3/31/13

Feeling Man (Jil Sander)



Finding eight small bottles of a reputedly discontinued fragrance is a strange feeling. I stopped and stared at the perfume counter, my rods and cones taking in the blotch of red and black uncomprehendingly, the voice of Mr. Logic futilely pronouncing, "This can not be." Yet it was. I immediately recalled feeling similarly shocked to find an adequate selection of Balenciaga Pour Homme bottles elsewhere, and wondered if, as with that fragrance, Jil Sander had only discontinued big bottles of their most underrated masculine, leaving small batches for these collectible minis. My bottle is actually large enough that I wonder if it's even classified as a "mini" in fragrance jargon - no quantity measure is printed on the front of the box, and it's large enough that I'll have it for a few years, although it's definitely smaller than an ounce. In any case, it's still readily available on Amazon in mini sizes for reasonable prices.

You can say what you want about masculine perfumery, but please, whatever you do, don't say it's inferior to feminine perfumery. Feeling Man is an exposition on all that's right with the gender line, a sweet, fresh, woody, and above all else, sexy little piece of modern orientalism at its finest. Released in 1989, it's also the missing link in the evolutionary trifecta of bestselling modern cinnamon-sandalwood orientals: Joop! Homme, Individuel, and Original Santal. Feeling Man opens with a rush of stewed fruits, wild berries, and resinous piney notes, then segues into a transparently rich tobacco accord, and swiftly shifts again into a lightly-spiced sandalwood base. Unlike its cousins, Feeling Man has a bit of an outdoorsy vibe, with sparkling juniper, fir, and geranium adding a briskness to the woods. Quality of ingredients is also obviously superior to all but the Creed, as Feeling smells fairly natural.

I did a side-by-side comparison with Individuel, and am pleased to report that both fragrances hold up well together, with neither eclipsing the other. Between them I still prefer Individuel by a slight margin, because I think it's a little lighter and more versatile. But if I'm looking to reference a richer analog, I'll wear Feeling Man with pleasure. I've always liked Australian sandalwood, and Jil Sander's is crisp, clean, and very smooth, reminding me of Caswell-Massey's sandalwood bar soap. Feeling Man does suffer slightly from having a bit of a "fuzzy" one-note wood effect in its base, but I blame that on age, as I'm sure it smelled more dynamic when it was new. Like Original Santal and Joop! Homme, this fragrance is unisex and can easily be worn by women to great effect, but I'd caution against the same approach with Individuel - it can also be unisex, but contains what is arguably a more masculine lavender note. Feeling Man is an excellent scent, so get a bottle while you still can.








3/28/13

Chez Bond (Bond no.9)



Reviewing a fragrance that is a near-exact replica of another fragrance is itself a superfluous exercise, which means I write this begrudgingly. Chez Bond is an excellent fresh-green fougère that smells extremely similar to Green Irish Tweed, and I'm not going to go nuts comparing the two because that's already been done to death elsewhere. The one thing I would stress is that Chez Bond's note pyramid is a bit of a sham. Because Bond uses blatantly synthetic chemicals and virtually no natural ingredients (none detectable, anyway), I'm reticent to concede the presence of raw materials like tea absolute, sandalwood oil, etc. And I can't be bothered to visit Givaudan's web site to pinpoint which expensive chemicals were used to simulate those materials, so take my word for it - Chez Bond has roughly three distinct notes, only two of which are obvious to the nose, and none smell very realistic. Yet the fragrance as a whole smells lovely, ever so unoriginally lovely.

The curious thing about Chez Bond is that it attempts to fill shoes than cannot be filled. Like Cool Water, Green Irish Tweed can never be improved upon or precisely duplicated. It is an inherently perfect structure of green apple, lemon verbena, iris, violet, violet leaf, octin esters, sandalwood, and ambergris. What Bond shows me is how well Creed uses naturals. Compared to Bond, GIT smells rich, three-dimensional, deep. It really moves, it radiates from skin, and it never smells tired. The use of esters enhances the violet effect, with that little smudge of woody Granny Smith acidity on top illuminating the lemon verbena, and lingering long enough to accent a smooth Ambroxan base. Synthetics are used, but they're harmoniously balanced with a few well-placed naturals, and the result is something of astonishing beauty. But Chez Bond doesn't attempt that harmony, striking off in the more single-minded direction of total reliance on synthetics, and therefore lacks the depth and complexity of its predecessor.

Chez Bond's sweet violet opening is paired with a minty dihydromyrcenol accord that recalls Quintessence's Aspen, and lingers for about ninety minutes on skin before slipping into a creamy sandalwood-tea base. The sandalwood is permanently tinged with sweet violet, and the milky tea note blends in so well that it seems to disappear. This creamy-sweet (and not-so-green) base is pretty much the last stop for Chez Bond, as the fragrance simply carries on with that accord for several hours before fading out. You can expect around nine hours of longevity during moderately-cool days with low humidity, and likely a bit less in balmier conditions. This is Bond at its simplest, a compact olfactory design that deigns to replicate the expansive breeziness of more popular fare without ever straying from the laboratory. It succeeds because Chez Bond smells really good, but still falls short of its template, and remains superfluous. It's fine if you want to save some money and still get the Creed effect, but that's what Cool Water is for. Just wear Green Irish Tweed or Cool Water (or Aspen) and move on.







