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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Discount Diamonds: Tommy Bahama Set Sail St. Barts for Men- Guilty Pleasure

No matter what it we enjoy there is always a part of it that a person likes that is usually not shared by others. These are usually called guilty pleasures. They are the bad movie you love, mine is “Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension”. At least for me, almost all of my guilty pleasures are overstuffed packages trying to do too many things at the same time. In fragrance I have them and they are definitely found in the discount bins. My favorite perfume guilty pleasure was found in the perfume equivalent of flipping channels at 2AM, digging through the perfume bin at my local discounter chain. As I was doing that one day I came across a blue bottle with a bit of rope wound around the cap. I looked at the name and had remembered a spirited discussion on a couple of the forums saying this was better that you might think. That was enough for me to liberate it from the olfactory hinterlands and bring it home with me. That perfume is Tommy Bahama Set Sail St. Barts for Men.

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Tommy Bahama is best known for the Hawaiian shirts which carry the brand but over time it has branched out into other areas. In 2005 the released a pair of Tommy Bahama perfumes one for men and one for women. Every year for the next five years they would release a pair of men’s and women’s perfumes. The third set was released in 2007 and called Set Sail St. Barts. Perfumer Richard Herpin was asked to employ a tequila accord in both the men’s and women’s perfumes. This pair is a good example of how things can go right and how they can go wrong.  In Set Sail St. Barts for Women M. Herpin tried to mix the tequila with some strong tropical florals on top of a musk cocktail. It was like waking up in a flower shop after having had a few too many tequila shots. As a floral mixed with tequila it just didn’t work. For Set Sail St. Barts for Men M Herpin got rid of the flowers and replaced them with aquatic and fruit notes. This time everything works as it felt like sitting in a beach chair under a palm tree with a bunch of lime, a bottle of tequila, and tropical fruit.

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Richard Herpin

Set Sail St. Barts for Men opens with the bite of lime on top of an ozonic accord mixed with aquatic chords. It is a typical aquatic opening matched with citrus. A bit of wet green comes next as the kelp floating on the water’s surface comes to the foreground. Then a really lush tequila accord which contains a rough synthetic edge to it. This is raw unrefined tequila bought from the local market. M. Herpin matches it with a juicy tropical fruit synthetic. He calls it guava in the note list I get more mango or papaya from it. A woody base note reminiscent of a coconut palm heated by the sun anchors the base with some white musk and vanilla thrown in to add some depth.

Set Sail St. Barts for Men has 10-12 hour longevity and above average sillage. People will know you are wearing this.

There is nothing terribly original about this fragrance but it tickles me in some undefined place. I wore it for the first time this year over the past Memorial Day weekend and just like seeing the opening credits to Buckaroo Banzai it brings a loopy smile to my face, even if I’m the only one grinning.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Alt-Innsbruck- Wetshaver’s Kool

As much as I enjoy my perfume my first encounter with fragrance comes every morning on the end of my shaving brush. It should be no surprise that there is a veritable metropolitan skyline of stacked pots of various shaving creams on my vanity. Along with my old-style Gillette Red Tip double edge razor my whole morning routine is a throwback. Like my knowledge of perfume my experience with different shaving products came through an internet site called Badger and Blade. While I was familiar with all of the aftershaves and colognes the members were talking about there was one which I had never heard of, Alt-Innsbruck.

In the 1930’s menthol cigarettes were invented with the idea of the menthol somehow soothing the throat. They were sold under the brand name Kool. Menthol as a soothing adjunct to tobacco was also on Austrian pharmacist Franz Gatterer’s mind when he designed Alt-Innsbruck in 1953. Hr. Gatterer wanted his fragrance to do double duty as both aftershave and eau de cologne. The idea was the menthol would soothe the razor burn early on and the tobacco would provide a rugged masculine scent for the rest of the day. Hr. Gatterer quite adroitly achieved his dual purpose as Alt-Innsbruck works well on both levels.

