Byredo’s Palermo (2010)

Byredo Palermo © Victor Wong
Byredo Palermo © Victor Wong

I had once offered some samples of my perfumes to a nice guy nicknamed “TheNaughtyProf” whom I met on a fragrance forum. After testing out my scents, he politely wrote, “Do you do ANY citrus/citrus floral or citrus woods based frags?”

I think I might disappoint him for a long long time because I find citrusy fragrances/colognes very boring. If a bottle of cologne wants to impress me by jumping off a plane over the Grand Canyon without wearing any parachute I would just let it fall. I just hardly care for any colognes because 1) I have probably eaten too many oranges and lemons in my life, and they are not special to me, and 2) a lot of colognes all end up smelling similar to me when the citrus notes are gone. I have smelled Guerlain’s Eau de Cologne du Coq, Mouchoir de Monsieur, Eau de Guerlain, Eau de Cologne Imperiale, while their base notes all have subtle differences, I still regard them as “very similar”.

But Byredo’s Palermo (an Italian city) is a little different. Palermo smells like pomelos to me. They are huge citrus fruits that I only eat every Chinese Autumn Festival. (It’s just my family tradition to eat pomelos that time of the year and it’s a pain to peel a pomelo.) The citrus smell of pomelos is just subtlety different enough to push me off the edge to fall in love with it. (Similar to people who only like the smell of limes but not lemons.)

What’s funny about Palermo is that it doesn’t contain any palermo essential oils. However, the perfume just smells like pomelos to me, and I associate it to family good time. When the top notes are gone, Palermo again smells like any cologne to me. (Reapply!)

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Two Girls’ Florida Water (1898)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

“You can use it as a mosquito repellent too,” said the sales woman, as she put the perfume in the shopping bag. I really wished that she didn’t say that – come on, it’s a perfume with over a hundred year old history, but you had made it sound totally utilitarian. The perfume I bought was Two Girl’s Florida Water.

Two Girls was established in Hong Kong in 1898, and it was the first cosmetic brand ever registered in China. Their “Florida Water” (an American version of Eau de Cologne) was widely popular in Asia till the 50’s, and on the bottle label always sports the iconic illustration of a pair of young ladies in traditional Chinese long dress.

I found it very intriguing that I knew of this brand since I was a kid but I didn’t recall anyone in the household ever owning or using a bottle. It was until a few years ago I saw a Two Girls TV commercial in Hong Kong  that totally caught me by surprised – woah, they still exist? At that time I wasn’t obsessed with perfumes; but now I am, so when I recently visited Hong Kong I had decided to get a bottle for nostalgic reason, and also to find out what it really smelled like.

It was a challenge to find their “flagship” store in Hong Kong. I thought they had a glamorous shop located in some high-traffic mall, but instead, it was hidden on the second floor of a rather small and old shopping building. The reason was obvious after I found out how much a bottle cost: $40 Hong Kong dollars for 100ml (roughly $5 US). It’s simply a product made for the masses and the prices were set accordingly.

Two Girls’ Florida Water is essentially a lavender cologne heavily infused with cloves, cinnamon, bergamot and peppermint, ingredients that are easy to harvest and distill. It smells unsophisticated and rustic, and even a bit of bug repellent, but this might be the best a woman could get when Hong Kong was still a developing city under the merciless hot weather.

Guerlain’s Eau de Cologne Imperiale (1860)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

You are at a gas station convenience store, and you want to get a Twinkie cake snack. Instead of getting the freshest one on the shelf, you ask the cashier if they carry any that were made 15 years ago. You enthusiastically describe what the old packaging looks like and talk about how good the old recipe is, but as expected, he compassionately tells you that they don’t have any. He says he actually believes that the new one tastes as good as the ones made in the old days. You are not convinced and not giving up and drive around town hopping in and out from one store to another, and just when you are about to scream “why!?”, you find a very old store that has a bunch of 20-year-old Twinkies hidden in the back room. The manager tells you that each one costs $100 and you don’t even show a hint of shock on your face. You immediately buy two (one as a back up), and take a bite. It tastes a bit spoiled, but “really amazing”.