3/24/13

CK Be (Calvin Klein)



Of this depressing fougère, Luca Turin inexplicably wrote: ""Though less radiant, [CK Be] perfectly hits the spot for those who want a fragrance not just to evoke a faded memory, but to smell like one." I agree, if that faded memory is of being dumped and humiliated after your senior prom, just when you thought two hours of slow dancing and a shared bottle of Leroux would pay off. I've never been a fan of CK fragrances - they strike me as being a collection of synthetics at a remarkably high dilution - but Be is the most puzzling of the brand's "successes." Its composition is so devoid of charisma and so blatantly lacking in quality that I wonder how anyone can be bothered to wear it. I for one certainly can't.

There are a few basenoters and fragranticans who assert that Be has been drastically reformulated since its release in 1996, and that Ann Gottlieb (of Marc Jacobs' Bang fame) had nothing to do with the cheapening of its materials, but I'm not really buying that. CK has always made cheap-smelling fragrances, and any reformulation would not alter those characteristics enough to warrant mentioning. I still have a bottle of the original formulation of Obsession for Men, and though it smells a bit smoother than the current formula, it nevertheless smells of essential oil bar soap. I also recall CK One smelling remarkably chemical and raspy back when I was in high school. Guess what? Still smells that way today. So CK Be, while aged and perhaps reformulated to better suit contemporary tastes, still smells like itself to me.

It is, when all is said and done, a staid aromatic fougère. Its notes include lavender, bergamot, sandalwood, stone fruits, amber, violet leaf, cedar, vanilla, and white musk. For lavender, take Caron Pour un Homme's, strip away the actual lavender oil, and just leave the plastic aromatic halo effect of that herb - presto! You have the lavender in Be. For bergamot, put Moustache's in a dehydrator for three days. Superb, you have Be's bergamot. For Sandalwood, refer to the sandalwood in Caswell-Massey's sandalwood soap. Except the soap smells better. You get the idea. And each note is weaker than spray deodorant. Unsurprisingly, the white musk is the only ingredient that seems well wrought here, and why shouldn't it be? It's just another cheap synthetic. I don't know what spurred millions of people to buy Be when it was released (I'm guessing CK One had everything to do with it), but if you're voluntarily buying and wearing it today, you'd probably benefit from 300 mg of Bupropion.













3/21/13

Polo Crest (Ralph Lauren)



As a general rule I really try to avoid reviewing discontinued fragrances on this blog. They're often a bitch for readers to find, and even when found, are not always reliable for sampling, due to improper storage and degradation of ingredients. There's nothing worse than a bottle of something formerly great that now smells like an old shoe, thanks to decades of heat, direct sunlight, and carelessness on the part of the merchant. Also, top notes are the first to go, and with many fragrances the top notes are so integral to the full experience that losing them is a massive disappointment. I keep wishing I could get the citrus (what used to be orange and lemon) from my sixty year-old bottle of Max Factor Signature. It's fun to use as reference for nineteen-fifties "barbershop", but because of its degradation, not something I'll ever wear.

In the case of Polo Crest, I have to make an exception. This fragrance is so good that to avoid mentioning and recommending it feels criminal. Besides, bottles can still be found at reasonable prices. Unfortunately, it's a hit-and-miss situation in that regard, with brick-and-mortar stores more likely to offer deals than anyone on the internet. I got my bottle for a surprising discount because the guy who sold it didn't know what it is, and he even shaved a few more dollars off his sticker price for me because I'm a regular customer. Polo Crest is one of the few discontinued masculines from the early-nineties that is truly worth seeking out, twenty-two years after its release. Ralph Lauren wisely integrated a substantial number of synthetics into the formula, which buttress the naturals (of which there are many), and prevent degradation of the fragrance. Unlike many releases from its time period, Crest possesses many hallmark notes of its era within a modern, leathery chypre structure that somehow manages to smell timeless.

Polo Crest is essentially the original Polo in miniature, with a dash of Herbs de Provence up top, and natural cedar in the base. Its opening is brisk and balanced, a masterwork in itself. Whoever created it so adequately judged the proportions of lemon, rosemary, and caraway, that the resultant accord, though lacking in sweetness and warmth, brims with a freshness that always makes me smile. The ensuing minutes carry artemisia to the fore, with a heart accord of lavender, patchouli, and oakmoss in tow. When dissected by this nose, its note contrast is sublime: hints of sweet jasmine, velvety rose, minty geranium, bitter thyme, and piercing wormwood to squelch the sugar of the flowers and patchouli. It's similar to Red for Men and Yatagan, but without the dissonance of the former or the snarl of the latter. Polo Crest is a vast improvement on the original (itself no slouch), and the epitome of masculinity in a polite, low-sillage form - a hot-blooded thoroughbred in a world full of Clydesdales. Try Modern Reserve for the update.








3/19/13

And You Thought I'd Get Through A Month Without Mentioning Creed.


Olivier Creed, circa 1995

Or maybe you didn't . . . but it doesn't matter. I learned a long time ago not to worry about what people think of my ceaseless stream-of-consciousness approach to various subjects. You know, the people I meet who are genuinely interested in a wide variety of things are scatter-shot conversationalists, usually burdened with attenuated attention spans, but still are somehow quite lovable. Often, the most lovable. Frenetic energy is attractive to me in the same way that a smartphone battery is attractive to a poltergeist. But anyway, let's get on with this blog post.

