, and has always been, their eau de toilette line. The "Grey Caps," as they're nicknamed by aficionados, seemed to spring out of nowhere. How did Royal Scottish Lavender come into being, if not by some old dusty recipe that Creed had tucked in the family album somewhere? What about Baie de Genièvre? Ambre Cannelle? Angelique Encens? 

And how exactly did Olivier kickstart the brand with so many gorgeous compositions? When has that ever happened to anything other than a house with a long legacy and plenty of practice? Olivier is being given more credit by his critics than they realize when they attribute his entire oeuvre to commercial malpractice and stolen valor. They're essentially saying that the man was brilliant enough to compile perfumers from the tops of their classes, and get them to formulate one beautiful olfactory piece after another, using only the highest quality materials, and all before niche perfumery was even a twinkle in the public's eye. You have to remember that the EDTs were all pre-nineties, and all very expensive, right out of the gate. Who was going to buy them if they didn't have the brand recognition and cache of their more formidable competitors, the Chanels, and Guerlains, and Diors? In what world does a guy with strictly a tailoring background just say, "I'm going to start a perfume business, and the first ten perfumes are all going to be minor masterpieces," and after he successfully realizes this goal, uses them to fund the company's growth through the following five decades? 

The lack of clarity there, coupled with the lack of credibility to the alternative view (that Creed is little more than a fragrant house of cards), has embedded itself in the subconscious of the fragrance community, and it irks them in their sleep. For example, take a look at the blogger "Kafkaesque," and his 2013 review of Aventus, in which he writes: 
"I think it's an extremely pleasant, elegant, refined fragrance that is also linear, simple, mundane, ultimately unexciting, and not worth the cost." 
These are the words of a broken brain. If a perfume is "extremely pleasant," and "extremely elegant," and "extremely refined," then it is, by that definition, very much worth the cost. It can't be those things, and also "linear," and "simple," and "mundane." Sorry, but no. It does not compute. His assertion is self-contradictory, and cancels itself out. Aventus can be the first three things, or it can be the last five things, but it can't be all eight of those things. The writer is clearly hedging here, but it's the worst kind of hedge, the one where he's afraid to say that he doesn't really understand something, and so he blames it for his own shortcomings, and damns it with faint praise. Aventus is a game-changer perfume that every brand since 2010 has chased after, but it's "unexciting, and not worth the cost." 

He isn't alone. When you peruse popular blogs, you find that their writers intentionally leave Creed out, or do the bare minimum acknowledgment of it. It's still en vogue to say that Creeds "don't last," even though saying that about a Creed is akin to taping a card that says "My nose doesn't work" to your forehead (Creeds are generally quite strong after proper maceration). It's the "Trumpification" of a brand, with Creed being the dreaded Orange Man, and no journalist worth his salt can be caught dead typing a positive word about it. Creed is the unlikable and obnoxious red-headed step child of the niche industry, and if you want to be taken seriously, make sure you shit all over the brand as much and as often as you possibly can without being overtly unlikable and obnoxious yourself. 

Am I suggesting that it's wrong to criticize Creed? Of course not. My point here today is to say that it's wrong to criticize Creed to no end, and it has been established that the end point of all knowledge, and all possibility of gleaning further knowledge, is Zeste Mandarine Pamplemousse. This first eau de toilette was packaged in vintage aftershave-style bottles that I used to see on eBay back in the 2000s, when Olivier was still trying to put his personal stamp on the brand, with the blue "Olivier Creed" label slapped on the front. Naysayers will point to Guerlain's royal offerings, and how they're inventoried in their historical glory at the Osmotheque in France, as if somehow Guerlain's path should have intersected with Creed's at some point, and we should be finding the exact same evidence there, when in fact we're not. The much simpler theory, that Creed perfumes from the early twentieth century and beyond were likely just private bespoke affairs, is never part of their lexicon, and for good reason - it makes too much sense. 


Armaf is Breaking People's Brains. I love it.

Armaf is doing very interesting things lately. I could get into the "how" of it, but the answer is simple: money. The UAE is an oil-rich country where the money is so abundant that it flows into stupid things, like cheap perfume. Thus, something like Club de Nuit Sillage, which costs ten dollars an ounce, can prompt Westerners to elide their thinking about genuinely exorbitant stuff with drugstore Arabian fare. 

This leads to members of Fragrantica deluding themselves into thinking that there are "batch variations" and significant reformulations of Armaf frags. Let me get this out of the way: there are neither. Every brand has batches, but 99% of them are merely quality control numbers, with no discernible difference in smell. Creed is an outlier in that they intentionally varied fragrance compositions from batch to batch, which led to perennial speculation on the supposed differences in character and quality from year to year, especially for the big sellers like Aventus and Millésime Impérial. 

As to the conjecture about reformulations, which isn't uncommon in this community, I would point out that most of the Club de Nuit range is new and still under the radar, where these frags will likely stay for many years to come, so I can't see any benefit in reformulating them. Before you shout at me, remember that we here in the fragrance community are not representative of the larger population, which has never heard of Armaf. We're also not in Dubai, where the mentality is to increase budgets, so if anything, Armaf would hopefully improve their offerings via reformulation. 

Fragrantica user "bandofthehawk999" wrote of Sillage:
"I own the original formula (Black atomizer 2020<) and the new formula (Silver Atomizer 2021<). In short get the older batches (Black atomizer) this one actually fits all the praise and good comments below. Actually smells like SMW. Avoid the new batches 2021 onwards, they are not it. 

This prompted a few members to follow up with offhand comments about which batch they were reviewing, based apparently on the color of the atomizer, as if this is some definitive marker of a formula change, instead of its just being that Armaf listened to the criticism, voiced by several reviewers on YouTube, that the black atomizer clashes with the silver bottle. Suddenly we should all seek out bottles with black atomizers, if we really want something that approximates Silver Mountain Water by Creed. 

This is clearly crazy. But there you have it. I happen to have a bottle with the silver sprayer, and maybe my nose is broken, but my side-by-side comparison of Sillage to SMW put Sillage on top. It smells 98% exactly like the Creed, with the only differences being more muted top notes, and what is clearly a much older version of SMW in the drydown, versus the current Creed formula, which is miles away from what SMW used to be. Sillage is richer, deeper, brighter. 

Another funny phenomenon is the high number of people who claim that Armafs need to "macerate" in their bottles, preferably with the caps off, after "wasting a few sprays" to let air in, and "sitting for a few months in the dark." Now, I happen to be one of the voices that championed this reality with Creeds several years ago. A fellow blogger and several members of Basenotes criticized me when I said that Creeds start out weak and get much stronger the longer they sit, especially after air is introduced to the bottle. My observation was derided as a nonsensical fiction, and I was perpetuating it because I didn't get how stupid it is for a company to release a product that self-improves. 

Of course I was right about it all along, and in the years since then, it has become standard practice for people to openly admit to letting their Creeds macerate in-bottle after initial use. Apparently the same is now true for Armaf perfumes. I've had firsthand experience with this with my bottle of Milestone. When I first tried it, it smelled good but very strong, very floral, and it resembled Chez Bond more than Millésime Impérial. After two years of sitting in my dark basement, the fragrance has relaxed, note separation has dramatically improved, and the heart and base smell nearly identical to MI. 

Some people can handle that, and others can't. Sillage seems to need maceration less than Milestone, at least to my nose, but maybe it will improve over time. Armaf is a brand that does things differently; instead of dumping their budget into top notes and letting the rest slide, they go half-hearted on their tops and whole-hog on their bases, which is where Sillage really shines. Something tells me Armaf will release a new Club de Nuit in the next year or so, and I'm excited to see which Creed they go after next. 

