From a Once-In-a-Lifetime Bottle to a Once-In-a-Lifetime Buying Opportunity: My "Like New" Vintage Pinaud Lilac Vegetal

It's all good now.

It's true: my midcentury drugstore bottle of Lilac Vegetal bit the dust. However, I also stumbled upon a situation on eBay that allowed me to purchase a pristine vintage barbershop replacement bottle for under fifty bucks at auction, and without a single opposing bid. I think of it as a once-in-a-lifetime buying opportunity.

To recap, my original vintage bottle was perched precariously on a bathroom shelf, and the inevitable happened. I don't blame anyone but myself. I accepted that shelf location without argument, knowing that it was likely a terrible place for something so rare, and then had to live with the consequences of my neglect. To be sure, I should never have let it leave my house. Some things are better left in one place. That's history now, and what transpired afterward is fascinating because it's also something I'll never see again.

My first thought upon hearing that my original bottle had been smashed was, "Okay, it's just a glass bottle of something; stuff like that happens." My second thought, kind of a delayed reaction, was "Wait, that's not just any glass bottle. How the hell am I going to replace it?" It wasn't all that difficult, but only because fate smiled upon me. As soon as clean-up was complete, I hopped on eBay and typed in Vintage Pinaud.

The initial results were pretty abysmal. There were several twelve ounce bottles in varying stages of decay, most of them looking pretty rough with missing caps, worn-out labels, and filthy insides. But then I scrolled down to two back-to-back auction listings for what appeared to be the exact same late seventies barbershop bottle. I can't be sure of the exact date, but judging from the green cap and label style, it appears to be roughly from the era when the movie "The Jerk" came out. 

Unlike my previous bottle, which looked to be a Walgreens item from the early 1960s, this one was "for professional use only," denoting its class as an official wholesale barbershop product. I happen to like this style, still in use, still with the same label design, except back then the bottle was a bit larger, heftier, and solid glass. It turns out the seventies formula for the product was also significantly different from the current stuff, and smells almost exactly like my other vintage, with perhaps just a little more of a raw-green "vegetal" edge, which nudges it only slightly closer to how the current stuff smells. 

So I'm on eBay, and I see this bottle with a starting price of $45. Then I see an identical post next to it for what looks like the same bottle, price, and seller. I message the seller and ask him if he has two identical bottles, or if he just posted the same item twice. He tells me he has two bottles, but doesn't send a verification photo. I ask him for one, and he sends me this, after which I spend five minutes rubbing my eyes in disbelief:

I take a look, and my mind is blown. I've never seen two identical barbershop vintages of The Veg with zero differences and in pristine condition. The only slight difference I could spot was that the liquid on the left was a little darker than the one on the right (which is the one I got). I apologized for doubting him. He told me, "No problem." This was clearly going to be a unique buying opportunity.

The facts were clear: I had to maneuver for one of these bottles with no competition from anyone else, and this would probably happen because there were two identical bottles at the same price. I immediately posted my max bid at $200, with eight days until the auction ended. A few days later, I upped my bid to $300. I didn't touch the other bottle. I sat back and waited. Unless the seller reneged on the auction sale, I knew the bottle was mine, and I didn't even have to think about it. 

The seller made one crucial error: he posted photos of the same exact bottle in both listings. Had he posted the genuine bottle, buyers would have spotted the very minor differences between them, particularly the little smudge on the glass of the bottle on the right, and they would have known that the seller was legit (i.e., not scammy). But with two postings of the same bottle, and one of them requiring a max bid higher than $300, the whole thing suddenly looked super sketchy. Few would want to venture into that void.

There was also the fact that if other buyers messaged the seller, they would get the same photo that he sent me. They would then figure that if eBay wants a max bid of over three hundred for one bottle when the other one hasn't been bid on at all, the one with no bids is their best shot. The path of least resistance was bottle #2. The auction closed on day eight. I was the only bidder on the first bottle, and I won the auction at $45. (The second bottle sold for the same amount the next day.)

It's hard to overstate how beautiful this bottle is. It doesn't have the back label of the drugstore bottle, with its funny and whimsical marketing copy, but it was kept in clean condition, out of sunlight, and smells fresh. The red Pinaud stamp that says "A Basket of Flowers" is as clear as day (and quite large), the embossing of "Pinaud, Paris, New York, London" is not worn down on the back, and most importantly the "Lilas de France" slogan is crystal clear in brightly silkscreened color on the front. Absolutely magnificent. The bottle arrived with about ten ounces in it, and although it was previously opened and used, it was not tampered with, and smells perfect. 

Lilac Vegetal was released in 1878 in New York City, according to David Woolf, executive vice president of American International Industries, which manufactured the Pinaud line in the 1990s. The fragrance was sold to barbershops and athletic clubs throughout the twentieth century, and survives today. I find it funny to think of myself retiring into a sedate life of golfing and country club brunches, only to find this big glass bottle of Lilac Vegetal by the sink in the men's lavatory. It appears as one of several common masculine colognes lined up by the mirror in the bathroom of the fancy restaurant that Ferris Bueller crashes in the hit John Hughes movie. Vintage smells different from the current stuff - powdery, soft, a little sweet - and I think every wetshaver owes it to himself to find a bottle. 

I want to close on this note: Pinaud, unlike every other fragrance brand out there, is special. It changes at a snail's pace. Up until only a few years ago, Clubman aftershave was still being made with real oakmoss. The other day I picked up a bottle from CVS and noticed it no longer contained oakmoss. It no longer contains any moss, not even treemoss. I'll be reviewing the new "moss-less" formula soon. It took Pinaud an extra twenty years to bend to IFRA regs on that. While most brands were stripping moss out of their formulas in the 2000s, Pinaud kept it in. Clubman Musk still has it, as far as I know, but then again I bought my bottle several years ago. 

My point is, Pinaud is the last of the Mohicans. Even with IFRA compliance, they still make a nineteenth century Lilac Water, and from how it smells, it seems like they reverted the formula back to something from that time period. They still make Eau de Quinine. Think about that. In 2024, there's a company that sells a product that smells like a colonial quinine tonic. They even still make Eau de Portugal. Pinaud is probably of greater value than any other brand I own. If you're reading this, you have one direction. Get a Pinaud and value it highly, because it is a national treasure. 


How to Value Vintage ED. Pinaud Aftershave Products (And Why I Prize Them More than Anything)

One of a Kind
There was an accident in the bathroom the other day (not that kind, no toilet paper needed), and my vintage Lilac Vegetal, which was three-quarters full, was shattered on the tile floor. My immediate thought upon hearing that this had happened was that it was no different than if someone had dropped a common drinking glass on the floor, as it was simply a glass object containing a lot of fluid. But it also occurred to me that the passing of this particular glass object posed a larger problem: replacement.

If you're a member of Badger & Blade, or just a guy who collects fragrances, you know what it means for something like this to happen. I considered myself lucky to have found an unopened midcentury bottle of Lilac Vegetal, and to be the first (and I hoped only) person to open it and use it. I still believe I'm lucky to have had it in my possession, and to have worn several ounces of its contents. But when I considered the ramifications of its being broken, I realized that the odds of my ever finding another bottle of that quality again were exceedingly slim. Sure, there are other vintages of Lilac Vegetal out there, and yes, some of them are quality specimens and deserving of buyer reverence. But chances are I will never find another new vintage of untouched midcentury stock again. That was a once-in-a-lifetime deal, and even the luckiest are not that lucky again. 

With that said, what's done is done, and I can't resurrect the bottle, so there's no point in crying over spilled Veg. The task now is to find another vintage of comparable value, and to take no prisoners in securing it. I scanned the various merchant sites for items, and found only one of comparable quality, a barbershop bottle from the late seventies or early eighties, with label in good condition and, most importantly, the phrase "Lilas de France" clear and unsullied. For some reason many vintages that pop up online seem to have excessive fading and/or tearing on that part of the label, so finding a bottle with it looking close to new is exciting. The image of this particular item is below:

This is a different kind of Pinaud bottle than the one I lost. The bottle I purchased in 2020 was for general public use, and was easily found in drugstores. The bottle above was sold wholesale to barbers for exclusive use in their shops, and thus was designed with the "long neck" for an easy grab. The peril of owning any of these bottles is that they're made of glass, and it's an antiquated type of glass that fractures into a bajillion pieces, so keeping them secure is important. I view the above specimen as being of a different caliber than my former bottle; Pinaud's "professonal use" bottles are collectible not just because they're vintage, but because they weren't available to the public, and thus are sought after by those seeking vintage barbershop-specific collectibles. 

