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

Discount Diamonds: Kate Spade Live Colorfully- Niche Me, Kate!

There have been several attempts to bring those who have been innovators in niche perfumery into the mainstream market. I would say they have been a mixed bag as far as success in the marketplace has gone. From the perspective of translating the creativity of niche that success has been more easy to discern. One of the earliest examples of this effort was Kate Spade Live Colorfully.

Kate Spade is a fashion brand established in 1993 selling handbags. Less than ten years later they were rapidly expanding in to other areas; one of which was fragrance. The first release in 2002, Kate Spade, was a pretty floral fragrance around muguet. It was discontinued about the same time the second fragrance, Twirl, was released in 2010. Twirl was an aggressive fruity floral which put me off for that forward nature.

Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi

Because of the uneven success of the first two releases the brand made a decision to try something different. For Live Colorfully the two creative directors from Le Labo, Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi, were joined by putative “lipstick queen” Poppy King. Working with perfumer Daphne Bugey they together worked on a mainstream perfume that could carry some niche sensibilities along with the safer aspects. What they produced was a fragrance more recognizably mainstream than niche but in a couple of places the independent streak peeks out.

Daphne Bugey

Live Colorfully opens with a pairing of mandarin and star anise. Mme Bugey allows mandarin the lead role but the star anise adds an odd complementary sweetness. The real niche aspect comes in the floral which opens the heart; as waterlily is set afloat on a pond of coconut water. It is the kind of accord you find in niche regularly. Here it is an outré watery floral accord. The perfume quickly gets back into safer waters as orange blossom and gardenia form the floral accord which is where Live Colorfully spends most of its development. Mme Bugey finishes this with a warm amber and vanilla accord.

Live Colorfully has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Live Colorfully has become a standard presence on the discount perfume points of sale usually going for around $25. It is a good spring perfume at that price.

I would have liked to been in the room as the decision on the final form of Live Colorfully was decided. I would be surprised if there wasn’t one version which was more niche-like. The final decision probably came down to a brand which wanted the opportunity to create a tentpole fragrance which is what Live Colorfully has become spawning two flankers in the last two years. Even with that said Live Colorfully still has those moments of rebellion within its typical architecture.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: David Beckham Instinct- Bend It Like Cologne

My disdain for celebrity perfumes is well established. There are some good ones but it is a sector mostly populated with bad fragrance. The concept behind a celebrity perfume is the person whose name is on the box is someone you like and that affection will allow you to forgive the dreck in the bottle. For too many years this has been successful. I’ll even admit when I receive a sample from a celebrity I like I hope it will be better than I think. Then there are the ones which have names of celebrities I don’t care for; those I hope are bad because my childish impulse wants them to fail at something.

I have written in the past that I am a long-time supporter of Arsenal Football Club which means that there are some natural rivals whom I have a severe antipathy towards. One is Manchester United. From 1996-2003 the star player on those Man U teams was David Beckham. In 1999 he curled in a ridiculous goal in the FA Cup Final against Arsenal when he was able to “bend it like…..you know”. He would cause me heartburn a few more times over his career. While most of the world sees him as this elite athlete generally thought of as a nice guy; I see someone I dislike. When I saw he had decided to release a fragrance in 2005 I wanted it to be gasoline in a bottle. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I actually liked David Beckham Instinct; darn it!

Beatrice Piquet

The early 2000’s was really the height of the celebrity fragrance boom. Anyone who had name recognition was going to produce a perfume. Because there was so much it is why the ones which have survived could rise above the noise. I have always surmised that the celebrity had little to do with the composition. I suspect their input was choosing between two or three finalists. The churlish part of me doesn’t want to give Mr. Beckham any credit but I have no idea his level of involvement. What I do know is perfumer Beatrice Piquet made an above average spicy citrus woody fragrance.

Instinct opens with a crisp citrus accord comprised of orange, mandarin, and bergamot. Mme Piquet then uses cardamom and star anise to provide a spicy complement. It is this interaction which starts to raise Instinct above its competitors. What seals it is the use of very green vetiver with a darker patchouli. So many masculine fragrances go for the cedar-sandalwood duo as its woody base. Mme Piquet using vetiver and patchouli provides a clear difference to other mainstream fragrances of the time.

