6/21/24

Dodo Jackfruit Edition (Zoologist)

One of the things you learn about perfumery when you become a bonafide enthusiast is that note pyramids are usually bullshit. There are notes stated and notes smelled, and usually they don't jive. I tend to look for pyramid notes that a five year-old can smell to see if I can detect them first, and worry about the weirder stuff later. I have no idea what jackfruit smells like, and I don't really care, as there's also lavender and turmeric listed in the literature. What matters to me is that I find a Zoologist scent that is versatile and well-made (Cockatiel is a little too special for that). Where is this brand's daily driver fragrance, the one to enjoy without overthinking, the "dumb reach?" 

There are three versions of Zoologist's Dodo -- the original from 2019 (a controversial scent), the reissue of 2020, and the Jackfruit Edition -- and I'm left wondering why Victor Wong can't just stick to the original fragrance. Imagine if every brand did this; Xerjoff comes out with "Mefisto 2024 Edition" and ditches the original, leaving Mefisto fans to wonder what they should think now of Mefisto, and of Xerjoff. Creed says, "Say goodbye to 2010 Aventus and hello to 'Aventus Maple Edition,'" and you can anticipate outrage among Aventus fans. So how is it that Zoologist can habitually nudge its fragrances into the bin and replace them with new editions? Is there no loyalty to any of these perfumes? Anyway, I sense that Jackfruit Edition is not a replacement, but a mere flanker to the replacement, which has also been discontinued by the way, so I guess it's better than nothing. If there are any fans of the original Dodo, or Dodo 2020, or Bat, or Panda, or Cardinal, or Dragonfly, you're screwed. But at least you have Dodo Jackfruit Edition.

This latest iteration smells the most like a potential "signature" masculine. It opens with a fizzy tropical fruit sweetness, blended closely with an aldehydic green material evocative of galbanum, but brighter and more sheer. This rapidly gives way to a turmeric note mated to a pleasant lavender that smells plush and a bit doughy, and eventually everything slides into a smooth hum of lavender, tonka, and orris. Yves Cassar is the man behind it all, he of Tom Ford for Men fame, and you can feel the touch of a man who knows what men like, as Jackfruit Edition is no less than a proper modern aromatic fougère that wears luxuriously but comfortably. Points to Cassar for integrating turmeric into an otherwise familiar structure and proving that sometimes you really can trust the pyramid. 

6/20/24

Understanding Arabian Market Creeds, and the Countless Paranoia-Inducing Inconsistencies in Creed's Packaging

Western Creed on Left; Eastern Creed on Right, with Gold Delete Box

I've always wanted an Arabian market Creed, and I finally bought one. What's so special about the Creeds sold to the Saudis, you ask? Well, not a whole lot, actually. They're still the same old fragrances; it isn't like Green Irish Tweed in Dubai smells like glittering angel spunk or anything. There is an old rumor floating around on Basenotes or Fragrantica that Creed made their Middle Eastern fragrances a touch stronger to better withstand the punishing desert heat, but I believe that's a myth. I'm not after higher concentration, although that would certainly be nice. What I've always liked about the Arabian Creeds is the gold delete on their boxes, i.e., no gold leaf trim around the fragrance name-frame or on the Welsh crest above it. The box itself is uniformly white, and to my knowledge this was how all Creeds looked in that region. 

Here's the funny thing about that: many people have questioned this version of the box and asked if they'd bought a fake when they received it. It elicited a consistently suspicious reaction, mostly from young men who of course stupidly dropped hundreds of dollars on a perfume without researching it first. Those of us who actually read about Creed and obsess over every tidbit of information we can glean from the brand always knew that the Saudi and Far Eastern markets got the gold-delete boxes, while the rest of the world had the gold leaf version. I couldn't tell you the reason for this; I suspect the broader international market had developed a more demanding taste for the brand than Europe or America had, and thus Creed cut down on the slightly pricier detail of adding gold leaf to their boxes to maintain profit margins while still quasi-mass-producing their fragrances. More boxes needed? Make them a little cheaper. Makes sense to me. 

But of course Creed never really addresses its packaging discrepancies, which leaves buyers wondering. The bottles of Fleurissimo pictured above are from different eras, with the newer Western bottle on the left boasting beautiful gold trim on its box and an English-language leaflet, and the Arabian bottle on the right, the bottle I recently purchased, with an even more beautiful gold delete box and Arabic-language leaflet. My bottle is vintage, dating back to 2005, and interestingly it lacks the 1760 embossing under the Welsh crest, while also having a paler green velour name-frame compared to the Western version. When you go back to 2005, you start to creep into a vintage territory with Creed where the packaging details get hazy and harder to understand. I can see how if someone received the Arabian bottle, they would immediately wonder if they'd been conned with a fake. It's a semi-racist knee-jerk response that Westerners have when they see something that they expected would be thoroughly Anglicized is instead bedecked with what looks like a cheaper box and literature printed in a foreign language. 

Last week I joined a vintage Creed enthusiasts group on Facebook, and had a brief chat with one of its founding members about counterfeits. He's been in the game even longer than I have, and told me that when it comes to feminine Creeds, you're almost guaranteed to receive the real deal, even on eBay. He said the exception to this is the recently-released Carmina, which he stated was Creed's real "Aventus for women," (as opposed to the actual Aventus for Her). I told him I had no idea it was that popular, but apparently Carmina is making a splash. I think BlackRock had decided to focus more on the female buyer, which actually makes sense for Creed. I mentioned to him that Love in White and Floralie are also faked, with the former being fairly obvious and the latter more insidious. He pointed out that it would be utterly futile to try to counterfeit Love in Black, given its inimitable bottle, and that virtually all of the clear-glass feminines were virgin territory for fakers, which I must admit sounds right. When was the last time anyone was conned with a dupe of Fleurissimo? Of Jasmin Impératrice Eugénie? Of Fantasia de Fleurs? How many threads have women or their boyfriends posted asking if their bottle of Vanisia or Fleurs de Bulgarie or Tubéreuse Indiana was real? 

The truth is that Creed is two brands split by gender marketing: the "male" Creeds, which are the heralded fragrances of high quality, and the "female" Creeds, which are viewed as if they belong to another brand altogether. The "femme" Millesimes are independent of the rest of the line. Varanis Ridari and I have both made the mistake of claiming that Original Santal was the last of the Millesimes; Love in Black is stamped as a Millesime, and was released three years later, which potentially makes it the last. I overlooked this little fact because like many enthusiasts I tend to forget about the femme line, which seems ridiculous because it is. The feminine fragrances are mostly considered "second-tier" by enthusiasts, although I am not one who shares this view. Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare is an incredibly gorgeous tea rose fragrance, rather like Tea Rose done on a limitless budget, and with natural ambergris added. I have a review of Fleurissimo pending (provided my bottle hasn't become "eau de bowling shoe"), but remember it as a delicate and creamy white floral with hints of banana-like ylang for extra sweetness, thoroughly beautiful, and hopefully as much in vintage form. Love in Black is a somber but gorgeous perfume, with all the Creed quality there to feel, and Spring Flower is equally magnificent. None of these feminine releases rate as inferior to me. I should do better. 

So I purchased my vintage Fleurissimo with confidence that it is real. But I also marvel at the potential for a less experienced buyer to feel afraid; the packaging is so different! Consider the many variances in Creed packaging, and then ask yourself how anyone knows what the fuck they're buying. There's the Western gold-gilt packaging, and if you go back ten years or so, you have the velour name-frames, the Welsh crest, the 1760 emboss, the gold lettering on the bottom front of the boxes, the lettering on the top, the lettering on the back, the logo-embossed background print on the boxes, the lot number stickers, the velour and flat labeling on the bottles, the atomizers (three generations to consider), the "white ring" under the nozzles (probably the only constant feature), and the question of what are commonalities with fakes. If you can say anything about Creed with 100% confidence, it is that the brand is consistent about its inconsistencies. 

