2/26/13

Swiss Army Classic (Victorinox)



In all my years of sampling and wearing fragrances, I've never encountered one that was so hideous, so vile, so downright unwearably awful and odious and Charles Manson-ish as to warrant a complete shut-down review. Until last week, when I had the grave misfortune and ultimate displeasure to experience something the box and bottle told me was "Swiss Army Classic" by Victorinox. Whatever mindless drone of a graphic designer penciled the packaging evidently never tried the product contained therein, as he would have slit his wrists sooner than aid and abet the commercial purveyance of such unspeakable swill. I'll be blunt: this is liquid evil.

I truly love Fragrantica and respect all Fragranticans - their opinions are their own, and everyone has a right to them - but I noticed that this fragrance has drawn a few parallels to Cool Water on there. Now, keeping in mind that not everyone really gives Cool Water the time of day, or carefully studies it to really learn about its development and structure, I can understand how one could suppose that it's a cheap aquatic with chemical properties not far removed from toilet cleaner. Therefore, they could try a cheap aquatic with chemical properties not far removed from toilet cleaner called "Swiss Army Classic" and immediately think, "oh, this is Cool Water." Except that Cool Water is a gorgeous fresh aromatic fougère, and Swiss Army Classic is Windex and a fifty-fifty mix of ammonia and bleach. That's right. Ammonia and bleach.

Oh, yeah, there's a touch of lemon in there. Sort of the lemon juice in the opaque green plastic bottle you find in the produce section of the grocery store that tastes like old lemon water and vinegar. It's mixed with Windex, to make SAC (even its name in acronym form is lame and suggestive of puerile humor). There's a small bundle of matches in this fragrance's flaccid heart accord, metallic, almost-mentholated woody sticks that fleetingly poke past the cloud of graphite dust that precedes them, but don't bother attempting to define them. Swiss Army Classic is humorless, lifeless, badly executed as a woody-fresh whatever (aquatic is probably an inaccurate descriptor, I apologize to those who feel it's something else, but if you're coming to the defense of this thing, see a neurologist immediately), and simply not worth the coffee flask bottle it's housed in. If the Cenobites from Clive Barker's Hellraiser went out for drinks on Saturday nights, Swiss Army Classic would consistently be their fragrance of choice.










My Favorite Fragrances



My wardrobe, as most of my steady readers already know, is rather small, although admittedly creeping up in size as the months pass. Still, it clocks in at about thirty fragrances, modest by most standards in this community. I have numerous samples and a few minis that I'm not including in that number, and most of the Al-Rehab oils (with the exception of Silver) aren't being included either. I don't count what I don't wear, and the Al-Rehabs aren't regular wearers for me. I'd say I take Silver out for a spin once or twice every couple of months. The other three almost never get out, but I will be using Fruit and perhaps Secret Man more and more as temps get warmer and spring time approaches. Meanwhile I have a steady rotation of everything else, and among those are five favorites, some interesting things I thought I'd talk about here. These aren't in any numerical order of favorability. They simply fall into the same pool of being my prized acquisitions, fragrances that I will continue wearing for the rest of my days, or until they're discontinued and disappeared, god forbid.


Pour un Homme de Caron

This fragrance is probably, among all of them, the easiest to love and wear. Pour un Homme wasn't love at first sniff for me, however. When I first tried it, I thought I'd made the biggest blind-buy mistake of all time. Its lavender is so cold and astringent on top that it smells incredibly metallic straight out of the atomizer. But that harsh intro rapidly settles into a beautiful herbal accord that is both soft and affecting, thanks to a discreet, inedible vanilla base. My overall impression of PuH is that it's a fragrance for men who wish to impart confidence and trustworthiness to others around them (read: women). I've had a couple of really attractive women compliment me while wearing this one. The ladies who respond favorably to it are likely women you'll want to hang around as much as possible. They have really good taste. Lavender is unremittingly fresh and cool, a flower in the mint family that somehow became associated with traditional American males who chop wood in the autumn, drive pick-up trucks to work, and wear blue jeans on dates with their wives. Its pairing with vanilla makes him snuggly and sexy, too. I've been through a few four ounce bottles, but I'll be upgrading to a sixteen or twenty-five ouncer soon. Disregard whining about the reformulation of this fragrance. I have an older early nineties vintage, and the balace between cool lavender and musky vanilla is almost identical to what's in my brand-new bottle. The only notable difference is a slightly skankier musk note, which actually doesn't do PuH any favors (perhaps the reason it was changed in later batches). The lavender grade used twenty, thirty, and forty years ago cannot possibly be any better than what is currently used, because the newest bottles are as natural-smelling as lavender gets. Easily the greatest lavender fragrance of all time. Pour un Homme de Caron is truly a masterpiece of modern perfumery, and something I'll always reach for.


Kouros

YSL has a lot to answer for for allowing the evil empire L'Oreal to buy up its all-star perfumery division and reformulate the bulk of their classics, but thus far Kouros' structure and beauty remains intact. This is the only fragrance in my wardrobe that completely bends my mind whenever I put it on. Unlike Caron PuH, Kouros is unsettling and downright scary in its intensity and ruggedness. It isn't for the faint of heart, and it certainly isn't something to be used without a second thought. People have lost their jobs for wearing stuff half as powerful as this. I love it because it exhibits a timeless quality, despite its swagger, and never feels like an "eighties cologne" or anything like that. The brilliance of pairing citrus, costus, and wildflowers with a rich animalic base of incense and musk has never been duplicated in quite the same way, and that's what makes Kouros something I keep back-up bottles of - this stuff is, first and foremost, unique. Beautifully crafted, a true performer, and something few other guys are aware of nowadays, I'm glad to have it, and even gladder to wear it. I had a girlfriend who was a serious asshole, and she hated Kouros, which tells me that bad people will shy away from it. Well, maybe not, but one can hope. Many people think of Kouros as an autumn and winter fragrance. It has year-round versatility, more so than most masculines, because the powdery freshness it adopts in frigid temps becomes a honeyed herbal sweetness in the heat of July. I wear Kouros in August and September more than any other time of year, mainly because temps become a bit tamer, but still hover around eighty-five degrees, and the world becomes a place of burnt grass and yellow-tinged leaves. Deep down inside, somewhere in the core of every man's brain, a receptor for Kouros exists, and that nerve is Freud's Ego incarnate. 



