Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Zealot Crusader

Total Reviews: 170

Rive Gauche pour Homme by Yves Saint Laurent

Rive Gauche Pour Homme was rather unexpected in the day of release, as nobody reckoned Yves Saint Laurent would make it a reality 30 years after the original, and nearly in the masculine style of era in which the famous 1971 perfume in the blue and black-striped can released. Creative director of LVMH at the time, Tom Ford, wasn't afraid of looking to the past for future inspirations, and revitalized the Gucci brand from the brink of demise this way. So when Ford came to supervise brand direction of YSL (much to the late Mr. Laurent's displeasure), he took a similar "conventional beauty" direction, particularly with the perfumes. Likewise, Jacques Cavallier had been tapped a third time for YSL since doing Opium Pour Homme (1995), since he had a firm grasp of both conventional styles that Opium Pour Homme (another late-arriving masculine counterpart to a classic YSL perfume) and Rive Gauche Pour Homme falls under, and trend-setting futuristic composition like L'eau D'Issey Pour Homme (1994), Acqua di Gio (1996), Ultraviolet Man (1999) and M7 (2002). Rive Gauche Pour Homme would be the perfect storm of classic masculine lines and then-modern clean, a true blending of old and new, a DeLorean time machine with fresh tires. Eventually Tom Ford's throwback direction would be rejected by LVMH and he would leave to start his own house with those very same ideas, but at least in YSL, his ideas "fit" the house better, despite the late Laurent's objections.

Rive Gauche Pour Homme opens with what is quite literally the most glorious interpretation of classic shaving cream I have ever smelled. Seriously, if you love barbershop smells, this is going to be among your top picks. Penhaligon's Sartorial (2010) comes close, but with a thinner, more metallic direction. Barbasol for the bourgeois, Gillette for the gendarme, however you want to put it, this one is alpha barbershop scent. Bergamot, rosemary, and the interesting twist of star anise steal the opening. RGPH doesn't have the brutal bergamot of the 80's, but rather the restrained 60's powdery fougère variety, just less piquant because of the sweet anise top and lavender balance in the middle. Glorious clove immediately fills in the middle too, but not the syrupy bay rum type. Instead, we get the chilled clove reminiscent of Old Spice (1937). Avon Cavalier (1989) tried a similar clove-powered oriental/fougère hybrid stance too, but way before this kind of retro was cool again and with almost barbaric blending that renders it too much an anachronistic period piece to be effective. Rive Gauche Pour Homme finds the balance of old and new that other "modern barbershop scents" seem to miss in favor of smelling too old or too modern. The stock parts bin geranium takes us to a base of vetiver, patchouli, and guaiac wood after the clove calms down, with just the slightest tonka and oakmoss touches to root this as a fougère without making it heavy.

Rive Gauche Pour Homme is a typical Tom Ford homage to past masculine glories like what can be found in his own line, but deftly orchestrated by the hand of the capable Jacques Cavallier into something a modern man without such rose-tinted glasses for the past can appreciate. I mean really, who doesn't like that classic smell of "clean and groomed"? Typically in my experience, only contemporary guys obsessed with "fresh" or "sexy" balk at stuff like this, which is part marketing brainwash, and part ulterior motive for why they wear a fragrance, but to each his own. Rive Gauche Pour Homme would spawn two flankers in metal cans, including a light version and an intense version. Sadly all versions are discontinued, with the La Collection reissue series being the last time this saw bottling. YSL just isn't interested in honoring it's masculine perfume legacy anymore (outside 1981's mega-seller Kouros), but this one isn't -quite- a unicorn yet because the barbershop style has gone underground and become the realm of niche perfumers (like the aforementioned Penhaligon's). This means there isn't quite an army of collectors fighting to snap up all surviving inventory just yet, unless you slap "Jean Patou" on the bottle. Bottom line here is you'll smell like the best shave of your life, all day long, so if that sounds like a good fit, then this is your juice. Period. All others can move along, and save the rest for me.
19th March, 2018

Balenciaga pour Homme by Balenciaga

Balenciaga just simply could not let the old ways go, or so it seemed in 1990 when this thing dropped into stores. From the very first Ho Hang (1971), which is seen as conservative for it's day (yeah, imagine that), through to Portos in 1980, then Ho Hang Club in 1987, The folks who kept restarting the company after the death of Cristobal Balenciaga, multiple times over throughout the years, seemingly kept going back to square one with the masculine offering, which always seemed at the forefront of every house relaunch Balenciaga has had. Each Masculine seems to ignore every effort of the last one for this reason, and just makes another bold introductory statment based on whatever the fashion MO for Balenciaga was at the time. However, with Balenciaga Pour Homme, the company was not rebooting, and it was the second of two male efforts made while the company was still held by Jacques Bogart, who instigated the creation of the dark and virile Ho Hang Club. For Balenciaga Pour Homme, the first proper eponymous "for him" the label had, they spared no expense or effort with their selection of perfumer or design of package. Gérard Anthony was brought in to handle the composition, because of his seminal work with Azzaro Pour Homme in 1978. The blue faux marble plastic cap and white glass with built-in sprayer was reminiscent of a higher-class Lapidus Pour Homme (1987), and the advertisement for Balenciaga Pour Homme read "Balenciaga Pour Homme: The Power of Dreams", which was some pretty pretentious dialog, not gonna lie. Anthony must have been instructed with creating a super masculine animalic wonder juice just like the aforementioned Lapidus, or others in this special category like Kouros (1981), One Man Show (1980), Antaeus (1981), or Sybaris (1988), but with a level of class and refinement that would allow such sexual prowess to exist in an office space.. almost. This leopard still has spots under that bespoke suit.

Balenciaga Pour Homme is a masculine that really shouldn't have existed in 1990 as a new-launch fragrance, since this was the dawn of the aquatic, ozonic, and fresh fougère, with all the old powerhouses and aromatics dying away. Hell, Montana Parfum d'Homme (1989) was practically stillborn when launched, and Aramis would re-shop the same idea minus the heavy oakmoss and plus some bay rum in 1994 as Havana, but here was Balenciaga sticking to their guns in the face of certain failure and releasing another powerhouse, perhaps the last great powerhouse, when the style was already obsolete. Gérard Anthony is a master of any style he chooses to employ, as evidenced by the later Paco Rabanne XS (1993) and Homme de Gres (1996), but here was his "Antaeus" for lack of a better comparison, chock full of manliness, complexity, sensuality, yet ultimately lighter on it's feet than any of it's older peers despite clear lack of restraint. Balenciaga Pour Homme is nearly a powerhouse/oriental hybrid, and opens with cinnamon and coriander, with thyme and bergamot bringing in the fougère brightness. The middle quickly complicates things further with a slew of aromatics, including patchouli, sandalwood, a light cypress, cedarwood, and a touch of honey that keeps this more pleasant than it has any business being. The base is the real shocker: prerequisite oakmoss for the style, and oriental-grade vanilla bourbon, mixed in a boozy rich manner with amber and musk taken right out of a 70's Avon catalog, with benzoin maintaining that sweetness so a note of Oud can come through to provide the animalic growl in place of an actual animalic like castoreum or civet. If you're confused, let me read that back to you: this is an 80's powerhouse fragrance, made in 1990 by the nose of Azzaro Pour Homme, with a base note of very-detectable oud/agarwood which would presage that trend in western perfumery by nearly 20 years. I wouldn't get all crazy and call this some pioneering futuristic oud powerhouse that was flown back in time in a DeLorean to 1990 just to be forgotten, but the thought does cross the mind. What we're left with here is a fragrance that's more than just one foot in the past and one foot in the present.

Balenciaga Pour Homme is not like a lot of things coming out and falling between the cracks in the early 90's, but rather a stylistic chimera that has one of it's heads facing the future while the other two look to the past and the now (for 1990), making this a pinnacle of powerhouse design as it not only incorporated then-relevant oriental richness (which Sybaris has attempted as well to a lesser extent), but also a type of rare aromatic wood that only in modern perfumery has replaced most need for animalic skank, as it casts a long shadow all it's own. Realistically this isn't on any kind of pedestal like my description sounds or else it might still be made like most of it's mentioned peers, but as an example of perfume as art, Balenciaga and Mr. Anthony created something very beautiful here, just with awful timing. This is sort of the younger, sweeter, more sophisticated and groomed brother to Ho Hang Club, which doesn't make it weaker mind you, just more eager to do business. You can't wear this kind of juice every day, it's just so voluptuous and busy in a good way that you almost need to take it in with little else going on around you, and it's far from work or casual use for that reason. Balenciaga PH is almost a personal vacation in and of itself when worn. It's the 80's powerhouse equivalent to that special rare mellow bottle of scotch you only take out for the best of occasions, but as a powerhouse, this will still be limited in appeal to most beyond hobbyists, so you'll want to pass on this if spicy honey-powered oud and oakmoss double-teaming on your nose sounds too overbearing. Balenciaga Pour Homme is yet another niche-quality masculine that could be relaunched as an actual niche scent to great critical acclaim in the modern era, and in smaller 1oz sizes can still be remarkably affordable despite being discontinued for so long. If this style is your thing, this might be your holy grail, or close to it. Otherwise, this is sheer terror in a bottle. Which direction you choose to run is entirely up to you.
18th March, 2018

Salvador Dali pour Homme by Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was certainly one of, if not the most eccentric and avant-garde artist of the 20th century, extending his artistic expression not only on multiple fronts, but through developing personas of his female muses, and his own self-made persona as well, which he portrayed himself in public with for his entire life, flamboyant upturned mustache and all. Dali entered fashion by the 1950's, with Elsa Shiaparelli (famous among perfume collectors for 1937's Shocking), and Christian Dior by the 60's. However, in the twilight of his years, he entered the perfume world, creating a perfume bottle just for his eponymous scent which was crafted in honor of his wife Gala in 1983, a year after her death. The bottle for Salvador Dali Pour Homme was also designed by the esoteric genius, and like the launch feminine, was based on his painting "Apparition of the Aphrodite of Knidos". This very dark and gothic masculine fragrance would be created by famed and now currently Guerlain house perfumer Thierry Wasser, as his first major designer perfume release; think about that next time you go sniffing a modern bottle of Guerlain Homme (2008). Tragically, this signature masculine for Salvador Dali would be released two years before his death, and by that point his health was failing, so I'm not even sure if he wore this himself. What I do know is this is a very captivating and murky animalic-driven masculine that really suits the style of the late artist, and in unsurprising ways for those who know me, suits me quite nicely as well. If nothing else, this scent will get attention wherever it goes, you just have to be okay with it not always being (nor likely to be) positive attention.

To start off, fans of Jacomo de Jacomo (1980) and all it's blackened, smoky, and vetiver-rich character will love Salvador Dali Pour Homme. Essentially SDPH is the halfway point between that erstwhile Jacomo scent and Montana Parfum d'Homme (1989) in terms of balancing sweet and smoke. It doesn't have the island spice elements of the Montana scent, but it does have the roundness and body, being less charred than the burnt vetiver of Jacomo de Jacomo and having a small dollop of castoreum for a funk neither Jacomo nor Montana have. SDPH opens with basil, tarragon, bergamot, the odd choice of tangerine with lemon, and a lavender/anise pairing that gives it a slight nod in the direction of Azzaro Pour Homme (1978). All told this is an armistice of barbershop and boudoir as it is, and it only gets better (or worse) as the heart comes in. Jasmine, heliotrope, the expected geranium, and muguet come into play here, presenting a floral core not dissimilar from the original Fougère Royale (1882) and Zino Davidoff (1986) from the previous year, but while Zino really just toys with animalic growl, Dali lunges. Base notes of leather, dirty musk, amber, patchouli, dry vetiver, cedar and sandalwood mix with benzoin which imparts a semi-sweetness of dried honey, before firming up with just a tad of castoreum, but not as much as One Man Show (1980) or Antaeus (1981). I feel the really raw musk here replaces the need for a heavy hit of the castoreum, and instead Wasser chose to blend the two together to make the sensuality here less foreboding and more of that daring "come-hither" stance. Wasser was composing for Dali after all, and Dali was known to have unorthodox sexual predilections, in addition to not always staying confined to his wife, nor even the opposite sex. Dali Pour Homme is perfectly contradictory, quixotic, and in many ways, surreal just like Dali's paintings and the man himself.

There aren't a whole lot of fougères this brooding, heavy, and even against a backdrop of 80's powerhouses, this scent will cut a path through the room, as everyone's fruit-powered civet bombs or brutal bergamot and moss hammers crash to the floor uselessly in awe of the scent trail you leave. You will either make others feel shocked and hopelessly confused, or hopelessly enthralled by it's captivating power as you wear SDPH, with it's leathery soot-ash warmth, and sweet afterglow, like a fire on it's last embers. SDPH is most certainly not an office or casual scent, and the man who appreciates this will find the appropriate time or place to wear it, even if it does last forever on skin if one does attempt an all-day wear from it. I think it's best on a dinner date, much like other darker masculines from this period, or a night at a cozy club. Being another typical 80's oakmoss-heavy fragrance also means Salvador Dali Pour Homme will be good only for cooler seasons, so no summer use with this one please, unless you plan on choking everyone around you. One fair warning: Les Parfums Salvador Dali would do a lot of cheesy things with Dali's own bottle designs after his death, including reusing them over and over with different colored glass or patterns on both male, female, and unisex fragrances. You will see this bottle in different colors for other scents, particularly those of Dalimix (1996), a unisex contender that also spawned flankers, one in a black gloss version of this bottle as well. If the box isn't gray, the bottle matte black or the sicker on the bottle doesn't say "Pour Homme" on it, then it's a different scent, so don't be fooled. If the late Jason Lee's "The Crow" had a scent, this would undoubtedly be it.
17th March, 2018
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Mambo for Men by Liz Claiborne

Mambo seemed to be released at a time when everything Liz Claiborne made for men smelled like Curve (1996), regardless of whether or not it was a Curve flanker. Lucky You for Men (2000) was a licensee scent that was effectively "greener Curve" (and thus better), and Mambo was "spicier Curve", which is a really crass summation of the stuff, but so close to the truth it hurts. The itchy facet of Curve which bothered me so much was also present here, and exacerbated worse by the synthetics and spices on display, making this a big "no-can-do" for me. The problem with Mambo is it obstinately tries to maintain that "90's clean" but head into a full-bodied, more complex direction that orientals or gourmands were starting to take by the early 2000's, and it's a compromise that maybe could have worked (Burberry for Men did it pretty well in 1996), but was gone about in all the wrong fashions by nose Carlos Benaim; certainly not his best work. Laurent Hainaut appears to havd made no other fragrances bottle designs according to basenotes information, and it has me wondering why, because Mambo does get served up in a cool bottle, which was the reason 20-year-old me picked up the thing. Ultimately this went to a best friend who ended up falling in love with this, Curve, and the follow-up Bora Bora (2002), which I was loathe to try after striking out so much with Claiborne.

