“His two battered suitcases came and he unpacked leisurely and then ordered from Room Service a bottle of the Taittinger Blanc de Blancs that he had made his traditional drink at Royale. When the bottle, in its frosted silver bucket, came, he drank a quarter of it rather fast and then went into the bathroom and had an ice-cold shower and washed his hair with Pinaud Elixir, that prince among shampoos, to get the dust of the roads out of it.” — James Bond checks in, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
I reckon I’ve made the joke often enough about Pinaud Elixir, that prince among shampoos, that I should probably write a little about it beyond its role as my go-to joke whenever I mention James Bond. Pinaud is a venerable men’s grooming company, having been established — if you believe the label — in 1810 by French perfumer Edouard Pinaud. But since Pinaud himself wasn’t born until sometime around that year, one assumes a bit of poetic license is being taken by the brand. Still, it’s been around for a long time. Pinaud opened his first shop in Paris in 1830, and in 1833 his “lilac vegetal” product became so popular with the Emperor Napoleon that the ruler had Pinaud appointed “Royal Parfumer,” and the company’s Lilac Vegetal after-shave became the official facial pick-me-up of the Hungarian cavalry. Never mind that Napoleon had died in 1821, and that Napoleon III, while alive at the time, wasn’t in France and didn’t have much of anything to do with Hungary’s cavalrymen. But what can you do? Let truth get in the way of a good story?
Pinaud’s somewhat fanciful and not very well fact-checked origin story as a distiller of perfumes and scents bears a humorous parallel to another type of distilling. Whiskey distillers are notorious liars — or marketing geniuses — when it comes to spinning lavish yarns about their origins and ancient recipe and date of founding. I guess something about the fumes from a still, any still, makes one susceptible to mild embellishments of what the uncreative insist on calling “the truth.” The silly thing is, just as many good whiskies make up a bunch of origin stories lie they don’t need since their whiskey is perfectly fine without the “distilled on the dewy banks of a secret river from a 300 year old family recipe” nonsense, so to was Pinaud doing just fine without rumors of Napoleon and Hungarian soldiers slapping his aftershave onto themselves as they rode into battle. He was given a royal patent by Queen Victoria, and other European rulers followed suit. Before too long, Pinaud was the most successful creator and importer/exporter of perfumes in all of Europe.
He also soon bought the Legrand Parfume House, established in 1810 and thus lending him his new date of founding (something common, again, among whiskey distillers and, perhaps not oddly, academic universities). Success continued, and soon most of the Victorian and Gilded Age world smelled like a Pinaud product. The company broke into the US market with the popular Eau de Quinine hair tonic, so that your hair would look good and never have to worry about malaria. Pinaud products were on the high-end of things, so they remained the purview of the well-to-do and nicely appointed tonsorials. In an effort to expand the American market, Pinaud launched the moderately priced Roman Smelling Salt Perfumes line in 1895. Five years later, the company launched their Bay Rum scent. While popular again in barbershops, the Pinaud aftershaves were still not cracking into the mass market. Pinaud decided there was only one way he could really conquer the United States. In 1920, Pinaud opened his first American distillery on 5th Avenue in New York City.
Pinaud chugged along and even managed to weather the Great Depression, now with two increasingly distinct companies. By 1933, Pinaud USA had finally made headway into the “common man” market, thanks in large part to Bay Rum and the Lilac Vegetal aftershave. Pinaud France felt the American operation was cheapening the lofty heritage of Pinaud as the brand of kings and queens. They did not want to be associated with the more affordable approach on which their New York branch, now under the control of Edouard Pinaud’s son-in-law Victor Klotz, were now focusing. Klotz, however, was adamant about becoming the preferred brand of middle class men rather than upperclass women. The two branches of the company reached an agreement that saw the Ed. Pinaud Building in New York renamed was renamed Klotz Family Business Co. Additionally, though Klotz and the New York crew would continue to pursue the middle class dollar, they would refrain from doing very much marketing, selling instead directly to barbershops and relying on word of mouth — making them sort of the Srirachi Chili Sauce of the grooming product world. In the 1940s, New York launched the Clubman line: aftershave, talc, hair tonic, shampoo and soap. Word of mouth worked wonders, and by the 1950s, Clubman was so popular that it was actually being exported back into France where it would outsell the home company’s pricier line.
