Perfume Reviews

Reviews by Zealot Crusader

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Total Reviews: 287

Noir de Noir by Tom Ford

Tom Ford Noir de Noir (2007) is one of the first series of Private Blends released at the launch of the house, and has endured as one of the earliest examples of "modern opulence" in an age of mass-produced prestige or "masstige" as I've heard it called. Make no mistake, this is still by definition a "niche" scent in that it will only appeal to a sliver of the market, but the segment it appeals to will be the folks who want to smell "expensive" over just smelling unique, good, pleasant, or any other words of a similar ilk you could fill in that sentence. This isn't to say that I don't like Noir de Noir, as I think it's quite fantastic as a decadent rose scent that comes across inadvertently like a throwback to the days of "Moulin Rouge"-style cabaret theater which usually also doubled as bordellos for those with deep enough pockets. Something like Noir de Noir in the Victorian age would be worn by women (or men) who wouldn't admit they had "fallen" into a depraved lifestyle of bohemian revelry and salacious acts to turn a dime, since they were still well-paid enough through those same acts to feign a level of class both in their gaudy (but still upscale) wardrobe, makeup, and fragrance. These were the folks that fell somewhere in between the dandies/belles at the top, and fops/urchins at the bottom, courtesans too fancy to be called prostitutes, but too debased to be called high society despite their income. Noir de Noir communicates this by being floral and indolic in the top, but rich and nearly gourmand in it's deliciousness in the middle, before ending in a dark base of oakmoss, oud, and patchouli. This is a musky rose which comes to be everything short of animalic by the end, so it can be worn (sparingly) in polite company, just not to work or your parents house. Of course, if you don't mind some hard stares or prying questions about where you've been and who you hang with, then by all means wear Noir de Noir all the time.

Noir de Noir starts off like an Arabian saffron-lead rose, and those are the first two things that comes across the nose on spraying. There's this crazy exotic black truffle note that comes in (and we all know how expensive those are), which ads a mustiness to the scent that brings it in line with it's old world romanticism. White chocolate notes percolate up at this point too, taking this in the aforementioned gourmand direction, but never submerging the rose, which sticks around for the scent's life. Some draw comparison to Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady (2010), but this is much more decadent and sweet, darker and more masculine-leaning with it's green mossy oud base than the Malle scent could ever hope to muster. Ironically, the Tom Ford smells richer and more resplendent than the Malle because of this oud note, even if it is a bit cheaper in price. The oud comes in once the whole thing settles on skin, accompanied by the sweet patchouli, and sharp moss. There is a vanilla note here too, but it's just a rounding agent, and never really gets to shine on it's own enough to be cloying, let alone stand out. Noir de Noir develops on skin like a sultry jazz singer opening up her pipes in a song's finale, and there's little way to hide the sensual intent thanks to so many heady ingredients occupying the base. The rose of Noir de Noir smells most like the Turkish variety to me, deep red, luscious, and not dewy or garden-dwelling like a lot of English or French rose scents, with something like this just as easily being cranked out by Amouage, Alfansic Dokhoon, or Al Haramin in parfum or attar form. Noir de Noir is romantic, but just short of ripping your shorts off because it doesn't have leather or enough oud to really hit that home. I'm still kinda shocked that Jacquas Cavallier and Harry Freemont came up with something like this, as most of their past work separately or together, within or outside of Tom Ford's direction never usually takes this kind of turn. Also, please do mind the sillage with this one, as it can be a monster.

Noir de Noir might be incidentally Middle East-meets-Western perfume, but it's certainly no Montale or Mancera, as rose and oud aren't the "Dancing with the Stars" couple with the rest of the pyramid being the audience like with many selections from those two brands. Instead, Tom Ford gives us an early attempt from his Private Collection to bottle indiscretion. What else is opulence or smelling "expensive" other than a lack of discretion in presenting oneself? There are really only two kinds of wealth to be found in modern society, the kind that likes to hide itself behind conservative or plain looks (but still ends up sticking out anyway like an old Mercedes), or the kind that has gold, jewels, large earrings and mink stoles draped over every Art Nouveau or Art Deco nook and cranny. It's not always a sin to be the latter, especially if it's done in the clever self-referential postmodern tongue-in-cheek manner that Tom Ford seems to prefer with these kinds of scents. Noir de Noir seems not about "look at how amazing I am, be jealous, be fearful!" but more like "look at how insanely over-the-top and affected I am, isn't it fun?" instead. This is what I take away from Noir de Noir: self-aware decadence that wants you to join in and enjoy it too, rather than act like a social class barrier as many fragrances of this level become, and I can appreciate prestige having a bit more whimsy and irreverence. Dark, mysterious, and delectable rose nose candy that isn't afraid to take the cabaret show into the streets; not bad for an early Tom Ford Private Blend, and certainly more complex than many of the later or current ones, but not an everyday wear either. Still better rose scents out there for the money, but I'm not gonna beat you up if you told me you sprung for a flacon of this either (unless you don't share), because it's just too much fun to smell.
19th August, 2018

Fougère d'Argent by Tom Ford

Fougère d'Argent (2018)is the first fougère entry in the Private Blends collection that is explicitly described as such. This is also likely the first time the 'ol fougère has seen any sort of prestige release from any perfumer since Parfums MDCI released Invasion Barbare (2005) to both critical acclaim and backlash (depending on the size of the person's wallet doing the critique). Fougère d'Argent doesn't seem to go after that "I drive a leased Rolls Royce when I could have bought a BMW" set of men that see Patrick Batemann from American Psycho as some sort of hero instead of the twisted product of society that he is, but instead aims for the guy that loves his Rive Gauche Pour Homme (2003) and wishes Tom Ford never left LVMH. Well, just in the same way that Tom Ford for Men (2007) was something of the idea for Gucci Pour Homme (2003) re-purposed, Fougère d'Argent feels like the concept for Rive Gauche Pour Homme updated with modern IFRA-compliant materials and a few new twists to the fougère story. Sadly, we don't know what nose created this for ol' Mr. Ford, but the overall effect of Fougère d'Argent is a richer, slightly sweeter, and more decadent fougère that can hold up to nightlife, romantic use, but also come out swinging in the 9 to 5 day at the office due to it's parfum strength, especially if you crashed at your date's house. I quite like what was done here, and although as a Private Blend it is a bit more pricey than the usual Tom Ford signature fragrance, it actually feels more at home with them in style than among it's own kind. I'd almost wave the usual niche sample-first warning with this one because it's so "in the pocket" as far as fougères go, but I also can't speak for everyone else, and it's easy enough to find at a department store to try.

Fougère d'Argent opens with mandarin orange, a smidge of bergamot, sweet French lavender and ginger. This one really flirts with being an oriental but stays the fougère course thanks to the dominant lavender in the mix. The opening isn't really what draws Rive Gauche Pour Homme comparisons, as at this stage it just feels like a spiced up 80's fougère with it's soapy orris and smoky vetiver switched out for the mandarin orange and ginger, like Calvin Klein Obsession for Men (1986) got in on with the later Calvin Klein Eternity for Men (1989), and this is the child resultant. Going forward, clove, cistus labadanum, and a newcomer called agikalawood make an appearance. Keep your eyes on that last one kids, because if it takes off in this fougère, it could set off a chain reaction that sees another fougère era with every major designer from $200 a bottle down to $20 (including Avon) making their own moss-free fougère with either real agiklawood or some chemical proxy leading the charge. I still think this genre is not complete without oakmoss, but unless more designers take a cue from artisinal perfumers adn tell IFRA to shove off, it ain't happening. Agikalawood is a bit sweeter, since it is related to the patchouli plant, but it does have a smidgen of the dank buttery heft real oakmoss contains, and is a sure sight better than whatever else is going into reformulations of classics these days. The base is of course going to be coumarin, musk, and amber, because what memorable fougère doesn't have at least two of those? Fougère d'Argent is still a little lighter and sweeter than Rive Gauche Pour Homme by the end of it's wear, but is a far sight deeper and more masculine than any of the late 80's and early 90's "fresh fougères" that plagued the designer realm. Fougère d'Argent dries down to a tonka note laced with musk, spices and ginger, and glimpses of the lavender, clove, and citrus resurfacing depending on the way air hits skin. The akigalawood doesn't really have a unique trail all it's own, but that's probably not why it's there.

I feel this could have been a signature line scent and was only placed in the Private Blends collection because it's ingredients are too expensive in the 21st century to warrant a designer price tag, since this stuff have the same equivalent performance, quality, and style of golden era masculines that vintage hounds fawn and fight over on eBay. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know this is technically unisex like all Private Blends, but who are we kidding? This is the 1980's channeled through the revisionist style 2000's Tom Ford-led LVMH and produced by modern Tom Ford perfumers with a niche budget so it doesn't smell like the 135th reformulation butchery Proctor and Gamble has done to Old Spice (1937). I also really like how "Fougère" is in the title of this one, like an even older throwback nod to the very first Fougère Royale by Houbigant (1882), as if Tom Ford was trying to make a bookend to the genre, but that would imply he was done making them, which is very unlikely given his track record for vintage-inspired masculines. The price may be a bit stiffer than some would like, but I'd certainly spend the money on this over the majority of what passes as "prestige" today, or even most of what Tom Ford pumps out in the Private Blends. There are definitely better examples in this category, but literally all of them are in the past, so with that in mind, I welcome this as a "where there's a will, there's a way" example of keeping traditional perfume designs alive, and it's a damn good barbershop scent to boot. As one of the rare few examples of a romantic Fougère, I'd keep this to night time use and chill weather, but considering the cost, you can do whatever you want with it if you buy a full bottle. Fougère d'Argent is a parfum, and has plenty of oomph, so don't go trigger-happy like you might normally with a scent of this type, or you might find yourself without a date after too long.
19th August, 2018

L'Ombre dans L'Eau Eau de Toilette by Diptyque

L'Ombre dans L'Eau (1983) is seemingly a reverse of The Perfume Workshop's Tea Rose (1972), where it puts a lush, fresh rose note in the back rather than in front of the fragrance. Both scents are ultimately defined by their rose accord, but while the older Tea Rose calms into leaves, stems, and earth of the rose plant, L'Ombre dans L'Eau starts off with the ancillary elements of the rose garden first then ends with the rose itself. This backwards approach to constructing a note pyramid for a rose scent, with the rose in the base rather than in the top and/or middle, catches people off guard plenty and gives many a negative review from folks who buy things based on the top notes before getting home to let a sample develop on skin. I understand, and nobody is faulting them for making that call, as it's essentially a "haha gotcha" for anyone not truly enamored with rose, but in my case, makes the scent more appealing. I love rose, it's no secret, and I don't really care who a rose scent is marketed towards, I just love the flower, so having the rose as the payoff for a drydown rather than the overture before it makes L'Ombre dans L'Eau and instant win for me. Serge Kalouguine, responsible for over a half-dozen of Diptyque's early works, was brought to bear on L'Ombre dans L'Eau, and his ability to flesh out such a lively garden scent is impressive here. Diptyque itself has always been a more down-to-earth niche label, much like L'Artisan Parfumeur or Lush, focused more on the creative distinction of the niche category than the price point or status factor. Not that I'm trying to say there's such thing as an "honest niche" sub-genre, but if there was, Diptyque comes pretty close to it.

L'Ombre dans L'Eau opens with a blackcurrant bud and petitgrain, and this fruity dry start is what wows most people in the beginning. The scent takes a crisp, dry, semi-sweet trip through an English Garden at this point, drawing parallels to Tea Rose, and I wouldn't be surprised if galbanum is present here, because it's very green. This green fruity accord will also scare off most guys not secure about their masculinity. If you need musky, woodsy, assertive leather scents or fougères comprised of clean lavender or chemical aquatic notes, this is as far from your comfort zone as possible. I could see L'Ombre dans L'Eau being a big hit in the Middle East too with it's rose, if not for it's decidedly "Western" lack of precious woods like sandal or oud, and absolutely nothing heady. Blackcurrant bud makes an appearance next, as does a hint of cedar before the Bulgarian rose shows it's face last, cradled in just a smidge of fixative musk to hold it on skin. Again like Tea Rose, this isn't musky or unnaturally sweet, and you're getting just plumes of lush rose after this dries, but L'Ombre dans L'Eau doesn't have the nuclear sillage of Tea Rose either, so don't be afraid to lay it on a little heavier. There is both an eau de toilette and an eau de parfum of this, but so far as my testing indicates, the difference is the richness of the fruit and woody elements in the EdP, and I rather like my rose to stand as naked as possible, so the EdT is the winner for me.

L'Ombre dans L'Eau is one of the older fragrances outside of shop exclusives like L'Autre (1973) and L'Eau Trois (1975), so it's a few clicks away from what modern Diptyque is all about, and it's simplicity shows it's age. L'Ombre dans L'Eau doesn't quite fit it's translation of "Shadow in the Water" because there really isn't anything dark or mysterious about such a bright fruity green rose, but I guess we'll never really know why it has that name. The EdT will come home for just a few dollars more than the average Chanel, and although the sillage isn't the greatest, longevity is really nice, especially with that rose being the end point of the journey. I'd call this a casual fragrance for a rose fan, as it's not intense, not rich, heavy, or full of oriental spice and woods like other rose takes, but just errs shy of being a soliflore thanks to that sweet blackcurrant and galbanum mix. Spring through summer in the backyard, or anytime before bed, out with friends, or just a day spent lounging around in lieu of an actual garden to tend all sounds like ideal situations to wear L'Ombre dans L'Eau. I wouldn't take this out for nightlife nor really make use of it in a romantic setting because it's just too innocent, and too pure of a scent for those kind of predilections in my mind. This does veer ever so slightly more feminine to my nose, but I'd still wear it regardless. If I had any complaint at all, it would just be that the stuff just doesn't seem to feel very personal to me, and could almost be part of a Diptyque candle line rather than a personal fragrance, but they already have plenty of rose candles, so I guess that is that. Good, but simple!
19th August, 2018
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Vétiver Extraordinaire by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Dominique Ropion would become in time the most frequent contributor to Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle, starting with Une Fleur de Cassie (2000) during the launch of the label, and returning to make solid, if not outstanding entries like Géranium pour Monsieur (2009) and Portrait of a Lady (2010) but here with Vétiver Extraordinaire (2002), I feel like the creative juices weren't quite on tap for the perfumer. Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle already closely rivals houses like Creed and Xerjoff for the nouveau-riche dollar, gaslighting the affluent with either heady tales of past glory or "definitive" new takes on classic styles, but all this pretense and hufflepuff does little to save Vétiver Extraordinaire from it's own faults. The scent tries to be "The New Vetiver" as declared in it's very own listing on the Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle website, and I can feel where what was then considered "new" merges with the basic concepts of a vetiver fragrance, but it just feels too much like a Dr. Moreau gene splice than a fragrance that does what it claims. At it's core, Vétiver Extraordinaire is actually an ozonic citrus and cedar scent, with just the faintest wisps of vetiver to actually be found. I give Domonique Ropion props for presaging and possibly inspiring the work of Harry Freemont on Tom Ford's Grey Vetiver (2009) a whole 7 years early, but the problem here is that Freemont's take on a citric vetiver scent works, while Ropion's doesn't, which when combined with performance on skin, and a price tag almost hitting $300, buying the stuff feels like a fool's errand even compared to other Malle scents.

Vétiver Extraordinaire opens with bitter bergamot and orange coupled with an ozone note, followed by a very grassy take on vetiver that is fresh but sadly pretty synthetic and fleeting. Out the front door, this vetiver charges into the fray but less than 30 minutes is almost completely gone, supplanted by bitter citrus and the middle of pink pepper, which beats the vetiver down into a jail cell of cloves guarded by scratchy wood notes to create almost a minty ghost note. This is just before the dawn of norlimbanol, so I'm not sure what wood smell-alike chemicals are here, but most likely Iso E Super and some dry version of hedione similar to the "paradisone" used now. This transition irriates with the citrus and cloves until it all calms down under a synthetic sandalwood note and cedar, with musk being the only rounding agent present. Lest we not forget, there is some myrrh here as well, which adds even more dryness to a scent not needing it. I love dry citric chypres, but when you marry ozone and bitter greens into them without something sweet to balance them, you're basically letting the harshness run wild. The saving grace here is none of the top notes are really all that long-lasting, which might also be a slap in the face considering the price. What's left behind after a wear of Vétiver Extraordinaire is an itchy dry woods and incense afterglow with wisps of ozonic citrus, which kind of moots the point of this being called a vetiver scent. I guess "The New Vetiver" is meant to smell as much like vetiver as "New Coke" was meant to taste like Coke. Sigh.