I paid about $84 for my former bottle after winning it at auction, which of course came down to the last split second. It was a tight bidding war with two other eBay members, one of whom dropped out a little early and left the other to spar with me up past the sixty-dollar range. Time and date matter with vintage Pinaud. In 2020 there were a few more readily available items on eBay, and it wasn't uncommon to see at least three good vintage specimens every week ("good" being defined as any aftershave or cologne housed in glass). Thus finding the "new old stock" Veg was exciting but not surprising. I found it gratifying to win the auction, but was also of the mind that a similar bottle would appear again, and indeed at least one has in the time since. 

This is no longer the lens through which to view vintage Pinaud products. There is increased scarcity in 2024, as several more years have passed and supplies have thinned. As with any vintage fragrance, Pinaud vintages have been winnowed by time until scantly anything but the unaffordable are left. Take for example the Eau de Quinine tonics on eBay this season: None of these are reasonably priced, except for one bottle that was priced under one hundred dollars because someone was stupid enough to write "$5.00" on the label in black magic marker. There is a large bottle of the tonic priced at $1K, which is exorbitant at any size. There is a four-ounce bottle priced at one hundred dollars, which is a bit high, but the point is that Eau de Quinine in shampoo and tonic form is one of the most expensive due to its having been mentioned in a James Bond novel, so a bottle of either form of this scent at or over 100 ml. is reasonable for between eighty and three hundred dollars. (If I were into it, I would pay the max price without a second thought.) 

There are four things I look for in vintage Pinauds, and all four must be present for me to see value in owning them. The first is the bottle must be glass. The second is the labels must be in at least good condition with the name of the fragrance and any marketing slogans legible. The third is the interior of the bottle must be clean, i.e., free of black sludge, dried detritus, or evidence of secondhand abuse. The fourth is the cap must be included, preferably the Bakelite/plastic version (the metal caps give me the willies, as I'm never sure if lead was alloyed into them). Because glass is key, I attend to any of the older formulas in glass, and am always on the market for things like the discontinued Naturelle Sec (I would pay over one hundred dollars for a bottle), Lime Sec, Citrus Musk, if they made it (I've never seen a vintage bottle), the original Clubman in glass, and any of its flankers, and the coveted Bay Rum, as well as Lilac Vegetal. Any of these in a size larger than 1.5 ounces commands top dollar from me, and I would gladly pay it.

I prize these so highly because they're never coming back. Due to market pressures, Pinaud switched from glass to plastic sometime in the late nineties or early 2000s, and in doing so have been saving a fortune on both shipping and collateral costs (everything cheaper because lighter; no broken bottles). It would be an incredible thing if Pinaud ever offered the glass bottles for a limited time, and if they did I would probably buy them up outright for resale value alone. But I doubt they will bother. As it stands, the glass bottles are becoming a rarity, with fewer and fewer appearing in decent condition, and those that have intact labels and original contents have become nearly impossible to source. Given that I paid almost $85 for my bottle in 2020, that is the baseline value that anyone should be paying for a similar bottle today, and I think if you locate something better than what is pictured at top, you ought to be prepared to pay at least twice what I did. Once in a lifetime opportunities are exactly that, and no small amount should be asked. 


Are Green Fragrances Making a Long-Awaited Comeback?

In the Hammock by Hans Thoma, 1876

Recently on his YouTube channel, Varanis Ridari spoke about what he perceives to be a possible resurgence in commercial interest in green fragrances, mostly in the designer realm. He cites the releases of fragrances like Hermès H24, Coach Green, and Parfum de Marly's Greenley as examples, and mentions that while none of these are exactly a return to the twentieth century mode of bitter woody-green masculines, they wander directly into green territory while also semi-pandering to the obnoxiously saccharine sensibilities of the contemporary buyer. He refers to a span of roughly the last five years as the time frame for this, and comments on the desirability of "green" as an olfactory theme. Like me, he frequently wonders why it has taken so long for mainstream brands to cut the crap and cough up a few emeralds, but hey, at least some houses are trying. 

I would tend to agree with him that this phenomenon is happening, although I would add that green fragrances will not make a comeback until the public has reckoned with what it means to wear a properly "green" perfume. It's nice that brands like Ralph Lauren are dipping their toes into things like Polo Cologne Intense, but there are a few things that must be understood for it to really work. Green fragrances aren't meant to be friendly and inviting. They aren't aimed at air-headed ditzes who wear their grandma's vanilla extract when their favorite drugstore frag runs out. Green fragrances are meditative. They are neither serious nor sunny; green fragrances are aloof. Picture yourself wearing a sweet gourmand. Where are you? Waiting in line at a movie theater concession stand, or at a carnival gorging yourself on cotton candy and fried dough. 

Now picture yourself wearing a cool green chypre. Where are you now? The sugar rush is over. The "hip" crowd is nowhere to be found. You are sitting alone in a wildly-blooming garden, surrounded by reeds and flowers, the trickle of a stream flowing nearby. Such is the feeling when wearing Jacomo's Silences, or Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel. There are fronds of tall grasses whipping around you in Creed's Green Valley, and a ski lodge villa of rustic pines dumping mentholated snow on your head in Acqua di Selva. These fragrances evoke a calming sense of nature, of serenity, of propriety. There are no marshmallow ambers or salted melons, but there is plenty of quiet. The man in a green fragrance is one of few words, but when he says something, he means it. 

The American customer is rarely able to deal. "Hmm, this smells like dessert. I like this. This one? Yikes, this one is bug spray. No thanks!" And so the green fragrance dies, while the sugared chemical amber gets twenty flankers. Givenchy tried to win Western hearts and minds in the nineties with Insensé, and failed miserably for the sin of offering men a little something called good taste. But to offer something never works in macroscopic heavy-handedness. It takes a gradual orchestration of social mores to recalibrate the undiscerning mind into accepting something that was once intimidating. I believe that there should be market penetration of the idea of what it means to be "green." A couple of retro-reboot toilet waters here. A plucky cut-grass aftershave there. A few colognes in twenty-seven ounce bottles that harken back to the citrus chypre ideas of the eighteenth century, and perhaps a Millennial beard balm that smells like cut pine. Steady as it goes, and after a couple years, a trend. Not a war won, but many battles. 

Now, that trend may indeed be forming, as V. Ridari pointed out. But so far it seems rather clunky and half-hearted. It's also going unnoticed, which perversely protects it from being instantaneously nuked by the corporate gods of Mount LVMH. I recently tried an Adidas fragrance (review pending) called CHRG for Him, an under-the-radar "sport" scent that cost me less than the price of a new bottle of Old Spice. It was many things, but to my surprise it was green! Unabashedly, unmistakably green, with more than a nod to the herbal aromatics of the sixties and seventies. That such a mass-market sport-oriented fragrance should adopt such a mature theme was both pleasantly surprising and utterly mystifying. How did this get past the gates? Why didn't some Millennial jackass axe the whole concept before it could even get modded into consideration? How did it get as far as a store shelf, where someone like me - ostensibly the average joe - could pick it up on a whim? The casual ease with which I was able to accidentally blind buy a green cheapie that smells good and doesn't devolve into ethyl maltol madness is stupifying. Eight years ago I would not have been able to do that, not if I tried. 

When it comes to market penetration, I have some ideas. American men need to reacquaint themselves with florals. Back in the Victorian and Edwardian days, it was commonplace for a man to splash himself with a gussied rose water after a shave, something with a little more staying power than actual rose water, but light enough (distinguished enough) to serve as an inoffensive cologne. Add a little deer musk and perhaps a dollop of rectified birch tar, and that same cologne could become a proper toilet water, full of crisp lavender and rose and orange blossom, yet anchored to masculine archetypes via a generous whelp of animalics. But those days are long over, and the intervening 150 years has seen the same man lose himself to flab. Sure, the A*Men counterculture and Aventus Revolution were interesting, but where did they lead us? A few hundred clones and wannabes, few of which truly survived, and little else. 

We need the toilet water to make a comeback. Men need lilac waters, and violet colognes, and lavender aftershaves. There needs to be a flower garden in the men's department at Macy's. I want to go to my local barber supplier and find at least three new lilac waters, all bottled in glass, with artistic labels and attractive colors, and they should migrate to Walgreens and Rite Aid. Clubman USA should be incentivized to compete by retooling their range, reintroducing glass bottles, and making their lilac water a competitor again. If more men are using rose waters and lilac waters after a shave, that will trickle upward to the designer realm, and from there into niche. Why are things like 4711 and Royal Violets by Augustin Reyes obsolete? Yes, they're cheap, but they should be spurring competition, not slinking behind rows of air fresheners in the sale aisle. 

From the wetshaver world, men might graduate to something like Grey Flannel on a Creed budget. We might see Chanel release an intensely green bouquet, after Insensé. We might see YSL release a bergamot/cistus labdanum/oakmoss chypre in a jade bottle. We might get a taste of Paco Rabanne returning to the days when it could define an entire genre, i.e., the aromatic fougère. Little designer brands like Adidas might actually get recognition for releasing something like CHRG for Him, instead of the tide of crappy cheapies in every rack store from New York to New Delhi crowding it out. I think it's encouraging that brands like Hermès and Coach are toying with green ideas, and I wouldn't discourage them. But I also think that piddling around with herbal and verdant woody notes isn't going to be enough the second time around. The perfume world will need to build a return to green fragrances from the ground up, which will take time, trial-and-error, and acres of failure before a profit is turned. Small steps will lead to bigger ones. We gents can vote with our wallets, and perhaps green fragrances will one day live again. 


Creation Thé Vert (Ted Lapidus)

The date for this one looks wrong to me; the frag sites say it was released in 2008, but by that point the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) had already banned a gazillion materials, and had severely restricted the use of Evernia prunastri, otherwise known as oakmoss. Creation Thé Vert contains oakmoss. But I guess brands can choose to adhere to IFRA guidelines, as Pinaud Clubman is like fifty percent oakmoss, and still found everywhere. As far as they're concerned, the IFRA can shove it.

Another thing that doesn't jive is the style. A green tea fragrance? In 2008? And it's part of the antiquated Creation line by Ted Lapidus, which means it's a direct descendent of something released in 1984. The box style and color scheme, the bottle with its wavy lines in the glass, common to all Creations, and even the weirdly built-in atomizer (mine is broken beyond repair), all of it looks late nineties to me. We're talking a time when folks were making noise about Y2K and getting into Bible codes. "Spa-like" and "zen-like" were phrases applied to everything, from foods, to beverages, to fragrances, and Thé Vert feels pretty "zen," with a delightful accord of green apple, spearmint, and, you guessed it, oakmoss! It doesn't get any more approachable or sedate than that.

The real reason I don't believe the stated release date is that Thé Vert smells too good for 2008. It goes on rather chemically and nondescript, with that muted green dankness that nearly every brand fobs off as "green tea," but after twenty minutes some interesting stuff happens. For one thing, the fragrance gets stronger. Seriously stronger, which is the opposite of what 2000s freshies do. For another, the green apple and mint begin to dance and shine, with a distinct sparkle and shimmer that only excellent perfumes made with above-average materials have. Lastly, the mossy base is smooth and satisfying, the perfect ending to something that feels timeless yet classic. 

Good luck finding a bottle -- the merchant on eBay who sells them for under fifteen bucks sent me a busted bottle with over an ounce of fluid missing. The rest are all going for over forty dollars. But hope springs eternal, and this perfume is worth taking a chance on. Get it while you still can, as it's been discontinued for quite a while now. 


Infinity Cassis & Fig (Aubusson)

This one is a complete mystery. I happened across it at a rack store and picked it up for next to nothing, and it didn't even have a box. I only bought it because it's by Aubusson, which is actually a pretty good (and very obscure) perfume house, plus blackcurrant and fig are two highly-preferred notes, so that didn't hurt either. 

Adding to the mystery is that there is literally nothing - and I mean nothing - about this perfume online. Google 'Parfums Abusson Cassis & Fig,' and there's zip. What comes up in an image search is perhaps some evidence that this fragrance was bought by Aubusson from another anonymous company that labeled it a little differently (picture below):

Whatever the case may be, this isn't a very good fragrance. I do get blackcurrant and fig from it, and those notes are rendered fairly well, once the pissy-ammonia aspect of cassis steps back. For me, fig tends to dominate in a composition, so that note rapidly overtakes almost everything else, and it's just okay (I've smelled a lot better). I think the two star players would have shined brighter if they'd been allowed to just "be" in this fragrance, but instead there's a chemical green note that sullies everything, smelling at once harsh and hollow. It's almost like a bitter leaf accord, but done on the cheap. 

Credit where it's due; at no point does this stuff devolve into crass sweetness or beige (off-white?) musk, nor does it rely on the overly-familiar lavender/citrus cheap fougère ensemble found in many unimaginative offerings since 1972. It's an attempt at marketing honesty in a profoundly lovely bottle that unfortunately doesn't quite forgive the bare-bones budget. If the green notes had been worked on a little more, and if maybe another three dollars had been pitched into the formula cost, we might've had something worthwhile here. As it stands, I think I'll be gifting my bottle - I could see someone with a different sensitivity to fig finding beauty where I found a headache. 


Replica Lazy Sunday Morning (Maison Margiela)

Lazy Sunday Morning advertises itself as being the smell of clean morning sheets and fresh weekend air drifting on a warm breeze. I smell sweet orange blossom and a sort of transparent laundry musk, rather simple and direct. This fragrance opens with a crisp, silky feel, the first Margiela perfume to smell expensive out of the gate. Jazz Club and By the Fireplace were nice, but too linear for my liking, so I had high hopes for Lazy Sunday Morning. I wanted it to really perform (it lasts twelve hours).

It turns out that LSM is also incredibly linear, yet somehow I don't mind. Its transparent orange blossom is so pleasant and cheerful that I actually don't want it to change. There's also a quiet backing note of lily of the valley, which softens and greens-up the floral lilt just a little. I wore it out on a rainy day, and its freshness seemed to bring sunshine to the dank grayness around me. Orange blossom is an interesting note in that regard, a floral kiss of sweetness rounded off by a whisper of indole, with a ghost of orange zest loitering in the wings. As a fan of florals, I tend to gravitate towards anything that captures at least one flower's essence with some panache, and Lazy Sunday Morning succeeds. 

Is it full-bottle worthy? Eh, maybe, but I'm not sure I see myself buying any of the Margielas, at least not yet. While it smells good and it's definitely well made, it's another victim of its price point. I don't see myself dropping the bucks for something I could get for less, and there's no doubt I could find another comparable orange blossom scent for half the price. Plus there are ethnic grocery stores in all the big cities that sell orange blossom water for about eight bucks, and I still have to do my shopping for the week. 


Checking in on Pinaud's Lilac Vegetal After Three Years in Glass

Back in 2021 I decanted my supply of E.D. Pinaud's Lilac Vegetal into the glass bottle shown above. I got it for five dollars at Home Goods, took it to my crib, spent ten minutes washing it out in the sink, and let it dry out completely before decanting. My goal was to see if I could eliminate the plasticky off-notes in LV, as decanting in glass works wonders for Clubman, and in early 2022 I revisited it. 

I found that the plastic odor (the result of off-gassing, a common issue with cheap plastics) had reduced, but had not entirely disappeared, and realized that LV was far more resistant to "mellowing" than the 1940s Clubman, which only takes a month or two to lose its plastic "ick." I decided to stow the bottle and let it sit longer. I figured the product was worth waiting for, and if it took a few years to truly smooth out, so be it. I have something like fifteen aftershaves in my rotation, plus a full, NOS (unopened before my ownership) vintage glass bottle of LV from sometime before the Nixon administration, so there was no rush. Lilac Water is the sort of thing that collects dust quite well.

The other day I decided to give it a whirl. Popped the cork, splashed some in hand, and applied it liberally over face and body. The result? Noticeable improvement. Its formerly aggressive stewed-cabbage top notes now smell powdery and very close to vintage, while the "pissy" musk is drier and not nearly as pissy as it once was. It now reads as a properly funky Victorian floral, sans plastic. With light application, a powdery element, which is even more prominent in the vintage formula, seems to be the main feature, and the musk is deeper yet less noticeable. Go heavy and the muskiness rapidly gets overbearing. It's like going from a gentle safety razor to Lizzy Borden-with-axe; there is no middle ground with this stuff. You need to go easy, it gives you no choice. 

The vintage stuff has a bit of what smells like sassafras in the powdery notes, particularly in the first five minutes, and the floral note is muted in the drydown. The current formula smells dissimilar to its predecessor when stored in plastic, but changes into something much closer to it after three years in glass. It's basically a hint of medicinal powder, a burst of lilac sweetness, and a synthetic deer musk accord that smells overtly animalic at the wrong dose, and simply like a sweet powdered musk in the correct one. I am sure that Lilac Vegetal is the only true surviving representation of Victorian cologne, and it galls me that Pinaud sells everything in crappy plastic these days, but I guess there's no sense in banging that drum over and over again. It is what it is. 

My suggestion to serious wetshavers who want to experience LV in its "pristine" form is to decant into clean glass, let sit for no less than two years, and meanwhile use other stuff. Come back to it when it's ready, and you'll be in for a treat. Lilac Vegetal is a pleasant and easily wearable springtime aftershave/cologne that works best when used lightly, and in glass it smells softer, drier, and rather like it never touched plastic. 


Moss+ (Commodity)

There is an easy way to know what kinds of fragrances niche brands should offer, and very few of them are in on the secret, but the art directors at Commodity most certainly are. What you might not know about perfume is that there is nothing original anymore. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn't telling the truth. With that knowledge intact, what would be a sure-fire hit that doesn't feel like direct plagiarism, but totally is? What would move the most units annually for a reason most buyers can't articulate, but know is true? 

If you take any mass-market hit from the last sixty years and give it a tune-up with superior materials, it will sell. It's that simple. Just ask Creed. Their entire success story is about how the brand took designer and mass-market classics, and simply remade them with more expensive stuff. Moss+ is that kind of scent. I sprayed it on myself for the first time, took one sniff, and grinned. It smelled of wonderful things, muted citrus, watery herbs, clean patchouli, delicate white florals, crisp greens. If the way its notes are assembled were original, or trying to be original, I probably wouldn't like it. But I like it because it does something else. It adheres to an archetypical formula, one which millions of men are exhaustively familiar with. Moss+ is a remake of Brut. 

There are several noticeable differences. I detect no anise, and there is lavender, but it is far quieter than Brut's. The white floral arrangement of Brut is also dialed back, with the greener accents dialed up. In lieu of coumarin there is an Iso E Super-driven woody amber, which achieves a similarly dry/sweet woodiness, but isn't nearly as rich. There is no vanilla in Moss+, which I think might have been an interesting note to tinker with here, and maybe they did in a mod and rejected it. Commodity's scent reads as a leaner modernized update to the classic wetshaver fougère, and if I didn't already own too many fragrances, I'd buy a full bottle, and maybe even a backup. Excellent stuff. 


Paper (Commodity)

Commodity releases its perfumes in sets of three (don't even ask), placing their "expressive" fragrances between the "personal" on one side and the "bold" on the other. Super-duper trite, if you ask me. I interpret "expressive" as referring to a perfume for those who prefer not to have mathematical signs mingling in their wardrobes. You're not taking sides; you're simply expressing yourself by wearing a regular, not-too-soft, not-too-loud fragrance. Commodity's Paper is intriguing because, well, paper usually smells pretty good, and creating a perfume inspired by it seems like a noble quest. Having spent my college years flipping through reams of inventive paper samples that were made to win the wallets of graphics firms in the bygone era of printing, I am quite familiar with it.

Paper is meant to be one of those spartan minimalist fragrances, boasting a simple woody profile of Iso E Super, cedarwood, and sandalwood. And yes, for the first four hours, it's pretty much Iso E Super all the way, that "buzzy" sheer aromatic effect of some kind of fantasy carpenter's shop, where the sawdust smells as warm and inviting as a fatherly hug. Eventually it gets a touch sweeter, a little foresty, and the cedar picks up a bit, but it only takes you through lunch. By the six hour mark the sweetness has bloomed into a distinctly amaranthine glow, like a halo of sandalwood surrounding your space. This is all very nice, very nice indeed. Even if you know nothing about perfume, Paper will give you the Cliffs Notes and enlighten you on the fly. Hard to argue with something so efficient. 

While I appreciate the understated beauty of it, Paper does have one problem. If you know nothing or little about perfume, it might smell like one of the nicest things you've ever encountered. But if you're like me, and you've been around the block a few times, Paper feels academic. This basic woody amber is popular in perfumery because it works so well, but everyone in the industry knows it works well. It is therefore unavoidably banal in such a bare-bones form, an accord imitated the world over. Commodity is offering the same svelte engine that has driven every department store masculine since 1976 (Z-14), and hoping you're new in town. Spend a day at Neiman Marcus and get back to me. 


Revisiting Jōvan's Ginseng NRG: Is It a Masterpiece, or a Cheap Gimmick?

