The newest fragrance from Lubin, Upper Ten, was inspired by a very old historical event, the immigration influx into America of the 1800s, resulting in the 10,000 “who mattered” and who “laid the groundwork for US supremacy.” I read that last part and thought to myself, “Oh dear, that might ruffle a few feathers.” But at least that backstory is somewhat interesting, which is more than I can say for the fragrance itself.
Upper Ten is an eau de parfum that was created by Thomas Fontaine and released a few weeks ago. Lubin’s official description is quoted on sites like First in Fragrance and Premiere Avenue, and reads, in relevant part, as follows:
“Upper Ten” [was] a phrase coined by American poet Nathaniel Willis to designate «the ten thousand that matter»: the pioneers of America’s industrial century whose energy laid the groundwork for US supremacy
Upper Ten is the fragrance of the corridors of power. The aroma is like entering a New York or Chicago Gentlemen’s Club in 1880. Cedar, sandalwood and fine leather with an added floral touch of geranium make up the main accord of this manly tribute to the life force of these American pioneers. Cardamom quickens its woody note while smooth cinnamon invigorates the mix. The amber, musky base brings more potency and depth, conferring a reassuring strength.
According to Luckyscent, the note list is:
Bergamot, cardamom, bay rose [pink peppercorn], saffron, juniper berry, cinnamon, geranium essence, leather, peach, orange blossom, cedar, sandalwood, patchouli, amber, white musk.
Upper Ten opens with a lemony freshness that is dusted with fiery saffron, a pinch of green cardamom, and a noticeable pepperiness that feels quite scratchy. The mildly brisk but spicy citrus bouquet is then sweetened by fruity pink peppercorn berries and placed atop a base of dry, synthetic cedar. Moments later, juniper berries arrive, adding a gin-like tingle and crispness that amplifies the cooler side of the equation, but it doesn’t really impact the sweetness that slowly rises as amber joins the mix. It’s a very generalized “amber” note, rather than the clear, distinct aroma of either labdanum or ambergris.
Upper Ten rapidly changes. Less than 5 minutes in, the citrusy freshness begins to weaken, fading to a sheer veil that floats over the intensifying spice, amber, fruity, and woody notes. The juniper expands, its aromatic qualities accentuated by a new arrival, a pinch of geranium. The now gooey, jammy pink peppercorn berries are similarly joined by the addition of a peach, albeit only a few diffuse drops of it. By the same token, the cedar in the base is now matched by a sliver of leatheriness. In essence, Lubin is now a mix of fruity, spicy, peppery, and mildly aromatic elements atop a “cedar” base lightly streaked by smoky leather, all encapsulated within an amorphous ambered softness. I don’t like any of it. Every single part of it smells synthetic to me. And I also struggled with the scratchy pepperiness of the scent on both occasions that I tested Upper Ten.
More importantly, though, within a mere 20 minutes, the notes become completely amorphous in shape. For example, there is generalized, merely cedar-ish “woodiness” more than truly rich (or real) cedar; or mere “aromatic freshness” rather than a substantial, solid geranium or juniper presence. There is no depth or richness to the elements, and it feels as though the synthetics have been diluted to create a shifting wave of gauzy abstractions. Take, for example, the purported “orange blossom” which appears around this time. Like the peach, it smells like a mere approximation of what it’s actually meant to be. And, like the peach, it is fleeting, lasting a mere 5 minutes on my skin at the very most.
Furthermore, all the notes feel like will o’ the wisps. They flit here and there elusively, but always out of reach in a truly concrete, solid way where you could pin them down and say, “Oh, what a juicy peach, and what a bright, evocatively Alpine juniper or gin note, what aromatic cedar!” Nope. The elements are merely suggestive in nature, and the cumulative result is a shapeless, blurry mass that hints at its particulars but really just comes across as a blend of “fresh,” “aromatic,” peppery, “spicy,” “fruity,” and “woody” accords.
In the first 20 minutes, the overall effect isn’t terrible, but it really isn’t anything that stands out with distinctiveness in my opinion, either. It’s simply neither here nor there. It’s as though the perfumer went down a checklist of popular qualities or characteristics rather than creating a fragrance with a bold, original, and assertive vision. Upper Ten’s early phase is inoffensive, approachable, basic and bound to appeal to a lot of men who are looking for an easy, versatile fragrance to slap on to “smell great” to go to the gym or pick up dry cleaning. There is absolutely nothing wrong with easy, versatile, or simple scents — some of my personal favorites are like that — but Upper Ten is just so damn average to me.
