Discount Diamonds: Kiehl’s Musk- Love Oil

Whenever I talk about where my perfume story begins I always say it started with a bottle of Jovan Musk for my thirteenth birthday. The ads told me it made the girls go wild. While I can surely attest the girls in middle school did not fall at my feet they did notice I “smelled good”. Which, to be honest, was good enough. Along the way I would always be looking for more and more musk in my fragrance and when I found Serge Lutens Muscs Koublai Khan that search ended. There was one stop along the path from Jovan Musk to Muscs Koublai Khan; it is perhaps the perfect compromise between those two perfumes; Kiehl’s Musk.

I’m not sure what it is about musk which prompts a brand to promise it to be love potion no. 9 but Kiehl’s was not immune to it. The story reads like this on the label of my bottle: “Believed to be created in the 1920s at the Kiehl's apothecary, this scent was later discovered there in the 1950s in a vat labeled "Love Oil."  It would be released in 1963 and has been available at Kiehl’s stores worldwide for over fifty years. It really is a Goldilocks “just right” blend of musk which makes it one of the most versatile fragrances to feature it. One of the reasons is while it retains some of the dirtier facets of musk it is dressed in a grouping of cleaner ingredients to add some respectability.

The perfumer behind “Love Oil” has been lost to time but whomever put this together realized a suite of florals which could stand up to the musk was the right choice to mellow its more carnal qualities. To start orange blossom is what I first smell, the musk arrives with rose and neroli on each arm. The musk wants to get a bit randy, but the florals surround it and cover it in a floral blanket of kisses. Eventually the musk finds the upper hand. Early on this is that musk of sun-warmed skin which in a slow evolution it does find its way to its sexy character where a little bit of tonka helps keep it from going completely feral.

Kiehl’s Musk has 10-12 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I don’t wear Jovan Musk very often, but Kiehl’s Musk gets a few wears every year. It is because it gives me enough of what I love in musk without being at full volume. It is just at the limit of my $50 per bottle limit for Discount Diamonds but it is a classic nonetheless. I can’t vouch for it being “Love Oil” but it is a damn fine musk perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Bvlgari Black- Still Enough Edge

As the concept of perfumes which didn’t necessarily have to smell pretty took hold simultaneously with the rise of niche perfumery there arose several trendsetting fragrances. One of the boldest was a mainstream release for Bvlgari called simply Black.

When I came upon this sometime around its release in 1998 I remember the salesperson at the department store warning me, “It’s edgy!” Thinking to myself, “How edgy can it be?” The answer was quite a bit. Perfumer Annick Menardo created a fragrance reveling in the smell of rubber. It would be like going to S&M night at the local leather bar. Edgy, indeed.

Annick Menardo

Mme Menardo fashions a powdery rubber accord around black tea, musk, and sandalwood. In an odd juxtaposition jasmine is used as contrast. Leather intersperses itself and this is where it feels like a bar as smoke, rubber, leather, and a hint of floral combine for that milieu. For the first few minutes of wearing Black it is all of this. Then before it can get truly subversive Mme Menardo reels it all back into familiarity with the olfactory version of a safe word, vanilla. Lots and lots of vanilla. It doesn’t not work as the leather and rubber have sweet facets amplified by the vanilla. But it does turn something challenging into something vanilla.

Black has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

There has always been a part of me that was surprised at how successful Black has been. I would hazard a guess that it is because it allows perfume lovers a chance to walk on the wild side for a short period before going full comfort mode. I still think that opening 30-45 minutes is as good as perfume got back in 1998. Especially mainstream perfume. You can find the distinctive hockey puck shaped bottle for $20-25. Nowadays Black has become mainstream as all that was edgy back in 1998 is now almost quaint. It doesn’t mean its any less of a Discount Diamond it just means there is still enough edge remaining to make it memorable.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Stetson Sierra- Christmas Tree Shopping

There is that moment every Holiday season soon after Thanksgiving I find myself in a Christmas tree lot. The act of picking out a tree is one of the pleasures of the season. Part of that is the simple smell of the scene. The rows of trees with sap coating the cut at the end on a cold night, breath steaming, is intrinsic to my scent memory of Christmas. The reason I have a real tree is to transport this smell, in a small way, back home. There are lots of great choices out there to capture this as a perfume. I thought for this month’s Discount Diamonds I might remind you of one hiding at the back of your drugstore fragrance case; Stetson Sierra.

