New West for Him by Aramis

I've always liked this fragrance for some reason, despite it being a little outside my comfort zone and 10 or 15 years past its prime in relation to my age. I encountered it for the first time around 12 years ago in an Ulta, when I was new to the hobby and doing some sampling, looking to buy the first of what would become many fragrances. Even though I was probably searching for something like Acqua di Gio or Fuel For Life at the time, New West's prickly dry aromatic character stayed lodged in the back of my brain long after I sampled it. One random day 3 years later, and now up to my eyeballs in fragrances, I suddenly felt compelled to order it while browsing online. Its smell was still there in my mind, crystal clear, along with the image of its kitschy blue and yellow, Coastal-California-in-the-80's bottle, and when it arrived it smelled just as I'd remembered it. And I don't know exactly what it is about New West that gives me this connection where its smell manages to stay so vividly clear in my mind, but there's something about it that is totally unique and peculiar. It's listed as an aquatic–and it is–yet it's also dry as a bone, a pine forest with one side near the ocean, and the other demarcating the boundaries of a desert. It has the coarse, herbal masculinity of the classic Caron Yatagan, but wears like an unusual sports fragrance. It's mossy and prickly, vegetal and herbal, clean and crisp; dry and hot, but also light and breezy. These aren't contrasts as much as once tried and true symbiotic qualities that are no longer found so packaged together in today's mainstream, and they thereby create a masculine aquatic that screams “80's!!!” but is still wearable, and FUN to wear today. I always refer to Dior's Fahrenheit as timeless–it feels just as cutting edge and unto itself now as it did in 1988. It doesn't age as much as it becomes more and more impressive with each passing phase and trend in men's perfumery. Aramis New West is NOT timeless–it clearly has its place in a bygone era and doesn't smell nearly as futuristic as it does cleverly nostalgic–but its still very likable and it's still useful. (I like to think of wearing it kind of like playing classic NES games in 2020. Even if they look out of place in the 21st century, they're still fundamentally great games and they're still fun!) So every now and then I like to wear New West, and enjoy it for what it is, and what we can no longer find out there on the Macy's fragrance counter. Of course, I don't know how I'd feel using New West in its current bottle style–it might just feel outdated, and it would certainly feel as if something had been lost. It definitely wouldn't be as fun. Aramis' decision to redesign the bottle and box (sometime between 2010 and 2013) was a huge mistake in my opinion. This isn't a fragrance that one should even attempt to bring to or present in a 21st century package, or as Aramis ended up doing, present in a bland, chronologically amorphous bottle and box. The blue bottle with yellow trim and 80's font was the physical, artistic connection between this fragrance and its past. And unfortunately I can't help but feel like a piece of its past was lost when its aesthetic changed. After all, would you rather listen to Depeche Mode through your ear-buds after a brief message from Spotify, or pop your old, double-sided cassette into a chunky Sony walkman and jam out? I'm no reformulation nut, and I very rarely scour eBay looking for discontinued bottles and boxes, but if you're considering buying New West, go with the old stuff's worth it.

Performance is about 5 to 6 hours with pretty strong projection for about 2 and more reserved for the rest. Expect to pay between $1 and $1.50 per milliliter when going for the vintage in an unopened or gently used bottle.

I Am Not Going To Disturb You Homme by Yohji Yamamoto

Below is my review as it originally appeared in January of 2019:

Wow! If this isn't an under-appreciated little gem, I don't know what is. Yohji Yamamoto released this in 2017 without even the slightest whisper. Or perhaps there were whispers, at the time, but due to its very late entrance into the US market, those whispers quickly grew impatient, soon turning into forgetful silence. Up until recently, IANGTDYH was only available to US and Canadian residents via eBay, at fairly hefty prices. With large bottles costing over $95 (plus overseas shipping) and small bottles coming in around $70--75, most people weren't willing to take a chance on a blind buy from a brand that's been relatively unknown and unimpressive since releasing its 1999 masterpiece, Yohji Homme. So it's understandable that this one slipped through the cracks and under the radars and noses of many in the fragrance community. Furthermore, it's possible some were turned away by the name, which immediately implies a fleeting, unobtrusive skin scent. This is definitely not that, as it has both solid projection and longevity, and even more importantly, brings something a little exciting and opulent to the table.

I Am Not smells very much like a spicy, masculine rose fragrance. However in this case the rose is purportedly 'tobacco flower,' a sweet floral approximating jasmine. Had this not been listed in its official pyramid, I would have taken the note to be rose, as it's both dark and red, and in this case, marked by a sweet, fragrant characteristic. The rose (or tobacco flower) is embellished and modified by various supporting notes, most evidently myrrh. I've found that some varieties of myrrh have a spicy, kind-of-bubbly and almost-carbonated quality to them. Vanillic varieties sometimes remind me of cream soda, and the more earthy/resinous types can recall sassafras and its role in sparkling root beer soft-drinks. Here, its spicy-bubbly qualities are present again, this time giving the dark, fragrant rose a fizzy-spicy buzz, a vibration that pulls it away from its more feminine powdery pastel dimension and into something decidedly more masculine, vibrant, and virile. It's similar to the way the spiced-rum accord works in Nasommato's Baraonda, in which case the rose is made less traditional and more modernly macho by its boozy, spicy presence. Coincidentally, Baraonda is one of just a few rose fragrances I have found wearable and enjoyable. I Am Not Going to Disturb You is another. It's also important to mention the role of pepper here as well. Pepper, while being a part of the dark spice family, can also infuse a fragrance with a sort of uplifting freshness, almost like a certain frequency that it adds to the composition that can keep it from plodding along or feeling too heavy or thick. To that effect it works well here, and while IANGTDYH is kind of a dark, spicy rose, it has a nice buoyancy that keeps it afloat, abuzz with energy.

What I've described above is the fragrance's opening act, its first couple of hours. The transitions in this fragrance are gradual, but distinct, which I think it is the sign of a good composition. It develops and goes through real changes, but the segues and evolutions are smooth and seem like the natural progression of things. I Am Not's second stage of development affirms its masculinity as it takes on something of a bitter-green fougere-like quality. Both Artemisia and Oakmoss become apparent, and they emerge just as the rose starts to settle in. It's an interesting crossroads, but at the same time it is almost seamless. It's like a trick that if you weren't watching it would slip right past you. Suddenly, IANGTDY has gone from a spicy, oriental rose to an astringent green fougere. And it's right in this happy medium that the heart of the composition rests. The opening act remains, though much more subdued at this point, and it is now blended with the traditional bitter-green, mildly soapy qualities of artemisia and oakmoss. Around it all, the myrrh persists, lending the fragrance its unique texture. It would be unfair to label the heart at this point with a few simple words, as it's all of the elements discussed above working in harmony. The important thing to know is that all the parts are there, and they create a smell that is both pleasantly balanced and somewhat unique.

The third and final stage of this composition begins to occur around the 5 hour mark. This is where a well-placed and comforting amber accord enters the picture and gives everything a nice place to rest. The mid's bitter-greens fade first, losing their edge in place of something rounder and softer. Hints of vanilla come into play, suggesting that this a fragrance that will have something of an intimate, cozy conclusion, as opposed to something stern or cold. I Am Not opened romantically and it will end this way, albeit in a softer and easier manner. The amber that's used here sits in the middle of the spectrum for the most part, as it is neither an exceptionally white, powdery and clean amber, or the dirtier, more animalic and dark variety. It's just a touch resinous, has a soft, sweet quality to it, and is slightly powdery. It's smooth and cloud-like as it should be. It's in this final stage of amber that the fragrance concludes. Shadows of its other phases remain, their traces coloring the amber and holding I Am Not Going To Disturb You Homme's personality in place as it slowly closes out. By hour 7 it's all come to rest, residing as a quiet scent that projects just a few inches off the skin.