Grey Flannel

I fondly remember the day I smelled Grey Flannel for the first time. It was damp and grey outside, and kind of a "here goes the neighborhood" moment for me, as there are few fragrances that are as intimidating as this one. I'd heard a lot about it on basenotes, and read some very encouraging things in the blogosphere, but something was holding me back. I'm not sure what it was. The notion that it's a "cheap" fragrance, combined with its odd, apothecary-styled bottle may have conspired against me. But I was getting braver and braver with each blind purchase, and like the thick-headed fool I am, I went ahead and bought a satcheled bottle from a friendly acquaintance who had a wonderful perfume shop in Milford, CT, now sadly closed. I got to my car and tried it on, and was simply blown away by its beauty. To use descriptors like "gorgeous," "ravishing," "unparalleled," or "stunning" does GF no justice. This is, quite simply, the answer to every green chypre lover's prayers. If you must have a green fragrance, and have very little money in the wardrobe budget, then wear just this one. There is nothing else a man needs. Try not to let the negative press GF has recently generated on Youtube discourage you from getting this and wearing it. The guys who lambast it and call it disgusting are using fresh, contemporary compositions as their main frame of reference, and that's a skewed way of forming an opinion of any classic fragrance. You can connect dots between a forty year-old scent and a brand-new one, but the truth is that anything capable of surviving three or four decades is capable of working on any sentient man or woman. It's just a matter of faith as to whether or not people enjoy smelling it on you. I feel as though Grey Flannel is so perfectly attuned to my soul that wearing anything else often feels flat-out wrong. It's roughly two dollars an ounce, made of a terrific blend of natural and synthetic materials, still has a generous dose of real oakmoss in its formula, and would sell for $150 if sold by Parfumerie Générale.


Cool Water

My love for Cool Water evolved gradually over the last twenty years. Back when I was in high school I really hated it. The older formula was quite thick, cloying, and polluted with unbalanced mint and synthetic lavender notes that threatened to give me a migraine every time I smelled them. It was the very definition of a cheeseball's lounge-lizard fragrance in my view. But then Cool Water changed hands, changed formulas, and changed my mind. Now I think it's the greatest fresh aromatic of all time. Context is key, though. As a high school kid, I had no idea Green Irish Tweed existed. I'd heard of Creed in passing, and remember as a senior in high school wondering where products for this weird "Creed" brand I kept hearing about could be found. I went to private school in Connecticut, what can I say. People here dig that kind of stuff. But eighteen year-old Bryan was unable to locate Creed, and I forgot about them until sometime after I graduated from college. Then I discovered Green Irish Tweed, and realized I'd been flying blind the whole time. Without GIT, Cool Water would not exist. And without CW, most mainstream masculine fragrances from 1990 onward would also not exist. Therefore, without GIT, masculine perfumery of the last twenty-seven years would still be stuck on variations of Drakkar Noir, which arguably makes Creed's masterpiece more than just a really good perfume. But I digress; CW clearly fit into the scheme of things once GIT was appreciated, and I realized that Pierre Bourdon's gorgeous creation for Davidoff  is nothing more than his EDT version of GIT. If Creed wouldn't flank, Bourdon would do it for them, and every time I wear CW I get down on my knees and thank Bourdon for allowing me to access his genius. CW is the reason Bourdon is my favorite perfumer, and I'm happy to report that the compliments I've gotten from this fragrance have been ongoing. Women young and old think it's great, and even my mother feels that "it's really wonderful." High praise, coming from her.


Paco Rabanne Pour Homme

I don't have much to say about Paco Rabanne because it's a fairly recent love affair. I was a little unsure of it when I first tried it. I really love its bright citrusy-green top note, but its transition into a woody coumarin heart accord sometimes seems a bit stilted and unnatural. Having worn it for a while now, Paco continuously wins me over with every subsequent wearing. It has gotten to the point where I see it as a viable alternative to Kouros, which is serious business. To potentially replace Kouros means you're playing in the top echelon, the big leagues, and that gets my attention. The thing that I love about Paco is that after I complete a wet shave and slap some Skin Bracer or Brut on my face, PRPH feels like the best thing to accompany the aftershave. It feels like the best thing for after a shave, period. Its woodiness gets a little creamy and soapy, and something about it reminds me of shaving cream (many other guys get the association also). It might be a little old-school, and maybe is not the first choice for a date, but when you think of suave French actors like Alain Delon and Richard Bohringer, it's easy to think they wore Paco Rabanne. I think it's unfair that Paco gets seated behind Azzaro Pour Homme in popular opinion these days. Yeah, Azzaro is great, but Paco came before, and Paco is just as great. Azzaro is by no means a replacement for anything in my collection, but discovering Paco meant discovering a new avenue for satisfying my fougère cravings in the unhappy event that Kouros gets destroyed beyond recognition. It's lovely, and a compliment-getter like everything above. I hope it stays just as good. 

One final  note: you may have noticed that I mention these fragrances as being compliment machines. I seem to put a lot of emphasis on the fact that women appreciate and talk about these fragrances when I wear them. You might think, "Why is he putting so much stock in that? Who cares what they think?" I could care less what women think of the above. The fact that women seem to love them is simply a bonus feature of loving them too. If pretty women like how you smell, it shouldn't be taken for granted. I've worn hundreds of fragrances, and of them, maybe twelve have garnered compliments. 


















2/22/13

Rive Gauche Pour Homme (Yves Saint Laurent)


Bleu Sans Titre RP 6 by Yves Klein

I can just imagine the briefing process for Rive Gauche Pour Homme. There, in a corporate board room, sits Tom Ford, a few other corporate big shots, and Jacques Cavallier. The memo: "Assemble a fresh aromatic fougère in a retro-barbershop style, reminiscent of Barbasol shaving foam. Incorporate elements from every major player in this genre since 1970 - Paco Rabanne, Azzaro Pour Homme, Kouros, Drakkar Noir, Cool Water, but have the final product feel smooth and polished, a hologram of all-American post-shave ablutions seen through a new lens. And don't forget to take a number." I wonder how many numbers there were on Ford's shortlist of desirable noses for this assignment, but can only think that Cavallier was on tap from the get-go (he did Opium PH, after all), with mere back-ups waiting in the wings in the unlikely event that he come up short. I feel RGPH has a message for its wearer. Something about it whispers "agenda scent," a perfume with a mission to recapture memories of past wet-shaving glories in an innovative way, which many men seem to think it accomplished. This is a widely-loved fougère, second only to Azzaro PH.

The beautiful thing about Rive Gauche PH is that it is fairly new; it turned ten this year. Wearing it is a lesson in postmodern compositional form, a design so streamlined and turtle-waxed, it takes the fun right out of note dissection while smelling it. I say this of few fragrances, but there's really no point in breaking things down here. Yes, it's an aromatic fougère, and yes, it contains all the usual suspects - bergamot, lavender, coumarin, musk, all pleasantly trimmed with heady rosemary and star anise notes, - but the only way to describe this fragrance is to ascribe color to it: Rive Gauche PH smells blue. And not just any blue - it is the ultimate olfactory expression of that deep, crisp, ambiguously violet-like blue invented by the artist Yves Klein, a shade appropriately named after him. From the outset, RGPH adopts a very dry, clean, austere tone, presenting a fresh haze of powdery morning air. It's truly sublime.


