Bigelow Barber Cologne Elixir Black No. 1581 by C.O. Bigelow Apothecary (2007)

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Bigelow Barber Cologne Elixir Black No. 1581 by C.O Bigelow Apothecary (2007) is a member of the Barber Cologne Elixir series that Bigelow introduced when they were partnered with The Limited Inc. Under this arrangement, a chain of luxury cosmetics stores was opened to compete with Sephora or Ulta under the Bigelow name, and these fragrances were sold there, alongside some Bath & Body Works locations which were and still are owned by The Limited. Most of the series wasn’t really all that good, smelling more or less like slightly more upscale versions of the garbage Bath & Body Works released for men at the time, and sold for a little bit more. Overall, Bigelow was pitched as a sort of upscale barbershop supply brand within Bath & Body Works stores, where a C.O Bigelow location didn’t exist, something that also competed to some degree with Art of Shaving. Of all the Elixir releases, only Black No. 1581 really stood out for me, enough to retain memory of it and luckily when my partner moved in with two bottles of it, revisit it again for a proper review. Elixir Black is all about a sweet spicy smoky tonka surrounded by amber, vanilla, and musk. Quite simple really, a fragrance that doesn’t try to really be anything and ends up being something anyway, just entirely unto itself.

The note pyramid on this one claims agar wood, or I guess oud as it is better known, but there is not even the slightest hint of synthetic oud let alone anything convincingly of agar wood. I’m guessing this is where the initial smoke comes from, blended with bergamot and cardamom, plus some vetiver down into the heart of tonka and sage. I get pops of cinnamon here and there, but before long, this is just tobacco-like tonka merged with amber, vanilla, and some woody fuzzy musky thing that is probably assisted by cashmeran in some capacity. What Elixir Black reminds me of most is a cross between some aspects of Armani Code (2004) and Avon Intrigue (2001) in the way it handles the spice and creaminess over tonka and amber, except that it doesn’t really have the performance of either fragrance it mixes. Probably the biggest downfall of the Barber Cologne Elixir range is that they are all as they say: colognes. You’ll get maybe 4 hours out of this and the stuff becomes a skin scent within 30 minutes. Considering how rich this smells, it must be due to a very low concentration of fragrance oils. Best time to use Bigelow Barber Cologne Elixir Black No. 1581 is after a shave with the accompanying products, or a shower with the accompanying gel. All layered up, you might get close to 6 hours which may scrape by a day at work in winter with reapplications.

Most people who I knew used Bigelow always scooped these up for sale when Bath & Body Works did 2 for 1 deals or let you get a bottle free if you spent over a certain dollar amount on other swag in their stores. The actual C.O. Bigelow mall boutiques died fairly quickly, never expanding beyond the Eastern seaboard of the US and all closing up by 2012. From there on out, it was just Bath & Body Works that carried these nationally, and eventually most of them stopped too once it proved C.O Bigelow Apothecaries was too much of a local NYC phenomena just like Caswell-Massey, to really make much of a dent on a larger scale outside niche fans. Bath & Body Works would clear these out at ridiculous prices (my partner got his two at a 2 for $20 sale) and once again Bigelow products would only be available directly from the original still-operating 1823 Greenwich Village location, or on their website. For the current MSRP of $38 from Bigelow’s site, I can’t really recommend Elixir Black anymore, because for that money you can have a really nice discount designer or even for a little more, something from the infinitely better Caswell-Massey. Still, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the way it smells, I just wish it lasted longer. If you come across a deal and want a spicy sweet dark little number that only needs to last an evening, this may do ya. Thumbs up

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