The many faces of Smalto for Men (1998).

First, let me point out that I’m not referring to Francesco Smalto Pour Homme, which is a strong and complex fougere from 1987. This other Smalto scent has the following note pyramid (taken from Fragrantica.com):

Top notes: absinth, lavender and bergamot. Heart: cedar, sandalwood, chamomile, balm and honey. Base: oak moss, vanilla and tonka.

There are half a dozen reviews of it at Fragrantica as I write this, five of them (including mine) I’d classifty as “positive.” The one “negative” review is the following:

I think I have a reformulated version. The bottle and box look the same, but it is 50 mls. The fragrance is very leathery and doesn’t smell any thing like other reviews here. Although there is a hint of lavendar. Stay away… Lasts an hour or two and very linear.

I obtained a small amount in a sample swap over a year ago. At first, I didn’t like it, probably because at that time I found anise/licorice/absinth notes unpleasant. It also seemed rather weak. Months later I tried it again, only using a lot more of the 1 ml vial. After that, I viewed it as rich and natural smelling, though rustic and on the simple side (not too far from what I think of as prototypical “niche,” actually). Recently, I had the opportunity to buy a 50 ml bottle at a reasonable price so I went ahead with the purchase. When I received it, I tried it immediately because before it arrived I read that negative review, which written after I wrote mine.

What I experienced was a blast of what I call “shrill lavender” (similar to what you encounter in ST Dupont Noir and Azzaro’s Pure Lavender, for example), and then little else. Where was the absinth and sandalwood? At that point I thought there might be something wrong, whether it was a reformulation or even what one might call a “deformulation,” meaning that the original was so bad they had to “make things right” with a new formulation. That thought occurred to me because the label on the bottom of the bottle looked old and stated it was made by “Parfums Franceso Smalto,” and not some large company known for mediocre or worse reformulations.

I was now thinking about hunting down a 100 ml bottle (I knew that the vial sample I received first was from that source), but I decided to decant some from my bottle into a vial, to see if that would make a major difference. Doing that, there was no shrill lavender, and the lavender note was not at all pronounced. However, I did have to apply a great deal of it, relative to other vintage scents, in order to “bring out” the notes. And the “good stuff” (I’m guessing absinth, sandalwood, and chamomile especially) didn’t last as long as I’d liked either. It’s difficult for me to recommend this or tell you to avoid it, because you may really need to tinker with how you apply it, which I think dovetails with my recent post about how it is hardly ever the case that you get “directions” with your bottle of scent.

Over at the Basenotes.net directory, reviews are “all over the map” as well. The lastest review, by “60f1,” seems to sum up things quite well:

The dry herbal opening and heart are very nice to me. The initial blast settles down to very little projection or sillage very quickly. It is a nice smell — rustic, as noted. It doesn’t seem that sweet to me at all.

Then comes the confusing drydown. It seems that odysseusm is right on point with the bottom of this one. I can’t get my mind around it and it doesn’t fall into sync with the heart and opening. Sometimes I am OK with it and other times I find it repulsive. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.

I think this may be a keen observation, not just because application technique may make a big difference, but also because the note combination and development is uncommon. However, the top notes of this one are among the most piercing I’ve experienced, and certainly caused me some olfactory fatigue when I first used the bottle (spraying it on), despite trying to avoid most of the top notes! Here is my Fragrantica review of it, with which I’ll conclude this post:

I first tried this as a dab sample from a 100 ml bottle. At the time, perhaps two years ago, I felt that the the notes didn’t work well together, and it came across as a clash. However, I went back to it a couple of times over the next year or so because I did think the ingredient quality seemed good. Eventually, I realized that this was a low-cost alternative to Ungaro I, in the sense that if you like a dominant lavender/wormwood accord it might be just fine (though you would have to use more of the Smalto to get the effect you do in the Ungaro scent). It does have a bit of a balmy quality, so if you hate the idea of smelling like a body rub (I’ve read this in more than a few reviews) this is probably one to avoid.

UDPATE: I seem to be appreciating this one more lately. The ingredient quality seems very good and it has a kind of dry, woody, herbal, “rustic” quality to go along with the anise/absinthe type note, creating a niche-like effect, though of course it was released before people started to talk about “niche” scents. The balmy quality reins it in somewhat over time, but if you can get it cheap I think it’s worth owning just for the ingredient quality alone (considering the restrictions that now make such a scent impossible to produce by major companies, from what I understand).

UPDATE #2: Response to rienzope’s idea that 50 ml bottles are weaker. I obtained a 50 ml bottle and thought this was the case at first. The top notes have strong lavender (of what I call a shrill variety), and I think that causes olfactory fatigue. So, I decanted some into a dab vial and waited a couple weeks. Then I dabbed on more than usual (to the chest) and blew on the area to get rid of the top notes quickly. Sure enough, that worked and it now smells like the dab vial I obtained first (which came from a 100 ml bottle).

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