Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Zealot Crusader

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Total Reviews: 246

Le Mâle by Jean Paul Gaultier

Le Mâle is a very important fragrance, and indeed a very controversial fragrance, in the world of perfume. This was Jean-Paul Gaultier's debut masculine and it set the world alight with it's bizzare tin can packaging and risqué muscular male torso bottle with sailor shirt stripes to match the previous year's Classique (1993) and it's bare-chested feminine bust. Le Mâle did several things at once upon release: it established perfumer Francis Kurkdjian as his first creation (and arguably most successful one); it's loud and bombastic smell cut through the club scene like a hot knife through butter and was the de facto king of the club scene until Paco Rabanne 1 Million arrived in 2008; it unintentionally gave the gay community on the male/male side a champion scent due to it's bottle design, bright smell, and "sailor boy" aesthetic that was in line with gay ideals of male beauty. You simply couldn't get away from this stuff in the club scene, and even after scents like Curve for Men (1996), and Givenchy Pi (1999) started taking nibbles at Le Mâle's dominance in more mixed clubbing company, it continued to rule the gay scene for years to come, and is still a strong contender even in the face of the aforementioned 1 Million.

In fact, Le Mâle has perhaps become too successful for it's own good, which fuels the controversy around it's artistic merits because everyone was just overexposed to it back then like they were 1 Million, and more-recently Dior Sauvage (2015). The scent's famous artemisia and mint opening is much to blame for it's shrill piercing of hot nightclub air, but it isn't quite an ozonic as it doesn't have a huge grapefruit note, but just the usual bitter bergamot and a contrasting cardamom note. Le Mâle is all about contrasts, which is how it gets to be so freakishly loud without being cloying like Joop Homme (1989) at similar volume levels. Cinammon and dirty cumin is opposed by fresh lavender and orange blossom, showing Francis Kurkdjian borrowing a play from Edmond Roudnitska in the "dirty but clean, virile but pleasant" department, but the base ends up taming this beast at the end. Sandalwood, cedar, tonka, amber, and vanilla act as a forgiving security blanket that hides the diametrically-opposed notes in the top and middle. By the time Le Mâle is (finally) a skin scent, only wisps of the mint and lavender really remain to mix with the heavier, creamier, and powdery base, making this a very barbershop-like smell in it's final throes. I actually get a bit irritated by this finish, but wearing it on shirt helps keep the top around longer.

Le Mâle is finally starting to appear dated around it's 25-year mark, and like other notorious period scents from the 90's like Nautica (1992) and Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger (1995), is so inexorably linked to the decade of it's birth that even in the gay scene (where it had the longest clubbing lifespan), it's seen as "old-school", which hurts it's wearability. If loud mint, bergamot, lavender, spice and vanilla traffic jams sound like something you could dig, you can't go wrong with Le Mâle, but if you werd duly overexposed to it like I was, then you can appreciate it's importance but never bring yourself to wear it, or wear it again in some cases. Nuclear sillage and the longevity of canned Spam is the name of Le Mâle's game, so I need not go into that. Where you use it is up to you because it will make a scene wherever it's found (much like Joop as well), and has come in so many different packaging editions that it's also become a darling with collectors. The scent has always been something of a sneeze fit inducer to me, so I'm forced to give it a neutral, but in no way am I dismissing the entire Le Mâle line, as there have been many different and nice flankers in the years since, a good portion of which are also designed by Francis Kurkdjian. A famous fresh, jarring, semi-powdery scent that is instantly recognizable but sadly just not for me.
20th June, 2018

Grey Vetiver by Tom Ford

Tom Ford followed up his eponymous masculine two years later with a scent that seemed at once drawn from even older inspirational sources but also less of an anachronism. Tom Ford for Men (2007) was just a suicide sundae of notes (in place of ice cream toppings), conjuring everything from early 70's barbershop to early 80's men's orientals with some gourmand twists tossed in and finished in an amber base borrowed from the best of vintage Avon. Grey Vetiver (2009) seems in name to be a remix of Geoffrey Beene's Grey Flannel (1975), and Guerlain Vetiver (1961), but is in fact closer to a mash-up of Guerlain's take on vetiver and the debut Dior masculine Eau Sauvage (1966), with the lemon/hedione combo of the Dior scent replaced with a modern grapefruit accord. Harry Freemont worked on this, and his track record is proven both in more classical-minded scents and more synthetic commercial fare, making him a good choice for a modern take on classic vetiver and dry citrus chypre theme. Grey Vetiver comes across as still quite office-safe just like Tom Ford for Men, but has better performance in hotter weather outdoors and just is overall more distict of a composition, and more memorable, making it a surefire future classic.

Grey Vetiver opens with grapefruit, orange blossom, and sage, which skims the line between classic and modern citrus styles with the presence of sage but the absence of bergamot or lemon. The grapefruit top is very dry, and not the juicy or shrill type one expects from a Kenneth Cole ozonic or a Calvin Klein scent where they are likely to be found. The vetiver note comes up quickly from the middle, and makes it's presence felt throughout the remainder of the wear, but it doesn't beat over the head with grassy green or smoky ambiance like older styles, but rather stays muted in it's more extreme facets to just be a dull rounded thud, letting the composition around it get more attention but acting like a mesh reinforcing the rest of the pyramid with it's sharpness like galbanum used to in years past. Soapy orris and a "browning" note of nutmeg are likely responsible for this muting, keeping the vetiver cuffed to a chair until the base of pimento, amber, miniscule allowable oakmoss, and norlimbanol/Iso E Super scratchy woods note bring it to a finish. Grey Vetiver is much fresher and somewhat dryer than most old mid-century chypres from which it draws inspiration, but with that vetiver dollop, is more convincing of the style than something like Kenneth Cole Signature (2005), being more wearable to the vintage lover looking for fresh digs or the more scrutinizing perfumisto that wants a bit more provenance than most modern designers are willing to give.

Grey Vetiver is the current best of Tom Ford's signature line for a good reason: it's a fresh and contemporary citrus scent for casual or office use, medium to warm weather, and plays very heavily into traditional grass roots design (pun intended) without feeling quite as dated as the previous self-titled masculine, nor as ambiguous. Grey Vetiver gets out there and lets itself be known, but still dresses sharp, uses an inside voice, and holds the door open for others in impeccable Tom Ford style. Folks unwilling to drop near to $200 for something from his much more-risque but personable Private Collection (for all intents the Tom Ford niche line), are best to start here with Grey Vetiver if they want a high-quality taste of Mr. Ford's "what's old is new again" aesthetic that he began with LVMH then took with him when they sent him packing. Sillage is moderate, and decent longevity considering the style make it worthy of a work day, but there isn't much use for this in winter or in the evening unless it's a work-related night time event or an extremely-structured activity (like a gala or ball). Two thumbs up for this modern vetiver for the masses.
20th June, 2018

Tom Ford for Men by Tom Ford

It's unsurprising that Tom Ford would take this anachronistic direction with his first standalone masculine since leaving LVMH as creative director to form his own empire. He even chose Estée Lauder as the parent umbrella to distribute his scents, which is another nod to the old-school in a more roundabout way. Tom Ford for Men is a huge jambalaya of all things "traditionally masculine" as composed by Yves Caesar, and although not 100% stuck in the past due to it's note pyramid, is complex, blended, and understated in ways men's fragrances haven't been in decades. I feel Tom Ford was really trying to tap the pre-powerhouse era of the late 60's and early to mid 70's, when cologne was cologne with a macho swagger but not an unzipped fly swaddled in flowers like the 80's. Tom Ford for Men gets a lot of flack from perfumistos for being subtle and boring, but I feel it's not made for the guy who wants to part the crowd but rather just calmly exude confidence, with body heat turning up the volume much like Yves Saint Laurent Pour Homme (1971) or Un Homme Charles Jourdan (1979). Tom Ford for Men really links back to these and Azzaro Pour Homme (1978) in it's use of barbershop aesthetics, but marries them to a more complex oriental design a la JHL (1982) or Jaipur (1998).

There are too many notes for a proper breakdown, but I get the bergamot, orange, and verbena in the top, then all the kitchen herbs a few moments later. Basil, thyme, black pepper, then tobacco draw this into semi-gourmand territory but the orange blossom and ginger make it more oriental. The top and middle phases are appropriately brief like in older 70's aromatics, showing the level of homework done by Yves Caesar on Tom Ford's behalf to achieve such a classic dry down. The amber-led vibrato of the base notes are what make or break this scent for the studied collector, as it's literally nothing new or exciting, nothing challenging like an 80's masculine floral or modern niche, and nothing self-asserting like a newfangled ambroxan scent. You get amber, vetiver, patchouli, what oakmoss is allowable, and a series of aromachemicals to fill in the blanks like "leatherwood" (a variant of norlimbanol), Iso E Super, and cypriol in the finish. Tom Ford for Men starts with mid-century citrus, then 70's herbs and spices, before finishing in a modern chemical-assisted base that pays homage to the male oriental. The sillage is low, but longevity is a beast, making this a good semi-modern office scent for the classic masculine fan.

Tom Ford for Men is the signature for the guy who doesn't want to leave a trail, but wants you to remember his scent when he leaves. I understand all the negative reviews and indifferent neutral takes considering what Tom Ford helped create for the male persuasion under LVMH. After Gucci Pour Homme (2001), Rive Gauche Pour Homme (2003), this seems almost like a let down, but I can't help myself from liking this because I'm a fan of all the classic understated stuff like Arden for Men Sandalwood (1958), Monsieur de Givenchy (1959), Balenciaga Ho Hang (1971), or even Aramis Tuscany Per Uomo (1984), where a genteel manner was preferred over a muscular display of prowess or virility. Perhaps it is too quiet when it should be loud, too blended when it should be more focused, but it has it's place in the wardrobe of a guy who already has aquatics, florals, you name it, and just wants something classy that can be worn as a daily grind while saving more potent and pretentious juices for those times when he actually -does- want to make a statement. Tom Ford for Men is just a comfortable, well-worn pair of slip ons for those days when the polished wing tips can stay in the closet, pure and simple.
19th June, 2018 (last edited: 20th June, 2018)
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Mugler Cologne by Thierry Mugler

Thierry Mugler did a 180 turn from his A Men (1996) and went away from the aromatic gourmand prototype which was that scent, making what is literally a modern take on a classic 18th century cologne. He didn't reinvent the wheel here, and instead just added a few modern twists to the citrus/flowers/herbs formula that eau de colognes always used going all the way back to Farina and 4711. The story has it that Mugler was trying to duplicate an ordinary bar of soap imported from Morocco that he liked, which was itself based on a traditional cologne fragrance. He wanted something different, something special about his cologne, so there is a purported "S Note" in the pyramid that remains unidentified as an ingredient. I'm going to be honest about this: It's really difficult to do a full thorough review about something that is just meant to be an update to a traditional and well-worn design. This is an eau de cologne with a little more beef than traditional varieties since it uses an actual base note to keep it on skin, whereas the older ones were just assorted smell-goods suspended in alcohol. Mugler does a good job with making something that can last as day wear better than anything actually from the 18th and 19th centuries in this category, but that's about all the kudos I can give.

You have to like traditional colognes to like this, and with much better options in both the niche realm and in higher-end designers, this just becomes more like the option for people who can only buy fragrances from Macy's. Mugler Cologne opens up with bergamot, lemon, neroli, and petitgrain, which is nothing out of the ordinary for this style. The separation from other colognes begins with the magical "S" note, which I can only denote as "savon" or soap, a waxy, kinda rosy, floral, round smell that you get from classic aromatic fougère compositions throughout the 70's and 80's, just dialed way down low so it doesn't disrupt the classic cologne vibe. The Orange flower and assorted herbs like sage and basil do the rest of the "greening up" of the scent until the white musk base comes in at the end, not too dissimilar to Caswell-Massey Number Six (1789). The overall vibe achieved by this combination is a classic cologne opening that merges with the soap and ends in the musk, so it's clean, very old-school, rather unisex as expected, but with a little more beef than the usual cologne, although that isn't to say it's long-lasting. One trick I do like is rubbing the area where the cologne is applied will reactivate the scent, so I guess the secret "S" has something to do with that, or does it?

All told, this is as good of a modern take on a classic cologne as can be expected from the designer realm, and although more expensive than a traditional cologne, isn't beyond the realms of attainability for the average stiff who likes this sort of thing. Alberto Morillas probably had fun being assigned to do something so prescribed and traditional as this, and there is a bit of that indescribable spunk you get from a "cover version" of an old song that I find here. I'm not super impressed by it because it's not distinctive besides the soap and musk additions, but I like it enough that it might one day find it's way into my collection, so it gets a thumbs up for me. I'd honestly view this as a slightly longer-lasting, and slightly soapier replacement for something like Farina or 4711, and although Atelier Cologne or anything from the Guerlain Imperiale line bests it, none of those will best it in price, which is where it counts for something this simple. Spending a lot of money on a good cologne just isn't necessary in the 21st century, and Mugler gets that, so this came along to provide the same, if not better level of performance that the old dogs from centuries past used to provide to nobility and the gentry classes. You'll find this in any good department store and where you use it doesn't matter, as it's just basic freshness in a bottle, pure and simple. Nice bottle too, I might add.
18th June, 2018

L'Homme Ultime by Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme Ultime is poised as an "ultimate" version of the original YSL L'Homme (2006) composed a decade prior, and as an atypical flanker seeking to improve the original rather than supplement it, I'd say it's a mixed bag. In some ways, I do like it better than the first because it has a nice rose that wasn't in the first version, but in other ways, I find Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme Ultime to really be more of a supplement like it's brethren, because something is also lost. The original perfumers Domonique Ropion and Ann Flipo return, but Peter Wargyne sits out and is replaced with Juliette Karagueuzoglo, who has also worked on various other L'Homme flankers. Ultime is not spoken of quite as much as La Nuit de L'Homme (2009), a flanker that almost surpasses the original in popularity, and is far more ubiquitous, but Ultime is a silent-runner dark-horse champion that I feel is more perfumisto-friendly as a designer masculine that includes both ginger and rose, even if this includes only such enthusiasts interested in modern designers anyway. L'Homme Ultime won't set the world on fire, and neither did the original either, but for fans of that rarest of categories known as the masculine floral, this might be the closest one finds at a department store counter these days, if not diving into vintage or niche brands to find such a fix.

Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme Ultime opens with a typical grapefruit replacing the bergamot of the first, and ginger reminiscent of it's forefather intact, but with an added twist of cardamom to make it even spicier. There's no calone in Ultime like there was in the first L'Homme, so that slightly round and sweet melon note won't give this the shimmer of the original. The middle of sage and geranium is coupled with rose instead of the typical lavender, with no sight of the pepper or violet the original contained. The rose/sage/geranium middle is the star of Ultime, and where perfume enthusiast will take greatest interest. Granted, it's no Amouage Lyric Man (2008), Ungaro I (1991) or even Azzaro Acteur (1989), but it definitely is a nice dry rose that compliments the brighter top components well. The base of vetiver and cedar plays another complimentary role and is filled in with the olfactory epoxy glue that is norlimbanol and ambroxan, so this is the point when vintage fans stuck on their oakmoss ask the waiter for the check please and bail out. Everyone else who has submitted to the Almighty Wizard of Shnozz and his My First Chemistry set will be use to the dry and slightly scratchy finish of this, which falls in line with Calvin Klein cK2 (2016), which is another grayed-out rose experiment, but not done as well and even more synthetic. performance is superior to the original in most regards, with longer life and greater projection, so that's a definite leg up.

Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme Ultime is a modern mainstream masculine rose for the guy that wants a dumb-grab rose scent that isn't blatantly and obviously a rose perfume like something a lady friend would wear, but loves the idea of rose nonetheless. It's orchestrated in such a way that if it had just a few more natural ingredients and were just a bit stronger, it could almost be a niche release, but is of surprising quality anyway. Fans of the original will probably appreciate this one the best out of all the available choices in this line, since Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme Ultime seems to preserve the spirit of the first scent of the line best without just feeling like a cash-in on a name like most flankers. it rides a bit more romantic than the original scent, and is likewise good for spring, summer, and early fall use. Folks not a fan of the original will probably not find favor in Ultime either, unless a rose accord is enough to sway their opinion, but I'm a sucker for rose so this is a sure win for me. I admit it's faults and it's definitely a status-quo designer, but sometimes a plain ol' cheeseburger is fine. If we ate Filet Mignon every day, we'd lose our appreciation for the finer things, would we not? A drier, brighter, stronger, rose-powered but ultimately safe flanker to the stalwart L'Homme line. Two thumbs up.
18th June, 2018

Emprise by Avon

Emprise was one of a series of "Ultra-Colognes" from Avon: fragrances that really sat somewhere between eau de toilette and eau de parfum in power, but since the word "perfume" conjured up images of daintiness, and eau de toilette was likely deemed too much a mouthful for the Avon rank and file, they used this term to describe it's strength instead. Right out the gate you can tell this was inspired by by green floral chypres like Fidji (1966), Calandre (1969), and Alliage (1972), siting somewhere between them and the leathery starker and even greener chypres of this nature such as Chanel No 19 (1971) or the later Silences (1978). There's a floral bounce similar to Charlie (1973), which is what many who owned both back in the day compared this to most, but Emprise is not on the same level of sweetness as Charlie, pulling more unisex like most of what's mentioned above thanks to it's bitter green top mixed with a dry woodsy moss base. I'd still say Emprise is more of a challenge than stuff like No 19 to guys looking for transgender fragrance ideas, since No 19 is much better-suited to guys thanks to it's dominant leather grass and rose accord, but men who can stand a larger-than-usual lily of the valley and jasmine dose should do just fine in time. Women, on the other hand, might find this a little more jarring than men because of the dryness and heavy moss plonk making it literally a world apart from modern airy florals, but I have a feeling the perfumistas reading this are already well-versed enough in this era to know what they're in for before the first spray.

