Author Archives: Lord Jim

Merry Christmas from MFL!

Merry Christmas to all our loyal regular readers and casual visitors. Wishing you and your families the very best this Holiday Season and a joyous, prosperous & healthy New Year!

Today we’re going (very) old school with this clip from 1954’s White Christmas. This Holiday classic featuring the inimitable Bing Crosby singing Irving Berlin’s songs ably assisted by the very funny Danny Kaye, the charming songstress Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) and the amazing dancer Vera-Ellen. Helmed by the great Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, White Christmas is a very funny musical and dance extravaganza with enough sentimentality to warm the heart of even the Grinchiest viewer. If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit of the season, this slice of 1950s post-War Americana will do the trick like the visual equivalent of turkey with all the trimmings and a cup of egg nog. Merry, merry!

Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Krysten Ritter

Once in a while an actress finds a role so perfect that it lets her punch through to another level entirely. Such is the case with the fascinating and unconventionally beautiful Krysten Ritter and her wonderful work as the title character in Netflix’s original series,  Jessica Jones. Netflix and Marvel have cleverly reimagined some of the more obscure protagonists in the Marvel Universe for TV, with Luke Cage and Iron Fist also getting their own series, and the compelling Jessica Jones shows just how satisfying it can be when relatively unknown superheroes get modernized and fleshed out in a morally complex world that is anything but black & white.

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And it is Ritter who enables Jessica Jones to reach it’s very fine full potential. At turns fragile and combative, cynical and idealistic, Ritter lets Jones’ damage show beneath the surface of her gamine good looks and her tough private eye facade. With it’s claustrophobic urban setting and her ominously dangerous nemesis, Jessica Jones inhabits a truly adult superhero demimonde, portraying sexual and mental subjugation in ways the big ticket franchises could never be bold enough to tackle. Add to that barely remarked upon interracial sex scenes between Jones and Cage, Jones’ use of her wits over her own seldom-deployed super strength and surprising eruptions of deadly, sanguineous violence, and Jessica Jones is a sophisticated vehicle that Ms. Ritter is wringing the very most out of.

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The 34-year old actress was born in rural Pennsylvania and was spotted by a modeling scout as gangly teenager in a local mall. With her throwback Coco Chanel looks, Ritter found herself in New York City in no time flat, where she was signed by the big agencies for print and runway work. With her lively and outgoing personality she made an easy transition into acting for commercials and television. She also made a concerted effort to act in theater, honing her acting chops even further.

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She had her first sustained TV work with a nice multi-episode role on the WB’s very popular hit, Gilmore Girls. That propelled her to supporting roles in features in the romantic comedies What Happens in Vegas with Cameron Diaz and Aston Kutcher, 27 Dresses with Katherine Heigl and She’s Out of My League with Jay Baruchel (all 2008) and again as the lead’s gal pal in 2009’s Confessions of a Shopaholic alongside Isla Fisher.

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But Ms. Ritter’s real breakthrough came with her remarkable portrayal of Jane Margolis during the second season of AMC’s legendary Breaking Bad. Effortlessly conveying the trademark tough-vulnerable qualities that would serve her so well in Jessica Jones, Ritter’s sexy tattoo artist and heroin-addict is a wonderful femme fatal and irresistible to the love-starved Jesse. So perfect was the role and the casting that one wishes Ritter’s Jane and Aaron Paul’s Jesse could have escaped Walt’s clutches and made their getaway to New Zealand. Instead the character’s death served to propel several profound plot twists going forward, and Ritter’s short-lived Jane Margolis was very much a vital deus ex machina. More than that, though, her performance was pitch perfect and indelible.

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An actor never likes to see a project get canceled but it was almost certainly a blessing when Krysten’s ABC sitcom Don’t Trust the B—- In Apt. 23 got the axe after two seasons. Yes the show was reasonably funny and Ms. Ritter was perfectly cast as the titular B—-. But the show’s demise created the opening for her to take her role of a lifetime in Jessica Jones. Now not only is her show one of Netflix’s top properties and a critical success but she will be featured in the multi-hero spinoff, The Defenders, slated to debut in 2017.  Alongside Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist, Jessica Jones will be keeping good company as these heroes team up to fight crime and injustice. And Krysten Ritter is sure to keep doing attention-grabbing work as one of the more interesting actresses out there.

