by, 31st August 2009 at 08:21 AM (5221 Views)
In a sense, they're all celebrity fragrances. At one extreme, giants like Chanel no.5 - brands so big, they're measured not in one celebrity, or multiple celebrities, but multiple celebrities over time. Think of the iconic no.5 as having a celebrity bandwidth of 10 Paris Hilton units. At the other extreme, a niche perfumer like Goutal, or a perfumer-wrangler like Malle. There, perfumers themselves stand in as celebrities, at only 0.01 Hiltons normally, but maybe 20 Hiltons to perfumistas. It's clear that everybody will use whatever else they can use to sell perfume. Suddenly, unapologetic celebuscents don't appear quite as tacky.
I sometimes wonder - am I immune to the celebrity fragrance message? I skated on Antonio Banderas Spirit. A huge fan of Banderas, I was relieved to discover that Spirit was already accepted on its merits alone. My thinking it a bit too animalic got me off the hook completely. What about the reverse? When I finally smelled Sean John Unforgivable, created in the name of the obnoxiously bad-ass Diddy, I was able to forgive the excellent scent for its macho posing. Even Diddy himself. No - I felt confident that I was above celebrity influence.
But then came McGraw - my first real challenge. A fragrance that was likely to appeal to me on demographics alone, it was being fronted by a man whose music I liked, and who is nearly impossible to hate. Would I like it, hate it, or just find it "meh"? Or would I be dragged into the orbit of McGraw's shiny black hat? By a whiskey-colored cologne in a goofy hat-themed bottle? I got my ass to Wal-Mart and bought a bottle. I simply had to know the awful truth.
Immediately, I discovered that the hive mind of Basenotes was correct on one point - it was not what people expected. People expected either a typical sporty scent, or a stereotypical "country" scent. What they got was a slightly atypical gourmand. No raves, a few upturned noses, and the world moved on. Stuck with my bottle of McGraw, I began dissecting it.
The promising initial notes went a bit astray in drydown. The notes that I wanted to stick around didn't, and the composition veered away from potentially interesting destinations. It could have gone whole-hog on sweetness, but didn't. There's a bit of Jack Daniels that draws you in, but it runs out the back door of the tavern before you can order a second round. When dryness comes in to replace sweetness, it only teases. Overall, I felt disappointed.
But then something happened. In the same way that country music can be an acquired taste, McGraw the Fragrance snuck up on me. Some enjoyable notes were ripped right out of my faves, like Givenchy Pi Neo, Bond no.9 Riverside Drive, and Cereus no. 14. As seductive as the electric guitars in "hot country", some high-quality aromachemicals were getting to me. I found myself wearing it as a change-up from other fragrances, or when its lower profile fit my mood or situation. And I didn't care. We make no apologies for the music we like, and we don't need to apologize for liking a fragrance.
I came to accept that McGraw was interesting but flawed. The fragrance might do 40 million in sales the first year, and pick up two Fifi Awards, but we perfumistas are a tough house.
I had more or less put McGraw out of my mind, when I saw an online picture of a bottle which was slightly "off". Something looked different. The silly plastic "hat" shrouding the top of the bottle was brown - not black. The cap was gold-colored - not silver. The juice looked lighter. And then I saw the label…
Well, this time I didn't need any excuse to buy it. As a fragrance blogger (cough, cough), I'm entitled to do whatever it takes to investigate fragrances. The very next day I was in Target (that's Tar-ZHAY, people), and I headed straight for the fragrance section. Spotting the old McGraw version right away, I looked for the new one. Top shelf, no less!
So... what's it like?
A total change-up. The electric gourmand, booming through clouds of cotton candy at the Ohio State Fair, is now an acoustic guitar, played from a pick-up truck on a Kentucky tobacco farm. The guy is playing so quietly and intently that he doesn't even know we're listening. Where McGraw was a rather loud whiskey-inspired affair, the new fragrance is subtle, subtle, and more subtle. I needed to break out all my light tobacco fragrances to come up with comparisons. The result is distinctive, self-assured, and surprisingly good. Maybe not Havana Reserva, but for ultra-light tobacco lovers, it's definitely worth a sniff.
I was almost foiled in my first comparison test. The new fragrance was lost in the noise of the old McGraw. My next comparison point was something of a shocker, too - the all-natural, super-subtle, Alt Innsbruck Eau de Cologne. While I am no fan of the menthol in Alt Innsbruck, the natural tobacco drydown in that cologne is wonderful. And while that tobacco is not to be found in Southern Blend, the latter comes closer than most to capturing it. The tobacco accord is surprisingly complex, long-lasting, and stands out front and center without domineering. Technically an EdT, it's clear that this is just to give excellent longevity in a cologne style. Reminiscent of Banana Republic Black Walnut, the subtle tobacco accord here is richer and less synthetic.
A further light tobacco comparison was instructive - Creed Tabarôme Millésime. In press statements, Tim said (carefully) that he was avoiding a "French" feel (the exact statement is here). And a whiff of Tabarôme Millésime next to Southern Blend verifies this. Tabarôme Millésime is a perfume with a slight, old-school tobacco feel. Whether or not it was truly made for Churchill or Bogey or whoever, TM does NOT have a "country" feel. It's tobacco in a boardroom, not a barn or a town hall. Vice versa for Southern Blend. A bulls-eye for Coty.
For comparison, here are the notes given online for the two McGraw fragrances (it's worth a visit just for the guitar-pick icons).
McGraw Southern Blend (fresh-earthy-woody)
- Top: Bergamot, Nutmeg
- Heart: Lavender, Moss, Artemesia
- Base: Sandalwood, Whiskey, Amber, Patchouli, Tonka
The original McGraw has a very enjoyable green aspect. Southern Blend - a bit more brown, or maybe tan. There is a certain homage to the first scent, but gentle, and easy to miss. There is a slight barbershop feel at the top. Then there is vetiver, creating earthiness, but with great restraint, giving no potting-soil or campfire notes. Whiskey is present, but clearly subdued. The topnotes are real, but subtle enough that you can find the base from the very beginning. They are just dew lifting off the field as the sun comes up.
- Top: Grapefruit, Star Anise, Bergamot
- Heart: Lavender, Whiskey, Violet Leaves
- Base: Vetiver, Tobacco, Fresh Amber
As Southern Blend plays out over the day, it becomes a skin scent, but the tobacco field accord holds up well. When I use it with my unscented aftershave, I can almost believe it's an Alt Innsbruck flanker, joyously without menthol.
So if you're looking for something a little bit different in a light tobacco fragrance, or you're a tobaccoholic who must own them all - or if you just want something which is simple, good, and refreshingly unpretentious, consider walking out of Nordstrom and into Kohls to give this one a sniff. It's not the symphony of Feuilles de Tabac, nor the sexy Latin beat of Havana. It's not the chamber music of Tabarôme, the oldies bar band of Tabarôme Millésime, or even the folky-funky, mentholated accordion music of Alt Innsbruck Eau de Cologne.
It's a guy, sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck, playing guitar to his tobacco field. And damn it, I think the tobacco is listening.
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