The Shaving Cream Conundrum, Part II – and a mini-review of Guerlain Rose Barbare

It’s me.

Isn’t it?

I mean, it has to be. No one else is complaining.

It’s me.

There is either something about my skin, or something about my nose, that turns perfectly nice fragrances into the smell of shaving cream. I ranted about this phenomenon way back in the fall, and I’m not going to rant again, but I just don’t get it.

It happened again today.

You might already know of my love for rose chypres, given how I natter on about L’Arte di Gucci and PdE Eau Suave and Ungaro Diva and how wonderful Knowing parfum was for two hours before the Evil Lauder Base sent its throttling tendrils up to nauseate me. I even liked Rose de Nuit pretty well, although its weird chewy texture sort of freaked me out. You know how certain types of cheeses and dried-up marshmallows (don’t ask me how I know this) just squeak in your teeth when you bite them? Rose de Nuit squeaks.

So I was thrilled to receive a swap parcel with a sample vial of Guerlain Rose Barbare, from the niche-y L’Art et la Matiere line (as always, please ‘scuse the lack of diacriticals). Word on this one went like this: “ambery rose,” “dark thorny rose,” “modern chypre with rose,” “Mitsouko with rose instead of peach.” And I thought, “Ooooh, a rose Mitsouko, maybe I’d like that. And look, it’s composed by Francis Kurkdjian, he of the stunning, sexy, modern rose chypre Lumiere Noire Pour Femme!”

Guerlain’s description of Rose Barbare: “a heady, incisive Ottoman rose (aldehydes) over a modern structure of honey-chypree notes”.  You’d think they’d be more forthcoming, instead of insulting potential customers by not bothering to tell them what’s in it, but no. That’s all you get in the way of notes: rose, aldehydes, honey, and chypre (bergamot, labdanum, patchouli and something mossy-ish, I’m guessing, in the manner of modern chypres).

I dabbed Rose Barbare onto my wrists Tuesday afternoon and went to pick up Bookworm from track practice, a twenty-minute trip. And things started out well: clearly a beautiful high quality rose ingredient here, framed in some nice green stuff that seems to be mostly patchouli of the kind I tolerate well, all grassy and herbal. But within fifteen minutes, I was getting shaving cream. And it stayed shaving cream for the next five hours, too.

There’s no getting around it: it’s shaving cream. I stuck my wrist under Gaze’s nose and asked what he smelled.  Separately, I asked Bookworm.  They both identified it immediately, without any hints.  And let me be perfectly honest here, I think shaving cream smells great. It’s a smell I find extremely pleasant on a man. Fougeres tend to remind me of shaving cream – I assume that’s a trickle-down effect, by the way: a body care product picking up the smell of fine fragrance. And I don’t want to belabor the point here when other scent bloggers have addressed the issue of gender in fragrance so well and thoroughly,1 but I don’t want to smell like shaving cream! It’s a smell so clearly identified with men in my mind that wearing it on my person feels like wearing men’s underwear when I’m not one: clearly it doesn’t fit me. It chafes.

There are other accords that bother me: the cloying yet dusty Coco-Opium-Cinnabar-Youth Dew-Stetson-Tabu tolu balsam + patchouli accord; the depressing soapiness of orange blossom; the flat, chemical cleaning-products accord I sometimes get from linden and/or muguet notes; the musty-basement thing I can’t quite pin down, but seems related to carrot seed, or iris, or powdery violet; and whatever it is in that dang Lauder base, and in SSS Vintage Rose, that makes me want to toss my cookies. It’s only ToluPatch and Lauder that are bad enough to force me to scrub – the others I struggle through rather than washing off.

I’m not a big fan of citrus, classical colognes, or what Robin at NST calls “wood pudding scents,” (search there for more info) either, but that’s a boredom issue, not a sanity issue.

It’s only the dreaded shaving cream accord that rouses my righteous ire this way, and I think that’s because I tend to avoid the other accords, which is pretty easy. It says “Lauder” right there on the bottle. Ergo, avoid. No prob. The scent description says “balsamic oriental”? I know it’s not for me. The fragrance is focused on OB or linden or iris? Probably not gonna be my bag, I won’t bother with it. There are too many other scents I want to try anyway, I’m probably not missing much.

But shaving cream accord? There’s no warning for that. It always strikes out of flippin’ nowhere. In so-called feminine scents. There I am, all happy in a green garden full of rose bushes, and then suddenly I’m trapped in the enormous stadium-size nightmare barbershop maze. Grrrrrrrr. Before testing, I read five perfume blog reviews of Rose Barbare, with comments, as well as about 40 brief reviews on Fragrantica and Basenotes, and nowhere was there a complete list of the notes (I guess Guerlain didn’t release them) or a description of RB as being even vaguely fougere-y.