Men’s Cologne — Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior

Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior is one of the grandaddies of men’s cologne, right up there with other classic masculines like Rochas’ Moustache, Chanel’s Pour Monsieur and Guerlain’s Habit Rouge. Created way back in 1966, Eau Sauvage has probably aged better than those others and smells as modern today as when it was created. Like any other perfectly classic architectural or fashion execution it’s timeless. It opens with a refreshing hit of citrus — a very limey bergamot and waves of sweet lemon to be exact — that some people characterize as “fruity.” It’s the ideal way to start the day after a shower and shave but even if you’re growing a beard it’ll still get you going on the right foot. Eau Sauvage is definitely one of the great eye-openers in cologne and an ideal everyday scent. It’s my second favorite daily wearer just behind the great Lauder for Men. But if I’m honest Eau Sauvage is just a little sweeter and user-friendly, a little more smoothly blended, as well, even if I personally prefer the slightly sharper, greener character of the Lauder by just a scosh.

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Jumping off from that wonderful fresh citrus opening, classic fougere notes emerge in the heart phase as the scent develops: a wonderfully well balanced melange of rosemary, basil and a subtle but pervasive jasmine in the background (Hedione?). In the current formulation I don’t really get the patchouli or caraway listed in the notes but I don’t miss them at all. If I want real patchouli I’ll reach for Givenchy’s Gentleman and if I feel for spicy caraway there’s always Azzaro. Eau Sauvage is what I reach for when I want to smell impeccably clean and fresh. There are still undertones of good quality sandalwood, coriander, amber and masculine flowers like rose and carnation in the dry down, all held together by gentle orris root. (Orris root is the root of the iris flower and key component in perfumery — it is used as fixative but also brings that distinctive violet-like “powdery” or even waxy “lipstick” accord that is so common in well-made fragrances.) I don’t get a ton of oakmoss in the modern version though I presume it was more pronounced back in the pre-IFRA reformulation days. Again, I don’t really miss that either.

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Smell Eau Sauvage once and you will remember it forever and you’ll also swear you’ve always known what it smells like. That’s how unique and plugged in to the olfactory synapses it is. Through its masterful blend of bright fresh citrus and warm herbal-floral notes it evokes an aura of unforced masculinity, pure class in a bottle and very European in the best, most restrained sort of way. It was created by the great Edmond Roudnitska, one of the legendary noses in the perfume business, and was one of the first fragrances to make use of the synthetic fragrance booster Hedione, which purportedly also has pheromone-like powers. Normally I don’t give glassware too much import but the beautifully faceted flaçon (bottle) with magnetic cap is also a minor work of art and will look great on any man’s shelf or medicine cabinet. It too was created by a perfume legend, the great designer Pierre Dinand, which only ads to the sense of holistic excellence surrounding this Eau de Toilette’s execution.

Eau Sauvage is one of the very best of the classic male scents and as good or better than anything made today 50+ years on. It’s certainly one that every man should own and use regularly. There are a lot of complaints that it lacks longevity but I get a good 6 hours out of it and certainly longer on clothing, although it is never going to be mistaken for a powerhouse. It sits close to the skin in a dignified and alluring way with always moderate sillage, inviting others in and never pushing them away with any sort of brashness or aggression. Not to be confused with its more recently released flanker, the gorgeous myrrh bomb that is Eau Sauvage Parfum, or the brand new Sauvage, Dior’s attempt to match the mass-market success of Chanel’s Bleu, I can’t think of an environment where the original Eau Sauvage wouldn’t be appropriate. It’s great for work, family functions and first dates when you just want to smell like a classy guy and not a horndog on the make, which you would if you wore something like Aramis. It’s especially good in warm weather and is so good and flawlessly appealing I’d say that if you’re getting married Eau Sauvage should be a serious contender for the big day. It won’t upstage you but always enhances your better qualities. Simply put, if you had to choose only one cologne, Eau Sauvage would be all you’d need. It might be a bit conservative for the true frag head but it never puts a foot wrong and it’s really all a man needs to smell good, confident and, well, manly. Eau Sauvage is essentially the perfect cologne and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Even though I often enjoy stronger, ballsier scents, I’ll still never be without a bottle of this Dior masterpiece. And neither should you.

Men’s Cologne — Antaeus Pour Homme by Chanel

It’s rather funny that the great house of Chanel feels the need to label Antaeus, one of their foremost masculine fragrances, “Pour Homme.” There is no female version of Antaeus and never has been as far as I can tell. One sniff tells you that you are dealing with some serious vintage man juice, not a modern unisex concoction.