The not-so beautiful thing(s) about Rive Gauche is that it is (a) discontinued, and (b) derivative. The first issue is simply a matter of commercial folly, which could be rectified in the future if people put up enough of a fuss. The black and brown can has been replaced by a L'Oreal "La Collection" remix, which word of mouth says is not nearly as good as the original. Having noted L'Oreal's handling of Kouros, I have a few different emotions about their treatment of RGPH. In a way, I have doubts that it's all that bad, because Kouros is an easy formula to fuck up, and yet it still smells good. So how badly could they have treated Cavallier's formula? It's scarier than the Kouros situation because the fragrance has been dramatically repackaged and segregated into an exclusive line, exactly where it doesn't belong. But I'll suspend judgment until I try it. So far, I'm happy with the old version, and even happier to see it's still widely available online for not much money. I only paid $37 for my bottle.

The second issue is more complicated. While it smells fantastic, fresh, dry, a bit dark and dusty, there are disturbing moments in its opening and drydown where other aromatic fougères of yesteryear appear and then recede back into the fog. It's like catching glimpses of familiar faces in a dense crowd in Times Square on New Year's Eve, and having every effort to walk over to them hindered by that shoulder-to-shoulder scenario. In the opening I catch sight of Drakkar Noir and Azzaro Pour Homme, after which there are a few moments of Rive Gauche, and then there's Azzaro and Cool Water, then a slate-grey coumarin accord (more RG again), and hey, Paco Rabanne, is that you? And was that Brut beside you? This happens on an endless loop, and it's both interesting and distracting. But the overall impression this EDT generates is one of cool, herbal freshness, lavender couched in the masculine tradition of soapy patchouli, woods, and musks. Despite all the obvious nods to its progenitors, it's original enough to stand on its own, and beautiful enough to overlook its referential nature. Familiarity, in this case, definitely does not breed contempt.












2/18/13

Oscar for Men (Oscar de la Renta)

A few months ago I did a review of a citrus chypre by Richard Herpin for Brooks Brothers called New York Gentleman, a decent fragrance that benefits from a few good raw materials, but falls far short of greatness due to a lack of complexity, and the unfortunate incorporation of cheap musk in its base. It's kind of hard to lambast New York Gentleman outright because comparatives are not only superior to it, but to most other masculines as well. To say that Eau Sauvage beats NYG is pretty much a foregone conclusion. But I spent a few weeks wondering whether another fragrance could step into NYG's shoes and do exactly what it does, using the exact same citrus-aromatic flourishes, except the way it should have been done by Herpin - i.e., without shortcuts. Then I came across Oscar de la Renta's second masculine fragrance, simply called Oscar for Men, and realized I'd found a match. In every way, Oscar is very similar to NYG, but it's much more complex, exhibits higher-quality raw materials from start to finish, and unsurprisingly smells more masculine and "outdoorsy." If I were a stuck-up prat, I'd call it an "aficionado's fragrance," but since it doesn't take an aficionado to appreciate anything that smells good, I'll settle for just calling it flat-out excellent.

Of course, this eau de toilette is not to be confused with Oscar de la Renta's first masculine, the infamous and much-loved Pour Lui. That 1980 release is a strong, macho, leathery-green machine that takes no prisoners and crashes head-on into the eighties powerhouse aesthetic. For an in-depth take on Pour Lui, see the terrific review on Pour Monsieur. Oscar for Men is also reviewed there, and I concur entirely with Shamu1's spot-on assessment of it. This is a beautiful fragrance, and quality-wise I put it in the same league as Edmond Roudnitska's citrus-chypres and fresh-fern masterworks.

Oscar for Men sits at a place equidistant from Cacharel Pour L'Homme and Marc Jacobs Bang. Like those fragrances, Oscar is a citrus-woody aromatic, but brace yourself: I move to officially label it a citrus chypre, due to a hesperidic presentation in its top notes, followed by a peppery, floral sweetness in the heart, and a mossy-woody base. Whether or not oakmoss or treemoss is used is a bit of a mystery, as Oscar's packaging offers what appears to be an abbreviated ingredients list (IFRA compliant it's not), but I feel there's at least a little treemoss in there. Labdanum is also not obviously present, but the way Oscar's pine and cedar notes play against each other fills its heart with an earthy, slightly skanky sweetness that reminds me of the funky edge to Eau Sauvage. Also similar to ES is Oscar's Italianate bergamot and elemi resin, very bitter and fresh-green. These aspects of Oscar make its classification seem easy enough, and it only gets easier as it develops on skin.

The real key to Oscar's success is its complexity, and how each note is intentionally used for the purpose of keeping its movements smooth and congruent. Brooks Brothers NYG was constructed on what I believe was a very tight formula budget, and for some reason Herpin decided that blowing the bulk of his cash on top-shelf bergamot extracts and a minuscule quantity of high-grade vetiver oil would make up for a distinct absence of anything else. Its movement is clunky; NYG opens with a very fruity-fresh burst of citrus that sustains itself for an inordinately long time, thanks to synthetics, and then abruptly shifts into vetiver, with the two stages held together by a discreet musk note. From that mid-stage vetiver, things go downhill, and the base is little more than a laundry-fresh washout, very chemical and "clean cotton-T." There isn't much in the way of floral or earthy notes to lend depth or complexity, aside from a bit of peppery carnation. But not to fear - Oscar shows us how it's done. Its citrus, mostly bergamot, is crisp, fruity, fresh, but soft, and transient relative to NYG's (expect three minutes from it). Almost immediately the elemi resin is apparent, with a sweet piney freshness that rapidly leads to a distinct pine and black pepper accord. An hour later the evergreen notes adopt a woodier tone, and a very dry nutmeg note is detectable. Bristling behind it is cedar and subtle musk.

The opening accord of citrus and elemi is smoothly conjoined by cool clove. The heart and base accords of pine, black pepper, and cedar are quietly brushed together with nutmeg and musk. Each note works in harmony with its neighbor, and together they form one brilliant and shimmering accord of chypre-green freshness. But there's more to Oscar's beauty than meets the nose at first sniff - upon subsequent wearings, it becomes evident that its lemony-bergamot intro is underpinned by a soft jasmine-like floral effect, perhaps via hedione, or even a smidgen of calone. A brisk lavender note also comes forward in the final minute or so of the top accord, and helps the citrus segue into peppery resins. How the nose behind Oscar for Men managed to get that pepper note to last for seven hours at a stretch is anyone's guess. The same synthetics that are used with Brooks Brothers' citrus, and the pepper in Marc Jacob's Bang, are perhaps employed here, but Oscar is much richer and better blended than either of the others. This really is a piece of well-oiled manliness, one that imparts casual sophistication.

Oscar for Men was released in 1999, but it doesn't resemble your typical fresh-sweet wuss-fests from that decade, and leans closer to the old-guard French proclivities of the sixties and seventies. If I were asked to do a blind sniff test of Oscar and Eau Sauvage, and then were asked which is older, I'd say they're the same age. How this passed me by in college I'll never know, but I'm glad to have a bottle now. It's also nice to know that three ounces of Oscar can be had for twenty dollars, which makes it a better value than the significantly more expensive Brooks Brothers. I can't tell you to eschew Eau Sauvage, Moustache, Diorella, Monsieur Balmain, YSL Pour Homme, or any of the other great twentieth century citrus compositions in favor of Oscar for Men, but I strongly recommend placing it among them in your collection, and awarding it "Best in Show" as a pristine example of how the standard set by its predecessors has been, despite the odds, deliberately and successfully adhered to.















