2/23/14

Preferred Stock (Coty)




Ten years ago I smelled this cologne at a CVS and thought it was the worst thing on the market. I was like that about drugstore fragrances back then, not really considering that there's more than just "college cologne guy" juice out there. Here I am, a little older and a little wiser, and I've revisited Preferred Stock with a new nose. Like with Jovan Sex Appeal, Coty went ahead and put a little blurb on the box:

"For the man with a sense of style - Preferred Stock. A sophisticated blend of sandalwood and vetiver with a citrus twist. It's what preferred men prefer."

This fragrance is currently the most expensive masculine by Coty, priced at $25 - $27 for 2.5 ounces at discounters. You can get one ounce on Amazon for about $15. Distribution of Preferred Stock has been scaled back, with limited quantities at retailers, and for a while there I couldn't figure out why. Had it been discontinued? No, stores in my area continuously re-"stock" it. I bought a bottle to find out if there is more to this drab little thing than meets the eye.

The answer to my price question is in the fragrance itself. This is a mellow aromatic fougère with relatively high quality synthetics for a Coty scent. It's about on par with Sex Appeal, but I feel it's even a little better. So let's pose this basic question about Preferred Stock: Does it smell good? The answer is yes, it smells very good actually. You're really getting more than you paid for with it. The composition is tight and smells natural, the note separation is pristine, and the balance is perfect. It starts off with a soft citrus and lavender accord of fizzy grapefruit, mandarin, and lemon, with just enough dihydromyrcenol to lend it a Drakkar effect. It's fresh and clean, yet dry and accented by a leathery element that never fully takes form, yet always remains close to the lavender note.

Give it about ten minutes, and a dirty patchouli note emerges, flanked by juniper berry and sage. Eventually the sage/juniper accord overtakes the patchouli and melts into dry tonka and vetiver, with the vaguest hint of synthetic sandalwood and a discreetly earthy musk. The whole affair is so well composed and aromatic that I really don't know what to make of it. Nothing smells cheap, downmarket, "fuzzy," or generic. Longevity is impressive at five hours, and sillage is considerable enough to warrant judicious application. Preferred Stock is a cologne from 1990 that was named as a throwback to Coty's own 1955 Preferred Stock fragrance and toiletry line for men. I'm glad they brought it back, and glad I came around to it. This stuff is good.





Cool Water Into The Ocean (Davidoff) - "Men Always Smell Like Deodorant"



The other day at work a young woman of twenty-two casually mentioned that "Men always smell like deodorant, their cologne all smells kinda the same." I probably wouldn't have heard her say it, if she weren't a classic brunette with nerves of steel (in my line of work, having steady nerves is a big plus). So beauty and strength were talking here. I tend to key into her thoughts, whenever she randomly vocalizes them. This particular thought was an old standby though, something I've heard a few times before from women. One of my exes said the same thing to me when she smelled Green Irish Tweed wafting off my collar. She wrinkled her nose a little and looked bored as she said it: "Why do men always smell like sport deodorant?" I know, I know, but trust me, it's one of many reasons why I broke up with her.

Do we smell like deodorant all the time? Are the world's men little more than blue-jeaned sticks of underarm protection? Where there's smoke there's fire, and in this case there's some truth to the charge, although I must point out that many men consciously avoid dabbing "The Water Of Joe." You girls out there can blame Paco Rabanne and Drakkar Noir for starting it, and you can thank Lauder's New West, Davidoff's Cool Water, and Quintessence's Aspen for changing the entire scent dichotomy around. It used to be that fragrances had complementary deodorants, but once the truly contemporary stuff hit shelves in the late eighties, the deodorants and their namesakes were indistinguishable from each other. It was novel and refreshing for a few years, and then the nineties made it cliche. At this point it's become a question that women ask, somewhat rhetorically: why?

My guess is that it's a strange social evolution, something that took a few hundred years to develop, based on female responses to male grooming practices. For centuries men have tried their hand at alluring women with their personalities and their personas. Ladies, you know it all too well - our smiles and pick-up lines are our personalities, and our hygiene, odors, and fashion senses are our personas. Based on your responses across generations of acceptance and rejection, the cards have fallen into place, and the last hand has been dealt. Guess what? Somehow you steered us directly into smelling "fresh" and "clean" and amazingly nondescript. If you didn't like us this way, we would smell like bacon and chewing tobacco instead. That brings me to Cool Water Into The Ocean for men, a beautiful little reboot of the original CW, with a salinated tomato leaf and basil top note, the original lavender/apple/violet heart, and closing credits of minty herbs and musk. Ain't life grand?