Created by the great Jacques Polge way back in 1981, the dawn of the powerhouse era, Antaeus is one of the key colognes in that period of “more is more” in fragrance construction. Auspiciously named after a Greek demigod who fought Hercules, this powerful potion is so beautiful it could well be something an immortal deity might choose to wear. A classic woody chypre, Antaeus opens with an unmistakable blast of castoreum (aka beaver musk), pleasantly sharp and stimulating but never Anchorman-like. Coming forward to join that heady, animalic vibe are healthy doses of labdanum, slightly fermented citrus and a very deep rose, as well as some spicy notes of coriander and precious myrrh. The overall effect is intoxicating like the smell of a church in the Mediterranean when it s very hot, the flowers, orange and lemon groves are ripening and incense is burning on the dais. The dry down is just as lovely as the sharper notes recede but don’t disappear and warm oakmoss, deep green sage and basil and a subtle but insistent jasmine begin to play their parts. And throughout there is the most elegant and opulent patchouli note running through the whole thing, much lusher and less dry than the one that is the centerpiece of Givenchy Gentleman. One of the true masterpieces of masculine perfumery, the first time you try Antaeus you will know its transformative and devastating power. If you’ve got the stones to pull it off, you’ll be a changed man going forward.

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If that sounds a bit like a religious experience that’s because Anateus is just that sort of trip for the uninitiated. It is totally old school and unlike anything that has been created in the last 15 years or so. And yet it is still being produced, thankfully, which must mean there is a market for it above and beyond aging Gen Xers. As with many classics, I’ve heard a lot of complaining that it’s not as good as it used to be, that it’s been watered down and is thin. Especially a few years back there was a despairing chorus that under strict new regulations issued by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA, the controlling body for perfumery worldwide), which banned certain previously widely used organic and chemical ingredients due to conservation and allergy & health concerns, Antaeus had been completely neutered along with some of its other contemporaries like Kouros and Bel Ami. But I honestly feel that perfumers have now come to grips with these limitations and after an undoubted rough patch and are now recreating their classics as well or better than ever. Continue reading

The James Bond Books by Ian Fleming — Casino Royale

We’ve all seen every James Bond movie multiple times and have our own firm opinion on who is the best Bond — Connery? Moore? Craig? Brosnan?? But how many have read the original Ian Fleming novels? Well, if you’re a true Bond aficionado you really should check them out. And if you’re looking for enjoyable, action-packed summer reading it’ll be a win-win. While the films jump off to an entirely more fantastical level and become their own distinctly grandiose vision of 007, the stripped-down genesis of the Bond phenomenon is in the books. There isn’t close to the gadgetry in Fleming’s original conception, although there are some impressively explosive high-concept climaxes, and the bon mots are a little more subtle. Bond himself tends to be more grim, fallible and vulnerable and less of an glibly unstoppable killing machine than in the films. He comes across as a diligent, well-trained espionage professional with above average self-defense skills and an expert with firearms, a top agent with a sharp, opportunistic mind and a cold reserve covering up signs of doubt and melancholia. It’s a definite key to Daniel Craig’s success that his Bond hews more closely to Fleiming’s original dour conception.

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Ian Fleming’s own early drawing of Bond (pic from Wikipedia)

The first novel in Fleming’s massively successful opus is the notorious Casino Royale. I say notorious primarily because the film rights were tangled up for so long that it was the only Bond novel not to make it to the big screen… in recognizable form — the very poor 1967 Woody Allen-David Niven parody shares only the name. It took more than half a century for it to be properly adapted for the cinema via 2006’s explosive blockbuster, Craig’s excellent debut and a film many Bond fans consider one of the best in the franchise. Coming as it did after the ever more elaborate and bloated Brosnan films (although one could see some darker foreshadowing in his last, Die Another Day, where Bond is subjected to harsh torture at the hands of the North Koreans), it was no accident that finally having secured the rights to Fleming’s elusive first work, Broccoli & Co.’s franchise reboot would also try to stay true to the elements that made the start of the Bond story so special. But Casino Royale was also notorious when it was published in 1953 for its violence and sexual content, as well as the very frank and graphic way Fleming approached both issues, with many critics lining up to deride it as pornographic garbage. More than 60 years on it’s Fleming who has the last laugh because his debut novel still holds up very well.

