12/31/14

The Elusive Fougère, Part One




Few fragrance families have befuddled, confused, eluded, even angered men as frequently as the fougère has, which is worth mentioning because it's one of the most common types of masculine fragrance out there. It only befuddles fragheads of course, those of us who are far more interested in perfume than the average guy who reaches for his one bottle of Gucci Guilty and wears it without a second thought. An example of just how laborious it can be for us to understand the genre can be found in this thread, which dissects its history a bit, and then ponders what exactly a fougère should smell like. The OP asserts that it is "not beautiful," and "if you get too much of it, it can be even nauseating," which is at odds with my own experience, but then again I've been known to have an uncommonly tough tummy.

Here is my assertion: the fougère is basically a fresh, somewhat floral, somewhat woodsy, slightly mossy/musky concoction that in traditional format smells stereotypically "barbershoppy." Lavender and coumarin are the main players, but the handling of both notes can vary, even among traditional ferns. Nevertheless, all share a uniquely powdery, talc-like quality, with a lukewarm coumarin adding ambery heft and depth to an otherwise evanescent herbal structure. The fougères pictured above are a visual answer to the question, "What is a fougère?" If you own and wear at least three of those six fragrances, you fully understand what a fougère is, and if Drakkar is one of them, you also understand the basic aromatic fougère fairly well.

So why all the questioning? I suspect some guys have an unintentionally poor olfactory grasp of one or more of the key notes, which may or may not create an unnecessary sense of mystery. I attribute this to natural causes, a physical inability to detect a specific scent. For example, I know at least a couple of people who are anosmic to lavender. When faced with lavender, alternative adjectives are used to describe it, rather than just identifying it as lavender: it's "camphorous," it's "minty," it's "laundry musk." Contemporary perfumery methods have allowed perfumers to extend the life of lavender on skin by a considerable length of time, beyond the forty-five seconds you might get from dabbing pure oil mixed with perfumer's alcohol on skin. Missing the central lavender chord may ruin fougères for some people.

Another problem may be unfamiliarity with the similarities old-school ferns share. If your three frags of experience are Caron Pour un Homme, Drakkar, and Brut, I can understand that it would be hard to find their common link. There's still an experiential vacuum with ferns there. Add Pinaud's Clubman, Mennen Skin Bracer, and Canoe to the mix, and suddenly there's a familiar shape in the air. Take for example the musky talc drydown of Brut, Clubman, and Canoe, each very "barbershop" in their own right. Alone, their fragrances are anomalies compared to what's currently under glass in department stores these days, but together they're like triplets after a particularly trying birth - similar enough to be unmistakably siblings, but each with a slightly different face. Familiarity with all three ensures the confusion factor is minimal.

And while I'm discussing the confusion factor, I should add that contemporary releases generally eschew the conventions of old-school ferns, in favor of more aromatic and gourmand nuances. Compare Canoe to Bleu de Chanel and you see what I mean. One could argue that it's silly to say fougères are alien to guys, given their iconic status, but "iconic" can be synonymous with "forgotten." Just today I visited a local brick and mortar shop that carries dozens of hard-to-find masculines, and asked the owner for a bottle of Canoe. I didn't even bother looking at his shelves, I figured he'd hear the name, immediately know it, and simply hand it to me. After all, Dana frags are found in every drugstore across America.

I was in for a surprise - the guy had no idea what I was talking about. He's been in business for twenty years, is roughly sixty years old, and he gave me a blank, confused stare. I went to his shop and not a Rite-Aid or CVS because I figured that unlike the big-boxes, he would have a wider variety of sizes (I was looking for an eight-ounce bottle). I had to spell "Dana" for him. He eventually found it on his smartphone and showed me a picture to confirm the item, then apologized, saying it was out of stock. Indeed, he had English Leather and one or two other obscure Dana items on a shelf, but no Canoe. So it's getting to the point in America where cornerstone masculines like Canoe are not even being stocked in independent perfume outlets.

In the thread linked above, a Parfumo member named "LovingTheAlien" wrote, "I decided to blend myself what I had learned from various sources to be the building blocks of a 'real' vintage fougère: Oakmoss (my own tincture!), Tonka Bean (my own tincture again), a little amber (in place of labdanum, which I don't have), sandalwood (Mysore tincture - also mine), a light floral blend (jasmine and rose, a tiny bit of each), lavender (another tincture), bergamot, and a teensy touch of (regrettably) synthetic musk. It came out kind of muddled - something was weird. It had a spicy sweet edge, something like a fougère, but something was missing. A little investigation, and a drop (well, smallish tacky glob) of patchouli was added. And there it was: Pinaud Clubman, Avon Wild Country, Dana Ambush, and Canoe!"

