Let me begin with an unusual disclaimer. I actually like this scent. I’m not crazy about it, but I do admit that I like it a little bit. Nevertheless, I am bound by what little journalistic ethics I still have, to honestly report the following: Vera Wang For Men is a confirmed kill by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez in their new book, Perfumes: the guide.
OK. Maybe not a confirmed kill. In fact, maybe not a kill at all. Maybe having just dodged the bullet – with a flesh wound. But if it did escape, it did so narrowly, along with several of my favorites, which also hobbled past these tough perfume reviewers.
Allow me to elaborate. I’m a fan of Vera Wang. I always like her stuff. I think she has a great fashion sense, which always appeals to me. Many times when I see her clothing, in an ad or in the store, I’ll say to myself “Damn! If I was a woman, I’d wear that!” And then I look around to make sure nobody saw me ogling, of course. And maybe I’ll ask the wife if she thinks it’s any good – which she probably doesn’t, since her style is totally different from mine. But you’ve gotta believe me – I’m predisposed to like Vera’s stuff.
I also saw this wonderful interview that she did. By the time it was over, I was thinking “You know. That ‘For Men’ scent that she has. Maybe I’m gonna like that.”
Now, being filled with all sorts of residual redneck prejudices, I had always figured that Vera Wang For Men was going to be some nice, super-woody, super-spicy, exotic thing, filled with mysterious, old-timey Asiatic influences – just the kind of thing that I like. I had never actually tried it – at least I have no memory of doing so. But in going through my pile of samples recently, I rediscovered a little spray sample of VWFM. I just knew I was going to like it, and thereupon made firm plans to give it a try. And that try was today. Today in blog time, that is. Yesterday in real time.
My first impression was – literally – “Where’s the beef?” At first, I thought the sample had gone bad. However, a quick blow-down on my arm left a significant base, telling me that it was really there, but that the top was surprisingly subtle. OK. Subtle. I can deal with that.
My next impression was one of familiarity. I had smelled this before – somewhere. What was that odor? I couldn’t quite place it. It was driving me nuts. Meanwhile, I’m noticing that this note seems to stay on me pretty well. I’m thinking this must be in the heart of the damn thing.
But I decided to take a shortcut. Why not consult my newly acquired Perfumes: the guide, and see what Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez have to say?
Now, I reviewed this book on Amazon very soon after it arrived by UPS. One of the things that many people don’t like about the perfume reviews – and many others do – is that they’re humorously critical – in some cases downright nasty, catty, or snarky (to use valid terms from other reviewers of said reviews). I personally would not call the reviews harsh, because the humor is directed almost everywhere – even at the authors themselves. It’s as if Tania’s MAC-10 went seriously out of control on full auto, and Luca’s .50 cal sniper rifle with steel-core bullets decided to ricochet everywhere. And the numbers match the words. These reviewers have seriously set their bell curve somewhere between two and three stars out of five. It’s like they made two (“Disappointing”) the average, so three, four, and five are active levels of goodness. They have only one class below “average”, and that one is one (“Awful”). A lot of things ended up there – including Vera Wang For Men. Basically, these reviews say “If you’re not actually a full-blown decent but forgettable fine fragrance, able to run toe-to-toe with the everyday dross of the big boys (2), then you’re the only thing less (1). Other than that, you’re either OK (3), worthy of recommendation (4), or classic (5). These reviewers decided to use most of their grading space to separate the good stuff from the truly great, with really good in between. But that means that a surprisingly large chunk of the fragrance world got a single star.
Vera Wang For Men is in good company. The Valley Of The Single Star is not only home to fragrances linked to Paris Hilton, Britney Spears (but not all of her scents), and Mary Kate and Ashley. We expect those candy-ass scents, marketed to teenage girls, to be there. But we don’t expect these:
- L’Artisan Parfumeur
- Calvin Klein
- Bond No. 9
- Paco Rabanne
- and many, many others
In fact, it becomes apparent that fine perfumery is such a crap-shoot, that unless you’re out there failing on a boatload of stuff, you’re playing Russian Roulette if you think you’re gonna hit “5” with only a handful of scents.
So anyway, here is what Turin and Sanchez have to say about VWFM:
Vera Wang for Men (Vera Wang) * soapy nightmare
Smells like something that might be called Mountain Glen, which you’d plug into a wall socket. LT
Definitely not high praise. In fact, although funny, it is downright snarky. But the moment I read “soapy nightmare“, I knew exactly what it was that it smelled like. Soap. And with that hint, later in the day, I was able to recall where I had smelled it before. Estée Lauder Pleasures For Men. In fact, except for some faint notes that I prefer in VWFM, the two fragrances smell damn near identical to me. And, while the original Pleasures feminine got five stars from T&S, the masculine got only three.
Now, here’s where the beauty of this book comes in. The entry for Pleasures (feminine) goes into the entire “soap as fine fragrance” subplot of fragrance history, giving Pleasures the big five for being the groundbreaker. You can see where PFM got only three for being a masculine flanker, and VWFM got only one for being an imitator.
So – if VWFM and PFM are pretty much the same thing (to my sense of smell), do they really deserve a difference in ratings?
Hey – you know what? It’s all personal, in the end. That’s the great thing about fragrance. It’s like literature. I think that some of the best things ever written were either (1) haiku, or (2) “winku“, wherein people trashed my favorite operating system (Windows) in haiku. Some of the latter are hilariously and compactly funny, just as real haiku hit you like a single drop of blood on snow:
With searching comes loss
And the presence of absence:
“My Novel” not found.
Nobody is getting a prize for that one, but it will always remain one of my favorite bits of literature in the English language. I don’t even know who in the hell wrote it. And it’s fiction anyway. Windows has pulled my writing out of the digital fire so many times, it’s not funny. I trust my words to no other software. Like all literature, it has to be read in historical context.
My wife really likes Vera Wang For Men. In fact, she’s the one who bought me Pleasures For Men after a field test, so it’s no wonder. I like VWFM, too, although not nearly as much as my “woods”. And my son? He wanted to know what it was like, so I spritzed some and he did a walk-through. Unfortunately, with his mouth open. (Kids. They just seem to learn best by trial and error, don’t they?) And, in his opinion, Vera Wang For Men tastes like shampoo. I think I’ll remember that.
Which brings me back to Vera Wang. This exceptionally classy woman said something really cool in her interview. When asked why she was so successful, she basically said it was because she failed at a bunch of other stuff first. And THAT is what I want her to do. I want her to fail at a whole bunch of masculines. I want her to start cranking out novel flankers and hip shots-in-the-dark like there’s no tomorrow. Because I’m positive that she’s gonna create a classic if she sticks with it. I want to see Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez fighting over who gets to do the 1-page, 5-star write-up for the Vera Wang scent that blows away the crowd.
Think it won’t happen? Think again. I mean, after all. We’re talking about Vera Wang.