2/18/14

Cinnabar (Estée Lauder)




Cinnabar is an oriental that reads as a balsam-and-spice incense composition, closely related to Lauder's own Youth Dew. It's been a long time since I smelled Youth Dew, but my recent sampling of Cinnabar immediately reminded me of something I'd smelled before, and when I read up on its history I found that indeed, Youth Dew "evolved" or "morphed" somewhat into Cinnabar - or perhaps a more accurate way of describing their relationship is to say they got "smooshed" as a marketing tactic that Lauder tried out in the mid seventies.

As you can see in the picture above, there was a point in the fragrance's earlier history where Lauder printed the names of both scents on the box, defining Opium's competition as a "Soft Youth Dew Fragrance." It's hard to say why this was done, but one theory is that they created this to appeal to Lauder buyers who wanted something similar to Youth Dew, but more modern. Lauder played it safe by giving the fragrance the brand name of "Cinnabar," perhaps for those who wanted a sense of departure from the older oriental in the line. They seemed to want to have it both ways. It's a bit of a mystery really, and gets more fully hashed-out on I Smell Therefore I Am.

The current fragrance is a reasonably natural balsam composition, with dark-green resins framing a crisp incense on a dry amber base. There's a pert citrus lift to the woody notes on top, and a genteel duet of sandalwood and benzoin on the bottom, with a subtle melange of cinnamon-dusted floral notes connecting them through the heart. Cinnabar more closely resembles Opium EDT nowadays, and I think Opium is more complex and perhaps more unique (Cinnabar smells a bit "standard" and reminds me of Lagerfeld's relatively unadventurous masculine orientals), but I couldn't easily choose between the two. This fragrance isn't really my thing, but it remains a beautifully-constructed classic that every oriental enthusiast should try.





2/17/14

Fougère Royale, Part Two (Houbigant, 2010)



The wheel shown above is yet another super-subjective classification of fragrances, this time focusing on the specific oils used (in a very broad sense) to comprise them. By focusing on oils, the wheel excludes certain synthetics - coumarin is missing from the fougère category, for example - and there are truly limitations to how a fragrance is defined here. Some "spokes" are better defined than others - the oriental is described as a basic amber for example, with most of the oils and resins used for one type of amber listed. Yet subcategories like "floral oriental" and "woody oriental" aren't given spokes. It really couldn't get any vaguer or broader. I don't consider this wheel to be especially useful, other than in viewing the various classifications, and getting a very general sense of the primary notes used for some of them.

When smelling a fragrance like Fougère Royale, one has to keep a few things about fragrance classifications in mind. The most important thing is to remember that this reissue is a reinterpretation of a traditional woody fern from the nineteenth century that no longer exists. To get anything close to an accurate sense of how the original was supposed to smell, one has to rely on early twentieth century traditional ferns still in production, or still widely available. With Houbigant's fragrance, the best point of reference for me is Edmond and Theresa Roudnitska's Moustache. But there's something else to remember here: Fougère Royale wasn't reissued as a traditional fern - it is now an "aromatic fougère," replete with all the flourishes and extra trimmings that come with a typical aromatic. That means the fragrance can be referenced as a traditional fern, but must also be compared to aromatics. It pulls from both worlds.

Fougères are confusing to people because they're often unclear on the historical divide between the two different types. I can't tell you how many times I read reviewers and bloggers who compare the qualities and drawbacks of an aromatic fern to an old-school classical fern pre-dating WWII. It's a tricky comparison to make. I know of one blogger who consistently references "fougère accords" in fresh aromatic ferns, but almost never takes into account the difference between that accord and the fougère accord of a traditional woody fern. It's frustrating because old-school ferns often render lavender and coumarin very differently from their contemporary counterparts. What I like about Fougère Royale is that I smell a traditional "fougère accord" with a very hay-like, semi-grassy coumarin under a brightly-citric lavender note, but the accord is buttressed by extraneous notes of geranium, cedar, chamomile, labdanum, and musk. Its traditional prose is written not with a quill, but a contemporary Sharpie pen.

Fougère Royale is a triumphant fragrance because there are no corners cut, and the compositional editing was done with an eye on keeping the fragrance rich and beautiful, yet concise. In some ways it reminds me of an inexpensive designer fern, oddly enough Joop! Homme Wild, of all things. The sweetness of JHW is cut by a flurry of herbal lavender notes, filtered through a green gauze of violet ionones, which give it a slightly candy-like effect. I asked someone to give me their first impression of Fougère Royale on my skin, and the first thing she said was, "It's nice, sort of like candy." Now, when you smell traditional ferns like Moustache and Sandalwood by Arden, you don't get "candy" from them at all. This means that Houbigant's integration of floral notes is closer to being in the contemporary aromatic vein than the traditional one. Things like heliotrope, jasmine, and cyclamen are tucked in there, but they're very pert, closely-blended, and form an accord that is actually pretty commonplace in current scents marketed to younger guys.