Sierra was the fourth release from Stetson in 1993. It was the follow-up to two of the most popular drugstore perfumes, the Original Stetson and Preferred Stock. There was a sense that this brand was trying to be an all-American style full of masculine tropes emblematic of the cowboy who wears a Stetson hat. In these early days creative director Elizabeth Marrone really had an idea of what a “Stetson Man” should smell like. She would work with perfume Rene Morgenthaler to create a fragrance which is, “a breath of fresh air that takes you to Big Sky.”

Rene Morgenthaler

M. Morgenthaler goes for an herbal accord as the primary accompaniment to the fir balsam keynote. It captures the scent of the needles on the trees as rosemary, sage, allspice, thyme, and cumin are artfully blended into a rough accord which captures both the rawness of the sap with the softness of the pine needles. Right here is the smell of lots of pine trees leaning against saw horses with price tags affixed to them. It is subtler than most drugstore styles. The subtlety is removed in the later phase as a load of synthetic woody aromachemicals mix together in a typical base accord.

Stetson Sierra has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you find yourself stuck in line at your local drugstore on an emergency Holiday run; look at that fragrance case. If you see a green bottle for about $15 with Stetson Sierra on it. Grab it and make believe you’re out shopping for Christmas trees instead of waiting in line.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Montblanc Legend Intense- Second Bite of the Pineapple

On my latest scavenger hunt at the discount store I was surprised to see the subject of this month’s column, Montblanc Legend Intense, on the shelf. I had always seen this perfume as correcting all the flaws I found in the original Montblanc Intense which deservedly has been in the discount bin for years. Most of the times flankers are either cynical seasonal editions or complete re-workings. Montblanc Legend Intense was something different.

Montblanc Intense was released in 2011 by perfumer Olivier Pescheux. It was a wan attempt at a fruity fougere using pineapple and apple. The whole composition felt thin like it was missing something in support. It wasn’t anything I was going to remember until a couple years later while walking through the mall and being handed a strip. As I sniffed I thought this is very good, I asked the sales rep and she showed me the Montblanc Legend Intense bottle. I realized that this was the new and improved version of Legend. Now all the empty spaces were filled in to create something to remember.

Olivier Pescheux

In the original the opening of pineapple was given no help by the addition of coumarin and verbena. For Legend Intense M. Pescheux switches those out for cardamom and Pepperwood. What these notes do is lift up the pineapple into a crispness which was never apparent in the original. For the heart apple is again the keynote. This time M. Pescheux again goes for a crisp effect around the fruit using cedar, and the rose-apple aromachemical Pomarose. Everything about the opening is better it has clear delineated structure around a set of two fruit notes. The base is even better for the changes. This time M. Pescheux goes all in with a mixture of the most powerful woody aromachemicals mixing a potent cocktail of Ambroxan, Karanal, and Okoumal. These combine to form a long-lasting woody foundation.

Legend Intense has 16-18 hour longevity and average sillage.

I always think of Legend Intense as M. Pescheux’s second bite of the pineapple. I certainly believe it is a much better perfume in every way that I can quantify that statement. I had thought it to be a perennial best-seller but perhaps its days at the mall have passed. So much the better because it makes Legend Intense a Discount Diamond.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Yardley English Lavender- Embracing the Transitory

One of the most important sentences I write in every review is that which contains the longevity and sillage of the perfume I am writing about. I tried leaving it out and the vox populi let me know it was missed; a lot. It is an interesting set of statistics and I worry that it carries too much importance but the readers and the customers should have the information they want. Which makes it difficult for me to write about fragrances which last less than four hours. Although if it is a Discount Diamond it might go down a little easier especially since you can get 100 ML of this month’s choice, Yardley English Lavender, for around $10.

