6/18/14

New Home Ownership, & Shifting Priorities



My mid century mauve & purple tiled bathroom,
Unchanged since 1953, save for the vanity. I'm one lucky bugger.


Today at 5 pm I closed on my home purchase, and I couldn't be happier with it. My dream home always had a cozy living room with a mid-century fireplace and mantle, a spacious kitchen with tons of storage space (and a wall oven), a bathroom markedly bigger than any other bathroom anyone has ever offered me in my lifetime, a couple of bedrooms, also markedly bigger than I would ever have expected, a pantry, a finished basement, a half bath that actually works, and a bomb shelter, just in case North Korea develops an air force. That's exactly what I bought, along with the added bonuses of an attached garage and a sun room off the kitchen. The American dream is still alive and kicking. It's getting harder for people to achieve the dream, true, but it's not dead yet.

From Pyrgos will not in the foreseeable future become a "dead blog," but you may notice a significant slowdown in my posting rate, even more so than the slowdown of recent months. It's not that I don't have anything to say. It's just that I don't have as much time to say it, now that I'm busy tackling home projects. My plan is to be pretty aggressive with the cosmetic and interior revisions that I'd like to see, projects that will consume many hours and require hard work on my part. The house is move-in ready and perfectly acceptable to live in "as is," but there are some aspects of the decor that are so retro that even I don't feel them. One example is a massive cornice over the inside living room window, which I'll need to remove, a couple hundred square feet of cheap linoleum that needs replacing, and a built-in bookshelf that I'd like to build on outta there (I hate built-in bookshelves). More intense projects include updating the kitchen, installing security doors behind the garage, and getting the chimney extended above the attic vent. It's all very exciting.

My writing priorities are also shifting a bit. I purchased the house, and not a condo, because I wanted some degree of total seclusion, without noisy wall-to-wall neighbors and the cramped feeling that condos always give me, even when they're a decent size. There is a very large writing project that predates From Pyrgos by seven or eight years that I will be giving my fuller attention to, a task made easier now that I have more room to breathe, and think, and get it all out. I cannot emphasize enough though that this blog will not die - I have a list of interesting perfumes to post reviews about, and several opinions that still warrant their own slots in the blog archive, so if you're a fan of my work here, please don't despair and think this is the beginning of the end. I am a routine-driven person by nature, very much regimented into all that is familiar and fun in my life, and I love this blog. I'll continue contributing to it. I simply will not be able to contribute as frequently as I have in the past.

I appreciate my faithful readers, and don't take lightly the prospect of leaving them hanging. Several bloggers have done that to their readerships since 2010, without reason or warning, and I feel that's a bit rude. If and when the day comes for From Pyrgos to be fully retired, I will give you all good reason and ample warnings. Meanwhile, please read on. Just know that the next article will be posted from a living room in one of the oldest and best-kept corners of twentieth century Connecticut.




6/16/14

A Useful Bit Of Advice



I just wanted to pass along this article, which quotes Guy Robert. There's no news here, nothing to get in a tizzy over, but these are good points to bear in mind. Oxidation of perfumes is without a doubt a serious issue to consider when buying and owning fragrances over long periods (years, or even decades). Air in the bottle will change things, ever so subtly at first, but given enough time and a combination of other natural factors, like temperature, humidity, and exposure to sunlight, will eventually ruin the perfumer's idea, and create a fragrance very different from that which he formulated.





6/14/14

Cologne du Maghreb (Tauer)



Cologne du Maghreb is an all-natural product, which means Andy Tauer wasn't kidding when he called it a cologne. Seventeenth century continental Europeans didn't have synthetics at their disposal when making perfume, so they relied on simple oils and distillations of raw materials for their compositions. Andy has plenty of synthetics at his disposal, yet chooses to work with naturals as much as humanly possible, the mark of someone who appreciates nature's many gifts. This is a flawless composition, a striking citrus/neroli explosion up front, followed by labdanum-fueled rose and cedar, with the requisite smattering of green herbs, and a hint of clove and cardamom for depth and warmth. It starts fresh and crisp and bright, and winds up with an oriental vibe in the drydown.

Normally I take Andy's perfumes very seriously, but I can't help but feel a twinge or two here. This one makes me grin. There is an unintentionally funny edge to the composition, due in no small part to its drydown. At first it feels very "conventional guy," the sort of citrus-heavy aftershavey familiarity found in the medicine cabinets of many American and European men. Its quality is several notches above aftershave, but ultimately this is straight-up citrus, which in 2014 is a no-frills feature. Nevertheless, the man who wears this type of Eau is usually a sane, dependable person that everyone likes having around.

