Discount Diamonds: Avon Calling!

My first exposure to Avon was our local Avon Lady who visited our house regularly. There were commercials with the tag line “Avon Calling!” Many of those companies which sold door-to-door in the 1960’s and 1970’s were made obsolete by the internet. Avon has not only adapted they have thrived with $10 biliion in sales in 2013. They have managed to navigate the shifting fortunes and stake out a place for themselves. As I went through the box of fragrance supplied by my friend who is a current Avon Lady I was impressed with the consistency of the collection as a whole. Current Creative Director Isabel Lopes and her predecessors all understand how to make an appealing fragrance for their customers at a more than appealing price, around $20. The epitome of Discount Diamonds. Here are five more I think are worth giving a try.

Haiku Kyoto Flower by perfumer Pierre Negrin is the latest flanker to 2001’s Haiku, whose gauzy lilting green was also good. The newest member of the Haiku family is a little more outgoing. M. Negrin uses sharp violet made greener with blackcurrant. This is very much a recognizable opening from many niche perfumes but made more palatable by keeping it very light. The heart is peony and orange blossom, pretty and more pronounced then the top notes. It ends on sandalwood and a favorite in many of the feminine marketed Avon fragrances a cocktail of the cotton linen musks. This is very lovely green floral perfume.

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Avon Femme is by perfumer Harry Fremont. M. Fremont is one of the best mainstream perfumers working currently. He definitely knows how to interpret a brand’s character and capture it in a fragrance. Avon Femme is a crisp fruity musk perfume. It starts with the snappy pairing of grapefruit and pear matched with a bit of very clean jasmine. There will be no indoles here this is fresh and pretty. Magnolia is the floral keynote supported with a bit of peach. It ends with the sheer musk cocktail I mentioned above. For those who want a skank-free jasmine fruity floral Avon Femme is a good choice.

Avon does make fragrances for men and Avon Exploration by perfumer Laurent Le Guernec is a good example. As I mentioned yesterday the men’s fragrances hew to an aesthetic of bracing and woody, Avon Exploration does that. M. Le Guernec does choose to make Avon Exploration very bracing as he fashions an olfactory slap of cardamom, sage, and rosemary. This is a very concentrated opening and it is typical of the masculine Avon fragrances. It does settle down into a sandalwood, vetiver, and non-sheer musk which is less challenging. If you are a fan of powerhouse men’s fragrances Avon Exploration is a modern version.

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Far Away Gold by Calice Becker is a special warm floral. Mme Becker knows how to build a soft warm vanilla and sandalwood base even with the more cost-efficient materials and it is that where Far Away Gold ends. Prior to that osmanthus and peach lead to a jasmine and ylang-ylang heart. A wonderful comfort scent.

Avon does have their celebuscents and one of the more interesting collaborators is musician Bon Jovi. Part of the Bon Jovi collection is Unplugged for Her by perfumer Annie Buzantian. This was the most subtle fragrance of all of the ones I tried. It was very surprising since a rock star is associated with it, although it is unplugged. Mme Buzantian uses a very opaque application of ivy and plum to give a sheer green fruity opening. Rose carries the heart but this is a synthetic rose which carries the fresh floralcy and little of the spiciness or powdery facets. It keeps it on the light side for making that choice. A cocktail of soft woods and even softer white musks close this. Very easy to wear and a perfect office scent for those who work in close quarters and still want to wear perfume.

Now let me reiterate what I stated yesterday, perfume for $20 is not chock full of essential oils. There might be a pinch here and there but this is all synthetic versions of the notes I mentioned. As you can see there are very talented perfumers working for Avon and I think they do a tremendous job at making the most of a limited budget. Enough so that if you need an economical perfume fix contact your local Avon Lady…..Avon Calling!

Disclosure: This review was based on samples provided by Avon.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme

I chose Davidoff Cool Water as a Discount Diamond a couple months ago and I mentioned that it was the perfume which launched a thousand aquatic fragrances on to the market. Reading between the lines you can add the subtext “and most of them were bad”. But not all of them. 1995’s Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme took some of the concepts of the aquatic class and added in some unique beats to make it one of the few to stand out as successfully different.

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Jacques Cavallier

Jacques Cavallier was part of the original group of perfumers who took the concepts of the aquatic and expanded it in the mid 1990’s. He was responsible for L’Eau D’Issey and L’Eau D’Issey pour Homme and was part of the creative team on Armani Acqua di Gio pour Homme. All of these were examples of the best aquatic fragrances on the shelf. By 2005 when he was commissioned to do Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme he wanted to try something different. His choice was to take two raw materials created especially to evoke water and make them the centerpiece of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme.