2/14/13

Coco Eau de Toilette (Chanel)



One of the oft-spoken truths about postmodern perfumery is that the difference in concentration between a perfume's Eau de Parfum and its Eau de Toilette counterpart undoubtedly equates to a difference in structure. Yes, both concentrations share the same name, but in actuality they're two different fragrances altogether. Sometimes the differences are subtle, not played-up in any overt manner, and are merely examples of how a particular fragrance profile can vary (Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water are good examples - I've always felt that the latter is the EDT version of the former). In the case of Chanel, the differences can be more extreme. Coco EDP is a rich, dense, fruity, spicy oriental, big-boned and big-haired in a darkly eighties tradition. I have little use for that concentration, but the EDT is more accessible and easier to wear. Neither version fits my personal style, but the design aesthetic of Coco EDT is something I admire.

The original perfume was Jacques Polge's first creation for the house of Chanel, and as such reads as a Big Bang theorem on his stylistic trajectory with the company. He started working with all of his hallmark signature notes crammed together in Coco's gravity-challenged tapestry, and as his design sense evolved, these elements dispersed and often became the centers of their own separate universes. Just look at how Polge handles synthetic patchouli today, compared to thirty years ago. Ditto for stewed stone fruits, resins, and even aldehydes. Allure, Chance, and Coco Mademoiselle all bear some relation to the original Coco, and I find it fascinating that this famous nose has never directly addressed his ever more casual approach to structure and composition. If Chanel's notes-as-cosmic gases keep expanding away from each other like this, Polge's work will someday become indistinguishable from Jean-Claude Ellena's.

I can smell a semblance of this in Coco EDT. It opens with the usual pop of aldehydes, but enters fuzzy, "Chanel-esque" territory very quickly, with transparent and dry-sweet notes of opoponax and myrrh supporting a looser semblance of the parfum's amber. Unlike Coco EDP, the EDT's amber has a dryer, cooler aspect, and never feels overwrought. I don't get much citrus out of the EDT, but if I exhale from a sniff close to skin, I get a slight orange note, and perhaps a hint of peach. It's not a stretch to think the molecules found in citrus rinds were simply stripped of their fruity associations and molded into characterless aldehydes for this perfume. The floral notes are the least successful element, smelling neither green nor creamy, but rather aloof, flatly sweet, and powdery. This sends Coco's vibe into the granny zone for me, a place I rarely find myself. But every woman has her own skin chemistry and personal style, and there's no doubt that this lighter, fresher version of Coco, while different from its source material, satisfies those who understand it best. Expect seven hours of longevity and a good throw of three or four feet in projection, and apply sparingly - as with all Chanels, this one has punch.









2/12/13

Old Spice Wolf Thorn (Proctor & Gamble)



Old Spice Wolf Thorn: Cool name (kind of), but super-cheesy packaging. Kind of has an Ed Hardy look to it, doesn't it? There are almost no photos of this in spray cologne form on the internet, so I had to take my own for From Pyrgos. The Walgreens in my area carries a few interesting Old Spice products and this new fragrance by P&G is one of them. It's twelve bucks a bottle, so be on the lookout for it, and don't hesitate to buy it. Wolf Thorn isn't complicated and it's not top-shelf quality of course, but its lack of ambition works in its favor, and you definitely get what you pay for here.

Wolf Thorn is basically a redux of Davidoff's Cool Water, a simple citrus aromatic cologne with mostly grapefruit and lemon on top, and a brisk, slightly bitter drydown of violet leaf, neroli, tobacco (surprisingly good), and some smoky-salty-sweet ambergris, the same unusual note found in Old Spice Fresh, diluted tenfold. The main attraction here is citrus, and it dominates most of Wolf Thorn's evolution. Its grapefruit and lemon notes start out very bright, fizzy, and naturalistic. Good, clean fun, without stooping to synthetic sweetness or scratchy ozonic notes. Within fifteen minutes the citrus begins to hollow out and turn rather grey and flinty, but that's the budget kicking in. They spent the bulk of their dollars on that fresh intro, surprise, surprise. But at least it isn't super-synthetic, and it achieves a convincing fresh-clean effect. If you like bitter, unadulterated, breakfast-at-eight-in-the-morning grapefruit, you'll probably like this fragrance. There are better grapefruit notes out there, but for the money, this one is pretty good.

When the citrus notes wane, naked violet leaf appears, very peppery and spare, with a slight floral sweetness behind the spice. Underlying that is an odd gummy note that inhabits all the current P&G scents, sort of a weird cross between ambergris and burnt cigarette tobacco. I think it's a few steps above Pure Sport and Smooth Blast. I could be wrong about this, but Wolf Thorn's spray cologne might be a limited edition thing that P&G discontinues in a year. If you're an Old Spice fan, get this while you can.










2/11/13

Is Price Correlative To Quality?



When we see movies and photos with Cary Grant, we automatically think, "he's a high-class guy." I mean, look at him, with the chiseled features and the perfectly-combed hair, the pressed suits and ties. He's long deceased and forgotten (even unknown) by many people in the current generation of twenty-somethings, but for those who have some culture and knowledge of classic films, he remains an unforgettable Hollywood icon. How many men aspired to achieve Grant-esque levels of suave masculinity in their youths? How many women secretly wished they could happen upon someone with his looks and his charm? With Grant, the Robert Palmer song lyric directly applies: "there's no tellin' where the money is." He just had IT, whatever IT was, and this IT-Factor propelled him from the circus to international stardom.

The only problem with this assessment of Mr. Grant is that he himself wished he could be Cary Grant. Someone once said to him, "Everyone would like to be Cary Grant," and he said, "So do I." Grant projected wealth and luxury to the masses, but the truth is that no one on earth is as smooth and unruffled as his screen persona was. Millions paid money to see the fiction of Grant move in silvery wisps across a wall, but would millions pay as much to live with him if they knew how few of those wisps could be found in Archibald Leach? Archibald, unlike Cary, blew his nose, got spinach stuck in his teeth, stunk up portions of the house after using the john, and put his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of humanity. I'm sure he was still a great guy, but the stuff of legend? Maybe not.

When it comes to the subject of this blog post, I often feel that the same rosy thinking Grant's fans applied to him gets applied to today's perfumes. We want to be romanced by our fragrances before we buy them. We want to think that a bigger financial investment in this romance will yield more satisfying returns in the long, leisurely relationship that ensues. We tend to believe the promises sold to us about the quality and appeal of a perfume if it comes from a place that exhibits a finer pedigree, a honed commercial image, and are angry if the illusion doesn't hold up in the long-haul. But like people, perfume is complicated. Just because a brand puts one in fancy clothing, with a cool tagline, and an exclusive price tag, doesn't mean the liquid inside matches these external trimmings, and this is simply a fact of life.

