11/12/17

Bourbon (Bath & Body Works)



In my opinion there are two kinds of fragrances: intellectual perfumes, like Ocean Rain, The Dreamer, Chanel N°5, Diorella, and Green Irish Tweed, and functional hygienic fragrances, like everything found in The Body Shop and Bath & Body Works. The former category contains hundreds of complex concepts executed with attention to form; these are efforts to create new scents not found in nature.

The latter category is devoted to mimicking known smells in nature and combining them into simple and pleasing compositions. They are aimed at casual fragrance wearers who want to recognize everything they smell, and associate positive attributes to smelling "good." People who primarily wear B&BW fragrances take pleasure in selecting specific scents based on identifiable materials, and rarely attach abstract meaning to how they smell. They don't wear peppermint body lotion to make a statement. They wear it to smell clean and inviting while snuggling by a fire. Nobody dons White Citrus to impress upon coworkers a citrusy identity. It is worn to keep your cubicle fresh while you're in it.

Of the five fragrances in B&BW's Men's Signature Collection, I found Bourbon to be closest to an intellectual masculine. It has distinct notes of white pepper, oakwood, amber, and musk, and if I focus on the fragrance in the first twenty minutes, I get good note separation. But when I let the composition speak for itself, an interesting thing happens: the notes coalesce into a smooth, dry, corn-fed bourbon liquor, warmed by a soft musky amber, which gets stronger over the course of three hours. Longevity and projection are a bit meek, with the first clocking in at about four hours, and the second getting you maybe five inches of attention beyond the limits of your shirt collar, but still, this fragrance is unique, well made, and a good value at about $10 an ounce.

Another bonus to this fragrance is that it comes in a variety of forms, ranging from a shea body lotion (which my girlfriend got me), to a shower gel and deodorant spray. If you intend on using the body lotion and don't have the EDT to go with it, fear not. Any number of old-school, woody, "cigar box masculine" fragrances should go well with it. If you're a fan of The One by D&G, this is probably for you, as it is most often compared to that scent on Fragrantica.


11/7/17

Only The Brave Wild (Diesel)

It was the summer of 2014, and Diesel felt the need to issue another Only The Brave flanker. Let me quickly say that the summer of 2014 was a good one for me: I bought my first house. The low point of the year was probably this fragrance, although it is successful enough on its own terms.

Summer frags usually go in one of three directions: chemical aquatic with sugary "froot" notes, chemical "grey citrus" with a sour, sometimes salty aftertaste, and derivative balmy suntan lotion scents with varying adjustments to what is basically just Coppertone. (I like the smell of Coppertone, especially since it was reformulated into jasmine-infused Brut). OTB Wild, with its ugly green fist punching at my face yet again, is arguably the most sophisticated fragrance in the OTB line, as it eschews the bland, overly blended approach of its predecessors in favor of a slightly more daring herbal affair. My favorite Fragrantica review, by member "Voodoochild82," reads:
"Tried this out in Kohl's today. Please tell me I'm not the only one who thinks this smells like pickle juice?"
No Voodoochild82, you're not the only one. I also got a bit of a spiced pickle feeling off the very top (on paper), but this scent has some depth and direction. The fragrance boasts a crystal clear peppered lemongrass accord, its liveliness smudged together with lavender. This kind of totally unexpected seriousness is something that I'd sooner seek out in something by Jacomo or Puig. I thought I'd smell a dull grapefruit citrus top, and instead got bitter greens. Cool.

It doesn't take long for a tonka, nutmeg, and somewhat vanillic (but still rather green) coconut accord to push through the lemongrass. This all sounds pretty good as you read it, but it's more than a little dull, and the coconut never fully materializes into the floral creaminess I've come to expect in good summer lotions. The whole thing remains overly staid and wispy, as if the perfumers self consciously wished their dilettante approach to Diesel's standard brief could be taken by forgiving Europeans as being artistic and mature. They did an OK job, but really, just put Vanilla Fields in your beach bag, and move on with your day.



