Today I’m looking at some of the fragrances that have been hyped up on the Male Fragrance Discussion (MFD) board at Basenotes over the last couple of years.
Hype is a weather system onto itself; little eddies swirling around a particular perfume suddenly escalate into tornados. And like any weather system, it follows a distinct pattern – someone makes a claim that X which costs $ smells just like Y which costs $$$, or that X is a panty-dropper or surefire compliment-getter, excitement gathers around the product, it sells out quickly, followed by mass deflation (scornful reviews, naysayers) punctuated by little upticks in popularity thanks to the impassioned pleas of the true believers.
Hey, no judgment! It’s hard not to get swept up by mass enthusiasm. I have been carried away by a swirling hype river many a time myself, although my weakness tends to be new, experimental niche perfumes. Roughly 50% of these hype monsters have worked out for me – the other half languish in the depths of my perfume collection, hidden away so that I don’t have to face my own stupidity every time I open the closet.
Generally, most of the excitement involved in hyped fragrances comes from buying them blind. Either the fragrances are super exclusive and hard to sample (the experimental niche ones), so we should just bite the bullet and go in blind, right? or are so cheap or readily available that it makes more financial sense to buy the whole damn bottle.
There’s a sort of fool’s honor in buying the whole bottle blind.
But buying a whole bottle blind based on hype does one of two things to your judgment: (i) either you feel you have to muster up enough enthusiasm for the fragrance because you bought 100mls of it and thus give an effusive, less than honest review, sullenly willing others on to make the same mistake you did, or (ii) you feel intense, bitter disappointment at having spent $45 on something you’ll never wear, so you invest far too much time and energy into railing against the “hype” you feel is responsible for you having opened your wallet in the first place.
Hype is not to blame – we are. We are the ones who opened our wallets.
If someone likes a fragrance enough to want to talk about it and share the love, that’s not hype – that’s just enthusiasm. And it’s unfair to say that people who love a particular fragrance want to “hype” it. Because that implies shilling and you’d have to be a particularly miserable human being to believe that everyone who talks passionately about a fragrance has a financial stake in it. Sure, shills exist. But they’re pretty easy to spot and ignore.
I view hype more as an irresistible social phenomenon that appeals to our basic need to belong to a group (of people, of passions). Because, hot damn, when you see a group of people being enthusiastic and “blown away”, don’t you want to feel that way too? I know I do.
Feeling strongly about something is always more of a blast than feeling apathetic or “meh” about something. It means you’re alive and you still have hope. Because if you’re anything like me, the best perfume in the world is the one you haven’t smelled yet, the one just around the next corner. It’s what drives us on!
So, Basenotes MFD hype monsters. Over the years, I’ve noticed certain fragrances being the subject of hype – some small, slow hype builds, others fast little flurries that build into the aforementioned tornados. Some, like Aventus, have become such huge, lumbering megaliths of hype that they’ve succeeded in getting themselves banned to a sub-forum.
When I was recently given the chance by the lovely Greg Hartill of the UK decanting and sampling site, https://www.fragrancesamplesuk.com/, to pick a few samples from the site and review them, I decided to choose a selection of fragrances that have received some amount of hype on the MFD. He sent me generous decants of each of the seven fragrances I picked, and they were delivered to me within a couple of business days. I am hosting a GIVEAWAY of these samples, so look at terms and conditions at the end of this post!
Some of these fragrances are niche, some are designer. They are all masculine fragrances, and range from the very expensive to the very cheap. Some of these fragrances received the hype they did because they are similar to another famous fragrance but are cheaper. Some are hyped because they are astonishingly good for the money, and some are hyped because they take a common theme but do it so well and distinctively that they are hard to replicate with another, cheaper fragrance.
Men are always saying that they want a woman’s view on how a fragrance smells, right? Well, here’s my opinion on some of these Basenotes hype monsters. I tested all of these fragrances on myself and my husband, and sometimes my young son, who has a very good nose, was asked for his opinion too. So, here we have it, a 360 evaluation!