Vintage N⬝R⬝G 
In 1975, Jōvan released its masculine and feminine Ginseng fragrances, which seemed to endure for the remainder of the decade before their eventual discontinuation. Jōvan is one of those weird drugstore brands that I often think could have been the stuff of greatness, if only it had held on to its best products. I mean that seriously. Grass Oil. Frankincense & Myrrh. Ginseng. Fresh Patchouli. Does any of this sound like crap to you? I guess it could have been, but a brand grows by offering quality to buyers. And Jōvan has grown, which is significantly better than just "surviving." Every few years it has something new to offer, and Coty has cradled Barry Shipp and Murray Moscona's now-fifty year-old baby with love (no awful reformulations, cheesy seventies image intact). 

Jōvan released Ginseng N⬝R⬝G in 1998, and I've often wondered if it was a reissue of the original masculine Ginseng fragrance, repackaged for the GNC health-nut nineties. This fragrance snuck onto KMart and Walmart shelves, and I was endlessly curious about it, always stopping to sample it. I thought it was hilarious, and a little clever, that Jōvan packaged it in miniscule 1.6 oz bottles that seemed crafted to resemble the similarly-diminutive herbal/caffeinated energy shots that were becoming all the rage. I also thought it was an interesting perfumery concept; no other company was dabbling with ginseng, and Jōvan used "ginseng extract" in the formula, so buyers knew they were serious, or as serious as a tongue-in-cheek brand like Jōvan could possibly get. This was a ginseng fragrance, souped-up for Millennials who were too young to remember the original. 

At some point in the 2000s, Coty discontinued it, only to reissue it a few years later with slightly different packaging. Gone was the holographic box and the 1.6 oz bottle size (only the 1 oz size remained). Gone was the framed label on the bottle, now made smaller and plainer, with only the name of the fragrance in holograph. The new look was obviously a budget cut, but the fragrance smelled exactly as it used to, so it didn't worry me. What does Ginseng N⬝R⬝G smell like? I reviewed it a few years ago, and mentioned that it reminds me of chlorinated swimming pools, that stinging feeling when you get water up your nose at the local YMCA. A more generous interpretation would be that it's a pleasant nineties "freshie" with notably nineties accords of green tea, violet leaf, fig leaf, tonka, woody amber, and musk. Oh, and ginseng, definitely ginseng. 

Ginseng N⬝R⬝G manages to do something interesting, however. The central accord of bitter-woody ginseng against a soft backdrop of pallid florals and musks plays like a harp from olfactory heaven when you catch it just right. The fragrance is surprisingly strong, which may account for why it's in such small bottles, yet the green notes, usually the sharp-vegetal piece of any bucolic fragrance theme, are invariably sweet and smooth, while the typically genteel ensemble of "buzzy" woods are the aggressors. The tea note is nuclear strength, yet also floral and sappy in its bombast, and the somewhat dank woodiness of ginseng seems a background player. At first sniff you would think it's just "cheap," but give it time and things start to seem a bit off-kilter. Why is the fig blended so tightly? Normally fig leaps out at me and becomes the only thing I can smell, but here it vanishes into the abstract paperings of nectarous greens. 

Likewise, drugstore musks are usually "fuzzy" things that overtake whatever finesse a cheap frag might offer and change it into a monotone blah. Ginseng N⬝R⬝G's musk is fuzzy all the way through, yet its pyramid of complex materials never really loses ground. The tea, citrus, leafy florals, and ginseng are quite coherent throughout the ten hour lifespan of the drydown, poking through the musky fog to remind me of who's calling the shots. I don't subscribe to the religion of reformulations, or attend the church of batch variations, so my view on how consistent the ginseng extract is in Ginseng N⬝R⬝G on a year-to-year basis is as neutral as it gets. But forfeiting an ecumenical stance doesn't eradicate the need to know more, and I'm dying to know who put this fragrance together, what their motivation was, and how something so weirdly dated and passé could survive the decades with nary a missing note. Who is the untapped genius behind this budget marvel? 

One could view the "Panax ginseng extract" as a gimmick, but it's really not. Let's face it, a perfume that advertises itself as containing a material should contain the actual material, and this one does. Not only that, but the fragrance doesn't resemble anything else on the market, then and now. I don't sniff Ginseng N⬝R⬝G and say, "Okay, another Cool Water," or "Yep, there's Acqua di Gio." No other fresh Millennial sneaker juice comes to mind when I smell this stuff. It's like I'm experiencing a fragrance in a cultural vacuum; there are no obvious comparatives, and thus the impossible was inexplicably achieved.