Emprise opens with a metallic bergamot, lemon, and galbanum, as is almost expected from this genre. The opening is nicely faded into the middle, especially since deep vintage is the only vintage on this juice, so it quickly slips into the floral middle of jasmine, rose orris, muguet, and carnation, with the orris and carnation being the big connection to Charlie that made all the drugstore-shopping teen girls of the day connecting this to that competing Revlon scent, but I feel this is far more mature, and more 3-piece suit than blue jeans and blouse. Sandalwood, amber, and oakmoss finish this up, and once they land, the florals dance on top of them for the rest of the wear, with men less confident in their footing with feminine perfume probably relieved at this point to be back in usual chypre territory. The lovely jasmine/rose/muguet/carnation singing quartet never quite fades from view, making Emprise more "floral" than most of these other older green chypres, which is Avon's legacy at work, since they are known primarily for two things outside of their price point and wavering originality: their propensity for deep amber notes and their origins as a maker of quaint floral perfumes. Why wouldn't Avon bolster the flower count in their take of the dry green feminine chypre style that was marching through the 70's? It really feels like they were trying to compromise between the fans of their older "proper lady" perfumes, and the edgier, tomboyish young Women of the 70's with this stuff, but not all compromises are bad. The metallic edge never really goes away, which can be irritating, and longevity on this is a monster, so it's a sharp-smelling commitment from the first spray until you get to shower it off.

To wear Emprise is a tricky endeavor for anyone in the 21st century, as it skates on the thin ice of being a flower-heavy perfume but without the usual aldehydes, supplanting them instead with lots of green chypre notes, but otherwise sharing similar woods and moss bases. It's sometimes too feminine for a man, but too masculine for a modern woman, but not deliberately unisex enough to maintain that narrow balance betwixt. Instead, Emprise plays out like a battle of the sexes on skin, a tug of war back and forth between bright florals and dry base notes. Performance on Avon "Ultra-Colognes" is utterly amazing, and you're going to be very loud with just a few sprays, so please be careful. Despite the Avon moniker and likely cheap price tag (even decades later in vintage), this is a really quality perfume, with noticeable moss and sandalwood in the base, full of depth. The box claims "Into a world not easily impressed, comes Emprise", and I'll leave it up to you weather this old gal can actually still impress as it suggests it can, but I'm pretty well-stunned. Guys who love playing with old chypres can totally afford to jump on this, but this is not nearly as approachable to a man as something like the gateway drug of Chanel no 19, so advanced dabblers only. As far as ladies are concerned, if you love the dry 70's style and aren't afraid of a little grass stain on your jeans, give this a shot.
15th June, 2018

Sung Homme by Alfred Sung

Alfred Sung is a Chinese-born Canadian fashion designer known in the industry for founding the Club Monaco chain of stores, but in the mid-80's launched Parfums Alfred Sung, which begat the eponymous Alfred Sung in 1986, then this male counterpart in 1988. Sung Homme is an anachronism for the 80's in the same way Rive Gauche Pour Homme (2003) was for the turn of the millenium. The late 80's was a time of extremely virile and animalic floral chypres doing battle with (and losing to) the new wave of synthetic "fresh" fougères and aquatics pushing their way up, but here was Sung Homme just riding in the out-dated groove of soapy early 70's aromatic fougères and doing surprisingly well. It would seem like the career death via estrangement from the progression of mainstream masculine trends a la Avon, but maybe because Alfred Sung had a lot more clout in the scene, the throwback nature of his masculine was allowable. Regardless, the futuristic violet color juice and monolithic Art Deco bottle catches the eye enough that I'm sure more than a few guys (or their significant others) bought this blind upon release. Sung Homme, as an aromatic fougère, feels right at home alongside 70's aromatic fougère and chypre greats like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Avon Deep Woods (1974), Bogart Eau de Toilette Pour Homme (1975), Halston Z-14 (1976), Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme (1978), and others, but it's not without it's notoriety.

What is that notoriety you ask? Well, let's just say it bares a remarkable resemblance to Irish Spring Soap (1970), and wouldn't be alone in directly drawing parallels to commercial bath products, as Cabaret Pour Homme (2004) would also be a direct aping of Coast Soap (1976), but doesn't get the flack that Alfred Sung receives since it was designed by a famous nose and was discontinued, getting instant veneration from vintage fans. Speaking of noses, nobody knows who made Sung Homme, and while it chugs along into it's 30th year of continuous production, it gets a more-divisive reaction from perfumistos because it's commonly available, making it's perceived flaws less tolerable. Commercial soap comparisons aside, the scent does have way more notes than can be readily detected due to it's blending, but there is definitely a lemon/bergamot top with laurel and galbanum. I don't get much petitgrain but I don't doubt it's in there; the middle of sage, thyme, lavender, geranium, rosewood and fir is more readable to me, although the mossy base of cedar, sandalwood, musk, and vetiver is definitely the star attraction after the first hour. I'm not getting much patchouli separation in this mix, but overall this feels like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme but slightly less herbal, less floral, and levels of magnitude higher in the soapy department. Regardless of what kind of soap it is, you really have to like soap fragrances to like Sung Homme, as it's the soapiest masculine I've smelled; it's literally an 80's powerhouse of epic bar soap.

Performance on Sung Homme by Alfred Sung is extraordinary, with sillage for miles and longevity for a work day. Aromatic fougère fans will honestly forget this is an 80's juice outside of the packaging and it is probably the safest work scent from the period as you'll smell like nothing but clean all day. Wardrobes well-stocked with 70's classics don't really need this violet oddity, but the asking price is low enough that it also makes for a low-risk experiment if the curiosity of what 70's sauve and 80's power combined smells like, or if the legend of this being "Irish Spring the Fragrance" is true. I don't think this is an intentional or direct copy of Irish Spring's "Ulster Scent" (as it's called in-house at Colgate-Palmolive), but I can certainly see the resemblance in Sung Homme's DNA. There also isn't a ton of distinction between new and vintage (thankfully) as the increased soap factor from reduced moss found in most still-produced aromatics isn't detectable in a scent like this, as it's already known for being soapy. Older iterations have an integrated sprayer cap while newer just use separate cap and spray head, if that matters. Thumbs up for performance and quirkiness, but fair warning that Sung Homme is far from a revelation in a bottle, outside of the color. Best used in the office, lazy weekends, or days when clean is the only vibe you want to give off.
14th June, 2018

Vera Wang for Men by Vera Wang

Vera Wang for Men was a surprising turn for the house at it's time of launch, since the designer almost exclusively caters to the fairer sex, but the point behind it was as a "wedding scent" for a man, while his wife-to-be wore the original Vera Wang (2002) and accompanying bridal finery. I'm not sure how well that worked, but there was plenty of bride and groom advertising for the stuff. Jean-Claude Delville and Harry Freemont from IFF made the original, and although no nose signed off for Vera Wang for Men, it also comes from IFF and I'd be unsurprised if they reprised their roles, since it feels like one of theirs (particularly Freemont). This is by all accounts a relatively modern take on an oriental/chypre hybrid, not being able to benefit from unrestricted oakmoss or animalics, and making up the difference with "freshness" notes lifted from ozonics of the day but dialed way-the-f**k-down so they fit in the genre context. There's definitely some sharper "treemoss" here, but overall is a very constrained modern effort riding along traditional lines. I like the stuff as the rare oriental-themed scent that I can pull off on a hot day, and because it's Vera Wang and not Dior, I can apply with abandon because replacement bottles are the price of a meal at Red Lobster.

Vera Wang for Men opens with a soft yuzu and "manadarin orange leaf" which I believe is just mandarin + galbanum, but it's a nice mix of sharp green and rounded citrus that comes across like somebody listened to perfumistos and kept the 90's/00's trendy yuzu accord from being nuclear by adding in some old-timey body. I also get a bit of a fig/peach ghost note, which is interesting. From here, our dapper groom-to-be in a bottle goes for nutty oriental spice, still restrained, still measured, and likely boring to the fan of more daring (and expensive) niche fare. Nutmeg, anise, cardamom, and a barely-there leather note keep it masculine but genteel, while a typical chypre base of sandalwood, treemoss (in proxy of oakmoss no doubt), a slight musk, and a lovely tobacco note. I'm getting mostly the sandalwood and tobacco by the end, and the overall composition reminds me of a lighter, sweeter, tobacco-infused modern take on Arden for Men Sandalwood (1957), which by 2004 would not be in line with the "fresh" trends still going strong since the early 90's. This also cross-pollenates to a degree with scents like Michael for Men by Michael Kors (2000) and Dolce & Gabbana The One (2008) because of it's tobacco presence, but it's really in a league of it's own.

Vera Wang to date hasn't made another masculine, and why should they? The house has dialed this in so perfectly as a modern gentleman's oriental citrus chypre (that passes IFRA by the skin of it's teeth), they honestly don't need another one. Once again, this is not exotic or daring, not loud or esoteric, and marries new and old school ideas, so purists will dismiss it, but as a potential signature for the even-keeled guy who wants a modern mature vibe, it's nearly perfect. My only complaint with this is it's performance, as many oriental and semi-oriental compositions from the period were "quieted down" so they could run in the same races as all the fresh fougères and aquatics of the day, but without the chemical oomph of the latter, can become invisible without over-spraying or applications to clothing. Vera Wang for Men might not be for the man that demands distinction, prestige, or individuality from his fragrance, but it's certainly for the man that loves being understated but memorable, just like the lovely bottle in which it comes. A nearly-classic and soft-spoken designer gem that may not get you hitched, but will see you through most of your day's commitments nonetheless. Bravo Vera Wang.
13th June, 2018

Elvis by Elvis Presley by Frances Denney

Elvis by Elvis Presley is an almost forgotten-about member of the first-wave celebrity scents that hit the market in the 1980's. Everyone from automakers to teen idols were getting the sense to market scents during the fragrance boom of the 1980's. Sadly, most of these were playing-it-safe affairs sold by downmarket labels like Avon or Revlon at best, or terribly-executed cash-ins from upstarts that just wanted to sell snake oil with somebody's name on it. Frances Denney was a relatively obscure cosmetics house founded by an Irish immigrant who moved to Philadelphia in the late 1800's, establishing what is touted to be the first American-based cosmetics house (something which is hotly contested by Avon under it's original name of California Perfume Company), but only had a series of minor hits throughout the years including stuff like Wild Rose (1940), Interlude for Women (1965) or Adolfo for Men (1981). Denney was on it's last legs as an independent perfumer and probably saw the contract to deliver Elvis by Elvis Presley (1989) as a good way to bail themselves out of trouble, which didn't happen and eventually history shows the house assets being sold off to The Stephan Company, who did who-knows-what with the properties. During it's launch, the scent was often promoted with Elvis impersonators at cosmetic counters of big department chains like JC Penny and included with greatest hits collections on cassette or CD, belt buckles, and other memorabilia. Nobody really knows how long it was made and when it finally was pulled from the market, but enough of it exists at reasonable prices despite nearly 30 years of age to indicate that it wasn't a hot seller, like most early celeb-perfumes. The only other male celeb perfume that I can recall sinking as fast as this probably did was the Billy De Williams Undeniable by Avon (1989), which also had zero input from the celebrity in question, even if he was very much living at the time.

Elvis by Elvis Presley opens with a rather shocking animalic bouquet, lying somewhere between the smooth Belle Epoch approach of Maxim's Pour Homme (1987) and the virile shriek of Balenciaga Pour Homme (1990), before settling into a mulled apple cider spice and tobacco. There's no note pyramid to assist in the journey from opening to skin scent, so I'll have to do the rare impressionistic breakdown and just describe what I get since I can't look for individual notes. The top is definitely bergamot and some kind of herbs, likely thyme and/or sage. There's a strong cinnamon note that presages the later Bogart Witness (1992) or Spark for Men (2003), but it's overtaken by apple, nutmeg, and ginger. The animalic that starts off loud in the open eventually simmers down and feels like a castoreum and civet double-wallop that eventually loses the fight against amber, tobacco, honeyed leather, and possibly a black tea note that crosses so many scents from before and after this was released it's ridiculous. The strong tea note feels like it could be something from Burberry, but the honeyed leather feels more like the first masculine from Ted Lapidus (1978) while the tobacco and amber pull towards Hugo Boss Number One (1985). All in all, it's just a jumble of power notes that each on their own could totally shape the personality of whatever masculine they're in, but together just exchange punches in a battle royale for control over your nose. Ironically, the concentration isn't the greatest on this scent, as it's an actual spray cologne and not an eau de toilette, so all this cacophonous masculinity is thankfully turned down and just remains a dull roar on skin after only a few hours. Over-application or shirt-sprays would fix this, but then you'd absolutely smell as loud as Elvis' costumes were gaudy towards the end of his career.

It's funny this died out because it is an Elvis product after all, and the fanaticism of his fanbase is eternal much like The Beatles so I'd have expected better turnover. By comparison, scents from musicians like Jay Z or actors like Antonio Bandaras seem to fly off shelves in the modern age. Maybe it took that long for Americans to lose distinction between a person's fame and why they're famous (hello Kardashian family), so anyone's name can be on the bottle as long as they have some sort of clout, even if they had nothing to do with the perfume inside, or in Elvis' case, weren't even alive to witness it's release? I don't know if the King of Rock and Roll would have worn this stuff, but it was sold as the "King of Colognes" too, which probably didn't do itself any favors outside the Elvis legion, since anything self-asserting is usually laughed at in this industry. Overall, Elvis by Elvis Presley is an odd but also oddly delicious little scent that tries to be everything a man could want in a bottle: strong, yet sweet; masculine, yet comforting; bold, yet approachable. It's just a pot lock of aesthetics in a bottle that makes it a bit of an animalic-fueled chimera. Elvis the cologne is certainly very 80's, unlike Elvis the singer, and it's right at home in collections of guys who like powerhouses, but just smells like so much other stuff off and on that it might only suit as a dumb grab for the guy that can't pick what type of 80's scent he wants so he picks the one that kinda covers all the bases. If Elvis had lived to see this come to fruition, I doubt he would have worn it, because his wardrobe was well-documented, and contained far more powdery fare like Brut (1963), Hai Karate (1967), and the occasional bottle of Zizanie (1932). Still, it's a cool little ambery animalic that I would have enjoyed regardless of who's name was on the bottle.
12th June, 2018 (last edited: 13th June, 2018)

Ed Hardy Man by Christian Audigier

Ed Hardy Man is the first masculine from a briefly high-end house formed mostly by the late fashion mogul Christian Audigier, using tattoo artist Don "Ed" Hardy's name and iconic imagery. Later on Mr. Hardy would take back control of the house after he saw the massive failures of the label in Audigier's hands, taking it down to more of an upper-middle class brand and ditching the concept of brand boutiques. The fragrances remained with Audigier until his death, and now his stable of brands, along with Ed Hardy, is handled by EA Fragrances. Olivier Gillotin was assigned to work on this, and would also compose a few subsequent masculines thereafter, and while he struck gold on some of them, his sometimes unorthodox note pyramids often land his creations in divisive territory. Ed Hardy Man seems to be just a toe-dip into the pool by comparison to future scents from the house, as it is thoroughly and utterly by-the-book safe in it's mixture of citrus top, minty middle, and warm amber vanilla woods base. There isn't much to really say beyond that, as it is a pretty cut and dried affair, just with a fancy tiger on the bottle and neat cap-over-bottle sheath design reminiscent of Avon Deep Woods (1974) and Calvin Klein Contradiction for Men (1999).