Go back to the mid 2000s and earlier, and things get even weirder. You have the red stamping of various royal crests on the boxes, which look like someone literally hand-stamped them on, which they probably did. You have things like the "sailboat version" of Erolfa, with its pretty little boat painting in the name-frame. You have boxes that have the Creed logo embossed everywhere, and boxes that don't (see below). You have bottles with different cap colors, and some frags that went from opaque to clear caps. You have feminine bottles shaped like masculine bottles. You have different iterations of the "royalty list" on the top of the box, the back of the box, and different versions of the lettering on the bottom front of the box. You have some Creeds that had their names printed right on the glass, and those same Creeds eventually adopted the velvet/velour label. You get into the Arabian market, and you see discrepancies between packaging features there versus here. Because Creed never explained the gold delete feature, one can only speculate, as I have, but regardless of reasoning, it looks badass. Not really sure why I like it so much, but I do. Must be my formal training in graphic design (a BFA in graphic design). For some reason it looks like it makes sense on an Arabian box. Saudi Arabian Royal Water, pictured below, looks beautiful with its silver delete box. 


I imagine dozens of wealthy oil sheiks in Dubai plowing through bottle after bottle of their favorite Creeds, maybe even throwing them around to guests at parties like candy, and Creed struggling to keep up with the demand. Olivier tells his packaging manager, "Get rid of the leafing on all but the lettering, it will speed up box production and keep costs down." He adds, "And lose the full-panel embossing of the company logo on the maculine/unisex boxes." Voila, the Arabian Creed. Clearly the demand was no less for the feminine Creeds, even the more obscure ones like Tubéreuse Indiana.

Or perhaps it isn't so clear. Perhaps Creed simply wanted an easy way to visually differentiate the Eastern market Creeds from their European market counterparts, and so used this simple and cost-effective way to do so. Perhaps it was something that Olivier felt was an apt allusion to an oil sheik's white keffiyeh, which would be a fittingly semi-racist European view. Whatever the case may be, I strongly suspect most of the gold delete boxes have been retired by BlackRock, and Kering will maintain the status quo. 

Add to all of this the imperfections in Creed boxes and bottles, especially the feminine Creeds, with things like bottles with and without bowties, bottles with and without clear corner contouring, bottles with faded lettering, bottles with weirdly marked lot numbers, bottles with faded 'Paris, France' embossing on the glass, and bottles with no laser-etched numbers. The one constant with all Creeds is the clean white ring around the atomizer stem, probably the easiest marker to seek for determining authenticity. 
Everything else is a variable that might or might not be of help.

6/19/24

Seahorse (Zoologist)

Julien Rasquinet, the man behind Creed's Acqua Originale range, was tapped for this one, and I approached it with all the trepidation imaginable after smelling Zoologist's Squid, otherwise known as Victor Wong's idea of an aquatic. The pyramid for Seahorse is a bit more conventional: cardamom, fennel, and ambrette on top, clary sage and white florals in the mid, and a woody base of vetiver, rounded off with "algae absolute" and ambergris. How bad could it be? 

Not bad at all, actually. There's a briefly generic quality to Seahorse that is immediately apparent at first spray, which screams 2000s DRUGSTORE AQUATIC at the top of its lungs, and I'm nonplussed during that stage. My brain immediately goes to, "What the fuck, another one of these overpriced designer frags put out by a niche label!" The salty ozonic "fresh" chems are all there and accounted for, smelling marine-like and sour with just a hint of nondescript sweetness to tame the wild surf. I might as well just go to Burlington and grab any blue bottle issued between 2001 and 2012, and save myself money. If you're into fragrances, you've smelled this before. Many, many, many times before. Even though it smells okay, you don't want to spend more than twenty bucks for it. It's sneaker juice incarnate. You're at Orange Julius flirting with a random girl before going to see a movie. You're twenty-two years old again. 

Five minutes into the drydown, all the bad nostalgia disappears, and my nose perks up. There's something else going on here; something different in the ensuing accords, something very good. Fennel, clary sage, and neroli, with powdery-clean notes, and then, two hours later, a mineralic-green effect that dances with all the common designer chems of the opening, lending Seahorse extra dimension, extra life. The base is a quiet amber, and longevity sucks (five hours), but honestly? Not bad, not bad at all. 

6/18/24

Cockatiel (Zoologist)

I find the backstory to Cockatiel interesting: Perfumer Sven Pritzkoleit formulated it years ago for his own perfume brand, SP Parfums, and named it Powder and Dust. His business shut down, but he sold the Powder and Dust formula to Zoologist so it could live on. It won the 2019 Arts and Olfaction award in the Artisan category, a clue to its excellence. I wore it for a day, and let me tell you, they were right. It's a good one. No, scratch that. It's better than "good." Cockatiel is great. Full stop. 

I had my doubts. The note pyramid is a strange hybrid of unusual and uninteresting: a top of champagne, raspberry, rhubarb; a mid of mimosa, "powdery notes," Cashmeran; a base of guiac, patchouli, vanilla, musk. Oh, and cockatiel absolute, distilled from the finest hand-picked cockatiels (that's in the fine print). I jest; the company makes a point of mentioning that all notes are synthetic, and the perfume does not use animal anything to make it smell great. And great it smells, opening with a crystalline accord of fine white wine with a hint of berry tartness and a subtle bitter-greenness that emerges as a vague impression of raw rhubarb. This is followed soon after by the fluffiest, gentlest, sweetest mimosa/acacia on the commercial market. It's soft and powdery, a little woody, and so breathtakingly expansive and dimensional that it quite literally hugs the air around me. Incredible. 

Seven hours later, at a low hum, this sweet yellow floral accord remains as it was, then gets sweeter still, as hints of vanilla tinge the outer edges of its powdery dream. I'm not one who often succumbs to sentimental jelly reviews, but here Prtizkoleit crafted something so beautifully affecting that words escape me. Cockatiel smells like a departure from the Zoologist brand because it wasn't a Zoologist creation to begin with. Thus, I view the fragrance as more of a reflection of Pritzkoleit's genius than of Victor Wong's curation; any niche executive worth his salt would jump on the opportunity to acquire an Arts and Olfaction winner and call it their own. With that said, kudos to Zoologist and to Wong for keeping this masterpiece in production. Cockatiel is full-bottle worthy.

6/15/24

Revisiting Creed's Love in Black: The "Fakest" & Strangest Creed of All


My 2017 bottle of Love in Black. It's a tester,
And I happened to have a cap. This bottle
Is what Creed calls "Artisanal Quality."
When you think Creed, you think three-dimensional and multifaceted perfumes, stuff that lives in the air and moves around you in stages until the glorious show concludes in a haze of ambergris. But Love in Black? This one moves differently from the rest; Olivier went rogue and defied his own brand identity with the sequel to Love in White. Widely known as the "synthetic" femme Creed, Love in Black is a somewhat spooky case. 

There are a few things about this fragrance that strike me. Let's start with the fact that whenever a Creed's reputation is less than stellar, people are happy to attribute the formula to Olivier and/or Erwin. When it's a megahit like GIT or Aventus, suddenly the names Bourdon and Herault get tossed around. Love in Black was panned in the 2008 edition of Perfumes: The Guide, as was Love in White, and since then critics have leapt onto the bandwagon of poo-pooing the "Love Ins" at every opportunity. Thus this is one of the least popular Creeds in the range, and perhaps the most controversial one. 

Another interesting thing is how it smells. Creed claims there are notes of violet leaves, cranberry, and raspberry on top, followed by rose, "violet accord," orris butter, and jasmine in the mid, and cedarwood, musk, and "leathery notes" in the base. This is pure marketing in my opinion. What I smell is the same blackberry chem that's in L'Artisan's Mûre et Musc and Ted Lapidus's Creation de Minuit, a smooth, dry, slightly floral material that feels rather like the fruit, but not quite. In typical Creed fashion, Olivier went way overboard with the dosage, and padded it with ketones, ionones, irones, and a few drops of vanilla and natural cedar oil finessed with a little cashmeran and white musk. But essentially at its core it smells like Frambinone®, i.e., raspberry ketone, which explains why Creed covers its ass, at least on an intellectual level, and claims there's a raspberry note in the pyramid.  

Bear in mind, people operate on the assumption that the original note pyramid is THE note pyramid for LiB, and memory serves that this included something like blackcurrant, wildflowers, and violet on top, iris and rose in mid, and cedar in the base. For the best blackcurrant, get a bottle of Afnan's Supremacy in Heaven, $24 on eBay. Here's the thing about Afnan's scent: if we're being perfectly honest here, Supremacy in Heaven smells better than Silver Mountain Water (and Club de Nuit Sillage, by proxy), but because it's a "cheapie" and a "clone," we're not allowed to say that. Supremacy in Heaven currently ranks in the top five of the most beautiful fragrances in my collection, and it's above my Creeds, by virtue of its having the juiciest and most natural rendition of blackcurrant tucked in its otherwise postmodern composition. That note in no way resembles any part of Love in Black. Likewise, my bottle of Silver Mountain Water has a subtle blackcurrant note that smells a tiny bit green and pissy, and again, it's just not in LiB, or if it is, I simply can't detect it, and it's probably a mere accent to something else. 