Instinct has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Bottles of Instinct can regularly be found for less than $20 at almost any perfume discount point of sale. Today there are more mainstream perfumes which have traveled similar paths. Instinct is still one of the better versions even after all these years. I just wish I didn’t see a soccer ball bending into the top corner of the goal every time I wear it.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Zino Davidoff- Classically New

One of the things about the Holidays is it is one of the times of the year when fragrance is placed front and center at points of sale. I was reminded of this when standing in line to check out. There always seemed to be a display of perfume minis near the cash register. I spent a lot of time looking at the selection of perfumes in those plastic packages. I thought about how I had written about almost all of them over the three years of doing Discount Diamonds. That time was well-spent because there was one which I haven’t written about and it is sort of the epitome of what this column is all about: Zino Davidoff.

Zino Davidoff

In 1988 the Davidoff brand ensured its place in the perfume hierarchy with the release of Cool Water. Two years earlier Zino Davidoff was released and it is the polar opposite of Cool Water. Named after the man who steered the Davidoff tobacco enterprise from 1912 until his death in 1994. It isn’t clear why in 1980 they entered the luxury goods market from their position as tobacco purveyors. Fragrance was one of the earliest parts of that expansion.

Zino Davidoff was the second fragrance release between the now-discontinued Davidoff and Cool Water. I knew about the perfume before I knew about the man behind the name. What I find interesting is a brand which was founded in tobacco has never released a tobacco perfume. Zino Davidoff is a powerhouse Oriental. The perfume was composed by a trio of perfumers; Jean-Francois Latty, Michel Almairac, and Pierre Bourdon. It was kept simple but each phase is excellently done.

Zino Davidoff opens with a particularly prominent bergamot opposite lavender. This is a classic top accord and the lavender matches the bergamot precisely. The heart is rose made a shade greener by geranium followed by patchouli. Again, patchouli and rose is not an unheard-of combination but it is executed professionally here. It all comes to an end with sandalwood, amber, and musk.

Zino Davidoff has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Zino Davidoff is collection of accords you’ve smelled previously. What sets it apart is the perfumers mange to put them together in a way which makes it feel classically new. Even now thirty years on it doesn’t smell dated. You can find it as a mini for $5 which is a great deal. A full bottle is easily found for around $20. This is a fragrance which glitters as bright as any of the previous Discount Diamonds.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Burberry Brit for Men- A Little Nutmeg on Top

Sometimes I don’t even know when a perfume I like has crossed over into Discount Diamonds territory. This happened recently when I received an e-mail from a reader asking for a recommendation for an affordable nutmeg forward perfume. I had one in mind almost immediately but I still thought it was a full-price around $50 bottle. The reader got back to me about a week later and told me they found a bottle for $20; now we were talking. The perfume was Burberry Brit for Men.

Most people know the British brand Burberry for their iconic trench coats and the equally recognizable check patterns. They are one of the more recognizable fashion brands which means they would eventually turn to fragrance. They did, starting in 1991, but they didn’t really hit their stride until 2000-2007. Over that time the brand was one of the most interesting mainstream perfumes in the department store. I still recommend many of the main versions from those years, often. Also during that time Burberry also became enamored of flankers which meant a consumer if they were looking for Burberry Brit could be faced with choosing from four or five different bottles with the flankers being almost universally worse than the parent. On the men’s side Touch for Men and London for Men are good with the latter being the first entry in this series.

Antoine Maisondieu

Brit for Men would be perfumer Antoine Maisondieu’s first brief for Burberry in 2004. Two years later he would do Burberry London for Men. What made Brit for Men stand out for me was there were a lot of perfumes extolling the use of ginger as an energizing element. Brit for Men was one of the first where I understood that connotation. It also shifted gears from that energy to a spicy rose into a tonka and wood finish. This was mainstream perfume which had a little more to say than others.

Brit for Men opens with a tart mandarin and that ginger note. Here it picks up the greener facets of the mandarin and bergamot adding a jolt to them. Whenever I spray this on it is an immediate pick-me-up. A fantastic mix of nutmeg and cardamom leads the way to sturdy rose. The star here is that nutmeg as it rises above everything. Cedar is the main wood in the base which is made slightly powdery with tonka bean. Although the sweetness of the tonka extends those same facets of the nutmeg through the later stages.