This release came as a surprise to me. It's very skillfully crafted--balanced harmoniously and deftly blended so that the transitions occur both seamlessly and naturally. The emergence of oakmoss and artemesia in the mid are unexpected, but they give the fragrance a needed leafy-green astringency that keeps the spicy rose in check. This is a scent that can definitely be worn casually, but is probably even better suited for dressy, semi-formal occasions as the rose and its more traditional, green-fougere elements give it a bit of an elegant, stylish appeal. Overall, the composition feels crisp and modern, well-polished and deftly crafted. For these reasons, as well as it's fairly unique angle among the modern market, I Am Not Going To Disturb You Homme gets a very solid 8.5/10 rating and is recommended for sampling.

SIDE NOTE: It's probably not right to completely praise a fragrance without mentioning any of its caveats. So with that in mind, the one area I can see some guys having trouble with this fragrance concerns notions of masculinity and femininity. If you're a masculine traditionalist, this fragrance might not work for you. Rose is not a traditionally masculine note, at least in the United States, so you have to get past that first. Though this is a darker, spicy rose, it's still a rose (or tobacco flower, whatever you want to call it). Secondly, the final stage of the base is probably the most "feminine" stage of the fragrance. Amber, because it's kind of powdery, sweet, and soft, can be interpreted as 'less-than-manly' and when it's colored by the rose that preceded it, it can seem even less. I interpret this stage as a very elegant, dapper transition, but I can see how it could be taken another way. So these are the areas I would consider the "trappings" of this fragrance--where it veers off the masculine spectrum and into feminine territory-- and it may be where some decide that they don't like it. At the same time, this is also part of what makes this fragrance so good, and it wouldn't be what it is without it.

Final rating: 8/10 If you are a fan of rose fragrances, you should definitely try this.

Zeste de Gingembre by Heeley

Energetic, bright, watery ginger zest bolstered by tart, juicy citrus noted creates a vividly sparkling, aromatic summer splash. A base of pink pepper and now-subdued ginger give a clean finish that is just barely there–a soft, quiet radiance. This is really a wonderful fragrance, presenting the best that a summer-suited ginger has to offer. Yet I can't help but hope that its performance improves as my bottle gets a little older. As of now it is a short act, over in two hours, but I've heard it lasts 8 to 10. I never trust the first 30 or 40 sprays out of a seems like sometimes air needs a chance to get in, for things to really kick in and start working. I'm hoping that's the case here because this is a beauty, a true gem of a ginger fragrance, and one I would like to keep around. What Menthe Fraiche is to mint, similarly, Zeste de Gingembre is to ginger. Thumbs up.

Acqua di Giò Absolu Instinct by Giorgio Armani

I think this is a bit of an overlooked flanker. To put it simply, it's a very nice spicy fragrance with a soft sweetness woven throughout and a noticeable touch of AdG's trademark aquatic notes leaving a subtle, watery trail. I've smelled its spiciness before, perhaps in Hanae Mori's HiM, or some other cinnamon influenced, safely resinous and warm designer scent. Anyway, while Profumo gets all the accolades, Instinct seems largely ignored or written off as superfluous. But it's nice! I'm much more impressed by it than the regular Absolu and more recent, Profondo release (which is nice, but at times synthetic and uninspired), and what I like most about it is that it brings something very different to the AdG line while still managing to hold onto and portray some of the original's DNA (unlike Absolu, which I like, but feels like an altogether different fragrance). Perhaps its most glaring flaw is its performance. While it projects well, I don't think it lasts very long. Though I've only worn it a few times, it seems to disappear after about 5 hours, maybe 6. But I can live with that, especially since it seems more of an evening fragrance than the daily workhorse variety. Final rating: A solid 8/10, possible 8.5 if its performance improves over time.

Azzaro pour Homme Amber Fever by Azzaro

Nice. There's no way you can go wrong here for $30 and it seems like Amber Fever was definitely one of the better men's designer releases to quietly emerge in 2019. Its performance is decent–not great, but not terrible, as it works for about 4 to 6 hours, projecting at a steady, medium reach for a few hours before fading and resting close to the skin. So what does it smell like? The best way I can describe it is that it's a dark, sweet amber-based fragrance, in the vein of something like D&G The One EDP, with a spicy edge, that has subtle notes of chocolate and an even more subtle hint of Cola. Indeed, there's something about Amber Fever that reminds me of a dessert-like soft drink–a chocolate egg cream or something along those lines. But it's not over-the-top or literal in any way, it's just the particular way that the Amber is spiced which gives it that effect. I might even go as far to say that Amber Fever is like a more mainstream, less-polarizing version of L'Instant de Guerlain Extreme. While it lacks the intense patchouli kick of the latter and seems devoid of citrus for the most part, it works with the cocoa note in a similar fashion, creating a sort of dry, earthy-but-fizzy chocolate kick. I don't think the two are necessarily that similar, but if you're familiar with LIDGE it can help give you an idea of what AF smells like.

Amber Fever is medium-bodied and has a rather dry, lightweight presence that works in its favor. It's easy to wear in all climates and never feels heavy or sticky or thick, and therefore won't bog you down if you accidentally apply a little too much or wear it when it's hotter or more humid than ideal. I'd consider The One EDP its main competition, and if Im being honest, I probably like AF more. My issue with The One EDP is that sometimes the Amber/tobacco blend smells almost too sweet, and even oily. The dryness of Amber Fever on the other hand, keeps it from becoming like that, and although it gets sweeter over the course of a wearing, the bitter, earthy cocoa in its opening keeps the sweetness in check. If I have any criticism of AF, it's that it becomes a lot sweeter as it develops, losing some of the favorable balance I just spoke of. Still, its sweetness never becomes overwhelming or cloying, and I'm sure plenty of people will enjoy this part of its development, as it definitely gives Amber Fever some romantic appeal, and some of that ‘come closer so I can smell you' allure characterized by popular “date scents.” At the same time, the fact AF doesn't take itself too seriously, or project too thickly and powerfully at any time, makes it fine for wearing casually, whether to work or just hanging out.

In conclusion, Azzaro Amber Fever is a solid release and a good choice for an inexpensive scent that is warm and sweet, but also somewhat unique in its addition of a chocolate note and the nice balance it creates between sweet and earthy-dry. Its medium to light bodied density makes it easy and fun to wear, and it manages to avoid some of the pitfalls of its main competitor, The One EDP. At its current price point it's worth exploring Amber Fever to see how it works for you. Final rating, a solid 8/10 and a definite thumbs up.

Essence No. 6 : Vetiver by Elie Saab

No complaints here. This is a very nice, balanced Vetiver that combines a natural, grassy-rooty earthiness with a brighter, pleasant and slight astringency and “soapy” sort of smell that implies a fresh-out-of-the-shower cleanliness and well-groomed sensibilities. It's one of the best vetivers I've come across in a while, and fits in the ball park of the brighter varieties such as a Zegna Haitian Vetiver and Guerlain Vetiver. In that sense it's also a true vetiver fragrance–built around the vetiver note itself and not masking itself beneath a bunch of other notes and accords. It lasts about 8 hours and projects quite well–strong in the first two to three hours before settling in closer to the skin but still quite noticeable from a few feet away. Its price is right, coming in at anywhere from $50 to $75 for a 100ml bottle, and it could easily sell for $100 plus without causing a stir. I consider this something of an underrated gem among the Vetiver crowd and encourage you to try it if you enjoy the main note. The bottle and packaging are also very nice. Thumbs up all the way. 8.75/10

Moustache Eau de Parfum by Rochas

Really one of the better designers released in 2018, Moustache EDP smells nothing like the original or any of its offspring and instead smells nearly identical to the YSL exclusive, Tuxedo. But this costs a fraction of the price (one sixth, to be exact), which makes it a real bargain at $35 for a 2.5oz., and even a good deal at $60, which is the higher end of what it sometimes sells for.