Just the fact that they go after Creed at all is enough to drive many people nuts. It's funny to read review after review that slams Club de Nuit (Whatever) for being "nothing like" whatever they're cloning. With most clones, this is true, but things are very different with the Club de Nuit line. These aren't your average clone perfumes, and they absolutely are eating Creed's lunch. The money is there for it, and they're spending it wisely. 


Honeysuckle Eau de Toilette (Caswell-Massey)

Honeysuckle, like lilac and lily of the valley, is impossible to distill, which means perfumers must "reconstruct" its headspace aroma using a variety of unrelated materials. The soundest formula for honeysuckle (from Poucher's) includes things like nerol (from neroli), jasmine absolute, heliotropin, and methyl anthranilate, all of which are assembled into the honey-sweet lilt of flowers in the genus Lonicera. 

Caswell-Massey has a formidable line of soliflore EDTs in its range, and I was drawn to their Honeysuckle scent, as the last time I smelled a truly great honeysuckle perfume was in 2011, Creed's Chevrefeuille Original, which has since been vaulted. Chevrefeuille smelled of musky white florals atop a lush base of dewey greens with a hint of fennel, but some reviewers complained that it wasn't anything like real honeysuckle. I figured I'd give Caswell-Massey's a try, and to be honest, it smells like they used Poucher's formula, at least as a starting point. My nose picks up distinct twinges of neroli and jasmine, along with green-grassy methyl naphthyl ketone (orange blossom), all of which are conjoined by various aldehydes and esters into something that approximates the vividly indolic sweetness of the real thing. Spring in a bottle. 

The scent continues in linear fashion for about five or six hours, although longevity isn't stellar. Soliflores are the a capella singing of perfumery, where the olfactory identity of a single flower is expected to shine without the support of backing notes. It's difficult to judge them, because their success or failure rests on the skill of the perfumer, and I tend to think any perfumer brave enough to tackle a soliflore deserves the benefit of the doubt. Caswell-Massey's Honeysuckle is very good, perhaps a bit too close to jasmine, but still quite languid, sweet, and natural from start to finish. 


Aventus Cologne (Creed)

Creed claims that "Aventus" is an ancient word for "success," or at least that's what they're pushing nowadays. They said it was an Esperanto word, back when the fragrance was first issued in 2010, and Esperanto is a modern language, so the story has definitely changed there. Either way, the concept matches the perfume; after about an hour on skin, Aventus smells like paper money, that weirdly musty and inky odor that emanates from USDT greenbacks, an implicitly vulgar stroke of subliminal marketing genius.  

Nine years after the original release, Creed inexplicably flanked Aventus with Aventus Cologne. I say "inexplicably," because by that point everyone and their cousin had copied, cloned, and even (in Armaf's case) out-flanked their cash-cow. The last thing anyone needed was for Creed itself to put out another iteration of the pineapple king. It does bear mentioning that Aventus is built on the chassis of a proprietary Creed musk, which Olivier took to a then up-and-coming perfumer named Jean-Christophe Herault, who had just finished an eponymous composition for Canali with a prominent pineapple note. Ever the opportunist, Olivier supposedly told Herault that working for him would shift the younger man's career into overdrive, and while that promise has borne itself out, I wonder if Pierre Bourdon reached out to give junior some advice. Five years earlier, the master perfumer had crafted Thé Brun, a fruity-smoky piece for downmarket hipster brand Jean-Charles Brosseau, and while Thé Brun doesn't smell anything like Aventus, there are inklings of what Herault did in its starkly floral opening and exceedingly dry, smoky base.

Comparisons and conjecture aside, Aventus Cologne is a bit of a mystery, even for Creed. Why does this perfume exist? The same proprietary musk of the original is used again, and it yields the exact same crystalline woods effect of walking through a birch forest in late November, only this time with mandarin orange, ginger, and pink pepper instead of pineapple. I get the pepper first, the orange second, and not much of the ginger, and that top endures for a surprisingly long while. When it dissipates, I'm left with a lighter, gentler, cleaner Aventus, still the heartthrob gentleman I remember. My one quibble is that the whole experience coalesces into something undeniably cut from a department store designer cloth, like an upgraded mall fragrance, odd for a Creed. Or is it? 


Creation de Minuit (Ted Lapidus)

Leave it to Parfums Lapidus to release something in 2015 that looks and smells like it was released in 1992. Creation de Minuit ("Midnight Creation") is in fact a flanker to the original 1984 Creation, which was itself reissued and given a facelift with an entirely different formula in 2011. Looking at it now, I'm tickled that Lapidus execs opted for a convincingly dusty reboot of the original round and wavy bottle for this line, with this particular entry shrouded in black with gold trim. Then again, the original Lapidus pour Homme came in hefty marbled glass, also with gold trim, so this shouldn't surprise me. 

Creation de Minuit seems to have been pitched primarily to Spanish-speaking regions, as the only YouTube reviews that come up are in that language. I've never seen this line in America, and was surprised when it showed up on eBay. It's entirely possible it's been in North American markets for years and never broke out into the mainstream. If I had to guess, I'd say its popularity is stunted by its laser-like focus on two notes, blackberry and musk, and since there's only a minuscule niche for that (Mûre et Musc), Lapidus may find it a little hard to compete. I'm always surprised that this brand doesn't get more attention; Lapidus perfumes are well made, clearly use top-shelf designer chems, and give you an incredible bang for buck, with most under five dollars an ounce. This one flounders in near anonymity, while others get the lion's share of internet chatter. Nearly no one discusses Creation de Minuit online, yet it has an insanely well-rendered blackberry note. 

It is the most blackberry-heavy fragrance I've ever worn. The first five minutes are hyper-realistic blackberry, a tart, semi-sour, semi-sweet fruitiness, dark and velvety smooth, juicy but mouth-puckering, just like the real thing. Astonishing in something so cheap! The fruity sweetness lingers the longest, and settles on a floral musk accord, where the budget starts to show, although for at least an hour, Creation de Minuit is believably sedate and natural. I've encountered this musk before, a heady and somewhat weird sweetness, redolent of heliotrope and white flowers. It was definitely in Joop! Homme, only here it's fresher and lighter. Its freshness goes sour as the day progresses, and by evening the blackberry has vanished and left only a bare white musk on my skin. 

Lapidus was aiming high, but blackberry is a tough target to hit on a budget. This fragrance is fruity, a little sweet, and kind of fresh, but fresh in a murky nineties style, sort of like the blackcurrant note in Silver Mountain Water was surgically removed and transplanted into something with no supporting act. After the fruitiness subsides, around three hours in, Creation de Minuit simply gets vaguely floral and increasingly sour, and at no other stage does another clearly discernible note emerge. Perversely, I like it. Look, if you're someone who wakes up in the morning and says to himself, "Let's go with blackberry today," you'll likely embrace the artistry behind all the sweet and sour off-notes of a true blackberry perfume, even if some of them end up smelling a little like hairspray. 


Is Nautica Life a Bleu de Chanel Clone?

If you hop
on Fragrantica and read reviews for Nautica Life (2014), you'll find that a sizable number of them compare it to Bleu de Chanel (2010). I thought this was interesting, because there are a limited number of things that get compared to BdC, despite its being a resounding success. Unlike Drakkar Noir and Cool Water, Bleu hasn't been cloned to death, with only the occasional copycat appearing over the past thirteen years. 

