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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
There comes a point when we evolve in our perfume tastes. As we do that we leave behind the places we first discovered perfume had the ability to be a part of our lives. Very few of us start with Chanel or Guerlain. Most of us start at one of the stalwarts of the mall. One of those is The Body Shop. When I go on my mall field trips I try to make it a priority to check in to The Body Shop a couple times a year. On my recent spring outing I found a new entry in their musk series, Black Musk.
When The Body Shop broke in to fragrance in 1981 White Musk was their signature scent for over ten years. I have always admired it as a benchmark of the clean linen kind of musk. I keep a bottle on hand because it is such a good example of that. In 2003 The Body Shop really expanded their fragrance offerings. Over the next few years there would be a number of solid White Musk flankers. Two years ago Red Musk entered the musk collection. This was a perfume which would be familiar to any niche perfume lover; pepper aldehydes, vetiver, and tobacco. A baby niche kind of perfume.
When I was in a few weeks ago I found the musk series had added a new member Black Musk. Composed by perfumers Cecile Matton and Ralf Schwieger, Black Musk is like a beginner’s gourmand with a mix of sweet notes fused with the darker synthetic musks.
Black Musk opens on a crisp pear note juxtaposed with pink pepper. You are not going to find anything here you haven’t seen elsewhere. Yet you will find perfume composition of commonly used ingredients employed well. Pink pepper has become one of those almost overused notes but I am liking it most when it is paired with a greenish fruity note. It seems to be a natural pairing. A cracking serving of licorice whips takes you into the vanilla and musk finale. The licorice is the sweet less herbal version. The vanilla is the sweeter baker’s version. The musk is one of the weightier ones less like laundry and more similar to its animalic origins. Together it forms a gourmand accord with nice depth.
Black Musk in the eau de toilette version has 6-8 hours longevity and average sillage.
The eau de toilette bottle goes for $23. There are oil and eau de parfum versions for a few dollars more. Not all Discount Diamonds are last year’s model sometimes there is something new to be found even at the mall. Next time you have a few minutes nip in to The Body Shop you might find a really good bang for your buck fragrance. Black Musk is a great place to start.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.
As I’ve been reviewing the new sweet gourmands targeting the millennials, supposedly. I have been reflecting back to the earliest successes in this genre. By 2003 the gourmand wave was well underway with many of them working on variations of Thierry Mugler Angel. There was room for originality but too many decided a big dose of the cotton candy-like ethyl maltol plus a few other things was enough. It wasn’t.They mostly came off as a cloying mess which is the hazard when trying to work this style of fragrance. Finding the line between sugary fun and overbearing treacle is not easy and there is a graveyard of attempts. Then Aquolina Pink Sugar arrived and showed how to do it.
Pink Sugar was as calculated a perfume as there ever was. Perfumer Pierre Nuyens was asked to provide the same cotton candy and caramel core of Angel with berries added in. Now that might sound terrible and on paper I might agree. M. Nuyens delivered on this brief. What is funny to me when I wear Pink Sugar it reminds me of a summer night at the local fairground. As you stroll the midway smelling all the different confections; candy apples, cotton candy, caramel apples, and orange soda. This is what Pink Sugar takes me back to.
M. Nuyens opens with a juicy orange soda accord as if I’ve just picked up a Fanta. In the heart comes that cotton candy and the berries. The note list lists them as strawberry and raspberry. I encounter them as the sweet sugary coating of a candy apple. I can recognize both of them when focused on picking the threads of ingredients apart. When I am just enjoying wearing Pink Sugar I think candy apple every time. Caramel comes next and it is made sweeter with vanilla added. This is a gooey chewy accord which always makes me wonder if my skin is sticky where I sprayed it. The final notes are sandalwood and musks. The sandalwood has an effect of making some of the sweet notes seem a bit overdone, almost burnt. I think of standing outside the fairground as the lights are being shut off and the last bit of the scents of carnival are caught by the breeze.
Pink Sugar has 14-16 hour longevity and prodigious sillage.
Pink Sugar has been a bestseller since its release. In my mind it stands next to Angel as one of the innovators within the gourmand sector. It can be found for less than $20 almost everywhere.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
For those of us who are of the Baby Boomer generation one of your earliest encounters with perfume might have come with the visit of an Avon Lady to your home. I remember the visits of our local Avon Lady as my mother would look through the offerings. When it came to perfume Mom was a Guerlain Girl forever. The representative still tried to entice her with the new perfumes. The living room filled with scent.
I had forgotten about Avon as a perfume brand until reminded about it two years ago. An old friend from high school is now an Avon Representative. She sent me a box of the latest releases from 2014. I was very impressed at what was being achieved on a budget which allowed these perfumes to be sold so modestly. Once I delved further I discovered a creative director in Isabel Lopes who believes great perfume can be designed without a large price tag. First step is to enlist some of the greatest perfumers working currently. Almost every great perfumer you can name has done a perfume or two for Avon. One of those perfumers who impressed me with my first visit to the modern world of Avon fragrance is Rodrigo Flores-Roux.
After I reviewed his 2014 Avon perfume Flor Alegria I had the opportunity to ask him how different it was to create on a budget. What I love about Sr. Flores-Roux came through in his answer, “Not difficult at all.” When I asked how he got such a rich floral bouquet from the rose synthetics he let me in on a perfumer’s technique. He told me there is the equivalent of a drop of high quality rose essential oil there which is used to release the synthetic. I asked him if this is like what a single drop of water does to good scotch, it opens it up. His broad smile was all the answer I needed.
Ever since my friend has been sending me samples of the latest Avon releases my level of respect has grown the more I encounter what can be done. In the beginning of April I received the latest release from Avon by Sr. Flores-Roux called Little Black Dress. I have spent the last three weeks smiling at how good this is.
Little Black Dress is an updating of a prior 2001 release. Sr. Flores-Roux was tasked with modernizing that structure. He decided to go with a classic silhouette comprising a citrus neckline, a floral waistline, and a woody hemline. Onto that basic figure he adds some detailing to give this Little Black Dress some character.
Little Black Dress starts with a neckline of ebullient lemon. The bit of solid braiding Sr. Flores-Roux adds to the lemon is pink peeper and plum. The tiny noticeable bit of plum adds opulence to the brightness of the lemon. It is an excellent way to start. The waistline of jasmine is where I think Sr. Flores-Roux might have added some jasmine essential oil to whichever version of jasmine synthetic he used. Peony and rose also help to create a more natural smelling jasmine accord than would be achievable otherwise. The hemline is sandalwood made a little asymmetrical with the addition of vanilla and a whole bunch of white musks. This creates a plush woody base accord that lasts an extremely long time.
Little Black Dress has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
Sr. Flores-Roux is one of my favorite perfumers. With these Avon releases he reminds me a bit of the construction paper nudes of artist Henri Matisse. A great artist does not need the finest materials to move someone who appreciates art. Their creativity with working in any medium confirms their passion for it all. The amount of very good perfume being produced under the Avon brand, via Ms. Lopes vision, is remarkable. Little Black Dress is better than very good it is superb. If you haven’t considered Avon in a while, or at all, Little Black Dress might open your eyes. At $25 for 50mL it is hard to beat that price for this kind of quality.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle provided by Avon.
In all of perfumery there are only a handful of perfumes which can be said to be true game-changers. One of the fun things about writing about these masterpieces decades later is it allows me to see with perfect 20/20 hindsight how influential they are. One of these few is Estee Lauder White Linen from 1978.
As I’ve written about before the 1970’s were when women began to buy perfume for themselves. As they began to enter the workplace they still wanted to smell good but they wanted understated. The perfume companies were all looking to find what these working women wanted. One thing was for sure in 1978 few of the Estee Lauder releases like Youth Dew, Azuree, Alliage or Private Collection were going to be seen as office-ready. Estee Lauder probably saw this market segment slipping away and needed something to entice them back. Somewhere along the line Estee Lauder got the bright idea to combine the new class of synthetic musks together. To achieve this they enlisted perfumer Sophia Grojsman.