Still, I’d take inoffensively “average” over what comes later. Roughly 30 minutes in, the fragrance shifts direction. It turns sweeter, more “ambered;” the citrus vanishes; and the pepperiness surges in strength, taking on a woodiness that bears a definite ISO E-like nuance. I can’t figure out if actual ISO E Super were used, or if it’s simply an off-shoot of the amber which is now clearly aromachemical in scent. It resembles one of the ones with combined cedar and ISO E-like undertones, like AmberMax. Plus, all the notes are rapidly dissolving into a faceless blur and, by the end of the first hour, Upper Ten is merely a hazy, aromachemical blur of spicy, ambery, generically cedar-ish woodiness that’s lightly streaked with thin threads of generic citrusy, fruity, peppery, and aromatic elements. There is no sense of leather, although that will change later in the drydown. As for the citrus and diffused aromatics, even the lingering vestiges vanish about 75 minutes into Upper Ten’s development.
Upper Ten’s primary or heart stage essentially lasts from the middle of the 2nd hour until the start of the 7th one. The fragrance is basically a dry, spicy, quietly smoky and lightly musky amber-woody scent with occasional, ghostly, muted pops of berried fruitiness in the background once in a blue moon. Although the woody-amber accord is the main focus, sometimes the amber seems to dominate the balance, sometimes the woods. Either way, the fragrance smells almost entirely aromachemical in nature. The projection hovers just above the skin, but there is a small scent trail if I move my arms. Near the end of the 4th hour, Upper Ten begins to grow smokier and drier as tendrils of darkness slowly seep up from the base.
Roughly 7.5 hours in, the full drydown begins. Upper Ten turns strongly smoky, and the balance skews to the woody smoky side. It’s the sort of smokiness that is found in purportedly “leather” fragrances, but which is really woody smoke and darkness above all else. Once in a while, a nebulous spicy fruitiness appears like a pinprick of light in the background, but it’s rare. The smokiness trumps all, cutting through even the generalized ambered muskiness and sweetness, and essentially muffling it into silence. In Upper Ten’s final hours, all that’s left is a wisp of smokiness with an occasional whisper of something vaguely sweet at the edges.
Upper Ten had good longevity, generally soft projection, and moderate sillage, though my skin does tend to extend the scent trail of fragrances that have a large quantity of pamount of powerful aromachemicals. Using several wide smears equal to 2 sprays from an actual bottle, Upper Ten opened with 4 inches of projection and 6-7 inches of sillage. It was a light in weight and body, but a strong scent up close. At the 2.5 hour mark, Upper Ten’s sillage was softer, unless I moved my arms, and the projection hovered just above the skin. There it stayed for a few hours, only becoming a true skin scent 5.25 hours into its development, though the aromachemicals made Upper Ten easy to detect up close and without much effort until the 8th hour. All in all, it lasted just under 12.5 hours.
It opens up with a fleeting zap of citrus that works its way down into a grassy, creamy aromatic cedar/sandalwood mix, and ends up bouncing around on a spicy, musky ambrette. [¶] All this with a clean leather base & a nice balmy sweetness that shines after drying. [¶] Another winner from Lubin, I think it’s great! It’s robust, engrossing, ever-present, and has a great bottle and a great name.
I’m glad it works for someone. I thought the opening was blandly generic, the core overly simplistic and like a thousand fragrances before it, and I’m inordinately tired of the aromachemical leather-woody smokiness that so many releases are using for their base or drydown this year. It’s not a terrible scent (unless you’re someone like me with aromachemical issues and are faced with that drydown) but it feels like something that, for lack of a better way of describing it, the lads or “bros” would think is “quality” “juice” for everyday use. Upper Ten costs $200 a bottle. Personally, I’d like better quality and distinctiveness for that price. That said, I wouldn’t wear Upper Ten if it were given to me for free. It’s uninteresting, barely average, and a total pass for me.
BRIEF RETAIL INFORMATION/LINKS: Upper Ten is an eau de parfum that comes in a 100 ml size for $200 or €149. Retailers: Luckyscent, First in Fragrance, Meinduft, and Premiere Avenue (which also sells a 5 ml decant for €15). Lubin has a Paris shop and a website, but Upper Ten is not listed there at the time of this review. Samples: Surrender to Chance has samples beginning at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.