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.
It is easy with hindsight to look backward and find the perfumes which were responsible for trends. Any visit to the fragrance counter in the department store will tell you that “clean” fragrances occupy a large share of the fragrances being offered. Like all of these trends the one which launched it is usually a pretty good perfume. When it comes to this “clean” trend Glow by J Lo is the one.
In 2002 the idea of celebrity based perfumes, or celebuscents, was pretty much a tiny market share and not many of the more recognizable celebrity names were interested. Jennifer Lopez aka J Lo aka Jenny from the Block was going to change that. Her evolution from a Fly Girl on the television show In Living Color to superstar would take seven years. Wanting to parlay her success, and celebrity, into a lot of different ventures Ms. Lopez would display her business smarts matched her acting and singing talents. When I say in 2016 a celebrity is doing a fragrance you say, “Of course.” As Ms. Lopez began to design Glow by J Lo she wanted to make a perfume which would live up to her vision of “Fresh, sexy, clean”. Working with perfumer Louise Turner, Glow by J Lo would define that phrase for years to come.
Glow by J Lo opens with the snap of grapefruit softened with neroli. This is the promised “fresh”. The heart is where the beginning of “clean” begins. Ms. Turner uses a selection of synthetic aromachemicals for the floral appearance of iris, jasmine, and rose. The advantage of using these is that you can clean the jasmine up of its indoles; the rose up of its spicy core, and attenuate the powderiness of the iris. This is the clean version of three of the biggest floral powerhouse notes out there. Ms. Turner’s heart accord is brilliantly achieved. This sets up her mixture of synthetic musks to make the soapy accord for these florals to rest upon, completing the effect, as Glow by J Lo smells like clean skin after using a floral soap. A bit of sandalwood and vanilla provide a final bit of sweet creamy woods.
Glow by J Lo has 18-24 hour longevity and average sillage.
Even from the beginning Glow by J Lo was an inexpensive fragrance. Nowadays you can pick up 100mL for under $20 US. Ms. Lopez used her star power to promote it and by the end of its second year it was the bestselling perfume in the US. In 2016 it still sells very well but it has lots of competition from ever more celebrities putting their names on bottles. I tip my hat to Ms. Lopez and Ms. Turner for getting this right when there wasn’t a formula to be followed.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.
At this time of year I get a lot of questions about what perfume I would suggest to give someone as a gift. First I frown on fragrance as a gift and my method for giving it as a gift can be found at this link. Even when I say that people still want an answer and not wanting to be a snobby Grinch I have a couple of suggestions in my back pocket. One of my favorites is Zirh Corduroy.
Zirh is a maker primarily of men’s skin and hair products. They have a small selection of four branded fragrances. In 2001 they released Zirh by perfumer Delphine Terry which was a safe traditional lavender focused fougere. Corduroy was the second release in 2005 by perfumers Jacques Huclier and Rodrigo Flores-Roux. Corduroy was meant to be the yin to Zirh’s yang as it was designed to be a darker oriental. I’m not sure of this but I am thinking Corduroy was meant to be the cold weather complement to Zirh. I know I tend to wear it in the colder months.
Corduroy opens with a surprisingly sophisticated citrus top accord. Mandarin is the nucleus for the perfumers to build upon with grapefruit, cardamom, and lavender. There is another listed ingredient called aquacoral but I have never been able to consciously detect it. It sounds like it should add some kind of aquatic character but that is not what I experience in the opening of Corduroy. What I get is citrus combined with an herbal lavender and cardamom. The spice cohort changes fairly rapidly as cinnamon eventually rises up. The presence of nutmeg is what eventually becomes the more extroverted note and it lies over a very delicate application of a suede accord. Corduroy eventually heads to a woody base of sandalwood, cedar, gaiac; sweetened with a bit of vanilla.
Corduroy has 14-16 hour longevity but very low sillage for a commercial release. It is that restraint which is part of the reason I recommend it as a gift.
Corduroy really is one of the best bang for your buck perfumes out there you can regularly get 100 or 125 mL size for under $15. I bought my 125 mL for $9.99 at a local discounter. If you need a stocking stuffer or you just want a little something extra for the perfume cabinet Corduroy is an excellent choice.
Disclosure: this review was based on a bottle I purchased.
