Perry Ellis is a fashion designer known mainly for other product lines besides fragrances. The company has achieved some success in the men’s fragrance market by selling products like Perry Ellis 360, a fragrance that was a citrus / fresh / aquatic, kind of similar to Armani’s Acqua Di Gio, but at a much cheaper price. Though much appreciated by value conscious shoppers, such work did not generally pique the interest of the small set of semi-professional fragrance reviewers and bloggers.
(Luca Turin, in his by now iconic “Perfumes” guide does not mention anything by Perry at all.) Even in BaseNotes, a somewhat uncritical source of amateur reviews, Perry Ellis was liked rather than loved. But from obscure Corsica, cannot a Napoleon arise? Maybe, but not that often!
I was recently given a free sample of “Perry Ellis Red” for review, which is a Spring 2016 release. Note this is not the same fragrance as Perry Ellis “360 Degrees Red,” an older, less expensive product in the line. For a fragrance from a relatively unknown house, I was impressed, especially with how PE manages to chart a careful course between originality and “derivativeness,” and between subtlety and potency.
PE does not give us much of a history or concept here. We are told that Red is a “fresh, masculine scent that reflects the Perry Ellis man’s fearless confidence and sexy sophistication”. I would not go that far, and would call Red instead a workplace friendly scent that is not too radical; ironically enough, this one is for the dude who does not want to stand out too much (that fearless iconoclast would be wearing “Yatagan” or “Encre Noire”), someone who wants to smell pleasant without wrinkling any noses. Red nevertheless has a few interesting elements in its composition. (You can see why I’m not doing advertising copy writing: “For the man who wants to smell nice without offending anyone but who also wants to be a little bit interesting!” There’s a Clio winner for sure…)
I believe what the uncredited fragrance designer of Red was aiming for here was a sort of fusion of popular mid-range male fragrances, but in a way that addressed the quality and design issues of these other popular scents. In particular, I see elements of Nautica Voyage, and Dolce Gabbana Pour Homme.
The usual outcome of design by committee in an attempt to fuse together a mélange of competing products is not pretty, but in this particular case, Frankenstein’s monster turned out looking more like Robert De Niro than like Boris Karloff….
Let’s consider Red on it’s own, and then in comparison to its (possible) progenitors.
Scent Elements & Wearing Impressions
The manufacturer’s scent pyramid description on their website reads as follows:
An initial burst of juniper berries and a kick of citrus evolve into deeper notes of red apple, sichuan pepper, red leather, and amber. The addictive trail of the fragrance infuses textured hints of sage, creamy oak moss, and sandalwood revealing a fearless confidence and a sexy sophistication.
Initial application gives a noticeable burst of bergamot, a sharp, citrus scent like bitter orange. If you pay attention, you can smell rapidly fleeting juniper berries, which recalls Drakkar Noir, if only briefly. The juniper in DN stayed around for a much longer while and was widely viewed as being overdone, but don’t worry, Dragon Boat haters, the juniper here is tasteful, moderate, and very brief.
The bergamot, though, like student loan debt, will stay with you for a very long time, but, unlike student loan debt, is very pleasant, assuming you a) like citrus and b) don’t require your citrus scent to be sickeningly sweet. We can really call the bergamot more of a heart note rather than a mere top note, as, though diminished over time, it lasts for hours.
Heart notes formally cited by the maker (i.e not the bergamot) to my nose are mainly apple, with a very slight pepper note, certainly not as prominent as Marc Jacobs’ “Bang”. This is a mild pepper of very tame spiciness. The apple note is well done, being somewhat realistic and neither synthetically metallic nor overly sweet.
The first bit of marketing hype we will dispatch here is the “red apple” verbiage. If PE means to suggest that red apples are sweet rather than tart, they’ve never had a Golden Delicious apple, which is very sweet, and also distinctly non-red in coloration. And can one really smell the difference between tart and sweet synthetic apple accord anyway? But, in any case, there is a perceptible level of apple here, and it is sweet enough, though not too sweet.
Next on the chopping block of marketing hyperbole elimination is the “Sichuan pepper”. At least they didn’t call them “Szechuan”, but the truth is pepper scent is pepper scent, and does not carry any inflection of Chinese cuisine or geography. As mentioned, these peppers are pretty wimpy, so if Perry wants us to think Sichuan equals hot, that effect is not present.
A sad surprise for leather fans: I smelled no leather in here, red or otherwise. I question what effect PE is trying to achieve with “red” leather (dynamic? gaudy? exciting?) but any leather scent (at least as defined in my scent palette, which runs a gamut from Bulgari Black to Knize 10) is AWOL. This is fine, very few noses are keen enough to scent every element of a described scent pyramid, so maybe there is some leather in here which my pedestrian proboscis just ain’t perceiving…
Amber? Yes, a moderate balanced amber is in here. offset nicely by the lingering bergamot. This is not the spiced amber of Ambre Sultan nor the powerful, complex amber of Ambre Precieux, but amber is not intended to be the centerpiece of the fragrance, so that is fine. What amber is here is perceptible for a pretty long time, and is well executed and balanced.
