2/26/24

Nineteen-Eighties Old Spice is Not Like Other Old Spice.


I recently picked this up for two dollars from a lady who must've had it in her house for forty years, and to my surprise it smells (and feels) like new! Old Spice Conditioning After Shave, which is a runny balm, smells exactly like the liquid aftershave, but in the eighties formula, which was a touch brighter and spicier than previous versions. Of the 4.25 fl. oz. size, there is maybe 3.75 ounces remaining. This particular bottle dates from 1985, and is product id 3709. The product was introduced in 1984, and discontinued in 1987.


I say "discontinued" even though the product of Old Spice Conditioning After Shave ostensibly lived on until at least 1991, as mentioned on oldspicecollectibles.com. I have a bottle from the 1988-1991 era, which is dark blue with a flip-up cap, but the fragrance is completely different and in no way resembles Old Spice (it smells more like Icy Hot). The sticker on the front says, "New! Improved!" Yes, new fragrance, which smells like crap. Of course, the fact that it's thirty-five years old doesn't help, except the even older after shave smells just fine. So, not sure what that's about. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!

I'm usually put off by old aftershaves. To me, the thought of using something on my face that expired decades ago is disgusting. My Mendoza Line for shave products is early 2000s, maybe late nineties. But mid-eighties? Here's the thing, though: eighties Old Spice is not like other Old Spice. I don't know what they did to the formula during that period, but it smelled fresher and crisper than previous iterations. I figured my nose and fingers don't lie. If the stuff smells and feels weird to the touch, forget it. Amazingly it smelled fresh (but vintage) and felt great, a non-greasy lotion that leaves minimal tack for only a minute after use, which then vanishes (they put alcohol in the pre-1988 version). 

I also think this product is much older than the eighties, and suspect it dates back to 1965, when it was called After Shave Skin Conditioner. A different name, but essentially the same product. They jockeyed that name around from that year to 1984, switching once in the mid-seventies to Old Spice Skin Conditioner, and in the late-seventies to Old Spice Aftershave Conditioner ("Aftershave" as one word). Why they changed the fragrance in the late eighties is beyond me, unless the stuff in my bottle is expired Icy Hot that someone put in there in lieu of the real product (why anyone would do that is anyone's guess). 

2/22/24

Replica By the Fireplace (Maison Margiela), and the Problem with Linearity in Niche Fragrances


Linearity is a blessing and a curse; if the fragrance smells good, it's the former, and if not, the latter. But what happens when a linear fragrance smells neither good nor bad, but just "so-so?" At what point do we decide that linearity is a driver of something other than one's subjective level of enjoyment? At what point is it automatically something undesirable? 

Replica By the Fireplace by Maison Margiela was released in 2015, which was when perfume was entering a new phase, the Era of Dior Sauvage. Enter the bazillion online chads who can't stop themselves from jabbering aimlessly about Ambroxan, because just saying and typing the word makes them feel smarter by a hundred I.Q. points. Enter the monster woody-ambers that trail the wearer by thirty yards and fill the workplace with something the locals mistake for bathroom cleaner. It was also a time when niche began to cut corners, with stuff like Ferrari's Bright Neroli legitimately competing with "high art" like Zoologist's Bat. The playing field had been leveled by the synthetic oud craze, which was revelatory in its bringing an ostensibly expensive material down to the department store level of Ralph Lauren and Perry Ellis, and thus a sizable number of niche brands began using designer-grade materials in unorthodox compositions to pass them off as worth more than a dollar per milliliter. Your nose might smell something cheap, but listen, it's a bizarre composition, okay? That means it's niche, so pay up or shut up. 