Then it happens: CdM goes all lounge lizard on me. You wouldn't think notes as staid and traditional as rose and labdanum could join forces to become seventies raunch, but they do. There's a bit of Halston Z-14 in Cologne du Maghreb. It's a skunky, woody, sweaty feeling, loaded with imaginary pheromones and clueless cheer. When the cedar cuts in full-force, I begin to think of the movie Ishtar, which on the surface seems like bad news, I know. It's not though, because Ishtar is an underrated masterpiece of eighties comedy, with two bonafide Hollywood leading men delivering laugh after awkward laugh. Lyle Rogers and Chuck Clarke weren't losers. They were just cheesy. But their masculinity was the most virile kind, the stuff of blind chance takers, unwitting adventurers, nothing-to-lose optimists living without a prayer. Anything that channels Lyle and Chuck, intentionally or not, deserves a spot on my shelf.





6/12/14

Nature Boy (Garner James)





If the world were to end, we should look to the perfumers to rebuild our cultures from the ground up, because the good perfumers, at their very best, can capture the beauty and mystery of planet Earth using mere wisps of loving inspiration. Jim Gehr is one such perfumer, but his talent surpasses mundane explorations of notes and accords that typically smell "good" in a conventional sense, delving instead into more challenging territory. Nature Boy is evidence that niche perfumery can be every bit as complex, sophisticated, and memorable as the best examples of designer fragrances. It is infinitely more complex, more legible, and ultimately more rewarding than giants such as Yatagan, Polo, Fahrenheit, or any one of the greats from the seventies, eighties, and nineties. Jim has asked me to not treat him with kid gloves in these reviews, because he can take constructive criticism and run with it. I'm sorry, Jim. There's not a single useful critique that I could possibly muster about Nature Boy. Your perfume surpasses most of what I have smelled, niche and designer, well over four hundred perfumes and counting. Let me tell you and everyone else why.

There is a very distinct evolution that occurs from the time this perfume hits skin, to the furthest part of the far drydown. Before I describe it, let me just list some of the materials used here. Nature Boy's naturals include Mysore sandalwood EO, Mysore sandalwood SCO2, castoreum, Haitian vetiver, Patchouli dark (aged ten years), oakmoss absolute, jasmine absolute, Choya Loban (a pervasive frankincense note), lavender absolute, bergamot mint, and labdanum absolute. Its synthetics include Evernyl, Iso E (Timbersilk), Muscone, Coumarin, Ambroxan, and Celestolide. There are a few other materials, both natural and synthetic, but I should leave some mystery here and just highlight how inclusive Jim was in crafting this formula. Now people may read my gushing, then read this list and say, "Well okay, he has said in the past that he doesn't believe the IFRA restrictions on these materials significantly effect the quality of perfumes in a general sense, and yet here he says this perfume with all these wonderful materials that have been over-regulated by the IFRA surpasses pretty much everything else he's ever smelled. What gives?"

That's a fair observation, and a fair question. What gives is that Nature Boy is a product of near limitless skill. There is no innate desire to please the masses here with a big product for department stores across the world. There is no short-sighted attempt to emulate, to join in the esteemed ranks of names etched in ivory, like Edmond Roudnitska, or Pierre Bourdon. There isn't even an adherence to any basic fragrance structure, be it chypre, oriental, or fern. Nature Boy is a product of introspection, private expression, the need to be different, yet successful. It smells of money, in the very same league as Eau Sauvage and Green Irish Tweed, yet it begins with the skankiest muck note, an odor Xacto-knived from a North American forest immediately after heavy summer rains, loaded with bittersweet damp greens, rich tree barks, stones, mosses, animal shit, and hints of white flowers. Applied liberally, Nature Boy is intimidating, a bit of a green Kouros. Its castoreum is full-throttle, and the labdanum is quite deep and sweaty. Testosterone incarnate.