He presciently added, "The 'aromatic fougère' genre certainly spans a large range of finished products, from the still very fougère-like Azzaro Pour Homme to the baffling Dali Pour Homme (one of my favorites), which emphasizes the metallic leathery quality of tonka with castoreum and plays with all kinds of bitter green notes in the top. I can still smell the fougère accord in most of these scents - it's kind of impossible to hide if you know what you're looking for, it seems!" I agree, the accord is unmistakable, but that doesn't change the fact that it's only unmistakable to those who can accurately discern the notes that comprise it, a major issue for some.

But knowing the fougère accord isn't essential to understanding what a fougère is. It's more important to recognize the traditional fougère's general scent profile - is it spicy, powdery, balmy, green, woody, or sweet? Is it all of those things? If so, what is it more of? In my opinion, it's more powdery than anything else. My nose is sensitive to the talc effect in the bases of these compositions, so when I smell that clean powder essence, I know I'm dealing with either a straight-up traditional fern, or something derived from it, like Royal Copenhagen. I'm also pretty good at detecting lavender, so for me there's an early warning sign that a fougère is in use. Essentially this combination of lavender and powder is universal to the classical fern.

The final frontier, and perhaps most daunting aspect of understanding ferns, is in assessing the aromatic variants, which take the classical structure and condense it, then surround it with additional notes, usually notes that fit each of the scent profile categories. They're much more complex and subject to change, these aromatic ferns, and therefore are often harder to define. I think fragrances like Azzaro PH, Paco Rabanne, and Drakkar are suitable gateways to the aromatic fougère, because their "barbershop" qualities are still prominent, and they show the progressive advance of dihydromyrcenol in masculine compositions. Even Kouros and Jazz hold some semblance of citrus aftershave and talc dust, enough to connect them to the family tree. Once you establish that the antiseptic citrus/lavender accord can be twisted around any make and model of coumarin, the sky is truly the limit.

Lastly comes the more amusing question that sometimes crops up, the plea to define "barbershop" as it pertains to scent. Some guys know what it means when you say, "It smells like a barbershop frag," but others are instantly lost. Either they went to a different barber, or they always cut their own hair. Or perhaps their culture is one where using talc and aftershave is rare. Barbershops across America use talcum powder after a close cut or shave, usually to dry out and soothe skin. I've been to barbers who used Clubman talc, and I've been to barbers who used Pinaud After-Shave Talc. I've even been to barbers who used baby powder, disguised by an unmarked tin. That powder is the essence of the barbershop scent, a dry, diffuse, slightly floral aroma, evocative of summer afternoons and rides in dad's car.

Peruse the Parfumo thread for some additional thoughts on the role of gender and personal taste in recognizing fougères, and consider this - fougères have been around since the dawn of perfumery itself. To know one fougère is to know a piece of history. To avoid fougères is to subjugate yourself to the pitfalls of attempting to live around a massive, maw-like hole in your education.




12/22/14

The Long And Short Of It


Frick and Frack. You're Tweedely-Dee.


The end of another year is finally upon us, and I find myself reflecting on the last twelve months with a mixture of pleasure and wistfulness. Lately I've been reaching for Brut more than anything else, of all things. You'd think a guy with seventy fragrances (most of them exotic, relative to what the average person wears) would, oh, I don't know, reach for something fancier than Brut, but what can I say? Brut I want, so Brut it shall be. After all, I don't just have Brut. I have Brut, Brut Classic, vintage Brut 33, Brut Splash-On, Brut aftershave, and Brut deodorant spray, so when I want Brut, I get the entire grooming regimen done, not just a wee dab of cologne.

At work today my coworker was surfing the web, looking for a cologne for her "man," and seemed pretty intent on getting him Gucci Guilty. She's nine years younger than me, so I guess I can understand her thought process here. She's young, and I assume he's close to her age, and neither of them have a clue what the other should smell like, as long as it smells "good." The woman in question told me, "The guy at Macy's said to buy him whatever I like, not what he likes." And she likes Gucci Guilty. If she likes it, he'll probably be at least OK with it, and will wear it until they break up, which by today's average is likely within the next two or three years. I have this little theory about relationships that people over the age of twenty-three who stay together for more than two years without tying the knot are actually, and despite what they might think of it themselves, in a poor relationship, but that's a conversation for another day, probably on another blog. All I can say about this woman is, I totally like her, she's as happy as can be, always brightens everyone's day, and I think her taste in fragrance sucks.