Mambo has the usual 90's/early 2000's hyperbole exotica notes so I won't list them, as some sound like attempts to put lace on a pig (such as saying lavandin in place of lavender), but what you get here is a very barbershop Curve-like opening that doesn't need describing a second time here. The middle notes are where the spices live, with clove, cinnamon, and cumin joined by geranium, rose, orange blossom and muguet. The cumin here is the only ingredient with a sense of purpose, adding that tell-tale sweatiness that denotes this as "sexier" than it's Curve patriarch, but it's too buried in business anyway. The base is all synthetic sandalwood, patchouli, musk, and fir basalm, the latter of which is too green and throws all the other floral/spicy/vanillic ingredients off course. This was almost a good scent if you took away the itchy chemical top and confused heart/base notes. Remove the florals, remove the green, and bam; this could have been a decent oriental cheapie. As it stands, it's the Toys "R" Us kid of oriental hybrid fougères (ironic that Toys "R" Us goes defunct as I write this), meaning it doesn't want to grow up into a solid masculine, but rather keep meandering with musings, inspirations, and ideas, but never commit to a direction. It's not a very good mambo dancer with two left feet.

This might be okay for the guy that wants to color just barely outside the fresh fougère lines, or the kind of person who just occasionally bumps up from the mild salsa to the medium for a rare bit of pleasure outside the comfort zone, but I've never been that guy to be honest. Even if this thing didn't cause a rapid-fire sneeze fit that lasts all day, I still don't know if I'd be able to handle it's confused and mediocre blending of synthetics and mid-tier elements rebranded as luxury ingredients. This is the fully-loaded entry-level Hyundai of oriental/fougère hybrids. It's certainly no Boucheron Pour Homme (1991) or Dior Fahrenheit (1988), and isn't even on the level of an Avon in terms of risque note interplay. It's blending bites in all the ways it shouldn't, and fails to impress in all the ways it needed to for it to be anything more than a "spicy Curve". I remember seeing this on the clearance counter at the perfume section of Sears (which says a lot), next to other Claiborne men's staples, and it was the only product placement with not a single box touched. I really don't think I need to say any more than that.
17th March, 2018

Ho Hang Club by Balenciaga

Cristobal Balenciaga was once called "The Master of Us All" by Christian Dior, who alongside the late Hubert de Givenchy, had great esteem for the pioneering designer. His daring designs redefined a woman's silhouette in the mid 20th century, for better or worse, but his perfume gets very little attention, especially with the way the house kept stopping and starting over the years, with the masculines even less recognized. Cristobal himself closed Balenciaga's doors in 1968 due to clashes with Chambre syndicale de la haute couture parisienne, but a year before his death, the house was re-booted by the company Marbert as a ready-to-wear label only, heralded by the first masculine scent Ho Hang (1971), before the clothing side went dormant again. 1986 would see another house reboot with the Bogart Group being the new stewards, and with their expertise in male perfumery, Balenciaga would release several very distinct but sadly unnoticed masculines alongside their feminine lines, starting with a new Ho Hang in 1987. This "Ho Hang Club" would feel less like a flanker and more like a rebirth, as all indicators point to it smelling nothing at all like the original from which it borrows both name and form factor. First of all, the amount of notes in this is ridiculous to the point of it being impossible for me to separate them, so I won't try. It's a dark, semi-sweet honeyed floral chypre that was a real rarity even in 1987.

Ho Hang Club is definitely late 70's/early 80's super-macho "kitchen sink" construction, but in 1987 when this virile style was starting to get edged out by brighter, spicier, and often fruit-topped powerhouses that had moss in the base for a sauve attitude rather than an aggressive one, with the similarly domineering Lapidus Pour Homme of the same year being an exception of late-showing chauvinism as well. Ho Hang Club definitely is not on the level of One Man Show (1980), Antaeus (1981), or Kouros (1981) like Lapidus was, but it does have a similar "piss-take" opening and a dry base, with a styrax/amber/musk trifecta being the most powerful elements in dry down. The top is bergamot, lemon, basil, and coriander; it's pretty standard-fare 80's but it gets honeyed by the styrax (which is a source of benzoin), in a similar way to Giorgio Beverly Hills for Men (1984), but without the patchouli growl. Instead, a bouquet of florals similar to Révillion's French Line (1984) or Azzaro Acteur (1989) come into play, but the rose presence in Ho Hang Club is way muted by comparison. Some call this a leather scent, but to me the leather is even less present than it is in the oft-compared Maxim’s Pour Homme (1988), which itself barely qualifies for that title. Ho Hang Club is just a true abstract in a class by itself. Sillage is not on a typical 80's powerhouse level, but this faithfully waft off collars and skin all day long, so it's certainly a performer.

Fans of the "Noir/Gothic" style will likely love Ho Hang Club regardless of age, as it has that honey-sweet opening, muted flowers in the middle, and murky base full of unearthly darkness and understated sexual tension. It's in a vein similar to Salvador Dali Pour Homme (also 1987), Eucris by Geo F Trumper (1912) or Jacomo de Jacomo (1980) but without the smoke. Ho Hang Club trades in it's pipe and loafers for a pair of wing tips and a brandy cordial, making it rest between Dali and the aforementioned French Line. It's unmistakably masculine but it won't rip off it's shirt to prove it like it's classmate Lapidus, and like all surviving Balenciaga masculines, nobody will have any idea what you're wearing. Sadly Coty purged all male perfumes from Balenciaga when Kering handed them the perfume license after buying Balenciaga from Bogart (who were idiots for selling it), but Ho Hang Club seems the least-sought of all the old male lines because it is indeed so dark. It's a Guillermo del Toro movie in a bottle: Esoteric, gorgeous, but a little bit unsettling. Suggested use is formal romantic wear, evening use, or just personal time in spring or fall. This one isn't casual enough for work or day wear, but might be nice for a night at an opera, play, concert, or movie.
15th March, 2018

French Line by Révillon

French Line is a lark of 1980's design: it holds itself to the barbaric bergamot opening and heavy moss thump of most 80's powerhouse masculines, but it doesn't roar with civet, castoreum, styrax, or heavy woods. Instead, French Line relies on a dark floral heart and uncommonly forward-thinking blend of citrus and coconut to give it a unique character which stands out without needing to shout. Sadly, Révillon Frères would cease to exist after the venerable fur maker and perfumer was absorbed into the Cora chain of French "hypermarkets" around 1982 (think Walmart in scope), and then spun off into the Cora-Révillon Group just to have a shell company to sell it's products outside of the Cora stores. Some time after the turn of the millennium, this whole venture ceased to exist and Révillon perfumes all poofed from existence outside of unused old stock. This masculine was released two years after this corporate absorption, so we should count ourselves lucky it exists at all. French Line's leathery dry down gets compared to Antaeus (1981) quite a bit, but I don't really see it personally, as the "fruitiness" of French Line never goes away and thus this never gets to play dirty. To be honest, it's almost a dandy scent, much like the later Azzaro Acteur (1989), with a prominent rose note floating throughout the entire wear, but French Line is actually sweeter and even darker than that later Azzaro mystery, with a stronger leather component to boot. French Line is indeed very French, and not afraid to flaunt it with it's historic title, as the SS Normandie, one of the most celebrated cruise lines ever built (Saint-Nazaire 1932), was often just referred to as "The French Line" itself since it was the flag ship, being seized and renamed the USS Lafayette by the US during WWII before it sadly caught fire and capsized at a Hudson River dock in 1942. The bottle's singular red stripe and overall design mimics the motif of the ship, which is really cool.

This one opens with typical 80's bergamot but also some juicy lemon. The rose and coconut are apparent right away even though the former is in the heart and latter in the base, forming an odd ghost note of black cherry schnapps, which immediately makes this striking as no typical 1980's masculine. From there, artemisia, basil, coriander and honey form the rest of the opening. The heart note of that very aggressive rose is joined by an almost equally aggressive carnation, with orris root, jasmine, and caraway softening things up in that classic French floral bouquet way. If you couldn't tell, this one really isn't a "man's man" kind of masculine perfume, and has very fuzzy gender lines, if any. Leather, subtle amber, musk, restrained oakmoss and only a slight patchouli note mingle with that extraordinary coconut in the base, and when the whole thing lays to rest comfortably on skin, one might almost feel delicious. I wouldn't exactly call this a prototype gourmand, but with honey, lemon, and coconut well... you get my point. French Line isn't a go-getter, and it doesn't pound you over the head with sillage, but rather just hums along nicely, being dark, juicy, leathery, and very sensual without the raw lust of it's peers. It's the powerhouse with performance measured in stamina and technique rather than brute force, and is definitely dinner date material rather than night club sex juice. If you're going to take somebody dancing in French Line, it had better be a ballroom or a swing dance. I find the leather is very restrained here, another oddity given it's time of release, and compares very favorably to more suede-like modern leather compositions. There's no nose tinge in the leather note at all, and alongside the immaculate blending of moss, musk, and amber, almost becomes a smaller part of a larger whole, much like Maxim's Pour Homme, coincidentally another ode to French history made in the 1980's, but that's the only way in which they compare. This is much more of a rose-dominated scent otherwise, so fans of the elusive masculine rose genre take note. The coconut is awesome too. Think I mentioned that already. Oh well, it's so strange and beautiful, I'm mentioning it again.

In conclusion, French Line is one weird little chypre. It has gourmand notes, it has floral notes, it has lots of traditional French class and structure, bound into the body of a beating, throbbing 1980's masculine. The commanding bergamot/leather/moss triad are forced to engage in mortal combat with more charismatic honey, lemon, coconut, and rose, with no clear victor in sight. It's 1930's Clark Gable teleported into 1984 France, and forced to trade in Brooks Brothers duds for gaudy 80's Haute Couture. He's still quite keen on keeping his dapper appearance and gentile manner, but he's working with 1980's materials and making the best of a situation for which he's unprepared. That to me is the nature of French Line: a legacy fragrance made with what were modern sensibilities for it's era, giving it uncharacteristic amounts of class and poise compared to it's competition, but also angular dynamics, thrusting it into the kind of obscurity deserving of a cult following, especially now that both it and Révillon itself are just historical anecdotes for collectors to wage fiscal war over on auction sites. This is another one that I say could easily be re-released as a niche scent to widespread acclaim. Definitely for fans of the aforementioned Azzaro Acteur, Paco Rabanne Ténéré (1988), or even something like Penhaligon's Hammam Bouquet (1872). Coty would try something like this more than 20 years later when they made Stetson Black (2005), but it's just a pale shadow of this idea. Now if you excuse me, my cruise is about to depart.
15th March, 2018

Maxim's pour Homme by Maxims

Maxim's Pour Homme comes from quite the unexpected place: The most famous French restaurant in the world. Whether or not you ever plan to go, or even care about such things, the initial pair of fragrances spawned by a joint venture between Maxim's and American Cyanamid (onetime parent of Shulton and Pierre Cardin fragrances) are both quite remarkable. The feminine has seemed to survive, while the much less popular male counterpart sadly has passed into obscurity, but it's of a quality surprising to the nose, considering it's corporate parentage. The 1980's was a time for corporate exploration of fragrance branding, and everyone from Hollywood celebrities to auto makers were making deals with perfumers, with most of the results quite forgettable as expected. Maxim's seems to go against this grain, and commissioned prodigious perfumer Dominique Ropion (most known for her work with Lancome) to create something befitting of the time period in which the restaurant originates. Indeed Maxim's Pour Homme evokes images of the Art Nouveau style and La Belle Époque in France, with it's finely decorated bottle and smooth leathery finish. Granted, this is still a mostly modern fragrance (late 70's/early 80's definition of modern anyway) and doesn't have the raw bite of some older, less compromising leather scents, but in the greater scheme of things, one could almost not be told this is a leather fragrance and believe it, since there is so much else going on in the well-blended base. If there is any reason this wasn't more popular, it's probably because it was named after a restaurant, which is something I don't really see resonating with the general public as a place of inspiration for fragrance. Quite sad really, as this little floral mossy chypre is very nice, just born at the wrong place and wrong time, by the wrong parents.

Maxim's opens with a typical bergamot and lavender top found in powerhouses from this period, but with a rather awkward fruit note disturbing the classic introduction, even if it doesn't really ruin things. It's just a few minutes if even that before what I can discern as fig or tamarind fades from view and lets the bergamot and lavender do it's work into the floral heart. I honestly haven't seen such a floral heart outside of maybe Zino Davidoff (1986), or any number of Victorian fragrances it was based off of, so Maxim's makes another rare use of the "male floral bouquet" trope that wasn't cool since the last time men wore pocket watches, so that's pretty neat. Muguet, jasmine, and carnation are greeted by some fairly austere woods that add dryness, and a slight leafy tobacco note in the middle segment, but things don't really stay "dandy" for long as the rich base takes over once the heat of skin reacts to the wear. Amber, musk, pathcouli, oakmoss -almost a litany of barbershop classics- seem to litter the beautifully warm base, with leather only making an appearance at the very end, almost like an encore rather than a part of the main performance. Would I still call this a leather scent? Well yes. Avon Black Suede (1980), in all of it's makeup compact creaminess, is still called a leather scent because suede is the main note of it. Therefore, why not a rich floral chypre that contains leather but flirts with the avant-garde be considered one? This was modeled after one of the most classically artistic periods in history, so it's only appropriate to be complex. I find Maxim's Pour Homme to a bit out of step with the late 80's, as most of the really high-quality aromatic powerhouses had come out by then. The closest thing I can compare it to is Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme from 1978, and that's still not quite doing it justice, as that scent has a great deal more going on for it in the herbal department than this, which is really devoid of herbs outside the patchouli in the base.

Most things made for men by designers at the end of the decade were either really sharp and virile like Lapidus Pour Homme (1987) or heading into oriental territory like Chanel Pour Monsieur Concentree (1989), plus we were just on the cusp of the aquatic/fresh revolution, with all the experimentalism with florals and fruit that brought, so this wasn't really presaging anything. In the end, it was just a fragrance made on it's own terms, regardless of the times, and perhaps that's what both makes it special, and doomed to obscurity (outside the branding). Ironically, had something like this come forward now, it would be considered niche, and easily have another zero on the price tag, but because it was rich floral leather chypre in 1988 instead of 1888 or 2018, branded after a French restaurant and formulated/sold by a major player at the time, it was relegated to the shopping mall discount perfume kiosks before it ever really had a chance to shine. I wouldn't quite call Maxim's a powerhouse either. It is a pretty aromatic and rich masculine, but it isn't loudness for the sake of it, and will actually give the average 6-8 hours wear time with moderate sillage. It's mossy plonk will definitely make it seem mighty in modern company, but compared to it's competition it's rather mild-mannered outside of the brief funky opening. Fans of mossy scents will love it, but modern tastes raised on candy gourmands or synthetic minimalism will still find it too staunch, so it's definitely for the mature man or fan of the style. It's a good fall and spring office scent, maybe for romance use too if at a classier joint, but definitely no club hopper. Maxim's Pour Homme is like an evening in a 19th century Paris bistro, televised from a 1980's Sony Trinitron TV. Definitely an obscure gem.
14th March, 2018

Design for Men by Paul Sebastian

Opinions tend to get very divided over the male version of Paul Sebastian Design, and rightly so. We were several years into the aquatic/fresh revolution by this point, but there were still a lot of transitional inbetweeners and outliers late coming from previous popular styles, plus a few just completely left-field fragrances that didn't fit anywhere. I feel Design fits in hindsight somewhere between a dry British take on the aromatic chypre, much like Dunhill's mid-eighties Edition (1984), and an early aquatic/ozonic scent like Mario Valentino Ocean Rain (1990) or Aramis New West (1989), which gives it a really strange biting opening to an otherwise balsamic chypre accord. Most people who dislike it are shot down immediately by it's almost sour opening, while people who have stronger constitutions than that are mildly rewarded with an herbal finish. I gave my bottle away after several attempts to really feel my way around the stuff, since I'm a huge fan of original PS from 1979, but I just couldn't hack the awkward transition. This is one masculine that few will miss in discontinuation, which explains the very slow price climb; there just isn't sufficient demand to charge the usual scalper's premium.

