Icefall (Pineward)

Nootkatone is a
grapefruit ketone, and one of the main components of the smell of grapefruit. It has an acidic, bug-sprayesque vibe, and not accidentally, it's an effective tick and mosquito repellant. One of the dangers for perfumers who work with it is winding up with something that smells more appropriate in a camping bag than in someone's fragrance wardrobe. Nicholas Nilsson manages to avoid this pitfall in Icefall by pairing an intense grapefruit note with a gentle smattering of pine. 

Icefall is Pineward's one and only "fresh" fragrance, and I think it's one of the brand's simplest as well. This all falls in its favor. Unlike others in the range, this one is direct, easy to wear, utterly unisex, and perfect for all seasons. The grapefruit note is crisp, juicy, and a little salty with the pine. The citrus gets woodier and duskier as it dries down, but never collapses into something tritely musky or fetid. The base emerges within four hours, and I think it's a bit bare. Then again, the wearer would likely experience it in warmer weather, and sweat reanimates nootkatone (hence its usefulness against bloodsuckers). 

I get the impression that Nilsson intends for Icefall to be a dumb-reach fragrance, and not a grand statement-maker, and in this respect he succeeds. There are moments in its evolution where it reminds me of vintage Old Spice Fresh, which had a dry grey-marine quality, and was appealing to wet-shavers. There are other moments where I'm reminded of Adam Levine for Men, which stands out in memory as being a great inexpensive grapefruit fragrance. But with its dusting of woody pine, Nilsson managed to inject a bit of soul into what might have otherwise been a soulless exercise. Very nice work, and probably better on a woman than on a guy.


Steading (Pineward)

If I've learned anything about postmodern perfumery, it's that there's a Great Olfactory Divide between the two sexes. Men smell things one way, and women smell them another. A good male perfumer is prone to enjoying animalic and deeply woody (nudging into "urinous") notes of tobacco, unfiltered "raw" honey, maple syrup, stale grains, and decayed woods. His girl, on the other hand, may not share his enthusiasm. 

This poses an existential dilemma: should men wear things that they like, or should their fragrances be unerringly in sync with feminine sensibilities? If they cater to themselves, they risk eternal bachelorhood, but at least they enjoy what they're wearing. If they attend to their partners' tastes, they may eschew the impracticality of owning their favored "challenging" perfumes to better maintain happy relationships. This has never been more true for me than it is with Steading. I can attest to the allure of Steading. It smells intense right out of the atomizer, and remains so for fully seventy-two unwashed hours. And it smells challenging. Oh man, does it smell challenging. One-two punches of maple syrup, gingerbread molasses, waxy honey, and cigar tobacco assaults every nasal orifice within a three-mile radius, and the onslaught doesn't ease up. Eventually the maple, honey, and tobacco form a core accord of sweet and direly woody ("peat smoke," supposedly) machismo. Move over Havana. Step aside, Tobacco Vanille. Outta the way, Molton Brown Tobacco Absolute. Steading is here. You think you're an aggressive, king-making masculine tobacco fragrance? Hold Steading's beer.

I like it. But I'm sure I'd never wear it, because it's a nose-crinkler, even for me. I enjoy smelling it. I just couldn't wear it all day, or even for a couple of hours. Imagine the smell of raw, straight-from-the-hive honey, that intensely sweet, borderline stinky smell of almost-pee bee vomit, mixed with the wax they wiggle in. Now imagine wearing it. Now imagine wearing it in the car. Now imagine wearing it in the car, next to your girlfriend. 
Mine said, "Uh, no." Case closed. 


Alfiryn (Pineward)

The house of Creed is known for taking the commercial perfumes that have found resonance with the public and "upgrading" them using higher quality materials in similar but more elegant compositions. They are not unique in doing this, as Nicholas Nilsson makes clear with Alfiryn, the only blatantly feminine perfume in his line. Pineward's website states, "Deep white florals grounded in creamy massoia and sandalwood, vibrant enfleurage gives this inverted floral perfume a softly textured halo." I find this description strange but rather accurate, although I can't help but smirk at the suggestion that the painstaking and commercially unviable technique of enfleurage (the use of odorless fats to extract floral essences) was used to create Alfiryn. Why? Because it smells like an upscale copy of Wind Song by Prince Matchabelli. 