Moustache is one of those fragrances that has a lot of notes working together to basically form one big accord which defines the scent. Here, the dominant notes are vanilla, pink pepper, rose, and benzoin. They create a sweet, caramellic accord that's embellished with a subtle and masculine dark rose, adding an element of elegance to the overall composition and making it more than just a sweet, gourmand for men. The accord smells a little bit like the opening of Thierry Mugler's Pure Malt, but a sort of compressed version, less gourmand, and supported by that dark rose. In turn, it comes across sweet, but also somewhat mature and classy. This distinct and likable dominant accord makes Moustache a mostly linear fragrance, with no significant transitions or changes during its development.

Moustache has a versatile appeal, and can be worn comfortably pretty much any time of the year save for the hottest months, and is a fragrance which is easily dressed up or down. In that regard, you'll get plenty of use out of it. The most common question about Moustache seems to be, "Is it as good as Tuxedo?" I would have to say, yes, more or less. While the notes in Tuxedo seem a bit more defined and rich, they're only very slightly so, and you only notice upon very close, careful inspection. Moustache can feel a bit more plasticky and synthetic at times, but again, it's nothing obvious, and 95% of people out there wouldn't notice the difference. Also, Moustache may be brighter, with less of a noticeable dark patchouli in the base, but not by much. Projection is good and longevity is superb. I actually put Moustache on my arm yesterday and I can still smell it lightly on my arm 24 hours later. The patchouli in Moustache seems negligent at first, but it comes out and has some presence after about 10 or 12 hours, which is fine with me.

Overall rating, 8.7/10, just a smidgen lower than what I gave Tuxedo, and if I were to take price into account it could certainly be a 9. Sample this if you can, though I also recommend it highly as a blind buy. Moustache is now available in the U.S. all over eBay, and at a few select online discounters.

Dior Homme Eau de Toilette (2020 version) by Christian Dior

Dior Homme 2020 is a very clean, crisp, sour-fresh and subtly sweet, airy, citrus-woody fragrance that is undoubtedly for men. It has a modern, deft, and synthetically polished feel to it--a skillful arrangement of cutting-edge aroma-chemicals which keep it on a swift, current, and stylish plane. It is NOT markedly synthetic in the harsh, clumsy, abrasive sense of modern designers that use their chemicals in heavy-handed, disproportionate fashions. However, it uses significant amounts of Iso-E Super, ambroxan, and white musks to illustrate its effect. But unless you're overly sensitive to aroma-chemicals, this should not bother you, as it's handled in a skillful manner, with no particular chemical getting in the way or obscuring the overall experience.

2020's bergamot is fresh and sour, approximating the smell of lemons and limes, and it opens bright and vibrant. It's the first thing to appear after spraying 2020 and it's immediately followed by woody undertones, creating a woody-citrus impression that feels light and lively. But there's more to it than just citrus and woods. Behind the bergamot, sort of in the spaces between it and the woody base, is a wonderfully subtle airy, breezy, semi-sweet smell that fills the gaps. Pink pepper has been listed as one of 2020's notes, and it's possible that it's here, mixing with some kind of white musk to create this airy sweetness that permeates through. It has a pleasant plasticky smell to it, and gives a firm, but discreet nod to the barbershop with its clean, sweet smell of tonics and powders. This is my favorite aspect of Dior Homme 2020 and perhaps its most distinct, defining aroma. It fills the spaces between the woody-citrus structure and creates a fragrance that is memorable and sophisticated, with its own unique flourish. In its base, 2020 concludes with silky smooth Iso-E, lending the fragrance transparency in a smooth, crisp, cedar wood finish. As I wear this new Dior, the fragrance appears in soft wafts, vacillating between a woody, citrus aromatic, and an airier, semi-sweet breeziness with subtle, aquatic hints. Overall, it's light, but present, and perhaps perfectly suited for a work environment or a situation where discretion is suggested. 2020 has a sophisticated, gentlemanly appeal and is perhaps a bit more mature than the average designer fragrance on the Macy's counter today. This is because it lacks the bold sweetness of many modern designers as well as the big, woody aroma chemicals that comprise their bases. It's a fragrance marked by subtlety, and smooth, proportioned and skillful blending. As a casual scent it will work well to convey an image of cleanliness, while dressed up it will add quiet elegance to one's overall image. In that sense, 2020 is versatile and the kind of fragrance that should see plenty of use.

One area in which I can understand people complaining about this is performance. While I personally enjoy the way 2020 performs, as I'm more in need of a discreet fragrance at this point than a loud one, if you're someone who likes your fragrances strong, with big projection and over 8 hours of longevity, you may be disappointed by this. While it has good sillage, Dior Homme 2020 doesn't project much beyond two feet at its absolute strongest, and lasts about 6 hours total. I say that with some reservation however, as aroma-chemicals like Iso-E Super can be very sneaky, coming and going in waves for a very long time while on the skin (or fabric). That's why I recommend a little caution before going all spray-crazy with this one--those aroma chemicals will get you if you're not careful. Still, 2020 does seem to be a bit not the quieter side, and not as long lasting as some of Dior's other fragrances. Personally, I don't mind this.

Final rating for this new release by Dior: A solid 8/10 with room for half a point more once I start wearing this and become more accustomed to it and hearing some feedback. Conversely, it could also lose half a point if its discreet performance proves 'too' discreet over time. Recommended as a blind buy if you want a palate-cleansing workhorse for the office or a mature, modern fragrance with quiet sophistication. Otherwise, sample it and see how it works out for you. And finally, Don't be scared off by all the negative press--this one's better than they'd have you believe.

SIDE NOTE: For the record, I 100% prefer the original over this. The original is an absolute masterpiece. 2020 is simply a pleasant experience which has its firm purpose and place in my wardrobe. If the intent behind creating 2020 was to completely replace the original, entirely halting its production, I'd understand the ire. And maybe that will happen at some point (I seriously hope not). But until then we simply have more options, so this one should be able to be enjoyed on its own without the stigma of being the demise of the classic we love. Hopefully Dior is sincere about keeping the OG in production with the name "Original" on the bottle. But the cynic in me can't help but feel that the writing's already on the wall.

L'Air des Alpes Suisses by Tauer

I had high hopes for this, but to be completely honest with you I didn't enjoy it. I bought Swiss Alps because I was looking for something exceptionally crisp, fresh, and the mountain air I'd expect to encounter there. But with the exception of a fir and pine accord, there was little to be found in that upper, airy, cool and crisp register. The fragrance felt kind of heavy...soggy. And because of the heaviness its smell just sort of hangs there. After a while it gets annoying. T I'm not sure why tonka was used here--it's not a note I associate with high, bracing altitudes, and paired with orchid and lily, things move in another extraneous direction I'd prefer to avoid. Silver Mountain Water, Humiecki & Graef Eau Radieuse...these fragrances convey the cold, invigorating air that might surround a tall mountain. L'Air du Alpes Suisse does not. Unfortunately, this was just a mediocre release by Tauer, and I definitely caution against buying it blindly. This was one particular scent that I really just wanted to get off of myself quickly. Sample first. Final rating: 5/10

Spirit by Antonio Banderas

A great little bargain bin fragrance, appropriate for the cooler months of the year, particularly late fall and early winter. The note pyramid can give you a good idea of what this one smells like: There's a nice, spicy cinnamon note blended into a heart accord of ambery woods. I'd describe Spirit as spicy first, but also warm with a dark, semi-sweet character resulting from the incense/amber blend. Although Spirit isn't "fresh" in the typical sense, the fragrance itself has a nice buoyant, piquant sort of quality, so it never feels heavy or sticky, or like it's dragging itself around. In that sense it's just as good indoors as outdoors, and is an easy, comfortable wear. Performance isn't bad at all for the price--I get a solid 4 to 6 hours with pretty good projection from 4 or 5 sprays. I've noticed in the reviews that Spirit gets comparisons to many different fragrances, most of which I don't think it really smells similar to. However, in that woody-spicy-amber genre it indeed seems to have a little bit of everything, so I understand why the comparisons are there. So while it's not a clone of anything that comes to my mind, it also isn't especially distinct, which actually works in its favor here. I'd give Spirit a solid 8/10 as I really like how it smells and don't have any performance issues with it. Spirit is worth a blind buy for those looking for a quick addition from this genre, but not wanting to commit to something more expensive or distinct at the moment.