The fumbling opening begins with grapefruit and some kind of berry mixture. I don't want to be an idiot and say "fruit punch" but it's just a Starburst/Skittles candy type of fake fruit that's hard to peg alongside the acidic grapefruit. There's some sort of balsam fir note in here too, which is where the fruits and citrus get their sourness, but once they fade into dry lavender and sage, things get a bit more bearable. If you haven't scrubbed by this point, the scent dials down further into amber, oakmoss, labdanum, leather and cedar, bringing in that structured chypre dryness but without an animalic like civet or castoreum to make it too old fashioned; after all, this was made in the early 90's. The finish is pleasant enough, but honestly the synthetic and "modern" 90's opening combined with the nightmare sour beef and dumplings dry down make it an unnecessary ordeal to reach this finish. If I wanted to wear balsamic vingarette as a fragrance, I could buy it from the grocery store for under $10. As it stands, the only good thing about Design is the dry down, which if you enjoy it enough, should just inspire you to buy Dunhill Edition instead so you can enjoy the entire journey, since we can't just fast-forward to the end now can we?

I don't hate Design, hence my neutral rating, but I feel it was an abutment of two incompatible ideas: a zesty fresh ozonic, and an herbal leather chypre. Whoever the nose for this was must have been conflicted about what to make when tasked with the objective of appealing to all ages, and it shoes. The marketing team really had to do the legwork to get this one on the shelf, or maybe not, since I don't recall much PS marketing overall when I researched this after getting it. This is the early 90's we're talking about so there was still enough wiggle room that something different could sneak between outgoing powerhouses and incoming aquatics, but different in this case just translates into strange. Fans of challenging fragrance might enjoy this, and I don't mind being a little provocative once in a while, but even then I have to enjoy the emotions being provoked, and the only visible reactions I ever received from this when I had it was looks of confusion and discomfort, which included my own. Paul Sebastian would soon after be absorbed into EA Fragrances, which killed off every male release from the house besides the debut masculine. I'd say in the case of Design for Men, they were secretly doing everyone a favor without realizing. Explore this one with extreme trepidation, and use only in room temperatures to mitigate the transition, if used at all.
13th March, 2018 (last edited: 15th March, 2018)

Effusion for Him by Iceberg

I seem to be in something of a minority by liking this scent, and I will admit part of it is definitely nostalgia, as I owned this when it came out, but from an objective standpoint, Effusion was another of Iceberg's odd little genre hybrids, but one that actually works in spite of itself rather than just coming across as a tolerable but confused mess like Iceberg Twice Homme (1995) did. Effusion brings together the aquatic, the gourmand, and the damn near antiquated citrus/pepper/musk cologne accord that was so popular up to the turn of the 20th century. While I won't say this is anywhere on the level of Caswell-Massey Number Six (1789) or Blenheim Bouquet (1902), it does take that basic piquant approach to citrus and musk, with the pepper note reminiscent of the latter, and twists it up with gourmand elements and an overall aquatic construction, reinterpreting the style for the 21st century man. I feel this is the perfect bridge between something like your grandfather's Pino Silvestri (1955) and your older brother's Cool Water (1988), so for the person who wants a "freshie" that bridges two different generations and schools of thought, this is a noble gesture and great option. It's not particularly standout in any other way, and was thoroughly lost in the din of the competition at it's time of release, but that's okay, since it's a style that ages well and remains relevant even 17 years on. Effusion won't appeal to the guy who hates aquatics, which despite it's old-school nods still technically is, but for everyone else, this might be just the hot weather fighter to stand out from the crowd you may be looking for.

Effusion opens with black pepper and grapefruit. This isn't the "radioactive grapefruit" of other ozonics, but a true grapefruit that isn't over-sweetened or amplified, with the roundness of an apple note added to soften it a tad. The pepper never really goes away throughout the entire wear, but anyone who's worn the above classics already knows this, and is joined by anise before heading into a floral heart. This heart is where the aquatic framework of the scent is most on display, with orange blossom, rose, and freesia which were all typically reserved for feminines in this period. Iceberg says cedar, sandalwood, and patchouli are in the base, but let me tell you, if they are, they're almost invisible because white musk and a reinforced licorice note are all I get, which might also just be the anise from the top latching onto the pepper and lingering awhile. The particular combination of juicy top notes, flowers, and and musk could almost be a feminine perfume in it's own right, but because that pepper is there, and perhaps whatever generic woodsy accord (likely Iso-E Super) is sitting next to the musk, forms a dry enough backbone to keep this in guy's territory. It'll certainly wake you up in the morning, and won't really do you any favors in the romance department, but could easily be a gym bag hero if need be, since it tends to resist sweat too.

Effusion for Him is pretty typical second-generation aquatic if not for that pepper and the apple swirling in the top, but it's just odd enough to stand apart, for better or for worse, from it's peers of the time. I won't say this is an essential purchase for the guy who already has any of the classic scents this tends to draw inspiration from, nor would it be really important to an aquatic fan that already has a ton of them in his collection, but for somebody a little bit more adventurous and looking for a cool summer active scent, you could do a whole lot worse than this. It's asking price is rock bottom, like most Iceberg products, and rather limited in appeal outside casual use, also like most Iceberg products, but for a modern fresh fragrance lover that hasn't experienced black pepper, this is actually a good, safe starting point, since something like Blenheim Bouquet may in fact be too dry for such a modern palette. I had one, used it up, and just never replaced it since I rarely found use for it after I quit working outdoors, but I give it a thumbs up because it's a rather competent composition despite being more synthetic than a piece of American cheese. Longevity leaves something to be desired, but I think that makes this a good daytime-only scent that can be sprayed over with something more sensual when a romantic evening awaits. Besides that, it has sufficient sillage and is too unassuming to offend. A decent, albeit mostly unremarkable scent, with some neat ideas running throughout.
13th March, 2018

Iceberg Twice Homme by Iceberg

Iceberg Twice Homme was aptly named, as it was the male counterpart to the second line of Iceberg fragrances since the little-known Italian fashion label wandered into the fragrance business at the end of the 80's. The debut masculine Iceberg Homme (1990) was a rather classic eau de cologne meets fresh fougère hybrid that while definitely an interesting scent, was rather an outlier in the scene. Five years later, and Iceberg returns with Twice Homme, another bright citrus scent with a near-gourmand level of richness and sweetness in the base, being yet another outlier at a time when men's fragrances were fairly polarized between nearly sterile freshness and culinary levels of richness. I am personally not a fan of this combination, but I do like the top notes of the scent, and am glad that Avon actually tackled the same idea but without the heavy body of the base when they made Perceive for Men in 2000, which takes the idea of Twice and presents it in what can most closely be described as an aromatic chypre, although not quite. Iceberg Twice Homme as it stands is probably the most popular of the older Iceberg masculines, which isn't saying much as everything the house has made until recent years has been a strange and not completely realized hybrid of ideas, that while good on paper don't pan out so well in execution. This is particularly true with Twice Homme, as it has a heavy-handed sillage reminiscent of the original Joop! Homme (1989), but without the novelty or blending.

Twice Homme opens with yuzu, not unlike L'Eau d'Issey Pour Homme (1994), but rather than stay stark and clean, quickly tenses up with peppermint, candy-grade lemon, and marigold (which is always weird in a masculine). The heart proves to be the bit of traditional perfumery keeping this from becoming too abstract, with geranium, jasmine, lavender, thyme, and tarragon being both classic in that barbershop fougère sense, but a little bit balsamic like a 70's fougère; it's honestly the best part of the fragrance. The base comes up with patchouli, sandalwood, vetiver, and lime, most of those things which would be good base notes in an older-style masculine, but when set against the barbershop heart and bizarre top creates a schizophrenic transition from fresh, sweet, creamy, then green, and finally back to fresh with the lime. It's just a roller coaster for the nose that not everyone is really prepared for, especially me. Considering top and heart notes don't always go away when the base notes come out, that makes Iceberg Twice Homme even more obfuscating. It's hot and cold all in the same container, so when it's done mixing, it creates what can at times be a mildly nauseating swirl that ends up lukewarm in appeal, since one never knows what facets of this olfactory chimera are going to come out and play, since air temperature and body chemistry also play an important role. I get the impression that this is a top, heart, and base from three separate fragrances all spliced together Dr. Moreau style. For a lot of people who aren't the wiser, this might be a neat, funky little shindig, but for me, it feels like an unresolved experiment.

Iceberg Twice Homme wouldn't do the house any favors in the masculine market, but apparently sells well enough to stay in production, or at least there is so much surplus that it is commonly available. Either way, it's a cheap thrill to own if you really want to see what this one is about. It's an adequate enough example of 90's tropes, but with a bit of uncomfortable genre-bending, and some of what it presents would be done better later on. Fans of citrus and mint combined will love the fizzy opening, but the muddled heart of traditional fougère notes and green sweaty base will betray that opening before it's all done, meaning to truly embrace this with no qualms will be to embrace challenging fragrances. Granted, it's not the same degree of challenging as something with a heavy animalic in it, or a high degree of "dirty" musk, but the pandemonium of herbaceous note structures and the resultant clash that makes this a bit tacky to wear. Still, I don't think this thing is a complete disaster, just definitely for the person that wears Hawaiian print shirts to a wedding or thinks mullets are the best of both worlds, so I'd say if worn, it's probably best in fall or winter, where it's rather unique juxtaposition of values would be muted somewhat by colder air. The stuff is an absolute steal online, so the morbidly curious won't be punished too hard if they end up hating it.
13th March, 2018

Monsieur Lanvin by Lanvin

Lanvin released it's first proper men's line in 1964, much like Elizabeth Arden had in 1957, not by releasing one marquee men's fragrance, but an assortment. There were 4 key scents in the Monsieur Lanvin line besides this eponymous creation, and they included "Monsieur Lanvin Figaro", "Monsieur Lanvin Lavande", and "Monsieur Lanvin Vetyver". Eventually the "Monsieur" was dropped from all but the eponymous scent a little further into the 60's and 70's, with just the name of the variety preceding the name of the house ("Vetyver Lanvin" etc.) before the whole men's line was essentially rebooted with Lanvin for Men in 1979, which shared the same octagonal column bottle as the rest anyway, further adding to some confusion over whether these were all the same scent or flankers of each other etc. Everything across the board was discontinued by 1992 when it was gobbled up by the Orcofi Group and then sold to L'Oreal, being stripped and streamlined for relevance with modern tastes for profitability, making all of the original masculines from the house become near-unicorns as they still had their loyal fans. For this reason, my ability to impart a review of this cult-status masculine is in no small part due to the kindness of a fellow Basenoter that wished for me to experience it, and for that I am thankful. Monsieur Lanvin sits at a strange cusp in the evolution of male-centric perfumery: it is heavily dependent on civet in the base, like many male chypres from the previous decade or so, but it isn't heavily reliant on aromatics, and instead chooses a floral heart which gives it a unisex quality to a modern nose, but back in the mid-60's, was probably just the unique "gentlemanly" angle the unknown perfumer was looking for in order to compete against a samey crowd. A similar very floral and very dry attack would be taken over a decade later by Grey Flannel (1975) which substituted the civet for tonka and pulled the whole shebang into fougère territory but barely.

Monsieur Lanvin opens with lemon, bergamot, sage, and some kind of generic green accord, maybe galbanum but only in small degrees. It's not the juicy lemon opening of most chypres from this period, but rather a very stark and dry citrus similar to the yuzu that would become popular in 90's scents. From there it goes right to the flower patch, taking us through carnation, jasmine (a note Grey Flannel only implies but doesn't have), geranium, and rose, before sandalwood and cinnamon comes to warm things up a bit. So far so good, and very floral, but no worse than any number of late 19th or early 20th century "dandy" masculines, so fans of Penhaligon's, Trumper, or D'Orsay would actually feel right at home in the heart here. I mean come on, Lanvin is nearly as old as them or Houbigant and Guerlain, so they're well within their rights to go this route, however late it may seem by 1964. After tip-toeing through the garden, the cat is let out of the bag with the unleashing of perhaps the biggest single civet note I've ever encountered in a masculine. Fans of Moustache Rochas (1949) are already trained to endure this, and anyone liking the castoreum/civet/styrax-dripping 80's powerhouses like One Man Show (1980), Kouros (1981), Lapidus Pour Homme (1987), or Sybaris (1988) already have sufficient tolerance to virile bases to handle Monsieur Lanvin. It's a silly thing, to have such a light dalliance of a top and middle in a fragrance, only to pull down the pants and swing the underwear overhead right at the end; the whole thing almost feels like a bait and switch, but I'm not judging. Labdanum, oakmoss, musk, leather and a degree of coumarin are noted to be in here somewhere, but that civet just draws all the attention away from them until the moss finally takes over late in the wear, so I can't really confirm that.