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M. Cavallier starts in well-trodden territory with citrus on top. Mandarin and petitgrain add a lip pursing tartness to the top notes. Then we get to the two unique raw materials in the heart Santolina and Posidonia. Santolina is more commonly known as cotton lavender and it has a lavender aspect crossed with a strong syrupy quality. Posidonia is simply the smell of drying seaweed after the ocean has receded leaving it behind on the beach. It has an ozonic watery quality on top of the vegetal note. Smelling either of these by themselves you would be hard pressed to believe these could be the centerpiece of a perfume. That is M. Cavallier’s skill as he takes these two notes and balances them so the lavender, the ozonic notes and a bit of the seaweed aspects form a fascinating seaside accord. It feels more realistic than the previous aquatics which wanted to clean up the ocean. Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme gives it all to you right down to the seaweed. The final phase is also quite interesting as M. Cavallier takes a soft amber and adds clary sage. Clary sage is usually further up the pyramid but in Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme it almost seems like it is what the seaweed evolves into. The amber adds a subtle warmth to the base notes.

Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme has 6-8 hours of longevity and average sillage.

M. Cavallier took a chance by using notes which weren’t widely used in the aquatic fragrance family and fashioned something wonderfully unique. It is one of the few aquatics I think is worth owning. If you want to own it it is found on most of the discount websites for less than $40 for 100mL.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle of Bvlgari Aqva pour Homme I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Lolita Lempicka Perfume- Lovely Licorice

Once the gourmand style of perfume had been created with the launch of Thierry Mugler Angel in 1992 a deluge of imitators followed. One common flaw to most of these was they all decided to work on the sweet shop side of the edible olfactory. That sort of slavish devotion to the candy floss character of Angel led to cloyingly overbalanced sugar bombs. As with every trend in perfumery it got to the point that I would steel myself for the onslaught of ethyl maltol every time I was told this was a new gourmand fragrance. It took five years for someone to try a different tack. Perfumer Annick Menardo would look to the candy aisle for inspiration too but she reached for a package of licorice when she composed Lolita Lempicka Perfume.  

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By 1997, when Lolita Lempicka Perfume was released, there were no fragrances which featured licorice previously. It would become a trendsetter in that respect and over the last seventeen years some of the most talented perfumers have produced their take on licorice but Mme Menardo was first. Licorice has a pronounced herbal character to it in its best forms and Mme Menardo enhances that especially in the early moments before allowing it to become a little more candy-like in the heart. All of this lies on an expertly chosen woody foundation.

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Annick Menardo

Lolita Lempicka Perfume opens with a vegetal green ivy note paired with aniseed. Together this is recognizably licorice but it is almost as intense as an herbal lozenge. Mme Menardo makes sure to keep this arid and delineated until she is ready to make the licorice sweeter. She accomplishes this with the addition of cherry which turns the licorice from black to more of a Twizzler red. Like those red whips of candy it is sweet but not overly so. As contrast a bouquet of iris and violet provide a floral component which synergizes extremely well. Lolita Lempicka Perfume lingers on this sweet tinged floral heart for many hours of wear. It is only after many hours that I notice that vetiver has crept in and brought a little vanilla and bezoin to allow the sweetness to resonate at a low frequency all the way through the woody drydown.

Lolita Lempicka Perfume has 8-10 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Even seventeen years later Mme Menardo’s creation still feels contemporary and different. The licorice would become a bit of Lolita Lempicka fragrance DNA. Mme Menardo has made eighteen more Lolita Lempicka fragrances and every one of them has a nod to licorice in some way. It is a brilliant stroke to brand the perfume brand with a particular note. That is the advantage of being first it allows for a perfumer to make something their very own. When it comes to licorice I always think back to Lolita Lempicka Perfume every time I smell it in a new fragrance and it still stands up favorably to the comparison. This Discount Diamond can regularly be found for less than $30/oz.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Davidoff Cool Water- Aquatic Alpha

The aquatic class of fragrance has been so overexposed it has become a caricature of itself. When a man asks for something “fresh and clean” at a department store counter today he is likely to be sprayed with an aquatic fragrance. By the late 1980’s it was time for a change from the hairy chested powerhouses which dominated men’s fragrance and the perfume which would change things for over twenty-five years, and counting now, was released. That scent was Davidoff Cool Water by perfumer Pierre Bourdon.

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Back in the late 1980’s at the nightclub the fragrance of choice for most men was either Calvin Klein Obsession for Men, Drakkar Noir, or Ralph Lauren Polo. All of these are great fragrances and hold their own place within perfume’s timeline. None of those would be defined as fresh or clean. It is why when Davidoff allowed Pierre Bourdon to try and capture the smell of cool water it was a huge risk. It turned out the timing was just right as Cool Water became a gigantic success. That success caught most perfume companies flat footed and it was almost a year before Cool Water began to see any competition. In the overcrowded field of fragrance that fresh and clean aquatic perfume occupies it is surprising to me how much this original template has been used. Even more amusing is that there are few aquatics which can stand up to the original and every time I wear it I am reminded of what a game-changer this was. Now it can be found for less than $25 in many places.