Wind Song dates to 1953, and it smells like the logical next stop after Chanel No. 5 (1921) and Tabu (1932). It's a smooth, lactonic woody-floral, its scent a mimicry of its bottle in studding a crown of carnation with jewels of Damask rose, jasmine, and lilac. It smells mostly of a clovey carnation brushed with a buttery lactone that is deeper and woodier than the milky peach lactone in Mitsouko, rounded off with the warmth of rose and jasmine, and tinged with cool lilac for a nuanced green finish. This describes Alfiryn to the letter, with the only difference being that Pineward's scent smells a bit richer, stronger, and warmer than its airier drugstore predecessor. Alfiryn's use of massoia lactone is evident in the balmy-coconut smoothness undergirding its florals, and there is perhaps a dollop of peachy Nectaryl in the top notes, lending a bit of sunshine to the duskier affair thereafter. 

Eventually a clovey carnation reconstruction dominates, and I smell the same three florals in the periphery: rose, jasmine, lilac. To my nose, the rose and lilac are noticeably larger in Alfiryn than in Wind Song, ten carats to Matchabelli's two, but they assume the same roles as supporting acts. So, do I like this fragrance? Although Alfiryn lacks originality, it succeeds in taking a classical floral perfume and giving it the "niche treatment" of better materials at higher concentration. I'm inclined to like it, but it gives me pause. Its only faults are that it's a little too dead-on, and I would argue that because it's so strikingly similar, the people who would spend $135 on a one-ounce bottle would do better to spend $10 on twice as much of Wind Song. Nilsson made Alfiryn richer and stronger than its template, but I think he took it in the wrong direction; this stuffy room-filler was begging to be lightened and modernized instead. 


Nocturnis (Pineward)

There are a few woody-green fragrances from the eighties and nineties that I consider memorable. Tsar, Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, Red for Men, Laguna, Aqua Quorum, and Polo Crest are among them. They all toyed with evergreen notes in ways that accentuated a solid structure of some discernible rank, be it fougère or chypre, and their drydowns were remarkably durable and that most important of important things: versatile. 

Tsar was beautiful in a suit or at a backyard barbecue. Its languid fougère greenery elevated notes of lavender and coumarin into a glittering night sky ringed with spires of fir, evocative of a romantic night on the town, or stories by a campfire. Pineward's Nocturnis reminds me of Tsar. According to Nicholas Nilsson, Nocturnis is a stew of accords inspired by RL Polo ("Green"), overlaid with Fanghorn II, which is the house accord. This strikes me as odd, because Nocturnis doesn't resemble either thing. It opens with a buoyantly fizzy juniper-berry-gin-tonic-and-evergreen-sprig top note; a compact arrangement, yet legible. Eventually the juniper burns off, a mild lavender sweetness fades in, and everything steers into a gauzy-green haze of woodsy almost-pine notes. Hard to say what he was actually going for, but the nose wanted something pleasantly masculine, and he got it. 

The far drydown is a bit less successful, but still pleasant, a powdery oakmoss and patchouli, and little else. It's here that I'm wanting the versatility and structure of the aforementioned classics, but instead find that Nilsson reached the limits of his vision for Nocturnis at the halfway point. I missed something, or he did. A piece of melancholy, as found in Paco Rabanne, or the dream-like lilt of Laguna, or even the Calone breeze rustling the tree branches of Aqua Quorum. Nocturnis is nice but a bit bland, and overshadowed by vintages that can still be had for a fraction of its price. 


Boreal (Pineward)

Peppermint is tricky for perfumers to get right. Too much of it in isolation, and you have mouthwash. An overdose of menthol, and it's aftershave. Pair it with spice, especially cinnamon, and it's toothpaste. And accidentally convening all of these unfortunate outcomes results in something that smells like the spit in your morning sink. 

