Snowy Owl (Zoologist)

An A.I.-Generated Image
When I hear about perfumes based on animals, my mind goes to gross places. I imagine civet first, and all the intense funk associated with the excretions of its anal gland floods my nose. From there I drift into barnyard ouds and horses' asses. Eventually I wind up in the south central China exhibit, with bamboo everywhere and the occasional panda peeking out at me. Animals are often interesting, sometimes cute, but rarely clean. With Zoologist Perfumes, I'm bracing myself. I'm in for a bumpy and very stinky ride. 

Snowy Owl seemed the least likely to offend, and at a glance its pyramid suggested something crisp and green, maybe a little floral. I spent an evening with a paper sample, and for a few hours it smelled pretty static, a cold glass of cucumber water (nonadienal and a micro-drop of violet nitrile) with ice (cyclohexene derivatives) and a hint of floral sweetness (Calone 1951). Dawn Spencer Hurwitz (DSH Perfumes) authored it in 2020, and the result is a chilly white floral bouquet of hyacinth and lily of the valley, wrapped in a clutch of greens and left on a New York doorstep in January. There should be some loose comparisons made of Snowy Owl and classic muguet perfumes like Diorissimo, but frankly I think the avant-garde coldness that Hurwitz blanketed her creation in sets it apart from anything classical. Her composition smells of frosty air for three hours, at which point it thaws slightly, and the blanched sweetness of impossibly preserved blossoms shines through. I'm left with a gentle freshness that smells perversely cold and lifeless, yet inviting, the smell of a character from a Joan D. Vinge novel. 

Wearing Snowy Owl is an interesting feeling, especially in winter. I'm used to wearing perfumes aimed at women, and this one is unisex, yet I felt weirdly self-conscious with it on. Maybe it was its strangeness coupled with the obvious floral elements that had me second-guessing my choices, or maybe I'm just not used to a perfume that is so obviously different in how it handles familiar themes. Great perfumers can take pedestrian ideas and make them novel again, and while I wouldn't spring for a full bottle of Snowy Owl, I can appreciate the genius behind it. Cold, cold air, bottled with a kiss. 


Revisiting Lapidus pour Homme . . . and Adding it to The List.

Lapidus Pour Homme is, in no uncertain terms, Eddie Money in a bottle. I recently purchased a 2022 bottle from eBay, and compared it to my 2012 bottle, and I must add Lapidus PH to the list: this is a fragrance that benefits from "aging." Where once the fragrance smelled like one part Kouros to three parts Boss Number One, the split is now even. Letting the bottle sit half-empty and undisturbed for seven years amplified its musks, deepened its patchouli, and sweetened its amber tenfold. 

It occurred to me when smelling the two strips that Lapidus Pour Homme has achieved a rare level of greatness in its old age. The interplay of its strident musks (civetone not least among them) is so similar to YSL's Kouros, itself a masterpiece, that it's hard for me to interpret the fragrance as anything less than a marvel. I'm always impressed by how Lapidus transitions from bright animalic musks to sweeter wildflower accents, ringed with rose and patchouli, and experience a quiet sense of bliss whenever I smell it, as I once did with Kouros. This fragrance has aged well, chemically and stylistically. 

I recall that my "vintage" bottle, which came in marbled grey glass instead of matte grey painted glass, smelled weirdly imbalanced in the heart accord. There was a mutant honey note that welled up at around the two hour mark, and it hung around long enough to put me off the scent. I ended up giving that bottle away, but I'd be interested to smell another one from the nineties or early 2000s. My recollection is that the pineapple was more natural, and it would separate from the musks enough to smell like I'd splashed Mott's canned juice on my arm. This was good and bad; while the top accord was nice, it was sensitive to temperature, and occasionally smelled "buttery." 

The 2022 formula still has a distinct fruitiness, but it's softer, smoother, more obviously synthetic. I don't know if there's been a reformulation since 2012, and imagine there has been, but whatever was done has not impacted the fragrance in any bad or questionable way. However, the 2012 bottle has seen its liquid get a few shades darker, and its woody notes are noticeably stronger than they were when I first got it. This feels like a bit of in-bottle maceration, but I'm sensing that the fragrance has slipped into its own "vintage" mode, and in five years it will be sought after. I'll report back if and when I find a true vintage bottle for comparison, and will do an in-depth comparison. 


Is Alain Delon pour Femme the Rarest Perfume?

I must confess, I've never seen a bottle of this in the wild, nor have I ever seen it mentioned online. Basenotes and Fragrantica do not have Alain Delon pour Femme listed in their databases, and while Parfumo acknowledges its existence with this blurry photo of a mini, there is no other information about it available. Well, except for this page (link).

As you can see, the asking price on myoldperfume.com is $320. No, that isn't a typo. That's what they want for a pristine "new" old-stock bottle. To be fair, this is what they want for most of their bottles. The site is Japanese, the merchant located in Yamanashi, just west of Tokyo, and they claim to keep their stock in climate-controlled conditions, the attention to detail we expect from Japan. Delon's perfume clientele were largely Japanese, for reasons beyond me, but he (and Charles Bronson, with his uncharacteristically weird and flamboyant Mandom commercials) were apparently popular there. So it isn't entirely surprising to find this impossibly rare vintage unicorn of a fragrance residing in such a faraway place. The site's managers claim the release date was 1981, which would put it one year after the original masculine release, which bore a similar box and bottle in a black and red color scheme. It's interesting to see, but $320? Really? 

