12/30/13

Eros (Versace)




My original Fragrantica review of Eros said:
"Anyone who finds this cheap, thin, synthetic fragrance erotic should unload their baggage and see a sex counselor."
About two minutes after I published that, someone on "Team Fragrantica" exercised freedom of the press and deleted it, forcing me to re-write my current review for this scent, now on the Eros Fragrantica page. I guess they weren't amused!

My feelings for Eros have not changed, of course. I approached Eros with The Dreamer and Red Jeans in mind, thinking it would at least rival those two in quality and respectability. My bad. Should have remembered the totally-forgettable Versace Pour Homme instead. This brand is just as capable of putting out total garbage, which is exactly what Eros is. Bear in mind that I walked into Macy's fully expecting to smell a typical department store amber, with tons of sweetness, and your predictable citrus-minty top notes.

What I experienced in lieu of that was astonishing. Cheap, barely-there citrus of no discernible origin - what the hell fruit is it supposed to be, anyway? Bergamot and apple? It's light and a little sweet, a little sharp, so I guess that's what they were aiming for. It doesn't smell very good. Plus, I have to shove my hand against my nostrils to get any of it. And oh yeah, there's just the faintest hint of menthol in there, pure aftershave-grade menthol, standing in as "mint." Then a scratchy amber, semi-woody, semi-musky, pretty much dominates the show for the rest of the scent's short duration on skin. It gets very sweet for about fifteen minutes as it crosses the bridge from top to heart notes, then simmers down to a low buzz of nondescript chemical nastiness.

Three hours in, and Eros is all but gone, with just a murky musk remaining as a sad afterglow to one of the saddest ambers in all of contemporary perfumery. To say I feel a sense of ennui about Eros is an understatement. I want them to cancel this terrible abomination of a fragrance and replace it with something, anything, be it a Dreamer flanker, another colored Jean, or even an "intense" version of the somewhat-bearable Versace PH (make the juice purple, just for kicks). Please, please Versace people, atone for your sin. I'm afraid the next time I catch sight of your trademark Medusa head, my heart really will turn to stone.






12/21/13

Joop! Homme Wild (Joop!)





The marketing copy for this fragrance is, in a word, absurd. The marketers opted to make this ostensibly "wild" fragrance sound anything but. Pink pepper as the top note? Wow! What a deviant and impulsive choice! Followed by . . . wait for it . . . wait for it . . . rum absolute! What exactly is "rum absolute," anyway? An absolute is a reduction of a substance via the removal of alcohol and water. So rum absolute is simply . . . dried rum. Without alcohol. Or water. Rum paste. Rum briquette. The gummy stuff that cakes around the cap after years of neglect in the liquor cabinet. Or, more accurately, a synthetic molecule in no way derived from actual rum, bottled and sold at a premium by Robertet. So much for absolutism.

Finish it all off with "woody blond tobacco" in the supposed base accord. So there's fruity-spicy pink pepper on top, rum paste in the middle, and "woody blond tobacco" on third deck, "for a twisted masculine drydown." Burley, or "flue cured" tobacco, is the "blond" stuff of cigarettes and any other cheap smokes, and I'll tell you right up front, I get absolutely no cigarette tobacco at all in JHW. Definitely don't get any cigarette vibe from it. What irks me about this scent is that the stated pyramid is immediately false, and yet almost all reviewers adhere to it, and claim to smell these things in there. Wake up, folks. Just because they say there's pepper and rum and tobacco, sure doesn't mean those notes actually reside in the composition. It just means they're trying to hide that this here is one helluva girly violet floral perfume for men. For whatever reason, they wanted to pitch it to men, possibly because more males purchase Joop! fragrances than females. I really don't know, but that's my guess.

I actually find myself liking the Joop! brand more and more with each new wearing of products in the range. I always had an interest in the original Joop! Homme, and for a while hated it. Then I gave it a few more chances, and came to really like it. Eventually I got around to trying Joop! Jump, and liked that one even more. Then I stumble across Joop! Homme Wild at a steep discount on the clearance shelf in Walmart. And I figure, what the heck? Might as well give it a shot, especially after Jump. I'm glad I did, because I really, really like JHW, even a touch more than Jump. The boys in the back room asked themselves what the least predictable spin on Joop! could be, and one guy raised his hand and said, "I know! Remember those simple parma violet colognes our grandmothers wore in the fifties? Let's make one of those, only better!"