Ninety minutes later, and a minty floral note emerges from the mud. It is demure, very much present, yet soft and sweet, lightened by something remotely similar to eucalyptus. An hour after that, and there's the Choya Loban, resinous, an intense vegetal green with a spiced evergreen exhale. In conjunction with lavender, it takes on a mild lilac effect for a while, before it rounds out with woodier tones and becomes part of an immense, vetiver covered amber. This note continues to dominate for fifteen hours. Solid. Longevity is incredible, the throw is at least five feet from the wearer, and the wearer can expect to enjoy a weaving in and out of two accords: sticky green incense and mossy, sweaty sandalwood, with just enough herbal freshness from the lavender on one end, and natural labdanum on the other to make it balanced and coherent. No easy feat. You'd think it would smell like a failed test-tube perfume, overloaded with naturals and lacking the spine to make any of its soggy greens sing. Instead it reads as a rich, smooth, textured fragrance, very much a product of unfettered creativity and brilliant calculations. In making something this complex, how did the man know when he had it? How did he know where to stop? How did he recognize this result as the perfect green perfume?

There are of course aspects of the structure that resonate as being "familiar" and aren't necessarily superior to similar elements found elsewhere. For example, the combination of sandalwood materials creates a very lucid, smooth-as-ice wood accord, definitely the best type of sandalwood. Arden Sandalwood focuses on this accord and really makes it shine more prominently, while other fragrances like Cotton Club, Polo Crest, and Green Irish Tweed exemplify the best use of the note. What makes the wood in Jim's scent special is its blending. The moss notes are on the wood. You smell them on the wood. Then you smell the animal funk on the moss, on the wood. Then the sappy resinous raw greens poke up, wafting through air like a humid breeze, and there's just enough sticky pine needle and velvety amber to blow my mind.

You can wear this perfume on a walk with a friend or a loved one. You can wear it to a black tie event. You can wear it to work. Spray it at seven in the morning before you leave for work, then come home at five, walk into your bedroom and into a silvery cloud of residual jasmine sweetness, that ghostly flower that ties the bow on this animal. From the deepest dregs of the Earth, the elements of God and Devil toil in a struggle for their claim on eternity. Nature Boy reminds you of that. Despite all the concrete and metal, we are children of nature, and fragrances like this awaken a yearning to return to Earth and be free.





6/11/14

Dior Homme Cologne (2007, Dior)





Summer is so close that I can smell its farts already. The hot asphalt/ozone smell, which gets skunky when drifts of old sand from the winter heat up on it, and all the fetid, humid vegetal odors that waft from the woods are filling the air I breathe and promising another tedious three months ahead. I'm not a fan of summer, I must confess. It is my least favorite season. There are some perks to it, but I'll take spring and autumn, and even early winter any day of the week. My biggest pet peeve is the problem of wearing fragrance during this season. There are several excellent options, but to me they all pale in comparison to their winter counterparts. Many aromatic ferns smell heavy and congested on ninety degree days, so I avoid them. Orientals are generally a big no. Even chypres seem to crap out by lunchtime. What works? On the hottest days I bite the bullet and just spray colognes with abandon. Their citrus characteristics usually provide some lift, and whatever woodiness remains in their base can sometimes carry an extra hour or two.

Dior Homme Cologne is literally a cologne-like version of the original Dior Homme EDT, a fragrance I do not like. I simply do not understand the appeal of Dior Homme. It is much loved by many a man (haven't met many women who think much of it though), and the press trends positive. I think it's in the same league as Guerlain Derby, a category of "signature" masculines from old brand names that smell dull and stodgy, yet garner endless praise for being what they are - signatures from old brand names. It's not cool to dump on Guerlain and Dior. And I get the feeling that guys think it's cool to say that they like a perfume with a "lipstick accord," which is supposedly what makes Dior Homme notable. To me, the lipstick idea isn't well borne out in any perfume, simply because I don't think lipstick has much of a smell at all. DH has a weird, rubbery, makeup-like note in it, but it just resembles iris and synthetic labdanum to my nose. Nothing to get all Manhattanny about.

Then there's François Demachy's 2007 "cologne" version, where he was surprisingly successful at buffing the boring out of the original formula, and replacing it with some old-school freshness. I believe a hint of cardamom (might be the "leather" note) and some extra neroli (likely the extended "citrus" note) are the notes to thank there. Where the original was somber and muted to a fault, the cologne idea translates as being complex but airy, possessing motion and intermittent transience along with longer-term strength and depth. There's a burliness to the Dior Homme engine, that odd mixture of iris, cacao, bone dry herbs, and woods, and every note is pristine and part of a coherent whole here. But is it worth seeking out and buying at whatever eyebrow-raising post-Dior price it's going for now? To me, not at all. Hybrid ideas seldom interest me, and fusing parts of a weird postmodern chypre to a relatively conventional citrus-cardamom cologne is predictably less captivating than either of those two parts would be on their own.

