A'Oud Ancienne (Rogue Perfumery)

                                  Picture by Phương Huy

If I could sit down with Manuel Cross, the founder and "self-taught" perfumer of Rogue Perfumery, I'd want a conversation about what kind of perfume is "unwearable." He, and likely other perfumers of his ilk, would want to steer the topic towards the "where," and that satisfies one element, but I would fight for the "why?" Surely, in all things perfume, there must be a philosophical underpinning to every serious scent. I'm wondering why in the holy hell anyone would want to wear A'Oud Ancienne? What is the philosophy here? 

As with stuff like Pineward's Treacle and YSL's Kouros, I get it. Men enjoy animalic fragrances. I'm a man, and I like a good animalic chypre or fougère. But oud is something else entirely. It's a rotted wood, considered a "precious" wood for reasons that elude me, and bears heavy cultural implications in its common application, many of them spiritual in nature. Assam oud, like Chandan incense from the region in India, is ritually burned to cleanse the ethereal aura of a place. Its application in perfumery is widespread (and prized) throughout the Muslim world, and it's not uncommon to find various oud-based compositions in nearly every Muslim-majority Asian country. The most expensive perfume of the last ten years is Shumukh by The Spirit of Dubai, with an asking price of $1.2 million, and guess the first note? Oud. Much of this is for show, but there's another reality here. 

A kilo of oud (a kilo being roughly 2 lbs) only yields one milliliter of resinous oil extract, at a rough cost of $250, which makes just one ounce (30 ml) of pure oud resin potentially worth $7,500. This is why small bottles of Arabian oud attars are among the most expensive luxury items in the perfumery sphere. Quality attars are known for opening with brusque barnyard-like animalic essences, rife with notes of filthy hay, intense terpenes, a weirdly camphoraceous mint-like accord, and indolic florals. I've seen twelve milliliter bottles of Indian attars priced at around $15k. If you're a billionaire sheik staying at an ultra-luxury hotel in Dubai, and you happen to shop at the famous mall there, dropping this kind of coin on a vial of something that looks like bourbon-barrel maple syrup is nothing to you. 

For the rest of us, it's a mystery. What works with A'Oud Ancienne is that it smells of some quality agarwood, at least in the first two minutes of wear. Once the initial fecal pop dissipates, a synthetic "black" oud that has been popular with niche brands for years steps up and lends AA a rather chemical-inky vibe for the rest of the day. It is accented with labdanum and synthetic castoreum, and buttressed by a little bit of pine on top and quality oakmoss below, so the overall material quality of the composition is quite high, which it should be at Manuel's prices. But AA is unwearable in polite company, and I struggle to understand why anyone in the West would spend real money on a bottle of something that will make his friends run for the hills. Longevity is nuclear: expect fifteen hours. 


Santa Reads the Blog

This year, Santa was pretty generous. I received an incredibly large number of samples, some of which are sizable atomizers that can be worn for a few weeks. I previously wrote that I was giving up on the "reviewer's life" of constantly buying things to write about, and while that still holds true, the size and scope of what I have available to me increases the likelihood that reviews will continue into 2024. So for anyone who was pooh-poohing my announcement, good news. Reviews are still happening.

With that said, my nose isn't one hundred percent, and I'm not interested in maintaining my current ratio of reviews to perfume editorials. So, while I will continue to sporadically review things, in keeping with what I posted earlier this month, expect to see more editorials in the new year. Also, the number of brands that will be reviewed will be limited to about five or six in total, so the field has narrowed. But these are terrific brands, and I will be tackling the entire Zoologist line (as many as my nose allows), so keep an eye out.

I should mention that of the samples available, some may seem like they aren't coming through as they should, or are suspiciously simplistic and weak, and so they won't be reviewed at all. Covid nose (parosmia) is temporary, but it's also possible that my sense of smell is permanently weakened, which is all the more reason to scale back on rendering detailed opinions on specific fragrances. Hopefully the majority of what I've been gifted will be easy enough to read, and fair game. Happy New Year, everyone!


Vide Cor Meum (Chris Collins)

"Vide Cor Meum" is Latin for "Look into my heart." The perfume by Chris Collins smells like an exquisite Turkish rose buried in resins and woods, a penumbra of sweet green against a backdrop of smoke. I had some difficulty detecting the top notes, basically the first two minutes of the fragrance, but my girlfriend said it was a melange of clear kitchen spices and something "warm," which she could not quite name, but by that point I was picking up a hint of vanilla and amber, and figured she smelled a citric rose mixed with some spice, maybe sage or thyme. She said it was crystal clear, and I believe her.

All of this shifts rapidly into a bridge of auburn accords, the lilt of incense wafting amidst a thicket of cedars, and the sunset of benzoin casting its rays throughout. Quite enchanting, and all well done, but my heart gravitates to the rich rose note, woody and sweet, which permeates everything. There has to be real Turkish absolute in the blend, as the level of technical accuracy in this rendition is too perfect for it not to be. It's probably my Covid nose playing tricks on me again, but all the same, I'm getting a rose note so spectacular that I would consider this a rose fragrance, and one for rose lovers. The far drydown gets sweeter, with the benzoin, vanilla, and cedar picking up again. 