Side Note: I really think this would make a good option for a high school kid looking to add something in the spicy-woody department, but not not looking to spend more than his minimum-wage part-time gig at the deli allows. It's really an easy one to wear that has a pretty distinct, memorable smell and suits the fall and winter well. It also doesn't feel to heavy or 'thick' to wear indoors, and shouldn't be overpowering in an environment like a classroom.

Blessed Baraka by Initio

The Carlisle comparison is a great reference if you're trying to get an idea of what this smells like and are already familiar with the Parfums de Marly fragrance. Baraka may be a bit more woody and with stronger musks, but the difference is not too significant to keep you from getting an overall idea of the smell. I'll be honest though, I wasn't crazy about Carlisle and I'm not crazy about this either. While it smells alright, it's not something I'd want to wear all day. There's this undefined fruity note, resembling apple to some extent but a bit brighter and more floral, almost like something approaching osmanthus, and there's some spicy waxiness that comes through via the amber, and it's laid over a sandalwood base that's pretty intense. I don't like the way Morillas has been handling his woods lately, they all seem very strong and heavily loaded with scratchy synthetics...I guess that could also be the interplay between the woods and the musk that's having that effect, but in the end it comes off harsh, aggressive and grating on the nose. I was surprised by Blessed Baraka because Initio's been one of my favorite houses lately. I was thrilled with Rehab and Side Effect, and I think Absolute Aphrodisiac is nice as well. But while I appreciate Rehab and Side Effect for their smooth polish and expertly calibrated balance and strength, I don't find that in BB. Consider this an impression more than a review--I sampled it briefly and after 30 minutes scrubbed it off, so I won't be able to assess things like its performance or development, thought it seemed to be pretty strong. You may enjoy this if A) you like Carlisle, or B) enjoy your fragrances loud. This one's pretty loud. Final rating: 5.5/10

Absolute Aphrodisiac by Initio

When I put this on it instantly reminded me of something but I just couldn't remember what it was. Then it hit me–Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan. In fact they're very similar, as Ambre Sultan opens with a distinct sort of woody animalic spiciness that lays over the amber and gives the composition its general flavor. That same combination is apparent here as well, but instead of resting over a rich, resinous amber, it lies over a rich, creamy vanilla. It's a nice fragrance, my third favorite in the line from those I've tested so far, with good longevity and just moderate projection. It's something I could enjoy wearing for sure but for nearly $200 less I can get nearly the same thing in Ambre Sultan. And when it comes down to it, a resinous amber isn't far off from a dark, creamy vanilla when the rest of the composition smells the same. If you've never smelled Sultan, then I'd describe Baraka as this: a vanilla fragrance with a distinct woody quality that has animalic under tones. It's not a smell that is common among fragrances (other than AS), so it really needs to be smelled to be understood. It's most likely a result of the castoreum, but still, it requires a sniff for clarification. Final rating, a solid 8/10, give or take half a point depending on how important originality is to you.

Office for Men by Fragrance One

It seems Morillas can crank these things out with a blindfold on and two hands tied behind his back...

Not bad. Not great. But not bad. The opening to Office One is its best part, and I'd rate it a 9/10 if I had to score it. It's a very fresh, somewhat fruity smell that doesn't smell of one fruit in particular, but is probably some variation of bergamot with a little apple or something added in. Regardless, it's very enjoyable, and I was pretty psyched when I smelled the opening, thinking I might actually end up buying a bottle. But unfortunately, the opening lasts about all of 10 minutes before moving into the mid, which it turns out is my least favorite part of the fragrance. As the pleasant top notes wear off, they're replaced by strong, synthetic woods. It's important to note how strong the woods are here. They're aggressive and loud, not appropriate for an office, and even gave me a headache, which doesn't happen often as I don't consider myself overly sensitive to aromachemicals. However, they're so overloaded in the mid, projecting well across the room and coming off pretty harsh and abrasive. This stage lasts about an hour. Office One redeems itself a bit when it gets to the base, which has a smell reminiscent of the top notes albeit with less vibrancy and sparkle, and more of a muted, plasticky smell. Perhaps there's some iris here blending with the leftover bergamot, there's definitely a healthy dose of ambroxan, and it smells nice enough but also a bit generic and uninteresting. This final stage is much more reeled in, projecting a comfortable foot or so, and is much more appropriate for an office setting than the obnoxious mid. If I were to actually wear Office One to an office, I'd probably spray it on in my house 10 minutes before I leave--savoring the top notes at home, enduring the mid during a one hour commute to work (with the windows all the way down), and finally getting into the office just as the base takes over. Overall, it's much better than I had expected, but still nothing great or really important. But in its defense, Office One does make me curious for his next fragrance--Date, or whatever utilitarian nomenclature he's choosing for it.

Opening: 9/10 Mid: 5/10 Base: 7/10

Final rating, 7/10, a decent if somewhat generic fresh scent with a couple highs and a few awkward missteps, which I'd find much more reasonable at $35 than whatever exorbitant amount JF's been charging through his website.

Portrayal Man by Amouage

Portrayal is very strong for the first hour. It opens with the sharp, bracing, soapy bite of a huge violet note. Violets can come across three ways to me: green and leaf-like, with damp, watery, plant-like qualities; purple and somewhat spicy-sweet in the manner of violet candies, almost how pink pepper is spicy- sweet; or gray and almost dry, bitter and somewhat soapy. In Portrayal, the violet consists of all three varieties. It's a robust, multi-dimensional violet and is absolutely the star of the show. But that's not to suggest that it's the only note at play. Perhaps its the spiciness of the purple violet variety, but there also seems to be some kind of cloves or pepper working here, embellishing Portrayal with a distinct piquancy. It could also be interpreted as geranium, whose cold, spiciness is also marked by a nearly edible sweetness. I'm also almost positive coriander shows up for a moment, or maybe to a lesser degree, cumin, layered near the bottom, because there is a very subtle sweaty funk simmering below, which fades out early in Portrayal's development. There could also be oakmoss, as a certain part of Portrayal reminds me of popular 70's and 80's powerhouses like Antaeus, which used oakmoss in part with animalics like castoreum to create this clean-but-dirty contrast. This smell is captured completely in the relatively new Slumberhouse release, New Sibet. But it's also here in Portrayal, supporting its huge violet note. It gradually recedes in the first hour until it's barely perceptible when Portrayal eventually reaches its heart. I don't smell "cade" anywhere, if cade is supposed to smell smoky, like wood burning, or tar (it's possible I'm just not familiar enough with cade as a note, but I don't detect any kind of smokiness in Portrayal). And I definitely do not smell vetiver. If it's there, it's been submerged into obscurity.