I'm not one to ever tell anybody to stay away from a fragrance no matter how much I dislike it, because I feel like it's not the reviewers job to make the purchase decision for the reader, but rather just to inform it one way or the other, although I have considered making an exception here. If you really like vetiver, this is not a scent for you. If you have never really tried vetiver, this is also not a scent for you. If you are a collector of Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle, this is only a scent for you after you've collected all the really noteworthy ones first, and if you like the idea of a 2000's ozonic married to a mid-century vetiver scent framework, but with the vetiver dialed down to almost ironic levels in regards to the name, this might also give you some sense of pleasure.I don't really see an audience for this besides the aforementioned nouveau-riche type who will buy anything just because they can brag about how much it cost, because even wealthy people with a bit of experience around perfume and a taste for vetiver wouldn't chose this, as even Creed has a whole host of vetiver scents that are much more widely-regarded than this mess. Domonique Ropion is allowed a misfire now and then like all perfumers, but this is such a ridiculously expensive and high-profile misfire, that the only reason Malle probably stands behinds this is there are suckers born every minute that will fleece themselves for a bottle, without knowing the difference between a good vetiver, and a patch of crab grass. I'm sorry, but I'm just not sorry. Vétiver Extraordinaire is more like Vapidity Extraordinaire, and that's all I got to say.
19th August, 2018

Iris Poudre by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle wasn't Pierre Bourdon's first go-around with ultra-luxe brands, as he was the "ghost perfumer" behind scents like Creed Green Irish Tweed (1985), and Bois du Portugal (1987), so he was already well-equipped to deliver on the promise of olfactory exclusivity and prestige promised by the bottle graphics. Bourdon's creation helped launch the Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle label back in 2000, which is when Iris Poudre hit counters. The concept behind this one was an honest-to-goodness aldehydic floral based on "powdered iris", which is effectively delivered in the dry down. Obviously, a scent like this was a direct stab at the classic early and mid 20th century feminine florals, which have increasingly become more suitable to men as tastes expand and barriers crumble, but unless you fancy yourself a modern dandy or are very liberal with your sexuality like myself, you might want to stay away from this one if you're a guy. I won't condemn this to "grandma's Avon" but it's pretty close with it's piquant top, creamy aldehyde heart, and musky base. Pierre Bourdon has certainly done better work (for less), but I find no fault in this since he was working under the context of a pretty strict theme, like with most Malle creations. Iris Poudre is absolutely nothing novel, nor even really anything particularly interesting, but you likely new that after reading the title of the perfume, and like a period-correct Penhaligon's scent, will appeal mainly to folks who romanticize this era of perfumery and it's surrounding culture.

Iris Poudre opens with bitter bergamot, orange peel, a faint rosewood, ylang ylang, and carnation, feeling like a "Sgt. Peppers" of old-school women's florals right away, and this opening lasts quite a while actually. I don't get much iris from Iris Poudre, at least not right away, and the florals give way to (wait for it)... more florals in the heart. The aldehydes aren't apparent right away, but when they show up, they're conjoined to a muguet note with just a drop of jasmine hedione. Magnolia is supposed to be here too, but I can't get a read on it personally. I'm also not getting much rose from this, but when you have two out of three tiers in a note pyramid dedicated to florals, this is bound to happen. The base here is as expected for this venerated type of scent, with musk, amber (hello Avon), vanilla, sandalwood, and finally that claimed powdered iris. It's the faintest of things right near the end, and although there at the finish for the skin-scent phase, really doesn't actually justify the name of "Iris Poudre" given, but maybe that's the point. Pierre Bourdon was instructed by Malle to make an old-fashioned floral aldehyde scent, and like most of them from back then playing on a single note theme, Iris Poudre gives the impression of the eponymous note through a build up of other notes, in effect being a high-end take on a drugstore synthetic iris scent a la something from the likes of Coty or Prince Matchabelli. Iris Poudre has a wear time that is in line with it's high-end theme, so if you dig what is presented here, a few sprays will keep you in a small bubble of flowers, aldehyde, and musk all day long, and is quite strong out of the sprayer, so be careful. I give this a thumbs up to Iris Poudre for it's earnest approach to this kind style, but it's not really my thing so much.

Iris Poudre was likely a fun exercise for Pierre Bourdon back in the day, as 2000 was not exactly the time for aldehydic florals, and to be asked to go back in time 50+ years to make something this classic in style, and to do so with relatively low budgetary constraints is like asking a musician to record with equipment his or her heroes used in decades past, and part of that "recreating history" shows in Iris Poudre. Is it wearable in the 21st century? Well, that depends on how much you care about what others think of the way you smell, but in the strictest of terms, not really. This is a very prim and proper scent regardless of gender, and feels like a cousin to something like L'Air du Temps by Nina Ricci (1948)or Wind Song by Matchabelli (1953), which is definitely a hard sell unless you're particularly into postmodernism. I like Iris Poudre if only because I like how unapologetic it is about what it wants to be, and there is just something very comfortable about it's airy opening, smooth transition between floral layers, and eventual soft musky glow. I do detect some faint aromachemical assistance right at the very end, but it's nothing like the norlimbanol/ambroxen bombs that Malle is passing out nearly 20 years after this member of his debut lineup launched. Pierre Bourdon's dandy display of flower power will set you back a few hundred, so I'd definitely hit up a counter to sniff before you go home with a bottle, since many of the originals from the era this emulates still circulate online for a lot cheaper if you want to get your foot in the door on this style. That having been said, this is perfectly buttoned up for work or casual use in almost all seasons save winter, and the Malle faithful likely don't see the investment needed to enjoy Iris Poudre as that big of a deal.
19th August, 2018

L'Eau d'Hiver by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

"Winter water" as it's name loosely translates, takes Hermès house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena out of his usual budgetary constraints for an exercise in opulence courtesy of celebrity tastemaker and niche perfume mogul Frédéric Malle, but before we get started I must let it be known that this will disappoint those looking for a scent that will survive winter weather, since it isn't made for winter, but rather made -of- winter. L'Eau d'Hiver is a cold breeze on the face, fleeting ephemeral wisps of chill florals underpinned by musks. This is actually a scent more suitable to bring the chill of winter into the summer, so if you want any kind of longevity at all from the stuff, you're better off wearing it in the dead heat. Naturally, this limitation to usage might also narrow interest, but in a sense also offsets the usually enormous price tag that Frédéric Malle scents carry because you'll wear it maybe a handful of times a year, making your bottle last forever. Jean-Claude Ellena has of late delivered a lot of fairly commercial and "modern" chemical-assisted creations for Hermès, so it's unsurprising that his outing with Frédéric Malle would also be relatively stark compared to the usually opulent creations under the Editions de Parfum Frédéric Malle label, but the stuff works once it's understood. I won't say the mixed reception of L'Eau d'Hiver is undeserved, because let's be honest: when you pay this much for a perfume, you expect it to be usable whenever you want it to be, and all concepts of artistic vision or context fly out the window as you try to wrack your brain about the commodity value/usefulness of what you just splurged on.

Even the most fiscally flush perfume hobbyists would be mad if their favorite ultra-luxe brand released a scent that vanished from skin unless worn under certain conditions, and the claim that this is little above an eau de cologne is justifiable. However, with all that out of the way, on a warm sunny day, L'Eau d'Hiver brings it's "heart of winter" to life splendidly. The opening of hedione and heliotrope is unlike anything I've ever encountered in a fragrance at any price, since heliotrope is so often unused in large quantities due to it's restriction after it was found that heliotropin was used to cook crystal meth (darn it), and stripped from most things that featured it. Hedione is usually found with jasmine because it comes from jasmine, but here it is pounding fists with heliotrope, which is joined after a bit by a dihydromyrcenol "water/air" note like what is found in a lot of freshies. I won't be critical of aromachemicals if used efficiently, because even the late Edmond Roudnitska himself once made it known that a perfume's main job is to be efficient, regardless of what it's made from, so this works. Iris comes in the middle phase, and it's not a cheap body spray iris, but a nice pillowy plush one, sitting mostly alone in the middle of the scent until joined by a base of white musk, talc, honey, and a ghost of a tobacco note. L'Eau d'Hiver feels like a summertime variant to Versace The Dreamer (1996), with more longevity but much less sillage, which can also bring up the argument that a lighter application of The Dreamer can save one hundreds of dollars if that's the aim, but I digress.

There's something incalculably crisp about L'Eau d"Hiver which makes me like it enough for a neutral rating. I agree that performance from a general perspective is lacking, and it smells like a lot of things, but at the same time, has it's own X-factor which makes it unlike anything else I've tried. I can't put my finger on what makes me come back to sniffing this, but although I give it a thumbs up, I do so under the condition that it's not something that will see use in a person's wardrobe so buy it as the "change of pace" scent and not as a potential signature. This is sold as unisex but it sways more masculine to my nose, due to the crisp and stark nature of it, and fans of modern Hermès will see this as a more-upscale version of something from that house, since it has Jean-Claude's stamp all over it, and doesn't fall far from the Hermès tree. I don't think Frédéric Malle had a lot of influence on this one, or at least it doesn't feel that way, since so much of Ellena is here, and there's no major "theme" outside the wintry vibe, unlike all the other Malle scents in the collection. Another sample-before-buying scent for me, but at least it's rather austere nature makes a good office scent, since there's absolutely nothing even remotely risque about a hedionic cloud of heliotrope, iris, and honey (the latter of which is barely there I might add). Certainly not the best of the breed from this house, but not nearly as bad as all the hyperbolic rejections make it seem, just try not to have the usual expectations associated with perfumes of this ilk, which is understandably difficult because that's like trying to get somebody to not feel underwhelmed by a low-performance Ferrari meant for grand touring and not racing, but ahh well. L'Eau d'Hiver delivers on it's name, if little else.
19th August, 2018

Portrait of a Lady by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle sits somewhere between Creed and L'Artisan Parfumeur in terms of prestige and creative freedom. On one hand, Frédéric Malle fancies himself a creative director and "ghost writer" alongside the perfumers he chooses to work with him, guiding them to something that fits both his vision and theirs, but on the other, he also plays up the exclusivity of his label and cost of materials to rake in the cash from naive nouveau-riche. For this reason, scents like Portrait of a Lady (2010) receive both fervent praise from perfumistas enamored with the label's showcasing of perfumer's talent with an uncapped budget, and also derision from hardcore hobbyists that know the same relative quality can be had even within niche realms for half the cost. I could easily name a half dozen rose scents in the same heady, dark, rich vein as this, but there's no point in cutting this off at the kneecaps for being a more expensive alternative to them, since it's all relative to the budget of the onlooker anyway, and who's to say the same person can't both enjoy a $10 bottle of Tea Rose (1972) and a $340 bottle of Portrait of a Lady? What is in effect presented here is a Turkish rose wrapped in spice and incense. The stuff is sold as a feminine perfume but draws parallels to male-oriented rose scents thus is worn by quite a few guys too. The name comes from the Henry James novel of 1881, and focuses on creating the scent worn by the Victorian-era heroine Isabel Archer, which is said to be of dark roses.

Portrait of a Lady opens with plenty of Turkish rose, and fans of Aramis Perfume Calligraphy Rose (2013) or Amouage Lyric Man (2008) already know where this is headed. This isn't a sweet damask rose nor a leafy tea rose like many of it's ilk, but shrouds a deep red rose head note in black currant and raspberry, both darker fruits. The middle notes of cinnamon, clove, and patchouli, give this a spicy and earthy rounding of the rose's edges, before the woodsy aromachemical base of sandal, benzoin, ambroxan, incense, and incense finish it off. The weakest link here, especially for a scent so expensive, is the reliance on the "Kmart Blue Light Special" aspects of ambroxan, which link this back to trendy high-end designer scents that folks who love Frédéric Malle will likely scoff at, raising monocle to eye and turning up nose past their hairline uttering "how so very dare you" in a nasal transatlantic "lockjaw" accent. Well screw those folks, I don't mind the drydown at all, and anyone who enjoys anything from the larger niche houses these days should likely expect a few popular aromachems here or there anyway, and if it matters that much, there are plenty of one-person operations and tiny artisinal perfumers making scents purely from raw materials than can hand you a comparable rose to this without the ambroxan scratch in the finish. After the scent finishes developing, what is left behind is that Turkish rose, some patchouli, clove, incense, and and nondescript woods with the musky underpinnings. Longevity is good, but like most rose scents, this will dominate whatever shirt you're wearing while it's on your skin, lingering hours after, so definitely wash it afterwards. I like Portrait of a Lady but for me, I don't think it's nearly $400 good, and with what is effectively a sample sprayer costing as much as a 50ml of Chanel, even smaller sizes are not much of a value. I must note that this is one of the more expensive Frédéric Malle scents, and not all of them are the same price, so don't dismiss the house based on this one review, please.

Portrait of a Lady is a success in what it sets out to be: an olfactory representation of a fictional perfume from a character pulled out of a novel from a bygone era. As wearable perfume in the modern day, Portrait of a Lady does feel a tad more masculine than feminine with it's portrayal of rose, even if that portrayal is pretty in line with what passed for rose fragrances in the late 19th century, sans the ambroxan of course, because they'd have real ambergris in that 'mutha if it was made then. I'd recommend better dark roses before this one, but Dominique Ropion does a noble job of the task at hand, it's just this kind of thing has already existed for a while before it came around, so in the very large world of rose scents, it had a lot of stiff competition, from any market segment. Portrait of a Lady is best in mid-climates like spring, fall, or indoors just about any time, with a spicy romantic flair that makes it unsuitable for the office to me, but your opinion may be different. I think a leather note or maybe something green might have added enough austerity to sober this up for the professional environment, but as it stands, this is closer to the smell of the "fallen women" or male "dandies" of the Victorian era than anyone trying to be presentable. Thumbs up for quality and performance, but with trepidation do I suggest this one, since it isn't even the best of it's lot and the cost makes it a bit prohibitive to explore without sampling for yourself. Luckily, this one is pretty common at most upscale department stores, so that shouldn't be too tricky! A nice and spicy unisex rose scent, just not for the unwashed masses, to be sure.
19th August, 2018

Knize Ten by Knize

Knize Ten (1924) is the stuff of legend, but don't let all the history and hubbub fool you: this is no roaring 20's dandy dalliance. Joseph Knize was a tailor living in Vienna that was a supplier to the royal and imperial courts of the day, and if you read the Lucky Scent blurb, it goes on and on about how great the architect of his shop was (Adolf Loos), who also designed the bottle, and it can be read elsewhere that the perfume itself is considered one of the first accurate leathers, but let's dispose of all that just for a moment. The real scoop on Knize Ten was that it fell into the same powdery "sport" type of fragrances made for men since the mid 1800's by apothecaries, and was more of a bracing toiletry made in one of the few ways perfumers knew how to make something not smell "perfumey" so a guy who wasn't a dandy would wear it. Caswell-Massey made Jockey Club (1840) for this purpose, and the Ed Pinaud company adapted the French "Fougère-type" into something more mossy and powdery for barbershops in 1920 with it's "Clubman" line, so it only made sense to continue this way but with a unique leather twist that tied in with Knize's leather outfitting work. Vincent Roubert and his friend/colleague Francois Coty (yes, -that- Francois Coty) double-teamed to compose Knize Ten for Joseph Knize, released under his own label. Francois already had his own perfume empire gestating as we all know, and he would take Vincent with him to compose Coty perfumes until Roubert eventually landed with Jacques Fath a few years later. Meanwhile, Knize as a tailoring outfit would hum along, outliving Joseph himself, and they would quietly keep Knize Ten alive as their predominant men's toilet water (one of only few purpose-built for men at it's time of release) until the present day. That's it. This stuff is essentially niche before the term was used as it is today in the perfume industry, and the stuff has been kept alive by word of mouth for generations. Knize has dabbled in other scents over the years, but none of them have stayed on the market long. Now, with all that out of the way, what makes Knize Ten so special? Well, it's not the first leather scent for sure, but Knize Ten was the first to make a splash with guys because it was the first to be directly marketed to them.