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Pierre Bourdon

Cool Water has one of my favorite openings of any fragrance I own. The first fifteen minutes is pure bliss for me as M. Bourdon takes a bracing lavender and twists it with coriander, rosemary, orange blossom, and peppermint. That inclusion of the last note has an effect of making the rest of it feel like an icy cold splash of water hitting you right between the eyes. It has a vibrational energy I just feel every time I spray it on. The heart notes are a variation on this, as green floral is again called for, but it is achieved differently as jasmine and oakmoss are the flower and the green. A bit of geranium bridges the floral and the green and sandalwood is made sweeter for the jasmine being present. If the top was fresh the heart is where clean comes into play and it has a less flamboyant way of making its point. The base notes are amber and musk and M. Bourdon keeps them very light in keeping with what has led to them. The first few time I wore Cool Water I kept expecting these notes to get more intense but M. Bourdon was once again creating the new trend.

Cool Water has 8-10 hour longevity on me and above average sillage.

Of every perfume I wear Cool Water is the leader for eliciting unsolicited compliments. I have had both genders and all ages hand out the coveted “You smell good!” to me when I am wearing this. It is a true classic which has stood the test of time and was inducted into The Fragrance Foundation Hall of Fame in 2009. I could rue the scads of imitators it has spawned but I wouldn’t want to have a perfume collection which didn’t include Cool Water in it. As we approach the summer months here in the Northern Hemisphere it is Cool Water’s season to shine in. You can be sure it will be brightening up more than a few of my summer days. For $25 you not only get a Discount Diamond you also get one of the true masterpieces of perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Juicy Couture Dirty English-Claude Dir Brings Niche to Mainstream

There are times I need a lot of encouragement to overcome an erroneous snap judgment I have made. One of those instances was back in 2008. On Basenotes there was a lively discussion about this new mainstream fragrance from Juicy Couture called Dirty English. Now this, at the time, nearly 50-year old man was not going to wear any perfume from Juicy Couture. I remember being quite vocal about it on the forum, too. All of this was without ever having tried it. Then I was in my local department store and a sales associate approaches me with a bunch of strips in her hand and hands one to me. As I sniff the strip picking out caraway, cardamom, leather, sandalwood, and oud. I was running through which niche house this could have come from. Then the rep told me what it was. Yes you guessed it this was Juicy Couture Dirty English and my jaw had disengaged itself from my face and was dusting the floor.

There have been a few valiant attempts to bring a niche aesthetic to the department store counter, Dirty English was the attempt for 2008. So far there has not really been a breakout success for any of these and this is why Dirty English is easy to find at the discount fragrance purchase points. I have regularly found it for less than $30 for a 3.4 oz. bottle.

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Claude Dir

Claude Dir was the perfumer behind Dirty English and this was in keeping with his very mainstream career to this point in 2008. He had made one of my favorite mainstream fragrances, Zaharoff pour Homme a few years earlier. Later on in 2008 he would start working on the niche side of the street when he composed Bond No. 9 Andy Warhol Lexington Avenue (now just called Lexington Avenue). With hindsight one can look back at Dirty English as the real start of M. Dir’s niche values.

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Dirty English mixes pepper, cardamom, and caraway. The caraway adds an exotic tenderness to the spices and again I wonder out loud why this isn’t used as a substitute for bergamot more as a top note. All of the spice dusts the light woodiness of cypress. M. Dir then uses a leather accord called Santal Fatal which uses sandalwood, vetiver, and cedar to form the leather accord. M. Dir makes a fascinating choice of using marjoram as an herbal contrast to the Santal Fatal. He then uses the combination of nagarmotha and patchouli to make an oud accord and right here with the combination of all of these components you would be hard pressed not to feel this was a top of the line niche fragrance. In the end a very close-wearing musk finishes this one off.

Dirty English has about 4-6 hour longevity and above average sillage. This makes it an ideal evening out scent.

I was, and continue to be, impressed with the choices M. Dir made for Dirty English. If he was less disciplined with the choices he made this could have easily turned into a mess. Instead he turned out a fragrance I still look to wear for an evening out. I still can’t believe there is a Juicy Couture anything I like as much as this.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Juicy Couture Dirty English I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Rochas Tocade- Maurice Roucel’s Turkish Delight

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Maurice Roucel is one of our greatest perfumers and he just as easily produces a fragrance for Victoria’s Secret, 2012’s Simply Gorgeous; as he does for Frederic Malle, 2000’s Musc Ravageur. There is a broad spread to the perfumes he makes. From a gourmand like 2004’s Bond No. 9 New Haarlem to a fruity floral like 2006’s Guerlain Insolence there is always a dashing sense of style underlying all that he creates. M. Roucel feels like one of the last of the old school perfumers just turning out things that smell good. One of my favorites by M. Roucel is also one of the best perfume bargains you can find, one of the best perfumes you can buy; Rochas Tocade.