Pinaud Clubman continued its meteoric rise. Everyone from Cary Grant to Robert Mitchum to Henry Fonda used their products (or so it was claimed — no idea if this was a bit of the ol’ Napoleon or not). And, famously for me, Ian Fleming name drops it in the passage from <em>On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In the 1970s, when companies like Brut and Aqua Velva began massive marketing campaigns, Pinaud did not follow suit. American International Industries bought Pinaud US in the 1970s. In the 1990s, in an effort to save money as their market share dwindled against better known “drugstore brands” and the rise in interest in premium, designer brands, Pinaud switched to plastic bottles and reformulated many of its signature scents to compensate for plastic. Once again, the history of perfume and whiskey distilling reflect one another. Whiskey brands tend to get reformulated, the names sold and resold, until what bears the name does not bear much resemblance to what used to bear the name. The reformulated line of Pinaud Clubman products was not warmly welcomed by fans of the brand, who thought the new stuff was too artificial smelling since many natural botanicals had been replaced by synthetics.
By the time I was shamelessly aping James Bond and looking for Pinaud Elixir shampoo, the company had undergone further confusing upheaval. Pinaud France itself seemed on its final leg. The Elixir, no longer manufactured, was only available via mail order from a barbershop in Sweden (I believe), and their supply was extremely limited (and by now is gone). Pinaud Clubman was still around, but their distribution was spotty. Luckily, the world has the Internet now, so even though my prowling the bottom shelves of the men’s aisle at the local drugstore turned up nothing, a few clicks on Amazon had me swimming (so to speak) in Pinaud Clubman products. Also because of the Internet, and thanks to the revival in interest in old school barbershops and men’s grooming, Pinaud is enjoying a small if dedicated revival of interest. In the name of proper research, I got a few different items: Clubman Country Club shampoo (the closest existing equivalent to James Bond’s cherished Elixir), the classic Pinaud and Lilac Vegetal aftershaves, the Bay Rum and Lime Sec colognes, the Eau de Quinine hair tonic, and the Pinaud styling gel. The entire pile cost me maybe $40.
Which brings us to the manifesto portion of this exploration. I promise it will be short. The world is full of ridiculous, pricey grooming products, both for men and women. I use a few of them — who doesn’t love spending $35 on a vial of facial scrub from Kiehl’s? At the same time, and once again as with whiskey, price does not always directly correlate to quality. Some very expensive things are pretty terrible. And sometimes, things that are really inexpensive are also really good. As I mentioned somewhere in that mess above, there has recently been a revival of interest in classic grooming products. On the drugstore shelf, below the over-perfumed body sprays and pungent colognes, you will find that sometimes dusty and ignored row of classic products, many of which became the butt of jokes during the 80s and 90s when yuppies moved us all away from smelling like an old-time barbershop and more toward smelling like…whatever the hell it is all that 80s cologne was supposed to smell like.
The old school — and we’re talking Pinaud Clubman here specifically but it applies to a whole class of inexpensive and time-tested products (we’ll get to some others eventually) — the “stuff your grandfather smelled like,” I can’t say entirely what it is about the scent. There is a cultural association with it, something to do with a time when a man could roll up his sleeves, survive a Depression, build a skyscraper, and punch Hitler in the face all while still making sure his hair was expertly parted and he didn’t reek of physical effort. Grooming and ruggedness were not always as mutually exclusive as modern society would often have us believe, and taking good care of yourself was as much a part of being “manly” as being able to start a fire without matches. I won’t pretend this association, real or perceived, doesn’t have something to do with my affection for these products and how they smell. It’s the stuff my grandfather would slap on after a day of tending to the farm. It’s the little way you pamper yourself and those around you after you’ve been breaking your back. Anyone who tells you a little grooming isn’t manly probably needs to be kicked by Teddy Roosevelt — and I bet you Teddy will have slapped some Lilac Vegetal on himself right before doing it.