Ed Hardy Man opens with bergamot, mandarin orange and clary sage, which is a semi-oriental opening, and fairly typical of the style from the time, with stuff like Dior Homme (2005), Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men (2008), Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008), and Hypnôse Homme (2007) all hitting the streets with similar vibes. The primary difference between Ed Hardy Man and it's semi-oriental or oriental cousins is it's a much simpler composition, and much softer as well. It certainly has more projection than the infamously-quiet Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men, and will actually be a suitable day scent in fall or early spring weather, but like most things in this category, is pretty much meant to be romantic or for evening use, because of it's creamy ambiance. The Mint middle is what really makes Ed Hardy Man perkier than most of it's competition, as it's a bright peppermint that recalls scents like Avon Perceive for Men (2000) or Dirty by Lush (2004), just much more gentile in the dry down. The bergamot, mint, and sage are what keep the orange and vanilla from being too cloying, so I can appreciate the simple balancing act that Gillotin has put on display here. The base of amber, vanilla, and the generic Iso E Super/Karmawood synthetic base sort of speak for themselves: they're at once sweet, thick, but then semi-dry as everything settles down into an orange/mint/vanilla glow, which is pleasant and nice to rub one's nose into during intimate contact, which is where I imagine this was constructed to perform most.

Ed Hardy fragrances were once sold in their boutiques only and carried really hefty price tags, at least for the average Joe who's aesthetic the label was intially trying to package for the haute bourgeois, and back in those days I would have told you to spend your money on a good Chanel or Dior instead of this. Once Ed Hardy took back the reigns from the man who also pushed Von Dutch into the limelight, he opened up these scents to mass marketing and lowered their price to more mid-tier designer levels, which is still too much for what they are, but a fair sight better. Nowadays, they're everywhere from your local perfume shop to the nearest big box store, with prices often below $20, which actually makes this a good drugstore-ish value and recommended buy if you like anything in this sweet semi-casual/semi-romantic category but don't want to splurge. The tacky Ed Hardy signature and tiger tattoo adorning the slip-over sheath cap do kind of make it hard to take this one seriously, so if you're in more refined company, best not let them see the bottle if they like the scent, and just tell them what it is instead of showing them (although I like tacky). Ed Hardy Man feels too safe, synthetic, and by-the-books for most perfumistos, but as a dumb grab kind of thing when you want something that's not deliberately fresh, sophisticated, or complex, but just plain cozy, this may be the big cat you're seeking.
11th June, 2018

The One for Men by Dolce & Gabbana

Dolce & Gabbana never really delved much into richer and more oriental-type scents until The One, and it's male iteration rolling in around 2008 revisited the tobacco-based theme of the original Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme (1994), but with a much beefier structure surrounding it. Tons of reviewers from the accredited critic to the Amazon.com shopper will all scream the same thing in their little blurbs about the scent: it smells beautiful but is fleeting on skin. This is either one of the most-aggressive attempts to thwart over-application I've ever seen, or just a cruel joke on perfumer Olivier Polge's part, who is now the grand Poo-Bah for Chanel perfumes in place of his retired father Jacques Polge. All accounts point to the truth with this one: The One for Men is indeed a gorgeous tobacco oriental scent for men, with pitiful projection, and decent longevity only if also sprayed on clothing, but I can understand the thinking. The late 2000's were a time of the aquatic's second coming, the decline of the shrill ozonics that plagued the late 90's and mid 2000's, and gourmands just kind of humming along between full-on fruit baskets and near-oriental richness themselves. Mainstream perfume buyers weren't really into flat-out orientals anymore, especially not male ones, since they stopped perennially re-appearing around the 80's. There were plenty of oriental/fougère hybrids, or oriental/gourmand hybrids, but no strait-up spice-and-orange scents for guys outside maybe niche houses for quite some time. The One for Men came in at just the right time to offer something rich and implicitly intimate for the young but maturing guy ready to move beyond his everyday juice, and it worked very well.

It came down to the tastes of Stefano Gabbana, one half of the founding duo behind the brand, and he wanted an oriental because that's what he liked. Olivier Polge, who was still with IFF at the time, was put on task to make it, and it was dialed down low enough not to fill a room with miasma like the orientals of old sometimes could, but I feel he maybe went with too light a hand. As it stands in it's original EdT formulation (there's also a parfum now), it opens with grapefruit, coriander, and basil, all unsurprising really, but the grapefruit is not strong enough on it's own to make this tart like one expects with that note, but instead just gives it the opening one expects from the genre, when blended with the spice and herbs. Cardamom, ginger, and orange blossom are next, which brings this a little closer to the richness territory of something like Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men (1986), but in a more reserved fashion thanks to the low concentration. Fans of turn-of-the-millenium tobacco scents like Gucci Envy (1998), Michael for Men (2001), Very Valentino for Men (2000), or even Vera Wang for Men (2004) will take note of the finish in this, as it's the lovely tobacco, cedar, and ambergris glow everyone raves about. Conversely, it's also the reason most of the unseasoned youngin's dipping into masculine fragrance for the first time get irate and ding this with a negative review across the internet, as they see the name and are attracted to the bottle only to discover this is much more in line with the over-30 mature man crowd; it's clearly not for the guy looking to be fresh, bright, edgy, or bombastic in any sort of way. Much of the performance problem was solved in 2015 with an EDP version of this, but the faux ambergris note was replaced with a composite "amber" note which makes it a tad more boring as a result. The old argument of quality over quantity sort of rings true here.

The other less-economical solution to those who love what this dishes out are to over spray all over and use on clothing as well, but then you might as well have back up bottles for the stuff because you'll need them in half the time. Once again, this is a beautiful, if simple oriental throwback, that isn't going to wow anyone with a ton of originality, but is like comfort food for the nose, which is always welcome in my book. I'm a sucker for a good tobacco scent in the same way I'm a sucker for a nice old-school fougère, so you knew I was coming into this already expecting to like it, and I do. The One for Men was nearing the end of this concept, and outside of the sleeper cell tobacco entry that is cK One Shock for Him (2011), this kind of thing started to see gradual replacement by more vivid yet remotely oriental modern fare like Valentino Uomo (2014) or Boss the Scent Intense (2015), or Emporio Armani Stronger With You (2017), which means back on the oriental hybrid train we go. You'll never be out of place wearing The One for Men to the office, a nice dinner date, or movie, but it doesn't really have much traction in daytime casual use so I'd avoid it there, especially since the stuff needs close proximity even with over-spraying to be effective. It's the gentle oriental for when you want to be spicy without screaming it, and encourage getting just a bit closer for further inspection, but guys who grew up with the real bombs like Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur (1971) or Aramis JHL (1982) will probably laugh this off, which is okay. It's still uncontested fact that this is lovely orange, spice, amber, and tobacco for all of maybe an hour then nothing but faint wisps thereafter, and regardless of age or demographic, that can still feel like a huge build-up and let down.
10th June, 2018

L'Homme by Yves Saint Laurent

Yves Saint Laurent L'Homme is the first major masculine fragrance release from YSL since Tom Ford left as creative director from both YSL and Gucci upon his departure from LVMH to start his own house. YSL men's fragrance had always marched to the beat of it's own drum thanks to the namesake designer's predilections towards manly scents even when they weren't fashionable, and Tom Ford doing his best to keep that tradition alive when he was steward of the shop, but after all the cats had gone away, the mice were left to play so to speak, and this represents a generalist about-face for the label. Many perfumistos met this with a huge sigh of let down (but not as large as the recent Y for Men from 2017), but whereas most houses that go down the most-common-denominator route, YSL seemed to enter the mainstream on it's own terms, preserving some of that stubborn individualism. The creative directors at the house took a page from the book of Chanel with this, delivering a soft, clean, fresh and "safe" experience that still contained hints of flirtatiousness and couldn't be narrowly defined as aquatic or ozonic, just like Allure Homme (1999). YSL L'Homme has a lot of personality for a generalist "freshie", and has understandably produced a lot of flankers in it's wake, being classy and appropriate like YSL masculines of old, yet still a bit fun and youthful, which is something the label had been lacking at that point.

YSL L'Homme was the product of 3 perfumers, and much like Calvin Klein, YSL sought to just throw raw talent at the task and hoped a masterpiece emerged from the maelstrom. Indeed, all 3 perfumers who worked on L'Homme come from accomplished backgrounds, with Dominique Ropion, Peter Wargnye, and Anne Flipo each with storied fragrances under their belts. But much like Calvin Klein's Euphoria (2006), L'Homme doesn't benefit from this glut of talent, as it feels like a series of compromises in a bottle to the point of being dialed in so close to something they could all agree upon would suit the purpose that it just feels a bit too beige. It's a still a far sight better than Euphoria if only because it doesn't smell like a mash of science fiction, but it rides very close to the same ambivalent groove aesthetically, just in a much classier vein like the aforementioned Allure Homme. Ginger, bergamot, calone, and lemon open this innocently enough, with the ginger and calone adding a round sweet twist to an otherwise generic citrus open. Basil, a noticeable violet leaf, and white pepper consist of the middle. I guess the pepper is there but I can't detect it, and all I get is the violet, which drags this in a feminine, if very pleasant direction. The base of tonka, vetiver, woody aromatic chemicals, and musk. The whole thing feels like a best-of-show from the 90's/early 2000's parts bin, but does a really good job nonetheless.

Silliage is not a monster with L'Homme, but I feel it's not meant to be, but longevity is good, with about eight hour performance. It's a satisfactory scent for a job interview, a first date, day to day work, casual use, in spring, summer, or fall, and only buckles under extreme weather or particularly intense occasions where something more noticeable or thematic is required. It's a generalist as it's meant to be, just cut from a different cloth than something like Acqua di Gio (1996) or Kenneth Cole Reaction (2004). Guys fond of their civet or moss bombs will hate this, so anyone looking for powerhouses or aromatic fougère is in the wrong place with this, or realistically most things made by designers after 2000 thereabouts. Younger folks that came up with 90's fresh scents and 2000's oriental gourmands will probably like this most, as it's a gentle and sweet daily signature that doesn't smell run of the mill and still has some respectable quality. It won't light the world on fire, but I don't feel it was meant to, and for folks not feeling the decidedly more dynamic ambroxan freshies that came out post 2010, this is a more comfortable place to dwell. There really isn't much more that can be said about it than that. It barely gets a thumbs up from me for being a slight cut above the din, but I can totally understand the folks remembering past glories from YSL being unable to accept this direction, as it is definitely more soft-spoken than anything else save maybe the original Yves Saint Laurent Pour Homme (1971) from this maker on the male side.
10th June, 2018

Givenchy Gentleman (new) by Givenchy

First thing's first, this should really be labelled as "Gentleman by Givecnhy" and not "Givenchy Gentleman (New)", because Givenchy themselves try to separate this from the original Givenchy Gentleman (1974) in the same way Dior separates Sauvage (2015) from Eau Sauvage (1966), with a little re-arranging of the name. Calvin Klein also recently did this with Obsessed for Men in 2017, separated from Obsession for Men (1986), and so far only Yves Saint Laurent has flat-out reused a name with their new male iteration of Y (1964) in 2017 as well. I feel a lot of the hate and confusion in the fanbase would subside if everyone just referred to this scent the way it's makers do, because most of the problems stem from insisting it's the "New Givenchy Gentleman" when one good sniff clearly shows that it isn't, but rather just another nostalgic take with new juice in a throwback presentation like all the above (save maybe Sauvage). Now that we got all that fracas out of the way, how does it smell? Well average really. Ever since Chanel released Bleu de Chanel (2010), the first latecoming aquatic from the house that re-purposed a name from an old discontinued perfume and using the then cutting-edge ambroxan captive to give it a warm dry down, every other higher-end designer realized they too could release a more mainstream masculine scent capitalizing on heritage with that synthetic base note to bridge the usually more taste-specific world of upper-class male perfume with the demographics-driven median tier (and below) world of "men's cologne". It was only a matter of time before Givenchy jumped on board this craze too, and made Gentleman. The stuff is presented in the "classic" mid-century shouldered "pill bottle" with the wraparound label which all old Givenchy scents used in the beginning, but the similarities to vintage juices end there. This is a squeaky-clean floral for all intents and purposes, which is an interesting turn away from the aquatics, citruses, and barbershop scents other houses imitating the ambroxan-powered freshness of Bleu de Chanel have pursued. It sits somewhere under Bleu de Chanel and Sauvage for me, and it certainly better than the horrible dreck of Y for Men by Yves Saint Laurent, but not by much.

Olivier Cresp and Nathalie Lorson worked on this together, but it doesn't really seem like it to me. Gentleman by Givenchy opens with a pear and cardamom accord, sweet, soft, and a bit powdery, before going into a fairly synthetic iris in the middle, which is touted to be the scent's main accord. A good iris scent is like a good leather scent: usually expensive to pull off convincingly, although designers like Versace have proved that a cheap iris can be done effectively with enough quality flanking notes, like the tobacco iris of Versace the Dreamer (1996), but here it's paired unconvincingly with a rather astringent lavender, making the iris quality (or lack thereof) very evident. I love a good cheapie, as long as it doesn't smell cheap, and this isn't even sold cheaply, so that makes it worse. A bleached-out leather, patchouli and "blackened" vanilla pairing are up next in the base, which is the same combination that Ilias Ermenidas and Christophe Raynaud used in Obsessed for Men, but here it's not committed to as strongly since it's not an oriental, so it ends up just being an irritation sweet powdery stickiness that is carried aloft on musk and ambroxan, making this go from clean to itchy in the finish. Gentleman by Givenchy just doesn't seem like something that a gentleman would actually want to wear, since it is just dialed in so fiercely to what's most abundant in the 2010's on the male side of the fragrance fence. It doesn't come off as a citrus, nor an oriental, nor even a barbershop scent, has no distinction of it's own, even among it's modern peers, and although not a total mess like Y for Men, just is so much filler trying to play itself off as killer that the only enjoyable aspect about it is holding the bottle, and maybe smelling the brief pear and cardamom opening, which is the only part I can see myself really enjoying. It has pretty decent saying power thanks to that Ambroxan, but you'll tire of it long before it fades from skin or shirt. Gentleman by Givenchy feels like a dialed-in and rushed attempt to make a cash cow to fill the coffers, but unlike selections such as Bleu de Chanel or Sauvage, doesn't even try to be -good- at what it does.

There are always going to be people that hate generalist scents whether they are made by Avon or Roja Dove, but even when compared to the merits of other past generalists high or low, Gentleman just comes across as "passable", which is not worthy of a thumbs down for me, but neither a thumbs up. There's just so much better you can do even if the opposite of there being so much worse is also true. No house should really being trying to achieve a state of mediocrity, but whilr houses on much tighter budgets or selling to much larger (and less affluent) crowds can be given a pass because they don't have as much wiggle room to make things truly extraordinary (although they can happen like accident), houses with much more riding on the line like Givenchy, and the proven talent at the wheel has even less excuse. If you absolutely need Givenchy to be the purveyor of your next nine-to-five work scent and it must be something new, this is an okay choice, but you're really boxing yourself in here. The original Givenchy Gentleman which begat this scent was not a whole lot of sophistication in a bottle either, as it was mostly patchouli with some cinammon, leather, oakmoss, and civet to make it a bit sweet and manly, but at least it was classy and distinct, with a love-it-or-hate-it unflinching stance on how it presented itself, like most gentlemen of quality. This scent is more like "please please please don't notice me as I take the last cup of coffee from the pot" in a bottle. The guy who wears Gentleman by Givenchy doesn't want to be noticed, or complimented, or reprimanded, or anything; he just wants to be there and that's it. Gentleman by Givenchy is literally just "me too" in a bottle, and long after it fades from view, people will still be talking about the original and laughing at this the way they do the initial wave of surviving New Beetles chugging along the main drag in a patina of faded paint, cracked plastic bumpers, and "wash me" written in the caked filth along the running boards. Meh.
10th June, 2018
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Anthracite pour L'Homme by Jacomo

Anthracite was the first his/hers pair of fragrances released by the left-of-center and off-beat house known as Jacomo. The Deauville-based fragrance house started by Gérard Courtin had utilized perfumer Christian Mathieu since 1980, when he created Jacomo de Jacomo for the house, continuing the ashen vibe of Eau Cendrée (1974) and taking it to the next level. The male counterpart to this new set, Anthracite Pour L'Homme (1991), sees Mathieu swing the pendulum away from the heavy smoke of the vetiver used in the previous two earthen-themed scents in what would end up an unofficial triptych from the house, pushing in a more floral direction and returning to the cloves of the debut masculine. Anthracite Pour L'Homme straddles the men's floral powerhouse category of the late 80's, a long-forgotten and mostly-failed segment of masculines in the face of the aquatic and "fresh fougère" boom, and the older barbershop/classic fougère type made popular by everything from Fougère Royale (1882) up through Drakkar Noir (1982) and Duc de Vervins (1985/1991). Anthracite Pour L'Homme is a close relative to Zino Davidoff (1986) for this reason, and shares a bit of it's "rotten flowers" aesthetic, but is much lighter on the application and balanced with fruits, herbs, spices, and woods. The overall feel of Anthracite is a bit dated even for 1991, but seeing as Jacomo's other previous masculines also seemed out of step with their time, this is no surprise, and is for the man who is ostensibly of his own style regardless of era. A lot of people trump this up as some forgotten masterpiece, especially collectors and esteemed critics in the community, but Anthracite is just plain good in the same way anything above named is also, and not an essential must-own cult classic.