Knize Ten is a powdery piquant leather scent on one hand, and a petrol leather on the other. The powdery aspect would almost be copied ad-hoc and intensified with extra oakmoss some years later by MEM with their Russian Leather, later re-dubbed English Leather for it's post-war relaunch in 1949. The petrol vibe found in Knize Ten would carry on to the leather elite which followed, with everything from Cabochard (1951) and Aramis (1966), to Bel Ami (1986) and Moschino Pour Homme (1990) owing it's existence to Knize Ten in that regard. Does this make it better than any of them? Well no, not really. Knize Ten is just the framework from which most modern leather scents build on, even if it does what it does exceedingly well. Bergamot, lemon, orange, petitgrain, and rosemary fire off the opening salvo, creating a plume reminiscent of early tobacco scents to me, being bitter, leafy, citric, and a touch sweet. The middle is considerably more crowded with geranium, cedar, rose, orris root, carnation, cinnamon, and sandalwood, with the last two being the most evident alongside the geranium. By this point, the expected petrol leather emerges between the spice and florals, but also the powdery talcum-like qualities surface, providing the genesis of the aforementioned leather tropes, even if Chanel Cuir de Russie (1924) from the same year could also technically take some credit as well. The base leather note is assisted by a bit of musk, oakmoss, and vanilla, with animalics like ambergris and castoreum giving Knize Ten that manly oomph which lets you know this is a scent from the 1920's. There's no real talc or tobacco note, but I swear they both emerge in later stages, as does a ghost jasmine note, not indolic like a perfume, but light, as if catching the scent in the breeze as that Seals & Crofts pop tune I won't utter here. If there is any dandy touch at all, it's that ghost jasmine, but it's not enough to sway this way from the Polo-playing crowd it was meant for, since the "Ten" in Knize Ten refers to the game anyway. Wearing Knize Ten is like watching an old silent film, as you can see the root of all your favorite creations in the years to come from it's stilted frames and jarring moments captured for posterity, but nothing about Knize Ten exists on the same level of refinement as anything it inspired, even deep vintages of drugstore heroes like English Leather. That's not to say Knize Ten isn't quality, as it is extraordinary in performance, it just has the same limitations in distinction compared to it's more diverse progeny that something like Fougère Royale (1882) has when being compared to every subsequent fougère made in it's wake.

So much more has been done within the leather category since Knize Ten came out that there is far more interesting subjects to peruse, and the biggest draw to new buyers is discovering the "origin of the species" as it were. Knize Ten is definitely full-bottle worthy for folks looking to stock up on historic scents, and fits nicely alongside others in it's pioneering class like Jicky de Guerlain (1887), Eucris by Geo F Trumper (1912), Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet (1902), Le Dandy by d'Orsay (1925), Caron Pour Un Homme (1934), Dunhill for Men (1934), and the like. However, for folks who have already thoroughly explored the leather genre, Knize Ten might smell more like homework than a practical wearable fragrance in the 21st century, so I'd leave it to sampling before splurging since the niche price tag comes along with the niche availability. I like Knize Ten, I really do, but I don't feel I love it's powdery floral leather appraoch enough to fully invest in a large bottle of it just yet, but if one finds its way into my collection by the time you read this, you can assume I got a really good deal. Something like this is best worn at formal gatherings due to how stiff, dry, and emotionless it is. Knize Ten won't feel right in modern polite company anywhere but at a wedding, old-school gala/ball, or fundraising event the likes that the richies of the Golden Age had right before the stock market crash sent them into the same bread lines as everyone else during the following Great Depression. One good facet about Knize Ten is it's from an older era where class was understated, so you feel important without feeling pretentious like you would in something more modern and opulent meant for today's equivalent of the same market segment towards which Knize Ten was originally pitched long ago. In conclusion, Knize Ten is a masculine powdery petrol-fueled leather that's often called the daddy of them all (even if there are older leathers), but neither is as masculine, nor powerful as it's followers lead you to believe. After all, guys still wore top hats and used canes when this hit the streets, so how raunchy and virile could you really expect it to be?
17th August, 2018

Douro Eau de Portugal / Lords by Penhaligon's

Douro Eau de Portugal (1911) has had a storied and tumultuous history, and like many a Creed scent from times before their opening to the public, Douro is claimed to have once been a bespoke commissioned fragrance for a member of high society. Penhaligon's usually has documentation to support the existence of their ressurected past works, so I won't push the skepticism too hard, but the smell of Douro does suspiciously fit more with the style current of it's 1978 reintroduction than it's claimed 1911 origin. Percy Croft was the purported original commissioner back at the turn of the 20th century, and the Croft port dynasty turned 300 in 1978 when Douro was first presented by Sheila Pickles as a fragrance for exclusive use by the family. Eventually, it was released to the public in 1985 as "Lords", and went under a series of name changes (Douro in 2004, "Eau de Portugal" in 2009) until it's present compound name was used. Douro is an aromatic citrus chypre at it's core, with the cistus labadanum flower as a major theme, and fits within the pantheon of men's chypres made in the 50's through 80's. Fans of classics like Yves Saint Laurent Pour Homme (1971), Monsieur de Givenchy (1959), or even lesser-known varieties like Gianfranco Ferré for Man (1986) should take note of Douro's amazing herbal citrus top and crisp oakmoss finish. Douro is really good, and objectively well-composed, but doesn't feel as old as it claims to be, nor stands out much from the crowd of the category in which it's placed, dragging it down a few pegs from where it could have otherwise been.

Douro Eau de Portugal opens much like one would expect from the best mid-century aromatic citrus chypres marketed to men, with lemon, lime, lavender, geranium, basil, and bergamot. Sweet manadarin keeps Douro from going into bitter citrus overload, and the heart furthers the classic theme with two florals commonly found in these kind of creations. Michael Pickthall, who was the perfumer behind a lot of the Sheila Pickles-era scents by Penhaligon's, was certainly not alive in 1911, but his vision of this genre of masculine fragrance is outstanding. Neroli and a dominant muguet offer a very cologne-like segue into the classic chypre base of oakmoss, sandalwood, musk, and a heap of labadanum, leaving a crisp mature men's finish most vintage lovers will appreciate. The huge citrus lavender/geranium top with it's 4-way blend dominates long enough that the significantly simpler neroli and muguet floral heart can sort of lean against it and blend into it, creating the kind of semi-meaty accord tarragon usually affords, and here is but a ghost note. The spiky English lavender used, which also reminds me of MEM Wind Drift (1970), creates a slight metallic ring that hearkens to the much-later Penhaligon's Sartorial (2010), which itself was composed by the dubious Bertrand Duchafour, and might have in part been a nod to Douro's tailored gentlemanly demeanor. Sillage and longevity are good for a Penhaligon's eau de toilette, but average when compared to everyone else, with better usability in summer or indoors than in colder climates; I guess "Eau de Portugal" says it all in regards to what climate inspired this and the relative temperatures for which it's best-suited. The oakmoss here might let you get away with autumn use too, assuming you live in a temperate area.

Douro doesn't need fancy custom captives and aromachemical magic to make it's wearer smell properly groomed and structured, which for some might make it a superior fragrance to the later Sartorial, but since one is a chypre, and one a fougère (respectively), I find them wholly incomparable outside the few similar notes they share, and there's just a level of Penhaligon's intertextuality between them despite the lack of an intentional house note. I'm such a sucker for masuline chypres that I'm inclined to favor this one above all other Penhaligon's I've smelled, but the cold hard truth is its main draw to me is that it's similar to things I ultimately find better in this genre. Douro walks the same walk and talks the same talk as an "unvaulted" Creed with its "originally from 19XX but never mind it's actually composed by Y in Z year" gimmick, which deducts some points for a seemingly retroactive pedigree cash-in. This doesn't stop me from liking what Creeds I've sniffed, so likewise it won't stop me here, but it's a bit of ham-fisted historical bluster worth pointing out. If you look past the smoke and mirrors, Douro is a really freakin' good aromatic citrus chypre from the niche barbershop masters, worth every penny for fans of this genre that only suffers from "if you like X then you'll like this" syndrome. Seriously though, when has that ever actually stopped a lover of vintage perfumes from making a purchase? Don't answer that. Good for office or casual use, Douro is Penhaligon's at what they do best: making you smell exceedingly well-kept.
16th August, 2018 (last edited: 17th August, 2018)

Castile by Penhaligon's

Castile (1998) is an exercise in extending the life of the classic eau de cologne formula by the folks at Penhaligon's, much in the same way Eau de Guerlain (1974) was Jacques Guerlain's attempt at the very same several decades prior, but Castile's unknown perfumer tries to suspend the lightness of the neroli profile in time rather than just seguing into heavier base notes for sustain like Eau de Guerlain. Castile takes it's name from the Spanish countryside and more succinctly, from the soap made in that region, which is often scented like a classic eau de cologne anyway with a clean neroli head. The fact Castile is themed this way brings it up directly against the eponymous Mugler Cologne (2001), which would appear a few years later and also be themed after fancy milled soap Thierry Mugler tried recalling from memory, and Mugler's take came to dominate the "extended cologne" segment over Penhaligon's scent or the much-older Guerlain entry, plus came in enormous quantities as if it were just a cologne. Penhaligon's isn't a designer on the scale of Mugler and just doesn't have the same market footprint as them, but I find Castile's take on "soapy orange blossom" best among what I've tried, as it's longer-lasting than the others of its genre in addition to being more realistic with the usage of neroli oil. While not unknown, Castile feels like a veritable "secret weapon" by comparison, since it isn't even the most known of Penhaligon's creations. If you don't like eau de cologne themes or orange blossom for that matter, you should probably stop reading this now and save some time.

Castile opens up with (surprise) neroli, and lots of it. The orange blossom isn't the only facet of the plant to make it's way into the scent however, but more on that further in. The neroli is very potent and natural-smelling here, far beyond the quality of most outside Penhaligon's fellow niche peers or the really venerated cologne classics, asssisted by a bit of aldehyde. Most higher-end cologne-inspired scents don't really justify their price often, but the staying power of the star note here makes it worthwhile to me. A very nice petitgrain joins the neroli to dry it and make it more piquant, before a middle of bergamot and rose enter the freshness fray. The bergamot further adds dryness due to it's generally stark nature, but orange peel also makes a show, adding a tad bit of juiciness back like a tit-for-tat exchange with the bitter bergamot on display, hiding much of the rose in the process. The base is the only real usage of synthetics in Castile, since iso e super and white musk appear in large enough quantities to anchor that undying aldehyde-assisted neroli/petitgrain top to the skin, with just the faintest wisps of cedar near the end to attempt sweeping the iso e under a rug. Anyone wishing that citrus top notes in cologne lasted forever will certainly love this, and you'll smell beautifully of fine Castile soap for hours and hours into a summer day. This stuff was literally built for summer to my nose, and can be worn by anyone, like most traditional eau de colognes new or old. This may come as a shock but Castile is also among the stronger non-parfum selections from Penhaligon's, bucking their notoriety for makinf fragrances of fleeing sillage. You'll get recurring plumes of top notes all day without having to spray on fabric, which is really awesome.

Castile was released at a time where Penhaligon's hadn't quite reestablished itself as a desirable upscale niche barbershop like it once was and now is again, having been sold off by Sheila Pickles to Glynn Manson and Peter Kedge after using Penhaligon's as a springboard for her own career and keeping them on life support long enough to limp through the 70's and 80's. Penhaligon's at that stage was betwixt living much in the past as a floundering niche perfumer with new takes on it's own older themes, and attempting a few awkward stabs at then-modern 90's styles to inject relevance to the brand, causing many a scent from them at the time to be received with mixed success. Castile is thankfully one of the former "back to basics" scents from this period which worked instead of coming across as tired, and methinks it's because they looked outside their UK heritage to concoct it, since it is a German eau de cologne style inspired by the Spanish soap which was scented like said German cologne, presaging the aforementioned Mugler variety in the process. Again, how you feel about Castile reflects how you feel about the genre since it does nearly nothing new besides some chemical parlor tricks to sustain the wear time, but sometimes small tweaks are all it takes to make ordinary into extraordinary. I think Castile is near-perfect for temperature flare-ups in otherwise mild Pacific Northwest summers, spring nearly anywhere else it gets truly hot, or after bath at home any time of year, maybe after using actual Spanish-milled soap after which this is themed. Castile is just a well-done comfortable and surprisingly long-lasting eau de cologne for lovers of Neroli, nothing more and nothing less. Splendid!
15th August, 2018 (last edited: 17th August, 2018)

Fahrenheit by Christian Dior

Fahrenheit is a watershed fragrance on the same level of provocation as most Dior masculines, save maybe the mild-mannered Jules (1980), and has both a legion of devout users and folks who've "crossed paths" with the scent unsuccessfully. Whether or not you find the scent fascinating in it's appeal or just altogether odd depends on how you feel about it's "barrel note", but more on that later. Fahrenheit plays on hot and cold tones within it's main structure, fusing a cool floral top with a warm woodsy middle, a base of green leather and tonka, plus that all-powerful X factor no other fragrance has, nor even can have, because the creation of Fahrenheit's most characteristic quality was a total accident. Michael Almairac, Maurice Roger, and Jean-Louis Sieuzac were all competing perfumers working on primitives to win the bid fo the next masculine Dior fragrance, but none had their idea accepted by the design house, and tossed their samples all in the same waste barrel for disposal. As fate would have it, that barrel sat out in the sunlight for a while and fused together, essentially "cooking" into one, and when somebody returned to find the barrel still there, the smell that came off was evidently so captivating that Dior had chemists analyze a sample of it so the perfumers could form a new composition around it as the base! The infamous "barrel note" is really just leather and a strong violet at it's core, which is the root cause for the petrol smell everyone comments on when they sniff the opening of Fahrenheit, but there's a mish-mash of whatever else was in those original perfume formulas in there too, cooked up and reduced in a way only nature could, so it's impossible to replicate without having the formula gleaned from the sample's analysis. The rest of Fahrenheit is more or less the same late 80's men's floral ya-ya that everyone was doing right before the age of aquatics when calone and dihydromyrcenol took over as the chemistry du jour, and is one of few such floral powerhouses from the era still available.

I'd be lying if I said this strange and cool circumstance wasn't part of the appeal for me, but beyond that, what you end up with here is a scent that fuses the "petrol leather" smell of something antique like Knize Ten (1924), with a violet-led green floral chypre that compares favorably with scents like Chanel No 19 (1971), or Jacomo Silences (1978). We have another situation here like so many of this genre where the masculine or feminine lean is entirely dependent on marketing, and a woman could totally pull this off given she enjoys that petrol leather aura. The opening of Fahrenheit is hawthorne, and honeysuckle, both really odd choices for a men's fragrance, further asserting my previous statement on gender, with bergamot, mandarin, and lavender rounding it out to keep it cool. The bergamot and mandarin aren't really enough to make this a citrus-led scent, as that "barrel note" comes out the gate right away to greet the nose, followed by a warm middle of sandalwood, cedar, chamomile, nutmeg, muguet, jasmine, and the prominent violet which also helps define Fahrenheit. Base notes are all green save the amber, and come in with the leather, patchouli, vetiver, styrax and tonka. The gasoline-like "barrel note" was reduced in 2011 because it evidently didn't meet IFRA standards, but it's still plenty there, and I've smelled both deep vintage from a year after the scent launched, and a more-recent 2015 bottle, with only the presence of the "gasoline smell" dialed back a bit in the newer one. The big deciding factor of hunting vintage or getting newer bottles entirely comes down to what you want to smell more: the "barrel note" itself or wonderful floral chypre surrounding that infamous accord, because that's what you're picking between when you choose vintage or new production, respectively. For me it's a hard choice, but ultimately the newer one wins out simply because of convenience.