As far as male chypres go, this one is definitely an exercise in perfume as art. Monsieur Lanvin is way more complex than most things from the 50's which it follows up, but isn't nearly as approachable of a chypre as the flowers might make it seem thanks to the overall dryness followed by that 10 megaton nuclear warhead of civet at the end. I totally enjoy animalics in my fragrance, and would have zero problem prancing around in the grocery store drenched in Monsieur Lanvin, especially if it made all those lackadaisical nitwits filling the aisles move out of the way so I could get my weekend shopping done in time to enjoy the evening, but nobody ever said I was a nice guy so... I can't entirely recommend a context where this would be appropriate. Vintage collectors willing to shuck out the asking price to get a bottle will probably cherish it even more than me, because with the required investment, they ought to, but this idea would reappear in slightly tamed form a decade later thanks to Geoffrey Beene, and Grey Flannel still manages to divide everyone exposed to it, even without the civet, due to the fact that it's even drier than this beast. The aforementioned cusp Monsieur Lanvin sat within was a brief turning point in men's fragrance design where perfumers really didn't know where to go; some went more masculine with gasoline and aldehyde leather scents, others retreated back into powdery Victorian designs heavy on musk, while still others drove in greener aromatic directions, with a few period oddities like this containing some or all of the above ideas and straddling categories. I've seen sweet, powdery and leathery fougères, oddly green chypres, but this is the first men's chypre and floral combo I've encountered from this decade, and I can't say the idea really took off. Must have been an exciting time for perfumers, as there were few rules or conventions to follow besides "make it manly" which itself was not even easily definable at that stage. This is a very strange brew, going on classic and restrained, and slowly turning up the passion with florals and screaming civet before fading into quiet moss. Monsieur Lanvin: a Bohemian romance told in three parts.
12th March, 2018

Acteur by Azzaro

Azzaro Acteur is a very different and dare I say strange kind of masculine fragrance that to some may seem barely so, but that's part of it's allure. Perfumer Maurice Maurin is the nose that brought us Hermès Amazone in 1974, and like that feminine oddly focused on dark, juicy black currant, Acteur is a masculine leather scent focused on rose at a time when it was well far beyond fashionable to have either a leather chypre or a rose scent. It's uncertain if Maurin was strictly going for an anachronism when he designed Acteur due to the changing of the guard taking place, but 1989 was smack dab in the middle of a huge stylistic shift from dense, complex, and aromatic masculines to light, fresh, and simple ones, so maybe such a far-antiquated throwback seemed new again, and a good way to stand out in a crowded scene of dying powerhouses and their aquatic successors. Acteur was the first major follow-up to the original Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), a lovely sunny resinous fragrance that came to redefine the barbershop fougère away from the powdery vanillic tonka bombs people were long used to, and Loris Azzaro wore it himself to further the effect. Loris had said he wanted his debut masculine built like a perfume (because he wasn't even interested in male perfumery), and so evidently it was, but it seemed when Acteur was commissioned by the house, this was taken to heart even more, since the stuff literally could be a mid-century rose chypre for the Stepford wives of the Mad Men. Seems Paco Rabanne would have a similar idea with Ténéré (1988) the year before, so maybe this was competition meant to spur a revival of men's chypres but powered by rose instead of lemon. Who knows? Neither would really end up successful in the end, and both these days are of niche interest and the province of hobbyists alone.

Acteur opens up with an almost plum sweetness, before heading into bright bergamot, calamus, cardamom and the mace portion of nutmeg not typically used in perfume. The cardamom is the next most detectable facet of the opening besides that sweet plum and bergamot zest. Not long after, a rich damask rose comes strait at you; this is not the kind of rose typically found in a masculine perfume, as usually rose is dried almost to the point of being mistaken for rosewood and adulterated with sandawood if not, just to keep it from being round or sweet. Fragrances like Aramis 900 (1973) are among the few masculines that used a slightly sweeter take on rose but then used galbanum as a drying counterpoint note, and still gets considered too feminine for many (but not me); however, even that isn't the case with Acteur. Damask rose comes in nearly like Avon's Roses, Roses (1972) with a sweet, soft, and full of dewy bounce that really had no place in an 80's masculine, especially when you consider it's augmented further by jasmine, carnation, and cedar. The heavy chypre base of moss and leather warms and dries Acteur just a tad near the end, and it's the only thing really letting you know this is supposed to be a leather chypre, as the rose is so dominant through most of this. Oakmoss and leather are joined by amber and musk, which actually keep themselves pretty low-key and just sweet enough to strike a compromise with that rose heart note and the leather here. This is most certainly a dandy dream come true and pretty much unisex in my opinion, and 180 degrees away from the "gentleman in a bottle" of the debut Azzaro men's scent. In the 21st century, this might find a whole new niche audience with people
not so hard line about their gender associations, or just folks who like to explore themselves, but alas, it's been discontinued for a while now.

Men who are fans of rose really can't ask for much more representation from the flower than here, and guys who like leather chypres won't have much to complain about either if they can handle the rose. Acteur was more than likely just misunderstood and irrelevant upon release in 1989, since everything was fast becoming a shrill ozonic, barely-there aquatic, lavender-forward "fresh" fougère, or some bastard oriental hybrid that kept one foot in the fresh side and one in the richness of it's better half. Acteur didn't really belong in any of those soon-to-be staple 90's masculine categories; it was plum, rose, moss, and leather, the kind of thing dandies during the Victorian Age would have worn to impress a date, or at least in the early 70's when male aromatics flirted with rose. As it stands, this Acteur took stage without an audience, and only through word of mouth between the cult of converts it's picked up over the decades does it continue to live on, seemingly more fitting in the gender-relaxed times of the 2010's than it's ever been before. Maybe Azzaro should bring it back and pitch it as the unisex fragrance it really is, but sell it as a more limited exclusive, since I still don't think it would have an audience big enough to make a comeback in department stores. I'm a sucker for a good agreeable rose scent, so my opinion of this beauty is biased, but for those less inclined towards it's subject matter, maybe a drier and less-intense rose masculine is a better starting point. Acteur is fairly romantic to me, so I'd avoid office or casual use, and keep it indoors or in spring/fall weather. Gorgeous, doomed to failure, and misunderstood! Sign me up!
10th March, 2018 (last edited: 11th March, 2018)

Karma by Gorilla Perfume [Lush]

My first encounter with Karma was as a soap, given to me at Christmas by a now former in-law as a gift. When I went into a Lush store to replace it, I was delighted to discover that Karma is a full line with a fragrance to boot, although I feel the soap errs closer to being strictly masculine than the perfume. Still, folks who love orange and patchouli from all parts of the gender spectrum can appreciate the simplicity of this. Lush made a name for themselves with this line, and the whole handmade hippie cosmetics aesthetic of the brand finds it's genesis in the way this smells. Karma is the Ur-Lush experience, love it or hate it. It's a head shop in a bottle, Woodstock niche perfume, fragrance for free love, and it makes no claims of refinement or sophistication (like most Lush). The person that will enjoy Karma most is the person that romanticizes hippie counterculture, that appreciates the mood set by nag champa incense, lava lamps, and black lights. That doesn't mean this is for aging baby boomers remembering the Monterrey Pop festival either, as realistically the homespun hippie feel this gives off transcends generations, and is equally appropriate for a vintage deadhead or a younger fan of Ziggy Marley. Lush knew their target with this early effort, and it's become their marquee line as a result.

Karma opens with orange oil and lavender. This isn't the dry mandarin most western perfume prefers either, but a syrupy sweet and almost stifling orange oil note similar to what one finds in Grand Marnier or Cointreau liqueurs, so one must be a fan of sweet to like this citrus. Karma uses the workhorse lavender as a counterpoint note in the top, but that's all there is before a dry down into a pine and lemongrass heart begins, undoubtedly as a slightly greener but still citrusy transition into the real star of Karma: Patchouli. This isn't your dry manly patchouli a la Givenchy Gentleman (1974) or even the benzoin-powered nuclear patchouli of Giorgio Beverly Hills for Men (1984), but a raw, verdant, incense and essential oils grade of patchouli, the kind those "Patchouli Stinks!" bumper stickers are targeting. Karma will truly, madly, deeply test one's proclaimed love for the stuff, especially when that totally unfettered base note hits with wisps of the orange and pine still floating about, acting like resonators for the stuff. If that wasn't severe enough, elemi is the counterpoint to the patchouli, in almost a cruel trick, and further pushes the green on for miles and miles.

Sillage and longevity are out of this world, and either this is everything 1969 one could ever hope for, or quite literally the antithesis of perfume as an art, since there is no reverence for the methods of perfumers past given here, no put-on-airs sense of scruples or class. Hell, this stuff might as well have been composed by a teenager in a tie dye shirt listening to her mom's old Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young records while playing with oils she bought from the legal weed shop in downtown Seattle. It's almost antiestablishment perfumery if not for the fact that the Lush chain has bank rolled their success on it. I do find the stuff cloying on a hot day and totally inappropriate for any occasion outside the weekend day trips, where presentation takes a back seat to having a good time, but if liking something as crude as Karma is one's biggest quirk, then I'd say that person could stand to unbutton a little more anyway. This is equally suitable for fall and spring, plus will carry through winter air with an extra spray or two, but go easy, since it's ingredients show no mercy in any concentration and it happens to be eau de parfum anyway. Also makes a great chaser for smoke to those who take their Cheech & Chong fan status seriously, but you've already guessed as much.
10th March, 2018
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Burberry for Men by Burberry

So there's a bit of an interesting story to this one, and in fact, that story is more interesting than the fragrance itself, not that it's actually bad, mind you. Burberry the store originally was called as it is named now, after founder Thomas Burberry, but later picked up an "S" to become "Burberry's of London" due to customers just calling the original shop that, and under this pluralized name, gave birth to the design house that also was called "Burberry's", which is the name used to launch the original 1981 "Burberry's for Men" scent. This 1995 follow-up was thus just given the name of "Burberry for Men", after the founder's proper last name, but later changed to "Burberry London" when the original fragrance dropped the "S" from the name because the whole company did around 1999, reverting back to just "Burberry" company-wide as they were when founded. The original masculine became just "Burberry for Men", like this 1995 fragrance had initially been. Then, they discontinued the original debut masculine altogether by 2005, and decided to change the name of this scent from "Burberry London" back to it's launch name of "Burberry for Men" because the original masculine wasn't using it anymore and they had a new "London" clothing line emerging. To make matters more confusing, they reused "Burberry London" for an entirely different scent in 2005 at the same time all this was happening, meaning anybody owning this scent from 1999 to 2005 will have a hard time figuring out what to buy if they replace it, and anybody owning the discontinued original from 1995 onward may buy this by accident to replace it since they both shared this name at different points. Now how does it smell? Well I'm glad you asked!!

Burberry for Men (1995) capitalizes on the fresh fougère movement began with Eternity for Men by Calvin Klein in 1989. In fact, this rides dangerously close to that seminal scent, which makes me wonder why I actually enjoy it so much, because I shouldn't by rights. I think if I were to try and really dig deep, it's because of the traditionalism, much like Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme from the same year, resulting in Burberry for Men trying to be a much rounder and more honest fougère that plays closer attention to it's heritage. Burberry for men has a lot of top and heart notes, more than base notes actually, and more notes than can readily be detected in a wear. I won't list them all in the review here since I spent an entire paragraph discussing the train wreck that is the naming history of this juice, but it's a lot of fruits, including green apple, black currant, peach and lime with some bergamot and marigold (that last one being a really odd choice). The heart is not full of gourmand goodness like the top, but comes with jasmine, sandalwood, cedar, moss, lavender, and mint. I can really smell the lavender the most, and the mint second, with the woods third, and all that fruit blurring together as just generic sweetness to me. The base is pretty textbook with musk, vanilla, and tonka, which when united with the lavender and cedar of the middle, almost forms that vintage Canoe (1936) smell, making this some sort of fougère within a fougère. It's fougèreception!! In all seriousness, perfumer Michael Almairac did here what he did with Zino Davidoff (1986) nearly a decade earlier: he reinterpreted an older fougère with newer ingredients and style to please the market or client. In Zino's case, he was really retelling the tale of the original Fougère Royale of 1882 with powerhouse gumption, but with Burberry for Men, he's gussied up the classic barbershop formula of Canoe with a bunch of extra fruit and wood notes so fans of "freshies" would fall for it. That Almairac fellow is a sneaky guy I'm telling you.

Bottom line here is this: Burberry for Men (or Burberry London Red for you middle-vintage owners), is just a plain, simple, honest, traditional fougère at heart, with a bunch of sweet and sparkly fruit notes on top that make it feel fresher and more modern than it has any real business being. It might very well be the last such fougère made from a designer that isn't niche, so don't over-complicate things more than Burberry has already done renaming it a whole bunch by trying to figure out where this sits in the grand scheme of things. It's the fougère equivalent of the late-generation early 90's fox-body Ford Mustang: same old car underneath but with refreshed cosmetics on the outside because they weren't ready to develop a new platform. Michael Almairac wasn't ready to move on from traditional fougères, as evidenced by his work on Zino, but he probably had to conform to the client's requests (being Burberry) so he stuck some nice new body panels on an old design, fooling everybody. Most younger people say this is a semi-oriental best for winter because of the vanilla, but they haven't smelled vintage Canoe. This is an all-around all-season traditional fougère with a very effervescent opening, much like most of it's competition of the day. After it settles in, Burberry for Men sheds the disguise and just hums along as the plain-spoken English gentleman. It won't excite you, and it won't really inspire you, but it won't let you down either. Definitely for the mature man and not romantic due to it's conservative crisp dry down, but really just pleasant for anyone anytime. It won't set the world on fire, but no classic barbershop scent does. This is comfort food for the nose, just with a zany history.
09th March, 2018 (last edited: 10th March, 2018)

The Dreamer by Versace

Versace The Dreamer is a stellar follow-up to the downmarket darling that was Versace Blue Jeans (1994) and does riff a little close in it's dry down to Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme (also 1994), Which shares it's tobacco-lead finish. The Dreamer has a gorgeous bottle I might add too, with one of the more unique integrated sprayers I've seen, which becomes the cap rather than fits inside the cap like most of this type. The usual Mediterranean business adorns the cap otherwise (with the only other "busier" design I've seen being Versace Eros from 2013) and the bottle itself features the classic Versace medusa head. Everyone will be drawn to this bottle in your collection, I promise. The Dreamer essentially takes the tobacco and iris dynamic duo popularized by the aforementioned Dolce & Gabbana scent and focuses itself on it, shedding a lot of the other fresh fougère trappings outside maybe the tonka and being something of a hybrid between fougère, oriental, and gourmand (if tobacco can be considered a gourmand note). Versace themselves describe The Dreamer as "For a man who knows no limits and lives his power with confidence, and his elegance with spontaneity. A real explorer of the world. " and it's one of the few times a corporate blurb gets it pretty close to the mark. The Dreamer is elegant, but also a bit spontaneous as it's top and heart return occasionally to the fore during the wear, more so admittedly in newer formulations than in vintage due to toned down bases, but overall it's a fragrance that likes to remind you of it's structure throughout the wear. It's remarkably light, yet crisp, with hints of sweetness and richness throughout, with that 90's cleanliness keeping it all in check.