What I'm getting at is, Olivier wanted a perfume that smelled weird and modern, and he needed to make it himself, which was a bitch for him because he isn't a trained perfumer. His is a talented evaluator, so in a funny way it served him well to noodle around in the lab, smell whatever experiment he'd cooked up, and then decide if he would call it a Creed. (Time is money, and he probably wanted to compete with Guerlain's Insolence EDT, first released in 2006, and do it in a way that wasn't dead obvious, so he made himself a brief based on that scent profile and had at it.) If we look at the Creeds that are attributed to Olivier without argument, they include relatively simple things like Tabarome Millesime and the original Erolfa, which were conjoined parts of ginger EO and light woods in the former and salty Calone with a bit of pinewood in the latter. Olivier's thumbprint is found on things that are linear and simple, and Love in Black is notable for being fairly linear and deceptively simple, but time plays tricks with this one; its drydown arch is looong. 

Spray Love in Black in the morning, and the "plastic doll head" stew of intense aldehydes, frambinone, irones, and ionones rushes the senses. The aldehydes burn off quickly, the sweetness of the ionones tapers off as well (they vanish and reappear throughout the day, as ionones are wont to do), and the combination of raspberry ketone, rose ketone, and slightly powdery irones persist at a moderate hum as one thick "blackberryish" note for fully nine hours. At the twelve hour mark the whole thing has wheedled down to a very light rose and thin cedar, though it's far more discernible on fabric than skin. It smells like Olivier took one central accord, front-loaded it with ionones and aldehydes, backstopped it with a hint of rosy-cedary stuff, and called it Love in Black. What's interesting about this is he resisted his usual urge to spare no expense and make every material insanely luxurious for the sake of saying so. What's also interesting about this is the result smells intentionally fake, as if fakeness is its virtue. What accounts for this odd departure? 

There is so little written about this fragrance that I'm left with pure speculation. My best guess is that Olivier took a good hard look at the feminine Creed range, and the house as a whole, and asked himself what had been forgotten. The answer was there were two perfumes missing, a "Wedding Perfume," and "Slut Juice." In his Creed way, he conceptualized Love in White as representative of the sort of perfume a wealthy girl would want to wear on her wedding day, because it says "love" and "white" in the title, and it's the same price as her bridesmaid's dress. Likewise, Love in Black's name is suggestive of a dark inversion of a wedding day, which by my calculus would be a lust-fueled night with someone who charges by the hour. I'm fairly certain Olivier was the nose for LiW, and I agree with The Guide; Love in White is the worst Creed I've smelled. He's certainly the one behind its counterpart, as Love in Black is no less weird, yet it's more successful, more unisex. Olivier's idea of a vamp potion is something that smells overtly plasticky and synthetic, yet also murky, muddled, and dark enough to suit its name. 

In this sphere, he opted to jettison his usual approach of interspersing smatterings of naturals with top-grade synthetics, and instead went for volume, i.e., synthetics, and as much of them as he could manage. There's still a bit of the old Creed magic here; in the earlier stages the grandiloquent sweep of floral materials smells a bit fluttery and delicate, at least in snatches, with clear wafts of violet sweetness, slightly "grapey" iris, and dusky rose, the blossomy qualities conjuring up imagery of real flowers. Occasionally in the mid there are driftings of orris and some hard-to-pin-down woodiness, which I guess is the cedar peeking through? And, like I mentioned before, the far, far drydown yields a very slight but also very natural smelling cedar EO vibe. But overall Love in Black is a blatantly synthetic affair, its character defined not by its nuances, but by the overarching reach of its "perfumey" nature. Prostitutes don't wear natural and dimensional things, they bathe in billowy come-hither stuff that projects across the street and endures through the night. 

What do I think of it? It's been over a decade since I experienced Love in Black. It smells as I remember it, except back then I didn't quite know what I was smelling. I also didn't have as much under my belt, my experience limited to roughly 150 perfumes. My 2012 review touches on the brightness of its accords and the almost neon glow of the sweeter floral notes, and the weirdly eighteenth century bawdiness of the olfactory concept in play. Today, I largely agree with myself; LiB is still Big and Bold and all things capital letters, with a girl swinging in an oil painting from 17(something, you pick the year) and classical French forms distorted into a perfume bloat of pop art. I do remember the fragrance being a bit sweeter than what I'm wearing as I write this, but with Creed's endless "batch variations" and strangely shifting formulas (they're too uneven to be considered reformulations), it's probably a result of smelling a bottle from a year or two after initial release versus nine years after. I didn't check the batch code on the tester from 2012, so who knows? Maybe it was from 2008. I remember spraying myself with it in a Blue Mercury down in Fairfield, under the disapproving and weirded-out watch of a snobby cashier standing four feet away with her finger on 9-11 speed-dial.

She probably thought I was some sexually confused guy going after the feminine Creeds, and more concerning to her was the knowledge that I wasn't going to buy a damn thing. In fairness to myself, I asked her questions about a couple of the Creeds on the meticulously-arranged tester shelf, and attempted to engage her in fragrance-related small talk, but she was ridiculously rude about it and barely said anything to me, so even if I had intended to purchase, I probably wouldn't have. Blue Mercury no longer carries Creed, a sign they failed to move enough units and Olivier opted out of using them as a distributer. The truth about Blue Mercury is it's a pretentious company that tries to win over one percenters, but instead draws a middle class crowd of women between the ages of twenty-five and forty. 

The truth about Love in Black is that it ironically misses its mark. Olivier may have been aiming at promiscuous and cheap, but instead he wrangled together something that smells strangely modern, unisex, and expensively cheap. People write that it smells like "wet cement," "plastic doll parts," "bready iris," "hairspray," "dirty leather." I think it smells like an insane amount of raspberry ketone, modulated to resemble blackberry and purple flowers by other means. The note pyramid is a sham, entirely a construct of the power of persuasion, as if telling the gullible public what they should smell will distract even the most astute noses away from the bare truth, and lend the perfume a dimensionality it doesn't have. I don't get a ton of violet from it, although there is the vaguest suggestion of a violet note (unadorned ionones don't really qualify). I also don't get a ton of iris, although there are both iris and orris detectable. The rose is barely there, but tucked in with everything else. I think it smells interesting, but also bizarre, and if we're being real here, it smells more than a little "goth" and scary. When I smell this, I think of grey mists floating past crumbling crypts in a dark wood. I envision brambled thickets of blackberry bushes encroaching on bouquets of dead flowers strewn over mossy stones. 

"Love in Black" can have another, more chaste connotation, i.e., mourning a deceased loved one while wearing all black. The nearly colorless iris, the dry rose, the almost fetid sense of powdery sweetness hovering in a ghostly fog, all are evocative of a summer evening spent in a cemetery. 

Love in Black is the whisper of disembodied voices, a flicker of green eyes from the shadows that prove to be fireflies if you aren't running after their first blink. Yeah, it has some bright notes, but the composition is somber and leaden, and the overall feel is of something that is no longer human. Love in Black stands out as being the strangest Creed of all, a Creed that doesn't feel like a celebration of fortune and wealth, or of nature and clarity. It instead feels intentionally turbid, a gloomy fragrance that dwells in a realm where all is misunderstood. People misunderstand the perfume, and the perfume wants them to. If I could sum up what Love in Black is, I would say it's the perfume equivalent of the 1973 Jean Rollin film, "La Rose de Fer." She's a gorgeous girl, possessed. Her flowers are unnatural and rusted through. It's the only Creed you should wear with caution. 

6/11/24

Nightingale (Zoologist)


Luca Turin's fawning
review of this fragrance has me utterly baffled. He acts like it's a difficult structure to figure out, saying he had to spray it on several strips to fully understand how perfumer Tomoo Inaba managed this 2016 release. Victor Wong hired a "self-taught" perfumer, so there's that. Turin considers it a technical marvel of a floral, giving it high marks (that part I get). Oddly enough, this one couldn't be easier for me. I recognized what was happening fifteen seconds after first applying it, and my opinion hasn't changed since, notable only insofar as it's the first Zoologist fragrance that seems clear-cut to me (I had an "Ah-Ha!" moment). That isn't saying much; I'm not sure what this brand is trying for. But I'll keep wearing Zoologist frags until I figure it out. 