The four ounce bottle is striking, the gold liquid looks clear and relatively light in color, indicating there has been no light contamination (heat contamination is another story, especially in Japan), but the sticker on the back says "AD-2006." The rest is in Japanese, and I can't read it, but I'm assuming it's an ingredients and safety/allergen label. If the number is a date, that would only make this particular bottle eighteen years old, meaning it isn't "deep vintage," and could even suggest it wasn't released that long ago, and perhaps only goes back to the 2000s. The thing about this is that it wouldn't necessarily negate the value, if indeed the asking price is accurate. This might simply be an insanely rare perfume, even if it isn't that old. 


Moss (Commodity)

I approached Moss by Commodity thinking I was in for another bland green chemical "niche" perfume. The ideas of vegan, sustainable, converse-wearing, granola-eating, pearl-clutching, minimalist perfume was iffy to me. I sprayed it on paper, took a sniff, and smelled nothing. Took another sniff, and still smelled nothing. Took a third sniff, and the paper smelled as it did five minutes earlier, except not as good. I shook my head in disgust, and looked at the bottle. You're really going to make me do this, aren't you? I'm going in totally blind. Not even a vague clue on a blotter. Ok, here goes nothing. 

First spray hit skin, and still nothing. I ducked back in a few seconds later, my interest nearly entirely gone, and froze. My god. My. God. The juiciest bergamot, mixed with a little sweet lemon. Exhilarating petitgrain, like making out with an orange tree. A camphorous edge, not medicinal, but elevating, clarifying, brilliant. The pairing of real citrus notes with the zesty nuance of elemi resin, so bright and cheerful, a song for the senses, all appearing on skin like a divine apparition. The most gorgeous top accord I've smelled since first encountering Original Vetiver in 2010, and Green Valley in 2011. Just as green, in fact. What is this stuff? I looked at the bottle again, and then sprayed it like a madman all over myself. I took my shirt off and draped it on a chair so I could spray it with perfectly-aimed shots. Spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz, spritz. It's green. It's clean. It's grassy. It's orangey. It's fizzy. It's natural smelling. I don't care what people say about it online. I don't care what its mission statement is. It smells amazing. I must have more.

The beauty continued for a few hours thereafter, a quasi-cologne citrus-vetiver ensemble that was clearly taken from Original Vetiver, Mugler Cologne, Malizia Uomo Vetyver, with bits of Neroli Woods and even 4711 in the mix. The vetiver mingles with a light cedar note in the transparent (i.e., modern) base, and with the petitgrain and orange blossom essences enduring, it adopts a bit of a Terre d'Hermès vibe, though Moss is significantly greener. As for the moss itself, there isn't much, aside from a smidgen of synthetic oak moss blended in with the woods. But this particular Commodity fragrance is so well presented, so elegantly poised in its simple arrangement of fresh-woody greens, that I'm after a bottle. Anything this directly related to Original Vetiver belongs in my collection. 


Why Perfume Blogs Die

The other day I was saddened to find that Shamu, a fragrance blogger known for the twice-retired pourmonsieurblog.blogspot.com, had deleted his blog. He hadn't posted in over three years, but had kept the content up, and I had taken it for granted that it would always be there for me to peruse at my leisure. Now it's gone, likely never to return.  

Another blog, bigslyfragrance.wordpress.com, is also defunct, with its author neglecting to post in almost thirty months. And yet another blog, peredepierre.com, went extinct sometime after 2010. Men's fragrance blogs are gradually drying up, as the written word is supplanted in the online social media space by video content on YouTube and Instagram, and the community drifts ever more into the "fan-bro" mentality of religious adherence to wearing anything Aventus/Aventus-adjacent, or Parfums de Marly. The question is, why? 

On a case-by-case basis, perhaps there is less mystery; bloggers get tired, lose enthusiasm, shift their attentions to other things, and what was once a fun little side gig is quickly abandoned for other pursuits. Shamu was an old-school "powerhouse" fragrance lover, into stuff like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, Z14, and Quorum, and he excelled at reviewing obscure pre-niche masculines, things released between 1960 and 1995, which were often modeled after Brut, Azzaro Pour Homme, Drakkar Noir, or Zino by Davidoff. The material was great while it lasted, but by year four (2015) I could see that the steam was running out. Shamu's personal collection was near exhausted, and his reviews had begun to scrape the barrel; there are only so many derivative throwbacks you can case before redundancy quashes novelty and everyone's eyes start to glaze over. 

In regards to Bigsly, I think the blog (and its interactions with From Pyrgos, which I found largely constructive) was generally good. Sure, the writing wasn't the greatest, and I suppose one could argue that the author had the wrong hobby, given his openly aversive sensitivities to perfume, which I think were unintentionally hilarious, but I thought the blogger would continue on indefinitely. His abrupt departure in 2021 signaled an end to his obsessive scrutiny of "cheapies" and his compulsive habit of chronically sampling every fragrance he encountered. Bigsly claims in his last post that prohibitive swapping options, the disappearance of free samples, and an increase in prices led to his retirement, but I suspect another issue was at fault: boredom. When you review hundreds of fifteen dollar frags, you confirm what I said in my review of Mancera's Silver Blue -- there is nothing new under the sun, especially in masculine perfumery. Smell twenty, you've smelled them all.  