Better means cheap but well made, and a whole lotta fun. The fragrance is loaded up with super-sweet ionones, which effectively make it a loud, near-edible violet. It smells like triple-milled violet-scented bar soap from a Victorian toilet, but the ionones alone aren't enough to build this beast - it requires more heft than that. Enter a pint of syrupy "fruitchouli," a pineapple/patchouli overlay, with subtle, salty-smelling lavender for lift, and a quiet, vaguely Coppertone-like jasmine, all atop a great big ambery tonka note. Underpinning everything are several fruity esters (an assortment of prune-like items in the figs-and-cherry axis), and a handful of ethyl-maltolesque musks. And there you have it, a pulsating fruity-floral fougère in a purple bottle, made for women, and inexplicably labeled for men. It's sweet, fruity, ambery, musky, and violetty. Someone in Joop!'s post-production team challenged the marketing director to a coin toss - heads, and the word "Homme" stays on the bottle - tails, it's "Miss Wild" instead. I'm thinking someone had a trick coin in their pocket, but if cheating on a coin toss for laughs is as wild as the Joop! people get, I applaud their conservatism.






12/17/13

Aubusson Homme (Aubusson)




Shamu's review of this scent, on what appears to be his now-retired blog, spurred me to blind-buy Aubusson Homme. He actually did not give it the world's most favorable review, but he does like it. This snippet is what clinched the purchase for me:

"It uses green, woody, spicy and semi-sweet notes in a way that smells a lot like the late, great Balenciaga Pour Homme, only not as powerful. Both make heavy use of cinnamon and patchouli, which give both fragrances their spicy, aromatic bite. Juniper and fir needles add greenness and sharpness to Aubusson's scent . . . Fans of Balenciaga Pour Homme who can't score a bottle should definitely check this out."

Balenciaga PH is one of my all-time favorite masculines. It possesses a richness, sharpness, and full-throated luster that very few nineties frags ever had. Its orientalism is tempered by fougère-like elements, reminding me of Lapidus PH and Kouros, with a bit of artemisia-fueled woodiness in its heart that is reminiscent of Caron's Yatagan. The handling of wormwood in Balenciaga is particularly astute, with the note gently combed through the pineapple and musk accords in a manner that allows its freshness to speak for itself, while toning back its medicinal qualities. Thus there are no "celery seed" associations, as there unfortunately are with Yatagan.

Shamu feels that Aubusson PH smells quite a bit like Balenciaga PH, but doesn't like the strange "apple pie and pine needle" accord in the top notes, apparently because it smells discordant and weird, like it's trying too hard to be different. This accord doesn't smell discordant or weird to me at all. I do get a touch of apple in the first five minutes, but I think the juniper berry note is especially prominent, loud even, to the point of smelling rather fruity. Both fruity notes are generously dusted with cinnamon, which unsurprisingly creates an apple pie effect. Thanks to the hefty slug of pine, this top is not sugary or gourmand, but when you pair apples with cinnamon in any accord, the association with pie is inevitable.

I love the smell of apple pie, and also piney juniper berry, so the top of Aubusson PH is wonderful to me. There's also a very subtle mandarin citrus note in there, and an animalic musk that is markedly easier on the nose than anything in Balenciaga, or Kouros for that matter. The musk smells almost identical to the musk in Balenciaga, but smoother, and a bit more polite. The juniper, pine, and mandarin elements freshen the top up, while the apple, cinnamon, and musk lend it a warmth and earthiness that seems nicely balanced and very natural. In the first hour of wear, the weight of Aubusson is in the musky apple pie, but within twenty minutes after application, a pleasantly spicy artemisia note appears, and leads to this scent's dry-green heart of patchouli, oakmoss, labdanum, a tiny smidgen of castoreum, and sweet cyclamen. Very nice indeed. One might call it "pleasantly rich."

The drydown yields a faded variation of the heart notes, with dried pine needles, patchouli, and campfire-burned musks holding on to the ghost of fruit and cinnamon from several hours earlier. Unlike its contemporaries, Aubusson PH isn't a "powerhouse" fragrance with endless projection and sillage. It's a solid, well-crafted frag, but it gets quiet a mere hour after application, and after five hours it's virtually a skin scent. This could be the way Aubusson PH is meant to smell, very woodsy-sweet and gentlemanly in that unusual early nineties manner that fragrances like Cool Water and Polo Sport eventually killed off for good. Or it's possible the potency and balance of some notes are a little off. I bought my bottle online for fifteen dollars, expecting to receive a reformulated bottle of "new" Aubusson. But the box it came in looks like this:


I don't know about you, but I think that looks like something from the nineties. There is a barcode on the bottom flap (not pictured), so it's not something that goes back to the stone age, but barcodes came about pretty early on in the nineties, whereas abbreviated ingredients lists like the one above are relegated to pre-1996 packaging. Then again, the bottle of Vermeil for Men that I received recently had a practically nonexistent ingredients label, slapped with the barcode on the back of the packaging like it was just a price sticker. Vermeil, like Aubusson, is supposedly another small French brand dedicated solely to perfumery, so who knows? Maybe these tiny French concerns don't concern themselves with updating their packaging. There's no Aubusson website, and nothing else written about Aubusson online, so I have no way of determining whether or not this brand is still operating, defunct, or what. This PDF is the only thing I could find.

