The History of Pinaud Elixir Shampoo and Clubman Grooming Products
“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
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 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 the 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 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 its 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, was now focusing. Klotz, however, was adamant about becoming the preferred brand of middle-class men rather than upper-class 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. 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 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 of interest in premium brands, Pinaud switched to plastic bottles and reformulated many of its signature scents to compensate for the 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 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 long gone). Pinaud Clubman was still around, but their distribution was spotty. Luckily, there’s a shop here in New York called C.O. Bigelow Apothecaries that stocks pretty much all of the Clubman products, as well as a bunch of other old-school and European grooming lines.
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 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.
This brings us to a minor manifesto. I promise it will be short. The world is full of 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? I’m also a huge fan of C.O. Bigelow’s own product line, Royall colognes, Imaginary Authors scents, and a crushing number of Korean products. At the same time, and once again as with whiskey, price does not always directly correlate to quality. Some very expensive things are terrible. And sometimes, very inexpensive things can be really good. As I mentioned 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.
The old school, and we’re talking Pinaud Clubman here specifically but it applies to a whole class of inexpensive and time-tested products—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 fella 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 have us believe. Taking good care of yourself was as much a part of being “manly” (“manly” is a term but it isn’t restricted to men when I use it. Bond Vivant ain’t into restrictive gender stereotypes) 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 working the farm. It’s the little way you pamper yourself and those around you after you’ve been breaking your back. The move away from that, among heterosexual men in particular, has a lot to do (I think) with a combination of “gay” and “feminized” panic that crept into straight male thinking during the 1990s. I simply do not have time for those nonsense attitudes. 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.
Product Reviews, and What to Drink When You Use Them
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, 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. Some have complained about it drying their hair out a little. That hasn’t been my experience, but experience varies. 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 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 citrus (lemon, mostly) note. It gives the scalp a nice tingle and 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 goopy 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. But my head very often was shaved, so I wasn’t asking a whole lot of whatever I might put in it. When 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 without making it look wet or shellacked. A little bit keeps me looking smart throughout the day.
Pinaud Clubman Aftershave
The foundation on which all Clubman is built. Clubman offers a pretty big lineup of aftershaves, and I haven’t tried them all (but I am an obsessive, so I will). If you have to choose one with which to begin, it should be this one, the classic. 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 might have changed over the years but I really like the current Chivas scotch, I also really like the current Pinaud Clubman aftershave. And this is the iconic Clubman scent: talcum powder, a faint hint of citrus and spice, and admittedly a whiff of something not entirely natural but also not unpleasant. 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. Apply it in moderation, but do apply it. 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. 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, stiff 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 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.
Pinaud Clubman Lilac Vegetal Aftershave
What are you going to do? Argue with the 19th-century Hungarian cavalry and Napoleon? Hell no, and if this was good enough for them, then it’s good 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.
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, although the floral is light; not the overpowering artificial floral you get from cheap perfume. I also find 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 a forum poster named 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 article, the only one that isn’t a foundation cocktail of the American bar. Its 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.
Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum
If any scent besides barbershop talc can claim to be the ultimate scent for rugged good grooming, it’s bay rum (sandalwood is OK). 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 as 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, desperate Americans even took to drinking the stuff, a Prohibition tragedy that was slightly less deadly than the consumption of wood grain alcohol but nevertheless 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’s possible a few of you are not sailing the wild seas and romancing the provincial governor’s rebellious son or daughter, seducing lusty dockyard barmaids, or inviting that tan and well-muscled able seaman to a secret cove for a bit of bathing au naturel, bay rum’s 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 1950s and ’60s. When Don Draper didn’t smell like J&B and cigarettes and drunk sweats, 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 fine. Measured up against better, more natural bay rum colognes, however, it definitely skews more toward a candy version of bay rum.
Wear it when you drink: Dark & Stormy
Tropical drinks can 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), 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 Lime Sec
Well, they can’t all be winners.
Pinaud’s Lime Sec Cologne is the only product on this list that doesn’t bear the Clubman brand. Its 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. It is strong, and whatever else might be there is overpowered by the artificial lime scent. Applied to neck and wrist, the lime is pronounced, but it fades quickly. Very quickly. This can lead some gents to over-apply (as I did once), and then yes indeed you can walk around smelling like a piece of candy. In fact, even after applying what I thought was a reasonable quantity on a warm day, the artificial lime smell was so strong that I stopped in a public restroom to see if I couldn’t wash some of it away. It can be applied properly, but you could also buy something better.
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 on dropping brand names as 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, though to be honest, I doubt he ever reached for the Lime Sec.
The gimlet is the perfect drink for when you’ve splashed a little lime scent upon your weary visage. But don’t trust Marlowe’s friend, Lennox — his half-and-half proportions were likely because they were drinking rotgut gin. A saner ratio is 2 oz. Plymouth Gin, 1 oz. Rose’s Lime Juice—some will say 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.” However, much like Pinaud products, Rose’s Lime has undergone changes over the years, making it perhaps less vital than it once was. Go ahead and give it a go, but I prefer fresh lime juice.
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lime wedge. Take a sip and stare into your glass, your heart heavy with the weight of a tragic world.