Discount Diamonds: Estee Lauder White Linen- Blinded by Sophia’s Light

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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.

estee lauder white linen

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.

SOPHIA_GROJSMAN

Sophia Grojsman

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.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Maurer & Wirtz Tabac- My Barbershop

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.

tabac edc

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.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Glow by J Lo- This is Where Clean Begins

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

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.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Zirh Corduroy- Stocking Stuffer

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.

zirh corduroy

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.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Armand Basi Homme- The Softer Side of Oriental

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-Homme

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.

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Jean-Pierre Bethouart

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.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Clinique Aromatics Elixir- Immortal Chypre

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.

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.

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Bernard Chant

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.

-Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: L’Occitane Eau des Baux- Transitional Amber

There are so many signals that summer has ended and fall has arrived. The temperature is obvious but there is also a crisp edge to the air I breathe in. It makes itself evident in food and drink as pumpkin spice invades everything. September is always a transitional month for me because I will still get very warm days but they are often paired with chilly mornings. The summer fragrances don’t feel right on those chilly mornings but I also don’t want my heavier ambers of autumn to be hanging around by the end of the day as things have gotten much warmer. I have a go-to set of perfumes for these days of transition which manage to capture this shoulder season between summer and fall. When I want an amber for this time of year I turn to L’Occitane Eau des Baux.

Many of you might walk by the L’Occitane store in your local mall and be unaware there are some pretty great perfumes lurking behind all of the bath and beauty products. They have released just over a hundred perfumes since 1996 always at a really good price point. For this series it skirts the $50 limit but I regularly have found it on sale for under that price and so I’m bending the rules a little bit.

loccitane eau des baux

Eau des Baux was released in 2006 and was composed by perfumer Karine Dubreuil. The other L’Occitane releases for the year had been firmly on the lighter side as green tea, orange, and verbena were the focal points of the earlier 2006 releases. Eau des Baux was meant to be a bit sturdier fragrance. If there was a hallmark at this time in the L’Occitane collection it was a sort of lighter style of fragrance. That would become less prevalent over the next few years but Mme Dubreuil was most likely tasked with making a lighter Oriental. Eau des Baux turns out to be exactly that.

Eau des Baux opens with a creamy green woody accord of bergamot, birch leaves, and fig tree. The bergamot provides the citric core for the rough green quality of the birch leaves to push against. The soft woodiness of the fig tree accord fits between the two notes as if it was meant to be. In the heart the amber accord comes together and it is surrounded by cinnamon and incense. This is a warm amber but it never gets too strident. The cinnamon and incense are also kept from becoming too prominent as well. The base is a clean woody palate cleanser of cedar sweetened with a bit of vanilla.

Eau des Baux has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you’re looking for an amber version of that light sweater you wear on September mornings I think Eau des Baux fits the bill. Make a stop at L’Occitane the next time you’re at the mall you might be surprised at what you find in the fragrance section.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Hanae Mori HM- One Perfume to Rule Them All

I think everyone who becomes a fragrance lover has that phase where they become highly acquisitive. It seems that there is not enough perfume available to satisfy the desire for more. There is probably something a little obsessive about this but most of us come out the other side smarter about fragrance. One of the lessons I learned while searching through the discount bins was I never knew when I was going to find something which connected with me. Some of my still favorite perfumes came from this kind of olfactory diamond mining. Another thing I would come to appreciate was that there were perfumes meant for people who only have one bottle of perfume at a time. As the man who lost count long ago this idea of one bottle at a time sounds like eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. I have realized that I am the outlier and most people who buy perfume do it one fragrance at a time. At least according to marketers this is especially true of men. This means masculine marketed fragrances more often attempt to be that Swiss Army Knife kind of fragrance. If the fragrance can be worn to work and the gym and the club that will be a success. I also think a perfume which manages to check all of those boxes successfully is a success and also rarely done well. One of those is Hanae Mori HM.

HANAE-MORI-HM

Hanae Mori is a Japanese-born fashion designer. She was one of the very first Asian designers to show in New York in 1965. What is very interesting is it wasn’t until Mme Mori retired from the catwalk scene that she began to put her name on a brand of fragrance. Usually that kind of product grows out of the fashion line instead of being the next iteration. Mme Mori has done things differently. After releasing the first fragrance, Butterfly, and a flanker, Butterfly Eau Fraiche; she would turn to a men’s fragrance. It would have been so easy for her to latch on to the fresh and clean aquatic trend. Instead her vision was to be an early adopter of the gourmand trend started by Thierry Mugler A*Men. In 1997 with perfumers Jacques Lions and Karoline Vieth-Buxton she would oversee a perfume, Hanae Mori HM, which seems to veer all over the place without ever leaving the road. It careens from style to style but somehow it all holds together.

The opening of HM is a classic masculine trope of lemon and lavender. The perfumers use blackcurrant buds to add a sticky green quality which moves into a slightly powdery floral heart of iris, jasmine, and muguet. The perfumers combine these florals with the lavender from the top notes to create a definitive floral but not one which tilts so far as to make a man think about it too much. The final transition is a dusty chocolate accord matched with sandalwood. This is the smell of fine cocoa powder liberally coating the wood. Sweetness abounds. Only a tiny bit of amber tries to counteract this and it provides warmth more than contrast.

