5/31/14

Pino Silvestre Sport (Parfums Mavive)



Summer is pretty much here, and that means perfume season has come to an end for me. My enthusiasm for summer fragrances in no way matches my drive to wear winter frags. "Fresh," "Sport," and "Summer" are words that send me running in the opposite direction, especially with sport frags. It's not that this stuff doesn't smell good - it does. It's just that these types of scents aren't that interesting. They're continuations of soap, shower gel, and deodorant by other means.

Parfums Mavive is an outlier in the "sport" category of masculines in that their sport scent actually smells better than most soaps and gels, and lasts a fair bit longer also. The original Pino Silvestre was a groundbreaking Italian fresh fougère by perfumer Lino Vidal for Silvestre, and for decades it was more than enough to satisfy European and American fougère wearers, particularly those who were fans of bright green notes. It was unrivaled until the seventies, with the arrival of Paco Rabanne and Azzaro Pour Homme, Next-Gen fougères that used dihydromyrcenol for freshness. Then Drakkar Noir and Cool Water relegated it to antique status, and for quite a while (probably until the advent of online communities) you didn't hear anything about it. I know that nobody under the age of forty wore it in the nineties or early aughts.

Enter Parfums Mavive and Pino Silvestre Sport. All the reconstructed pine notes and bright herbal facets of the original are drowned in aftershave-grade citrus, and it's quite pleasant, albeit a little dull. What saves it from total banality is a generously plush white musk layered with a pert grassy note, similar to the dominant accord in Adidas Sport Field, yet a touch richer and more textured. Ninety minutes into the drydown and the musk is laid bare, smelling vaguely like Bounce sheets and synthetic sandalwood. It goes from very green to rather cloudy blue, but PS Sport is likely the only sport frag other than Claiborne Sport that warrants regular usage by anyone interested in old-school masculines. It's fresh, crisp, fruity, and sturdy enough to endure a workout. Hey, for ten dollars you really can't lose by trying it.





5/25/14

Chergui (Serge Lutens)



So much has been written about Chergui, the Tunisian island and the perfume, so my disclaimer is that this isn't really a review, as much as a recategorization. Broadly, this fragrance is considered a typical Lutensian oriental, loaded with sweet, resinous, ambery accords. Luca Turin (or was it Tania Sanchez?) claimed the perfume was inspired by Turin's suggestion to Serge that he explore hay absolute. I don't doubt that such a thing occurred, but it isn't hay at the heart of Chergui. This perfume is all about coumarin, good 'ol coumarin.

Chergui is in no uncertain terms a classical fougère after Paul Parquet's 1884 original. Many articles on Fougère Royale mention its odd, hay-like sweetness, which is none other than coumarin, and the reboot possesses a very similar note. Lutens took the same idea and used a massive honey/lavender accord in a more au courant nod to eighties powerhouses like Boss Cologne and Lapidus Pour Homme. When I smell Chergui, I recognize a classical form dressed in late twentieth century clothing. Yet there's a uniqueness here, the richness of tobacco and luxurious smoothness of sandalwood, both of which spell in large Helvetica letters: MAN.

Remember the 1950s? I don't either, I wasn't around then. I have it on good authority that men in the '50s were intentionally archetypical, staid, traditional, family-oriented, sexually insecure to misogynistic levels, routine-oriented, and always willing to impart the false sense of security coveted by their kitchen-dwelling, totally dependent housewives. I've never been told this, but I think it's a safe bet to suppose that most men, especially American men, didn't wear cologne or fragrance of any kind, opting instead for their secretary's perfume rubbing off on their collars, and whatever after-smell a few packs of unfiltered cigarettes baked into the rest of their shirts.

Every so often though their wives (or mothers in law) went to a department store and tried to make these poor guys into better men by buying them grooming kits of aftershave and cologne, which they wore only to church and weddings. These were warm, rich, simple smells, like English Leather, Caron Pour un Homme, Arden Sandalwood, Preferred Stock, and Fougère Royale. Well, Chergui would have been right at home in medicine cabinets back then. Serge's creation is the olfactory equivalent of a Buick with 150,000 miles on it. It imparts a solid message with its soft, enveloping lavender/honey/coumarin sweetness: "I'm with my family now. Your shit can wait until Monday."