The top accord of Boreal is an unbalanced burst of peppermint, cinnamon, cedar, and pine, with the mint and cinnamon notes battling the woods to see which can smell more like Carly Simon's Converse Oat-Nut Organic Wholefoods Non-GMO toothpaste. This shaky takeoff settles into a turbelent mentholated pine needle heart, which smells okay and achieves its "Manly Man" ambitions, but not without a hint of sweaty curry-and-cumin funk in the background. This would be great if it were intentional, but it clearly isn't. 

Boreal's base is little more than the persistent sharpness of fading terpenes and menthol. It's a reminder that although many independent niche brands have made impressive inroads into the niche market, the noses driving many of them are amateurs, and this truth bomb explodes whenever perennial herbs enter the picture. I'm calling for a moratorium on all mint notes in indie perfumery until its people are given a formal training on how to use the stuff correctly. 


Pastoral (Pineward)

I'm not into "gourmands," which to perfume are compositions featuring predominantly food-like notes, but every so often I'm taken with an accord that is literally mouthwatering. Such is the case with Pastoral, which Nicholas Nilsson describes as "the embodiment of standing on one's porch on a crisp, clear autumn day, nostalgic for the idyllic rural past unexperienced and English countryside escapades." Dodgy grammar aside, I get what he's on about: a romantic picnic in a bucolic setting. His usage of lush fruit notes and a Watteau-sized coumarin leaves little room for a different interpretation. 

Pastoral opens with a beautiful cinnamon-spiced apricot jam top note that rapidly dusks into a blackberry preserve, a very nice opening trajectory that is truly unique for this house. It gets warmer and spicier with time, supposedly with notes of propolis and woods, but the fruits remain for the duration and are upheld by a smooth, hay-like coumarin. This brusque, coumarinic warmth gets sweeter and sturdier as it dries, and marks the heart. Six hours later it gets a little thin, but remains pleasant, with the woody hay effect having taken on a freshly-baked raisin bread characteristic. Sweetness works when it makes sense, and although the base isn't all that complex, its digestible aura is focused and foody enough to avoid smelling overtly of Yankee Candle. Very nice. 

With Pastoral, I find myself wondering about the materials Nilsson uses. Every note in his fragrance is potent enough to emit a vague cloud of saccharine warmth, and they speak to a richness that is suggestive of quality, but in a pushy way. The brightness of apricot and blackberry is dimmed by a strange Rococo effect of every fruity facet feeling honeyed and ambery, and there are moments when the cinnamon note, which was clearly intended to be a bit player, seems to envelope me in its rustic warmth. Pastoral is noteworthy for being the only Pineward perfume that uses intense sweetness to its advantage. 


Caravansary (Pineward)

A Deer Musk Pod

Nicholas Nilsson knows that dedicated fragheads like samples. This fact is one that many niche brands have opted to ignore in recent years, as the economic wisdom of sending samples has been called into question by the millions who scratch and sniff, and then move on without buying. What Nilsson apparently knows better than his competitors is that potential customers who smell and move on are still potential customers, even if they wait a few weeks or months to purchase. So he wisely included in his sample package an upcoming perfume called Caravansary, which according to him is a work in progress, and slated for release this year.

The notes breakdown for Caravansary is as follows: fir balsam, deer musk, vanilla, black tea, lavender, blue spruce, blue chamomile, treemoss, incense, campfire smoke. I mention the list because I can smell most of these notes in play (minus the "blue" descriptors, which sound good but aren't relevant), and Caravansary is a perfume that evolves on skin over time to reveal different facets that are not obvious in the first five minutes, but become very obvious after five hours. It opens with a rather "pissy" terpenic pine accord of fir needles and sappy-resinous greens, with a soft lavender note holding the bitterness in check. Twenty minutes later a smooth vanilla note rises from the forest floor like a cool mist, adding a tempered sweetness to offset the angry woodiness at the start. 

