9/17/17

The Real Problem With Creed's New Fragrance



I read a recent Wordpress post about Viking by Creed, and realized that in my absence one of the fragrance community's turgid crazies had taken to the internets to publish his pointless yowlings unchecked. Early in his article he posed a question that answered itself:
"Here's the key question for me, 'why would someone criticize someone else's perception, especially when a site devoted to these olfactory concoctions is by its very nature mostly going to focus on individual perceptions?'"
If a site is "by its very nature" focusing on individual perceptions, it's not hard to see why this would be the nexus of all contention therein. Isn't that obvious? If the focus were on objective general populace perceptions, with vague census numbers clouding the landscape of debate, then injecting subjective, individualized interpretions would be trickier. But given that personal opinions are all you have to go by prior to experiencing a fragrance for yourself, your thoughts and criticisms are likely to be directed into that lane of traffic.

The real craziness appears later in the article, in which the following is said:
"I do think there is one more element that may be involved in some of these kinds of situations, which might be best called the 'expensive-smelling molecule effect.' A great example is how large amounts of calone or dihydromyrcenol in a scent probably leads to a lot of people thinking it's 'cheap.' On the other hand, load up a scent with iso e super or cashmeran while slapping a niche label on it, and you've got something that 'smells expensive' to a certain demographic."
It makes my eyes hurt to read ideas as poorly conceived as this one is. Large amounts of calone and dihydromyrcenol were never, ever perceived as cheap by anyone. If they were, the industry would never have increased the amounts of these chemicals in what remain bestselling fragrances. Acqua di Gio, Cool Water, Green Irish Tweed, Drakkar Noir, Azzaro Chrome, and many other similar fragrances continue to sell to millions every year. They all contain considerable amounts of calone and dihydromyrcenol, and to my knowledge their presence in these scents is (a) unknown to the wearers, or (b) in no way a hindrance to the wearers' enjoyment.

Cheapness is usually perceived by people when a fragrance is too sweet and simplistic. A better argument could be made from a chemist's standpoint that the overuse of ethyl-maltol and coumarin account for negative value perceptions among consumers, given the number of downmarket products that exploit these materials. The entire Playboy line is a great example of how large amounts of sweet sugared cocktail "froot" notes and exaggerated fougere accords cheapen a brand.

In contrast, something like Aspen for Men is cheap to purchase at about three dollars per ounce, yet it is endlessly compared to one of the priciest fragrances on the market, Creed's Green Irish Tweed. The abundance of synthetic muguet, calone-driven green apple, and dihydromyrcenol have not in any way dampened enthusiasm for Aspen.

Iso e super and cashmeran are found in abundance in things like Abercrombie's Fierce, Encre Noire, Burberry Weekend for Women EDP, Paco Rabanne Sport, Sexy Graffiti by Escada, Womanity, Dazzling Darling by Kylie Minogue, and Burbuerry Body. Can you also find these materials in things like Terre d'Hermes and Dans Tes Bras by Malle? Sure. But you can find calone in New West for Men and dihydromyrcenol in Green Irish Tweed, two top shelf scents, so what is the Wordpress author's point? The economic usage of all materials in the industry varies, and quality is on par with the competition at all prices. If the "expensive-smelling molecule effect" is supposed to be the use of a specific material, then I would ask which chemical is used exclusively in expensive fragrances and develop my theory from there.

The Wordpress author asked these questions tangentially in his discussion of Creed's newest release, in what appears to be a verbose effort to address the worthiness of the scent itself. Is Viking even worth the time and effort? Should I or anyone else bother to try this fragrance? Is there a new masterpiece sailing to our shores with horned helmets on an orange flask? There are potentially dozens of questions one could ask about Viking. But Viking, and more specifically the Creed brand itself has a very real problem on its hands: they've priced guys like me out of their market.

It's nice to know that the rich are making so much money off of themselves nowadays that they no longer need to court the middle class buyer. While the majority of the working class and middle class flounder in debt and dire financial straits, a teeny-tiny top percentile of the population enjoys ever increasing gains. Creed wants their business. Ten years ago, when a 4 ounce (yes, 4 ounce, not 3 ounce) bottle of Creed cost $250, I thought Creed was pushing it, but at least somewhat accessible. Back then I paid that amount for a fresh bottle.

But today's prices are insane. Even if I were making $100K a year and had another $80K in investments, I wouldn't drop $500 on a bottle of Creed. You have to be a millionaire to think that's a decent value. You'd have to be a stupid millionaire. Why should I punish myself for having more money by spending more on something that everyone else in a lower tax bracket gets for a tenth of the amount?

If millions of people are happy to get a good fragrance like Acqua di Gio for $50, why should I spend ten times as much for something only a few people (my wealthy friends) think is a better value? Millesime Imperial should be the opposite of what I want to own, not the primary "fresh" frag on my radar! Ditto for Viking, although right now it isn't the entirely clear what part of the designer market Creed is aping with Viking. Some are saying it is the Sauvage demographic that might like it, but this isn't certain yet.

Creed is competing with other niche brands by courting sycophantic reviewers, many of whom aren't in their buying class (like Daver on Fragrance Bros), and banking on word of mouth through YouTube and basenotes. But they used to want people to buy their fragrances as soon as possible. Now they just want most of the buying public to aspire for their fragrances, while those who can actually afford them make them their profits. By raising their prices far beyond the rate of inflation, Creed has basically taken their products away from the majority of potential buyers and now sees fit to dangle their wares in our faces.

They sent Daver a free bottle of Viking. That alone is proof that they want the hoi polloi to drool.

This is the problem with Creed's new fragrance, and I personally feel it is the reason why I no longer need to review any Creed fragrances. If they were using Guerlainesque techniques in creating traditional old world perfume extraits, I might consider that a worthy enough reason to pursue the brand. But just continuing the Creed-water Millesime trend at an exaggerated price point in no way induces me to seek out their products.

It would behoove others to quit acting like Creed is still an interesting brand. It has sold itself off to the donor class, and I no longer think it has the integrity to act as a star player in the niche realm. There has never been a better time than now to keep a Viking from our shores.


9/10/17

Shower Fresh (Clean For Men)




This is one of those scents that I was pleasantly surprised by. The Clean line doesn't generally get good press, and I've been bored by a few myself, but this one was above average. It doesn't open with shampoo "blue" notes and descend into heavy synthetic ozone and salt accords. It's simply a brisk citrus cologne that dries down to a fairly lucid and "fresh" lime. And everyone knows I like lime colognes.

Limes are a standard scent for a wet shaver. You have your candied limes, sour limes, barrel aged limes, spiced limes, West Indian limes, and in this case your "bright" limes, made translucent and durable via deftly blended synthetics. Unlike most lime aftershaves, which usually last about ten minutes, Shower Fresh gives you four hours of solid limyness before becoming a persistent skin scent. The lime note is pretty much the star of the show. There's no pretense, no attempt at anything fancy or "modern," and much like Royall Lyme, Shower Fresh smells like a throwback to the sixties.

If you're the sort of guy who enjoys lathering up and applying a single Gillette blade to your whiskers, you'd probably benefit from having a bottle of Shower Fresh in the rotation. It's a good aftershave scent that adds a little green freshness to your morning. Good on Clean for at least tossing this fairly simple and effective formula into their otherwise lackluster lineup.



8/20/17

Body Kouros (Yves Saint Laurent)



The press for Body Kouros confuses me. I get it: Annick Menardo was doing Annick Menardo à la Bulgari Black, which hit shelves two years prior in 1998. It has been called an "oriental spicy fragrance," an incense fragrance, a eucalyptus bomb, etc. My problem stems not from these descriptions, but from what I actually smell. Granted, I'm talking about the version of BK pictured here, which is the "lame reformulation," all chrome shoulderless and neutered. But given my distaste for eucalyptus in perfumery, my general apathy towards orientals, and the need to smell something without a candied chemical apple note, BK came as a surprise.

This stuff smells pretty good, and surprisingly mature for what I always considered a club scent (from reading the "panty dropper" comments on basenotes years ago). It starts off with a burst of eucalyptus and anise, followed by a warmer benzoin and incense accord that manages to smell comfortable without losing its gentle sense of humor. Yet nowhere do I smell a masterpiece of the late twentieth century. The "fresh" component on top is attenuated, definitely from reformulation, and now is little more than a thin hiss. If BK was once a blushing spicy oriental, those days are gone; the composition relies heavily on two scant notes of ambery benzoin and silvery incense, neither of which lend the scent significant body or complexity. And I don't even get much of a youthful feel. If anything, BK is staid and gentlemanly, the mark of a mature scent.