Brit for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

These early 2000-era Burberry masculines form as good a mainstream set of perfumes as there are out there. I checked out the current versions and there doesn’t seem to be any excessive reformulation of any of them. Now that they are all Discount Diamonds you can buy all three for what one cost back then. That’s the essence of being included in this series.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Vera Wang for Men- Discount Bin Archaeology

I still go scavenging at the local discounters still hoping to find something unexpected. Most of the time I just replenish some of my favorite Discount Diamonds. At the end of the summer I saw something different down at the bottom of the giant Bin O’Fragrance. I patiently dug down to see what it was. I saw a plain white box and was hoping it was a tester which got mixed in. Many of my best scores have been the odd tester which gets caught up with the lots. Which explains my motivation to dig down. When I got to the bottom I saw it was not a tester the plain box had a professional logo which read “Vera Wang for Men”.

I remembered Vera Wang for Men as being the topic of discussion on the perfume forums back in 2004 when it was released. I went back and looked and the consensus was that it was derivative being easily compared to other fragrances which were judged as better. That kind of opinion probably kept me from trying it when I was at the department store, at that time. Now, usually when I am reviewing something I don’t have any idea about the overall opinion towards it. But as I was in line with the bottle I was reading the old reviews on my phone. Once again I almost let it stop me but for $9.99 I was curious to see whether I agreed. It took me some time to finally get around to opening the cellophane and checking it out. What I found was an office-ready amiable leather and sandalwood fragrance.

vera-wang-for-men

Vera Wang for Men was composed by a team of perfumers; Jean-Marc Chaillan, Olivier Polge, and Pascal Gaurin. It is difficult to find what brief they were given. All the ad copy was about being the “irresistible fragrance that becomes the signature of the man who wears it”. That could not be the instruction the perfumers were given. Whatever they were told they did put together a pretty traditional fragrance of masculine themes of citrus, leather and wood. As I spent some time with it I found this to be a good version of those themes.

One of the nice things was using a tarter version of citrus by going for yuzu which has a distinct thread of green. Mandarin leaves were used to make sure that thread was noticeable. The leather accord is straight forward but with nutmeg used to tease out the sweeter parts of it. The base is sandalwood, tobacco, and vanilla. These are all there but this is where a little more volume might have made this even better.

Vera Wang for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

For all the notes which could have produced a boisterous vapor trail leaving perfume Vera Wang for Men is much more mannered than that. It is that which I think has allowed me to enjoy it more than those who previously encountered this when it was released. I did some checking online and you don’t have to perform discount bin archaeology; Vera Wang for Men is readily available at many stores for a discount price.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paco Rabanne Pour Homme- Fougere 2.0

I have received a few really good modern fougeres this year. While I was wearing them there was something about all of them which was reminding me of something. As it so often does it came to me while in the shower one morning. The classic 1970’s era fougere I was thinking of was Paco Rabanne Pour Homme. There have also been some recent releases which have hearkened back to that timeframe, as well. All of those chose to emulate the powerhouse nature of masculine fragrance at the time. As is true of almost any trend there will be a few who try to blaze a different path. Most of those end up as entries in my other series, Dead Letter Office, because of it. It makes Paco Rabanne Pour Homme all the more remarkable for having lasted for forty-plus years because it was different than the other fougeres of the time.

Paco Rabanne was a fashion designer who began his career in 1966. Many knew of him as the costume designer on the 1968 movie “Barbarella”. His fashion was similar to those sci-fi designs as he used lots of metal and plastic. He was one of the earliest flamboyant designers. Even now the very popular French singer-songwriter Mylene Farmer wears vintage Paco Rabanne clothes when she performs. As he began to move into fragrance his first release was sleek aldehydic floral named Calandre. You could almost imagine this is what Jane Fonda wore as she played Barbarella. It would be four years until Paco Rabanne Pour Homme joined Calandre.

paco-rabanne-ph

Sr. Rabanne worked with perfumer Jean Martel on Paco Rabanne Pour Homme. Their take was to add a lot of herbal notes to accentuate that character of the lavender. it also tints it much greener than the other fougeres that shared space on the fragrance counter with it. It was so green it came off as soapy until the final part of it goes deeper and more typical of those other fougeres.