Nautica is one of those slightly downmarket designer brands that had one massive success (Voyage) and countless minor "meh" frags that people buy as Christmas presents for cousins and nephews. All of them are "fresh" fragrances that are either blue or blue-grey in color, and they all tend to lean in the aquatic direction. I spotted a small bottle of Life on eBay for under fifteen dollars, so I purchased it, wondering if it was indeed a sleeper clone of BdC. But frankly, I'm more interested in if it isn't a clone at all, and is merely being misrepresented as one by clueless noses on Fragrantica. It's easy to say something smells like something else, but at some point you have to show receipts. 

When I received my bottle, it was an advertisement for cheapness. The outer plastic had peeled off the box, which was dented in one corner. The cap doesn't stay on the bottle, and the bottle has a minor leak around the atomizer. It's a solid glass bottle, which in itself isn't cheap, but between the drips and the useless cap, it feels every bit like a chintzy cheapo. The juice is a very light grey-blue, almost clear, and the vaporizer stem is shrouded in a material meant to resemble sailor's rope. I actually like that little touch. I gave it a couple of spritzes, and had to prime the atomizer, which meant it was genuinely new. What hit my skin was surprising, and I had to hunker down with this scent to understand it. 

The top notes are sea salt, lime, ginger, and sage. All of those notes are evident in the first minute. The salt effect is very pronounced, as is the sage, with the citrus and ginger elements secondary. Ten minutes later, it dries down to a base that smells a lot like the top, but with a distinctly woodier quality, slightly spicy, and ensconced in lingering sage, ginger, and salt. The saltiness alludes to a marine dimension, while the sage and ginger form a weirdly woody undercurrent that Nautica claims is "hinoki wood," a Japanese aromatic wood. None of this smells blatantly like Bleu de Chanel, but the more it dries down, the more I can smell the comparison. Still, I think Life is its own thing. 

My sense is that the pairing of ginger and dry woody notes is what spurs people to compare Life to Bleu, which also pairs ginger and woods. But the Chanel is a rich, multifaceted masterpiece, with discernible layers of vetiver, incense, cedar, labdanum, and patchouli. It smells vibrant and fresh, while also smoky and dry, with its material quality obvious, and its profile unmistakable. If I have to search for Bleu de Chanel in something, it doesn't smell like it. While Life does have a vaguely similar mating of camphoraceous ginger and dry wood, the stars of the show are salt and sage, both of which push through the strongest. Life is also far simpler, and its gentle waftings of herbs and residual sea salt are reminders that whoever put the scent together had the sense to keep it basic. 

Would I recommend Nautica Life to a fragrance aficionado? Probably not, but if the subject of inexpensive "quasi-aquatics" of the last fifteen years came up, I would mention it. Aquatics really hit their stride in the 2000s, with Bulgari's Aqua pour Homme setting the bar for what would be fifteen years of Bulgari wannabes, nearly all in the designer market, and most for under ten dollars an ounce. Things like Guess Man and Montblanc Starwalker were standard woody-fresh masculines of the era, all alluding to the aquatic, but without going full-bore into it (they contain "watery" notes). Life, coming later in the game, carries on that tradition, with obvious non-aquatic notes of herbs and woods, tinged with sea salt and bitter citrus, which in this case smells a bit sour, but sort of works. 


Town & Country (Clive Christian)

Winston Churchill wore this? 

When I hear the name "Town & Country," I think of Chrysler's minivans, the ones with the frumpy front ends and disproportionately small-looking tires. Seeing it printed on a Clive Christian bottle sends me spiraling into cognitive dissonance. This is another niche house where the packaging looks like it was designed by a small army, mostly by committee, but at least in part by someone's gay cousin. It's flashy, colorful, gaudy, and Rococo, a combination of aesthetics that is in equal measure alluring and repulsive. 

Fifty milliliters of the stuff will set me back $450, which is a blah zone for niche nowadays, although the brand is known for asking up to and beyond $1k for some bottles, in part because, again, flashy packaging, and also due to their supposed historical pedigree (they own the Crown Perfumery Company). At its price, my expectations are for nothing short of the absolute best, a Katara Tower of scent. Town & Country opens with a pedestrian top accord of bigarade and crab apple, which bites until the fruitier elements have morphed into an exceedingly dry and aromatic clary sage. So far, so meh. 

Within twenty minutes, this sagey phase bulks up, until the full thrust of the composition's heart has emerged, a robust woody amber with slightly retro connotations, thanks to a familiar old-school musk undergirding it all. It's that apple-pie musk of the late eighties and early nineties, the sort of thing found in designer masculines of that era, except here it is smoothed out, its rougher animalic edges sanded down, with only the drier and woodier elements remaining. There's a soft mineralic quality in there also, a touch of real ambergris, just enough to add a bit of texture and shimmer. Not bad. 

Sadly, there isn't much else to this stuff. After six hours, Town & Country evolves in linear fashion into a lighter version of its woody and ambery heart, which elevates the musk and lends it a somewhat cheap feeling. Whoever composed this perfume did not want it to smell spicy or loud, but opted for a blended and discreetly stuffy vibe, and while that makes every stage feel serious and mature, it lacks distinction, and has no sense of fun. It's a very "churchy" scent, something you'd wear to a requiem mass or while fasting, i.e., not something you'd bring to a picnic. For this kind of cashola, I need to be smiling. 


Aqua Media Cologne Forte (Maison Francis Kurkdjian)

I always find it interesting when people compare the same two fragrances en masse, especially when there's a huge price disparity between them. There is presently a $219 difference between Francis Kurkdjian's Green Tea (Elizabeth Arden), and his recent niche creation, Aqua Media Cologne Forte, yet when I smell the latter, I find myself thinking of the former, just as the other hundred some-odd people on Fragrantica do. 

Interestingly, AMCF has the same basic structure as Arden's cheapo, but with added herbal-green flourishes of fennel and cilantro, which distort the sleek citrus-tea profile for the first two hours of wear, and disguise all traces of Kurkdjian's 1999 hit. Yesterday my girlfriend and I were musing over it, and I mentioned that I usually enjoy when perfumes accurately replicate things found in nature, only here I resemble a guacamole bowl, which truly challenges my resolve. The cilantro note is perfectly rendered, nearly identical to sticking my nose in the real stuff, but who wants to spend their days emanating cilantro? The fennel is also pitch-perfect, albeit a bit subtler. With a hint of lime juice sloshing in the periphery, these herbs shout, "I'm a walking dip recipe!" 

Fortunately this effect only endures for the first two hours (maybe a bit less with modest application), and the citrusy green tea accord, labeled "matcha" on the official notes list, finally comes forward. The fragrance relaxes and sweetens a bit, channeling the same vague florals that are found in Arden's scent, allowing the wearer to enter a new phase of clean-green that is far less suggestive of Mexican takeout. It's a bright and sunny experience, an olfactory interpretation of dawn peering through clouds while a barista whisks a mug of Japanese brew. AMCF's tea note is far better realized than Arden's ever was, and for the remaining five hours of the day, all I smell is papery green tea, a hint of lemon-like citrus, and some floral sweetness, which is probably Hedione. It smells rather luxurious in its unremitting freshness, and I like it. 

Kurkdjian is often criticized for leaning too heavily on nondescript "fresh" and "clean" compositions, with his many Aquas being labeled "boring" and "more of the same" from critics, but I suspect that he's deliberately aiming for "boring." My guess is that he's trying to appeal to a younger audience, knowing that they'll be buying for far longer than Gen-Xers and Millennials. I think it's a wise strategy, and judging by the quality of Aqua Media Cologne Forte, I'd say his brand will remain popular for many years to come. 