Perhaps the only way to understand this version of BK is to compare it to the original Kouros. That scent used to be a carnival of testosterone, brimming with all the charisma and romance of an eighties powerhouse fougeriental. Today it still paws the dirt and lowers its horns, but the rush is diminished, and we're forced to make do with an overdose of eugenol where once we enjoyed civet and raw honey. I guess a similar fate met Body Kouros, which I imagine delivered considerable swagger in the semisweet powder puff style of its era. It's still a very good scent, and still worth checking out if you're into modern orientals, but if I want something with powerful aromatics and strong incense, I'll stick with Jacques Bogart's Furyo or Roccobarocco's Joint Pour Homme.



7/2/17

Incredible Things (EA Fragrances)



I'll admit to some bias with Incredible Things; my girlfriend wears it and it smells terrific on her. I don't believe in "skin chemistry" (although I do believe in hygiene), so I'm not saying that there's anything about anyone's skin that makes a fragrance smell differently. This scent seems to be tailored for her though; it fits her personality, her liveliness, her beauty, and I'm impressed with this inexpensive celebuscent. I can't deny that it smells great, and the body lotion works well with it.

Taylor Swift apparently likes eating ambrosia for dessert, because that's what Incredible Things smells like. It's an appetizing gourmand featuring soft analogs of pineapple, coconut, mandarin orange, and vanilla. The sweetness gently drifts into marshmallow, without being obvious and overbearing. There are no piercing accords, no loud ethyl maltol notes, and nothing that screams DRUGSTORE into my nostrils. It's a very happy scent, and yes, it's sweet, but it's also a touch green (a little minty), and it comes together as something classy and mature. It doesn't smell like teeny-bopper crap. It's not "sneaker juice." It's sexy, it's demure, and it works.

When it comes to fragrance, the label and box mean nothing. Taylor Swift's association begins and ends with the ink they used to print her name. Nothing about Incredible Things evokes Ms. Swift, nor should it. What you find is that celebrity scents are just like the rest: they smell good or they don't, and the marketing is irrelevant - it's the quality that matters. I don't know who is really behind this fragrance, but I applaud them for having the sense of off-kilter romance to take an old-fashioned dessert and make it into a perfume.




6/3/17

What Kind Of Product Improves A Kiss?


"I'll send you a postcard."

In the quest for true love, many men aspire for exotic and expensive EDTs and perfumes, hoping that if their bodies smell like money, their girlfriends will melt in their arms. This is a worthy pursuit, and a good theory, but in practice there are some flaws.

It's true that a good fragrance will turn women on. Smelling like you just came off the farm is obviously a major no-no in 2017. And your body's odor reflects inarguably the quality of tenderness and care two people put into lovemaking. If you're disturbed or even disgusted by the other's smell, or if hygiene questions arise, that's trouble.

But perhaps less obvious to fragheads is what it means to smell romantic. What do two people do when they're in the mood? When they're not necessarily in the mood, but in a mood for closeness and a moment? They kiss! And that's when aftershave becomes a man's best friend. If his face smells good, then the kiss is something that draws her in on a few levels. I've had personal experience with this. The truth is that a clean-smelling face makes a woman want to kiss you longer, and the longer she wants to kiss you, the closer she feels to you. From that point you can pretty much explore other avenues of your relationship.

The best part about this is you don't have to smell expensive. Just smell good. Myrsol Formula K and Old Spice have been my two aftershaves of choice for the last few weeks, and the woman I'm seeing has noticed that and happily commended on it. I once wore Brut - she liked it. We're talking basic scents here. Mint, some lavender, some spiced powder. "You smell like baby powder," was her comment on Old Spice today, and when I told her it was just Old Spice, she laughed and said, "You always say that!" As if it smelled so much better than lowly Old Spice.

I'm skeptical in many ways of cheap aftershaves being used as SOTDs or hygiene substitutes. There are thousands of guys out there that think a few splashes of Florida Water and a cigar will attract women. I can say with total certainty that unless you prowl trailer parks, that's probably a bad plan. But if you put a little Florida Water on your cheeks and pair it with something like Versace L'Homme, you now have an invisible arsenal at your disposal, ready to weaken knees.

In the quest for true love, many men aspire for extravagance. Don't be that kind of guy. Just be yourself, and if you use aftershave (or scented balms) in your normal routine, don't change that for her. Continue it for her. It's a good thing.





5/21/17

Hot Spice (Arion Perfume & Beauty Inc.)



I did not expect to be writing this review, namely because I bought this fragrance at Dollar Tree for a whopping fifty cents an ounce. That's right - I bought a 2.5 oz cologne for $1. This is what people call a "dollar store scent." It is a dollar store scent. Why did I buy a dollar store scent? What could possess me to waste a dollar on an acrid, alcohol-scented piece of crap?

Well, for starters, I bought it based on how it smelled when I snuck a spray in the store. The plain grey box says, "compare to Spicebomb by Viktor & Rolf." I figured it would smell briefly like something in Spicebomb's ball park, perhaps for fifteen seconds, and then vanish into thin air. But it really doesn't smell anything like Spicebomb. What it does smell like is a sweeter version of Indian Old Spice, with a creamier shaving foam drydown. If you "stack" this thing and apply multiple sprays to the same spot, you wind up with a nutmeg-laden gingerbread cookie effect. Go lightly with it and it has a cumin, black pepper, and pink pepper top, which dries into a gentle sugared sandalwood, with that abstract powdery sweetness of Old Spice.

This could easily be considered a replacement for any iteration of Old Spice, and I like it a hell of a lot better than Vi-Jon Spice Scent, which is not bad but definitely overrated in the wetshaver community. Vi-Jon dries into a plasticky synthetic nastiness that ruins the niceness of its top notes, but Hot Spice never loses its subtle spicy sweetness to any overtly synthetic overtones. I do get a little bit of a Joop! Homme or Individuel type of sweetness in the blend, but it isn't overbearing and just complements the spice notes. The ingredients list says it has hydrogenated castor oil in it, and the liquid feels pretty soft on my skin, so I think it's a viable choice as an aftershave, which I will likely use it as in the coming months.

It's made in India, and I guess that explains the blast of skanky cumin accompanying the pepper notes on top. I'm shocked by the quality of this stuff, shocked that it smells complex enough for me to pick out eight different notes (cumin, pink & black pepper, nutmeg, vanilla, sandalwood, orange, and neroli), and completely shocked that it can compete with Old Spice for my affections.

If you live in the United States and have a Dollar Tree in your area, and you're into wetshaving and various "Spice Scent" aftershaves in the Old Spice vein, I suggest you get over there and see if they have a few bottles of Hot Spice. This stuff will make it into your shaving rotation, guaranteed.


5/20/17

Barbasol Brisk (Perio Inc.)



At least one Fragrantica member disagreed with me recently when I stated that Barbasol Brisk aftershave is basically a copy of Skin Bracer, which I thought was remarkable. If you're familiar with both aftershaves, you know that they both employ a fougere structure with prominent lavender and mint on top, a tingly coumarin in the heart, and a dry semisweet vanilla blended with a touch of clean musk in the base. Both are classic "wetshaver" scents with intensely cooling menthol that rivals even Myrsol's Formula K. Brisk may even have more than Formula K. It's a potent menthol splash, so if you're into menthol, you'll like this particular Barbasol product.

There are a few differences between Brisk and Bracer, not the least of which is Brisk's mintier quality; Skin Bracer has a mellowed top that focuses on lavender more than mint. Brisk truly lives up to its name, while Skin "Bracer," while indeed bracing after a morning shave, aims to give a guy more than just a briefly cold bite. I think of Mennen's formula as more of a thought out fragrance, with a distinct dynamism in the drydown that yields surprising depth, making it comparable to 1990s vintage Brut cologne. I always feel the smoothness of its lavender and vanilla accords "melding" into a subtle beauty. It's excellent stuff.

Brisk never quite gets that far for me. It makes a few of the same moves in the first five minutes, but eventually flattens out into a very one dimensional musky mint thing that feels good and smells nice enough, but isn't quite as arresting. Does it smell like Barbasol's original shaving foam? Not in the least. If you want a great reference for how the foam used to smell prior to reformulation, check out Rive Gauche Pour Homme. It's an anisic patchouli fern that accurately generates the familiar lavender, lime peel, and powder effect of a classic shave. Still, Brisk is fun if you can find it, and is recommended to anyone who enjoys old-school aftershaves.



5/6/17

Revisiting Red For Men



I've been meaning to return to this fragrance for a while now, and only recently found a large bottle of the latest formula at a discount store, so thought I'd give it another go. A few years back I reviewed an older formula in a smaller bottle that I now know had spoiled a bit, which accounted for the funky coriander-like "off" note in the first minute of wear that turned me off to subsequent usage (I gifted it to a friend).