Boredom was key with peredepierre.com. Its lead author (I think it was Dane? Or maybe it was Mark. Eh, can't quite remember) titled one of his last posts, "Perfume is Boring." He wrote that (around 2012), new releases had been growing more and more repetitive, with fewer and fewer interesting ideas being introduced, and thus it no longer served a purpose to discuss fragrances. The post was short, hastily written, and light on details, and the impression I got was that the author had simply lost interest in writing about perfume, and had never been super interested in it to begin with. Peredepierre.com was a collaborative effort, with at least four contributing authors, and I think several of them had also lost interest, so they decided to close shop, and deleted the blog.  

Those are individual reasons for blog deaths, but what about the big picture? What does it mean when bloggers write for several years with great enthusiasm, only to suddenly lose their passion and erase all traces that they ever existed? To stop writing is one thing, but to delete a blog entirely is quite another. In Shamu's case, I wonder if political correctness stymied his efforts to keep pourmonsieurblog.blogspot.com online? He spent a lot of time talking about "manliness" and "no-nonsense masculinity," while also working a full-time white collar job as a lawyer, if I'm not mistaken. It's entirely possible that someone noticed his little side effort, read it, and disapproved of the definitively gendered language he used to describe masculines and the culture around them. 

Was he a victim of a "woke" brigade that threatened to put his head on a block if he didn't renounce his fealty to manly colognes? Is our postmodern culture killing men's input on perfume, simply by robbing them of their ambition, or their courage, or both? It's tempting to think so, especially in light of all that's happened in the last ten years, but I believe the answer is far simpler: people don't read anymore. 

Look objectively at the community, and it's no mystery. People have turned to video content for their perfume fix. YouTube has spawned dozens of reviewers and "influencers" who take the latest stuff and wave it around while bumping their gums about packaging and "performance." I feel that precious few of them are worth watching, but occasionally there are standout channels, like those by Varanis Ridari and Dan Naughton. Varanis Ridari's content, labeled "The Unlist," is particularly good, because he simply talks about fragrances and their provenance, with nothing else embellishing the videos. It's refreshing to watch someone just stand in front of a camera and talk about perfumes, be they vintage or contemporary, and even talk about abstract topics, like how individual materials were developed, used, and perceived by the public. 

Varanis Ridari also has a blog, which is simply written reviews of perfumes, with no stone left unturned. It appears to be alive and well, so that's a plus, but it wouldn't surprise me if his videos got more attention than his written content does. I've been doing this since the autumn of 2011, and to date my average daily views are 350. Sometimes I get over 500 views in a day, and those are the good days. I don't have a huge audience. There are maybe forty or fifty people who read my blog every day, and the rest drop in occasionally, with search engines sending a dozen or so one-timers by the hour. 

I've never been approached by Fragrantica to write for them, probably because of the sacred unwritten rule that forbids heated debates between perfume bloggers, which I've broken several times in past years (we are all denizens of Snowflake Land, where the mere thought of disagreement, no matter how intellectual in scope, is disqualifying). I could look in the mirror and ask myself why I even bother to write. Why, when YouTube is eating my lunch, do I sit down at a keyboard and tap-tap away for hours on end? 

I'm not sure. I enjoy doing it, that's all I know. From Pyrgos isn't really a "Blog" in the standard sense of a blogger site that acts as a diary for brief personal jottings. Blogger is its platform, but the content is not dissimilar from regular fragrance magazine material, like stuff found on Fragrantica's home page, where reviews and musings are posted by various authors on a weekly basis. I write because it's my contribution to our community. I've been told countless times that I should start a YouTube channel, and I did post a video many years ago (we're talking 2010 or 2011), which I deleted. I'm just not into the whole YouTube setup. I don't want to shill. I don't want to come across as just another "frag bro." I don't want to spend my days making colorful photoshopped thumbnails with huge fonts, and invest four grand into proper lighting and sound. 

I just want to write. Perfume blogs vanish when their authors die or lose the will to write, for a shortage of readers is not enough to stop a true writer.  

Update 1/19/24:

Bigsly has updated his blog to further explain why it is defunct. He holds that the landscape has changed in undesirable ways and become more expensive, and adds that he has been experiencing medical issues that preclude him from writing about perfume, as spraying fragrance on paper makes him feel ill. Here's to hoping he recovers. 


Replica Jazz Club (Maison Margiela)

Maison Martin Margiela
isn't really a tiny niche brand; it's a major French fashion label with several subsidiary labels, each assigned numbers to correspond with their product lines (the perfumes are number three). It's tempting to think I'm trying something small-batch and kitschy when I look at the little apothecary-style bottles, and must remind myself that I'm looking at a mass market product sold in departments stores worldwide. 

With that in mind, their Replica line of perfumes has its flagship masculine, Jazz Club. There are a few things I like about Jazz Club, and a couple I really don't like. Let's start with the good stuff, and work from there. What I do appreciate about this 2013 quasi-retro composition by Alienor Massenet is how it incorporates a slightly bizarre top accord of pink pepper and fig into a stolid support structure of green tobacco leaf and smooth, semisweet rum. Pink pepper has fruity nuances, as does under-cured tobacco leaf, but hiding a nineties-era fig in there is both imaginative and effective; Jazz Club smells lively and inviting, as a true jazz club should. I hear trumpets every time I press the atomizer.