Aventus has become a bit of a joke in the fragrance community. Well, not the fragrance itself, to be fair. But its reputation as a panty-dropper and compliment-getter has turned it into a punch line for tired jokes about getting unsuspecting women to sleep with you – the fragrance equivalent of a roofie. Hype around Aventus is insane. And it is so acutely irritating to normal, rational people that it’s been forevermore banished to a dark corner of the Basenotes MFD where no-one ever visits unless you’re one of the converted.
I was curious about Aventus because I wondered if it was possible to evaluate the fragrance without pre-scorn or bias, and if indeed I liked it, would I be able to say so? Alternately, if I disliked it or was lukewarm, could I say that too without having to tone down my words?
I dislike Aventus on principle – the hype, the crude jokes, etc. But the fragrance itself is pretty nice.
The opening is immediately appealing – a fresh, fruity note identifiable as pineapple but not tropical in any way. I am able to identify the style as the Creed house style, which comes across as watery, green, fresh, and sparkling in a slightly metallic but pleasant way. I think that many of the Creed Royal Exclusives such as Aventus and Spice and Wood play with the trope of fresh fruit (apple, pineapple) joined to a light, clean cedary base. It is crisp, aqueous, and pleasant to wear.
The base is smoky in a lightly-charred-woods kind of way, owing to a restrained hand with birch tar and cedar or oak wood. It smells slightly synthetic, but in a way that seems deliberate and therefore forms part of the fragrance’s charm, as in CdG Black.
As it dries down even further, it becomes sharper and more generic, with a “male aftershave”-y character. I could see my brothers wearing this. It’s clean and inoffensively masculine, so I can see why this would be a popular, safe choice for the office.
Pineapple over birch tar – it doesn’t sound like much, does it? However, Aventus manages to come across as more than a sum of its parts. Like Narciso Rodriguez for Her EDT or L’Instant, the fragrance might seem nothing special when you pick it apart or smell it on a paper strip. But when you spray it and wear it over the course of a day, it forms a sort of force field of attractiveness around you that cannot be explained away by the notes. You smell great and other people think you smell great too. It’s pretty soulless and generic-smelling. But it does its job of making a man seem clean, fresh, and ready to mate with.
My husband tested Aventus several times, but couldn’t find a single thing to say about it, apart from the fact that it was “ok”.
Oud Black Vanilla Absolute (Perry Ellis)
The hype on this one has been crazy. It went from selling at $35 to being hawked on eBay for $300 when the manufacturers ran out of stock. I imagine that the Perry Ellis people are as shocked as everyone else. It is possible that they thought they were making a pleasantly soft, wearable vanilla fragrance that men could wear. But one comment on Basenotes about a supposed similarity to Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille and a massive hype storm brewed up in no time at all.
At the time of writing, it’s been reintroduced and sold in the $65-$80 range, and everyone who missed out on it the first time round are buying it and finding out for themselves how wide that gap between expectations and reality really is.
Does it smell like SDV? Sort of. But only in the way that Gisele’s sisters look like Gisele – i.e., there’s a family resemblance but one is reminded instantly of how one minute variation in jaw length or height of cheekbones makes all the difference between “attractive” and “drop-dead, mouth-watering, hubba-hubba, Girl from Ipanema beauteousness”. I apologize if that sounds callow. But does it help if I explain that, to me at least, the beauty of SDV, like that of Gisele, is overrated?
SDV is a nice, slightly boozy vanilla perfume that has a luxurious, golden sparkle to it. I used to own a full bottle of it, until I realized that it bored the living daylights out of me every time I wore it, so I sold it. Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s beautifully done. But it is simply not interesting, or dark, or boozy enough to hold my attention.
The opening of SDV is pretty arresting – a sugary, sparkling rum brought into being by the meeting of pink pepper, vanilla, and woods. But then there is a long period of time when the sourish, pickled tones of the cedar predominate on my skin, and I don’t enjoy that. In its final stages, a warm golden vanilla-custard glow is set free about my person and I admit that it smells wonderful. But so does Shalimar. And I am not crazy enough about straight-up vanilla to spend $300 on what turns out to be the vanilla component of a more evolved (and cheaper) fragrance.