The new stuff doesn't have that issue, and otherwise smells exactly as I remember it. Actually, it smells better. This "refreshed" and facelifted formula has no oakmoss, or even treemoss, yet somehow smells woodier than I remembered. The whole point of Red is to wear something both "fresh" and "earthy," with that familiar lavender deodorant effect of Drakkar Noir peering through a dense underbrush of late summer saplings poking out of seasoned evergreen logs. While technically a chypre, it's a bit disingenuous for anyone to deny that there are strong fougere elements in Red, with an obvious lavender note and coumarin in the printed ingredient list. And yes, it smells quite a bit like Preferred Stock, but softer, more textured.

It's hard to know exactly where Red fits into the world of 2017. Whenever I smell it I think of 1991. I was nine years old. My parents took me and my younger brother to Europe for the summer, and the highlight of the trip was peering out the car window while driving through Dublin and seeing a gorgeous redhead trot along the sidewalk wearing a skintight sweater and very clearly no bra. That and sitting by the beach in Strandhill eating ice cream. The world was simpler then; men were like my dad, strong and virile, and women embraced their femininity with brutal perfumes and short haircuts. Plus there were better movies and grunge rock.

I suppose I can see a potent but sedate patchouli chypre like Red for Men going well with the times. What I find discouraging is the lack of initiative in today's fragrance market. With interesting fragrances like Preferred Stock, Red, Stetson Sierra, and Polo Crest now relegated to discount bins, you'd think a more current brand would take a risk and try reviving the style. I'm not an oud fan, but I could actually see oud working in this type of composition. I guess we must work with what we have.

Donald Trump is the leader of the free world, North Korea wants us all dead, Theresa May is the new Iron Lady, and Le Pen will hopefully prevail in France. Time to kick the globalists out and bring the old world and its olfactory charms back. Red for Men is a good place to start.


4/14/17

Al Rehab "Avenue" Alcohol-Free Concentrated Perfume Oil (Crown Perfumes)




In light of the fact that Creed will soon raise prices again on their entire fragrance line, now might be the time to consider getting into other things. If some of those other things include "clones," so be it. When it comes to Creed clones, choices abound. There are ten times more Creed clones than Creed fragrances, with every recent release getting at least a dozen copycat iterations at various price points. Which brings me to Al Rehab.

A faithful reader of this blog has recommended on several occasions that I try Crown's take on Aventus, named "Avenue." I approached Avenue with an open mind, expecting a typical Al Rehab-style execution of a Creed. Which is to say, I expected it would approximate Aventus pretty well, but as with Silver to SMW, figured it would smell much simpler. In truth, Avenue does resemble Aventus, but when I break it down in detail I find it is very much its own fragrance, with its own unique characteristics.

I consider Aventus a conceptual perfume. The concept is "success," and Creed's idea of "success" is to smell literally like dollar bills. After an hour on my skin, that's what Aventus smells like. Sure, I get the pineapple on top, along with red apple, citrus, birch, rose, oakmoss, and vanilla. Eventually the rubbery rose, the dry birch, and the bitter moss coalesce into a "clean smoke" kind of accord that flattens over time, until it smells like Federal Reserve ink. American money has a very distinct dirty-clean aroma, and Aventus captures it perfectly.

Avenue more or less achieves the same effect after a few hours on skin, so in this regard it is quite similar to Aventus, although Avenue's smokiness is from a dry patchouli note instead of moss and birch. That said, I think Avenue is much "fruitier" and far more citrus oriented than Aventus ever was, in any of its batches. The fruits in question are bergamot and lemon.

Avenue is bursting at the seams with crisp, vibrant bergamot, and conveys this note with such clarity and surprising quality that I'm shocked I haven't seen more accolades for Avenue from citrus fans. If you enjoy rich hesperidic scents, this scent should wow you.

Interestingly, Avenue has no pineapple or apple notes. So if you blind buy it hoping for a cheaper, more focused take on Aventus-styled pineapple, you'll be disappointed. The absence of pineapple definitely puts some distance between Avenue and Creed, to the point where I wonder if they were even trying to clone Aventus at all. But I prefer bergamot and lemon to pineapple, so this doesn't bother me.

When you think of Aventus, you automatically think of pineapple. When I think of Avenue, I can't help but think of bergamot. I believe there's even a subtler hint of Sicilian lemon blended into it, which makes the citrus effect that much more pronounced. At its price point I can safely say that anyone who wants a great citrus scent for pennies on the dollar would be remiss to not try Avenue. This is citrus heaven. I imagine enjoying this immensely on a sunny summer afternoon at a beach in Italy.

Also notable are quiet notes of silver frankincense, pine, and patchouli. The citrus explosion on top of Avenue lasts about twenty or thirty minutes, before segueing gradually into a very light accord of frankincense and pine. For a few seconds this early drydown stage resembles Pine Sol cleaning detergent, but fortunately the patchouli and frankincense rebalance things, and any chemical nastiness is short-lived. But look, that's the budget making itself known. What do you expect, right?

After an hour the patchouli, still heavily tinged with citrus, begins to "smoke up" the scent a bit, and the dollar bills idea appears. Here is where Avenue really resembles Aventus. It doesn't have the dry rose or the lucid birch notes of the Creed, but patchouli and incense can do interesting things, and here they shine.

Would I strongly recommend Avenue to someone seeking a faithful Aventus clone? Not really. I would mention it, however. I would say that Aventus is a concept that can be stretched and pulled into a few different directions, and one direction is to loosely take the concept of any fruit and mate it to something earthy and a bit "smoky." Avenue takes different fruits, distinctly tart citrus fruits, and tows them into that same "smoky" Aventus-like direction, without coming across as an obvious dupe.

I certainly would hasten to point out that Avenue is one of the best citrus bargains out there. Unlike other Crown oils I've tried, the fruits in Avenue actually smell like genuine citrus oils, and emit a feeling of depth and quality rarely found in fragrances that cost ten times as much, let alone Crowns' asking price of a few cents per milliliter.

This is a simple composition that achieves a sophisticated effect for the price of a bergamot at the supermarket. Buy it, wear it, and enjoy it. You have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain with Avenue. It's hands down the best Al Rehab I've tried.

Just don't tell people you're wearing Aventus. There's no point - Avenue smells great on its own merits, and deserves full credit for it.



4/7/17

Rethinking Jovan Musk (As An Aftershave)





About six years ago I got into the two big Jovan masculines: Musk and Sex Appeal. I liked and enjoyed both, but preferred Sex Appeal by a wide margin. Its rich patchouli-herbal twang, bolstered by a surprisingly mellow lavender note, simply worked for me. It helps that its fragrance profile is closely aligned to more classical orientals of its era, namely Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and (a bit later) Ungaro Pour L'Homme II. I can wear either of those two fragrances and use Sex Appeal aftershave without conflict.

Musk for Men was always a tougher sell. For one thing, it doesn't match well with anything, except maybe Lagerfeld Classic, and even then it's risky. Musk is also an unreliable performer; I've worn this fragrance enough to know that it can be like wearing three different fragrances, a gamble not entirely welcome when personal insecurities accompany me to my wardrobe in the morning. The stuff changes between wearings. Some days it's a grassy floral musk, and others it's a skanky, semi-animalic beast. And every blue moon it smells like the freshest, cleanest laundry detergent money can buy. That kind of split personality is a little unnerving.

It's been about four years now since I smelled it, and I recently happened across a super cheap bottle of Musk in aftershave concentration, so I decided to revisit my memories of the fragrance. My prior bottle was just the cologne concentration, and I always wondered about the splash. I have to say, I'm not disappointed. As an aftershave it performs exactly like Sex Appeal, with a gentle alcohol snap and bracing herbal camphor.

Jovan is, contrary to popular belief, a decent brand. They make surprisingly complex fragrances with good performance and longevity, they're adequately priced, and most importantly, they're memorable. Once you smell Musk for Men, you can't forget it. Ditto Sex Appeal. (I guess Black Musk is discontinued - I haven't seen it in a while.) Ginseng NRG isn't too bad either, although it really only works in the summer. Musk for Men's aftershave splash smells like I remember the cologne on its best days - rich, sweet, citrusy, slightly floral, with a shimmery skin musk in the old world tradition of Aqua Velva and Max Factor.

I don't consider this a must have fragrance for musk lovers. If you're really into musk, and you're interested in the incredible places it can take you, Kouros, Azzaro Pour Homme, Paco Rabanne, and vintage Brut will get you there faster. My feelings for this Jovan have gone from a half-hearted "like" to a whole-hearted "like a lot," by virtue of the aftershave concentration. Something about the extra dilution and sturdier carrier oils eases up the scent structure and allows the best aspects of the pyramid to relax and shine. You wear Musk for Men not because you want the best musk, but because you want an easy musk.

The retro seventies packaging and fragrance style are an added bonus, but then again that's why I like Jovan. I feel like William Holden in Breezy whenever I splash this sort of stuff. And that's not a bad thing.