Eventually the fragrance becomes herbal, with hints of a tea note, a few drops of chamomile, and a smoky quality within the vanilla. Caravansary's magic unfolds at the ninety minute mark, when a novel deer musk accord takes shape. It smells like 3-methyl-1-cyclopentadecanone (laveo muscone), aka deer musk, and deer musk, real or synthetic, has more weight to the nose than smell. It is a heavy, acrid, powdery, animalic, and subtly sweet sensation that fills the lungs with every inhalation, and holds them open for an extra few seconds. Caravansary's base is a deer musk note with its hard edges of motor oil and dirty horse stall sanded into an eminently wearable and somewhat animalic sweetness, an extension of the vanilla that preceded it. Note to Nicholas -- don't be so polite! This is his Kouros, and it smells great, but the unrealized promise of its musk has me, pardon the pun, "pining" for more. Luckily, he has time to tinker. 


White Fir (Pineward)

Vidal must not
have known what it was starting when it created Pino Silvestre in 1955. The Venetian firm spent months perfecting their iconic smell of nature, and after World War II it became an ode to Earth and the pastoral pleasures that armies had trampled over and forgotten. The Italian aesthetic of coniferous and herbal-green perfumes was adopted the world over, and Pino Silvestre was a slow-burn hit that found its way into the American lexicon of masculinity and sat among its cultural markers. 

The formula was deceptively complex, and also just plain deceptive: Lino Vidal included no actual pine. Instead, a clever amalgamation of lemon, basil, lavender, and a honeyed woody amber comprised his trademark evergreen accord. The citrus and cheery dry-needle interpretation of coumarin lent the fragrance an eerie freshness that felt akin to walking through a forest on a cool spring morning. It's the sort of smell you can't really imitate, which is probably why Vidal cornered the market. With so few selections available to men anyway, Pino Silvestre was a respectable daily splash, and reflective of the virility of the fifties Mad Man, the sort of scent that filled the morning train. 

Sixty-eight years later, Nicholas Nilsson has recaptured the austere beauty of pine in the Vidal tradition. White Fir is one of Pineward's more recent releases, and is just as crisp and smart as its European predecessor, thanks to its gorgeous pairing of citrus and pine. Nilsson subbed the morning brightness of Vidal's lemons with the sunset glow of oranges, and brushed some icy ginger into the greens to add frost to his landscape. The result smells the way I imagine Pino Silvestre did upon first release, which is to say, astonishingly beautiful. Pineward has in excess of twenty straight pine frags in its line. Frankly, Nilsson could can most of the others and just keep this one. A masterpiece. 


Apple Tabac (Pineward)

Good perfumery transports
me to a different time and place via my nose. It is January 1st, 2023, and I'm in the dullest part of the year. January is a month with few associations other than disappointment that the holidays are over and the chagrined acknowledgement that work must resume. But what if I could turn back the clock to a point where all the holidays are ahead again? Is there a time-travel device that would let me do that?

Turns out there is, and it comes in the form of a fragrance. It's by Nicholas Nilsson, an indie perfumer who heads a brand of woodsy, pine-focused perfumes, only this one isn't about pine. It's called Apple Tabac, and it's about the salubrious smells of apple orchards in October. One spray sends me back to early autumn, before Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. I'm standing in an orchard on a cool day. A breeze sends ripples of fifty-eight degree air through row after row of apple trees, and carries the sublime aroma of fresh red and green fruits, a bouquet of leaves, dried hay bales, and fermented cores nestled in the soil underfoot. It's a dry and semisweet smell, smoother than silicon and as ethereal as choir music drifting past a cathedral gallery to the heavens.  

This is the simplest of Pineward's fragrances, which is what I like most about it. Its easy timbre of tree apples and fresh air is so pure and affecting that any other note would be disruptive. Prior batches had a maple note which has since been removed, and Apple Tabac is all the better for it. Maple would conflict and add unnecessary sweetness, and I hope Nilsson keeps it out of future bottles. There's only the mildest hint of tobacco, which is also a good thing. But would I spend $200 for this? Nicole Miller for Men achieves a similar effect for $10 per bottle, albeit at lower quality. The fact that I'm even considering the price says something. Apple Tabac is a gorgeous perfume, and if you enjoy the smell of orchards in autumn, it might be your last stop.