Tania Sanchez, in her review of Aspen by Coty, remarked that Aspen's successful smell was surprising, until you remember that the only appeal of the non-luxury brands is their smell. This comment is arguably the most insightful one in her book. We get caught up in the idea that perfumes with high prices MUST be better, because they cost more, but the reality is that price is in no way directly correlative to how good a perfume smells. This truth is evident in a simple analysis of several factors, ranging from whether or not a fragrance subjectively suits one's taste, to whether a brand objectively reaps as much profit from a perfume's formula as it does from its packaging and marketing. One must consider too whether or not a brand slaps a premium on its products because of the high costs of packaging and marketing alone. Many brands have done careful market studies on the best approach, and it wouldn't surprise me if they found fancy bottles are a worthier investment than fancy formulas.

Victoria at Bois de Jasmin weighed in on this a year ago:
"Last year the weekly French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published an interesting article about perfume creation called La Guerre des Nez (The War of the Nose). It featured a candid interview with perfumers Dominique Ropion and Anne Flipo and provided a table outlining the price breakdown for an average prestige brand perfume. The revelation is that in a bottle of perfume that costs 100 euros, the value of the fragrance concentrate is only 1-1.50 euros, or about 2-3 dollars. The rest is for marketing and distribution: 19.6 euros for value added taxes, 36 euros for distribution, 25 euros for ads and so on. I know all too well the economics of making a perfume, but seeing this table was still a shock."
Between the marketing, distribution, taxes, ad campaigns (part of marketing but not all of it), costs for perfume creation is high, almost out of necessity, just to have competitive market presence. The laws of business have a pressure-cooker effect on the perfume industry, because seventy-five percent of a brand's appeal to customers is visual, not olfactory. It's the reason Chanel went out of their way to find a unique, unparalleled shade of "Bleu" for Bleu de Chanel. It's the reason Cartier went all nineteen-thirties nouveau with the bottle design for Roadster. It's the reason Creed wrapped bottles of Aventus in strands of black leather. Fragrances, like people, require fancy Cary Grant suits if their manufacturers want to justify raising individual unit costs by twenty or thirty bucks.


So what about little ol' Aspen? It has no fancy packaging, no hi-falutin' bottle, and no advertising/marketing campaign. Of course it had a little campaign once, back when it was a new fragrance, but we're talking a couple of print ads here. There was nothing outrageously far-reaching about the Aspen campaign, just a few words and pictures to make people aware that it exists. Someone over at Clive Christian could look at Quintessence/Coty and understandably think, "Aspen might smell okay, but it couldn't touch us." But that supposition is based on image. How much better do CC perfumes smell? Is five hundred dollars and fewer ounces per bottle justifiable in the face of something selling for five dollars an ounce? If you know anything about postmodern perfumery, you know that yes, Aspen smells very good. No, it doesn't blow all niche brands out of the water in terms of fragrance quality, but it's probably worth at least a little more than five dollars an ounce, in a just world. But with Aspen, you have to wonder, is it worth wearing over Cool Water and Green Irish Tweed? Or is it just a budget alternative to those fragrances? And does CC have a good reason to ignore the market model Coty uses in selling Aspen?

Yes, it's worth wearing Aspen over CW and GIT as a budget option, if and only if you feel it smells better, which makes it a completely subjective call, but a viable one. The other two, being more expensive perfumes, are understandably preferable to many men and women, but that doesn't mean their advantage over Aspen equates to Coty's frag being of lower quality. Aside from concentration and complexity, Aspen is not really a lower-quality product. Some may feel that the minty-herbal freshness in Aspen is unique enough to make it a preferable fragrance, especially with its strong outdoorsy vibe.

And CC's market model is the very thing Victoria illustrates above - high overhead. Clive Christian No.1 is "The World's Most Expensive Perfume" because its fugly bottle is plated in precious metals and studded with a diamond. Strip the thing down to Malle proportions (still pricey, but not the same), and suddenly the justification for the high premium is gone. I can't speak to the perfume, having never tried it, but I can say that whatever it smells like, it isn't being shouted about from roof tops, so spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on it seems aspirational at best. The fragrance oils used to perfume the contents of whatever bottle No.1 is sold in likely cost little more than a dollar. If Aspen's oils cost fifty cents, and CC's cost two dollars, that's not a big enough difference. And I doubt the cost of the extrait for CC surpasses a mark that would cut a one-thousand percent profit margin.

Over on basenotes, a member started a thread entitled, Cheap Fragrances Are Rarely The Best. Typical sort of nonsense one sees out of BN, but the responses to this thread suggests that even basenoters feel this is a false sentiment. To simply sum-up the OP's position, he feels that "in most cases, you get what you pay for." He goes on to say,
"Most fragrances that you could get for $50 or less are not really good quality. I'm not saying fragrances above $100 are all worth the price either, because that's the niche priceline and niche fragrances tend to make hate-or-love fragrances that are peculiar and challenge people to expand their tastes. So, even if you spend $250 on a niche fragrance, you may hate it. But the chances of finding something you really really like above $100 is much greater than at under $50."
Now, I could go on, and on, and on, and on about how dumb this paragraph is. I don't really know what this guy was smoking when he posted this, and he's a smart guy who has written many very interesting and informative comparison reviews in the past, on basenotes and Fragrantica, so I don't directly question his intelligence. However, I do question, with love of course, his sanity. I mean, really? Most fragrances for fifty dollars or less are not really good quality? This is a thesis he is going forward with?

You can buy any of the Caron masculines for less than forty dollars. All are of superior quality and composition, to the point where I use Pour un Homme as the continuing proof that a quality raw material (lavender oil) need not jack unit prices into the stratosphere if used to simple effect. There's a whole army of men who would argue that fragrances in the Pinaud range outclass things three and four times as expensive, and Pinauds usually sell at around eight bucks a bottle. Rive Gauche Pour Homme can be found online for well under forty dollars, and is by most accounts, including Luca Turin's, a true classic that is very well made, and smells divine. Kouros can be found in any formulation for around fifty dollars, and stands the test of time as one of the freshest, most beautiful masculine compositions ever made. LustandFury and Shamu1 recently called my attention to Taxi by Cofinluxe. When I wore Taxi to dinner with my family one weekend, my mother told me it smelled amazing, and she almost never thinks fragrances smell "amazing," let alone compliments them. Taxi is by Mark Buxton, and goes for about ten adjusted-for-inflation dollars these days. Rochas Moustache can be had for thirty-five dollars at brick and mortars around the country, and is steeped in classical tradition, ala Edmond Roudnitska and his wife Thèrèse. The very fact that Thèrèse had a direct hand in Moustache's creation makes it worth so much more than anything anyone could scribble on a price tag, yet it remains absurdly affordable in the formulation pictured on my blog (which is the one I own - I took that photo). The list goes on, and on, and on.