I also like that the heart notes maintain their friendly balance of spices, greens, and booze without ever devolving into aching sweetness or chemical noise. While the rum lends a hint of sugar, the tobacco remains lucid and staves off the cavities. There's a resinous undergirding of styrax and vanilla with just a touch of tonka bean, and if someone told me it was a fougère, I'd believe them. So all in all, a good fragrance with a surprising degree of everyday wearability and versatility. When you're looking for something that is both "safe" and "fun," your options can narrow considerably, but here the boxes for unimposing nonchalance and quiet authority are all checked off in kind. 

Now, the bad stuff. Here's the thing: this isn't a cheap fragrance. You're looking at over a hundred bucks for three ounces. All fine, were it reminiscent of top-shelf Chanel. Sadly, it smells more like top-shelf Avon. I bought a little bottle of something called Hot Spice from Dollar Tree that smells as good as Jazz Club, and maybe even a little better (I use it as a room spray, it's that good). Quality of JC's materials is high, but not that high. Quality of blend is excellent, but with all the A.I.-enhanced blending techniques available today, the smoothness of a fragrance is less and less impressive. I am not about to claim that Jazz Club isn't worth your money. Only you can make that call. But I'm hard-pressed to spend more than a Ben for a full bottle. Me? I'd spring for it at fifty or sixty. It's middle-shelf designer, at least to me, but your mileage may vary! 

Another thing that I'm not wild about with Jazz Club is that it attempts to sublimate the late nineties fruity-floral aura into a late fifties bay rum vibe, and winds up smelling a little soggy on both ends. The unusual stealth fig in the top only lasts about five minutes, and I don't see it mentioned by anyone anywhere on any of the social media boards or review videos. It's probably because the whole affair is a little washed-out and weak. Likewise, the tobacco and woodsy-rum drydown is pleasant and well arrayed, but never really feels like enough of something. A bit more of a spicy rum thing might've steered it into a wetshaver territory, which is really the inevitable destination for something with these notes, yet it doesn't get there, and instead remains more transparent and "modern" in tone. You could use it after a shave, but why spend that much for kinda-sorta bay rum? 

Maybe I'm being unfair to the fragrance, and there are devout fans of Jazz Club who would beat me into a pulp for going where I've gone here, but what can I say? It's a very good fragrance. It smells very nice. I could wear this all the time and it would probably garner the occasional compliment. But I have Trumper's Bay Rum, Pinaud's Bay Rum, and Ferragamo Pour Homme for a woody-spicy scent with its own spin on sweetness and freshness. I'm not convinced that I need Jazz Club to round them all out. 


Should We "Age" Our Fragrances?

Years ago, when I was still a member of the "fragcomm" on Basenotes, I debated the merits of seeking, collecting, and wearing "vintage" fragrances. At that time (between 2011 and 2017), the majority view held that "vintage," i.e., anything released years before as an early-specimen formula of something long since discontinued or reformulated, was simply better, and worth seeking out. For example, if you wanted a bottle of Lapidus Pour Homme, it was trivial unless you sought a marbled glass bottle with an intense blast of animalic honey in its heart. The "reform" wasn't worth having. 

As you can imagine, this logic has its problems. Fragrance, like all things, is subject to the thermodynamic law of entropy, and it does eventually spoil. How quickly and noticeably that spoilage occurs is widely variable, and invites speculation as to what constitutes "spoilage." My position then, as now, is that any perfume will spoil, and its usability diverts into one of two outcomes; it might lose clarity with top notes vanishing, heart notes blurring into each other, and base notes droning on forever, or it may simply smell foul. 

I find that most perfumes will lose their note fidelity, but maintain wearability, i.e., they will still smell good. I own several vintage bottles, like my Grey Flannel, which is now several decades old, yet is still perfectly wearable, even if it clearly smells a bit too "smooth" and "soft" to qualify as an accurate match for what is currently being sold by EA. So if the fear is that vintage fragrances are useless, fear not! Many vintages that are preserved in any measure will maintain a recognizable profile, and perform adequately for daily wear, and some may even perform better than their modern versions do.  

At odds with all of this is the phenomenon of "in-bottle maceration." In terms of its applicability to the vintage spoilage debate, post-sale maceration is its own argument, with many experienced community members doubting it exists. I know of at least two veterans out there with extensive knowledge of perfumes who contest that "in-bottle maceration," i.e., the chemical maturation of a perfume after it has been bottled and sold, does not exist. Their contention is that maceration is a process limited to the manufacture of a perfume, and that once the stuff is bottled and shipped, the process is long finished.  

Herein lies the rub: I agree with them, almost entirely. Almost entirely. There are some exceptions, however, and in my experience they are limited to three brands: Creed, Yves Saint-Laurent, and Armaf. Pre-BlackRock Creeds, from the family-owned company that still used a smidgen of real ambergris in their bases, would smell super weak initially, and were borderline useless if you tried to wear them right after purchase. But I discovered that if I used the fragrances just enough to introduce air into their bottles, and then let them sit for six months or a year, they would smell richer, deeper, and much, much stronger when I got around to them again. Ditto for YSL's Kouros (silver-shouldered), and also true for Armaf's Club de Nuit Milestone, which took about two years to open up. 

I hold though that in-bottle maceration is a confounding factor to the idea that fragrances get better with age. The problem with assuming that vintages are simply better macerated is that the maceration process signifies an "arc" of development, with a distinct start point (weak juice), mid-phase (best life), and end point (spoilage). With pre-BlackRock Creeds, the key is catching them in the mid-phase of their development, which can last several years, and can end up being incredibly rewarding if you only wear them a few times a year. Stretch things for too long, however, and some Creeds will spoil. Green Valley is one that I once encountered in its full spoilage stage. It smelled like sour citrus in the top for about fifteen seconds, and thereafter smelled of dirty shoe leather.