After about an hour, much of Portrayal's dynamic, and at times, aggressive beginnings settle in. The fragrance becomes calmer, more singularly focused and with less activity than before. It's as if the various aspects and styles of violet that were branching out earlier have now been reeled in, and instead of three different violets, each doing their own thing and making up different dimensions of the scent, there is now one singular violet serving its center. Furthermore, the flashes of cloves and coriander, the spiciness and hint of sweat, are completely settled in, barely detectable. And it's exactly that violet that comes together after some time that has the "Fahrenheit smell." Granted, nothing about Portrayal reminded me of Fahrenheit until a full hour after wearing it, and even then it's quite different. The violet that smells like the violet in Fahrenheit, is surrounded by a much more dry, bitter green element in Portrayal. It's soapier with more whites and greens and grays than Fahrenheit's swirling reds. Looking at it from the perspective of percentages, Portrayal is maybe 20% Fahrenheit, so it's really not much like it at all. For what it's worth, I enjoy Fahrenheit much more. It's a masterpiece with an unforgettable character both bizarre and charming. Portrayal isn't much of either. That's not to say it's bad in any regard--it's actually a decent composition--but at least as far as I'm concerned, it lacks that certain something to really win me over and want to keep coming back for more.

Portrayal is not an easy scent to pull off and I can't see it going over very well with many young audiences, especially young Americans. Though it softens up after some time, it comes out of the gate with gusto, reminding us in some ways of past powerhouses and a style that was popular decades ago. Its violet note is loud and powerful, almost aggressive, and extremely "soapy" at times. But it's also interesting, and substantial. Not until it settles in does Portrayal become a more relaxed and easy-going wear. By hour 2 or 3 it's moderately pleasant, the sweet, aromatic, Fahrenheit-like violet note wafting softly around its clean, bitter-green environs. But it's a challenge getting there. Final rating, 6/10, worth sampling only if you love violet.

Kalan by Parfums de Marly

I think the most noticeable and significant smell that appears in Kalan shows up in the initial seconds that you apply it and then holds on for much of the fragrance's life. It's a very bitter, acerbic note approximating mastic oil, and whether's it's the blood orange absolute or orange blossom absolute, or perhaps the resulting combination of both, it colors the entire scent, giving it a fresh, bitterly aromatic slant, and not something that is necessarily immediately likable or mass-appealing. At the same time, this very smell is the charm of Kalan, and what makes it potentially a very addictive and peculiar scent. Behind this bitter smell (whatever it is exactly) is the resinous roasted sugar that's so often been compared to Baccarat Rouge 540. In my opinion, the comparison is warranted in regard to this particular accord, though overall when the other notes and smells are taken into account the two are very different fragrances. This sweet, roasted quality gradually amplifies, gaining in size and sweetness, as the bitter counterpart slowly begins to settle in and loses a good deal of its edgy, acerbic aroma. Still, a small amount remains and provides a fresh balance to the overall composition, keeping it from becoming completely dominated by the dark, roasted sugar below. The truth about this fresh aspect of Kalan, is that I don't really know what it is. It shows qualities of what could be interpreted as blood orange, but also is in line with aspects of orange blossom and to some extent oakmoss. But really it doesn't smell exactly like any of them. It's almost as if all of those notes are working together to create this larger accord that balances Kalan's sweet side, and it needs to be smelled to be fully understood. It's also what will probably make it or break it for you. And while you might recoil at first, don't be surprised if you find yourself coming back to experience it again, and eventually really enjoying this strange note.

Kalan is strong, and it holds on for a good while, projecting intensely for at least 3 or 4 hours before reeling itself in, but still remaining somewhat substantial and present for another 4. . It is not a weak scent at all, and 2 or 3 sprays should do you perfectly well for most situations. In relation to their other releases, I'd place Kalan in the top 25 percent--not my favorite, but among my top 5 for sure. I find it a pretty daring release too. The opening accord is so bizarre it's sure to scare away the faint of heart, but it's also where the payoff is, and those who like their fragrances unique and different may really enjoy it. In conclusion, I'd give Kalan a solid 8/10. It's a distinct fragrance that performs well, and despite sharing some similarity with BR540, it's really its own scent in the end. Recommended for sampling. Due to the very distinct bitter notes which drive it, I do not recommend this as a blind buy.

Final Note: Yeah I know some of you get really annoyed by the fact that people are always comparing your beloved PdM's to other fragrances, but the fact that this happens all the time should tell you something--Marly often takes popular accords or concepts and finds their own ways to freak them, often churning out something better and different enough in the process, but still reminiscent of some earlier releases from different houses. Just accept the fact that uniqueness doesn't account for everything, and that it's still okay to like PdM and tout the greatness of what they put out. With that in mind, I do think that Kalan is its own fragrance, but understand why 540 is frequently mentioned when describing it. It's a good reference point, and I think arguing that point is simply reactionary and obtuse, as there is indeed a clear connection between them. Having said that, here's my comparison of the two and where I think they're similar and different: Baccarat Rouge begins and stays much sweeter, woodier, and has those sweet, crystalline red notes which are altogether absent in Kalan. Baccarat Rouge seems to employ more ambroxan, which I find present in Kalan but not nearly to the same degree. Kalan has much more of a bitter, biting edge, and a freshness which 540 lacks. This is a huge difference between the two and really what makes them completely different fragrance. Kalan is also spicier, and more aromatic than 540, and it reaches into a higher register, but also into a lower register. I suppose it's more dynamic in that sense, reaching higher up in its freshness, but even lower in the roasted quality of the heart. In the end, they're only about 40% the same, and I own both and don't find them to be redundant. Personally, I prefer 540 as I find it more pleasant and a bit more interesting at its core.

EDIT: I have to update this review because otherwise I feel that what I'm leaving up here would be dishonest. I got really sick of Kalan very quickly. After a while I just found the opening so harsh and unpleasant, and it started to really hurt my nose every time I used it. Rather than this aspect becoming the addictive allure I thought it might be, instead it became very annoying. The opening is just too bitter and harsh and chemically aggressive. While I found that aspect interesting and addictive at first, it became very grating after a while. I ended up selling this. I would reduce my final rating to a 7/10 and say that I greatly prefer Baccarat Rouge.

Overture Man by Amouage

Overture is easily one of Amouage's best releases in recent years. To put it simply: It's excellent. Its excellence begins with the rich, aromatic, elegant woody structure around which it's built. The wood is reminiscent of high quality antique furniture, passed down from generations, or the inside of a wooden cognac distillery cask once emptied of its contents and left to dry. It's aromatic and vibrant–far from the dull, vague concoctions that often pass for woods–and with a full-bodied, substantial presence. It's also natural and easy on the senses–a stark contrast to how synthetic woods are typically constructed today, laden with abrasive, aggressive aromachemicals. Along with the sandalwood, cognac also plays an important role in Overture, and here it's added in just the right proportion and strength. It accents the wood, providing it with character and dimension, but never overpowering it. It's tastefully refined and restrained, and you don't have to worry about smelling like you spilled a drink on yourself while wearing it. The cognac is strongest upon Overture's opening and it gradually settles in as it reaches the base, never fully disappearing, and leaving pleasant boozy traces well into the final hour. Myrrh is the third significant component to Overture and I've found it does two things very well. First, its aromatic incense adds to the warm, smoky-dusty profile of the sandalwood, bolstering it, and making it stronger and more intense. But secondly, it also brings a soft vanilla-benzoin-like resinous cushion to the base, rounding the edges of the woods just a bit and really adding to the overall relaxed, comfortable feeling of Overture.