5/22/14

Encens Flamboyant (Annick Goutal)



Sometimes I read about a perfume and think that it would be a great one to try, but never bother because something in its name puts me off. Encens Flamboyant is a prime example - I've read about it for years, but "Flamboyant Incense" simply does nothing for me as a concept. Incense is usually flamboyant enough, full of embellished floral tones and always plenty loud. Jim Gehr passed a sample along to me, and I gave it a wearing earlier this week. My feelings about the fragrance are mixed, trending toward good. This is an odd one.

How does it smell? The easy answer: It smells like Vetiver Extraordinaire with incense instead of vetiver, and nutmeg instead of curried saffron. The overbearing theme to both fragrances is "Earthy Green," their forms relying primarily on woody-resinous evergreen notes that are composed in a fizzy and vaguely soapy manner. I feel as though these recent Earthy masculines revolve around the green/fresh axis of Creed's Original Vetiver (and Mugler Cologne by proxy), with Goutal's scent orbiting just a little bit closer to freshness than Malle's. My impression is that the cleanness in Encens is evocative of bathing in the rough, perhaps in a stream somewhere, surrounded by trees and the fetid smell of damp woods.

The incense here is quite noticeable, but when set against tree needles and mastic resins, its silvery sheen gets overshadowed by sap and pine cones. And that's where the weirdness comes in - this should really be called Epicéa Flamboyant, because the blaringly obvious evergreen note is quietly gussied up with incense. This isn't a "spruced-up" incense, pardon the pun. I wonder if they named the fragrance before smelling it? This may seem minor, but if they'd called it by a moniker more suggestive of fir and spruce, I would have tried it sooner. Lovers of incense may be unimpressed, but if you're a bonafide conehead, don't procrastinate like I did.





5/18/14

Eau d'épices (Tauer)




One of the questions that sometimes comes up in conversations I have with people is, why niche? Isn't designer a big enough pool to swim in? With all the releases since the early sixties, and all the classics that have endured the ages, you would think the need to spend more money for fragrances by independent entities with vague reputations would be unnecessary. After all, there's a designer scent out there for everybody, right? Maybe, but that misses the point.

The reality is stark: niche fills a niche. Designer perfumes are made for the masses; niche fragrances cater to subsets of the designer populace who want specific experiences that popular choices do not always offer. If you want a great citrus chypre with bold fruit and orange blossom notes, buy and wear Eau Sauvage. It's very mainstream, and classically French. But what about an Egyptian spin on Eau Sauvage? Which designer delivers that?

I'm sure there's a brand out there that does, but good luck finding it. Andy Tauer, an independent perfumer with no affiliation to any designer overlord, offers a straight-up oriental variant on the fresh chypre theme with his beautiful re-release of L'eau d'épices, a colossal achievement in perfumery if ever there was one. It is rumored that L'eau was inspired by Tauer's own Christmas-countdown fan club soap, Mandarins Ambrés. Evidently it was a fresh-floral citrus scent with a good labdanum note, about as posh as soap can get. When I read about this, I thought it sounded good, but my initial reaction to L'eau d'épices was negative. It contains a very strong neroli note, and at first I wondered if it was just another neroli-on-steroids snoozer in the same vein as Tom Ford's Neroli Portofino, Amouage Reflection Man, and Perry Ellis Portfolio Green.

I needn't have worried. Though the orange blossom elements abound, there are subtle complexities to the fragrance's three-tiered structure of white flowers, Indian spices, and resinous amber. What is remarkable about L'eau is its Egyptian jasmine note, a little fleck of delicate white beauty to complement the neroli. It smells rich, a little sweet, and morphs the neroli into a new flower, something stunning and nameless as it dries down. The heart brims with labdanum, very dark and a little animalic, a classical anchor to the airier notes that precede it. Buttressing the petals are cinnamon, coriander (not urinous, thankfully), and a mighty eugenol-fueled clove that escapes dentist associations by being singed in hot clay, an allusion to desert and ancient sands.