For a much better fragrance, I recommend trying Cologne du Maghreb by Andy Tauer. It smells like Heaven in a bottle, and you don't have to suffer past Dior's insufferable infatuation with slate grey synthetic iris notes to feel the sunshine. If I have to deal with summer, I'd rather skip mediocrity and only wear the best.





6/9/14

Ormonde Jayne Man (Ormonde Jayne)




Whenever a brand names their fragrance "Man," it gets an automatic eye roll from me. What an inherently tired product this must be, that even its creators couldn't be bothered to give it a name. My recently-acquired sample of Ormonde Jayne's boring, snoozing, sawing logs offering called to mind a particular Calvin Klein scent, also called "Man." Surprisingly, that fragrance smells good. It is a studied mish-mash of every woody-fresh/violet leaf masculine of the last thirty years, housed in a precious "Art Moderna" bottle, presumably to distract from its cheapness. Despite the overall dullness, it's a wearable scent that I reach for on occasion, and do not regret purchasing. Sometimes - most times, actually - smelling good is all there is.

Ormonde Jayne's scent is of markedly higher quality, but it covers the other road-most-traveled. This is a mish-mash of dry-woody/juniper masculines from the seventies and eighties, extending the retro reference by another ten years or so. Notes-wise it contains all the usual suspects: vetiver, cedar, juniper berry, cardamom, sandalwood, coriander, pink pepper, woody amber, pine, and last but not least, synthetic oud. I suppose Linda Pilkington could have taken the brief and toiled for months to come up with a new way of combining the listed elements, but the end result suggests she did the same as me and rolled her eyes. Can I blame her for submitting something as staid and predictable as this? Not really. The suits at this company are the ones to blame, not the perfumer. Extend a novel brief, and increase your chances of receiving a novel formula. Ask for white bread, and you get Ormonde Jayne Man.

Still, it's a very nice fragrance with no rough edges, and everything in its place. Its orderly character elicits images of solid, well-groomed men, the guys who dated and married their high school sweethearts, work nine to five, and threaten their daughters' boyfriends with certain death. I fear this kind of traditionalism will likely smell increasingly out of place as the twenty-first century wears on and continues to wipe away, with clenched fists of technology and agnosticism, the pillars of modern society. Are there fedora-wearing father figures who come home to read the newspapers after a long day at the office? No, not really. Fedoras are all but extinct, and people my age don't read newspapers. While Calvin Klein's "Man" fragrance alluded to postmodern "fresh" fragrances, OJ Man alludes to "old fashioned," the antithesis of "fresh."

I see no reason to go back forty years for this kind of "Man." Thirty years is nostalgic enough. If you want old-school, wear the real thing, like Z-14, Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme, Azzaro Pour Homme, Yatagan, Jazz, Red for Men, or any burly old-school masculine. All of those scents smell more convincingly "Manly" than this scent does. That raises the real question about all of these throwback fragrances - why pay more for something that is less than the sum of its parts?




6/3/14

Touring Irish Bars: Irish Spring, Then And Now



I recently purchased a bar of Irish Spring soap that I estimate is from the late 1970s, perhaps '77 or '78. This qualifies it as "vintage," although its barcode limits the likelihood that it is of "original" vintage. I got the soap from a seller on Etsy, which is quickly becoming my favorite site. I have officially purchased a vintage house, and I intend on filling it with antiquated knick-knacks in a relatively sly manner - no overtly "old" things anywhere, except for the utilitarian stuff, like soap, floss, dollar bills. The "details" stuff. I'm doing this so that visitors will be quietly freaked out as they go through my things, wondering if I truly am a denizen of the past who hoofed it to the present somehow and brought all his possessions with him.

The purchase is enlightening and disappointing. To actually hold a thirty some-odd year-old bar of Irish Spring in my hand is actually really cool. It's my favorite soap. I've read a lot about it. Its commercials are all over Youtube. People opine on how much better the older version was, compared to the new. They're usually referring to two aspects of the product, its size and its scent, with the overwhelming sentiment being that the larger 5 oz bars were harder and better, and the fragrance was fresher and superior to the current stuff. Memory is a tricky thing, though. It turns out that Irish Spring has actually gotten larger by .25%, relative to the "regular size" of yesteryear. It used to be 3.5 ounces. It is now 3.75 ounces. They've changed the sizing jargon to "Bath Size" instead of "Regular Size," but that's splitting hairs. These are both Colgate's "Regular Sized" bar of Irish Spring.