11/5/17

Only The Brave Tattoo (Diesel)


In an age where smoking is all but criminalized, it's both predictable and sad to see tobacco marketed as a subversive note. Joop! Homme Wild did this with their tobacco flower approach, and Diesel does it in Tattoo, where a sweet pipe tobacco element dominates the drydown. This fragrance smells somewhat similar to the original OTB, emitting generous wafts of syrupy citrus, candied red apple, peppered amber, and an omnipresent synthetic patchouli note that I believe also snuck into the heart accord of the first release. Where it diverges is in its focus. Instead of fruity citrus sweetness, this time we get tobacco sweetness. Is it an improvement?

Yes and no. I appreciate tobacco in fragrances. Anything with a clear tobacco note gets a wink and a nod from me. Good on whoever threw this thing together for including that note, as it lends a little maturity and sophistication to a fragrance that is far from mature and sophisticated.

Still, the presence of tobacco alone can't make up for what's missing here. The main problem with OTB Tattoo is that it's too blended to be effective. Instead of presenting clear analogs of identifiable materials, everything is fused together in a big, overly sweet blob. Eventually a few impressions stand out, like black pepper, tobacco, and amber, but they lack punctuation, and it all just runs together.

In the plus column, the fragrance does smell generically "fresh," and therefore good in an objective sense, and I can't see anyone wrinkling their nose in disgust upon sniffing it, but with such a prominent tobacco note there should be more going on. Adding to the pain is the knowledge that for a third of the price I can enjoy a much better composition with a more realistic (and less sweet) tobacco note in Vermeil for Men. I'll be a little perverse here and also point out that a much better "soapy-fresh" fragrance with a far more realistic tobacco note in its base can be had in VC&A Pour Homme.

Maybe it's time for designers to explore other themes in the realm of tobacco notes. Instead of always relying on the same sugared pipe tobacco idea with its now played-out sweetness, perhaps we can get more renditions of bitter unflavored cigar tobacco, or maybe even someone's interpretation of menthol cigarettes. It's time to usher the age of A*Men's ethyl-maltol tobaccos out, and bring Winston Churchill's stogies back in.



11/4/17

Only The Brave (Diesel)


In the world of perfume writing, price is often a mind changing component. Only The Brave is about ten dollars an ounce, which put simply is a little too much for something as "safe" and forgettable as this is. If I could get a 4.2 oz bottle for twenty-five dollars, I'd feel a whole lot better. I guess forty dollars (on Amazon) isn't terrible, but I can get 1.7 ounces of Prada Amber for thirty-eight dollars, and that's a richer, classier, and much "safer" bet! Sure it's less juice, but it would last me longer (it's stronger) and smell infinitely better, so why bother spending more than five bucks an ounce on Diesel?

How does it smell? Here is where both price and packaging effect perception, arguably more than they should. Consider this review from "Way Off-Scenter" on basenotes for a glimpse of how extreme tackiness can backfire:
"Only the Brave consists largely of two accords. One, a blend of aquatic notes and caustic, sinus-piercing woody ambers, is meant to smell 'clean,' but actually smells like something I’d use to disinfect my toilet bowl. The other, a potent artificial 'froot' flavor, no doubt meant to smell 'fresh,' in fact smells like the solid air freshener in the nearest public men’s room. Together, they smell just plain bad."
Now if OTB came in a subdued Green Irish Tweedy bottle, with gentle black matte and a no-frills cap, and the whole affair cost half as much as it does, I'd bet Mr. Scenter would consider it on better terms, perhaps as an unexpectedly tame and casual "drugstore scent." Then again, maybe not, but it's hard to see the Avon inspired glass fist with its knuckle iron name tag and not retch a little in your mouth.

My point is that despite smelling a bit cheap and generic, OTB doesn't really smell that bad at all. Yes, it does smell "synthetic," with no natural notes leaping forward at any stage, and sure, its "fresh" accords mimic the smells of bathroom cleaners, but you have to use a little context here. Kerosene's Copper Skies smells like blood-soaked cloves and wood varnish, and I wouldn't wear it to a pig roast. Next to Copper Skies, Only The Brave smells like a Creed.