People develop a taste for rose fragrances over time, and some want dark and velvety roses, while others prefer their bouquets to smell bright and citric. I happen to be in the latter camp, but if I were in the former, I'd probably consider Vide Cor Meum a "must have" fragrance. Its ingredient quality is stunningly good, its blend is masterful, and it possesses just the right richness and complexity to satisfy at its price point. If you appreciate ambery florals, and want something that smells of money, look no further. This fragrance is unremittingly beautiful, from start to finish. A real treasure.  


Announcement: Making a Life Change

I'll get this part out of the way first: No, this isn't the end of the blog. If the headline had you panicked, don't be, because writing is a passion of mine, and I look forward to pontificating on perfume here, so there's certainly no end in sight to my doing that. 

That's the good news. Now, the potentially bad news: Starting in 2024, the format of this blog will change. After much deliberation, I have decided to no longer focus on reviewing fragrances here, and instead will shift the subject matter to more abstract perfume-related topics, things like reformulations, in-depth perceptions of mine, public attitudes towards perfume (tagged "Social Politics of Perfume"), how perfumes are spoken of and marketed, etc. I've always done this, but now I'll be doing it almost exclusively. 

My reason for doing this was spurred by a few things, not the least of which was my recent bout with Covid. During the month-long period in which my sense of smell was severely hobbled, I realized that life is short, and the life of a fragrance reviewer is hectic. For many years, my writing depended on having a constant stream of new fragrances, often full bottles, and more recently samples. While I enjoy doing this, there are some drawbacks, most of which affect me personally. The first is that I'm rarely able to settle on wearing any one perfume for very long, as I must shift my focus to the next one.

This isn't necessarily a net negative for me, as variety truly is the "spice of life," as they say. But it does impede my inner impulses to gravitate toward a smaller subset of favorites. For example, Grey Flannel is a favorite of mine, and there was a year many years ago when I wore it almost exclusively, before this blog had truly taken off. These days I rarely wear it, not because it has fallen out of favor, but because I'm constantly wearing other things, simply so I can post about them. Thus my two bottles of GF sit relatively neglected in storage, and I break them out maybe four or five times a year, at best. 

Another favorite of mine is the house of Creed. Naturally, Creeds are very expensive, and the prospect of even buying a full bottle seemed out of reach in the past, as they are now roughly $500. I haven't been able to purchase a bottle on discount since 2017. But this brings me to the second personal drawback: finances. Each year I spend about $400 on perfume. Even sample hauls rack up into the hundreds over time, and they allow me to review at least three or four fragrances per month. While I can technically sustain this and still be quite comfortable, I've come to find it collides with a deeper desire of mine. 

I'm forty-two years old. Again, life is short. I've worn over seven hundred perfumes, and I've learned a lot about perfumery at every price point, from every region. At this stage, I've realized that I want to wear Creed more regularly. The only way to do that without noticing is to shift my annual financial resources to a couple bottles of Creed (on discount) and simply enjoy them at my leisure, without having to think about "affording" them. I work hard, and I shouldn't have to scrape together for a Creed or two. I don't have to, if I stop exploring the wider world of random (and usually inferior) perfumes. 

To put this into context, I recently bought a bottle of Silver Mountain Water, to bring with me up to Maine whenever my girlfriend and I visit her family. I've wanted a bottle of SMW since 2018. (Full disclosure: I'm a little obsessed with this scent profile.) I could have had one in 2019, were it not for all of my resources being poured into other things. I don't resent or regret any of those choices; I made them, and they spurred the blog along, keeping me and my readers happy. But I no longer want to put my fragrance desires on the back-burner. I'm lucky to have gotten most of my sense of smell back.  

A reader recently pointed out that a lot of the claims of "in-bottle maceration" that Fragrantica members are engaging in seem to veer perilously close to being undiagnosed Covid anosmia. While this may or may not be true, I find it just as curious that suddenly every other Joe thinks his Armaf or Guerlain got "stronger" after letting it sit. This is a topic that I'd like to delve into more in the near future, but I mention it here because I think Covid is a life lesson in virus form for any fragrance aficionado. Your nose shouldn't be taken for granted! If you believe your olfactory capabilities are immutable, think again. 

And so I go forward as a fragrance writer with a new world view: wear what you like, and forget everything else. I've done enough exploring to know that, for me, the window for what I truly enjoy only opens so wide, and I've worn fragrance after fragrance that I would never wear a second time, a habit that once served a purpose, but which no longer does for me. Thus, I will continue writing here on broader topics, and will leave fragrance reviewing to guys who do it better, like Varanis Ridari, among others.

There are (I think) two more fragrances left for me to review this year, and I will commence 2024 with a new mission. Happy holidays, and Merry Christmas!


Revisiting Acqua di Selva in 2023

David Niven goes for his kidnapping reminder, hidden behind his trusty bottle
of Acqua di Selva in "The Pink Panther" (1963).
Just as I suspected, based on all the olfactory feedback I've been getting with my weekly "aroma-therapy" sessions, Acqua di Selva has proven to be the first fragrance that I've smelled clearly on myself for most of the work day. 

As mentioned in my last post, peppermint has consistently been the clearest note detected by my Covid-addled honker. It has conjured memories of my first bottle of Acqua di Selva, which I felt was a very mint-forward and piney Italian cologne in the usual midcentury Mediterranean style. I received my second bottle yesterday, and with one sniff, every note is clear and accounted for. 