Just smell how lavender and coumarin are blended in Moustache though, and you get a snapshot of the approach Flores-Roux took. A concise description of the fragrance can be found here, and I'll include a snippet:

"The opening is a gentle splash of citrusy notes and lavender and it takes a long time to evaporate. The dry down shows the musky animalic and fougère notes of this composition slightly sweetened by honey, amber, tonka beans and vanilla."

That's an excellent description of "vintage" Moustache, although the more recent "Concentree" is by many accounts spot on. If you try the reissue of Moustache in the modern rectangular bottle, you'll encounter a different fragrance altogether. I think the key word from the above description is "gentle." Moustache, like Fougère Royale, incorporates lavender in a manner that doesn't bludgeon you across the nose. The use of citrus and geranium in both FR and Moustache are very similar, and Roudnitska's composition showcases the note under a veritable feast of citrus fruits, mostly lemon and lime. Both fragrances eventually transition to a dry-grassy coumarin effect in their heart accords. The design work that was put into these two is flawless, intended to utilize familiar accords without resorting to predictable note placements, which makes for a more interesting wear of fragrances that should be pretty stuffy and boring. Although Flores-Roux used floral notes in a contemporary fashion, his integration of lavender and coumarin is from a traditional template. Arden's Sandalwood gives further insight into how lavender can be front and center, yet not smell isolated.

To understand Fougère Royale is to understand both traditional and aromatic fougères. The world of Atkinson's Lavender, Mennen Skin Bracer, Silvestre, the original Fougère Royale, Moustache, Sandalwood, Caron Pour un Homme, and Dunhill is connected to the separate world of Azzaro PH, Drakkar Noir, Jazz, Eternity, and Cool Water. The connection points are "bridge scents," fragrances like Pino Silvestre, Loewe for Men, Brut, and Paco Rabanne PH. These "bridges" maintain more traditional elements than their offspring, but also show evolutionary signs of breaking from tradition in their compositions. Only when a full understanding of this historical lineage is achieved can something like Fougère Royale be appreciated in its entirety, because it is truly an olfactory homage to the past and the present.







2/14/14

Le Beau Male (Jean Paul Gaultier)



The original Le Mâle is an awful synthetic powder-puff lavender fougeriental, a copious blare of aftershave musks radiating like morning fog from a slime-green pond of peppermint ambers. How's that for mixing metaphors? Put simply, it smelled like a crumby attempt at a throwback to the Edwardian days of musky European wetshaver colognes, with all the elements dialed up to a nosehair-singeing eleven. This "Beautiful Male" flanker is even more confusing. Although its commercial image is steeped in gayness, the scent itself is actually rather staid and smells like a conservative (implicitly heterosexual) lavender-peppermint aftershave, the sort of thing a typical American Dad would slap on before work. The problem isn't the fragrance, but the materials; Beau's simple triad of lavender, mint, and musk is so cheap that it wouldn't even work in a plastic bottle for eight dollars at Rite-Aid.



2/12/14

Cotton Club (Jeanne Arthes)



I want to start off by thanking jtd, the author of Scent Hurdle, for giving me a heads-up on his wonderful "Fougère Project," which appears to be an expository and ongoing dialogue about fougères, and what defines them. He contacted me about this in the comments section of my latest post on Brut, and in jtd's comments Christos from Memory of Scent mentions my recent post about lavender, and why it is essential to the fougère. I think these kinds of discussions and olfactory investigations are important to fully understanding perfumery. Not only do they delve into note combinations and classical forms, but they contextualize fragrance in a historical and genealogical manner. If you understand the established classifications of fragrances, the experience of wearing them is that much richer and more rewarding - if the study of perfume is to be considered an intellectual pursuit, that is.

I happened across another very good fougère, a little scent called Cotton Club by not-so-little Grasse-based concern Jeanne Arthes. Let me get this out of the way first: this fragrance has a sketchy name. It rubs me the wrong way, but that's why I bought it. It references the famous 1923 Cotton Club in the Theater District of Harlem, which used to be a whites-only establishment that ironically featured some of the world's greatest black jazz musicians. The Cotton Club took its racism to the usual lows for the time period, as performances by white actors in blackface were not uncommon there, and the club's seventeen year stint came to an abrupt end in 1940 with its owners under investigation for tax evasion. It was replaced by none other than The Latin Quarter, but mysteriously enough you can still find the Cotton Club sign at its original location in New York City. I'd hazard to guess that whoever owns the property is merely trying to capitalize on the site's musical history, and would rather forget about the awful cultural impact this kind of establishment had on the world.