Anthracite Pour L'Homme opens with bergamot, tarragon, pepper, cypress, angelica root, galbanum, lavender, and pineapple, just a mishmash of things that are all so carefully counter-balanced as to almost neutralize one another. The opening of Anthracite isn't a calculated "sweet emptiness" like Calvin Klein's cK One (1994), but it's close in the blending department to "generic soap fougère" territory that Drakkar Noir, Alfred Sung Homme (1988), and the much-later Gres Cabaret Pour Homme (2004) tend to ride in, but is saved from this summation by the odd angelica note. The slightly tangy angelica root note combines with lavender, tarragon, and cypress to give a semi-dry weight past the bergamot, into the middle phase of ylang-ylang, violet, rose, and clove. The very feminine smear of florals in the middle is what gives this it's link to the late 80's flowers and civet crowd, but it doesn't have the animalic garbanzos of something like Balenciaga Pour Homme (1990) nor is it soured like the aforementioned Zino Davidoff. Instead, we get flowers restrained once again by a counter note of clove, in the same way much of the top notes play tug-of-war with each other into a dry soapy mix. The base brings in the gorgeous oakmoss, musk, amber, and tonka, making this "Fougère 101" in the end, once again dried a bit and balanced with sandalwood and cedar so it doesn't get rich. The overall effect of Anthracite is a less in-your-face earthiness to it, achieved without the heavy vetiver of Jacomo de Jacomo or the rich spice and mulled vetiver swirl of Eau Cendrée. Granted, Anthracite is arguably the most conventionally-constructed male scent in Jacomo's roster, which is probably why it was mostly ignored, and even after decades of discontinuation sells for the price of current designers, but it is still good, but -just- good. Anthracite is good candidate for a signature scent since it's not too challenging in any one direction besides it's inclusion of florals, and has just enough performance for a work day while making the wearer stand apart from modern ambroxans.

The bottom line is Anthracite is a forgotten member of the late 80's and early 90's flower-lead charge in the masculine realm for reasons that seem just and fair to me. It's not Givenchy's last-one-out Insensé (1993), that commands stupid prices for being truly original but sadly undervalued by the brand and discontinued, but neither is it something totally an unfairly over-hyped like the aforementioned Cabaret Pour Homme. Anthracite is a decent value for the fan of "pretty" fougère styles that go counter to the more focused and fit-for-fight stuff like Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), and it doesn't lay on heavy cloves or lots of powder, vanilla, and tonka like a lot of mid 20th Century examples. Anthracite Pour L'Homme just stays in that original late 19th century fougère zone, playing close to the origin of the species. It's drier than most examples on this list, and actually feels like a classier presage to American Crew Classic Fragrance (2000), which gets flack for achieving the same task on a pared-down note pyramid and budget. If you want something that goes on crisp, light, a bit sweet, then warms up to a flower garden underpinned by moss, musk, and woods, but stays dry most of it's wear time, this is about as perfect for you as could be asked. It's not going to wow anyone familiar with the genre or vintage styles, but gets a thumbs up for being steady, good for casual or work use, and niche-level elegant without being an overpriced unicorn or super-exclusive privé scent. This may change as the years roll on and supply dries up, but at the rate folks are using this forgotten and unloved Jacomo scent, that isn't going to be for a very, very long time. Anthracite also marks the end of an era for Jacomo, as the future releases would maintain bizarre packaging but also gradually become more conventional in smell through the 2000's and beyond, so there's that too.
09th June, 2018 (last edited: 10th June, 2018)

Duc de Vervins by Houbigant

Duc de Vervins is something of lark from an old storied perfume house like Houbigant. It was created by unfortunately unknown in-house perfumers at Houbigant and was a desperate attempt at reclaiming lost prestige and desirability in the men's segment from a house once head-and-shoulders with Guerlain and Creed in terms of status, but had since accumulated a drugstore reputation by allowing a lot of their legacy scents to be licensed out for mass-market manufacturing. 1985 was the actual birth year of the scent as an ultra-limited and expensive alternative to designer powerhouses and fougères of the time, and it makes sense once smelling it that the stuff falls inbetween the soapy lines of Drakkar Noir (1982), the lemon verbena zest of the later Creed Green Irish Tweed, (1986), and the semi-sporty green tones of the also-later Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels (1989). Duc de Vervins straddles so many styles from the 80's that it smells like a clone of whichever one above you hold most dear, for those with a stronger emotional bond to their scents, but for the more objective, just tries to "gussy up" a popular style of the day into something ennobled. Houbigant eventually took this down to the designer level with a wider relaunch in 1991, replacing gold-tone metal fittings and cap on the bottle with the gold-coated plastic most know now, and the scent saw more success, but draws wildly disparate opinions from hobbyists.

Part of the flack on Duc de Vervins is the esteemed Luca Turin declaring the scent as "...the worst fougère of all time" which means a lot of ardent worshippers of his "two cents" will outright avoid or at very least walk into the experience with negative expectations, like when a lambast from a major movie critic tangibly damages a film's chances at finding an audience. Duc de Vervins definitely treads some familiar territory, but it also draws upon the legacy of the very first fougère which was also made by this house, which too was very green (since "fougère" means fern-like anyway), so this direction was not unexpected. Duc de Vervins opens with bergamot and lemon verbena, bright, juicy and leafy, drawing the biggest comparisons to the aforementioned Drakkar and Creed scents. Lavender, rosemary, and geranium provide the staple green fougère experience beyond this point, making a slightly soapy sheen appear not dissimilar to Alfred Sung (1988) or the much later Gres Cabaret Pour Homme (2004), but not on the same level of intensity thanks to a dirty cumin counter-note. The base is cedar, musk, and patchouli on a bed of coumarin and oakmoss, because this is Houbigant, and they invented the fougère, so such base notes are almost expected. The whole thing slides shy of the original Fougère Royale (1882) by being less floral, less fanciful, and more direct like the power-hungry 80's venture capitalists this was likely pitched to, but is still refined and very strong. Duc de Vervins is the laugh of a Victorian gentleman channeled through the 80's Blaupunkt stereo of a Wall Street socialite.

If a bright, lemony, green, mossy, and slightly soapy fougère in a vein that blends antiquity with 80's paradigms sounds good to you, then Duc de Vervins might be playing your tune. Folks owning any of the half-dozen fougères this draws close to might see this as redundant, but people who like Geoffrey Beene Bowling Green (1986) but think it's a bit too sharp definitely need to check this out. I can kind of see why esteemed critics like Turin might have expected much more from the illustrious house once serving nobility and responsible for delivering many of the late Paul Parquet's perfume masterpieces into the world, but if you strip away all the decorum, Duc de Vervins is just plain good. One thing is for sure: if it was anywhere remotely close to the worst fougère on earth, I doubt it would even have the praise it does, let alone a thumbs up from me. If there's any criticism I can rationally lobby at Duc de Vervins, is that it is just too "in the pocket" much like Gres Cabaret, but doesn't have the commerical deodorant soap open nor will cost you a kidney to find in the aftermarket, since folks not keen on vintage will be happy to hear it's often at good sale prices if you're okay with a moss-restricted and presumably brighter/sharper modern bottle. Best for formal or office use, maybe casual day use in more high-brow company, and definitely leans mature. Vintage Members Only jacket and Saab 900 Turbo sold separately.
08th June, 2018

cK one Shock Street Edition for Him by Calvin Klein

What is stranger than a mainstream unisex fragrance line like cK One (1994) being split into separate sexes for it's newest flanker entry cK One Shock (2011)? Why, making that entry a deceptively mature and formal pair of oriental gourmands, with the male verison (cK One Shock for Him) a sleeper cell revival of the great turn-of-the-millenium tobacco style from a decade back! What's even stranger than that you say? Well, giving this flanker an edgy and dark appearance that appeals to disenfranchised youth despite the scent not matching their tastes, then completely failing to market it, creating a cult classic doomed to eventual obscurity and veneration (then overpricing) from vintage fans! But wait, there's more! How do we make it even more strange? Um.. how about a limited edition flanker of a flanker with even edgier packaging that tries to address the lack of youth appeal but does little (thankfully for us) to address the smell besides adding more gourmand tones? Yep! That's cK One Shock Street Edition, and in this case, cK One Shock for Him Street Edition (2012), released a year after the original cK One Shock line and falling into the same trap, albeit a bit differently. The original cK One Shock for Him smelled like it was a scent meant to compete with Versace The Dreamer (1996) or Yohji Homme by Yohji Yamamoto (1999) but shelved as it didn't fit Calvin Klein's synthetic freshness theme, then later used in a bizarre move as youth-courting flanker for another line. With cK One Shock for Him Street Edition, Calvin Klein commits more fully to the gourmand side of the gourmand/oriental hybrid dynamics of the first Shock, tipping the scales in favor of sweetness and pulling out the tobacco note that made the first iteration such a sublime dark horse.

Is it good? Yes, but those who fell in love with the first Shock will inevitably feel sequelitis and feel indifferent about it, which is the bulk of neutral to negative reviews you see. The opening of cK One Shock for Him Street Edition is similar and recognizable to the original, with cucumber making a return but the clementine and manadarin ghost fig leaf accord being replaced with "sparkling citrus" and a "mojito accord" that probably tries to copy Guerlain with their L'Homme (2001), but due to the usual synthetic abstraction of CK's "Kleinisms", fails to convey anything like that. The middle of "raspberry cocoa" and geranium comes across more clearly than the top, reminding me of those peelable chocolate oranges sold around Christmas time, which isn't a bad vibe, but does absolutely not a goddamned thing to convey "Street Edition" to me, unless they were mistakingly going for street food, in which case well done! Spices and more cocoa await in the base, with tonka and amber replacing the already-missed tobacco finish of the first Shock, before cK One Shock for Him Street Edition caps off in a vanilla afterglow. It's warm, sweet, fruity, ambery, full-tilt gourmand that yet again feels nothing whatsoever like a cK One flanker, let alone a limited flanker of a cK One flanker, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. The only bit of increased accuracy here is smelling like a proper flanker, if cK One Shock for Him Street Edition was actually a flanker to the original cK One Shock for Him if that erstwhile scent had been released as a pillar in 2001 or so under a different name. Only under the above circumstances would this feel right, but as an edit to a youth market mainstream flanker with an attempt to have even more curb appeal, this is downright laughable. I give it a thumbs up for it's content, but not the presentation.

The level of marketing delusion Calvin Klein displays here in this bottle nearly trumps the worst 80's and 90's periods of Avon, but what ultimately saves this from that surreal level of market disassociation is yet again, the contents of the bottle, no matter how poorly fitting to the presentation, are again very wearable. Ann Gottlieb was on her own this time, making me believe the inclusion of tobacco in the original cK One Shock for Him might have been perfumer Long Doc's doing, since he teamed with her there. If this is cK One Shock for Him as Gottlieb would have had it, then marketing-wise it would have made no difference but that scent wouldn't have it's cult status. On it's own merits, cK One Shock for Him Street Edition smells like a competitor for any number of candied dark gourmand masculines from the decade prior, which also makes it feel like a scent out of time, but not to the same degree of severity as the first Shock. This stuff is good, and a far sight better than many other designer releases from 2012, but trapped in the bottle of a completely obtuse limited-edition failed flanker of a failed flanker that doesn't benefit from the cult following it's predecessor possess, and has a heftier price tag when found because of it's collector's value. Folks completing their cK One collection might want this, or fans of obscure alternatives to popular themes, but few others will find it worth the hunt. Expect decent sillage and longevity, but less performance in extreme temperatures. Reecommended use is romantic or casual evenings, cool fall or mild winter days, and for the love of all that is righteous, do not show anyone the bottle if they ask you what you're wearing.
08th June, 2018

Santos by Cartier

Santos de Cartier, or just Santos, is another larger-than-realized outlier from 1981 that had massive impact on the direction of men's fragrance in the 1980's. Santos is the debut masculine from the house of Cartier, known more for watches and jewelry than fragrance, and didn't receive the incredible amount of hype that "Class of 1981" masculines received, like Kouros, Antaeus, Bijan for Men, Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui, but rather was an outlier that built the reputation as a signature for guys in the know, allowing Cartier to continue on making distinct masculines to this very day. Outside of it's fans, uttering the word "Cartier" will yield questions about jewelry and watches, much like saying "Speidel" or even "Rolex"; the former of these two also would venture heavily into fragrance too but eventually divested itself. Cartier released Santos in honor of it's first watch client, the late Santos Dumont, who recently had a new watch released under his name too, also in his honor. Santos de Cartier sort of tries to do it's "own thing" much like Coty's Stetson (also 1981), which is why I don't put it in league with the watersheds of this year. What you get from Santos is smooth, subtle, dignified mossy scent that continues in the train of thought began with Eucris by Geo F Trumper (1912), then furthered by Jacomo Eau Cendreé (1974), and Jacomo de Jacomo (1980) with heavy doses of vetiver and spice.

Santos is a great deal smoother than it's forebearers and strong by modern standards, but no powerhouse compared to it's peers. The scent opens with lavender, basil and bergamot, which come across smooth and barbershoppy until the dirty cumin and nutmeg kick in, giving this a deeper manly growl than any strict barbershop fougère ever could. A barely-detectable sweetness of juniper is the counter-balance to all this rustic masculinity in the middle, setting up for the smoky vetiver to show like it does in Eau Cendreé and Jacomo de Jacomo. Santos actually pulls closer to Eau Cendreé thanks to the nutmeg so fans of that long-dead scent might just want to stock up on Santos as a close replacement. Sandalwood and cedar add the expected dryness to counter the sweetness of the patchouli in the base, which is glazed by a thick oakmoss note which is the scent's hallmark in vintage. For a while, newer post-IFRA batches using tree moss (then no moss) were becoming increasingly metallic and sharp as the vetiver was left to fend for itself against the woods, but the newest versions in the built-in sprayer bottle return some of the roundness the moss provided, which is either accomplished with beeswax absolute like Chanel did for it's old mossy scents, or some unknown synthetic.

Older is better with Santos de Cartier, but don't bother with mid-vintages post-90's due to the chances of running into a screechy batch, so if deeper vintages are too costly, new production is quite satisfactory, much like Bogart or Van Cleef & Arpels. Smoky, smooth, buttery, rich, and slightly sweet is the name of the game for Santos de Cartier, and since it's not focused on sheer power, it moves in the background under a nice suit and tie for a mature man or a guy who appreciates classic swagger. Santos is pure business-class and Cartier probably figured as much, since they made a deeper, richer, more romantic (but also more linear) Santos Concentrée (1982) a year later. They're different enough to have both if you really dig the style, but for the folks who don't like flankers or alternates, Santos itself is just fine. Avoid sweltering heat with this one, as humidity renders the moss/patchouli base invisible, but dry heat is fine. For a classic early 80's moss masculine that doesn't feel so dated or loud in the 21st century, Santos is a great choice, and this smooth operator will get you through your toughest business negotiations or longest nights. My only complaint, if any, is that it is so similar to other moss fragrances before it, and feels like the refinement of somebody else's idea, but when has that ever stopped me from liking something? Definitely a soft-spoken classic, that has strength where you want it, and nowhere else.
07th June, 2018

cK one Red Edition for Him by Calvin Klein

This is the male counterpart in the third split-up of the cK One line into separate his and hers iterations. Calvin Klein released the cK One Shock pair of his and hers cK One scents in 2011, breaking from long-held tradition of keeping the line unisex. They didn't exactly market them well, and the edgy looks on the bottles didn't match the gorgeous oriental gourmand scents inside, so they ended up as a cheap thrill for perfumistas/perfumistos in the know, with everyone else scratching their heads. What's funnier is a flanker line of a flanker line came out the following year, showing another pair of cK One Shock scents for both sexes, but subtitled "Street Edition", which was marketed even less effectively, and not even most hobbyists know about. It seems that with Calvin Klein's new (and last) his/her pair of ck One scents, they finally did something right in the marketing department, having the smell in the bottle match what was on the outside, and actually advertised it correctly as a splintering of the usually unisex line into two separate gender concepts, but the smell is much more lackluster so it ends up being the same mediocre success song and dance. I like cK One Red Edition for Him, but I admit it does nothing really new, except re-package the idea of Calvin Klein Man (2007) with a more paired-down pyramid and amplified top, pushing it out of the "tries to be everything but fails to be something" rut that Calvin Klein Man was in, and becomes another alternative to Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008). No one really knows who signed off on this creation, and it is NOT a re-release of cK One Red Hot Edition (2000), which was actually just a limited edition package that contained the original cK One (1994) in it, and not a bespoke flanker unto itself. This one barely squeaks out a thumbs up for me, because I like the performance results of this on skin even if I'm not a fan of it's core reason to exist.