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Menthol itself can be a problematic note for many and what your tolerance is for it will decide how much you like Alt-Innsbruck. Most often when menthol is in a perfume it has a sharply delineated purpose. In Alt-Innsbruck Hr. Gatterer’s menthol comes off like an emulsion. The menthol is very intense but made diffuse. I most often think of Vicks Vapo-Rub in the early moments when I apply it as it feels like the menthol is in a thick petroleum matrix. If you’ve ever smelled a curing barn with racks of tobacco leaves drying you will know there is a natural mentholated quality present. That is the transition from the opening skin soothing moments to the tobacco eau de cologne phase. Hr. Gatterer uses both the tobacco flower and tobacco leaf. As a cologne it carries a richness that the menthol helps by adding to it with a faint echo of its power from the opening.

Alt-Innsbruck has 4-6 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Like all Eau de Colognes from the 1950’s this is a temporary fragrance or it requires topping up throughout the day. The difficulty to that is you get the menthol blast at the top again. Where I like it in the morning after my shave it is more problematic when I apply it a second time in the afternoon. The bright spot is the menthol phase also moves pretty quickly. The real bright spot is the tobacco part of Alt-Innsbruck is really amazing. It is as good as tobacco perfumes that are sold at ten times its $34.00/100mL price tag. If you’re a fan of menthol and tobacco or you’ve kicked the smoking habit and miss your old Kools give Alt-Innsbruck a try.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel- Razor-Sharp Crease

Currently the names that are given a fragrance can have such a disconnect that I wonder if the marketing team actually smelled the perfume before designing the campaign. Back in the 1970’s and 80’s the names pretty much carried a truth-in-advertising realism to them. One of the most classic men’s fragrances of all-time is Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel. Like a finely tailored pair of pants Grey Flannel provides a sharply drawn perfume and one of the early versions of a masculine floral. Even though it can be found on the bargain shelf it is still quite the classic.

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Grey Flannel was signed by perfumer Andre Fromentin. Back in 1975 when Grey Flannel was released the perfumers were ghosts, rarely mentioned. In Fragrances of the World, Grey Flannel is M. Fromentin’s only listed fragrance. I would be interested to know which other perfumes of the time he had a hand in and whether Grey Flannel was a good example of his style. What M. Fromentin produced in Grey Flannel was a powerhouse perfume centered on violet.

Grey Flannel opens with a very green herbal set of top notes. Sage is the core around which M. Fromentin adds in galbanum and violet leaves. The use of the silvery green violet leaves make this opening a bit too much for many. The authority it carries definitely stamps it as a product of the 70’s. M. Fromentin then brings the violet forward and it is supported by iris to give depth. As this combines with the top notes it forms a freshly mown grass accord. As it develops over a few hours the violet becomes more prominent. Much later on a bit of cinnamon adds some zip. As Grey Flannel heads into the base it plays it very safe with a mix of sandalwood and oakmoss.

Grey Flannel has 16-18 hour longevity and prodigious sillage. This is one you need to be careful applying or you will have a visible vapor trail.

Grey Flannel despite being a product of its time does not feel dated. It feels odd because in today’s ocean of fresh sporty men’s fragrances it is so different. If you’re looking for a change-up from those kind of fragrances you can find a 4oz. bottle for less than $20. Hard to go wrong at that price. It is one of my favorites of the powerhouse perfumes from that time period.

Disclosure: This review based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Azzaro pour Homme- The Many Fathers of Success

If a perfume is still relevant after 37 years that probably speaks a little bit to how good it is. In our need, of which I am guilty of, to name things “new classics” or “modern masterpieces” you might miss the real classic right in front of you. The extra bonus is these perfumes have been around so long that you can easily find them in the discount bins. No matter when I go shopping at the discounters I have always found what I consider to be one of the greatest aromatic fougeres ever for $9.99. That perfume is Azzaro pour Homme.

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Azzaro pour Homme was released in 1978 and it was meant to be competition for Paco Rabanne pour Homme. It is not easy to determine who the perfumer on it was. In the Fragrances of the World reference Gerard Anthony is listed as the only perfumer. In numerous other places both Richard Wirtz and Martin Heiddenreich are credited with having a hand in composing it. It was evidently a tortured process. I have always mentioned the proverb, “success has many parents but failure is an orphan” when writing about Azzaro pour Homme because besides the three names listed above there are at least three other perfumers who have claimed to work on it. I can only go with what is on record but especially in the heart it feels like there were many hands at work. It succeeds because the density of those heart notes is what makes Azzaro pour Homme so memorable.