The fragrance is an interesting barbershop fougère distantly related to Mennen's Skin Bracer, and features a striking accord of caramelized sugar and doughy lavender during the first five minutes of wear. In the style of Caron Pour un Homme, Jeanne Arthes opted for a caramelic lavender, not the more commonly-used minty variety, and it smells smooth and clean against the flame-singed sugar note, an olfactory study of white-on-white. The heart is mostly coumarin, light but ambery, and also a bit gourmand with generous trimmings of vanilla. Within forty-five minutes of application a base accord of creamy synthetic sandalwood and white musk appears, and dominates the proceedings until the fade-out. I get about five hours from it. There are only a few notes, but their quality and balance are good enough to make Cotton Club feel like a niche scent, which is impressive for something that costs twelve dollars.






2/8/14

A*Men Pure Malt (Thierry Mugler)



This review is for the recent reissue of Pure Malt, not the original. I approached this one thinking I was in for an interesting twist on the original A*Men. When I see the word "malt" associated with a perfume, I immediately think of single malt scotch, which is known for having a very aromatic-woody smell. Memories of eighteen year-old Talisker get stirred up, and expectations skyrocket. I should know better - Pure Malt has nothing to do with scotch's complex, turpentine-painted driftwood, and everything to do with fruity, cheap-smelling malt liquor.

Malt liquor is a lot like beer, except it has a slightly higher alcohol content, and it's usually a bit sweeter in flavor than your average ale or lager, due to the higher percentage of fermentable sugars used to make it. This lends malt liquor a somewhat sticky, sugary odor. You can smell the hops, but malt liquor is usually cruder than beer, because the cereals comprising its wort are cheaper. Mixed in with the sugar and hops are spicy, sometimes overtly fruity off-notes. I wouldn't call the scent of malt liquor "complex" or "interesting," but it's distinctive.

For Mugler to base an A*Men flanker on it is a little strange to me. Why opt for the cheap malt, when single malt scotch is so much better? The nose of an aged single malt often has very rich, dry, rooty aromas, usually with a profound peat note smothered in salty terpenes and smoked woods. A good single malt is a complex perfume unto itself, begging to be reinterpreted by perfumers. Pure Malt really doesn't offer any of that, and simply smells apple-like and beer-sweet for a couple hours, before seguing into a nondescript vanilla and tonka base. I like how it smells, and it's certainly pleasant to wear, but far from interesting. Sillage is especially weak for a Mugler scent, which is another demerit. I'll stick to the original A*Men, as this version is too "safe" for me. For an idea of how a peat note is supposed to smell, check out Patrick by Fragrances of Ireland.





2/3/14

Brut By Fabergé - Wilt Chamberlain, Joe Namath, Muhammad Ali, And . . . Cary Grant?





One of these days I'll walk into the NYC Creed Boutique and pretend to be interested in a bottle of Green Irish Tweed. Rodney or Louis will approach me and start their spiel about how Cary Grant is associated with GIT, and I'll blithely say, "Actually, during his lifetime Mr. Grant was associated with Brut, not GIT. You know, Brut, right? The cheap cologne in the little green plastic bottles you find in all the drugstores."

Oh, to see the looks of incredulity cross their faces upon hearing this, and I'd have PDFs of the info ready and waiting on my iPhone, just in case they asked for further verification. No doubt the revelation that one of the world's suavest male movie stars was a creative director for lowly old Fabergé, and had no public association with Creed, would stick in their craws. So be it - it's true. Cary Grant was involved in spreading public awareness of Brut and other Fabergé products during his retirement. George Barrie, co-founder of Rayette-Fabergé and creator of the Brut line of cosmetics shared a flight with Cary Grant, and convinced him to become one of Fabergé's spokesmen. The following is an excerpt from Marc Eliot's 2009 biography about Grant:

"During the flight, alone with Grant, Barrie proposed that the actor consider joining the board of Fabergé, a position that offered only a token annual salary of $15,000 (with stock options) but would require nothing more than the occasional personal appearance . . . Barrie did not think he had much of a chance of getting the actor to accept the deal, but to his surprise, shortly after returning to LA, he received a phone call from Grant saying he would love to be associated with the world-famous cosmetics firm as its 'Good Will Ambassador.' As Grant later told reporter Cindy Adams, he was delighted to represent Fabergé because 'The use of my name doesn't harm the company, and I'm permitted to do whatever I choose.'" (page 360)