The short list of suspects for Shaving Cream Accord (hereafter, SCA) are as follows: lavender, coumarin, and/or opoponax. I think further testing is in order – but if you happen to have any insights to share, I’d be ever so grateful.

A few other reviews of Rose Barbare:  Now Smell This, Bois de Jasmin, Aromascope, Perfume-Smellin’ Things, and Perfume Shrine.  See? Nobody says “shaving cream.”  Curses.  It’s me.

Top image is Barbershop pole from felixtcat at flickr; lower image is Rose Barbare from fragrantica.

1See this post and comments, and the follow-up post, at Grain de Musc and this one at Left Coast Nose, at minimum, for serious discussion on the subject that I frankly don’t have the cojones to address here. (Ha ha. Little gender humor there… of course, it’s a pun, which some people call the lowest form of humor.)


19 thoughts on “The Shaving Cream Conundrum, Part II – and a mini-review of Guerlain Rose Barbare”

  1. lol
    I’m not much into florals so your shaving cream description sounds exactly like the stuff I like. 🙂
    And I still don’t appreciate roses much unless they appear in oriental mixes.

    1. Ines – SIGH. Why is it we don’t get what we each want? Things would be so much easier…

      I love roses in pretty much anything, orientals included. I know that quite a number of people really dislike them, though.

  2. C- that is terrible for you! Shaving cream? Are you particularly sensitive to anything that smells like carnation or synth carnation or cloves? I always think that shaving cream smells like carnation, a la Old Spice or the original Barbasol. I like that smell in the shower (and if I occasionally put on Old Spice), but I too would be very disappointed if my spendy fragrances migrated down to that level.

    But I love that opoponax!!! Well, just one more thing you can cross off the list to free up funds for something else. What a bummer.

    On me Rose Barbare becomes this luscious, warm, patch-ambery rosy cashmere blanket. I like L’Arte better – I think RB is a blatant knockoff of it – with a dash of the kind of adehyde and patch that is in Noir Epices.

    1. Ann, I like carnation. It can occasionally go a little soapy on me, but that’s a different smell entirely than the shaving cream thing.

      I dunno, might be the opoponax. Bleah. I mean, if that got listed in the notes, I might have a better idea – but so often when the dreaded SCA pops up, it’s out of nowhere.

      Noir Epices is nice… it’s not FBW for me, or even decant-worthy, but really lovely.

  3. Just goes to show that the jury is eternally out on the question of whether the same perfume can smell different on different people. The Turin/Sanchez guide on the whole seems to think not, but for most of us our intuition and experience shows that what is divine on me can be shaving cream – or worse! – on my friend. Have you tried lining up a friend who will agree to be sprayed with RB at the same time as you? And does it turn to shaving cream on paper?

    1. Anne, I was thinking this morning that both of those experiments might be worth doing. I think I’ll do the paper test this afternoon when I get home from work, and might be able to talk my sister into being my guinea pig – I know I’ll see her on Sunday. No one in my house wants to be a fragrance test subject…

      I suspect that Dr. Turin’s nose is sufficiently trained to be able to “smell through” skin differences, but unfortunately mine is not. Also, my sister smells divine in Coco Mlle, while it’s just awful on everybody else I’ve ever smelled it on.

  4. Hmmm.. Maybe Barbare =Barbershop =shaving cream?

    I’m sure that it doesn’t, but it would be nice if there was some type of signal for you. I’ll have to test my sample of Rose Barbare again when I get home tonight. I don’t remember it going shaving cream on me, but I don’t remember liking the drydown either. I really have to start taking notes in my perfume journal again. Sigh.

    I suppose that it stands to reason that Coco Mlle. must smell good on *someone* or they wouldn’t sell so much of it, but it smells absolutely vile on me – and I love regular Coco.

    1. Cynthia, I think that CM’s massive success is due to those very pretty floral topnotes. Unfortunately they depart in half an hour, leaving a very strange smelling fragrance indeed.

    2. BARBARE-shop! Too funny.

      A stunning number of things go shaving cream on me that I wouldn’t have expected to do that. Iris Pallida (sweaty to boot, completely horrid), Pilar & Lucy Tiptoeing Through Chambers of the Moon… wonder if there’s an amber constituent that’s bothering me?

      Coco Mlle must smell good on some people, but on most of the people I notice wearing it, it’s very harsh. I blame advertising: they want luxe, they want the Chanel name, they want “mysterious” (which it is, I’ll give it that) and “modern” at the same time. That rules out both No. 5 and Coco. Chance is too girly and straightforward for the women who like CM, and Cristalle too brisk. Wonder if the average CM buyer would go for 31 RC if it were more widely available?