Its greatest sin is its blandness. Its sugary mandarin top note, followed by a nondescript "blonde woods" middle on a base of violet leaf and sweetened amber is a recipe for whateverdom. Smell it on a collar in a smoky Czech pub after a few pints, and I guess it projects a youthful everyman vibe, but one spray too many on a car ride cross country might lose you some friends.

If you're looking for a "modern" masculine that is intentionally generic and "safe," and favor a soapier, sweeter approach to that idea, I'd sooner refer you to the aforementioned Prada Amber, Clean Shower Fresh, Davidoff Horizon EDT, Dior Sauvage, and Dior Homme Eau. They're all quite different, but generally fit a "modern" and "safe" profile, being scents you can just throw on and forget about.

Still, if you're under 25 and want a good pub crawler, OTB is worth a sniff. Sidenote: I've seen reviews that compare it to the original Allure Homme. That fragrance is something closer to Cool Water than OTB, and is far better than OTB. Tangentially, if you want something that is truly similar to Allure Homme for a third of the price, get Joop! Jump.


10/28/17

David Ruskin Leaves Basenotes



He answers to the handle "Mattmeleg." Recently, Mattmeleg posted a homespun perfume formula for an old-school chypre in a thread in the basenotes DIY forum, in what appears to be a hearty (and headstrong) creative spirit. His formula contains an accord called "Mousse de Saxe," and according to this article the term "Mousse de Saxe" has "lapsed into the public domain," which I suppose suggests its meaning could be taken a bit more liberally than it has been in years past.

Matt's contribution was stark, direct, without much bravado. The formula speaks for itself: this shit is bold. Compose it, wear it, and you might repel everyone within a three mile radius. Then again, you might not. You might smell fantastic. I have no idea because I'm not a perfumer. When it comes to how chemicals are diluted and mixed, I'd be more helpful landing a 737 in the middle of the Pacific during a hurricane.

When someone posts their ideas in a public forum, the decent thing to do is approach them in an inviting, open-minded, and just plain friendly manner, like member "Alysoun" did when she threw Matt a link to another thread on chypres. Member "gandhajala" quibbled a little over the applicability of the term "Mousse de Saxe," because Matt's accord lacks isobutyl quinoline, apparently a key component, which from my experience smells very stark and leathery, almost like an old chapped saddle covered in wood varnish, if you can imagine that!

Gandhajala's input was a little less enthusiastic than one might have expected, but he qualified his concerns rather constructively, saying:
"I'm not a perfumer, but looking at your materials I can't help [but] think it is a long way off the actual Mousse de Saxe specialty. For that reason, I'd suggest giving it a different name and, if you want Mousse de Saxe for your formula, order some of Christine's re-creation (assuming it is still available)."
Matt had responded to Gandhajala's concern about the missing material by saying:
"Yes, you are correct, isobutyl quinoline was traditionally used in Mousse de Saxe. And if you don`t have any isobutyl quinoline you can replace it with castoreum . . . Try mixing my formula, and smell and you`ll see that it still fits the odour profile of Mousse De Saxe."
Then along comes someone who goes by "David Ruskin" on the forum, and yeah, that's his real name. His input to Matt:
"No you can't, they smell nothing like each other."
That's all David says. No exposition on why, no alternatives are offered, no other information was proffered by this man. He simply tells Matt that he's wrong, and puts a period after it.

Maybe he thought this wouldn't piss the newbie off, but I know it would piss me off. His comment seemed antagonistic, and it wasn't the first time it seemed this way when addressing Matt. Ruskin had similar words for him in an earlier thread when the youngster wrote:
"Co2`s only dilute in water. not alcohol. I have the same agar wood. You can use it with 100% essential oils, just do not add ANY alcohol."
To which Ruskin replied:
"NO NO NO. Absolutely wrong. Many CO2 extracts are not very soluble in alcohol, a less polar solvent is required, but never water."
Ruskin is probably right about this, but whether or not he's right isn't the point. He seemed rude, and when people behave this way on the internet they set themselves up for unnecessary conflicts with others. Bigsly was rude to me six years ago and look how that turned out for him.

