3/28/15

Buicks And Bleu de Chanel EDP


Finally took a picture of my car!

I've been a bit busy this month. The winter of 2015 will forever be on my shit list, because it killed my 2001 Pontiac Sunfire, a car that I really liked and enjoyed driving for the better part of ten years. It had a good transmission and a surprisingly roomy interior, with decent pickup for a four-banger, and a nice automatic sunroof that I'll miss. The unrelentingly frigid temperatures finally had their way with the heater core and head gasket, which forced me to look for a new vehicle. Which I found rather quickly, as you can see above.

I traded up on the GM ladder and went for a car that I've always loved, an eighth generation Buick LeSabre Custom. Whenever I see these things in parking lots I stop and drool, and given that I desperately needed a car on very short notice, and a local garage just happened to have a LeSabre with very low miles (and at a great price), lemons became lemonade. Maybe it's revenge for how the universe robbed me of my beloved 1985 Chrysler Fifth Avenue, or the car gods finally gave me a break after cycling me through two Cavaliers (the Sunfire is just a rebranded Cavalier), but I had to have this car, and now that I do, I love it even more than I thought I would.

It's big. Really, really fucking big. It doesn't look quite that big on the outside, but it's a 16 footer and a six-seater with enough trunk space to fit two adult bodies, with room to spare. These big romantic American cars are like catnip to me. We tend to screw up on most things, but when it comes to cars, America is where it's at. Sorry, Europe and Asia. You can keep your Opals and Peugeots and Toyotas and Suzukis. Don't care for 'em. Maybe having an 18 gallon gas tank and a hood the size of an air hockey table is impractical and more than a little dumb. I don't care. Big cars are hot.

Anyway, on to Bleu de Chanel EDP. What can I say? This fragrance smells amazing. The EDT is rather Chevrolet, but the Parfum is a Buick. Maybe even a Caddy. I'm still not wild about this fragrance, but I do like the EDP quite a bit. It's very, very similar to the EDT, but it's richer, smoother, deeper, and a little more dynamic, with a very shimmery, almost Creed-like ginger/citrus/labdanum top accord that shifts effortlessly into an ambery incense that goes on for hours, and smells incredible.

Why does it smell better than the EDT when it's basically the same composition? Maybe it's the richer labdanum note that clinches it, along with a more lucid ginger, and juicier citrus notes. It's pretty much the original BdC, now in digital surround sound. There's pink pepper in there also, and what smells like a faint hint of rose, sweet and almost boozy, which makes it more unisex, something I might prefer on a woman.

In any case, if I can ever afford another bottle of perfume again, I'll try and make it a bottle of BdC EDP. The EDT is a compliment mill, so I imagine the EDP will really drive 'em wild. Bravo, Chanel. Keep up the good work!




3/21/15

Let's Cut Costs By Spending More Money!



I guess there aren't many design majors on basenotes.

I'm not going to get long-winded here, because I've already made this point a few times before, but it bears mentioning again. Why? Because apparently there's only two or three of us in the fragrance community who base our thinking about reformulations on logic, instead of knee-jerk nonsense.

The point in question is simple: perfume brands do not change perfume packaging every time they significantly reformulate a fragrance. Reformulations happen more frequently than people realize, and they're never something a company wants to advertise. Repackaging a perfume requires considerable design work, paper purchases, press trials, and money. Reformulations are often conducted to cut costs in manufacturing, adjust an older perfume to contemporary trends, or both. If you're the head of a perfume firm, you're not going to cut costs in the formula but pay an unnecessary sum to change packaging just to "signal" to buyers that you've changed the formula. To do so would make absolutely no sense at all.

Yet people on basenotes put reformulations and repackagings in the same corner. Just read this thread to see how weird their logic is. As an aside, you can also see how they pile on a guy who believes many reformulated fragrances are just as good as, if not better than their originals, with an unnecessarily offensive air typical to the forum, unfortunately. But I'm more interested in how the thread participants blindly link reformulations to repackagings. These are often the same people who consider reformulations to be results of companies "cheaping out" on formerly complex and presumably expensive perfumes (actually the perfumes are rarely expensive).