I happened across an interesting article in the Independent about none other than Olivier Creed, "sixth generation master perfumier," and apparently the object of Mr. Robert Chalmers' affections - he has nary a bad thing to say about the man. The interview was a softball session of sometimes charming, sometimes gratingly naïve questions. Pressing Creed on the identity of the buyer of an über-expensive piece of ambergris that recently washed ashore is a great way to push things off, but then saying, "Can you imagine coming across Zeste Mandarine Pamplemousse when the only products you knew were things like Old Spice?" seems, to quote Luca Turin, a bit naff. I mean, really? Why don't you just ask to kiss the man's ass cheek and wrap it up right then?

And there's the part about Olivier Creed at work. What happens when inspiration strikes in the wee hours of the morning? Why, Creed jumps out of bed and sashays into his little en suite workshop, where he fiddles with precious oils derived from all-natural raw materials until his dream has been realized to perfection, that's what. We the readers are to infer from this that these "eureka moments" become things like Green Irish Tweed, Silver Mountain Water, Acqua Fiorentina. The man is not just a perfumer - he's an "artiste." Tinkering in little private workshops, mixing essential oils together, finding the right balance and fit for major international releases that will add to the company coffers for years to come - that's how Olivier rolls.

My feeling about the interview is fairly neutral. I don't for a minute believe that Olivier jumps out of bed to work on ideas as they come to him. I don't even believe that he has a little workshop at home. And I really don't believe that his super celebrity client list, the assholes who have £10,000 to drop on bespoke perfume, are a very impressive lot of any more than five or six people per year. They're either "nouveau riche" nobodies who made their first five million scamming the world on the commodities market, or lame-duck names like Cher, and Elton John, people who used to impress everyone, but are now simply riding on the coattails of David Geffen's taste in music. Perhaps it's a mixture of both. Either way, not that interesting.

What I DO believe is that Olivier Creed has a direct hand in the formulation of Creed fragrances. I've covered that already here. I enjoyed the article, yet when I reached the comments section, immediately felt the cold chill of acrimonious sentiments from one Luca Turin (inaccurately - nay, antagonistically - described in the piece as a "pharmacologist", whatever that is). His simple remark: "If Mr. Creed is a perfumer, I'm a pharmacologist." So there you have it, Creed is not a perfumer, unless of course Chalmers was accurate in calling Turin a pharmacologist, which we all know is untrue - Turin is a biophysicist (Chalmers did contradict himself and refer to Turin as a "physicist" later in his piece).

I think Luca Turin painted himself into a little bit of an opinionated corner in regards to Creed by making this comment. Shortly after the release of the first edition of The Guide, Turin had a brief conversation with a basenoter about credit for Green Irish Tweed being bestowed upon Pierre Bourdon instead of Creed. The attribution was made by Michael Edwards in his ginormous Fragrances of the World database. Basenoter Eric writes,
"Bourdon listed as creator of GIT in Michael Edwards' database? And no doubt about this "fact" could be, like, an error or something? I hope Oliver isn't reading this, because this is ridiculous. Makes me wonder about this Michael Edwards database also."
To which Luca Turin quickly said,
"If you knew Michael Edwards and how he works, you would know that a) he doesn't make attribution mistakes and b) he discussed this with Creed. OC is listed as co-creator, btw."
So Mr. Turin fired the grand shot, and now, five LOOOOOONNNG years later, hits himself in the foot. He knows Michael Edwards, possibly as a friend. And Michael Edwards does not make attribution mistakes when it comes to perfume, and the labeling of "noses" in his database. Turin evidently spoke with Edwards, who divulged to him that a conversation with Olivier Creed yielded two authors for Green Irish Tweed - Pierre Bourdon, and Olivier Creed. As Michael Edwards is infallible in this regard, his attribution of GIT to both Bourdon and Creed is ironclad. It is therefore to be taken as evidence that, as co-creator, Creed is in fact a perfumer.

Now, if Creed is not a perfumer, that would require an admission by Edwards of one of two mistakes: either Edwards was lied to by Creed, and should have pursued a third-party corroboration of Olivier's story (why not talk to Bourdon himself, and gauge his reaction to the news of Creed claiming to be in the Green Irish Trenches with him), or Olivier never admitted to having a hand in the chemistry of GIT, and the database erroneously lists him as a co-creator, when in fact everything about the groundbreaking perfume came from the imagination of Pierre Bourdon.

How much leeway can be given to a person cited as co-creator when dealing with something as enormous as a perfume database? If Olivier comes to Bourdon and says, "Make it like Drakkar Noir, only with sweet violets instead of bitter leather," is that enough to call him the perfume's creator? Some might argue, "Well, he conceptualized it, and Bourdon simply followed his instructions, so therefore he deserves equal credit!" If that's the case, then why even bother hiring Bourdon? If Olivier had the olfactory vision (pardon the oxy-moron) down to the last note, and simply needed a chemist to deal with the technical aspect of putting it all together, he could have hired a chemistry student and hovered over the guy's shoulder for a few weeks, sniffing and re-sniffing each composition before exclaiming, "YES!" and phoning the design department about a bunch of opaque purple bottles.