So who is David Ruskin, anyway? He was a perfumer for a company called CPL Aromas, which from the looks of its deliberately vague website is basically a functional fragrance development firm, although I'm not certain of that. Soaps, detergents, and reed diffusers are what I'm gleaning from their site. Prior to that he worked for Bush Boake Allen, which developed flavors, aroma chemicals, spice extracts, and essential oils. It was acquired several years ago by IFF.

One thing that has always concerned me a little about David is that he has established himself as a teacher, having coached aspiring noses at the London College of Fashion, and in 1998 he was the president of the British Society of Perfumers, yet to date I have no clue as to what he has created. What are his perfumes? Oddly enough, his interview on basenotes, which was conducted by Grant himself, yielded no information on that. This makes me wonder if his tenure at BBA was served as a chemist who simply created the materials used by perfumers, before graduating into CPL Aromas as a perfumer for soaps and reed diffusers.

I'm not denigrating Mr Ruskin here. He has clearly had a distinguished career in the field of perfumery, enough so that the BSP would elect him to be their president. However, without a clearer idea of the impact Mr. Ruskin has had on the field (his exact accomplishments are unknown to the public), it's a bit difficult to adopt an awestricken countenance in his presence. As far as I can tell, he's just another guy commenting on basenotes, and oh yeah, he's worked in a lab composing fragrances for thirty years, whatever that means.

Matt responds to David in kind, but goes a few steps further:
"isobutyl quinoline and castoreum smell nothing like each other David? Not even if the goodscent suggests they do? Perhaps the goodscentcompany is erroneous? Perhaps David is more well versed in perfumery then the collective minds behind thegoodscentcompany database, a database which thousands of perfumers turn to from around the world, on a nearly daily basis. From now forthwards, most of the worlds perfumers should turn to David for advice, and not the goodscentcompany."
What I find interesting here is that instead of stepping into the woods with David, Matt backs his position with a supported source, something I've also done repeatedly over the years. He's right, the database does suggest that castoreum fits the same odor profile as isobutyl quinoline. To an objective observer of this thread, we have Matt's word, with a citation, versus David's "just take my word for it" opinion, and unfortunately I can only classify it as an opinion because I have no clue if David Ruskin knows what he's talking about just by reading his comments.

Given that Matt has sourced his information, you would think David would just say something like, "Ok, maybe I'm off on this one," but no. Instead we get:
"I have not looked at the Good Scents' opinion, I do not have to. I have smelled and used both iso Butyl Quinoline, and various Castoreum bases, as well as genuine Castorium,and I know that IBQ , which is bitter green, and Castoreum, which is animalic and leathery, do not smell the same, or even similar. If you were to take a fragrance containing IBQ and replaced it with a similar amount of any Castoreum, you would notice the difference. Please do not be sarcastic with me when I express my opinion, an opinion that has formed over many years of Perfumery."
Basenotes groupthink kicks in, with a few members supporting what David says, and one member states:
"From a neutral standpoint, I will say that (from my personal experiences) TGSC is a immensely helpful resource. However, I wouldn't take everything there as gospel. Numerous times have I found information there to be 'off' or just not entirely accurate."
This is also interesting. I've noticed in the fragrance community that people tend to downplay or discredit established sources of information when they disagree with them, instead of wondering if they themselves are wrong. This happened when I interviewed Jeffrey Dame, and he supported my theory that fragrances spoil over time. Instead of just saying, "Ok, I was wrong," the blogger who disagreed with him attempted to discredit him as someone who didn't know what he was talking about. Unlike David Ruskin, Dame's credentials and career accomplishments are all over the internet for everyone to see, so this attempt to discredit him failed miserably (and was later supported by an interview with an "anonymous fragrance chemist," which was unintentionally funny).

My personal experience with these two materials is limited, but I can say that isobutyl quinoline and castoreum are in the same ballpark, even if they don't really smell all that similar. The dark leathery aspect of isobutyl quinoline seems more at home in L'Air du Desert Marocain and Parfums Retro Grand Cuir than anything I've smelled castoreum in, but I could see the two materials being used side by side in either of those perfumes, or in castoreum-heavy fragrances like Dali Pour Homme or Antaeus. Castoreum has a dry, woody, earthy tone, and that isn't very far from the similarly dry, leathery hue of isobutyl quinoline. These aren't apples and oranges, people.