Fahrenheit is also infamously brutal on longevity, although sillage can be controlled better than haters will have you believe by simply avoiding your face when applying. A spray on the chest and upper back before donning the shirt is the best way to keep your own personal "barrel bubble" closer to you. I quite like the stuff, and it stands up to heat as well as cold, because it's sharp floral nature prevents Fahrenheit from being too sweet, thick, or cloying like many things this spicy. After all, this is a leather scent we're talking here, and they're known to be pretty hardy in many weather conditions, it's just most leather scents are saddled with aromatics or tons of shrill citrus and powder to narrow their usability. Fahrenheit falls into the same relative class of "dandy-like" floral dalliances laced with something very 80's and very potent, which in this case is styrax over the usual civet found in these kinds of things. Fahrenheit does wear surprisingly well in the 21st century because of it's gender-neutral florals, which combined with it's feverish fan base, explains it's continued production for 30 years, and that's totally outside the fact that the curiosity of experiencing the scent's fuel-like signature accord just keeps drawing new people in. I enjoy this immensely, but I'll be blunt: you have to enjoy stiff leather, florals, and green chypre base notes to truly enjoy Fahrenheit, regardless of the marketing hoo-hah Dior tosses at you, so if green floral chypres or prominent leather accords aren't for you, this is no exception, so sample before going over a barrel with a full bottle purchase. I'd say this is best worn on casual days or out with friends, running errands, and nights at home. If you want to dare this in the office space or a date, you're probably the kind of risk-taker Dior tailors their Fahrenheit ads towards, but don't say I didn't warn you when you get mixed reactions. A divisive but genre-defining classic that scratches an itch for those strange friends everyone has that actually enjoy the smell of gasoline.
15th August, 2018 (last edited: 16th August, 2018)

Lavender / Lavande by Jean des Salines

Laboritoires Cadentia doesn't get much attention on Basenotes, and like Fragonard, is content to exist in it's own little world of experimenting on it's own takes of popular ideas and styles. Unlike Fragonard, Laboritoires Cadentia has never had a uniform line just going under it's own name, pulling a trick similar to General Motors by using a host of sub-brands with "Cadentia" or "Laboritoires Cadentia" somewhere out of the way, making identifying them difficult, exacerbated worse by releasing the same scent under multiple sub-labels to increase potential sales. It's all just too confusing for the average perfume lover to sort, and as a result, most of their business is local to France or a small cult of fans internationally, like Fragonard but even more esoteric. Lavender/Lavande (1945) has been released under two headings: the Jean des Salines label, which is the brand's first, as both Lavender/Lavande with cologne then "cologne extra" (eau de toilette strength) depending on if in English or Latin language regions, and later the cologne strength version as L'eau des Collines, selling alongside the now-stronger "cologne extra" version under the original Jean des Salines label. This review verison is the original EdC, which is now only available in the L'eau des Collines collection.

The first thing noticed about the initial spray of Lavande is it's much more direct to the root of pure lavender itself, like the smell of a lavender sachet or one of those homemade jojoba oil-based lavender sprays the lavender farmers sell in Pike Place market up here in Seattle. There isn't much fussing around with the note, as it's just spiky floral lavender in all it's glory, and it's not the dry English type we're all used to in our air fresheners or as notes in our favorite fougères, but the rounder French variety that sometimes sneaks it's way into orientals but mainly is found in French-milled savon. Orange and lemon do help give the lavender a slight tart edge so it isn't beating us in the noggin with richness, but none of the vanillic tonka or geranium counterbalancing is here. The middle has an interesting camphor note, not on the same level as an after shave or men's tonic, because this is unisex throughout, but enough to add additional "cooling" to the starring lavender, with patchouli to add sweetness and roundness in place of the missing tonka or vanilla. Since patchouli does the foundation work in place of fougère notes, Lavande feels greener than the average lavender juice, frosted over with that camphor to give it a refreshing edge in summer. Finally, and this is the best part, a tobacco and musk base appears, instantly connecting Lavande to the much later Versace The Dreamer (1996) to my nose. Yes, this is effectively a citric lavender-scented tobacco fragrance with patchouli and musk anchoring it down, with camphor as the "fresh factor", which is clever in it's simplicity.

Laboritoires Cadentia isn't Guerlain or Chanel, and most of their concoctions are pretty simple in theme or just downright soliflores, making their style similar to old Ed Pinaud or California Perfume Company selections, with their postwar start making them a bit late to that game but nonetheless interesting. They have some abstract compositions that fall into fougère, chypre, oriental, and other categories too, but they seem more interested in fragrance as a solution to a problem rather than as a fashion statement, since they also have lines of home fragrance and pillow mists too. Lavande is just one of their more noteworthy perfumes that actually registers a blip somewhat in the fragrance community, and since I ran across a full bottle at rummage store for less than a cheeseburger, I figured it was worth a shot. This won't turn a lot of heads unless a lavender-led tobacco unisex eau de cologne sounds yummy, and to me it does, plus even at retail prices this stuff barely scratches entry-level designer territory. For an unusual take on lavender, this might just scratch your itch, and has decent performance for a cologne anyway, so I imagine the Jean des Salines "cologne extra" version is going to plume even more for those worried. Best for casual after-bath evenings.
14th August, 2018

Old Spice by Procter & Gamble

Old Spice is simply a juggernaut in the realm of men's fragrance, and for many generations of American men specifically, it was the ONLY men's fragrance there is to use. Most learned perfume collectors know the truth that would probably horrify a good cross-section of these men, and it is the not-so-curated secret that Old Spice was originally marketed as Early American Old Spice for Women (1937), with the Early American Old Spice for Men (1938) appearing a year later in the famous "buoy bottle" adorned with sailboats, but eventually being switched out for just "Old Spice", which was the original feminine formula bottled the same way as the initial men's variant. The best part about this whole thing is it just reaffirms that fragrance has no gender and marketing does the real work in convincing us what smells "masculine" or "feminine" from a cultural standpoint. Early American Old Spice was composed by William Lightfoot Schultz himself, based on inspiration from his mother's potpourri. Albert Hauck is actually responsible for retooling the scent into it's initial masculine flanker, which was just a more bottom-heavy variant with less aldehydes and citrus, but men could barely tell the difference and often just grabbed the feminine version by accident, which was more common anyway. This ubiquity among both sexes of the feminine version, coupled with the gradual adoption of the scent by more men than women, and sales figures indicating which version these men were actually buying, created the catalyst for the infamous decision to kill the "Early American" nomenclature and just sell the female-marketed formula to men. The men's scent was already abbreviated as "Old Spice" for it's stint as part of military care packages (alongside Hershey bars and packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes) given to troops during World War II. When the soldiers came back home, the buoy bottles now filled with the lady's perfume in cologne strength awaited them at the local drug store of their home towns, devoid of the "Early American" prefix, and they couldn't tell the difference. Having the stuff sort of shoved down their throat as the only way to smell good in a field of battle with no amenities probably helped men of the Greatest Generation actually come around to liking fragrance when they returned stateside, which probably helped a few bottles of English Leather (1949) or Brut (1962) sneak into their medicine chests when those competitors came out later on.

The brutal truth is most guys who grew comfortable with Old Spice never grew beyond it, and a blue-collar toiletries empire was created from that complacency. Additionally, most Old Spice created after the discontinuation of the "Early American Old Spice" name, along with Early American Old Spice for Women itself, fits the description of what people think Old Spice smells like, with decreases in quality when we move farther into the future as older ingredients were replaced with modern alternatives. Modern juice maintains the personality of the older stuff, but is a pallid and washed-out impression made to pinch every penny, and doesn't even come in a glass bottle anymore. Since the variation is so great from era to era (far more than most other long-lived scents with lots of reformulation), I'll make it clear what I'm describing is middle-era Shulton, which is stuff from the 1950's until 1990, before Proctor & Gamble took over to morph the brand into a men's grooming division. Anything from roughly the 50's to the end of the 80's made by Shulton in a white glass bottle will be as I describe it here. Old Spice opens with orange, lemon, nutmeg, clove, star anise, clary sage, and aldehydes, forming that classic barbershop oriental accord every American man knows. Cinnamon, carnation, geranium, jasmine, heliotrope, and pimento berry form the middle. At this stage, Old Spice has much in common with feminine orientals made by Jean Carles, such as Shocking by Shiaparelli (1937), Tabu by Dana (1932), and Indiscret by Lucien Lelong (1936). The deciding factor setting Old Spice apart from these peers is what it does with it's spices, and that gained it favor with men. The orchestration of it's characteristic baroque base also helped reassure men of their masculinity in the dry down. Vanilla, nitromusks, cedar, frankincense, styrax, coumarin, oakmoss and amber all sent Old Spice into woody animalic overdrive once they show up. The original "Early American Old Spice for Men" version by Albert Hauck was a little darker and drier than the feminine formula, but as a slight alteration proved irrelevant as mentioned above, since this William Lightfoot Schultz-penned formula became the only one used in time. Classic prime Old Spice doesn't smell quite like anything else, and despite being an oriental, has an odd "coolness" to it's opening and transition to the middle due to it's use of sage, geranium, and jasmine, which greatly contrast the warmth of the orange, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla in the mix. Old Spice doesn't have a true "cool" or "fresh" note per se, but the counter-balancing plays tricks on the nose. Without Old Spice, things like Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur (1972) or Obsession for Men by Calvin Klein (1986) would have never gained traction.

Old Spice is still an oriental, and still therefore quite warm, so it can be very cloying in heat regardless of it's iconic smell, which makes me wonder how guys made it their one and only signature scent during blazing summer weather. However, the biggest problem with Old Spice isn't it's lack of versatility, but it's ubiquity in the US. For all intents and purposes, Old Spice was the successor to bay rum, which is also quite heady with it's bay leaf and clove interplay, and was a favorite at the turn of the 20th century when it caught on like wildfire in the US. Old Spice was unintentionally the next step in taste evolution for men because of it's similarity to bay rum, even if minty "clean" products like Skin Bracer (1932) also coexisted alongside it. Old Spice's rich mulled orange aroma and musky woods base just hit the spot better than competing fougères with Americans already familiar with bay rum, and it likely became the de-facto scent even for US guys not deployed in WWII, then passed down from father to son. It's pretty hard to wear Old Spice stateside in the 21st century, even if using the more-synthetic newer juice, because that thick semi-virile and assertive aroma, while pleasing in it's own right, is just so closely associated with everyone's father or grandfather now that many walking past will be taken back to a previous point in their life which not everyone wants to revisit. This is part of the problem Old Spice has to somehow overcome: the monster that is it's own legacy as a former monopoly on the smell of the average American man. Obviously Old Spice seldom has such problems in overseas markets, and it once dealt with this issue by having a dozen flankers that Shulton doled out in the late 60's through 80's, until Proctor & Gamble came knocking. P&G's solution to battling this beast was to pimp the name of Old Spice itself into a line of unrelated young men's body sprays, grooming, and bath products, all with cheekily-themed names like "Wolfthorne" or "Swagger" and hideous commercials to match, which succeeded in making Old Spice (the brand) seem cool again but destroyed whatever dignity remained of the original scent's legacy. After all is said and done, the Old Spice most people know is still just a period-correct women's oriental perfume that appeals to guys; once you wrap your head around that concept, then everything else just falls by the wayside, and you either like the stuff for what it is, or you don't. Obviously a thumbs up from me, but don't let that sway you from reaching your own conclusions.
07th August, 2018 (last edited: 16th August, 2018)
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1881 pour Homme by Cerruti

Nino Cerruti as a designer seemed to be an intermediary for more renowned names to graduate through, with the likes of Giorgio Armani, Narciso Rodriguez, and Jean Paul Knott all passing through Cerruti as creative directors on their way to making their own eponymous labels. Meanwhile, Mr. Cerruti himself gradually became less and less concerned with the couture side of the business and returned to the textile business which granted his family the capital for him to delve into design in the first place. Because of this, Nino Cerruti fragrances - which have been primarily marketed to men - have never been a huge draw for the label. 1881 Pour Homme (1990) follows over a decade after the original Nino Cerruti (1978), and like the eponymous debut scent, is a mostly floral affair. 1881 was named after the founding year of the business, but doesn't actually smell older in design to it's predecessor despite the nostalgia, deftly combining the floral elements of the older scent with brighter traditional eau de cologne aspects to make something that's both fresh with modernity but classic in composition. The best way to describe 1881 Pour Homme is as a hedionic floral chypre in league with Eau Sauvage (1966), Aramis 900 (1973), and the later Boucheron Pour Homme (1991) but with drier aromatics in the base that give it a link to greener or darker floral chypres like Lauder for Men (1985) or Salvador Dali Pour Homme (1987) respectively. 1881 can be considered part of the same "dandy revival" as other floral scents from the late 80's and early 90's, but it isn't a mossy powerhouse, heavy oriental or leather like any of them.

1881 Pour Homme brings in the feeling of an eau de cologne minus the neroli, but with a bolstered base of woods and moss to make it sing a quiet love song on skin once the top and middle burn off.1881 opens with hesperides of lemon and bergamot, with lavender, juniper, hedione molecule, and a ton of kitchen herbs. This opening is just part of it's link to the aforementioned Eau Sauvage and Aramis 900, with rosemary, basil, tarragon, clove, galbanum, and just a bunch of things neither scent have, in addition to some of the things they do. Parallels to Eau Sauvage end with the lack of actual floral jasmine in the mix, but continue to share stripes with Aramis 900 thanks to the rose note, which is sweetened into a proxy of damask rose with the addition of black currant. For those who've never experienced either Eau Sauvage or Aramis 900, this equates to a fresh, soft, sparkling herbal lemon opening that moves quickly into pillowy florals, and is one of the most comforting openings in all of men's fragrance, hence most scents of this variety receiving high praise. Granted, it's a very formal and mature aura that gets aligned with "old men" by fashion magazine-brainwashed young guys looking to ride trends rather than trains during their commute to work, but stuff like Gentleman Givenchy (2017) exists for them. After this rose and black currant settle in, ylang-ylang and muguet follow into the aromatic oakmoss-led base creeping up, completing the stage set by the earlier hesperides. Some folks say the finish reminds them of a lighter Kouros (1981) or aforementioned Salvador Dali Pour Homme, but to me that resemblance is too slight. I get vetiver, patchouli, cedar, and musk over oakmoss, which if anything, resembles a milder Boucheron Pour Homme, but even then not really.

1881 is just such a nice and pleasant cologne, devoid of sharp anise or too much green to turn it bitter or medicinal like some of it's fellow Italian peers in this genre. The florals are the star of the show, and although the rose is barely forward enough to dominate the other flowers in the middle, I wouldn't exactly call this a rose scent for men like I would Aramis 900 or Boucheron. Guys who want something gentle, easy-going, and evanescent in come-and-go sillage will love this, and although it has a strong Edmond Roudnitska vibe, it was actually created by perfumer Martin Gras. I'd peg 1881 Pour Homme as mostly a summer scent due to it's lack of significant heft, as again, it's no powerhouse. What I find most intriguing is how enduringly popular such an old design released 25 years past the prime of the hesperidic style became, and much like Boucheron Pour Homme, was an anachronism already in the early 90's running against calone-fueled fresh fougères or dihydromyrcenol-powered aquatics. The last ride of the hediones this was, marching into battle against more sophisticated chemistry, and likely to their doom, but 1881 Pour Homme survived to spawn an empire of flankers. Another simply wonderful nod to the old ways and transitional release on the cusp of huge changes in the perfume industry at the time. Modern 1881 is likely fine but vintage has more oakmoss for the folks who care about that. In any form this is just a refreshing and lovely citrus and floral handkerchief great for beating the heat on a work day or a casual weekend out and about, costing much less than it's quality implies and thus punching far above it's perceived weight, even if moderate longevity leaves me wanting (good thing there's a 6.7oz size). Now that you've sloughed through my review, go try some!
07th August, 2018

Vermeil for Men by Vermeil

Jean-Louis Vermeil is, or perhaps was, a house shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows where it was headquarted, or anything about Jean-Louis Vermeil himself, but the house sprang from nowhere in 1987 and released a series of his and hers scents starting with Maïssa (1987), Casaque (1988), Imagine and Imagine Pour Homme (1989), Imagine Bleu and Imagine Design Pour Homme (1990), before finally laying low for 5 years and returning with the eponymous Vermeil and Vermeil for Men (1995). Vermeil for Men would be followed-up by a series of color-coded flankers throughout the 90's and early 2000's, while the house also released other fragrances with interesting bottle shapes before vanishing. Any internet searching for the address yielded on the bottles turns up a vacant building, while searching for Jean-Louis Vermeil himself will turn up little besides a blurb about the guy being a trained perfumer and getting a business degree in 1980 before magically finding capital to launch a perfume house. There's also a Jean-Louis Vermeil winery, named after the grandfather of retired football coach Dick Vermeil, but the businesses are unrelated. The smell of Vermeil for Men is such an anachronism for it's 90's time period, feeling much more 1980's with it's soapy introduction and slightly animalic floral middle, getting down to business with tobacco at the end, that I'm surprised it has the following that it does, and launched a series of flankers. To make things more tongue-in-cheek, the bottle design of Vermeil for Men is one of the gaudiest I've seen since 70's Avon, being shaped like an actual high-end cigar lighter, with metal flame guard and all, but housing the overwrought perfume sprayer mechanism that's of shaky durability at best.