Starwalker (Montblanc)

Photo by Manfred Heyde
Every so often I encounter a fragrance that everybody gets wrong. In this case it's Starwalker by Montblanc, which literally every single person on Fragrantica says "smells like Versace Man Eau Fraiche." Here's the thing: Starwalker is from 2005; the Versace was released in 2006. So VMEF smells like Starwalker. It came after Starwalker. It copied Starwalker. Starwalker came first. Jesus, people. Doesn't anybody check dates? 

Several reviewers compare Starwalker to spas and zen gardens. They claim that its one distinctive quality is a prominent bamboo top note. They say it smells very citrusy, but also "woody" and "weak." These descriptions are all a little off. First of all, what the heck does fresh bamboo smell like? Does it smell good? Does anybody know? Don't buy this based on its supposed bamboo note. That one's a grey area, especially here. 

I smell a blaring ginger and grey citrus (chemical) accord in the top, with just a hint of bergamot, so I don't know where all the bamboo is, because it's not here. And speaking of that very loud ginger note, it presages the overall loudness of the heart accord, which is basically residual ginger and cedar, a hint of fir, and Ambroxan. Yes, Ambroxan, in a fairly lithe dose, smelling something like a fictional "Sauvage Lite" with a wry attitude and blue instead of black jeans. Simple, approachable, unpretentious, a touch wishful. 

Does it smell good? I guess, but it smells bland. Perhaps one could say that a zen garden should smell bland, because how do you meditate if distracted by scent? Starwalker isn't engaging, it just smells "safe." Its fresh, camphoraceous opening is followed by a politely-assembled grey-brown drydown, an ending to a story that you slept through. 


Forbidden Games (By Kilian)

"You're a real peach, you know that?"

I'm always wary about brands that lavish extraneous effort on packaging. If it looks like two hundred hours and the entire crew of the Queen Mary 2 went into designing and manufacturing your box and bottle, how much energy was left for the perfume? 

By Kilian goes above and beyond to ensure their presentation is top-tier, and Forbidden Games comes in what is probably the most eye-pleasing bottle I've ever seen. This stuff looks so royal, all bedecked in gold plating and glossy white lacquer. Surely the perfume inside is extraordinary? Well, it's a basic fruity-floral. But, it's a superlatively made fruity-floral, so at least there's that. It opens with a mouth-watering explosion of juicy and extra-sweet peach and plum nectar, and then swirls into a crisp apple juice accord that literally smells like a Mott's bottle for the better part of two hours. Eventually a touch of rose and powdery vanilla try to balance out the intense fruit, but this happens after the peach has returned in force, so no dice. This thing is a guided missile of fruitiness, so take cover. 

Its stones and pomes are loud, bright, vulgar, and the spare nuances of floral and vanillic notes aren't enough to level things off. Forbidden Games boasts some of the most extreme fruit notes I've ever smelled, but with a Tang-level opacity that reminds me of better high and low-end alternatives: Spring Flower by Creed, and Fruit by Al Rehab. 


Brut After Shave with Aloe Vera (High Ridge Brands): It's 1977 Again.

As smooth as my face after a good shave.
Quick review here: High Ridge Brands (HRB) purchased Brut last year, and recently released their iteration of the product in both cologne and aftershave form, and it was hard not to notice this square bottle with the different label. Brut with Aloe Vera? I rubbed my eyes and did a double-take. What year is this? 1977? What's going on? Where am I? Another aftershave, another existential crisis, another dumb purchase. 

I've been mildly allergic to Helen of Troy's Brut for the past few years, thanks to an unfortunate experiment in which I combined different vintages of their product into one bottle and apparently overdosed on coumarin. But new Brut, new me. Time to try this new aftershave. I goes on with zero burn, probably due to the aloe vera, and smells surprisingly minty for the first ten seconds, almost like liquid spearmint. Much mintier than the cologne, although that has a subdued mint note also. Then it eases into a very fresh take on Brut, a smooth epidermis of clean musk and lavender powder. Not as dark and daring as I was hoping, but certainly an improvement over the crap they've been peddling for the last twenty years. I imagine if it sits for a decade, it'll get closer to eighties Brut 33. 

If you're a hardcore vintage Brut enthusiast, this new formula might not tickle your fancy as much as it could, although I wager you'll tolerate it in a pinch. For the rest of us, the people who enjoy Brut but have too many aftershaves anyway, and can't be bothered to split hairs over something with a 3% fragrance concentration, this is yet another terrific way to finish up at six a.m. The inclusion of aloe vera is a nice touch!


Brut Eau de Toilette (Unilever)

European versions of mass-market drugstore fragrances are usually pretty good, although I found the EU's Old Spice to be a bit underwhelming. Stuff like Canoe, Tabac, and Irisch Moos are all very good. Brut was originally by Fabergé Inc., which was actually the name of a famous French jewelry firm in the 19th century. In the 1940s, this prestigious name, which historians can trace back to the seventeenth century, was willfully pilfered by businessmen intent on using it to sell perfume. Eventually the Fabergé family discovered this, and a courtroom deal was struck, by which Fabergé's surviving family members would receive what would have been (when adjusted for inflation) $281,859. Hence, the name was legally acquired, and used to sell toiletries. 

In 1990, the wrangled Fabergé moniker was sold to Unilever, and Brut has been manufactured by Unilever in Europe ever since. (Other interests acquired Brut in North America and the Pacific Islands.) For some reason Unilever has marketed Brut under a fictitious brand name, "Parfums Prestige," and continues to do so, despite erasing it from the front of the box. A close look at the back of the bottle reveals that it is still a product of "Parfums Prestige," i.e., Unilever, and I have no idea why companies make such weird marketing choices for fragrances like this. Brut is what is known as "mass market," which means it is manufactured and distributed in massive numbers across the globe. My guess is that in order to market something this ubiquitous, and to keep track of which product is whose, companies feel they must use multiple layers of branding for product recognition. Europeans probably consider Brut to be an American product, but Fabergé Inc. was actually the brainchild of a Russian Jew named Samuel Rubin. 

In 1964, Rubin sold Fabergé Inc. for $26 million to George Barrie, a New York musician who was partnered with the hair products firm Rayette. The brand name was changed to Rayette-Fabergé Inc., and Barrie developed the original Brut EDT. Barrie was a savvy businessman, and is credited with inventing the celebrity endorsement campaign for fragrance, making Brut the first "celebuscent." Somehow he managed to get Cary Grant on board to promote Brut, which is hilarious considering Creed used to associate Grant with Green Irish Tweed, a fragrance he likely had nothing to do with. Various actors and athletes took turns promoting Brut through the years, and Kelly LeBrock did commercials for it in the nineties. Brut has always been associated with the NFL, Hollywood and television personalities, and yet it has never been seen as "high-end." 

Brut's basic fougère structure may have something to do with this. Unilever's formula is essentially identical to Helen of Troy's discontinued Brut Classic, except it's a bit smoother and better balanced. It's recognizably Brut, an unadorned fougère with a crisp lavender, citrus, geranium, and anise opening accord, which segues into a warmer coumarin and vanilla heart, atop a base of oakmoss and musk. Anyone familiar with Pinaud's Clubman and Dana's Canoe knows this piece well, and it plays as simply and directly as the rest, a powdery-sweet barbershop smell that winds up just a little muskier and maybe a touch more ambery than its contemporaries. I've always held that the beauty of Brut is in the drydown, where the faux "nitromusk" effect of animalic clean/dirty intermingles with a cool lavender whisper, for the ultimate manly effect. 


Absolu Aventus: Is Creed Finished?

Snazzy bottle, boring name.

