Category Archives: Fragrance Review

Arlington Cologne and the Quest for Hungary Water

Whenever I ask fragrance people if they’ve heard of Hungary Water, I get blank stares and the same question: “Hungry water?” No, I correct them, Hung-gare-ee, as in Hungarian.

Wikipedia, ever the reliable resource, says that Elisabeth, the fourteenth century Hungarian queen, commissioned the world’s first alcohol-based perfume. Or it may have been Elisabeth of Poland. Or Saint Elisabeth of Hungary. No matter. Suffice it to say that Hungary Water, or Queen of Hungary Water, is a very old concoction of herbs in alcohol, usually some variation of rosemary, thyme, lavender, mint, sage, marjoram, orange blossom and lemon. It was probably worn as a fragrance and drank as an herbal remedy.

Today, herbalists and natural skincare firms market versions of Hungary Water as face-cleaning astringents and toners, like complicated versions of rosewater or witch hazel.

The Internet offers a few modern recipes (here, here and here), but my experience with Hungary Water comes from Crabtree & Evelyn, which produced a version of it starting in 1975. I had it in a shower/bath gel years ago, but I’ve never smelled the cologne. When I used my bottle up, I discovered that it had been discontinued. Fortunately, I found a bottle of shower gel on eBay, overstock from a London fragrance shop. It smells amazing and fresh, citrusy and deeply herbal—like nothing else I have.

Finding a suitable replacement for Crabtree & Evelyn’s Hungary Water has been a years-long process. After realizing that classic colognes most closely resemble it, I struggled to find one that had the herbal depth of Hungary Water. Was it the rosemary? I wish I knew for sure.

Colonia Russa, a scent created by Santa Maria Novella around the turn of the 19th century, came close, as did Guerlain’s Eau de Cologne Impériale from 1853. And 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser, a true cologne in the most literal sense (created in Cologne, Germany in 1792), comes close too; it’s a steal at about $20 for 2 oz.

But all three of these are citrus scents that have very little staying power. Within an hour or two, almost every trace of them is gone on the skin.

The closest I’ve come to Hungary Water yet is D.R. Harris’s Arlington Cologne, another bargain at about $45 for a 1.7 oz. spray. It’s got fresh citrus top notes with the pungent herbal edge that I was looking for. D.R. Harris calls it a citrus with fern, but more than one commenter on fragrance forums have complained of multiple reformulations (a constant problem for those of us seeking old scents).

Arlington has a strong lime-citrus top note, very clean-smelling, but the rest is hard to pin down. There may be some subtle rosemary, possibly sage, maybe basil?—I don’t know. The notes in colognes are very hard to separate. Many colognes claim to dry down to musk notes. I’ve found that most dry down to nothing. Which brings me to my next quest: the search for the lasting citrus cologne. —Harry Sheff

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Otto by Malin + Goetz

If you’ve been following me on twitter (@fragrantmoments) you know I’ve been raving about Otto by Malin + Goetz. That’s because when I purchase a fragrance, I desire something that smells great, has some lasting power, and is reasonably priced (but I will splurge in some cases). Otto has all three and then some.

I don’t buy fragrances looking for compliments. I seek to please myself first. Sometimes I’ll get the occasional, “that smells great.” But most times I don’t receive any and that’s Okay. With Otto, however, I have experienced more interest than I can recall. I’ve heard everything from delicious to “Jesus that smells good.” I take it all in stride, smile and keep it moving.

I remember when I first sampled it at their shop on 7th avenue here in New York City, I applied a few drops and couldn’t stop smelling my hand as I spoke with the sales attendant. She was extremely helpful and we exchanged information about scent layering. But Otto’s “so fresh and so clean” appeal had me hypnotized and when I found out it was only $55, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. I left with a bottle. Heck, I’ve bought more expensive scents in the past and have regretted it. Not this time.

Otto has Top Notes Of Grapefruit And Lavender; middle notes Of Geranium, Cardamom, and Rose; and base notes of Oakmoss and Vetiver. Because it’s an oil and much more concentrated than your typical cologne, you only need a few drops and it lasts all day. With the heat we’ve been experiencing and we still have quite a bit of summer, at this price, Otto is a steal…and you just might get noticed.

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The Man In Mandarina Duck

The Italian luggage company Mandarina Duck, whose spicy citrus men’s fragrance Pure Black was released last year, may not be familiar to American audiences—even less so for men. The company started in 1977 when two young Italians decided to make traditional leather luggage more colorful. The firm has had a few stops and starts in the American market, but has a much stronger presence in Europe and Asia, with about 80 flagship stores worldwide.

That lack of name recognition probably made Mandarina Duck’s previous men’s fragrance, called simply Man, a tough sell when it launched in 2006. Between that and the bright orange packaging, a candid Mandarina Duck representative admitted to me, Man didn’t quite catch on. It was a light and summery scent with fruity-sweet orange, grapefruit and peach notes that, like its colorful bottle, may have seemed less than masculine to the American nose. Despite that, Man is still in stores.

Pure Black, the company’s second scent, didn’t exactly abandon the original concept—the fragrance is still orange-based (and created by the same perfumer, Nathalie Lorson), and the bottle is shaped the same—but the masculinity factor is amped up a bit. “We realized we had focused too much on the Mandarina Duck brand with Man,” a company rep told fashion and fragrance editors at a publicity event at Barney’s, pointing to the clear and orange bottle. “Pure Black focuses on what men want.”

That’s true, but there’s a disconnect between the Pure Black name and the citrusy fragrance. It starts out with bergamot and tangerine, spiced with pepper, and warms to orange blossom and tonka bean, finally drying down with cedar, sandalwood and vanilla. When I sprayed it on a card, I wasn’t impressed; on the skin it’s much better. Used sparingly, it’s a nice warm-weather scent: orange notes provide some of the freshness of lemon but linger longer. Vanilla softens the citrus edge. I prefer the fresh top notes to the basenotes, which smell a little less adventurous, a little more ordinary to me.

For a great orange-based fragrance, one that keeps up the momentum after the top notes, I prefer Frederic Malle’s Bigarade concentrée. It’s warmed with a similar cedar note, but softened by subtle rose, and the orange lasts longer. It too needs to be worn sparingly.

With Pure Black, I’m reminded of how much the success of men’s fragrances are subject to sensitive marketing: a sleek black bottle will always reassure a guy, and woody-spicy basenotes will seldom offend. But after that, it’s up to the brand, its distribution, and, probably, magazine ads. For those of us who review and collect fragrances, such crowd pleasers are a dime a dozen.

Just the same, Pure Black (which typically retails for about $70) does what it does well, and I’d recommend it to any guy who needs to move beyond those usual crowd pleasers without venturing too far into the more expensive and exotic fragrances that aren’t marketed to either men or women. —Harry Sheff

Montauk by Bond No 9

It’s that time of the year folks-summer scents are dropping. Bond No 9 is launching its latest in the Andy Warhol series, Montauk. Named after the little town on the end of Long Island and the place Warhol loved to retreat to when escaping downtown New York, it will make its debut Memorial Day.

This by far is my favorite in the Warhol series. From the sunset bottle design, which is from a series of screen prints he created in 1972, to the bright, slightly sweet and salty opening, this unisex scent is an ideal accessory for a summer’s night of fun. It’s not to heavy, citrusy or aquatic like other typical summer scents. There’s a nice balance and the dry down is where the sensuality begins.

Montauk by Bond No 9 – $220 for 100ml; $145 for 50ml

My Discovery of Frederic Malle’s Dans Tes Bras

I recently visited Frederic Malle’s beautiful Madison Avenue (at 73rd Street) boutique with my girlfriend and a friend. The store looks like a well-lit French parlor with a desk, no visible cash register, and three eight-foot-tall tubular glass chambers that resemble science fiction teleportation pods.

These pods, which are also featured in the brand’s alcove of the Barneys fragrance and cosmetics floor a dozen blocks south, give browsers a way of smelling the fragrances “as if they were worn by someone walking by,” as the staff explained to me. But despite the look of them, one does not actually enter the glass chambers; instead, a fragrance is sprayed inside and left to circulate for a moment before you lean your head inside. It’s a great way to get the ambient aroma of a perfume, and it doesn’t linger on your skin or in your nose. When you’re done, they turn on a powerful exhaust fan to clear the chamber.

I knew before I went to the store that I was interested in Frederic Malle’s Géranium pour monsieur and Musc Ravageur scents. The former is a great summer masculine floral with subtle mint. The latter is a potent but intoxicating amber musk that’s probably best saved for cooler weather.

I’d filled out a questionnaire online (http://www.editionsdeparfums.com/mallesite_gb/index.htm) a month ago, and a Frederic Malle representative replied with a few suggestions, including Musc Ravageur. Some questions were vague—Do you have any particular desire at the moment?—while others were specific—Why do you wear perfume? To seduce, to refresh, to add a final touch…—and one direct—Which perfumes have most marked you? It’s a great way to get personalized suggestions from a perfumer, and a great way for the perfumer to encourage experimentation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my list of suggestions, and recalled only the one.

No matter. The sales associate, a thin brown-haired woman in a very avant garde black couture outfit, was extremely helpful. After asking me some questions—not all of them like the ones in the questionnaire—she had me smell a couple of fragrances in the glass chamber. Dans tes bras, one that the associate figured was a gamble on me, was intriguing. It’s described by the company as “cashmeran, sandalwood, musk and patchouli, reinforced with salicylates and incense, softened with heliotrope, colored with violet accord.”

It was too subtle at first, but then there was something soft and floral, but not feminine, just clean smelling, like a good soap. The sales associate told me the perfumer was aiming for the scent of skin, and that the result was a very old school French perfume. If it’s skin that creator Maurice Roucel (who also created Musc Ravageur and Bond No. 9’s superb New Haarlem) was after, it’s the skin of someone who smells great. To me it’s a neutral smell, not like a perfume so much as the scent of someone whose natural skin scent is pleasant (is that pheromones?), combined with a mild soap.

I’ve been wearing it for more than a week now (I left the store with a sample) and it’s like nothing else I have. It’s not even in the same category—it’s not something that ever would have occurred to me to try. The obvious reason for this is that while Frederic Malle doesn’t clearly market its fragrances by gender, Dans tes bras clearly falls on the feminine side. And yet on me, it worked. —Harry Sheff

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John Varvatos Artisan Black

If there is one thing about John Varvatos’ fragrances I can appreciate, it’s the packaging. Artisan Black, which is his latest limited edition offering, is a continuation of Artisan’s hand-woven theme. It has a black lacquer finish that gives it an air of sophistication. Gents, this is definitely one for the mantle (or front and center on your dresser).

As with previous scents under the JV Fragrances and Skincare collection, Rodrigo Flores-Roux is the perfumer responsible for this creation. The accompanying press materials describe the scent as a masculine contemporary with a refreshing uncomplicated theme. It evolves into a deep woodsy structure, revealing a chyre backbone of sensual woody and leathery chypre accents.

I personally like this scent for those summer nights when the “anything can happen vibe” is in the air. The opening is fresh and a tad on the sporty side for me. But it quickly settles and its dual personality becomes apparent. The leathery and woody notes come to the foreground but the citrus notes never quite dissipate and that keeps it sprightly.

This will sell well for JV and it should. It’s a straightforward scent that can easily transition from day to night. If you’re looking for a go-to scent, this is it.