With this in mind, what about the idea of "aging" our fragrances? First, let me describe what I mean by "aging." The aging process of anything suggests a linear path instead of an arc: a product starts as "immature," and improves over time, until it has reached "peak" maturity, wherein it remains pristine for an indefinite period, or until used. By nature, the product changes for the better, and once that change is complete, it simply maintains, with little to no deterioration. Aging is successful in the realm of wines, cheeses, cured meats, and other edible/ingestible products, but it is not often used by fragrance enthusiasts. 

One of the key problems with the notion of "aging" a perfume is that it suggests the perfume needs to be aged to begin with. No wine connoisseur worth his salt will take a freshly-bottled fine wine and crack it open the next day, because aging is necessary for it to reach an apex in quality. It could take twenty, thirty, forty years for the wine to develop its full range of flavors and nuances. The same cannot be said of perfumes, which are largely ready to go from the factory. If you buy a new-batch bottle of Nautica Voyage on Monday, you can and should wear it on Monday. There is little to no benefit in waiting twenty years to depress the atomizer for the first time, as it will, at best, smell the same as it did the day you bought it. So where does that leave the idea of "aging?"

To me, it leaves it in the same place as in-bottle maceration. Where the maceration phenomenon only occurs with certain fragrances from specific brands, the idea of aging a perfume also applies only to certain fragrances. Interestingly, my experience with aging a perfume is only noteworthy with one fragrance: Brut. In my experience, Brut ages like fine wine. Fitting, given its name! Brut, when new, smells very good, but it smells a bit too polished and "fresh." To understand what I mean, consider what Brut used to be in the seventies and eighties: an incredibly beautiful accord of fresh green notes atop an animalic, ambery musk. A splash would unfurl a series of bright citrus and herbal notes, which gradually dried into a deep, warm, musky tonka base that carried a vague whiff of unwashed skin (musk ambrette). 

In my possession is a bottle of Helen of Troy's aftershave formula from 2010. I used most of it, but saved a little on the bottom. In the last fourteen years, I've noticed something: the musk has grown raunchier. It hasn't adopted the full-throated amber of its earlier iterations, but it has definitely grown richer and more nuanced. It smells closer to vintage Faberge Brut than it did when I bought it. This has me thinking that the thing to do with Brut is buy it and hold on to it for a decade or two before using it. If I purchase Brut and I'm dissatisfied with how it smells in comparison to the vintage stuff, maybe I need to let my bottle become "vintage" before using it!

I have other bottles that exhibit a similar shift in the way the musks smell, and Brut is a very musky fragrance. In fact, I think Brut is really just a big pile of aromatic musks, with little else involved. But there's a problem with applying the Brut principle to other perfumes. Just because Brut seems to get better with age, doesn't mean everything will enjoy the same outcome. Sure, things may improve to a modest degree, but eventually the majority of fragrances out there will probably lose their luster. So where does that leave me? I know that out of 150 perfumes in my collection, exactly one of them actually "ages" itself into a more mature and beautiful form after a decade of storage. It happens to be one of the muskiest fragrances in my collection, and it also happens to be a stylistic antique, having been released sixty years ago (scary, the Jet Age is antique now). 

With this knowledge, I go forward wondering if other musky fragrances will also improve with age. Musks are very large and complex molecules, and their chemical interaction with these fragrance formulas may, over extended periods of time, yield results that are favorable to the nose. In closing, I'll mention that I find it interesting that newer bottles of Brut have aged into smelling more like vintage bottles. It makes me wonder if 1960s Brut, when new, smelled the same as the fresh stuff does today. What difference is there between how a man in 1964 smelled, and a "Brut Man" smells today? It's entirely possible that in a side-by-side comparison, they would smell identical! 


Lost Cherry (Tom Ford)

Tom Ford's exclusive line of top-shelf EDPs is prohibitively expensive, but Lost Cherry (2018) smells like money. Well, let me rephrase that: It smells like what people think money smells like nowadays. Fancy top notes, followed by slightly less fancy heart notes, followed by an eternal base of fruity musks. Its conglomeration of esters and aldehydes eventually blurs into a big beautiful smack of lipstick and feminine talc, which I thought I'd hate, but I actually think is pretty neat. You could have fun with something like this.

Of rare interest to me is the top notes here, which are photorealistic maraschino cherry, with just a splash of amaretto. It's a burst of juicy-sweet and dry-bitter that plays with my senses in a way that offsets the illusion of real Luxardo cherries with cultural connotations of sweets and liqueurs, a veritable Etruscan daydream. While my imagination drifts to a veranda overlooking a villa in Tuscany, my nose becomes hyper-focused on the intense musks that carry it all, and suddenly (within five minutes) the party's over, and perfumey perfume is in the air. But this potentially disappointing development doesn't last.

An hour into the fragrance, and a great big tobacco leaf appears, which then elicits imagery of Flatiron, New York City, and its eighty year-old ragas with their magnified bifocals hand-rolling cigars on tables supported by empty olive barrels. There's just something so Italian about Lost Cherry, even with all the innuendo and Tom Ford swagger accounted for, that I can't help but like it. My girlfriend gave it a sniff of approval, saying it smelled good. When I told her the price, she winced and said, "Not that good." And that's usually the issue with Ford's stuff. Good, but not great. Close, but no cigar.