Put simply, Nightingale is a revamping of Guerlain's Mitsouko, a blatant throwback chypre in which peach lactone is cleverly substituted with the dry and shaded sweetness of plum blossom. Tomoo cushions his muted florals between starched bergamot on top and a woody labdanum and oakmoss below. Where Mitsouko is about moss, Nightingale leans on resins, with rich sandalwood and incense lending accents of fire and a puff of smoke, and just a smidgen of synthetic oud to round out. I get a fleeting impression of bready iris, which vanishes in the first few seconds of wear, and an unusual, borderline unpleasant Ivory soap effect an hour into the drydown. There's also an uneven feeling to the florals eight hours in (this stuff has nuclear longevity), making it not quite as pristine as Turin makes it sound, at least to me. Some of the balance between soapy-sweet floral and dry/bitter chypre just feels a little . . . off. Still, it smells classical and wearable. 

In the bigger picture, I'm not sure I understand Turin when it comes to his idea of "technical" greatness. Nightingale doesn't even smell all that original. The composition merely relies on clever note switcheroos, swapping out Mitsouko's Frenchiness with Tomoo's orientalism. There's a pleasant little bouquet of violet and rose mated closely to bergamot, which is interesting, and here the perfumer is to be commended for resisting the urge to sweeten everything, as the fragrance remains old-school in feel. But frankly I find Nightingale a bit boring, in a different way from Tiger, which was simply too one-note vetiver. Here the dullness is in familiarity, and the nagging feeling that if I wanted to do this, and do it just a little better, I could wear Mitsouko and call it a day.

6/10/24

Tiger (Zoologist)

Conceptual perfumery is probably the most ambitious and creative kind, which also makes it the riskiest. Zoologist is a house that excels at risk-taking, with a range devoted to the cognitive construct of animals, their habitats, and their behaviors. Tiger, released in 2023 by perfumer Cristiano Canali, is one of the more conceptual fragrances in the line; it eschews any direct "animalism" associated with its namesake cat, and instead adumbrates the grassy-woody environs of predator and prey, an interesting exercise.

It is indeed more of a vague sketch than a refined picture, and I find myself enjoying one half far more than the other. Throughout each wearing of Tiger, I kept reminding myself to shelve my bias against vetiver, but the struggle is real. The fragrance opens with a clever and inarguably successful interplay of kumquat, carrot seed (sweet woodiness), and saffron (spiced woodiness). The fruit note is playful and transparent, while the rest smells dry and demure, and this accord of conjoined polarities is brightly modern yet classically poised. The saffron takes center stage in the first hour, and its delicate intricacies are relaxing and hold attention. Well conceived, and very nice. 

Then the vetiver sneaks in, as all vetivers do, and relaxation shifts to annoyance. It's an impenetrable wall of Haitian vetiver, super dry, nutty-earthy, very smoky and dark. Oh, and incredibly boring. The smoky earthiness holds in linear fashion for no less than eight hours, by which point I want to scrub and move on to something more cheerful. I've been told that Cristiano and Victor Wong consulted at length on how to make Tiger work, and hit several roadblocks along the way. Had I been there, I would've suggested omitting the vetiver entirely and focusing more on the woodier and greener aspects of saffron. But hey, the finished product is catnip for vetiver lovers, so I'll butt out. 

6/1/24

The Semi-Retired Fragrance-Blogger's Life: Why Shopping for a Creed is so Difficult in 2024


The fragrance world has changed since 2008, which is the year I got into this game, and I've been left behind. Back then there were far fewer niche brands, and Creed was nearing its apex of creativity and popularity as it approached its game-changing and mental-illness triggering watershed fragrance, Aventus. 

Even before Aventus, Creed was king. The competition (Guerlain, Chanel, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Amouage, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, Bond No. 9) were all weirdly inferior, or maybe it was that Creed was very bizarrely superior. Olivier Creed's formula for success (or for 'Aventus,' as back in 2010 the company claimed the perfume's name was the Esperanto word for 'success') was unlikely on paper and even unlikelier in practice: take pedestrian designer formulas and reinterpret them using the world's highest quality synthetics and a smattering of insanely expensive naturals, and do it at maximum cost across the board, damn the torpedoes. Nobody else in the industry was brave enough to do that, but Olivier did it, and it worked out very well for him and his family. It made him a billionaire, and it made millions of devotees eternally faithful to the brand. 

I happen to be one of them. I'll never forget that first bottle, Original Vetiver, and how special it was. It turned many a dull drive to school or work into a religious experience, its blissful scent of green grasses waving in a glittering haze of natural ginger and ambergris. From there I moved on to Green Irish Tweed and Green Valley, with a couple of "grey cap" EDTs thrown in for good measure. The GIT was vintage and bowled me over with its insanely smooth and rich sandalwood basenote. I bought my mom a bottle of Asian Green Tea for Christmas several years back, and she actually didn't care for it all that much, which I both understood and wondered about. AGT was beautiful but very simple, a vegetal green top note that was somewhat dry and tea-like, overtly natural, yet hard to identify, followed by a soft semisweet floral accord on an attenuated version of Creed's famous ambergris base. I also got mom a bottle of Fleurissimo body lotion, which smelled incredible, and which she did like. I even turned my brother and his partner on to Creed, and they've been interested in the brand ever since. 

Here's the thing, though: my passion for Creed dates me. Creed is no longer perfume royalty. Its sale to Kering marks what is possibly a true downslide for the brand. But even before Kering, Creed was beginning to lose its luster with the buying public. Aventus was a massive megahit, but it was followed a year later with Royal Oud (I had no interest and was not alone), two years later with Millésime 1849 (not buying into the Harrods Exclusive hype), five years later with Royal Mayfair (not even remotely interested, and Creed's first bomb), seven years later with Viking (Creed's second bomb), and every year after that some sort of flanker or post-sale reissue. Carmina and Queen of Silk come across as cheap even without putting my nose on them, and it has become increasingly clear with each new release that the brand is "up-cycling" designer ideas into the Creed price-point without actually offering the qualities of superior composition and materials necessary to maintain the chromolithographic approach of Creed's legacy. 

This makes shopping for Creed exceedingly difficult in 2024. Creeds no longer contain their famous ambergris bases. They no longer contain the scads of natural materials that they once did, and even the synthetics are getting priced down a notch or two. Kering has no interest in taking the creative risks that Olivier took, and are instead targeting women with cheap "originals" and men with more Aventus nonsense (Absolu is a marketing abomination). Yes, the 2000s are officially over. The "Millesime Era" of GIT to Original Santal, a twenty-year timespan, is now fading away in the rearview mirror. We don't get Paco Rabanne's XS reinterpreted into Himalaya, or the vulgar bawdiness of Love in Black & White. We don't get the understated charm of what may be Olivier's only real perfumery creation, Tabarome Millésime, or the crowd-pleasing vacation fun of Virgin Island Water. What we get now are buyout Creeds, and they're not doing all that well in the market of public opinion. Kering might've been better served to purchase Bond instead.  

When I sit down at the computer to peruse my options with Creed, they're immensely limited now. By no fault of Kering's, the wonderful "grey cap" Creeds that were billed as EDTs (they had Millésime strength) are all long gone. Weirdly creative one-off limited releases like Feuilles Vertes and Rosalie are also gone for good, unless Kering gets religion. And the classics like Himalaya, Neroli Sauvage, Erolfa, Original Vetiver & Santal, and Millésime Impérial are all much riskier purchases now that the ambergris is history and the budget is compromised. I recently purchased a 50 ml bottle of Silver Mountain Water, a new "F batch" Kering bottle (probably BlackRock formulated, as it's likely that Kering hasn't sunk its teeth in yet), and I'm satisfied with it, and smell little to no difference between it and what SMW was twelve years ago. I imagine I'd feel the same way about Green Irish Tweed and Aventus, although I do not own them.

