How do you write about a product you like that fits into a category that you don’t? I’ve been puzzling over this for a couple weeks with regard to Tonic, an aftershave by A Beautiful Life Brands.
As I’ve written before, I’m skeptical of aftershave. What’s the point of slapping lightly scented alcohol on freshly shaved skin? As a cologne aficionado, I’ve eschewed the high-alcohol, low perfume oil concentrations of aftershave in favor of something longer lasting.
Tonic, in part, has made me reconsider, and here’s why: it smells fantastic, it feels great both on shaved skin and unshaved beard, and it actually works well with other fragrances. Furthermore, it’s not merely lightly scented alcohol; it’s a mixture of alcohol, witch hazel (an astringent), and aloe.
Tony Artur, co-owner of A Beautiful Life Brands and the creator of Tonic told me he was shooting for an affordable, traditional masculine aftershave, or as he put it, “a Green Irish Tweed vibe with a Pinaud’s/Old Spice price range.” It comes in a 4-ounce plastic splash bottle with a nicely retro look.
A Beautiful Life Brands, based in Lambertville, New Jersey (partway between New York City and Philadelphia), was started by Artur and his wife, Jennifer. They shifted the business from multi-brand retail to creating and marketing their own grooming and beauty products, most of them for women. Tonic came into being when an old customer lamented the lack of men’s products in the new line-up.
The scent is sweet cedar with hints of citrus and cinnamon. This isn’t the cedar I expected—it’s lighter, sweeter and less spicy than the cedar you’d find in a cedar-lined closet. Imagine freshly cut cedar trees rather than cedar lumber. I asked Artur how he chose the cedar and what else he put in it.
“While Cedar is a key component, we sourced a few variations before we found one that seemed a bit mellower (Himalayan),” he said, adding that I was correct about the (cassia) cinnamon note. “I also use a small amount of birch tar, which has a wonderful outdoor smokiness, like a campfire. I have a supplier that formulated a really good leather note for us (the only synthetic note in Tonic but naturally derived and phthalate-free), it’s the same one we use in Black Rose. There are also hints of jasmine (sambac), grapefruit, pink peppercorn, and peppermint.”
When Artur offered to send me a bottle, I have to admit, I was expecting a scent on the modern end of traditional, something between the Irish Spring family of deodorant soaps in the drug store and the Drakkar Noir clones in the department store. But Tonic doesn’t fall into that dismal range at all. It’s totally different, and at a very reasonable ($24) pricepoint.
I was curious about what inspired this fragrance. “My original vision was to approximate a smell from memory,” Artur told me. “My doctor when I was a kid used to smoke cigarettes, but it was always a ‘clean’ smoke, that mingled with a constantly chewed piece of mint gum, his aftershave (Brut, most likely) and the antiseptic smell of his office. It was a very manly, 1970’s kind of smell. Like he was gonna jump in the Caddy, knock back a few and hit nine holes when he was done in the office. I think at some point in blending, this idea melded with my love of [Creed’s] Green Irish Tweed, which is somewhat floral while still masculine. Green Irish Tweed has iris, violet, and verbena. I choose to combine jasmine and mint, but these are very small parts of the formula.”
Hearing that story, I like Tonic even more. I wear it nearly every day, splashing a bit on my hands and rubbing it on my beard and neck. The fragrance is mild, but it lasts a couple hours. I’ve worn a bit of Tonic on my face while wearing another fragrance on my arms and chest. It pairs surprisingly well with Chanel Pour Monsieur (the old, pre-1989 version that’s still available everywhere but the U.S.) and with Santa Maria Novella’s leathery Peau d’Espagne. I’ve also worn it with Artur’s own Black Rose Variation, with which it shares a leather note.
Artur says he’s considering a true cologne version of Tonic, and maybe a shaving cream. I’d love to see both.
Tonic is available online at abeautifullife.com and, soon, Urban Outfitters.