I suppose that going from the Donald Trump fragrances to Sean John’s line is a bit like jumping from the frying pan into the fire, but what the heck. Somebody has to tell the truth about Sean John 3AM (if not fragrance itself), and it might as well be me.
I have some experience in this regard.
When I first smelled Sean John 3AM, a new offering in the horrifying MACY*S (where Sean John fragrances are still not banned, most miraculously), I was definitely tempted to buy it. The thing is, I wasn’t really sure WHY I wanted to buy it. The fragrance smelled very clean – very fresh – and had extremely impressive topnotes. The thing is, I know the topnotes game – how fragrances are made with all the emphasis on captivating (and cheap) volatiles, with little substance underneath. The idea – quite simple.
ENCOURAGE THE IMPULSE BUY.
If anything, the opening of 3AM was simply too good to be true. So I walked away, but I remembered the scent, and I vowed to buy it someday – preferably when the price had dropped to discount levels.
The launch of 3AM was, apparently, in May of 2015 – almost exactly 2 years ago.
Flash forward to just a few weeks ago. I was wandering around in the duty-free, somewhere in exciting Europa, trying to find something worth buying on the spot. Something that not only smelled awesome, but was impossible to get in the States. Discovering YSL Kouros Silver among the offerings, I did a quick sniff, and realized that I loved it. But I also followed up with a quick internet search, and realized that I could buy the fragrance online, in America, for about half the price it was being offered in the duty free.
Delay of gratification. Standard, in the civilized world of this barbarian.
So eventually, it came time to make the online buy of Kouros Silver, and when I did, I decided to pick up something else that was also waiting patiently on the “buy” list – Sean John 3AM. Now available for prices in the range of $25 for 3.4 oz / 100 mL.
Now, if you’re somebody who ever owned any version of Dior Homme, you probably notice the similarity of 3AM‘s bottle to that of Dior Homme – especially the Sport versions, where CLEAR is the primary color motif. The only significant differences between the two bottles, other than the descender games, being the RED Sean John insignia forming the band round the neck, and the somewhat pixelated glass. Glass which allegedly shows the number “3” in some fashion. Some fashion which borders on pure suggestion, if you ask me.
Nevertheless, a very cool bottle. In a nice white box which – shockingly – looks a bit too much like the one for Dior Homme Sport 2012, apart from the big, red, lipstick-scrawl “3AM” on the front, in lieu of standard small RED lettering used for sport flankers.
You may notice that, rather than going bold with a black-encased tube descender, like Dior Homme, or a white descender cover like the cologne, 3AM goes the opposite way, transitioning to an almost perfectly invisible descender tube. The effect is impressive – it looks like the descender simply disappears about 5 mm down from the spray head. The fragrance itself is also perfectly clear, unlike the slightly golden-yellow Dior juice.
So what does the juice smell like? Well, to be honest, it smells like Sean John 3AM.
Allow me to explain.
When I first smelled 3AM, I wanted to say that it bore some resemblance to Creed Silver Mountain Water – itself a kind of “sport fragrance pretending not to be one“. There is a certain “ambroxan whistle”, obvious in the opening of 3AM, which is not unlike those in Creed Millesime Imperial and Silver Mountain Water, or the much louder Dior Sauvage. But on further reflection, this idea only fulfills a kind of fragrance-world prejudice – the suspicion that Sean John might follow a pattern of copying and derivatizing Creeds. Which, however, is a potentially valid idea, given the widely acknowledged similarity of Sean John Unforgivable to Creed Millesime Imperial. Indeed, Unforgivable actually benefits from the “useful rumor” that it is a cheaper (and potentially better) version of MI. Would that not work here, too?
Thankfully, rumors of the SWM-hood of 3AM are not to be found in the wild, so the fragrance stands on its own, Creed-wise. I shall not only resist the temptation to start another conspiracy theory, but shall actually throw some cold water on it.
“Follow the bottle”, as they say.
While I think that a simple sniff tells the difference between 3AM and Dior Homme Sport, I have to admit – the reason I’m loving 3AM right now is that it fits EXACTLY into my wardrobe, where the great Dior Homme Sport (2012 version) has been residing, all by itself, until now.
DHS 2012 toys with the iris of the DH line, as a form of homage, but it’s mostly a kind of grapefruit and ginger summer cologne concoction – very uplifting and cooling in the heat – and cheating on the cologne category by switching very cunningly into the persistence and longevity which only synthetics can offer.
Ignoring the prejudicial way that citrus topnotes are named to suggest anything but their state of industrial melange, the key to 3AM is the extreme and relative CLARITY of the citrus topnotes – matching the bottle and juice motifs, with nary an olfactory suggestion of where those topnotes come from.
Speaking merely of impressions, the grapefruit-ginger complex of DHS 2012 is replaced by bergamot-cardamom in 3AM. No iris to be found, although the powdery cool of cardamom fills a similar role in the ecosystem of notes and accords.
In the sparse component-world of sport fragrances, it is thus very clear that 3AM cannot be accused of any obvious copying from the JUICE of the DHS line, notwithstanding the fact that similar cooling fragrances have very obviously been done before.
Sean John 3AM drops back from its assertive opening to a kind of “skin scent plus” after that. It’s not exactly a skin scent, but all radiance is very subtle. Unlike the current “it scent”, Dior Sauvage, which is one of the most productive missionaries in Ambroxan’s Witnesses, the base radiance of 3AM is subtle, subtle, subtle. The cool, mildly spicy heartnotes of 3AM are not much bolder, either.
