My Thoughts On Post-Covid Cool Water

New Script to the Left.

Eight years ago I purchased a 4.2 fluid oz bottle of Cool Water by Davidoff, and I wrote that Cool Water's formula had officially been destroyed by Coty. It may have been a stale bottle, or it was truly a lame reformulation of a classic that should never have been altered in the first place. I took my time with that bottle and noticed two things: It grew subtly stronger over time, and the liquid changed to a light green. I guess this explains why old bottles look greenish-blue. The juice changed with age (although I think script-font bottles did use a darker glass). In any case, it improved slightly, but still smelled stale. 

Fast-forward to today, and I picked up a 2.5 oz bottle of the newest formulation. There has been a community rumor going around for years now that the smaller sizes for fragrances contain slightly stronger fragrance, while the larger and "jumbo" sizes (like 6.7 oz bottles) have watered-down concentrations, which may or may not be true. I really don't know. What I notice with the 2.5 oz Cool Water is it smells sharper, clearer, and fresher than the previous bottle did, and it comes in packaging that is noticeably different as well. 

This new packaging has yet another variation on the font of Cool Water. Now the "L" of "Cool" is a line with no loop, and the "W" of "Water" lacks the flourishes on either end (downward rake on the left, overhead swoop to the right), with nothing more than a slanted style. Also, "eau de toilette" is printed on one line instead of two at the bottom. The color of the glass, the bevel cut, and the cap are all the same. If anything, the new glass may be a shade darker, which might be an illusion due to the smaller size. 

The new formula smells pretty good to me. Longevity and projection seem to be the same, but I think they amped-up the top accord of crab apple and lavender, with brighter fruit and floral notes, and also perked up the peppermint and rosemary by a hair, which is nice. I get a bit more iris in the mid, and a bit less violet than I used to, but the iris and tobacco in the drydown play very well. Coty has been mis-marketing Cool Water as an aquatic for many years, and so it's interesting to me that they haven't attempted to make it smell like one. Thankfully they've still kept the original scent profile, and when I compare it to my 2006 bottle, it smells like its old self, albeit in a fresher tone. 

Covid-19 may have come for Cool Water. In 2020, a terrible pandemic swept the globe, and damaged the olfactory senses of millions of people, some temporarily, others for good. This scourge of the nasal passages punished not just civilians, but also fragrance industry workers. Imagine the Cool Water division of Coty in the thick of 2020. Several high-profile executives get Covid, and suddenly are unable to interpret perfume - any perfume. Things from Dior's Poison to Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille to, yes, Cool Water, were suddenly nigh undetectable to those who were accustomed to detecting everything. What were once vivid scent profiles with varying textures and weights had suddenly vanished into thin air.

Cool Water would have been especially undetectable. It's certainly possible that my previous bottle was stale, but I don't really think so. I think it was Coty's pre-pandemic formula of the 2010s that had been whittled down to a shadow of its former self. Greed and cynicism led to Coty gutting its flagship fragrance, and they basically took the deodorant formula and made it the fragrance formula. Predictably, this led to complaints by people on Fragrantica and YouTube, which further sullied Cool Water's reputation.

But then the Great Anosmia of 2020 took hold. Executives struggled to smell, which meant the formulas needed to reverse course. My theory is that they dug into the archives and retrieved the formula from the mid 2000s, and threw it into 2.5 oz bottles (I haven't seen any 4.2 oz bottles of this new packaging, but I'm sure they're out there in droves). A version of Cool Water that most people haven't smelled in years was revived, simply to make it possible for everyone at Coty to smell what they sell. By resorting to using a previous formula instead of yet another reformulation, they saved money (no need to hire perfumers), and put the savings into the formula budget. 

I don't think it's any accident that Coty issued Cool Water Parfum in 2021, or Cool Water Reborn in 2022, both of which were heftier than anything the company had released in a long time. To keep pace, I think they supercharged the original fragrance and hoped nobody would notice the timing. Now, is this to say that Cool Water is really going to behave the way Lancaster's version did twenty years ago? Maybe, or maybe not. It all depends on exactly how faithfully they adhered to their prior formula. It's possible they cut some corners, despite wanting to rejuvenate the intensity, and these betrayals will make themselves evident in the years to come. I'm not entirely sure how far back they turned the dial. All I can say is, it smells like they turned it back. For the first time in living memory, a company reversed their bullshit. 

Of interest to me is how beautiful Cool Water is, and how well it stands against the ravages of time. I think Green Irish Tweed helped Coty keep it in production, with Creed's landmark perfume drawing men and women in to make the comparison, which had the unintended effect of bolstering Davidoff's fragrance and keeping it alive. The similarities between the two fragrances are undeniable, and Cool Water remains the best alternative to GIT if you're looking for Pierre Bourdon's work. 