Also, “manly” is a term but it shouldn’t be restricted entirely to men. You know Teleport City ain’t into restrictive gender stereotypes. So ma’am, lead rope that 5.14 climb, flex your biceps, get shit done, and slap yourself with some Bay Rum to freshen up after a hard-won accomplishment. And now, on to the products I sampled…
A quick disclaimer: hair can be a very personal thing. In that what works wonderfully for one person might turn another person’s hair to crispy fried noodles. The effects of a shampoo or hair tonic can vary. I have fine hair, not thinning, cut to short/medium short length. Left on its own, it tends to mild oiliness and occasional fluffing. The nice thing about Pinaud Clubman products is they are cheap enough to experiment with.
Pinaud Clubman Country Club Shampoo
This is where it all started for me, and while I was disappointed I couldn’t spend a lot of money to mail order some original version of Pinaud Elixir from France or something, I was happy there is still an equivalent, even if it isn’t exactly the same thing. First of all, it smells great. There is a signature Pinaud scent, and this is it. Fresh, powerful but not overpowering, citrus and powder — the classic old-school barbershop scent. After a couple of weeks of using it, I am very happy with it. Leaves my hair clean and soft. Some have complained about it drying their hair out a little. That hasn’t been my experience, but experience varies. I usually follow up with the Eau de Quinine hair tonic, so maybe that is countering the effect, or maybe some people just have hair that is dried out easily. The scent is strong at first, but it doesn’t linger, and by the time you are dry, it is a faint whiff — which is nice since too much of a good thing can be, you know, too much. James Bond called Pinaud Elixir “that prince among shampoos,” and its modern incarnation as Country Club lives up to its royal heritage. If it isn’t a prince among shampoos, it’s at least a viscount.
Pinaud Clubman Eau de Quinine Hair Tonic
Hair tonic is one of those things that, growing up in the 80s and 90s, we made a lot of jokes about. It was lounge lizard and midlife crisis stuff that Pete Rose sold you. But then, I was shaving my head into a mohawk and putting egg whites and Manic Panic and Dep into my hair, so what the hell did I know? Hair tonic was originally created as a way to help remove the waxy pomades of the old days and reinvigorate the scalp that had been trapped under layers of wax. Modern pomades and waxes generally use different, friendlier compounds than their old-time brethren, but while the original purpose of hair tonic may be somewhat moot, it still affords one a nice, tingling scalp treatment and keeps even uppity hair like mine a little more in control. Eau de Quinine was one of the original Pinaud USA products, and though the formula has no doubt changed over the decades, it is still one of the signature products.
Straight from the bottle, it has a bit of a funky smell. Think Luden’s cough drop with rosewater, talc, and Angostura Bitters, maybe a little bit of undefinable “spice.” It’s an oddball scent to be sure, but the smell of it concentrated in your hand is different from it once it’s spread throughout your hair and across your scalp (or just your scalp, if you don’t have much hair). The weirdness dissipates, leaving mostly the smell of talc and a very light floral note. It’s not strong at all, even though it smells so in your hand. It gives the scalp a nice tingle, and at least for me, it takes care of my tendency toward having a dry, itchy scalp (how I do that while still having slightly oily hair I have no idea). It provides a very mild…not exactly hold…let’s say taming property. All in all, I am very happy with it, though the slightly odd, medicinal smell might turn some away. If that’s the case, I recommend trying one of Pinaud’s other hair tonics — the classic Pinaud or the Eau de Portugal. Or just get yourself some Vitalis.
Clubman Styling Gel
The phrase “styling gel” for me conjures up gross, gooey tubs of neon-colored Dep that smells like artificial fruit and toxic chemicals. Such is the burden of any of us who grew up during the 1980s (it probably didn’t help that I applied it by the handful). I think that decade made me styling gel shy. In the 90s I slowly crept back to using something in my hair other than water, usually a light pomade if my head wasn’t shaved. When recently I decided that I wanted to actually groom at my age level but wasn’t quite in need of a pomade, I turned to Pinaud Clubman Styling Gel.