Maison Margiela, to its credit, avoided weirdness with this fragrance. Replica By the Fireplace is conceptually a staid affair, conjuring in its image and copy the comforting feel of a mug of coffee by a toasty hearth. It doesn't get any more conservative. And indeed, spray it on and you get a delicious blast of vanillic kitchen spices next to a smoky blaze, and there's even a hint of coffee atop a blanket of fluffy vanilla. The vanilla is the saving grace of this scent, which by the way lasts fully fourteen hours at full steam, so it's definitely perfume strength. The money went to the vanilla, which has a rounded and woody-floral feel, even in the far drydown. I have no problem with how it smells, but I do quibble with how RBtF performs; this is a very linear perfume. Let me state for the record that if a pricy niche perfume is aiming for linearity, the accord should be mind-numbingly novel. You don't need to up the quality of materials; Vicky Tiel's Ulysse is linear and smells amazing because its cheap accords form an attractive and unparalleled smell. I would pay eighty dollars for two ounces of Ulysse. At ten dollars, it's beyond a bargain. 

I wish I could say the same for Replica By the Fireplace, but to me it's simply too boring to warrant the cost for a full bottle. The way it smelled at six in the morning is how it smells at seven-thirty in the evening. The spicy nuance, the smoky woodiness, the lick of coffee (I get zero chestnut), and the great big vanilla musk undergirding it all is quite literally frozen in time. There is no movement. I enjoy it, but do I enjoy it for twenty-four hours? Do I want an expensive fragrance to keep beating the same three notes from my work breakfast to my midnight snack the next morning? It smells nice, and it's a comfortable fragrance, easy to wear to work or on a date. But it's boring. Vanilla isn't a challenge; perfume vanilla was established 175 years ago. Old Spice has an excellent vanilla note, especially in the Shulton formula. Any of your wetshaver aftershaves from the early twentieth century can do it just as well. You don't need to splurge on anything for good vanilla. 

So why splurge on this? I'm not sure. If there were at least two changeups in the fragrance's drydown arc, I could see it. Maybe the smokiness intensifies and overtakes the sweetness, only to subside again six hours later. I'm not even asking for anything new to emerge here, but I'm not really satisfied with the same-old, same-old "here's the whole tamale" approach. This isn't novel, this is a candle, or a room spray. I appreciate that it's pleasant, but if you're charging me $24 for six milliliters, it needs to be more than that: It needs to be interesting, too. I look forward to a hundred milliliters of this costing $24 at bargain-basement TJ Maxx in twenty years. 

2/19/24

Reformulating "Down"


Photo by JaneArt, 1962, modified & color-corrected by B. Ross, 2024

So, the Skin Bracer saga continues. On Badger and Blade the gents are claiming that the current version of Skin Bracer is "weaker" with "more alcohol" and "more menthol" than the version from just ten years ago. There is still speculation that it is discontinued, although some recent comments have firmed up the notion that Colgate-Palmolive are still manufacturing and distributing it. So, some relief on that front.

When it comes to reformulations, there are two ways to think of them. Let's use the above picture of the girl(s) in the water as a reference. Some men think of reformulations as taking the largest girl, stripping her of most or all color, and fuzzing her out by removing information from the image. You could start small (the girl on the bottom right) and wind up big (top left) and have a big blob of a scent that in no way resembles the beauty that once was. Most men think of reformulations like this, as the fine-tuning of their favorite fragrances being undone, until all that is left is the basic shape of what was. 

The second way to think of it is as the literal interpretation of the above image. You start with the big, beautiful image of a girl in water and you reformulate her "down" to the smallest girl. All of the notes and accords are still there, but smaller in concentration and in part, contributing less to the pyramid and the performance. Eventually you wind up with a mini version of what was once a grand fragrance, overtaken by the useless white space of excess alcohol and water. The fragrance that once lasted twelve hours and had a beautiful progression now lasts two hours, and on your ride to work you must focus like a laser to notice each little evolutionary stage, an exercise in frustration. 

This ironically tends to be how aftershaves are reformulated, while proper EDTs and colognes are subject to the first method. Aftershaves begin with less information, with their scent being at the lowest concentration (somewhere between 1% and 10% of the formula, and it varies between products), and thus the act of stripping them down even further is only possible if you attenuate everything. In the case of Skin Bracer, the starting point was likely around 10% or perhaps as much as 12%, and since 1940 it has crept down to around 3%. The bottle I bought back in 2010 or 2011 smelled like it was roughly 10%, and I would occasionally use it as a cologne, which actually worked!