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In Casino Royale the novel we meet Bond for the first time, a WWII naval veteran (presumably an ex-commando) and now an agent in England’s Secret Service with a Double-0 classification, which, as we all know, is a license to kill on behalf of the British government. Continue reading

Men’s Cologne — Gucci Nobile

Gucci Nobile is a prime example of a discontinued cologne becoming a cult object, right up there with the original M7 by YSL (one of Tom Ford’s most influential early efforts) and the beautiful Krizia Moods Uomo. There are others, of course, like Guerlain’s original formulation of Derby and the highly sought after Jean Patou Pour Homme that go for even bigger bucks on eBay and the secondary market. But in terms of relatively recent offerings that have gone extinct there are few if any that inspire the hushed reverential tones of awe that Gucci Nobile’s ultra-green juice does.

So then the question becomes, is everybody so taken with Nobile simply because it is no longer readily available or is it actually worth the $200+ bucks sellers are asking for a full sized 3.4oz EDT bottle? First off, Gucci Nobile is one of three men’s fragrances that were abruptly discontinued when Frida Gianni became creative director of the house in 2006, along with 2003’s ultra-woody Gucci Pour Homme and the equally beloved Envy for Men from 1998, both of which also command high prices on the secondary market. And one can see why a new creative chief might ditch these three classics in one fell swoop, especially a female one: all three are different facets of old school men’s fragrances, miles away from sweet, loud things like One Million and Versace’s Eros. In the case of 1988’s Nobile, it is quite simply an archetypal Aromatic Fougere with a scent as green as the juice in the bottle.

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It opens with a refreshing blast of herbal high notes, including rosemary, lavander, bergamot and a distinctive, unusual hit of tarragon. Interestingly, most reviewers do not mention much in the way of animalic qualities in these top notes but combined I get a strong civet-like slap (i.e. a bit like urine), one which took me a while to come to grips with. It’s not quite the nose-singeing effect of a Kouros but I definitely get a touch of that sharp, tangy sting. And so while almost all reviewers will call Nobile smooth and discreet, I have to put it a little more into the Drakkar Noir powerhouse category. Yes, it’s more subtle and brighter than that dark legend but still there is something… pleasantly unsettling and animalic there, especially when first applied.

This cologne is also so smoothly blended that while you’re getting those sharp top notes the middle of masculine flowers, a little piney fir and the basenotes of crisp vetiver, musky oakmoss and a rather rough-edged sandlewood are likely to bubble to the surface and join the party almost from the get go. Continue reading

RIP Muhammad Ali, 1942 – 2016

The Greatest has left us. Muhammad Ali passed away late Friday evening, succumbing to a severe respiratory infection after years of struggling with boxing-induced Parkinson’s. The great fighter and one of the most iconic and polarizing figures of the 20th Century was 74. The New York Times obit is here.

It’s easy to forget that, as Ali gradually transformed in his years after the ring into a sweet natured shadow of his former fiery self, what a wonderfully brash and divisive figure he was in the prime of his remarkable boxing career. Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali spent his formative years in that racially divided Southern city, becoming a champion amateur fighter and winning gold as a light heavyweight in the 1960 Rome Olympics. You’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable symbiosis between personality and decade, as Ali became one of the most compelling and archetypal figures of the tumultuous 1960s, joining luminaries like the Beatles, the Kennedys and the NASA astronauts among the towering figures of that time. After his gold medal triumph, Ali returned home to open racism in his hometown but also a consortium of white businessmen dedicated to promoting his career. He discovered a bastardized version of Islam, patented his trademark rhyming patter and eventually earned a title shot against the heavily-favored Sonny Liston. In what would go down as one of the great upsets in boxing history, the lightning fast Cassius Clay floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, driving the hulking Sonny Liston to quit in the 7th round, having punched himself out trying to keep up with the precocious youngster. As he roared to a bemused Howard Cossell, Ali truly had “shook up the world!”

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The iconic first-round knockout from the second Ali-Liston fight.

He would continue to shake it up. The very next day he announced his intention to rid himself of his “slave name” thanks to the advice of his new friend and mentor Malcom X and a few weeks later he was forevermore Muhammad Ali. Already alienated by his brashness, for much of white America this bewildering and unsettling transformation was a bridge too far and Ali would come to be loathed by many as a malcontent, an “uppity Negro” with a big mouth. Even more defining and defiant, in 1966 Ali was made eligible for the draft for the escalating war in Vietnam but was clear in his reluctance to fight, saying “I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong.” When drafted in 1967, he refused to serve. He was subsequently denied conscientious-objector status and convicted of draft evasion, lost his boxing titles and was banned from the sport. Ali lost more than 3 prime years in the ring and probably millions of dollars for standing up for his principles and not to fight in what he saw as an unjust war against poor people in a poor far away country. Again, this made him a hero to many in the emerging counterculture and anti-war movement and a pariah to more conservative Americans who steadfastly believed in “my country right or wrong.” But whatever one thought of Ali’s stance on the war, one had to give it to the Champ that he had the courage not only to talk the talk but also walk the walk.