Recognizing the limits of my need, I sold my bottle of SDV and have contented myself ever since with two types of vanilla fragrances – first, the type you buy in vats and hose yourself down in (until dripping wet) before you go to bed, or for layering purposes (these include Molinard Vanille and Cologne des Missions), and second, the type of vanilla fragrances that do something more interesting with vanilla.
In the latter category, I love Eau Duelle for its fresh black tea and frankincense angle, Vanille Tonka for its lime and carnation smokiness, Mona di Orio Vanille for a dark, woody vanilla sodden with booze, and occasionally, Bois de Vanille, which is mostly licorice allsorts on me. Oh, and Shalimar. But Shalimar is more than just vanilla.
Apologies for the lengthy preamble. But I want you to be clear on where I stand on SDV before I get into discussing a possible dupe for it. For all its strengths and weaknesses, Perry Ellis Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is a credible approximation of what is to (to me) a pretty nice but unremarkable fragrance. Thus, it follows that Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is nice but unremarkable.
The opening note is one of pure alcohol. When it settles, a nice, plain vanilla note with a soft booziness comes into view. It is difficult for me to pick up anything more complex than that, because it is very soft and low key, with little to no projection. It does, however, lack the dynamic sparkle of SDV’s opening, and the vanilla here comes across more as a sort of plain vanilla fudge texture. In fact, the vanilla in Oud Black Vanilla Absolute strikes me as being the same type as in Havana Vanille or Vanille Absoluement, whatever it’s called these days. A sort of undifferentiated blob of vanilla bread pudding.
10 minutes in, and a dusty, medicinal “oud” note appears. The oud note is a bit harsh and abrasive, and reads to my nose more like a woody ambery aromachemical than synthetic oud. Even Montale’s oud note, which although rubbery and sour, is still recognized by the nose as an oudy “type” of smell. The oud note here smells burned and chemically woody. It smells like something out of the base of Sauvage, except nowhere near as brutal. If this note is what people are picking up on as “dark” and “smoky”, then I feel sorry for you. You need to try a better class of perfume.
This perfume lacks the density and heft I want in a straight-up vanilla. To be fair, so does SDV. (Tihota is by far and away the best straight-up vanilla on the market, but you have to really love vanilla to spend $$$ on 50mls of it).
Oud Black Vanilla Absolute is ultimately a very flat, plain vanilla fudge perfume with a male designer perfume base that smells a bit generic and hollow. The woody ambery aromachemical they are calling oud is nowhere near the quality of even the standard Montale oud note, and to me reads as a bit abrasive. Thank God for small mercies, though – this is not one of those overly potent Norlimbanol bombs that seem to plague the male fragrance market these days. It is, on the contrary, very, very quiet, lying flatly on the skin and refusing to project more than 1cm off the skin. Weak sauce.
Men, you can do better for vanilla, I promise you. Just don’t get swept up in the hype for this. Look further afield. Eau Duelle is piney and fresh, a vanilla you can wear without worrying about the fact you are a man wearing a vanilla perfume – and it doesn’t cost as much as the Perry Ellis, ironically. The EDP version smells as good as the SDV, vanilla-wise. But fresher, greener.
Cologne des Missions is a better dupe for SDV, if that’s what you’re specifically looking for. It’s a better capture of the sugary, smoky sparkle of the SDV opening than the Perry Ellis, although the drydown is not as creamy and as silky as the SDV. But for a more translucent, cologne-style version of SDV, you really can’t get much better than Cologne des Missions. Instead of the synthetic oud note in the Perry Ellis, you get myrrh and benzoin, which together smell woodier, smokier, and more natural than any fake oud. It’s made by nuns in a convent, for heaven’s sake!
My husband didn’t like this one either. He said that vanilla makes him think of baking sugar cookies and he finds that smell too simple and sugary to be interesting, either on me or on himself. Keep in mind that he’s a health nut, and sneaking a bar of chocolate in our house is a complicated operation involving small children distracting their father while I try to open the fridge as silently as I can.