The bottle I purchased much more recently did smell a bit weaker to me, and I believe a reformulation took place, but it was a reformulation "down" from what it was, not an actual changing of the scent. Colgate-Palmolive decided it wanted to spend less on formula annually, and so acted to stretch the fragrance oil across more bottles, thus reducing the amount used in each, probably by several percentage points. What the exact strength difference is would be impossible to know, but my nose senses it's significant, with the tenacity of the newer formula only lasting about ten minutes before becoming naked menthol and little else. I could never substitute Skin Bracer for an EDT now. 

So while I would cast doubt on claims that it is discontinued, I agree with the idea that SB has been tampered with. Is money the only reason, or are there others? I tend to think that products like this, which have been around forever and appeal mostly to men over sixty, are simply becoming culturally obsolete. The powdery and slightly sweet profile of this type of fragrance is pleasant to a nose of any age, but the cheap image and dated olfactory aesthetic make it a tough sell. I'd wager that women under fifty aren't super enthusiastic about it, although the crap that many women are wearing these days makes them unsuitable critics in my opinion. Skin Bracer is great, but its days are numbered. 

2/18/24

Northern Cardinal (Zoologist)


Billed as a
"citrus" aromatic leather scent, this is another reissued Zoologist fragrance, and was originally just named Cardinal when it first came out in 2022, packaged in a red glass bottle. Why the reboot occurred is beyond me, but both iterations were authored by Rosendo Mateu of Carolina Herrera 212 fame. With that in mind, I approached it thinking it was Zoologist's "safe" masculine, and wow was I wrong.

Northern Cardinal supposedly opens with a barrage of citrus and herbal notes, if the reviews and pyramids and press releases are to be believed. I can only tell you what I smell: a few drops of stale citrus and some bizarre collection of spicy notes that coalesce into something that strongly resembles cumin to me. This rank cumin body-odor effect endures for about five minutes before the stinkier edge of it fades out and a more Old-Spicy kitchen melange steps forward. Indeed, I let my girlfriend have a few sniffs, and without prompting she said, "Smells like Old Spice, or something like that." 

The eight hours that transpire afterward are less fun. We found ourselves sniffing and wrinkling our noses, making all sorts of faces, taking walks, doing personal projects, and consistently reporting to each other that Northern Cardinal smelled like some cheap generic guy's cologne, sort of a drugstore vibe. I told her I smelled a vaguely bitter and typically "Westernized" rose note; she didn't smell that but said it felt like it was related to English Leather. She sniffed me before bed and recoiled in horror, perceiving a raunchy musk note that I had no awareness of. $175 for a bottle of this? No thanks. 

2/17/24

Bat 2020 (Zoologist)


This fragrance is a reissue of a 2015 iteration by Ellen Covey, famed research professor at the University of Washington. Prin Lomros is the nose for the 2020 version, and I find it to be a pleasant variation on the oft-explored petrichor idea in perfumery. 

Bat opens with a soil tincture accord that smells wet and mushroomy, like a shovelful of earth after a rainstorm. That first minute is both beautiful and a little off-putting, and reminds me of Pineward's Funerie, but it doesn't last; a banana-like sweetness emerges, reminiscent of jasmine and ylang, but mated to an indistinct greenness that seems to weld the fragrance's various stages. By lunchtime these green notes get woodier with brushings of cedar and vetiver, and my association switches to Havana by Aramis, if you removed the tobacco. It stays surprisingly dank and woody for almost the entire drydown. Almost. 

The final act (ten hours in) is a soapy floral freshness. I was standing in a grocery store line, wondering who was wearing the attractive, modern-smelling fragrance, and realized it was me. I don't have much else to say about Bat 2020 because it's a fairly standard green-woody floral, but if you're interested in another twist on that theme and want an offbeat but surprisingly successful drydown, this is something to check out. 

2/13/24

Is Skin Bracer Discontinued? Look to Brut for a Lesson on Why We Can't Have Nice Things . . .



Recently on the shaving forum Badger and Blade, a member posted a thread asking if Mennen's Skin Bracer aftershave had been discontinued. Apparently SB has become increasingly difficult to locate in brick and mortar shops, with places like Stop & Shop (a grocery store chain), CVS, Walgreens, and Rite-Aid failing to display bottles or marking them all down for sale. Given the nearly 100 year-old legacy of this product, the idea that its days are numbered is distressing to all of us. 

I'm not entirely certain the rumor is true, however. I recall seeing it at Walmart at least six months ago, and seem to remember seeing it at Walgreens not forever ago. It's possible that certain stores have opted out of selling it for their bottom line, and maybe distribution has simply tightened up a bit after the pandemic. Whatever the case may be, some on B&B have suggested that any price ending in seven foreshadows a discontinuation, and if SB is labeled as such, we should consider it the apocalypse. I think prices ending in seven are simply sales prices or are just random dollar-up prices that shouldn't be considered anything other than typical big box pricing. 

But let's say Skin Bracer has been discontinued - what would that mean? You could view it as a black-and-white, hard numbers economic betrayal of the shaving man, with little more than basic balance sheet realities accounting for its being axed from global outlets. This would be the most likely explanation; companies aren't in the habit of shedding hot ticket items. If SB doesn't sell, it doesn't sell. Time for it to go, and Colgate-Palmolive certainly has a right to can it. Okay, fine, but what if we view it as a result of buyer apathy? Is it possible that there simply aren't enough men who care about the product to keep it on store shelves? Or would this be "blaming the vicim?" 

I'd say it's the latter case, except I've been observing the wetshaving community's reaction (or lack thereof) to the recent reformulation of Brut aftershave and cologne. In 2022, High Ridge Brands purchased the licensing rights to Brut from Helen of Troy, and since then has completely changed the fragrance formula back to a late nineties version that I haven't smelled since I was in high school. It's richer, louder, more expensive smelling, and more ambery than it was a couple years ago, when HoT's endless formula tweaks had finally ground Brut into a cheap vanilla paste that wasn't worth the plastic it was housed in. 

For many years under the Helen of Troy license, B&B members lamented the reformulations, and correctly said that they paled in comparison to the Brut they knew in prior decades. The running consensus was that Brut Classic was as close to true 1960s Brut that you could get, but then Classic was discontinued sometime around 2012, to be replaced by Brut Special Reserve, which was basically Classic with heavier accords and poorly-balanced lavender. Essentially Brut SR was just a screwed-up version of Brut Classic, and I have a bottle that I've only used about 15% of in the last eight years. I know they wanted to take Brut back with this stuff, but I simply don't like it, and won't wear it. 

People felt that the Brut you can buy anywhere, which comes in a green plastic bottle, was cheapened Brut 33 that had truly fallen on hard times. It was still an aftershave, but the scent had been neutered into a powdery mess. Brut "Splash-On," which came in a seven ounce bottle, had maybe fifty seconds of longevity before it vanished. The hunt for vintage Fabergé Brut was ongoing, and even a bottle from the nineties was preferable to the stuff available in the 2010s. Never in a million years did anyone expect Brut would be saved by anybody, as it seemed Helen of Troy had an iron grip on the license, and I fully expected they would discontinue it in the 2020s. And it would appear that I was half right about that!

It's clear that the bigwigs there had decided that there were two options going forward: discontinue Brut, or sell the license to someone else. Luckily they sold it, and High Ridge Brands, which must be run by Republican Boomers, wisely opted to ditch the going formula and replace it with something that actually smells like real Brut. Their decision marks the first time in my life that I've ever seen a legacy brand like Brut get resurrected by a buying entity. If High Ridge Brands buys Old Spice, our prayers are officially answered! 

You would think that this turn of events would have led to a massive outcry of celebration in the wetshaver community, and that B&B would have a sticky thread devoted to praise for the "new" Brut. You would think this development would have guys shouting from the rooftops about it, and that their excitment in forums would be palpable. Will HRB bring back Brut Classic? If so, will it be like sixties Brut, with some kind of modern stand-in for nitromusk filling in the base? Will they switch the branding back to Fabergé? Will they actually give men their beloved wetshaver fougère back? You would think that all of this speculation would be happening non-stop. You would think. 

Except it hasn't been happening at all. There have been no celebrations. No shouting from rooftops. No stickies on the return of Brut. Nobody has bothered to raise the questions of what HRB might do with Brut going forward. Nobody has even asked how and why HRB changed Brut's formula back to something that actually smells good. The level of apathy for the new reformulation of Brut is so high that it's almost as if people always hated Brut. Aside from a couple of comments on maybe one or two threads on Badger and Blade, the noise around this not-insignificant change has been dead on arrival. Most of the members do not seem to care. One even asked if the new packaging for Brut aftershave signifies counterfeiting, and openly wondered how Walmart gets away with selling fake Brut. This is where the conversation has gone since High Ridge Brands spent untold millions of dollars to switch Brut back to the way it used to be.

What does this say about the buying public? There's no reinforcement being given to High Ridge Brands for their choice, and how exactly do we expect them to take that? I wonder if Brut's sales have gone down since their takeover. It wouldn't surprise me if HRB discontinued Brut by 2025, and the fragrance simply went extinct. After years of wanting something, openly wanting it, the wetshaver community finally got it, and then pissed all over it by basically ignoring it. This is why we can't have nice things. 

Skin Bracer is an old-school aftershave used by many Boomers and older Millennials like myself, and it's one of those hiding-in-plain-sight grocery store treasures that anyone under 35 skims over and ignores when shopping shaving basics. Dad wore Skin Bracer. Grandpa wore Skin Bracer. I'm 27, I don't wear Skin Bracer. I wear Gucci Guilty shave balm, or Montblanc Legend with a little water after I cartridge shave with canned goo. Cheap? Cheap is cheap. I don't wear cheap. Okay Zoomer, that's fine. But when Skin Bracer disappears and becomes an eBay unicorn, don't pop onto Badger and Blade and start kvetching about how someone needs to bring it back to market, because it turns out that the only thing that's actually cheap in this world is talk. 

Update 2/15/24:

I received a message from a faithful reader on Fragrantica who pointed out that I seemingly contradict myself when I say that I don't like Brut Special Reserve. In my review on this site I say that it's essentially Brut Classic in a different package, and elsewhere wrote that I liked it the same way that I used to enjoy Classic. So, what gives?

Things change. In the last five years, every attempt to wear and enjoy Special Reserve ended in me having a minor allergic reaction to it, with my airways closing up just enough to give me a sinus headache. I find that the first hour of SR is unusually "dense" and heavy compared to Classic's top notes, and the drydown is strangely flat and unsatisfying. If I didn't have the physical reaction to it, I might consider SR to be an adequate substitute for Classic, but given the circumstances and the added fact that it too is discontinued, I don't really have positive feelings about it. 

I do hope that HRB reinvigorates the Brut "Classic" approach, but I hope that the suits there are a little more ambitious in how they do it. Instead of slapping "Brut" on the glass neck, I want them to resurrect the Fabergé labeling, and I really want them to make it a splash instead of a spray. I'd also like them to make the formula more clean/dirty in the true vein of the original from Fabergé, instead of just a gussied-up retooling of the drugstore plastic bottle version. I doubt any of this will come to pass, but a man can dream. 

2/10/24

The Most Wanted Parfum (Azzaro)


Postmodernism is a bitch. It's an eclectic shit-show of pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo that strives to delegitimize social value hierarchies by disassembling objective meaning in the name of individualistic elan. Think of a water-driven wheel for grinding wheat, stopped by the invisible hand of solipsistic justice to allow for the factory workers to uselessly gawk at how the opposing forces produce the negligible byproduct of chaff. Meditate on the chaff. Obsess over the chaff. If we dare deign to enjoy the wheat, we must blame the wheel and its maker for the chaff, and only the blamers deserve the wheat. 

One of the unfortunate but inevitable side effects of postmodernism is the blurring of identities. This creates a lethally effective fog of war, you see. Where once people and objects enjoyed definition, now nothing does. In 1978 we had Azzaro Pour Homme, and a decade later we had Cool Water. One was an anisic lavender fougère in the modernist mold; the other a new-wave dihydromyrcenol-fueled fresh fougère. Then postmodernism kicked into a higher gear, and in 2016 we got a weird mishmash of them both (with a few other things) in Wanted, Azzaro's bizarre postmodernist fougère. It is both fascinating and terrifying in equal measure, and was followed by the even more Deconstructionist 2022 flanker, The Most Wanted Parfum. So how does intellectual nihilism smell?

Weirdly good, as it turns out. Luca Turin wrote, "Touch your nose accidentally with the smelling strip and you will be followed around by Virtual Guido all day." That may be true. But Virtual Guido got lucky in this fragrance after he culled together the best parts of the greatest contemporary classics into one obnoxious olfactory hair slick; the sweetness of A*Men's tonka, the forceful clarity of Azzaro's old-world lavender, the fizz of Envy's ginger, the gleam of Pierre Bourdon's imagination, the musks of Le Male. The Most Wanted is an apt name, as it is a gathering of the twentieth century's most wanted accords, poured into a kitschy Dadaist bottle by a brand with nothing to lose. Loris is spinning in his grave. 

2/6/24

Perfume is Prague.

Photo by Zoofanatic, color-corrected by B. Ross in 2024
I briefly stayed in Prague in 2007, from January to July.  I was twenty-five years old, and the last layer of that wonderfully unaffected idealism carried by every college-age person had all but evaporated. That year I had become an adult, a true adult, not some popular notion of what manhood is. I had learned. I had learned that the world is a cynical, mean-spirited place, and that Sartre was correct when he said, "Hell is other people." 

Prague as a physical location is a beautiful place. To walk along the Vltava in the evening is to experience a sense of Europe as it was in the 1900s, its riverside facades having been spared the ruinous ravages of Nazi violence and postmodern blight. Yes, Prague is beautiful, but Prague is also a complete shithole. The casual visitor might not see why, what with all the sparkling lights and colors along the river. But spend more than a month there, and it becomes crystal clear that the city is a magnet for every douchebag in Europe, and perhaps the world. 

Drugs of all kinds are legal in Prague. Prostitution is legal in Prague. Public drunkenness, contrary to what it may say on the books, is de facto legal. This is common knowledge, and draws all the inebriated johns to their very own hedonistic sanctuary city. Try to enjoy a night out on the town in Prague, and unlike most of the other metropolitan locales in the general geographic area (Vienna), you have a fifty-fifty shot. You might get in a few good games of foosball at an underground pub in Vyšehrad, or suffer a conga line of imbeciles who want to fight you and steal your girlfriend. Could go either way. 

There's an additional wrinkle to all this; Prague attracts just as many pseudo-intellectuals as it does asshats. Perhaps that's how I ended up there. Some of these fakers are just as obnoxious as the johns. Spend even twenty minutes in their company, and you'll feel yourself turning into Holden Caulfield. Often they're North American expats with axes to grind about Western culture, which makes zero sense if you've left your air-conditioned flat in Sarasota to live in a former Soviet satellite republic. I had to suffer their prattle about how misunderstood communist China is, and how judgmental and awful it is to try to tell women what they should do with their bodies, as if the thugs in your typical Czech bordello give two shits about bodily autonomy. 

The other day I found myself mentally comparing the fragrance community to Prague. There are clear parallels; perfume is organically attractive and terrestrial, yet the flies that swarm share the same ilk as the expat Praguers. Those who fall into the pseudo-intellectual camp (I raise my hand) offer a wider range of conversational possibilities; some of my acquaintances were actually quite interesting and pleasant to share lunch with, even if their bona fides were suspect. Fragcom peeps typically inhabit the same milieu, and I've had more good than bad experiences. Even if the guy or gal I'm talking to isn't exactly a Luca Turin, if we're discussing perfume, or better yet a specific perfume, I'll enjoy the interaction. My having this site has allowed me to meet some nice people. 

My experience has occasionally veered into unsavory crowds of weirdos and wannabes. Basenotes is, in my opinion, a dumpster fire of sheer crap. While it is certainly a hive of intelligence, the bees are short on honey. How many times has a conversation that could have been productive and polite gone off the rails? Someone has the audacity to start a thread asking about, oh I don't know, Bleu de Chanel, and the immediate responses are persnickety "redirects" to old threads on the subject. Instead of just giving a quick and concise answer, the OP should "do his homework" and first peruse four dozen threads on Bleu, as if adding another one makes a difference. Some of the "hey asshole" responses to these kinds of posters are so well-worded and loaded with sarcasm that the same energy could have supplied a more useful answer to the question. 

There's inevitably the one dubious character who seems to expect me and everyone else to believe him. He posts daily in an ongoing "what did you buy today" thread with pictures of what he expects me to believe that he bought. Invariably he expects me to believe that he spends on single-batch niche fragrances, and that he buys dozens of them every month of every calendar year. A rare Guerlain on Monday. Something from Esteban Parfums on Tuesday. A couple bottles from Poème Parfumé on Wednesday. He expects me to believe that he's amassed roughly nine thousand perfumes this way. He also tells people that he chucks the packaging of everything he buys, potentially exposing these precious elixirs to unnecessary amounts of light. Something any serious collector would do. 

Sometimes he'll field questions and elaborate on how he manages his humble collection, usually claiming that his grandson or nephew curates it, and that he keeps everything on mirrored shelves in a climate-controlled custom-built structure, presumably the size of a Walmart. Yet whenever anyone starts a random appreciation thread, he suddenly gets weird about it, and "respectfully" asks the mods to lock it. He's been doing this for as long as I've been a Basenotes member, racking up anywhere from forty to eighty perfumes per month, and once mentioned that he has four backup bottles of Marc de la Morandiere's Gengis Khan, which he purchased over three decades ago. Anything named Gengis Khan requires a little extra backup, after all.

This is all very believable, by the way. I believe everything he has been telling me and the rest of the community for the last twenty years is one hundred percent true. I believe it the same way I believed it when my roommate in Nové Město told me that he hadn't left the gas stovetop lit when he left for work, even though, upon my arrival home at two in the afternoon, the flames had turned the grate white. I believe it the same way I believed it when a Romani guy tried to to lure me into a herna bar by shouting, "You getting rich!" 

There are the "laughing hyenas" of the fragcom, specifically the individuals who scoff when you express affection for an older fragrance. In their view, admitting a liking for something seems to be a request for them to diminish your appreciation of it. They passive-aggressively mention that the only version of your new favorite they've ever worn is "vintage," and then proceed to elaborate on how superior their formula is compared to the newer stuff. They find it funny if you say that you don't care about reformulations that much, because apparently it's the mark of a philistine to disregard such things. 

They remind me of my North American expat companions, two young college dropouts who thought Norman Rockwell's paintings were "high art," even though neither of them had ever actually studied art. Norman's work, according to them, was superior to anything by the Abstract Expressionists, because of his classically-trained and representational style. When I pointed out that Norman's work fell squarely into the category of illustration, and was not highly intellectualized by modernist theory, I was the asshole. It was rude of me to mention that the old Saturday Evening Post covers were not "must haves" for me, and that the more modern and avant-garde versions of the same American iconography by Pollock or Warhol were preferable. My background in art was disqualifying, especially after a few pints of Braník. (My teetotaling ways only cemented their judgment.) 

Likewise, if I point out to fragcom folks that vintage formulas are a paradox, they reach for the tap handle. If I dare mention that a new formula, if left to sit for a few years, will eventually mellow and mature into something akin to vintage, my understanding and experience with this flies right out the window. The more I know, the less I know. How could I be so naive? How could experience and knowledge ever give me the moxie to supply an argument built on either thing? Everyone knows that simply piddling away my savings on vintage after vintage after vintage is the way to go. Look at our friend with the nine thousand perfumes! He's living proof. By the time he gets around to wearing the last fragrance in his collection, the first will be vinegar. 

Lastly, consider the rules. The fragcom is, at its core, a bureaucracy. You mustn't have an ongoing and heated intellectual debate with a few angry words flung to and fro, even if it is substantive and helps shape public opinion on something as particular and esoteric as in-bottle maceration. Do this, and you are "persona non grata" in the publishing world, where it's okay for paid Fragrantica writers to praise you and link to your writing, but not okay for Fragrantica's editors to invite you to actually write for them. You can have people in threads link to your blog with praise for your reviews, but on Basenotes this could mean private messages are sent to the uninitiated. So, no debating, no coming across as anything but a paid shill on YouTube, unless you've turned in the proper paperwork and paid your taxes in full. Bland and forgettable mediocrity, the kind that is unwilling to risk offending anyone, is the only way Creed sends you free bottles of new releases.

I came home because I didn't want to deal with the bureaucratic process of staying abroad legally. All the paperwork and fees. The processing of visas and insurance premiums. The risk of having something unearthed that I couldn't explain. It wasn't worth it, not for Prague. I returned in 2011 to visit a female friend from Poland, and after a few days of arguing and bad sex, I decided it still wasn't worth it and left again. I often look back and wonder how different my life might have been had I done the whole thing in Vienna instead, but then remind myself that there was another reason I returned to America: I missed it. 

2/4/24

Lapidus pour Homme Sport (Ted Lapidus)



Varanis Ridari recently released a video on YouTube in which he states his "Unpopular Opinions" about the fragrance world. One of them was (I'm paraphrasing), "People don't smell with their noses." He astutely pointed out that branding, price, "vibe," and even looks (packaging, etc.) are what most people defer to when assessing if they like or dislike something. The actual fragrances? Secondary in importance. 

On a separate channel, "The Perfume Guy," Sebastian Jara reviews the original Lapidus pour Homme and three flankers, including Sport, which is his least favorite. He says flat out that he hates it, which I found interesting, because it seemed to me that his opinion was formed by everything but the scent. To me, Lapidus Sport is an almost exact clone of Creed's Orange Spice, one of their spectacular (and now discontinued) "grey cap" EDTs. But what would make the Bogart Group delve that far back into the Creed catalogue, and nearly eighteen years after the original Lapidus? Talk about random!
 
While Orange Spice was simply intense, civet-tinged oranges for nine solid hours of wear, I get a lighter and less beastly six hours of the same before Sport dies out, albeit with a ghost of animalic funk in its wake. It's more sheer, more modern (some weird soapy florals in the first ten minutes), and a tad "fresher" than its YSL/Creed predecessors, but still rooted in a musty 1950s neoclassical revivalist idea of aristocratic male grooming. It reads as a basic and unerringly tenacious combo of civet, orange, and neroli, so umistakable that I can't believe Bogart was doing anything other than cloning the Creed. Good stuff.

2/1/24

Rose Prick (Tom Ford)


The double entendres
that are Tom Ford's fragrance names are funny. "Rose Prick" can mean you got stabbed by a flower or a randy dude, depending on how you interpret it. Today I submit a third meaning: a prick created this overpriced rose perfume. 

Rose Prick (2020) smells like black pepper, turmeric - yes, turmeric - and roses in the top note. I'd be lying if I said I get much turmeric, though there is a touch off the very top, which is nice. But the fragrance, to my nose at least, smells very much like Ford having his revenge on Armaf by cloning them back; after the Arabian firm copied Noir de Noir (2007) with Club de Nuit Intense (2013), Ford waited a bit and then did them one better. RP has a fuller and more satisfying interplay between rose and patchouli, and it all feels even more costume-showy than CdNI, which may appeal to today's aspiring metrosexual.

Still, it pisses me off. As basic and approachable as it is, for the money it's a complete waste, and its vulgar flourishes make it a little too difficult for me to pull off. Let me put it this way, I'm infinitely more comfortable wearing Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose EDT than Rose Prick. But hey, if you're looking for high camp in stiletto heels, this is for you.