Forbidden Games (By Kilian)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Brut Eau de Toilette (Unilever)

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

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

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

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


Absolu Aventus: Is Creed Finished?

Snazzy bottle, boring name.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Who has the best online fragrance database?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Green Tea (Alyssa Ashley)

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

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

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

This detached rendition of green tea is spa-like and aromatherapeutic, without actually offering any clear floral or woody notes, which is rather rare. Tea, citrus, a hint of lavender, and a super sheer jasmine in the barely-there base, and that's it. It's a prototypical late nineties "fresh" fragrance concept that somehow survived. Alyssa Ashley no longer calls it "Green Tea Essence," and the redesigned box and bottle look even more basic without the unisex symbol, but the scent hasn't been tampered with. It takes me back to my salad-eating college days. Three ounces goes for six bucks on eBay. 


The Brutal Truth About "Wet Shaver Scents"

Your lady may send it back.

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

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

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

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

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

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


DKNY Be Delicious Fresh Blossom (Donna Karan)

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

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

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


Domenico Caraceni Milano 1913 Eau de Parfum (Domenico Caraceni)

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

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

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


Sel Marin (Heeley)

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

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

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