The overall composition does smell a bit more muted than it otherwise would, but I could smell it in brief snatches throughout the day. Most striking is the fact that I can smell the dihydromyrcenol in the composition as a slightly incongruent bitterness, which is how it smells in every other dihydromyrcenol-fueled scent in my collection. It is used in a very small amount in Acqua di Selva's formula, as it is only a fleeting essence that rapidly vanishes behind a handful of far more lucid notes.

And that's the thing about this fragrance that my post-Covid nose has taught me: it must be made of mostly natural materials. Sure, there are synthetics in there, and yes, several of them are stand-ins for particular notes, but my recovery experience has been that natural materials smell relatively normal, while lab-contrived molecules are, to varying degrees, a bit "off." Nearly all of Acqua di Selva smells like what it intends to, i.e., a clutch of citruses, pines, field mints, lavender, geranium, woods, and moss. 

I've always considered Acqua di Selva to be Pierre Wargnye's inspiration for Drakkar Noir (1982). Although it was released in 1949, Victor's formula survived the decades unscathed, and even now, under the hand of Visconti di Modrone, the fragrance smells as fresh and crisp as it ever did. I'm sure the vintage version was smoother and even more "natural" in feel, and was likely loaded with real oak moss in its base. But the current formula lasts a solid five to six hours, and smells great. A reminder that classic masculinity can be as casual and effortless as a ten dollar cologne from the old country.


A Bad Head Cold: My Recent Covid Experience, and What I Think is Going on With Weird Fragrance Reviews on Fragrantica

Twenty days ago, I began my very first Covid-19 journey. On Sunday, November 5th, I woke up feeling super crappy. Hard to say exactly what it was, as there were no overt symptoms, other than just feeling fatigued and weird. The day before, at about noon, I had felt a slight tickle in my chest after drinking a milkshake at a diner, and had attributed the lingering sensation to the ice cream. Turns out it was the beginnings of Covid for me.

On the 6th, while at work, the symptoms manifested as a head cold. Sneezing, congestion, a sinus bonanza. I texted my girlfriend and told her I had a cold. Case closed. I plugged on at work, undeterred. I don't care about colds, even when they're bad. This wasn't going to slow me down, and if it did, it wouldn't stop me. I went to work the next day too, and felt a little worse, but still not alarmingly bad: a little shivery in the morning, which I blamed on it being really cold in my house, but otherwise normal cold symptoms, replete with stuffed head and tons of postnasal drip. 

My girlfriend reported feeling similar symptoms that same Tuesday, and by Wednesday she tested for Covid, and came up positive, which prompted her to reach out to me. I took a sick day and tested, and there it was: four years after the start of the pandemic, I was finally looking at two red lines on a rapid antigen test. Fortunately it was a short work week, and I would only miss two days, with five altogether spent resting at home. I spent that time drinking (and accidentally burning myself with) hot chicken broth, sucking on zinc lozenges, and sleeping. 

Unfortunately, I experienced the famous Covid-brand loss of taste and smell. By the 9th, both senses were completely gone, and food had absolutely no flavor. Smell was a little better off; while I couldn't really make out the true definition of anything, I could at least sense that it was there, and some things blared through clearer than others. I'll get into that in detail here, but before I do, I want to fast forward and say that as of the 20th, I tested negative, and confirmed that result with another negative result 48 hrs later. So I'm officially clear of the virus, which I'm grateful for.

My sense of smell is still recovering, and it's going to be a while. My girlfriend has a small collection of essential oils for aromatherapy, and I've been using them for scent therapy almost every day. The interesting thing about the experience is that some things are crystal clear, while others fall into a vague and muddled middle ground, and still others are nearly impossible for me to make out. Here's a short list of the stuff that I can and can't smell:

In the "Can" column:

  • Peppermint oil (Comes through almost perfectly, almost like I never had Covid)
  • Lemon oil (A touch faint but clear, and with enough nuance to enjoy the woody aspects)
  • Eucalyptus oil (Maybe the second strongest after peppermint, with hints of rosiness)
  • Lavender oil (In isolation and in a blend, lavender oil comes through muted but clear)
  • Cinnamon leaf oil (Weird smell, sort of like the spice, but greener, and pretty clear)
  • Patchouli oil (Can pick it out clearly in a complex blend, and it smells good)
  • Clove oil (This is the weakest of the lot. I can smell it, but it's quite muted and fades out)
  • Helional and metallic florals (Silver Mountain Water clones are coming in fairly well, although they're definitely muted and with attenuated longevity)
  • Rosy florals (I smell the roses in my SMW clones and in Chelsea Flowers, leading me to believe that any rose-based compositions will come through fairly clearly) 
  • "Spicy" accords (I can detect things along the Old Spice axis, but they're muted) 

 In the "Can't" column:

  • Vanilla (Only get the barest traces of it, and only when conjoined with lavender)
  • Ylang-Ylang (Not really getting that rich, tropical, sweet floral)
  • Sandalwood (Not smelling it at all)
  • Dihydromyrcenol (My GIT clones and Cool Water all smell super bitter and very wrong in the first thirty minutes of wear, although they get marginally better after that) 
  • Abstract florals (The blackcurrant aspect of some of these is strongest, while the greener elements are undetectable, and any violet-like sweetness is all sour and wrong) 

I expect that my sense of smell will take a few months to fully recover. I also expect that by this time next month, it will have made a 65-75% recovery (it stands at about fifty percent now). My sense of taste is lagging, however. While I can taste much more than two weeks ago, I'm still only getting mellow nuances of flavor, have no lingering sense of taste, and there are some aspects of "sweet" that I can't get at all, especially dark chocolate. I have no idea when that will come back, and don't care nearly as much. 