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Maurice Roucel

M. Roucel created Tocade in 1994 and it was one of his earliest forays into what would eventually become the gourmand style of perfume. For Tocade which translates to “whim” he centers the perfume on two notes, rose and vanilla. Vanilla had been used in a more restrained way with rose in many previous fragrances but the change here was to really up the vanilla and that in turn makes Tocade feel like an olfactory version of Turkish Delight. It is a typical Oriental and in that way it carries a heft to it appropriate for the confection it imitates.

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Tocade opens with a bit of light green aspects from bergamot and geranium. It gives way to a transparent rose which is given some structure with iris as support. Through the first few moments, all of this is fairly traditional pretty rose. It all changes as the vanilla makes its presence known. M. Roucel pulls off a fabulous effect with his vanilla as it never tilts into a pedestrian kind of vanilla. It never seems to get sweet and buttery, or saccharine and sugary. Somehow it straddles a knife’s edge of balance between the two. Because of the translucence of the rose it comes off almost watery. It is difficult to say M. Roucel has a signature move but if there is one this watery sheer floral effect is probably it. Once the vanilla rises fully Tocade feels like a beautiful sticky piece of Turkish Delight. To further deepen the comfort aspects amber and benzoin add a softly sweet resinous complement while a bit of musk adds a twinge of animalic contrast.

Tocade has average longevity and above average sillage.

Tocade has survived the ravages of reformulation pretty much intact for twenty years. I picked up a 1Oz. bottle for $9.99 at my local TJ Maxx to compare to my original bottle and the only difference is in the very top notes as the new bottle feels a little brighter for those first few minutes; which is probably to be expected. Once Tocade gets down to its rose and vanilla business my mid 1990’s bottle and the 2014 bottle are identical on my skin. As I mentioned above this perfume is easily obtainable from a number of sources for less than $20/Oz. I think Tocade is one of the great perfumes of the last thirty years and the fact that it isn’t more well-known is a shame; the price certainly shouldn’t be a barrier. This is an example of a master perfumer fashioning a simple construction which contains subtle shadings and brushstrokes to take it far above being a simple rose and vanilla perfume. For $10 how can you go wrong?

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Burberry London for Men- Drydown to Die For

The more invested one becomes in perfume the more one probably tends to be on the lookout for the next greatest thing. I am certainly guilty of that even though it is a large part of what makes me enjoy writing about fragrance. Now that I have my own blog I want to take some time to look back at some of my favorite fragrances from the past. In this series I am going to focus on those fragrances which are widely available for less than $50US. While you probably wouldn’t want a real diamond at discount prices these fragrances shine as brightly as others many times their price.

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Antoine Maisondieu

Perfumer Antoine Maisondieu is one of my favorite perfumers and his recent 2013 output for Comme des Garcons Blue Santal and Monocle Scent Three: Sugi, Bottega Veneta pour Homme, and Tom Ford Private Blend Shanghai Lily show the diversity of his aesthetic. My introduction to him as a perfumer came with my discovery of the first Etat Libre D’Orange releases back in 2006. M. Maisondieu, Antoine Lie, and Nathalie Feisthauer were the three perfumers behind the original eleven with M. Maisondieu composing five including Jasmin et Cigarette and Encens & Bubblegum. While those are amazing perfumes it is his other release in 2006 which is the Discount Diamond, Burberry London for Men.

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Burberry London for Men is one of my favorite cold weather fragrances it reminds me at the beginning of hot spiced mulled wine and while that is good by itself it is the drydown which makes this stand out for me. Whenever I answer an online poll about “your favorite drydown” Burberry London for Men is always one of my answers.

Burberry London for Men starts with a phase of lavender and bergamot which is quickly pushed aside by cinnamon, pepper, orange, and wine. I always see an imaginary warmed bowl of red wine with orange slices and cinnamon sticks floating on top when I wear this. A really nice leather accord signals the beginning of the transition to the basenotes. Tobacco, sweet and narcotic, is joined by guaiac wood, opoponax, and oakmoss. This combination just strums all of my pleasure centers and M. Maisondieu balances them precisely. It is in this last phase where Burberry London for Men lingers for the majority of the time I am wearing it.

Burberry London for Men has about 6-8 hours of longevity and below average sillage.

As I mentioned earlier this is one of my favorite sweater scents as it seems to really blossom underneath the wool covering as my body heat amplifies it. Burberry London for Men can be found for around $25US/ounce at a number of discounters.

Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle of Burberry London for Men I purchased.

Mark Behnke