Perhaps a year ago, a thread about Z-14 appeared on Basenotes.net. Someone claimed that there was a new formulation that contained a lot of cinnamon but no oakmoss (and was quite bad), and apparently some of them went on a “vintage hunt” for boxes that listed oakmoss. In this case it was claimed that both were made by EA Fragrances, and the suggestion was made that this company reformulated Z-14 this way in order to conform to the latest IFRA guidelines. I’m writing this post because I now have experience with several different formulations of these two and it seems to me that they are an excellent example of how scents can travel a rather strange road after more than one reformulation.
About a week ago, I acquired some vintage Z-14 (made by Halston), and a couple weeks before that acquired some by French Fragrances (Miami). I’ve had the original 1-12 for a year or so, after sampling the new EA version and an earlier one. My guess is that the only ones I haven’t sampled are the French Fragrances version of 1-12 and the newest version of Z-14. When I sampled the original Z-14 I was struck by how much galbanum it seemed to have, and the thought crossed my mind that the names came from two samples being chosen, the twelfth and the fourteenth. I’d further speculate that there was one perfumer, and that he or she was just thinking in terms of variations on a theme, rather than significantly different scents, whereas once the formulating was out of Halston’s hands the two went in significantly different directions.
Now I’d like to quote the lists of notes for these two scents (taken from Fragrantica.com), starting with Z-14:
Top notes are cypress, gardenia, green notes, basil, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are coriander, patchouli, cinnamon, jasmine, vetiver, cedar and geranium; base notes are leather, tonka bean, amber, musk, benzoin and oakmoss.
And for 1-12:
Top notes are green notes, mandarin orange, galbanum, basil, bergamot and lemon; middle notes are carnation, juniper berries, lavender, jasmine and pine tree needles; base notes are labdanum, tonka bean, amber, musk, oakmoss, vanilla and cedar.
The EA Z-14 I have seems to emphasize lavender and gardenia, whereas the French Fragrances one is the spiciest and most ambery. The original has the strongest “green notes” but is otherwise the best balanced. With 1-12, the original is also the best balanced and after an hour or so it is perhaps best thought of as a complex chypre. The first EA formulation has a stronger “soapy” lavender quality and the latest, with no moss of any kind listed on the box, was spicy and had a “cheap” bubble bath product type of quality. I’m not saying it was “bad,” and for the prices it sells for I can’t say it’s a “bad deal,” but the difference between that one and the original is so vast I doubt that more than a few who have experienced any previous formulation will fail to recognize it.
And so we are back to the subject of my previous post. EA reformulated 1-12 to be at least recognizable up until this latest formulation, from what I can gather, so it doesn’t seem they are doing this because they are going to save a huge amount of money. Instead, they may have tried to create something similar to the original within the new guidelines and decided it was not possible, or that it was better to just create something “pleasant” and hope for the best. They might lose some old customers but the latest formulation might win over some new people to make up the difference. For me the problem with this new 1-12 is that I’d rather wear one of the better dollar store knockoffs. To be sure, there do seem to be natural ingredients that are not too restricted or too expensive, and makers of designer scents have done a good job in those cases.
One example is that of scents that include patchouli, vetiver, and vanilla in the base, often along with tonka, amber, benzoin, or something else to soften it up. If you’ve tried Roadster, Dior Homme, Obsession Night Men or Jacomo for Men (no patchouli here but a similar effect is achieved, suggesting that very little is used in the other three) you may know what I mean. However, even there, when I compared the original CK Cosmetics version of Obsession Night for Men to the newer Coty version I noticed that the base notes seemed to be lessened, removed, or replaced with ingredients designed to create a kind of “fuzzy,” nondescript quality. Needless to say, I would no longer buy a bottle of anything previously made by another company if it had a Coty sticker on the bottom of it. In any case, any scent that used to possess more than a small amount of oakmoss (or some of the other ingredients that might cause problems, according to IRFA) may be unrecognizable to many loyal fans after being reformulated to comply with the latest IFRA guidelines.
As perfumer Chris Bartlett has pointed out:
The bottom line though is that reformulating something is like trying to imitate a fragrance for which the formula is unknown – ten times harder than making one from scratch – no wonder many fragrances are just discontinued instead. Something I frequently have to explain to potential customers who imagine I’m going to be able to make them a version of Shalimar at a fraction of the price…
Thus, with these new IFRA guidelines it appears that many if not most scents that contained certain ingredients in appreciable amounts (oakmoss perhaps being the most significant one in “masculines”) may be headed for a severe “makeover,” perhaps with a hint of the original in the top notes followed by a fuzzy/muddled drydown. Try to sample the newest 1-12 formulation and see what you think (comment here after you do, if you don’t mind). If you like nondescript pleasantness, this may be the age for you !
UPDATE (4/1/14): I just tried the newest Z-14 formulation, and at first it bears little resemblance to any of the others I’ve tried. There is a kind of “hard” cinnamon quality (which is unique in my experience, if not especially pleasant) that lasts quite a while, and when that lets up you get a kind of diluted/lobotomized version of the older formulations.
UPDATE #2: (11/98/14): I wore the newest Z-14 formulation recently in my usual way and I applied an extra spray. This time, I got an interesting incense-like quality after perhaps two hours which I actually enjoyed! I have no idea why anyone would even think to reformulate Z-14 in this way, but unlike 1-12, which I think was reformulated in an outright ridiculous way, Z-14 is now a kind of oddball scent, something that might be best referred to as “cheapo niche.” I intended to swap off my bottle of it (which I obtained as part of a lot) but now I’ll keep it for at least a couple more wearings to see if I get the same effect. However, calling it Z-14 is not something I can agree with – why not call it Z-14 Now or Z-14 Today? Isn’t such a totally different opening going to irritate a lot of people who were fans of the original formulation? And why not reformulate it into something that’s likely to be more of a “crowd pleaser?” I really would like to know how the decision was made to market the current scent as Z-14 (though I’m glad they went in this strange direction)!