This is an elegant, mature fragrance, and as a result it is not exceptionally strong or “beast mode,” despite being completely solid and fully present. Its projection and intensity has been calibrated to just the right level. Other people will certainly smell this on you, but it is not of the loud, attention-seeking variety. Having said that, I've never worn this and thought to myself, “I wish they just increased the ________.” Overture's been carefully created with balance and proportion in mind and it absolutely shows. Similarly, while Overture is something of a serious scent, it has plenty of character and a relaxed, comforting naturalness that keep it from ever feeling stern or stuffy. Performance is good, with well-calibrated projection (two feet at most, about a foot for the majority of its time) and 8 hour longevity. Most importantly, those 8 hours are enjoyable. It never for a moment outwears its welcome, and just the opposite, becomes more endearing over the course of a wearing. Final rating: 9/10

Side note: This is what I had hoped Lalique's Ombré Noire was going to be. I bought ON first, before Overture, loving its note pyramid and description. But it was a disappointment. It was out of balance, and the boozy note was way too strong. While it looked like a charming scent on paper, in reality it felt too austere and without a personality. It was void of that “X Factor” which serves as the bridge between a good smell and one's heart. I guess you could say that it lacked character. I didn't like ON at all and it made me hesitant to purchase Overrture. Here I had just utterly failed at blind buying a boozy woody fragrance with a very interesting, lengthy pyramid of notes. How would I fare with another boozy woods that only listed 3 main notes? Fortunately, I took the plunge and Overture turned out to be exactly what I was looking for all along. Despite its short list of notes it has plenty of character and dimension, and enough nuance to keep it interesting and fun to wear.

Viking by Creed

I think Viking was sorely misunderstood when it was first released, causing a lot of knee-jerk reactions and negative criticisms that may not have been warranted. Having owned this since its inception, being able to judge it outside of the “hype bubble,” and having had some time for my bottle to macerate, I can say with confidence that Viking is indeed a very capable and worthy scent, with its own niche and purpose among the Creed lineup. To begin, the bottle that I've owned since it was first released has become richer, fuller and more dynamic over time. Many Creeds are like this, often taking a solid 6 months of use before they hit their sweet spot. And they continue to develop thereafter. So I think much of the initial judgment of Viking was based on sample vials and very new bottles. There's nothing wrong with this–as that's all that's available at the time of a new release–but it doesn't give the full picture. Especially concerning performance: The bottle I have now lasts twice as long and projects at least 50% stronger than it did when I first opened it. But the smell is also more developed and vibrant. Judging Viking now, it has very solid performance, noticeable projection for at least 6 hours and an overall longevity of about 10. Now that performance is out of the way, let's talk about the scent itself.

The opening, in my opinion, is one of the best of any fragrance released in the past few years (it's easily in the top ten). It's a bracing, invigorating contrasting blast of Viking's “fire and ice” theme; an icy, mentholated mint paired with hot, piquant cinnamon and pepper. Pink pepper is also at play here, contributing to both the spicy-sweet effects of the pepper and cinnamon. Not only is it wakeful and energizing, but it smells really good. The cinnamon is fresh, spicy and sweet, the pepper too, and the mint is a cool, clean peppermint right in the middle of the spectrum as far as sweet and candy-like versus herbal and bitter. The contrasting accords are carefully balanced, neither overriding the other, and separated in a way where each has its own dimension or space in the composition yet the effect of their totality is never lost. It's a fantastic opening, and perhaps Viking's best moment. Fortunately, it lasts a long time as far as opening's are concerned–a solid hour and a half before moving into its next stage of development.

In its mid, Viking slowly recedes from its bracing start and takes on a more pretty, dandyish persona. A soft rose note subtly takes shape, accented by pink pepper and resting on a steadily increasing , transparent sandalwood. This is perhaps Viking's most complex, shape-shifting phase, as salty flashes of marine nuances peek out from the corners, delicate notes of a sweetened rose appear and disappear, and the Viking ship, with its briny wooden frame gradually materializes in the background, as if emerging from a misty cove. This is Viking's heart phase, a seamless, clever transition from the opening, almost so much so that it's arrived before you're able to realize it. It begins in the trailing half hour of the opening and persists for about one hour altogether before it just as swiftly shifts shape again into its final base phase. While Viking's opening is my favorite stage of the fragrance, if you're a patient person, you'll probably find the heart very rewarding. Not only is its transition impressive in how smooth and quietly it occurs, but it also gives one a lot to observe. As I described earlier, there are several things occurring in the heart at once, much of it related to the fragrance's Viking theme, and it's a pleasure to dissect and pick apart, experiencing different nuances with each wear.

After about three hours Viking takes on much more familiar territory, as the swirling components of the heart recede and blend into a somewhat traditional base of sandalwood, Vetiver, lavender and the now submerged remnants of the previous stages. Here it smells reminiscent of standard, traditional men's aftershaves, such as Old Spice, with an undeniably masculine, spicy-musky-woody appeal. This is where many people wrote Viking off, citing it as an unoriginal and outdated formula. But there's more to it than that. To begin, let's take all that came before it into account–three hours of dynamic, contrasting elements expertly blended and progressing through seamless, stealthy transitions. A refreshing jolt of a start followed by subtle marine-like hints further reinforcing the Viking theme, and a beautiful phantom rose adding a dimension of formality and elegance. And now that brings us to the masculine spicy woody musk–a timeless aroma of the well- groomed adult male, the signature scent of businessmen and blue-collar workers worldwide. Well...why not? The more and more I wear Viking the more I welcome this traditional, classical phase. Its familiarity is predictable and comforting. And furthermore, it's very well done. It wears easily with the right density, has all of its traditional aftershave elements in balance, and it sits at just the right level in relation to the skin, casting a comfortable, confident aura. Finally, the sandalwood around which its structured is smooth and aromatic, just as it should be.

This is my take on Viking, a fragrance which I believe has a lot more to it than meets the eye. It's also unique among the Creed lineup. This is their barbershop offering, and as such it bridges the well-groomed man of the past with that of the present, age appropriate for all despite its nod to the past. It was never meant to be the next Aventus–Viking is more discreet, more of a slow burn, with less wow factor and more of an understated, daily-wear characteristic. To that end it serves its purpose extremely well. Though my review is way late and long over due, it's given me more than ample time to really live with the fragrance. The review came about when I considered selling Viking off since I'm cutting down the size of my wardrobe significantly. But upon thinking about it, I couldn't come up with one good reason why I should get rid of it, and I came up with many reasons why I like it so much. It's a keeper, Final rating: 9/10

Enigma pour Homme Cologne by Roja Dove

I don't know about the Parfum because I never tried it, but I've really been enjoying Creation-E Parfum Cologne. To begin with, it's plenty potent: I get very good projection for the first 3 or 4 hours before it gets closer to skin but then it still holds on for another three or four, not so much projecting but still with a solid presence that continues to waft off and is easily detectable up close. So overall I'd say it's longevity is about 8 to 10!hours. Equally important, it smells great–complex, interesting, but also pleasant and alluring. The opening threw me off a little the first couple of times around, as it's surprisingly bitter, comprised of floral notes that have this bitter/soapy smell paired with the spices (mainly ginger and nutmeg). But the bitterness works well here (much more so than in another fragrance I recently experienced, Parfums de Marly's Kalan), as it gives the fragrance a very clean, traditional impression in the manner of oakmoss (even though it's not actually oakmoss) which establishes some contrast next to the spices. It also doesn't over-stay it's welcome. Very gradually and smoothly, the bitter-clean aspect recedes and disappears as a slightly resinous vanilla-benzoin note takes shape, giving Enigma it's “Coca-Cola” impression when working together with the ginger. At Enigma's core, there's a solid tobacco note, kind of a middle of the road, aromatic variety which establishes a firm backbone without really ever dominating the scent itself. The tobacco is certainly there, and it's important to the whole, but its role is more in the way of a note you'd notice a lot if it was suddenly taken out of the composition than the kind of note you immediately notice and focus on when it's there. What really drives Enigma are the floral notes from the opening, the ginger and nutmeg spices, and the benzoin and vanilla. In the end, these create a smell which is not only complex and somewhat entertaining to watch unfold, but also one that smells great–it's both fresh and spicy, but also sweet and resinous, with the sweetness kept in check and balanced by some bitter notes, and its entirety working to drive that cola accord which is utterly addictive and fun to smell.