If any of my readers know more about Aubusson PH and the Aubusson brand, please comment. I'd love to hear about this company. I definitely like Aubusson PH. It DOES smell a lot like Balenciaga PH, to the point where if you were to present me with unmarked smelling strips of the two, I'd probably have a hard time telling them apart. Aubusson lacks the smoky incense note in Balenciaga, though. If Balenciaga were still in production and readily available, I'd choose it over Aubusson, but given that neither scent is hugely expensive, owning both isn't out of the question. In the absence of Balenciaga, and because it smells incredibly natural, well balanced, and very, very good, Aubusson satiates my need for a woody-fresh oriental from the early nineties, and I'll gladly wear it instead. Also, it has a really cool bottle design, boasting a sculptural combo of glass with plastic. Thumbs way up on this one.








12/16/13

Mitsouko Eau de Parfum (Guerlain, In Case You Didn't Know / Winter Review)





AAHH-Ha. NOW I get it.

A lot has changed since August. Before I get into it, let me reiterate what I wrote last summer. This isn't going to be an exhaustive note break-down and analysis of the EDP, nor is it going to be a romantic historical biography. There are literally a thousand of those sorts of posts already published on countless other blogs, far and wide. This is just an explanation of how I currently (and indefinitely) perceive the EDP concentration of this classic by the venerable Old World Parisian house of Guerlain. And yes, a lot about my Mitsouko situation has changed since August, both physically and spiritually. First, the physical. Then, I'll talk about my spirit.

Something strange occurred a little while ago. My Perfumed Court EDP sample was really bothering me. Even now, in twenty degree temperatures, it still doesn't smell very good. It doesn't smell right, so to speak. I still get an angular, angry, peach-lacquer effect, and the oakmoss sticks out like a sore thumb. The cinnamon is stale. The citrus smells like petroleum. There's the presence of elegance, but it lacks any and all of the requisite charisma and charm. So I chewed on that for a while, and realized that I hadn't read up enough on this fragrance, despite the thousands of available pieces written about it. I've read my fair share, mind you, but I had to go back to Monsieur Guerlain, and re-read his evaluation of the fragrance, and its history.

That's where I realized I had messed up big time in buying a sample online. It's likely that they wanted to be hip and chic in doing this, but the Perfumed Court sent me an oakmoss version of the EDP, very likely from a few years back, or a few years before Edouard Fléchier was hired to re-tool Mitsy for IFRA regs. This wouldn't qualify it as one of TPC's "vintage samples," because Mitsy is almost 100 years old, and I doubt anything after the late seventies or eighties would be considered true "vintage" in this case. But I think the ladies who run TPC are of the "older-is-better" school of thought, so whenever they can get something ten or fifteen years older, they feel it's better than getting bottles brand new.

There's a big issue with that, of course: the chemistry of the perfume may be damaged by time. If fifteen or twenty years have passed, and they're sending samples from this fifteen or twenty year-old "better" bottle with oakmoss, that would explain the inherent risk of buying a sample of Mitsouko from TPC. Some people appreciate receiving old stock. I don't. The fragrance will have inevitably changed, and what arrives in the sample sprayer will not be what went into the bottle in the factory all those years earlier.

This has been acknowledged elsewhere. As Andre Moreau so eloquently put it when discussing the vintage EDT version on his blog, Raiders Of The Lost Scent:

"Since perfumes 'mature' with age, the vintage EDT could have aged, and gotten even stronger."

Indeed, the same could have happened to the EDP, even one only a decade old. That could account for the shrieking strength of its bergamot and moss, and the unpleasant "shiny" aspect to its peach lactone. I'm inclined to think this sample was intentionally taken from the old stuff, which unintentionally gave me a bad impression of Mitsouko. Oh, the bitter irony.

Fast forward a few months, and I do something most people who are iffy about Mitsy would not do: I blindly purchase what I know to be a brand-new bottle, judging from the packaging and the ingredients list. Even though I'm expecting it, I'm still surprised to see there's no oakmoss listed on the box. This is the ultimate "reference chypre," but without oakmoss? What is the world coming to? And not only that - they put treemoss in its place! What is this, a cheapie from T.J. Maxx? I bought it anyway. As I was buying it, I thought to myself, "The oakmoss is what's annoying me in my sample, more than anything else. It's not the presence of oakmoss, but the fact that it smells unbalanced against the citrus and labdanum. This bottle has NO oakmoss, which means there is NO CHANCE that oakmoss will annoy me. The peach lactone might be integrated with a smoother, airier, sweeter construction. That's how treemoss smells, after all. I hope I'm right." I took my bottle home and did not use it for a few weeks. I was afraid to touch it, lest I find I should have spent $50 on 2.5 ounces of something I actually like. Then one day I said to myself, "What the fuck?" and made my move. I decided it was cool enough outside to wear Mitsouko, a new formula of Mitsouko, with renewed faith. I sprayed. I smelled. I fell in love, almost immediately.