Lavender sets itself up as the early focal point upon which herbal notes are layered upon. Tarragon, thyme, rosemary, and clary sage come first. They make lavender seem very cleanly green through all of that herbal overload. The heart uses geranium to continue the green theme but now a different suite of spices warm things up for the base accord to come. Cinnamon, cumin, and clove form a slightly leathery accord although the clove is most present. It now moves to a biting oakmoss softened with myrrh and tobacco.

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Paco Rabanne Pour Homme has gone through multiple reformulations. The bottle I own is from the mid 1990’s. I went down to my local discounter and tried the current formulation and found it to be a degree or two lighter overall but still recognizably the perfume I have in my bottle at home. The lightening up might even make it a little more office friendly. If you enjoy some of the modern fougeres of the last few years go back and see when Fougere 2.0 began with Paco Rabanne Pour Homme.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Joop! Homme- Power Chords

Music in the 1980’s, especially as applied to the so-called hair bands, was an assemblage of how many powerful guitar chords you could link together. Those power chords were known more for their volume and the way they were played with gusto by the various guitarists. Perfume in the 1980’s especially men’s perfume was also reliant on power chords too. Amped up fougeres or colognes dominated sales on the masculine fragrance counter. A change was coming as the decade came to an end as Cool Water would soon drown out the powerful perfumes underneath its clean wave. I always find it interesting that one of the last-gasp powerhouses was done by the same perfumer who did Cool Water, Pierre Bourdon. Maybe he realized what he had set in motion and wanted one more time to go out with a flurry of lustily played power. It is certainly what he did with Joop! Homme.

joop-homme

At the time of release of Joop! Homme the brand was known as a contemporary clothing brand. They introduced Americans to the fragrances as they had their first runway show at New York Fashion Week. The fashion was very late 1980’s-early 1990’s and has been forgotten. The fragrances have become the primary association with the brand. Early in the 2000’s Coty would slice the fragrance portion away and acquire it.

PierreBourdon

Pierre Bourdon

Back in 1989 Joop! was looking for a partner to their first fragrance Joop! Femme. M. Bourdon would make a masculine elaboration of the jasmine, orange blossom, sandalwood, and vanilla Michel Almairac used in Joop! Femme. M. Bourdon was not looking for subtlety or clean lines he was ready to take center stage and amplify those notes.

Joop! Homme opens with that vigorous down stroke as M. Bourdon hits a power chord of jasmine, orange blossom, cinnamon, and bergamot. Which is rapidly matched as he returns the down with an upward movement of sandalwood, vetiver, tobacco, and vanilla. Together this is a loud spiced woody accord. Only much later does it soften a bit as some honey and tobacco add a bit of golden glow. Very late on there is an appearance of the clean musks; maybe it is M. Bourdon’s way of sending out a warning that this style of fragrance’s influence is about to wane.

Joop! Homme has 24 hour longevity. It also has atomic sillage. no more than two sprays or you will be playing your fragrant boom box for everyone around you.

Joop! Homme can be found at most perfume discounters for less than $20 for 4.2oz. It is so predominantly synthetic that it hasn’t been reformulated significantly

Just like I get in the mood for a little Twisted Sister or Poison Joop! Homme also satisfies that need to say the heck with subtle smelling perfume, “We’re not gonna take it anymore!”

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Versace Blue Jeans- The Start of Something Good

When I first discovered the discount fragrance collection at my local TJ Maxx it was like my own personal treasure hunt. If it only cost $9.99 it wasn’t much of a risk to buy one and see what I thought. Most of the time I would understand why it ended up at the discounters. The fun of the whole process was finding the ones which fell through the cracks. One rule of thumb I had was if it was in every discount bin it was probably not that good. Which is why it took me quite a while to finally buy a bargain bottle of Versace Blue Jeans.