Clearly, Bourdon was necessary for achieving a level of quality and balance that outmatches that of most contemporary masculines. Why he specifically was needed, and to what extent, will remain unknown. And that's the crux of my amusement with Luca Turin's harsh attitude toward Creed. So much about Creed is simply unknown. Yes, I know, industry insiders talk among themselves about who their class clown is, and apparently people "know" things about Olivier, like *gasp!* - he doesn't really hop out of the sack when inspired, and rush into a little lab to cook things up! And *LOOK OUT!* - his fragrances aren't exclusive after all! (Walgreens, you ASS. HOLES.) Still, there's something else going on here between good 'ol Luca and Ollie. Bad blood? Some nasty exchange when Creed headquarters was phoned about sending samples for The Guide? It's a strange case, probably something only Turin can clear up, as he's not mum on his feelings about Creed, and bound to no commercial secrecy, unlike Olivier, whose list of perfumer contracts is likely a mile long. To Turin's comment, I simply replied:
"I find it humorous that people like Turin discredit Creed at every opportunity. This weird notion that he's a fraud knows no proof and seems uncalled for - sure, he's hired professionals to compose things, but who's to say for certain whether or not he himself has composed things - in the same breath that Turin slams fragrances like Love in White (which I understand - that's a rough one, to put it mildly), he suggests that someone who is actually a perfumer probably plagued us with LiW, (and LiB, VIW, OV, OS) - these are not met with approval in The Guide. Yet . . . Olivier Creed is not behind them. Why not just say that he's a bad perfumer instead of not one at all?"
You can hope that someone will answer me, and clear it up. Or not. Whatever works best.












3/16/13

Boss Selection (Hugo Boss)



There needs to be a moratorium placed on masculines that reinterpret the tired, scratchy, and cliched formula of pink pepper, violet leaf, and musk, at least until someone tackles it from a new angle. One of the reasons I've avoided the house of Boss here on From Pyrgos is that I have a dreadful association with the brand: Boss Selection. This was my brother's college spritz five or six years ago. And I thought even less of it then than I do now, although it hasn't really improved in my estimation. The only difference today is that I understand what I'm smelling, and I appreciate that it is a mildly well-crafted and inoffensive fragrance for people who don't think much about fragrance. Sadly, the requisites of imagination and good raw materials aren't even remote considerations for the people who come up with stuff like this. Even college guys deserve some compositional tension and a few realistic notes to compliment whatever cheap thing they tackle their classes in. At least try to put a spin on the easily-exhausted realm of fresh-woody aromatics. Otherwise, what's the point of even bothering to create them? You're wanna make more money? Go sell tires instead.

Everything about Selection is drab, from its clunky, colorless bottle, to its spicy-fresh Blah-ness, to the deeply uninspiring magazine ads of chiseled nobodies in well-tailored suits. I'm almost positive Hugo Boss' advertising department is a sweltering back-alley office in Bangladesh, with guys cutting and pasting fashion models from stock photographs and bundling them off at a seventy-five percent discount to wherever HB operates from. That this fragrance is still out there (and presumably selling) flabbergasts me, but when I peruse the fragrance counter at Kohl's, I bump into at least five or six incarnations of Boss Selection. I imagine the stubborn bastards behind them will likely die with briefs for more peppery-musky Blahs clutched to their chests. I try to live life with one thought in mind: do I mind dying with this fragrance? If it gives me pause, then chances are it's a no-go (if I haven't already purchased it), or it's a goodbye (if I have). When it comes to Boss Selection, I encourage you, dear reader, to simply pass altogether. This isn't even worth a try.












3/14/13

Anaïs Anaïs (Cacharel)



Ignore the unremittingly girlish packaging for Anaïs Anaïs, seriously, because it has no bearing on the appropriate gender for it. Although I should point out that the white bottle and prosaically floral imagery of the EDT accurately suggests something at home in a white-tiled bathroom, or perhaps a sauna. Taking into consideration the dearth of convincingly unisex white floral fragrances on the contemporary market, the fact that this thirty-five year-old masterpiece is still in production should be considered a gift from god. As far as fresh florals go, you'd be hard pressed to find anything better.

What makes Anaïs Anaïs so resolutely perfect is not just its luscious, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink bouquet of every white cultivar imaginable, including natural (hammy-smelling) lily, hyacinth, tuberose, jasmine, honeysuckle, orange blossom, ylang, and muguet. It's the tension of these snowy petals against a steamy haze, redolent of a tiny bathroom after a forty-five minute shower, that makes it. Something in Anaïs Anaïs transports me back to a hilariously vulgar, el-expensivo hotel I stayed at, just one block away from St. Peter's Basilica. I remember seeing its Roman vases through luxurious billows of steam, top-heavy and perched precariously on Carrara marble to greet me whenever I stepped out of a scorching Visentin wash.

There's more to it though, something carnal, of its time, a precious burst of brightness in the shady industrial era of the late seventies and early eighties. It is a romantic purity, a tender gloss, the championing of simple pleasures, the act of pulling your nose aside for two seconds to sniff quickly at something gorgeous in the lobby of a big firm before an interview. It's eerie: there are times when I think the mysteriously humid wildflower accord in the heart of Kouros is modeled directly off Anaïs Anaïs. Cacharel found a way to bottle a timeless fragrance without sacrificing a certain "essence" that was intrinsic to the decade from which it came, so that every application is like misting my skin with Stevie Nicks' voice - orotund, a touch smoky, utterly wonderful. If Vicki Anderson wore fragrance, there's little doubt it was this one.









