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.

jean-pierre-bethouart

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

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.

tbsetsailstbarts

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.

richard-herpin

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.

Alt-Innsbruck_Cologne_Aftershave_atomizer

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.

grey flannel

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.

azzaro ph ad

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