Where lowly Brut, a drugstore cologne as ubiquitous as Q-tips, has benefitted greatly from a recent buyout via High Ridge Brands, questions are being raised as to whether the luxury house of Creed will see the same fate under its new proprietor, Kering. Having only been owned by BlackRock LTPC for about three years, the observing public bore witness to precious few changes under that marquee. Yet in the span of only a few months with Kering, there is a new perfume slated for release this autumn: Absolu Aventus. 

A few things strike me as odd about Kering. They have yet to list Creed as their brand on their website. Also, their site really, really sucks. Lots of awkward drop-downs with weirdly small type, and not much information. People in the fragcomm are whining about how Kering has done Balenciaga and Gucci dirty, and while the former has certainly suffered one travesty after another (a bunch of pedophilic fashion ads spring to mind), the latter hasn't really been that bad off. The Gucci Bloom line has been relatively successful and well received, and you could argue that the Gucci Pour Homme fragrances were at least noble attempts at great perfumery. One complaint that finds traction is with the company's inexperience with high-end niche perfumery, and people are understandably suspicious that Creed's perfumes will be degraded to Gucci-level designer quality. 

Absolu Aventus is a frightening start. The only good thing about it is it's being offered in a 2.5 oz bottle; I never understood why BlackRock ditched that size. It makes me wonder if Kering will bring back the 4 oz bottles, which would also be a good thing, although I'm not holding my breath, and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if they scrapped the 100 ml bottles altogether and made 75 ml the new standard size. The bottle is a glossy lacquered black, which also looks sharp, so okay. In regards to packaging, Kering is doing pretty well, but that's where the wins end. Another Aventus flanker? What's with that? Niche brands aren't supposed to churn out flankers. The whole point of niche is that their fragrances are one-of-a-kind. Flankers aren't luxurious. Flankers are for designers, things that are priced under $150 a bottle. We need another version of Aventus like we need another Cool Water or CK One Summer flanker. It's embarrassing, especially for a brand like Creed.

Then there's the notes breakdown. Absolu Aventus sounds like some sort of awkward clone of the original. Bergamot, blackcurrant, grapefruit? Cinnamon, ginger, cardamom? Vetiver, pink pepper? Jesus. Might as well just go back to 2010 and retread months and months of chads yapping on about how much of a "designer" frag Aventus is (for a Creed), and how much of a bangin' club-mix panty-dropper it is. Yes Kering, I want to relive the stories about how Aventus got some anonymous internet douchebag laid last Saturday. That sounds really, really great. I've been saying forever that I wish Creed would go back to basics and release perfumes that "luxe-up" old standards like Old Spice and Brut, and stop trying to cash in on the generic "fresh" frags of discount stores. In some ways, Viking (2017) was a stab at upgrading Old Spice, although I think it was also an attempt to update an early nineties spicy fougère theme, but sadly it was one of the last things the Creed family put out before all the wheeling and dealing started. 

Now Creed is no longer run by the Creed family, which raises big doubts about whether there's any point in viewing the brand as "Creed" any longer. Kering is yet another faceless corporate entity with little to no personal stake in upholding Creed's off-beat innovative spirit. Wind Flowers was a pathetic attempt by BlackRock at continuing the family tradition, a perfume in a cheap-looking bottle with a flatulence-inspired name. BlackRock thought Creed was broken and needed fixing, so they changed the bottle shape, added artificial coloring to the liquid for the first time in the brand's history, and released a Chanel-like fruity-floral that nobody really wanted. It's hard to see how Kering could do much worse, but if the future of Creed is Aventus flankers and more pointless fruity-florals using designer-grade chems, they might as well just discontinue the entire house and let us remember Creed as it was, before the "C" was replaced by a "G." 


Brut, Reborn. (Goodbye, Helen of Troy!)

This used to suck.
About a year ago, Helen of Troy, Limited quietly sold Brut to High Ridge Brands (Tengram Capital Partners), and nobody noticed. I had no idea until I spotted a Brut product that I'll be reviewing soon in a local Walmart. I noticed that it was a "new" product, distinct from any Brut I'd seen before, with different labelling, coloring, and pricing. This piqued my interest. After several years, time to revisit Brut.

I stopped at a Grocery Store and picked up a bottle of the "Splash-On" lotion, which so far is the only concentration of the non-aftershave HRB Brut that I've seen. Helen of Troy purchased the license for manufacture of Brut in North America on September 2nd, 2003, which marks about nineteen years of ownership, and I have to say, things didn't end up so well. From 2003 to 2012, Brut was pretty good. I have a bottle of cologne (not "Splash On") from that era, and it's brusquely aromatic and enjoyable. The "Splash On" version wasn't all that amazing, however. I'd follow the directions and splash it on, and it would smell like Brut for twenty seconds and promptly vanish without a trace. For those seeking a fuller and rounder experience, Brut "Classic" was available in the sixties glass bottle style with the silver chain. It boasted extra aromatics and an expansive coumarinic heart accord that was a step up from the drugstore packaging. 

Then, sometime between 2013 and 2017, Helen of Troy decided to reformulate Brut and repackage it with a fugly shield logo, and things got much suckier. The cologne had lost its aromatic edge and become flatter, sweeter, and cheaper in overall feel. The "Splash On" wasn't worth a squirt of piss, and I gave up on Brut. They discontinued Brut "Classic," and replaced it with Brut "Special Reserve," which was similar, but had lost the aromatic edge of its predecessor, and had a more muted coumarinic drydown. In retrospect, I probably should have bought a few bottles of Brut Black, which was a light and somewhat dull fougère, redeemed by an intense anise-licorice note. But regular old Brut had finally been cheapened to the point where it was no longer worth wearing. 

That final Helen of Troy formula must have been the tipping point for the company, and they divested their holdings of Brut in 2022. High Ridge Brands could have done the easy thing, and just kept the fragrance formula the same, and nobody would have been the wiser. It's exceedingly rare in today's world for a company to buy a product and improve it. Yet that's exactly what HRB did, in a surprise twist, by dialing the Brut formula back to . . . wait for it . . . 2000. You read that correctly: they have revived not the early Helen of Troy version, but the late Unilever version, the one I would sneak sniffs of in CVS as a teenager. (At the time, I thought Brut smelled bizarrely nasty.) If you doubt me, go ahead and get a new HRB bottle and smell for yourself. Be careful to check the label on the back for HRB's markings, as there are still many bottles of Helen of Troy's version lingering on shelves. 

I fully expected the "Splash-On" formula to be just as crappy as it's always been, but when I copped a sniff at the store, my eyebrows went up. Gone were the flat vanilla and musk notes, and in their place were crisp aromatics and even a hint of a faux nitromusk, which Unilever had been using for many years. The potency of the formula is unreal, as it literally swings from the spout and punches me in the nostrils. But would it actually perform? I took it home, splashed it on, and was immersed in a version of Brut that I haven't smelled in over twenty years. And yeah, it faded within five minutes, but not entirely! I ran some errands, to the bank, to a few stores, and ninety minutes after application a breeze caught my collar and wafted a gentle whiff of lavender to my nose. This formula actually endures, even as a "Splash On," the stuff that isn't supposed to linger. 

I'm not going to sit here and write that HRB has taken Brut back to the eighties and nineties, because they haven't. But they've taken it back to a time just prior to Helen of Troy, or at least to the H.O.T. formula from the early to mid 2000s. Brut ages in the bottle and gets burlier and muskier over time, so it's difficult to compare deep vintages to current stuff (scary that stuff from 2000 to 2005 is "deep vintage"), but if you could time travel back to 2000 and get your nose on a fresh bottle, it would smell a lot like the brand new 2023 bottle in my shave den. Keep up the good wok, HRB! You are on track to being the company that saves Brut, and brings a classic back to the mainstream. 