Perfume Brands No Longer Offer Free Samples. This Needs to Change.

In a recent Basenotes thread (link), a member wrote:
"Think about the value of freebies, it's definitely worth the effort. The best way is to be polite, and be yourself. It will happen. I've done this many times. Get into splits group and host a large Malle, buy it from Barney's in LV and make an acquaintance/friend. You'll reap the rewards for your time." 

He's referring to perfume samples as "freebies," and clearly suggesting that attaining them requires at least one expensive perfume investment, followed by extensive networking. Perfectly reasonable, if one desires "free" perfume samples, right?

Wrong! Fuck no. I shook my head in disgust when I read that. That mentality is the reason I can no longer get a free sample of a $300 perfume, something I used to be able to do with ease between 2009 and 2013. Going back to the nineties and 2000s, if you wanted to sample something, you could go to a Macy's or Bloomingdale's or Neiman Marcus, walk up to a counter, and they'd shower you with freebies, all in the hopes that you would then buy something. That doesn't happen anymore. 

Nowadays, if you want to know what something smells like before you spend $300 on it, you have to pay $10 for a 2 ml sample. Often you have to shake the sample out of the sales clerk like you're mugging her at gunpoint in a dark alley. Even when you show people money, it's an exhausting effort for them to "find" what you're asking for in sample form, and it inevitably leads to them rummaging around, as if the very notion of a customer trying before buying is unheard of. Sometimes they'll break out a tester bottle, which is no bad thing, but often they don't have one available. What was once an accommodating industry of friendly people looking to develop a positive relationship with customers, is now a snooty profit-seeking hole of arrogant sales clerks and put-up-or-shut-up greed. 

The guy commenting in the thread has accepted this as if it's totally normal, and devised a way to go about attaining samples: Put in extra effort. Sounds okay at first, but context kills his logic. I shouldn't have to put in effort. I shouldn't have to be polite. "Be yourself" shouldn't cross my mind when I approach a brand for samples. I shouldn't have to win brands over and tempt them into offering me something. They should be offering it to me to begin with. I'm a potential customer. How am I supposed to buy a pricey ($100+) fragrance in 2024 unless I know what it smells like first?

Companies won't give me anything today. I can write to Roja Dove, or Malle, or Chanel, and ask with all the sugar in the world, and the response will be that I can have as many samples as I want, and here's the price (direct link to the "coffret" of vials, for the price of a full 30 oz bottle). This all started in 2013, and became the industry standard by 2016. Since then, if I want samples, I have to pay for them. The easiest thing to do is go to Lucky Scent and just order what I want. They claim to sell .7 ml samples for most of what they offer, and it seemed like they upped the amount after I'd made some purchases, but I'm not sure of that. It's all fine and well, but I shouldn't have to do it in the first place. I should be able to get free samples from Lucky Scent. I'm a Lucky Scent customer. I want to buy a product from them. If I have to buy the sample too, then maybe it's a waste of money for me. I have to absorb the risk that Lucky Scent won't sell a fragrance to me, instead of Lucky Scent absorbing that little risk in the name of selling me the product in the end. Might be fair, business is business, but I saw how it worked before the risk-aversion set in, and I'm not convinced this is the way to go.

To me, the strangest aspect of all of this is the way in which people act like it was never a thing. When another member mentions that he still wants freebies, Hednic, once a "Basenotes Institution" (now weirdly re-named a "Well-Known Member," which I have thoughts on), shrugs and says, "Would be nice, but wishful thinking I'm afraid," as if free perfume samples is pure fantasy. People are acting like free samples isn't how the world works. Except it was how the world used to work, right up until ten years ago. 

I don't want to imply that free samples are never, ever given. You go to Macy's and get into a conversation with an SA, someone under the distinct impression that you're going to purchase, or knows that you are purchasing, and there's a solid chance that if you ask for a sample, he or she will toss a couple in the bag free of charge. But that's a departure from how it used to be. I'm dating myself, but when I bought my first bottle of Allure Homme back in 2000, the SA was plying me with samples of every other designer thing that I wasn't buying that day. Naturally, I found it annoying. I was spoiled. I was living in a world where I didn't want a ton of samples, because I was given samples every time I stopped at a counter. I had accumulated a dozen samples of things I would never buy. And to a degree, my feelings were justified, as I could easily sample these designer frags for myself on my own time at any number of stores. I didn't need carded samples of them.

Thus, my position on samples for designer fragrances is slightly more amenable to how it's done these days. My ire is directed more at niche. The current niche culture expects customers to "work" for the privilege of wearing perfumes. Those who don't work must pay. It's unacceptable. It's akin to a car dealer expecting customers to buy without test-driving. Or a big-box electronics store expecting customers to buy a boxed unit without having one set up in the store for them to go hands-on with. The likelihood of a purchase is relegated to nonexistent, or "blind" status. And I'm sorry, but I'm not blind-buying anything over $100. Once you step past the designer line with prices, I expect to know exactly what I'm getting, and frankly I'm not really comfortable with buying anything over $50 blind, so this all goes without saying. The phrase "buyer beware" applies.