But my reason for not feeling bilked by my SMW is interesting in its own right. What few will mention when discussing SMW is that it was always one of the more overtly synthetic Creeds in their range. Armaf's Club de Nuit Sillage is currently superior to SMW, but that's because Armaf went vintage -- deep vintage -- with the version of SMW they cloned. They took it back to the late nineties and early aughts with Sillage, as evidenced by its intensely buzzy tea and blackcurrant, its streamlined and tucked-away "ink" note, and its massive synthetic ambergris base, which is so Ambroxan-heavy that at times during the far drydown the fragrance smells a little like sour breath. People say Sillage is 2013 SMW, but I smelled that vintage, and frankly it wasn't all that different from my new SMW. Silver Mountain Water remains a safe buy from Kering Creed in my opinion, simply because it is as light and delicate and "inky" as I remember it, and at no point does it smell all that natural, which is exactly as I remember it always being. 

So, SMW is a safe one. Another safe one is Green Irish Tweed. Even Kering can't fuck up GIT. Creed had already messed with it, stripping much of its sandalwood and ambergris base out over the 2010s, and by 2015 it was essentially Armaf's Tres Nuit with a little less sweetness. Green Irish Tweed has always been associated with Cool Water, and after you smell GIT side-by-side with CW, it no longer smells unique. It smells good, don't get me wrong, and I've always loved it, just as I love the Davidoff, but over the years I've realized that I actually like Cool Water more, mainly because after the removal of sandalwood from the Creed, there wasn't enough of a quality difference, or perhaps I should say that Davidoff's quality was on par with Creed's, with the only difference being in concentration and some minor divergences in focus (Cool Water's current formula is even better than it was ten years ago, with a distinct neroli note mixed with green tobacco, mint, an interesting sea salt note, and a pleasant Ambroxan in its base). 

Aventus remains safe because Aventus wasn't really the ambergris bomb of its predecessors, and was more focused on aromatic woody notes that were easily attained using Main Street synthetics like Norlimbanol and Iso E Super. Aventus was designed to be sold to the highest bidder, because by 2010 the writing was on the wall for Olivier and Erwin, and thus they crafted a fragrance using a formula that would transfer either up or down the budgetary ladder with minimal changes in character, a wise decision if ever there was one. Post-sale Aventus has seen little to no reduction in online Chad enthusiasm, but then again Aventus will never lose the Chads. They're intent on pumping their 35 lb weights at the gym and then going to their cubicles wearing four-hundred dollar neckties to price-match their cologne. Sadly, I never got on board the Aventus train. While I like it and appreciate what it does (and doesn't do), it never captured my imagination. I'm not really sure why, either. It has most of the things I love in a perfume: crisp citrus brushed with lavender, crystalline apple notes, subtle and romantic rose, and dry, smoky woods in the base, which in vintage formulas was so rich and smoky and dry that it smelled exactly like paper bills to me. I envisioned Aventus as a literal representation of the smell of money. 

I've never smelled Viking, so I don't know if I'd get on board with that one or not. It was released seven years ago, and the fact that I've never put my nose on it is actually a little embarrassing. Maybe I'll get on that this year, we'll see. My problem with Viking is everything I've read about it. "Upscale Old Spice" sounds great in theory, but then I smell actual Old Spice and inevitably think, "You can't improve on this." The whole point of Old Spice is that it was a smooth, vanillic-woody, nitromusk-laden sex panther of a masculine that any man could afford and the smartest used. Cheapness is its virtue. To "Creedify" Old Spice is a fun idea, but I'm not sure it's a wise investment. Viking Cologne is perhaps even more interesting, as is Aventus Cologne, which I have put my nose on. Aventus Cologne smells inferior to Aventus in my opinion, yet it's worthy of consideration simply for being fresher and more cheerful. It also enjoys the advantage of smelling like something that never had much of an ambergris note to begin with, but the flip-side is that it smells like a Macy's special, if Macy's was still a serious store. 

When I comb through the Creed catalogue, I start out enthusiastic, and two hours later my eyes glaze over and I start to succumb to the old man sleepys. What would likely still work here? Tabarome Millésime interests me quite a bit, as I actually like ginger and wouldn't mind smelling like it, but it's a fragrance that likely benefitted from the Creed water drydown, and now that the ambergris buzz is gone, I can't imagine TM is as gratifying as it was twenty-five years ago. Same thought with Himalaya, which was often cited as smelling like the most "generic" Creed. Himalaya needed top quality materials to work, which it had, and it did. But now? If it's even ten percent cheaper, and it probably is, it's not worth springing for a full bottle, unless by some miracle someone was so sick of having it around that they chucked it on eBay for less than $120. And Neroli Sauvage, Erolfa, Bois du Portugal, Millésime Impérial, and Royal Water all benefitted from having 100% top-shelf materials and ambergris in their formulas, so to go for them now would probably be unwise, especially since Armaf has already cloned Millésime Impérial so well. 

Original Vetiver and Santal are both alluring, but I fear I'd be heartbroken if I smelled OV now, after Creed relinquished its formula to Kering profiteers, and I was never really interested in OS, simply due to the fact that my appetite for sweet oriental compositions is pretty limited. I would figure though that, of the two, OS probably fared pretty well, and would still be worth owning. There are a slew of vintage Creeds online, but which ones are still good? Creeds spoil. Give them fifteen or twenty years, and it's a fifty-fifty shot they're still wearable, which makes buying any of them blind on eBay extremely risky. You have to know the vendor and the product like the back of your hand. I just spent the last three days combing through the inventory on eBay, and was shocked by how many fakes I spotted. Surprisingly enough, many of them are selling! Spring Flower, which was recently reissued by Kering with a BlackRock formula, is a "maybe." I've smelled the original 1996 formula, and it wasn't one of the more "natural" Creeds; its sharp citrus-fruity top accord lasted surprisingly longer than I expected, and was oddly closer to the designer realm in feel. Then the floral notes emerged, and they were delicate and soft and demure, and while they did give me a three-dimensional petals-in-a-breeze feeling that was definitely Creed-like, it was such a quiet and short-lived phase that if it were missing now I might not even know it. So Spring Flower 2023 might be okay, and indeed, Daver of the Fragrance Bros (YouTube) gave it a stellar review, and given that his Creed enthusiasm matches mine, I take it into consideration. 

Niche and uber-luxe perfumes have moved on from Creed, not because they've lost their magic, but because there are simply so many other options out there now. Many of those options are less expensive, and many of them retain the bragging rights of looking and smelling like true niche. Where Creed took the shotgun approach, looking to hit what they thought was trendy in the moment, these newer brands are trying to create trends of their own, and with as many fragrances as possible. Nevertheless, I've adopted Silver Mountain Water as my new favorite, and will gladly wear its synthetic sheen of icy snow banks and pine branches in the wind, damn the torpedoes and damn your obscure niche whatever. 

5/31/24

CHRG Pour Lui (Adidas Sport)


Adidas fragrances are currently licensed by Coty, and I have to say that they've done a pretty good job with the brand. Most of the masculines are sneaker juice, but the quality of materials is kept to a slightly higher standard than one might expect, and occasionally a good one sneaks in. Sport Field remains one of the better green-grassy casual spritzes out there, and it's an option if you're looking for something light and well made. Fast forward to today, and we have CHRG pour Lui, which was released in 2019 and contains a super-sweet and surprisingly green fruity amber accord. It isn't something I wear very often, but I don't regret it when I do. For 100 ml at $14, what's not to like? 

It opens with a tropical accord of green apple and kumquat, and after light application I sense a touch of grapefruit adding a bit of balancing acidity to all the sugar. Spray heavily, and the top notes last for thirty minutes and smell syrupy, weird for a "sport" fragrance. Eventually the fruits ease up and allow woodier notes to poke through, mostly cedar and a dusting of fresh pine, and they get a tad salty and dry. The perfumer, who remains anonymous, injected a bit of sea air into the mix, which works in a composition that started its life smelling so close to being gourmand. Longevity is respectable at four to five hours, and projection is polite, perhaps extending five or six inches beyond your collar, at least in the morning. This isn't going to wake anyone up if they skipped their A.M. coffee fix, but it's a nice little buzz of brightness to wear on casual Fridays. 

Adidas markets CHRG as part of their sport division of fragrances, and here's where I think it gets a bit weird. While the salty quality seems designed to blend well with the salinity of human sweat, the sweetness, which never truly dissipates, might feel like overkill during a run, especially in summer heat, so be advised if you're interested in using this as an actual sport cologne. There are far more appropriate options out there, some of which aren't even marketed for sport use, like Davidoff's Sea Rose and Malizia Uomo Vetyver, and even Azzaro's Chrome Legend. But regardless of how you use it, if you're looking for a fruity-green spirit-lifter, Adidas has you covered here, and there's no shame in that. 