4/2/17

What's With All The Aventus Clones?



When Pineapple Vintage was released last year, I quite literally threw up my hands and said to myself, "What the fuck?" It was as if the last truly popular idea in perfumery had been appropriated, rather like a "found object" in postmodern conceptual art (or if you prefer, Rauschenberg's existential "combine paintings"), and carelessly pasted to any upstart niche brief. This has been accelerating in the last four of Aventus' seven year lifespan, yet none of the clones have supplanted their template as the ideal "pineapple scent" of the decade. Club de Nuit Intense by Armaf seems to get the most votes on Fragrantica, but recent talk of Pineapple Vintage pushed it over the edge for me. Enough already.

Creed has always been a trendsetter, so in this respect Aventus is nothing new. But prior Creeds impacted the designer market, spawning one or two commensurately successful fragrances that either mainstreamed or floundered. Original Santal birthed the equally popular Mont Blanc Individuel (well, brought it to everyone's attention). Millesime Imperial became Acqua di Gio. Green Irish Tweed is Cool Water's blueprint, and sadly Cool Water is now all but dead. See the pattern? The obscure became the ubiquitous. But so far Aventus hasn't been "found" among designers, and I find this rather strange. Where is the Chanel, the Dior, the YSL frag that attempts to replicate the supposed beauty of Creed's smoky-woody pineapple structure? Why is the commercial exploitation constrained by the niche market?

My theory is that this fragrance isn't really as groundbreaking as its "fans" seem to think. Aventus is one of those "you had to be there" fragrances. You had to be there when it was released to remember exactly what happened. Its initial reception was not dissimilar to Bleu de Chanel's and Dior Sauvage's. At first guys were critical. They called Aventus "Creed's designer scent." The number one complaint was that it "Smells like a designer frag." This went on for months. My impression of this publicity was that Creed had finally tired of fidgeting around with the pretense of being a niche brand, and had openly accepted their quasi-designer status with a representative product, signaling a company transition to top-tier mainstream.

But then something interesting happened: Aventus became the "Holy Grail" scent. Bros everywhere were snapping their jock straps to get a whiff of this stuff. And within a year, Aventus was Creed's biggest hit, even bigger than GIT. How do you go from being a derided "designer" scent, to being the best thing since sliced bread? Easy. Just let the natural course of price point dictating value perception happen under its own steam. Had Aventus been released by Armaf first, nobody would have known it existed, and those who did would just think it was a nice inexpensive niche scent. But slap a $300 price tag on it, and suddenly the banal becomes fascinating. The lowly pineapple note, once used to excess in frags like Lapidus Pour Homme and Boss Number One, was suddenly metrosexual and "new."

What gets tiring is the persistence of the leech brands in cloning this thing. Yes, a dry pineapple note mixed with a bitter smoky accord and a hint of VC&A-like rose is quite pleasant, but enough to eschew original ideas for it? I personally don't think Aventus is that good. I like it, and can appreciate the balmy fruits against the November backdrop, but in the end it just smells like a well-made "crowd pleaser," in the same vein as Bleu de Chanel.

Cynical attempts to cash in on Aventus' popularity are clear examples of just how similar the niche world is to the designer. When something sells, everyone else wants a slice of the pineapple pie. Just be prepared to pay a little more for it.


3/10/17

The Danger Of Misusing The Term "Niche"


A Niche Scent.

On a recent basenotes thread, the following exchange occurred:

Dougczar writes:
"Of course niche houses use synthetics, but designers seem to [generally] use a much higher concentration of the worst offender aromachemicals. The sharp screetchy notes and ISO-E that I smell in a LOT of designers, I don't usually detect in niche - and if I do, it's much more subtle."

Bigsly writes:
"Well, what I've found is that the 'super cheapos' I buy tend to be more natural-smelling than quite a few niche scents I've tried lately."

To which L'Homme Blanc Individuel says:
"I assumed you're so anti-niche because it's expensive. As you said, you're not willing to pay more than $20... but now I'm wondering if it's also that you're picking the wrong niche scents to try."

Bigsly responds:
"With niche samples, it's whatever comes my way. I don't go out of my way to acquire them. Stash is certainly an attempt at niche. You can call it niche pastiche, niche light, or something along those lines (as others have, though most seem to think it should be considered niche, in terms of smell, how it's constructed, etc.) but it's the kind of scent I'm referencing."

L'Homme Blanc Individuel retorts with:
"If you're getting niche bottles for under $20, your understanding of what niche is will be wildly skewed. It's a lot like trying to judge steak when your examples are $10 steaks you'd get at a pub."

And Bigsly parries with:
"I've found that some CK scents of recent years seem to be really loaded with some nasty aroma chemicals . . . If my choice was between this type of scent and niche of recent years, I'd say, sure, niche is a lot better (generally-speaking, obviously), but then there are the 'super cheapos' I've purchased that don't have any kind of 'synthetic' or 'chemical' element (or it's very minor). Just some I can remember offhand: Unbreakable, Cuba Prestige, Magnet for Men, Legend by Michael Jordan, and the aforementioned. For more money, but lower than designer, are Ferrari's Oud and Leather Essence scents, which are among my favorites of the last few years among any scent categories."

L'Homme Blanc Individuel dispatches this nonsense with:
"You complain about how expensive niche is, but look at how much money you've wasted on scents you're trying to get rid of. My entire wardrobe costs less than that."

Spoiler: Although the list is nine years old, it was updated as recently as February of this year, and most of the frags mentioned cost around $10 an ounce, or less.

When you use the term "niche," you're using a word for a sector of an existing commercial market. Most markets can be divided into two sectors: "mainstream" and "niche." A mainstream car is a Chevy. A niche car is a Tesla. A much larger swath of buyers are interested in the cheaper, easier to maintain Chevys than the smaller subset of buyers who prefer the esoteric battery-powered world of Tesla.

In this case, the initial purchase of a Tesla is far more expensive, and the cars are trickier to maintain (hello hi-end extension cords) than the lowly Chevy, but in terms of savings on gasoline and saving the environment, one can see why a sizable fraction of the population buys them. These long-term cost-savvy folks are the ones this particular niche is targeted at.

But guess what? Another niche (call it "new niche") is a car that cost less than $6K back when it was new: the Plymouth Horizon. Yeah, remember those? Little tinny hatchbacks with Volkswagen Rabbit engines and surprisingly fun rack-and-pinion steering. There's a small community of car guys who are devoted to them. They're a far cry from any Tesla, and yet they're a type of niche vehicle, particularly because they're no longer made and a tiny group would donate their left testicles to own one in pristine condition.

Fragrances inhabit the same cost spectrum as cars, and in many cases the spectrum is more elastic, since you can vary the amount of the same given fragrance you want to purchase (but you could never buy half a Tesla). If you want Green Irish Tweed, and can't afford a full bottle, you can purchase a sample of just a few milliliters. But my point here is to make the distinction between calling fragrances "niche" because you're addressing that they sell to a small share of the overall market, and calling them "niche" because you think this is automatically what any elusive or expensive fragrance is.

When Bigsly or anyone else says something like, "Stash is certainly an attempt at niche. You can call it niche pastiche, niche light, or something along those lines," they're misusing the term. What is "niche pastiche?" What is "niche light?" What are these invented names meant to describe? They suggest that niche fragrances all share a common olfactory quality, and that some are a mishmash of this and other qualities, presumably drawn from other kinds of fragrances that are not necessarily "niche." And "niche light" suggests that predetermined qualities are being scaled back, or "lightened" in a given scent.

Clearly this makes no sense. Scent-wise, niche fragrances are not products that you can pigeonhole as being any one specific thing. Xerjoff Dhofar and Harley Davidson Legendary are both niche scents, simply because they are both targeted at vanishingly small sectors of the buying public: those who enjoy expensive Italian perfumes, and those who love all things Harley Davidson. Would anyone say that these two fragrances share anything else in common, other than their both having tiny audiences?

If you doubt their audience size, ask yourself how many people you know who wear either of these brands. Then consider yourself in the equation. For example, I've never driven anything but GM cars my entire life. I've never owned or ridden a motorcycle, and have only known one person who had a Harley (and he didn't even like it). If I wasn't predisposed to trying as many different fragrances as I can get my nose on, why would I want to buy a bottle of Legendary? If I'm not interested in Harley Davidson, what would make me buy their scent?

When the term "niche" is misused, it leads to the assumption that niche fragrances are a type of fragrance, instead of a variety of fragrances that are sold in the niche sector of the fragrance market. It ascribes technical meaning to something that should only be considered in economic terms. Some of the "myths of niche" that I frequently see:
- Niche fragrances are "simpler" than mainstream fragrances
- Niche fragrances are more natural
- Niche fragrances are universally rare
- Niche fragrances are expensive
- Niche fragrances are hard to find
- Niche fragrances should be characterized simply as "niche"
- Niche fragrances are more desirable than mainstream scents
- Niche fragrances are more exotic than mainstream scents
- Niche usually focuses on specific aroma chemicals

Let me briefly rebuff each of these points:

- Almost all of the niche scents I've encountered had the same complexity as the average designer or mainstream scent.
- Niche fragrances use similar amounts of naturals and synthetics compared to their mainstream counterparts, and in many cases niche fragrances rely on synthetics exclusively.
- If you want a rare niche fragrance in the age of the internet, surprise! You can find it on the internet! Even if you can't buy it directly online, there's always contact information to discuss a purchase.
- Some niche fragrances are very, very expensive, equal to the cost of a new car. Some are dirt cheap: if you're a wetshaver, you probably own and use daily one of at least ten niche fragrances that cost $5 an ounce (or less).
- If a fragrance, any fragrance, is hard to find, you need to join the 21st century and get broadband.
- Just calling a niche fragrance "niche" doesn't describe the fragrance. It describes the sector of the market it is sold in.
- Niche fragrances are equivalent in variety and range of quality to their mainstream counterparts. Therefore they are interchangeable with mainstream scents, and should only be judged on individual merits.
- All niche fragrances are at least somewhat "exotic" in the sense that they are made for a smaller group of potential buyers than mainstream fare is. If you call niche fragrances "exotic niche" you're being redundant. You're also describing the exoticism of their fanbase, not the scents themselves.
- Some niche fragrances focus on specific chemicals; some don't. Ditto for mainstream.

With niche, the question to ask is always, "Which niche?" The word describes a very broad spectrum of subsets. Are we talking about designer niche? Wetshaver niche? Brand-name niche? Natural perfumery? Soliflores? Orientals? Chypres? Fougeres? More information is needed to understand what is being discussed. Just saying "niche" is like saying "perfume." The possibilities are endless.




3/6/17

Jil Sander Man Pure (Jil Sander)

Pure Testosterone

Whenever I encounter a chypre, I expect to only half like it. With the exception of Grey Flannel, I've never met one that I outright loved, although Mitsouko does give me a tingle now and then. Jil Sander's Man Pure (also known as "Man 1. Pure") isn't an exception, but it is an incredibly cool fragrance, its professed purity evocative of '80s Wim Wenders films, silvery and inky, weathered faces and smoke. It's the fragrance equivalent of a '70s BMW 2002 with all original 2.0 L. engine, brake failure light, and roughly 80 of its original 100 hp left at god only knows how many RPMs and foot lbs of torque. Man Pure still moves, still has a Neo-noire attitude, and oh by the way, it was manufactured in West Germany, so if you're looking for something with Cold War street cred, it doesn't get better than this. Even the drab, blocky, colorless bottle looks like a brick in the Wall.

Chypres like Man Pure make me daydream, though. Wearing it the other day, I found myself wondering what it would smell like if some contemporary shitkicker outfit tried to make it on a budget for the K-Mart crowd. It boisterous cistus labdanum, lemon, and castoreum opening accord would likely be reduced to some functional analog of "pine" and "grey citrus." Its sophisticated (but aggressively masculine) heart of kitchen herbs, frankincense, wormwood, and oakmoss would definitely be a fake cinnamon woody amber, with one of those annoying pencil-shaving cedar thingies buzzing off the tail end. The smoky musky-mossy finish would be a bland detergent musk mixed with a pinch of treemoss and treacle. It would probably impress me as a solid attempt at something genuinely old-school and unconventional that simply flounders on the basis of not having a skilled enough nose behind it, sort of like these films Hollywood keeps churning out that seem to be made by people who haven't seen any films. That is, it would be ironically weird, and a noble failure.

With this in mind, and remembering that there were no guiding light breakthroughs for chypres like there were for fougeres in this time period, there's nothing suprising about Man Pure. It doesn't try to have it both ways by tucking lavender in the mix; this fragrance has no fougere accord. The citrus note, which is not quite bergamot, but close enough, along with the potent punch of beaver juice and labdanum pretty much shouts "I AM MAN" from rooftops, traveling loudly alongside you everywhere you go. It feels similar to Halston Z14, Salvador Dali Pour Homme, and even a little like vintage Yatagan, with its burnt evergreen needles adding texture and rustic beauty to the proceedings. Released in 1981 to little fanfare, this incredible gem reveals just how ruthless and stark these bawdy Reagan era masculines could be.

If you're looking for a dry, dark, naturalistic chypre with a fresh, silvery incense note, good dynamism, excellent longevity, and an irredeemably macho bite, this is something you should spritz. Wear it to a late-night screening of Wings of Desire and blast Blondie tapes from your Beamer to get the full effect.





2/8/17

The Dilemma Of The "Work Fragrance"



Occasionally I get questions by email and in comments on this blog from readers wondering about my opinion of the "work fragrance," and what qualifies as a worthy scent for the workplace. My general rule of thumb in giving advice is to recommend counterintuitive action. That is, if you work in a formal setting, replete with business suits, corner offices, "power lunches," and never-ending deadlines, you should wear something casual and objectively fun. Likewise, if you work in a relaxed environment, where Casual Friday happens everyday, and where offices are the exception, not the rule, you'd be well served to button up in your fragrance choice.

My reasoning for this is one of balance. If you carry a briefcase to work and suffer the constant indignity of having your secretary micro-aggressively question your every move, a little levity, even in the low hum of something like a half spray of Joop! Homme, is a welcome reminder that you belong to the human race. Your coworkers will register that you're wearing something peppy and sweet, but their emotional well-being is circumstantially aligned with yours, and their subconscious reaction to your saccharine sillage will echo approval. In a crowded business meeting full of grey-faced politicians and soul-destroying accountants, who can argue with an invisible signal of one's inner mirth? You may not be allowed to tell a vintage Sam Kinison joke in front of the account execs, but your fragrance can signal in a non-threatening way (when applied judiciously) that your inner scream is primed and ready for action.

My reasoning for the inverse applies accordingly, but I want to address the reader who says in frustration, "But what if you work in a place that is not obviously formal or casual?" I work in just such a place. My line of work requires me to do tons of paperwork and manage a dozen different kinds of documents, tracking dates, data, line graphs, and the explicit directions of mental health professionals. It's an oddly anachronistic job, especially given the i-Times we are currently in, and I often think that I should wear a visor and smoke cigarettes while engaged in these clerical tasks. In this regard, my job is bizarrely formal.

There is a caveat to this, though. Quite frequently a sizable portion of my day brings the mental and physiological tightrope act of intentionally lighthearted banter with coworkers between physical altercations with people who momentarily wish me bodily harm. I must summon at a moment's notice a cool-headed comment designed to deflate another person's potentially dangerous attitude problem, while giving an implicit and even-handed promise to overlook whatever harm might be done.

Where I work, emotions and tensions can run sky high, but I often have days where 90% of my interactions are easy and not at all demanding. I drive into work every day saying to myself, "Bryan, you'll either drive home at four o'clock, or an ambulance will drive you," and I'm fine with that. What the hell should I wear in a place like this? Should I even wear anything at all? Would going scentless be the "safe" way of handling these professional, social, and cultural ambiguities?

Over the last seven years, I've devised an answer to that, with a few tiers. First, as far as the question of "should I" goes, the answer is clear: Yes, fragrance is appropriate. My environment is subject to many unpleasant odors, many due to bodily fluids, unpleasant secretions, filthy clothing, and just plain bad hygiene. For me to bring a waft of something that smells at least relatively "good" is something more than merely prosaic - it is fundamentally useful. I realized pretty early on that my coworkers actually appreciate an occasional olfactory reprieve, even if only in the form of a good personal fragrance. In many instances my body is in close quarters with someone else's, and I have yet to receive a complaint. I often receive compliments.

However, I'm careful to use a unique tactic: I mix it up. There is no straight line in how one's temperament should adjust in my workplace, and thus no reason to be linear with my fragrance style. Some days it's formal; some days it's a casual fragrance that works best. I have some scheduling indicators that signal what sort of day I'm most likely to have at any given point of the work week, and I wear my frag accordingly. Usually my scents are a bit more formal, and while that is largely due to my personal taste (and not coordinated to effect my working environment), it is also a tertiary benefit of working with people who need to differentiate your impact on their day from the impact of the environment around them. Become too repetitive and too thematic, and they begin to expect you. Stay fresh and new, and expectations aren't formed on that subconscious level, beyond knowing I will smell at least relatively "good."