This has been one of my favorite discoveries of 2019 (along with Overture). It's a complex, pleasant scent that's easy to wear and pretty versatile in terms of weather and occasion. It's original as well–other than its predecessor, I doubt there's much out there that smells like Creation-E. At least I haven't smelled anything like it. I was skeptical of the new Parfum Colognes, having owned and not been very impressed by Elysium Parfum Cologne, but this gives me hope for the others, in terms of performance and complexity/depth. I should note that I do not get a lot of cognac in this, only hints, which is fine with me. Final rating, an excellent 9.5/10.

Final note: One thing I'd like to point out, and why I gave this one such a high, 9.5 rating, is the fact that I don't like really thick, heavy scents. I prefer scents with some buoyancy, and some degree of a fresh, airy, uplifted quality over those that wear like thick, heavy blankets. Enigma Parfum Cologne has this buoyant kind of quality, just the right amount of it without losing too much, keeping enough complexity and depth and roundness in tact while remaining somewhat light and easy to wear.

Bracken Man by Amouage

I wasn't sure how I was going to get on with Bracken Man at first, but in the end, I really love it. Immediately, it struck me as a clove fragrance...and not much else. The opening is a spicy fresh wallop of cloves, cloves and more cloves, and it's so intense that it's hard to pick up on any other notes. Of course this is great news if you love cloves, but if you're like me, and need to be in the right mood for them, it may be a little disconcerting. "How can I endure 10 more hours of cloves?" I thought to myself. But fortunately, things slowly begin to change after about half an hour or 45 minutes. While the cloves still remain very much present, other qualities start to peek out and swirl around. A dark green aromatic accord begins to show up in the form of cypress, with warm fir balsam notes pairing with the cloves. It becomes earthier too, with a prominent patchouli note giving you the sense of trees and dirt, perhaps a forest floor or some kind of lush jungle. All of this comes together rather seamlessly by the second hour, and at that point Bracken Man seems alive, with an almost-tangible humidity behind its dark-green earthy aroma. I didn't know what a "bracken" was until now, and learning that it's a tall variety of fern, the name is very fitting as during this stage it smells very much like how I'd imagine the environment you'd find one in. It's very enjoyable at this phase of development, as the fragrance is both interesting in the way it unfolds, but also just a nice masculine, aromatic balsam smell.

It wears like this for a while, at least 3 or 4 complete hours, and then, right before your nose, and seemingly out of nowhere, it takes a sharp 180 degree turn and goes in a completely different direction. Lavender shows up in full force--not a dry, leafy, herbal lavender you might expect, but the pleasantly sweet, well-groomed classic barbershop variety. It's flanked by sandalwood and musk, which provide a creamy sort of warmth, very different than the previous form which was earthy and humid, and suddenly it's the most beautiful, comforting, powdery, barbershop lavender dry down imaginable. I absolutely love this stage, and while I was enjoying the dark green earthy aromatics that had preceded it, I never expected Bracken to wind up where it did, and I was kind of thrilled to find it there in the end. I think of great, powdery barbershop dry downs in fragrances like Invasion Barbare or Prada L'Homme, or 1725 and Sartorial, and I'd put Bracken's right up there with any of them (I may like it even more, though the scent is relatively new to me and I need more time to compare it properly in context with the others). This is more or less Bracken Man's final stage of development, and it lasts at least another 4 solid hours, but probably even more (I counted 6 before I ended up going to bed...and I could still smell it on myself in the morning).

In the end, Bracken Man's really a story of two fragrances. You have the first, which lasts 3 or 4 hours; a clove fronted composition that morphs into a green and earthy, cypress/patchouli aromatic and natural sort of smell, and the second; a lavender loaded barbershop scent that's powdery-smooth and comforting as all get out with a warm sandalwood and musk finish. Both "fragrances" are very nice, and their development (how one seems to spontaneously morph into the other) is true olfactory magic. Longevity is insane, 12 hours plus, and projection is just as it should be--easily noticeable and apparent without feeling too strong and intrusive. To me, Bracken Man can be easily worn as a casual fragrance. Between the earthy, nature smells of its first half, and the relaxed lavender in its second, it's a very comfortable scent. At the same time, it could also work in a formal situation, as the aromatic beginning recalls more traditional masculines (such as Antaeus) while the drydown impresses the clean, well-groomed aura of the classic barbershop fougere. In other words, it's good anytime anywhere. As far as weather goes, it's been doing great for me in cool and cold temperatures, though I haven't had the chance to test it in a warmer climate. I imagine it would work well in spring, but you may run into some issues once temperatures exceed 70. Final rating, an enthusiastic 9/10.

Side Note: It's funny how challenging or bizarre or rough openings can become a really addictive and beloved aspect of a fragrance once you know that what follows it is something you enjoy. Years ago, when I first tried Caron Pour Un Homme, I found its opening of harsh, astringent lavender difficult to digest. But I really enjoyed the soft, relaxing vanilla/lavender combination that ensued once the opening settled down. Eventually, the rough opening became something I craved, my favorite part of the fragrance in fact. Knowing that it would eventually end gave me the ability to enjoy it for what it was. The same sort of thing has occurred here with Bracken Man and it's high-intensity clove-laden start. While I initially didn't like it, and was worried when I thought it was going to dominate the scent, know that I know it lasts only about 30 or 45 minutes, I look forward to it and really enjoy it. Although Bracken's dry down is still my favorite aspect of the scent, I dig the cloves too.

Mystic Experience by Initio

Based on the reviews and comparisons to Black Afgano I was expecting something a little weird and possibly challenging to wear, but I find Mystic Experience a fairly easy and overall pleasant fragrance. I definitely get a lot of amber, but not a dark, resinous variety, more like the smooth, sweet kind you often find in “date” scents and those with “Black” in the title even though they're not really black or dark scents at all. It's a nice version of this style of amber though, so I don't mean that in a negative way. As far as coffee goes, I get it, but it's more of an abstract or slightly obscured coffee accord than a straight-up, smack-you-in-the-face coffee note. It gives the fragrance a subtle, semi-sweet roasted coffee flavor that pairs well with the amber and sandalwood. As for the sandalwood, it's milder than I had expected, considering how heavy-handed and intense I found the woods in another Initio, Blessed Baraka. However, it comes out quite vividly in the base, clearly the dominant note in the end. I prefer how it's treated here, a smoother, softer blend with less of an aggressive, synthetic edge. I like Mystic Experience, even if it's a somewhat simple fragrance. It smells nice and it seems like a nighttime scent to be worn a bit dressed up. It has that alluring, date fragrance appeal between the amber and abstract coffee note, a “black,” semi- sweet finish. Although I only smelled Black Afgano once, I didn't get an immediate connection here, but I could be wrong. If anything, ME seems much easier to wear. Anyway, if Blessed Baraka feels a bit too bright, fruity, “perfumey,” or just too strong overall, this might be a good alternative. I certainly prefer it. Probably my fourth favorite Initio after Side Effect, Rehab, and Oud for Greatness, I'd give Mystic Experience a solid 8.25/10. I rarely split hairs like this, but it's better than an 8, just not by that much. Absolutely worth sampling, but considering its price I don't fully recommend a blind buy.

