Discount Diamonds: Clinique Happy- How Women in the 90’s did Fresh

I’ve written many words on this blog about the effect Davidoff Cool Water had on fragrance designed for men. I’ve received a few e-mails from women readers asking if there was a similar women’s fragrance which exemplified the fresh style for that gender. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it to finally arrive at a conclusion. It wasn’t the first; but it was, and continues to be, the best-selling of this style released in the mid 90’s. It is also the answer I most receive from men in their 40’s when I ask what the women in their life wear. The perfume is Clinique Happy.

In women’s fragrances throughout the 1970’s and 80’s the trend was deep chypres and boisterous florals. It was the gender equivalent to the men’s powerhouse leathers and uber-fougeres. As the 90’s dawned the time for a course correction was due. The generation which came after the Baby Boomers, Gen X, wanted a style to call their own. Those who loved perfume also wanted to find new styles to explore. By the latter half of the decade two new styles would provide the change; fresh was one of them.

Evelyn Lauder (l.) and Raymond Matts

For men fresh was synonymous with aquatic. For women it wasn’t as simple. There was a large selection of fresh linen style perfumes centered around the laundry and linen musks. The style Happy fits into is the other major one, the fresh floral. It is also the first credited perfume to Rodrigo Flores-Roux who collaborated with Jean-Claude Delville. The creative team, Evelyn Lauder and Raymond Matts, was also early on in their influential term. Clinique was created by Ms. Lauder; by 1997 she became more dedicated to the fragrance part of the brand. She would work with some of the best perfumers early in their careers spotting talent before others. Mr. Matts would also become one of the most influential creative directors but at the time of Happy he was also just starting down that path. With Happy they designed a perfume which exemplifies fresh and floral.

Jean-Claude Delville (l.) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux

Happy opens on a, I have to say it, happy mixture of citrus. It is difficult to not smile in the early going because this is a sun-kissed grapefruit top accord. It leads to fresh jasmine scrubbed clean of indoles. This is a slightly dewy version of jasmine. It is expansive and transparent. Magnolia will eventually take the lead while retaining the same opacity. A similarly transparent synthetic wood is the final ingredient.

Happy has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Happy is successful because it does everything perfume is supposed to do. The citrus is uplifting. The florals are lilting. The woods are simple and light. It is why Happy is successful because it is so easy to be the perfume for a woman who only wants a couple bottles on her vanity. It continues to be a best-seller because even after twenty years few do it better.

Happy is another of the cases where its longevity is why it is a Discount Diamonds choice. It can be purchased from 10mL rollerball up to 100mL for anywhere from $4.99- $34.99 respectively. Heading into the summer if you want something fresh to add to your holiday overnight bag Happy is as good as it gets within the style it helped start.

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

Mark Behnke

Dead Letter Office: Jo Malone Black Vetyver Café- Decaffeinated

When it comes to the Dead Letter Office there are entries which come from a brand trying to strike out in a new direction. One which their customers are not interested in following. For some of the longer lived brands there comes a moment after a few years of success with a very specific aesthetic they will take a risk on something different. This was where Jo Malone London was at in 2002.

Jo Malone London was the early success story of independent perfumery. Ms. Malone had grown her business starting in 1994 with the release of Nutmeg & Ginger into something Estee Lauder would acquire in 1999. Part of the deal allowed Ms. Malone to continue on as creative director where she remained until 2006. The upside of the acquisition was expanded distribution which would see the heretofore difficult to find fragrances in the US begin to expand into the luxury department stores in the first five years of the new century. As part of this expansion there would be new releases to put a new shine on the previous collection.

If there was something that was frequently commented on with those early releases it was they were light. Maybe too light. There were lots of people who would criticize the longevity of the line; feeling it needed to be re-applied in an hour or two. The early releases fell into two categories either citrus or floral. As Jo Malone was starting life as part of a big company it seems the powers that be decided it was time for a change.


Jean-Claude Delville

There were four new releases between 2002-2003. Three of them have been discontinued. One has remained as part of the collection. The four were Wild Fig & Cassis, Stephanotis & Cassia Café, Orange Blossom, and Black Vetyver Café. Which one do you think survived the Dead Letter Office? Of course it was Orange Blossom. The other three represented a different take as they went with assertive themes around keynotes which were not light. In the long run they would prove to be too different none more so than Black Vetyver Café.

Black Vetyver Café was released in 2002 by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. The gourmand style of perfume was just gaining traction. At that point almost all of them were sweet. For Black Vetyver Café M. Delville wanted to focus on coffee as the keynote. The version he used as the focal point was the roasted whole bean. If you’ve ever opened a fresh bag of roasted coffee beans you will know the coffee being used here. It has a nutty character along with a tiny amount of sour oiliness. That is what you smell right from the moment it hits your skin. The heart is a mix of nutmeg and coriander used to pick up those nutty and oliy qualities. Turning it much richer. The woods come next and the coffee reasserts its core character. Then the promised vetiver swathes it in green. A very transparent incense skirls throughout the final drydown.

Black Vetyver Café has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

As far as I was concerned this new direction was fantastic. Black Vetyver Café was the first Jo Malone full bottle I owned. Unfortunately, I was not joined by others. Black Vetyver Café would be discontinued around 2012-ish. By that point Estee Lauder had come to realize what the Jo Malone customer desired and it wasn’t bold. It was more of the florals the brand had been founded on.

It is admirable that there was an attempt to try something different. Sometimes the perfumes which find their way into the Dead Letter Office are put there by the will of the consumer. In the case of Jo Malone those customers wanted to have their favorite brand decaffeinated.

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

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review Marc Jacobs Mod Noir- Neither Mod or Noir but Good

I have an innate reticence to trying anything which chooses to bombard me with ads. This attitude had cropped up on a couple of recent trips to Sephora when I was surrounded by all kind of various come-ons for the new Marc Jacobs Mod Noir. It was a Sephora exclusive for the first couple months of its release. Which explains the ubiquitous advertisements in-store. I had made an agreement with myself to stay away from the black striped bottle indefinitely. Which has been easy because over the past few years the brand has seemingly become a flanker factory for the last two great perfumes they released, Daisy in 2007 and Lola in 2009. They have released 20(!) different flankers of one or the other in the last eight years.

Of course it was going to take a blind moment to get me to acknowledge that from underneath the deluge of flankers something good might be present. On my last trip to Sephora I was talking to the sales associate I always talk to and this really bright gardenia scent wafted under my nose. I asked my contact what it was, and knowing my antipathy to the line, he smiled and said, “The new Marc Jacobs Mod Noir.” With having been blindsided I asked for a sample to give it a try. It is not as original as Lola or Daisy but it is easily the best new perfume Marc Jacobs has released since Lola.


Jean-Claude Delville

Mod Noir was composed by perfumer Jean-Claude Delville. I don’t know who names these things but let me get this out of the way right at the top. This is not Mod in any way you wish to interpret that word. It is most definitely not Noir in any way you wish to interpret that word. Mod Noir is a warm-weather brightly constructed citrus gardenia perfume. M. Delville clearly was not inspired by the name when he designed this.

Mod Noir opens with a very fruity opening using yuzu, clementine, and nectarine. M. Delivile coaxes out all of the juicy qualities of these fruits and then lays a patina of green over then with one of the watery green synthetics. It is that veil of green which actually appealed to me first when I got my first unguarded sniff of Mod Noir. The heart is very prominently gardenia but modulated such that it is not overpowering or cloying. Not an easy feat when working with any of the potent white flowers. M. Delville rounds out his gardenia with just a pinch of magnolia and tuberose. The base is that warmer creamy musk cocktail which has been cropping up a lot in the mass-market perfumes over the last year. In the case of Mod Noir it actually provides just the right finish because M. Delville again keeps the potential for this to overpower well controlled.

Mod Noir has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you are like me and have been avoiding Marc Jacobs for a while Mod Noir might be worth giving a chance to remind you there is still some life left in the brand. As long as your expectations aren’t for something mod or noir. If you want a nicely executed summer weight fruity floral I think Mod Noir is a really good version of that.

Disclosure: This review was based on a sample I received from Sephora.

Mark Behnke