The Dreamer opens with wisps of lavender, clary sage, and mandarin, to let you know it's perfumer Jean-Pierre Béthouart intially had fresh fougère on the brain. Juniper, lily, and iris join the middle, which is one point of difference from the referenced Dolce & Gabbana scent which had iris in the base holding hands with it's more-subdued tobacco. Instead, the iris stands out a little more loudly as a member of The Dreamer's heart, with the token geranium and an almost invisible dollop of rose rounding it out. The base is of course that glorious leafy tobacco flanked by tonka and amber, with literally nothing else to get in the way, easily out-classing the D&G's tobacco note, with maybe a cedar aftertouch bringing in some sustain. By the time this reduces to skin, all you smell are tobacco, amber, coumarin, and wisps of those aqueous florals including the potent iris coming up for encores when the air hits just right. It's hard to say which one I like more, as Dolce & Gabbana's take is rounder, smoother, warmer, and actually more of a traditional take on Eternity for Men (1989), but like most leapfrogging major designers, Versace comes in and attacks the award-winning Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme not by trying to be a better fougère, but by being a better tobacco-based masculine; this is where all the hybridism comes into play, since at the end of the day, this tugs in multiple categorical directions in completing it's task. Regardless of what you or I think it should be labelled, it's just a solid but slightly quixotic sent due to what it champions, and less universal in appeal compared to it's rivals as not everyone loves the smell of a fresh cigarette pack, no matter how many flowers you stuff in it. This one also ironically come across just a tad greener in an age when green wasn't cool, since the tobacco isn't of the already-dried or smoked variety like with some scents, and more of the "raw leaves in the sun" kind of feel, lending it an outdoorsy vibe that it's other ingredients don't suggest. Gucci Envy (1998) would take this idea further, and lead us down a brief revival of aromatic fougères as a result.

The Dreamer is clearly 90's with it's sparkling, almost boring insistence on being clean and airy, but it was that decade where either a masculine was an inoffensive aquatic, something more ozonic but akin to citrus hand soap, a creamy semi-oriental with fruit top notes, or a bizarre blend of coffee beans and chocolate. We were a few years away from "radioactive grapefruit" which would come closer to the millenium's end, and hadn't headed into the brief 5-year rekindling of green aromatics I mentioned earlier, so this was as good as it gets for a guy in the designer realms looking for something distinct but not heavy, which is why it probably has so many fans. Honestly, I'll take it, as something this balanced and versatile yet charming could sell well in any age group or demographic, which is why it's still on the market after 20+ years. To me, it's the very best of Versace's 90's masculine output, even if it's not for everyone, and my final rank reflects that. It nudges just a hair above it's closest D&G rival because it's just plain more interesting and unique; it's a bit of a risk taker whereas the former plays it pretty safe. The Dreamer isn't really a generalist with it's design, but I'd say it serves in all but the most formal and socially rigid of occasions, where something more austere and conservative is preferred. Spring, summer, and fall are the best times for The Dreamer, as it doesn't have enough meat on it's bones for winter chill. Sillage and longevity are typical 90's, so it's going to take some reapplication for an entire day's use, but if you keep this to evenings and weekends it will get you through alright. If you were going to get just one tobacco-themed designer scent, and didn't want to break the bank on something from an exclusive line (hello Tom Ford), this would be a pretty strong contender for that pick. In the wise words of Aerosmith: Dream On!
07th March, 2018 (last edited: 08th March, 2018)

Sybaris by Antonio Puig

Sybaris at first glance comes across like something futuristic, since the name itself and the bottle shape both evoke the feeling of 80's science fiction, but in reality, this is a fairly conventional (for the time) masculine follow-up to the ever-popular moss monster known as Quorum (1982). Sybaris would be Puig's late-to-the-party answer to Bogart's One Man Show (1980) and YSL's Kouros (1981), in that reedy, compressed, super-tight and well-blended macho-in-a-bottle style. We were reaching the apex of the powerhouse by 1987, and Sybaris' direct competition would be stuff like the legendary Lapidus Pour Homme (1987), which was a much more dynamic and memorable scent that rode similar rails but had that "X factor" which Sybaris didn't (the pineapple opening it was). Not to cut the stuff short by any means, but most people who owned anything like the aforementioned had already smelled this before in one form or another, even if Sybaris was a bit more complex, subtle, rich, and warm thanks to it's oriental base rather than a fougère foundation like most of it's ilk. The biggest asset of Sybaris was this warmth and subtle charm, as it's a scent that just hums along after the loud opening rather than screams it's presence with every pang of body heat. Puig wouldn't really make another masculine in this powerhouse style, nor make another masculine with an oriental base, so at least from a designer-specific point of view, this was quite the one-off. Otherwise, I just keep getting that "familiar yet different" vibe from it, but give it a thumbs up because the artistry is there, however conventional it is. There's nothing wrong with being conventional as long as it's good, just ask Avon about that.

Sybaris opens with a whole spread of well-mixed citrus and herbs, including lemon, manadarin, basil, aldehydes and a dirty cumin note which gives this juice that virile 80's powerhouse kick, then moves into spices, light woods, and florals. Jasmine, cinnamon, sandalwood, geranium, and artemisia are all pretty much stock masculine elements that merge into a dry semi-sweet warmth here, with only that opening cumin keeping it sensually manly. The oriental base of olibdanum, amber, moss, patchouli, and vetiver is joined by an unlikely leather note that pulls this slightly into chypre territory for the dry down, but not enough to take away it's oriental richness. Sybaris goes on a teeny bit scary, like a Kouros Jr., but soon shifts through smooth spice, woods, and ends in that amber-forward base, making it a kinder and gentler experience overall than many in it's vein. I'd classify it as something of an 80's in-betweener, a scent that straddled two different distinct styles with the touch of a third, and in this instance the early 80's masculinity with the late 80's/early 90's semi-oriental phase kicked off by scents like Chanel Bois Noir/Égoïste (1987/1990), with a bit of leather chypre at the end to keep it from being too sweet. Sybaris is a scent that favors longevity over sillage, and although not a generalist, is very versatile and relaxed after the hoary opening goes away. The spicy floral heart is what you'll notice more than the racy top or ember glow of the base, but once that base is reached, it remains confident, understated masculinity for casual use until the day is done. I rather liken Sybaris to the compromise between strength and comfort. It brings the powerhouse strength in the beginning, and puts the weights down halfway through and rests back against a bed of it's own oriental base notes. It was probably made for the 80's after-party more than the dance floor, and that's okay.

Sybaris is sheer quality, and creativity, but really lacks the distinct personality outside of it's crazy name and cool bottle to be any sort of memorable to anyone but collectors of 80's masculines. It's certainly unique in what it mixes together: a funky opening with a relaxing, creamy middle, and a semi-dry glow of a finish, but despite it's show of class and composure, it didn't really have the "guts" to compete with the "loud and proud" competition before being swept away in the style shift of the 90's. Sybaris is "just plain good" to paraphrase another person's opinion of the scent, but is that really good enough to chase down a surviving example of a discontinued scent and possibly pay more than it might be worth to find out? Well that's a question I can't answer since value is relative and I own a bottle myself. One thing is for certain: fans of stiffly macho 80's, oriental masculines, and leather chypres will see this as all that they love thrown into a blender, while everyone else enjoying stuff from this period will see it as a neat but unessential also-ran. Again, this juice has it's small clutch of staunch fans, and as one of them, I can totally see why, but from an objective point of view, this doesn't blow the doors off and is just a quirky, competently-executed what-if hybrid apparently created by two collaborating perfumers (Albert Morillas and Rosendo Mateu). A similar dry down can be had in the much cheaper and easier-to-find Mesmerize for Men by Avon (1992), but that's not entirely an adequate replacement. Suitable for fall or winter, Sybaris is a pleasant diversion with solid performance for the discontinued treasure hunter, but certainly no masterpiece for the man wishing to posses a more diverse collection.
06th March, 2018 (last edited: 20th March, 2018)

Jacomo de Jacomo Original by Jacomo

Jacomo de Jacomo is the house's follow-up to the debut masculine Eau Cendrée (1973), and has a similarly geometric bottle that in recent years was augmented with a Zippo-like flip-top lid. I often say that many of these darker moss-heavy 80's powerhouses have lineage from Eucris by Geo F Trumper (1912), and never more is it apparent than here. Jacomo seeks to "out-gloom" that venerable Mary Shelley novel-in-a-bottle by being even smokier, dustier, and drier. If One Man Show by Jacques Bogart is the Led Zeppelin of powerhouses with it's bombast, then Jacomo de Jacomo is easily Black Sabbath, with sinister distorted tritone guitar riffs. I do believe this is the one that probably started that whole train of thought, taking the steep oakmoss of Ralph Lauren Polo (1978) and marrying it with the Gothic construction of Eucris, and adding a Prohibition-era jazz room feeling with the smoke. It's all delightfully heavy metal, and the perfect scent for a man so inclined to such an emotionally bleak and serious aesthetic. It's surprisingly not harsh, aggressive, or commanding like some things to follow, just brooding, moody, and humorless like that kid dressed all in black that sat in the back of class. Something this morbid could have been marketed in Hot Topic to the Mall Goths of the late 90's, but fortunately Jacomo didn't stoop to that level of desperation. Fans of mossy fragrances will instantly love Jacomo de Jacomo, and anyone looking for something with vetiver-like qualities but even more intense will also fall in love. There's not even a lick of friendly or approachable here, but neither will this offend.

Jacomo de Jacomo opens with grassy galbanum (but not a ton), lavender, cardamom, and vetiver which gives it that beautiful smoke. Surprisingly there's no bergamot here, but that would make the opening too bright for the desired effect of the composition. The barbershop staple geranium are joined by clove and cumin, one adding that familiar bay rum masculinity to keep this on track, the other giving Jacomo de Jacomo the dirty "nether region" smell popular in the hyper-male fragrances of the time. The transition then eases into rosewood, which is the only wood present, and the only patch of illumination here. Patchouli, coumarin, and heaps of oakmoss are all you get in the bottom of this headbanger's ball, and the whole thing wears like an episode of Dark Shadows with a Blue Oyster Cult soundtrack. Smoke in the beginning, spice in the middle, wood, patchouli and moss at the end, with the lavender, geranium, and coumarin seemingly only added so it qualifies as a fougère, but not making their presence readily felt like in most things they're usually a part of from this genre. Performance is obviously good, sillage is steady but not overt, and longevity can be adjusted by where and how much you apply. Do be careful if you have the Zippo lid bottle, as it pops open easily. Vintage is an easier removable cap but only comes in splash, so you'll have to decant if you want to control it's power by spraying.

This must have been a real shocker in 1980, and undoubtedly made enough waves to actually cement Jacomo's name in the masculine market, as everyone talks about this but never it's predecessor nor many of the also-quality male scents that followed. Jacomo overall has the same issue as Jacques Bogart or Van Cleef & Arpels: they live in the shadow of the sometimes over-hyped major design houses which get all the praise and attention. Indeed, like a one-hit-wonder band, Jacomo only really gets mentioned by guys for "that one scent" they make; Jacomo de Jacomo is that one scent. A vanguard of the powerhouse era which is anything but typical for it's decade, and one that must be tried if not owned, Jacomo de Jacomo has no real equal, although of peculiar interest is the fact that the "nautical" Avon Windjammer (1968) semi-presaged this with a similar but less-intense dry down. It's Johnny Cash presentation and smell that reminds me of an old 1920's speakeasy from a black and white noir film isn't really for everyone and is a hard sell in any modern context, but most suited to fall, winter, and maybe early spring. Is it a masterpiece? Maybe. I wouldn't say it's the one to own over all others from the genre if only because of how narrowly-defined it is. Jacomo de Jacomo definitely gets bonus credit for being a presage to nearly an entire decade of male perfumery, and it was successful enough to spawn a litter of flankers. Hello darkness my old friend, I've come to talk with you again!!
06th March, 2018 (last edited: 07th March, 2018)

Van Cleef & Arpels pour Homme by Van Cleef & Arpels

Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme is a pre-powerhouse dense aromatic leather chypre that seeks to be the late 70's version of a generalist scent. We think of generalists now as being midway between an aquatic, a fresh fougère, and sometimes with oriental or gourmand notes tacked on if we're post-2000's, but almost none of those now-conventional genres existed back then, so if one was to make a "something for everyone" masculine, it would be shockingly different from what we might expect now; Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme is that scent. To be clear, this is lightyears away from any modern generalist in terms of distinction and quality, save maybe something blended to perfection like Dolce & Gabbana or Armani's 90's offerings, which get accolades even from fans of far older styles. The danger Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme faces is the same all generalists face: the "little bit of every contemporary style" can backfire and include something that some people just don't like, but overall, the complex orchestration of perfumer Louis Monnet does it's best to blend it all into a nice, dry hum. For the late 70's man that didn't know whether to reach for his Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Monsieur Musk by Houbigant (1973) or Bogart by Jacques Bogart (1975) could simply reach for this one instead.

Granted, it doesn't really represent the oriental category much, but they typically stood apart from other masculine categories then because of their sweetness. Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme opens with a typical bergamot top, but is saddled with herbs and florals right from the get-go, pulling this into a direction similar to a middle ground between Monsieur Musk and the soapiness of Paco Rabanne Pour Homme. From there, a crisp leafy/smoky accord merges with more soap thanks to the vetiver and orris in the middle, but before this starts being too much of a Paco clone, cedar and jasmine start playing tug-of-war with the "incense and hotel soap" presentation into the rich leather chypre base, which is where this compares most favorably with Chaps Ralph Lauren of the following year and the earlier Bogart by Jacques Bogart. Leather, oakmoss, olibdanum, labdanum, musk, and amber are all here trying to share the same park bench, with small drop of raunchy castoreum sneaking into the photo shoot at the end. It's never quite enough to eliminate the soap of the middle, which is the scent's greatest weakness, since this soapiness is what ultimately dates Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme the most and makes it less wearable to the guy that can't stomach that decade-specific vibe.

It's also why I label this a pre-powerhouse, since it keeps one foot firmly in the conventions of it's own decade with that herbal/soapy/barbershop vibe, but transitions through that dark aromatic leather chypre dry down into something dense enough to fight toe-to-toe with any of the mossy übermensch which appeared at the dawn of the 80's. Equally convenient is the fact that this does straddle late 70's and early 80's so perfectly that for the vintage masculine fragrance fan who can't decide on which decade he wants, this presents a unique compromise between the two. I give this a thumbs up because I enjoy the rosy/soapy vibe anyway, and having it blended with crisp herbs, leather, and moss is an added plus. Folks not really jiving with that combo are better off with Van Cleef & Arpels' later powerhouse offering Tsar (1989), which was more coniferous and mossy with a fougère base. Anyone digging this is apt to enjoy any of the fragrances I listed from which this combines aspects. This "70's generalist" would sadly live in the shadow of Polo Ralph Lauren and Aramis Devin of the same year, but has it's fans. Fall and winter seem best for this, and it feels most at home in an office. It's too stiff for romance and too dark for casual/recreational use. It's an interesting cross-section of 70's masculine styles, with 80's power, and very likeable leather that doesn't have the typical gasoline bite. Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme is not by any means essential, but a nice flanking option for fans of this era. Very well done first masculine effort.
05th March, 2018

Adidas Adrenaline by Adidas

What would you get if you pulled all the mossy wonder out of Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar (1989) and replaced it with ozonic top notes, then pushed the green elements way forward alongside the citrus? Well, apparently the folks at Coty wanted to answer that question so badly that they marketed that answer as the male counterpart to their now-discontinued Adrenaline product line. Jean Jaques of Mat;Male (2002) fame was hired to make this, and he applied the same synthetic minimalism to the masculine version of Adrenaline, but on the even lower Coty budget. Back in the day this was another easy-grab for the teens and early 20's high school and college-going active male crowd, the kind of guy that keeps a bottle of something in his glove box for romance, and in his gym bag to avoid smelling abhorrent after working out because he's too insecure to shower at the gym. I was never the biggest fan of "sporty" 90's and 2000's scents, as they're all nose hair burners with the exception of maybe Perry Ellis 360° for Men, which manages to keep it's hat on enough to not blow me away, and dries down quite nice. This on the other hand, this comes screaming out of the bottle saying "Witness me!" before it explodes in a mushroom cloud of green and citrus. It dries down, but never calms down, mixing with body odor in a way that actually makes it WORSE instead of masking it as was probably the intent. Adrenaline is basically working with body chemistry in the way Kouros (1981) does, but all wrong, and creates something scary instead of borderline sensual. Wearing Adrenaline literally feels like "I worked out" in that off-putting salty sweat on gym equipment padding sort of way that you really don't want to be reminded of when you leave. Spraying on clothing nixes this body chemistry effect, but afterward, one is just left with that ozonic Tsar vibe I mentioned in the beginning.

