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.