It took every ounce of willpower not to say to her, "Just get him a bottle of Brut Classic and call it a day." I actually have a bottle there, I could have pulled it from my cubby and handed it to her, and let her cluck her tongue and tell me about how old I am. There's still a work day left before we go on vacation, so the chance to spout off is still there, putting my better judgment in a half-nelson. But if anyone were to ask me which masculine to get for their "man," I'd recommend Brut as a safe, all-encompassing, time-tested win. Sorry people, but the damn stuff defies conventional wisdom in every sense, be it financial, fashionable, or otherwise. Yeah, three ounces is ten bucks at Walgreens. Yeah, it's fifty years old, and no, it's not going to turn heads.

But it's one of a precious few surviving traditional fougères men have at their disposal. Furthermore, it has been fairly well preserved over the decades, with the loss of musk ambrette the only real blow to its physical structure. On Badger & Blade the Classic version is heralded as being quite close to the original of the sixties and seventies, and I have the old 33 to compare it to, so I agree with their assessment. But what does it say of fragrance in general that a cheap, ostensibly outdated drugstore fern that nobody below the age of forty touches anymore smells so good? Why bother with anything like say, Green Irish Tweed or Bleu de Chanel if Brut is so nice?

Should we even bother with fragrance at all? There's a study from the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, which found that cologne for men turns women off, that "Men's colognes actually reduced vaginal blood flow," which is a scientific blow to any guy who thinks the fanciest fragrance will woo the prettiest girl . . . or is it? The study is questionable. Very questionable. The foundation's founder, Al Hirsch, had women wear surgical masks with different fragrances on them, and hooked their lady parts up to a vaginal photoplethysmograph (with unscented masks as a control). He found that pretty much every conventional masculine scent turned women off, at least in the physical arousal department (no accounting for whether the women were intellectually drawn to any of the scents), yet the smells of candy and cucumbers were arousing, which begs the question, do sweet scents with cucumber notes warrant attention here?

An obvious question is, were these women turned on to begin with, in a manner that made measuring how quickly and by how much they were turned off relevant? One assumes their vaginas were engorged with enough blood to begin with, and thus measuring the retreat of their biological arousal mechanism in the presence of fragrance was worth it. Otherwise you're just taking women who aren't sexually aroused at all, plopping surgical masks on their faces (very arousing), and pointing out the photowhateveragraph's notations because you literally have nothing better to do in your pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding. I think the study equates feminine arousal to olfactory response in a way that is much like saying, "If men fail to get erections in the presence of women's perfumes, women should abstain from wearing perfume altogether," which is an absurd statement to any man, because men know that perfume alone is pointless without a woman wearing it - the combination of her natural pheromones and delicate feminine notes is often intoxicating.

Studies like this require some translation, and I think whenever a mask is put on somebody's face, the strength of whatever it's scented with is magnified greatly. Just think of any rubber mask you've ever put on. The scent of the rubber is usually overpowering, but when you take it off it barely registers from a few inches away. What do I glean from Al's study? Go easy on the sprayer, unless you're actively studying a fragrance and want to really pick its structure apart over the course of a day, in which case you should spray at your discretion. Maybe lighter, more ephemeral cologne-strength scents are better on men after all, because they're only detectable "up close," for anyone who wants to be that close to you. Then again, what do I know? Maybe it doesn't matter at all, if your scent of choice is solid to begin with.

As the years wear on, I've come to realize a few things about the fragrance world, or more specifically, my fragrance world:
1. Fragrance is only one small piece of a person's puzzle. Just wearing a Creed, or Lutens, or Amouage is not enough to make you interesting, or sexy, or sophisticated, or all of the above. You have to possess enough character and personality to support whatever you're wearing, if you're hoping your fragrance will really mean anything to anyone else.

2. Expensive is not "better" in this game. Yes, Green Irish Tweed smells really, really good. But then again, so does Brut, Old Spice, Aqua Velva. Cheap fragrances can, and sometimes do match their expensive counterparts in quality and wear-ability, so why go nuts trying to break the bank? Any guy can smell good at any price-point. Just accept that wearing something like Brut or Old Spice is not a reflection of you anymore than a rare bee bottle Guerlain is a reflection of its owner's personal qualities. If you wear the cheap cologne with shame, you'll convey shame, and the cologne won't smell like anything memorable to anyone. If you carry yourself confidently, chances are your confidence and scent will be associated with each other.

3. Fragrance is truly gender-neutral. I can think of a dozen women who could rock Drakkar, or Allure Homme, or even Brut. Likewise, there are more than a few guys who would be much better off reaching for Tea Rose than that Axe crap on store shelves. Milan Kundera once said, "All great novels are bisexual." All great perfumes are bisexual. That said, there's nothing wrong with reveling in "guy's-guy" perfumes like the drugstore classics mentioned here. Old Spice really was worn by your grandfather, and yes, he wore lumberjack flannels and smoked cigars. Guess what? The smells of sweat, cigar smoke, and Old Spice got him laid.