But people bit back on this. One guy wrote:
"Disagree. Prices change following sales. A presumed great scent can be sold at 100 dollars or euros today, and at 25 after a few months. Some scents launched without any advertisement -and sold in supermarkets and small stores- have a very low price and real good quality. Animal Oud sold at 10 euros/ 13 dollars, and it's impossible to find in stores the next day. You have to buy it immediately."
This comment supports what I said above, and what Tania Sanchez wrote in The Guide, i.e., inexpensive fragrances can smell good enough to be in very high demand, despite having low prices and no ad campaigns. Another guy said,
"I think it all comes down to whether one believes that an objective assessment of a fragrance's 'quality' can be made independently from whether one actually likes the fragrance or not. Certainly most buyers would like to think that when they spend more they get a higher quality product where there is greater attention to detail and less cost-cutting."
This illustrates my comments about the subjectivity of finding something "better" than something else, and how this variable throws a little monkey wrench into accurately gauging the effectiveness of discerning fragrance quality based blindly on price. And it's true, most buyers WOULD LIKE to think that they get a higher-quality product when they spend more, based on the notion that there is greater attention to the manufacturing details. This is questionable, and is a subject leveled more at the integrity of brand management than perfumers themselves. How many perfumers wanted to create a masterpiece, but were only given a budget with which to create something that is only "good"? And don't personal associations factor in with the enjoyment of any fragrance? Another guy answered that question:
"What it all boils down to is how well a scent resonates with you. If Pino Silvestre at $10 conjures up great memories of family vacations spent camping in the woods, it will be worth more to you than a $250 bottle of Invasion Barbare if you think it just smells like fancy shaving cream."
Still another guy wrote,
"While maybe I personally *expect* more from a fragrance that sells at a relatively high price point, I personally have found little correlation of price and whether I will enjoy a scent or not. I also should mention I have found (and own) more than my fair share of relatively inexpensive fragrances that I would put up against others selling for many, many times their price points. In short, I respectfully disagree with your premise. "In many cases you get what you pay for..." And in many more, you don't."
This brings up the Aspen analogy. Indeed, paying for an expensive perfume may give you what you paid for, but there's always the inexpensive perfume that gives you much more than you paid for, and how do you decide which purchase was wiser? Rationalizing often occurs, and I don't doubt that there are many Lutens buyers out there who are stuck with half a bottle of Arabie, wondering when and how they'll ever get through the remaining half-ounce. "Wear-ability" should factor into these considerations! And still another guy astutely said,
"Common sense says that you get what you pay for, and as a general rule, it's a relatively safe way to make an uneducated decision. Price and "best" are based on so many factors that have nothing to do with quality. Do a bit of homework and you'll find bests in all price points. Best, in this case, is meaningless since you've given no qualifier to explain the scale. Best for? Best at?"
Such a great point! What exactly is "best" being qualified with? Best against the worst? It's an arbitrary way of skewing the factors to favor your argument by saying that cheap fragrances are rarely the best, when you think the "best" and "worst" of something reflects in its price. Prices, after all, are related to demand, even in luxury goods. The OP responded:
"There are a lot of quality ones at low price; not the BEST ones, but good quality ones. For casual wearers, they're really good. But for people looking to build a collection, save your money for until you smell more fragrances."
This is an interesting sentiment. Let me tell you how interesting I find this - it sneaks something new into the dialogue, something nefarious, something otherwise unspoken among fragrance snobs online and within fragrance communities. It sneaks the notion that "aficionados" are wiser to build a large (read: huge) collection of pricier perfumes, at a leisurely pace, instead of bum-rushing into inexpensive things just because they're easily affordable, because this can taint your comprehension of perfume, and your stamina in having a perfume-collector's hobby.

Naturally there are some people who share this misguided and hilariously fallacious notion in the blogosphere. It's like saying you can only understand quality automobiles not by driving one, but by owning a garage full of them. But if you own one Corvette and drive it half the year, then you'll know a high-quality, relatively inexpensive car better than the guy who has a garage of three hundred expensive cars that he only gets to drive once a year at a steady rotation. The guy with the Corvette is likely to have a more finely-honed sense of quality because he has become intimately familiar with a shining example of it, a true standard, and seeks to know more about it (a profound person does not rise up, after all, but goes deeper), while the Jay Leno personality will have difficulty culling basic facts about his vehicles from memory, due to having so many, and will need to constantly back-track and try to re-evaluate the complicated world he's built around himself.

Building a collection is in no way reflective of how astutely one can appraise fragrances and fragrance quality, and the process of building a collection should not be based on trying to assemble higher price-points. If collection size were key to success in understanding fragrance quality, and also in maintaining stamina in writing about perfume, then this blog could not continue to exist, as I only have about thirty inexpensive perfumes in my wardrobe. Yet I've been blogging now for the better part of two years. And if assembling higher price-points were important, then every perfume enthusiast from here to Macau would either be broke, or very rich to begin with, because in actuality fragrance collections are based on what interests the collector, just like any other collection. If your interest is in affordable and what Luca Turin might call "lethally-effective" perfumes, as Shamu1's seems to be, then you will collect fragrances without regard to price point, and you will collect them based on wanting to wear them and enjoy them, not because you want to point to a large collection and pretend that this somehow ensures your longevity in the world of fragrance writing and appreciation.

If we're thinkers and perfume collectors, we can take two or three inexpensive perfumes and write volumes about them, without needing to defer to higher prices or a greater variety in our wardrobes. And if we're intelligent perfume writers, we don't need to ponder prices in assembling a collection and enjoying it. There are great things at every price-point, for every collector. Someone astutely mentioned that on basenotes:
"Where, in your original post, does it say best for building a collection? Are you talking about a collection of fragrances to wear, or do you mean a collection of fragrances to own as art pieces? Assuming one is building a collection of fragrances to wear, there absolutely are bests among the bargains."
To quote mister Leach, er, Grant: "Beware of snobbery; it is the unwelcome recognition of past failings." In a word, Amen.














2/10/13

Claiborne For Men (Liz Claiborne)



The more fragrances you collect and wear, the less tolerant you become for things that fall short of true love. At least, that's how it is for me. As everyone who regularly reads my blog knows, I happen to be a huge fan of Irish Spring soap, and well-made soapy fragrances in general. Things like Grey Flannel, Sung Homme, and Taxi really tickle my fancy. Sung Homme in particular is a truly amazing fragrance. Yesterday I got out of bed, showered with Irish Spring soap, applied the new Irish Spring deo-antiperspirant stick to the pits, and then spritzed myself a few times with Sung. The overall effect was simply incredible. If you're an Irish Spring fan, it's a must-try experience.

Claiborne for Men, an oldie from the same year as Sung, is also a fresh, soapy chypre with a good reputation for using synthetics to achieve a briskly-clean effect, with some masculine darkness in the eighties tradition. I was eager to wear it and knew my local Marshalls had a few bottles, so I went there and basically stole a day's worth for myself. It's gotten to the point where I don't even buy certain fragrances anymore if I know Marshalls has it, because the place is staffed by teenagers and college students who could care less if you try without buying. I knew what to expect with Claiborne, and went forward with some biases. I'm not inclined to like Liz Claiborne products because I've owned a few Claiborne shirts, and they always wound up tearing or staining in the wash within a week after purchase. In four words: Claiborne products are cheap.