New Haarlem (Bond No. 9)
New Haarlem is probably one of Bond No. 9’s most iconic fragrances, along with Chinatown (on the female side). It’s a grotesque, “extreme” gourmand that pushes the envelope with a set of roasted, burned, and syrupy notes that walk the line between cloying/intense and appetizing/comforting.
I like extreme gourmands a lot – they are impolite and they don’t pussyfoot around with the idea of food as fragrance. They don’t make any apologies. Done right, they are both satisfying and cartoonishly awful in equal measure. In this category, I place Jeux de Peau, Cadavre Exquise, A*Men, and yep – New Haarlem.
My family and I perceived New Haarlem in quite different ways – in fact, it was the one fragrance where our opinions diverged so much so that I feel it necessary to note. To my nose, New Haarlem smells like roasted black coffee beans over a soapy, aromatic lavender cologne. The lavender here has the same sun-roasted, “garrigue” effect I notice in Eau Noire, that intensely woody, aromatic aroma of crushed lavender buds which is what creates the roasted coffee impression.
It is certainly a very dark and woody coffee smell – very attractive and distinctive. I can’t think of anything else that smells as close to real coffee as this does. I pick up on a creamy vanilla sweetness later on, but I can’t say that I perceive any syrupy notes at all. And I certainly don’t pick up the famous pancake accord.
To my nose, this is all coffee, intensely black and roasted at first, then smoothing out into sweet, milky coffee in the drydown, draped over a soapy, aromatic barbershop fougere. It strikes me as incredibly masculine. I like it very much, but find it too butch for me to pull off comfortably.
My husband, on the other hand, had a completely different experience. That is to say, it smelled the same on his skin as it did on mine, but his understanding of New Haarlem jives far more closely with the majority opinion of the scent on Basenotes and elsewhere. Without telling him what the fragrance notes were, I sprayed it on him and asked him to tell me what it smelled like. This is what he said:
“Nuts, specifically pecans, and that Danish pastry you like with the pecans. There is a lot of syrup here. Yes, it smells exactly like the bakery where I get the croissants and pecan Danish for you guys at the weekend. It is like wearing a pastry. This is far too sweet. I could maybe like this if I were feeling hungry and wanted to smell something a little sweet. But I wouldn’t wear this, really. It’s way too sweet.”
For the record, my son wasn’t privy to this conversation. He sniffed his dad and pronounced it “sweeties and woods”, which I believe puts his reading of New Haarlem at the halfway point between my “woody coffee” and his father’s “pecans and syrup” readings. Keep in mind that he is five.
Tabac Rouge (Phaedon)
Tabac Rouge has picked up a lot of hype as a substitute for Tobacco Vanille over the years, but on the whole, it’s stayed at the level of hype “eddy” rather than hype “tornado”. I’ve mentally arranged it on the same shelf as scents such as Meharees and Dolcelixir – versions of more famous, expensive fragrances that some will always insist are superior to their source inspiration for some reason or another (“Meharees completely removes that awful clove note from Musc Ravaguer” etc.).
Likewise, many people prefer Tabac Rouge over Tobacco Vanille because it is much lighter, has ginger instead of clove, and more honey than heavy vanilla. Oh, and the price, of course – although not massively cheap, Tabac Rouge costs far less than Tobacco Vanille.
I agree that Tabac Rouge smells like Tobacco Vanille. But as with Meharees (Musc Ravageur clone) and Dolcelixir (Ambre Narguile clone) and yes, even Oud Black Vanilla Absolute (SDV clone), the resemblance is skin-deep really, based on a superficial reading of the notes. The biggest difference between these clones and their source material is texture and weight. And a whole world of difference can be found in the small detail of texture and weight.
Tobacco Vanille is luxuriously, ludicrously rich and heavy – it smells like you are wearing an overstuffed armchair, upholstered with the most expensive materials known to man. It is famously sweet, but its sweetness derives from delicious dried fruits, prunes, and bitter chocolate, all aspects of the rich tobacco absolute used.
People complain about the vanilla, saying that it smells like a holiday candle. Hey! Point me in the direction of a candle that smells as good as Tobacco Vanille and I will buy the shit out of that. Until that happens, shut up. Tobacco Vanille is a thick scent for days when it is so cold you want to never leave the house. There is no better smell to catch for days and days on the label of your heaviest winter coat. I wear it once every 365 days, which is more than enough for one person.