Do you find this ridiculous? No? Good. Never mind. I want to thank a group member for telling me that my local perfume store has stocked some Guerlain “treasures”. He pointed out that any Guerlain perfumes that come in a shiny gold box (as opposed to the current ones that are matte-bronze) have vintage formulations and are much sought after. Today I revisited that store and spotted a 250ml bottle of Eau de Cologne Imperiale in a “shiny gold box”. The price was good, and as a bonus, the cologne came in the famous Guerlain bee bottle. The sales told me she had never seen a Guerlain bee bottle before (!) and it looked very pretty. She took a sniff from the sample bottle and said, “hmm, it smells like 4711 cologne.” (10 times cheaper) I said, “Come on, it’s one of the best lime colognes!” (It’s true! I guess…)

Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage Intense (1984)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

On the Wikipedia page dedicated to Lanvin’s Arpege, it says that Arpege, Patou’s Joy and Chanel’s No. 5 are the three best known perfumes in the world. (I am surprised that Sharlimar isn’t included) Whether it still holds true or not, it makes me wonder what would be the three best known colognes or perfumes for men in the world? There are probably no right or wrong answers; what about Old Spice, English Leather and Aqua Velva? They are totally affordable, popular and still in production. Or may be Polo, Le 3′ Homme and Eau Sauvage?

Some time ago my coworker (he just got 30) was looking for a new cologne, I told him that he should try Eau Sauvage (1966) because I knew he liked citrus colognes a lot. He reported back that he liked it, but the sales woman told him he should not get it because it’s for old men. I said it’s totally absurd and she didn’t know any better. But secretly I partially agreed – It is the memorable dry down of Eau Sauvage that makes it is easy to associate it with the 70’s. But I thought since my coworker wasn’t even born in the 70’s, not many of his friends in the same age group would recognize it, anyway. Regardless, Eau Sauvage is so classy and classic, the citrus opening is so strong, the dry down is so rich and prestigious that its age is irrelevant – just like Michael Douglas can still get Catherine Zeta Jones.

Helmut Lang’s Eau De Cologne (2000)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

One of the fragrances mentioned in the Top Ten Discontinued Men’s Fragrances article is Helmut Lang Curion Pour Homme (2002), not the one I mistakenly bought, Helmut Lang Eau de Cologne. I wasn’t familiar with the brand (I suspect not many people do), and when I saw a bottle in my local discount store, I felt so lucky, I almost immediately bought it. In my head, I had already bought it, but I tried to act rational and asked for a sniffing first. It was stunning. (If you check the in-store anti-theft video footage, you can tell I was blind at that moment) It had one of my most favourite notes, baby powder. It opened up with a typical lemony scent, and then came the baby powder big bang, and little baby powder planets subsequently formed and started orbiting around me…

However, being an impulsive buyer, I surprised myself that I didn’t buy that last bottle. The reason? It’s a 50ml bottle. Yes, I have decided to buy only 100ml bottles. I know that in the future, when I’ve become old, I will sell my collection on eBay one bottle at a time. (No, I am not giving them away to my relatives, especially my brother, who has received a deodorant stick as a Christmas gift from his coworker.) People who collect stuff want the bigger bottle, and its original packaging, so I am trying to maximize my chance of getting a better price. There is some logic in this illogical thinking, isn’t it?

So I bought a 100ml bottle from eBay, and went back to that article and re-read the good things that it talked about. That’s when I realized that I bought the wrong bottle. But it really didn’t matter, because Helmut Lang Eau de Cologne has become my most favourite cologne.

Salvador Dali’s Salvador (1992)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Continuing my new-found interest in Salvador Dali’s perfumes. The bottle of “Salvador” (1992) looks like the cross-section of an epidermis under a microscope, zoomed-in, looking at the amber fatty cells. Slightly disturbing, but I appreciate the effort they put in making this design unique.

The opening of Salvador is a disappointing “typical citrus cologne, again?” smell. But honestly, I shouldn’t get disappointed smelling a lime. Slowly, the middle and base notes start revealing themselves – carnation, rose, tonka beans (yeah baby), vanilla, leather, making it a yummy cologne, and also making Guerlain’s Tonka Imperiale look like an eunuch.

Gerard Anthony was the co-creator, his works include Azzaro and Balenciaga Pour Homme. (I will talk about this monster soon).

Salvador Dali Pour Homme (1985)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Salvador Dali has made so many perfumes since the 80’s, every time I visit a perfume shop I see a bunch of them on the shelves. Their weird looking bottles made me think that they were gimmicky and just trying to sell you the packaging. And of course, I remember reading Luca Turin’s reviews on most of their perfumes, on average each get a two out of five stars. Last week I re-read all his reviews on Salvador’s perfumes and realized that there were two or three perfumes that got a four-star rating.

Now Salvador Dail pour Homme didn’t get any review because it’s their debut perfume (1985) and it is discontinued. I wish Luca did a review on this one because it’s actually quite good. The surprise is that it was created by the current Guerlain CEO/Lead perfumer, Thierry Wasser almost 30 years ago. I guess he was in his twenties? A well thought out top to bottom note design, it is a very decent oriental fougere. The bottle is also one of a kind. I think it should be in every eclectic perfume collector’s collection.