The top of cK One Red Edition for Him consists of pear and aldehydes according to the tree, but I get a strong fig leaf smell that never really goes away, with the pear being way in the background behind it. The middle supposedly contains suede, black pepper, and ginger, no fantastic impressionistic "Kleinisms" so far to make this sound like it came from Willy Wonka's factory, and the suede is indeed there. The pepper can be felt but not the ginger to my nose, which is sad because I do love a nice ginger. The base of this comes very late in the wear, and has vetiver, tonka, and musk. I can't feel much in regards to any of them due to the blending, but the musk and tonka are definitely padding, with whatever vetiver is present just acting as a way of keeping this from being too sweet, as a desiccant more so than a note that stands on it's own. The whole thing feels like Calvin Klein Man but sexed up, and pared down of all it's superfluous notes, with the befuddling fat trimmed to reduce the "graying" of that scent into something more distinct, yet still typically synthetic despite it's lack of listed captives. I'm sure cK One Red Edition for Him has some synthetics like Iso E Super or some form of woody aromatic chemical, maybe even ambroxan, but they're not discernible as notes, and just gives this anonymous staying power on skin. The whole thing is a bit nostril tingly at first, then shows a strong citrus ghost blood orange note made up of the pear and the unlisted fig leaf, before getting peppery, a tad piquant, then warm and semi-dry in the end. This is the club scent for the guy who doesn't really like club scents, but knows he has to wear something that cuts the air enough to stand out, but without giving himself a headache. It's a soft-spoken slow dancer version of 1 Million, and because it comes in a cK One flanker bottle, even the packaging is nondescript enough that if the wearer doesn't want to really share what he has on, he can just say "cK One" and not be caught in a lie. This is a sleeper that is the concealed weapon of nightlife frags.

The only thing that really delineates this from any other cK One scent is the black and red coloring, and the "cK" logo blown up larger and slightly cut off on the C, to make a more-stylized approach that isn't as tacky as the cK One Shock bottles were. This stuff looks like the Fast & Furious of cK One flankers, with it's sporty dark design that's fit for action but doesn't feel teenage like the Shock series of flankers, with just the right balance of show and go to convince the young buyer it was aimed towards that it's a worthy addition if they enjoy any of the cK One products, or even if they don't, as I'm sure there were still some meathead guys refusing to try unisex fragrances that needed a coddling "for him" on the bottle to feel safe about their purchase. This isn't the cult wonder of the Shock series, and is really just an also-ran to the late 2000's through mid 2010's fruit-powered club scene juices, just a little more reserved than most. This feels like an idea hatched earlier but unused, one not worthy of a pillar release in a bespoke bottle, but already composed by who-knows-what-perfumer for Calvin Klein, shelved, and then finally released in a cK One flanker bottle just to make a fast buck and see if it was worth the R&D to concoct after all. This juice may or may not be a prototype of Calvin Klein Man, and it sure is better than it if it is. I wouldn't go tracking this down with any urgency, but if you like 1 Million or any of it's ilk, this is a safe purchase, and comes across to me as a more elegant aroma for the young man that would rather let his actions speak louder than his designer duds. Suitable for use in evening, spring through fall, in romantic or casual settings. It's too fruity and sharp for office use, and too rich for hot weather. This isn't a sillage monster, nor lasts more than a few hours, so you might need to reapply this from the glovebox if burning the midnight oil
06th June, 2018

cK one Shock for Him by Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein Cosmetics was nearing the end of it's rope with the synthetic "fresh fougère" category by the end of the 2000's. They released CK Free for Him in 2009, 20 years after the fragrance Eternity for Men (1989) really became the cornerstone that shifted masculine paradigms. Eternity moved masculines away from mossy, musky, or stiff floral scents towards a second coming of the simplistic barbershop citrus colognes of the prior century, but with high-tech captives replacing naturally-sourced bases. CK Free for Him was nowhere near as important, but just proved how out-of-gas this thinking was. When the "freshie" became the accepted norm, and the watchdog IFRA organization gradually made impossible a return to fuller styles, Calvin Klein probably felt boxed in, and it really was their own damned fault. Granted, they still make "fresh" fragrances, mostly in the form of flankers for past pillars, but since the turn of the decade, their new masculines outside of these flankers have attempted treading down richer and more organic-smelling territory, starting with this release in 2011. You're probably thinking "but isn't cK One a unisex line?" and the answer is yes, but the point of the cK One Shock line was to do something shocking by making a his and hers composition, coinciding with the more important shocking fact that this isn't an aquatic, ozonic, "fresh fougère", ambiguous white musk, or anything else one might expect from Calvin Klein at this point. Instead, the cK One Shock line is a pair of gourmand/oriental hybrids, rich and deep by CK standards.

The male iteration of cK One Shock is particularly puzzling, as it presents itself as a rather formal cocoa and tobacco scent, with only a citrus and fruit top lending any casual flair to it. Ann Gottlieb and Loc Dong work together here, and after seeing these results, I'd suggest a reprise. Clementine, "purple" lavender and a cucumber note claim the top of the pyramid, alongside an "energy drink note" which is the token "Kleinism" one expects these days from the house. It's a sweet, semi-syrupy start that is the only real potential turn off to the stuff, but luckily fades in minutes. Cardamom, black pepper, basil, and osmanthus proclaim the middle, but it's really the cardamom and pepper that comes through the sweetness of the top. The main bulk of the wear sees tobacco and cocoa emerge early, making the scent a pleasant semi-sweet tobacco glow reminiscent of Yohji Homme (1999) but a bit leafier like Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme (1994), and maybe a bit in the direction of the original Michael for Men by Michael Kors (2001) with the fruit top. The smell of cK One Shock for Him sits squarely between them all but tosses in that cocoa for darkness, then finishes with musk, patchouli and woody aromatic chemicals at the end to distinguish it's more-oriental side. I find cK One Shock for Him to be an exceptionally well-crafed scent and an easy replacement for the above named, as all but the Dolce & Gabbana entry have become extinct, which means slowly becoming fiscally out of reach except for all but the most dilligent and financially-blessed collectors. Calvin Klein's take on the subject is easily had in 3.4 or 6.7oz bottles and for around $20, making it pound-for-pound the most guilt-free tobacco indulgence to be had in masculine fragrance, plus a real winner for the house that normally faces upturned noses from perfumistos.

The real clincher here was the marketing. If cK One Shock for Him was called anything else and marketed as a new stand-alone pillar, it might be as popular as something along the lines of the preceding Dolce & Gabbana The One (2008) or even Dior Homme (2011) of the same year. Rather than that, Calvin Klein chose to put this wonderful smell in a standard cK One bottle, paint it black, and spray it with bright green graffiti lettering to give it the appearance of a youth-aimed scent; very shocking 'til the very end, I suppose, was the aim of the marketing team behind this. I hope that marketing team was either demoted or at least severely reprimanded, but this is likely to fall by the wayside just like the nice cK One Scene (2005) and then slowly creep up the aftermarket ladder, joining it's tabbaco brethren in discontinued unicorn heaven as unobtaimum to be venerated and worshipped. In the meantime, it's cheaper than a meal at Applebee's and arguably smells better, so double and triple stock this one if round and sweet earthy tobacco sounds good, just please do try to ignore the bottle. By the way, this flanker received it's own flanker (a flanker-flanker?) in the form of cK One Shock for Him Street Edition, that heads in a much-fruitier direction and is worth a sniff, just expect to pay a bit more and have a tougher hunt for it. All in all, a Hell of a return for Calvin Klein, and easily one of their best masuline outputs of the 2010's, just really named and bottled all wrong. Recommended for use in median climates, for office, romantic, or formal use. Pretty versatile but not the best for hot days.
05th June, 2018

Y by Yves Saint Laurent

Y by Yves Saint Laurent was once, and still possibly is, the debut perfume by the house. In perhaps the oddest turn since the label created a male counterpart to 1973's Rive Gauche 30 years after it's release, YSL has chosen to make a male fragrance borrowing the singular letter title from it's legendary debut feminine chypre. Unfortunately, this is where all the creative strokes end. Yves Saint Laurent is the third of the higher-end design houses to jump on the "higher-end generalist" bandwagon began with Chanel's Bleu de Chanel in 2010, then one-upped by Christian Dior with Sauvage in 2015. Whereas Sauvage makes a clear logical leap from BdC's "aquatic with novel ambroxan base" to it's own "fresh fougère with ambroxan base", almost mimicking the progression Calvin Klein's Eternity for Men (1989) made from Davidoff's Cool Water (1988) three decades prior, Y by Yves Saint Laurent seems to be trying to vie for the nonexistent "safest high-end designer yet released" trophy, by being a more-expensive Azzaro Chrome (1996). What made Chrome neat back in 1996 was it's attempt at merging the powdery barbershop fougère vibe with modern 90's synthetic freshie sensibilities, and I can see in this spiritual replaying of perfume history that if Bleu de Chanel is Cool Water's upper-class reincarnation, and Sauvage the same for Eternity, that Yves Saint Laurent would need to ape the vibe of a similar mid-tier scent from decades past, but inject it with ambroxan as well. I mean, if this really was the thinking here, I could have steered them towards Nautica (1992) or even Curve (1996) as the donor 1st-gen freshie for inspiration, but not Chrome. As it stands, Y tries to be this powdery and piquant throwback to the crisp working man's daily juice, just like Chrome was, but injected with a cocktail of the latest synthetics, which in Chrome's day was stuff like Iso E Super and calone, but nowadays includes stuff like ambroxan and norlimbanol (a.k.a. "Karmawood" as Firmenich calls it). Y is extremely boring and super predictable for it's use of an already tired structure, as even when Chrome did this, most people were tired of stuff like Canoe (1936) and Brut (1963) outside of their core audience or vintage lovers, so like with Y now as Chrome was then, it's just an unnecessary hybrid of modern synthetics with a masculine trope that has no hope of appealing to forward-thinking young people. This is especially true in light of how it was marketed: as "Y by Yves Saint Laurent, named after Generation Y...with the goal of offering the millenial generation something different". Just like with Calvin Klein and cK2 (2016), Yves Saint Laurent automatically gets off on the wrong foot before even sniffing the stuff because of the extremely shameless pandering in the ads. Oh.. and different you say? Different how so? It smells like something I would have worn in high school, before most of Generation Y was old enough to know what cologne even is!

Y by Yves Saint Laurent starts with something called "white aldehydes", which sounds like a play out of Calvin Klein's "Kleinisms" playbook, with the exotic names for customized captives. I'm not doubting these are real aldehydes, but bleaching them of their sparkle as the name suggests just makes them nose-burn a la 90's and 2000's ozone, which is not a good way to start unless you're committing to that style. Bergamot and ginger make an appearance in the opening, but they're semi-lost in the opening burn, so it isn't until the middle that the scent starts taking shape to my nose. Sage and geranium anchor this to the barbershop sensibilities it shoots for, but without any other familiar barbershop notes like clove or rose orris to surround it. The transition goes right into the feminine violet leaf next, which I guess is a slight nod to the unisex vibes many fresh masculines of the 2010's give off, but it just adds to further befuddle the stuff since it commits back to intentionally male lines in the base. Iso E Super incense note, the expected ambroxan, white musk, norlimbanol wood note, and hints of natural balsam fir with aromatic cedar round out the base. The ambroxan comes across powdery instead of rich like it does when anchoring the Chanel and Dior scents, but this probably has more to do with all the chemical desiccants in the base of Y (which is what norlimbanol and Iso E Super are), sucking all the warmth out of the fake ambergris impression ambroxan usually gives and smelling more instead like a dusty amber note. Y feels like Chrome on steroids to my nose, with the less-oceanic qualities of Acqua di Gio (1996) stapled on for good measure; it's nostalgia of 90's generalists infused with a demonic dose of 2010's wonder drugs into what very well might just be the most uninspiring thing from Yves Saint Laurent I've ever smelled. Citrus, dusty herbs and flowers, dry woody aromachemical base with ambroxan so it can be one of the cool kids, and join the "everyman style-scent out of the economic reach of the everyman" pack that Bleu de Chanel and Sauvage belong to, but taken to the next level. It's no surprise that Yves Saint Laurent has hidden the perfumer responsible from us. There's a problem to the formula of this "humble-bragging" approach with the YSL entry, and it's a problem so large that it threatens to break the scent and doom it to the discount bins in a few years. Although honestly, I wouldn't even pay discount bin prices for this unless I was trying to complete a YSL collection, because there are a hundred more distinctive options equally as versatile, even in the catalogs of Avon.

The problem with Y is it just doesn't accurately represent an aspiration step above the average Walmart perfume aisle swill it mimics, and it's not something that the taxi driver or landscaper will save up for, and eventually buy because it -is- just that hair's breadth better than his normal bottle of Adidas something or other. Y by Yves Saint Laurent smells so similar to something I'd expect to see on a Target end cap that it might as well be sold there. Folks getting this as a gift and not knowing better will likely enjoy it, but anyone else smelling this blind in a perfume shop will likely think they've smelled it before in Kohl's. Bleu de Chanel and Sauvage work because despite them both being so attuned to mass-market tastes, they are generally just distinctive enough with better composition that they stand out from the crowd (assuming everyone else isn't also wearing them), but Y tries so hard just to be like the stuff in those EA Fragrances gift sets you see on endcaps at that aforementioned Target, that it basically is the same juice pound-for-pound, but with double the dollar amount on the price tag. It's a tired fresh 2000's barbershop beast that drives in the ruts worn into the road by far bigger and better specimen, with an irritatingly dry and tart finish that smells of a heavy hand in it's application. Is Y fresh? Yup. Is it clean? Certainly. Does it remain neutral enough for all occasions? Totally. Can you get by in winter and summer with it? Probably. What makes it better than my bottle of Nautica? Um... it um... uh... has ambroxan in the base? Sorry, that's not good enough, especially when the uncanny warmth of the synthetic jus du jour is cancelled out by all the woody aromatic chemicals. Y wants so hard to be a $25 dollar bottle of everyday cologne that it actually is just that, but sold to the guy who prefers Nordstrom to JCPenny. Making a generalist scent doesn't have to mean making a lazy scent, and the reason why some of these ubiquitous "everyone likes it" juices still stalk the earth after 10, 20, or even 30 years is that they have something which makes them stand out, despite being fairly safe and pedestrian in all other respects, and came down in price over the years because they sell so well that the designers making them can profit on volume rather than margin. I still sometimes sniff a tester of Hugo by Hugo Boss (1995) and think "wow, what a well-put-together scent this is", and I can't say I felt that one iota about Y, and if one pays attention, they will notice that it's already sold below MSRP if one look around, even at places like Ulta, so I know retailers are trying hard to offload it too. This is a wake-up call Yves Saint Laurent: the house that brought us Kouros (1981), Rive Gauche Pour Homme (2003), or even YSL L'Homme (2006) can surely do better. Thumbs down.
04th June, 2018

Sauvage by Christian Dior

Sauvage is a fragrance suffering on multiple fronts from severe bias, and benefiting on just as many fronts from that same bias; it's a scent which seeks to add a new chapter to a long lineage of masculine scents bearing the marquee name "Eau Sauvage" from their 1966 debut into the male-exclusive side of perfumery, but also seeks to distance itself from the past by dropping the "Eau" from the title, which is where the trouble begins. Furthermore, the creation is so unabashedly "new school" as to have no real connection to the original Eau Sauvage at all, besides the aforementioned borrowing of a portion of the erstwhile scent's name. On the plus side, many people who've never smelled Eau Sauvage nor have history with more traditional forms of perfumery think the stuff is wonderful, and it sells tremendously well, making it's way into "classic" territory after only a few years on the market. Perfumistas with knowledge of IFRA, oakmoss restrictions, and days when mainstream perfumers had much wider palettes of naturally-sourced ingredients eye this with the same odium and vitriol as they probably did Eternity for Men (1989) almost three decades beforehand; they will likely soften their disposition assuming they're alive long enough for this to slide into vintage legend, so in the meantime, they can drop more cash on the niche brands that have the budget to use available ingredients of that ilk. For the rest of us, liking or disliking Sauvage isn't a matter of how you feel about synthetic captives like ambroxan, or generalist principles applied to composition, but whether or not what's presented meats our tastes, pure and simple. Once all the pretense, posturing, and hot air subsides, what's left is the people who wear it for it's popularity (for the moment), and the people who wear it because they genuinely like the way it performs. I get why vintage guys hate this: no oakmoss, bleached botanicals that barely smell like what they are, and a "freshness" vibe which likely never meshed with what they came to understand as fragrance even when "freshness" was a new concept in the late 80's. I also get why niche fellas hate this too: it sells for nearly $100 as a higher-end designer label, and like it's fore-bearer Bleu de Chanel (2010), is extremely synthetic like a $50 Calvin Klein and almost aimed at the same market, just members of said market with a bit more cash to spend, so it's a blasphemy made flesh for those folks. Don't worry guys, there's tons of really delicious entry-level niche like Amouage and Lush that you can buy for only a few dollars in either direction! Despite the purists, once it's detractors are parsed out of the equation, Sauvage still isn't for everyone, but for the guys looking to acquire a new signature that works almost in all seasons and is a cut above the usual generalist like Acqua di Giò (1996), it might be a consideration.

