Acqua di Parma’s Colonia Ambra (2015)

Acqua di Parma's Colonia Ambra © Victor Wong
Acqua di Parma’s Colonia Ambra © Victor Wong

The first time my friend Carolina and I sniffed Acqua di Parma’s Colonia Intensa Oud (2012) we were so impressed that I called it “boyfriend-in-a-bottle”. The second time we were in the same store, Caro suggested, “Let’s smell boyfriend-in-a-bottle again!” The salesperson was so delighted to hear us talk about it – she didn’t have to do anything, we were already sold. However, to our disappointment, it smelled completely different and not as good as we remembered. The only reason we could think of was that the first time we smelled it, the counter was not staffed, and people threw used test strips everywhere, and the strip that we picked up sitting next to the bottle wasn’t really sprayed with Intensa Oud, or it could be, but had already been contaminated with other perfumes. (“The Incredible Shrinking Woman” movie, anyone?) The salesperson saw our faces and knew something was wrong, but wouldn’t let us go so easily; she insisted that she spray some on me. It really was just too strong for me, and I walked out of the store feeling uneasy. A year later, Acqua di Parma released Colonia Leather, which was quite good, but I didn’t need another leather perfume.

Another year had passed, and Colonia Ambra (2015) was released. I had some expectation for their third release because I loved amber scents. I smelled it at the store but didn’t get any amber notes. I asked for a sample and the sales person reluctantly gave me one (probably thinking when will I ever buy a bottle from her). Later I found out that Ambra actually was not an amber scent, but an ambrigris scent (whale vomit – synthetic, of course). One day I sprayed some of that sample on the back of my hand and headed to the supermarket for some grocery. I picked up a bottle of yoghurt drink and started reading the label, and thought, wow this bottle smelled so good… I picked up a can of Spam, wow Spam had never smelled so good. Then I realized I was smelling Ambra on the back of my hand. The boyfriend genie reappeared again, on the back of my hand! (with supermarket music playing in the background.)

Ambra is the “Goldilocks” perfume, finally a brown bottle Colonia that I really like, despite it’s a still an initially loud, synthetic (~in a good way) perfume, but not as pungent as Mr. Luke Atmey Intensa Oud. It really is an aquatic scent, but mostly covered up by some heavy dose of wood notes and a bit of bitter herbal notes and saltiness. Among all the things going on, it has some sweetness that I particularly love smelling on my partner.

Thierry Mugler’s B-Men (2003)

Thierry Mugler's B-Men © Victor Wong
Thierry Mugler’s B-Men © Victor Wong

I was pretty late to the fragrance party, by the time I bought my first bottle of A-Men, they had already released over 10 A-Men flankers. Recently a sales person showed me their newly released A-Men Ultra Zest and I told him it smelled just like A-Men with orange. Really I should have kept it to myself, but I couldn’t resist, and the sales person couldn’t resist either, and politely hinted to me, “What did you expect? It’s a flanker.”

Last week I blind-bought B-Men because I thought it might smell completely different from A-Men, but also it was in its first edition acrylic box (just like my bottle of A-Men), and I associated that to a more potent fragrance. (I’ve read stories that A-Men’s potency has gone much weaker over the years.) As it turned out, through a bit of research, B-Men was A-Men’s first flanker, and it flopped, I guess, but if it didn’t, the marketing department might have a hard time introducing C-Men for guys.

The more I wear B-Men, the more impressive I find the whole line of A-Men flankers has become – I can still recognize the sharp silhouette of A-Men no matter how much Thierry Mugler’s perfumers change/adjust/mutilate it to give it a new flavor or character for the new flanker. On the contrary, Guerlain has released tons of Shalimar flankers and people complain that they don’t smell anything close to the original.

In 1967 Andy Warhol created a pop-art painting named “10 Marilyns”. It has 10 identical Marilyn head shots, except that each one receives a different color palette treatment. (In Photoshop, it’s called “Hue Shift”.) No matter which one you isolate, people can still tell it’s Marilyn, that’s because Marilyn is so iconic. So who is great here? Marilyn or Andy Warhol? To me, it’s both. What Thierry Mugler’s perfumers did here was their own painting of “10 A-Men”, and B-Men is one of the A-Men in the painting, except it smells spicy (spice and licorice) and tart (rhubarb), instead of milky and super sweet, and the industrial strength patchouli is always there.