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After seeing his case go all the way to the Supreme Court in 1971 and having his conviction overturned there due to the draft board’s arbitrary refusal to consider his conscientious-objector status, Ali pivoted from that moral victory and returned to his violent and lucrative vocation. He resumed his career with a series of tune-up fights in anticipation of a title shot against the fearsome Philadelphian southpaw, George Frazier. The eventual trio of Ali-Frazier fights would become some of the most compelling in boxing history, a worldwide obsession and a racial psychodrama between the handsome, light-skinned and eloquent Ali and the darker, more rugged and plain spoken Frazier. Ironically, Ali became the hero to Black America even as he taunted Frazier for looking like a “gorilla,” while Frazier drew the support of working class whites who wanted the uppity, draft dodging Ali put in his proper place.

Ali lost an epic and punishing 15-rounder to Frazier in March of 1971, suffering a broken jaw but hanging on to the end in what was called simply “The Fight.” Despite the loss The Champ was clearly back. He fought brilliantly in more than a dozen more contests, including beating Frazier in a rematch in 1974. That set him up for the legendary “Rumble In The Jungle” in Zaire to try to regain his title against the imposing knockout specialist George Foreman, who had pummeled Frasier to grab the championship belt. We may think of Foreman as a smiling, grandfatherly presence now hawking his grill on TV but in 1974 he was as serious as a heart attack. Many feared that Ali would be injured against the overpowering Foreman. But as he had done against Liston all those years ago, only taking it to an even more highly polished level, Ali “rope-a-doped” his way through 7 rounds, staying just at the outside of Foreman’s punches by dancing and using the springy ropes to duck, dodge and evade the worst of the bigger man’s punishing blows, often absorbing them with his elbows and shoulders. By the 8th round Foreman was gassed and Ali used an ultra-fast combination to chop Foreman down like a mighty oak. Ali was once again The Champ and the way that he had seduced most of the African continent and turned them against the sullen Foreman with his charisma, coaxing them into giving him the psychological boost of their unbridled affection — “Ali bomaye!” — was arguably one of the most brilliant acts of gamesmanship ever seen in sports. Not only was Ali one of the most gifted athletes of his time but he was clearly also one of the wiliest.

But no boxer can last forever no matter how blessed or brilliant. Ali fought Frazier for a third and final time in 1975, the oppressively hot “Thrilla in Manila,” with the fighters doling out punishment to each other. Ali won on a TKO in the 4th round when Frazier’s eye closed but it’s safe to say that both men would carry the effects of their legendary trilogy of no quarter asked hand-to-hand-combat for the rest of their lives. In ’78 he lost and then regained his title to Leon Spinks but then in 1980 his old sparring partner Larry Holmes battered the noticeably slowing Ali into submission to take his title away for the last time. Ali closed out his career, already with signs of slurred speech and some tremor, with an ignominious defeat to journeyman Trevor Berbick in 1981. For most of Ali’s millions of admirers and even many of his detractors, the end of Ali’s boxing career, belated as it was, came as a welcome relief. It was simply too painful to watch the once-great warrior fight any more.

Of course it was already too late and the damage to Ali’s brain had been done. But for the remainder of his life, Ali became one of the great retired athletes of his time, right up there in terms of activism and charity with Jackie Robinson. Remaining a devout but now-mainstream Muslim, Ali did Herculean work for charity and traveled the world working for good causes. As his physical capacities diminished, one still had the sense of that agile mind floating like a butterfly slyly behind the slow-blinking eyes and the trembling hands. His rough edges were smoothed off, the controversies largely forgotten and he became something like an American legend, a beneficent but remote presence, there always around us but somehow elusive and receding. In our mind’s eye we saw one of the most vibrant athletes ever to grace the ring with personality as magnetic as any movie or rock star, nicknamed “The Lip” for his upstart self-promotional pronouncements. But in his long, last chapter Ali was a slow-moving man of peace and few words making impactful but dwindling appearances like that of his touching torch lighting at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. It was as if his prodigious energies had been well and truly spent, leaving him running on dwindling reserve power inside his prison of a body until this last, final moment of release.

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But too often we obsess over a person’s sad last days and those tend to take on disproportionate significance compared to the entirety of their lives. In the two decades of his prime and the time of his greatest impact on sports, on the nation and on the world, Muhammad Ali was both pretty and a baaad man, a beautiful, graceful athlete and proud black man, a speaker of hard truths and always of his own mind, a genius inside the ring and out. He was one of the greatest boxers of all time in the latter part of a century where boxing was one of the marquee sports. At a time when we’re often unable to name the current world champion amongst all the different belts and mediocre pugilists, it’s hard to recall just how big a deal being Heavyweight Champion of the World was back then, every bit as big as being the College Football Champion, the Super Bowl winner or the victor in the World Series. People lived and breathed boxing and Ali was the successor to other legendary heavyweights like Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. But he was so much more than just a boxer. Ali dovetailed so beautifully with the emerging zeitgeist of Black Power, Sports as Entertainment and Sports as Symbolism that if you wrote him as a character you’d never get away with it — he would’ve been too outrageous, too perfectly well-spoken, poised and self-assured, too victorious. But Muhammad Ali was just that perfect a fit for his tumultuous times even with his flaws taken into account. Love him or hate him, you could never ignore him. He was a titan of sport, pop culture and, in fact, social change. His message, implied or stated bluntly, was Yes We Can to African-Americans and religious minorities, to the poor, the Third World and the downtrodden. When James Brown wrote “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud!” he might’ve written it with Ali in mind. Ali gave hope, light and heat to the world. As the Spanish say, he was simply muy hombre and to conceive of anyone being quite like him again in an age where athletes rarely go out on a limb for fear of alienating their sponsors seems impossible. His echo lives on in a million boasts and taunts on the court and in the field and in the ring. But everyone else is imitating him and their predictions and preening seems more like ritualized kabuki than those of true conviction and zest for the battle. Ali nearly always delivered on what he promised and by doing so he was able to make pronouncements about issues far beyond a simple sporting event. With his mouth and his mind, his brains and his guts, his speed and his strength and his unwavering sense of self, Muhammad Ali really did shake up the world. And the world’s been vibrating from the aftershocks of his impact ever since.

Men’s Cologne — Burberry for Men

Sometimes when you’re picking a fragrance for the day you’re just looking for something that smells good but isn’t earth-shattering in terms of power or complexity. You could call it a daily driver, the kind you wear to the office or for casual occasions with friends but not the scent you reach for when you’re trying to really stand out and make a major impression. Burberry for Men is that kind of plug-and-play, user friendly cologne.

Created way back in 1995 and originally called Burberry London, this one was Burberry’s first masculine and has been definitively shuffled aside by the company in favor of their newer, trendier scents like Brit, Rhythm and Mr. Burberry. They don’t even advertise it anymore really. But thankfully this old standby still remains in production. Burberry for Men is somewhat atypical of that Aquatics-infused 90s era in that it strives to be more of a classic gentlemen’s Woody Aromatic fragrance, with warm notes of cedar and sandalwood in the heart and a touch of amber and vanilla in the base. But there’s an unmistakable hybrid Fougère feel, as well, because what really makes Burberry for Men stand out (as much as it’s ever going to) is the big blast of mint in the top notes when you first spray it on. Yes, there is also some lavender and bergamot there in the open, along with thyme throughout the drydown, creating a very nice herbal/citric boost. But it’s really the mint that grabs your attention. This is why I feel that Burberry for Men is probably one of the best eye-openers in the cologne world. This Eau de Toilette-strength juice is ideal for mornings to accompany your cup of coffee after getting out of the shower. It smells good and manly and is definitely stimulating to the senses, a refreshing but sophisticated way to start your day.

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Burberry for Men has moderate sillage & projection, strong enough for someone else to notice for sure but always polite. It smells very good for about 5 hours, with the minty-herbal quality lingering but mellowing and blending with the woody accords as they come to the front and hints of dry carnation also peaking through. I don’t really get the jasmine that’s listed in the notes pyramid, but there is definitely unobtrusive musk, amber and tonka in the base, with any “oakmoss” more of a whisper in the current formulation. At the end of its life on the skin, around 6 hours, it starts to come apart and smell a little stale verging on slightly sour, probably a result of the current construction relying more on synthetics than in the old days. But that’s OK because by then you’ll most likely be ready for something else for the evening hours anyway, a scent that stands out a little more and has a bit more of an aggressive personality than this pleasant but essentially anodyne fragrance.

In short, Burberry for Men is indeed manly in a slightly old-school fashion, good for daily wear during the daylight hours at the office and in casual settings and is a great eye-opener to get you going in the morning. If it’s not really an all-time great men’s cologne with huge balls and projection it is still quite solid on its own terms. Because sometimes you’re just looking to smell good while you go about your business, not draw a lot of attention to yourself like you would if you were wearing a powerhouse like Antaeus or Oscar de la Renta’s Pour Lui. So Burberry for Men is a fine pick for when you don’t want to to think too much about what you’re wearing but still be secure in the knowledge that you’re putting something really nice out there to the world. In fact, people of both sexes, especially the ladies, seem to really like it, however much I might be damning it with faint praise. So reach for this one with confidence for daily use — Burberry for Men is still a winner.

Men’s Cologne — Terre d’Hermès Parfum

Terre d’Hermès is a strange creation in several respects. This nouveau Woody Chypre is both very popular and highly regarded yet also has a lot of detractors, particularly among the more elite bloggers and taste makers. A thoroughly modern fragrance originally designed in 2006 by Hermès’s in house superstar nose, Jean-Claude Elena, Terre enjoyed a meteoric rise both critically and in terms of high end sales, particularly with guys in their 20s and 30s. And as with so many super successful fragrances, I think that likely led to a lot of blowback from the self-appointed cognoscenti, a la Bleu de Chanel. Purposely designed to be a world away from the then-reigning sweet and aquatic creations, Terre was meant to be a return to something like the citrus-forward/woody-based masculine qualities of Dior’s original Eau Sauvage, only amped up on 21st century steroids. And at least for the Parfum version that is pretty much what you get (full disclosure: I haven’t tried the original Eau de Toilette so there may be more nuance to that version).

The Parfum, which I feel is really more of an Eau de Parfum in terms of actual strength, does come on like gangbusters with a mighty waft of oily orange peel. Some have described a “rotten orange” quality but I don’t get that. For me the orange comes across as fresh, a trifle sweet but really heavily like a big chunk of peel that you’ve just wrung out to drop into your Old Fashioned. The note pyramid states there is grapefruit there at the top, as well, but I feel like the orange is so strong that I don’t really get any of that, which is a good thing in my book because grapefruit in cologne is definitely hit or miss. Almost immediately after this big opening a heavy duty balsamic (as in pine not vinegar) quality muscles its way into the action. It’s green and sharp and plays off the citrus with a bracing effect. Now there’s no evergreen notes listed so perhaps this is a trick of the professed “shiso” and “flint accords,” which I take to mean sort of minty/herbal for the shiso and a sharp high note for the flint, mingling with the cedar-infused “woody notes” in the base. But to my nose I get a definite “pine grove” sharpness commingling with that orange. And maybe that’s just the limitation of my nose… or at least how I perceive the massive amounts of Iso-E Super in Terre, that omnipresent modern chemical stand-in for sandalwood.

And then… well, then it pretty much just stays like that for the duration, which for a Parfum is not overwhelming at around 6-8 hours (there could well be olfactory fatigue at play in that perceived modest longevity — others may well smell it on you longer after your nose has been fried). Now the Parfum pyramid, while still a simple one, claims additional notes of oakmoss and benzoin (a sweet smelling resin of the styrax tree). But aside from vague whispers amidst the shouting of the top notes I don’t really get a lot of those. To my nose, Terre d’Hermès is an extremely linear fragrance, meaning that it essentially stays the same from the time you apply it until far into the dry down. The smell is nothing so much as one of those homemade holiday crafts projects where you stick a whole orange full of cloves, only in Terre’s case you’ve stuck the orange full of pine sprigs and cedar chips.

orange

And while some use this consistently limited two-note quality to bash Terre, I won’t. It is a fairly unique scent and the Parfum version is powerful without being offensive (there are zero animalic notes). The sillage is quite significant but not that of a real divisive powerhouse-type fragrance. I don’t really see how any man could offend while wearing Terre d’Hermès Parfum, particularly a few minutes after the somewhat riotous initial blast upon application dries down. That may also be why it receives its fair share of disdain from the connoisseurs — it has the feel of something designed scientifically rather than a fragrance that has been born of inspiration or passion. As mentioned above, Terre has a massive amount of Iso E Super in it, a chemical that is used to boost woodsy notes. And you do get that in spades, in this case for me it’s like a freshly cut conifer sapling (and the brighter side of a much danker effect that Iso E Super creates in the vetiver-heavy Encre Noire from Lalique. With its very recent creation, it makes sense that rather than using something like organic sandalwood or cedar Mr. Elena would use his modern-day perfumer’s tools to achieve a similar effect in heightened form. I don’t begrudge him or Hermès that even if Terre is nonetheless quite a pricey juice for such a clearly artificial creation (the Parfum lists for $115 for a 2.5 oz bottle though can be had for cheaper on Amazon). But then I also don’t feel like Terre d’Hermès, at least in Parfum form, is all that brilliant a creation, either. More like a chemically clever one.