I like these short-lasting perfumes because they can be worn for just a morning, or an afternoon, or in the evening. When it comes to Yardley English Lavender it is my raking leaves perfume. I spray myself liberally and go out and rake leaves on a couple of chilly fall afternoons. By the time I come in and take a shower it is gone but not forgotten.

Yardley English Lavender is one of the original perfumes of the late 19th century opening the new age of modern perfumery. Created in 1873 it has been re-formulated twice in 2010 and 2015 by perfumers Paul Fraysse and William A. Poucher. It was one of the perfumes my grandmother wore which I always associated with her. Lavender has become one of my favorite florals over the years and I re-visited English Lavender right before the end of the 20th century. It quickly became a favorite choice for a quick boost of fragrance on a busy day or night. It is a simple construct designed to accentuate all the facets of lavender.

It opens with bergamot providing an amplification of the fresher nature of lavender. It transitions to clary sage bringing out the herbal nature. It is joined by a very crisp cedar which brings out the slight camphor-like undertone in lavender. A bit of musk reminds me that there is an animalic heart deep inside the purple spear.

English Lavender has 3-4 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

The biggest difference I have noticed in my versions is the musk used in the base. The earliest versions have a more animalic one. It has given way to a typical white musk in the latest version I tried. English Lavender is an example of the enjoyment that can be gained from embracing the transitory.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Versace The Dreamer- Oriental Barbershop

One of the concepts of this series is to point out there is a lot of great perfume available for modest prices. When I set out to do it my list included the bargains I had run across myself which is what populated the early versions of this column. What has become a nice by-product is readers will sometimes write me and say, “did you know this can be found for some nice price?” A few months ago, I got one of these about Versace The Dreamer. It went right to the top of the list of future subjects.

When I tried Versace The Dreamer at my local mall for the first time it was different from most of its brethren on the men’s fragrance counter. There were angles, edges, and spines sticking out of a classical architecture. In 1996 this was dangerous territory and I can remember people dropping the strip on the counter with a grimace. What made this perfume designed by Jean-Pierre Bethouart interesting was the most obstreperous facets were right there out in front. It was early days of the internet and there was significant love it/hate it divide on the perfume internet bulletin boards. I remember thinking The Dreamer would wake up and disappear because of its difference. Except those in the “love it” camp supported it giving it more time to gather new fans; which it has. Now that it has been around for over twenty years it has found some space on the perfume discount shelves. After re-acquainting myself with it in 2017 it doesn’t read as odd. It still carries a sharp early edge but there are others who also share this quality. The rest of the perfume is an exquisitely constructed Oriental accord that is why The Dreamer is a Discount Diamond.

Jean-Pierre Bethouart

The opening is the place where The Dreamer is at its most challenging. It is a post-modern riff on a classic lavender barbershop accord. M. Bethouart then uses a combination of tarragon and clary sage to provide a rough herbal envelope for the lavender. This is where many of the sharp elbows can be found. The people who don’t like it will say “too synthetic”. Those who like it realize this is a new type of lavender accord. It leads to a soothing geranium and rose heart which feels more expansive for having arisen from the spiky top accord. The base accord is raw tobacco also containing some rough edges. Most tobacco notes go for a deep narcotic effect. M. Bethouart goes for the effect of a green tobacco leaf partway through drying. There is some sappy greenery over the restrained aspect of the more familiar tobacco smell. It smooths out eventually with the warmth of tonka.

The Dreamer has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Smelling The Dreamer again has made me realize that it is more than a Discount Diamond it is a New Classic well worth the cheaper price it can be found at.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Antonio Puig Quorum- Powerhouse Light

Many of the perfumes I recommend as Discount Diamonds are examples of a style of fragrance emblematic of the time frame they were released in. What I try to do is find ones which have overcome that limitation to still feel relevant today. As I look back at those scents it is the ones which tried to be slightly different from the prevailing winds by taking a different tack. 1982’s Antonio Puig Quorum went for a lighter version of the masculine powerhouses of the 1980’s.