versace blue jeans

In 1989 the fashion brand Versace wanted to really make a mark in fragrance. Since then Versace has consistently released a few perfumes every year. Versace is one of those brands which has staked out the department store sector as where their fragrance customer is found. It has been a successful enterprise over time but those early years were a bit bumpy as Versace was searching for their perfume style. In 1994 they really pushed all in with a pair of massive new releases Blue Jeans for men and Red Jeans for women. These were everywhere that holiday season and they never really caught on. Which then saw them slowly make the descent to the discount bins. They had produced so much of it that it was everywhere. When I finally purchased my bottle I found a fresh Oriental which was quirkily interesting.

jacques cavallier

Jacques Cavallier

The perfumer behind Blue Jeans was Jacques Cavallier fresh off of his L’Eau D’Issey success. With Blue Jeans it was like he was attempting to graft some of that fresh onto an Oriental foundation. It ends up coming off like a perfumed mash-up of a top 40 pop song and a baroque string quartet.

Blue Jeans starts with that populist aesthetic right away. M. Cavallier uses grapefruit, geranium, and juniper berry to provide that fresh opening accord. Iris, lavender, and violet tint the heart a shade of purple. Nutmeg provides a nice contrast. The base is all woody Oriental as cedar, sandalwood, vetiver, and amber all take their proscribed places within a very recognizable base.

Blue Jeans has 10-12 hour longevity and way above average sillage. This is one you only need a spray or two of.

The Versace aesthetic would come alive with the release of 1996’s The Dreamer. Blue Jeans is that interesting signpost pointing to better days to come. It is still one of those fragrances I turn to for hot days followed by cooler nights.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy- Out of Control Gourmand

If you’re ever interested in doing a bit of Pop Culture Archaeology the perfume discount bins can be a good digging spot. Just by casting your eyes over all of the celebrity fragrances within you can tell whose star is descending straight to the discounter. Despite the barometer of popularity, the great majority of these perfumes with a once hot personalities’ name on the box are almost all terrible. From a discerning point of view, the number of noteworthy celebrity fragrances is quite small compared to the hundreds which have been produced. Which means the ones that have sunk to the discount bin which are good should be pointed out. That’s what I’m doing this month with Britney Spears Midnight Fantasy.

britney spears midnight fantasy

From 1998 to 2004 Britney Spears was one of the biggest pop stars on the planet. Her debut single “…Baby, One More Time” is one of the biggest selling songs of all-time with over 10 million copies sold. As Ms. Spears built on that success releasing three more albums through 2003 she did what has become standard issue for a pop star; she branched out into fragrance. The problem became her first fragrance Curious was released just as Ms. Spears life began to become a very public train wreck in 2004. Despite the infamy it sold well and there were yearly releases which continue right up until today with the release of the nineteenth fragrance in the brand named Private Show.

Caroline Sabas

Caroline Sabas

Midnight Fantasy was the fourth Britney Spears release, in 2007, and was a flanker to 2005’s Fantasy. Perfumer Caroline Sabas was asked to create a more gourmand-style fragrance. The original Fantasy by perfumer James Krivda is a textbook example of why so many celebrity perfumes fail. It had a distinct lack of focus as it veered all over the place. The most interesting thing about it was this “cupcake accord”. Based on what Mme Sabas was asked to do with Midnight Fantasy I am guessing their focus groups also shared my opinion. What she did was go very big and very gourmand.

britney-spears-2016

Britney Spears in 2016

Midnight Fantasy uses the linchpin of every early 2000’s gourmand as its focal point, ethyl maltol. Most of the time the perfumers spend their time trying to rein it in. Mme Sabas lets it spin madly out of control as she wraps it in sugary fruity notes of cherry, strawberry, raspberry, some tropical fruits, and plum. These fruits are swirled into the cotton candy sweetness of ethyl maltol to give an incredibly satisfying candied fruit accord. It has a very provocative attitude of asking you to take it on its own terms or to walk away. There is a fleeting amount of iris and vanilla floating around later on but it is this olfactory package of Five Flavors Life Savers which is what you remember.

Midnight Fantasy has 6-8 hour longevity and above average sillage.

With the current trend of trying to appeal to Millennials with these lightly sugared floral gourmands I would love to see what that generation would think about Midnight Fantasy’s nuclear gourmand. I know I like it because of the intensity. If you’re doing some prospecting in the discount bins and you like gourmands Midnight Fantasy is worth a look.

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

Mark Behnke