The base of woody amber, mainly Ambroxan and a bit of Ambreine, is very direct and full, but not isolated into a monochrome skin-scent due to L'eau's intense concentration of floral top notes, which permeate the entire life of this perfume. Wearing L'eau d'épices on a warm spring day creates a new answer to the question at the start of this post. Niche perfumes like L'eau bring a new level of complexity, sophistication, and technical skill to the table in ways that most designer scents, even those super-busy everything-but-the-kitchen-sink masculine powerhouses of the late eighties and early nineties, never could. Part of this is attributable to Mr. Tauer's considerable skill. He is simply very, very good at what he does. The other determining factors are patience, and an expansive budget. I can tell that this perfume was made with very high quality naturals and synthetics.

L'eau made its early appearance back in 2007 and 2008, when little samples were offered to friends and fans, and the perfume was properly released in 2010. Eventually it became difficult to source the supplies for making it, and it was discontinued. Its discontinuation awakened potential buyers, who suddenly wondered what they'd missed, and apparently wanted the scent back. As Andy noted in an interview published on Fragrantica, "We all want what we can't get."

Andy spent the better part of three years gathering the quality materials that make this fragrance so captivating, and he reissued it in March to critical acclaim. The density of its spices, the headiness of its floral notes, and the smoothness of its ambery base all reveal the unhurried commitment he has to the finished product, and I'm grateful that he has given the world another chance to enjoy this scent. When you work for yourself and create perfumes to fit exotic dreams and ideals and not a brand image, you have the power and freedom to create and sustain amazing things, and that is manifestly the case with L'eau d'épices. This creation is a joy to behold.





5/14/14

An Exciting Time: My Own Little Slice Of Seafoam Green



The American Dream inches ever closer as my ambitions for home ownership see forward momentum through the fog of legalese and mortgage-speak. Having an offer on a home verbally accepted by its sellers is a nice start, especially since they accepted my very first low-ball! It's an estate settlement, and I guess the family just wants the property off their hands. I'm excited because the house is a beautiful little ranch from 1953. It has (in near-perfect condition) the original kitchen and bathroom, including those intricate little ceramic bathroom floor tiles that were popular during its time. My favorite feature however is the bomb shelter - that's right, bomb shelter - located in the basement, right next to the half-bath. Nice that it's down there, it doesn't get factored into the square footage!

To honor the process of acquiring a sixty year-old house, one missing only its white picket fence for period-specific perfection, I've been wearing my "fifties" fragrances this week. Well, not all of them are necessarily from the fifties per say, but they were around before or during that decade. Things like Pinaud's Lime Sec and Clubman Aftershave-Lotion, Arden's Sandalwood, Creed's Orange Spice, Caron's Pour un Homme, and Max Factor's Signature for Men (broke that oldie out for a rare wear) were duly enjoyed this past week. I view the aesthetics of the house as being strikingly similar to the olfactory aesthetics of perfumes from its era. It is neat, modest, modern, full of clean lines, sophisticated colors, and homespun-American textures. Many of the older scents I've encountered have blunt top notes that literally sock your nose on their way to drydown. The house still has its original front door, a massive, squealing chunk of compressed steel to greet visitors. A little WD-40, like a touch of perfumer's alcohol, can set that opening straight, and make it smooth and inviting again.

The initial process of buying the house brought back memories of my family's former home in Cumeen. I remember my father and I kneeling in the concrete floor of the entrance foyer, laying down beautiful blue and white tiles by hand, and cutting them around teak steps. One look at the kitchen in my future Connecticut home had me envisioning the project through a new lens, this time fitting the floor to the original antique cabinets with beautiful black and white country-kitchen tiles. A Smeg fridge in Seafoam, some matching paint on the opened upper and closed lower cabinet tiers, and perhaps some sandy pink tiling on the backsplash will make it a stunning little room. The red brick fireplace in the living room will overlook quite a pleasant "back to the future" update. And the mauve tiling in the bathroom needs absolutely nothing. It's perfect the way it is.