Sorry Reddit Trolls, Parfumo Isn't Happening. (And Basenotes Is All But Dead.)

Who has the best online fragrance database?

Recently I partook in a debate on Reddit's frag forum as to which site has the best fragrance database. Naturally there were three contenders: Basenotes, Fragrantica, and Parfumo. For the last twenty years, these three sites have been (to varying degrees) the most reliable go-to resources for information on perfume. 

I was surprised to see that a large number of participants in this discussion had major problems with Fragrantica. My unwavering opinion is that Basenotes is the crappiest. Eleven years ago, I was banned from Basenotes because I dared to make one complaint on Fragrantica about how badly the community had been treating me, and so naturally Grant's response to a public declaration of abuse was to further the abuse via a brazenly punitive ban. It was predicated on an unsupportable claim that I had violated his site's terms of use, even though his terms said nothing on the matter. 

When I attempted to rejoin, the url redirected me to a page that read: You no longer have access to Basenotes forums. Banned once, banned for good. I never forgot that. The mods made a major boo-bo when they banned someone with a fairly clear voice. Turns out that when you ban the author of a popular fragrance blog, word gets out. How's Grant's site doing today? Not great -- it's struggling. I'm thinking of a word that rhymes with the name of a city located at the coordinates of 44.8015° N, 10.3279° E. 

Reddit's thread revealed an interesting animus toward Fragrantica, which its trolls have apparently been cultivating for a while now. We live in strange times. I call it the Age of Funhouse Mirrors. For example, since 2016, we've been subjected to images of masked criminals dressed in black who attack civilians and destroy neighborhoods in the name of protesting "facism." We, the quiet ones, are the facists. Funhouse. Global bureaucrats fly their private jets and ride their limousine motorcades to assemblies where they decry "global warming." We, the folks who commute to work in cars we can barely afford, are held responsible. Funhouse. And Fragrantica, an online fragrance magazine with the most functional perfume database on the internet is "aesthetically stuck in the 2000s" and harbors "bad politics," and thus Parfumo is the place to go. Funhouse.

The charge on Reddit is that Fragrantica's politics are really terrible. That Fragrantica's editors and owners are very awful no-good people who are politically conservative and really really bad. That the site disseminates far-right messages via threads and articles and comments that are egged on by admin and spread by white supremacists who pose as members but are there to peddle hate, and thus the whole atmosphere on the site is "toxic" and very, very, very bad. And we're all just supposed to read these complaints and agree with those who are making them, and also agree that because of its politics, it's best to avoid Fragrantica altogether and go use Parfumo.com instead. 

These arguments were further bolstered by claims that Parfumo's database is far superior to Fragrantica's, and here is where I sat up in my chair. Parfumo's database is superior? News to me! Since when? Parfumo, the site with so few reviews that you literally have to advance-search for a perfume that someone has taken more than three seconds to comment on? Parfumo, the site with scads of useless pie charts that ostensibly reveal all sorts of useful info about each perfume? Parfumo, the site that lacks pictures for at least a third of the perfumes in its database? Parfumo, the site that just mimics the notes lists on Fragrantica with smaller pictures? Parfumo, the site that claims to have more than double the number of perfumes as the other sites, yet when you search for something relatively commonplace, it doesn't show up? That Parfumo? 

Here's the bitter truth about Parfumo, which the Reddit crowd didn't want to hear: it's been around as long as Fragrantica, and almost as long as Basenotes, and yet it has never taken off in the fragrance community. Go on YouTube and listen to the top reviewers there, and they invariably refer to Fragrantica for note breakdowns and release years. Look at some of the more "indie" writers and reviewers, and you'll find they have extensive reviews on Fragrantica. And if you do a basic search of something on Fragrantica, you'll find the perfume on a page that often has several pictures of the fragrance and enough info to tell you what you want to know. Even if the page lacks a release date and reviews, at least you'll know what the product looks like. 

Does Parfumo have a vaster database with more fragrances listed? Possibly. I have seen a discrepancy in the number of hits I get on Parfumo vs. Fragrantica, and often the latter doesn't have a fragrance, or has the fragrance in the wrong place, and sometimes with the wrong year. Fragrantica's database is very far from perfect, there's no arguing that. It has plenty of problems, and often those problems are so basic that they would take admin five minutes to rectify, yet they don't. So that's another valid complaint. But then there's just the practical fact of the matter: Fragrantica is more useful than Parfumo when referencing what a perfume is like. If I look up Coty's Truly Lace on Parfumo, I get one picture of the perfume, four pie charts that tell me nothing (apparently Truly Lace is 10% of everything to everyone, and ranks at 33% for three of the four seasons, whatever that means), and that's it. No reviews. No comments. No user-submitted photos. Nothing.

I hop on Fragrantica, call up Truly Lace, and voila! Two pics of the perfume, plus an ad for it, a clear notes list, easy-to-read bar graphs created by users, and twelve decent reviews, with several written by prolific and experienced members. If I search for Coty's Wild Citrus, it doesn't come up on Fragrantica, and that's a problem. It should be there. I shows up on Parfumo, sure, but when I click on the page, aside from one picture, what do I get? Nothing, not even the useless pie charts! So yeah, Parfumo's database fills in holes for various brands by having pages for more obscure fragrances, but without reviews and basic user-submitted data, what good does that really do me? I may be looking at a page for Wild Citrus, but it isn't telling me anything about it. It's utterly useless.

As for the supposedly terrible and awful and very bad politics of Fragrantica, I'm at a loss. I've been a member there for over ten years, and have been a faithful reader of their articles. I've never witnessed a single political exchange on the site. Not one. When the abortion debate was reignited in American politics, Fragrantica's home page banner read (and still reads) "Free to Choose," which is obviously a feminist reference to a woman's right to choose. Yet the Reddit crowd is going on about how it's code for an issue in the Ukraine war, and Julian Assange, and the Trucker Convoy in Canada, which doesn't make a lick of sense. "Free to Choose" to get the Covid vaccine? That's a stretch. 

"Free to Choose" is a center-left mantra, and certainly not a far-right catchphrase. All the flaming going on about how Fragrantica's administrators "spread hate" is typical left-leaning noise with nothing factual behind it. Tellingly, none of the accusations were backed by direct links to pages on Fragrantica where the hate is happening. I guess they don't have a database for that? Funhouse!


Green Tea (Alyssa Ashley)

For some unknown
reason, the 1990s was the decade of tea fragrances. Jean-Claude Ellena's iconic Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert (1992) famously combined ionone beta with hedione to form the scent of green tea, and it was a smash hit. Bulgari's scent was elegant and refined, but its imitators were often less so. Alyssa Ashley's Green Tea Essence (release date unknown) was born sometime after Arden's Green Tea (1999), but before the 2000s ozonic trend took off. Basenotes suggests 2002; Fragrantica says 2003. I say it was probably released between 2000 and 2002. Why? It looks and smells like it. 

It's odd, getting old. I remember thinking as a teenager in the late nineties and early 2000s that the world was full of "fresh" fragrances that blew old school frags out of the water. Think CK One overtaking Paco Rabanne Pour Homme. Now, as an adult, when I smell a nineties or pre-2003 fragrance, I'm often struck by how weird "fresh" was back then. Millennium freshness isn't 2020s freshness; it's a different animal. Imagine Christmas Shopping in a mall in 2002 and asking the clerk to smell the latest "fresh and clean" scent, and being handed a tester of Alyssa Ashley's Green Tea Essence. You spray it, and your nose is blasted by a searing flash of lemon and ginger, blended in a cloud of cheap aldehydes for a "fizzy" effect. Frigid, bitter, biting, unfriendly. 

