Lost olfactory treasure from the 1940s, vintage essences, and an ancient recipe lie at the heart of a modern fragrance centered around a duet of lavender and leather. Cologne Reloaded takes the cornerstones of a very traditional barbershop fougère, and juxtaposes its cleanness with darkness, blackened leather, smoky resins, and a touch of musky dirtiness. The result is classicism with a twist and an elegant fragrance with a rather sensual drydown.
Cologne Reloaded is a 2013 eau de parfum from Bogue Profumo (hereinafter just “Bogue“), an Italian artisanal perfume house founded by Antonio Gardoni. On his website, Mr. Gardoni describes the fascinating story behind its creation. In a nutshell, an antique dealer told him about 40 bottles of raw essences and perfume preparations from an old pharmaceutical laboratory. The vintage materials dated back to the 1940s! The dusty bottles had been hidden away and forgotten in a dark cupboard of an underground warehouse, but they were still sealed, somehow unaffected by heat, and very well-preserved. You can see them below in the photo. (Isn’t it the coolest thing?!) Accompanying them was a fragrance mixture for something called “Cologne of Esperis,” complete with the original recipe and the dosage amounts for preparing an eau de cologne.
Mr. Gardoni started experimenting. As he explains on his website, he “mixed the ingredients following the instructions glued to the bottle for all the 5 different cologne variations with some very interesting results, full of granddad memories and old barbershop’s flavor.” He fell in love with the results in such a way that he decided to “exploit this treasure in order to create a completely new contemporary perfume.” He used the vintage materials, but increased the concentration from 4% to 15%, making the fragrance an eau de parfum instead of cologne, and added to this base “a mix of contemporary new materials”:
- citruses and lavender to enhance the classic cologne’s aromas
- styrax and resins to increase the persistency and the base notes
- natural castoreum to add an animal note
Mr. Gardoni found the effect to be so exciting and magical that he “decided to use the 90% of these old materials to produce 4 liters of perfume aged in a small juniper wood barrel.” The result is Cologne Reloaded.
According to Luckyscent, the complete note list is:
Lavender, bergamot, rosemary, thyme, neroli, bitter orange, tangerine, styrax, juniper, cypress, cedar wood, birch tar, castoreum, labdanum amber, musk and leather
Cologne Reloaded opens on my skin with a burst of multi-faceted lavender. It is fresh, clean, and aromatic, but it is also dried, herbaceous, slightly medicinal, and also slightly redolent of the more delicate blossoms as well. Underlying its many layers are: tarry birch that smells leathery and camphorous, followed by a eucalyptus aroma, castoreum muskiness, smoky styrax, and neroli. The latter is interesting because it feels both green, crisp, sweet, aromatic, and slightly piquant, as though the bitter oils of the rind were blended with fuzzy, peppered greenness like that of geranium leaves.
The whole thing feels like a juxtaposition of contrasting elements. On the one hand, you have a very aromatic, clean bouquet that is clearly a classical fougère with its lavender, herbaceous and fresh tonalities. On the other, you have significantly darker streaks that are musky, animalic, smoky, leathered, and dirty. It’s a very modern chiaroscuro play on light, as well as the paradox of clean with dirty.
Yet, from afar, the main paradigm in the opening moments is of a barbershop scent dominated by lavender. The leather is a secondary touch at first, as are the dark, smoky, tarry, or resinous elements. The neroli is even more insubstantial, and hovers on the sidelines where it is joined after 5 minutes by a quiet touch of soapiness that underscores the perfume’s very clean profile. Up close, the individual layers are much more noticeable, but Cologne Reloaded is a very well-blended scent as a whole and many of the notes overlap. Sometimes, it’s a little too hazy, leaving an impression of simple aromatics with a slightly medicinal undertone that is also very tarry.
Roughly 15 minutes in, Cologne Reloaded begins to shift. The leather and neroli both become stronger, and now share center stage with the lavender. As the minutes tick by, the birch feels oilier and even more tarry; the castoreum turns up several notches in volume, emitting a more pronounced muskiness; the styrax grows smokier; and the resinous blackness underlying the scent starts to seep all over the purple flowers. Cologne Reloaded is beginning to feel like a more herbaceous, aromatic, cleaner cousin to Andy Tauer‘s very smoky, birch-ladened, leathery Lonestar Memories. The difference is that Cologne Reloaded has neroli instead of sticky orange, more soapy cleanness, less sweetness, a pronounced touch of animalic castoreum musk, and that substantial infusion of very fougère lavender blanketing it all.