The smell of Vermeil for Men is quite perplexing as well but also quite good, like a staunch fist shake at conventions of the day by Jean-Louis Vermeil himself, since there's really nothing 90's about it. In fact, we might have another old formula brought to light past it's prime, just like Guerlain did with Coriolan (1998), but with the Vermeil scent, they were only halfway through the next decade rather than near the end of it. As it stands, Vermeil is a very 1980's blend of soapy citrus, rose-lead florals, and 90's-style tobacco nestled on a bed of of patchouli, leather, oakmoss and musk. It's like somebody took the opening of Lomani Pour Homme (1987), married it to the heart of Salvador Dali Pour Homme (1987), and the base of Boss/Boss Number One by Hugo Boss (1985). There's the squeaky-clean bergamot, mandarin, and juniper opening, with a sweet black currant undertone. The middle quickly goes into that dark and murky rose, saddled with ylang-ylang, freesia, violet leaf, and a geranium that sticks out almost as loud as the rose, but lasts longer than the other flowers in the mix. Once the base reaches skin, the florals subside into a piquant aura while patchouli, suede leather, civet, oakmoss, musk, cedar, and vetiver make something that feels like a cross between the aforementioned Hugo Boss scent and maybe also shades of Calvin by Calvin Klein (1981). Then of course, there's the tobacco, which is the one thing actually trending in men's fragrance during the 90's when this was released, and sticking out like a sore thumb compared to rest of the blended base. It almost feels to me like that tobacco was tossed in along with the lighter-shaped bottle, but it's that very same tobacco which makes this so amazing and unique. Blind buys are recommended for the low asking price, especially if you love anything like what I've mentioned above. Vermeil really is almost right in that late 80's pocket, and I do mean just almost, but I don't mind one bit!

It's difficult to say where this stands in the greater scheme of things because it was released way too late for it's style, by a house hardly anyone heard of, and certainly didn't find an audience as the aftermarket is still aswim with the stuff, while other more period-relevant Vermeil scents have risen in price after the house vanished. Vermeil for Men is surely a vintage hound's treasure hunt find, since it's that rare 90's scent which doesn't smell like the clean and boring 90's, but rather is stuck in 80's powerhouse mode, just with a leafy tobacco finish giving it a slight link to stuff like Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme (1994) and Versace the Dreamer (1996). My only complaints here stem from that soapy citrus opening which was better off being used for an aromatic fougère instead of a floral one like this, and the fairly low longevity for something with otherwise knockout performance, since Vermeil for Men roars then becomes a skin scent in 3 hours. The workaround here is just re-applying with that janky sprayer, which shoots out of the side of the bottle instead of the front to boot, making it even more awkward once you get over the shoddy mechanism under all that metal and plastic cladding. Oh well, I guess I shouldn't split hairs too much, since this is effectively a Neapolitan sandwich of an 80's soapy aromatic fougère top, 80's dandy floral fougère middle, and 80's leather chypre base with a touch of 90's leafy tobacco. At the end of the day, this smells like the kind of unique signature fragrance a man with the resources of Jean-Louis Vermeil would commission for himself from another perfumer, which might explain it's amalgam of styles, but released to the buying public with no regard to market trends, which is the part I like most. Not for everyone, and not for all seasons, but a fun little mystery nonetheless.
05th August, 2018

Lauder for Men by Estée Lauder

Lauder for Men (1985) is such a beautiful and massive rule-breaker that I'm surprised it survives, and am furthermore surprised that more folks don't realize what they actually have in this bottle. For starters, just a Lauder-branded masculine was a huge no-no because Estée Lauder Group had the Aramis line specifically for men and the sister line Clinique for the more spa-oriented of their feminine lines. Secondly, this fragrance is for all intents and purposes, a feminine green floral chypre of the kind Estée Lauder had been making for over a decade at that point, but just barely tweaked into a masculine composition. Seriously, anyone who's smelled Clinique Aromatics Elixir (1971), Revlon Charlie (1973), Avon Emprise (1976), or Jacomo Silences (1978) already knows how this smells, and it's astonishing how close to those aforementioned feminines it is! I guess strait guys in the 80's never sniffed their mother's, sister's, girlfriend's or wife's perfumes and literally had no clue! Then again, with genderbending in music from acts like Dead or Alive, Culture Club, Prince and the Revolution, or any number of hair metal acts surfing MTV, it was likely en vogue. Lastly, this stuff is so uncompromisingly sharp and strong that it's designation as "cologne" is another huge spit in the face, making it the first true successor to Estée Lauder's eponymous house-launching Aramis (1965) cologne, despite a league of Aramis-branded scents released in that erstwhile fragrance's wake. I'm really impressed with Lauder for Men, but likely not for the reasons everyone else is who appreciates this stuff. Lauder for Men is so over-the-top yet so under-the-radar at the same time. It's a 70's woman's chypre pefume packaged as a loud 80's powerhouse cologne for men, sold at most Lauder counters but rarely displayed, and neither confirms nor denyies anything about itself, making it simply sublime.

Lauder for Men opens like many green feminine chypres, with a healthy dose of bergamot, aldehydes, galbanum, backed up with lemon, mandarin orange, marigold, anise, clary sage, and juniper. There really is absolutely zilch about Lauder for Men that is masculine in this opening, especially when compared to the castoreum, styrax, and civet-fueled heteronormative standards of the day. In reality, we all know pefume has no gender at all, and this is really just expectation shaped by society's perception at the time. Further into Lauder for Men's dry down comes the expected florals of this variety of chypre. A very prominent jasmine and muguet are balanced with rose, carnation, cardamom, coriander, and a slight vetiver touch. I never really smell the spices or vetiver in this, so chances are that they're just here to mute the florals and keep them from being dusty in the mix. Halfway down the transition, Lauder reveals it's lineage to Aramis with a "golden" glow of those sharp florals, aldehydes and the oakmoss base mixing together into something you either love or hate about both fragrances, but Lauder does it with more class and poise as it doesn't have the hoary leather note to "alpha it up" like Aramis. The base is pretty dialed-in as a chypre should be, with oakmoss as the key fixative, and a duet of sandalwood alongside cedar to keep it aromatic; the latter wood is the only real nod to masculinity in the whole thing, as the remaining patchouli, musk and slight vanilla can go either way. Lauder for Men is simply the green floral chypre presented to men with little fanfare or adjustment, and comes across like what the Aramis line would have rolled out next in the early 70's if they weren't dead-set on presenting Aramis 900 (1973) as a rosy and herbal answer to Christian Dior's Eau Sauvage (1966). Better late than never I say!

Wearing Lauder for Men really does feel like wearing a "man's perfume" when out and about despite it's cologne labelling, due to the amount of class going into both the orchestration of the scent and the monolithic gilded column of a bottle, reminiscent of Art Deco style channeled through an 80's penchant for sharp geometry. Boucheron Pour Homme (1991) would come really close to the same level of sharp golden florals and woods, but favored rose in the composition above Lauder's featured jasmine and muguet. For men who love stuff like Aromatics Elixir but don't have the guts to wear it in public, this might be the answer, and most older guys who were around when Lauder for Men dropped are well-aware of how heady and opulent it is, especially in summer when it wears best. I'd dare say this gives most niche masculines in this vein a good run for their money, and I had a guy on the streets of Seattle wearing Amouage Jubilation XXV (2007) actually ask me what I'm wearing right before I sat down to write this, so I know what I'm talking about! Don't let the year of release or the name of the house fool you: Lauder for Men is sheer distinction in a bottle not to be taken lightly. If it wasn't, why else would Donald Trump steal it's bottle design (which somehow Lauder permissed) for his own dubious eponymous masculine? Maybe Lauder sales associates hide it because they don't want the secret out, since even the perfumer for this is unknown! In any case, if you love florals and fresh green notes on a real chypre base regadless of sex, you can't go wrong for the price. Best for formal occasions, work, or even a hot day in good duds, Lauder for Men is a timeless and resplendent classic!
03rd August, 2018 (last edited: 04th August, 2018)

Sartorial by Penhaligon's

Penhaligon's Sartorial (2010) has something of a hype train behind it and I can see why. Conversely, it gets a fair amount of negative blowback because of this hype, but also because of the perfumer responsible and the brand itself. Not helping matters is that Sartorial is the first Penhaligon's creation with a significant amount of chemistry involved, steering away from the old-world naturalism of their classics, which likely rubbed Penhaligon's core market the wrong way. Finally, after we unpack who made it, how it was made, and who it targets, we have to address the scent itself, which is also a tiny bit of a challenge to a throughly modern nose in spite of the technology used to create it. Sartorial is a barbershop fougère, more so in the mossy and powdery vein of the French or American styles than in the dry citrus and woods variety of classic British tonics or colognes, which is the first part of it's controversial nature. Sartorial runs right up against modern high-end niche fougères that seek to grant a similar experience, like Invasion Barbare by MDCI (2005) or even cheap drugstore classics like Canoe (1936) still stalking the earth. To make matters worse, journeyman perfumer Bertrand Duchafour created Sartorial, and he's known as a hired gun whose origins lie with the irreverent Commes de Garçons, and a man who pads entire catalogs of niche upstarts with his sometimes samey compositions; I don't feel he did that here, but I get the concern. Finally, "elitist colognoisseurs" give this tons of blowback for courting young affluent businessmen when Penhaligon's has been the center of the "what is niche?" argument, similar to Guerlain, which isn't a fashion designer either, but like Penhaligon's, hasn't directly identified with niche perfumery despite being dedicated to perfume and having products on the ultra-luxe price tier. Curiouser and curiouser...

Sartorial seeks to replicate the smell of the back room at Norton & Sons Bespoke Tailor of Saville Row, and that's not to say Sartorial is recreating the smell it had in the 19th century, but the smell it has now, marrying this aura to a timeless barbershop fougère structure. Logically, it's going to take a decent number of synthetic scent molecules to replicate the smell of metal steam irons on fabric and silk sachets of lavender or heliotrope hanging from warm-pressed jacket pockets, but it appears Mr. Duchafour achieves success. I won't try to give a breakdown of what I smell compared to the listed pyramid for this reason, as it's just a hot mess of notes, but outside the impression of a tailor's workspace, I catch a spiky lavender opening, soapy neroli like an eau de cologne, cardamom, beeswax that distantly recalls the drydown of Chanel's Antaeus (1981), vanilla like what's found in the aforementioned Canoe, and a very complex base that stays light on it's feet. You get a slight talcum note but it's not on the level of a Brut (1963) or Wild Country (1967), while the usually-buttery oakmoss is countered by the synthetic metallic note in the top, making the musk, dry myrrh and cedar do the talking. Sartorial finishes like the antithesis of something such as cK Be (1996), being clearly the scent of a heteronormative upper-class man dressed "to the nines" leaving his favorite exclusive barber, rather than a gender-fluid barbershop fougère "for everyone" like cK Be has become. Despite this, Sartorial is not intimidating like a typical Penhaligon's scent can sometimes be, as it's all impressions and not assertions. Sartorial is lavender, vanilla, oakmoss, and beeswax absolute wrapped in cedar and tonka when you parse away the synthetic filler, and that's not bad; unexciting perhaps, but not bad.

Whether or not you feel Penhaligon's has any claim to niche status or market is irrelevant to what they are and always have been: an old perfumer with long-held royal warrants that like Geo F Trumper or Ed Pinaud, has it's origins in high-end barber culture of the Victorian Age. Unlike Creed, Penhaligon's has never banked on the status of past clientele nor priced it's catalog accordingly, even if I wouldn't exactly call them affordable either, since you're going over 3 digits in price unless you buy "found" testers and the like. As for Sartorial itself, sales prove the validity of it's existence, like it or not. Ironically, replicating the smell of a tailor's room would turn away a true snob as they'd wish to avoid smelling like "the help", and that's a bit of tongue-in-cheek I can appreciate. I'm neither on the "for" nor "against" hype trains here, and see it as a nice barbershop smell with a bit of "movie magic" replicating the tailoring aesthetic; it's enjoyable for this reason but never going to be my signature. The infinitely better-crafted Rive Gauche Pour Homme (2003) already holds my heart as my ultimate barbershop fougère experience, and it doesn't need warrants or olfactory CGI to do it. Still, Sartorial is a very good fougère you won't regret picking up if you can dig the metallic "hot iron" vibe, and will make you smell like you're wearing your Sunday best, even if you're just in jeans and a t-shirt buying McDonald's. Sartorial is best-worn as a work scent or a dress-up event like a formal dinner with visiting family, or attending a wedding. Sartorial could also replace the long-gone Penhaligon's Racquets Formula (1989) as it's in that part of the family tree. Never challenging, always pleasant, with moderate performance and adequate sillage, Sartorial could easily be a work daily for a white-collar 9 to 5 guy who's more Men's Warehouse than Brooks Brothers, which is where I feel this fits the best.
02nd August, 2018 (last edited: 03rd August, 2018)

Gianfranco Ferré for Man by Gianfranco Ferré

Gianfranco Ferré was a fashion designer known within his circles as "the architect of fashion", and although he was cut down tragically by a brain haemorrhage in 2006, he helped maintain a simple style rooted in Italian tradition during his years with us. Ferré must have been doing something right, because he eventually saw appointment as creative director at Christian Dior from 1989-1997. On the fragrance side of things, Gianfranco Ferré has always been small potatoes, launching Gianfranco Ferré (1984) followed by this masculine version two years later, then dotting the landscape with new releases every few years without a ton of fanfare. After his death, clothing became the biggest focus for the creative directors who inherited ownership of the label, with most fragrances seeing discontinuation in 2015, and two new feminine fragrance lines rebooting the label's scent footprint in 2016. Despite this, enough stock remains on most Gianfranco Ferré masculines that exploration isn't too painful, but this debut male fragrance is honestly the only one most colognoisseurs really need. Gianfranco Ferré for Man is beautiful hybrid style merging the French aromatic citrus chypre with the herbs and crisp moss of an Italian barbershop fougère. I'd say Gianfranco Ferré ultimately stays in the chypre lane due to it's leather base, but it's almost too gorgeous for words, and although I'm going to try my best, something this close to being the peak for it's genre needs to be experienced first hand in order to truly "get it". Best part of all? This really isn't an 80's powerhouse despite it's release year, so it's never rude in modern or strange company.

Fans of everything from Moustache by Rochas (1949) to Monsieur de Givenchy (1959), Yves Saint Laurent Pour Homme (1971), Balenciaga Ho Hang (1971), Bogart Eau de Toilette Pour Homme/Bogart Signature (1975), Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme (1978), Azzaro Pour Homme (1978), Un Homme Charles Jourdan (1980), Dior Jules (1980), Versace L'Homme (1984) or Aramis Tuscany Per Uomo (1984) will absolutely fawn over Gianfranco Ferré for Man; the lineage is all right there in the bottle. It has all the right moves and curves in all the right places, from it's slightly skanky citrus top, through it's green florals and herbs heart, to it's woodsy, mossy, leathery base that just wows from the minute it peaks out from under the rest. The opening of Gianfranco Ferré has been cited as unsettling to some, and well... I can see that. The top of the fragrance borrows the tart urineous lemon from Moustache but tames it a bit with manadarin in place of lime and civet. Bergamot is of course present, but once the middle arrives it's all kitchen spice rack and green herbs in the "fern" accord joined by jasmine, lavender, petitgrain, and orris root. The base is the real star of the show, and the herb-crusted floral citrus pyramid on top is merely a segue to it. Cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, musk, and a very strong oakmoss note joust with the leather under the nose, in the very same "leather in the forest" way that Dior Jules manages, but with an even crisper moss finish that stays around all day long. It's just utterly delicious.

