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

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