This might sound conventional for a fresh tea scent, and it is, to a certain degree. But when the top notes fade off, are you left with a clean shower gel aquatic thing? No, this is 2002. What remains on your skin is the smell of stale water with an algae-like greenness and a whisper of citrus, a lemon wedge floating in a mug. The camphor quality of the ginger lingers without any of its aroma, and it's almost like you're wearing pond water. It's green, it's a little metallic, it smells sort of like tea, but also like a chlorinated swimming pool speckled with leaves. It's devoid of sweetness and vaguely sophisticated. You ask your shopping buddy: Doesn't everyone wear tea things these days? Yes? I'll take it. 

This swampy rendition of green tea is crude and aggressively aromatic without actually offering any clear herbal or lavender notes, which is rather rare. It's a prototypical late nineties "fresh" fragrance concept that somehow survived. Alyssa Ashley no longer calls it "Green Tea Essence," and the redesigned box and bottle look even more basic without the unisex symbol, but the scent hasn't been tampered with. As far as tea fragrances go, this one isn't very good, but it is a reference for what a typical freshie from the Millennium smells like. Three ounces goes for six bucks on eBay. 


The Brutal Truth About "Wet Shaver Scents"

Your lady may send it back.

I was amused to read a thread on Badger & Blade in which the OP stated that "None of the women in my life like [Pinaud] Clubman." He complained that his apparently majority female family members have summarily and repeatedly rejected his choice of Pinaud Clubman as SOTD. His problem has even expanded to extended family members, coworkers, and friends, with comments being made and sideways glances being cast whenever he wears Clubman aftershave. He wears it, he gets blowback. The poor guy. 

The respondents in the thread offered varying degrees of sympathy and compassion, and the heart strings do tug for this man, but I was struck by the feeling that he had stumbled upon an inevitable truth about life: women do not generally like old-school wet shaver aftershaves and colognes. I've written about this before. I mentioned it in comments (here and elsewhere) about Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez's Perfumes: The Guide, in which both authors repeatedly tell their readers to "just say no" to sporty "blue" fragrances, some of the worst fragrance advice I've ever seen. Many times on this website I've stated that women genuinely like fresh fragrances -- they want to smell fresh, and they want their men to smell fresh, and anything that challenges their postmodern (metamodern?) concept of freshness will either be seriously questioned or outright denied. 

In my review of one of Pineward's perfumes, I pointed out that men and women have vastly divergent tastes in fragrance, with men gravitating toward animalic aromatics, and women toward shampoo florals. This isn't a conspiracy against men, it's just reality. And for the guy who feels compelled to opine about how his wife loves raunchy old-school stuff, my answer is that the exception proves the rule.  

Does this mean men should abandon all their powdery wet shaver stuff? No, because objectively, Clubman and its congeners smell good. Guys should wear the stuff whenever it's appropriate. Two things can be true at once, a man can wear something that smells great, and the woman he's with can dislike what he's wearing. The key is to know your audience, and align what they like with what you like. Save the powdery stuff for after a private shaving session when you're not around anyone you know, running errands, etc. Wear your fresher, cleaner, lighter fragrances when you're in female company, particularly when you know your company prefers those kinds of fragrances. You can enjoy your fragrance while those around you enjoy it, too. 

This is why I always encourage men, especially young men, to diversify their fragrance portfolios and seek out things they might like in the "blue" corner of the fragrance shop. Enjoyment of what you're wearing isn't a zero-sum game. There are plenty of "fresh" and "modern" EDTs and EDPs that are perfectly unisex and widely enjoyed by men AND women. So finding a freshie that both you and your partner like shouldn't be mission impossible. I discourage men from narrowing their tastes down to strictly "old-school" or "barbershop" fare, simply because this doesn't give you much wiggle room if and when your wife or girlfriend starts wheezing next to you. Saying, "Oh, sorry honey, it's either Bay Rum or Lilac Vegetal" isn't helping after she pointedly tells you she hates Bay Rum. Have an arsenal of soapy-clean aftershaves and fragrances on hand to mitigate any negative feedback, and have at least five or ten options, because even fresh fragrances can fall short, and you might not score instant rebound points. 

I practice what I preach here. My girlfriend has made it crystal clear that she's not into old-school woody frags, especially the ones loaded with spices and musks. This is challenging, because about seventy-five percent of my collection is old-school woody frags. But that other twenty-five percent is fresh, clean, modern. Blue bottles, white bottles, transparent bottles. Stuff that smells citrusy, stuff that smells metallic-fresh, floral-fresh, aquatic and "blue," and I wear that fraction of my collection more often than the rest because I'm around her more than not. The other stuff can wait for when I'm at work, or she's at work, or I'm alone grocery shopping, or doing a midnight run to Newark to buy drugs. There's a time and place for every perfume. A smart man knows that, and is ready for it. 


DKNY Be Delicious Fresh Blossom (Donna Karan)

The 2000s was the decade of the Be Delicious range by Donna Karan, under her rack store DKNY label. I remember the first two Be Delicious frags when they appeared on shelves in 2004 (one feminine, one masculine), but I could not keep up with the endless onslaught of little glass apples. They weren't really flankers, they were simply perfumes in a uniform line, all sharing the same aesthetic, all eschewing a unique identity. They were perfumes for people who don't want to think about perfume, but would rather just spritz on some random fruity floral, and be done with it. If it's pink, all the better.

Fresh Blossom (2009) was aimed at the Japanese customer, who prefers soft and coy over big and bold. This is an example of that, a lite puff that barely registers, even after generous application. There's a wan but transpicuous apple and peach top note, followed by six or seven hours of greenish apple blossom and peony, over a base of (stifles a laugh) "woodsier" Honeycrisp and Red Delicious accents, which is really just more of the same silky-pink organza wispiness. It's polite, you can wear it in close quarters without offending anyone, it smells a lot like expensive shampoo, and it's as fresh as it gets without going full-bore aquatic. If there is some platonic ideal of cleanliness, it's Fresh Blossom. 

My girlfriend hasn't commented on it, although it reminds me of Bond's Chelsea Flowers, which she says smells "perfumey," her way of saying it's too loud. But Fresh Blossom has the timbre just right. It's present and accounted for, but easy to ignore. Freshness, shower-gel soapiness, transparency, all of these qualities make for a fragrance that your girlfriend can tolerate sitting next to you on a love seat. Women enjoy wearing this stuff, but in my experience, they prefer it on their boyfriends instead. Freshness rules.


Domenico Caraceni Milano 1913 Eau de Parfum (Domenico Caraceni)

Domenico Caraceni's eponymous EDT was first issued in 2007, and I learned about it on Badger & Blade, where it was the subject of frequent discussion. It then vanished for a few years, only to reappear in 2015 sporting new packaging, and what I presumed was a formula refresh. In 2022, the brand released an EDP formulation, and so far it's been well received. Shaving enthusiasts prized the original for being a rose-centered barbershop scent that paired well with any number of soaps and aftershaves, so when I read that the EDP upped the ante on the rose, I had to try it. I love me a good rose fragrance.

It opens with a petitgrain and geranium greenness that feels brusque and cold, so it's surprising when these bitter greens blossom into a saccharine rose. Gradually the flower loses its sweetness and allusions to femininity, and becomes a duskier Bulgarian rose with vague woody underpinnings. This heart phase remains linear and hums straight through the day; expect no fewer than ten hours of longevity. It's pretty strong. Some folks have commented that it resembles rose soap, and I get that, but it reminds me more of the also-soapy Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme, except it has a much clearer rose. Where VC&A gets abstract, sour, and synthetic, DC 1913 maintains its focused and languid character. 