Adrenaline opens with that "radioactive grapefruit" jet fuel ozonic accord, then adds some neroli, lavender, and bergamot just like Tsar. The middle of "generic green" is probably some mix of pine, muguet, and pepper, like a bastard Pino Silvestri (1955) meets aerosol body spray version of Kouros accord that dries down to white musk, Iso E Super wood-like tones, and bayberry. It's a hot mess of a dry down that tries to be fresh, sporty, then late-game sensual all while being a failed odor-fighter at the same time. A gym dumbbell in one hand, a box of chocolates in the other, and a clueless vapid dudebro expression on the face that is confused about whether one should ask "Do you want to dance?" or "Do you even lift?" is the general feel of this. I see a lot of positive, if brief remarks for this, and while I won't criticize those opinions, I believe I am casting an unpopular vote by saying that this cacophony of notes might be good to the person that hasn't smelled much better, since it does what it does competently, but also rather clumsily, with there being much better-blended, and even equally affordable (at MSRP) scents out there which achieve the gym-to-nightclub transition. Hell, the aforementioned Tsar and Perry Ellis both serve a ton better in this one's stead, particularly Tsar since it is built on a mossy powerhouse framework that doesn't smell synthetic and has enough bottom end to balance all the green. Adrenaline just takes the already limiting idea of "sport scent" and concentrates it so fiercely with the opening and middle that by the time I reach the end, I'm just so tired of being beaten to the ground by the intensity, that I'm over the experience. Luckily it has rather poor longevity, so is more for sprinting than marathon running.

The ozonic genre already has a pretty bad rap with most serious fragrance fans, and this scent sort of epitomizes why. It's just so high on it's own intensity and intent on being "fresh and active" for the entirety it's short-lived existence that anyone wearing it might as well be carrying a megaphone around and yelling at passersby "DO I SMELL FRESH? I WORK OUT YOU KNOW! I'M ATHLETIC AND ATTRACTIVE. I SMELL GOOD! DO YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE?" Sadly, I do not want to know more, and it looks like the buying public didn't either as this goes for crazy prices in the aftermarket now that it's been retired. Let me tell you, not all discontinued fragrances are underappreciated gems taken from us before they had the chance to shine, or unmarketable exercises in perfume art for the hip in-the-know vintage fans to pass back and forth like baseball cards. Sometimes something is given the axe because it's just plain bad, and I feel that's the case here. Mat;Male was a love-it-or-hate-it scent to begin with, and the nose behind this has a track record for staying in the salty side of the ozonic and aquatic realm for his masculines, so I'm not surprised by this. Functional perfumery at best, an abuse of a trend at worst, you might like this for it's ability to survive the heat of the gym, but I had this sitting for years unused and only recently let it pass to a local friend. Sure, I could sell it for $100 on eBay like the other discontinued scent scalpers are doing, but I rather enjoy being able to sleep at night. I'd rather wear the ginger ale calamity that is Adidas Moves (1999) over this, and that one isn't exactly a charmer either.
05th March, 2018

Antaeus by Chanel

Antaeus is a legendary "hyper-masculine" scent that not only became a must-have in it's day, but remains thoroughly a must-have for fans of the 80's "powerhouse" style. It was part of a greater movement in 1981, a movement that also begat us several other undeniably male smells like Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent, Oscar de la Renta Pour Lui, Bijan for men, and Santos de Cartier. As a member of such a prodigious pack, Antaeus set a standard to be followed for the better part of the decade, and even in modern formulations is still a formidable, infamously stiff scent. This was Jacques Polge's first masculine for Chanel, and only the second masculine the house had made, a whopping 26 years after Chanel Pour Monsieur was released in 1955. Not only would this be a 180 degree turn from the legendary dapper civility of that classic Henri Robert-era creation, but is so far the only time Polge would create such an unabashedly powerful fragrance for men, since he would not compose in the "powerhouse" style again (although he got pretty close with the Francois Demachy collab Ungaro Pour L'Homme I from 1991). It honestly feels almost nothing like a typical Polge masculine, since he went down a creamy, bright or subtle woodsy path thereafter, which is anything but aggressive; just check out future Chanel constructs for men such as Bois Noir/Égoïste (1987/1990), Platinum Égoïste (1993) or Allure Homme (1999). Only recently with Bleu de Chanel (2010) did he step out of that pocket. Meanwhile, Antaeus is as dark as they come, if the bottle is any indication.

The opening of Antaeus is pretty scary for the uninitiated, with lemon, lime, myrtle, coriander, clary sage, and bergamot all screaming out of the sprayer for your attention. Little whiffs of the castoreum in the base rise early here, with the token lavender/sandalwood accord settling in the heart of thyme, basil, rose, and jasmine. The rest of the base catches up to the castoreum as it simmers down into the florals, with labadnum, patchouli, oakmoss, beeswax absolute, and a dry leather note bringing it to skin level. The bright bergamot top and fathomless darkness of the bottom really echoed the composition of the venerable Geo F Trumper's Eucris (1912), but this isn't quite centered around oakmoss like the former, even if oakmoss does play a big part. Antaeus imparts some of the crisp herbs and leather vibes of classic 70's aromatics, keeping one leg back in the darkest of that breed while stepping one foot forward into the brighter high-octane style presaged by scents like Bogart's One Man Show (1980), so in essence Antaeus isn't a straightforward aromachemical powerhouse like the things that would follow it, but retained a bit of the "natural" density other late 70's leather-heavy masculines like Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme (1978), Chaps Ralph Lauren (1978), or Dior Jules (1980) would feature. Granted, the 80's-standard jet fuel/bug spray top is still there, but once it burns off, the wearer is left not with a rich bed of mosses, musk, and/or tonka like some of it's peers from the same year, but rather a 50/50 blend of oakmoss and leather, with the animalic castoreum adding the virile funk and the labadnum enriching everything. The DNA of most typical 80's powerhouses can be found here, but this is not typical 80's.

I can see indiscriminate use making this a real monster, and guessing guys back then probably didn't realize these base notes only grew louder with body heat, probably sprayed this on until it was obvious then realized how loud they were smelling only afterward. An easy trigger finger is the name of the game here, and keeping this limited to casual fall/winter use when it's dryness matches the weather is probably best when sporting Antaeus in the 21st century. This is sensual, but not in the romantic way, and more like in the "unbuttoned shirt" sense with chest hair hanging out unfettered. I'd say this could potentially make a decent work scent because of it's crisp dryness in the end, but ultimately that castoreum kind of throws a lewd wrench in it, so unless you have your own office with a door you can close, this is not for work. Honestly Antaeus in any vintage is a hard sell if discretion is the greater part of your valor, and the guy both then and now that wears this is almost certainly making a statement, for better or worse. It's for the bold, passionate and unafraid man, just like the Greek hero after which it's named, and a nearly chauvinistic display of the smells associated at the time with manliness. It's certainly a trendsetter that helped define the decade in which it was produced, and the only time Chanel house perfumer Jacques Polge would show such a lack of restraint in his compositions. Perhaps he just wanted to get it all out of his system before buttoning down and making the more gentlemanly proper men's fragrances he would really become known for in the following years. Who knows? Newer versions of this have the animalic and oakmoss turned way down, one due to changes in taste and the other due to restrictions, with more beeswax filling in the gaps, so that may present itself as a little classier and safer to wear in public, but not by a ton. Any way you slice it, Antaeus is the guy "she told you not to worry about", and I love it.
05th March, 2018

1 Million by Paco Rabanne

Paco Rabanne as a fragrance name for men had slowly slipped down the relevance slope over the years, with the undeniable influence of Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973) on the masculine fragrance scene slipping from mainstream design somewhere around the end of the 80's. That watershed scent was needing a "replacement" so to speak in the eyes of the mass-market blind buyers that work off of peer pressure, as it became less of a must-have for everyone and more of a must-have for the vintage fan; once a scent crosses that threshold, it's work is for all intents and purposes done, and a house needs to reinvent it's image with a new halo product. Tenere (1988) was too niche in interest to ever really catch on, and XS (1993) was good, but part of the "fresh fougère" wave and drowned in a sea of samey competition. Paco (1996) was an attempt to join the unisex craze, and Black XS (2005) was part of that "youth targeting" movement of the early 2000's. All of these were good products, but not the one Paco Rabanne needed. Enter: 1 Million. This deliberately gimmicky scent could have been released by Avon during it's halcyon years for the packaging alone, and it was so finely-tuned as a generalist with a fun club-going side that it instantly struck gold (pun intended) with it's upwardly-mobile millenial career professional target. It had balance and pleasantness borrowed from the best 90's generalists, a sweet pseudo-gourmand femme-friendly vibe to make it a "go-getter" in the clubs, plus a flashy, gaudy personality that resonated with the "glorified hedonism" of mainstream hip-hop culture of the time. It checked all the boxes, and became the Paco Rabanne Pour Homme of the 21st century. At what price victory? Well that's the question for Paco Rabanne to answer, as it took not one or two, but three perfumers to concoct this "faceless man" of a note pyramid.

Do I like it? Yes. It's hard not to like this honestly, as it's such a focus-group-in-a-bottle that everyone will find enjoyable facets that counteract the boring or maybe even slightly intolerable ones. Even most haters of this stuff will admit it doesn't smell bad, it just has nothing for them because it's such a boiled down mash of everything people like that it comes across like pandering, and fault it for it's lack of distinction; it's like a person who tries to agree with everyone and is trusted by no one as a result. 1 Million opens with grapefruit, which is a holdover from the late 90's and early 2000's ozonic period, so it checks that box. They add mint and blood orange to the mix, one is meant to smooth out the grapefruit's tang, while the other rounds it out with a darker citrus tone, which checks another box. Sweet, bold, but held back by a scent counterpoint so it stays cool and fresh. The gourmand tones of the middle add some comfort, with cinnamon and other spices playing with rose and a soft suede note, so check off boxes for fans of orientals, floral masculines and leather scents, even if none of these notes really stand out over the other. Finally, a base of carefully-measured generic Iso-E Super woods and patchouli flanks a "everyone loves amber" bottom end. It's almost Paco Rabanne plagiarizing Avon's "me too" designs, but times 10, almost. It's practically the posture child of balance, and is the Goldilocks of note pyramids; not too sweet, not too spicy, not too fresh, not too warm or cool, but just right. It spawned a bunch of flankers, as some did actually find fault with it's design, and ironically they all have more personality than this one does by very nature of their specialization: there's a lighter eau de cologne, a darker Prive, and an even louder Intense version out there now. As if this one didn't cover all bases enough itself, it's siblings will hit any area missed.

As the fragrance for the guy who wants to both impress everyone yet potentially offend no one, this does exactly what it sets out to do, and was thus copied a dozen times by other houses. Guys looking to make a statement might as well become mute when wearing this so they'll likely do better staying away. 1 Million almost created a new genre of "nightclub scent" as it was most often found in that context during it's first years, if only because of the rich playboy image it's gold bar bottle gives off, making it attractive for a good time at face value much like the people wearing it wish they were. This is where the stigma of 1 Million being the smell of "hetero alpha male douchebag" came from, as this was the smell wafting off the collar of the guy in the white blazer trying to buy all the ladies drinks and hand out phone numbers to every table. It's the arch-nemesis of Jean Paul Gaultier's Le Mâle (1995), which is the polar opposite of this and the "old guard" club scent that refuses to die (but is found more in gay clubs nowadays than strait ones). Again, I do like this, as it's completely pleasant, soft, sweet, with only a small drop of the risque, rather than rolling in it, but I do admit throwing it under the bus in this review due to it's blatant, unabashed commercialism. Liking Paco Rabanne 1 Million is like enjoying McDonald's cheeseburgers: you don't like admitting they taste good in that generic "I can probably do better" kind of way, and you know everyone else who eats there probably shares similar sentiment, but it's such an easy and safe grab that you do more times than you care to admit; that is 1 Million in a nutshell for me. It's not often that a generalist comes along which can pull double-duty in romantic or leisure settings, transitioning from uniform to dress casual and even over to pajamas for the evening after, so it objectively gets high ranks from me for it's utility. However, once you look past the kitsch of the bottle, it has as much personality as a Dodge Caravan.
04th March, 2018

360 Degrees for Men by Perry Ellis

360° for Men by Perry Ellis proved to be "the one" for the house that really put the designer on the map for guys, at least in regards to fragrances, overshadowing past and even some future efforts. It was quite possibly the unintentional start of the "sporty" variant of jet fuel-tinged "sweaty" aquatics that pushed the citric tones further, something that would later be abused to terrible effect by the Addidas line licenced to Coty, but here it actually strikes a nice balance. The unknown nose for this one tries to veer way from cool oceanic vibes and just uses the aquatic medium as a backdrop for a spicier, peppery and semi-sweet odor-fighting vibe that made this a gym bag favorite. It remained the active choice for guys with a little too much clout to wear Addidas (the shoes or the fragrance line), but not scrupled enough to toss a $300 bottle of Creed Green Irish Tweed (1985) at their BO woes. I remember the tubular bottle also being very glovebox-friendly, so this made the weekend warrior before-the-club circuit as well, and being able to withstand sweat was an added plus after dancing was done.

The intial opening of 360° is very 90's, so 20+ years after the fact, this one will not have aged as well in daywear as some of it's milder contemporaries, and that mainly has to do with the high-fructose berry blast of the top. The stuff opens with juniper berries, mixed with the more-standard lemon and bergamot. The middle of lavender, sage, and cardamom is also joined by freesia, which made it's way into a few 90's blue juices back in the day, but is still odd when I encounter it since it reminds me of women's shower gels from that time. I'm all for the dandy and cross-gender smells, but 90's freesia and plumeria just remind me of Calgon or Bath & Body Works in a bad way. The base is a little less surprising with white musk, a light vetiver dusting, and some kind of synthetic wood accord. It goes on sweet and fresh, but dries down brisk and tart, without necessarily taking you on a long walk across the beach like most of it's ilk. It's almost a "warm water" but I wouldn't dare make that joke. Or would I?