I studied graphic design, photography, and print process. I hold a degree in graphic design. Redesigning a commercial package is a big financial task. Larger brands have in-house design firms. If they don't, then they outsource the work to whichever third-world company can undercut the competition and still produce the goods. Let's say it costs twenty or thirty thousand dollars to use an in-house perfumer for reformulating a scent, a job in which he merely swaps out ingredients at one price-point for ingredients at another, and then rebalances the formula to make the change as unnoticeable as possible. If he's in-house, this is simply salary money. The result is something that will be used for two or three years, and will save the company hundreds of thousands in manufacturing costs. But like any business, the motive for change is based on the here and now, and if that change involves cheapening something, it means current overhead is noticeably hurting profits.

You want to heal profits overnight? Cheapen the formula with an in-house perfumer without robbing the scent of its essential character. Sell it at the same price as before, in the same carefully budgeted packaging as before, and guess what? You'll start to see an improvement in your profit margin. Change one thing, and other things may change for the better.

You want to defeat the purpose? Cheapen a formula and add an additional one or two hundred grand to the bill. Prepare to pay anywhere from fifteen to thirty thousand for a logo redesign (the more known the logo is, the bigger the bill to redesign it), and another ten or fifteen thousand for a box redesign. Add another sixty thousand for millions of sheets of brand new hi-gloss paper, industrial print trials (with CMYK tweaks), and final press work. Expect additional bills from whatever packaging plant you're using, if it's not yours to begin with. And if the bottle is changing, look out for anywhere from ten to twenty-five grand for whoever is inking those lines and shaping the glass. Tangentially (and unavoidably) you'll also be spending millions of dollars to announce the "new look" with print ads, internet ads, and TV spots, if your perfume is relatively popular and still in chain stores. Brut is a prime example of this. By the time you're done, you could be looking at two or three million dollars just to "signal" to buyers that you changed the formula.

Some will argue that this is chump change for larger brands. If you've ever created a business plan, you know that there's no such thing as chump change. Every dollar counts. Every dollar is accounted for. Every dollar spent is a risk. This mindset is what keeps the big boys big.

Why not just change a package when you need to change it?

When these kinds of changes are made, it's due to market test results or a change in the packaging division's management structure. New blood brings a new approach. Such expenditures are made for their own reasons, but sending not-so-subliminal warnings about changed formulas to cynical buyers isn't one of them.




3/15/15

Z-14 From 06-14: Back To The Future



Halston's masterpiece has again endured reformulation, although this most recent formula is a return to the Z-14 of seven or eight years ago, at a marginally lighter concentration, with no dramatic change to the scent itself. I've owned four bottles of Z in the last ten years: one from 2002, 2008, 2011, and 2014, the last purchased a few weeks ago at Marshalls for $12. The code on the bottom reads "4HJ1," and checkcosmetic.net cites its production date as June of last year.

Internet chatter about this fragrance has declined in recent years. Last summer there was a thread about its variances over four decades, with many guys predictably lamenting the removal of oakmoss from the formula, and some even lamenting the removal of vetiver, which is a note that never really jumped out at me, not even in the 2002 formula, which did have a very slight vetiver note, but only the faintest suggestion of it. I actually got more of a "wet tobacco" note in that version, along with an intense cinnamon aldehyde explosion in the top notes. That was my first experience with Z-14, and I disliked it so much that I tossed it in the garbage.

My subsequent bottles revealed extremely subtle variances in the scent, with the overall fragrance almost 100% identical in each, barring mild shifts in focus between oakmoss, treemoss, aldehyde, and lavender. I chalk up the hugely unbalanced cinnamon bomb in the 2002 bottle as being the result of deterioration rather than reformulation. The 2008 batch contains smooth lavender and a distinct oakmoss effect in the drydown, but often smells a bit too bright, as if the mosses were given their own aldehyde. The 2011 batch contains a smidge less lavender and only treemoss, which I prefer by a slight margin. The difference is very small, but the treemoss is drier, darker, and the aldehydic effect is toned down, making the wearing experience starker and not quite as "fresh." The 2014 returns to the fizzy shimmer of the 2008 batch, with infinitesimally more lavender and a drop of extra aldehyde, but the concentration has been somewhat reduced here, to the point where it really does perform like a cologne rather than an EDT. It's gone in two hours, unless very liberally applied, which is a mixed blessing.