4. There are no "experts." There are people who have smelled three or four perfumes, and there are those who have smelled three or four hundred, or more. The person who has three scents under his olfactory belt is just as qualified to pass judgment on something as the super-sniffer is. Our noses are biological instruments that can be fine-tuned, but never forget that they are survival mechanisms, and as Avery Gilbert said, "Humans can smell just as well as dogs." That's right, you could theoretically (pride notwithstanding) get on your hands and knees at an airport and locate exactly which suitcase is holding bricks of cocaine, in case the drug-sniffer dogs get tired. How is that possible? Your nose, even without fine-tuning, is capable of deciphering the oddest, most out-of-place aromas in a split second, the sort of instinct that kicks in when you raise a glass of spoiled milk to your lips.

As we slip into 2015, I intend on slowing down in my fragrance journey, so as to allow my impressions to be truly dimensional and well conceived. I'd like to wish you all a happy holiday and a happy new year. See you again soon.






12/20/14

Cathedral In Flames (Garner James)



In a perfect world all the cathedrals would burn, would go down, and stay down. I'm agnostic, formerly Catholic, not a believer in Jesus or any "nameable" god. Organized religion is a bad thing in my opinion, as it is little more than an unnecessarily complicated way of oppressing minorities and women, and driving patriarchal power into the heads of children so they can grow up to be servants of invisible men. There is nothing inherently bad about believing in god, any god, or trying to live after divinity with charitable acts and goodwill toward others, but to foist any belief system on the masses is an act of willful paralysis and ignorance.

My central issue with religion, particularly Catholicism, is its insistence on an afterlife. Think for thirty seconds - just thirty measly seconds - and come up with one good reason to want to go to Heaven. What could possibly be so great about spending an eternity in some fluffy incorporeal dimension full of sexless angels and "love" without reason? I don't care how much beauty and love there is, eventually I'd get awfully bored. Eternity is a long time. My soul is human. I am and always will be the essence of an Earth-bound mammal, and as such need variable tactile stimuli, pleasure and pain, love and hate, peace and bloodshed, corporeal contact with others, the physical touch.

When I was four, one of my first intellectual thoughts was that I was inexplicably relieved to be alive in the 1980s, a time of advanced medicine and rapidly advancing technology. This relief was profound, and guided me into my teenage years as a confused Catholic with a truly religious mindset - I was a believer. It took cancer and two surgeries to bring me back around to my sense of childhood relief, where I realized that I could not possibly be relieved to be born into a specific time unless I had an innate sense of a different and more difficult time to compare it to. Why would a child be relieved to have electrical appliances and synthetic fabrics to keep him warm, unless some part of his psyche was distantly attuned to not having those things at all?

Ten years later, I began to sense that there was an answer to the question, if no god, then what? Religious people are often taken with all that supposedly comes after death, but rarely seem to think that there are mundane clues about this outcome to be found in life. Religious clues are all sophisticated, moral, based on what sort of character you are. It's boring to suppose that the answers to the eternal questions of what happens after death are found in basic patterns of biological life. Yet that's exactly what I believe holds these answers: life itself.

Let's look for a moment at what we do as living beings. We eat, breathe, socialize, reproduce, shit and piss, combat diseases, love each other, kill each other, sleep, dream, age, and die. The patterns? We eat for energy to tide us over until we're hungry, and then we eat again. An endless cycle. We breathe in and out, another endless cycle. We make friends, lose touch with them, sometimes fight with and hate them, sometimes fall in love with them, this goes on and on. We'd perish quickly if we didn't shit and piss on a regular basis, making room for new food by getting rid of the old. We get sick, get better, get sick again, get better again. But most importantly, we sleep. We wake up. We get tired, and sleep again. Wake up, feel energized, live another day, then back to sleep.

Poe once said, "Sleep, those little slices of death," referring to the physically helpless, intellectually inert state of sleep our bodies require. In sleep, all is dark. Our minds flicker through their garbage, excreting excess psychic stimuli via dreams and nightmares. Sometimes this activity is so minimal that there is literally no cognitive record of the hours at rest. We simply close our eyes, and open them again seven or eight hours later, ready to face another day. We take for granted that sleep is available to us, or that we would die without it. But is sleep truly living? Why must all signs of life cyclically reduce down to their barest minimum to ensure survival?