5/28/24

It's a Big Club, and You Ain't In It.


I was sitting at the dinner table thinking about why niche fragrances are so boring, when a certain designer frag caught my eye: Dior's new Sauvage Elixir Baccarat Limited Edition. If niche is boring, let's talk designer for a moment, shall we? 

Dior decided it was a great idea to hire Baccarat craftsmen to make two hundred 16.91 oz crystal bottles with palladium painted on them. The lettering and the trim around the bottle necks are treated to a spider's-skein thin coat of palladium, which is probably worth a total of seventy-five cents, given that a gram is $32. The whole thing is housed in a solid oak case in a dark finish, worth about $60 per cubic foot. I can buy a Baccarat vase of roughly the same size for $1K, and heck, that's practical. The price for this Elixir? $8,200.

This may seem ridiculous, and it is ridiculous. Naturally, it's aimed at millionaires, and the sort of millionaires with hundreds of millions, because even your garden variety rich boy with two or three million would think twice about dropping close to $10K on something as vapid as this. Hilariously, Dior says that the crystal is so clear that it allows the fragrance's color to show through. Rich people get clear glass. We get colored glass. Since they get the clear container, the liquid needed coloring. Makes total sense. Tack another buck onto production. Add it to the two bucks needed for the lead mixed in with the glass (about 33% of the finished glass content) and we're up to somewhere around $63? Factor in the man hours and people's pay, which Dior says were "at least a dozen" workers, and if they're making $50 an hour, for ten hours of work, that's $6K, just for labor.

What niggles at me is why it would take twelve people to make one of these things. Twelve people? It seems like four people could handle the job just fine, even if one of them was strictly the palladium painter. The other the oak carpenter. Two people for the glass. And the perfume is just delivered from the factory with its twenty-five cent color job. And are they making $50 and hour? Why do I doubt that? At that rate, the workers are all making $100K per year. Doesn't seem realistic. Baccarat is probably paying them something like $35 an hour. That's $70K per year, as a specialist in crafting hot crystal into perfume bottles and throwing oak boards together into boxes. That's $1,400 for labor per bottle. That yields five times Dior's cost per bottle. That makes more sense. 

This assumes a lot, of course. I have no idea if it takes ten hours to make one of these things. Maybe it only takes five hours. Maybe six. Maybe they only use three guys and grossly exaggerate their labor scale. All I know is, eight grand for this is obscene, and it speaks to the culture we're living in. It's a big club, and none of us are in it. 

5/27/24

After All These Years, They Still Deny It: Creed and In-Bottle Maceration


Recently on Fragrantica I posted the following comment in the reviews section on the Silver Mountain Water page after tiring of reading post after post about its poor longevity:
This should go without saying, but I wanted to mention this so those new to Creed can have a better experience: You can't just buy a Creed and start wearing it every day, expecting it to have good longevity and projection. Even now, long after the Creed family has divested from the business, it remains true: Creeds need time to macerate in-bottle."

This prompted another member, "Scents & blooms," to comment with the following:

"I am a chemist & perfumer and just wanted to share my clarification on some comments here about the requirement of a perfume macerating in a bottle after purchase. I don't mean to offend anyone, just thought it needed clarification. Shop bought Perrfume in a bottle simply can't be macerated (will explain in detail below). This is misguided information currently circulating online."

I updated my comment in response, and you can read it there in its entirety if you wish, but I won't quote the whole thing here because it includes a few snippets from the abstract of an academic paper that describes the feasibility of in-bottle maceration by suggesting that it may happen when manufacturers cut down on non-profitable maceration wait times by prematurely bottling formulas that have yet to fully coalesce. 

Of more interest to me is that people are still denying the reality that Creeds macerate in-bottle. This particular person described in-bottle maceration while simultaneously claiming it's impossible, and went to some lengths to state that the evaporation of denatured alcohol might essentially concentrate a fragrance into smelling stronger to someone after long pauses between use. The whole point of calling it "in bottle" maceration is that it's a chemical change that occurs after the bottling process.

I've said it a million times before, and I'll say it again: Creeds absolutely get stronger and more complex after first use. That initial two or three wearings are always less than stellar, with disappointing longevity and projection. If you leave them for a few months and then come back, you'll find that they are not only stronger, but eventually (after more than a year) become beasts. There's no denying it, yet people still do! 

5/25/24

We'll Never Get These Back: Eleven Discontinued Fragrances That Are Gone Forever . . .


Fragrances are discontinued
all the time, and it means nothing. When I hear that something is discontinued, my first thought is, okay, what is it exactly that was slashed? Are we talking about just another prosaic designer? Some obscure discount brand like Zirh finally let go of Corduroy? An old Italian house from the fifties finally buried one of its unremarkable citrus colognes? It is likely true that the discontinued product, whatever it was, is replaceable. Nothing to lose sleep over.  

But there are some discontinued fragrances that bum me and millions like me out. Invariably they were stylistically unique, undeniably well made (sometimes surprisingly so), and things I wish I could always own, price be damned. Back in 2013, I wrote an article (link) about the "Blog-Driven" resurrection of "Zombie Perfumes," i.e., fragrances that had lived on in people's hearts and on the review boards, despite their having been discontinued for some time. My point was that the power of popular demand, largely expressed by the best and the brightest fragrance writers at that time, had brought left-for-dead perfumes back to life via endless praise on Fragrantica and Basenotes.  

One example is Azzaro Acteur. This one was discontinued in the early nineties despite its 1989 release, as it was not an impressive draw for customers and lacked a convincing marketing campaign, probably due to its being out of step with the dihydromyrcenol and Calone 1951 times. It managed to lurk in the aftermarket for over a decade, and eventually the development of sites like Fragrantica allowed nostalgic Azzaro fans to wax enough poetics that they briefly reissued the darned thing. Ditto for Geoffrey Beene's 1986 aromatic-woody Bowling Green, which EA made a point to reissue for well over a year, making it possible for me to procure a bottle from Amazon for dirt-cheap. It wouldn't have been reissued if it weren't for all the singing about it on the internet, and ultimately it was discontinued again for selling just as poorly as it did the first time around. 

If Acteur and Bowling Green were granted commercial immortality, I and thousands of guys my age would be eternally grateful. Unfortunately their sales stats are on their tombstones, and it's understandably unlikely that they'll ever see the light of day again. Given that they managed to escape hell once, it's hard to say that we'll never see them again, but I'm not holding my breath. However, there are some fragrances that are special in ways that make their disappearances feel criminal. They are fragrances that had no easy comparatives, no peers in the canon of perfumes gone by, and things I would trade my left testicle to have again (for sane prices). Here are eleven discontinued fragrances that are truly gone forever, in no particular order . . . 


Ocean Rain (Mario Valentino, 1990)

Ocean Rain is Edmond Roudnitska's last commercial creation before his death at age 91 in 1996. Understand, that means he worked on Ocean Rain for Mario Valentino, obscure Italian peddler of luxury leather goods, when he was in his eighties. You'd be forgiven for expecting it to smell stodgy, given that the man who made it was likely running on sailboat fumes by that late stage of his artistic élan, but you'd be wrong. Ocean Rain is absolutely timeless and sublime, a dusky chypre that I personally interpret as an "oriental aquatic" of sorts, simply because its heart offers the sandiest amber accord I've ever had the pleasure of smelling. Ocean Rain is likely a splice-up of Roudnitska's "greatest hits," with bits and bobs of Diorella and Le Parfum de Thérèse thrown in, but it's easy to over-generalize Roudnitska's style after such a consistent and accomplished career. Ever the pioneer of new and exciting synthetics, the perfumer handed Valentino a fragrance that smells like the beach after a summer shower, a wet/dry petrichor only emitted by pulverized grains of quartz and silicon dioxide. Running parallel is an impression of a woman reclining on that beach, replete with whiffs of her fruity perfume and the weirdly universal sweetness of her kiss (healthy mean interpret the saliva of healthy women as tasting vaguely of Coca-Cola). Ocean Rain is probably the only perfume in my collection that seems eerily alive, as if the headspace of a sex-on-the-beach encounter was bottled by some dark magic. Long gone, this one will eventually vanish from eBay, and when it does, that's it. 