What has changed of course is that Colgate no longer offers the 5 oz bar, or the subsequent 4 oz bar. In other words, there is no longer much variety when it comes to the size of this soap. I believe they still make it in a 2 oz "travel size" or something like that, but I haven't seen those smaller bars in a while, and can't verify whether or not they still make it.

One thing that has changed is the color. Now I believe this old bar of soap has actually faded in color, despite being stored in a sealed box, likely due to the dyes gradually aging. However, it still bears a very clear imprint of the name and logo, and is a beautiful marbled white and jade, much streakier than the current bar. I guess the temptation to whip out a pocket knife and slice into the stuff is supposed to be part of the appeal, but I honestly have no desire to do that. What you see here is what you get, inside and out, I'm sure:


The new bar is much greener, much less marbelized, and for some reason doesn't have the cute shamrock imprint. I guess the cost of stamping shamrocks was vetoed at some point by the suits in charge of production. No biggie, but they could have at least tried to preserve it. It would look nice on this pale, seafoamy green:


As for the fragrance, well, that's the disappointing part. I figured that unlike perfume, the fragrance in soap would stay true regardless of age, provided the bar remains in a sealed box, away from the elements. The box arrived sealed, with no signs of serious damage other than a few wrinkles and scuffs. Yet the soap barely smells of anything. The odor off the dry bar, and from the box itself, is all there is. It's a vaguely spicy, woody odor, very meek and pleasant, but impossible to decipher properly. I wet a portion of the bar and built up a lather on the palm of my hand, but that seemed to squelch what little scent remains, and I smell nothing but basic soap materials (tallow-like odors). Quite a bust, I'm afraid.


This soap has been around for over four decades, and perhaps bars from the late '80s and '90s have held up better scent-wise. Unless you're a die-hard Irish Spring fan, it's tough to see the point in seeking out a really old bar, but if you can get it for pennies like I did, you may has well buy it and see. Perhaps the luck of the Irish will be with you.




6/1/14

Trevert (Aftelier)



Niche fragrances in the "green" category have largely been busts for one reason, and one reason only: they can't compete against Creed. Say what you will, but if you're in the market for an aromatic green scent, Creed is the company to hit up. Take your pick: Green Irish Tweed, Green Valley, Original Vetiver, Sélection Verte, Chevrefeuille, Royal Water, Silver Mountain Water, and if you're an adventurous guy, Spring Flower, Acqua Fiorentina, and Jardins d'Amalfi, all amazing scents. For a bitter, grassy fresh scent, you'll do no better than Green Valley. For a buttoned-up charity dinner aromatic fern, Green Irish Tweed is almost unmatched. Original Vetiver is as soapy, green, and clean as it gets. Chevrefueille and Royal Water are excellent unisex options, and the rest are all variations on the theme that crush the competition via superior ingredient quality. They may not be the most exciting fragrances, but the list above highlights the answers to any green lover's questions about perfume.

Trevert by Aftelier had promise. This is a respected brand with an equally respectable digital and carbon footprint. I figured Trevert would smell really good, and guess what? It does! But guess what else? The smell lasts about fifteen minutes before fading into thin air. That's fine, but not at Aftelier's prices. While it lasts, the fragrance is a distinctly herbal affair, full of pine, tarragon, cut grass, and a dry birch bark note that lends it a little dimensionality beyond the turf. Its main strength is that it smells very serene and natural. Its biggest drawback is that it also smells a lot like one of those au naturel scented candles found in your typical au naturel healthfood store. There's a familiar twinge to the woody greenness, like the smell of walking down the aisle of plastic gallon buckets with scoops where you can take your fill of dates, seeds, and dried herbs for a hundred dollars a pound.

Adding to the disappointment is the fact that none of the naturals used in Trevert are up to par with Creed's chemicals. Let's be real here - Creed isn't really niche, it's more like the tippy-top of designer (they used to be a clothing concern), and as kings of the designer realm, they're not exactly expected to meet the quality of top-shelf niche. Yet in this backwards world, Creed fragrances surpass niche quality in general, falling short only in inventiveness. Creeds are usually very safe and familiar. Trevert does nothing to make me want to take chances. It is a boring, short-lived, transparent little fragrance that falls a few hours shy of being memorable, and in no way lives up to its price-point. I appreciate the effort, though.