I tend to stay away from pure perfumes, very strong extraits and oils. There are certain frags that simply feel "wrong." They're too bombastic, too heavy, potentially offensive, even to me. Common sense prevails. Likewise, I see little point in habitually donning light, evanescent colognes like 4711. On a tough day, I'll sweat that out in the first hour, and then it'll be like I never sprayed anything at all. No fun. I like the happy medium of full-bodied EDTs, generally from the last thirty years, and usually trending toward the "woody" end of the masculine spectrum. Coworkers are taken aback at the seemingly endless variety of fragrances, but if someone hands you a steaming turd, you'll gladly take my love of the Caron line over the ecrement.

My suggestion is to go with your gut, but don't be afraid to go against the proverbial grain. Ditch the business scent if you're a businessman - it's redundant. Stay away from watermelon B&B Works crap if you're a lifeguard. Believe it or not, Kouros works better in sand and sun than Acqua di Gio. And yeah, going full Gordon Gecko and wearing Patou Pour Homme to the 116th floor on the day of the Taiwan deal is just asking to end up in a Robert Longo painting.

Be fresh in your heart, and your work will follow.



2/5/17

KL Homme: Overrated Oriental



It's funny how tastes evolve, especially for fragrance. A few years ago I wrote a glowing review for KL Homme, Lagerfeld's "80s oriental." KL was his indirect response to the continuing popularity of the '70s classics Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and Jovan Sex Appeal. Lagerfeld Cologne was somewhat similar to Jovan Musk for Men, but the floral musks of the previous decade had limited appeal, and by 1986 it was all about powdery patchouli ambers, with Chanel's Antaeus, Giorgio for Men, and Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men leading the pack.

The 1980s were a continuation of the leading trends of the 1970s, which is why so many guys mistakenly refer to '70s scents like Grey Flannel and Azzaro Pour Homme as "80s colognes." Truly new and innovative concepts didn't emerge until the '90s, though things like Xeryus and Bogner Man were definitely "newish" for young men of the Reagan era. I confess that I'm not partial to oriental fragrances, but I do appreciate a good amber scent; Old Spice, Giorgio, Antaeus, Lagerfeld Classic, and KL Homme are all quite agreeable to me.

In the case of KL Homme, I realized last month that my feelings are changing. I still like it, and enjoy wearing it, but I'm not nearly as impressed with it as I was when I first purchased it. It's important to note that my bottle (and any bottle) is vintage, at least 25 years old, and probably older. It's also good to remember Jeffrey Dame's words about vintage orientals - they last longer than other fragrance types, probably because their complexity masks any subtle spoilage. With KL Homme, I sense no spoilage, other than perhaps a slightly unbalanced musk note, and some bland citrus.

My problem with KL is that it's dreadfully boring. It smells like the vaguest idea of an oriental, with all the most basic elements present, and nothing else. It has a crisp citrus with aldehydes and woody terpenes in the opening accord, followed by a polite cloud of patchouli, amber, benzoin, a hint of soapy rosewood, and talcum powder. The base holds a subdued non-animalic musk, and if you sniff very carefully you can feel the presence of cinnamon-sprinkled sandalwood under the dust. Sounds delightful, right? Well, it would be, if it weren't so carefully fitted and tucked and pruned into such insufferably inoffensive blah-ness. Fragrantica cites civet in KL's pyramid, but there is none, and I've no clue what Fragraticans are smelling in its place.

An oriental should have some magic, some characteristic "oomph!" that sets it apart. KL has no magic, and no memorable moments in its eight hour lifespan. It simply smells like a reference oriental. It's the skeleton of something fleshed-out and alive. It's just bare bones boring. I can't put it any other way. People rave about this fragrance online, but I don't share the love. Quality-wise, it's mediocre, its accords rather indistinct and functional, their execution surprisingly over-blended and soapy. In contrast, Lagerfeld Classic's musk, cigarette tobacco, and myrrh notes are quite realistic, and stand out.

If you're in the market for a "reference oriental," i.e. something that conveys the most basic, no-frills oriental imaginable, KL Homme is for you. But is it deserving of high praise? Nah, not really. I recommend Pierre Cardin's scent over it, and even prefer Sex Appeal, which isn't as pretentious, smells more focused, and contains clearer headshop patchouli and bolder wood notes at an ironically lower price point. If you must have a vintage from KL's era, I suggest you find a splash bottle of Obsession for Men, which has in some cases survived the decades intact, and may still smell reasonably fresh and complex (I had a bottle for 30 years).


1/21/17

How Not To Debate A Chemist



It was with great pleasure that I read the recent exchange on Bigsly's blog between Bibi Maizoon, who holds a B.S. in Organic Chemistry from Stanford University, and the blog's author, who simply peddles a lot of B.S.

As I read Bibi's comment to his recent "Fake Facts" post, I realized that one of my faithful readers really "gets it," and understands what I've been writing for years. Fragrance enjoyment is entirely subjective; there are no rights or wrongs in how you perceive perfume. There is no such thing as a "chemical" fragrance, for all perfumes are chemical compositions. And there is no shame in finding pleasure in popular mass-market designer fragrances like Dior's Sauvage. What you like is entirely yours to enjoy. If the only fragrance you've ever smelled is Chanel No 5, and you absolutely love the stuff, more power to you. It's one of the biggest sellers of all time, and you have settled on something that will always be available to you.

Likewise, if you enjoy oddball cheapies like Jovan's Intense Oud, that's great too, but as Bibi pointed out, understanding that it's not a high quality oud allows you to enjoy it with a deeper knowledge of what you're wearing, and hopefully within a meaningful context. She simply pointed out that if you're a Westerner wearing JIO in the Middle East, you shouldn't be too surprised if your fragrance isn't well received, given the preponderance of more sophisticated oud perfumes in that part of the world. In America you'll be regarded as someone with unique (and probably quite interesting) tastes, but that's because we're not well versed in oud.

Bibi also pointed out that there's nothing "wrong" with Sauvage, a fragrance Bigsly habitually denigrates. It is well received by her wealthier acquaintances, and it continues to be a strong seller for Dior. I would hazard to guess that Sauvage is to Dior what Bleu de Chanel has been - a cash cow! I live in a metropolitan part of the USA, and still haven't encountered anyone wearing Bleu or Sauvage, so I can't say they're overwhelmingly popular. But sales stats would probably prove me wrong. Whenever I wear Bleu, I receive compliments on it. Sauvage probably rates the same for those who wear it.

One of the key points Bibi made is that the term "chemical" means nothing when applied in a general way to how a perfume smells. Her understanding of perfumery seems well aligned with mine: perfumery is the art of creating entirely new (inherently enjoyable) smells that are not found in nature. A truly great perfume is its own one of a kind smell, using mostly synthetic chemicals. One example that I happen to frequently wear and enjoy is Versace's The Dreamer. I wear The Dreamer knowing that it doesn't smell like real lavender, or real tobacco, or real vanilla. It contains lavender, tobacco, and vanilla notes, and I can clearly discern them, but they work together to form an entirely unique accord. I'm not concerned with whether this accord is "natural" or "synthetic." That is not the point of The Dreamer. The point is that nothing else smells like The Dreamer, and it's a very good smell.

Bigsly clearly doesn't understand this. In his retort to Bibi, he wrote:

"The 'trick' of modern perfumery is to use such large amounts of synthetics and yet make most people think it smells 'natural.'"

The problem with his statement is that if this were the "trick," then chemists would never have bothered with synthetics in the first place. Oakmoss and birch tar are great natural fixatives, and chemists would just build on them with other natural essences of floral extracts and musks to compose perfumes, making the entire concept of perfume one of naturalism (and very high retail prices).

But perfumers don't do this. They use synthetics precisely because they enable us to experience smells not found in nature. Bigsly's definition of perfumery suggests that perfumers must "reinvent the wheel" when they enter the lab by laboriously tinkering with vats of chemicals to replicate scents found in nature.

But where in nature can one find the apple note in Cool Water? The violet note in Green Irish Tweed? The citrus melange in Acqua di Gio? These scents are megahits because they smell fake, in a good way.

Bibi's comment implies a criticism of Bigsly's "fragrance chemist," one which is well formed, given the dubious nature of his interview with this anonymous person. What surprises me a little is that he opened himself up to this obvious criticism. He spent years criticizing my blog for lacking "citations," "sources," and "evidence." Eventually I was able to interview an identified veteran of the fragrance industry who supported my positions and refuted his, and Bigsly considered my source "invalid" for reasons that were never specified.

All of that is fine of course - if you dislike me and Jeffrey Dame, then that is your right - but if you argue that Mr. Dame's opinions are invalid, the burden of proof is on you to support your argument, and that is something Bigsly never did. He simply used his personal opinions to counter Mr. Dame's 35 years of professional knowledge. Because Mr. Dame has decades of experience in things Bigsly has no professional understanding of, one can see the obvious problem with Bigsly's attitude toward him. Bigsly is just an anonymous amateur enthusiast. His complaints are akin to a child whining about rules dealt to him by an adult.