3/10/13

Al-Rehab "Secret Man" Alcohol-Free Concentrated Perfume Oil (Crown Perfumes)



Probably the least talked-about Al-Rehab perfume oil out there is this one, "Secret Man," and for good reason: it's incredibly mediocre stuff. But like most of these, it rips off a very popular fragrance, in this case Tommy Girl by Hilfiger. If you like whitewashed, fruity tea-florals, then you might enjoy Secret Man. Then again, why wear an inferior clone when the original is still in production, and cheap to begin with?

The problem with Secret Man isn't even that it clones a popular nineties designer feminine, but that it conveys the citrus-sweet and floral-tea structure with shampoo-grade aroma chemicals. It smells like a fancy shampoo. There are hotels in Vienna (I stayed at one) that stock shampoos and soaps nicer than this, actually. So wearing Secret Man sends an unfortunate message - "I've showered using cheap hotel soap, and sadly cannot afford a better hotel."

The notes are aldehydic blackcurrant and lemon, green tea, jasmine, sandalwood, and musk. The blackcurrant note is identical to that used in Silver, and the jasmine is fairly close to the clean-sheen jasmine of Tommy Girl, so recognizing the influence is easy. The sweetness of the top accord flattens the tea note in the middle, which subsequently smells rather mute. Eventually Secret Man gets woodier, and dries down to the same musk that the rest of my Al-Rehabs exhibit. Not terrible, but disappointing, the smell of a man whose only secret is his good taste.










Sabbia 167 (Emilio Pucci)


I guess it should come as no surprise that the author of Bvlgari's Black and YSL's Body Kouros is responsible for this odd duck from Pucci. Annick Menardo's off-beat style is self evident here, but unlike her other offerings, Sabbia 167 lacks conviction, and suffers a sort of acute compositional awareness syndrome. The brief must have directly requested a lipstick-sweet, downright "fuzzy" iris, because that's all I get from Sabbia. And although I dislike it, I take pause before saying it's a poor fragrance. One thing is for sure - it's interesting.

There are only a few notes in Sabbia 167, and predominant among them is a very dry, baby-powdery rendition of iris. Lacquered into the base are more subtle renditions of saccharine mandarin orange, sandalwood, musk, and something akin to an Edwardian aftershave rose note, very lithely integrated between the powders and woods. The overall effect is of a very dry, sandy, sweet blush, like the smell of making out with a lipsticked girl at the beach. Actually, that's exactly what is seems like, sort of a nice association if you consider it. But the downside is its overbearing dryness, which eventually saps any sensuality away.

Sabbia 167 grows increasingly chemical and bare with time. Quality of materials is lacking in this fragrance, and I have to wonder whether it's (a) been reformulated, which isn't likely, or (b) not an entry in this Pucci series that was given much thought to begin with. It brings me back to the old adage in this community, that women should simply eschew gender branding and wear what's marketed to men. Ladies, if you want dry, powdery, and floral, save yourself the money and wear Coty's Musk for Men to better effect, or even Pinaud's Clubman Aftershave Lotion.









3/8/13

The Dreamer (Versace)



This review is for the older version of The Dreamer, with the nebula cloud on the box, as opposed to the even, star-patterned packaging of the re-release. Not that it matters much, as I hear the new version is pretty faithful to the original, with perhaps a touch more tobacco in the opening. This is a very nice fragrance. It's a unique concept, executed with loving directness, possessing an intelligence and three-dimensional intellect few designer releases strive for. I've read all sorts of comparisons and analyses of The Dreamer, and almost none of them do it justice. It wouldn't be surprising if mine fell grossly short as well. This 1996 creation is not an easy fragrance to wear, especially on a daily basis, and isn't by any means your typical, saccharine, tonka-heavy nineties masculine. In fact, it doesn't smell of any one decade's style at all, but instead has a strangely aloof and timeless character.

The Dreamer is basically a soapy green fragrance overlaid with the smell of un-smoked cigarettes. You know that first whiff of a freshly-opened pack of Marlboros? That's the tobacco note in here. It's treated tobacco, not the raw leaf. It has a very brownish, almost raisin-like hue, with a tender balance between sweetness and spice. It smells at once clean and sooty. Framing that is a little ditty of muguet, lavender, pine, and orange citrus. It's perhaps not the intended effect, but to me this facet of The Dreamer smells like Zest Aqua soap. It's a snappy, partly floral, partly herbal affair. When patched to the tobacco, it creates the essence of a freshly-scrubbed guy who just stepped out into the woods for a moment of absent-minded solitude with his ciggies, that precious moment before lighting up in the wilderness ever-so-lucidly captured in perfume.

People complain about The Dreamer's "cacophonous" opening. The opening is a bit unusual, with its green top note vying for attention over an otherwise-linear tobacco accord, but I don't find it to be especially over the top. It's sharper and less defined than what follows, but it smells clean and strangely refreshing. Comparisons to JPG's Le Mâle also abound, but I smell no similarity. Le Mâle has no tobacco, and precious little green-soapiness (it does have a more powdery-vanillic lavender soapiness), so I can't find the connection between these two. But I do admire The Dreamer's ability to replicate the physical space surrounding a hypothetical, wilderness-bound smoker who leans against oak trees before lighting up. I'm not sure I want to smell of that headspace often, but when I do, I'll wear this one-of-a-kind EDT from a brand that usually dabbles in commercial dreck. At least there's one Versace worth wearing, and it's a real dream.