Once you get past its seeming daring and boldness in mixing orange and woods into such a relatively potent cocktail then you are left wondering just what exactly are you trying to convey when you wear it? Again, I think it is consummately inoffensive, fresh without being sweet or cloying and certainly somewhat elegant. But I don’t feel its very sexy in and of itself. If you’ve already got a significant other, chances are they will like it on you when you cuddle up. But I don’t see this one as mating call juice at the local bar. It’s a bit too perplexing to be sexy. Yes, you’ll smell good but probably not hot and steamy good, just “nice” with all that entails. But maybe its “safe,” non-threatening quality can work to one’s advantage more than I’m giving it credit for. I do think this one works well at any age and probably best in fall and spring, where the cool but not cold weather allows the heady citrus to float off the body in an appealing way. I can see how this could come across as a bit too heavy in the summer and there is something about genuinely cold weather, despite the likely Christmas connotations of its profile, that seems to choke off Terre, stunting its power (unlike, say, Eau Sauvage Parfum, which thrives in frigid temperatures). So that’s it really. I guess I feel like Terre d’Hermès neither deserves the fawning praise of the masses or the scorn of the elites. It’s good, it’s a little weird but it’s never freaky or funky. A solid pick for daytime, especially causal rather than office use, or a night out with friends or a committed partner. You’ll smell good, you’ll smell like a piney orange and you’ll smell classy. But if you’re like me, you won’t want to smell like this all the time. Terre d’Hermès will likely be a solid addition to your collection for occasional use — it is definitely distinctive! — but not a signature fragrance. Frankly, the world of cologne is much more interesting and far ranging than this simple, straightforward beast.

Men’s Cologne — Lauder for Men

My renewed interest in exploring men’s fragrance began after I had been wearing Armani Eau Pour Homme for over a decade as essentially my signature scent. I always felt that if I had my cologne figured out why bother changing it up too much? Eventually, though, I found myself increasingly bored wearing the Armani day in and day out, craving a bit more variety to my scent life. More than that, while always pleasant it started to go missing after about an hour. Yes, it still remained present as a skin scent (something you really have to put your nose close to to smell) but I wondered if continual reformulation through the years hadn’t neutered it, a common problem with classic colognes. Most of all, though, I came to realize I was looking for something to break the monotony and break out of my olfactory ennui. So I started doing some research, going to the local Sephora for samples, reading Fragrantica and looking at some opinionated men’s perfume blogs like Pour Monsieur and From Pyrgos. That piqued my curiosity to try new things, change it up and give several other colognes a chance. And one of the pleasures of this new scent journey has been finding out just how much variety there is in good men’s cologne these days, as well as how much wearing different fragrances for different occasions and circumstances can give you both personal enjoyment and a leg up in terms of confidence and polish to one’s sense of style.

So let’s talk about one of my new favorites, Estée Lauder’s Lauder for Men. Now, Lauder for Men is not a new scent at all, just new to me. It was created way back in 1985, in what some consider the golden age of power fragrances. But Lauder for Men is not a typical 80s badass like Drakkar Noir, Kouros or Lapidus. In fact, it seems to harken further back to more restrained, less spicy aromatic fougéres of the 60s and 70s. There is nothing ballsy, hairy chested or in your face about Lauder for Men. It opens crisp and green with pleasingly bracing notes of juniper and clary sage. This is freshness in a bottle, a classic cologne smell with the longevity of an Eau de Toilette. There’s also a pleasant hint of sweeter citrus — lemon and mandarin orange peel — to balance out the galbanum, though I don’t really get the cardamon or coriander listed in the notes in my modern formulation.

Not just for your gin Martini!

Not just for your gin Martini!

The dry down is equally lovely, the green vibe lingering  for certain but opening up with pleasant notes of masculine flowers like carnation, jasmine, lily of the valley and rose. Continue reading