Not everyone likes a chypre, nor does everyone like the lemony herbal treatment typical of the Italian barbershop variant, so despite my gushing, this isn't for everyone. It's flown under the radar for years and only recently has started slowly rising in price in the aftermarket, and current Gianfranco Ferré perfumers ITF Beauty couldn't give the stuff away for years, which is a real shame. Old moss heads likely already know the deal on this stuff, as it's one Hell of a mossy little number, and vintage fans into male chypres probably already have their half-dozen backup bottles too, so no big rush in this if you're new to chypres, it's not going anywhere, plus there are cheaper examples to get your feet wet. However, if you want to shoot almost strait to the top of the heap, this 80's latecomer to a style that arguably passed from prominence in the 70's is an excellent starting point. I dare you to find a crisper, smoother, and more composed aromatic citrus and leather masculine at any price save maybe something in the exorbitant ultra-luxe range where a home mortgage payment is the asking sum. The beautiful herbal/floral moss treatment here is nearly second to none this side of maybe deep vintage Chanel Pour Monsieur (1955), but is really closer to the aforementioned Balenciaga Ho Hang, being a good replacement for it considering how much of a unicorn that long-gone scent has become in the wild. I can't help but feel like Vito Corleone from The Godfather when doused in this stuff! Pure old-school Italian gentlemanly class for fans of mature masculines! One of the best!
31st July, 2018

Quercus by Penhaligon's

I feel like Quercus had a similar goal in mind as that of the later Zizonia (2001), and that was to show the world that Penhaligon's could still make them "like they used to" in regards to composing in the spirit of it's back-catalog of late 19th and early 20th century fragrances made by William Penhaligon himself. The "old pennies" were all very dry, very proper English barbershop smells, ranging from the dandy civeted rose and sandalwood of Hammam Bouquet (1872), stark lemon, pine, pepper, and musk wake-up call of Blenheim Bouquet (1902), to the anglicized Fougère Royale (1882) that was Penhaligon's English Fern (1911). Quercus seeks to be a successor to the oeuvre of William Penhaligon, as crafted by one Christian Provenzano, and to a strong degree it does complete that task. My only question is why do this? Penhaligon's still makes most of it's classic catalog, and although painfully traditional recreations of a lost art are always nice from an academic interest perspective, Quercus doesn't really add to the legacy in any way, and is not only an unnecessary exercise, but boringly redundant like the shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock's Psycho in the 1990's. Now I'm not saying Quercus is an embarrassing overreach in the same way Vince Vaughn's portrayal of Norman Bates was, as it manages to actually stay in control of what it presents as it dries down, but again, why was this thought to be something worth adding to the catalog?

The fundamental thing about Quercus is it riffs off of eau de cologne styles, but not with the neroli-filled accuracy of Penhaligon's own Castille (1998), which would follow only 2 short years after this, but instead Quercus fuses the cologne vibe with English austerity and dryness, with an oakmoss and musk base that form the the only (slightly) redeeming part of the scent. Quercus itself means "oak" so I can see the necessity to have oakmoss in the base, but once the citrus, dusty floral heart, and cardamom finish, you end up with a Victorian proxy for cK One (1994). I mean, if steam punk cK sounds like your bag, this might have you written all over it, and indeed an untapped niche market awaits. The scent opens with bergamot, lemon, lime, and mandarin, the latter of which stands in for a normal cologne's neroli, which is why this is missing any soapy sweetness, remaining tart and juicy instead. Jasmine and muguet come alongside cardamom plus something else white and floral in tone I can't make out, eventually burning through the citrus in only an hour. What's left is a quite right British barbershop base of sandalwood, oakmoss, amber, and musk, with a shot of grassy galbanum keeping the finish from getting round and pillowy like cK One. Quercus is the humorless unisex fragrance alternative for folks who want to avoid seeming hip in their choice of androgynous scent. Another way to look at it is Quercus achieves a warm scratchy wood finish the natural way, rather than with norlimbanol.

I don't hate Quercus, but I also don't particularly care for it. Even if this stuff had been sold alongside Hammam or Blenheim Bouquet in the old days, I doubt many would have reached for it because it's effectively a flash of juicy citrus, then a dry floral woodsy musk that is neither floral enough for the high street dandies nor musky enough for the back-alley fops, as both had better options even then, meaning this would move off shelves only if better choices were out of stock. What Quercus comes off to me as, is a lazy cross-section of Penhaligon's early styles in a bottle: it starts like a cologne, then transitions to a floral, before ending in fougère notes, but not even good ones because the stuff never fully commits to the style it's paying homage to in each phase before entering the next, drying down to the half-hearted oakmoss base that is the true face of the fragrance. Pleasant, but boringly dry and cut with too much ambiguity, Quercus is not the representation of oak its name paints it to be, nor one that should be bothered with outside the Penhaligon's dedicated fanbase, who are the folks wearing this most. I'd wear it if given to me, but considering there are so many better options within the house's own lines alone, this is more of a B-side meant as passable catalog filler which I'd barely reach for even if received as a gift, meaning it's an "oh I might as well" choice I'd rather not feel obligated to make. Definitely sample this before passing your own judgment though, as you might find this to be enjoyable despite where I stand with it.
31st July, 2018

RSVP by Kenneth Cole

Kenneth Cole RSVP (2006) was hot on the heels of Frank Voekl's Kenneth Cole Signature (2005), which itself was a woodsier reorchestration of the garish and misunderstood Kenneth Cole New York Men (2002) made by Steve Demercado, meaning that RSVP was the culmination of this more-oriental train of thought but with Cole's trademark grapefruit house note stapled on. I go against popular opinion among male fragrance aficionados, as I rather enjoy Kenneth Cole's fairly unique grapefruit-powered 2000's masculine output. "Colognoisseurs" used to their expensive niche or esoteric and often discontinued vintage designer fragrances often forget that a "house note" tying all of a perfume maker's creations together has been employed since antiquity by even distinguished like Guerlain, and if Kenneth Cole is to blame for anything, it's that his love of dry woodsy grapefruit accord over (mostly over cypress) was very "en vogue" during the decade he used it most, and sometimes worn a little too much on his sleeve as a house note, but thankfully it's actually quite subdued here in RSVP. I'm not trying to paint RSVP as a hidden gem; it isn't anything more than a soft woodsy amber oriental take on the main Kenneth Cole masculine theme, meant for romantic or evening use where others from the line won't do, unlike the more-formal Kenneth Cole Signature or casual Kenneth Cole Reaction (2004). Besides, Frank Voelkl made this one as well as all those named (outside of New York), so it's only natural that they all share similar chemistry.

RSVP opens with that Kenneth Cole grapefruit/cypress note you either love or hate, and from the looks of things, mainstream fellas love it but more refined noses consider it a cheap shot like the reuse of aerial dogfight stock footage in an old WWI movie. I get it guys, this is phoned-in but for me it's a well-done kind of phoned-in performance, like a rehearsed live band performance for Saturday Night Live. Pepper and sweet lavender finish the brief and soft opening that then moves into a heart of iris and cedar, which gives RSVP most of it's quietly romantic poise. The cedar overtakes the synthetic iris note, the latter of which is another soapy love or hate note among male fragrance fans, with a synthetic "orchid" accord filling the gaps in a floral equivalent to what the "fern" accords at this time also were. The base of amber, vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli and musk feels more natural and cozy, while the synthetic cashmeran give the citrus, iris, and woods a plush bed of pillows to land on. I can see how the trail of this can garner compliments if that's why you wear fragrance, but for me it feels like RSVP goes for a tobacco-less take on Versace The Dreamer (1996) with the iris note, but then ads in a hefty cedar to dry it up before ending in an ambery base that mimics Gucci Pour Homme (2003), but stuffs it full of synthetics to lighten it up. Tom Ford was still a year away from his Tom Ford for Men (2007), which would really steal the show away from mid-tier ambers like RSVP, at least until Dolce & Gabbana The One For Men (2008) came along to become the middle-road amber darling, robbing RSVP of any chance to redeem the Kenneth Cole house, but for the price I still maintain that you can do worse.

RSVP briefly wore a unicorn horn in it's original red glass presentation (which had wood box coffret to boot) after it failed to market well and was cut, but unlike other big designers that leave discontinued dark horse faves for dead, Kenneth Cole actually relaunched this with a black bottle. Some really overzealous folks will try to tell you that this is better in vintage, but this composition doesn't really rely on many natural ingredients and I doubt the sandalwood was real even at it's launch, plus whatever oakmoss there may have been didn't come through on the older stuff nor feels missing in the newer juice. This is pure Ross and TJMaxx territory here, so for fans of musky and woodsy ambers who like discovering surprisingly well-composed cheapies, Kenneth Cole RSVP might grant a small thrill for the price of a meal at Red Lobster. I find it to be solid, likable, and rounder than most Kenneth Cole scents I own or have tried, but not a huge standout in this genre even at this price point since it's higher-class peers of the day have joined it like brothers-in-arms down in the discount bins of Marshall's and can be had just as easily for the same price as RSVP. Still, fans of Kenneth Cole will find this among his best early output, while everyone else not already riding the hate train on this will find it to be a competent, if somewhat beige-in-delivery romantic semi-oriental scent that gets the job done with fair performance when you want a little sauve in your step but not enough to look like you're trying too hard. Decent longevity here, but wears close to skin after a few hours. For evening use only!
30th July, 2018 (last edited: 31st July, 2018)

Boss Number One by Hugo Boss

Hugo Boss is an enduring men's fashion brand formed out of a humble uniform maker, that to some is stained with the infamy of it's founder being one of the early suppliers of SS uniforms to the Nazi party, but the death of the original Hugo Boss in 1948 and passing of his business to Eugen Holy meant the reputation as a private-sector suit maker could begin. The vertical white stripe on black suit fabric would eventually become associated with Boss apparel, and like the older Brooks Brothers, a legacy of male-centric design. It makes perfect sense that the debut fragrance for the house would be a masculine one, and Hugo Boss would launch Boss (1985) in limited capacity at Hugo Boss boutiques, before a full retail product line launch in 1985, including shaving and grooming items. Boss pulled no punches with it's marketing, declaring itself an alpha among betas and omegas with lines like "Shift into the power of patchouli" or "experience the triumph of pleasure" and other cringe-worthy exaltations that in 1985 must have seemed pretty "heckin' cool". Luckily, the scent of Boss was equally bold to match the claims of the accompanying literature, setting a precedent with it's honeyed civet, rose, and patchouli tour-de-force that would be emulated by others throughout the remaining reign of the 80's powerhouse. Boss does what they do with more control and development, as it has double the notes of it's later 80's peers, hiding it's raging 1980's type A personality in a pin stripe suit with a Phil Collins soundtrack in the background a la Christian Bale's character in the film American Psycho, bubbling with unscrupulous intent underneath that well-tailored suit but just barely.

Boss by Hugo Boss opens with a skanky civet, bergamot, lavender, and artemisia blast, with an intriguing sour green apple note floating up. Juniper, lemon, basil, and caraway are also cited in the official note pyramid but if they're there, it's pretty well-blended and just part of the golden aura this gives off. The honey comes in next to calm the civet and mull it into a smooth masculinity that is just virile enough to avoid the used jockstrap connotation of Kouros (1981) or the later Lapidus Pour Homme (1987), adding rose and geranium to bring in a dandy-like quality that also seemed a presage to the latter 80's men's civeted florals that were the last hurrah for the powerhouse era. Boss just does everything so smoothly and composed compared to later louder, more jagged, and ostentatious scents that borrowed it's ideas, being one of the few from the day that still feels wearable within appropriate contexts in the 21st century, rather than just a gaudy nostalgia trip for vintage powerhouse fiends. Orris root, jasmine indole, and muguet continue the thick floral middle until the base arrives, which is where the touted patchouli lives. While not as direct as the civeted patchouli of Givenchy Gentleman (1974), Boss does bridge a gap between it and 80's civet oakmoss bombs quite succinctly, saving that oakmoss for last under a rich semi-oriental bed of sandalwood, cedar, musk, amber, cinnamon, and tobacco. I don't get much note separation in the base thanks to the blending, but the patchouli joins the lingering rose, civet, moss, and honey from time to time.

Boss by Hugo Boss would make a huge splash in the 80's, and both Zino Davidoff (1986) and Balenciaga Ho Hang Club (1987) would riff off of it fairly closely but with even skankier leanings towards floral fougère or floral leather chypre tones respectively in attempts to out-do "the Boss", while this scent sat squarely in the middle of oriental, fougère, and chypre styles, being a truly undefinable powerhouse experience. A sport fragrance followed two years later and then a range developed, until the 90's saw Hugo Boss enter more casual markets with related apparel and it's Hugo scent (1995), before reusing the Boss name for a new scent in 1998. The uproar from fans of the original must have rang the ears of Hugo Boss executives because shortly thereafter, the new Boss became "Boss Bottled" while this original eponymous debut was relaunched as "Boss Number One". Folks fearful of reformulation can try searching for the "non-Number One" original issue, but it's difficult since the renamed one has now been in production longer. Differences are fairly obvious, as tastes no longer favor civet (or animalics overall), and limitations on rose oil, oakmoss, and mysore sandalwood mean the newer vintages are soapier and a bit milder/drier in the finish. Synthetic civetone in much smaller quanties exist within "Boss Number One" as well, which is still a very good fragrance in it's current form, just more polite and office-friendly. As an epitome of masculine fragrance for men in the 1980's, the "Boss" is quite simply an appropriately-named icon. Enjoy responsibly.
30th July, 2018

Zizonia by Penhaligon's

I could end this review by saying Zizonia is a gutted Hammam Bouquet (1872) remade with geranium in place of rose, but I won't be that mean. Here we have Penhaligon's doing what they know best when not making a barbershop scent, and that's making woodsy Victorian florals that are "pretty" and completely safe but a bit anemic in style. Don't get me wrong, some people love these dainty and dusty things reminiscent of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, and I can't blame them, as it's the same romanticizing of a period that makes people still love loud 1980's powerhouse oakmoss bombs. The key difference here is the Victorian floral was the prim and proper thing men and women of upper classes wore when they wanted to show grace, and not the jasmine and musk-laced oriental scents that the "fallen" women of the London streets wore, the provocative scents that perfumers still put their spin on even into the 21st century. Avon made these florals their bread and butter as the California Perfume Company (1886-1939), while big designers try to marry this aesthetic to oakmoss, fruit, ozone, or chemical woods depending on what the jus du jour of the decade was (or is), but the strait-up floral is kind of something we're more used to as an air freshener than a personal fragrance unless we're dealing in ouds or soliflores. Still, Penhaligon's is Penhaligon's, so this is unsurprising, and honestly not bad by any measure, just boring. You could easily get something in this vein a lot easier and cheaper in a cK One (1994) flanker, but I guess Zizonia will appeal to fans of the kind of purist perfumery on display here.

Zizonia opens with orange, bergamot, and coriander, with that last one adding a bit of bite to an otherwise vapidly dry citrus start. There are a lot of spices in the middle, including the usually virile cumin, but they all muddle together and are of low quantity that a sort of "dirt note" is created with them, which really suggests nothing and adds to the dustiness of the flowers. Black pepper, cardamom, ginger, and nutmeg all swirl around here in what feels like something meant for mulled cider and not a fragrance, but they help the very prominent geranium leap out ahead of the lavender also present, to take over the scent. You'll get hours of dry, browned-out, and very staunch geranium, before an equally parched patchouli note is joined by sandalwood, cedar, vetiver, and a powdery amber the likes of which was picking up steam in the early 2000's. Zizonia finishes as a faded dusty sandalwood and geranium, the equal opposite of the virile civet and rose floral of Hammam Bouquet. It feels almost like somebody was out to actually neuter that scent so it would have more mass appeal and be cleansed of it's sexual vigors, like a disapproving 19th century priest caught William Penhaligon red-handed, forced him to go to church, then change his dandy rose civet bomb from rakish to wholesome, just 129 years later. Zizonia is quite pleasant, and for people who want pleasant, totally non-suggestive floral, neither of gender, intent, or anything else, this is a perfect choice. As alluded to above, it's a high-end cK One scent, in a prettier bottle with a nice bow. Projection is the usual Penhaligon's weak point here, but this is sharp enough to stay on skin for hours, so it'll run the long haul with you as a work fragrance if need be, but better in spring or autumn where humidity won't smother it or chill air makes it undetectable to the nose outside.