At the 30-minute mark, Cologne Reloaded suddenly turns ambered, warm, and sweeter in nature, as the labdanum surges up from the base. In conjunction with the castoreum, it transforms Cologne Reloaded into a golden lavender-leather scent with velvety musks. The birch continues to be tarry; the lavender maintains its medicinal, herbal nuances; the neroli is still zesty and a little bitter; and the styrax is still puffing away smoke. Yet, Cologne Reloaded somehow feels completely different from the early moments where it was a vision of aromatic herbs and crisp freshness with a touch of soapy cleanness. Now, everything is softer, sweeter, and more animalic, enveloped in a golden haze. It’s as though the amber has diffuses both the clean and dirty elements, acting like a bridge that merges them together in equal balance.
Cologne Reloaded continues on this path for the next two hours without any substantial change, until about 2.5 hours into its development when it begins to transition. First, the fragrance turns significantly creamier in the base. At the same time, the tarry leather weakens and starts to change character. At times, it feels as though the entire fragrance is centered on creamy suede that is lightly flecked with the remnants of birch, along with lavender, and a wisp of castoreum skank. On other occasions, however, Cologne Reloaded continues to be a leather-lavender duet, infused by velvety, less animalic muskiness. The other notes are beginning to alter course as well. The neroli and citric freshness disappear, while the lavender’s herbal, sometimes medicinal, profile is also weakening. Increasingly, the note smells like simple, fresh, aromatic floralcy instead.
Slowly, Cologne Reloaded’s focus starts to move away from the lavender and towards the leather. As a whole, its main bouquet at the end of the 3rd hour and the start of 4th is centered upon a multi-faceted leather-suede combination that is laced with abstract, sweet lavender, as well as small streaks of smoke, tar, and velvety musk. The whole thing rests upon a creamy base in a swirling cocoon of soft, golden warmth. The 5th hour marks the introduction of a light powderiness that is almost more of a granulated texture, like tonka but not quite.
Cologne Reloaded turns into a bit of a chameleon at this point. To my surprise, both the leather and the lavender seem to fluctuate in intensity; every time I thought one of them has faded and finally died away, it reappears. At one point, I was sure that the creamy suede had taken over; then, it felt as though the animalic castoreum had become the most prominent element and that the lavender had completely vanished. Yet, in my 2nd test, I could have sworn that Cologne Reloaded smelt primarily of lavender-licorice at this same point in time. In my 3rd one, there was more castoreum than leather, no lavender, and a eucalyptus note instead of tar. There were also tiny wisps of vanilla and something green or foresty like pine. I suspect the latter touch came from the juniper vats in which the perfume was macerated. The bottom-line is that Cologne Reloaded’s nuances never seems to be the same thing twice on my skin during this phase, sometimes even from one minute to the next.
The one thing that is constant and certain is Cologne Reloaded’s drydown. In essence, it turns into “my skin but better”: sweet, musky, clean, aromatic, golden, warm and sprinkled with a trace of the finest powder. It’s appealing in a way that I can’t really explain or describe properly, and I find it compulsively sniffable despite being a sheer, gauzy wisp. Cologne Reloaded dies away in much the same way, centered on the scent of golden, warm, lightly musky skin.
Cologne Reloaded is a much less voluminous scent in terms of both sillage and body than its glorious, fierce sibling, Maai, and it also has just moderate longevity on my skin. When I used about 3 good spritzes from my mini-atomizer, Cologne Reloaded started with only 2-3 inches of projection, then dropped down to 1.5 inches at the end of the first hour. The perfume turned into a skin scent on me at the 2.5 hour mark, though it wasn’t hard to detect up close for a little while. All in all, it lasted 8.75 hours. When I used a greater quantity, amounting to about 2.5 hearty sprays from a bottle, my longevity numbers were extended by roughly 1 to 1.25 hours, but the sillage was better but still average as a whole.
As a whole, I liked Cologne Reloaded, particularly during the middle and final phases. I think it’s a much lighter, safer, easier, and more approachable scent than Maai, but it’s also not as dramatic, bold, interesting, or complex. Still, Maai is hardly an everyday perfume that one can simply put on and enjoy without thought; it’s a very challenging fragrance. I mean that as a compliment, and I’m completely blown away by Maai which I think is one of the best fragrances I’ve tried this year, but I think there is little question that Cologne Reloaded is more versatile and friendly. It takes a very classical genre, then puts a modern twist on it for a seamless, refined, sometimes hazy bouquet that feels extremely wearable. It’s the sort of elegant fragrance that both men and women could easily pull off in a variety of different contexts in daily life. I don’t think the same holds true for Maai.
