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Iso E super has gotten a bad rap in the past few years. What started out as a simple aromachemical in the early 1970s has become the monster responsible for a monotonous (monolfactive?) genre of perfumes that has brought shame to the word woody. Drama, huh? Don’t blame the chemical,though. Blame the system.
There is an era specific (late 1980s - mid-1990s) group of perfumes, perfumers and houses that used iso-E Super as a panacea for problems of longevity and richness in perfume composition. Reliance on iso E Super led to a system like the 1980s Chelsea gay male clone conundrum. That is to say, an identifiable visual (or olfactory) and fashion style that broadcast anonymity and identity simultaneously. Context is the icing that finishes the cake. The person being considered, along with cultural clues (20th and 8th in NYC) and the context of the viewer (trolling Rawhide for action) go a long way to answering the question: Is that man a straight marine or a hardcore homo?
Both situations (the queers and the perfumes) led to a similar problem. For the Chelea fags, what if you didn’t look like a Ken-doll to start with? Altering themselves to fit the clone mold, a lot of urban fags I knew wound up ghettoized in a world that they felt shunned them. Perfumers wound up not simply using Iso-E Super as an adjective in their compositions, they began to envision compositions that were answers to the question, “What would Iso-E Super be just perfect for?!” They sought to create the ideal radiant, spicy woody perfume, and in the end made perfumes that just smelled of Iso-E Super. A bunch of clones. Rather than using the aromachemical as a floralizer, intensifier or optimizer (how the chemical is marketed by producers) this genre treats Iso-E Super as the end goal, and uses other bits and pieces to bring it out. The first Iso-E Super homage is interesting, and might be a commentary of sorts. The second and third show that this aromachemical can be a bull in a perfume shop. After that it's either creative complacency, laziness or a rut.
CDG Man 2 is one of the better iterations of what I'll call iso-style perfumes. (Others are Encre Noir, Ormande Woman, Terre d'Hermes, Feminite du Bois and Poivre Scaramandre.) It’s a riff on incense and other balsams, woody, but managing to be waxy and oily as well, suggesting essential oils and balms. It captures the acrid sear of smoking incense but also has the pine-like woody cleanliness of olibanum essential oil. 2 Man gets at a number of incense’s facets simultaneously in a way that neither burned incense nor incense oil could on their own. The drydown, much softer than the opening, is soothing.
When you read the following words or phrases in perfume marketing or criticism, beware. They often serve as code for iso-style. Radiant, sheer, tenacious, velvety, woody, plush, atmospheric. When you see notes of cedar, incense, pepper and the classic "rare woods", think twice. Iso-E style perfumes are fine as long as you know what you’re in for, and if that is what you’re looking for, you CDG 2 Man is worth a try.
25th December, 2012