Review criteria and a question: Why is Acqua di Gio such a great fragrance ?

A few years ago, if you would have said this to me, I would have laughed and not thought twice about the possibility. One “strength” I think I possess is the willingness to reconsider my opinions, though it takes me some time to work through things (I’m definitely not as “quick” as some of the people on the “Jeopardy” TV show, for example, not that I necessarily think this is a “good thing” in the world of fragrances). Obviously, one needs to consider what “great” means in this context, but let’s leave aside its “bestseller” status (because I’m simply not interested in that). I used to dislike this one as a newbie, but I’m not sure why. I don’t think I gave it a fair chance, and instead took the word of others that fragrances such as Unbound for Men were very similar. When I gave Unbound several chances, I disliked it every time. Same thing for Voyage by Nautica and the other “aquatics” I’ve tried. Now I realize that these fragrances are very different from AdG, at least to me. I’ll explore why I think this is the case below, after I explain my position on AdG.

First, why do I think this is “great?” It’s related to what I seek in a fragrance: balance, dynamism, note contrast and separation, naturalness, depth, and richness. Basically, if a fragrance has those elements to a sufficient degree I always like the fragrance, it seems. Even if it barely manages all of them, I think I’d still consider it great. The “blurb” for it, which I assume came directly from the company that now owns it, states that it is “full of scorching Mediterranean sun.” That’s the kind of thing I laugh at, because it’s more of a visual representation than an olfactory one, and to me is more likely to mislead the newbie if it influences the person at all (other than to get him to purchase a bottle).

Secondly, I’d like to point out that AdG’s greatness is relative even to fragrances such as Millesime Imperial, Erolfa, and the rest of the Creed’s men’s lineup that is readily available today. AdG simply has better note contrast and dynamism, and while Creed may smell a bit more natural, AdG smells natural enough. Creed gets “blown away” by AdG, however, in some of the other categories. Green Irish Tweed does succeed in creating an “abstract” quality but because it is somewhat lacking in the dynamism and complexity areas, I have to really be in the mood to wear it. Again, this is my criteria, and I don’t expect everyone or even a majority to agree with me. However, if you disagree but can’t explain why in detail, then I can’t really take you seriously, to be perfectly honest (that is, if you claim to be some kind of “expert”). Most likely, if you prefer the Creeds, it’s probably due to stronger and more natural smelling top notes, because Creed drydowns (again, I’m talking about the common men’s ones) are generally nothing exciting.

With AdG, I get a fruit element that isn’t too sweet (which often unbalances a fragrance), an element that is somewhere between herbal and powdery, florals (jasmine being obvious but not overbearing, as I often find it to be), and the “hard” marine note (which isn’t like the fragrances I’ve tried that seem to have a huge amount of calone in them). No element is too strong or too weak, and there is excellent dynamism, yet it’s not “muddy,” as is the case with many of the complex “power” fragrances of the 1980s. The most obvious one for me to compare it to is Horizon (that is, among those I’ve studied in some detail), which is more complex and aromatic. The problem is that it’s muddled and too sharp. In fact, I’d say there is a muddle underneath the strong, sharp notes (grapefruit, lavender, and the marine accord). And then there is the strong patchouli, which is a real “love it or hate it” note, and seems totally out of place here. Horizon is a good example of a fragrance with clashing notes (rather than contrasting ones), though of course some people may be seeking just such an olfactory experience.

As to Unbound for Men, Luca Turin pointed out that it has a weird “cod liver oil” type of note, which I dislike, whereas Voyage comes across as a “chemical mess” (perhaps due to reformulation). I do like Burberry’s Sport Ice for Men, which features a similar marine note, but that one doesn’t possess the interesting soft versus hard contrast I perceive in AdG. Because of that, I think, Sport Ice seems to “flatten out,” though I still like the smell, it’s dynamic, has good note contrast and separation, and it’s reasonably natural smelling. It’s rich but lacks the depth of AdG. And again, I’m not saying AdG has great depth, but at least enough to prevent me from perceiving a clear lack of depth. One thing I’ve learned in life so far is that if you can figure out how to avoid doing anything major wrong, you are usually “in good shape” (as my father liked to say). Woody Allen once said (in a movie) that 90% of success is “just showing up” (or something along those lines) but that definitely does not work in the world of fragrances (there were over 1000 new releases in 2011, for example).

Additional points (added later): In Turin’s and Sanchez’ “Perfumes: The Guide” book, Sanchez describes AdG as “citrus rosemary,” and views it as “…ho-hum: an aquatic citrus with woody notes and a dash of cooking herb.” That’s on page 56. I would likely agree if there were no floral notes. Did Sanchez not detect the obvious jasmine? This seems like a good example of my recent idea that if you can’t detect notes well you may mislead people with your reviews. I’ll also mention that I have a feeling Voyage was reformulated terribly (others seem to share this view) and so it may be that the original version was quite good. Finally, AdG does not use lavender, which I think may be part of the reason for its great balance (lavender is used in a huge percentage of “men’s” fragrances yet has a tendency to dominate and unbalance a fragrance).

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