When I was early on in my perfume wearing life Calvin Klein Obsession for Men was one of my stalwarts. YSL Opium pour Homme would also become one of my go-to Orientals. My only issue with wearing these was I was very conscious of putting too much on. These were powerful perfumes and I didn’t want to be that guy who had the reputation for wearing too much “cologne”. My solution was to add a couple spritzes to my moisturizer which helped keep the vapor trial to a minimum. I was having this discussion with a perfume friend and she asked me if I had tried Armand Basi Homme. In her opinion it was a softer Oriental with all of the things which make an Oriental appealing. She would later gift me a bottle. She was also correct. Armand Basi Homme is one of the most well-mannered Orientals I own. Which makes it one of my favorite perfumes to wear when I am heading out to Holiday parties as I can still smell good without dominating the room.
Armand Basi is a European designer brand which arose out of his work with Lacoste. In 1987 he spun off his own company producing menswear and womenswear. Like all successful brands the expansion into accessories and fragrance would come in 2000. In that year they released two very confusingly named fragrances Armand Basi Homme and Basi Homme. The former comes in a rectangular black and white bottle. The other one comes in a solid black bottle in the shape of a cube. Throughout the years when I talk about these there is always this critical moment when I try to ascertain which fragrance is being referred to.
Armand Basi Homme was composed by Jean-Pierre Bethouart. M. Bethouart opens Armand Basi Homme on a cool breeze of cardamom and cinnamon through a lavender field. The cinnamon plays a supporting role to the cardamom. The lavender source is lavandin which makes it a cleaner version without many of the greener herbal facets to make it heavier. M. Bethouart keeps it light and airy. The heart is another mixture of primarily one floral, muguet, and two spices, nutmeg and tonka. This is a display of contrasts as the green floralcy of muguet is sweetened with the nutmeg and tonka. Again this could have been more boisterous but it is instead a whispering version of the push and pull between the floral and the spices. The base is a combination of three woods: cedar, sandalwood, and gaiac. It is a delightfully transparent version of these woods and it fits in with the overall tone of the fragrance as it comes to rest here.
Armand Basi Homme has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.
This is a perfect choice when you want to wear something which is interesting for you but not necessarily projecting outward. It is one of my favorite unobtrusive perfumes I own. You can find a 100mL bottle on most of the discount sites for under $30 US. If you want to find the softer side of Oriental Armand Basi Homme is where to start.
Disclosure: This bottle was received as a personal gift.
There are times when great perfume is treated as if it is day-old bread. Marked down and seen as unworthy because it isn’t new. Many of the entries in this series come from this perception. The silver lining to all of this is there are true perfume masterpieces to be found in the discount section. One of those is 1971’s Clinique Aromatics Elixir.
Composed by Bernard Chant it was Clinique’s first fragrance. During this time period was when many of the best chypres were being produced. M. Chant wanted to make Aromatics Elixir a sort of follow-up to Estee Lauder Azuree which he had done two years previously. Azuree was an example of a more restrained chypre which was what the brands thought American women wanted. Aromatics Elixir would follow that pattern but M. Chant pushed most of it to extremes. Because of that it isn’t as universally loved as other American chypres from the day. It is unforgettable because of that difference and the desire of M. Chant to push at the limits.
The opening of Aromatics Elixir is a very green accord centered on clary sage. By the time I got around to experiencing Aromatics Elixir I was well versed in the use of clary sage in perfumery. In 1971 it wasn’t so common and the bitter herbal quality of it was softened with a couple of florals which picked up on the green; geranium and verbena; and a couple which added some suppleness in chamomile and orange blossom. All of this transitions into a lurid floral heart of rose, ylang-ylang, and jasmine. This is a deep floral nucleus from which M. Chant can weave the chypre base around. Patchouli begins the movement and oakmoss, amber, and vetiver complete it. For some added intensity civet arrives at the end of it all. Which transforms this into a leathery chypre.
Aromatics Elixir has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage.
Of course in the over 40 years since its release Aromatics Elixir has been reformulated many times to conform with the restrictions on many of the ingredients M. Chant used in the original formulation. I don’t know who is responsible for it but whomever it is has done a tremendous job as modern equivalents have been found which has kept the original architecture intact.
You can find this at online discounters and in the discount bins at the markdown store regularly. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $15 for a small bottle. There are very few perfumes which are as good as Aromatics Elixir at many times the price. Of all the discount Diamonds this is one of the brightest of them all.
Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.