I hate citrus

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Growing up I had a treehouse built into my grandfather’s old orange tree. It smelled of everything orange: the fruit certainly, but also orange blossoms, and a diffuse sappy greenness, which nonetheless carried the spirit of the oranges well beyond fruit-bearing season. If it sounds magical, that’s because it was. Best of all, those orange smells mingled with darker, woodier, more resinous smells: the lumber of the treehouse and the dirt from the ground below.

My father also loves the smell of citrus, particularly neroli. He loves a classic eau de cologne in a way that always makes me think I’m missing something. The eau de cologne is one of the oldest styles or genres of perfume based on a recipe of citrus, herbs, and musks. The French school leans on lemon in the opening, while the Italian school favors orange notes, including neroli. The Russian version tends to be drier and more abstract. It is a classic and generally a must-have for anyone who likes fragrance.

Still, I don’t care for it. In my ever-expanding perfume horde, there remains a noticeable gap where an eau de cologne ought to be. Even Chanel‘s exceptional Eau de Cologne makes me want to scrub it off well before the drydown. Although, admittedly, that opening is sheer, back-straightening perfection.

So what gives? Why don’t I care for citrus for citrus’s sake? Maybe it’s the built-in preciousness in most eaux de cologne, that fresh-scrubbed baby angel thing, with nothing even remotely dirty to balance it out. I like citrus best when it is shorn of its squeaky clean pretensions. Perhaps that’s why I like Etat Libre d’Orange‘s Cologne, which combines a typical citrusy opening with a leathery base. In a perfect world someone would cook up a cross between Institut Très Bien‘s Cologne á l’Italienne and YSL‘s Kouros (both, incidentally, by the great Pierre Bourdon), a snappy mix of bright freshness and dirty bathroom.

My general ambivalence toward musks also makes eau de cologne a hard sell. Citrus notes are some of the most volatile in perfumery, meaning they evaporate quickly, and thus can only be properly smelled for a bit. To make them stick around longer, nearly all colognes use heavy doses of musk, which act as a fixative to prolong the citrus smells. By the end of the day, that’s most of what you’re smelling. A notable exception is Mugler‘s Cologne, which smells musky/industrial and is all the better for it.

So, here’s an easy fix: let an eau de cologne disappear naturally. It doesn’t need to stick around for hours like a normal perfume. It’s supposed to disappear right away. Once someone kicks out a great one that doesn’t overstay its welcome, I might just reconsider my position.

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what to wear when: Live Music

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Classical

You might not want to wear anything. I have plenty of memories of being stuck in a theatre with someone wearing Chernobyl-level amounts of “going-out” perfume. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s like having a cell phone ringing in your ear for hours. Probably the safest bet is something pre-World-War-II. Or pretty much anything from the Chanel range. (Except Chance, Antaeus, or (egads) Blue de Chanel.)

Jazz

Try something sweet and dirty. My first thought was Dior‘s discontinued Jules (I wish I could recommend Jazz, but I just can’t). Knize Ten would be an excellent choice, regardless of gender.

Indie Rock

With so many sweaty young bodies around you, you’ll probably want something light,  weird, and modern. Something like Jasmin et Cigarette or S-Ex. 

Dad Rock

If there ever was a time to wear a big, strapping fougère, it’s to that Steely Dan concert. Hard to do better than Kouros, but Nicolaï’s newish Amber Oud (not really an amber, or an oud) could work great, too.

Funk/Soul

This seems like the time for an oriental. Something loud, proud, and sensual. Muscs Koublaï Khan was my first choice. Although, Fate Woman would be smashing, too. Almost anything from Amouage, and several from Serge Lutens would do.

EDM

The temptation to go for something synthetic is great. However, I think you’d be better off with something fresh but strange, like Thierry Mugler’s Cologne or Frederic Malle’s under-appreciated Outrageous by the unequaled Sofia Grojsman. 

Metal

This is a tricky one. Just by chance I was wearing Yatagan at a Torché show recently, and it was bloody perfect. I’ve always thought that Secretions Magnifiques offers the right kind of rush to pair with furious sheets of noise. Then again, maybe you want to wear something to contrast, like 31 Rue Cambon or Mitsouko. In any case, probably something abstract, with a sense of uplift.  


Photo credit 

Old School

Joe Biden as a student starting his journey towards political power

I recently looked at my perfume collection and found it to overwhelmingly contain bottles from niche companies. I’m not some sort of niche snob. The trouble is I can’t think of a truly great mainstream masculine since Dior Homme, and while there have been great feminines, none has felt like the right fit. Admittedly, niche offers its own headaches, with obscenely high prices and a strong whiff of pretension. However, they do still put decent money into the formula, and can be relied upon to take some real risks.

Buying older formulas is tricky. I recently smelled a vintage bottle of Habit Rouge Eau de Cologne, which must have dated from the 80s or earlier. While the new formula is probably the best it can be, given regulations, cost, etc., that old juice blows it straight away. The opening is properly delicate and believably citrusy, and the whole effect is smooth and near edible, with that refined resinous core. There’s also a elegant off-the-cuffy-ness to the old stuff which cannot be found in, say, the current Eau de Parfum formula. At the end of the day I had to admit that it wasn’t a case of old vs. new (the new formula is still streets ahead of almost everything else on the market), I just wasn’t a Habit Rouge guy.

I ran into similar problems test driving a few more masculine classics. Kouros, though stonkingly good, smelled a little dated to me. Eau de Guerlain felt too dandyish for me to pull off. Pour Monsieur just made me hanker for a vintage bottle of Nicolaï’s New York, which is far more welcoming and friendly. I had given up the search when I accidentally happened upon a charming little perfume shop in San Francisco called Tigerlily. Their stock was good and the sales associate was uncharacteristically warm and game for a conversation about perfume. The jewel of the shop is a wall of vintage bottles, including Chanel, Guerlain, and–probably my favorite–Shiseido’s Femininité du Bois, in that funky, asymmetrical bottle. Hidden in the corner was something unexpected, a small selection of bottles from Caron’s illustrious range.

These days Caron is generally overlooked. Not just because their distribution is relatively small, but because apparently (I cannot claim first hand experience) some fairly horrific reformulations have rendered one of the greatest legacies in perfume completely unrecognizable. I had heard that the masculines still contain some of the old magic, and while I cannot comment on the old version, I can unequivocally attest that Yatagan is alive and well.

Yatagan kicks the door open with a cacophony of aromatic, coniferous resins. Soon a properly wicked and beguiling artemisia melody takes over and leads you into a smoky, animalic drydown with plenty of oakmoss. Notably, though it was composed around the same time as Kouros, it feels wholly contemporary. Yatagan is in fact the great granddaddy of currently popular incense and animalic perfumes, paving the way for Muscs Koublaï Khan, Bois de Encens, and so many others.

I cannot tell you how glad I am that this stuff is still around in its present form. Of course it smells fantastic, and like Muscs Koublaï Khan, it is quite polite until you get into close range. Yatagan is also beautifully smooth in the transitions and holds up well into the drydown. I can imagine it might seem underpowered compared to the vintage stuff. But these days, the present state of Yatagan is a welcome surprise and relief. It is still among the very best I have smelled in any catagory, and those looking for dry aromatic woods need look no further.