Here's a self-aggrandising post if there ever was one.
This is a great thread on No.88--several sides, several interpretations, and several different extremely thoughtful reactions. I just can't not get involved!
Three years ago I posted the following review on another No.88 thread, one that Ruslan started. Thanks to another member, Christian, I had a sample of No.88 and Christian and I traded messages off board about our thougths on this fragrance. On the basis of that discussion, I wrote Ruslan's thread the following review. I beg all who have read it before to forgive me.
I’m glad you asked about Czech & Speake’s No.88 yesterday—it happens that Christian and I are trading messages trying to figure out this scent, what it is like, and even if we like it, on our own.
I said it makes me feel mean because I think the scent is really austere, and has no warmth, invitation, charm, or friendliness to it. It is very distinct, and does not smell BAD at all, but it is one that I think sets a hostile aura. In that way it is a really nice piece of perfumery art. It succeeds as a decent thing to smell, but it is stripped of happy warm associations and Proustian moments.
The scent is very dry and lemony. Very medicinal, and almost rubbing alcohol harsh. I searched Basenotes to see if I could find the year of its creation (can’t), but I would place it in a category with Aqua di Parma. No.88’s vision of what a man is and what a man should smell like is of the same genre as AdP, although the two do not smell alike. Modifications of the effervescent Eau de Cologne scents of the 19th century (I think of Guerlain’s Imperial and Eau de Cologne or Eau de Guerlain, can’t remember which it is), these scents just seek to make you smell freshly washed, well trimmed, and professionally manicured. They aren’t dandy like scents, especially not No.88. It seems to be cleanliness and a sneer in a bottle.
Going back and forth with Christian about this, I told him I thought the scent was simply scary. Then he reminded me of how in an earlier message he had said No.88 made him think of a medieval castle fortress. I had forgotten this reference of his when I was starting to think of the scent as scary—that is an indication of how we both had similar instincts based on the scent. Christian said he thought that is probably why Ozzy wears it.
Stoney and cold is dead on the money about this stuff, I say. It hits the nose like touching a rock in medium-to-cold weather. A rock feels colder than the air temperature because it leeches out the warmth of your fingers touching it or something, and that is how No.88 works in the nose. You get the feeling of draftiness all around you. At one point in my notes on it I said it was like smelling the vapors over a pitcher of extremely cold ice-filled ice water outside on a cold day. Sometimes wearing No.88 is like being forced to drink that pitcher all at once too.
In contrast to other dark Goth crypt-like scents--Passage d’Enfer, Messe de Minuit (I’ve not smelled this one and thus guess at what follows), Halston 1-12--there is no burning incense or devotional candles to enliven or enchant this one. Not even the humid, vegetal, warmth of decay and closeness to the earth that seeps through stony cracks in sewers and church basements.
I have still tried to find a note of warmth in it, a note of tenderness and hints of get-close-to-me-and-be-my-special-one in No.88, but I really can’t. I think there is a middle note of faint cinnamon which would qualify, but I often mistake ingredients in scents so it probably isn’t cinnamon. The hint is so subtle that for me it really suggests its absence instead of its presence. I truly don’t see this scent as being a sexy scent in any way shape or usage. Ain’t no cuddling going to go on on No.88’s account. Simply no way.
Another austere scent that I had to think about while wearing No.88 around is Van Cleef & Arpels’s Tsar. Tsar is very stand alone, solid, cold like frozen metal railings in the winter that your friends tried to make you lick, but I like Tsar a lot and think it is very fun to smell. No.88 doesn’t have the same charm.
Wearing it yesterday I put this note down, thinking of what to write to Christian:
“Don’t see it as attractive. Not something to bring in women. Unless gangster molls, who have to flatter the macho man and have that self-imposed I’m-weak-in-the-knees-looking-at-you hired sort of look.” Instead I wrote Christian that if you’re going to wear No.88 to work you had better be the boss in the office.
No.88 is a gunrunner’s fragrance. Underworld powerful and stereotypically powerful gentlemanly in the sense of aspirations to power without lessons in charm and charisma. There is a character in Robert Penn Warren’s book All the Kings Men, who would be wearing No.88 I think. In the story there is a pool hall owner, a rough guy who has never had an entree into society but suddenly he has to somehow make an approach to a politically active doctor and get him to stop some city action or something. The doctor lives all the graces of society and is ennobled by the depth of his education. So the pool hall owner hires a guy who hangs out smoking in his pool hall to go see the doctor. The guy he hires is a rough and tumble guy, but one who styles himself as a “gentleman,” wearing good suits, worrying about keeping the creases in his pants, and always with shiny shoes and a clean haircut. Warren even writes that the rumor was that this pool hall gentleman had his initials sewn into his silk boxer shorts. This guy is the pool hall owner’s image of a gentleman and thus he hires him to go see the doctor and bond with him gentleman-to-gentleman style. I think that is how the story went. Naturally the plan doesn’t work—the doctor throws the pool hall smoker gentleman out his door. My point is this pool hall gentleman would be wearing No.88.
Not a favorable review, I guess. I know there are people on this forum who like No.88 a lot, including my friends Christian and John. John wrote an up-thumb review of it on its page even, saying it reminds him of lemony furniture oil. The problem for me is that I don’t think No.88 is bad, fake, or anything to regret wearing. I’ve even liked wearing it. I like it because it has the flavor of the rise of modernity for me. This is that early 20th century gentlemanly quality it has. It smells like soaps, scented powders, scented hair-tonic, scented brushes, a whole scented travel kit for the gentleman flying on the Pan Am Clipper to Asia. It reminds me of large porcelain sinks in old airport terminals—designed to be places where men would do all their toiletries during long journeys by propeller airplanes. It reminds me of hard bars of soap that crack down their length and take elbow grease to get into a lather. No.88 reminds me of pumice stones.
In a sense this is a throwback to the Victorian era and its idea of the White Man’s burden. I took another note wearing it yesterday: “Pumice stone. Hard & cracked type of soap. What one would wear off to charm the South China Sea. Pan Am Clipper voyageurs. Dress for dinner. Conrad’s Lord Jim-esque gentlemen waited on in clubs by natives. White-man’s burden and make money by gunrunning scent. A scent for scoundrels.”
Believe me, I keep trying to say something good about this, but the rascally images keep their grip on my brain. It was fun wearing No.88 yesterday, especially walking around thinking I was a walking pitcher of ice water—if anyone smelled me too much they would get brain freeze!
The scent does not change much in the course of wearing it, and lasts a really healthy long time. Sorry this is such a long review filled with mixed metaphores and references! It sure has been fun to write. I thank Christian for all the fun and back and forth trying to figure this potion out.