Juicy Couture’s Dirty English (2008)

Juicy Couture Dirty English © Victor Wong
Juicy Couture Dirty English © Victor Wong

“A perfume smells better when it gets discontinued.” – Plato

Recently I have read some posts saying that Juicy Couture’s Dirty English has been reformulated and the packaging has changed from awesome to awful. The metal chain that wraps around the original bottle cap is now cheap plastic, and the little trinkets that tied to the bottle cap with a leather band are all gone, and worst of all, the fragrance smells much weaker. For the longest time, my local perfume shop sales lady had been urging me to get a bottle because she really liked it. (Not really a factor.) I really liked the packaging, it’s thoughtful and thorough, but the reason I held off getting a bottle was that I had a negative association with the brand’s couture – I really don’t like seeing people wear their pink jogging pants with the word Juicy printed on the back on the butt – often the word gets epically distorted and the letter “i” sometimes gets fallen through the cracks.

Last time I visited the store I saw a bunch of Dirty English bottles getting a massive discount (from $90 to $40). I thought this was the time to get one… but I looked at the bottle and knew it was the new version. I asked the sales lady if she still had the old stock, and she did, but the last bottle, and it’s $90. I asked if she could give me the same price $40 and suddenly she switched to the Arabic language channel – she and her boss had a conversation for about a minute and the boss said $50. I asked why didn’t you give me $40? She replied why didn’t I buy the new version? What a… cunning businesswoman. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was getting an old version with the original packaging, but I took the chance. Damn Plato.

Yes, it’s the original version. Whew.

Dirty English smells very manly and well-blended. It’s woody and leathery, spicy and warm, and dry. There is a little bit of “dirtiness” and that probably comes from vetiver, cypress and a tiny little bit of synthetic oud. It doesn’t smell animalic, but carefree – and the guy wearing it definitely is not driving a Fiat mini car.

Interestingly, Dirty English reminds me of Gucci pour Homme (2003, discontinued, and highly sought after) but not as smooth and sophisticated – if you have a tight budget, Dirty English is still a bad boy smooth operator.

But wait, there’s more! I just said Dirty English smelled like Gucci pour Homme, but Gucci pour Homme smells like another perfume – Rochas Lui (2003)! Lui smells simpler, probably due to fewer ingredients, but all the ingredients are amped up and it’s delicious and sexy. If I get to rename it, may be I would pick “Easy French”. It’s definitely amusing to see both Gucci pour Homme and Lui were released in 2003, and five years later Juicy Couture released a slightly water-downed version, trying to lure all the dirty English wannabes.

Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 5: Creed’s Aventus (2010)

Youtube Review of Aventus by Jeremy Fragrance
Youtube Review of Aventus by Jeremy Fragrance

[I want to write about some of the perfumes that have influenced and led me to the creation of my perfume brand, Zoologist Perfumes. They have sparked ideas and given me new understanding about niche fragrances and the marketing of them.]

Pt. V. What Does a Perfume Mean to Men and Women? – Creed’s Aventus

After spending three years reading posts on various Facebook fragrance groups and perfume review sites on an almost daily basis, I have noticed a huge difference between non-editorial posts made by men and women.

My observation tells me that men are more obsessed with their perfumes, such as their manufacturer batch numbers, and are more eager to show off what they have on Facebook. But the amount of details are often lacking, resulting in just a “Scent of the Day” photo of their perfume sitting on a kitchen counter, with a comment like, “This juice is amazing”. We already know that men are “visual”, may be a photo is really all you need to communicate with other men, just like if you post a photo of yourself sitting in a Porsche with a babe feeding you a banana, what really do you need to write about? “This banana has a linear fragrant indolic tropical fruity note, but it has a soft silky smooth texture. (Almost too slippery.) It is best eaten on a cold winter day, highly recommended”?

In a male-dominated group, I feel like the quality of a fragrance is often judged by how cool the bottle and the packaging look, how expensive it is, how hard it is to get, and how often it appears in the group. Of course, the fragrance itself needs to be good enough for a hype storm to form, but once it has started, it seems almost unstoppable. The best example I’ve seen is Creed’s Aventus. I don’t own a bottle, but the amount of “love” and Scent of the Day posts it has gotten makes it impossible not make you at least smell it at a department store once. Just two days ago before I wrote this post I saw a man buying a bottle at a department store without sniffing it for more than a split second. He told the sales that everyone said good things about Aventus online.

The Lady of Shallot (1888) by John William Waterhouse
The Lady of Shallot (1888) by John William Waterhouse

Posts made by women are a different animal. A photo of the actual perfume bottle is not necessary, but the quality of the writing and the imagery that it provokes do make a difference. (A panoramic landscape photo or an exotic painting complementing the review always help.) Where would this fragrance take you to? An enchanted garden with wisps flying around you? An unforgettable encounter with a romantic medieval knight who invites you to a grand ball and breaks your heart with some mercilessly hard bottom notes? A thorny dark rose that wraps around you like a soft blanket? Wearing this you’ll meet a tall dark stranger…

A few years ago I read an article on the differences between public toilet stall graffiti made by men and women. Studies found that men were more likely to write insults and nasty comments, and doodle penises to reinforce their dominance. For women, the washroom was a sacred place of reflection and confession, and they more often wrote about relationships, religion and philosophy.

Furthermore, I have watched a crowd-funding pitch video by a woman who wanted to create some “engineering toys for girls” called GoldieBlox. The toy set included a board with a grid of holes, some spinners, rods and ribbons and a book of challenges. Note that it’s a book, not instructions on a single-sided piece of paper. The creator said that boys liked building and girls liked reading; if you pour a bucket of Lego blocks on the floor that might not be enough to entice girls to play. You also give them something to read along.

These two seemingly unrelated pieces of information might explain a little about the phenomena I see online. I wonder, for my perfume to succeed, maybe it needs both a rocking packaging design and a potential story for people to tell?

Christian Dior’s Fahrenheit Parfum (2014)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I have eight siblings and I am the youngest in the family, and you might think that there’s a lot of gift-giving when it comes to birthdays and special celebrations; but in reality, no one remembers anyone’s birthday. The last time I received a birthday gift from someone in the family was about 15 years ago; my sister gave me a Dior Fahrenheit (1988) gift set that included a EDP and a bar soap. My memory was very vivid, because I hadn’t received a birthday gift for a long long time, and also it’s the first time I’d received a perfume for a birthday gift. 

I wasn’t interested in perfumes back then, and I thought Fahrenheit was over the top manly for me. I rarely used it, and when I put some on and looked at the mirror, I thought I was James Bond, except that this James Bond had a 42 inch waistline. The famous gasoline top note that never goes away makes think that I am constantly fighting a villain near a giant airplane propeller or some heavy machinery. It smells dangerous, relentless, mature, dapper, athletic, everything at the same time, and that definitely doesn’t represent me, because I like cats, give up on things quite easily, care little about fashion, and can’t climb down a ladder.

I have read a lot of reviews and forum posts written by different James Bonds on how each Fahrenheit reformulation is worse than the previous one, but since I am not James Bond, I never felt I needed to hunt for a vintage bottle, well, until I read about how the new Parfum version smelled very close to the first EDP release. That caught my attention. Cool, I don’t have to pay an inflated price to own the first release! I finally got a bottle, sprayed some on, and it smelled… the same.

Well, almost, it’s sweeter, mellower, and less synthetic. That’s all. Still 42 inch waistline.

Christian Dior’s Dior Homme Parfum (2014)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Dior Homme is probably one of the most reviewed male fragrances on Youtube for many good reasons. It’s a widely available scent; if you blindfold yourself and walk into a department store and reach for a heavy sharp rectangular bottle, it’s likely to be Dior Homme. It’s affordable to the working class, probably to some students; you will not get dirty looks recommending it to anyone who wants to upgrade from Axe or Adidas. And damn it, Dior Homme does smell wonderful and sophisticated for which you can say “it’s the best perfume ever” with amateur uncertainty or connoisseur certainty and you will still get acknowledgement and likes regardless. (Luca Turin gave it a 5 star too.) Both men and women love it because everything is in harmony and inoffensive – floral from iris, yumminess from cacao, manliness from leather, warmth and spiciness from amber and cardamom, and richness and strength from lavender and million other things.