3/6/13

PS Fine Cologne (Paul Sebastian)



It doesn't pay to beat around the bush, so I'll just say it: PS Fine Cologne is Old Spice in EDT form. It's actually strong enough to qualify as an EDP, but the concentration is probably by technicality an EDT. If you like Old Spice and wish it lasted longer, this fragrance is your answer. It possesses most of the same qualities, has a very similar note pyramid, and moves in a similar fashion, from warm citrus top notes, to a smooth, powdery-clean drydown. Bulking up the heart is a sweet amber that threatens but never strays into sugar-shock territory, and the experience of wearing PS feels solid and manly, like you're someone dependable who works with his hands, and has a family at home. It's really good stuff.

The one thing that bothers me about PS is its blending. Some people feel it's blended perfectly, but I actually dislike how sanded and smoothed-out it is. The great thing about Old Spice is that it smells simple but good. Its orange citrus top note is gone in a split second, but it's fresh and realistic. Ditto for its clove follow-up, with a clean, peppery carnation and a legible trio of kitchen spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla - gathering into a talcum powder base. There are edgings of tonka and benzoin, which form an uncomplicated amber at Old Spice's core. There are no frills. There is no great attention to blending its materials into a super-smooth accord. It just smells like a harmony of similar elements working together to make a very warm scent.

PS Fine Cologne uses most of the same ingredients, but adds a prominent rose note to the mix, and then loses all texture, to the point where it smells less like an old-fashioned masculine oriental, and more like your middle-shelf department store juice, mimicking Burberry Brit's slick sheen, no doubt due to the rose note. Even though it's an updated and strengthened version of Old Spice, I don't think I'd bother with it, unless the brevity of P&G's cologne started to bug me. You're looking at around four hours with Old Spice after generous application, but an easy nine hours with PS. It's strong and durable enough to be classified as a "powerhouse oriental." But I prefer Old Spice's discreet powdery aura over PS's bombast, and also prefer carnation over rose. Still, this is probably Paul Sebastian's best fragrance, and well worth checking out.









3/5/13

Petite Chérie (Annick Goutal)

I don't say this kind of thing often, but the boys at Creed could use a tutorial from Annick Goutal on how to use pear in perfume. Petite Chérie is a successful composition that perfectly illustrates the unique youthfulness of peach and pear. As Tania Sanchez pointed out in The Guide, Goutal's only problem here is that the aroma chemicals for the fragrance of pear are unstable and difficult for some to perceive properly. She also suggests they have a short shelf-life. Supposedly these chemicals go "off" pretty quickly. I'm not so sure - for years my ex-girlfriend left a forgotten bottle of Petite Chérie within reach of direct sunlight, and it smelled just fine. I think Sanchez herself has difficulty perceiving pear (therefore others must have the same issue), and someone - gee, who could that be - told her that its constituent parts are weak, a declaration that might require a second opinion. But I digress; this is one of those fragrances that feels innocent and chaste, very pink-frilly, and therefore is something Clint Eastwood types should consider.

Petite Chérie is fairly straightforward: pear, a touch of peach, and some green florals of the synthetic rose-and-freesia variety. Don't be surprised if pictures of Sunday-dressed six year-old girls on flower-petaled swings in verdant, sun-goldened fields flit through your head every time this juice hits your skin. Frankly, I'm not sure how anything else could come to mind. It's that charming and sweet. Actually, it's the very definition of a "delicate smell." As such, I'm of the opinion that Petite Chérie is redundant on good girls and nannies. In the interest of keeping the culture of fine fragrance alive, I encourage tough guys to go against their grain and give this a try. Despite its girlishness, it's a fragrance that projects itself simply as shower soap, the kind Garnier Fructis puts out, and it would no doubt intrigue the ladies in your lives to smell it off you. Sometimes unpredictability comes in pretty little bottles with ribbons.












3/3/13

Re-Thinking Bleu de Chanel


Back in October of 2011 I wrote that Bleu de Chanel and I have no future. My review was brief and simply described the basic impressions I got, note-wise and in general, of this strange department store offering from Chanel. In short, I had nothing good to say, and felt that Bleu was trivial generic nonsense from a brand that usually does better. I can't redact my opinion because there's a lot of merit to it, and numerous enthusiasts across the internet echo my sentiments, although some seem to hold the brand to unrealistic expectations. I've always felt that Chanel was a touch overrated, with heavily synthetic compositions that rarely hide their mass-market nature, but that doesn't mean they haven't done some interesting and successful things in the last twenty years. The original Allure Homme was a resounding success, commercially and stylistically, and was something I wore exclusively for ten years. It has since been reformulated and changed a bit, but remains a "new classic" in contemporary masculine perfumery. Numerous flankers followed suit, and then a couple years ago Bleu de Chanel hit the market, and every guy from here to Paris was intrigued by it. I felt it was nice, but smelled like deodorant. That's not necessarily a put-down - deodorant usually smells good - but it's not exactly a compliment, either.