Then in 2016 he claimed to interview a fragrance chemist, without disclosing the chemist's identity. I pointed out the obvious problem with this, and Bibi brought it directly to Bigsly. He responded to her by saying:

"If you think I should not have published my interview with this person, despite the background check I did and having an 'expert' review it first to see if there appeared to be any 'red flags,' then you can just state that, but making up 'false facts' (or lies, as I prefer to say) is unacceptable . . . "

This is a smoke and mirrors comment, and the only thing unacceptable here is an unidentified amateur calling a highly educated chemist a liar.

Bigsly is attempting to discredit Bibi's honesty by calling what she says "lies." However, he reveals (perhaps unintentionally) that even he did not know who he was talking to when he interviewed his "chemist." He mentions that he had to background check the person's claims, and have them "reviewed" by a third party. He's basically telling his readers, "I want you to trust this person, even though I do not." If the interview was with a real fragrance chemist with a real place of employment, wouldn't a simple call to his employer suffice? Or was that also anonymous? If so, I would think this level of unnecessary anonymity would be its own "red flag."

That Bigsly doesn't seem to pick up on this makes him seem a little dim, to be honest. I think I can speak for Bibi when I say that neither of us believe he interviewed a real fragrance chemist (she has said as much in comments here anyway). I will concede that it's possible his interview is legitimate, but with no way to verify it, I choose to remain unconvinced, and will withhold further judgement for the day (if it ever comes) when he is allowed to tell the world who he spoke to.

However, Bibi has an advanced degree in organic chemistry, and it seems she sees little factual content in Bigsly's post. And as for his "background check" and his "expert" (who is supposedly the most "well known" fragrance writer in the English language, which implies Luca Turin), these are meaningless assertions without specifics. Bigsly can't even tell us who reviewed the anonymous chemist's claims! That's three degrees of anonymity, including Bigsly himself.

One can only infer that he is unable to verify any of what he wrote, and since the interview suspiciously supports many of his long-held contentions about fragrance, the logical conclusion for any intelligent reader to reach is that the entire thing is fictitious. Add to that a dissenting opinion from an Organic Chemist (who I'm sure would be more than happy to prove herself to anyone who challenges her), and well, Bigsly has a problem.

He published that stuff. It's on him to prove that it's legitimate. To the general public, he has no credibility. Unlike me, he's an anonymous blogger. He could be anybody. For all anyone knows, he could be a professor with a PhD in astrophysics, or he could be a compulsive liar who is just smart enough to not give specific details about himself, or anything he lies about. Without his help, there's no way to know the truth. However, given the glaring holes in his arguments, I feel confident in choosing to believe he isn't a PhD in anything.

When you choose to be completely anonymous on the Internet, you have to convey your message with factual specifics if you wish to be taken seriously. Not wanting to disclose the name of a fragrance chemist you claim to interview is bad enough, but not even wanting to disclose the identity of a supposed "expert" you claim reviewed the interview is even worse.

Add to this the bad pattern of arguing with industry insiders (and people with access to them), and we see how not to debate. I think Bigsly should give up on his ill-advised sparring with experienced insiders, and resume picking on little old me. I don't have a degree in chemistry, nor do I have three decades of industry work under my belt. Call me a "deceiver" all you want, but at least you know my real name, what kind of house I live in, and even what kind of car I drive. Sorry to be so deceptive, I guess I'll have to work on that!




1/16/17

In My Opinion, This Is "Fake News"


A synthetic diamond. Even its flaws are fake.


In a recent post, our friend at Wordpress has penned another screed about Dior's Sauvage, this time slanting it against what he perceives to be "fake facts" about such frags. He writes with great condescension:

"And to be clear, yet again, I don’t hold anything against a person who enjoys Sauvage (or who has a social use for it), but it’s time to stop talking about it being great or special or unique or a breakthrough or a masterpiece."

So apparently we are no longer allowed to bestow high praise upon Sauvage, as for the thousandth time, the author has made clear that these "fake" tributes are intellectually and stylistically inappropriate. On what authority he rests his claims is not clear, but what is particularly interesting is that these admonishments were preceded by the following thought, without any hint of irony:

"The fragrance chemist I spoke to didn’t believe much thought went into Sauvage, and you don’t need to be a fragrance chemist to notice how 'chemical' it is (as the reviewer himself does)."

This brings us to what I think are "fake facts." This interview is entirely fact free, simply because it comes from an unidentified source. Because it lacks even the most basic citations, nothing there can be confirmed as factual. Yet it is packaged as an "interview" with a "fragrance chemist," a claim my own readers have easily debunked. There isn't a single sentence in the entire article that relates truth and technical accuracy to readers, and the supposed chemist's identity is not even given.

So it's fine for the author to convey his own ideas through this mysterious third party (who may not even exist), but when people give their honest subjective opinions about a fragrance like Sauvage, they're peddling fake facts?

Another sad case was the Monsieur Guerlain debacle from last year. Without any substantive information to support their opinion, people in the fragrance community were up in arms over the unsubstantiated narrative that evil corporate LVMH had destroyed Monsieur Guerlain's blog for containing some minor legal slip-up.

If you frequented basenotes, you were to believe that because some stranger on the internet (who only a handful on basenotes ever met in person) lost his blog, basenoters were tossing out their Guerlains. One moron even went so far as to post a picture of his top-tier Guerlain parfum extrait boxes sitting out in the snow, like discarded trash, to send the company a "message." Aside from conveying that he was intent on getting rid of empty boxes, this person's "message" was tied to a false narrative, a verifiable "fake news" story: that MG had been "closed down." Meanwhile, his blog lives on.

These are, in my opinion, examples of "fake news" in the fragrance world. Falsehoods, dubious facts, and unsubstantiated claims are not what plague the myriad of subjective amateur reviews on basenotes and fragrantica. We go into those sites knowing the majority of their reviewers are amateurs and enthusiasts who have little professional knowledge of that which they write about.

We automatically assume that someone who says Sauvage contains "high quality materials" is speaking subjectively, and no thinking person, no sentient reader, would ever ascribe more to such an opinion than whatever comparable opinion of his own would warrant.

The real "fake news" stories in our community take the form of half-baked interviews, contrived outrage at stories that aren't even partially fleshed out with any substance, and narratives that overarch the general public's perception coming into the community. Stuff like, "Vintages are more natural," and "Perfumes never spoil." These are falsehoods that have been proven false on this site by professionals in the industry, both through interviews and reader commentary.

If we're going to opine on "Fake Facts" and "Fake News," then we ought to be truthful about those terms, and how they apply. Subjective opinions with hosting site disclaimers, such as reviews on fragrantica, are not the problem. Those who "criticize the critics" are far more responsible for what comes out of their blog posts.



1/7/17

Pacino For Men (Cindy Chahed)


Good luck finding a 100 ml bottle.

Linear fragrances are perhaps the most difficult kind for perfumers to pull off. Done wrong, and they smell functional, like furniture polish, or Febreeze. With skill and a little luck, a limited palette can actually work beautifully, like fire engine red, or Yves Klein blue. When I first encountered Pacino for Men, my initial thought was that it would be another rich tapestry of old-school masculine hues, from the deep umber of smoked tobacco, to the burled browns of rosewood, with wisps of artemisia and pine to round off the edges. Boy, was I wrong! The house of Cindy Chahed surprised me.

The only information I can glean about it comes from this site, which I think is an impartial but unusually informative retail outlet. According to the (somewhat contradictory) information found there, the brand was founded in October of 1996, and closed soon after, almost three years exactly, in August of 1999. I guess they weren't moving units fast enough. Apparently Cindy never made anything more than minis, which may have contributed to her demise, although I think a brand exclusively dedicated to minis is an interesting idea, retailing solely from airports to frequent flyers. Pacino was apparently released in 1996, but I have no corroboration on that.

Pacino smells like an apple orgasm. Come to Connecticut in October and visit Lyman Orchards. Tread its rows upon rows of trees in bloom, and inhale the dry, sweet, woody kiss of the autumn air. Stop to grab one of thousands of wine-like dessert fruits, steal a bite, and savor the fresh flavor in your cheeks as it mingles with the crisp air in your lungs. That's the opening of Pacino. It's basically a medley of apples with a touch of pink grapefruit, and a drop of French lavender for extra dimensionality. I fully expected it to darken and get all pre-A*Men oriental on me, but instead it simply mellowed out, becoming warmer and a little sweeter. The apples have been picked and barreled, and their fruitiness radiates from pillows of cedarwood and hay.

It remains this way for the life of the scent, a full five hours, before fading to a skin essence more suggestive of dusty wood than pomaceous fruits. All told, this is a very good fragrance. Its sweetness never smells like candy; its freshness retains definition and clarity without becoming cold and grey. It's like someone took an X-Acto knife to Creed's Spice and Wood, excised its apple top note, threw in a few other cultivars, a little extra woodiness, and named it after a famous American actor. It's crisp, nearly edible, fairly natural (although not extraordinarily so), quite simple, and pleasant to wear. If you're an apple lover, a fan of scents like Boss Bottled, Cool Water, Nicole Miller for Men, and you happen across this stuff, I highly recommend it.


1/1/17

Why You Can't Trust Internet Reviews When Judging The Quality Of A Reformulation


Only the bottle has remained the same.


My main message in this post is short and sweet: Don't trust what I say.

It seems counterintuitive for me, a perfume blogger, to say this, but when you plug it into my larger message, I hope it makes more sense. That is, don't trust what I say alone, not without smelling things for yourself first. Use me as a rough guide, a vague starting point, the nexus of all your concern and enthusiasm for a certain fragrance. But do not consider me the authority, the voice of infallible knowledge. My sense of smell, my tastes, and my understanding of the fragrance world do not necessarily comport with your sensibilities. I am here to guide you, to inform you when possible, and to provide educated insights into the basic mechanics of how certain scents work (or don't work).

Perfume bloggers are tools. In my case, my personality conveys this explicitly. But as useful tools for gaining knowledge, we're small cogs in a big machine. Halston Z14 is an example of why this is true for all internet fragrance reviewers, including supposedly erudite noses like Luca Turin and Chandler Burr.

Z14 gets a bum rap. It turns 42 this year. That's a long time for a fragrance to be in production, and still widely available across the world. Roy Halston's original formula was released courtesy of Michael Edwards, who helped to engineer its place not just on store shelves, but in the pantheon of famous masculines, a realm where compositions endure the test of time. Yet Z14 has fallen on harder times in the noses of fragrance enthusiasts, many of whom consider it a mere shadow of its former self.

The narrative is that vintage Z14 is far superior to current Z14. I recently purchased my fifth bottle of Z14, a formula that dates to at least 2011, judging from its gift set packaging. I paid twelve dollars for eight ounces, cologne and aftershave. I would have passed on it, but my other 2011 aftershave actually spoiled. One day I went to use it and found that its oils had begun separating out of the alcohol. The liquid resembled olive oil vinegarette salad dressing. It was probably still ok to use, but I opted to toss the remaining ounce and just keep my eyes peeled for a replacement.

I also have a more recent formula, what some consider the "Big Red" formula. This version cropped up in 2014, and it continues to generate complaints. It supposedly has a massive, unbalanced cinnamon note, but to my nose the cinnamon is pretty much identical to all prior formulas I've tried. My perception is in stark contrast to some others, though. And that's the point of this post: to show you that the disparity in perceptions makes trusting any one reviewer on the internet silly.

Consider this review from Fragrantica of two "vintage" Z14s, and one "current" Z. Note how this person's opinions vary:

wesleyhclark: "My first take is that the [French issue] vintage stuff smells like serious perfumery. There's a note that I don't think I've encountered in that form yet. It's deep and strong. A dirty leathery smell, perhaps? It's bolder. Compared to it the current stuff dries in a less complicated, somewhat more modern fashion - cinnamon and cypress . . . But here's the weird thing! I tried some vintage Z-14 in Richmond, VA and it's different yet. It's certainly not current and it isn't this French mix, either. It has an initial oakmoss blast that is absent from both."

He uses the descriptors "dirty," "leathery," "cinnamon and cypress." He also notes excessive oakmoss in one of the vintages, which is apparently not as prominent in the other two versions.

Now look at how different the tone is for this person's perceptions of old and new Z:

Bigsly: "Reformulated version (recent with a lot of cinnamon up front): Well, if you hate cinnamon forget this. There's something else with it, which reminds me of what I've encountered in scents listing tree moss as a note or ingredient. Whatever it is (tree moss, leather, a touch of galbanum), it sort of hardens up the cinnamon and gives it a bit of a dry and chalky/powdery quality. This dominates for an hour or so, and then the earlier version of Z-14 begins to shine through, with more lavender than I prefer. However, here the lavender never gets too strong. After a couple more hours the lavender recedes and blends into the mix. At this point it is at its best, unless of course you really enjoy the initial strong cinnamon."

So while the first reviewer notes the presence of cinnamon without emphasizing it, the second finds it especially noteworthy, and doesn't mention any "cypress" element at all. Reviewer one says "dirty," and reviewer two goes into some detail about lavender, which is usually never "dirty." Also, while the first considers the current stuff "modern," the second refrains from such a vague descriptor, instead opting to be vague about what he perceives to be a "trend" in scents with treemoss. Fine to read if you have plenty of experience with fragrances, but it's like wandering into a Black Forest of opinions for anyone new to fragrance reviews.

If I were new to Z14, and I read these two reviews, I'd be very confused. These are two guys who are reviewing multiple bottles of what is supposedly the same fragrance, from roughly the same time periods, and their reviews are quite different. Adding to the confusion is the suggestion by the first review that two bottles of vintage Z14 smelled different! If I were a total newbie, this would probably elude me. But if I were someone with at least a year or two of experience in reading reviews and trying classic fragrances, I might consider this to be a "clue" of sorts. I'll come back to this in a bit. Let's move on to reviewers three and four, both referring to "vintage":

ericrico: "The opening of citrus with integrated herbs and fresh-ground cinnamon takes me back to my youth."

kmarich: "I discovered a vintage splash for under $10. USDs . . . It has a smokey, hazy richness that made me feel warm.

So which is it? If I'm in the market for vintage, should I expect to smell like a Middle Eastern salad, or a campfire? These reviews seem to be for different scents. But if I connect them to the first reviewer's notes on two vintages (probably from different years), I begin to sense that maybe Z14 just smells different from bottle to bottle, regardless of what the manufacturer's "formula" was. Maybe this is an "unreliable performer." Maybe with Z14 there's no way to know exactly what it will smell like until you smell it yourself, simply because every bottle is a little different.

If I approach Z14 with this attitude, then I can comb through the reviews and find this last one to be consistent with my theory:

Aiona: "It smells like celery seed to me, even though I see no celery seed in the notes listed above. It's distinctive. Not a cool aquatic. Not really a gourmand, despite the celery seed. Just a nice greenish scent."

Very interesting. To her, Z14 is "Just a nice greenish scent." You could find a parallel in this description with the "oakmoss blast" description found earlier. But you have to know that oakmoss, while often "green" in nature, doesn't always smell "green" in fragrances. It can smell nondescript, bitter, powdery even. Vintage Canoe is loaded with it, but few consider Canoe "green."

But most notable in this last review is the description of celery seed, which is commonly attributed to Caron's Yatagan. This is a biting, extremely bitter, pithy, woody note. It does not exist in Z14, which is generally a smooth, ambery citrus and cypress blend. Yet this is what the reviewer describes, and if you don't know anything about the fragrance, you'll be left wondering who to believe here. Does it have lavender and oakmoss and cinnamon, or is it like Yatagan?

I chose Z14 for this exercise because of the divergence of opinions across the boards, and also because there's the added monkey wrench of Z14 being a very "batch specific," "bottle-variable" fragrance. As the years churn on, and my experience with this fragrance continues, I have to wonder if Z's formulation history crudely mimics Grey Flannel's. Perhaps when licensing changed hands, the standards of production varied inconsistently from year to year, or even from batch to batch.

Maybe this is a fragrance where nobody is really "wrong" in their perceptions.

I would argue, from a strictly personal standpoint, that this is not the case. Although the oldest bottle I've tried, which dated to 2007 or 2008 (possibly a year or two older) had a markedly different composition, and a noticeable vetiver note that I have not smelled in any subsequent bottle, the overall feel of the composition, all notes accounted for, conveyed the same basic smell as the more recent versions I've owned and worn.

Every other bottle was either subtly different - to the point of really splitting hairs - or identical. I could get into concentration issues here, but I'll skip it to save time. (Concentration isn't that much of an issue with Z anyway.)

But as I said, I am but one voice. There are 42 years of fragrance to comb through with Z14, and that's a lot of material for study. If you're not interested in getting overly technical and picky about which kind of moss is in your Halston, just going to the nearest drugstore and buying the latest of whatever is in stock will be good enough for you, especially if you have no prior experience with this scent.

But if you're a stickler for material quality, complexity, depth, longevity, naturalism, dynamism, and whatever moss philosophy you adhere to, then clearly you need to eschew Internet reviews and do your own legwork.

I would warn you though, especially if you are the latter type of person, to use caution in how you write about whatever "vintage" you choose. If you disregard any potential concern for spoilage in perfumes, and think that perfumes last forever, you might mention that as soon as possible. That way I will know to avoid taking your review seriously, as will those who agree with my view that perfumes past the twenty year mark are not reliable expressions of their namesakes.