Tabac Rouge catches all the notes of Tobacco Vanille, but in a kind of “skim-reading” type of way. The difference is, like I said, in the small matter of texture and weight. Tabac Rouge has the texture of hot, clear tea. A sparkling ginger note is an improvement over the (frankly) awful, metallic clove note in TV, but that contributes further to the feeling of spicy, lively winter tisane rather than the thick duvet feeling I get from TV. It is as sweet as TV, but derives its sweetness from honey rather than from dried fruit. (Honey is yet another element that makes me think of tea).
I think that it smells great, though, and I would certainly buy this. It would suit warmer weather than Tobacco Vanille, due to its relative sheerness, and for this reason alone, it is by far the more versatile fragrance of the two.
Tea for Two is also in the same general area as Tabac Rouge, especially in terms of that honeyed tobacco “tisane” translucence, but Tea for Two is far smokier and ashier than Tabac Rouge. Out of all these variants, Tabac Rouge is perhaps the easiest to wear and the most versatile, especially in warmer weather. However, I still think I would spring for Tobacco Toscano for a sweet summer/spring tobacco fragrance, before Tabac Rouge.
My husband liked Tabac Rouge better than all the other non-oudy samples. He smelled the honey straight away. “It reminds me of M Komplex, a thick medicinal unguent you eat to boost your immune system. It has propolis, pollen, royal jelly, honey, maybe ginseng, and a few other things I can’t remember. It smells good – but sweet and medicinal at the same time. So yes, basically it smells like every substance that comes from a bee, mixed together.”
Rasasi Tasmeem Man
I’m in the middle of writing a guide to attars and oud oils, and Rasasi is a house that has started to impress me, for its quality to price ratio. I’d never tried their EDPs, though, so when I saw Tasmeem Man getting a lot of attention on the Basenotes MFD lately, I took note of the name.
Tasmeem Man doesn’t start out too promisingly, with a sweet, powdery floral musk that feels utterly generic and faceless. But I know that some Arabian cheapies (both oils and EDPs) need some time to settle before revealing their true character, and this was the case with Tasmeem Man. Eventually the scent smoothes out into a sweet, powdery tonka-based scent, with a trace of rose and vanilla. I thought I also picked up a bit of cumin, which my husband confirmed when smelling it blind (his comments are below).
I quite liked Tasmeem Man, and it is excellent value. Tonka is a trendy note in modern masculine designer scents, so it reminded me quite a bit of other men’s fragrances, in particular, the tonka-heavy Midnight in Paris. However, there is something pretty cheap and generic about it that puts me off. It is partially the source material – there is often something a little cheap-smelling about the almond aspect of tonka and/or coumarin, to my nose at least. I also find it excessively sweet and powdery (with a hint of sweaty armpit lurking beneath).
My husband’s comments: “Oh my GOD, there’s cumin in this, isn’t there? It smells like a**. It’s very sweet. I’m surprised that this is a man’s fragrance.” Well, he said much ruder things than that, but I’ve toned it down.
Tom Ford Oud Wood
I’m surprised that nobody’s mentioned the fact that Oud Wood smells a lot like Dzongkha. Specifically, the oily, rubbery cardamom that adds a green, celery-seed-like note to the composition in both fragrances, setting their character dial at once to the savory (as opposed to sweet).
It’s interesting to me the way the different facets of the fragrance – the green spice of the cardamom, the smooth woods, and the oily/industrial facets – add up to a smell that is recognizably “oudy” without ever really smelling like oud when you smell it up close, on the wrist. Once you draw your head back, the disparate parts seem to coalesce into one amalgamated flow of fresh, green oily oud wood.
It smells wonderful – smooth, integrated wooden parts with a rich fleshiness or milkiness to the base. It smells impersonal, too, like a much-admired building in an award-winning industrial complex. It doesn’t have a soul, so it’s easy to make it one’s own. There is something creepy about it, and yet also mesmerizing, like that video that’s been doing the rounds lately with the papier mache, robot-controlled faces biting and licking at each other.