The opening of Azzaro pour Homme is a combination of lavender, citrus, and anise. The anise really stands out in the early moments and the citrus and lavender are bracing. Then we get to the heart and it is reminiscent of looking through a kaleidoscope and rotating it. The colors and components are the same but they keep rearranging into new patterns. What I can detect is a strong herbal presence of sage, basil, rosemary, and cardamom. There are hints of more and the anise lingers down into the heart. A very green geranium is also part of the heart. This is the aromatic part of this fougere. It is a wonderfully complex heart and it lasts for hours like this. When Azzaro pour Homme moves towards its base notes it goes for that very typically 1970’s musk and amber finish. This seemed to be the default finish to a lot of masculine perfumes at this time. It is less prevalent today and so if you are new to the perfume game it may come off as something fresher. For those of us who grew up during this time period it has a bit of the dated “ladies man” vibe a lot of men’s perfumes of the time went for. There is so much good before getting to this that it doesn’t change the way I feel about it but others might feel differently.

Azzaro pour Homme has 18-20 hour longevity and above average sillage.

As I mentioned earlier you can find Azzaro pour Homme at most of the big discount stores in the US. I have seen it as low as $9.99 for a 1oz. bottle. I have also seen 5mL minis in these stores for $5.00 or less. I don’t know if there is a better perfume you can find for this price. If you love fougeres this is one you must have in your collection.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Roger & Gallet Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille- Time in a Bottle

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When it comes to trying the original perfumes that formed the beginning of modern perfumery that usually means a trip to the Osmotheque in Versailles. Or a friend with a very deep collection of vintage perfumes. There is one of these olfactory historical touchstones that you can still buy and try for, usually, around $25. It is the original Eau de Cologne created by Jean Marie Farina. Roger & Gallet has produced this original formula under the name Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille for years and years. It is supposedly the same formula M. Farina created over two hundred years ago.

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There is a lot of reason to be skeptical of that claim but this cologne is simplicity itself. In a vacuum you might pass it by without a second thought. That is why it is not a real stretch to believe that what is in the bottle in 2015 is pretty close to what was in the bottle in 1806. That previous sentence probably seemed sort of underwhelming as an endorsement but of any of the classic colognes this one is by far my favorite. There is nothing that compares to it on a hot summer day. The crisp herbal and citrus pick-me-up is like drinking a glass of ice-cold lemonade.

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The Original Eau de Cologne Recipe

M. Farina wrote to his brother after he had created this first Eau de Cologne, “I have discovered a scent that reminds me of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus, orange blossom just after the rain. It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination.” He could never realize that the last part of that statement would become true for generations of perfumers to follow. From those words I realize he wanted his Eau de Cologne to be bracing and strengthening. The best Eau de Colognes have always done this for me. What is nice is the very first one still does this for me.

As I said this is as simple as it gets in construction. It opens on a focused snap of lemon with bergamot. Petitgrain adds even more tart citrus to the beginning. Rosemary adds an herbal greenness which puts metaphorical sunglasses on all of the sunny citrus. It ends on a very lightly floral bouquet of orange blossom. Each of these notes runs one into the other in a fast moving kind of development that is done from beginning to end in a couple of hours. It is that fleeting longevity which is emblematic of many of the classic colognes.

Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille has 2-3 hour longevity and above average sillage. This is a fragrance you apply liberally and keep doing it throughout a day.

I’ve said often we are in a new golden age of cologne as current perfumers have been taking this venerable architecture and turning out amazing new constructions. It is worth going back to see where it all began and when you can do it for such a low price there is almost no reason for a perfume lover not to own a bottle of this.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Pino Silvestre- A Sturdy Fir

At this time of year one of my favorite smells of the season is that of the Christmas tree and the associated pine roping and wreaths which decorate, and scent, everything. It is this natural perfume which will always find me having a real tree in my house. The smell of a fir tree simply means Christmas to me. For twenty years I have owned a perfume that is the perfect Christmas tree fragrance, Pino Silvestre.