An underlying theme to my olfactory adventures has been the lack of longevity in everything I smell. Even while I'm still sniffing, my nose conks out on occasion, and has to reset before I can detect anything. Perfumes are detectable for maybe twenty or thirty minutes, and only very faintly. Nearly every perfume I've worn, even the notably powerful Bamboo by Franck Olivier, retreats to a low hum after a few minutes of wear, and a few have disappeared entirely by lunch, when I know I should still smell them. 

This led to a realization about user reviews on Fragrantica. I've been reading a lot of them lately, living vicariously through the experiences of others, all the while assuming that they're written by people with healthy and sensitive sniffers. Having Covid for the first time made me realize that the virus really does hit the olfactory nervous center, and leaves lasting damage. So where are all the complaints about what Covid has done to people? Nowhere in the reviews under any fragrance are there people who mention having lost or partially lost their sense of smell!

What I see instead are people complaining about longevity issues. I see endless reviews, sometimes one after another, of folks saying things like, "This fragrance doesn't last," and "Longevity is seriously disappointing," and "It's gone after an hour, like I never sprayed it." Instead of linking that issue to Covid, the blame is placed squarely on the fragrances. Nearly every reviewer on Fragrantica has had Covid by this point, even the long-term holdouts like me. I would estimate that there is maybe five percent of the active population that hasn't had it, and another five percent that had it, but suffered no olfactory diminution, while the vast majority has had it at least once, and experienced some change in smell.

I'm only after my first round, so what can I expect when I have Covid a second and third time, which is bound to happen in the next decade? Will I have any sense of smell left by 2034? There is the very real possibility that later in life, I may not be able to continue enjoying the lifestyle I've grown accustomed to, and if this is true for me, it must be so for countless others as well. Let's be real about this, Covid isn't going away, and the vaccines don't seem to prevent infection. The fact that so few reviewers are open and honest about how they've been impacted doesn't bode well for the state of our community. With that said, I'm going to stay positive about long-term recovery, and I think I'll be myself again by this time next year. The body is a remarkable thing. 

One comment on vaccination: I happen to believe that the vaccine protects to a small degree against major infection, for some people, but not for others. I think it worked well enough for me, but I did notice that the two boosters I got were followed by four months of weirdly intense anxiety that would well up at random times of day and night, and which sometimes would stretch on and on. It wasn't typical anxiety. It was physically intense, overpowering at times, and not linked to anything commensurately triggering. Having had this experience twice, and being someone who is familiar with how anxiety normally works, I'm uneasy about getting any further vaccines, at least until I read that there has been some significant change in how they are manufactured and administered. 

I do sincerely believe that Covid vaccines are safe for the majority of people who get them, and I think that a sizable number of people have been protected by them. In no way are my opinions based on anything but my own personal experience, and I do not discourage anyone from getting vaccinated.

*The 11/18 Note de Yuzu review was written in October. My impressions of the scent were recorded before I began experiencing Covid symptoms, and was based on my sampling of it several weeks prior to infection.


Note de Yuzu (Heeley)

Crafted by James Heeley for Maison Kitsuné Paris, Note de Yuzu is often compared to Sel Marin. I find that strange, as I don't smell a similarity between them. Sel Marin is a sandy/salty marine scent, glistening with facets of sea spray and shellfish, which I think would be a bit challenging, and ultimately rewarding, for a fragrance newbie. 

Note de Yuzu is far more approachable and "crowd pleasing." It's also much simpler, with a cologne-like citrus accord in the first twenty minutes, followed by a woodier interplay of residual fruits and salty cedar. Yuzu is the star of the show, and it smells juicy and quite natural throughout the ten hour lifespan of the fragrance, which is impressive. Its tartness is supported by grapefruit and mandarin, the latter of which mellows all the sulfurous acidity and gently guides the nose to a woody-ambery (i.e., conventional) base. 

Fragrances like this are a conundrum, because while they smell of quality, they tend to feel a bit too simple and forgettable to warrant a purchase. I want to think I'd enjoy owning a full bottle of Note de Yuzu, especially given its wetshaver potential (woody-citrus works beautifully with a ton of aftershaves), but Sel Marin feels moodier and more interesting, and it's complex enough to absorb the sticker shock. I'd go with that one, but this is a worthy entry for lovers of quality colognes, and the yuzu is a nice touch.


Route du Vétiver (Maître Parfumeur et Gantier)

As I grow older, I find myself thinking less and less of vetiver as a note. Where once it was considered a wonderful "earthy" aroma, most useful as a central player in masculines and a secondary note in feminines, it now feels obsolete to me. I think that some things were better left in the twentieth century, and vetiver is an example of that. Guerlain's is fine but underwhelming, and always felt dated and dull. Malle's Vetiver Extraordinaire is pleasant, but no thanks to its vetiver note. Malizia's Uomo Vetiver is crisp and fresh, but forgettable. Creed's Original Vetiver, famous for having almost no vetiver at all, is probably the only supposed vetiver perfume I would buy today, and again, not because of the vetiver. 