The biggest difference is that castoreum is a bit funky and musky, with a little bit of a "spoiled fruit" vanillic quality, and isobutyl quinoline is much starker and earthier, rather like vetiver root or raw fermented tobacco, without a hint of anything edible or animalic.

In any case, the thread rapidly devolved to the point where David wrote this:
"'mattmeleg' you have, on several occasions now, accused me of deliberately trying to confuse you, of patronising you and of trying to put you down. Despite my sincere denial of this, and my asking you to apologise for your gross libelling of me, you have not but continue in your wild and unpleasant attack on me. Again I repeat, how dare you. Well done 'mattmeleg' you have succeeded in doing what many others before you have failed to do. You have made this site so toxic to me that I no longer wish to continue contributing to it."
Surprisingly, a basenotes moderator did not jump onto the bandwagon of browbeating Matt, and instead wrote:
"New members have no obligation to genuflect to senior Basenoters no matter how skilled they are. We will not tolerate that senior members throw a fit and threaten libel just because they are being challenged. If you cannot treat each other with kindness and respect what are you doing here?"
This was quickly followed by a new thread by David, in which he said:
"Recent events here on Basenotes have stopped me enjoying myself. I always said that if that ever happened I would leave. I shall no longer be contributing to Basenotes. I wish all of those that I have shared my love of Perfumery with all the very best; goodbye."
The fact that David Ruskin threatened Matt with libel was the final nail in his basenotes coffin. First of all, you must have a reputation for yourself to have your name dragged through the mud, and beyond being a basenotes member, David has very little public reputation. To my knowledge nobody has heard of him; I certainly had never heard of Mr. Ruskin prior to my membership ten years ago. As I said earlier in this post, Mr. Ruskin clearly has a reputation within the profession, but he has never clarified that, and oddly enough nobody has ever asked him to. The fact that he was challenged by another member is hardly grounds to threaten that person with libel, and it's disturbing that this happened.

Secondly, what's with senior basenotes members acting like their word is the last? When David says, "Please do not be sarcastic with me when I express my opinion, an opinion that has formed over many years of Perfumery," we must wonder why he's capitalizing the "P" there. What are his "many years of Perfumery" supposed to bestow upon him? What are his actual years of perfumery, anyway? Why should his opinion be valued when it is directly contradicted by a database created and used by professionals in the field? Had Matt not cited the TGSC, his argument would have been much weaker, but without another citation from David to nullify Matt's sentiments, the "newbie" wins.

The moral of the story here is a simple one: you may have decades of experience, and a razor-sharp, encyclopedic knowledge of a certain subject matter, with all the winning points under your belt. However, if you can't be kind to people, if you're unnecessarily rude, mean spirited, and prone to temper tantrums when people don't automatically lick your boots, then being "right" won't help your argument in the least. You'll wind up looking unhinged, and in the absence of reinforcement for your bad behavior you'll have few options left but to sulk out and disappear. I'm not sure how the thread could have gone differently, but I'm willing to wager that if Mr. Ruskin had been nicer to Matt, he'd still be enjoying basenotes today.



10/22/17

Is The Market For Perfumes Containing Significant Quantities of Iso E Super "Fabricated"?




Over at Wordpress our friend published an article about an artisanal perfumer who is apparently defying IFRA regulations via Etsy. An interesting exchange took place in the comments section, where a blogger who goes by "Bibi Maizoon" wrote:
"Why so many niche companies want to market 'iso e super overload' or 'cashmeran overload' scents is an interesting question. Ya’think maybe it’s because people like those sorts of scents? And then because people like those sorts of scents they’ll buy them. And niche companies are companies like any other company & want to sell product & make $$$? So if they make products that people like then people will buy them and lo & behold the cash will come rolling in!"

The article's author responded:
"No, I think that was a largely fabricated market, for those who want to feel 'special.' There is no way to demonstrate that cashmeran or iso e super (in 'overloaded' formulations) is better, superior, special, etc. compared to calone or dihydromyrcenol heavy scents, but you can say that this or that scent smells like or doesn’t smell like laundry detergent, scented deodorant, etc."