      1. 31RC is divine – my decant is almost gone, so I’m thinking that I’ll probably spring for the big, honking 200ml bottle in the fall. It’s between 31RC and Bois des Iles, so I’ll have to think on it some more before deciding for sure – probably 31RC though, it was my go-to comfort scent last winter.

        Okay – I’m thinking that I only sniffed Rose Barbershop in the vial before and tried Cuir Beluga on skin because it pretty much went straight to soap and then shaving cream. While I do enjoy a good masculine and adore C&S No. 88 and even Dirty English – I don’t want to smell like shaving cream either.

        Maybe I can get the CEO to give up his beloved Drakkar Noir and try a bit of this though – only if he doesn’t know that it contains rose. If he knows the name, I’ll be doomed to failure ahead of time.

      2. I like both of those and have a decant of each. Looks like my BdI is slightly more used, but that’s probably because the Exclusifs version of it seems thin to me unless I spritz way more than usual. My sample of BdI from TPC had so much more body.

        If you still have your RB, would you test it on your skin and see what you get? There’s no guarantee that you’d smell all that shaving cream… you might get honeyed amber.

        Wish my CEO would wear No. 88… although I do like Drakkar Noir as well. (DN doesn’t smell as deep as it used to, either – I bought a small travel size for my brother in law for Christmas, and it wasn’t quite as swoony as I remember it being.)

      3. That was on skin – I meant that I must not have put it on skin the last time that I sniffed it. I put it on last night and it was very soapy followed with shaving cream – I kept trying to sniff past it to smell amber and honey – but nothing.

        I ended up trying to scrub it off (of course, it wouldn’t to) and when I climbed into be, the CEO sniffed and said “did you use my shaving gel?” Eek!

        I actually like Drakkar Noir on him – he doesn’t overapply and it reminds me of when we first started dating and when we got married. I’d just like him to branch out a bit.

        I don’t hold high hopes though – he only wears one brand and style of jeans, too. And, when he finds a shirt that he likes, he’ll buy 10 in different colors.

  5. You mustn’t blame yourself, my dear! Guerlain is going downhill and there doesn’t seem to be much we can do to stop it 🙁
    “don’t have the cojones”… get thee to a punnery!

    1. Oh, you caught that. 😉

      A number of people I share tastes with really liked RB. They said “amber” and “honey” and “delicious,” and I JUST WANT WHAT THEY GOT. Pout pout pout.

      Now I’m wondering if there is a component of amber accords that strikes me as the shaving cream thing. That’s starting to make sense, since “amber” can be one or many of several different aromachemicals.

      1. One of the amber aromachems may indeed be your culprit as they are so common in many fragrances. I like amber in general and can’t say which chems are the ones that agree with me. But I do know that I am anosmic to isoEsuper which often throws fragrances way off balance for me.

      2. Ann, I often love amber and am frustrated that I never know exactly what variety of “amber” is going to show up! I love the round, rich burnt-sugar amber I get in 31RC, Attrape-Coeur, Alahine – and for that matter, whatever amber there is in Mitsouko is the only part of Mitsy that I really like. But the amber in Bois de Paradis was merely too sweet, not deep and lovely.

        Feminite du Bois fades out on me in the middle and then returns later, and Laurie Erickson suggested to me that I might be anosmic to IsoE Super as well.

  6. Barbare=Barber Shoppe– Me likey!

    I came across a comment Bloody Frida made elsewhere– when you say something smells like soap, the question becomes, which soap? There are simply so many we encounter in our lives.
    It’s the same thing with shaving cream– I have so many in mind. But the key elements to me are, without a doubt, lavendar, then rosemary and sage– all the woody herbs. Bee balm, which I conflate with opopomax, but I know they’re not the same things at all… Basically anything that smacks of fougere smells like shaving cream to me. There’s too much honey, roses, and soapy (!) musk in RB for me to travel where you’re going, Mals.

    But maybe there’s a shaving cream memory in your past somewhere that this hits squarely on, and no one can argue with that!

    1. I’m becoming surer than ever that it’s a component of so-called “amber” that’s shrieking SHAVING CREAM!! in my ear…

      Fougeres smell like shaving cream to me too. But at least I have warning with those – I tend to avoid lavender, and anything described as heavy on the opoponax (although some of my favorites contain it, and they’re not shaving cream…).

      My sister refused to test Rose Barbare-shop on her skin yesterday, so I’m stumped.

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