To me, Dior Homme smells rich, romantic and full of confidence, but sometimes too calculatedly charming. (I just saw some middle fingers from the bros on the net telling me no one gives a damn what I think.) But, of course, the most interesting thing about Dior Homme is the iconic stem inside the bottle. In the first release, the stem is a silver tube. Later, Dior changed it to black plastic. People associate the black plastic stem to reformulation and they all want to get the silver stem version. At one point I also joined the craze looking for a bottle with the silver stem, but gave up after trying a few shops. Honestly, I suspect the difference is insignificant. (It’s not like a perfume that was released 50 years ago and got reformulated.) I’ve once talked to a woman who told me that her ex-boyfriend was very fussy and insisted on finding the silver stem, and it didn’t sound like a compliment to me.

Now that Dior has recently released the parfum version, I think, perfect, you guys can go search for the silver stem to visit the Willy Wonka factory while I enjoy the more intense version with a smaller distribution channel. (I bought mine at the airport duty-free shop and so far that’s the only place I’d seen one in Toronto.)

Postscript: According to the Internet, the parfum version is “very different” from the regular EDT version and a lot of people hate it. I have never owned the EDT except taken a few sniff of it at a department store, but I very much so prefer the parfum version – heavy, concentrated, slowly diffusive and masculine. It’s better suited for guys who wear suit and tie and a cashmere scarf, whom you will unlikely get greeting hugs from.

Amouage’s Gold for Men (1998)

© Victor wong
© Victor Wong

I am no expert on Amouage perfumes, but I am almost certain that if Amouage were a country and needs to recruit an army, all they need to do is say “please”. And it will be the best smelling army in the world for sure.

When I first started exploring their line, I tested the little samples I ordered from Lucky Scents. My expectation was so high, I was prepared to have my socks knocked off. But one after another, I felt so puzzled because there wasn’t one that I felt very drawn to, until I smelled Gold for Men (1998). My reaction was almost like those women in a chocolate TV commercial, in which she puts a piece of rich and creamy chocolate in her mouth, closes her eyes, tilts her head up, her face exuding an orgasmic pleasure.

I will cut to the chase – if I get married, or I am lying in an open casket, I will be wearing Gold for Men. Because it smells so expensive, formal, powdery, floral, romantic, musky, classy and classic, when I am wearing it, I feel like I am a 6 foot 5 czar wearing a vintage mink coat and pair of sunglasses spreading caviar on a cracker. However, under normal circumstances, wearing it is almost overkill, particularly in summer.

Guy Robert, the nose behind this masterpiece, considered ‘Amouage Gold’ a symphony and the crowning glory of his career. (He did both Gold for Women and Men.) I agree. (source: Perfume Shrine)

Kenzo’s Air (2003)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

I will be honest with you, one of the reasons why I wanted to explore the works of perfumer Maurice Roucel is that he looks like the video game character Mario, which I find it a little bit hilarious. (Check out any Frederic Malle’s marketing materials and look for his portrait and you will know what I mean.) The other reason, and the main reason, of course, is that he has received high praises for his work (Envy, Musc Ravaguer, 24 Faubourg, Rochas Man, etc) and Luca Turin thinks that he’s (almost) a perfumery genius.

I have been collecting some of his scents ever since reading Luca’s book; his Kenzo Air is very interesting to me because its main note is the love-or-hate anise.

Star anise (smells similar to anise) is a spice commonly used in Chinese cooking, particularly in the dish “Soy Sauce Chicken”. (By the way, pouring soy sauce directly on top of steamed chicken is not Soy Sauce Chicken, y’all.) The time I really thought anise smelled like no other spices was during a holiday season I tried to make some German springerles cookies. The recipe asked for a few of drops of anise essential oil, which wasn’t that easily available at my local supermarket, but when I found some and took a sniff, I thought it smelled a bit cray-cray – bitter, uplifting, pungent and liquorice-like.  It’s hard to imagine it is used in perfumery without it hi-jacking the whole perfume.

I guess the creative Mr. Roucel realized that and decided not to fight it and let anise in Kenzo Air be a lead singer and the other ingredients (vetiver, cedar, amber, bergamot) be back up vocals. The result is a casual but confident scent –fresh, airy, woody with a little bit sweetness, and most importantly, an interesting anise perfume.

Lanvin’s Avant Garde (2011)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

The avant-garde (from French, “advance guard” or “vanguard”, literally “fore-guard”) are people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics. (from Wikipedia)

Sorry, Ms. Shyamala Maisondieu, the nose of Lanvin’s Avant Garde (2011), your creation belongs to the Commercial Art Museum, not the Avant Garde Museum, because it shocks no one (in fact, it’s quite a crowd pleaser), pushes no boundaries and repels no one in any elevator or restaurant. In fact, it smells a little bit like Hugo Boss Bottled (1998), a sweet and friendly apple juiced-up semi-masculine cologne; and you sneakily replaced the apple with some honey, tobacco, pink pepper and white pepper to warm it up, making bad boys smell a bit friendly, and boring clean-shaven office men a bit bad boy.

All-in-all, it’s a decent modern designer scent, but what I find so interesting is not what it smells like, nor its nice bottle. What I find interesting is that I have witnessed a real-time social-media-influenced sales phenomenon happening in slow motion. I have always wanted to get Avant Garde, because I’m a Lanvin fan. I love Arpege, and I think I should also love her extended family despite some of them are only as interesting as a pumpkin. What I didn’t expect was that someone bought a bottle of Avant Garde at a discounted price and reviewed it on Youtube, which caused a domino effect of other Youtube reviewers getting their own bottle and saying how good and affordable it was. Before the Youtube reviews appeared, Avant Garde was readily available at my favourite online shop. Ever since the reviews, fewer and fewer were available (didn’t happen to other perfumes that I paid attention to), until I found out they were sold out. (Pulling hair out.) I have concluded it’s all because of Youtube reviewers! Good job, guys!

Rochas’ Monsieur Rochas (1969)

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

“Excuse me, sir! Have you tried the latest Michel Germain Intense Sexual Secret?” asked the department store Indian sales woman with a noticeable accent.

“Sorry, I am not interested…” I said.

“No, you should try it, it’s very good! Best seller!”

She handed me a test strip. It smelled like Fukushima earthquake – deadly, but intense.

“It’s very intense, it guarantees 24 hours longevity, or your money back! Do you want me to spray some on you?”

“No, I am fine!” I started walking away from her quickly. She started chasing after me, “It’s very good!”

This was completely crazy. She’s trying to kill me. I ran and ran until I was facing a cliff and there’s nowhere to go.

“It’s very good!” She sprayed a huge amount of Intense Sexual Desire on me and I immediately felt dizzy, my limbs became weak and I fell off the cliff. As I plunged into the abyss, I could hear echoes of “It’s very good!” bouncing off the walls.

24 hours later, I woke up. I was sitting in a bed.

“You are finally awake. Not many people can survive 5 sprays of that atrocity,” said a 60-year-old man wearing glasses, looking at me intently.

“Who are you? Where am I?”

“I’m Guy Robert. You are resting in a place called the Forgotten Fougere.”

“I don’t know you…”

“Of course you don’t, only a few people know me. Even women who wear Dioressence and Calèche don’t know I made them. Now people only love the newest and hottest. What do they know.”

“Take this. And don’t let those people bully you again.” He handed me a bottle and turned around to his piano and started playing.  I looked at the bottle, it read “Monsieur Rochas”. I sprayed a little of on my wrist and took a sniff. It smelled wonderful – a great mix of citrus and fresh herbs such as lavender and sage, also spicy and aromatic cedar, vetiver, patchouli and yummy oakmoss, very manly and confident… but it reminded me of something else.

“It smells amazing, but it smells like Lever 2000.”

“Yes, I also made soap products. Mine is better, they probably got the inspiration from my creations.”

“Sir, are you ok? You hit a column and fainted away.” The sales woman helped me up from the floor. She continued, “We have a promotion going on, it’s very good!”

Related Links on Guy Robert: