Certo by Clandestine Laboratories (2021) is a clever anomalous fragrance in the guise of something more conventional. At first glance this comes across immediately like a leather chypre of the mid 20th century, full of citrus, leather, carnation, spices like mace, and oakmoss in the base. However, as nice to the vintage-obsessed nose as that may sound, there is a lot of novel stuff going on here too, including bringing into focus a material not seen much in Western perfume. Overall, Certo is an elegant gentlemanly chypre-type for lovers of things ranging from Aramis by Estée Lauder (1965) and it's younger cousin Lauder for Men (1985), to more peppery/woody fare like Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet (1902) or Acqua di Selva by VIctor (1949). Under all that territory familiar to the nose that revels in 60's gentilism to 80's outright hedonism, lies something a bit more intellectual and exotic too, just like the air of coziness that rides the otherwise hard outward appearance of another Mark Sage scent: Master by Clandestine Laboratories (2021). Maybe this is a bit of a house trademark, to put something endearingly nerdy or disarmingly soft under an otherwise bold composition, but only time will tell if I'm connecting non-existent dots. The secret ingredient here is sugandh mantri oil, something typically found in India and used for medicinal purposes, but also containing aromatic properties that flirt between earthy and floral boundaries. Honestly, if you were not told this substance was in the perfume, you might mistake it for a number of materials, as it behaves sort of like lavender, vetiver, and spice all at once. Certo is a very green fragrance too, with a decent amount of transparency in spite of its strength, which is pretty neat.
The opening of Certo is plenty familiar to fans of the glorious leather chypres of the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's, with something rakish like the bergamot and aldehydes of old, but listed here as mace, rosewood, and green peppercorns. Whatever it truly is, the familiarity of this opening will make many old-school leather fans happy right from the start. A nice carnation similar to Lauder for Men then enters the fray, with a bit of a pungent animal musk whiff that mixes with rose, jasmine, and cyclamen. Hints of Aramis 900 (1973) seem to come to mind now, but nowhere as indolic, as the musk is clearly animal here and not from the jasmine or ylang-ylang also found in Certo. What I can only say must be the sugandh matri then appears next, feeling a bit like vetiver, but also a bit not, due to the floral aspects merging with the rest of the florals in the heart. Orris adds a bit of rooty carroty aspect rather than the usual soapiness one expects from the substance, while patchouli helps form the chypre base alongside the oakmoss note. The peppery aspects remain, while the orris and patchouli really intermix near the end, and the whole things settles down with the carnation, green rooty/earthy elements, and the pops of spice. A pine-like woodiness recalls the Acqua di Selva to my nose, with a bit of a linalool smell near the end likely coming from the lighter aspects of the sugandh matri. Vanilla is here in traces to smooth things out too, but I wouldn't call it a visible note. Best use is spring and fall, with good performance all around. The brand warns if you're sensitive to fragrance, you may want to avoid Certo, and that's because it packs a punch with all the mace and peppercorns. For me, this could easily be a signature just like several from the brand I've tried thus far.
Absolute vintage purists tend not to like their old-fashioned tropes messed with, and if it's not a perfect recreation 1 for 1 of some discontinued powerhouse from the 80's they lust after, they probably won't be interested in Certo. However, if Master was a bit too modern and photo-realistic with its display of black leather, Certo will serve much better as a student of the Jermaine Cellier, Vincent Roubert, and Bernard Chant schools of leather chypre craft. The interesting Far-East kink in the design thanks to the sugandh mantri is really easy to miss for the average Joe, but for the person looking for it, comes out as a sort of Swiss Army knife material that acts like several others while also doing something they can't. I'd honestly like to see more fragrances with it in there, since the floral/rooty/spicy thing is my jam anyway. Further innovation on traditional perfume design is also my jam too, which is why I love when houses like this, or others such as Fzotic or January Scent Project play around with otherwise locked-in-time compositional styles. If you're all about this kind of thing, I highly recommend trying Certo first, then moving around to other offerings from the brand. At $195 for 100ml, this can be a bit of a stiff proposition to buy blind anyway, no matter how much you love classic leather chypres with or without novel twists. Certo (pronounced "cherto" in italian) means to be self-assured and that's exactly what you have to be in order to even fathom wearing something like this in the 21st century, in an age where shower gel smells have graduated from the grocer's health and beauty aisle to "haute perfumery". This is definitely not shower gel, there's no mistaking that; but as a fragrance that dares to make old new again, takes an open mind to enjoy, not one stuck in "they don't make them like they used to" mode. Thumbs up