I still consider it to be Bourdon's eau de toilette version of GIT, sort of the way Chanel has different versions of the same scent in different concentrations (Coco EDT is entirely different from the EDP). If Creed did EDTs of their perfumes, GIT's would inevitably smell like Cool Water. It's fascinating that Bourdon executed this concept while under contract with two different brands. I imagine that he wanted to give Creed the Cool Water formula for GIT, but just hadn't figured it out yet, and so Davidoff was the lucky winner. 

With its sprightly notes of minty aromatics, apple, lavender, neroli, tobacco, iris, violet, and musk, Cool Water remains a masterpiece, and something every man should have in his collection. It's a modernized and lighter variation of Green Irish Tweed, no more synthetic than its predecessor (if we're being honest), and well worth the twenty bucks you'll pay for a bottle. But a word to Coty: Bring back the original all-script logo and font. Bring back the brass-colored lettering. Give us the white rectangle on the box again, with the difficult to read words scrawled and crossed on the cardboard. It was classier, it was easier on the eyes, and it kept the riff-raff out. 


Tres Nuit (Armaf)

If you'd asked me twenty years ago if Tres Nuit by Armaf (which was actually released in 2015, but let's pretend for a minute) smells like Creed's Green Irish Tweed, I would have said it's pretty close, especially in the top notes, but that it's a tad soft, synthetic, and thin in the base, and falls short overall. If you ask me now? Entirely different answer. 

Green Irish Tweed has always been an aberration in the brand's range. It's the one Creed that is blatantly synthetic, yet it's that luxury soap quality that makes it smell great. The list of chemicals is astounding: Dihydromyrcenol (> 15%), Ambroxide, Galaxolide, Methyl Octine Carbonate, Methyl Heptine Carbonate, and it goes on. In isolation they smell cheap, but together they're heavenly. Pierre Bourdon's original 1985 fougère was a resounding breakthrough in masculine perfumery, and a singular masterpiece for Creed. 

Over the years, GIT has changed. It went from having the world's smoothest and richest sandalwood base, to having no sandalwood base. It went from having a grassy green apple top, to having a muted minty opening that resembles Aspen a little more than it should. To conceal the lack of precious wood notes in the drydown, Creed amped up the iris (irones) and violet (ionones), which resulted in a rich, purple-floral accord that smells great but linear. These changes made GIT vulnerable to the likes of Dubai-based Armaf and its well-tuned gas chromatographs. 

Enter Tres Nuit in 2015, right around the time when GIT lost its luster. Whoever put this scent together did two things soundly: They studied several vintages of their template, and spliced together their rendering of two different GITs. They used the diffusively aromatic top accord of pre-2005 GIT, which, when compared side-by-side with Lancaster Cool Water's top accord, is nearly indistinguishable, and they incorporated the simplified floral musk drydown found in the post-2011 version of GIT. The result smells so much like Green Irish Tweed (and not Chez Bond) that I no longer need to buy the Creed. 

Many reviewers claim that Tres Nuit contains a strong lavender note that isn't in GIT. I think the people saying this are just "joining the crowd," so to speak. One or two people said Tres Nuit has lavender, so now everyone says it has lavender. I don't really smell a strong lavender note, although there's certainly lavender blended in there, as there is with Cool Water. But there's also a soft lavender in GIT, so I'm not sure why detecting a bit of it in Tres Nuit is supposed to make it wildly different. These are all fougères, people. 

Edit 5/23/23:

I've been watching interviews of Gabe Oppenheim, author of The Ghost Perfumer: Creed, Lies, & the Scent of the Century. In them, he claims that Pierre Bourdon's brief for Lancôme's Sagamore was essentially the formula for Green Irish Tweed, and alleges that Olivier Creed pilfered it after Lancôme rejected it. Supposedly this was something Creed did repeatedly with many of Bourdon's rejected briefs, and he did it without ever paying him. If true, it's a hell of a story. (That's a very big "if," and I'll follow up soon with another article on the subject.) 

It would mean that Tres Nuit is basically what Sagamore would have been, had Lancôme been a little wiser. Lancôme is a typical cosmetics brand that shrewdly balances its formula budgets, and it doesn't spend absolute top dollar on its perfumes, so it's compelling to think that Sagamore would have been almost exactly like Tres Nuit, i.e., GIT on a designer budget. This really blows my mind, to be honest. Oppenheim's contention creates a very interesting list of "what-if" scenarios, and the Sagamore brief is one of them. 

Like all things, the credibility of the author's claims is problematic, and I look forward to unpacking why I believe he might be only partially accurate in his assertions concerning Bourdon and Creed. 


Treng Waves (Ibrahim Fuhaid)

Treng Waves won Fragrantica's Editor's Choice Award for 2022, which caught my attention. Judging from Ibrahim Fuhaid's Instagram page, it seems he works with a diverse range of materials to create his fragrances, including a wide variety of natural tinctures and extractions. I'm not sure that he needs to, and I don't like this fragrance. 

I want to like it. The pyramid for Treng Waves appeals to me, with notes of tea, peach, citron, lavender, ambergris, and leather. The top accord of citrus and peach is delightful, with a juicy and green aroma that evokes a bright Saturday morning. However, it's quickly followed by a musky designer leather scent that reminds me of Ombré Leather, blended with a hint of Kouros. I've smelled this sort of thing many times before in old-school designer frags from the eighties and nineties. This one is a little more transparent than most, and a strange haze of peach lingers in the background during the six hours that Treng Waves lasts. Longevity is relatively poor, as is projection. Meh.

This fragrance isn't prohibitively expensive, and I like its bottle. Fuhaid is relatively new to the scene, and I think he deserves praise for taking his time and not flooding the market with releases, like many upstart niche houses have in recent years. He has one other perfume, Vinoud, and I'm interested in wearing it. But Treng Waves is just a smidgen too cheap and derivative to spur me along. It doesn't help that Elie Tahari's EDP, with its lush bergamot, pear, violet, and tea accord, smells infinitely better at a quarter of the price. 


MEM (Bogue)

Photo by inkknife_2000
It would be futile to attempt a long and detailed description of MEM, as others have done elsewhere. Instead, I will provide a basic testimony, and allow you to interpret Antonio Gardoni's creation on your own. As an amateur fragrance writer, I lack the skill necessary to do it justice. Its notes flicker like fireflies in the bleak pitch of understanding, providing a mere glimpse of the transcendent and elusive nature of great perfumery. 

MEM is a floral fougère, front-loaded with lavender. Many layers of lavender. These consist mostly of bitter French distillate, interspersed with sweet English. They're elemental but expansive, and speak to the gloriously aromatic facets of the flower. There are supposedly five kinds of lavender in this opening phase, and it smells so intense that I hallucinate other things, phantom flowers and herbs that loop in and out of perception, always returning to the familiar Lavandula. As time passes, the scent of jasmine sambac absolute merges with the creamy, almost-coconut aroma of aldehyde C18, and together they fuse with the spicy presence of sandalwood, creating a well-defined and sturdy accord. White floral notes are plentiful, almost overwhelming in their dynamism, with lucid orange blossom and sweet osmanthus vying for attention behind a purple veil. The heart of this fragrance is, to my nose at least, a white and yellow floral bouquet. 

There are moments of indolic blossoms, brief bursts of fruity sweetness, natural warmth, and freshness in abundance. At no point does MEM come across as a synthetic parody of itself. It maintains its playful hum for hours, exuding a carnal beauty that few would expect from a simple bottle with a soft rubber cap. It evokes the feel of an erotic encounter in a lavender field, a farmer's daydream bottled up and ready to go. Majestic stuff. 


Rosa Greta (Eau d'Italie)

Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale, the owners of Eau d'Italie, were inspired by Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, also known as Greta Garbo, and made her their muse when they created Rosa Greta. The story goes that Garbo and her lover once visited the Amalfi town of Ravello to share a night of passion, and with the locale's seaside ambiance and dense patches of roses, Murena and Sersale had their romantic brief. 

I happen to like rose fragrances, and I've been wearing Tea Rose by The Perfumer's Workshop for years. Despite having worn several niche offerings, I feel that $10 Tea Rose is still the most compelling rendition of the flower, but I'm open to Murena and Sersale's persuasive marketing. Say what you wish, but they have a concept here. Garbo's screen career transitioned seamlessly from the silent film era to the "talkies," and her offscreen persona was famously reclusive and mysterious. Also, it's rumored that she was gay, a fact that helps me to better understand Rosa Greta. It goes on brisk and green and translucent, with crisp notes of green tea and a tart fruit that resembles red currant. It's a strikingly modern and fresh intro for a scent that pays homage to a Hollywood icon.

Within twenty minutes, the green and fruity accord transitions to a dulcet and crystalline rose, and it's quite verdant and fresh. I'm intrigued by how Firmenich's Fabrice Pellegrin managed to strike a harmonious balance between the lushly floral heart of the scent and its woody lining. Upon its release in 2017, Sebastian Murena commented to Fragrantica that old-fashioned roses weren't his style, and that he wanted Eau d'Italie's newest perfume to reflect a more contemporary finesse. He complimented Firmenich for bringing his vision to life. What he didn't mention was how Pellegrin gave his rose perfume a five o'clock shadow; at about five hours into wear time, Rosa Greta gets noticeably heftier, with distinct notes of violet, violet leaf, and blackcurrant running parallel to the rose. 

The effect feels familiar and comfortable, yet also original. It's as if a whispering breeze of Green Irish Tweed has rustled through the garden. The composition is acutely feminine to the casual passerby, but vaguely masculine to those who pause to consider it. Pellegrin's generous drydown of rosy esters and Ambroxan only bolsters the experience. Rosa Greta is beautiful, powerful, and very modern. Garbo would be proud. 


Orgasmo (Hilde Soliani)

Orgasmo was inspired by a cup of iced almond coffee that Hilde Soliani had one day at the beach. That must've been one heck of a brew. I envision Hilde receiving her beverage, taking an unsuspecting sip, and shazam! Her eyes roll back into her head, her lungs exhale, the surf crashes into the sand, and she gasps for someone to bring her a whole pitcher of the stuff. It was so good that life choices were made. Artists are like that.

Unfortunately, artists are also a bit narcissistic, and Orgasmo is a work of pure narcissism. It doesn't take much to do a flavor in perfume form. IFF stands for "International Flavors & Fragrances." It all comes from the same place, and throwing some amaretto, a few milky lactones, and a dash of vanilla into an EDT isn't rocket science. What would possess anyone to think that 100 ml of a digestif on the rocks is worth $175? 

As advertised, it begins with a cool and woody almond, followed by a sensation of plush milkiness that gets ever more vanillic on the retrohale. Eventually it settles into the staleness of a sorta-coffee, sorta-amaretto, sorta-milk thing. It is beige and well behaved and utterly torpid, with nothing else happening in its six-hour run. Orgasmo is as exciting as finding a copy of Ethan Frome on the Jersey Transit to New Brunswick. Crack it open, settle in, try not to smell anything, and know you aren't living your best life.


Ulysse (Vicky Tiel)

Contrary to popular belief, Vicky Tiel did not invent the miniskirt; Mary Quant did. With that aside, she did release a fragrance called Ulysse, which hit shelves in 1998. It's one of those oft-forgotten classic masculines that I'll occasionally spot in the dusty corners of fragrance shops, a relic of the nineties with a minuscule fanbase that has somehow kept it in production. I finally got around to wearing it this month, and I have some thoughts. 

Fragrantica claims that Ulysse conveys a prominent mignonette note. Reviewers there and on Basenotes also frequently mention that it has a yuzu citrus note in the opening accord. Here's my problem with all of this: Precious few Westerners have ever actually smelled yuzu (zest or juice), and even fewer have any clue what mignonette is. Reader, I suggest you take all reviews of Ulysse that mention in gushing detail its rendering of these notes with a grain of salt. They aren't truthful. 

However, I'd be lying if I didn't admit outright that I've spent weeks pondering exactly what Ulysse does smell like. As it lights on skin, it smells distinctly fruity, sweet, fresh, yet none of its top notes elucidate on a particular congener in nature, and thus they elude description. The perfumer briefly achieved the pinnacle of success in his field by cleverly assembling conventional materials into an unorthodox and original form. During its first ten minutes, Ulysse is a compellingly abstract fragrance that manages to evoke a wistful sense of mystery, despite the obvious presence of conventional citrus aromatics and "grapey" methyl anthranilate. It reminds me of Laguna, which was released seven years prior, although it's ironically more feminine. 

At around the ninety-minute mark, I notice the unique opening of the fragrance giving way to a more common powdery fougère scent that is reminiscent of Avon Wild Country or Pinaud Clubman. An inert and sour rose note resolves itself amid a green haze, and a woody and mossy side of Ulysse settles in. It's a puff of dehydrated lavender permeated by soft florals (rose, carnation) and moss. After seven hours, Ulysse hangs close to skin and fabric, but I still get complimented on it. This tells me it's potent enough, with respectable longevity and sillage.

Its strength reminds me that Vicky Tiel's fragrance is a product of the nineties. I can't appreciate its trees, but I like its forest, a pine-green and terracotta expanse with muted floral-patterned curtains and VH1 playing on a Sharp television. Ulysse was the fragrance that college students wore when they saw "There's Something About Mary" and "Saving Private Ryan." It's fresh, which appeals to women (my girlfriend perked up when she caught an early whiff), but it turns dry and floral and a bit old-school woody (she then wrinkled her nose). It's worth far more than I paid, and I'm glad it's still around. She may not have invented the miniskirt, but Vicky did release a very good and surprisingly emblematic fragrance for men.