Out of the tube (it sells in both tubs and tubes) is bright translucent green, and I immediately started having flashbacks. Is that…is…do I hear Howard Jones wafting to me on the breeze. I know you weren’t to blame, man! I know you weren’t to blame! But then I remembered Clubman was less 1980s and more 1890s, so I should trust them. And despite looking like something that Jeffrey Combs might use to reanimate the dead, it has the classic Pinaud smell of talc — or maybe I should call it the classic Clubman smell, since smelling of talcum powder was one of the things that Pinaud France considered low-class about Pinaud USA. Anyway, it’s far from the smell of glycerine and chemical plants and fake apples I associated with gel. It goes in easily and without feeling gloppy or gunky or any other scientific terms like that. It’s much lighter than I expected and holds my hair in style without looking wet or shellacked. A little bit keeps me looking Don Draper smart throughout the day (that’s clean and working Don Draper, not sweating and depressed Don Draper).
As with hair, skin varies pretty dramatically from person to person, especially the skin of your face. And similarly, what feels bracing and magical and refreshing to one person may turn someone else tight, dried out, and mummified feeling, so experiment and never feel obliged to stick with any one product. My skin is pretty healthy: no allergies, no sensitivities. If you have a medical condition, it is wise to try a dab here and there before going all in on something. Inflaming your face is rarely fun. Most colognes and aftershaves contain some level of alcohol, so if you tend to dry out easy, consider a shaving balm and moisturizer instead (not covered in this article, but we’ll get to them).
Also, for whatever reason, I ended up pairing each scent with the cocktail you should be drinking whilst wearing it. Because I wanted a drink. Chances are you will pay more for your drink than you did for any of your Pinaud Clubman products.
The foundation on which all Clubman is built. Clubman offers a pretty big lineup of aftershaves, and I haven’t been able to try them all yet (but I am an obsessive, so I will), but if you have to choose one with which to begin, it should be this one. I know in the intro I mentioned that Clubman products had been reformulated over the years, and some people were upset by the new formulas. I don’t really have a way to compare (I’m not going to spend money on eBay for vintage, though if you want to, go for it), so all I can go on is what we have today. So just like how the formula for Chivas scotch has changed over the years but I really like current Chivas scotch, I also really like the current Pinaud Clubman aftershaves I’ve used. And this is the iconic Clubman scent: talcum powder, a faint hint of citrus and spice — but very faint. Going on after a shower or a shave, it has a little kick to it but quickly settles down to cool, refreshen, and invigorate the face. The scent is strong at first but fades into the background and gives you a more subtle and grown-up hint of smelling nice than you get from many modern, overly perfumed aftershaves and body sprays. If you are looking for the perfect old school barbershop scent, this is it.
Wear it when you drink: Whiskey Sour
Clubman Aftershave is the solid workhorse aftershave of the common man, and as such, it goes perfectly with the common man’s cocktail. A whiskey sour has no pretense. It has no airs about it. It’s a good , stuff drink for men and women who just got done defeating the Nazis and need a libation or who are on their way to or from a mob hit in a seedy back alley hotel. Take 2 oz. of whiskey (bourbon is most common, but give rye a go), 2/3 oz. of lemon juice (never, ever sour mix), and 1 tsp of superfine sugar. Combine in a shaker with cracked ice, shake, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a single Maraschino cherry; nothing more. As for the egg whites you sometimes see in the drink: that’s up to you. I like them, but then I’ve never experienced Salmonella poisoning. I did have Sal Mineo poisoning once, but that’s a different story.
What are you going to do? Argue with the 19th century Hungarian cavalry and Napoleon? Hell no, and if this was good enough and manly enough for them, then it’s good enough and manly enough for you. Some insecure lads might balk at the thought of lilacs, but those lads are a sad and pathetic lot, like those guys who get all freaked out if a cocktail, regardless of how strong and well-made it may be, comes to them garnished with a flower or contained within a dainty glass. Teddy Roosevelt and Charles Baker and Ernest Hemingway had no problem with that stuff, so get it over it. Anyway, the Lilac Vegetal aftershave is a personal favorite. It has the signature talcum powder scent, but instead of citrus and spice, there’s more of a floral note, but the floral is really light; not the overpowering artificial floral you get from cheap perfume. More akin to the floral note you get in a good Suntory or Glenmorangie whisky — it’s there, but it doesn’t insist upon itself. I also think this one goes on a little smoother than the straight-up Clubman aftershave. Less burn, but just as soothing and refreshing. Neither aftershave dries out my skin. In fact, I feel quite like I’ve just applied a light moisturizer, and it leaves me pretty comfortable throughout the day, even when I’m not charging enemy lines on my trusty steed.