Fingers crossed that the rest of the buying process goes smoothly. One thing I won't be doing is creating a showcase for my fragrances. They're fine right where they are, in a drawer of my massive dresser. From 1953.





5/11/14

"An Alternative Approach To Describing Perfume"




In a recent post, a fellow fragrance blogger named Sigrun asked if she could talk a little about my Scent Prisms on her blog, Riktig Parfym. She describes the prisms as "An alternative approach to describing perfume," and I couldn't have said it better myself - the use of colors on a spectrum to convey notes and impressions is quite an alternative to the norm, which is generally limited to written and verbal descriptions. Is my method anything other than superfluous? I like to think so, but I believe that using my Scent Prisms leaves some people a little confused, because deciphering each color strip, its placement on a scent's "color bar," and the hardness or softness of its edges requires a significant initial comprehension of the visual language I'm using.

Sigrun seemed to wonder whether these Scent Prisms are painted, or digital. Painting them would be a fine way to go about creating them, but it is very time consuming. To create this alternative approach to verbal descriptions, simply jump into Photoshop and create rectangular selections on a blank canvas. Then, using the brush tool, swipe across the selection with whatever color you've chosen from the palette. Some of my prisms have color keys on them; other comparisons are simply self-guided. It doesn't matter if your prisms have straight color strips, or if they're vertical or horizontal. Whatever works for you.

Describing perfume, and even just understanding perfume, is a sophisticated endeavor. There is really no fast track or easy-street here. I've read some fragrance bloggers over the years who are quite content with literal note descriptions, and others who resort to more Turin-esque narrations that deviate from addressing notes and accords altogether. Either way is correct and incorrect in equal measure. For some, the literal approach works best. For others, abstract expositions on culture and life fit better. Still others are not interested in reading or listening at all, and wish only to smell for themselves. A sizable number of us are visual people, the kind of folks who appreciate color systems like the H&R Genealogie charts, and perhaps something like a Scent Prism.

I've never been one to really believe in "newbies" or "aficionados" in the perfume world. When we segregate people by their supposed experience, a tricky kind of relativism creeps into the dialogue. People who are new to the interest of fragrance may not have the vocabulary or the frames of reference to describe what they smell, but the fact that they are interested automatically positions them to better comprehend odors. Their noses have been smelling and processing olfactory information from the day they were born, just like everyone else's. What separates them from more veteran sniffers is only their ability to notice the inherent subtleties of certain odors, and to ascribe words and labels to their experience of smelling them. As Avery Gilbert once pointed out, human beings possess a sense of smell that can rival that of drug-sniffing police dogs, and we don't even realize it. The fact that dogs are more likely to want to ferret out strange odors than a person would be gets rationalized as the idea that dogs must do the sniffing because their noses are better. Those who believe in the default existence of inferior and superior human noses carry this sort of bad logic around with them when they approach the community as something divided into "newbies" and "aficionados."

"Aficionados" have vocabulary and labeling at their disposal, but often lack objectivity (too much internalized experience), because they're jaded, or they feel they've smelled it all already (just another angle on jaded). Their understanding is limited to what they think they know, rather than what they really know. What separates them from "newbies" is enjoyment of fragrance. Things that may once have intrigued them now disappoint and bore them. But in terms of knowledge and cognition, they are identical to their more enthusiastic "newbie" brethren.

My goal in using Scent Prisms is to bridge the divide between the fragrance newcomer and his experienced "aficionado" neighbor by providing something everyone can grasp on their own terms: a visual cue. Some of us feel that Monday is red, while Friday is blue. Others believe Monday is blue, Friday is red, and the weekends are black holes. Individual perspectives need a universal language, and color is a language of association; some may not align perfumes to the same colors I do, but they can at least recognize color palettes as something they can customize for themselves. If rose smells red to you, fine. My use of pink and red speaks to you. If rose is green to you instead, then congratulations! By disagreeing with me and seeing the smell in your own color, you have picked up my Scent Prism language in a few seconds flat, and can now proceed with your own dialect, to be read and interpreted by others in similar fashion.