Claiborne for Men gets fair marks from several highly respectable noses in our post-Perfume Renaissance blogosphere and on Fragrantica, and I'll qualify my review by saying that everything written here is subjective to the hilt. I can see outside of my own experience and expectations, enough to realize that Claiborne for Men is appreciated for being fresh, smooth, green, a little leathery, mossy, and soapy. People recognize it is synthetic and not top shelf in ingredient quality or construct, but they like how it moves, they don't mind its synthetic nature, and appreciate its musky-woody drydown as a fine cheap thrill. Kudos to them, but I just don't like this one at all. To me it smells harsh, chemical, raspy, sometimes very thin, and like the epitome of bad "cheap."

It opens with a grandiloquent array of synthetic citrus and herbal notes, which are powerful and stick around for a while (much longer than citrus notes should). Everything is sanded down and buttressed together to form a very slick chemical accord of so-called "fresh" things. The lavender is blue, fresh, scratchy. The green notes are a little powdery (read: chalky), but I'll admit that they lend the early phase of this fragrance some much-needed appeal. There's a sense of experiencing a cold bucket shower while camping in the mountains of Maine. The brisk fruits, eighties-styled lavender, and soapy greens work pretty well together. But then the heart stage appears, and the bucket empties, the water runs out, the cold-shower effect fades. Hello weird, plasticky rose-jasmine note, and an odd, ambery laundry musk thing that won't go away. Pretty shabby.

People have commented that Claiborne is one of those masculines that has been through the wringer with reformulations. That might be, but I get the feeling that whatever this was before they cheapened it still wouldn't speak to me. It's soapy, yes, but for a soapy chypre I'd rather wear Grey Flannel, Tabac, or Sung Homme. If I want a more complex green experience I'll reach for my bottle of Silences, or my generous sample of Chanel N°19 EDT. As far as Claiborne for Men goes, I see no personal reason to wear it, but you never know, it might appeal to you, so the next time you find it at a discount store, give it a try. Whatever you do though, don't buy a Claiborne shirt, unless the Fred Flintstone look is what you're after. Just saying.









2/7/13

American Crew Classic (American Crew)



In the last few days a rival blogger has asked me an unusual question in an excellent fragrance forum regarding the possible reformulation of a popular designer fragrance, with the usual concerns about changes over time in the quality of all popular men's brands, and also questions about how to "make it" and succeed in the fragrance world, and in the world of perfume writing. The funny thing about this is that he's already "made it" as best as he can, and he already owns all of the fragrances that he's asked about, so I thought I'd give him more useful information and switch the subject to a fragrance that he doesn't have - American Crew Classic. Why wonder about familiar things when you can explore new ground?

Very few people talk about American Crew's fougère, and they should - it's a notable fragrance. My younger brother really likes it and wears it often. He's a bright guy with a promising career ahead of him, the kind of person who puts thought into his preferences, so that says something to me about this fragrance, at least from a personal perspective. But try as I might, I just don't like it. Correction: It's not that I don't like it. It smells good, and it's not badly made. But if I had a bottle, I'd never wear it. I don't really know exactly why that is, but something about it doesn't feel "right" on me. My brother and I are very different personalities, so if he likes it and I don't, that's not a big shocker, and I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me that this fragrance is polarizing. It has a unique smell.

Don't let my oddball taste dissuade you from trying American Crew. It's a fairly simple fougère that feels crisp enough to be distantly related to Azzaro Pour Homme, and warm enough to nudge associations into oriental territory. Eternity for Men comes to mind. The citrus notes are not the "cold shower" kind found in contemporary sports fragrances, which are typically very hissy lemons and grapefruits and bergamots. They're smooth and balmy, mostly mandarin, saved from sugar-shock by hints of grapefruit. There's a snappy lavender-herbal accord in the heart, and a very dry, expansive sandalwood-musk base, with green notes standing in for moss. I recall looking at an older bottle of AC several years ago and seeing tree moss in the ingredients list, but don't remember seeing oak moss in there. I don't know if tree moss is in the new bottle my bro got last Christmas, but in any case it smells very nice.

American Crew is a bit cheap, and unfortunately the lavender borders on being laundry-grade. But if you apply yourself, you might find this fragrance in certain drugstores, so you can probably sample it before buying. Walgreens carries American Crew hair and shave products, but I've never seen the fragrance there. Maybe in other parts of the world it's more readily available on store shelves. My final assessment of this fragrance is that it will appeal to adult men who enjoy aromatic fougères like Paco Rabanne and Azzaro PH, but want a fresher shave-shop approach on a tighter budget. It certainly ticks those two smart boxes.













2/3/13

Pure White Cologne (Creed)


This fragrance used to be called "Original Cologne," but I guess something happened and they had to change the name. Maybe they felt having a third "original" perfume would confuse buyers who are used to seeing Original Santal/Vetiver around. They might associate this Royal Exclusive with the regular line or something. In any case, I like the current title better. It's a very elegant moniker for a nice cologne.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again - the main problem with the Royal Exclusives is that they're so damned expensive that you expect them to smell like bottled angel tears. There's a need to experience the divine when you drop over five hundred dollars on a fragrance. The bar is set a little too high. And so far Creed has never met the bar with these creations. Of the three I've tried, none of them have warranted the price for me. Sublime Vanille is perfumey and boring. Spice and Wood smells like your average Millésime. And now Pure White Cologne comes along, and guess what? It's very nice, but nothing spectacular. I can't shake the feeling that the Royal Exclusives are the work of Erwin and not Olivier. Something about them feels unfinished, a little rough around the edges, like the nose took top-tier synthetics, threw in a few natural oils, and just placed them perpendicular to each other in a layman's attempt at haute perfumery. There's still learning to be done, and a skill that needs refining.

PWC opens with an amiable citrus melange of bergamot, grapefruit, and lemon, mixed with a very lithe touch of pear. What surprises me about the top accord is that it smells crisp and fresh, but also a little metallic and grey. It's not that far removed from the opening of 4711, really. That's bad news for a fragrance at this price point. The redeeming feature is its subtle hint of pear, which softens its rough edges and provides an ample reference point for the drydown. After about ten minutes a very powdery white rice note - Creed's recent favorite - appears, and fills the heart like cotton balls stuffed into a brassiere. Again, it's nice, it's very snowy and "pure," but as in Love in White, it's an unusual approach, and ultimately fails to convince. Rice doesn't really smell all that great. Creed should forget about whatever synthetic replicates rice powder, and look into something else for future compositions. It's doing them no favors here.

Oddly enough, when the rice dissipates, all that remains is the paleness of galbanum (also very powdery), and that subtle pear note for sweetness. This fades into simple white musk, and is a memory after thirty or forty minutes. For cologne, there's absolutely no reason to buy this, and I can't think of a single justification for dropping the cashola on it. Just stick with 4711 or Roger & Gallet. They're cheaper and better.