Oddly, for something I think smells perfectly normal, The Veg elicits a wide and very emotional range of responses and opinions. Some, like me, think it smells like a barbershop and the early morning before a big adventure. Others think it smells like a seedy old folks’ home. One of my go-to sites for research in the world of things men splash on their face, Badger and Blade, has perhaps the best summation of it, by poster Topgumby: “Legends say the Veg will magnify your true essence…on some, it smells like cannon smoke and raw courage; on others, like an involuntary bodily reaction caused by the sudden unexpected appearance of cannon smoke and raw courage.”
Wear it when you drink: Lilac Domino
The Lilac Domino is the most obscure cocktail in this list, the only one that isn’t a foundation cocktail of the American bar. It’s first appearance, according to the essential website Cocktail Virgin/Slut, was in 1937’s Cafe Royal Cocktail Book. The drink was created by British bartender Lilian Gerrard. It goes well with Lilac Vegetal because the cocktail uses the floral Creme Yvette and the medicinal tasting herbal liqueur Chartreuse. And like The Veg, some men might have a problem being seen drinking a Lilac Domino. Unfriend these men. They are insecure and poor quality drinking partners. The drink breaks down thusly: 1 oz. Calvados, 1 oz. gin, 1/2 oz. Yellow Chartreuse, 1/2 oz. Creme Yvette (1/2 oz), 1/2 oz. lemon juice. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a Luxardo cocktail cherry.
If any scent besides manly barbershop talc can claim to be the ultimate scent for rugged good grooming, it’s bay rum (sandalwood is OK, but I don’t wear sandals). Bay rum was made by distilling rum with the leaves and berries of the West Indian bay tree — so it’s like a rum-based gin you slap on your face. Or not really. Anyway, some say it has been around since the dawn of guys smelling funny and needing to freshen up, but bay rum as we know it today was developed in the 19th century as the perfect cologne to mask the briny, sweaty smell of your average sailor plying the Caribbean. When you watch (or read) Master and Commander, just assume everyone on Lucky Jack Aubrey’s ship smells like bay rum. The scent was devised, at least for commercial application in 1838 by Danish chemist Albert Heinrich Riise, who observed locals on the island of St. Thomas using the bay tree and rum concoction and a salve for sunburn and liniment for sore muscles.
Riise soon had a bay rum ready for market, and its popularity exploded. In the 1920s, enterprising — or desperate and deluded — Americans even took to drinking the stuff, a Prohibition tragedy that was slightly less deadly than the consumption of wood grain alcohol but never the less led to the banning of all bay rum imports. It was reintroduced in 1946 and embraced by a very different clientele than salty sailors and desperate Jazz Age drunks. Since it is possible a few of you are not sailing the wild seas and romancing the provincial governor’s rebellious niece, seducing lusty dockyard barmaids, or inviting that tan and well-muscled young able seaman to a secret cove for a bit of bathing au naturel, bay rum’ more modern heritage will be more relatable to you. It was pretty much the go-to scent of the hard-working American man during the 50s and 60s. When Don Draper didn’t smell like J&B and cigarettes, he smelled like bay rum. As one of my favorite style websites, Ivy Style, once wrote: “Bay rum is what men think a man should smell like.”
Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum is perhaps a bit of a variation on a theme. Bay rum is classically very citrus and bay laurel forward, but Clubman’s take on the scent has a lot more spice in the foreground: cloves, cinnamon, that sort of thing. A little splash will do you — the difference between aftershave and cologne is largely in the scent’s staying power (and cologne usually lacks the toning and firming medicinals, real and imagined, of an aftershave). Like most of the Pinaud Clubman line, it comes out of the bottle and into your palm like a ferocious lion but soon calms down and settles in nicely — like a less ferocious lion. You know, the ones that lounge about in the trees. They’re pretty docile and satisfied, but they’re still lions. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes. Clubman Bay Rum is pretty great.