Zizonia to me is for the person who loves white florals, but just wishes they were a little less ghostly, or the unisex fragrance lover that wants something a little more anachronistic in nature, like for a steampunk event or ballroom. The orange, geranium, dry mulled cider spice, and woods will give Zizonia lots of gentle vibrato all throughout a day, but unless that day is filled with humorless events like social work, you're probably going to find that it becomes little more than a personal air freshener. I like old-fashioned florals, and I have a few, but for me they're something I wear as a palette cleanser when my nose has grown accustomed to heavy mosses or musks and give me some fatigue, so it's like having a cobb salad when you've eaten nothing but rich curries and spiced dishes all week. I think that's why this harmless kind of thing took a back seat to more abstract, daring creations in the 20th century, when chypres and fougères came into their own, followed by orientals, leathers, and aromatic varieties all around. Florals on their own are nice but devoid of personality, without something like civet, benzoin, labdanum, or even a big old whack of norlimbanol to make them clash with something for better or worse. Flowers, woods, and spice or and there only gets you so far, and although it's a painstakingly traditional and beautiful display of old-world craftsmanship on display with Zizonia, it's a fragrance that at once feels irrelevant at it's price point and place in history to the point where I ask: Why is Penhaligon's still doing this? I gave a positive rating because I appreciate the history here, but wearing Zizonia is more like wearing a painstakingly-crafted replica than something celebrating old styles but with a new twist.
29th July, 2018 (last edited: 05th August, 2018)

Endymion by Penhaligon's

Endymion is the first offering from Penhaligon's that really tried to marry a modern sensibility to their old gentrified barbershop ways, and it was pretty successful. Penhaligon's chose the oriental angle with Endymion, striking similar comparisons to the older and more-obscure Siècle by Fragonard (1998), but more famously with Armani's first masculine oriental Black Code/Code (2004) which would launch a year after this. Accusations of Endymion being an Armani Code clone are unfounded though, as this still leans much more towards barbershop fougère than out-and-out oriental spice, which is also where it breaks from Siècle as well. People who miss the rich cinnamon, lemon, and nutmeg of Siècle would do well to transition over to Endymion, as it continues on that scent's spirit in many ways. All in all, Endymion suffers in much the same way as most Penhaligon's fragrances do, in the projection department, but it's rounder and richer ingredients help it keep to skin and shirt sprays can fix the projection issue. Endymion also caught the same popularity wave of old-school barbershop modern revivals that was triggered by the Gucci Pour Homme reboot and Rive Gauche Pour Homme in 2003, the same year this launched. The retro wave propelled Endymion to decent amounts of exposure, making it one of the bigger recent names under the Penhaligon's stable outside it's famous antiquities Hammam Bouquet (1872), Blenheim Bouquet (1902), and English Fern (1911). Endymion was more thrilling in 2003 than it likely is now, but just continues to plow over in sales because it's name has more recognition than perhaps any other newer Penhaligon's scent, so a lot of blind buys happen with this one.

The scent opens with lovely mandarin, bergamot, lavender, and sage, all really well-tuned barbershop accords that quickly give berth to the spicy modern oriental tones mixed in. Cardamom, nutmeg, and a nod to Blenheim Bouquet's black pepper all show up in the top, giving this weight despite it's citric airiness. Geranium, coffee, and amber continue the barbershop and oriental tug of war, but the coffee draws comparisons to Mugler's Angel Men/A*Men (1996), giving Endymion a gourmand flourish further linking it to the turn of the millenium. The scent stays deceptively subtle despite it's heavier componets, until a base of vetiver, sandalwood, incense, leather, musk, and a myrrh note bring us into dry powdery territory near the end. It's the roundish and sweet kind of leathery powder associated with 60's greats like Brut (1963) and Wild Country (1967) that ties Endymion back to it's barbershop leanings, but more of an American barbershop style than the usual piquant or austere British one, with the dryness of the myrrh and vetiver being the counterbalance. Make no mistake, there is still a lot of UK sensibility here as nothing is ever overbearing, emotionally evocative, nor sexy whatsoever, showing that same detached patriarchy through station rather than virile prowess that runs through all turn-of-the-century British barbershop styles. In a nutshell, despite it's modern sweetness, roundness, and accessibility, Endymion still showcases that same "I'm better than you, don't question it, because that's just the way things are" kind of vibe that runs through all the Victorian stuff Penhaligon's still makes. It's a stiff upper-lip vibe you either like or don't, just softened a bit here with a more-casual youthful tone to attract the mall-goers that buy this stuff from The Art of Shaving rather than tracking down a Penhaligon's shop to take in the culture or history. Endymion is a cozy smell that's good for home or office that asserts it's British austerity only here and there, but like a nice bowl of Shepard's Pie, is more satisfying than it is scintillating.

Endymion is a good scent because of it's soft touches, fleeting warmth, and comfortable tones that get married to the bright, sharp, dry, and peppery elements that defines much of the Penhaligon's "landed gentry" vibe as a perfumer. There isn't much by way of the dandy florals and handkerchiefs here, but Penhaligon's has other period pieces for that, so for the guy who wants to step lightly into the world of 19th century wet shaving culture, but doesn't want a scent that totally smells like he spends an hour with beard oils and shaving brushes, this is a good entry point. The full suite of Endymion products works well together, including body wash and even a stronger "parfum concentree" for the person that wants to simply radiate the lavender and spice rather than leave a subtle trail. I think Penhaligon's Sartorial (2010) would be the successor to this scent because it was a more perfect union of early 20th century American barbershop style and modern balancing than this was, ditching the British austerity outside it's metallic vibe, plus continues the classic fougère revival that Rive Gauche Pour Homme started, but was interrupted by oakmoss restrictions thanks to IFRA (which Penhalgion's mostly ignores). Endymion still has it's fans (myself included), and is an institution that's earned it's place, but probably won't thrill somebody discovering it new for the first time nowadays because the powdery warm amber and musk base thing has literally been done to death thanks to Tom Ford, and is so ubiquitous that it's turned up in celebrity cheapies like stuff bearing Tim McGraw's name. Ultimately, this downmarket descent of the powdery amber style makes Endymion seem like expensive old hat to the uninitiated. Definitely sample before you buy!
29th July, 2018

4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser by 4711

Echt Kölnisch Wasser No. 4711 has all the historical gravitas of a famous monument in the perfume community, even if it's olfactory gravitas is pithy compared to even the weakest modern commercial sprays. Perfumes existed before it, and indeed so did "eau de Cologne" as made by Johann Maria Farina gegenüber dem Jülichs-Platz since the beginning of the 18th century, but in the case of perfumes, were mostly bespoke creations for the ruling class, while Farina'a cologne ordered word-of-mouth mostly by nobiles and successful merchant families. 4711 often contests itself as the first eau de cologne, but while nobody argues against it being an "original eau de Cologne" from Köln Germany, it isn't the first. Farina's product would be kept small-batch and within higher society circles until the popularity of cologne exploded in the 19th century, but 4711 would be the first example of a mass-produced scent sold with that purpose widely available from the onset. The Carthusian Monk "legend" of how Wilhelm Mülhens came up with his recipe is pure bunko so far as I'm concerned, and is proof that perfumes high and low have been inventing their own pedigrees for centuries if it means impressing the would-be-customer. Mülhens even tried to use the Farina name when a distant relative not affiliated with the Johann Maria Farina gegenüber dem Jülichs-Platz fraudulently sold it to him, if that's any indication of manufactured provenance. Bottom line here is people caught wind of the Farina stuff, but when they went to buy, it was 4711 they took home, which is how history determined the victor, and who to copy when everyone else in the perfume industry started making their own colognes. 4711 is the reference "Eau de Cologne", plain and simple.

Regardless of how Wilhelm Mülhens actually concocted his formula, be it reconstructing the original Farina stuff by nose or actually getting a visit from a recipe-bearing monk on his wedding day, the results are strikingly similar to the erstwhile Farina cologne: a top and middle-heavy citrus splash with zero base notes. The directory shows them, but they're just impressions because for all intents, this has no fixative and thus a skin life of 30 minutes by itself. Bergamot, lemon, lime, neroli, petitgrain, and a spread of herbs all greet the nose. 4711 was first and foremost meant to refresh and brace, but not sustain, and it's citrus floral profile does that well. The overall feel is unisex and always has been, but I feel more women prefer this than anyone, which goes in contrast to modern interpretations with mossy/musky fixatives and soapy base notes like Eau de Guerlain (1974) or Mugler Cologne (2001). Even Caswell-Massey Number Six (1789) solved the lifespan issue of cologne with a deer musk base (now synthetic) an entire decade before 4711 came to be, but it was a little-known niche product by comparison, coming from the nascent United States. Rosemary, some rose oil, and dry aromatics like cedar and light vetiver finish out 4711's brief existence on skin, and that's it! Notorious French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was claimed to constantly soak himself in Eau de cologne, but he never used 4711, as his court perfumer was the former house of Chardin, but for the German people themselves around this time, 4711 was an indispensable toiletry, even later on in the 20th century to German soldiers in WWII.

Obviously running water and soap in the modern era preclude notions of 4711 sponge baths, even if it is possible with the huge 28oz "Molanus" bottles they sell. As with any modern eau de cologne-style fragrance, liking 4711 comes down to liking bergamot and neroli together, and since this is literally the reference recipe for all them, there is little else but that bergamot and neroli on display throughout it's tiny drydown time. I've known people who use 4711 as a springboard to make custom fragrances, since it literally has no base, adding sandalwood, musk, and/or oakmoss absolutes to decanted quantities of 4711 which results in what basically smells like a homebrew modern EdC. I myself like to layer this over Clubman Pinaud, as I find the lavender, tonka, oakmoss, and vanilla of that mass-market relic to give 4711 some synergy and sustain without having to mix things like a mad scientist. Overall, 4711 is just a product of it's age, with a fascinating story, but little functional appeal as we've come so much farther since then with fragrance. It's almost mandatory perfumista academia to try it, but unless you're using it like they did in Victorian times, it makes a better thing to spray on pillows or curtains than yourself, even if the various soap and shower products are nice. Thumbs up for historical importance and universal appeal, as you really can't go wrong with this as a freshen-up, but if you're looking for something that smells like this and lasts all day long, you'll need to skip out on Mülhens and go pay somebody like Chanel, Mugler, Guerlain, Roger & Gallet, or Parfums Nicolai a visit, as they've all succeeded in taking "Echt Kölnisch Wasser" to the next level of performance as an actual wearable fragrance while retaining the bracing spirit of 4711.
26th July, 2018

Samba for Men by Perfumer's Workshop

Samba has been the cash cow for Perfumer's Workshop since it's introduction in 1987, but the men's version appearing three years later has little to do with the lively vanillic orange blossom scent that is the original feminine version. Perfumer's Workshop had never officially released a masculine fragrance until Samba for Men (1990), even if plenty of guys wore their Tea Rose (1972) in spite of obstinate ads geared to the ladies. The original Samba's only fault was it's done-to-death structure that has become ubiquitous 30+ years after it's release, and if you can forgive the childlike bottle, is still a solid underdog cheapie in the 21st century. Samba for Men however, well that's a different story altogether. This stuff is weird, really polarizing, and confusingly irritating yet likeable all at the same time, like somebody retrofitting a failed experiment after walking past the trash can it was dumped in, a la the creation story behind Dior's Fahrenheit (1989), except even less likeable than that quirky petrol and spice soiree. If I had to summarize, Samba for Men is the common smell of women's shampoo in the 80's, modified into a men's fougère. Still interested? Read on.

Samba has a fascinating pyramid structure that feels "expanded for repurposing", starting with bergamot, mint, and salvia. Yes, it's -that- salvia of the psychoactive kind used to get high by hippies in the know, just like peyote mushrooms. I don't know what salvia smells like or how it's legal in this context, but Perfumer's Workshop says it's in there. Lavender also makes an appearance in the top, which when blending with bergamot, produces the expected opening fougère accord. Things don't get "shampooey" until the middle, where masculine nutmeg and rosewood plays with muguet, ylang-ylang, and freesia, that last one being particularly common in shampoo fragrance like that found in old-school bottles of original Finesse and Vidal Sassoon. If the idea of your cologne smelling like the shampoo carrying the name of the stylist who popularized the "I want to speak to your manager" bob cut sounds a bit unappealing, I can understand. Like with the aforementioned shampoo, a balsamic fruit cocktail emerges in Samba for Men, which is the polarizing love or hate factor for most. Base notes of musk, patchouli, sandalwood, cedar, amber, and oakmoss bring a strong oriental/fougère hybrid anchor, with the oakmoss in vintage versions particularly prominent in the finish, letting you know this was still a product on the cusp of transitioning between powerhouses and freshies. After all is said and done, the final skin phase of vintage Samba is a "fruity oakmoss" that aligns itself with other light-hearted oakmoss scents like Paco Rabanne Ténére (1989) or Ted Lapidus Pour Homme (1987), just with the soapy clean shampoo-like vibe supplanting the dirty civet skank.

I like Samba for Men, and it's weird "marbled stonewear finish" glass bottle shaped like a dog's Kong chew toy definitely sets it apart in my wardrobe. I won't ever reach for it often, but it's highly bizzare combination of 80's hair salon and 90's floral fougère with an oriental underpinning is entertaining enough to keep the bottle, which even in vintage costs almost nothing because Perfumer's Workshop has "pulled a Claiborne" and released literally dozens of flankers to depreciate it's value. Older bottles show evernia furnacia and evernia prunastri in the ingredients, and deep vintage has the short list, but whatever you do, don't get the new stuff because without the moss, Samba for Men just becomes a fruity floral soapy mess that dies on skin in minutes. Samba for Men can't be pulled off by everyone, and even at dimestore prices, I'd try before a blind buy because you really gotta like that 80's shampoo vibe, which is why I think this was a repurposed commercial fragrance. Perfumer's Workshop didn't have notable perfumers to begin with, and at the time didn't know how to make a masculine, but somehow this unsolved mystery in a bottle made enough cash to be the company's masculine flagship. Go figure. Thumbs up for originality, performance and unintentional nostalgia, even if the stuff is too quirky to be called a classic.
25th July, 2018 (last edited: 26th July, 2018)

Tea Rose Eau de Toilette by Perfumer's Workshop

Perfumer's Workshop has an interesting history, as does this, their debut mass-market fragrance. Donald and Gun Bauchner formed a husband and wife team which offered the concept of a department store counter that sold bespoke fragrances custom-blended from essential oils right there on-site at affordable department store prices, and The Perfumer's Workshop Ltd. was created. Simple packaging and a removal of the snobby, unapproachable decorum that was usually associated with high-end luxury products was part of the merging between upmarket and downmarket concepts that The Perfumer's Workshop pushed, but by the late 70's, they had shifted into a more traditional perfume house offering premade designs mass-produced for better distribution. Tea Rose was first offered at The Perfumer's Workshop counters in 1972, as a premade eau de toilette blend of their available oils, but relaunched in 1977 when the bespoke blending on demand went away. Simply put, Tea Rose is an attempt at an accurate recreation of the tea rose, not just the rose flower itself, but the entire plant. This scent isn't a soliflore exactly for that reason, and has a few supporting players to replicate the dewy opening of smelling the flower, leafy green of it's body, and a touch of woodsy afterglow to anchor it on skin. Tea Rose isn't perfect, but quite extraordinary at what it does, offering niche artistry and quality at drugstore or designer prices depending on concentration.

The first thing that comes to mind when smelling Tea Rose is just how green and fresh the opening is, instantly recalling Chanel No 19 (1971) or Aromatics Elixir (1971). Tea Rose was so hot on the heels of these green floral chypres that it's almost frightening, as this stuff sold for pennies on the dollar in comparison, but despite it's "common" market placement, was a huge success adored by important people like the late Princess Diana. Tea Rose doesn't have the bite of those aforementioned green florals however, moving from bergamot right into the rose like POW on your nose, getting right to business. Lily and tuberose soften and brighten this further, but it's not enough to totally destroy any unisex appeal the scent has (despite ostensibly being marketed just to women by the label), until the dry base arrives. The galbanum is less severe in Tea Rose than a lot of stuff like this from the period, being just enough to give the nose that rose bush vibe without being grassy. There's a lot of painfully precise balancing here that again, recalls the level of artistry found in modern niche, yet this was created initially by the Bauchners, who presumably were NOT master perfumers! A happy accident? I think so. Sandalwood, amber, cedar, and of course rosewood gives this the dry brisk finish it needs to stay with you, and that's it! Since this stuff was literally compiled from headshop-grade essential oils at first, there isn't a lot of wiggleroom for chemical pork, and is basically champagne taste made with beer budget ingredients.