HM has 14-16 hour longevity and above average sillage.

HM does feel like three distinct perfumes in one and I imagine its appeal as one fragrance to rule them all stems from that versatility. As a fragrance it is a really nice jack of all trades. You can find bottles of this online or in discount bins for around $20-25.

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

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: Do not confuse HM with the later release HiM. That later fragrance is an example of when this kind of perfume composition goes all wrong.

Discount Diamonds: Ungaro III- Polge by the Numbers

There is no greater pleasure than to find a low price perfume by a perfumer who is more known for their higher priced works. During the 1990’s when Jacques Polge was at the height of his creativity for Chanel especially on the masculine side Chanel would allow him to make a perfume for a few other designers. He would make a masculine and feminine for jewelers Tiffany. He would also make two for Ungaro, both masculine. The only one of those still being produced is Ungaro III and it is easily found for around $25.

jacques polge

Jacques Polge

From 1987-1993 M. Polge composed what I consider to be four of the best men’s fragrances ever. Chanel Pour Monsieur Concentree, Tiffany for Men, Chanel Egoiste, and Chanel Egoiste Platinum. You won’t find any of those in the discount bin. The reason you will find Ungaro III in the discount bin is because the Ungaro Pour L’Homme and Ungaro II have been discontinued. Leaving this to languish in obscurity.

When M. Polge got around to Ungaro III he was really ready to form a bit of a pastiche of those previous four classic perfumes. There are callbacks to all of them as I suspect M. Polge worked off of some of the discarded mods from the development of the more well-known ones.

ungaro 3

Ungaro III opens with lemon, petitgrain, and lavender. This is like a mix of Pour Monsieur Concentree and Egoiste Platinum. The heart is geranium, clary sage, rose, and clove. Again components of Tiffany for Men and Egoiste are present. The base is sandalwood, vetiver, and oakmoss. The sandalwood is Egoiste and Tiffany. The vetiver is Pour Monsieur and Egoiste Platinum.

Ungaro III has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

This might sound like perfumery by the numbers and it certainly is. But it is perfumery by numbers by M. Polge. These are pretty damn good numbers to be using. M. Polge was able to take all of the great masculine ideas he had laid out over the last six years and essentially make a greatest hits collection in Ungaro III. If you’ve smelled the four perfumes which make up Ungaro III you won’t find anything new. What you will get for around $25 is one of the greatest perfumers ever combining some of the greatest masculine fragrance trends ever. I’m not sure it gets better for a Discount Diamond than that.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Sarah Jessica Parker Covet- The Red-Headed Stepchild

When it comes to celebrity fragrances there are few that make the grade. One of the most obvious reasons is the name on the bottle has little or nothing to do with it. Depending on the situation that can free a creative team to take chances but more often it leaves them to just knock off an imitation of something already on the market. The celebuscents which I admire have almost always had the celebrity intimately involved in the creative process. The first perfume to prove this principle to me was Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely. This was the debut perfume for Ms. Parker when she was at the heights of her Sex and the City fame. The whole process was covered in Chandler Burr’s book The Perfect Scent. What came across was a woman who wanted the perfume which carried her name to be something better than mediocre. It was and still is a successful perfume on the market. I think Lovely is a great perfume but I like the second perfume Ms. Parker collaborated on better; called Covet.

sarah-jessica-parker-covet

Covet came out two years after Lovely. The same creative director Ann Gottlieb was helping Ms. Parker and perfumer Frank Voelkl was picked to compose the perfume. Because of the success of Lovely I think the creative team felt they had a bit of leeway in trying something different with Covet. They would take that latitude and make something quite atypical for the state of the department store market circa 2007. Covet is like a mob of unruly kids all vying for the wearer’s attention. That amount of manic overly nuanced exposition wore most people out. I found it exhilarating. At the time it was the only thing in the mall that didn’t smell like everything else.

Time, and the consumer, has not been kind to Covet and it was discontinued about two years ago. Even though it has been discontinued it has been viewed as such a disappointment that you can find full bottles for less than $20 at almost any place that sells discount perfume. Which is why it is a Discount Diamond.

frank voelkl

Frank Voelkl

Covet opens on one of those unruly moments I mentioned. M. Voelkl takes lemon, lavender, geranium, a watery green leafy accord, and chocolate and turns them loose. It sounds like so many conflicting ideas it should just collapse. I’ll admit it comes close but I find this highly saturated opening fabulous. It never quite completely veers off course although I will admit it does drive on the wrong side of the road from time to time. This chaotic opening is what put many off because it is so weird, even eight years later it is still pretty weird. For the rest of the development Covet is relatively more straightforward as the heart is muguet and magnolia. The base is vetiver, woody notes and amber.

Covet has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Covet has been consigned to being the red-headed stepchild of Ms. Parker’s brand meant to be forgotten and unloved. If you are willing to take a chance on something great and for the price why wouldn’t you? Give Covet a try you might find something that is a real diamond in the rough.

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

Mark Behnke