5/10/14

Derby (Guerlain, 2012)



It's been a long week of work and looking at houses. So far my home search is proving to be especially interesting, as I encounter pad after pad in serious need of "Home-Path" loan repairs. Except for one particular town, in which it's pad after pad in serious need of a guy wearing a pink robe, John Barrymore style. I intend to buy there. Connecticut, as it turns out, is chock full of shitty houses. If you come here, look for our fifties-styled ranches. People take good care of them, they're relatively inexpensive, and they're usually true to their period (which means cool bathrooms).

In all the hubbub, I managed to sneak in a few samplings and a full wearing of the "new" Derby, to contrast with my unpleasant "vintage" Derby experience. While significantly better in both fragrance and performance, the new stuff doesn't really wow me either. I guess I just don't care for Derby. Again, if Derby were a broadly appealing scent, it would likely have top billing from Guerlain, but instead it is relegated to the weird revival line and seems destined to remain the brand's back-up player for years to come. People do like it, and they buy it, but it's nobody's first choice. I imagine Vetiver and Habit Rouge have always outsold it by a comfortable margin.

What can I say about the new Derby? It smells like a standard spicy-vanillic oriental, which surprises me. In fact, the composition seems to be built around a massive carnation note, which in some ways makes it similar to Old Spice, of all things. Plus there's a smooth vanillic amber in its heart, also quite Old Spicy. I don't know how I feel about that. I actually compared Derby to P&G's Old Spice cologne, and it turns out there's a lot more nutmeg in that cheapo drugstore formula than I had originally thought. There's also a competitive citrus note, mostly orange, and the vanilla in the drydown is adequate enough to give "new" Derby a run for its money. There's a harder cedar/peppermint accord in the heart of "new" Derby, and that duo ties the peppery-floral top to a heavy woody-patchouli base.

I've included a Scent Prism of "vintage" and "new." As you can see, the older formula is more complex, boasts harder notes, and you'd think it's more interesting than the newer composition. That may or may not be the case, depending on how you interpret the structure, but despite its complexities, "vintage" Derby smells overly nutmeggy and dull. The new stuff is fresher, a little fruitier, with softer notes, and a simpler structure, but its cheap patchouli base note leaves something to be desired. I guess the touch of saltiness to the older Derby's musk is a good thing, because the new one is pretty standard and "blah" in the musk department. Otherwise I can't think of anything nice to say about the original.




Speaking of saltiness, I would take my scent prism with a grain of the white stuff, because your interpretation of the two structures may differ tremendously. However, I should warn you: don't let your impression of the original formula influence your take on the new one. There are some similarities in overall feel, and in the notes used, but all things considered these are two very different fragrances. It's just too bad neither of them strike my fancy.




5/3/14

Derby (Guerlain, 1985)



It is funny that I should wear Derby on the same day that I see a disappointing house. The real estate advert portrayed an expansive 1,700 sq ft ranch with a 600 sq ft finished basement and a nice yard. The reality was a run-down home with frayed flooring, an ugly kitchen, pointlessly small bedrooms, and a disturbingly makeshift "finish" to the basement. On the outside though, it seemed quite nice, the quintessential middle class Connecticut home.

Vintage Derby is rather like the house in question. Unlike other reviewers, I think the vintage bottle is a very pretty package, with Art Deco glasswork and a charmingly over-sized crescent moon cap. I don't have the bottle personally, just a sample, but if I were blind-buying a Guerlain, Derby would have a good shot with me. Luca Turin attributes Derby's commercial difficulties to the ugly bottle, but I see no reason why the original bottle design would have held back sales. It is interesting, and suggests the perfume is equally interesting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Derby is a boring cross between a cheap nutmeg-based masculine like British Sterling, and an equally cheap rose/jasmine powder-puff drugstore feminine (take your pick of any of Coty's or Dana's). What elevates it above this pedestrian terrain is its high quality ingredients. The moss, nutmeg, jasmine, and light, slightly smoky wood notes are all delicately and finely rendered with excellent raw materials. But I'd rather hear a good song played badly than a bad song played well, and Derby is unremittingly bad, the sort of nutmeg-driven foghorn that makes faster fading alternatives like Dana's putrid British Sterling more desirable, unless you're a staunch lover of nutmeg. I'm not.