It strikes me easily as masculine but not in a butch way that would preclude me from wearing it. Actually, I guess it is truly genderless, or rather, sexless – as sexless as a Ken doll. I love its creepy, putty-like texture. It’s almost off-puttingly smooth.
My husband liked this sample the best out of the whole line-up. It smells expensive and luxurious, he noted. I should mention that my husband loves pure oud oil, and because I test a lot of it, he is familiar with many different oud profiles and has come to love the fiercely animalic ones.
These are his comments: “I really like this. But that’s not oud. It is very safe-smelling. I would recommend it to people who wear suits. Real oud oil smells crazy, wild. It doesn’t have limits. This fragrance does have limits. I suppose that’s what makes it perfect for the workplace.”
David Yurman Limited Edition (David Yurman)
I’ve had to re-test this fragrance several times, because in the very short time it takes for my mind to wander off, the scent performs such a 180 on my skin that I keep wondering what perfume I actually have on. The second part is so completely removed from the first that it’s like wearing two different perfumes. If you’re not sniffing your arm like a hawk and focusing intensely, you might miss the transition completely and wonder what the hell just happened to the dark rose fragrance you originally put on. Because what I end up with is a smooth, boot-polish leather that feels texturally very close to Tuscan Leather.
And I know I didn’t start out with Tuscan Leather. David Yurman Limited Edition starts off on a beautifully rose note, roughly hewn and set in a dry smoky haze of oud and spices. It feels slightly green and herbal. That rose is really excellent quality. I can tell that the oud is the standard synthetic variant out of either Firmenich or Givaudan, but the rose smells like a really high quality Taif rose oil. It is bright, sharp, and lemony – almost harsh at first, but then loosening out into something sweeter.
Quite quickly. I lose the moist, fleshy parts of the rose, but what remains of the rose oil are the germanium-green and lemony-sharp facets, leaving their high-pitched, oily traces on all the other notes.
The base – which comes on very fast and surprised me every time – is a dusty vetiver leather with a fruity, boot-polish note lent by the raspberry. The combination comes off as dry and slightly musky and is very close to the way Tuscan Leather smells in its far drydown.
The raspberry note doesn’t smell like a fresh raspberry, but adds this strange, solvent-like tone to the leather. I have noticed this plasticky, boot-polish like effect of the raspberry note in two fragrances thus far: Tuscan Leather and Impossible Iris (Ramon Monegal). It is very appealing, because it adds a modern edge to the musky, sawdusty leather accord.
I like this perfume very much, and I’m given to understand that it’s not that expensive either. It is extrait-strength, so it is long-lasting. Unusually for an extrait, it projects quite powerfully too. Many quote this as a great rose-oud-leather fragrance for men, and I agree. In fact, it’s a creditable alternative to Portrait of a Lady or Tuscan Leather if you’re on a budget. It might also do the trick for fans of Atelier Cologne’s Oud Sapphir. I’m not saying it rivals their quality, but for the price, it gives you a smoky, oudy rose over leather that lasts all day. For most, that will do the job.
My husband said that this one was just ok.
I will ship the remaining samples I have of each of these 7 scents to someone ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD! Terms & Conditions are as follows:
- Leave a comment telling me if you ever got caught up in hype, bought something blind, and how you (honestly) felt about the perfume when you got it! The funniest, most inspiring, or most painful-sounding answer will win
- To enter, leave your comment either here on my blog, on my Facebook posting of this (Take One Thing Off Facebook page), on a Basenotes thread I will open up for this, or in any Facebook fragrance groups! All comments count.
- Anyone asking me the batch code of the Aventus sample will be taken out and shot automatically disqualified.
- I will choose the winner on Friday, 30th September, 2016.
The lovely Greg Hartill of https://www.fragrancesamplesuk.com/ is offering a 10% discount to anyone using the special code HYPE10. Officially, it’s UK-only deliveries because of the draconian shipping regulations, but I believe if you contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, he might be able to work something out with you. He says he is actually starting to ship a lot of stuff abroad, even though the site doesn’t specifically state it.