Yohji Homme (Yohji Yamamoto, 1999)

Of the fragrances on this list, this one is my least favorite. Still, I recognized it as a one-off freak of nature beauty when I reviewed it over a decade ago, and my opinion holds: The original unedited formula of Yohji Homme deserves a permanent resurrection. This was one of those nineties fragrances that captured the zeitgeist better than most, an era of profound optimism and ebullience that expressed itself with heady-sweet concoctions that eschewed foodiness in favor of freshness. Where most post-Cool Water fougères went with floral-aquatic accords, Yohji Homme adopted a far riskier coffee/lavender trick, with a heavy twist of licorice root and a silvery base of whiskey and woods. In the last ten years, we've witnessed the depressing rise of what the kids think is "fresh" these days: tons of ethyl-maltol and ooey-gooey sugary ambery crapola, a bad date for any nose. Rewind to the end of the Clinton administration, and youngsters were surprisingly sophisticated, wearing bonafide masterpieces like Tommy Girl and Le Male like they were nothing, which allowed something like this to be born. Why Yohji Homme's original formula was discontinued is anyone's guess -- I almost never believe the reasons given by the people involved in making the fragrance. Their input is interesting, but when something is dc'd and then reissued, it makes me wonder what's up. Now the reissue is also dc'd, making the whole thing moot. I think Yohji Homme was arguably a little thin and weak, but it was also a finely-tooled piece of sleek machinery, a summery lavender ensconced in herbal-sweet aromatics that belied the foibles of the year "American Pie" was a blockbuster. 


Aqua Quorum (Antonio Puig, 1994)

Let's face it: the original Quorum from 1982 should be sent to pasture. I'm not saying it shouldn't be worn, or that people who enjoy it are fuddy-duddies; I'm just pointing out that its era of overwrought brown-study powerhouses, full of burnt grasses and woods and fermented tobaccos and musks and screaming "I'M A MAN," has officially passed us by, and is now a distant speck in our rearview mirror. That doesn't mean we should abandon Aqua Quorum, however. When I bought my bottle a decade ago, I expected it to be a cheap and forgettable "blue" fragrance that hankered after Cool Water and Polo Sport, but I was mistaken. It's actually a riff on Lauder's New West (1988), but in my opinion it's better. Much better. Calone 1951 is the driver in the engine room that accidentally fell asleep on the throttle and pushed the ride up to eleven. It's a mysterious synthetic in that unlike typical perfumery chems that we perceive as growing ever weaker in proportion to increased exposure, Calone gets stronger instead. If on Monday you spray one or two puffs of Aqua Quorum and it smells like a light bay breeze, by Friday you will experience an hallucinogenic freshness that literally seizes your brain via your nose and sends jolts of pink lightning through it. They overdosed this molecule in the formula, and usually that would read as a big mistake, but not here. Shimmery aldehydes, briny driftwood, and crisp pine notes all lend crucial balance to what would otherwise be a catastrophic mess of a freshie, and by getting this equilibrium on the money, Aqua Quorum is instead a masterpiece of nineties freshness. This perfume is kinetic, like smelling a moving piece of nature, and is to date the only "cheapie" that has ever rivaled a vintage Creed. It's still available for pennies on Fragrancenet, but they only have a few bottles left. 


Fendi "Donna" (Fendi, 1985)

This was my mom's signature fragrance, right up until the day stores took it off shelves and it vanished forever. It has since been bottled unicorn tears on eBay, fetching prices in excess of $300. I'll be honest and say that if it were just my mom's old standard, I probably wouldn't care (sorry mom). But here's the thing about the original Fendi for women: there is nothing else like this stuff. Like everything else on this list, it is one of a kind. I once got her a bottle of K de Krizia as a substitute, hoping its similar overall aldehydic chypre aesthetic would hit the spot, but no. Not even close. And why did I ever think it would be? Fendi was peculiarly masculine for an eighties feminine, a trait no other big-boned hybrid of its era possessed. The world was awash in mink-and-pearls stuff like Chanel's Coco and Calvin Klein's Obsession, bawdy orientals that lavished customers with overdoses of syrupy florals and spiced ambers. One whiff of those and I immediately picture every woman I met as a child except my mom, who somehow, despite being a perfectly normal feminine woman, managed to pull off this illicit exercise in oakmoss and dry leather. This fragrance wasn't a spice bomb or a dowdy floral, nor was it a rosy thing like Lauder's Beautiful. Fendi was an austere leather, bone dry, with no obvious spice or floral notes, save for a gorgeous coriander and sage accord mated to something green and bitter and smoky, and just wonderful. There's no point in even directing you to remaining bottles; for everyone but the filthy rich, this fragrance is officially gone, and has been for no less than thirty years. I've hunted the world over for something, anything like it, to no avail.  


Ungaro Pour L'Homme II (Emanuel Ungaro, 1992)

There were three Ungaros for men, and the first one has eluded me, although only because I don't care to go out of my way to find it. I have the other two, and surprisingly found that I prefer III over II, if only because I'm a sucker for masculines with overt rose notes. II is a lavender fragrance, fashioned after Guerlain's original Jicky (1889), and for this reason is a holotype in the record perfumus obscurus; to date there are no other "clones" of Jicky that have ever surfaced. There are fragrances that owe a debt to Jicky (Guerlain's own Mouchoir de Monsieur), and there are those that are inspired by it, but II would not exist were it not for Jicky, plain and simple. I find the fragrance is introverted and anodyne compared to the muskier fougèrientals of the eighties and nineties, but its civet and fetid wood notes lend it a burlier countenance than it might otherwise have. One thing is for certain: If I ever stumble across I, my nose is going into comparison overdrive to see how and why Ungaro (technically Chanel) opted to veer into this rarest of rare parking spots. There were plenty of others that were closer to the door, yet they went with something that nobody would try again, and now my bottle is worth well over $100. 


Relax (Davidoff, 1990)

Davidoff fragrances are generally replaceable, and if they discontinued Zino, or Hot Water, or The Game, few would miss them. (By the way, for those of you who insist on yelling that Zino is discontinued, I direct you to eBay, where a 4.2 oz. bottle is two dollars cheaper than the same size of The Game. Can we just admit that the stuff is still being made, or do we have to keep pretending?) Even a discontinuation of Cool Water would suck more for Davidoff and Coty than it would for the buying public, which has largely moved on from the dihydromyrcenol-fueled nineties to all manner of awful oud and praline things. There are two fragrances that Davidoff discontinued that simply can't be replaced: Good Life and Relax. I can't comment on Good Life, except to say that I've never smelled it, but if and when I do, I'll probably include it in this list as well. Currently Good Life sets the records for most expensive vintage Davidoff; Relax is not far behind. And Relax is one helluva good fragrance, I can promise you. It boggles the mind as to why a company would put out something as true to its name, only to can it a couple years later, but that's exactly what Lancaster did, probably when Coty took over. Rumor has it Relax was available at Davidoff tobacco boutiques until the mid-2000s, but I recall searching for it in 2010 and finding nothing, with high-priced bottles on eBay even then. How does it smell? Simply beautiful, an ambery fougère with oriental underpinnings of velvety woods and sweet florals, with just a hint of cushy vanilla, this fragrance opens bright and fruity-fresh, then rapidly segues into what can only be described as a formal reimagining of Brut. Its unique blend of mint, citrus, lavender, jasmine, woods, and musks has never been replicated. I could hunt for decades for a replacement and come up empty, so I've stopped trying.  


