Why was Cool Water such a “groundbreaking” fragrance?

On basenotes.net, there are many threads about Cool Water (1988), especially ones that ask about how it compares to Green Irish Tweed. I sampled GIT a long time ago, and all I remember is a vicious violet leaf note that led me to “scrub” it, so I can’t speak to that “issue.” However, one thing is undeniable: CW had a major impact on the fragrance industry, especially in terms of “masculine” fragrances, while GIT has had very little, beyond the niche crowd, even to this day. Nobody I know outside of the online fragrance community has heard of Creed (as a fragrance company, that is).

For the purposes of this post, that is very good, actually, because it allows me to focus on CW. And whether or not CW is similar to GIT but better is irrelevant. I have only sampled a small number of fragrances that were introduced right before CW was, so I have no idea how unique it was at that time. However, I have sampled quite a few from that period of what I call the Baroque masculine (roughly 1976 to 1993), and if CW was unique, I think I can speak to why. First of all, it’s lighter, from top to bottom, than the typical Baroque fougere of that period, or even the fragrances that seem to have led to the Baroque fougere (I’d guess they were Yatagan, Z-14, and the original Gucci Pour Homme, all introduced in 1976).

Secondly, there are no aldehydes, which were especially prominent in some masculines of that period, especially orientals (such as KL Homme, or the fruity/floral chypre, Iquitos). There is no chypre base, nor complex base, which were most common, other than what one could find in some of the orientals (spicy, ambery, vanillic, etc.). Of course the simpler masculine fragrances were still being produced, such as simple fougeres and traditional cologne types. One of the simple fougeres that were very popular is Brut, by Faberge, though I think it was reformulated into something very cheap since then. I have an old 1970s one like this, Play it Again… Sixty Strength, Woodard for Men Cologne. It’s quite strong, with lots of oakmoss, and it’s musky. The lavender is quite herbal and it’s not an especially sweet fragrance (like Brut, last time I tried it a few years back).

So, armed with this knowledge (which I hope is accurate!), what can be said of Cool Water? At first, I detect the tobacco note very clearly. It is listed as a base note, but for me it is strong at first and then gets weaker over the next few hours. There is a mild fougere quality, as well as a “sour” neroli, and it’s a bit sweet. Perhaps most importantly, the fougere isn’t “soapy” at all, which was so common at that time. The listed notes are: “mint and green nuances, lavender, coriander and rosemary; …geranium, neroli, jasmine and sandalwood; …cedarwood, musk, amber and tobacco” (from fragrantica.com).

I don’t find it minty or green, but perhaps those are very fleeting top notes. Instead, it quickly goes into a drydown where the notes seem “stuck together.” It has a non-aldehydic “brightness,” with more complexity than the earlier simple masculines, yet it is on the light side, relative to those Baroque fougeres. I’ve become a fan of this kind of fragrance, though not of CW itself (due to the “stuck together” quality), and often wear Molto Smalto, which has a strong base and excellent note separation. I think the reason why I like the Smalto is that it seems to have just enough complexity and note contrast, while also possessing naturalness, balance, and note separation. Any more notes, and things can get “heavy,” with muddled note contrast. While I do think there are some excellent fragrances of that period that are more complex, none have the “light” feeling that the CW type fragrance does.

Note that I have no idea why CW is sometimes called an aquatic fragrance. An “old” note, neroli, was given prominence in it, and placed in a fougere context (which may not have been an innovation, but it’s certainly not common), though the fougere accord was toned down significantly. The clear tobacco note is hardly ever discussed, in my experience, and it may have been blended to deliberately achieve that “stuck together” quality. Perhaps Mr Bourdon would be so kind as to leave a comment and tell us !

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