A person wearing Tea Rose ends up fooling everyone that thinks they're wearing one of many modern niche rose parfums (which happened to me), except to the trained nose which can detect that it's obviously lacking an oud note and made with an old-school bergamot top in place of more-exotic yuzu or pomelo found in some modern takes. All Tea Rose needed to be outright masculine is a civet note, ànd the lack of any significantly rich amber or oakmoss (although oakmoss is there for fixative) is what keeps this from dating itself as an "old lady rose". After almost 50 years, Tea Rose still comes across fresh and contemporary for any lover of a nice green rose - man, woman, or anyone. I'd recommend sticking with the eau de toilette because it's greener and more universal in appeal, as the newer eau de parfum leans too plush and towards the flower itself for most CIS guys, plus can be rather stifling in a closed room. Fresh, green, dry, and vibrant rose is what you get all day, and there is no preferred context for wear as you either like rose or you don't, but fans of the above mentioned, or any of the drier more citrus-heavy Mancera or Montale rose scents should take note of Tea Rose's uncanny accuracy at it's price point. Again, this isn't a soliflore, or something richer or more complex like Portrait of a Lady (2008), but sits in that middle ground of "authentic rose with artistic flair", with a lovely green feel that makes any time of year feel like spring time. Besides, the stuff is so inexpensive for it's quality that even if you disagree with my summary, you can't bring yourself to hate it. An essential rose that every lover of the flower must try.
24th July, 2018

Bottega Veneta Pour Homme by Bottega Veneta

Bottega Veneta has been a designer on the scene since 1966, being based in Italy and intially known for their leather goods, the designer whose name literally translates from Italian as "Venetian Shop" finally entered the perfume realm in the 2010's. Bottega Veneta (2011) and Bottega Veneta Eau Legere (2013) made good headway for the label, so the eponymous men's fragrance came trundling along the same year as Eau Legere but not with a ton of fanfare. I walk by a Bottega Veneta shop on my way back from the commuter transit station in downtown Bellevue, and the shop there (among several high-end designers in a cluster) is the least-assuming boutique I've ever seen. Clean chrome letters on the sign, pale white lights, and their wares simply displayed without grand architectural design like the nearby Hermès shop, or ostentatious gold and black lacquer stripes of the neighboring Gucci boutique. Bottega Veneta Pour Homme offers itself in a similarly understated display of class, like a vintage Mercedes-Benz 600 all dressed in black, with hydraulic vacuum-powered windows that silently woosh up and down between chrome and walnut door housing. You'll smell like a million bucks wearing Bottega Veneta Pour Homme, but without screaming "I'm rich" a la Rick James like you might if wearing something louder. Bottega Veneta Pour Homme is like the young son of an old money family, trained in the previous generation's penchant for propriety and grace over the new money guy who wears a ring on every finger and neon running lights under his hopped-up AMG.

That's the key point of Bottega Veneta Pour Homme: it isn't loud, it isn't presumptuous or affected, but very classy while solidly within the designer realm despite it's niche compositional values. Synthetics near the end of the wear will of course betray it's price point and modernity to the obsessive Creed batch code fiend or vintage hound that wants to know where the patchouli was sourced (and there is patchouli here). Overall, Bottega Veneta Pour Homme is a modern designer take on the old 70's aromatic leather chypre type colognes such as 1975's Bogart Eau de Toilette Pour Homme (a.k.a. Bogart Signature) or 1978's Van Cleef & Arpels Pour Homme, but without the oakmoss and heavy orris soap to date it. Granted, there is some slight soapy vibes here at the very end, because how can there not be with a composition like this? Key difference between Bottega Veneta Pour Homme and it's inspiration is the sharp, neutral tone Bottega Veneta takes throughout, rather than rounded balsamic take it's predecessors utilize. This scent opens with bergamot, pine and juniper, with no lavender in sight, instantly pulling it ahead of older scents in this style. The middle of clary sage, fir, and pimento adds a green, peppery, and gray slice of freshness that backs up the citrus and juniper top. The pine and fir don't really take over the scent as they might otherwise thanks to the heavy labadum, leather, and dry patchouli base, but the scratchy norlimbanol "karmawood" final note is where this ends. Bottega Veneta Pour Homme still has to appeal to younger tastes depite being stretched over an old-school framework, making it at once mature but still possessing the sheen of a contemporary aquatic, just not with any actual aquatic notes.

Modern noses okay with synthetic bases won't even flinch at Bottega Veneta Pour Homme's finish, and indeed even higher-end niche houses employ these chemicals from time to time so even folks normally swimming in Amouage or Mancera have smelled worse than this. I think the synthetic wood base is actually quite a propos for Bottega Veneta Pour Homme, as it's a deliberately bleak and post-modernist approach to the barrel-chested herb fest of the 70's anyway, that makes itself feel confident in it's masculinity but with a steely detached reserve rather than an unbuttoned shirt. It's more about "I don't care about you" and less about screaming "I'm the boss". Bottega Veneta Pour Homme is a neutralized patchouli scent bereft of any resin or sexy animalics and thus barely recognizable as such, being very safe for the office as a result, and a melancholic statement of chill winds and a dried forest floor on an overcast day, bottled for your sniffing pleasure. This one won't get anyone's knickers in a twist but that's not really it's purpose I feel, and certainly isn't for everyone, even if those who do enjoy it ultimately love it to pieces. There's not a lot of "I just plain like it" middle ground with this one, because of how emotionless it is. I'll admit I'm still uncertain if it's full bottle-worthy for me, even if I endorse the artistry here with thumbs up. Also available in an extreme version and eau de parfum these days, Bottega Veneta Pour Homme is easy enough to sample before buying. Interesting stuff!
23rd July, 2018 (last edited: 24th July, 2018)

To A Wild Rose by Avon

Avon To a Wild Rose is something of a relic in the world of rose scents, but since it launched in 1950 and not 1886 (the company founding year), it was already dated from the start. Avon had a knack for soliflores in it's early days as The California Perfume Company, since founder David H McConnell composed all of the early perfumes himself with a hobbyist's knowledge, but by the mid-century, Avon was really trying to branch more into complex florals and contemporary abstract compositions with trained in-house perfumers. The early stuff like Trailing Arbutus (1916) and Cotillion (1934) were fairly effective if conventional as a floral bouquet and oriental (respectively), but by the 1950's we saw a bit more risk-taking, particularly with dramatic naming. To a Wild Rose isn't an updated rose soliflore, and technically isn't even a true rose scent, which is what throws everyone off at first. What we have here instead of a true rose note is an impression of wild roses built up from then-conventional floriental ingredients. The overall ambiance of To a Wild Rose is sweet, mossy, ambery, and musky with those old-fashioned slightly-skanky nitro musks in place of the clean white musk we subsist with today. I wouldn't recommend this to fans of more modern airy or citric rose scents, as this is definitely not in that train of thought at all, and more like a 30's feminine perfume than one from the 50's.

To a Wild Rose opens with some slight citrus, likely citron as it's a tad too sweet to be bergamot. Crisp apple and orange notes follow, a very similar opening to other florientals of the day but without the daring spice of something like Tabu (1932). Eventually a composite synthetic rose note surfaces in the middle, as it would almost certainly have to, lest Avon present a lie in a bottle, but it's a very sweet, muted, unrealistic rose, much like one finds in a bar of Caress or pink Dove bar soap. There is a tiny bit of greenery in To a Wild Rose but it's nothing like the 70's galbanum-forward green floral chypres, and just provides the "wild" aspect of To a Wild Rose before the base takes over. Oh boy what a base this has too! We get a really rich oakmoss note, swaddled with nitro musks and the telltale Avon amber house note that seemingly was stuffed into everything until the 80's. Once To a Wild Rose fully finishes drying down, we're left with a rich ambery moss scent that really could be worn by anyone regardless of gender, as the oakmoss-rich heart of the stuff is just classic perfumery with no regard to marketing. Wear time is surprisingly long for something made primarily in eau de cologne strength (but a stronger "toilette water" form does exist, and even a parfum), with good sillage, but the sweetness and musk can overcome the moss and be a bit cloying at times.

To a Wild Rose is too rich and sweet for hot weather, which goes counterwise to most popular rose fragrances outside dark ouds, and it's far too unrealistic for hardline rose lovers. Oakmoss fans will eat this up with a spoon however, and richely baroque oakmoss compositions like this will definitely scratch that itch. I'm not surprised that Avon ditched this impressionistic rose for Avon "Roses, Roses" (1972), since that scent was literally nothing but rose, and almost a soliflore itself with musk and bergamot added. Fans of vintage Fabergé Woodhue for Women (1944) already know much of what to expect with Avon To a Wild Rose, just with a faux rose twist in place of Woodhue's er... wood tones. This stuff survived from 1950 until 1972, coming in all sorts of bottles, but the original presentation had a pink label and clear, fluted bottle that mimicked the shape of an empty single-flower vase. Pennies on the dollar this will be for anyone wanting a rich vintage mossy floriental, unless the rarer 60's spray cologne is preferred (they tend to hold top notes better). A wild rose with a mild presentation that won't fail to impress fans of oakmoss and nitro musks is what I get here. Something like this would be impossible outside of IFRA non-compliant artisinal niche today, but also admittedly not the most revolutionary scent from this decade either! A strong thumbs up, but keep this one for a casual fall scent or anytime for indoors use, male, female, or anyone.
23rd July, 2018 (last edited: 24th July, 2018)

I'mperfect by Avon

Avon I'mperfect is really quite the lark in the 2000's "Renaissance Overreach" period of the house, where under CEO Andrea Jung, they would rotate in and out unprecedented numbers of fragrances, branching into new lines, markets, and products, before running up a tab that crushed them financially. Some of their greatest, albeit least-known and shortest-lived fragrances would come from this period (with some of my personal favorites with production spans under a year), and I'mperfect is one such creation. Simply put, Avon I'mperfect is the unisex fragrance that almost was, and I say almost because it looks and smells unisex from the name and asymmetrical striped bottle, thanks to the citrus-lead dusty white floral ambiance, but was marketed only in the men's portion of the Avon catalog. It's funny to see listings of old stock on eBay go both under men's and women's fragrance headings, which is a testament to it's unisex design, but I have a feeling that Avon was just too "good ol' fashioned American conservative values" minded to market anything as unisex, even in the 2000's under a progressive spendthrift CEO like Jung. What's more amazing is the composition here was mirrored very closely by Calvin Klein cK All (2017) almost 15 years later and that scent is undoubtedly unisex. The base of I'mperfect does veer masculine at the end (but so do several "unisex" cK Series scents as well), and suffers from typical Avon performance in regards to projection, but is rather quite nice. Because it was made to be sold to men, I'mperfect does have an aftershave component, which makes it perhaps the only unisex-smelling scent to do so, even if it is a creme balm and not a splash.

Avon I'mperfect opens with manadarin just like cK All, but adds in a bit of citron and juniper. The top doesn't last long as the middle of orange blossom and cascalone come in, which is an older and very similar molecule to the custom "paradisone" found in cK All. Parallels end with the top and middle, as these are still 13 years worth of perfuming chemistry advancements apart from each other. The base of I'mperfect goes much sweeter, meatier, and woodsy than cK All, with Iso E Super, tarragon, a slightly more vanillic version of classic Avon amber, oakmoss, and musk. In fact, the biggest thing that separates Avon I'mperfect from Calvin Klein cK All is the inclusion of real oakmoss in the base, which regardless of everything else, makes I'mperfect actually the superior fragrance, since that buttery finish slides up next to amber and tarragon, allowing us to forgive the scratchy Iso E Super woods display. There's even a bit of a phantom tea note here that's interesting. The base definitely shines through on skin, but if you enjoy the dusty citrus white floral top and middle, just spray on shirt, effectively layering the scent with itself as you'll get the top all day on clothes, and the base all day on skin. Avon I'mperfect also has the convenience of being a very transparent scent, which allows you to layer it on top beefier moss-based aftershaves or richer gourmands for a dynamic twist, almost like layering an eau de cologne with something heavier; you definitely can't do THAT with a cK One fragrance. Avon I'mperfect is light, airy, with a surprisingly muscular base compared to other unisex fragrances but then again, it technically ISN'T one, is it? I'mperfect was one of the earlier Eau de Toilettes marketed to men in the 2000's, so longevity is respectable at about 6 hours on skin, longer on shirt.

It's rare that Avon ever does anything ahead of it's time, although it had done just that with a few proto-aquatic masculines throughout the 50s, 60's, and 70's, or aromatic fougères that get called copies of later designers (because Avon always copies everyone else...), so seeing them make a fragrance that utilizes a style which would come into vogue as unisex well over a decade beforehand is unsurprising to folks who know their Avon history. The real question here is what followed sheer coincidence, or did Harry Freemont cannibalize his own work when teaming with Albert Morillas to make cK All? Freemont isn't listed as the nose for I'mperfect, as Avon tended not to list their perfumers most of the time back then, but he did notably work with Avon in the 2000's, so it's probable that he worked on this. The nearly identical top and middle between Avon I'mperfect and Calvin Klein cK All is too obvious to ignore, despite the 13 year gap. I'll leave the sleuthing to the professionals here, but that's my two cents. I'mperfect varies wildly in price in the aftermarket from single-digit to designer MSRP, so shop carefully if you're looking to try it. I'mperfect is just a bright, pleasant, crisp, and lightly-sweet scent with a woodsy moss dusting in the base, suitable in summer for a person of any gender, just sadly way ahead of it's time and thus discontinued. You can substitute with cK All if you want, but that one is too dusty and harsh for colder climates, whilst Avon I'mperfect is nearly year-round perfect for casual use.
21st July, 2018 (last edited: 22nd July, 2018)

Open by Roger & Gallet

Roger & Gallet are perhaps best known as the pair who in 1862 bought the Paris perfume factory and business away from Jean-Marie Joseph Farina, great-great grandnephew of Giovanni Maria Farina, inventor of Eau de Cologne. In another lawsuit claiming use of the Farina family name (the first coming from Wilheim Mülhens of 4711 fame), Roger & Gallet successfully walked away with the Jean-Marie Farina name but not the whole shebang, producing his line of colognes henceforth. Fast forward about a century or so and the Roger & Gallet brand remains a French house nearly on the same level of antiquity as Guerlain, but also one that moved forward with modern designs far sooner. R&G (as they're known by fans) entered the 80's male powerhouse segment strongly with L'Homme (1982), being a soapy aromatic fougère like Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973) but with a more intense herbal kick; the stuff wasn't groundbreaking, but solid nonetheless. Open (1985), by contrast, headed in a new direction with a smoky vetiver opening and tobacco undertones pinned by bergamot, lavender, and patchouli. People versed in vintage masculines compare Open to Jacomo de Jacomo (1980), but I find it more in line with the later Aramis Havana (1993), just with a heavier vetiver overlay and less booze; Open is less Cuba Libre and more Cohiba. Of particular interest is the odd bottle with plastic shoulder and off-center spray cap, making this an easy dumb grab because of how much it stands out in a wardrobe of mostly symmetrical bottles.

Open um... well... er... opens with that smoky vetiver right away but the tobacco in the base doesn't take too long to show thanks to it's synergy with the bergamot top. Amalfi lemon from L'Homme makes a return as well, and lavender keeps it all from being too spiky. Sage, thyme, and a small boozy note make an appearance in the middle, which when combined with the vetiver and tobacco in base, set up the personality of the wear through much of it's duration. Some also cite Francesco Smalto Pour Homme (1987) as a close parable, but that one lacks the tobacco and goes into far soapier and more lavender-forward directions, so I don't see much resemblance. The base is obviously tobacco, patchouli, and vetiver, but it's a pipe tobacco more similar to Ted Lapidus Pour Homme (1978) than Aramis Havana, with the smoky vetiver making it feel "recently enjoyed" like when you catch whiffs of somebody's pipe in the outside air. Lavender from the top helps keep this clean however, and the aforementioned patchouli coupled with oakmoss round it out to hold on skin, but otherwise they don't get in the way. The whole thing just smells like a bridge between the early 80's and mid 90's in the way it employes the tobacco, with the "smokeroom" aspects of the former mixing with the boozy and fresh aspects of the latter. Open is a fascinating scent to be sure, and there isn't much like it. I'd say this plays well enough as an evening scent due to the smoke but also works in more casual office settings, with plenty of 80's power and longevity to go the day.

I feel the next link in the evolutionary chain is Montana Parfum D'Homme (1989), which adds a ton more oakmoss in favor over the vetiver, removing most of the boozy note until Havana brought it back and sweetened the tobacco. You can almost see how this idea played hopscotch from one house to the next over the years, but among all these scents that I've tried, Roger & Gallet Open seems to have the most perfect balance (sorry Havana, I know you're a fan favorite). Open is just a really interesting "missing link" between early 80's masculine swagger tobacco scents and the brighter, lighter, more leafy tobacco scents to come, which makes sense since it was released smack dab in the middle of 1985. One thing that perplexes me is the meaning of the name "Open", because the scent does not imply wide open spaces or any other kind of outdoorsy vibe. Roger & Gallet doesn't see much distribution in the US, yet this scent floods the market here, and is the only one that kept it's introductory bottle design rather than be swaddled away in a homogeneous "house bottle" design like the others, for what it's worth. Fans of smoky vetiver and tobacco should chomp at the bit for this, especially at the low prices it carries, and is the perfect example of modern style and traditional craftsmanship. I also love how expensive this smells versus how much it actually costs, punching well above it's weight against modern niche scents like Creed Aventus (2010) and Mancera Cedrat Boise (2011). Very well done.
20th July, 2018