The 1980’s were an era of men who bared their hairy chests draped with a few conspicuously chosen gold necklaces. The fragrances to accompany that were equally aggressive. Each subsequent men’s release seemed to be seeing if it could me more macho than its predecessors. Antonio Puig Quorum plumbed the other side of the question; can there be presence without so much power? Turns out the answer is yes.

A team of perfumers consisting of Carlos Benaim, Max Gavarry, and Rosendo Mateu were responsible for finding a way to the lighter powerhouse. They did it by staying true to the tropes of the day but not doubling down and using a suite of supporting notes to keep it all less severe.

It opens with a bit of bitter herbal green matched with citrus. Rosemary, artemesia and marjoram provide the green. Tangerine is the citrus but it is not what will draw your attention to it; as it is what keeps the green notes from going too deep. The spices arrive next; coriander, nutmeg, thyme, and clove capture the opening trio and notch the volume up a bit. But this time geranium and jasmine provide some relief. A lovely lilting leather accord is matched with a traditional chypre accord all wrapped up in a tobacco leaf.

Quorum has 10-12 hour longevity with average sillage.

I have an original bottle and one I purchased a month or so ago. The main difference is that the greener notes are more the focal point while the chypre has been a bit more toned down than it was in the 1980’s version. The words above refer to the newer bottle. I think Quorum has survived to the present day because it doesn’t feel like it just came out of a thirty-year time capsule. There are inevitable reminders of that time but it fits in the now just as easily.

Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Cerruti 1881- Take It from the Top

Every year as I start looking at my summer stalwarts I realize so many of them have been part of this time of year for many, many, years now. In my early days of discovering fragrance when summer came I wanted a cologne which had some presence for the cooler hours of the morning but would fade away by the heat of the afternoon; only to be reapplied for the evening. There is an argument to be made that these kinds of constructions are flawed because of that. I don’t necessarily go that far because I am happy to reapply especially if the fragrance in question is a Discount Diamond. One cologne for which this applies is Cerruti 1881.

Nino Cerruti was a fashion designer who evolved his family’s textile business into haute couture. Both Giorgio Armani and Narciso Rodriguez would have tenures as part of the history of the fashion side. Fragrance was also an early part of the auxiliary business starting in 1979 with Nino Cerruti pour Homme. Sadly, the incredibly deep green perfume has been discontinued for a few years now. Cerruti 1881 was the fourth fragrance under the brand and the earliest still to be sold.

Martin Gras

Cerruti 1881 was composed by the same perfumer, Martin Gras, as Nino Cerruti pour Homme. Some of the herbal and green threads remain but there is a much crisper feel of the early moments as this tilts towards something much more refreshing; never diving too deep. In other words, a perfect cologne for the heat.

Cerruti 1881 opens with a snappy top accord of lavender, basil, juniper berry, and cypress. It is like a catch-all for masculine cologne tropes shoved into the first few moments. It works because each of those ingredients gets some room to occupy without stepping on the other. The green is slightly intensified with fir balsam and blackcurrant buds. It adds a sharp green along with a sticky green; all as foundation to the other top notes. Right here Cerruti 1881 is at its best. Everything is harmonizing beautifully for a few hours. Then it dissipates to a pretty standard sandalwood and patchouli base which is unobtrusive and generic.

Cerruti 1881 has 8-10 hour longevity; the top accord and heart last for about 4-5 hours. There is also average sillage.

If Cerruti 1881 wasn’t available for $20/100mL it would be hard for me to recommend. At that price, it is easy for me to tell you to go get some and just reapply once you need to top it up again during the day. To allow you to take it from the top another time.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Korres Blue Sage Lime Fir Wood- Apothecary Aesthetic

One thing I want to do with this series is also point out good brands which have good perfumes for a modest price. I would also like these to be easily available but the one I am recommending this month isn’t as accessible as it should be. I became aware of Korres through my participation on the online perfume forums. The first release was Pepper Jasmine Gaiac Wood Passion Fruit. I was completely enthralled with this peppered jasmine. I still wear some during the summer. This was released at the end of 2009 yet finding a bottle is problematic.

