CHRG Pour Lui (Adidas Sport)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Ocean Rain (Mario Valentino, 1990)

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

Yohji Homme (Yohji Yamamoto, 1999)

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

Aqua Quorum (Antonio Puig, 1994)

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

Fendi "Donna" (Fendi, 1985)

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

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

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

Relax (Davidoff, 1990)

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

Unbound for Men (Halston, 2002)

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

Nobile (Gucci, 1988)

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

Touch for Men (Fred Hayman, 1995)

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

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

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

Green Valley (Creed, 1999)

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


Replica Bubble Bath (Maison Margiela)

Photo by Lokeswaran Kaliyappan
Everyone's mileage seems to vary with this one. Some get hotel soap. Others get a "warm" or "lavender" impression. I get the warmth and the soapiness, and also coconut. Lots of coconut. Some sort of coconut aldehyde? Who knows. It opens with a misting of soapy abstract synthetics, like getting an eyeful of shampoo in the shower. Within ten minutes, the musky white-noise aspect, fresh but forgettable, fills the headspace around me, and I'm bored silly ten minutes after that.

I guess you could say this smells good in a conventional sense, but I'm note even sure I'd go that far. Soap smells better. Actual soap, that is. I use a body wash by Native called Lilac & White Tea, and if they made it into an EDT, I'd buy a bottle and use it regularly. It's that good. It's way better than Margiela's Bubble Bath, and that's not good, considering the price these frags are going for. If you're applying perfume because you're looking for a cheap thrill and don't really care exactly how you smell, I guess you could use something like Bubble Bath and get the thrill, but not cheaply. So what's the point?

Again, I've said it before, and here it is: Just because you're a niche brand doesn't mean I'm interested in you. Your perfumes need to change the game, or I'm probably going to write up a bad review. You need to be shaping the landscape; you need to be inspiring a whole new generation of perfumers; you ought to be aiming for the stars. Olivier Creed spent most of his career getting shit on by industry insiders for needlessly spending a fortune on crème de la crème materials, but you know something? He was right. 


Oud Wood (Tom Ford)

I don't know
about you, but the 2000s were disturbing to me. Y2K. 9/11. Another George Bush. The Patriot Act. Abu Ghraib. Torture-porn horror movies. BIG sunglasses. It was the decade when dial-up gave way to broadband, and the useless but irresistibly charming "early internet" transitioned to something far closer to what we have now. Gone were the carefree nineties, the Friends-fueled ambiance of coffee on cafe sofas wearing oversized clothes and super-sweet fragrances. In with the weird seventies revivalist brown-study woody masculines, which were driven by an unfortunate cultural renaissance of a material from the Middle and Far East called agarwood, gaharu, oud. 

This movement was ostensibly sparked in 2002 by YSL's M7, authored by Jacques Cavalier and Alberto Morillas under the supervision of then-creative director for the Gucci Group, Tom Ford. M7 was a little too serious for the milquetoast-but-collectively-disturbed sensibilities of post-9/11 America, and it failed to connect with buyers. It was flanked by M7 Fresh, then pulled, then rereleased in 2010, flanked again by M7 Oud Absolu, and ultimately all M7s were binned. I suspect Ford had a few mods of the original when he retired from Gucci, and one of them found its way into his own line in the form of Oud Wood (2007). Richard Herpin was on tap, and I find him to be the only interesting thing about Oud Wood, aside from my mod theory. Herpin is unusually fond of a sweet and powdery-fresh laundry musk, which was in his formula for New York Gentlemen by Brooks Brothers, a fresh-citrus cologne that lasted ages because of it. Well, it's also in the base of Ford's scent, but here it causes dissonance; creamy sandalwood, rosewood, and "clean" synthetic oud (mostly Givaudan's Kephalis) clash with the musk in the far drydown. 

I say the oud movement was "ostensibly" started with M7 because I have my own theory as to how and why oud became so prominent in the mid-to-late 2000s. I believe that oud in perfumery is all part of a CIA Op. After 9/11, a tragedy mainly caused by Saudi terrorists, America was outraged. The problem for the White House was that it couldn't afford to have the country openly turn against the Saudis, not if it wanted to keep them as an oil partner. The solution? Start by diverting everyone's attention with a pointless war in Iraq, and finesse the diversion by hooking America's "influential" upper class on what Saudis themselves love and use regularly, oud. Too crazy for you? Think about it. 


The Mystery of Brut . . . I Can't Solve

Brut is the one fragrance I've encountered on my fragrance journey that I haven't fully understood. Unlike most fragrances, there is no single pristine vintage specimen that I can reference, to shore up my olfactory memory and guide me past the imposters. There have been so many iterations of it that figuring out which one is worth the time hasn't been easy. For my entire adult life, men have said that Idelle Labs' Brut Classic (now discontinued) was the closest thing to the original sixties formula, and for a while, I believed that. I loved Brut Classic, a fresh and summery green-floral beauty that shared its brightness for far longer than the drugstore plastic-bottled version. But looking back at my 2012 review, I wrote something that now reads wrong for Brut: "The usage of ylang-ylang and jasmine is genius in Brut. Without these floral notes, the scent would smell like Mennen's Skin Bracer (which by the way isn't really made by Mennen anymore)." 

I wasn't misrepresenting or misunderstanding what I was smelling; Brut Classic did smell a few floral notes removed from Skin Bracer. But that isn't how Brut Classic should have smelled. It should have greeted me with those notes, and then dried down to a smooth and slightly animalic amber. Nothing like Skin Bracer at all, really, and even if there was a fleeting resemblance in the top or mid notes, that should have only been a mild perception. I purchased a bottle of vintage seventies Brut 33 Splash-On Lotion after using up my bottle of Classic, and it taught me that musk ambrette changes everything I thought I knew about Brut. My little Millennial pea brain had to struggle to comprehend how, from my birthday in 1981 to the present, my olfaction had missed out on what Brut used to smell like. My father never wore anything when I was growing up, so there were no real-life references, and because my parents rarely took me to drugstores or pharmacies, my opportunities to sneak a sniff from a store shelf were virtually nil. I know, hard to believe, but true. 

Last year, I bought the clear-glass (squat) Brut EDT by Parfums Prestige/Unilever, and that version is slightly better quality than Brut Classic was. However, it's also a unique spin on Brut, in that it smells woodier and a bit more vanillic than any other formula I've crossed in the wild. But these differences are piddling, and ultimately it's almost identical to Brut Classic. It's also disappointingly weak, and I've relegated it to being the Brut that I spray on clothes, just to get more than ninety minutes out of it. I'd read that Unilever had another version of the EDT in the original sixties-style green glass bottle, but assumed that it was merely the same formula in a different package. Then I rewatched a shaving video on YouTube in which a Brut fan exhaustively outlines which version of contemporary Brut compares the closest to an actual sixties vintage bottle that he'd borrowed from a friend, and he said the Unilever green glass was by far the closest. This piqued my interest, so I figured I had nothing to lose, and bought a bottle. 

There are a few things that are unclear about this version, and so far I haven't found enough information on it. First, there are several iterations of this formula out there, all from different countries, the most notable being Israel and India. The Israeli version is identical to the bottle pictured above, but has a gold cap and medallion, and is colloquially referred to as "Brut Gold." I read on Reddit and a few other places that "Gold" is the sturdiest and most reliable version of this formula, and it comes from a few European countries, but always smells immaculate (i.e., quality control is sound). Then there's "Brut Silver Medallion," which is my bottle. There are no Unilever markings on the packaging (that I noticed), and it comes in a clear plexi-plastic case, so the logo would be on a sticker, and mine came without one. My understanding from what I've read online is that my bottle might be from India, where they apparently import the fragrance compound and bottle it straight from bottling factories (i.e., the quality control is less sound). 

Another weird thing is the packaging says the bottle has a "measured spray." I'm not quite certain what "measured spray" means, because I've never heard of it before. I'm assuming it means the atomizer is designed in such a way as to release a specific amount of fragrance with every pump, and unerringly does so (no half-sprays allowed). But I'd always assumed this was the case with every atomizer bottle of every fragrance, so I'm not sure. Not super important, just strange. I tested the "measured spray" after priming it a few times, and indeed it shoots a fairly compact burst of fragrance, and the juice hits skin with a thud, which usually indicates high oil content. I expected it to smell identical to the other EDT, and frankly wasn't even anticipating enjoying it that much for that reason. As soon as the bottle freed that first spray, my nose perked up; this stuff was immediately and obviously different. I raised an eyebrow. I fumbled around for my make-believe detective monocle. I stroked my imaginary mustache. Something was afoot; I was experiencing yet another version of Brut. This one was, yet again, different. 

To put this in proper perspective, I should back up and recap my experience with my 3.5 oz. bottle of early seventies Brut 33 Splash-On Lotion, which I bought in 2013 and used up by 2015. That stuff smelled really, really good, save for a touch of plastic contamination tinging its scent in the first five seconds. Otherwise it opened beautifully, a burst of soapy aromatics, rapidly followed by a drydown I had never associated with Brut before: a touch of musk ambrette. My understanding was musk ambrette had been gradually neutered down over the years, until it was eventually removed entirely. Nobody has come forward with clear information on exactly when this happened. Nobody has described the neutering process either, save for Luca Turin obliquely mentioning this unfortunate devolution in the 2008 Guide. Everything I've read and watched about musk ambrette has said that it lasts forever on skin and fabric, and smells fantastically clean/dirty and ambery. I got the clean/dirty and ambery vibe, but it was completely gone within two minutes, which isn't what I expected. My guess was that 33 percent of the fragrance wasn't enough to allow musk ambrette to sing. But, again, this was just a guess. 

Since then, I've purchased another bottle of Brut 33, this time in the 7 oz. size. This bottle appears to be a bit newer than my other one, and I'm guessing it's mid eighties (guessing, guessing), just based on the graphic design of the bottle, which looks like a later attempt at streamlining and modernizing the look of "entry-level Brut." The fragrance in this one has also been preserved better than in the previous bottle, and there is almost no plastic contamination detectable. 

This bottle smells the way my other one did, except it's a little "cleaner" in the base, and it lasts noticeably longer on skin, at least three hours at low volume. Even though the musky element lacks the raunch of its seventies predecessor, it's still much dirtier than anything on shelves in the past twenty years. It feels like a virile amber scent, and whatever musk is in there has presence. The seventies 33 smelled like bright soap for about fifteen seconds, then like really "sooty" musk for about ninety seconds, and then vanished completely. This eighties 33 has the same trajectory, but the sooty aspect lingers and smells more dimensional and soapy, just a touch better overall. 

These two bottles of 33 tell me that either one of two things is true: Brut used to smell like them, and the glass bottle version from the sixties was the same but more concentrated, or my new bottle from Parfums Prestige is how all of these smelled before time macerated the base accord of the vintage drugstore splashes into something that smells burlier than it really was. When I sprayed on the silver medallion PP formula, it smelled very aromatic and oily-green in the first twenty minutes, before getting brighter, drier, and more powdery, smelling the most similar to everything that I'd smelled before in this phase. Then I got to work, and about ninety minutes after application (and during a meeting), I suddenly caught whiff of this divine musk, and my heart skipped a few beats. It was strange, because at first I thought I was smelling someone else, but then I gave myself an up-close sniff, and it seemed as though my fragrance was the culprit. 

The aroma was potent but suave, semisweet but not sugary or bitter, woody without smelling natural or dry, and a bit sooty in the old way, but lacking overt raunch. It was also weirdly elusive, wafting in and out of my perception. The vintage Brut 33 formulas both smell of some sort of dry-sooty musk that feels very masculine and "alpha" for the duration, but the current green-glass version adopts an ambery tone that isn't quite as sooty, yet still alluringly masculine. No specific notes stand out, other than musk and amber. Complicating the comparison even further, I happen to have a late nineties formula Brut 33, which is at least seven or eight years newer than the 7 oz. bottle pictured above, yet smells raunchier and muskier in the base! 

This bottle seems to date from when Unilever took over in 1990, probably sometime before 2000, but as usual, hard to say. I tend to think they removed the Fabergé branding by 1999, but either way, this was likely on shelves when I was in high school. The weird part is how it smells, relative to its predecessors in opaque plastic, which don't hold a candle to it in the musky department. What was going on in the nineties? A raunch revival? I wore this formula the other day at work, and by mid-morning realized there's a fairly common nineties-era designer animalic musk tucked in the base, sort of that soapy clean/dirty thing found in stuff like Balenciaga Pour Homme, but in a much lower dose. Whatever it is, it really sings, lasting twelve hours with little to no change in tonality. 

The mystery is clearest in this particular formula: was this how it smelled new? Or is it how it smells now, no less than twenty-five years after production? Am I smelling Brut the way Brut was meant to smell, or am I smelling time-altered Brut? If it's truly preserved well, why does it smell stronger and burlier than stuff twenty years older? And why do I get the feeling that the silver medallion green-glass Parfums Prestige bottle is a more faithful rendition of how the original 1964 formula smelled? There's something about the ambery depth of the base in that one that seems to align well with how it might turn out smelling in thirty years; in other words, the vintage Brut 33 from 1985 might have smelled like my new PP bottle when it was new. There's no way to go back in time and find out (yet, that is), so for now I'll just have to settle on not knowing. 

I have one other point of "vintage" reference, a splash-on bottle identical to the one above, but sans Fabergé logo, and in that one the sooty/animalic musk is gone almost entirely (stripped down to a feeble whisper), with another musk that smells closer to the current stuff in its place. I put that bottle at whenever Unilever divested from the Fabergé Brut brand in North America, circa 2003. Both the nineties bottle and the early 2000s bottle seem to struggle with the plastic they've been housed in all these years, as I sense there's some contamination that especially effects the newer bottles, oddly enough. I have four altogether, and one was so rough I dumped it. They're clear plastic (green, but light goes right through), and that may be part of the problem. 

However, when I decanted a couple of them into an empty and much newer Helen of Troy bottle and let the fragrance sit for a couple of days, the funkiness disappeared. So even going to a new plastic bottle benefitted them! The only thing left on my Brut journey is to find a vintage Fabergé green-glass bottle from the sixties, but that is daunting, and I'm not easily daunted. The problem is that vintage Brut is a crapshoot. Brut clearly changes with time, and without knowing what I'm getting, or if what I'm getting is even legitimate, the risk is all on me. I also realized that musk ambrette is not restricted in India, so the thought did occur to me that they might be sneaking small amounts of it into the silver medallion PP bottles like mine, which might account for the stunning beauty of the drydown. 

But that seems unlikely, given there's no incentive for them to bother spending money to "adjust" the formula Europe sends over. Whatever is going on there, I can't actually suggest one version of Brut over another. I can just tell you that whatever version you buy is one of many. If you want what maybe feels like the truest original formula, I would say avoid spending a hundred bucks on Special Reserve, and put that money to better use by picking up a Parfums Prestige medallion bottle, either silver or gold. 


Replica Springtime in a Park (Maison Margiela)

Jacques Cavallier is
a well-respected perfumer, and author of such hits as Bvlgari Aqva Pour Homme, Cartier Pasha, L'Eau d'Issey Pour Homme, and M7 by YSL. But he's also an incredibly prolific perfumer, with roughly a hundred creations to his name. Not all of them can be memorable, and Springtime in a Park is as forgettable as a Crayola color. 

Bear in mind, I'm a fresh-floral enthusiast. I have Davidoff's Sea Rose, Bond's Chelsea Flowers, and Banana Republic's Peony & Peppercorn in my collection, among others, and I wear all of them, so I'm not biased against what Cavallier was going for with this 2019 Margiela release. I just don't particularly like it very much. It opens with a fairly pleasant if unoriginal musky pear note, followed by five hours of musky white florals, mostly a laundry-soap muguet and aldehyde affair, sweet and sour in equal measure. For what a bottle of this stuff goes for, I would at least expect a more dynamic floral bouquet, if not better ingredients, and in their absence the fragrance smells like shampoo.

Not everything is designed to appeal to finicky men, so I understand that if I don't like Springtime, I'm not saying much. But likewise, brands like Maison Margiela are trying to sell the all-fragrances-for-all-people line, subtly avoiding cliched terms like "unisex" in favor of "genderless" marketing. By that metric, I should be won over. Perhaps if the brand actually splurged on quality materials for their formulas, I'd be more inclined to join their tribe? We as a culture should expect more from our upscale designers; this fragrance should have been so much better. 


Lavender Water (Geo. F. Trumper) and What Elevates a "Lavender Scent" to a Loftier Fougère Status (For Me)

I recently visited 
an old college chum in Manhattan to catch up after thirteen years apart and out of touch. We were roommates at Rutgers for spring semester of 2001, lodging in the smallest dorm in Demarest Hall, and we developed a friendship based on our differences. He's an Israeli-American who was raised in New Jersey and separated from his family when they returned to Haifa; he stayed behind to pursue several law degrees, most of which he stacked up and never really used. I would frequently return home after a long day of classes to living quarters hotter than an Al Manzul spa. We had nonverbal arguments over me opening our one window and him promptly shutting it. We watched Seinfeld and laughed like hyenas, and goofed around on his electric keyboard into the early hours, irritating our lesbian neighbors. After a decade of zero communication, our reunion felt as if we had never missed a beat, a sign of true friendship.

One of the monikers he gave me was "Male Martha Stewart," presumably based on my limitless interest in men's fashion and fragrances, my unrivaled success with several necktie knots (I do a fantastic Windsor), and my frequent criticism of his leather Land of Jesus-style clogs, which frankly were the fugliest things I've ever seen on human feet. Well, I affirmed my Martha status by telling him that we should share part of our day in the city by going to C.O. Bigelow Chemists (called "Bigelow Pharmacy" from the street) so I could check out their supply of Geo. F. Trumper products. I had never been, and wanted to see what was in-store versus online. It turns out that Bigelow Pharmacy is packed with niche products, an impressive array of brands ranging from Musgo Real to Parfums de Marly, and yes, Geo. F. Trumper. Their selection of Trumper frags was actually a little disappointing, limited to Eucris, Sandalwood, and Lavender Water, but I was there specifically for the Lavender Water, and they had the big splash bottle. 

I bought this stuff blind because good luck finding wearable Trumper samples, and the only vendor I use is eBay (and rarely Amazon). After I purchased it, my buddy joked, "If people ask what you're wearing, you'll have to lie and tell them it's Geo. F. Bidener." I wanted the bottle for two reasons: I had modest expectations of it, as my bottles of Wild Fern and Bay Rum are very good but not exactly "great," but I still held out hope that I'd find a Trumper scent that I could truly love, and I wanted to have a bottle that was purchased from the brick-and-mortar Bigelow Pharmacy in NY City. I paid $100 for it, which might seem like overpaying, but it occurred to me that 1.7 ounces of Trumper usually goes for no less than $50, so paying twice the price for double the amount feels okay. It feels even more okay when I consider that I now pay $45 to get five things at Stop & Shop, so with inflation in mind, a Benjamin ain't what it used to be. 

I'm pleasantly surprised by this fragrance. It gets fair-to-good reviews online, with some saying it's a pretty natural lavender with a nice spot of oakmoss in the base, and others lamenting its lack of vibrancy compared to Oxford & Cambridge by Czech & Speake. Apparently O&C is the standard for lavender that all other lavender scents should aspire to be. I've never been okay with this because everyone says it's a "minty" lavender, which is only one side of the lavender coin. Lavender can tilt "minty" or "sweet," as in the case of Caron Pour un Homme, where the coumarinic angle of high-grade lavender is accented by semisweet vanilla and soft musk. I tend to prefer a little of both. (I am also on the market for a bottle of the newer EDP of O&C, which I understand is like the original but longer-lasting.) My expectations of Trumper's product were muted, as I fully expected this to be a semi-synthetic lavender that lasts all of five minutes, but I was wrong. This is an excellent natural/herbal lavender, and it lasts twelve hours or more.

First, a comment on the bottle: the paper tag looped around the spout says everything is "hand made." Beautiful little frosted glass lip peaks at a brass spout so tiny that you have to shake it vigorously to free a few drops. No chance of blowing through this stuff. It screws shut with a matching brass cap in the shape of a crown, an effete touch that loiters in the realm of gaucheness. Trumper has royal warrants, which should be enough for it; I can't understand the British fondness for emphasizing their monarchy. It's why I wonder at people who claim Creed is lying about their warrants. Who would do that? Anyway, it's clever and kitschy, just understated enough here to pass muster. Beyond that, the Trumper aesthetic is relatively cheap and unassuming, with thin paper boxes and little else. I do think the 100 ml. bottle is prettier than the 1.7 oz spray, which is the size of my Wild Fern and Bay Rum, and I like that it's so hard to splash. 

The fragrance itself is a basic but surprisingly natural lavender scent with a hint of spearmint and noticeable oakmoss in the drydown. Oakmoss is listed on the materials list on the box, and it's higher up there than expected, so they didn't skimp. It acts in tandem with some potent woody notes to fix the scent for far longer than needed, but I'm not complaining because it smells great. I agree with those who say this isn't a "radiant" or "vibrant" lavender, in that it is bright and fresh for all of five minutes before it adopts a sort of "dusty" quality, like a very dry and woody tone, evocative of nineteenth century photos and what I imagine the inside of a stagecoach smelled like. It isn't going for a summery feel, as apparently Czech & Speake are. This is aiming for understated old-school charm. 

One of the things about lavender scents is that they are often the subject of what I think of as the "Fougère Controversy." What is this controversy, you ask? It's stupid. But it comes up all the time. And it's an exhausting conversation to have. Whenever I discuss a lavender fragrance on the internet, there are inevitably four or five people who chime in to tell me that whatever lavender fragrance I'm on about is NOT a fougère, and it's very, very important that I understand that such frags are NOT fougères. 