I'll admit that I am not the biggest fan of this style but this is one exception I keep due to it's impeccably balanced design that stays "in the pocket" for the entire wear. I only take it for walks in the park on the hottest of days but it does transition from day to night rather well in the summer. It's too old to keep it's former relevance for current club scene unless it's "90's Night" and The Real McCoy is pumping through the house, in which case it's almost expected to show up alongside Tommy for Men (1994). It's still a great gym scent and a far sight better than any purpose-built fragrance one could take, and still has that Perry Ellis sauve thanks to it's it gentlemanly base. This one straddles ozonic and aromatic chypre when one gets right down to it, but is still a hard sell to fans of the latter thanks to the juniper and freesia. The manyfold flankers that followed are all mostly their own animals, and I'd say avoid them as the most originality will be had here, with the original. Imagine that.
03rd March, 2018

Gravity by Coty

Gravity is a strange fellow that tried to take the aquatic craze into a wholly new direction upon launch in 1992. Coty Inc. hadn't given up the ghost on self-branding new fragrances just yet, but unlike their typically higher-end brand holdings, their own scents were more or less on level with Avon, Revlon, Mary Kay, MEM, Dana, and the like, with expected value pricing. Gravity would never be the runaway success of Stetson (1981), but as Coty's bid into the realm of "blue" masculines, it was certainly unique. Perhaps the strangest thing about the stuff is it really isn't an aquatic; it doesn't contain calone, doesn't have a watery feel, and doesn't have the longevity issues most of these fragrances possess. The name is rather apt for this juice, as it does have a real weight in it's drydown. What's stranger is Gravity really took off like a bat out of Hell in South Africa, producing nearly a half-dozen flankers and being the only country in the world where those flankers are available, plus the only place where the original 90's bottle design can be had; everywhere else gets a blue verison of the rectangular generic Coty masculine reissue bottle, with Gravity being mildly scarce in some markets now, like the US.

Gravity is probably the only fragrance I'll ever describe as an "aquatic leather" scent, because it contains the usual 90's aquatic top, but with a leathery chypre base of surprising depth. This one is definitely a polarizing scent, as the spread of ratings here show, but I happen to like it's contrasting nature, if only because it's the one scent I can describe as being a "rich blue" or "deep aquatic" with Polo Sport (1992) being the only other one coming close due to it's seaweed note. Gravity opens with white pepper, sage, and mandarin orange; nothing unusual there until a throwback twist of lime enters the mix. The middle shows a similar oddity with the coupling of cloves and freesia. Yes that's right: I said both a common ingredient in bay rum (cloves) mixed with a note usually forming the base of women's bath products (freesia). The 90's were a strange time for masculine fragrance to be sure. The base of this is the biggest point of contention, as a fat suede note combines with warm woods and vanilla (probably Iso-E Super for the woods), which means the transition from top to bottom is nearly like eating a layered jawbreaker; you start with one flavor and end up with another by the time you've finished. Cool and fresh, then a tiny bit of both flowers and spice before ending up warm and sweet. Since some of the top and middle always lingers, your nose gets to experience this odd clash of dynamics from start to finish.

The end results of wearing Gravity is an unintentional avant-garde mashup of a warm mostly-natural leather chypre and a cool synthetic top. Purists and niche fans will probably call this thing a horrid Frankenstein's monster of 90's stylistic values and traditional perfumery, and they wouldn't be wrong. Just like the obscure and unintentionally forward-thinking Avon Everest (1975), this one tries for a fresh aquatic ambiance without being a textbook aquatic, with the major difference being the designers of Gravity did it by choice rather than necessity since the chemistry did exist by then, unlike in 1975. It's one of few blue juices you can wear nearly into the winter due to it's base, but you probably won't want to. It's confusing top and bottom notes can sometimes mix really unpleasantly in hot air, and there is a certain plastic uneasiness about it at times that not only horribly dates it as "Oh my GOD the 90's!" but also makes it an acquired taste that few besides those yearning for nostalgia will want. I give it a thumbs up for daring to be so different from it's designer brothers of the day, but admit it's use is more limited than my review makes it seem.
02nd March, 2018

Kenneth Cole New York Men by Kenneth Cole

The male version of Kenneth Cole's intial bid into the fragrance world was brought to light by Givenchy and created by perfumer Steve Demercado. It fits snuggly between ozonic bombast like Calvin Klein Crave (2002) and more subtle light woodsy gourmand tones like Burberry for Men (1996). As an "inbetweener" it could straddle both Gen X and Gen Y men of the day, being equally at home in a teen's gym bag or a career professional's wardrobe. It's price point was also intially straddling between drugstore and aspirational levels, since Kenneth Cole was around the same level of Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors. I originally came across this as a 1oz stocking stuffer in 2002, and hadn't handled the Y2K futurism packaging of the larger 3.4oz all-plastic sprayer pictured above until repurchasing recently. It's part of the "radioactive grapefruit" period of ozonic fragrance, often decried as anathema or Kryptonite by lovers of vintage or traditional perfumery, the nadir of it's era. Kenneth Cole New York Men is probably the most likeable of that ilk however, due to it's underlying conventional structures that ever-so-slightly tug it away from synthetic nosebleed territory, hence why I give it a thumbs up and enjoy it in the right kind of weather.

This one is real sharp, wild, and fruity up front, with tangerine, lemon, black currant, and raspberry leaves glowing in a fission reactor and taking your nose to Candyland to snort a line of Pixi Stixs powder. From there, a slight vetiver accord seeks to turn down the amplitude and tone things down a tad in the mix, with florals like iris, lily of the valley, pepper, and calone providing a watery bouquet heart that helps your head come down from the sour drops sugar rush. The subtle base of very light sandalwood, amber, and musk finishes this, but it's really just aromatic bedrock for the rest of the scent, like a typical ozonic from this period, with a little more beef to further emulsify that screaming top into something actually invigorating on a warm, crisp day. The neon flashdance this does on the nose in the beginning is liable to scare away any old moss head that feels no good masculine outside niche has been made since 1990, and even folks with slightly more recent tastes will still find the opening to be sharp and loud like the smell of a Mike's Hard Lemonade spill in the local liquor store. The SweetTarts opening does soon give way to a brisker, more synthetic take on Zino Davidoff (1986) in the dry down, which is probably where the most appeal for this is to be found by any serious fragrance fan, since it does the floral fougère source inspiration a lot of justice, but without the actual fougère base lines, instead being closer to a chypre if anything. It compares favorably to a lot of other ozonics from this period, likely due to the aforementioned conventional/traditional floral/woods core structure, but it still is what it is at the end of the day, and you have to be okay with that in order to take any joy in wearing it.

Kenneth Cole New York Men is a damn well-rounded example of it's genre, among the best of the candied fruit, florals, and woods/musk trifecta everyone from YSL to Coty was playing with from that 1998-2004 time period. It's horribly dated now and a poster child for it's time, just like most early to mid-80's powerhouses, but for Gen Y folks, this is liable to invoke the same degree of post-school or post-college nostalgia when the first few fragrance choices were made with attracting attention in mind, not merely satisfying one's own tastes. For guys who remember MySpace fondly and still wish smart phones had physical keypads, this will wear great in spring and summer, but is too much of a cornucopia for fall unless you like the dandy appeal. Winter time is a definite no and keep this to casual use; it's just too bouncy for formal or romantic wear. It is discontinued like a lot of these "deliberately youthful" ozonics for guys now are, but also is not from the most desirable of designers nor periods (yet) for collectors, so scalpers haven't sent this into unobtanium realms just yet. You'll still pay designer MSRP for it if you really want that neat little plastic hockey puck sitting in your wardrobe, which is still pretty cool to hold I admit, and almost worth the price of purchase. Not a bad start for Mr. Cole, but far from anything truly memorable beyond period nostalgia.
02nd March, 2018

Adidas Moves by Adidas

Addidas Moves is a licensed Coty fragrance made on behalf of the venerable activewear/shoewear company, and is really just an exploitation of the first-wave aquatic craze began in earnest with Davidoff Cool Water in 1988. Everyone and their mother was making an aquatic or aquatic flanker in the 90's, as they were to men's fragrance then what a barbershop fougère was to that same market in the 60's and part of the 70's: Easy, guaranteed to sell, non-provocative, and cheap. Early Addidas masculines came through the Beecham/Margaret Astor house and had a bit more seriousness to them, but once the Fragrance Borg that is the Coty empire picked up the name, it became a repository of second-rate ideas not good enough for prestigious labels, shucked to stores like Walmart for the teen set to stumble on. If I hadn't already been exposed to this, I would think the overactive note pyramid pretty clearly states how it tries too hard.

The ginger/ginger ale accord in the opening is the big bubblegummy gimmick to get teen guys off their Playstations and ride their 90's BMX bikes down to the corner drugstore to "score" a bottle, but once you get passed the almost-cute opening, this quickly devolves into "designer Windex" as I used to call it myself before off-loading it (finally) to a friend. The multitudes of mint and pepper notes in the opening make sure you don't go unnoticed as you pass by on a summer day, but is that really the kind of trail you want to leave? Green apple and pineapple sweetness also emerge, as if a bit of the ozonic fruit archetype also popular in the 90's had to be stapled on to cover all bases. Speaking of bases, that's probably the only area where this gets a few nods, for once all that olfactory calamity dies down, we get some nice sandalwood, real but slight oakmoss, muguet, and crisp thyme. They should really save this base and build a whole new scent around it, but instead, this became a full-fledged grooming line. Go figure.

My scathing review is not without some understanding. This was the height of the first aquatic glut in male fragrance, and by turn of Y2K, we'd see gourmands, new musks, and a new generation of fresh fare powered by ambroxen instead of calone gradually take hold, which is marginally more interesting. Indeed, this was also a direct assault on the 18-25yr old young active entry-level guy; the high school student, the collegiate, the service economy dude that drove a hand-me-down Saturn SL2 to game night at his friend's club basement, where D&D books were stacked to the roof alongside cans of Dr Pepper. This was an accessory in the gym bag of Mr. Football Scholarship on his way to Gold's Gym after class. I can't fault it for being made to find an audience, but from a hobbyist's perspective, I can fault it for being a bad fragrance otherwise. Even die-hard aquatic fans have a plethora of better options, and at prices comparable or actually lower than this. Too busy, too loud, too acrid, and probably more enjoyable being used as a bathroom spray than on skin. I'm sorry.
27th February, 2018 (last edited: 28th February, 2018)

McGraw by Tim McGraw

Sometimes less is more, and depending on what one is trying to achieve, keeping things simple is preferred. McGraw by Tim McGraw is a celebrity tie-in fragrance developed by Coty with input from the country music singer himself to give olfactory form to the artist's humble tastes. I'm not typically fond of celebrity scents because they're all mostly just second-rate odd-lot formulas of boring, mainstream tropes like the aquatic or the ozonic, with a tiny bit of creative direction from the associated celebrity, with some cases being little more than approval of a finished product. Buying these things will leave you with a third-rate imitation of a second-rate Nautica clone in many cases, particularly with the men's celebrity scents, and who needs that? Luckily, the "down home" charm of Mr. McGraw's musical aesthetic shines through on his first two creations, namely this and the follow up Southern Blend a year later. Tim McGraw himself stated that he wanted them to be everyday signatures for the guys who wore them, although I'm unsure but doubtful he wears them himself. In any case, this debut is the more potent of the two, but is about as complex as a bologna sandwich, while the Southern Blend (2009) takes a diametrically-opposed direction that is surprisingly sophisticated, but is a lot softer in wearing. Both are perfectly serviceable, but more discerning noses will definitely like Southern Blend better, while guys who just wanna "smell good" will appreciate this one.

Tim McGraw opens with a rich and boozy note of bourbon whiskey with bergamot, instead of bringing the booze later on in the heart like with Southern Blend, using some faint nutmeg-like spice and lavender in the middle notes. The base of McGraw is darker than Southern blend, thanks to a really dominant amber note that cuddles up with tonka, vanilla, and cedar to produce a a finish that simmers down quick but glows on skin for hours. Anyone who loves using raw amber-scented organic products, amber Castile soap or any number of amber niche organic perfumers/cosmetic products (i.e. Lush) will actually find the amber-forward bludgeon of McGraw to layer quite well with them. I won't quite say that this is a hipster-grade single note perfume, but it is to amber in my eyes what bay rum is to bayberry leaf: a big single-note presence with a supporting cast. It's a bar fight in a bottle at the onset, but soon turns into last call and slow-dancing requests from the jukebox before long; you just really, really, really have to enjoy amber to get the most out of this. The kind of guys McGraw was pitched this towards probably wouldn't even know bayberry from amber anyway, and that's terrible of me to say, but those guys will see this as warm, approachable, and briskly masculine, which is the point. McGraw isn't the kind of thing that will attract attention to itself from many, but will hold it once possessed.

McGraw by Tim McGraw is a prehistoric cudgel of a scent to be quite honest, and the fact that it fades quick and remains subtle is it's biggest asset in the end. Any other full-tilt amber scent with more sillage or longevity than this might as well just be amber absolute, and we have tons of that sort of thing already coming out of niche houses for the price of a bucket's worth of this juice. Simple, quiet, soft-spoken McGraw won't get you in any trouble with anyone, and worst case, nobody will really even notice it unless they're up close. As a very basic, affordable, amber-fueled comfort scent, you can't go wrong with this, but it doesn't really have any other context of use where it's most effective besides as an entry-level signature. Unfortunately, it's typically of seasonal availability only at retailers, with it going for prices far above it's worth during the rest of the year online, so it's not hunt-worthy. Unlike it's successor Southern Blend, this one really isn't much of an underdog creative gem with the misfortune of being marketed under a country singer, but rather just functional masculine perfumery stripped down nearly to the bare essentials befitting the mindset -of- a country singer. If you want something uncomplicated, non-challenging, and familiar that will only last the night, this is as good a choice as any. I won't tell you to run out and try it like I would Southern Blend, but if it crosses your path for a few bucks like it did me, I don't think you'll regret it. A modest barbershop fragrance with a country western twang, and just charming enough for the thumbs up from me, but barely.
27th February, 2018

Blue Jeans by Versace

Versace then, as now, was always seen by the youth market which idolized the opulence it represented as a hallmark of success in life. This unique marketing of "deliberate unobtanium" combined with flashy high-contrast designs and outgoing celebrity clients stirred up a fervor over the decades since it's 1978 founding. Most of us growing up in the 90's know this lead to the mass-market guzzling of it's more-obtainable ready-to-wear and fragrance market (which were still expensive but reachable), and this fragrance tie-in to the Versace Jeans line dropped just as the zeitgeist hit it's 90's peak (just shy of Gianni's tragic murder). Eventually the "Jeans" line would branch out into 6 colors, with 3 for men and 3 for women, but this original is the one most folks remember when they hear the name, because who doesn't like blue jeans? Packaging for this was also rather typical 90's, with the "bottle in a can" packaging first popularized by Jean-Paul Gaultier and later exploited into the ground with Claiborne's Curve line. I guess the whole thing is meant to show some blue-collar humility with the bottle design too, and the old-school Vaudevillian graphics, because this time in fashion, all the high-end labels were trying to sell a dressed-down look as genres like Grunge and Gangsta Rap were making street-cred look appealing.