I believe that sleep is a biological representation of the natural order of life, death, birth, and rebirth. In life, we sleep between days. In death, we sleep between lives. Not all of us, mind you - as in life, our outcomes after death are varied, with some simply vanishing into nothingness (feeling, caring, and regretting nothing as a result), while others are reborn as animals. Yes, the little critters in your backyard are alive, after all, and are sub-intellectual entities that sustain the ecosystem with pre-programmed instinctive behaviors. Still others are reborn as new people, but here is where my belief sticks to the basics. Instead of being reborn as new people, body and soul, we are simply reborn as new bodies, with the same essence of whatever carried us through previous lives. I believe this because I believe our "souls" are not unique to ourselves, but are rather the same common essence, pressed into different genetic structures.

Doubters of my philosophy should consider that we are composed of dead matter. Every microgram of ourselves is part of a complex structure of inanimate objects that neither think, feel, or perish. Human cells are composed of individual elements, all of them dead units animated by electrical impulse (itself a dead drive). Roughly sixty percent of our bodies are water. Simple water, dead as dirt, non-intellectual H20. Tissues, brain matter, the chemicals that comprise our vital systems, all technically dead. Ever taste your own blood? It tastes like metal, its high iron and mineral content. Liquid Earth flows through our veins. Taken individually, our biological parts are lifeless. Together they make us who we are, but that doesn't change the fact that we are essentially comprised of lifeless carbons. The only thing that animates us are our energies, intense electrical currents that interact with various chemical systems to produce movement, and behavior. When we die, our electrical systems shut down, and our already dead parts disperse, melting into the rest of this carbon-based planet.

Cathedral in Flames is the final perfume in the small lineup of fragrances gifted to me by Jim Gehr of Garner James, and it is a luxurious experience, something any thinking person should wear at least once in their lifetime. It smells of brisk citrus, silvery incense, something akin to chili pepper, and rich spices, with cinnamon the main player. As with all of Gehr's work, Cathedral is perfectly balanced, its woody incense lending sturdiness to the shimmer and shine of fleeting fruit rind and piercing herbal notes. It's perfect on an autumn or winter day, feeling both warm and solid, yet never wearing too heavily. The "hot" incense accord is likely the reason for the fragrance's name, and it's one of the few oriental accords I've encountered that I can wear several days in a row without losing interest.

This is what Copper Skies by Kerosene should smell like. That fragrance conjures images of acid chemical cleaners and cloying, chaotic eugenol, and is in no way evocative of golden autumnal days, but Cathedral in Flames is smoldering Earth in a bottle, crisp, natural, complex, and elegant. It's also designed to smell both masculine and feminine, its subtle floral notes lifting the fresh incense in a way that anyone can enjoy. Go forth into 2015 with courage to accept all that it means to be human, and enjoy this olfactory ode to mankind without missing what you'll never have.



12/17/14

Knot (Bottega Veneta)




Some scents manage somehow to get corners of our souls to themselves, their characteristics immediately recognizable and capable of instantaneous associative memory, very often steeped in nostalgia. Driving home from work today I caught a few whiffs of burning kerosene, probably from a trailer park I was passing, and it was 1987 again. I'm in my parents' basement playing with toys near a protective wooden gate my father used to plop between me and his kerosene heater. He'd fire that thing up whenever he and mom watched TV (they have since converted the "den" portion of the basement into an apartment for my grandmother, which I never really cared for).

The smell of freshly-opened peanut butter sends me to the same time period, even a few years beyond, and I'm sitting in the backseat of my father's Chevelle, a monster of steel and Naugahyde with felted strips, held together by a substance that years of baking summer sunshine and musty garages had imbued with the inexplicable odor of peanuts, or at least that's how my five year-old nose interpreted it. To this day I love peanut butter, not because it's delicious, but because its smell transports me back to that ridiculously sexy junker, an obscenity on wheels that dad occasionally cleaned with a rag while smoking Newports.

Knot is a fine little fresh fragrance by Daniela Andrier of Luna Rossa and Candy fame, and a bit of a surprise. I knew Bottega Veneta had released it, I didn't expect to smell it anytime soon, but did anyway. Now that I'm a Neiman Marcus customer I'm allowed to cast eyes on their products, and even smell them. I guess it's more memory than perfume, because it takes me back to a woman's apartment, someone I loved dearly, and reconnects me fondly to the memory of her. She was very much a "girly girl" when it came to soaps and perfumes and lotions, a bit funny in light of her otherwise dark and sometimes downright anarchistic personality.