On the one hand, I like that it's not as apt to offend anyone with its intense piney citrus notes. This quieter Z-14 has low throw, which makes it office friendly. On the other hand, if they dial the concentration back any more, the scent will disappear altogether. Might as well just release it as aftershave and forget calling it a cologne. I doubt they'll tamper with the concentration any more, but one thing I love about it is that the smoothness of the herbal effects in the 2008 batch is reiterated, yet smells rebalanced and more successful in the lighter juice.

I've read that the 2014 batches contain intense cinnamon, but I smell no more or less cinnamon in the 2014 formula. The cinnamon in the 2011 batch is a little "flatter" than the same note in the 2014, which is a bit more textured, but again, that can be considered the effects of age and freshness. To my nose, the cinnamon note is dosed the same in the 2008, 2011, and 2014 formulas. The bergamot and pine notes are very fresh in the newest bottle, and the lemon aldehyde is clearly derived from citrus. The 2014 batch is definitely a natural-smelling "woody citrus" scent. I was a little disappointed, because I hoped the cinnamon would be more intense. I guess if I want a cinnamon fix I'll have to stick with Individuel.

I highly recommend the latest version, but be warned that it's subtler than prior versions of Z-14. If you were a fan of Z-14's formula from roughly ten years back, you'll probably enjoy the newest version quite a bit. This fragrance continues to smell like one of the more natural compositions still on the market, a combination of outdoorsy notes that play off themselves and complement each other beautifully, despite the formula being largely synthetic and dirt-cheap. It's just too bad EA never thought to make this stuff in a perfume concentration, and call it "Z-14 Now Intense." That would probably smell incredible.



3/1/15

New West For Him (Estée Lauder)



I must admit that I've only ever owned and worn the original formula of New West, an ounce of which I purchased for fifteen dollars at a shop in CT. This is one of those "fresh" masculines from the Cool Water era that some bloggers and reviewers consider a watershed cologne, marking a distinct move away from earth tones in masculine and feminine perfumery. The seventies and eighties offered one mossy, woody-herbal composition after another, but by 1988 the Calone molecule was fair game. New West was one of the first fragrances to showcase it, and despite feeling dated, it's a very nice scent.

Advertised as a "Skin Scent for Men," Yves Tanguy's composition features a bright aquatic blast in its top notes, which rapidly sweetens into a mellow, melon-like note. Particularly notable about its performance is how dry and herbal it smells, with a deep, dark, almost incensy artemisia and pine accord reminiscent of the dessicated and super oily pine accord in Yatagan. Tanguy is the nose behind Silences, Jacamo's infamous ultra-green perfume from Yatagan's era, and his handling of bitter herbal notes for Aramis is just as deft. Additional splashes of bay leaf, cedar, sage, and oakmoss tingle and fizz from skin for New West's seven hour duration, with the bay and sage smelling especially pronounced. There's a thin white musk upholding everything, but it merely supports the cast, and doesn't attempt a star turn. The far drydown is very brisk, woodsy, and clean, a perfume in pastels.

Guy Laroche put their own spin on this type of fragrance in 1993 with Horizon, a somewhat similar scent. Horizon's "gummier," lavender-like aromatics smell a bit different and are a little softer, arguably lacking the clarity of Tanguy's scent. The lavender in Horizon is more prominent, and I like the scent as a whole, but New West smells better to me. Laroche used a unique seaweed note in their scent, giving it a maritime feel that is in equal measure interesting and difficult to wear. I appreciate what Alain Astori was going for when he created it, but I'd sooner recommend New West to anyone seeking an early example of how Calone was used. Lauder's scent is more approachable, and exhibits the work of a superior nose.

Another scent New West is similar to is Krizia Uomo, although Krizia doesn't really have the same focus on artemisia and bay. Nevertheless, with New West it often feels like I'm wearing Krizia with dihydromyrcenol and Calone slopped all over it. I'd rather just enjoy notes of ambery pine, castoreum, labdanum, and cedar without all the synthetic harshness, but that's just me.

Truth be told, I don't reach for this one all that often. It is far stronger than a "skin scent," the heady bay note dates it, and Cool Water uses a smidgen dose of Calone to far greater effect, smelling fresher and more modern. I have no idea when the round blue bottle formula was discontinued (I'm guessing mine is about fifteen years old), and can't say if the new formula is much different, but if you're interested in herbal proto-aquatics, New West bears checking out.