Cumming by Alan Cumming and 2nd Cumming by CB I Hate Perfume

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Perfumer Christopher Brosius.

I’m not certain how Cumming (2004) and 2nd Cumming (2010) are related. Obviously, the second followed the first. Beyond that, reformulation? Sequel? The CB I Hate Perfume website states that 2nd Cumming is, “exactly the same as the original Cumming” yet provided Brosius and actor Alan Cumming the opportunity to, “…do the scent the way [they] had originally intended.”

I don’t find this bit of obscurity vague or misleading. The ambiguity is appropriate. They smell like the exact same scent, but not. Perhaps the clue is in the subtitle of 2nd Cumming: Once More with Feeling!

The two fragrances are extremely legible. They seem more abstract than the list of notes (cigar, whiskey, Douglas fir, Scottish heather, peat…) implies, but they are sharply defined. I do get the suggestion of peat and its olfactory quality of being both wet and dry at the same time. ‘Peaty’ when describing Scotch, suggests the smoke and tar of a peat fire. Peat moss itself is more like the scent of rain after a dry spell. The two Cummings build on this quality and have the scent of a storm moving in — static electricity, dust and twitchiness. The start of a rainstorm scratches at all your senses simultaneously and gives a sense of imminence. This is where Cumming resides. It sits at the tip of your nose the way the way a inaccessible memory sits at the tip of your tongue.

From the perspective of 2016, the Cummings feel like a commentary on the woody tones that were a trend at the time the first model was released. That’s not to say that they seem dated or era-specific per se. They are more inventive and precise than the dull woody-amber trends of the time. Their olfactory profiles suggest the guilty pleasure of commercial scents that we often deny liking: plastic packaging, dry-cleaning chemicals, petroleum byproducts. This is much more fun than cigars and drinks.

The greatest difference between the two versions is in the drydown. The original smells metallic and the scent overall fades to a whisper fairly quickly. 2nd Cumming’s drydown is warmer and a bit leathery. Surprisingly given its water base, it has much more longevity than the original. They are both well-sculpted scents but it is an open question whether they are perfumes. I don’t mean this as derogatory. I assume that this discussion would be welcome in a line called I Hate Perfume. The catch here is that the term scent, when contrasted with perfume, usually implies a lack of artistry. The Cummings twist the distinction into meaninglessness and make environmental scents that you wear. They don’t read as room spray applied to the body. They just perform differently on the body than ‘straight’ perfume does.

The cheeky double entendre of 2nd might bother some, but it reminds me of a college professor who started our class one day by writing on the board, “Christianity is a cultural mediation of homosexuality.” For the students who winced, they should have remembered to leave their delicate sensibilities at the door of a class called “The History of Sex.” For those squeamish about trying this perfume, you’d would do well to remember both the name of the perfume and the company.

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(image Judas Iscariot by Cimabue)

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