John Varvatos Artisan Black – Eau do Toilette, 4.2 fl. oz – $78 Available at retail NOW

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Chanel Pour Monsieur

On a Christmas 20 years ago, a high school girlfriend offered me a choice between two colognes that she may or may not have shoplifted: Chanel Pour Monsieur and something else (what it was I don’t recall). I chose without smelling either, but then it wasn’t a difficult decision: Chanel had a luxurious mystique, even to my 15-year-old mind.

I didn’t regret it. Against the other bottles on my dresser—Drakkar Noir with its pungent patchouli and oakmoss and the sharp pine and citrus of Polo—Chanel’s subtle woods shrouded by powdery notes were mature and sophisticated. Simply put, Chanel made me feel like an adult.

I wore it for a few years after that, alternating with some other colognes, until over-zealous application of all of them burnt my nose out. After about a 12-year fragrance break I gradually eased into it again and thought wistfully of my old Chanel.

One evening a few years ago, an attractive young woman walked by me at a theater, followed by a light breeze of something familiar. Suddenly I was dizzy with memories: it was Chanel Pour Monsieur. Nostalgia gave way to confusion as I pondered how it made me feel to smell an old favorite cologne on a woman (Is it still masculine? Could I wear it again after associating it with a woman?) The next day I resolved to replace my long lost bottle.

That wasn’t easy. I went to Bloomingdale’s, but the Chanel men’s scents they showed me were nothing like what I remembered. Later I went to Saks. The Chanel counter staff lined up everything they had, but again, nothing was remotely close. I asked if it might be out of production, but the Saks reps knew nothing.

Through some casual Internet research, I stumbled upon rumors of reformulations. What may have happened, I determined, was that Chanel changed its Pour Monsieur formula in about 1989. The bottle I received in 1990 was the last of the old style, which was created in 1955. The new version smelled generic to me. It didn’t have the same light lemon top notes anymore, nor the powdery finish. Those notes were replaced by something more common smelling, and decidedly less pleasant.

Fortunately, the old formula seemed to be in production still, and was available in Europe (indeed perhaps everywhere outside of the U.S.). I visited a Chanel boutique in London last summer giddy with anticipation. Would it be the same? I was disappointed at first. It did not smell the same. I spritzed my wrist anyway, and walked out of the store. A block away, it hit me: this was it! I walked straight back to the store and bought the bottle.

In Perfumes: The A to Z Guide, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s indispensable fragrance bible, Turin gave Chanel Pour Monsieur five stars. Convinced that he was referring to the original and not the reformulation, I e-mailed him. His reply was quick and straightforward: “Chanel Monsieur in the U.S. seems to often be the “concentrée” version which, put plainly, sucks. The original is still good.”

An e-mail to Chanel’s consumer relations department confirmed Turin’s hypothesis: “Regrettably,” wrote my contact, “we currently only offer Pour Monsieur in an Eau de Toilette Concentrée formulation in the U.S.”

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful they haven’t quit making the older formula altogether. There’s a lesson here for those of us who find something we like: Get a really big bottle, because the manufacturer may alter it without ceremony. —Harry Sheff

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Jovan’s Sex Appeal for Men

What can you say about a fragrance that markets itself so boldly as an aphrodisiac? Jovan’s Sex Appeal for Men boasts being “more than the usual promise in a bottle. It’s more like a guarantee.” Why this relic from the late 1970s exists is a mystery to me, but I’m glad it does.

Sex Appeal for Men was launched (with a “for Women” counterpart that is no longer in production) in 1976, and everything about the packaging makes that apparent. The economy-sized bottle and the bizarre essay on the blue and mirror-finish box that exhorts men in 70s-era script to splash it on—“Man can never have too much”—all of it screams sleaze. It’s worth quoting the box copy in its entirety:

Sex Appeal.
Now you don’t have to be born with it.
This provocative stimulating blend of rare spices and herbs was created by man for the sole purpose of attracting woman. At will.
Man can never have too much.