Thierry Wasser's updating of the formula is, without any doubt, a triumph of postmodern perfumery. Everything I dislike about my sample is ironed out in his blend. There's a muted bergamot note, very high-pitched, but sniffed in the abstract, as if through a white veil, which makes it fresh, clean, but also ethereal, and softer than any other citrus note I've ever smelled. The peach lactone, the treemoss, the roses and jasmines, and even that difficult Biolandes iris synthetic, all smell unified, balanced, and pitch perfect. This is truly a soul-lifting chypre. I wore it again today to work. The ride to work was a happy one. The workday was frequently punctuated with Mitsouko, which made it a better day than it might have otherwise been. I sat through a very long and boring meeting with my arms crossed and my hands folded under them, up against my shirt. I went to scratch my nose, and caught a whiff of Mitsy's far drydown (nine hours in) on my wrist. Suddenly the meeting was a lot more bearable. I can't really describe just how wonderful this stuff smells, because words don't do it justice. Its template is from 1919, a template faithfully adhered to here, and yet it smells new.

See the quiet, and quietly depraved beauty of Catherine Deneuve above? Her flawless, peachy-soft skin is subject to a thousand imaginary whips and lashes in the auburn mood of Luis Buñuel's black tragicomedy, Belle du Jour. Watch that movie, and observe just how incredibly nonchalant she is in it. That's how my Mitsouko EDP smells, right from the nozzle. That's what I expected it to smell like all along.








12/15/13

Arden Men Sandalwood (Elizabeth Arden)





I recently purchased a bottle of Arden's Sandalwood cologne for men from a cute Indian girl working at a tiny brick-and-mortar here in Milford. She said she liked Connecticut, but would return to her native India in two months, presumably to go back to school or something like that (I didn't ask any further). I thought she was really sweet, but she didn't know a blessed thing about perfume. It's curious that roughly ninety-five percent of the people who get into the world of perfume retail don't know anything about perfume. Maybe I'll write more about that another time.

Meanwhile, finding the Arden Sandalwood was like finding the lost ark. This stuff is reputedly discontinued and extremely difficult to find at reasonable prices online, but from reading reviews, I'm suspicious. People are describing a reformulation, which means that either (a) EA still makes it, and has it in limited distribution, or (b) it was reformulated recently, and then discontinued not long after. Either way, the bottle I have is "new" in the sense that the box is in pristine condition - no dents, wrinkles, scratches, or color fading - but I'm pretty sure from the commercial markings (or lack thereof) that it's a somewhat older bottle - but don't quote me on that. I could care less either way, but for those of you who are obsessed with reformulations and "updates" of older colognes, just know that I'm talking about something that appears to hearken back at least four or five years.

In all actuality, Arden Sandalwood was released in 1956 or '57, and was likely one of two or three proper EDT-strength colognes available to European and American men for the remainder of that decade. Back then there weren't many fragrance releases each year, and men had far fewer options than their wives did. My guess is the wealthier, or at least upper middle-class men who could afford more than Old Spice and Acqua di Selva dropped coin on Arden Sandalwood, but I'm just speculating. Today it smells very "vintage," a scent from another era, and oh what a scent! Classified as a woody-ambery fougère, Arden Sandalwood is very much a rich lavender fougère, loaded with citrus and herbal nuances in the top and heart notes. There's a great big blast of bergamot, lavender, petitgrain, clary sage, and geranium in the top notes, which persist together for about five minutes, before the lavender separates from the pack and takes center stage.

The heart accord is lavender, sandalwood, coumarin, oakmoss, patchouli, and opoponax for some spicy sweetness. Fougères from this era often get pigeonholed into two categories, either lavender-green or ambery-biscuit, based on how coumarin is handled. Here it is treated in a very dry-ambery manner, with none of the "biscuit-like" effect. I smell opoponax and patchouli more prominently, and surprise, surprise, there's actually a vibrant labdanum note in there as well. The labdanum is extremely well blended and doesn't come across as piercing or animalic. It simply compliments the patchouli, opoponax, and sandalwood, lending the accord some additional nuance and texture. For the record, Arden Sandalwood's labdanum surpasses Guerlain Mitsouko's and Chanel 31 Rue Cambon's in both quality and temperament. Guerlain and Chanel are using synthetics - Arden is using the real stuff.