As for the industry, and whatever use samples offered it, I would hazard to guess that they were a risk, but a net positive in the long run. The problem today is that businesses no longer take risks. Look at Hollywood; everything released in the last eight years is a sucky remake. They're all sloppy retreads that nobody asked for, yet because their IPs were once profitable, studios are willing to throw money away, even if the finished products bomb. Taking chances on new, minimally-tested ideas was once the norm in Hollywood, which is how all the great films of the eighties and nineties were made. Now we get crappy, chintzy, and sometimes even deadly Netflix/streaming stuff made on sub-$10 million budgets (Alec Baldwin, eat your heart out), and don't even see the receipts when they bomb. 

Spending an aggregate amount of money on printing the cards and bottling the samples was once a risk taken by the fragrance industry, taken because a customer's ability to sample the wares had always translated to long-term sales. Sure, the likelihood that someone who had just smelled a new sample would then immediately say "I'll take it" was extremely slim, but consider the legion who went home with a sample, experienced it at their leisure, and decided a few months later that they wanted a bottle! This worked. But it was a risk; there were plenty of fragrances that weren't bought, and samples that went by the wayside. That's how the world works. You take risks in business, and the bigger the risk, the bigger the potential payoff. What fails ends up going into the discard bin, and shapes the evolution of bigger and better things (link).


Are "Dark Blue" Fragrances a Return to the Past?

Knock Knock. The Eighties are Back. 

One of the things I find amusing about perfume history is how the "powerhouse" trends of the eighties and nineties met their demise. We in the fragcomm like to tell ourselves that it was simply a gradual culture shift, that finally, after twenty-five years, people had grown tired of the bombast, and just wanted to tone it all down a few notches, but those of us who remember the nineties know what really went down: "Fragrance-Free Zones."

The nineties saw an upswell of public places that prohibited perfume, from doctor's offices to schools, gyms to town halls, all posting signs, some permanent, that forbade the obvious use of personal fragrance. There was a movement in the late nineties of people who took issue with fragrances in all products, because they were considered allergens and endocrine disruptors. This culminated in the 1999 report by The Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products and Non-Food Products Intended for Consumers (link) which identified dozens of common fragrance ingredients (cinnamal, eugenol, geraniol, etc.) as allergens, and extensively investigated their potential for causing harm, all in the name of preventing eczema. This inevitably led to the IFRA crackdowns we've all seen in the last twenty years, with many once-common materials used in hundreds of perfumes no longer available for perfumers to use, or for the public to enjoy.

This was precipitated by over-sensitivity and hyperbolic reactions on the parts of small minorities of the public. All it took was a loud and very vocal fraction of the public to rapidly turn the tide on how we all perceive certain kinds of fragrance. Think about it: Let's imagine a physician with a practice that sees one hundred patients. One day, two patients in a row complain about a physician's assistant wearing Dior's Poison, perhaps one spray too many. The doctor asks the assistant to tone back the perfume, just to avoid offending patients, and she does. Three months go by, and the same two patients return for follow-ups, and again, despite the assistant wearing less Poison, they complain that the perfume "bothers" them, and elaborate that they're "sensitive" to fragrances.

The doctor returns to the assistant and tells her to stop wearing the fragrance, and all fragrance. She complies, and another three months goes by, and the two complainers visit and leave without incident or complaint. Then one day the physician's secretary wears a little Chanel No. 5, and the whole cycle starts again with the same two patients, only this time it's followed by an annoyed phone call from the husband of one of them, who says his wife needs something for the migraine she got from the smell of No. 5 that she was hit with when she paid her visit a few hours earlier. This prompts the physician to implement a "Fragrance-Free Zone," covering his office, the waiting room, and any area of his practice. In the span of a year, he's received at least six complaints from two percent of his patients (and their family), and that was enough to take action against all perfumes and extraneous fragrances at work. 

Ninety-eight percent of his patients didn't care or didn't notice that his employees were wearing perfumes, and said nothing, but because of how frequently and emphatically the two percent piped up, that was it for anyone who wanted to wear fragrance to the doctor's office. But it gets better still! Let's say that the physician himself regularly wore three sprays of Green Irish Tweed, and he was aware of the whole Creed in-bottle maceration phenomenon, so his GIT was pumping. Let's also say the same two patients who complained about the Poison and No. 5 never commented on the doc's fragrance, and acted as if he was fragrance-free. How could that be? It's possible the patients had zero sensitivity to fragrance, and acute sensitivity to the mere existence of other women. Perhaps they simply crushed on the physician and would never say anything bad about him, but enjoyed exercising a little power against others. Maybe they fantasized about exerting enough influence that their crush would "do something about it," just for them. 

This is all hypothetical, of course, but it goes to the broader narrative about how louder fragrances were perceived, why they were frequently banned, and the sorts of things that were likely happening in the background. That brings me to this thread (link) on Basenotes, in which the OP goes on a tirade against "Dark Blue" fragrances, a category of scent that I hadn't really considered all that much. This led to an interesting discussion, in which people concurred, mildly disagreed, and debated which fragrances fell under this moniker. What struck me was that the overall tone of the OP's first comment seemed in league with the stuff I would hear back when I was in high school. 

For example, he writes: 
"One of the problems with the dark blues is how bombastic they are from first spray . . . The experience of smelling these fragrances on other people is repulsive . . . Ultimately I don't care what other men wear. I am not seeking to be enamored by another man's fragrance. But this stuff is literally unavoidable in many public places and so demands attention." 

When I read this, my first thought was, really? I rarely smell fragrance on anyone else, and sometimes I'll go a whole week without smelling anything on my coworkers, including women. Americans aren't interested in perfume, and those who have a fleeting interest are often sucked into the dirt-cheap body mist crapola at Bath & Body Works. 