Korres is a Greek brand which is part of its US distribution issue I think. What this leads to is re-stocking after inventory sells out seems to be problematic. Which is too bad because each release wears its main ingredients on its label. You almost know if you’re inclined to like it before you even pick up a bottle. There is an admirable WYSIWYG aspect of that as there is not one of these where the named ingredients don’t sing out. Only in the case of a few of them do I know who the perfumer is. There is no evidence at all who is doing the creative direction although the brand has been founded by George and Lena Korres. I would love to give credit to the creative team because these are worth knowing who is responsible for them. For the purpose of the column I am going to focus on the last new release I received; Blue Sage Lime Fir Wood.

As I mentioned the name tells you what you will be experiencing if not in the order you will detect it. To show this it is the lime that comes first. It is supported by grapefruit and given a sprightly green herbal contrast by mint leaves. The heart uses geranium to draw out the green quality of the mint before the sage and fir arrive with a flourish. You really have to enjoy sage and fir because they are here at full volume. I like the way all of the Korres perfumes are not attempting to shy away from their focal points. The base is patchouli and vetiver also not presented in a delicate way.

Blue Sage Lime Fir Wood has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

The apothecary influence which is paramount for all of the Korres releases also leads to powerful perfumes. If you are not a fan of this style it is probably not worth the effort to track Korres down. If you do like the occasional powerhouse you can find many of the Korres releases on the online auction sites as well as every now and then the bigger perfume e-tailers. If this sounds good make the effort I think you’ll be rewarded with something nice for a good price.

Disclosure: this review is based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Eternity- Bridal Lilies

When I make my monthly run through the local discount store fragrance bins I have mixed feelings when I see what I consider to be a great perfume in there. On one hand, it gives that fragrance the chance to be re-discovered by a consumer for whom $20-25 is what they can spend to add a new bottle to their dresser. The flip side is the look how far this once lauded perfume has fallen. From the bright lights of the department store beauty counter to a giant “Bin O’ Perfume”. I must admit that I was surprised to see Calvin Klein Eternity there in the last couple of months.

Calvin Klein Eternity was released in 1988 as the follow-up to their extremely successful launch of Obsession three years earlier. At this time in the 1980’s Calvin Klein was a brand which had attained the highest levels of exposure a designer brand could aspire to. Much of that had come on being provocative in a sexual way, Calvin Klein was the latest examples of the old adage “sex sells”. Which was why when the press release for Eternity came out it used as its inspiration Mr. Klein’s 1986 marriage to Kelly Rector. This was a pivot to the purity of love which by itself was interesting. Ann Gottlieb was responsible for the creative direction and she chose perfumer Sophia Grojsman to work with on Eternity.   

Sophia Grojsman

Mme Grojsman was in the middle of a twelve-year run at the beginning of her career from 1978’s White Linen through to her masterpiece Lancome Tresor in 1990. Eternity falls in the middle of that run temporally as well as aesthetically. There is a cleanliness reminiscent of White Linen and the fully rounded rose of Tresor was just beginning to take shape as she worked the same with muguet for Eternity.

Ann Gottlieb

Eternity opens with a fresh top accord of mandarin and freesia. This is some of the fresher aspects that was so prevalent during this time in fragrance. The lily of the valley comes forth and it rumbles forward with power. This kind of floral intensity will become a hallmark of many of Mme Grojsman’s constructs; Eternity is one of the earliest examples. How she builds the intensity is by also adding in smart supporting ingredients. In this case marigold to amplify the green parts with narcissus doing the same for the white flower aspect of the lily of the valley. It is supported by a sturdy sandalwood foundation as the final piece of Eternity.

Eternity has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.

One of the reasons Eternity has probably fallen into the discount bins is that intensity it exudes. At the moment, it doesn’t seem to be congruent with current fragrance trends. In its heyday, Eternity was inspired by marriage which made it a popular wedding day perfume for many brides in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It is a great perfume from a great creative team and for the price it is hard to beat that marriage.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke