Discount Diamonds: Lalique Encre Noire- Masterpiece Vetiver

With so much perfume released every year it becomes easy to forget about those which were released a short while ago. One of the goals of this column is to take advantage of that as the discounting cycle is also accelerated. Throughout the nearly five years of writing Discount Diamonds this is the first entry which I think is a modern masterpiece; Lalique Encre Noire.

Vetiver has become a staple ingredient of perfumery in the 21st century. Prior to that it was two perfumes which were the standard bearers for the ingredient; Guerlain Vetiver and Givenchy Vetyver. They were the perfumes which introduced my generation to vetiver. As we crossed into the new century the independent perfume market began to expand rapidly. That meant there were new perspectives provided on previous keynotes. Vetiver started off with a pair of perfumes, once again, leading the modern interpretation. One of those is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire. I don’t think that one is ever going to be a Discount Diamond. Lalique Encre Noire is the other one and it has become a fit subject for this column.

Nathalie Lorson

Encre Noire was released in 2006. Lalique’s fragrance business was looking for a way to join in on this new way of making perfume. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson would help as she composed three perfumes for the brand from 2006-2007; Perles de Lalique, Amethyst, and Encre Noire. It was a statement of intent to try for something different.

The original vetivers were citrus affairs with the vetiver providing an acerbic green contrast. More interested in the higher register effects. Encre Noire was going to go for a different style; plumbing the woody depths underneath the green. What was also so interesting about doing that was there was a smoky quality just waiting to be separated and amplified. Mme Lorson finds that.

The opening of Encre Noire is the classic grassy green of old-style vetiver. Mme Lorson uses cedar to find the woods inherent within vetiver. She uses two sources of vetiver in Encre Noire, Haitian and Bourbon. The Haitian vetiver I have come to know has a quite prominent smoky character. By blending the two versions Mme Lorson tunes the smoke to a soft level. I used to burn pine needles as a boy and whenever I wear Encre Noire the smoky nature reminds me of this. The Bourbon vetiver brings a spicy complement to the Haitian smoky version. The base is a cocktail of sensual musks which really represent the “noire” in the name.

Encre Noire has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I consider Encre Noire to be one of the best perfumes of this century. That you can buy a bottle for under $30 makes it a steal. There is no other Discount Diamond which will shine brighter.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Estee Lauder Cinnabar- From the Ashes

I devote one column a month to perfumes which have crashed and burned to end up in the Dead Letter Office. When I started Colognoisseur this month’s Discount Diamonds entry was scheduled to be part of that series. Then like a phoenix, Estee Lauder Cinnabar, rose from the ashes three years ago. It sits right on the edge of my $50 limit for this column. It is such a great fall perfume I’ve decided to fudge my criteria just a tiny bit.

Cinnabar was born to three influential perfume personalities. Estee Lauder was hands on, as creative director, in 1978. She asked perfumers Josephine Catapano and Bernard Chant to design an answer to the blockbuster Opium. Ms. Lauder wanted her own Oriental at a lower price point. They would form a softer Oriental which still retained a decent kick. Seems like a recipe for success. Except it failed. There are times when something permeates pop culture so thoroughly it removes all opportunity for competition. This is what caused Cinnabar to find its way to the discontinued shelf in the late 1990’s.

Then for some reason Estee Lauder, the brand, re-launched it in 2015. It is somewhat different than the original because of formulation restrictions. I’d really like to know who did the reformulation because I like it very much. It retains all of what I enjoy from the original. Just to be clear this column is describing the new 2015 version and not the original 1978 version.

Cinnabar is a simple construction of spices florals on top of a classic Oriental base. The modern version is the same with a lighter touch here and there which I only noticed when I had them on side-by-side. To my nose the differences are negligible.

It opens with what almost became a Lauder trademark of the time aldehydes and bergamot. There is a fizz across the early moments before the real business of Cinnabar appears. That is the heart accord of clove and rose. This is a big obstreperous accord full of 70’s attitude. It is balanced without going over the edge. It also really accentuates the spicy core of the rose. The currently available version of Cinnabar had to reduce the percentage of clove oil. The reformulator has found some neat tricks to get the volume back up where it was. The base is patchouli, sandalwood, and incense. It is the classic Oriental base, only thing missing is a touch of amber.

Cinnabar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Cinnabar can be found right around the $50 a bottle limit. It is an excellent choice for fall if you want to add a new spicy Oriental to your rotation.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Moschino Cheap and Chic- But Not Easy

There is something about understated elegance. Or to put it another way, to be chic while also being cheap. This is a concept much easier to say than to accomplish. It is also an unspoken goal of a lot of mainstream perfumes. It is also easier attempted than produced. I am always reminded of it when I try Moschino Cheap and Chic. Not only do they put it on the label, but they also live up to it.

It is a story I’ve told many times especially in the 1990’s as fashion brands added fragrance to their offerings. Moschino was no different. They started with Moschino and Moschino pour Homme in 1987 and 1990, respectively. Moschino pour Homme was one of those underrated men’s colognes which got washed away by the tidal surge of the fresh and clean trend. Neither were particularly popular and Moschino retrenched as they decided what was next.

The choice was to make a perfume which dovetailed with their women’s fun line “Cheap and Chic”. This clothing collection was always about youthful exuberance. When this collection was on the runway you might see the models wearing crowns and miniskirts or vibrant prints and lei. It was decided a perfume to match that irreverence was going to be the third try at fragrance for the brand. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson made Cheap and Chic perfume all of that.

Nathalie Lorson

When you go to a Cheap and Chic fashion show you feel like you’re at a party. The perfume feels like the fragrance you should wear to that party. Mme Lorson goes for a traditional citrus floral. She changes it by using some different versions which makes it feel unique without feeling odd. When it is all put together it lives up to its name.

Cheap and Chic opens with the greener lemon of yuzu. Petitgrain is used to push the lemony part a bit more to the forefront. It all leads to a floral heart which I enjoy every time I wear this as violet and peony form the perfect sunny floral duet. Mme Lorson deftly titrates in some of the bigger florals of jasmine and rose but they are there to provide some longevity and depth not to be the focus. It ends on a sweet woody base accord of sandalwood, vanilla, and tonka bean.

Cheap and Chic has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Besides living up to its name Cheap and Chic was the first fragrance success for Moschino. It has become a legacy brand for many young perfume lovers who discover it in their teens and early 20’s. The brand has produced a consistent output over the past twenty-plus years but Cheap and Chic has survived because it does exactly what it promises. Just don’t think it comes easily.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme- Aquatic Trendsetter

I have mentioned this before, but I sometimes look at the fragrance bargain bin at my local discount store mournfully. This happens not because of the selection but that there are some of the original trendsetters of perfumery in there. I get over it because it means those are accessible to many more people because of the modest price. Which is also the point of this column. This past month the summer allotment of the fresh aquatics must have arrived because the bin was covered in a layer of bottles of L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme.

Chantal Roos

In 1992 as Issey Miyake began their fragrance brand, creative director Chantal Roos and perfumer Jacques Cavallier would define the brand. In these early days Mme Roos decided the new aquatic style was what would set Issey Miyake, as a brand, apart. It was a shrewd play and when 1992’s L’Eau D’Issey was released it made a splash, literally. Two years later the same creative team released the masculine counterpart L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme.

Jacques Cavallier

When I try a perfume like L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme I always place it in context of where it began. If I received a new release aquatic which smelled like this I would dismiss it. Yet back in 1994 the aquatic fragrance for men was just getting started and L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme is one of those that cemented the popularity of the style. It is also a great perfume to wear in the summer.

L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme opens on a Calone-centered top accord matched with yuzu. Back then Calone was something new. This is the typical aquatic top accord we now know very well. From here M. Cavallier makes some clever choices starting with geranium and cinnamon in the heart. The slightly spicy contrast to the fresh seaside accord works really well before heading to a sandalwood and vetiver base.

L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

There might be a hundred clones at the mall right now but if you go to the local discount bin you can find one of the originals for a fraction of the cost. That is what Discount Diamonds are all about.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Clinique Happy- How Women in the 90’s did Fresh

I’ve written many words on this blog about the effect Davidoff Cool Water had on fragrance designed for men. I’ve received a few e-mails from women readers asking if there was a similar women’s fragrance which exemplified the fresh style for that gender. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it to finally arrive at a conclusion. It wasn’t the first; but it was, and continues to be, the best-selling of this style released in the mid 90’s. It is also the answer I most receive from men in their 40’s when I ask what the women in their life wear. The perfume is Clinique Happy.

In women’s fragrances throughout the 1970’s and 80’s the trend was deep chypres and boisterous florals. It was the gender equivalent to the men’s powerhouse leathers and uber-fougeres. As the 90’s dawned the time for a course correction was due. The generation which came after the Baby Boomers, Gen X, wanted a style to call their own. Those who loved perfume also wanted to find new styles to explore. By the latter half of the decade two new styles would provide the change; fresh was one of them.

Evelyn Lauder (l.) and Raymond Matts

For men fresh was synonymous with aquatic. For women it wasn’t as simple. There was a large selection of fresh linen style perfumes centered around the laundry and linen musks. The style Happy fits into is the other major one, the fresh floral. It is also the first credited perfume to Rodrigo Flores-Roux who collaborated with Jean-Claude Delville. The creative team, Evelyn Lauder and Raymond Matts, was also early on in their influential term. Clinique was created by Ms. Lauder; by 1997 she became more dedicated to the fragrance part of the brand. She would work with some of the best perfumers early in their careers spotting talent before others. Mr. Matts would also become one of the most influential creative directors but at the time of Happy he was also just starting down that path. With Happy they designed a perfume which exemplifies fresh and floral.

Jean-Claude Delville (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Happy opens on a, I have to say it, happy mixture of citrus. It is difficult to not smile in the early going because this is a sun-kissed grapefruit top accord. It leads to fresh jasmine scrubbed clean of indoles. This is a slightly dewy version of jasmine. It is expansive and transparent. Magnolia will eventually take the lead while retaining the same opacity. A similarly transparent synthetic wood is the final ingredient.

Happy has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Happy is successful because it does everything perfume is supposed to do. The citrus is uplifting. The florals are lilting. The woods are simple and light. It is why Happy is successful because it is so easy to be the perfume for a woman who only wants a couple bottles on her vanity. It continues to be a best-seller because even after twenty years few do it better.

Happy is another of the cases where its longevity is why it is a Discount Diamonds choice. It can be purchased from 10mL rollerball up to 100mL for anywhere from $4.99- $34.99 respectively. Heading into the summer if you want something fresh to add to your holiday overnight bag Happy is as good as it gets within the style it helped start.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Elizabeth Taylor Passion for Men- The Scent of a Man La Liz Style

The branding of perfume by celebrities was not as common as it is today. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s where celebrity and perfume became the brand instead of the promotion. One of the earliest to step up with a celebrity brand was actress Elizabeth Taylor. Prior to Ms. Taylor’s entry the results were mixed. After the success of her third fragrance White Diamonds there was a line of celebrities wanting to put their names on a bottle. I became acquainted with the brand through their first masculine release Passion for Men in 1989.

Ms. Taylor was one of the earliest celebrities writ large often referred to as La Liz. In a day when there was no internet every move she made was scrutinized and reported upon. Her love life, the jewelry, the movie set contretemps, and her fashion. I was always enthralled by her eyes with their one-of-a-kind violet color. Seeing them on a 70mm movie screen they were mesmerizing. The color became one of Ms. Taylor’s hallmarks as she used violet throughout her life. When she released her first perfume Passion in 1987 it was in a violet colored bottle. I had a close friend who wore Passion from nearly the first day it was released, it was her signature scent for twenty years. When I smell it I automatically think of her. Because she knew I liked perfume she gifted me a bottle of Passion for Men in 1989. It would remain in my small early rotation of perfume until I discovered niche over ten years later.

Rene Morgenthaler

Passion for Men was composed by perfumer Rene Morgenthaler who was a stalwart perfumer in the commercial sector at this time. M. Morgenthaler was a technician working on the familiar perfume templates. Passion for Men was going to be a masculine Oriental except there was a fabulous little indicator of where men’s perfume would head more firmly twenty years later. M. Morgenthaler would design a spicy woody version of the classic architecture.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1985

Passion for Men begins with bergamot supported by ginger. This begins to be subsumed by spices as clove, cardamom and primarily nutmeg carry things forward. Vetiver sets itself up as the nucleus in the heart. This is a woodier version of vetiver. M. Morgenthaler really pushes it to the foreground to mesh with the nutmeg. The bit of innovation here is he adds in a vector of vanilla at the same time patchouli comes up. This tilts in a kind of gourmand style, years before that would come to be a thing.

Passion for Men has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I still wear Passion for Men at least once a year, it has classical style which does not feel dated. This can be had for $10-15 at most of the perfume discounters. Its longevity has really turned it into a Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Philosophy Amazing Grace- Muguet For All

As we approach May Day and the traditional sprig of lily-of-the-valley (muguet) worn in celebration of spring becomes a natural theme for many perfumes. Most are limited editions, and most are kind of pricey. Like anything there are exceptions. One of the most economical perfumes which features muguet is Philosophy Amazing Grace which means it is an appropriate choice for this month’s Discount Diamonds.

Philosophy was founded in 1996, as a beauty brand, by Cristina Carlino. As the brand gained a foothold she decided fragrance should become part of it in 2004. That led to two debut releases Amazing Grace and Pure Grace. Amazing Grace was the one which featured muguet.

Cecile Hua-Krakower

Ms. Carlino founded Philosophy with a concept focused on skin care. By the time she turned to perfume she wanted her fragrances to be uplifting in style accompanied by its own credo on each bottle. For Amazing Grace it says, “in the end it all comes down to one word, grace” right on the bottle. For Amazing Grace, Cecile Hua-Krakower was the perfumer asked to create something which lived up to that. The result is a soft floral as the muguet is nestled within a bed of white musks.

What you first notice though is sparkling grapefruit for the first few minutes. This is a sunny citrus which sets up the appearance of the muguet. Muguet can be very green; Mme Hua-Krakower uses a set of other floral notes to dampen the green while amplifying the floral. Which means before the greener facets can be found jasmine, freesia, and orange blossom run interference. It makes the muguet slightly powdery. Mme Hua-Krakower then layers a number of white musks to form a downy foundation. I have always enjoyed this effect of these style of musks as they become softer than I would have anticipated. By the later stages it is this musk accord which is what remains.

Amazing Grace has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Amazing Grace is one of those kinds of easy-to-wear perfumes I could describe as akin to your favorite t-shirt. Amazing Grace can be found in small bottles for around $20. If you want to wear some lily-of-the valley on your skin instead of pinned to your hair Amazing Grace is a muguet for all.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Perry Ellis 360 Red for Men- Third Law Aquatic

Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. In mass-market perfume there is a lesser known law of motion, “for every bestseller there will be scores of imitators”. As we moved into the 21st century those bestsellers were almost uniformly aquatic. This was a style of perfume that didn’t really allow for a wide range of variation; not that it stopped anyone. One which chose to listen to Newton decided to push back against the fresh aquatic with something spicier and woodier was Perry Ellis 360 Red For Men.

In 1995 Perry Ellis released 360 For Men and it was just another fresh entry in a sea of them. Eight years later when the first flanker was imagined I am not sure who suggested going in a different direction, but it turned out to be a good idea. Perfumer Jean-Louis Grauby layers in spice and woods into the typical citrus and aquatic accords which are kept to the background.

Jean-Louis Grauby

The opening of 360 Red For Men is the typical citrus as lime is modulated by a bit of orange it is nothing so different from many other perfumes of the time. Once the cinnamon begins to warm things up instead of plunge into the water then you notice a change. Nutmeg keeps the cinnamon in check from smelling like red-hot candies. A very strong cedarwood provides its clean woodiness. It takes a while but through a skillful use of white musks there is an aquatic effect to be found but it is secondary to the spice and woods.

360 Red For Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

360 Red For Men is an aquatic for cooler days. The spice and woods give you some pop in the morning and the aquatic peeks out as the day warms into the afternoon. This is one of those great bargains which can be found for less than $20/100mL. It is a discount diamond because it managed to try and be an opposite reaction to the aquatic trend of the early 2000’s.

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

Mark Behnke

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