My sentiment was echoed by a couple other respondents, and some of them agreed that the supposed "Dark Blue" trend was mildly offensive. What I found confusing was the breadth of scents this "Dark Blue" category encompasses, including things like Hugo Dark Blue (1999) and Polo Blue (2003), far from anything recently released, yet lumped in with Versace's Dylan Blue (2016), Dior Sauvage (2015), and Bleu de Chanel (2010), all of which are also starting to grow whiskers. 

The thread was noteworthy to me because I have rarely but certainly encountered Sauvage in the wild, and every time it happens, I'm left wondering. The intense Ambroxan buzz, deep and woody and unmistakable that emanates from Sauvage is reminiscent of earlier landmark aroma chems, stuff like Iso E-Super, Dihydromyrcenol, and Calone 1951. Ambroxan is the chem of our time, having arisen in 2010 and now dominating many of the most popular men's releases, in the aforementioned scents, and things like the Armaf Club de Nuit range. Ambroxan can be subtle, or it can be loud, and there's no doubt it's being perceived as loud by some, who are in turn being the loudest among us in protesting it. 

But compare Ambroxan to the relatively suave woody oakmoss smoothness in something like vintage Halston Z-14, probably the loudest fragrance in my collection, next to Joop! Homme. It smells like a secondary player, more of a texturizer than an actual note, just as Iso E did back in the seventies. (Note that Iso E-Super is a combination of molecules, not a single material.) Compare it to to the very different in-your-faceness of Dihydromyrcenol, which was fire-hosed into our collective consciousness from 1982 onward. Compare it to Calone 1951, which by 1995 was crashing on our shores in olfactory tidal waves. These materials were intense, and fiendishly used in literally every other perfume. Aramis New West, CK's Escape for Men, Acqua di Gio, all left pink clouds of abstract salty melon, and with time they got louder. Calone is unique in that it is one of the few chems that we perceive as stronger the more we are exposed to it (olfactory fatigue in reverse).*

Those were the trends of the past, and now we're in the present, and people are still complaining about fragrances being "too strong." I think ultimately this holds less water now, given the age of the culprits cited in the thread (the newest is eight years old), and the fact that people barely wear perfume anymore. But the need to push for change, even where none is needed, lives on. I thought I'd close by commenting on the fact that the color "Dark Blue," whatever that may encompass, had me thinking about how strange it is that colors are still being associated with perfumes. If you were born blind and smelled any one of the fragrances I've mentioned, you would simply isolate the sensations as familiar or unfamiliar, and conjure up your own subjective imagined interpretations of them, which would likely be devoid of color. 

Yet for the rest of us, we associate colors with perfumes. What does something meant to be "Dark Blue" to the suits at Dior smell like to me, the average Joe? Interestingly, I don't really consider Sauvage to be a "blue" fragrance, and instead found it to be a rather novel take on a modern leather accord. More "brown" than "blue," and not that much. I have something called grapheme-color synesthesia, which means I automatically associate specific colors to specific numbers. For example, when I think of the number 2, written as the numeral itself (not spelled out), it is invariably Kelly green. The numeral 8 is very dark purpley-blue, almost black, but obviously color in the sunlight. Numeral seven is always banana yellow. Weird, right?

I experience a similar sensation with my sense of smell. My brother got me a bottle of Davidoff Hot Water (review pending) for Christmas. One sniff had me immediately thinking it smells candy-apple red. But it gets more complicated with fragrance than with my synesthesia. The latter is a genuine psychological trait that I was born with, and it operates independent of any outside influence, although one might argue that something in my formative years aided in matching the colors to the numerals. Yet with fragrance, I'm clearly being influenced by externalities. This isn't my mind experiencing multiple and simultaneous sensory stimuli; I am experiencing the physical color of the fragrance itself. Hot Water's box and bottle are both bright red. Of course the smell has me thinking in that shade - it wants me to!

Ditto my experience with Green Irish Tweed, which evokes a field of dark purpley-green whenever I smell it. Grey Flannel, same colors. Both are ostensibly "green" fragrances, both come in dark bottles, Grey Flannel's matching the shade in my head. Cool Water, light blue. Look at Cool Water's advertising and bottle, and it's no mystery why I think of that light, sky-like shade whenever I wear it. Does that mean the "Dark Blue" genre does the same? Should it?

A weirder thing happens. Polo Blue, for example, elicits images of white and pastel pink. Polo Ultra Blue gives me a beigey-grey vibe, with flecks of dark green and bright yellow. Avon's Mesmerize for Men is a melange of warm autumnal colors, despite its dark purpley-blue bottle. Chrome legend smells like white and pastel green. None of my darker blue fragrances (in packaging, if not name) get me to a dark blue color in my imagination. My green frags elicit green, my red frags bring the mean reds, and my "noir" or black-bottled frags can sometimes be fairly dark and lacking in color altogether, so some sort of synesthesia is at play here. It just doesn't seem to align neatly in the "Dark Blue" category, at least not as loosely defined by the guy who posted that Basenotes thread. 

Color and fragrance are inextricably linked, and I guess that will never change, at least not as long as people engage in color-coded marketing. But my guess is that the supposed "Dark Blue" fragrance phenomenon is more of a colloquialism for "stuff packaged in dark blue bottles," and doesn't exactly mean the fragrances themselves smell dark blue. 

*Luca Turin, The Secret of Scent, p. 50