However, I must say in their defense, the middle and base notes of 3AM are incredibly natural. I can pile on 3AM every few hours, and it never builds up the kind of organically questionable beauty that DHS 2012 brings during a multi-layer, serial collection of “cologne shower” drydowns. 3AM stays playable over and over and over, simply building up the radiance of the naturally fresh basenotes in a very positive way.
In some ways, 3AM reminds me of Calvin Klein Crave – a beautiful but bizarre exoplanet citrus that transitioned from magnificent clarity to creepy synthiness in a single extra spray. The major differences between the two fragrances being more subtlety and naturalness in the opening of 3AM, and a safety design in the Sean John fragrance which never lets bad stuff happen if you apply too much.
All in all, a great summer fragrance that provides a cheap and satisfying alternative to the myriad of yearly offerings in standard “sport” fragrances, including your Dior Homme Sport. In my opinion, one MUST own DHS, if one enjoys anything resembling a real summer. However, if DHS variants and flankers aren’t giving you the variety you crave, consider adding 3AM as a kind of “Diddy flanker” to the DHS line.
Now – I still feel a need to talk about the whole “Diddy” thing because – at the absolute least – it shows in part why celebrity scents work so well, given that anti-celebrity in fragrance can immunize a significant portion of the population against ANY form of inducement to buy a fragrance.
However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the celebrity. Not only as Sean John has discovered, in chasing a loyal subset of the population with his fragrances, despite (if not because of) his bad-boy image which disaffects others. And not only as Donald Trump discovered, in getting elected on the collapse of Macy’s. Because – as Barbra Streisand discovered – one can even become eternalized as part of the lexicon, by succeeding at some form of celebrity failure.
But more to the point of my fellow perfumistae, I think the “Diddy effect” (which you will accept more than if I called it the Trump effect) makes mincemeat of the persistent and self-important denials by much of the fragrance community that it is in the slightest way influenced by things other than fragrance per se. Frankly, such assertions fall flat as a water balloon dropped from the Tower of Pisa. Sure, there is a bit of evaporative splatter, such as my fellow fragrant scientist Astaroth and yours truly, but it all disappears in the heat and the light, leaving anything cohesive to settle into flatness under the gravity of group opinion, the constant depending upon which gravity one chooses to embrace.
Sadly, I find myself in the company of only a few curmudgeons, cheapo-lovers, skew-noses, discount-vultures, and other olfactive misfits, most of whom, like me, were forced to abandon shill persona as a decider in fragrance, merely as a prerequisite to haunting our local Marshall’s in search of the FOMO holy grails which are the low-end gems.
But then there is nothing like asking the painfully hip art chick what amazing niche fragrance she is wearing, and learning that it came from the Paris Hilton collection, to break preconceptions in those who are willing to let their preconceptions be broken.
I’d rather not link the threads themselves, because I see little purpose in pointing out individual posters. Nevertheless, it is easily verified that “Diddy threads” on Basenotes have always been and continue to be subject to the same problems that we later saw with “Trump threads” – a tendency to draw venom from even the most unlikely Basenoters.
Some posters will admit to never sampling or buying adversarial scents on principle, and confess that they would reject any scent connected to certain people, even if the fragrance were magnificent. I can certainly respect this stance, and can even say that it is potentially more honorable and more ethical than my chosen path, which is to smell any scent, regardless of who flogs the frags to the public.
However, the more concerning case, for me, is the shockingly large set of people whose noses are clearly influenced by their like or dislike of people connected to the scent – yet who do not admit it, or even protest that they are uninfluenced, when it is painfully obvious that they have lost objectivity.
The fact that we are psychologically influenced toward or against scent, absent efforts to overcome subjective influence, makes sense, as fragrance is largely if not entirely associative at the most basic levels. Indeed, as I probe my own nervous system, using my delightfully faulty and over-amplified gift of low-level introspection, I get a rather scary sense that all notes are basically the same, and that we would be revolted by citrus and cooing at sulfides, were our biochemistry and ecosystem radically different, making carbon a sign of death, and sulfur a gift of life, all other basics of olfaction remaining unchanged at the middle-ware programmatic (but obviously not molecular) level.
I will even go so far as to say that allowing subjectivity to influence my fragrance experience is an important part of my enjoyment. Whether it is fragrance history, house image, celebrity positives, or group appreciation, I find that letting these things enhance the fragrance experience is highly desirable.
However, when it comes down to saying something about the raw induction of pleasure by a scent, or its communicative abilities, absent the immediate marketing, and acknowledging the work of the perfumers, or the perfumers they borrowed from, I find it crucial to step away from all the fluff, and concentrate on what it is about the scent itself that I find evocative or not, and likewise pleasing or displeasing. Even more to the point, I think that smaller statements about the construction of a scent need to be uninfluenced by the personality of who is hawking the juice. Sure, it may be fun to allude to somebody’s sex tapes as a metaphor for eye-raising levels of musk, but to trash a musky accord as poorly done in Skank Vixen‘s “barely in Sephora” release of Vampire Slut, when it is fairly clear that the same accord would be highly praised in the same perfumer’s night job as the author of Celine Artiste’s Super-Private Gallery of Eurissimo Oudhhhs, well, do the math.
Anyway, there you have it. J’accuse. Still waiting for the Washington Post celebrity fragrance Death in the Dark, to see if I need to j’accuse myself.