Is this true? Where is the evidence that perfumers and design houses have fabricated the market for specific aroma chemicals? To my knowledge, iso e super is a material that has been used to great commercial success, perhaps most notably in the original Fahrenheit, which contains 25% iso e super in its compound. One can read more about its practical applications here.

It's interesting to note that iso e super is used as an additive in cigarette tobacco, where few market fabrications are necessary due to the addictive nature of the product. Again, is the market for cigarettes that contain iso e super fabricated? And what about the incredible success of Terre d'Hermes, Encre Noire (which has 45% in its compound), and Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch? Are these not enormous sellers? Or was the market fabricated? Have we been "faked out" by the use of iso e super?

Creed Aventus has 18% iso e super in its formula, CK Eternity for Men from 1988 had almost 12%, and Lancome's Trésor also made good use of the stuff. One can wonder if those odd earlier batches of Aventus that were criticized for smelling too "ashy", like a burnt cigarette, utilized iso e super in a way too similar to how cigarette makers use it in their formulas.

Is the market for Aventus among Creed fanatics and niche-heads fabricated? And what about the idea that people buy fragrances with iso e super to feel "special"? In what way does the aroma chemical confer "special" qualities to the wearer? By all educated accounts, this is a material with very little aroma on its own, and it is used as a sort of "texturizer" for perfumes, creating a very blended woody quality. This is why it features so prominently in woody classics like Fahrenheit, Eternity, and Terre d'Hermes.

As for cashmeran, it's also one of those atmospheric chemicals that simply creates a deeper warmth to fragrances, and to my knowledge nobody is exclusively seeking cashmeran for the purpose of "standing out" in the crowd. Fragrances that use cashmeran use it because it works in their compositions, and obviously it smells good enough to move merchandise!

I wish the blogger who dismissed Bibi's comment would elaborate on what he meant in his response to her. As things stand now, his remarks are unfounded. How can a market be "fabricated" based on aroma chemicals? Are people distorting the popularity of things that prominently use iso e super and cashmeran? If so, how?

At this point I doubt that anyone can view popular fragrances containing significant quantities of iso e super as products of a commercial lie, and I'm willing to bet that anyone familiar with how these materials smell in isolation would prefer them blended in what are otherwise successful compositions.


10/15/17

Nautica Classic (Coty)


Fragrantica attributes twenty-one notes to the pyramid of this fragrance, yet when I smell it I get roughly three: synthetic citrus, synthetic woods, and white musk. One would argue that this makes the fragrance simple to the point of smelling "cheap," but I would counter with an impression of something stereotypically nineties in the post Drakkar and Cool Water style that led the industry from 1983 to 2003. Nautica Classic doesn't smell complex or original, but it smells good in a bland handsoap sort of way.

There are fragrances for "connoisseurs" of fragrance, and then there are EDTs that people just wear because they want to wear something. Think of job interviews, informal Friday night dinners with the in-laws, taking your children to weekend birthday parties (that require you to stay), and even just doing chores around the house in your blue jeans. In these cases you could reach for any fragrance, but if you reach for Clive Christian, Acqua di Parma, or Creed, you have more money than brains.

I am reminded of Drakkar Noir and Cool Water in the same way that Passion for Men reminds me of Old Spice. All the same basic elements of this fragrance type are there, but they're tweaked a bit differently, and the result is inferior to its template. I get a blast of hand-soapy lavender, window-cleaner citrus, and a touch of that dry, smoky pine and patchouli accord found in Drakkar, but this basic woody dihydromyrcenol effect is enveloped in an opaque (and sweet) Cool Watery cloud of fruity white musk.

On a side note, people are claiming that Coty reformulated this into utter swill. It's hard to imagine that any concern could take such an abject failure to be original and make it even less original. My super vague recollection of nineties Nautica matches what I smell today, and if sharp chemical citrus top notes and scratchy chemical sandalwood basenotes were rich Grey Flannelesque citrus and Creed-like sandalwood in the nineties, I stand corrected. I suspect though that this was just as boring then as it is now.