Unbound for Men (Halston, 2002)

Roy Halston Fenwick is known for Z-14 and 1-12 because those fragrances are great. But Unbound for Men was released almost thirty years later to very little fanfare, as by that point the Halston brand had already faded into bargain-basement obscurity, due in no small part to how Roy had sold his name to all the wrong people over the course of five decades. My generation doesn't know how important Halston was to American fashion; he went global after he designed Jackie Kennedy's famous inaugural "pillbox" hat. Hats were his bag, until he branched out into the wider world of high fashion during the sixties and on into the Nixon years, when he eventually made the leap to perfume. EA Fragrances eventually acquired the perfume rights, and for reasons unknown they issued Unbound fully twelve years after the designer's death. Overlooked as a wonky Acqua di Giò clone, it's actually better than its template, and quite unlike anything I've ever smelled before or since. Imagine Acqua di Giò, but with a ton of tomato leaf in the top notes, followed by salty watermelon and cucumber, then dust it all with some coriander and let everything settle on synthetic ambergris and basil. Now imagine the ingredient quality is three notches above what it should be for a $25 fragrance, and you have Unbound for Men. Yeah, it seemed like another pedestrian "freshie" at first glance, but by about a third of the way through my large bottle, I realized I had something very special on my hands. The bright and bitter greenness of its tomato leaf, its zesty coriander, the juiciness of its watermelon, and its sparkly-salty base accord was addictive and cheerful and helped me through a particularly drab time in my life. But it was also one-of-a-kind in how its herbal spices were balanced against crisply fresh fruits and aquatic musks. Now that it's gone, I wonder what kind of soul-selling it would take to convince EA to bring it back. Somehow I doubt they'd be interested after their Bowling Green fiasco. Yeah, it's gone for good. 


Nobile (Gucci, 1988)

My best friend had a bottle of this. It smelled like the eighties had stepped out of a Crocodile Dundee movie wearing Kouros and Antaeus and Zino, then took a long hot shower with the original Irish Spring bar soap, all sudsy and soapy-clean but with lingering echos of those older and darker powerhouses. Nobile wasn't a masterpiece, nor was it avant-garde, but it was the best at what it did, which was represent eighties male virility in a style that encapsulated the marriage of Italianate green-piney old-world cologne to Bausch + Lomb-wearing Wall Street modernity. Everything is on offer -- lavender, citruses, florals, a bucketload of irones and ionones, cis-3-Hexen-1-ol (grassiness), oakmoss, sandalwood, with whispers of labdanum and other lyre chypre tones played by Orpheus for Eurydice -- and I could get into the nitty-gritty of how all of Nobile's notes fit together to form a big, soapy, super-green masculine that is extremely potent without smelling obnoxious, but what's the point? You get the point. This was that fragrance, but it was better than the rest. It's hard to say how, but Nobile possessed a quality of freshness and vitality that transcended green fougères and strayed into mythical beauty, the sort of scent you could smell once and never forget. It's been dead and buried for several decades now, and while many green aromatics for men have since been born and killed off, none have ever come close to emulating how great Nobile smelled. 


Touch for Men (Fred Hayman, 1995)

I interviewed Jeffrey Dame, the creator of this fragrance, back in 2013 (please dig into my blog archives for that), and to sum up, Touch was his labor of love. I'm talking the original Touch by Parlux with the black cap, not the silver cap reformulation by Victory International that came out many years later. I'm told the silver version is a different fragrance altogether. My bottle is from 1995, and I find that to be odd. Nothing about it says "I'm a nineties frag." Its box and bottle look like the late seventies or early eighties in both name and aesthetic, but that speaks to just how variegated the styles of the nineties were. Gen Z (Zoomers) think of the decade as being their dad's era, and when I spritz on Touch, I see their point. Often compared to Brut, Touch does smell remarkably similar, a powdery floral fougère with a hint of citrus brightness on top and mossy musk below. There are also shades of Avon's Wild Country, due to Dame's reliance on powder to create a dry barbershop aura. But Touch is even more similar to Neutrogena's famous $20 shower gel called Rainbath. It's almost the exact same smell. So I suppose you could argue that this discontinued gem lives on for Rainbath users, except, well, not so fast . . . Touch has a few things Rainbath doesn't. For starters, its lavender note is far more complex, weaving in and out of warmth and coolness, and most of its bitter herbal background players flit just beyond the realm of perceptibility. Touch is also sweet, with an ambery and vanillic drydown that ensconses the wearer for hours in a cloud of happiness. Brut is soapier, simpler, greener, muskier, but Touch is a sweet lavender mist, and when the last few bottles vanish from eBay, I'm sure I'll never find anything quite like it again. 

Agua Lavanda Puig, Green Glass Bottle Version 
(Antonio Puig, 1940)

I know, I know, there are two Puig fragrances on this list, and how can that be? Well, if Aqua Quorum represents a discontinued gem that did amazingly original things with amazingly unoriginal materials, Agua Lavanda Puig (or Puig's Lavender Water) symbolizes the passing of Old World tradition into the sands of time. Technically this fragrance is still in production, and very easy to find in Spain and Portugal, among other stretches of Mediterranean Europe, but there were always two versions, the one in green glass and the one in plastic shampoo bottles. The glass version is no more, gone for at least fifteen years, and probably longer. Lavender is one of those universally recognized notes that I'd be hard-pressed to consider unique in any way, but the version in this stuff was simply glorious in its simplicity and beauty, yet also maddening in its longevity. I would get maybe twenty minutes out of a very generous splashing before it evaporated into thin air and took its gorgeous scent with it. It wasn't one-note lavender; ALP was lavender with a vibrant rosemary note, and both smelled of natural essential oils in generous concentration. Sprightly and bitter geranium, tonka, cedar, and some sort of midcentury white musk all drew around the central lavender note, which smelled unique in its own right. It was less like stereotypical lavender and more like some kind of watery "eau" that smelled way ahead of its time. No other lavender cologne/after shower splash has come anywhere close to replicating the polished chrome diopside languor of vintage Agua Lavanda Puig. Given that it's still being watered-down and sold year after year in those tired plastic monstrosities, I nurture the fantasy that the company will go back to respecting their bedrock fragrance again, but I'm not holding my breath. 


Green Valley (Creed, 1999)

I'm gonna just come right out and say it: Green Valley is the best fragrance I've ever smelled. Out of the roughly 800 perfumes that I've put my nose on, this one beats all of them, and it isn't even close. This hurts me deeply, because it's been discontinued for ten years with zero availability in the aftermarket, save for a few obscenely priced survivor bottles that are probably spoiled by now and not worth the glass that holds them. The version pictured here, with the green cap, was the original release from 1999, which within six years was replaced by a transparent cap, for reasons that defy explanation, other than it was Olivier Creed being needlessly OCD about one of his products again. But here's the real kicker with Green Valley: there is literally nothing else on the planet that smells like it. With nearly every fragrance in history, you can assemble a small coterie of similar things that either riff on or blatantly copy each other, but not so here. This fragrance, despite conveying what seems like (on paper) a pedestrian fruity-green "fresh" profile, manages to smell so radically unique and brilliantly executed that it defies the laws of physics. I can describe Green Valley -- green minty/grassy top accord, bitter and slightly floral, some mandarin orange sweetness, followed by ginger, blackcurrant, vetiver, more mint, more grassiness, with ghostly notes of watermelon, coumarin, green tea, hawthorne, violet leaf, resting on ambergris and sandalwood -- but that doesn't really describe Green Valley. You can't understand it until you actually smell it, and you need to spray liberally, meaning you need a full 2.5 oz bottle to get the full effect. This suggests that you have $1200 to spare on a "vaulted" Creed. You can drop that kind of cash on an eBay seller's old dusty bottle, but buyer beware, as it will likely smell off. I don't have much hope that Kering will bring Green Valley back, for a few reasons. First, they can't really do it. The formula for it was super expensive and had grafted together bits of Millesime Imperial, Silver Mountain Water, Tabarome Millesime, and Green Irish Tweed, but also had original accords of bitter wildflowers and an intense green grassiness woven in. Another issue is material quality; Kering is all about cutting corners on formula cost, and now that Olivier is no longer obsessing over the very best of the best ingredients, it's unlikely that any reissue would smell right. Green Valley was a fragrance in motion. It would drift and waft and shimmer through my nose, the exact smell of a dew-covered field of uncut grass and weeds on a cool morning, with a gentle gust of air rustling through it all. I could actually smell the fronds of green moving and glittering with moisture, a sea of emeralds rippling to the horizon. Green Valley was magical, mystical, on another plane of existence. The perfume world seems to understand this, because almost no one has attempted to clone or recreate Green Valley, a fact I find both amusing and annoying. It's a little funny because it tells me that despite all the bitching about Creed, people have to give them this one. They created something truly new, truly beautiful, and truly one-off. But now that we've smelled it, why hasn't anyone at least attempted a clone? Well, DUA Fragrances, that weird scammy brand that sells one ounce bottles for stupid money, is the only company with the balls to put out a Green Valley clone (Vert Instinct), so I might as well try it. But make no mistake, this fragrance, like all of the fragrances I've written about here, is gone forever.