Nowadays it reminds me of a coworker who is the epitome of the phrase "girly girl," a young woman with enough estrogen for twenty of her kind, and whose sweat glands literally produce pink droplets. Laugh if you must, but she's my type, the sort of woman I gravitate to, the femme in knee-high boots who ceaselessly ponders her fingernails, and constantly paints them, pontificating on how delicious Chili's ranch dressing is and how awful boys are. She appeals to me because there is no mystery as to who she is. This type of woman is a heterosexual woman of the highest order, wearing her heart on her sleeve, emotive to the nth power, dedicated to the decimation of manhood while simultaneously loving men to their bones, and occasionally equating their beauty to food, which I admit is sometimes weird.

Knot smells like this woman, a fresh floral neroli and gardenia breeze on a light woody musk, a smell entirely without contrast or conflict, yet thoroughly pleasant, feminine without resorting to sugar-shock, of classic origins, and destined for a place among the best in years to come. It smells like someone I once knew, a brilliant woman who worked sixty hour weeks and drank even harder than me, but whose beauty was unmatched, and whose heart was once pressed against mine. Ladies and gentlemen, wear this perfume without trying to be anything other than happy, because even the hardest mercenary can find time for something as fresh and clean as this, Bottega Veneta's little twist on the contemporary mall-rat feminine.



12/9/14

Alpha Ionone At Little More Than 1% Concentration Responsible For Natural Sandalwood Effect In Grey Flannel



One of the many things I love about vintage Grey Flannel is its beautiful, smooth, natural-smelling sandalwood note, an effect one might surmise is attributable to high quality ingredients not found in today's iteration of the scent. I was fortunate enough to acquire from perfumer Jim Gehr a sample of Ionone Alpha at 1% concentration, something I requested, and I'm surprised to find after several days of scrutiny that this aroma chemical is in fact responsible for that velvety precious wood effect in the older vintage, although perhaps at a higher concentration.

What does this mean? Let's face it, ionones are not super expensive materials, and I doubt any perfumer would classify them as being exotic in any way. They're common to floral notes, with A and B ionones combining to make violet (B alone smells of roses). If it's a cheap material with a memorable aroma, why scale back on it in the newer version of Beene's perfume? In its pure form, Ionone Alpha smells of slightly spicy, violet-tinged sandalwood, albeit a rather soapy, creamy-smelling incarnation of it. Rich, buttery, and quite smooth, this element is obscured in Arden's Grey Flannel, which seems to contain a more textured and anisic cloud of galbanum.

Maybe the intense woodiness of Ionone Alpha was considered by the suits at EA to be dated. My suspicion with most reformulations of old masculines is that times change the scents more than executives, with new waves of young men favoring cleaner, sweeter concoctions than their fathers and grandfathers ever wore. Look at Green Irish Tweed and Cool Water - the former, while certainly classic and still sought after, smells rather loud in an eighties way, overly rich for today's blood, while the latter remains a throwback, but much crisper and cleaner. "Sheer" is the word I'd use to describe a key difference between them, because CW smells transparent compared to GIT.

Galbanum and spiced anise notes are lighter, and a touch closer to being "au courant" than dense, unremitting bergamot and violetty sandalwood, so unnecessary tweaks were made, and today's Grey Flannel is different and arguably more wearable for today's young men. Naturally most youngsters favor newer scents, but hey, they tried. The supposition that oakmoss is a factor here is something I've entertained in the past also, but to be honest the oakmoss concentration in this scent is better at a low dose for me, as I seem to be just a little sensitive to it. IFRA is on to something.

The moral of the story: ingredient quality in vintages is not necessarily better. Just the same at a higher concentration, or marginally different. No expensive sandalwood oils were used to make Jacqueline Cochran Grey Flannel the beauty it is. It was merely infused with a heady slog of Ionone Alpha, and of course the perfumer's talent in integrating other notes to yield a masterpiece of modern design.



12/7/14

What Is The Smell of Social Unrest?




"This is something essential to art: reception is never its goal. What counts for me is that my work provides material to reflect upon. Reflection is an activity."
- Thomas Hirschhorn


Michael Brown and Eric Garner are household names in 2014, with headlines about racial inequality and police brutality continuing to ripple across front pages of newspapers and the very fabric of American society, yet the fragrance world remains unmoved. Despite all the unrest and injustice, the protests, the riots, the commentaries on television by people like Bill O'Reilly, Joan Walsh, Jon Stewart, and even athletes like Derrick Rose, who recently wore an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt to a game, headlines in the perfume community remain quietly mundane and oblivious. I do not say this as an indictment of perfumistas, because I do not think it is appropriate for our culture to attempt a politically-motivated olfactory response to racial injustice in American cities. This blog post is simply meant to further illustrate and reinforce my position that perfume is not art. To see and think about art is to reflect on ourselves, our pleasures and our pains, yet perfume does not initiate reflections on pain and suffering.

If perfume were art, we would not be reading blog posts like Persolaise's December 3rd interview with Kelly Kovack of Odin, in which the most socially aware question asked of her was, "Are you worried about the opportunistic proliferation of niche?" I actually enjoyed this interview, because Ms. Kovack reinforced one of my staunchest opinions regarding the importance of fragrance blogs to the perfume industry when she said, "Online press has been huge. I think that blogs are hugely important for us." Of course they are! Without online press for perfumes, there is no press for perfumes. Our words as bloggers are what motivate and disenfranchise the industry, in equal measure, often making or breaking fragrances (so be careful what you say). But Persolaise's interview is understandably tone deaf about what's actually taking place in New York, despite being titled, "Something Very New York." Right now, something "Very New York" would have excerpts of people's grief over the Eric Garner killing smattered across its page. We would be reading about anger, confusion, resentment, and not Ms. Kelly and Odin.

I could list a few other blog headlines, but you get the drift - Persolaise is not alone in prioritizing perfume stories over political events. He and others who type blithely on about new niche brands are not wrong in doing so. They are merely examples of how far removed from artistic discourse perfume writers actually are. It would be tedious of me to expound on how art contributes to our definitions of time periods, with movements like "Socialist Realism," and "Dadaism" being obvious, well known examples, but one example of art reflecting pain is Thomas Hirschhorn's famous 2002 installation "Non-Lieux," or "Non Site." In this work, we see the disintegration of American ideals in a semi-abstract representation of Ground Zero in NYC, with social and political progress heaped in the rubble, symbols of religious and secular worlds reaching for our attention, and for dominance in the newly-destroyed landscape. Flags labeled "Democracy," pornographic images of women, and an electric train celebrate the contradiction of America's patriotism and its need to "connect" imagery to its physically and morally ruined landscapes. The nation's pain in the months following that colossal tragedy cannot be channeled in its entirety through a work like Mr. Hirschhorn's, but facets of it resonate years after the healing has begun.

Certainly perfume can be viewed retroactively as stylistic prose on the cultural mood of an era, and Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue and Mitsouko are prime examples. The first perfume was released two years before the start of World War I, and stands as a delectable pre-war ode to Impressionism's last gasp before the rise of the great twentieth century industrial war complex. The second was issued at the end of the war, a peach-infused chypre that smelled wistful and vain in ways only the French can conjure. I suppose the argument can be made that this is as close to political discourse as perfume can come, to trace changes in the human condition at historical divides, but there is hardly enough content in a smell to decipher what has changed, and why. There is only a vague thematic shift, something that either retains clarity through continuity, or loses it when other products enter the fray. How much iconic truth can be gleaned from two perfumes released by the same house?

And how does perfume ever expressively resonate on a political level? This is a question for people like Chandler Burr, who continue to propagate the relatively unchallenged notion that perfume is fine art. All forms of fine art can be modulated to fit a political narrative, be it painting, sculpture, performance art, Earth art, etc. Take for example an early "body work" by artist Ana Mendieta, in which she responded to a rape on her college campus by inviting people to her apartment, where they found her stripped, tied, and smeared in blood. Or consider Ilya Kabakov's The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment, an absurdist emblem of Soviet inefficiency, and part of his "Ten Characters" series, showing how nationalistic aspirations like winning the "space race" can go awry. Not only are talking points addressed, but emotionally-charged intellectual musings, humor, and naked despair are all tangible elements in the visual languages spoken by these artists.

Design, on the other hand, simply functions, and the mathematics of aerodynamics, architectural geometry, chemistry, and three-point perspective are the main schematics for success. Political and social discourse are at most marginally involved. Perfume is design, a very functional, superficial form of design, and as such serves the purpose of helping us smell like something other than our natural selves. Expression is limited to fragrance choice, a fashion statement by proxy.

In 2014, a year where social, political, and financial inequality are at an all-time high, we face some inconvenient truths: the rich are responsible for a negative, damaging dichotomy; the poor will not escape their terrible class bracket; the only thing that creates wealth is wealth itself; those wealthy enough to afford the entire Creed range can not possibly understand the family that relies on food stamps and charities to put meals on their table. Chandler Burr fashions himself as being some kind of "zeitgeist shaper" who invents coded terminologies and maps out cultural territories of thought, but look at who he is - a wealthy guy who hobnobs with wealthy people. He probably flies first class, eats fifty dollar meals, wears $150 shirts, lives on an 1800 sq ft floorplan in the city. He's a "New Yorker," as in he represents the One Percent.