I'm wearing Bleu de Chanel as I write this, considering its nature with more thought than before. I'm pondering what a fragrance like Bleu means for Chanel, and for the American male. This fragrance is very popular here in Connecticut, and has been selling like hotcakes according to the SA I spoke with today at the Macy's in Milford. It's gotten to the point where Bleu stands almost alone on store shelves, with only the original Allure, the two Sport flankers, and PE keeping it company. I don't know why Macy's stopped offering the "White" edition of Allure, but Chanel still sells it from their web site, so whatever. Sniffing Allure Homme Sport again today, I was struck by how ridiculously generic THAT one smells. I mean, yikes. Aldehyde overload, tons of grey citrus, and that magazine-strip woody-amber drydown that's strong enough to liquify your pituitary gland. It's a dismal entry in the Allure line, and not something I'd ever be compelled to buy. The salesman didn't even want to pitch it to me. He was a bit more enthusiastic about Bleu, though, and I guess I can see why. It's a better fragrance.

I went ahead and used a gift card to buy a small bottle of Bleu, because smelling it today made me realize that this fragrance is just interesting enough to warrant exploring after all. Bleu makes it hard to do this, though. Its opening isn't that far removed from AH Sport, although I think it has a mellower aldehyde effect on top. The citrus notes are designer-grade, blatantly synthetic, and very cold, grey, humorless. You don't really feel like you're smelling lemons and grapefruits here (Adam Levine's new signature masculine, on the other hand, smells like grapefruit galore), but rather some sort of unripe, frozen analog of citrus, frosted with aldehydes. Sort of like citrus that's been sliced open two weeks prior to when it's really edible, and then tossed in the freezer for a half hour. The effect is fresh, cold, weird. The aldehydes make it feel like generic rubbish for the first minute or so, but give it enough time and smell what grey citrus notes are like. I actually don't mind grey citrus (4711 is a grey citrus), because it doesn't denote the use of junk in a formula to me. It just puts the citrus idea in a different category of "fresh" - i.e., not juicy.

Then there's an ashen ginger-mint-nutmeg-cedarwood accord that is just as frigid and colorless as the opening. It smells clean, it smells cold, and it smells like a March morning in frost-bitten woods. The woodiness of Bleu is prominent once it dries down and loses its opening luster. But I'm struck by how the "bleu" concept has been applied here. It's not "blue" in the aquatic sense, or even in the ozonic sense. It's "blue" in the woody amber sense, with those cold amber tones, rarest of rare things, used harmoniously together to form one hell of a weird, dry, deodorizing effect. Indeed, Bleu still smells quite a lot like deodorant to me, but at this stage the pinkness of some grapefruit from earlier, plus a hint of patchouli and labdanum, make this arguably the nicest deodorant a man could buy. Speed-stick, eat your heart out . . .

When it comes to masculine freshness I usually go with Cool Water as the old faithful, and enjoy Aqua Velva when it comes to shaving, but I now understand how this piercing, woody-fresh offering from Chanel can carry on the masculine tradition of smelling fresh, blue, and clean, without succumbing to the pitfalls of your usual aquatic and "sport" fragrances. It's not the stuff of greatness, and possibly not even all that good, depending on who you ask (if you ask me, it's the best of a mediocre lot), but I've forgiven Bleu de Chanel its banality because it keeps me coming back to it, and presents me with an option for when I want to smell like the cold death of morning on my way to work.














3/2/13

Chance (Chanel)


The weird thing about Chanel is that they try to have two entirely separate perfumery styles from two different countries: France, and America. Chanel's mass-produced perfume division was originally an American enterprise (WWII forced the French Gabrielle to move the perfume factory to New Jersey), and much of its contemporary fragrance line is manufactured here in the United States, but I smell within the department store and "Les Exclusifs" ranges a minor difference in compositional approach. The Allure line, while continental in style, speaks to the dominance of fresh fougères and orientals in the American market of the nineties, and Bleu de Chanel continues to address our love of all things squeaky-clean. Coco Mademoiselle and Chance in particular feel very American, stylistically speaking, although all of these perfumes draw from French influences, using tonalities and olfactory textures of fresh chypres, aromatic fougères, and ambery orientals to achieve postmodern duality and versatility.

The Les Exclusifs, on the other hand, aren't nearly as rosy-cheeked and red-checker tableclothed, or at least they're not meant to be. There's more than a little Franco-American haughtiness to 31 Rue Cambon (it puts on airs), a faux-sophistication to Coromandel, that's intended to reach out to a different mindset altogether. You aren't supposed to wear Coromandel while sipping Orange Julius with girlfriends at the mall in Westbrook. I mean, you can do that by all means, and it wouldn't raise eyebrows, but it does raise the question - would you spend over a hundred dollars for a Chanel if you only wore it slumming? I tend to think that the Les Exclusifs are aimed at the "hip" adult who doesn't mind donning blue jeans and getting ice cream at Baskin Robbins if evening tickets to the opera are nestled comfortably in the hip pocket. Elegance goes anywhere and everywhere, after all.