Reader, always be suspicious of a perfume that people tout as being "an unnoticed gem," an "underrated masterpiece." Derby has been in and out of production for almost thirty years, and remains a tough sell for Guerlain. This is not by accident. Its commercial sales figures aren't reflective of the ignorant masses. Many people, likely millions of them over the course of three decades, have sampled Derby and found it to be an off-putting nutmeg composition with a fetid and forgettably woodsy drydown. It's a smell they've rejected, which is why its market share is under duress. The world never came around to it, because there's not much to come around to. It ain't the bottle we should be blaming here.

A review of the current reissued version is pending.





5/1/14

Heaven Is A Place On Earth



Wakefield Modern Home Planned Line/House & Garden


Happy May Day everyone. I'm as happy as the next guy that spring has arrived in the northern hemisphere, and the air is finally beginning to smell green and Earthy and alive again. This year is especially interesting for me because I'll be buying a house in the coming months, and what better time to shop around than spring? The sun is shining, the air is humid and abuzz with newborn insects, and everyone is trying to unload their properties here in central Connecticut, which was once the urban epicenter of the brass and synthetic textile industries. There is a glut of incredibly inexpensive homes for sale here, many of them in excess of 1500 square feet, and available for under $120K. Many are in need of "handymen" for a good flip, but peppered in there are move-in ready pads that are great contenders for a guy like me.

The transition proves to be taxing on my blogging time. Searching for a house is like searching for a job: it is a full-time job in itself. There may be a stretch here on From Pyrgos where I am not as active as I've been in the past, although I have decided that the moving process will become an occasional topic of its own here. What does any of it have to do with perfume? Not a whole lot, I'm afraid. Well, perhaps a little, in the design sense. My primary focus lately has been interior design/decorating. Not just any interior design - midcentury interiors, mostly the late forties, fifties, and early sixties. My sense of personal style extends into the realm of shaping living spaces so that they become more than just rooms. On a relatively sparse budget, I intend on making my future castle an interesting before-and-after modern revivalist's dream.

The perfumes that I own from the time period in question are numbered. I think I have around three or four. There are some that are older actually, like 4711, Old Spice, Skin Bracer, Caron PuH, and my old gas-atomizer bottle of Max Factor Signature (well, that one is actually directly from the time period in question). When I think of midcentury perfumery, my mind goes right to Arden's Sandalwood. Its fresh, herbal, woody austerity is reminiscent of all the clean lines one sees in old Heywood Wakefield home living spreads. The "I Like Ike" days were all about long, tapered crests and cool color schemes, an aesthetic that extended to everything, from houses and cars to refrigerators and AM radios. You remember those little tubed radios that died if they didn't get enough airflow? No? Neither do I. Not old enough. But they were cool.

Another quirky aspect of my design sense revolves around the television, or rather the television's conspicuous absence from the proceedings. I have this room in my head, a blank canvas squarish fifties ranch kind of room, and in it are tidy furniture pieces, no more than three table lamps, a coffee table, a dry bar, a few side chairs, and lots of beautiful bold colors. The focus of the room, the anchor to which everything is moored, is a large reproduction of Joan Miro's Personages On A Red Ground. It's about art, and color, and the adopted memory of a time before instant gratification was something taken for granted. Nothing makes me cringe more than walking into a house or apartment or condo, only to be greeted by a large matte black rectangle on a piece of IKEA furniture. Americans have adopted the "sweatpants and comfort over dignity, sophistication, and style" ethic, and I'm having none of it.

Look forward to more perfume reviews in the coming months, but also be prepared to take a journey into the world of retro interior magic, where I strive to transform a dull space into something you'd find featured in The New York Times Magazine. That sounds obnoxious, but trust me on this, it's gonna be fun. I'm off to watch Hitchcock's Vertigo for more ideas.