As for base notes, the only one I can smell is the sandalwood, a creamy, sweet (obviously artificial) sandalwood, but one that works well with amber. The “creamy oak moss” supports the sandalwood but is not too distinctive, and the sage is only very marginally present in my perception. The amber is the real star of the base notes, again lasting longer than its technical designation as a heart note would indicate.
Getting any decent oak moss smell in fragrances these days is really hard, as the real stuff has to be heavily and expensively processed to be used, and a “mere” $65 list fragrance is not going to have such rare and costly stuff. The “creamy oakmoss” mentioned is probably an inexpensive synthetic simulator without much presence.
Some real oak moss would have been welcome here (however improbable its presence would be) as Red could use some darker, moodier tones to ground it. The bergamot, sandalwood, and amber I scent as predominant definitely make this an adult scent, no “fresh” or “marine” elements stinking up the place like Axe body wash, and the tart long lasting citrus balances out the sweeter amber and sandalwood pretty nicely throughout, but this is a happy, cheerful fragrance, if not a simple or stupid one.
Dirty Harry or Batman would not wear this one, but a cheerful, confident, optimistic guy who’s not much of a deep thinker might, say like Ned Flanders or Jay from “Modern Family.”
Is this sexy? I dunno. If you view “sexy” as conveying dark mystery, then nope, If you think sexy is a balanced mix of attractive, accessible scents, this will work for that purpose. Citrus and sweet in an interesting balanced mix is what we have here, along with some interesting transient guests like apple, juniper, and pepper.
As mentioned above, I feel that Red succeeds in synthesizing the strengths of several other fragrances while mitigating their failings to some extent. Let me now compare Red to some of its “inspirations.…”
(Perry Ellis Red: http://www.basenotes.net/ID26148437.html)
Dolce Gabana Pour Homme (1994): http://www.basenotes.net/ID26120463.html
We are told by the long term fans of this frag that it once was immensely complex and sophisticated and has only recently (last 7 or 8 years) been ruined by reformulation. I can’t speak to that, as I only own a bottle of relatively recent vintage (2012 or so) and can only relate how that one smells.
“Powerful yet cheap” is how I would describe modern DGPH. A really sharp citrus note dominates for many hours, pushing all other elements to the distant rear. The citrus here is complex at least, featuring bergamot, neroli, orange, and lemon, but all that synthetic citrus scent just makes the scent sharp and pungent. Like Red, the citrus is far more than just a top note, but unlike Red, you wish the citrus in DGPH would go away and stop shouting at you.
Besides surprisingly powerful and long lasting citrus (especially the bergamot and neroli), DGPH has an alarmingly powerful and synthetic smelling lavender note in its heart, with a bit of pepper barely perceptible, The pepper is also smelled in Red, but thankfully the bad lavender is discarded in favor of a far more pleasing apple accord.
Finally, the base of DGPH (when you can eventually smell it over the citrus and bad lavender, many hours in) is more woody than Red and kind of almondy vanilla, and again manages to be both really artificial and unpleasant, but this time in a cheap smelling sweet way instead of a cheap smelling sharp way.
So Red goes with a citrus top that unexpectedly lasts long enough to be called a heart note, like DGPH, but the simpler mix Red uses also smells much nicer and less cheap. Red also avoids lavender and adds the crisp apple scent instead, a nice move, and then uses amber, sandalwood, and oakmoss in the base, and avoids the cedar and coumarin that give DGPH its unpleasant crudity during dry-down.
If you like DGPH, but want something smelling a bit less artificial and with a nicer dry-down, you will like Red. Even if you hate DGPH, you might like Red for its simpler and more elegant mix, that is less eye wateringly pungent. Indeed the only real strength DGPH has compared to Red is its more vigorous projection and silage and somewhat lengthier longevity.
DGPH’s other strength is in its cheaper price point, but we will get to that subject eventually in a later section. As for my utilization choices, whenever I put on DGPH, I imagine myself smelling like Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever” smelled and I generally want to avoid that olfactory impression, so my bottle of DGPH is gathering dust in the back of a closet, while Red is still on top of my dresser.
Nautica Voyage (2006): http://www.basenotes.net/ID26125229.html
Famously designed by Maurice Roucel, who had done some better stuff for Hermes, Bond No.9, and Guerlain before designing this stuff, and would go on to at least a few better things afterwards for Amouage and Malle, Voyage is controversial, with Luca Turin giving this TJ Maxx cheapie 4 of 5 stars and many others (including myself) wondering whether Mr. T had a bad head cold during that particular evaluation period.
Voyage presents with light citrus and soon moves into a very apple centric note accord in its heart. There is also a prominent melon scent, and some minor (to my nose) aquatic notes that other reviewers feel are dominant in early development. There supposedly are floral notes somewhere in the heart according to Mr. Turin and some Basenotes reviews, but I never smelled anything floral in here. (I have another pretty recent bottle here, so maybe it was reformulated at some point.)