Again using that perfect hindsight this was an early opportunity for Mme Grojsman to compose in what will become her trademark of big bold blocks of synthetics. White Linen is full of this style as she strives to capture the smell of crisp clean linen freshly ironed.
Mme Grojsman first employs Hedione and its expansive jasmine-like quality as a cloud on which an assortment of aldehydes can also become fuller. Hedione is an ingredient with all the indoles removed from jasmine essential oil and it is a perfect choice to provide a matrix for the aldehydes to insert themselves into. The heart is a whopping boatload of synthetic musks lead by Galaxolide. Galaxolide had only been used in fabric softeners and soaps up until that point. Mme Grojsman’s choice to use it adds that laundry fresh smell by co-opting the molecule responsible for it. The rest of the musks are used to construct that crisp cotton accord. Every time I get to this point of White Linen I am blinded by the bright white olfactory light Mme Grojsman has created. A base of a couple of synthetic woods and we are done.
White Linen has 20-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
White Linen has been a consistent seller for almost forty years. It’s longevity is testament to the enduring desire for many perfume wearers to want to feel like a freshly laundered cotton sheet. That time has allowed it to find its way to the discount bins where 1oz. can be found for around $25. One other interesting fact is because this is composed almost entirely of synthetics it hasn’t been significantly changed. The dreaded reformulation hasn’t changed things. To find a true masterpiece of perfume for this price it should be hard to pass up.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
Rites of passage are such that they are common experiences shared by almost everyone. Trips to the barbershop as a child is one. Like many young children the trip to get my crew cut every month was as welcome as early bedtime to me at that age. In the beginning it was because I didn’t like the feel of the clippers on my head. Bribed with lollipops I would eventually get over that. The next thing I had to get over was the way the barbershop smelled. There was this heavy cloud of aftershave the barber applied to each adult he gave a straight razor shave to. When I was five I detested this scent. I refused to hug my father until he had taken a shower and washed it off. Then, just like the clippers, I got over it. The smell became a part of my monthly routine. It was the scent of my barbershop.
It would be many years later until I made that fragrance’s acquaintance again. When I first started acquiring perfume bottles the discount shops like TJ Maxx and Marshall’s were a fun treasure hunt looking for something good. One denizen of these bins was a heavy solid white bottle with 1950’s font printed on its side. For $8 it was worth a blind buy. When I got home, opened the box, and gave it a spritz, this was no stranger to my nose. The perfume, Maurer & Wirtz Tabac, was that smell of my childhood barbershop. As an adult it was like embracing a long lost friend. As part of the early expansion of my perfumed horizons I was surprised at how well constructed it was.
Tabac was released in 1959 in three concentrations; Eau de Cologne, Eau de Toilette, and Aftershave. All three were composed by perfumer Arturo Jordi-Pey. They all have real differences but the base accord is the real overlap between all three concentrations. It is also the part which means barbershop to me.
The top accord is a mixture of bergamot, petitgrain, black pepper, and aldehydes. For a perfume marketed to men these aldehydes are the ones associated with Aqua-Net hairspray. That quality is cleverly covered up with the other notes. In the more intense concentrations there are some added herbal notes. The heart is a classic lavender. Sr. Jordi-Pey plays around with the other florals he uses in the heart with the different concentrations. It is this part of the fragrance which allows me to identify which version is which. A pure lavender is the aftershave. A lavender supported by jasmine and rose is the Eau de Cologne. The lavender turned woody with cedar is the eau de toilette. All versions converge on a base accord of vetiver, sandalwood, oakmoss, and musks. It is this accord which is truly that barbershop smell I remember.
Tabac has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Tabac is still a regular in the discount bins. I just checked this past weekend and I could have bought all three concentrations for $22 total. It might be the most economical fragrance wardrobe for a man out there. I have gone and also bought the shaving cream as well. That allows me to have my own personal barbershop days where I shave with it, follow it up with the aftershave. Apply the Eau de Toilette for work and finish with the Eau de Cologne for the evening. On those days the young child with the crew cut has grown older but not up.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.