I discovered Pino Silvestre soon after I moved to Boston in 1994. I had heard of this little bandbox of a perfume shop in Harvard Square called Colonial Drug. Furthermore it had European perfumes you couldn’t find anywhere else. I was very early in my days of becoming a Colognoisseur and so I approached the doorway with a bit of trepidation. Similar to going to a fancy French restaurant and being handed a menu in French I was worried I would look like a rube. At Colonial Drug I needn’t have worried because as I crossed the threshold I was greeted by the proprietor Cathy. After some discussion with me she handed me a pine cone shaped perfume bottle and said, “I think you’ll like this one.” The pine tree perfume was Pino Silvestre and it was my personal entry to European perfume brands I had never heard of. Cathy made a wise choice and it also made me a lifelong customer for all the years I lived in Boston. There were a lot of days where I was in the store and I saw her hand the little glass pine cone to another new customer only to see a sale being made minutes later. It showed the versatility of the green glass pine cone.

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For those of you who grew up in Europe Pino Silvestre is similar to Old Spice or English Leather in the US. What that means is your father probably wore it. Pino Silvestre was released in 1955 and was composed by perfumer Lino Vidal. For most of the next 25 years Pino Silvestre and its ancillary products like shampoo and bubble bath would be a part of a typical household. The fresh pine scent would evoke memories of home to that generation. As I said, for me, it has always reminded me of Christmas trees.

The opening moments of Pino Silvestre are a drive-by of bergamot and citrus. They are there so fleetingly it is almost disingenuous to mention them. The more you spray on the more likely you are to notice them. The business of Pino Silvestre is pine and that’s what comes next. Sig. Vidal cloaks it in herbal notes of sage and thyme. A pinch of tart juniper berry and the richness of clove all combine to round out the synthetic source of pine and make it feel almost supernatural in its photoreality. It all ends with clean cedar and amber.

Pino Silvestre has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage, although you probably project a little more than is apparent to you while wearing it.

I wanted Pino Silvestre to be the first Discount Diamond because the quality for the price is really incredible but I also wanted to wait for Christmas, too. You can find it any number of places for $20 for a 125mL bottle. You will not find a better bargain perfume. It is also a great example of mid-20th century Italian perfumery. For something almost 60 years old it never seems dated to me. Like a classic Christmas tree is deserves to be brought at least once a year.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: FlowerbyKenzo- Re-Thinking A Floral

When it comes to designer floral perfumes of the last two years it seems the style is to knock you over with a massive bouquet of floral notes. If that doesn’t do the trick then the perfumer loads it up with a bunch of fruit. The fresh floral perfume has been shunted aside. One of the earliest examples of the fresh floral was 2000’s FlowerbyKenzo composed by Alberto Morillas.

FlowerbyKenzo

In the late 1990’s into the early years of the 2000’s perfumers were actively experimenting with the floral perfume architecture. M. Morillas was one of the foremost innovators during this time. He would define numerous perfume styles which continue to this day. When it came to FlowerbyKenzo M. Morillas wanted to capture a crisper flower but he also wanted to capture the entire flower and the early moments are focused on the green stem and leaves. Then to make sure that the wearer doesn’t necessarily identify it as a specific flower M. Morillas uses a mix of synthetic and natural floral notes to create a hybrid perfumed flower which has never seen life in any greenhouse or garden. It is this supernatural flower which makes FlowerbyKenzo such an interesting example within its genre.

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Alberto Morillas

The first fleeting moments of FlowerbyKenzo are a fabulous green stemminess. It is the smell I associate with trimming the stems of cut roses to put them in a vase. I think this was M. Morillas’ intent to sort of let the wearer experience the stem before getting to the supernatural bloom on top. The natural ingredients are violet, hawthorn and rose. To this is added hedione and cyclosal the synthetic versions of jasmine and cyclamen respectively. Once these are all together in the heart of FlowerbyKenzo they form something which smells completely floral but a collage of the ingredients chosen by M. Morillas. It is another case where spending too much time analyzing the components destroys the effect trying to be created. After so many years wearing this I can now just let the floral accord make me smile without trying to pick it apart. The finale is a slightly soapy musk cocktail over amber and vanilla.

FlowerbyKenzo has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

FlowerbyKenzo in its very elegant glass cylinder which looks like a poppy can be found at most discount perfume sites for less than $30/oz. I think it is one of the forgotten trailblazers of perfumery and if you’re looking for a different kind of floral than what you’re finding in the current marketplace give FlowerbyKenzo a try I think it will be the alternative you’re looking for.

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

Mark Behnke