The similarities here are the apple and the amber / oak moss base. Red uses those same notes to more pleasant effect, as the Perry Ellis apple scent element is far better done, and PE also foregoes the overdone melon and chucks in more noticeable citrus and pepper instead. To me, Red is more realistic in its scent emulation (especially the apple) and also Red has far better longevity and projection, easily twice as much as Voyage.
Considering the immense price difference (currently) one is not surprised that Red smells better and lasts longer, but, as with DGPH, to me the difference between Voyage and Red is “don’t wear / wear”. The cloying fake apple scent in Voyage repels me, the ho hum melon smell has been overdone by every fragrance maker, especially those at lower price points, and the Old Spice duration (i.e really brief) makes it useless to me.
Ok, back to our formal evaluation of PE Red!
The citrus hangs around for at least 2-4 hours and is joined by a hint of pepper. The apple accord is good for roughly 2 hours and fades as the base notes make themselves known. The scent becomes mostly a skin scent (i.e. very limited projection and silage after hour 3-4.
In hours 4-8, the citrus is mostly absent, and Red turns sweeter, though not cloyingly so. Amber and sandalwood are prominent, and the apple is gone. The sage base note to me appears entirely absent, and the synthetic oakmoss replacer is pleasant enough, but quite under-powered.
Not more than 8 hours as a close range skin scent, about half that duration as an intimate radius scent.
Never quite hits the powerhouse level. Maybe 2-3 feet max radius, short term silage. Short longevity even for this low powered performance, rapidly becoming extremely short ranged as well. Still, not unusual for fragrances of its type.
Quality of Ingredients
Impressive for its price point. The bergamot emulator, though not stunningly realistic, is far better than most, as is the apple note, which can be very challenging for frag makers to do adequately. The amber and oak moss are not exactly Bogue or even Lutens class, but they do their job well enough. The sandalwood and juniper notes are dead average in quality and performance.
I would like to have smelled the leather and sage more in the composition and presume they are lacking because of quality issues, as cheap leather emulator is too pungent and good quality leather scents can cost a lot, so the absence of simulated dead cow is very forgivable. The apparent absence of sage a bit less so…
Appropriate Usage Environment
This is another great workplace scent, assuming stodgy old Mr. Scrooge won’t fire you because you smell like apples for a couple hours. The citrus / amber dominance in this scent makes it very workplace acceptable, and although you will not stand out for uniqueness or splendor, you also will not repulse or alarm.
For casual social settings, this also seems like a fine choice. For romance though, this strikes me as a bit tame and understated, and will probably smell a bit too similar to other frags your inamorata has smelled before, so you might want to dig down into your frag depth chart a bit for those special occasions. (Or not; some women like fairly tame and predictable scents on their guys. Your call, lads!)
Manly?: Citrus equals manly, and as there is so much citrus here, I will say this one ranks high on the Chuck Norris scale. The amber and pepper are a tad more unsexing, but these notes are either not too noticeable (the latter) or become prominent only after the fragrance has already become a skin scent (the former). I think you can safely wear this to the mechanical bull riding contest, but maybe you urban cowboys would be better off with Polo, especially if you want folks to smell you as you are hurled through the air when you lose your grip on RoboSteer….
At $65, this is a challenge for me to recommend. For half that price or less, you can get stuff like Grey Flannel or Encre Noire, and for roughly that same price, you could get Eau Sauvage or Polo. But then again for 50% more, you could also buy utter shite like Sauvage (note the absent “Eau” and the presence of Johnny Depp…) so I think the current price point reflects the fact that fragrances are rather unrealistically priced when initially released and when availability is limited, and that prices can and do fall over time. Comparing the price of brand new Red to the 40 year old product line of Grey Flannel is just a case of apples and oranges.
I’ll put it this way; if you would consider buying a newly released fragrance at all, Red is a good bargain. If you want to build a fragrance collection with maximum bang for the buck, Red would probably not be your choice.
I was impressed with this one and ended up liking it more than I thought. It’s as if you were a teacher grading term papers, and a kid you thought was very average gave you a well reasoned and carefully argued paper, well supported by facts. His interpretations are not stunning genius level work, but you admire the care he used in putting together a well crafted piece of work, that avoids outright plagiarism while synthesizing good quality concepts from some standard sources.
More impressively, the term paper does nothing wrong; no obvious offenses against grammar or logic, not too brief, not too strongly opinionated. That student should probably get at least a B+ or maybe even an A- for his effort if you were feeling kindly and / or liked one of the cited sources quite a bit.
Red is not a work of olfactory design genius, but it is well done, and is a pretty versatile and pleasant scent. I would call it Perry Ellis’ best male fragrance by far, and also their least derivative and highest quality example of that genre. Recommended!
Red is available from the company’s website, and from Macy’s.