Is it any surprise that he believes perfume is fine art? He considers all art "artificial" by definition. If a great swath of art deals with pain, suffering, disenfranchisement, moral failure, the irony of poverty in developed nations, then labeling it "artifice" is very convenient to his upper-crust worldview, isn't it? Maybe that sort of art does not speak to him, so he turns to perfume, products of luxury and sometimes exploitative greed, and calls it art also. To posit that the beauty of a great perfume is fine art is a clever way to bypass the social realities being dissected by real fine artists, and ride into culture-ville on the Ivory Tower Express. Most people won't know what that $600 Guerlain or Dior smells like, because they can't even afford a sample of it, but Burr calls it art. In fairness, he also considers $30 perfumes like The Dreamer to be art, but even that price-point is a luxury that the super poor, who number in the millions, can never afford.

A common misconception among middle class people is that the wealthy pay a lot for luxuries because they can afford them. In truth, the wealthy often pay nothing at all for ultra-expensive things. These things are given to them, because they're part of "the club," that tiny class of people who consider it an insult, bordering on obscene to be asked for money in exchange for a service. Burr's power to announce that perfume is fine art, and then have a New York art museum grant him a show to prove it, is an incredible luxury. Did he pay for it? If so, how?

Does anyone really subscribe to his school of thought anyway? It doesn't matter. What disturbs me is that people in Burr's class have become so detached from those in every other class that they aren't even asked these kinds of questions anymore. Historically, fine art represents the sacred and profane, the basest human needs, most sophisticated desires, cross-cultural tribulations, elevating human devastation with the power of raw beauty via refined intellect. We are facing a replay of the 1960s with poor black Americans being murdered in broad daylight by well-off white policemen, and it is incumbent on fine artists to filter this aspect of their lives and exposit meaningful, self-expressive works. Their creations are important in shaping our nation's dialogue on race, prejudice, and social injustice.

If perfume is fine art, then perfumers should create fragrances that express the rage, the oppression, the injustices of racially-motivated slayings. Perfumers will not do this, of course, because they can't bottle such things, and people can't wear them. You can't smell like social unrest, because no one wants to smell like tear gas.

If you believe that perfume is fine art, I challenge you to look in the mirror and ask yourself how you came to that conclusion - how you, personally, came to it. In what way are perfumers currently contributing to the social upheaval going on in the world, in America, in 2014? How will these contributions shape 2015? I'm willing to bet that you can't name a single perfume that deals with murder, or rape, or poverty. Perfume is a luxury, an unnecessary appurtenance to our daily lives, and only the most comfortable among us consider it to be anything else.






12/1/14

Victory League (Adidas)



In sports, victory is usually attainable by putting the other side on the defensive and watching them squirm while you play through. Adidas appears to enjoy releasing cheaper variants of designer successes in the hopes that their competition will come from frags in higher price brackets. In this case the target is Allure Homme, a variant of Cool Water that has itself spawned numerous imitators, many from its own brand. Allure's market share is generally unshakeable; the scent has secured the admiration of millions of consumers in the last sixteen years, and woe be it to those who think a lowly twelve dollar cologne could distract from its beauty.

I think Adidas punted well in releasing Victory League, because it strikes me as a competent shot at Chanel's lofty goal post. While not exactly the same, and clearly a different structure in terms of specific notes used, VL aims to generate a lighter, sweeter version of Allure's profile, using distinct vanilla and spiced fruit notes. Some reviewers have said it resembles Boss Bottled, and that may be, but I get a definite Allure vibe when I smell the cinnamon-dusted citrus and apple notes in VL, and the drydown brings a pleasantly smooth and warm vanillic amber with hints of wood, mainly cedar. The requisite white musk plays against the amber, lending transparency and freshness to an otherwise sturdy gourmandish fougère. I find the lavender in this is light and transient, with its own soapy sweetness, rather similar in effect to stuff like Skin Bracer and Cotton Club. I'd classify this frag as being "Allure Lite."

I doubt VL was ever popular enough to make the suits at Chanel worry, or even take notice, but at least the boys in Adidas' back room tried. One might argue that it is a touch too sweet, and at times it does feel that way, perhaps due to the preponderance of vanilla, but as in Sport Field, the material quality seems decent enough to give VL some texture and prevent it from becoming "blobby." I find it's no sweeter than Avon's Mesmerize for Men, another underrated scent with edible notes. Victory League's longevity clocks in at eight hours, making it a viable option for an office scent. Why not drop ten dollars or so on this the next time you see it? At the very least it's something fun to wear while shopping with the family on the weekend.