What separated Bleu de Chanel from the average aquatic also separates Sauvage from the usual generalist: dynamic transitioning. Chanel's magnum opus to the cheapo male blue juice segment differentiated itself from it's Kohl's cosemtics brethren in it's novel use of ambroxan, a single molecular achievement in chemistry that seeks to reproduce the specific core characteristics in the now very-much-restricted ambergris. Ambroxan helped give Bleu de Chanel it's unusual interplay between the usual citrus and pepper top of the scent and it's unique warm base. In Sauvage, Dior house perfumer François Demachy harnesses ambroxan but builds up from it differently than the decidedly aquatic-themed Bleu de Chanel. Sauvage opens with a typical fougère-like bergamot push, with pepper and lavender meeting with it in that top. Beyond this typical "everyone likes it" opening, comes another die-hard men's staple in the form of geranium, which always plays well with lavender, and also finds a grassier flavor of vetiver joining as well. There's not much to be said about Sauvage until the ambroxan-led base finally warms on skin with a very pale patchouli and laundry-ish white musk note. The whole composition is really just an exercise in modernizing conventional male tropes, that if not for the controversial ambroxan accord, could be found in various other masculines stretching all the way back into the 50's. Citrus and sweet lavender, piquant geranium and green vetiver, then aromatic patchouli, warm musk, and the massive synthetic white elephant in the room: ambroxan. That's it folks, this stuff isn't some Satanic ritual in a bottle, Frankenstein's monster set loose at your nearest perfumer counter, nor an attempt to perform a capitalist-driven coup on the state of the art of designer perfumery. It's a very dialed-in "clean citrus" masculine that has been done ad infinitum, but with a more traditional base of something now too-expensive or restricted like oakmoss/sandalwood replaced by modern ambroxan/musk coupling, with only a lack of coumarin and/or vanilla keeping it from being soapy or rich enough to be a modern take on a barbershop cologne. The supposed dry and arid qualities the advertising purports this to have is the only real failure of the scent, as it doesn't possess those qualities in sufficient enough amounts to justify the description. Maybe if the vetiver and geranium were cranked up some, and the patchouli note swapped out for leather, could this really be something in the ilk of what the ads featuring Johnny Depp and dusty muscle cars in the desert imply. It's not that I feel lied to exactly, I just think the massive amounts of hype behind the fragrance both from Dior's end, the market's end, it's fans, and all the angry perfumistas burning straw effigies of Christian Dior a la The Wicker Man swirl together to really hamper what I should actually expect from the bottle.

In conclusion, I feel time needs to do the healing for this, as both sides of the ongoing debate over this scent's merits learn to pipe down, the advertising campaign reduces then vanishes, and the stuff just enters the halls of Dior's back-catalog like Eau Sauvage, Jules (1980), Dune Pour Homme (1997), and Dior Homme (2011). In short: the biggest problem I find with this scent, is that people go beyond giving their opinion on it and try to side other folks "for" or "against" the stuff, rather than just letting it speak for itself. I don't think this stuff is amazing, but I do think it's good, for what it is. Sauvage takes the next leap in logic began with Bleu de Chanel and arguably bests it in being well-rounded and nearly all-seasons, since the Chanel scent still has some cold weather issues, in extreme settings. If you're not looking for something terribly nuanced, nor very unique, but want a good solid "in-betweener" that marries old and new concepts, Sauvage is a great choice, although there is much cheaper to be had with the same relative quality and performance in this category, which is my biggest complaint. The generalist signature masculine has been attempted since damn near the beginning of male-exclusive scents, and this is just the latest in a long line of them, stretching all the way back to barbershop staples from the Victorian era. The X-factor here really is ambroxan, which is either a wonder drug or anathema depending on where your head is concerning perfumery. I'm rather indifferent to synthetics in perfume, or else I wouldn't own nearly as much Calvin Klein scents as I do, so for me it's less about the individual merits or origins of the note pyramid, and the actual blending therein. I must say that for Sauvage, it's better than average, but not amazing. It's a $50 scent in a $100 bottle that I'd buy with a good coupon. I see it being the Brut (1963) of it's generation and eventually becoming more affordable, or at least in the same degree as Eau Sauvage, after some time as passed. It will never replace Eau Sauvage, but also doesn't seem meant to, and rather just cash in on the older scent's credentials, waxing a bit nostalgic in the process. Sauvage has medium performance and projection, with compliments almost a given due to it's dialed-in nature, so for the dumb-reach kind of working stuff, this may be just what the doctor ordered, at least once it's on sale. Note: there are higher concentrations too.
04th June, 2018

Gucci Guilty Absolute pour Homme by Gucci

I admit having little good to say about Gucci, but I have my reasons. Every noteworthy and distinct masculine they make is discontinued, and they've relaunched their eponymous masculine 3 times, so I feel almost afraid to try investing in collecting anything from the brand as they're liable to just stop making it if I like it anyway, and I don't chase overpriced unicorns. Life is too short. However, breaking this grudge with Gucci is becoming a bit easier with the release of Gucci Guilty Absolute (2017), as it's one of the most forthright masculine and natural-smelling scents the house has made in years. It's almost as if Gucci wanted to throw the old perfumistos a bone with this one, and did so without caring about mass profits, because this stuff is anything but trendy at all. Gucci Guilty Absolute is a petrol leather and greens chypre-type scent at it's core. It's no Knize Ten (1920) or P'eau de Espagne (1901) to be sure, but it's definitely a modern relative of that ilk, so I'd even venture that it's suitable for fans of everything from English Leather (1949), Aramis (1965), up to more exclusive and expensive leathers like Christian Dior Leather Oud (2010). The best part of all, is this is packed with the performance of a vintage scent, the style of a niche scent, but with the price tag of a designer. Gucci has created the perfect storm here, which is why it might seem as some to be "too good to be true" based on what I'm writing. The only bit of dubious design here is the stuff was created to be completely linear, with zero transitions from beginning to end, remaining unchanged from the moment it enters the skin. I don't know how I feel about that, but considering some of the best vintage drugstore scents were also made this way, I can't complain too much. It's the kind of thing that you either instantly like or dislike depending on how you feel about leather, as that is undoubtedly the star of the show, with the patchouli heart being a supporting role.

The top note in Gucci Guilty Absolute is leather, leather, leather, and leather. You know this is a leather scent when it's in the top and not the middle or bottom like in nearly everything else. There is likely some citrus here for conveyance too, mostly of the dry bergamot variety, but that leather comes front and center, never going away. It's a petrol-type leather just like the chypres of antiquity in this vein, followed by a cypress note and no less than three types of patchouli extract according to Gucci. Nose Alberto Morillas was tapped for this, and although he has a great track record, this kind of leather is not something I'd expect from him. The patchouli in this is certainly not of the rich earthly kind as that would clash with the leather, so instead we get the more piney resinous type found in head shop incense and body oils. It's the kind of patchouli that might be mistaken for pine almost, boosted by the acrid leather, since it doesn't have that "typical patchouli" richness to it. The cypress and it's reediness further help mete this out until the base arrives, which consists of vetiver, and two unique custom captives: woodleather and goldenwood. Before the incredulity begins to fly, it's common knowledge that even modern niche scents use captives, unless you're buying from a tiny DIY house, so this really is no cause for alarm. Woodleather seems to be a Firmenich captive where molecules from wood and leather are bonded, easy enough and lends to the overall feel, while the goldenwood is just a fancy woody aromatic chemical like the norlimbanol or Iso E Super stuff that's been floating around forever. Fans of Hermes Terre d'Hermes (2006) or Amouage Jubilation XXV (2008) already know what the dry down of Gucci Guilty Absolute will be like, at least in part, so it's slightly dubious, but acceptable ground, further smoothed out by the fact that the leather note from the top is meant to never go away.

Gucci Guilty Absolute is a huge step in the right direction, not just for Gucci as a brand, but also for designer perfumery as a general rule, with more distinct scents "not everyone is going to like" filtering in between more generalist ideas like in the old days. For every one Gentleman Givenchy (2017), there needs to be three or four Gucci Guilty Absolutes, that way the folks who want their dumb reaches can have them, but the guys who like more variety, nuance, distinction, and individuality, or just different scents for different moods, can have it within the realm of designer availability or price. Not trying to knock all the exclusif, privè, and niche houses here, but they wouldn't have grown half as big half as quick if all the major designers hadn't bent their creative efforts these past few decades on watering down and homogenizing their efforts based on what casts the widest net. Gucci Guilty Absolute only tosses out a rather small net itself, but with it's pungent leather top, insurmountably green heart, and dry woodsy base, the people it rakes in are likely to remain life long purchasers (assuming it doesn't meet the fate of Gucci Pour Homme 03' or Gucci Envy from 98'), which is honestly the kind of loyalty all designers need in the competitive fragrance market at this point. Longevity and sillage are pretty potent on this, so go easy, and it isn't the best summer scent, but you probably expected as much after reading what's in it. Gucci Guilty Absolute certainly isn't the next big thing everyone needs to run out and get, but it is definitely a new scent that a fans of vintage leathers and chypres will be able to wave in the faces of more modern-minded friends saying "here I still like new stuff too!", which is honestly it's biggest charm in my book. Well done.
04th June, 2018

cK2 by Calvin Klein

The massive critical failure and mediocre commercial success that is cK2 (2016) is almost an exact repeat of history, as it's another expression of ultra-modernism catering to a youth generation, featuring not only the same space-age packaging aesthetics as the last time Calvin Klein tried this, but even the same perfumer. It's so utterly ridiculous that by rights I shouldn't like it, but also so incredibly misunderstood that I end up going against my better judgement and loving it. In case my foreshadowing has proved inadequate, I'm referring to Calvin Klein Crave (2002), which was created by Pascal Gaurin, who was also brought back to work on this oddity. It's honestly a good scent, if so oddly futuristic as to alienate laymen, that powers the "in the year 3000" aesthetic of cK2. Just as with Crave, which was pitched at Y2K youth more interested in texting on their T*Mobile Sidekicks (Hiptops in Europe) than talking to each other at a restaurant, cK2 goes not for a unisex vibe, but totally "gender-free" vibe and is literally pitched to "the generation known as Millenials". While I'll refrain from blasting Calvin Klein for trying to not only vainly capitalize on the transgender movement, but also on a generation systemically downtrodden by the establishment in Western society, I will say that the absurdity of the marketing here is what tanked the scent, not the composition. More people are going to scoff or laugh this off over what it tries to be than for what it is, which is a shame.

Calvin Klein cK2 is a rose fragrance at it's core, which means I already love it before saying much else. The problem here, is the rose is presented so dryly and surrounded with such bizzare and stark accords that without letting it dry down, this fact might be lost. Violet leaf absolute, mandarin, and the odd wasabi form the top. I don't know if this is wasabi leaf, ground wasabi root, or what, but it doesn't really come across as that near-horseradish nostril tinge (which is good), but does lend it some bite. There is ozone here, which is also strange because the ozonic style mostly died in the previous decade, but considering Pascal Gaurin's track record with ozonics it makes sense that he's still "stuck" in this mode. The two most insane imaginary-note "Kleinisms" I have ever seen come next: wet cobblestones and orris concrete. I really wouldn't try thinking too hard about it here. Does it smell like a sidewalk? Sorta but only in a mineralic way, and whatever these captives are, CK has reached a new high (or low) with their inclusion. Finally, we see the beautiful, elegant, dry rose emerge, making the stroll through Dexter's laboratory worth the effort, becoming the main focus as the captives fade. The base is vetiver, sandalwood, an incense note likely from woody aromachemicals like Iso E Super, and they just hold up the rose like they would in any other perfume, dryly, and confidently. Is it truly genderless? Of course not. What we get is a unisex rose fragrance like anything Mancera or Bond would make but substituting higher-quality natural ingredients for a crap-ton of captives around the rose. It's still very nice, just not as strong as the niche examples of the style, and what it seems.

At the end of the day, cK2 is just "Calvin Klein being Calvin Klein" turned up to 11, and if you can look past the intelligence-insulting gender and generational disenfranchisement marketing (and many can't), you'll find one of the most-creative uses of synthetics yet from Calvin Klein but with rose as the star of the show. Calvin Klein quickly swept this under the rug as the next pillar in the cK series to avoid further shame, releasing the more-conventional (but also extremely floral) cK All (2017) as the new "third pillar" in the series the following year, completely disavowing the existence of cK2. It's still listed on CK's website, but that's probably just until they're out of it. I actually like cK All a little less because it's pallid and dusty nature are almost dialed-in too close to this, but without the futurism or gorgeous rose to keep it interesting, like they replaced a single that had a good hook with a safer B-side when the original song flopped. This poor thing is doomed to the clearance racks, then discounters after a few years, then once stock depletes there it will turn into a unicorn like Crave and sell for over $100+ dollars on eBay for the desperate souls who actually enjoyed it all this time to fight over, so if you like it, maybe get 3 bottles in reserve while it's cheap, or else pay niche prices without getting niche quality if you hold out about 5-10 years on it, when people finally discover it's likeable like they did with Crave. Another flawed and embarrassingly misguided but enjoyable science experiment from CK bound to someday be the unicorn of it's decade from the house if nothing else, but this time with a nod to rose fans. Get your feet on those "wet cobblestones" and get you some!
01st June, 2018 (last edited: 02nd June, 2018)

Obsessed for Men by Calvin Klein

The concept both aesthetically and compositionally for either Obssessed scent is rather interesting: It isn't a reworking of Obsession for the relevant sex, but rather a deliberately nostalgic and "faded" recollection of the opposite sex wearing their version of Obsession. Each scent takes what is believed by Calvin Klein (and their perfumers) to be the most distinguishing accords of the final drydown found on the skin of somebody wearing Obsession for the opposite sex, and subverts it; in this instance, the rich vanilla accord of the feminine Obsession Calvin Klein (1985) is "blackened" to form the core of Obssessed for Men (2017). Christophe Raynaud of Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008) and Ilias Ermenidis of Jay Z Gold (2013) were teamed, so that's a pretty strong indication of where this is going. Three times must also be a charm for Calvin Klein, as this is the first non-freshie masculine since they started making them again that actually smells well-thought and distinctive. I don't get focus group thinking here, just a drop of nostalgia and mostly conventional modernism. Yeah, the "Kleinisms" are in full force here, so the fragrance note pyramid is really just suggestive of the ingredients, but who cares? This is actually rather nice, but with a few caveats. This is an oriental, but more like the "blond" orientals the perfumers listed here are known for, so no heavy spices, fatty, or woody elements are really to be had here. Secondly, this is still much more generalist than the original Obsession, but by now we've guessed that CK has to please both a generalist audience and it's shareholder overlords so this is about as modern mid-tier designer as it gets.

Obsessed for Men starts with grapefruit and two kinds of pepper, being Sichuan and Black, but damn if I can tell. The opening is ironically not as piquant as that description makes it sound, with "cedar leaves" from CK fragrances past making a return with loads of labadum and "blonde leather". Whatever these captives are, they lend a semi-syrupy body that sits between the warm blood orange of 1 Million and the blueberry shimmer of Jay Z Gold. Obsessed for Men feels like an amalgam of what made those two gourmand scents distinguished in this mid phase, but in oriental form, for better or worse. A sort of strong juniper berry ghost note conjures in the transition to the base, where patchouli, the "blackened" vanilla, and a metric ton of ambroxen live, giving this the relevant tie-in to competitors like Dior Sauvage (2015), Gentleman Givenchy (2017), or even Bleu de Chanel (2010). Obsessed certainly dials in for the younger man that has never smelled nor would enjoy the rounded spice melange of Obsession, but at the same time, tries to pull the older CK fan of that scent into the future with something modern but more relatable; Obsessed is rich like Obsession, but it's sweetness comes from an entirely different place. Obsessed looks back on Obsession rather than tries to replace it, and is more of the "if we were to do this now" rather than "lets update this" like many things that share a name with an older legendary fragrance. Grapefruit, pepper, leathery synthetics, ghost juniper, and vanilla ambroxen is the core experience; this is a stark and sweet modern oriental that rightly gets called "Smarties" or "Sweet Tarts" by nay-sayers but ends up rounding out at the end.

I see Obsessed itself as a pale ghost of Obsession, a "bleaching" of it's natural elements, calcification of it's synthetic elements, and sent back out into the world to haunt a new generation that will likely use this as a club scent. Old die-hard Obsession fans or staunch vintage hardliners will not take kindly to this, but it's not for them. This is for the folks who enjoy the current crop and folks without narrowly-defined tastes that might keep them from liking a scent that literally lists all of three natural notes. Evidently Obssessed did well enough to earn flankers already, and it's "pale oriental" composition is novel enough to earn a thumbs up from me, as I enjoy it's grapefruit/pepper/leather/aromachems cyber-bouquet. It's a lighter and less party-hard alternative to 1 Million, and just office-safe enough that it can be worn on casual Fridays, but definitely has no formal legs to stand on. As the "Obsession as it would be if done today", it really is neither a success nor a failure, just an honest statement about the state of mainstream perfumery itself, but as a scent meant to wax nostalgia, it fails. For a lighter sweet oriental that doesn't stifle in warmer air, this is as good as one is liable to find in this tier of perfumery, and a Hell of a sight better than most in this class, which is where it eventually succeeds. Fair warning: this is every bit as much of a sillage monster as Obsession and will last all day. The 80's glory days of Calvin Klein may never be seen again, but the motivational spirit behind Obssessed for Men shows promise for a house that has been too muddled for too long.
31st May, 2018 (last edited: 01st June, 2018)

Encounter by Calvin Klein

Calvin Klein Encounter (2012) is the first new masculine oriental from the house since Obsession for Men (1986). The 26 years or so that have past between them has been quite the roller coaster for the house that virtually invented both the "fresh fougère" masculine style that came from the release of Eternity for Men (1989), and the "smells like nothing" synthetic minimalism that would come to dominate mainstream fragrance as well after releasing cK One (1994). Calvin Klein understandably became partly to blame for the death of traditional perfumery in the eyes of purists on the hobbyist level, long before IFRA made it an industry requirement to restrict natural ingredients, since Calvin Klein was literally popularizing the use of synthetic substitutes both for artistic and economic reasons, with IFRA rulings simply making it impossible to return to how things were after the trends CK helped create died down. Twenty years after the release of the game-changing Eternity for Men, it looked as if CK was finally done beating the "freshie" horse to death and started playing around a bit with more savory smells, starting with cK One Shock for Him (2011), and following with this. Encounter, as the first new masculine non-flanker fragrance since the unofficial "Age of Eternity" ended, is also designed with the first bit of "me too" thinking CK has had since pouncing on the youth-courting trend with the ozonic Crave (2002). In this case, the bandwagon CK jumps on is the Oud craze, a style usually reserved for niche houses and "Prive/Exclusif" lines (like vetiver was years ago) due to the expense or acquired taste appeal of the core ingredient. Oud has been used by designers for masculines before going all the way back to instances like Balenciaga Pour Homme (1990), but only in slight quantities. Montale/Mancera, Tom Ford, and Dior are usually the big pushers of Oud, but with all examples being close to or over the $200 mark, it's something the average fragrance-buying guy heard about but seldom saw up until the point this hit department stores. Pierre Negrin and Honorine Blanc from Firmenich were tapped for this, but without sounding too crass, it really isn't evident.

Just the fact that CK attempts an oud scent for men in this price range was akin to the Death Star blasting Alderaan in a test of it's super-weapon: millions of niche perfumistos cried out in pain then were suddenly silenced, since now they had to share their ace in the hole accord with Joe Schmoe. Make no mistake, this isn't some populist perfume victory, and the concept of populist perfume itself is just marketing anyway (ask Lush about that one). In fact, it really doesn't quite hit the mark as an Oud fragrance, which is probably why they just used Alexander Skarsgard as the face of the stuff and quietly listed oud in the pyramid, and what you have here is an ambery sort of oriental with an oud finish. Encounter has a mandarin note in the top, which is typical of an oriental to use, as anyone who's smelled Aramis JHL (1982) or even the aforementioned Obsession for Men will tell you. A cardamom and rum note are also purported to be here, but they get mostly buried by the scratchy pepper middle. Jasmine and cognac are rolled into this heap of black pepper too, which comes to dominate all the other notes to the point that only the orange in the top and the base notes are detectable around it. Amber, musk, cedar, and finally some oud come out to play only at the end. The amber, musk and cedar pin down what little oud is there, but once we're in the final phases, it's a dry hardened tar-like oud, not oily and virile like Dior or zested up like Mancera. Encounter is a decent enough oriental but like a lot of drugstore and designer oriental masculines of this type made in the 2000's, it confuses what are scratchy and sneezy notes for something seductive and spicy.

This conclusion is always reached by designers like CK trying to be alluring but still polite, which bars stuff like animalics from use (or their synthetic proxy). They also can't get by with heaps of moss, clove, patchouli, and kitchen spice either like the older scents in this style due to restriction or expense, which also explains the tiny oud amount. Ironically, the even-cheaper Avon would do this style better both without oud in Passion Dance for Him (2003), and with oud in Avon Premiere Luxe Oud (2016), the latter of which also marries a pepper note to oud much more effectively by not surrounding it in superfluous notes that make it scratchy. Calvin Klein Encounter isn't bad for a discount price, and respectable enough from a house that hasn't done anything for men outside of fresh synthetics for over a quarter century, but there's just so much better for the price, I can't give it a thumbs up. I can commend CK for trying to bring a mass-appeal oud to market for men, but the mass appeal for said market just isn't there. Reveal Man (2015) would see the house playing with a vetiver-themed masculine for the first time ever, and is leagues beyond this as a "sensual and romantic" scent for guys thanks to it's cashmere-like demeanor. There's definitely collector's appeal for Encounter as folks a decade down the road will probably mention "that time Calvin Klein tried marketing a cheap oud", but we're in "famous flop" territory with that statement, which doesn't inspire wearing the stuff. If you absolutely need a cheap oud you can use without regret, and it has to be something you can find at a department store counter, then go ahead and reach for this, but outside the cool bottle (something CK always delivers on), encountering this one is entirely at your own discretion.
30th May, 2018

cK be by Calvin Klein

It appeared as though Calvin Klein had made some serious bank with cK One (1994), because they quickly followed with another unisex anchor fragrance in the name of cK Be (1996) and almost diametrically-opposed the original by making it a black bottle. Ann Gottlieb was pulled for composition duties with cK Be, and it looked like they tried to address big mainstream complaints lobbed at cK One with the design of cK Be. Namely, a lot of dyed-in-the-wool "manly men" still refused to try cK One because any trace of perceived femininity at all was a no-no, so the challenge was to make a unisex fragrance that appeared so not by balancing masculine and feminine elements like with cK One, but by not implying gender at all, so nobody could say it leans one way or the other. The other complaint was the "smells like nothing" facet of cK One. Ultimately, cK Be fails at the former challenge, as do all the subsequent cK One fragrance family members, including the third pillar cK All (2017), with the bizarrely abstract cK2 (2016) coming closest to true genderless perfume, but also being so artificial as to alienate everyone. It seemed cK Be succeeded with addressing the later "blank smell" concerns however, as Ann Gottlieb tried to make a unisex fragrance within the loose context of the familiar oriental/fougère style, a category of scent usually reserved for men and containing recognizable key notes, which would in theory kill two birds with one stone in addressing the perceived lack of male-friendliness in the first cK scent, and having some distinction so as not to smell like little else but musk in the finish. Going the fougère route naturally sways the scent more towards guys, because the traditional barbershop structure of bergamot/lavender/oakmoss/tonka makes cK Be intially smell like a lighter, crisper interpretation to any number of drugstore smells. Gottlieb then works against this bias by what she injects into the core of the oriental/fougère formula itself, and the result is something indeed more friendly to the die-hard colognoisseurs, but at a palpable cost to neutrality. If cK One was the unisex scent that seemed more favored among women, cK Be is it's equal opposite that is more favored by men, which ironically makes them a sort of "his and hers" pair like any other major designer release.

The opening of cK Be is it's most masculine part, which does wonders in convincing the neanderthal nose to give it a try. From this bracingly clean masculine opening, cK Be pulls a bait-and-switch into more feminine heart notes before bringing the left foot and the right foot together in the base. The dry down of cK Be is indeed more distinct than the original cK One, which itself resorts to ending in simple androgynous laundry musk a la Alyssa Ashley Musk (1968), but also not as powerful in the projection department. However, if I were to say which one is truly more unisex, it would definitely still be cK One, since synthetic musk implies nothing in a sexual context, while cK Be's oriental/fougère finish is just too traditionally entrenched in the male mindset despite it's brightening by Gottlieb, making it mostly likeable to men, but also enjoyed by women who love women's lavender/barbershop stuff like Chanel Jersey (2011) or the niche Ninféo Mio by Annick Goutal (2009) but don't mind a sandalwood twist at the end. I'm not saying this is as good as them, but a much cheaper alternative that you can spray away without guilt. Bergamot, mandarin, mint, and lavender really set up the barbershop opening of cK Be, with juniper as the only somewhat feminine pull here. The heart is where the pendulum swings back, with peach, magnolia, and a light dusting of nutmeg making it smell a bit like a feminine gourmand, however brief. The base reinforces the barbershop accord of the top but brings in the oriental elements with sandalwood, opoponax, tonka, oakmoss, and musk, but the applications of each are thin and stretched compared to something like say, Canoe (1936) or Égoïste (1990), so it brings us back to neutral territory rather than re-asserting the masculine start. The whole composition feels like the very feminine heart was given the widest berth by the top and the bottom, since the magnolia and peach shine very bright in this during the middle phase, with the rest of the composition just layering those two notes in a thin crispy shell of masculinity, but it's enough to make Mr. Cologne Guy put down his bottle of Kouros (1981) and give it a go. Above all else, cK Be is just clean clean clean, so regardless of who you are, if you're looking for an admittedly synthetic but safe scent that few will label or recognize, this is as close to perfect as it gets.

The later cK Gold (2016) would revist a peach-like middle but even stronger (although ironically because it's a ghost note and not actually present like it is here), so fans of this element in here can go seek that one out as well while it's still somewhat easy to come by. I really enjoy cK Be just for the simple fact that it is one of the lightest and crispest oriental-inflected fougères I've ever encountered, with that glorious peach heart just being the juicy flirtaceous center of what is otherwise a clean masculine staple reinterpreted for consumption by both sexes. Plenty of women enjoy this too and even though it never climbed to the monolithic heights of the original cK One, it is the second most-successful pillar, but also one that oddly never got the army of flankers and seasonal flavors that cK One receives. For ladies who haven't tried anything in the series, or for something arguably more sensual, the sweet and rich musk of the original cK One is still best, but for something cleaner for work, or for men a little more shy to the "deliberate unisex" phenomenon of the cK series, I'd say cK Be is a better place to enter. Performance of cK Be is probably also the weakest of the series, with only a good 6 hours tops of longevity, so don't be shy and get the larger 6.7oz bottle if you intend to make this a daily, since reapplication will be needed. Simply put, if something like Penhaligon's Sartorial (2010) is the high-end men's barbershop revival for the business elite guys who get their hair cuts from places like Jordan's, then cK Be is the progressive, refreshingly-unassuming and welcoming LBGQT+ friendly barbershop for everyone else not needing the pomp a la Rudy's Barbershop of Seattle. Guess you guys know where I get my cuts now huh? Whoops! Anyways, for a nice squeaky lavender peach and sandalwood soirée you can wear to casual events or work without getting noticed too much, this is a great option, whether your stow it in a purse or messenger bag.
28th May, 2018 (last edited: 29th May, 2018)

Aqua Velva Ice Blue by Williams

Aqua Velva always gets overlooked it seems, even by folks who dig drugstore aftershaves and cheapo classics. Tons of jokes are made at it's expense like "this ain't your dad's Aqua Velva", and it's become the after shave so ubiquitous culturally, that it actually isn't all that common physically anymore. Sure, it ends up in plenty of medicine cabinets for die-hards that have used it for decades, and still sells well-enough to not fall off the face of the Earth, but for all the mentioning of it, and furthermore mentioning of how common it is, there is a surprisingly large number of people who actually don't know what it smells like, but avoid it because they think they do. I was pretty much one of those people in my late teens and early 20's. I saw the bottle of blue stuff sitting next to Skin Bracer (1931) and Brut (1963) in the shaving aisle, and thought it must be some peppermint in a bottle type swill, especially since everyone said that Aqua Velva is as plebian as it gets, even from wearers of stuff like Stetson (1981) and Old Spice (1937). Morbid curiousity did eventually get the better of me and I sniffed it once when shopping for my then-normal Gillette Cool Wave aftershave (1992), and I was confused by it's peppermint, tart citrus, and slightly dirty ambiance, so I moved on and kept with the Gillette. Fast forward a decade or so and now I'm in my mid-30's at the time of this writing, giving that bottle of Aqua Velva another sniff, now in plastic but sporting an older logo design in celebration of it's "100th Anniversary". What I find is much more clear to me now that I've smelled 100's of perfumes from all across the past 150+ years or more, and I actually "understand" Aqua Velva.

This stuff isn't some minty cheapo skin splash or generic aquatic melange with a skin conditioner worked in, but a deceptively classy hybrid of citrus chypre notes and barbershop sensibilities that is downright scary to the uninitiated, since chypres have been extinct for years in the men's space. Anyone who's smelled stuff like Moustache by Rochas (1949) instantly gets where I'm coming from in the dry down of Aqua Velva. Yes, there is that peppermint note, but it fades within a minute, and what's left behind is a citric, sharp, herbal, leathery chypre-type smell that's just dialed way down low because it's of after shave concentration. Making this stuff blue really is something of a mislabeling, since there is nothing cool or aquatic about this after the mint is gone, and I can understand why folks going in not knowing what this is get quickly horrified by something advertised as fresh but actually smelling a bit animalic after it settles. Aqua Velva opens with that famous mint, but is saddled with bergamot, lemon, petitgrain, and lavender within moments. The mint goes away after a few minutes and the tart opening really takes the learned nose back to those mid-20th century citrus chypres, where clean fought with dirty in eternal struggle but the latter sometimes won. The middle of sage, jasmine, vetiver, sandalwood, and cedar only reinforce this, as the aromatic woods and herbs continue to cut a sharp and dry path while the jasmine adds just a speck of sweetness long before the days of hedione extraction. The base is pure chypre with labdanum, oakmoss, musk, and a faint leather note. If this stuff were jacked up to eau de toilette strength and had the mint pulled out, we'd have a classic gentlemanly scent worthy of all the vintage fan ravings it could muster, but because it's blue, and in a plastic bottle, and beats you in the face with mint for the first 60 seconds, it gets mostly ignored. Now I'm defintely not saying this is some under-appreciated vintage gem of a lost quality, as it's still "just Aqua Velva" and you're paying under $5 for it, but I'm shocked at the fragrance composition under the guise of a simple dime store shaving accessory, so I have to make it clear that there is some serious business under the hood of this thing.

Fougères have stood the test of time in the drugstore segment much better than anything else offered, which is why Avon Original (1949), 'Vigorare (1957), and Tribute (1963), plus Revlon's "That Man" (1958) and Arden's "Arden for Men" line are long gone, while the Pinaud Clubman lines, and stuff like Canoe (1936) soldier on in supermarkets to this day. Hell, even the aforementioned Skin Bracer gets more cred from the mainstream than Aqua Velva, because it combined a similar mint soother with a much-friendlier fougère composition that piled on sweetness, roundness and a pleasant musk. The fact Aqua Velva Ice Blue survives at all is a puzzle to me, because of just how removed from the mainstream it's animalic citrus and leather demeanor is, but I have a theory so here goes: The people who still staunchly use Aqua Velva, and the few new folks who find it, probably don't use it for what it smells like, but for what it does, since the bulk of advertising all these years leans towards it's effects on skin and not the way it smells (early ads just called the smell "likeable" and left it alone). There was a brief flirt with marketing Aqua Velva as a dating fragrance in the 70's (just like with Skin Bracer), during the explosion of the men's cologne market at that time, with a half-dozen flankers to give a flavor for everyone, but it soon returned to business as usual with the brand once people called shenanigans on that. If you ever take a chance and just completely drench yourself in the stuff, then sit back and let it dry down, you'll discover what I'm talking about, after getting past that killer peppermint top note. All these years later, and only now does it seem clear we've all been using a chypre wolf in aftershave sheep's clothing, and nobody has been the wiser. This revelation is made more impressive by the fact this stuff presages most major notable designer chypres for men by a decade or two. Don't expect a miracle here, especially with modern formulas, but for fans of the old ways who may have been avoiding what looks like worthless drivel, expect a pleasant surprise from "your dad's Aqua Velva".
28th May, 2018

cK one by Calvin Klein

Reviewing generalist scents always brings up the problem of not only setting the facts strait amongst all the unintelligible and extreme two-liner reviews that either skyrocket or tank the scent's ratings, but also of accurately describing them with enough specifics to make them seem distinct to the reader without smelling them, since generalists are not meant to be distinct by their nature, with cK One (1994) being the ultimate generalist. The hot take version of this review is cK One is essentially an Alyssa Ashley Musk (1968) 2.0, but for more, read on. The mass-appeal fragrance model always existed but not until the 90's did it cast such an impossibly wide net, with new creations resetting all the levels on things from the past and striving to be as inoffensive and unspecific as possible, in an attempt to reclaim respect and acceptance lost by the very brash and ostentatious 1980's. This process began in earnest first with masculine fragrances as male "powerhouse" scents were often the most bizarre and virile, while female-marketed scents were no less loud but commanding in a more charismatic way than by brute force, so they didn't transition into the "fresh revolution" until later on. Calvin Klein is much to blame for this entire changing of the guard, as they were among the vanguard of perfumers offering a new generation of unassuming olfactory pleasantness, but kept going further and further in that direction by using increasing numbers of nondescript custom synthetics (often with fantastic names in the note pyramids) until their perfumes smelled like nothing recognizable in the real world. Removing nature from perfume was relatively easy, as enough blending can achieve that even without synthetics, but the next step in Calvin Klein's efforts to "smell like nothing" would be to remove gender as well, which led to the creation of cK One in 1994. Now to be clear, unisex fragrances actually predate all other kinds of perfume, as fragrances did not have gender, despite being favored mostly by women in western culture for centuries, and only received sexual assignment after insecure guys made it clear they needed their own special scents with reassurance of masculinity if they were to wear any fragrance at all. Many niche and high-end perfume houses have never really taken to labeling their creations by gender until exclusive "for men" fragrances came about, and some still don't assign gender even to this day. However, in regards to mainstream perfume, Calvin Klein deliberately marketing cK One as "unisex" by design became a huge deal and mind-blower to those who didn't know better. The "Age of Eternity" was in full-swing by the advant of cK One, and it's "One for All" attitude spawned a wave of unisex clones from other houses throughout the decade, plus created a cult following that to this day buys up every flanker and seasonal alternate version released.

Alberto Morillas, who even by 1994 had an impressive portfolio of creations, was brought in by Calvin Klein to spearhead the cK One effort, with Harry Freemont, who is also known for a lot of winners in the designer segment. Together, they created a scent that is basically so intent on being gender-neutral from a perfume aesthetics perspective, that it literally comprises notes that act to neutralize each other, making the most anonymous and androgynous of beige pleasantries ever smelled at the time. cK One is constantly fighting itself in the dry down, creating a silent maelstrom of opposing forces that smell both like a dozen things you've smelled before and also none of them simultaneously. This amazing and admittedly confusing feat begins with bergamot, lemon, mandarin, pineapple, papaya, and cardamom, which is a "we are the world" of citrus minus maybe lime, counterbalanced by rounder fruit choices and a meaty spice. The next level of Dante's Inferno in a bottle comes in the form of jasmine hedione, violet, rose, muguet, freesia, and nutmeg, which swings the the composition feminine from all the florals at first but soon swings the pendulum back to the guy side with nutmeg. Green tea, oakmoss, cedar, sandalwood, amber, the only synthetic "Kleinism" in the form of "green tree accord" and finally white musk bring the base into territory inhabited by unisex musk perfumes of the 1960's, without the hippie sweat factor of heavy aromatics. The conflict these accords undertake with each other is less of a free-for-all and more of a standoff a la trench warfare of the first world war. You catch a glimpse of something like citrus, then the fruit holds it in check. Violet and rose begin painting a dainty and dusty feminine picture until nutmeg stamps it out. Cedar and oakmoss begin to anchor the base in barbershop territory until the sweet amber and laundry musk neutralize the effort. The whole thing is literally just checks and balances from top to bottom, which is both exhausting to parse, and ultimately blurs into the perfume equivalent of "apartment white" carpeting. It goes on sweet, bright, then goes floral, and finally ends in clean musk that's hard not to like. High school teens everywhere throughout the 90's obsessed over this, thanks to pictures full of despondent 20-somethings in grungy jeans, white shirts, and edgy haircuts that plastered every subway, bus stop, airport, and magazine insert in the US. Ironically, I remember some total chauvinists back in the day refused to wear cK One because to them, a scent that was unisex was tantamount to just being women's perfume anyway, which was their loss.

cK One set another precedent for Calvin Klein, who already ushered in the serenity that was Eternity for Men (1989), then came along with this scent so everyone and their sister, brother, cousin, or mother could smell clean, unobtrusive, and completely alike. I know it sounds like a fragrance trying to smell like nothing would be terrible, and for many a purist this was blasphemy, but those folks subsequently moved either into vintage scents or niche depending on their economic upward mobility anyway, leaving the designers behind to court the masses, which may have been their end game all along. Who's to say? One thing is certain, there's so much effort and creativity worked into this scent by Mr. Morillas and Freemont, plus so many nearly-imperceptible sides to cK One as a result of it's highly-synthetic blending, that it's hard not to appreciate the artistry here even from a hobbyist standpoint, if not the style of the scent itself. For those who love the puzzle box in the frosted medicine bottle that is cK One, wearings in different temperatures will reveal a great deal of versatility. Like most generalists before and after, you don't really have to think about wearing cK One, and it becomes the "dumb-grab" for the person in a hurry, which itself has moved more units than probably any other reason that can be found in this review. Safe and sexy in one package is the way to sell units, and designers learned from this going forward, gendered or not. The smell of cK One will yield many a compliment by men or women, as was by design, if that's something which interests you, but it is not a very distinguished nor distinguishable smell, so people wanting to be credited for their good taste are looking in the wrong place here. I find cK One to be the height of Calvin Klein's innovative perfume art through artifice approach, and although later 90's output was also nice, including the unisex sequel cK Be (1996), a certain nadir would set in by the mid-2000's that would culminate in their attempts to relearn diversity by the 2010's with mixed results. cK One is still the best of it's line to me despite being the first, because it is still the most sophisticated, well-blended, gender-neutral, and rounded of the cK scents. It's attempts at minimalism is something it's sequels achieve more successfully, at the cost of quality or true unisex appeal. I also like to think the use of cK One encourages moving outside the comfort zones and exploring other possibilities, because one thinks "if I can wear this, what else can I do?". It's cheap, it's pallid, and ends in a simple musk finish, but it's also quite liberating. Cheers!
27th May, 2018 (last edited: 28th May, 2018)

CK All by Calvin Klein

cK All (2017) wasn't touted as some sort of a big deal in the same sense as cK2 (2016), and even acts like the previous cK2 never existed, being called "The Third Pillar in the cK series" by Calvin Klein themselves, who've either sectioned off cK2 into it's own little world to die like Calvin Klein Crave (2002), or have retroactively made it a flanker due to it's failure, which is their own fault for deliberately stating cK2 as a "genderless fragrance for millenials", which regardless of intent, sounds like some of the worst soulless pandering in perfume history. Calvin Klein cK All doesn't seek to repeat that mistake by reinventing the cK wheel with psuedo-political correctness so to speak, and instead returns the best-selling unisex fragrance series to it's roots by being mostly recognizable elements and really cutting back on the "Kleinisms" aesthetic impression notes, actually telling people what the Hell is in the fragrance instead. cK All is literally cK one (1994) for the new era, and it's not so much better or worse, just more with this decade's tastes than with the 90's as it's time-honored predecessor. CK tapped big talent in the form of Albert Morillas and Harry Freemont, both CK veterans responsible for penning the original cK One, plus many career accolades since. Bringing back the original "dream team" of the first cK One was a smart idea for publicity, but unfortunately, lighting rarely strikes twice, and although I give this a thumbs up for sure, it's nowhere near the level of ingenuity the original displayed, nor smells as iconic. Bottom line here, is this is a fairly pallid, citrus-lead, dusty floral affair that could have been a feminine perfume if it had been released in the 90's, but since it's released in the 2010's with much more-relaxed gender tolerances, it gets to be labelled unisex. Now bear in mind, I wear feminines if I like them, so I don't really care what a fragrance is "supposed to be", but I have to admit this feels more feminine in the dry down than any previous cK One flanker or pillar.

cK All starts with a fairly stark manadarin accord, that actually is almost undetectable as such at first, making one want to overspray applications in the beginning. There are some other synthetic citrus whatevers going on in here, but at least Ck isn't giving them pretty names like "citrus on a wisp cloud of fresh" or other nonsense "Kleinisms" like they have done before. Instead, the next two identifiable notes in the pyramid are citrus blossom (a semi-Kleinism for it's vagueness), and Paradisone: a custom captive that's an intensified version of the hedione high-cis molecule used in fragrances past (including the original cK One), giving it an unexpected tie-in with greats like Dior's Eau Sauvage(1966). Don't get excited by this news, as Parisidone doesn't smell much like the original hedione and I can't even detect any jasmine accord from it like is expected. The generic citrus blossoms are the dusty florals I mentioned, and the base of amber, rhubarb, lily of the valley, vetiver, and musk just place a dry and piquant end-cap on the whole affair with an ephemeral sense of weight that comes and goes depending on how the air hits. Calvin Klein cK All goes on a lot less sweet and musky than the original cK One, and is less bracing than the barbershop tones of cK Be (1996) but also more citric and tart than it, almost as if this was a progression from cK Be away from it's more masculine-lean than a true sequel to cK One by it's own creators, which is weird, since I'd not suspect Morillas and Freemont to riff off of Ann Gottlieb (who composed cK Be). Once more, I like the stuff, but this really feels more like Calvin Klein were just so determined to avoid the embarrassment of cK2 that they were really trying to retroactively disavow not just it, but an entire series of seasonal flankers that came before, taking the family tree all the way back to the cK Be branch and continuing on from there. It's a shame, because I liked some of the flankers that landed in the time between. I think the overall gist of cK All is a respectable one, by pushing the citrus forward and focusing on crispness and delicate floral notes rather than go tit-for-tat with masculine and feminine values until it "smells like nothing" in the way cK One did, since the "fresh/floral/dry" approach cK All takes is arguably more "genderless" in execution than Calvin Klein thought the abstract cK2 was.

It's almost a de-ozonated 90's ozonic masculine, which would pretty much dump it into the appropriate unisex appeal category without much more modification than that. By the end of the day, fans of the cK series will go nuts for this, and I feel that's who this is truly for, which means Calvin Klein has bought me hook-line-and-sinker with it. We cK fans love our weird unisex science experiments that bring back high school memories when androgyny in fashion was exactly that, and not an attempt at a larger social statement (although kudos to those folks who are trying to make those much-needed statements). Everyone else not so indoctrinated won't see the value in this from that sentimental perspective, and like somebody who doesn't understand why the latest Star Wars films trespasses on so much of the fan's trust, the outsider to the cK universe won't get why this is a worthy new cK pillar and successor to the cK throne. These folks will just see it as a relatively weak, somewhat boring, synthetic floral perfume packaged in "another cK bottle that can't be told apart from the others" and you know what? They're totally right. This isn't some crazy next-generation thinking here like cK2 was purported to be, and it isn't even remotely novel like the first cK One was. It's another safe, fresh, nondescript Calvin Klein unisex "cK" fragrance banking on the iconic imagery of the first, but at this point, anyone not knowing that going into testing cK All should be scolded for any attempted incredulity. This is the closest thing I've seen Calvin Klein do in regards of making something just for the fans of a particular line, and I don't mean flankers, but actually creating a continuation of something liked in the spirit of it's predecessors but with a few new twists. Such a thing is tantamount to Guerlain not making a Vetiver (1961) flanker, or even a Vetiver reinvention, but just a "new version of Vetiver" that respects the original but still does it's own thing. That's why I think I like cK All the most, because if I was just to be blindfolded and told to sniff it sight unseen, I'd think you were trying to get me into the latest Celine Dion or Britney Spears fragrance, and we ain't going there! However, knowing this is the "new back-to-basics Act III" of the cK line, I totally dig it. This is by-the-numbers synthetic unisex cK for only the cultists. Everyone else can move on.
26th May, 2018 (last edited: 29th May, 2018)

cK One Gold by Calvin Klein

cK One Gold is amazing for two reasons: It's a flanker that is not a seasonal redressing of cK One (1994), and it actually takes the nameplate in a new direction without the need to make two separate gendered versions a la cK One Shock (2011) and cK One Red (2014), meaning it's both a unique-smelling and still truly unisex flanker in the series for the first time since cK One Scene (2009). Typically this kind of scent is left to the bigger niche houses outside the cK series; just sniff anything Mancera or Bond No. 9 and outside obviously-named creations, you tell me what sex is -supposed- to wear it? It's an area of pure art that designers don't touch because their demographic research won't allow, outside of Calvin Klein's deliberately and ostentaciously unisex cK line (plus all the intial designer imitators of the 90's). Usually my hat's off to the "Nuveau Niche" houses (Guerlain and Penhaligon's have been at this forever so they don't count), but in this case, Calvin Klein has proved capable of delivering a unisex scent that has a lot of character for a change, since a lot of the cK seasonal flankers riffed too close to the original for comfort. cK One Gold is the second "Gold" flanker to appear in the Calvin Klein catalog outside a set of them for the Euphoria nameplate in 2014, but shares no other commonality. The warm, woodsy, fruity, and sensuous cocktail here was made for fall use but is light enough for summer too; it has only fair sillage but really good longevity and presence. You'll know cK One Gold is there all day but you won't knock anyone down with it. Like all cK One bottles, the atomizer is separate, so be careful if carried to work (or stuff a tube over the neck if atomizer is left in). If you're anything like me, you'll want to carry this delicious number to work more than a few times, it's really that good.

Fig, bergamot, and a strong sage open up cK One Gold, and it's almost so sweet initially that one might be convinced this is going feminine, but actually things shift towards aromatic as the sage creeps up to dominate and turn this into almost a peach ghost note opening similar to Mario Valentino Ocean Rain (1990) or to a much lesser extent, cK Be (1996). Now before you crucify me for comparing a Calvin Klein scent to a creation by the almighty late Edmond Roudnitska, it's really just the opening, and doesn't have the animal sweat factor he was known for, although it does take a semi-meaty turn with neroli, jasmine, and violet playing with tarragon in the middle, which is how the pedulum swings back to gender-neutral here. By this part, we realize that this stays not only sexually ambiguous but also devoid of the "Kleinisms" fantasy notes like most CK creations tend to have; I'm not saying there aren't synthetics or custom captives here, they're just the mortar instead of the bricks, and therefore unlisted. The base is simple enough with patchouli, vetiver, guaiac wood, and what is a "slightly Sauvagy" norlimbanol/ambroxen/woody aromatic chemical filler alongside a slight dollop of white musk. It's a far richer experience than any cK series scent since perhaps the original cK One, which itself was only really rich with profuse white musk at the end. I feel cK One Gold is indeed a little rounder and weightier than the landmark original, but ironically less stifling because the musk is dialed down. These now-standard-issue synthetic base fillers don't take over the scent like they can in other creations containing them, but despite the natural pyramid, we're neither dealing with vintage nor niche, so their use is almost expected. It's all fairly well-done and immaculately balanced. I still feel that maybe women will dig this more because of the soft fruity tones, but guys who can ensure them will surely love the dry down phase.

Sadly the nose is again unpublished, so I don't know who's responsible for this little treat of a scent. I think it's good enough to be an anchor, but Calvin Klein likes wasting those on far more pandering creations they think will fill the coffers based on whatever their latest focus groups tell them, and this is ironically too niche in design for such a risk to be taken; it's just a sign of the times I suppose. Much like cK One Shock for Him or cK One Scene, I see this being bought in the mainstream segments for the bottle graphics (a handsome gold-dipped clear cK One bottle), and praised by perfumistas in the know, while everyone else just ignores it as yet another brand-abusing cK One flanker without ever giving it a try due to their presumptions. My only complaint if any, is this does seem a bit aimed at the club scene, and sniffs slightly of "what Paco Rabanne 1 Million (2008) would smell like if it was a cK One flanker", but it's only in general feel, since the fragrances don't share any significant notes at all, and cK One Gold is about eight years late to that party. Oh well, at least this one isn't a seasonal run, so it might have more than one batch made, in case I use up this tasty little treat and wish to seek more in the future. Dare I say this flanker almost surpasses the original? Nah, but it is on equal ground and easily my favorite cK One variant to date. Recommended for romance or evening use, but can get you by on a hot day as well, you just might attract more attention than intended if you're at work! This one's solid gold baby!!
25th May, 2018 (last edited: 29th May, 2018)