The back of the box varies. The spray bottle packaging has instructions for “How to make the most of it” (“Spray it right on. On your chest. On your arms. Or wherever else you want more sex appeal.” Wink wink.)

The splash bottle, which I have, says this:

Splash it on. The more you use, the better.
Because it is truly sex appeal.
(and man can never have too much).
Sex Appeal by Jovan. For the first time in the history of the world… We bottled it.

And yet despite all of that retro hyperbole, it smells good. It’s like a spicier, less powdery Old Spice.. Some people compare it to Pierre Cardin for Men. As Tania Sanchez writes in Perfumes: The A to Z Guide, “You know, this is what guys who smelled bad used to smell like. It’s great.” She gave it four out of five stars.

After reading Sanchez’s hilarious and glowing review, I spotted Sex Appeal at a Brooklyn drug store. My girlfriend and I joked about it a bit, but we were curious. Could it really smell good? Could it, um…will it really turn women on? She got me a bottle for Christmas, and while it smells fantastic, it seems to have no real magnetic effect on her. Oh well. At a mere $16 for a hefty 4 ounce bottle (typical colognes are 3.4 ounces), it’s worth it.

I imagine the target market for this fragrance was once a combination of naïve, pimply teenagers and mustachioed womanizers of all ages. The kind of guy who might name his 1976 Camaro “The Love Boat,” and never do the top three buttons of his silk shirts. But who buys this now? If Jovan had any sense, they’d pay some geeks to come up with home-made video ads for this stuff and let it go viral on the web. I guarantee irony-loving hipsters and the nostalgia-gripped aging womanizers would buy it by the crate. –Harry Sheff

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Oriental Lounge – What I’m Sampling Now

A few weeks ago, one of my twitter pals mentioned he was wearing a Jo Malone scent that was suggested to him by a mutual friend. To be specific, he was wearing sweet lime cedar layered with vanilla. Where it gets interesting is while he liked it, he thought it smelt girly.

Undoubtedly, his feelings toward this scent have been influenced by how the industry has marketed fragrances. Sweet and floral scents are for women. Spicy and woody scents are for men. But the reality is, the ways our bodies react to scents are quite different. I personally experienced this when I was testing Le Labo’s Oud 27 and a women who was also testing it, hated the way it smelled on her skin and loved it on mine. I also had a moment when I was wearing Tom Ford’s Black Orchid. A woman smelt it on me, thought it was great and had no clue I was wearing a women’s scent. To my male comrades, this girly smell thing is all in your head…get over it.

This brings me to what I’m currently sampling, The Different Company’s Oriental Lounge. I learned of this fragrance a few weeks ago when I was looking for a Christmas gift for my wife. In my opinion, this very well could be a unisex scent but it was introduced to me as being for women. From the moment I smelt it, I thought to myself, I could wear this and quite frankly, after this twitter exchange, I decided I would begin wearing it.

Oriental Lounge starts off like a sweet smelling rose and you quickly realize you’re in good hands. The fragrance is very concentrated and on the Different Company’s website, they discuss their concentration levels and reveal they only create parfums, so that makes total sense. But if a rose isn’t your thing, perhaps you’ll appreciate how it evolves.

What I find attractive about this fragrance is how warm and spicy the dry down becomes without being overbearing. As a Different Company says, “It is a modern and sophisticated amber, an outspoken and subtle perfume for those who are looking for a comfortable, sensual and true oriental. A fragrance that suggests but does not reveal immediately its true character.”

I’m loving this scent and know I’ve worn it more than my wife. I just might have to get my own bottle.

It’s Never Too Late

Here’s a fragrance gift guide I put together for our friends at Be Better Guys. It only went up two days ago and I’m just getting around to reposting here. If you feel that the gift you bought just didn’t get the reaction you were looking for, consider these suggestions. You can also blame it on the store and say they were out and I really wanted to get you this! Anyhow, Happy Holidays from Fragrant Moments!

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