The thing to keep in mind with this cologne is that it's more than just a simple citrus-lavender-sandalwood progression. However, the sandalwood is very distinct, and upholds the fougère structure from the early heartnote phase, all the way into the basenotes, some seven or eight hours later. The lavender note sidles up to the sandalwood note early on, and the former basically conjoins itself to the latter's dry spiciness, creating a crisply aromatic smell that is too beautiful for words. Another thing to keep in mind is that this isn't your contemporary niche sandalwood note, which is usually plush, creamy, and a bit sweet. No, Arden Sandalwood is bone dry, with very minimal sweetness. Whoever designed this scent wisely played up the dryness instead of trying to hide it, and added a smoky vetiver note to the base. It's clever work, and adds to the richness. The combination of brisk lavender, sandalwood, and vetiver creates a refined, slightly outdoorsy feel. It wouldn't be out of place on a fox hunter riding through autumnal woods, nor would it be wrong on a bookworm smoking cigars in his study. Arden Sandalwood is perfect for men, any and all men, wherever they may be. One caveat: this is for men only. It's not for boys.

As far as fougères go, this is one of the best I've ever encountered, better than Azzaro PH, Third Man, Rive Gauche PH, Jazz, Caron PuH, and even my beloved Cool Water. That's saying a lot, because I really love all of those scents. But Arden Sandalwood smells natural, complex, and quite deep, deeper than many woody ferns from the same general time period. Wearing it is a pleasure, an exercise in elegant masculinity, and something every man should experience at least once in his lifetime. Finding a bottle of this for under eighty dollars is a no-brainer: buy it. I'm sure glad I did.








12/14/13

pc01 (Biehl Parfumkunstwerke)



Last summer I had the displeasure of smelling a disgusting and disgustingly over-priced fruity-floral by Keiko Mecheri called Grenats. It was supposed to be a fresh, apple-centric summer spritz, but instead turned out to be a grating, metallic mess. The one thing that sticks in my memory about it is its awful peach note, which smelled quite literally like syrupy fruit slices struggling to get their odor past the overwhelming smell of a dirty tin can. That was the first of two terrible peach notes I experienced this year, the other being in none other than Guerlain's Mitsouko, which is up for additional review, pending the right weather conditions. I expect to like Mitsouko more the second time around, in freezing temps. Still, its peach note was decidedly not peach, but some strange, plasticky analog of dried fruit. It didn't smell fresh or natural in the least.

I loosely compared Grenats to Creed's Spring Flower, namely because of its acidic Hedione note, which I suppose one could liken to Spring Flower's biting greenness. Thus far in my olfactory travels, Spring Flower has proven to be the best of the unisex fruity-floral perfumes out there, sporting a magnificent lemon/apple/pear/melon accord, backed with the gentlest, sweetest little bouquet of dewy jasmine and rosebuds. Its fruit notes aren't candied and trite. It smells sharp, bitter, mouthwatering, and then grassy, cool, and moistly floral. It's a fragrance that takes you on a little journey. Thus it is the standard to which I hold any and all fruity florals I presently encounter. Because Creed's structure is so unlike your standard designer "sneaker juice," and because its notes are clear representations of natural materials (despite being synthetically replicated), I expect all higher-end fruity-florals to match its deftness of construct and cheerful scent profile. PC01 by Biehl Parfumkunstwerke does an admirable job in meeting the standard.

This one is perfumer Patricia Choux's first perfume for the line, and I admit I'm not familiar with Ms. Choux's portfolio. The word on the street says she's worked for Jo Malone and Marc Jacobs, but I don't know to what extent. The official press release for PC01 succinctly describes the scent as, "sun, finally. a breath of wind. the soul smiles." Using all lowercase letters is part of Biehl's style, and only they can explain why. One of the chief complaints regarding Biehl is that their fragrance titles, with the perfumer's initials preceding the line entry number, are confusing and forgettable. Some have written that they feel it's "homework" trying to remember which perfume is which, or that these names dissuade them from even bothering to approach the brand. I can understand their beef. When someone asks what you're wearing, you want to be able to say, "Sunlit Petals" or something like that, not "PC01." There's no romance in strings of letters and numbers, and Biehl's names are definitely hard to remember and keep track of. God knows there are now thousands of niche scents, and keeping track of them all is difficult, to say the least.

What can I say about how PC01 smells? It's fruity, and a little floral. There are three fruits that greet my nose on the initial spray - a tart lemon, sweet mandarin, and juicy peach, and I feel the peach is miles better than Grenats' and Mitsy's. Peach is like violet and gardenia: there is no accurate synthetic representation of it, but merely olfactory "ideas" of peach, typically rendered in a candied or creamed style. Grenats smelled candied; Mitsy smelled creamy (at best). PC01 actually smells like peach. It smells of peach skin, fresh peach juice, with even a bit of green peach stem. Peaches, like bananas, have a dry, fibrous aroma that mingles with the fruity sweetness, and exhibits slightly metallic off-notes. Patricia Choux avoided the off-notes and went for the best aspect of peach, using a few simple synthetics in total harmony.

After the stunning fruit melange of the first five minutes, PC01 slides into a brief artemisia accord, with accents of bay leaf and thyme. Then the mango note arrives, plush, sweet, smooth, and a wee bit under-cooked, as if the fruit were just a little unripe. I'm not a huge mango fan, but I can appreciate that this smells like mango, very much like it in fact, and it smells good. That it's bolstered by a pleasant neroli and peony accord does not hurt. PC01 hums along nicely with the mango and light floral notes for a solid six hours, before gently fading to a woody musk. Fragrantica cites iris in the pyramid, but I smell not a single hint of it in there.

I heartily suggest to any bonafide lover of fruity-florals that you try PC01 with an open mind, and expect the unexpected when it comes to the lucidity of its fruit notes. There is likely a subset of fragrance connoisseurs who appreciate good mango notes in their perfumes, and if you happen to be a mango fan, this could be your Holy Grail. From thirty minutes into the drydown, to the base several hours later, eighty to ninety percent of what you'll smell is mango, with some softly green floral notes accenting it.

The greenness in PC01 is reminiscent of the angelica note in Grenats, but I can't say there's angelica in Biehl's composition because the loud mango overpowers my ability to discern all of its subtler green underpinnings. Given a choice between this and Spring Flower, I'd still go for the Creed, but barring that option I would happily wear Ms. Choux's creation. Note to Biehl: you need to temporarily discontinue the entire Biehl line and re-release these fragrances with new names. Lose the initials-followed-by-numbers approach, because people hate it, and it's hurting your bottom line. Your fragrances are too good to be held back by something as silly as that.







12/8/13

Joop! Jump (Joop!)



Once in a blue moon, I'll encounter something that is excellent on every count. Is its fragrance good? Check. Is its bottle pretty? Check. Is its name interesting, perky, fun? Check. Is it a pleasure to wear, all day long? Check, and check. I kind of ran through that list with Joop! Jump, and was pleasantly surprised to find that the scent ticked off all the positive boxes that make some perfumes successful. In rare cases, a masculine comes along that defies expectations and transcends its genre. Joop! Jump is one of those cases.

When you get into perfume, you get into an interesting world of two binary gender definitions: "masculine" and "feminine," which are a short hop away from "heterosexual" and "gay." Whenever the question of gender identity is addressed in Western society, there is a distinct unease in the air, with every utterance tip-toeing around the notion that men and women ought to remain firmly entrenched in their expected roles. People's expectations are often used defensively. If you challenge a football jock's masculinity, he'd likely not counter-attack. He'd probably say, "Hey man, I don't swing that way." He's trying to shore up your expectations, and his own.

Michael Stipe once sang (and this has been translated a few different ways), "You wore our expectations like an armored suit," the implication being that wearing gender expectations, and ANY expectations like armor is something to reconsider. Expectations about gender are not protective. They're deceitful, they're porous blankets that shrink and fall apart when challenged. To some perfume connoisseurs, they're to be upended every day. If you're a man who loves perfume, you'll sometimes wear a "feminine" perfume to work. If you're a female fraghead, the occasional "masculine" cologne may find its way into your weekly rotation. Sometimes individual perfumes manage to throttle these invisible lines and create new gender territories. Sophie Labbé apparently knows this quite well. Her 2005 fragrance for Joop! is both masculine and feminine, and probably appeals to both genders in different ways.

As a man, I find Jump's spicy fougère structure very attractive to sniff, and to wear. The sweaty coriander, the soft lavender, and the woody fruits (apple, pineapple, grapefruit) are brisk, fresh, and allude to classical contemporary norms. That these brighter notes are placed upon a smooth tonka heart only adds to their appeal. Fougères often utilize the ambery-vanillic quality of tonka as a focal point around which other more-transient notes can move. Jump is no exception, and the tonka does a good job in grounding the fragrance. I can't think of any man who would smell the first three hours of Jump and think it's unwearable, but then again, I know better. To me, Jump's earlier stages read as expositions on the freshness of modern masculine style. The scent says, "This is the man who chases women, but does it discreetly, with humor, wit, and self-deprecation. He loves women, all women, and enjoys having them in his arms." You're kind of a 21st century Robert Redford with Jump's top and heart accord.

Then, a change. The base begins to open up, and yikes! Labbé's composition is not the traditional ladies' man you think it is. It suddenly seems more David Bowie than Rob Redford. The original Joop! Homme's decadent-sweet floral bouquet blooms from under the tonka, and it's airier, fresher, sweeter, greener, allowed to breathe more. It's a floral accord with a reach that crosses rooms. This aromatic fougère wears eyeliner. At this stage, I'm inclined to believe that it takes a bit of sexual self-confidence and security to wear Jump. As its name implies, a jump - or even a leap - has been made, and we're no longer in Kansas anymore. A woman could wear this, just as easily as a man could. But it's not unisex. It's not masculine. Not feminine. Not strictly anything. Is it asexual? Polyamorous? Bisexual? It simply defies explanation and labels. I suspect the man or woman who wears Jump is okay with that, if he or she gave it any thought. Many compare Jump to Allure Homme and Allure Homme Sport, which immediately jolts these odd associations away from controversy and into rote comparison.

I guess it smells a bit like Allure Homme, although not by much. And frankly, it doesn't smell a whole lot like Joop! Homme, either. Jump is its own animal, a very flamboyant, crisp, well-rounded floral fougère that changes a few times with each wearing, and never picks a side. There's a way to do that, and Ms. Labbé managed to find it. Kudos to her, and thanks for such a pleasant and interesting fragrance! One other thing - the striking blue glass bottle is cut like a man in front, and rather feminine and rounded in back. It definitely suits the scent!







12/7/13

Chrome Legend (Azzaro)



I am certainly not a huge fan of the original Azzaro Chrome - not by any means. It's not the worst fragrance I've ever smelled, but it's close. It smells like someone sprayed down actual chrome metal with Garnier Fructis shampoo. Pretty revolting. I expected to find this 2007 flanker by Christophe Raynaud and Olivier Pescheux to be just as bad, if not worse. It isn't. Chrome Legend is better, much better, and although it maintains its progenitor's fresh-metallic identity, it never succumbs to the same banal-soap approach. I classify this fragrance as a "salty aquatic," because there's a major brine factor here, with a brisk sea-spray note, and an "amber" accord that smells suspiciously similar to the huge ambergris note in Proctor & Gamble's Old Spice Fresh.

Just imagine the smell of soapy white aldehydes on top, followed by a little green apple peel, some black pepper, a dry greenish note (purportedly green tea), a synthetic jasmine-like molecule, an incredibly one-dimensional, Polaroid-like analog of mandarin orange, a smattering of cedar chips, a tidal wave of salt, a pinch of anise, a dollop of ambergris, and a smidgen of white musk. Got that? That's Chrome Legend. It may not sound very good, and indeed it's not the greatest fresh scent in the universe, but I think it's a hell of a lot more interesting than regular 'ol Chrome. Unlike the original, this version smells like a true aquatic, featuring an ocean-watery element with surprising boldness and clarity. It reminds me a little of Bvlgari's more successful Aqva PH, but it's lighter, fruitier, and not as directly floral. Bvlgari's treatment of this theme features sharper jasmine and orange blossom notes, with distinctly indolic facets. Legend never gets indolic, but it does have a little skank of its own, probably due to the mixture of salt, cedar, and anise, plus that weird greenish thing in there.

I'm usually not one to praise aquatics, but Chrome Legend is a nice sea-spray scent for the conservative guy who just wants to smell casual, classy, and clean. For you young bucks out there, I don't have to tell you how much girls love fresh scents like Chrome and Chrome Legend. For the rest of us, these types of fragrances are olfactory reset buttons, to be worn between the Lagerfeld Classics and Z14s of the work week. Apparently Azzaro discontinued Legend a few years ago, but I can't remember the last time I browsed a Marshalls or TJ Maxx without seeing at least three bottles on a shelf. If you know someone who enjoys aquatics, this one is the perfect gift.






12/5/13

Vermeil For Men (Vermeil Paris) Part Two



The picture above is of 6 rue Palestro, Paris, and is Vermeil Paris' address, as stated on the box label of Vermeil for Men. As you can see, the location is all barred up, a bit in shambles, and there is no perfume headquarters visible. 6 rue Palestro is a dead end. If Vermeil's headquarters are there, then this is their front door, pictured below:


These images were culled from the "street view" function of Google Maps. They lead to a few questions: Where do Vermeil's fragrances really come from? Are they even Parisian? Are their easy-to-ignore bar-coded labels a clever way of focusing consumer attention away from that question? Was this address printed on the product packages precisely because it is abandoned? Does the company even exist anymore, or are these the pictures of the former Vermeil headquarters, now long gone?

My guess is that Vermeil Paris is still an existing concern. I believe they're still in business because their fragrances are still in production. I know their fragrances are still in production because there's no contrived black market for them. Usually when a fragrance is discontinued, it enjoys a very brief period of time when it maintains the same price on the internet, until all the major merchants are fully out of stock.

Then there are mildly inflated prices, with older bottles and forgotten bottles still circulating out of warehouse stocks for anywhere from $10 to $100 more than their previous price. The "canned" version of Rive Gauche PH is a good example of that. A year ago you could buy the larger size off Amazon for $35. Now it's $45. I suspect in a few years it'll be nigh unobtainable.

After the stragglers are sold off, the prices become artificially inflated by idiots on Ebay who think they can get $350 for something that only cost $35 three years ago. But just because these prices are attached to the products doesn't mean they sell, nor does it mean there is a market for them. Usually there is no market for them, and many of them don't sell. Ebay is not a site that any experienced fragrance connoisseur would use to gauge the current, discontinued, or vintage fragrance market anyway, because it's pretty common knowledge that it is nothing more than an every-man-for-himself auction of anything and everything. You know how your Ebay home page can look. That guy selling an ancient bottle of Shalimar has his ad stuck next to another guy selling a piece of toast with Jesus' face on it. Sotheby's this is not.

There are plenty of greedy people who want to exploit the scarcity of something that may or may not be in demand. I remember when Red for Men was being listed for $200 a bottle (or more) on Ebay, just five years ago. Then the positive reviews on internet forums revived the scent, and back it came - for $16 a bottle. The fragrance was never popular with the masses, and it's obvious that EA wasn't interested in taking a huge expenditure risk on the scent's budget. Red for Men was never a pricey item to begin with, and it certainly wasn't a slam-dunk for the company two decades after its debut. Internet popularity ensured that some units would sell, and word-of-mouth would trickle down from the small population that coveted the scent into the discount bins at Marshalls and TJ Maxx. Suddenly there weren't many "vintage" $200 Red for Mens on Ebay anymore. Judging from the fact that I'm not seeing any such ridiculousness on the Bay for Vermeil's scents, my guess is the company is still circulating fresh stock through the usual online merchant and merchandise channels, like Amazon, New Egg, Scented Monkey, and Fragrancenet.

So if Vermeil is still operating, where are they operating from? Why the empty nest at 6 rue Palestro? Judging from the quality of Vermeil for Men, this is a concern that can afford a decent office. Unlike Lomani (a super-cheap brand that has sold fragrances with dead insects in the bottles, leading me to believe they operate out of a garage), Vermeil's product smells classy and well made. There are decent aroma chemicals being used in there, and someone with IFF-level perfumery skills was hired to handle the tobacco accord. I'm surprised that their packaging has so little information.

Then there's the fact that an internet search yields nothing about Vermeil. There is currently only one Youtube video reviewing Vermeil for Men. There is no information about the brand from Yahoo or Google. As far as the scents go, there is only what is posted on fragrance forums, and there's not much on those, either. This brand has very low visibility. It has absolutely no commercial presence on the internet. And yet they are putting out at least one very good masculine. Supposedly from Paris.

If anyone knows anything about Vermeil, please fill me in. What's up with this brand? Inquisitive minds would like to know.












12/1/13

Tea Rose Amber (The Perfumer's Workshop)



The original Tea Rose is a marvelous fragrance, one of the seven wonders of the olfactory world (not sure what the other six are, but they sound good), something that delivers more than you'll ever pay for. Unbeknownst to many a fumehead, there are three Tea Rose flankers: Tea Rose Jasmin, Tea Rose Mesk, and Tea Rose Amber. Rumors of something called Tea Rose Rosebud abound, but I have never even seen a picture of that one. I'm not really sure it even exists. If someone out there has it, please speak up, I'd love to hear about it. Amber, Mesk, and Jasmin are a little more well-known, but all three are difficult to find, and probably impossible to sample. Fortunately they're cheap enough to blind buy without risk.

Tea Rose Amber can be found in one ounce bottles at Marshalls or TJ Maxx for $5. If you happen to see it, buy it. You have purchased fragrances for twenty-five dollars that are not nearly as good as this one is. I'm not saying Amber is as good as the original Tea Rose - sadly it isn't - but it's still very good. It's a simple amber, mainly synthetic sandalwood and vanilla with a touch of skin musk. Its top accord is very brief and rather interesting, an animalic honey note with a dash of cinnamon and nutmeg, but it's gone within five minutes. The warm vanillic wood note, enshrouded in soft musk, pretty much dominates the show from that point onward. These notes smell well crafted and lucid, but they weaken fairly quickly. It's also difficult to determine what the components of the amber actually are, beyond the handful of notes I've already mentioned. I'd like to think this scent is more complex than I've given it credit for, but can't say there's much in its pyramid. Maybe expecting more for $5 is unreasonable.

Unlike its progenitor, Amber is quiet and short-lived. Expect maybe three or four hours out of it before it fades off without a trace. I own this fragrance because I think The Perfumer's Workshop is a quality outfit that sells surprisingly high-quality perfumes for very little money (their's is not drugstore fare), and there is almost nothing written about Tea Rose Amber, so I wanted to get some info about it out there. I could be mistaken, but I think this is the only review of this fragrance on the internet. It was released in 1999, and the fact that it has flown under the radar for almost fifteen years is interesting. However, I will warn that if you're an amber fanatic, owning and wearing this scent will be an underwhelming experience for you. It can't compete with Amber Sultan or Ambre Precieux. It's something pleasant for a Saturday afternoon shopping, or baking cookies for the kids. If you enjoy collecting hard-to-find fragrances, you'll probably enjoy owning and occasionally wearing Tea Rose Amber.