The “modernization” of vintage scents.

You’ve likely heard this term used, and I’ve used it too, but I can’t remember anyone addressing it in any detail, so that’s the point of this post. There are too many examples of what one might call a modernized scent, including flankers, reformulations, and new scents that seem to have been inspired by older ones. So, Kouros Fraicheur could be viewed as a modernized version of Kouros. Even if most people would disagree with this notion, it certainly might serve this function for some people. And of course there are plenty of obvious reformulations, which some claim are better because they are more “modern.” For these, at least in some cases, what seems like dilution is being lauded, which makes no sense to me because I’d rather just use less of the original formulation!

But then there are those which change a basic idea into something that seems more wearable. Recently, I could have purchased a 4 ounce bottle of Passion for Men by Elizabeth Taylor for very little, so I sampled my vintage mini bottle of it, and at first I thought I’d go ahead with the purchase. However, as time went by, I found myself thinking that something is wrong, because it’s becoming irritating. Whether the lavender is too strong or the notes are clashing (or something else) I realized that if I bought it I would not wear it. Moreover, I have similar vintage scents that I can wear, including Pub Cologne, Witness, and Night Spice, though I rarely wear them. So, in recent days I’ve been buying mostly on the basis of price and notes/reviews that seem promising (in the case of “blind buys””). And that led me to Phoenix by Keith Urban.

I had no idea who Keith Urban is when I purchased the bottle, and it wouldn’t make any difference to me in any case, because I’ve found that I enjoy quite a few “celebuscents,” including Unbreakable, KISS Him, Rebelle, Elvis Cologne, and Fancy Nights. The notes for Phoenix are (from

…blackberry, cognac and suede; middle notes are musk, canadian balsam and mexican chocolate; base notes are woodsy notes, tonka bean, amber and leather.

The reviews suggested that the notes are “real” and not a figment of the perfumer’s imagination, though I can’t say I’ve detected any clear cognac note. During my first two wearings I got a strange varnish-like quality, which others mentioned, but that doesn’t last long – I assume it’s a combination of suede and cognac. The blackberry is quite strong at first as well, and then perhaps half an hour later I detected the chocolate note. A leathery/woody note appears later, but the tonka is quite strong, though amber makes it a bit heavier and slightly syrupy. On the third wearing I didn’t get much of the varnish-like quality, and instead the tonka with a bit of amber seemed quite strong, along with the blackberry (which is the kind of phenomenon I mention when people say their scents have changed after the first several wearings).

And after a few minutes I realized that there was something in this scent that was very familiar, followed by the scent in question: Bogart Pour Homme (2004). The notes for that one are:

…lavender and bergamot; middle notes are orange blossom, lily-of-the-valley and rose; base notes are tonka bean, patchouli, musk, oakmoss and cedar.

So, thinking about it further, my sense was that lily and rose were replaced by blackberry and chocolate (among the strongest note, and leaving aside the odd varniosh-like quality in Phoenix, since it doesn’t last long). And then I thought to myself that this is why I don’t wear BPH or Passion often (if at all in the case of the latter) – too many strong notes that seem to clash are present. In Phoenix, by contrast, the strong notes seem to provide a little contrast, but they complement each other. I can’t recall blackberry being used in any “mainstream” masculine scents more than ten years ago, and chocolate wasn’t common either, so I think calling Phoenix a sort of modernization of BPH may be a useful conceptualization. Obviously, some people might prefer BPH but the “masculine rose” was certainly not novel ten years after BPH was released, whereas Phoenix’s composition was when it was released, to my knowledge, at least for lower end designers and celebuscents. And unlike BPH, I get no “synthetic” qualities from Phoenix!

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