To date, this has happened with quite a few fragrances. One example is Caron Pour un Homme. This is one of those silly examples of something that is obviously a fougère, and recognized by the industry as a fougère, listed as one by Haarmann & Reimer, yet armchair experts say otherwise. Their reasoning? "Where's the coumarin?" Or, "Where's the oakmoss?" Or, "Where's the geranium?" Or even, "Where's the fougère accord?" Apparently if a fragrance lacks a fougère accord, it can't be a fougère. Which is technically true, except that there is no universal fougère accord. The trick with a good fougère is to make its conventional accord secondary to the innovative identity of the fragrance it upholds. In Caron PuH, the fougère accord of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss is what perfumers refer to as "extended." The lavender top note is intense, metallic, cold. This eventually mellows a bit and becomes a bit more expansive and aromatic, and if it were a simple "lavender scent," that's where it would end.

But it doesn't; the truth about lavender is that it has a coumarinic drydown on its own, that soft, hay-like glow of sunset made smell. In Caron's composition, this naturally abbreviated hay-like ending is fortified and extended using a clever mishmash of synthetic aromatics and slightly animalic musks, which are made less obvious by the inclusion of a plush vanilla note. Thus the coumarin that naturally attends lavender oil is artistically manipulated into a new form, one that interprets this secondary phase of the traditional fougère accord as refined sweetness and warmth. Eventually the powdery nature of the musk becomes more apparent, and because oakmoss is naturally powdery, the wearer doesn't fully realize that this final nail has been hammered into the fougère coffin. Pour un Homme is a fougère, but you don't have to be a big fan of the fougère accord to enjoy it, because Ernest Daltroff went a few steps beyond it. 

Another example is Moustache Eau de Toilette Concentree by Rochas. This one is often mistaken for being a citrus chypre. Indeed, it contains a mighty wallop of intense citrus and citrus rind notes in the opening and early stages, and those fruity aldehydes and esters co-mingle with animalics, lending it a urinous edge that some find off-putting. Moustache EDTC has always been one of the "oldest" in my "old-school" collection, in that it smells totally outdated. Chypres from the late forties are usually also clearly in an antiquated style that has long fallen out of fashion. But Moustache EDTC isn't a chypre, it's an aromatic fougère. Unlike Pour un Homme, the lavender in Moustache isn't in-your-face and dead obvious. Instead it's a different approach to the fougère, with Edmond Roudnitska interpreting it from a different perspective. Instead of a flat screen of lavender, he louvered the aromatic into a rich citrus accord, diffusing its biting herbal qualities in a haze of lime rind and bergamot fizz. You aren't meant to dwell on lavender, you're only to smell it. 

Likewise, the heart of Moustache is a symphonic coumarin, similar in style to that of Lauder for Men, smelling dry and sun-parched and grassy, yet also impeccably rounded and dimensional. Instead of resembling hay, this coumarin resembles cut bitter greens. Yet get it on the retrohale, and there it is: unalloyed coumarin. Again, the fougère accord is disguised and elevated beyond the conventional by the nose of a genius. "But Bryan, it's obvious there's labdanum and oakmoss, and not obvious there's coumarin, so what are you talking about?" It isn't obvious there's labdanum in Moustache EDTC, not even a little bit. There's geranium, and there's the same urinous musk note, probably synthetic, that I smell in Pour un Homme. Here it's more intense, as if Roudnitska admired Daltroff's use of it and wanted to up it by doubling the dose in his composition. Eventually Moustache settles on a traditional oakmoss and sandalwood base, which frankly smells pretty great. The fougère accord is manipulated into something better than the sum of its parts. 

Yet another example of olfactory misdirection is found in Roger Pellegrino's Versace L'Homme. This one is kind of funny, because Versace actually embosses the ferns right on its bottles, yet guys constantly squawk at me, "It's a chypre! It's a chypre!" No, no, it's not. It's a fougère. Yes, there's quite a bit of citrus on top, but there's also geranium and a very subtle lavender in a more refined version of the Moustache accord. Eventually the mid sweetens (slightly) into a dry/grassy coumarin, with a clear oakmoss finish, but the whole affair trends to bitterness and heavy-handed maturity, and while I appreciate the technical work, I find Versace L'Homme a bit too stuffy to really love it. Instead of just focusing on the fougère accord and building off it, Pellegrino opted to take the Roudnitska approach and give us a citrus-heavy "fresh" woody fougère. Haarmann & Reimer consider it a chypre, but when you get really good at detecting lavender, you find that it's more of a chameleon than the broader public seems to think, and that occasionally includes the industry gatekeepers themselves (they got Moustache right though). 

But Trumper's Lavender Water doesn't do any of that. It simply opens with natural lavender, smelling like lavender essential oil. This endures for fully four or five hours, at a fairly low register, without changing, other than going from somewhat bright in the first few minutes, to adopting that "dusty" quality I mentioned earlier. Then, at around the six hour mark, the oakmoss comes in, smelling dry and green and solid, holding what is left of the aromatic lavender and spearmint accord of the opening phase until dinner time. I get a hint of natural coumarin at the tail end of the lavender, but it smells like the natural byproduct of lavender, and not an intentionally-inserted note. It sometimes adopts a smoky earthiness, reminiscent of Ungaro pour L'Homme II, depending on the weather. From beginning to end, Lavender Water smells like lavender, and pretty much just lavender. This makes it a lavender scent, not a fougère. I would never say that Trumper Lavender water is a fougère. I'd never say that anything near-identical to it is a fougère. There is no real fougère accord in Lavender Water. It smells of simple lavender. 

Now, someone could argue that Lavender Water is a fougère, and I'd entertain that argument. I could see how someone might interpret the attenuated coumarin note and the surplus of naked oakmoss as a fougère accord, and could also see how the inclusion of spearmint might be considered enough embellishment to label it "aromatic." I wouldn't agree with that assessment, but I think it would be fair. However, to me this is simply an excellent lavender fragrance, a "lavender soliflore," if you will. If you're interested in a robust and natural lavender scent that doesn't really stray beyond lavender, here you have it. I haven't smelled it yet, but apparently Czech & Speake's fragrance is also an excellent lavender scent. If you want a fougère but you don't want all the bells and whistles of the Caron or Rochas scents, I would recommend getting Trumper Wild Fern, which is a straightforward lavender/coumarin/oakmoss accord with the inclusion of some fennel, geranium, and musk, or I would point you to Brut Splash-On, which is similar, but with sweeter and more ambery/white floral qualities. 


They Already F*cked With It.

What's this?
So, remember when I told you that Brut's new licensee, High Ridge Brands, had actually improved the fragrance? Do you recall that little post about how they had taken a turd sandwich from Helen of Troy/Idelle Labs, and tossed it out the window to make room for a vintage formula from 25 years ago? Remember how I told you that HRB had taken the unprecedented initiative to actually listen to their customers, and not cheap out on something that was already cheap to begin with? 

Well, that's already history. After five minutes of doing the right thing, High Ridge Brands went and reformulated their product down. Goodbye excellent reboot. Hello not-as-excellent reboot 2.0. The worst part is, they're proud of this shit. And boy am I pissed. 

I'm not going to type a gazillion paragraphs about this, because there's no point. You can go to your local grocery or drugstore and pick up a 7 oz. "Splash-On" bottle for a few bucks and smell for yourself. You'll be disheartened. Just make sure you hunt down a bottle of the previous version, pictured on the left below. I have two backups of it.

Very Good Formula                   Very "Meh" Formula
As you can see, the latest formula is on the right and has a name and logo change on the bottle. The whole "For Men of Character" schtick is apparently the new High Ridge Brands catchphrase for Brut. We're back to the oversized shield logo, although this time with shiny gold trim, which I have to admit is actually not bad. Also, "Signature Scent" is no longer the fragrance's moniker. It's changed to "Classic." Again, if we're talking graphics alone, the bottle on the left isn't terribly designed or anything, but it's a little hard to read, and frankly the bottle on the right is easier on the eyes. But that's where the improvement ends.

Quick recap: the bottle on the left opens with a surprisingly good citrus top note, followed by a fairly cheap but honestly executed bushel of typical fougère aromatics. It then segues into a rich herbal coumarin note, with lavender and musk in attendance through to the base. It smells simple, but also inescapably smooth and coherent, a beautiful and affable everyday fragrance, much like Fabergé used to make. 

The bottle on the right opens with a disgusting rubbery note of no discernible origin, which rapidly burns off and becomes unexpectedly soapy and fresh-floral. It's a little like a "slice" of Kouros, its musky, neroli-esque brightness, only here there's just no budget for it, and it smells like laundry musk. I sense a bit of grassy coumarin, but now it's competing with that odd freshness. Weirdly, after two hours, the same lavender and musk of the previous formula returns, but at a much lower register. 

It's not surprising really, not if you stop and consider what the deal is with Brut. HRB execs wanted to try a Fabergé-branded late Unilever/Chesebrough-Ponds mod of this stuff (there must be at least fifty different mods for Brut accumulated over the years), and they settled on one that was likely used sometime between 1997 and 2000. They wanted to live dangerously for a change, and take a chance on a pricier formula. 

But here's the problem: the public doesn't really know what it wants. For twenty years, guys on wetshaver boards have been conversing about how pissed they are that Helen of Troy fucked-up their favorite drugstore fougère. This incentivized HRB to do that rarest-of-rare thing, and take a risk. They gave the public what they claimed they wanted: their "old" (i.e., as old as HRB could realistically manage) Brut back. 

And then, what happened? Did guys celebrate online? Did word spread? Did sales pick up? Sure it did! As in, yeah, no, none of that happened. I'm not privvy to the sales stats for how Brut has done in the last two years, but I'd bet my house that despite the increased formula cost, things stayed pretty flat. Despite all the years of kvetching about the crappy Idelle Labs formula, and the discontinuation of Brut Classic, and the eventual clown show of Helen of Troy's ultimate defilement of Brut, the majority of wetshavers and men over forty ignored the little gift HRB gave them. So now it's gone. 

I have some thoughts on why this is. I'm just going to come right out and say it: the way all of these companies have been marketing Brut has been dead wrong, and it's been wrong for decades. The clear mouthwash-sized green bottles. The stupid shield logos. The weird blurbs about "men of character." The lack of any company branding ("Brut" is not a brand, it's the name of the fragrance). The preponderance of Kelly green on the website. The absence of a video commercial marketing campaign. All of this is wrong.

Here's what High Ridge Brands should do, and what they would do if I were in charge. First, I'd fire the entire marketing team, and I'd also can most of the graphic/package designers. I'd ditch the clear bottles and bring back the opaque earth-tone green plastic bottles in 3.5 oz. and 5 oz. sizes, the aftershave in the larger size only. 

"Brut 33" wouldn't return; it would simply be "Brut." No point using the "33" designator in a world where people need everything spelled out for them. But I'd find a way to get Fabergé back on the bottles. An actual brand, even if it's not the real one, so customers can stop feeling like their local Big Box store is shitting out bottles of aftershave. I'd axe the "Splash-On" and replace it with "Splash-On Lotion." Essentially the whole thing would go back to how it looked in the seventies. 

The formula would get modded back to something from the eighties. Post nitro-musk, but pre-laundry musk. I'd reintroduce a heaping dose of anise, which has gone conspicuously missing in the last half dozen iterations, and I'd make sure the musk is rich, deep, and slightly dirty. There would be a bit of that Kouros dirty/clean dynamic, which was inherent to vintage Brut, but with the naturalness dialed up beyond what it was even back then. 

You see, there's no reason why Brut can't smell alive. Patchouli oil isn't mind-bendingly expensive. Lavender oil isn't going to break the bank. Menthol is cheap as chips. Synthetic analogs of ylang, jasmine, and neroli are pretty commonplace. I'd hire a perfumer who could assemble a formula using small but sturdy doses of this stuff, and would "stack" the musks in the base to ensure that the cologne would last no less than twelve hours with normal semi-conservative application. 

My formula would be way, way more expensive than whatever they're using now. This would cut into whatever amazing margins HRB enjoys. But I'd reduce production. Dramatically. Brut is in no position to be in every single goddamn drugstore in the country right now. Brut has been humbled, and its output should reflect that. I'd slash production volume by sixty percent. Goodbye Brut in grocery stores. Goodbye Brut in drugstores. Hello Brut at Big Lots, Burlington, Target, Costco, Sam's Club. 

But it gets better. All of those stores would carry the plastic bottle cologne and splash-on lotion. You go to Dillard's, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's? Exclusively in those stores, you find the green glass splash in 5 oz. and 2.5 oz, with the cap, chain, and the medallion in 14k gold. The formula would be Creed level in terms of quality, with fine grade lavender, rich tonka, subtle anise, and stuff like methyl dihydrojasmonate and hedione for citrus lift and natural high-grade patchouli blended in with Ambrettex XNM. A 5 oz. bottle sets you back $275; 75 ml. bottle is $195. Brut is junk? It's 1964 again, bitches. 

The profits from the "luxe" Brut would join the marked reduction in manufacturing volume to subsidize the increase in quality and lower profit margin of Big Box Brut. All of this would be spearheaded by an aggressive video marketing campaign on YouTube and whatever lower-tier commercial-ridden package accompanies Netflix these days. The campaign would mimic the Kelly LeBrock ads of the nineties, with a gorgeous cisgender woman telling men what she finds attractive. 

The ad campaign would have two tiers, with one gorgeous woman selling the Big Box Brut, and another hottie selling the luxury version. The slogan for the cheap formula: "I don't wear anything around a man who wears Brut." The slogan for the luxe formula: "Your scent is your destiny." Ironically, the cheap formula gets the chick with the LeBrock-style British accent. The luxe gets the Southern country girl who spends thirty seconds opining about what real women are looking for. 

High Ridge Brands? Call me.