On Fragrantica, there are only two reviews thus far for Cologne Reloaded, both of which discuss the fragrance’s animalic “aura” after its very classical, clean beginning. They read, in relevant part, as follows:
- A classic masculine cologne on steroids. A hyper-concentrated mix of herbal lavender, citrus and smoky notes laying on a bold / animalic castoreum / resinoid base. The fragrance feels incredibly aromatic and and old-school while, at the same time, showing traces of modern perfumery. Simple yet multifaceted, daring yet somewhat old-fashioned, rustic while feeling extremely detailed at the same time.[…][¶] Rating: 7/10
- A very interesting fragrance…very bold and soapy at beginning, I can’t detect any notes at this moment. Later I can feel herbal lavender, an animalic aura shows up, in a very appealing way. If you like Mouchoir du Monsieur, may you like this, but it’s richier than Guerlain, more complex. Seems it came from 30’s. Dense, ultra-longlasting, soft powdery on basenotes, the best soapy smell I’ve smelled. It’s not a sunny cologne, it’s more like a skin covered with soap. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
Basenotes‘ entry for Cologne Reloaded also has two reviews. One is the same comment quoted from Fragrantica, while the other is a more detailed analysis from “Darvant.” He seems to have experienced a significantly more animalic version of the scent, though he too brings up such classics as Mouchoir de Monsieur:
Huge, immense neo-classic animalic cologne revisiting in to a more modern “up-graded” key a classic concept of soapy-waxy aldehydic and animalic gentleman cologne a la Balenciaga Portos, Monsieur Rochas, Arrogance Pour Homme, Fougere Royale, Mouchoir de Monsieur and further. The aroma is by soon dirty, powerfully soapy-detergent, woodsy resinous, radiant-aldehydic, herbal-aromatic and deeply hesperidic with a laundry-orangy/lemony uriney undertone a la Vero Profumo Onda Extrait (it happens also with the more floral and sensual MAAI). What I mostly detect in the air is an hesperidic cocktail combined with castoreum, honey, aromatic patterns, pine resins and talky amber. I wonder if powdery and exotic floral-spicy patterns are combined in the recipe (iris, cinnamon, ylang-ylang??). The Cologne Reloaded’s animalic soul elicits in the central and final phase all its powder with a carnal and organic-talky abyss of castoreum, wax, cleaning room foam-like soapiness, honey, amber, oakmoss and woodsy resins. The aroma is full of nuances, so radiant and shadowy at once, so aldehydic and balmy, so hesperidic and contemporary almost vanillic. Yes, the recipe seems effectively traditional and almost “pharmaceutically” appointed with classic craft tools and “grandfather’s” raw materials. The elicited aura is supremely classic, forbidding and distinguished with a sort of barber-shop spark and the old-school laundry chypre moss-castoreum-honey final agreement. Absolutely enchanted by the Mr Antonio Gardoni’s masterworks. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
All this discussion of classical men’s fragrances shouldn’t deter women who enjoy more aromatic scents. Yes, there is a barbershop element at first, and yes, Cologne Reloaded starts with the template of a traditional aromatic fougère, but it doesn’t stay that way. If you enjoy lavender — in all its facets, from the herbal to the clean — I don’t think Cologne Reloaded would feel too intensely masculine. The castoreum, leather and, in particular, the amber all work to prevent that over the long-term, and to provide a unisex touch.
For those of you who loathe lavender, let me just say that I share your pain. In fact, as regular readers know, I am a lavender-phobe and there are very few fragrances with the note that I can handle. So perhaps it will reassure you if I say that, generally, I didn’t find the lavender in Cologne Reloaded to be a problem. It didn’t go too far in that regard, at least not for too long. Still, I have to admit that Cologne Reloaded isn’t something I would wear myself. It’s too clean and aromatic at first, and I prefer my lavender to be thoroughly subdued by amber, tonka, patchouli, or some other warming note that more or less eradicates the loathsome plant’s true characteristics. That didn’t really happen here to the degree that I personally would need in order to wear Cologne Reloaded for myself. (Lavender… ruining otherwise great fragrances for me, 30 years and counting.)
For everyone else, if you’re looking for an elegant blend of the clean and dirty, leather and aromatic, musk and skin, then you should give Cologne Reloaded a sniff. It’s nicely done.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.