Oud For Greatness by Initio

Opens with an immediate wallop of rubbery, medicinal oud followed by the gradual emergence of a semi-sweet, fragrant, fruity-floral saffron. 10 or 15 minutes later wafts of a sweet, resinous roasted-sugar accord a la BR540 show up, at which point Oud For Greatness has hit its stride, settling in comfortably with a beautifully warm aroma, the saffron, oud, and roasted sugar all working together harmoniously to create a sillage that is instantly alluring, curious, and appealing. The heart of Oud For Greatness is beautiful. Along with the aforementioned notes there's hints of exotic spice via the nutmeg, a masculine woods provided by the oud, and even some patchouli, lending a dark earthiness to the whole. Sensuality comes via a pleasantly warm musk enveloping the base, aligning the fragrance with the skin. Consequently OFG is sweet, aromatic, woody, and warm, with dark, masculine edges, and a hearty, substantial core. It persists in such a way for several hours. In its final stages, Oud For Greatness is dominated by a heavy sweetness. The resinous sugary accord alluded to earlier comes out in full force and takes over as the other various elements recede more into the background. Whether or not you enjoy this final stage will depend on your appreciation for this sweetness. While I find it pleasant, I prefer the more balanced heart, as the sweetness is somewhat relentless (when still and up close) and one-dimensional. Nevertheless, it's very nice, and some people will probably find this their favorite part. Furthermore, unless your nose is pressed to your body, you are more likely to catch this very sweet stage in wafts, as opposed to a constant direct smell, making it less relentless and less potentially tiring.

I don't want this last criticism to overshadow the rest of this review–OFG is a very enjoyable fragrance overall and deserves much of the praise it's received. Performance is stellar, with nearly nuclear projection and 8 plus hours of longevity. While I wouldn't wear this one in the heat, it's fine for the fall, winter and early spring, and seems like it would work very well dressed up or even down. Final rating: 9/10

Side note: I currently own this and BR540 and do not find them redundant. However, until recently I also owned Kalan. All three together felt a bit redundant however, due to the resinous burnt sugar accord that ties them together. So in the end I picked my two favorites of the trio and sold off Kalan.

Sauvage Very Cool Spray by Christian Dior

Finally...a version of Sauvage that I kind of like. What I enjoy about the Very Cool Spray is that it leaves Sauvage's lighter elements in place while removing the heavier stuff, mainly that abrasive, peppery-woody base that overwhelms the original and which I personally find unpleasant and highly chemical. I mean the basic smell remains to some extent, but it's been thinned out and "cooled off" considerably. And to some extent, Very Cool is...very cool. It has a refreshing, clean, cooling quality which makes it great as something to wear right out of the shower or when you know you're going to be in an environment that's hot, humid, or stuffy. I use about 3 or 4 sprays and most of them go under my undershirt, creating a nice, clean, musky and cool aura that lasts the entire work day. Performance is good, even if it's lighter than the other versions (it's supposed to be). I'm kind of thinking of losing this one and holding on to Creed Viking instead, as I find they both accomplish the same thing more or less (while smelling different) and owning both might not be necessary. I prefer Viking a bit more as it's smoother and less synthetic feeling overall. Either way, this one's not bad at all. Final rating 8/10

Side Note: I think this one's a bit of a sleeper. Considering Sauvage now exists in 3 other formulations, this gets frequently overlooked. I overlooked it myself, thinking the tin can and "very cool spray' moniker meant it was some kind of short-lived body spray or room spray that would be frivolous to own. But it's an actual fragrance, just like any other Eau de Toilette or cologne. If you're exploring the Sauvage line, make sure to try this, especially if you find the others a bit abrasive, this may suit you better.

Royal Vintage by Micallef

Very nice. Royal Vintage is an elegant, masculine take on cypress, with a clean, refined smokiness and subtle hints of smoldering ash. Cypress is an aromatic wood, with a fresh quality in the way of balsam fir or pine, but it's a bit darker, sitting more in the middle register of the spectrum as opposed to the upper. It's cypress which drives Royal Vintage and is responsible for its classical, masculine charm. This is a fragrance which is comfortable and easy to wear, but absolutely shines in a tux or suit and tie. It's mature and stately and completely lacking in anything frivolous or affected. To this end, it can be considered restrained, its two main notes, cypress and suede, largely accounting for its overall impression. While Vintage shows a flash of juicy bergamot in the opening, its life as a star is brief, and it quickly recedes into the background where it remains, steadily embellishing the more prominent cypress and suede. It's important to point that out though; that even though the bergamot moves to the background it's still very important to the composition, as it adds its own accent to the more dominant notes. The same can be said for Vintage's pink pepper. Here it's craftily used, almost as a phantom note, weaving itself in and out of the fragrance and lending it just enough of a hint of cheerful, aromatic sweetness to remove any stuffy, stern demeanor that might result in its absence. Regarding its evolution and development, RV is mostly linear, with bergamot more prevalent in the opening 10 minutes and perhaps the suede becoming more perceptible as it moves on. Other than that, there aren't many changes happening over the course of one wearing.

While the most common criticism of RV seems to be about its performance, I find its projection pretty much calibrated at an appropriate level, creating a nice scent bubble for the first couple of hours before becoming more reserved. After the third hour it projects no more than 6 inches from the skin, which will give you a slight, noticeable aura. If there's any room for criticism regarding its performance, I'd understand if some people found its longevity somewhat lacking. Personally, I get about 5, maybe 6 hours overall. Good projection for the first two, close to the skin for hours 3 and 4, and an absolute skin scent for the 5th and 6th. Therefore, overall, I'd rate Royal Vintage's performance as average (with both its good and bad moments).

In the end, Vintage comes across as a no-nonsense masculine that is simultaneously relaxed and composed. The blend of suede and cypress gives it a smooth, somewhat serious and dark finish, while the lighter elements of pink pepper and bergamot provide some needed levity and contrast. Royal Vintage feels modern in terms of its ingredients and blending, but classical in terms of its gentlemanly demeanor which isn't compelled to load itself up with overly sweet accords or ultra-aggressive woods.

Final rating: 8.5/10 (take away a half point if originality is important to you...this definitely 'borrowed' some themes)

Side note: The Aventus comparisons are inevitable when discussing Royal Vintage, and you'd be lying if you've smelled both and said there's no comparison whatsoever--they are absolutely in the same family. The same way Aventus layers its fresh pineapple and bergamot accord over smoky birch wood, Royal Vintage layers a more subtle bergamot over smoky cypress. And the connection between the two when smelling one or the other is instantaneous. Having said that, they're also quite different. Royal Vintage is more low key, a bit more conservative perhaps, and the cypress has its own unique smell which helps define it. I also find RV smokier overall, with a subtle but steady smoldering woods that persists throughout its time. If I had to choose between the two, I would most likely go with Aventus, which I find a bit more dynamic, interesting, and fun overall.

Rehab by Initio

Somehow I missed the hype around Rehab and didn't even know it existed until a couple of months ago (I guess that's what happens when you don't watch YouTube fragrance reviews). So I didn't know what anyone was saying about it, good or bad. And when I ordered a bottle of it the only thing I knew was that some people were saying it was like Spicebomb and that other people were arguing with them and denying any connection to the Viktor & Rolf smash-hit. But I like Spicebomb so I figured at the least, I'd like this, and if it was different, then I'd have something new. Well, now that I've had Rehab for a couple of months, I think the best way to describe is like this: Rehab is a much smoother, richer, creamier, more polished and overall much better version of Spicebomb. It's also whiter and airier, more aromatic, and less spicy. But the central accord which drives each is very similar in terms of their basic smell. Still, I love that smell, and will gladly pay more for what is absolutely the best version of it I've e countered so far. And, as is the case with 1899, RehAb is only similar to Spicebomb for so long. Once it hits the dry down stage it really takes on a very different character altogether, here becoming much more about lavender, a creamy sandalwood, and an excellent aromatic tobacco. It projects extremely well and lasts a long time. Rehab's become one of my favorites, with its upbeat, friendly aroma an excellent choice for casual wear and for socializing. No need to complicate this review by saying much else. It's a great fragrance, even if the first hour or two are a bit familiar. Final rating: 9/10

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