Maître Parfumeur et Gantier's Route du Vétiver is the first vetiver fragrance that I truly hate. I find it appalling, full stop. It opens with a garrulous vetiver root accord that reeks of overripe onions atop a weirdly mineralic twang, meant to be blackcurrant. The onion effect blazes on (drawing real tears), and stinks of unwashed armpits for fully twelve hours. Unhelpfully, the perfumer added a peripheral aura of something sweet, akin to a wet kiss with expensive lipstick. It does nothing to stop me from wanting to ralph each time a little waft of air lifts this crap from my collar to my nose. Everything here smells acrid, sour, synthetic. MPG's vetiver makes me feel like I haven't bathed in months, and I suspect whoever smells it on me feels the same. There's niche, and then there's pretentious garbage, and this is the latter by a long shot. 

My patience for "man's man" vetivers is paper thin to begin with, and this one torches those last few shreds of goodwill. I shouldn't leave the house feeling embarrassed by my SOTD. I shouldn't feel self conscious and worried that I might have to explain why I smell like I've just done time. Rank body odor is by definition gross, and telling people it's really my cologne that stinks sounds like a laughable excuse for poor hygiene. Even granola-eating hippies in the seventies had the good sense to wear patchouli, of which even the most basic oils are infinitely more enjoyable than Route du Vétiver. If you want "earthy" vetiver, and aren't interested in repelling the public, wear Guerlain's L'Homme Ideal Cologne, and save money and heartache. Thumbs decidedly down. 


Angeli di Firenze (Santa Maria Novella)

Angels of Florence
reminds me of my college days. The 2000s were a nineties encore decade, sadly tainted by the billowing black plumes of 9/11, and the many foibles of the George W. Bush administration. Men wore chains everywhere, even on their wallets, and women wore fruity florals that smelled like glorified laundry detergent. They weren't as sickly sweet as the dumb reaches of their ancestors, but they were just as generic and disposable, like everything else born after 2003. 

Santa Maria Novella's "barbie juice" perfume is actually not bad, a pleasant foray into the mindless pleasures of nondescript florals and melony-peachy nectars, all brushed with the requisite flourishes of vague greenery and frosty white musks. My best guess as to who this was aimed at in 2006 is the midwestern tourist who visited southern Europe on her summer vacation with her boyfriend, both wearing sunglasses the size of saucers. She's a second grade teacher with a Kate Spade bag and one designated pair of square-toe sandals for evening appearances. Despite being in an exotic land, she shops for crap at nine in the morning in nothing but a T-shirt and pajama bottoms, and yes, sunglasses the size of saucers. Gawk at her, and she'll pretend you don't exist.

She selects perfume not based on smell, but on the lack of it. Floral? Not too much. Rose? Yuck, grandma. Fruits, but not too heavy on the syrup. I know they're just dryer sheets, but I really wish someone would bottle these! What surprises me is how Angels of Florence manages to maintain its steady synthetic hum of laundry-grade chems for eight hours, unabated by time or weather. I guess the beautiful packaging and brazen name lend it an air of the divine, but only in the sense that you must have more money than god to choose it over the infinitely more reasonable Tommy Girl or Clinique Happy.  


Is Bamboo Pour Homme (Franck Olivier) the Inspiration for Dior Sauvage?

This one is a bit of a mystery. It could be what we in the fragrance community sometimes refer to as a "missing link scent," an evolutionary stepping stone from something obscure to something famous. In this case, it's possible that Bamboo Pour Homme (2012) is the original inspiration for Dior Sauvage. But, as always, it's complicated. 

First, I want to comment on the fragrance itself. When I was reading about Montblanc Starwalker, I was struck by how many people felt Starwalker was "zen-like," a quality they attributed to its "bamboo" note. I put that in quotation marks because I haven't a clue what fresh bamboo smells like, and doubt anyone else does, either. But I did detect a peculiar lemony-woody ginger note off its top accord, which smelled vaguely spicy and green, and guessed that it was meant to be the bamboo. What else could it be?

Then I picked up a 2.5 oz bottle of Bamboo, which cost me all of ten dollars, and whoah! Okay, this is the same note from Starwalker, except done in much higher fidelity. A bright and powerful citrus-woody accord that blends pine, coriander, sage, ginger, and pepper with Krizia Uomo-quality cedar, and a "buzzy" amber, brushed with Ambroxan. The result is very soothing, and yes, zen-like. However, my girlfriend took one sniff and said it smells nothing like real bamboo (she works at a zoo). So again, a question mark. 

Now to the mystery: Franck Olivier released this fragrance in 2012, only to issue a flanker in 2017 called Bamboo Men, which is packaged near identically. The 2017 scent is in blue glass and has a black box with a blue bamboo print on it. Most reviewers liken the newer fragrance to Sauvage, and do the same with the 2012 version. What gives? My theory is that Franck Olivier's first fragrance, which is essentially a fresh cedar with a modern Ambroxan twist, was admired by someone at Dior, which led to the couture house's brief for Sauvage. After Sauvage's instant success in 2015, Franck Olivier's people decided to capitalize on the noise and basically clone Dior's fragrance, a tit-for-tat. Hence all the stir around Bamboo Men. But Bamboo Pour Homme came first, so what does that make it? The original Sauvage? 

Not really. The problem is that Bamboo Pour Homme doesn't smell anything like Sauvage (the EDT, I can't speak for the other concentrations). It's a straightforward cedar scent, and Sauvage doesn't dwell on cedar. There's a smokiness to Sauvage that Bamboo lacks, and it also has peppier pepper than Bamboo, which only emits fleeting traces of pink pepper. Bamboo doesn't contain as much Ambroxan as Sauvage, but what it does have is used to elevate the citrus and fresh accents that eventually segue to a fairly well-rounded cedar base, and the Ambroxan was possibly what inspired the designer juggernaut that followed. It's quite evident that this chem works wonders to ground and freshen, while making everything feel expensive. Up until this point, Ambroxan was used mainly in high-end niche. It was around 2013 when it began to trickle down to designer levels. 

That's roughly when Bamboo hit the market, and being from Franck Olivier, it wouldn't have made much of a splash. This is an unrecognized brand, something combed over by the big-name suits on the lookout for the next "Big Thing." God forbid they actually come up with something original on their own, but I guess that's just how it goes. Comparisons aside, Bamboo is technically proficient and artistically sophisticated, punching well above its low retail price. It may not smell like bamboo, but it smells important. 


Soul by Curve for Men (Liz Claiborne)

There are rumors that Soul by Curve was discontinued for being racially insensitive, and too obviously targeting people of color in its name and package design, but I have my doubts. I find it to be far more evocative of hippies and headshop oils, and anything else is purely incidental. The free-love credo, "Love, Passion, Truth, Hope," cements the vibe for me, but maybe I'm just naive. Anyway, this 2005 release isn't as much of a departure for Curve as its image suggests, and that isn't a bad thing in the least. 

It's easy to overthink the composition of Soul, and get sucked into the "notes trap" of thinking you smell weird stuff like shea butter and saw palmetto in the blend, but I've been at this too long for that. Soul opens with a fairly standard green citrus accord, bright but not blinding, like warm juice with all the pulp strained out after it's been swirled in a blender and made ready to meet ice. The first five minutes are smooth, sweet, fruity, but not nearly as fizzy and buoyant as other iterations in this line. The muted aspect of Soul's intro suggests that this is a different tack for the brand. But what direction is it aiming for? As it dries into the heart, a translucent violet leaf and iris emerge, smelling sweet but not cloying, vaguely herbal and woody, and it becomes clear that Claiborne was trying for a Chez Bond creamy-floral thing (Laurent Le Guernec is the perfumer, hint, hint).

I sat smelling my sample, wondering at the woodiness, when the person who offered it reminded me that the top had an interesting green quality, and that's when I remembered Soul contains a bamboo note. I immediately recognized the same weirdly woody citrus quality as smelling nearly identical to the top of Montblanc Starwalker, which also has a shy bamboo note, and I laughed. I guess that's what bamboo smells like? Live and learn. That's where the surprises end, though. From the thirty minute point onward, Soul begins to smell more and more like the original, or rather like Claiborne Sport. Sweet, fruity, evocative of things in dark purple. It's slightly more floral and boasts a higher fidelity woodsy base, but overall it smells like a quieter version of its predecessor. It's worth seeking out, but perhaps only for a serious Curve enthusiast.


Ébène Fumé (Tom Ford)

Every few years,
a fad fragrance note comes along that doesn't really work. Back in the 2000s, it was "rice," appearing in stuff like Kenzo's Amour, Creed's Love in White, and Miller et Bertaux's A Quiet Morning, and I never thought it smelled that great. Lately it's been Palo Santo, which, while a wonderful smell, is proving to be difficult for perfumers to pull off. It's super strong, and tends to hijack a composition. Never one to shy from a challenge, Tom Ford hired Rodrigo Flores-Roux, and went for it with Ébène Fumé. 

Every precious wood has its bad side, and the vaguely pickle-like off-notes of palo santo seem to overshadow its better features. But Ébène Fumé does something clever, and presents its freshly-sawed dill-by-fours alongside a fresh and discreet incense. All I get when I smell this perfume is intense palo santo for the first few minutes, hyper-realistic and three dimensional, and I have to pull back a little. You must truly love palo santo to invest in this. However, it tames pretty quickly, and when incense comes forward, it's clear that Flores-Roux has made palo santo palatable (say that three times fast). I don't know if I'd wear it, but Ébène Fumé winds up smelling very nice. 

After a few hours, the main notes on my skin are still palo santo with a hint of incense and just a touch of labdanum. There's a brief stage of amber and smokier resins, which help to nuance the laser-focused woody notes, but it doesn't last. It's tempting to think Ébène Fumé is too loud, but I think it's merely stolid, a firm, focused, and eminently well made piece that takes a route less traveled, the sign of a true niche perfume. 


Mûre et Musc (L'Artisan Parfumeur)

L'Artisan Parfumeur is one of those early niche lines from the seventies that reached peak popularity in the 2000s, and has since seen its cache descend under the tide of overpriced crap that has arisen since. I remember the rampant enthusiasm for L'Artisan fragrances on Basenotes between 2008 and 2013, right when the oud craze fully took hold, and I thought it was an esoteric brand that was only interesting to me because I had no interest in it. Maybe it was all the fawning praise for stuff like Méchant Loup and Dzing!, which were fun to read about, but failed to inspire me. Or perhaps it was that L'Artisan was "niche," but not really that expensive, and I was snobbily rejecting anything priced at less than a hundred dollars an ounce. I found it strange that Jean Laporte had created a brand, only to leave it four years later, and create Maître Parfumeur et Gantier to compete with it. Seems like something a CEO of an automaker in Detroit would do.

He released Mûre et Musc eau de toilette in 1978, and it is one of several L'Artisan works that has survived the decades relatively intact. Touted as a novel accord of blackberry and clean musk, the composition is every bit like a seventies drugstore musk, and is evocative of Jōvan Musk, smelling sharp, soapy, and acrid, which you'd expect from something much cheaper. This pungent bell-bottoms-in-a-bottle is rapidly ensconced in a tart blackberry note, which only smells like actual fruit for fifteen or twenty seconds before devolving into a basic sweetness that hums alongside the sweet muskiness. There's a serious Saturday morning cartoons vibe here. The competing polarities of sweetness form a sort of soft, fuzzy-purple shampoo effect, a touch cozy and kitschy, and easy to like. It's cool, a tad raunchy, and not as transparent as I thought it would be. 

I think I could get into Mûre et Musc if it weren't for things like Jōvan Musk and Monsieur Musk, which are infinitely cheaper and more durable. L'Artisan's longevity is middling in the EDT concentration, and I get about four to five hours before it turns into a barely-there whisper. During that mediocre duration, it's already pretty weak and unimposing, and smells like it would be hard to apply too much. More importantly, it smells like something I can get for far less money, which is annoying at these price points: $145 for 100 ml, which isn't exactly mind-blowing money, but enough to want more. Weirdly, Afnan's Supremacy in Heaven smells more complex and expensive, and costs $115 less. I guess you could argue that Mûre et Musc preceded many of the designer musks of the eighties, and thus its pedestrian quality is a feature and not a bug, but I still want my moolah back. 


Itasca (Lubin)

Photo by Bryan Ross
Fall is here, and nothing takes me to Minnesota lake country more than Lubin's vetiver fragrance, Itasca. Just kidding, I don't get anything remotely Minnesotan about it, but apparently people from Itasca County are wont to toss their two cents about how familiar they are with the many "manly" smells of country living, and how close this frag gets to it. Personally, I find Itasca (the perfume) to be a sweet, only mildly woody ensemble of fruits and aromatics, but what do I know? I've only been to Minnesota once. 

I must admit, I don't quite get this one. Luca Turin calls it a "Nice lemony vetiver," and the lemon note registers for all of .3 seconds to my nose, a mere blip of aldehyde off the tippy-top. He also calls it a fougère, and yet I detect no lavender. Reviewers on Fragrantica and Basenotes claim it smells piney and green, but to me it feels sweet, as if its big mandarin orange and massive juniper berry melded into a hybridized red apple note, loaded with pectins and sugars. I do get some juniper in isolation, but it weaves through other things to form this ghostly apple that dominates the whole trajectory. Weird. 

I guess you could say there's a bit of vetiver in the base, but by that point in its evolution, Itasca gets more pointedly "green" and piney, and it's tough to say if vetiver is the dominant note. I do get a clutch of woody notes, some sweet, some very dry, and there's definitely a cedar note tucked in there, but ultimately it all reads as fruity and fresh, like a postmodern take on a generic-guy nineties masculine. I agree with Luca Turin, it's "very presentable," and it's perfect for apple-picking in October, but I doubt this was what Lubin intended it for. Altogether a good fragrance, but polite, unadventurous, forgettable. 


Gendarme (Gendarme)

This is one of the few perfumes I've worn where the exact release date is unclear. Basenotes says 1983; Parfumo says 1991. Fragrantica says nothing. Overall, it smells more nineties than eighties to me, though its base reminds me just a little of Dana's Monsieur Musk, with the animalic parts pared down to almost nothing. 

I have difficulty with Gendarme eau de cologne. A lot of difficulty, actually. It's a bit of an oddity, in that it aims squarely at "cologne" and "fresh," without smelling like either thing. Surprisingly, it comes across as musty and sour to me, almost like mildew. It opens with an explosion of raw alcohol, and the first minute is pretty dismal. It then develops into barely detectable notes of lemony citrus, dried herbs and florals, and adopts a gauzy glow of snowy laundry detergent chems that travel in little clutches of plastic soap bubbles. 

This fakey-soapy aura is strong enough to go nose-blind to, yet evanescent enough that smelling it feels subliminal. There's so little meat on these bones, and aside from an amorphous white musk, Gendarme feels anemically underdeveloped and compositionally unchallenging. All the notes are bare ghosts: wispy citruses, fleeting hints of herbs, maybe a trace of spearmint? A hint of camphoraceous clove? Thin sketches of white florals, like a pencil outline of lily and jasmine and maybe muguet, all lost behind an ivory veil. It smells like I'm wearing a vinyl raincoat. It doesn't smell good. I wouldn't want a bottle. 

And speaking of a bottle, what's with the price? One dollar per milliliter, for a total of $120 per bottle? Of this stuff? What are the Gendarme people smoking, and where can I get some? Perhaps it's an availability thing, but it doesn't matter to me. I find the whole washed-out experience underwhelming. Our senators and state reps can keep it. 


La Tulipe (Byredo)

Photo by Vanja Kovac
Some perfumers express "greenness" by constructing a pyramid that is representative of green things, like moss, grass, green herbs, bitter pine. Other perfumers, like Jérôme Epinette, approach it from a more peripheral angle, and opt to incorporate notes that coalesce into a color-coded experience that isn't necessarily found in nature. 

La Tulipe is an example of the latter approach. It starts with a studiedly muted citrus accord, more lemongrass than lemon, and rapidly morphs into the gauzy-green smell of dewey stems wrapped up in a grocery store fridge. There's a little rosy sweetness in back, the fantasy concept of what a tulip might smell of, if it had a smell, or what its chilled niche actually smells of instead. It is paradoxically an unmistakable yet nondescript headspace, a bit powdery and cold, green and plant-like, and only lightly touched by a romantic bouquet aura. It doesn't change much, doesn't really move over the course of eight hours, but it doesn't need to; it smells great. Byredo focused their brief on a specific thing that we all know to be true, but have never encountered outside of a florist shop.

This is the sort of direct beauty that I wish I could find everywhere, but alas, not since Jacomo's original Silences have I smelled something as starkly green as La Tulipe is. Silences is heavier, with foggy layers of oak moss, denser florals, and intense orris, while Byredo's scent dispenses with the extra atmosphere, and just goes au naturale. Yes!


Vanille Extreme (Comptoir Sud Pacifique)

Photograph by Luna202
Comptoir Sud Pacifique means "Trading Post of the Pacific," and Vanille Extreme is part of their "Eaux de Voyage" collection, where the majority of their offerings are found. This is a niche brand, but it isn't a particularly expensive one, with most fragrances clocking in at well under a C-Note. Knowing this helped to temper my expectations of Vanille Extreme, but I'm still disappointed, and it irks me to think about it.

Vanilla fragrances became a thematic thing in the early twentieth century, then turned boring by midcentury, only to be revived again in the nineties and the wee hours of our current shitshow. Most of the classic vanillas that we consider "wearable" emerged from the nineties revival, and they were quite versatile, things like P&G's Old Spice, Le Male, Angel, Vanilla Fields, and Alyssa Ashley Vanilla, and all expressed the note in ways that didn't break the bank. Ethyl maltol took off in 1992, with Mugler's first Angel, and has since left its sticky traces everywhere, but its legacy is even stickier; the problem with Angel is that it incentivized perfumers to use ethyl maltol to excess in things that were meant to be "vanilla." Ethyl maltol smells like a big cloud of pink cotton candy (candyfloss), and not like sugared vanilla beans. While it certainly inhabits the same ballpark of creamy-lactonic desserts, it's a different animal altogether. I tend to get cranky when I'm expecting to smell vanilla, and instead I smell cake batter and candyfloss. It's like putting in for a good lavender scent, and getting hyacinth instead. Close, but no cigar.

Vanille Extreme makes this crucial error. One whiff, and I immediately thought of Alyssa Ashley's fragrance, which is identical in every way but concentration (the 1991 release is weaker). Vanille Extreme is just as frosting-like, and just as linear. This isn't such a bad thing, but if you're looking for a unique and realistic vanilla, this ain't it. Why is vanilla so hard to get right? If Breyers can do it, anyone can. I simply don't understand!


Supremacy in Heaven (Afnan)

Some day an Arabian perfumer will enlighten me as to why Creed's Silver Mountain Water is a "must clone" perfume in the UAE. Pierre Bourdon did two amazing things when he designed SMW: he authored a "fresh" olfactory profile, the likes of which had never been done before, and he got it right the first time. Since 1995, countless copies and spin-offs have exited the Emirates, a phenomenon I find fascinating. 

Afnan is a young brand, founded in 2007 by an entrepreneur named Imran Fazlani, and its street cred must be solid, as it has a Gajillion products across as many lines. Although it's always exciting to discover a competent Saudi perfume brand, they really are springing up like weeds, with a different "niche" line appearing virtually every month. If I had the bread to shop Dubai, I'd be spoiled for choice. So I approached Afnan fully expecting Supremacy in Heaven (2018) to blend in with Rasasi's Al Wisam Day, or Ajmal's Silver Shade, the same Mefisto-on-a-budget approach of mating a sweet pink berry note to metallic citruses and floral white musks. In short, a been there, done that scenario. But, ever the optimist, I told myself, what the heck? Let's try it. Having smelled Sillage, I figured another thirty dollar frag could possibly outdo its beleaguered template of nineties excess. 

Supremacy in Heaven is a very divergent take on the SMW theme. I'm struck by the high quality of materials and blending here. Instead of opting into synthetic "froot" sweetness, the perfumer chose realism by showcasing an intensely earthy, acidic, and slightly smoky blackcurrant note, and I must say, this is the clearest and most natural blackcurrant note I've ever smelled. It surpasses Silver Mountain Water with a multifaceted pissy-fruity naturalness. One could argue that this level of realism works against the fragrance because it's too on-the-nose, and the overall focus of the SMW profile is shifted to blackcurrant as a central player instead of being integral to a smooth, Creed-style blend, but I might quibble with that point. I that it smells expensive and arguably more "niche-like" than its template. It's blended with a glacé citrus accord of red grapefruit and mandarin, juicy and bright. The result is the relaxing effect of an "inky waterfall," as one Fragrantica reviewer put it. The astringency of the fragrance is notable, very crisp, tart, and green, and filled out by the rounded citrus on top, and a dry sencha note below. Definitely the "inkiest" SMW clone, and the most literal rendering of blackcurrant, citrus, and green tea. Very nice work, though marginally livelier on fabric than skin. 


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, as eventually fir and oakmoss 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.