Chance, however, doesn't say anything about elegance, American or otherwise, and that's my problem with it. This perfume feels unoriginal and mundane, and maddeningly comfortable in its own "unoriginally-mundane" skin. Its olfactory cues are borrowed from Coco Mademoiselle and Allure, and what smells to me like an assorted array of Estee Lauder perfumes. Jacques Polge has big love for that transparent and blatantly synthetic patchouli note that he crams into almost every one of his feminine creations. Chanel's image is conservative, with a slew of "safe" masculines and feminines, and I think the company fails at dividing its customer base into separate camps of well-to-dos, and well-to-don'ts. Luca Turin contends otherwise, and I see what he's saying, but disagree with the suggestion that two different kinds of people shop Chanel perfumes, and further disagree with the contention that Chanel manufactures two types of perfumes for two kinds of buyer.

By default, the department store perfumes would have to possess a certain degree of tawdriness and vulgarity to qualify as sneaker juice (the sort people have fun with, anyway), and none of them do. The Les Exclusifs would need a homogeneity of classical form, and none of them share that. I should be able to wear Coromandel and feel as enthralled with its contours as I do wearing 31 Rue Cambon, and smell the same quality design work in Jersey and Cologne, but that's not in the cards. 31 awakens my inner Doubting Thomas, and Coromandel makes me think of Zino (and I suppose if I'd tried it, Lutens' Borneo). Thus far the only Chanel that truly bridges these cognitive schisms is the inimitable N°19. I'll get to that one later.

There's also something a little played-out about Chance. I return to 1997 whenever I smell it, despite its being a 2003 release. The freshness of its pink pepper, citrus, plastic patchouli, and flowers combine to make a simple and happy scent. I appreciate the use of jasmine and iris, although both components are dialed down to an extraordinarily low setting. Like many Chanels, Chance comes across as a little too formulaic and uninspired. There's absolutely nothing wrong with its message - it smells delightful on the right woman, and obviously wants men to notice her, but I can do that without the help of pretty perfumes. The message from Chance should be that the woman wearing it wants you to overlook her physical attributes in favor of her "self," her intellect and personal motivations in life.

That requires tension, something to pull away from poles of sweet glamour and divide the senses. Chance could use a wallop of civet or castoreum against a touch of rose or overripe plum. It could use something more than what it currently offers, in any of its incarnations (there are several flankers). But I guess with Chanel's latest releases, there's no chance of that. Wear this one to Hoboken, with evening tickets to the latest Robert Downey Jr. flick, and don't think twice about it.








3/1/13

Acqua di Gioia (Giorgio Armani)



If any fault can be found with the masculine Acqua di Giò, it's that it's overloaded with Hedione (25% of the formula), to the point where it lacks some necessary definition and becomes a bit chemical and raspy. That's not to say AdG smells terrible or anything, because it doesn't. But it's quite easy to identify its imbalances, and for that matter its plagiarism of Creed's Millésime Impérial, a far superior fragrance. Whenever I wear AdG, I feel the Hedione issue is part of why I can't enjoy it. I also feel like it has a story to tell that falls flat due to a lack of enthusiasm from the narrator. The dialogue is loaded with anecdotal citruses, melons, white flowers, and Mediterranean herbs, all wafting on a sea breeze across my beach-toweled cheeks. But those are just anecdotes; the main plot happens in a locker room, with misogynistic wisecracks ricocheting off sweaty jockstraps and freshly Speed-Sticked armpits. The feeling of a hastily-composed synthetic heart accord works against the integrity of AdG. This really is the "Water of Joe."

Interestingly enough, the feminine Acqua di Gioia smells a bit more successful in both concept and execution. Armani takes us off the beach and plops us into the humid, slightly fetid heart of a tropical rain forest. My positive opinion of this fragrance is tempered by the fact that it's a fresh, citrusy approach to an aquatic perfume, using sweet floral and woody notes to bolster its sunshiny luminescence. That sounds fine in theory, but in practice, even when done perfectly (as in Creed's MI), it's boring. Nevertheless, there's something rather Edmond Roudnistka-esque going on here. Acqua di Gioia's top note shimmers with a brisk tension of freshly-sliced lemons and chopped mint against an intensely sweet sugar cane and white floral accord. A saccharine edging of jasmine and the damp funk of cedar play against the fruitiness to form a pleasant unisex aquatic effect. If Hedione is used, it is used more sparingly than in its progenitor, and shares space with several other elements quite nicely.

Things become dewier as it dries. It's more floral, and more "sugary" than most of the typical aquatics on the contemporary market. I wonder if Guy Laroche's Fidji was an inspiration, or even Roudnitska's Le Parfum de Thérèse. They may have been in the minds of Loc Dong, Anne Flipo, and Dominique Ropion, yet theirs is not exactly a "rich" composition - it's just playfully sweet. D&G's Light Blue may be a more apt comparison. Whatever your perspective, this 2010 update to the aquatic theme is more pleasantly vulgar than its male cousin. Acqua di Gioia is a reminder that the tired legacy of tropical goddess perfumes isn't necessarily a result of a banal structure, but of the perfumers' inability to recklessly embrace the boozy heat of their inspiration to create the stuff of a fevered mirage, and not just a teenager's day dream. If they'd intensified the sugar enough to create an ethyl maltol bomb, and let that fuzzy rush take starbursts of more than just lemon with it - say, lemon, mango, and pineapple, along with mint, jasmine, and every other indolic white floral possible - you might have masterpiece material. As it stands, it's just very nice. I guess there's nothing wrong with that.