Versace Blue Jeans comes across as an amalgam of things, firstly marrying the powdery sweet eminence of the original Versace L'Homme from 1984 with the cleaner, fresher, more aqueous style that was en vogue with scents like the original Nautica (1992), and weren't entirely chemical-overload and still had fougère sensibilities. Secondly, this does try to impart the feeling of wearing a pair of blue jeans, and is quite the casual "anytime anywhere" scent, but unfortunately this is where all the positive points end for me. The smell opens with sharp pangs of galbanum and some unlisted "citrus cocktail" in the notes, which I guess is Versace's way of using the edge of a Tom Collins or gin & tonic as the opening note, which when mixed with that grassy buzz of galbanum puts my nose into overdrive. Afterward, it's a mix of fougère staples like lavender and nutmeg in with some light florals like violet and jasmine, which unintentionally ratchet up the itch factor higher in their balancing, before the heavy white musk note kicks in and solidifies it all on skin. There's the dynamic duo of cedar and sandalwood here, along with vetiver, but they must be in quantities too low to really emulsify all the itchiness for me, as the bitter citrus, galbanum, and florals keep the nostrils flared the whole way, along with the musk just sitting on it like a mother hen keeping all those scratchy notes warm. The reformulated and slightly more-downmarket "Versus" version of this scent (and the only one currently produced) is actually a little cleaner and easier to stomach than the full-tilt itch-cannon of the darker-hued original, but not enough to pull this one out of a thumbs down, which is why I got rid of my bottle after a handful of attempted wearings.

I don't usually have an issue with galbanum, as I love grassy rose scents like Chanel No 19 (1971), Aramis 900 (1973), and Devin (1978) but there's no counterpoint to the sharpness here, and it just persists. Assuming you're okay with that "powder bomb" aspect of Versace (or Versus) Blue Jeans, this might be a nice light, easy-going, and casual-friendly scent, as it was marketed to be an accessory to the entry-level jeans division of the day and otherwise has aged rather well. I can't recommend it myself, but I won't say it's a terrible fragrance for everyone, just not me. The Dreamer (1996) is a much more balanced and sophisticated offering, that sits squarely in the middle of the dark-to-light and heavy-to-soft spectrum found in most 90's "freshies", and is preferred to me over Blue Jeans, but if you're going for this one, keep it to day use and mid-weather months like fall or spring, as like most of it's ilk, it neither stands up to cold nor really hot weather. Naturally, when i had this, it was because "it's Vesace" and "the one everyone has to have", and I was taken for a ride I won't soon forget, but do regret. If you ever wondered what a really synthetic and far less-balanced "broken" version of Caswell-Massey's Jockey Club (1840) would smell like, well now you have your answer.
26th February, 2018 (last edited: 07th March, 2018)

Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels

Tsar by Van Cleef & Arpels is the underrated house's late fougère-type entry into the 80's powerhouse masculine style, and feels more like a transitional fragrance for that fact. It borrows heavily from the bergamot/lavender/moss trifecta that was so prevalent in the fougère-like powerhouses of the day, but takes a far greener coniferous road than many of it's contemporaries, making it at once feel both older in design but also in line with the emerging "fresh" fougères that were poised to wipe away all the olfactory density of the outgoing decade. Tsar has surprisingly futuristic elements for it's day that would also imply a bit of "sportiness" to it's performance, something mass-market designers would explore more in the 90's then revisit in the 2000's, but more on that later. The ultimate effect of wearing Tsar is a scent that comes on clean, fresh, soapy, and more modern than it's release year implies, but finishes crisp, dry, with a suit-and-tie elegance expected from more of the early 80's crowd than the latter end of the decade. It's a far sight heavier than most other things making the rounds that year, save maybe Montana Parfum D'Homme (1989) which was another late-decade transitional powerhouse.

Overall it feels like Van Cleef & Arpels liked to release their masculines as bookends to a decade, since they did this with the first Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme in 1978, and continued through until the 2010's doing so. Maybe it affords them greater perspective in making something that stands apart from it's peers, as most of their noteworthy efforts seem to do. Tsar being a poster child for this hypothesis, opens with a familiar aromatic fougère blast of bergamot, and lavender, with the neroli being the freshness "X factor" in that opening which sets it apart. The middle of muguet and carnation is joined by the equally-freshening pepper note that's honestly more common in a 90's scent, which then finishes in a rich base where oakmoss is strangely only an ensemble player rather than a lead guitarist like with a lot of these juices. The odd choice of balsam fir joins this otherwise 80's standard base, alongside sandalwood, leather, and patchouli, inferring the aforementioned sportiness by giving the whole orchestration a late-game shot of late-stage green that comes in after the pepper in the heart begins to subside. Polo Ralph Lauren (1978) could easily be this scent's older, and less athletic brother. I liken Tsar to a presage to the sporty scents of the 90's in the same way the first VC&A PH was something of a presage to the 80's powerhouse style, but kept one foot in the 70's.

Tsar's loose-fitting nature between active and formal use helps it straddle across multiple contexts and temperatures with ease. It won't withstand sweltering heat, or fierce cold, but indoor and outdoor use are both good. It's white-collar trappings understate it's versatility, and assuming one likes green masculines, Tsar could be the middleground between something like the soapiness Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1972) and dryness of Dunhill Edition (1984) with a bit of that "sporty" freshness that the masculine perfume world wouldn't take for granted until stuff like Perry Ellis 360° for Men (1995) focused on it more and stuff Addidas Adrenaline (2003) hit the market and injected this idea with egregious amounts of ozonic top notes. By the 2000's, "sporty" (but often with blue-tinged juice too) had been so overdone in the mass-market segment that one might see this as a more-refined and stately moss-powered version of that style instead of a fougère that merely inflected with it. If you're the kind of guy that doesn't like to change clothes or fragrance between a day at the office and an evening at the pool haul, Tsar may be just what you're looking for. If you'd rather ditch the bright greens and focus on soapier, more conservative structures, try the first Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme instead. This dependable fougère neither feels like it has a mature vibe nor youthful one due to it's generalist chemistry, so there's no concern over it smelling "dated" for most people, and sells for less than a Coty fragrance at retail! Good show VC&A!!
26th February, 2018 (last edited: 06th March, 2018)

Michael for Men by Michael Kors

Michael for Men was purportedly created by Givenchy for designer Michael Kors himself, both as a signature he could wear, and as a masculine counterpart to the debut feminine of a year earlier. Journeyman corporate perfumer Harry Freemont unsurprisingly created this, and as the nose behind many popular scents ranging from Avon to Tom Ford, Claiborne to Calvin Klein, his expertise in crafting moderately-flirtatious mainstream scents shines through yet again. The mind behind everything from Ralph Lauren's Polo Sport (1993) to Claiborne's Spark for Men (2003) doesn't typically head down the dry, leathery, tobacco direction often. Even with his more spicy creations, there tends to be a lot of sweet counterbalancing to make them more likeable to a wider audience. Michael for Men still is a leather scent, but the final result of the dry down feels like a second-guessing that results in an added sweetness that is less of a syrupy sweet like the aforementioned Spark for Men and more like a sip of Hennessy. I can see why this wouldn't last long under the mainstream sun, and eventually became re-orchestrated by Freemont for re-launch in 2014 as "Michael Kors for Men" when this style came back into vogue, because there's just something sort of odd about it; there's a dash of personality that was a bit hard to take in it's day, never mind the fact that barbershop scents were near-anathema at the time.

Michael for Men opens with a shockingly boozy arrangement of notes, including bergamot, elemi, cardamom, tarragon, star anise (typically found in Asian cuisine), thyme, and coriander. Most of these notes made it into the new version as well, and are held aloft by a fat suede leather note, and some synthetic incense note before the base kicks up. Rich patchouli and sandalwood exist in both versions, but whereas musk rounds it out in the re-interpretation, this original has a 70's-style tobacco note in with the leather and a scary plum note reminiscent of the "masculine plumeria" that was Avon's Far Away for Men (1998) coming up near the end. This bit of fruity weirdness actually fits in better with the patchouli and sandalwood than in the aforementioned Avon scent, since it does so without smelling ambiguous in gender. Compared to the re-launched Michael Kors for Men (which is missing the plum and tobacco), this is a bit bolder, less-staid, and more fun. Michael for Men was really behind the times on the boozy/leathery/woodsy trope, or really ahead of the curve before hipsters decided old-school was cool again, depending on how you want to look at it. Either way, this juice didn't really result in a ton of success in the fragrance world for MK outside of the strong following that still buys up surviving stock to this day. I'd almost compare it to a more risque earlier incarnation of Tim McGraw Southern Blend (2009) except without all the longevity problems, but that's just me. It's big letdown is the blending, and it's rough edges are enough to make some more discerning noses uncomfortable with it, especially in the opening.

Once again considering who penned this creation, it's rather shocking. Harry Freemont masculines are never this much outside the box; just look at Calvin Klein Man (2007) for example, and the only other time Freemont really made anything this odd was the under-the-radar and also sadly discontinued Very Valentino for Him (1999), so I get the gist that when the perfumer is allowed to play around a bit, the results are less than the bean counters were expecting. It's a shame really, as just with the Valentino, this one is rather nice, even if not essential to anyone save a collector. I find the leather note here a bit too quaint to join a wardrobe full of more distinctive leather scents, so anybody with a bottle of Knize Ten (1924) or even Aramis (1965) will likely laugh at this tame suede scent. Digging up a bottle of Michael for Men will yield an oddly fruity, warm, but soft and inviting leather/tobacco aura that is neither in style but yet still stylish somehow, and is left-of-center just enough to draw the nose over, but not niche enough to divide the room. I find it also to be something of an in-betweener in the way original Michelob beer is a bit stronger than typical American beer, but not a full-tilt import lager, since it's really just a drop of strange into what is otherwise a standard classic style made when it wasn't cool to do. Some guys like adding a few drops of Tobasco to their tomato soup, or a shot of espresso to their chai latte, and for those guys there's Michael for Men. If you'd rather have a more standardized experience, get the re-launch instead.
26th February, 2018 (last edited: 27th February, 2018)

Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme by Dolce & Gabbana

Before there was Dolce & Gabbana's barnstormer known as Light Blue Pour Homme (2007), kicking up the second major wave of blue aquatics for men, there was this little gem all the way back in 1994 winning awards. D&G Pour homme was naturally of the "fresh" fougère variety which was sweeping clean all the powerhouses and aromatic affairs of decades past, but unlike most of it's rather sterile brethren, it had a pretty masculine backbone under all the freshness which didn't rear it's deceptively traditional head until the dry down. The first male fragrance from the brainchild house of designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana was right on time to ride the wave started with Calvin Klein's blockbuster Eternity for Men (1989), but the two Italian designers from Legnano were smart about not being swept up in copycats, workking very closely with perfumers of both male and female debut scents for the house, leading to multiple awards won and the reputation which now precedes this stuff. Get it right on the first try, and people will overlook future mistakes is what I've often heard, and that explains why many see to this as reference 90's from the house but only a few besides hardcore fragrance collectors remember the other two 90's masculines D&G made between this and Light Blue (By Man and D&G Masculine from 1997 and 1999 respectively). D&G Pour Homme really is the high water mark for the 90's fougère craze, and it's no hyperbole to say that the designer world could have just ended the genre there and went in a new direction afterward, leaving this kind of thing for the drugstore perfumers to murder with clones a lot faster.

I'm not calling this stuff godhead by any means, as the 90's fresh fougère is far from my favorite style to begin with, but in terms of sheer originality and quality, this takes the cake for it's time. For starters, all the ingredients here are of natural and believable description, even if some of them may be represented in the actual fluid only chemically. Bergamot, mandarin, neroli, lemon, all those seem pretty standard stuff and as can be light as expected in a scent of this period. Indeed this does have a standard opening which remains breezy and just what the doctor ordered in the "clean slate" 90's style. It would almost be boring hence after if those gingerly-applied notes didn't quickly step off stage to be replaced with lavender, which is uncommonly found as a heart note here and thus sneaks up on the skin instead of signalling the charge like it does in Eternity for Men. Then, the sage, tarragon, cardamom, and a touch of what I perceive as standard table pepper give it the subtle kick in the pants it needs to stay above the din of it's genre, before taking another unexpected turn into an uncommonly rustic base which gives D&G Pour Homme it's charm. Sandalwood and cedar get to play here again, in a dry, stately manner similar to Dunhill Edition (1984), while Musk, Tobacco, and the interesting floral choice of Iris give it a manly finish with an odd dandy touch most younger guys in the 90's had no point of reference for and probably missed. Versace would borrow this tobacco/Iris core and build a fragrance around it called The Dreamer in 1996, so ya know it's something special. Very sneaky of ol' D&G to toss that iris in there for the slow burn at the end of the wear. Need I mention this has a legitimate coumarin note which it's stylistic predecessor Eternity for Men lacks? That technically makes this closer to a true "fresh fougère" than the aforementioned. Bravo indeed.

The tobacco in the base is the only bit of contention that some may have of this scent (just like the aforementioned Versace scent), as there is quite a bit of adverse reaction to tobacco in most modern noses I've met, which is maybe why a lot was done to hide it with the iris, woods, and musk. It's needed here for weight more than actual leafy presence, likely taking the place of what would have otherwise been a more-common vetiver note, giving it a special "something" the competition just didn't possess. People who don't like this era of 90's fougère are likely not to like this much either, but I'll take it long before Curve for Men (1996) or Versace Blue Jeans (1994) ever crosses my skin. It's quick enough on it's feet to do combat in both office and casual arenas, but unless you're dating in the heat of a midsummer day, I wouldn't consider this romantic outside of maybe the sharp woodsy base. D&G Pour Homme's the perfect balance of 90's zest and that classic dry, tart "man's scent" aura which was probably a huge boon to older guys crossing over from heavier styles. Men wanting to wade into newer fragrances without leaving the comfort zone too much probably lapped this up. It straddles the old and the new but clearly has a larger stake in the newer way of thinking than the old, which is okay considering how young the D&G house was overall at the time. Sillage nor longevity is not huge, but even with slightly richer base notes, one would be a fool to expect high performance from a deliberately light 90's fougère. Dolce & Gabbana Pour Hommme is nearly a case of "nothing's new under the sun", but also has the most personality of anything in it's class. A generalist for people who don't like generalizing!
25th February, 2018 (last edited: 28th February, 2018)