Grant's specific connection with Brut is bolstered in the following excerpt from Ken Mansfield's The White Book: The Beatles, The Bands, The Biz: An Insider's Look At An Era:

"A little background - Cary Grant had just made a series of commercials for Brut cologne (he was on the board of Fabergé, Brut's parent company) and somehow through this endeavor became acquainted with George Harrison." (page 154)

The funny thing about Cary Grant and perfume is that no company, not even Fabergé, was able to get the man to say on the record that he actually WORE any of its fragrance products, but that didn't stop Fabergé from cashing in on the actor's name.

Did Cary Grant wear Brut? There is no written account anywhere to suggest that he did, although one has to wonder why he would accept a paltry $15K a year to join Fabergé's executive board if he did not at least like something they made, anything really. Perhaps he was familiar with Brut deodorant. Perhaps he did wear the cologne or aftershave. Grant was a notorious tightwad throughout his lifetime, reputedly careful with every penny he ever earned, so I could see him wearing something as popular and inexpensive as Brut. By most accounts, Grant worked for Fabergé during the late sixties and into the seventies, eventually retiring from his post to raise his daughter Jennifer away from the public eye.




2/1/14

White Flowers (Creed)



I would need to be pretty wealthy to purchase any of Creed's Royal Exclusives. My wealth would not be the hard-wrought kind, but rather the "nouveau riche" kind, an overnight sensation, like winning the lottery, or stumbling on an internationally-wanted terrorist with no fight left in him. A wealth awarded, not earned. I'd have no problem blowing six hundred dollars on a few ounces of mediocre perfume if someone else had no problem blowing a few million dollars on me.

No one knows the identity of the person hired to compose these fragrances, but judging by their shoddy quality, I'd say it was someone with a very disorganized perfume organ, pardon the pun. Someone with more subtlety, more creativity, and much more finesse is behind the regular Millesime lineup, because most of those fragrances smell better than any of these "REs." It's hard to pin-point exactly what went wrong with this line. Spice and Wood smells very nice, but forced, with an awkward and surprisingly loud base accord that crescendos, and goes on forever. Pure White Cologne smells like a rough draft of Spring Flower, or rather like Spring Flower if its dewey petals were swapped out for dusty plastic. Sublime Vanille is an elegant vanilla, and one of the better offerings in this range, but still mind-blowingly dull, even for a vanilla fragrance. It's all very disappointing.

My expectations for White Flowers were fairly straightforward and reasonable. Given that this is supposed to be a fresh bouquet of rich white flowers, I imagined a sweeping implosion of dense sweetness, and indoles up the yin-yang. My imagination held something better than what I'm smelling, basically. There's nothing especially exciting at any stage here, and while I didn't think it would intrigue me, I figured it would at least impress me somehow. The fragrance is a fancy schmancy high-cost version of your typical fruity-sweet drugstore floral. Actually, it's not even that fancy schmancy. It's just a remake of a mall-rat fruity floral using a few expensive aroma chemicals, instead of the cheap stuff. The way it reads on skin, White Flowers isn't even much of a composition. These aroma chemicals, maybe five or six of them, were simply mixed together very loosely, in poorly-measured proportions, giving the impression that the perfumer thought their priciness alone would endow them with the magical ability to do all the hard work for him, simply by existing. Newsflash: you can drop twelve dollars on three ounces of Cabotine and get something just as good as this.

Come to think of it, Cabotine and White Flowers smell remarkably similar after the Creed dries down, at around the four-hour mark. As for notes, the structure is as banal as it gets. There's green apple on top (lucky I like that note), followed by a smidgen of that awful filthy-coin rice note Creed seems obsessed with lately, and then a pleasantly sheer and fresh bouquet of narcissus and something jasmine-like, yet incredibly far removed from actual jasmine. There's a hint of peppery violet leaf fusing these floral elements together, and in truth the pieces fit together nicely and smell good. Aside from the brief rice note, I like how White Flowers smells, but for the money it's a joke. There's nothing innovative or sophisticated about it. If you're a well-to-do laddie or lass who enjoys casual springtime florals, this one is beneath you.

If you're not as well-to-do, and you enjoy trashy springtime florals, congratulations! You can find something just as good as White Flowers at Walgreens, buy it, and wear it without feeling like a cheapskate, because you smell just as good as whoever fell for this weird and godawful-expensive olfactory prank.