Eventually those vague woody underpinnings reveal themselves to be pipe tobacco, tonka, and just a smidgen of incense for a smoky edge, and everything harmonizes to a rich musk to imbue the wearer with a sense of invulnerability. Rose is typically a feminine theme in Western perfumery, but thankfully there are Europeans who, like the Saudis, consider it a masculine one. That the house of Domenico Caraceni has stayed true to it is a testament to the consistency and dedication of the brand, and to the enduring greatness of its flagship masculine. Note: the EDT appears to be discontinued again.


Sel Marin (Heeley)

When you chew the fat with fragrance enthusiasts, they tend to lose interest in the conversation when it touches on the "aquatic" genre. Something about the words "fresh," "blue," "salty," "clean," seems to irk them, and if you start rattling on about stuff like D&G's Light Blue and Nautica Voyage, they get up and leave. Aquatics have long been considered a boring topic, although why is less clear; there's nothing wrong with harnessing the feel of the ocean and interpreting it via scent. 

Heeley's Sel Marin was released in 2008, at the height of the 2000s aquatic wave (pardon the pun), and it immediately made a splash (pardon the pun). What I found interesting was that it was the first aquatic that many enthusiasts seemed pumped about. I find it to be a flawless exemplar of the theme, with a salty seaweed accord that smells vaguely fishy, overtly briny, and a bit like low tide. It begins with a crisp lemon and bergamot snap that fades into the salty ozonics typically found in aquatics, except here the effect is very literal, devoid of sweetness, and evocative of the sea. If you want a fragrance that will have you smelling like you spent a weekend at the shore, Heeley gives you your money's worth.

A true aquatic isn't fresh and soapy, but sharp and funky. It contains facets of mollusk shell and rotting dulse, sea spray and salty air, cold stones and wet sand. If you want a user-friendly fantasy aquatic that will make your girlfriend snuggle up, go for Cool Water or Voyage. But if you're looking for an expression of nature, something that smells like the ocean crashing against rocks, you'll need to check this stuff out instead. It's timeless, impeccably crafted, and arguably the best aquatic ever made.  


How to Navigate the Endless Spiral Galaxy of Niche and Designer Releases

Ever go on Fragrantica, and wonder what the fuck you're doing there? You're not alone. I've done it many times, and every one of them leaves me with brain fog. The sheer magnitude of the spectacle makes me want to curl up in a fetal position and shut my eyes to block out the light. It's like how I imagine I would feel if I boarded a starship and traveled to the Andromeda galaxy: terrified and overwhelmed. 

Fragrantica is a fragrance database first, and an online "magazine" second. Its database is dwarfed only by NASA's catalog of observable stars in the universe. There are now so many perfumes, most of them new, that it's impossible to keep track of them all. It used to be just the perfumes that were infinite, but now even the brands themselves have grown in numbers that are difficult to parse. For example, the headline on Fragrantica when this article was written features a fragrance by the house of Gritti. What the fuck is Gritti? Whatever Gritti is, wherever it's from, it exists, and I had no idea until a minute ago. 

If you're a newbie to the fragrance scene, this universe of releases, new and old, is beyond daunting. Where to start? But if you're a seasoned enthusiast like me, you know some old tricks to help manage the onslaught of commercial releases that steadily flows past your computer screen and into your consciousness. There are ways to navigate this spiral galaxy of niche and designer perfumes, and I'm here to help you go about it. But first you need to remember something very important. You're not "smelling things" when you get into perfume. If you want to smell stuff, go to your local Converse-sneaker convention health-food grocery store and inhale deeply. That place has all the smells you need.

Your nose isn't the main instrument in this endeavor; your brain is what you must depend on. You discover a "fresh" fragrance, but smell musks and powders? Know what you're smelling, and learn to ignore the note pyramids they give you ('they' being the corporations). A fragrance smells out of balance, but still good? Learn to find and read batch codes to identify the year of release. A $30 scent smells as good as (or better than) something priced at $500? Get familiar with brand histories, brand legacies, and the power of subliminal persuasion. Perfume isn't about smelling. Perfume is about reading.

Once you learn that, you can navigate the world. Read first, then smell. Read about classical fragrance families, as they were defined in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: Chypre, Fougère, Oriental, Hesperidic. If you are in danger of being sidelined by "woke" railings against the oriental category, just remember this article, and that it told you to jettison any attempt to align the term "amber" with "oriental," as not all orientals are "ambery," and not all "ambery" fragrances are orientals. "Oriental" is not a racist term, it's an English word that Westerners developed to suggest that explorers of foreign lands needed to "orient" in a new direction to proceed, i.e., the East. 

When you've successfully pushed past linguistic misdirection, focus on what each category represents. Study the historical representations of each. For example, if you're interested in chypres, try to get your nose on the oldest available batch of Coty's Chypre, and then get a bottle of Mitsouko by Guerlain. If you're interested in fougères, get acquainted with Houbigant's Fougère Royale, Trumper's Wild Fern, YSL's Kouros, and Caron Pour un Homme. If you're into masculine orientals, look no further than a pristine bottle of vintage Old Spice. For a hesperidic cologne that has survived centuries, 4711 is cheap and readily available. All of the touch points for understanding these realms are at your fingertips with the internet, and if you're lucky enough to live in a metropolitan area, you can probably cross the street to a department store and find them behind the counter. 

After you've covered the basics, you're in a prime position to branch out. Understand and internalize everything you've learned, and follow your interests. Now that you've experienced the best exemplars of each fragrance family, you know what you love, and what you don't. You love chypres? There are survivors that were released in the last forty-five years that are still terrific chypres, and the fragrance forums will help you find them. People talk about the stuff they wear, not what Fragrantica puts on its front page. Get to know the community. Get to know the talk. Read what your fellow enthusiasts, many of whom are more experienced, have to say. Collect the aggregate data over the course of several months of reading, and recognize which fragrances are getting the most conversation, the most praise. Go from there.

Whatever you do, don't get stymied by incompatible data. For example, if a fragrance is getting overwhelming praise, and yet there's roughly 25% of respondents who say they hate it, don't let that minority percentage dictate your verdict. Pro-tip: there's always 25% of people who hate what the other 75% of us love. There are little "pro-tips" in the perfume world that you'll eventually figure out. Into Creed? Like how Creeds smell? Great, you're in the majority. But what are the majority of Creed lovers saying, vs. the legion of keyboard warriors who happen to know that Creed exists, and just want to spout off about the brand on the internet? Chances are a huge chunk of the Creed lovers are actually drifting toward an Arabian brand called Armaf, which sells Creed dupes that are deadly close to the originals for an appallingly slight fraction of the price. 

Follow that drift, don't fight it. Explore alternatives. Explore the "popular" stuff. Go ahead and try all the A*Men flankers by Thierry Mugler. Give Cool Water's 600 flankers a go. Happy with CK One? Get your nose on as many "summer editions" as you can. In love with Creed? Visit the boutique and sample every single Creed there is. When you've had enough, take a jaunt down a few lonelier paths, some unpaved byways that branch off of the food court at the mall and lead you to dusty forgotten shops full of junk, with the occasional hidden treasure. Indiana Jones that shit (without Phoebe Waller-Bridge). 

That's where niche is, real niche, and if you poke around long enough, you'll find that rare hidden gem by some unknown brand that even Fragrantica barely acknowledges. Take the highway to get to secret rooms. You'll find them faster, and you'll save gas. When exploring a galaxy, that kind of savings comes in handy.