2/1/13

Chinatown (Bond no.9)



Aurelien Guichard's numerous accomplishments as a perfumer are difficult to discuss without bringing up two of his "masterpieces" - Chinatown, and the reformulation of Visa by Robert Piguet. Both are chypres overlaid with oriental accords, and both emit judicious rays of peachy light through dense arrangements of flowers and precious woods. Of the two, I've only worn Chinatown, and cannot comment from a personal perspective on Visa, but I do know that Guichard understands that bright fruity notes work especially well when they are given something substantial to shine through.

I approached Chinatown with some uncharacteristically specific hopes. I hoped it would contain an opalescent white floral accord. And it does. I hoped it would contain at least one interesting citrus note. And it does. I hoped it would have a bright holographic peach, if even for a moment. And it doesn't. I hoped it would exhibit a notable trajectory from an opening of bright, peachy florals, to the odd stewed-fruit note Luca Turin likened to Edmond Roudnitska's Prunol base, to what finally becomes a rich chypre foundation of gussied labdanum and oakmoss, with sheer sandalwood and vanilla adding oriental textures to everything. And . . . it doesn't do any of that at all. Herein lies the rub for me and Chinatown; I cannot expect perfumes to perform for me exclusively, but when their reputations precede them, and my knowledge of what makes a modern masterpiece braces itself for impact with virgin territory, the hope is that the little things, like bright floral and peach notes, will be dispensable, and the big things, like a drydown trajectory into definitive chypre and oriental stages, will be very much accounted for. Imagine my disappointment when I found that Chinatown lacks that which I desire most, and has in spades the things I'm not all in for. What's the matter with this perfume? What's the matter with me? Where's our chemistry, the tango I thought we'd do right from the start?

The first issue is the opening. Chinatown's interesting citrus note is a very thick, waxy bergamot and lemon accord. To my nose it's mostly synthetic bergamot. I don't know if it's just one layer too many for this composition, with a very light note struggling against a tsunami of darker, heavier base notes, or if it's simply a matter of Guichard choosing this specific type of bergamot for Chinatown, but something here is troublesome. I can't bring myself to fully enjoy its unusual "waxy"-type of cleanness. Maybe memories of my years as a janitor in an elementary school have something to do with that. All that disgusting floor wax, and those disgusting ZEP cleaning products, with their despicable fake-citrus odorants. I don't know what it is, but I'm not crazy about it, and that's really all I can say. Moving on.

The second issue is the peach note(s). There isn't really a true peach in this fragrance. But there is peach blossom. There is also a very pretty melange of white flowers, with the headiness of tuberose and gardenia balanced by peony's freshness, all with peach blossom acting as the sweet fulcrum into the grandiloquence of Chinatown's kinda-sorta gourmandish, woody base. It's a well-executed floral element that somehow disappoints me by not being fruity enough. I want a succulent peach note! And I want it to be hyper-realistic for at least two or three minutes on skin! Why isn't it in here?

It's supposed to be bright and clean at first, and then rapidly subside into a slow-burning sweetness that smolders through cardamom, sandalwood, and patchouli. Instead it never appears at all, but the smoldering effect of something sweetly floral - i.e., peach blossom - arrives within five minutes after application, prefabricated and ready-made but lacking precedence and true context. It's like one of those artificial fireplaces that you plug in - a fire without the spark. Nevertheless, like the electric fire, it's there, it's very pretty, and I get partial satisfaction in this regard. Better to have less than nothing at all, I suppose. But there could have been a little more of a deliberate reference point for the sweetness in Chinatown's dense (but oddly under-worked) heart. In fine art, particularly in painting, when artists work with a limited palette of mostly monochrome grey, splashes of color can only add to visual effect by inhabiting two opposite points in the composition. You never want your red, or your green, or your yellow to just sit there all alone in one corner of the canvas. It should have at least a dab of itself elsewhere. The peach blossom in Chinatown is like a color floating aimlessly on a canvas. It's striking, but separate from the image, and bears no relationship to it.

The third issue, and the greatest issue for me, is that of Chinatown's trajectory, or lack thereof. There's that bright, waxy bergamot up top, for about sixty seconds on skin. Then, the floral accord, very nice, a touch plasticky and indolic, but still, very nice, with notable peach blossom. Just fine. And then . . . simply a linear chypre gesture of slightly funky labdanum, a resinous faux-moss base, mostly derived from the rosy interplay of guaiac wood against brisk patchouli and cedar notes, with the piquancy of cardamom connecting this uninteresting point to everything that came before. And it smells very flat. Disturbingly flat, actually, with images of vinyl records and someone's forgotten plastic raincoat left lying around somewhere. There's sweetness, there's spice, there's some woodsy notes, but they're all compressed into an inert accord that smells much too synthetic and much too contrived to be considered the stuff of greatness. I wish I could say otherwise, but all that comes to mind in Chinatown's drydown are those dreadful Yankee Candles. That's right folks, this fragrance reminds me of Yankee Candles.


This isn't the first time this has happened to me with Bond no.9. Andy Warhol Lexington Avenue, the only other Bond I've worn, gave me a serious Yankee Candle vibe as well. But Lexington Avenue also had a very festive feeling to it, and its vibe was a bit more occasion-specific (Thanksgiving gatherings, Christmas parties), whereas Chinatown comes across as being woefully nondescript. The synthetic nature of its base accord detracts from whatever impact its composition may have had on my imagination, and the only thing it alludes to is a candle, but I'm speaking subjectively here. I can understand how other people would find more parallels between this perfume and classical chypres of yesteryear, Thierry Mugler's more recent creations, and even other interesting Bond perfumes. People have said that Chinatown and Lexington Avenue are related, so I may have done well in trying Lexington first and following it up with this perfume. At least I know what's happening with the brand's creative mentality toward postmodern chypres. They want things to be sweet, sticky, brightly-lit, but through the recklessly coated lens of patchouli and synthetic wood notes. The synthetic feel is deliberate, part of the fun. But I'm not having all that much fun.

I think people gravitate toward certain "feels" in their perfumes, and the Bond "feel" is a bit more synthetic, a little more "perfumey" and chic, in the most pleasant, fun-filled sense of the word. I haven't tried enough Bonds to say that with true authority, but it's my impression based on the two I have encountered, and this impression is, for lack of a better word, unimpressive. Creed is for people who want realism integrated into staid, gentlemanly compositions that rarely smile, but still know how to light up a room. There's nothing chic about Creed, as the brand takes itself far too seriously for that. It's kind of interesting to think that if Creed were to try to do Chinatown, they might also fall short of my expectations, but in the inverse way - good drydown proportions, nice movement, a few lucid notes, but no debauched vinyl-plasticky sneer for fun. I'm just difficult enough as a person to want both to intersect and become a sum far greater than its two parts could ever hope to be, and that's why I'll keep trying with Bond. I do not for one second think that Chinatown is a masterpiece, a "treasure in a beautiful bottle," and instead feel that it is a very mediocre perfume by a man who misjudged the charm of overtly synthetic materials. But Bond has so many fragrances. There must be one to love lurking right around the corner.