Wear it when you drink: Dark & Stormy
Tropical drinks can get to be a little much sometimes, with entire fruit salads sprouting from them. I will admit that those drinks have their place and time, but when you have anointed yourself with Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum, you need something a little less flamboyant. And that’s where the Dark & Stormy steps in. Strong and simple, with a bit of bite, just like the aftershave (though they don’t taste the same). Like the scent, the cocktail has its origins (or at least its origin story) rooted in the British navy. During the 1800s, navy men were issued a daily issue of rum to keep them healthy and happy.
At some point, the Royal Navy opened itself a ginger beer bottling plant (ginger beer and ginger ale differ in the way they are made, but neither is usually alcoholic — although the company Crabbie’s makes an excellent alcoholic ginger beer)m ostensibly to encourage their sailors to drink something a little less boozy. Sailors being sailors, they just mixed the ginger beer with the rum, and thus was born the Dark & Stormy. Like all of the most enjoyable old school cocktails, it’s a simple concoction: 2 oz. dark rum (Gosling’s will insist — sometimes via legal threats — that it has to be Gosling’s brand rum), 3 oz. ginger beer (again, Gosling’s will insist on Gosling’s, and in this case, why not?), and 1/2 oz. lime juice. Combine all the ingredients in a glass with ice cubes and stir. The lime juice is optional — common in the United states, frowned upon in Bermuda.
Pinaud’s Lime Sec Cologne is the only product on this list that doesn’t bear the Clubman brand. It’s exact origin is shrouded in a mystery that spans generations. Or something. Whatever the case, Lime Sec is the most divisive modern Pinaud scent after the Lilac Vegetal among the types of people who get divisive over inexpensive grooming supplies and aftershaves. The charge against Lime Sec primarily is that it smells too candied and artificial, less lime and more Jolly Rancher. And straight from the bottle (nosed, not consumed) I can see where they’re coming from, but I disagree. It is strong, but to me, it has the strong scent of a really good, really ripe lime, backed with orange and lemon zest and a tiny bit of spice. It’s like a gin and tonic, or a drink I once had at a remote rain forest inn where the owner prepared for me a spritzer of rum, local soda water, bitters, and the juice of a lime (picked quite literally from the tree outside the front door).
Applied to neck and wrist, the lime scent is pronounced, but here’s the trick about lime scented cologne: it fades quickly. Very quickly. This can lead some gents to over-apply, and then yes indeed you can walk around smelling like a piece of candy. But properly applied with due temperance, you get a nice lime scent that lasts for about an hour and eventually fades to what I find to be a very pleasant and light citrus musk. Like most of the Pinaud scents, it is crisp and refreshing, and I don’t think it smells overly candied at all as long as you keep to the recommended small amount.
Wear it when you drink: Philip Marlowe’s Gimlet
“We sat in a corner of the bar at Victor’s and drank gimlets. “They don’t know how to make them here,” he said. “What they call a gimlet is just some lime or lemon juice with a dash of sugar and bitters. A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else. It beats martinis hollow.” — Lennox, Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye
The gimlet never really caught on in the United States the way the martini or Manhattan did, but Raymond Chandler’s iconic hardboiled private eye, Philip Marlowe, enjoyed them (at least until death and misery spoiled his taste for the drink). Although Chandler wasn’t as big a whore for dropping brand names as was Ian Fleming, I have no doubt that Marlowe — who drifted through a grimy, shabby world but tried to keep himself clean — was a Pinaud man. And the gimlet is the perfect drink for when you’ve splashed a little Line Sec upon your weary visage. But don’t trust Marlowe’s friend, Lennox — his half-and-half proportions were likely because they were drinking rot gut gin. A saner ratio is 2 oz. Plymouth Gin, 1 oz. Rose’s Lime Juice (it has to be Rose’s, otherwise it is not a gimlet. As The 1954 Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts wrote, “A true Gimlet must be made with Rose’s bottled lime juice, which vanished like nylons during the war but is now seen around again”). Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge.