Discount Diamonds: Bvlgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert- First Haiku

As my closet is testament to, if you wait long enough every trend eventually comes back into style. As I wrote that I gazed at the perfume vault and realized the same thing holds there. As perfume trends go the 1990’s was one of the most vital at creating new genres and styles. Despite it being all the rage today, transparency was one of those. It was also a time where perfumers who were behind-the-scenes artists had some latitude. It would be another ten years before their names were as known as the brands they worked for. The first star perfumer is probably Jean-Claude Ellena. The perfume which probably defined the style he would refine for the next 25 years is Bvlgari Eau Parfumee Au The Vert.

To perfume lovers if you speak M. Ellena’s name they think of their favorite minimalist perfume from his time as in-house perfumer at Hermes. Many are surprised when I show them that style was apparent in 1993 with Au The Vert.

Jean-Claude Ellena

The simple brief given him was to create a perfume evoking a Japanese tea ceremony. He took this to heart considering the minimalist aesthetic of Japan. His thought was to streamline the composition down to a few essential ingredients. To keep the focus on the tea as you would at an actual tea ceremony. What comes to life is a vibrant perfume in just a few well-chosen notes.

The opening is the soft floral citrus of orange blossom. It is given definition using coriander and cardamom. The cardamom gives lift to the citrus character. The coriander captures the green undertone of the flower. The floral nature is given some depth with jasmine. This brings us to the green tea. It is a bit bitter. It is also very transparent. It rises in tendrils of steam through the top accord. Underneath it all is a light application of smoky woods as if the brazier the tea was heated on enters the scene.

Au The Vert has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

At the time this was released it was a best seller because there was nothing like it on the market. It was a perfume which wasn’t as forthright in its charms as the others on the department store fragrance counter. It is entirely on trend for today’s perfume customers. The nice thing is it falls into my Discount Diamonds cutoff as you can find bottles available for right around that $40 limit. I can tell you there are few perfumes out there which are better.

As M. Ellena would evolve the style begun here his creations would be called “Perfume Haiku”. Au The Vert was the first of those verses.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Halston Z-14- Citrus Chypre

There are a lot of the men’s perfumes designed in the 1970’s that seem to be as dated as platform shoes. They have a way of reminding you of the caricature of the hairy chested Playboy man. There is a more charitable description as simple powerhouses. Which translates to very expressive fragrances. I believe it is these perfumes, and the men who wore too much of them, which have given fragrance a bad name to this day. I still like some of my favorites from those days, modestly applied. It is that lesser amount which shows which of them are better constructed than others. One which falls into that category is Halston Z-14.

By the mid-1970’s fashion designer Halston was the man who dressed the glitterati hanging out at Studio 54 in New York City. He became one of the most famous celebrity designers because he was photographed with Liza, Anjelica, Bianca, or Margaux wearing his designs on the dance floor. As the perfume industry was changing during this time so were the buying habits of American women. Prior to this time most perfume was bought by men for the women in their lives. With women entering the workforce women were now using the money they made to buy things for themselves. Cosmetics giant Max Factor wanted a name to draw those consumers to their own fragrance. They licensed the Halston name and in 1975 released Halston for Women. It was a huge success. Which meant in 1976 it was time for a men’s version called Halston Z-14.

Halston and Liza Minelli

Halston would creatively direct perfumer Vincent Marcello to create a spicy citrus chypre. It is that idea of bright citrus over a chypre base accord which keeps Z-14 still relevant today. Of course that original chypre accord has been altered due to the discontinuation of many of the ingredients. When I tried a current bottle of Z-14 I was surprised at how well it has evolved from its original form. I’m not sure who is overseeing the reformulation, but they have done a good job. The description below is of a new bottle I just purchased.

It opens brightly with the lemony green of verbena ushering in a fuller lemon. Cinnamon is the primary spice which pierces the tart citrus. Just the simple balance between hot cinnamon and sunny lemon feels great. The chypre accord has also been brightened since the original formulation. Most of the time I bemoan the loss of the bite of oakmoss in the current chypres. The chypre accord here is lighter in nature. In this current version of Z-14 I think it allows it not to fall into a dated parody of itself. Instead it helps make it feel a little closer to the current time.

Z-14 has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Z-14 can be found for around $10 a bottle. Despite its age and origins it manages to be a Discount Diamond for being a bright citrus chypre.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Jovan Musk Oil for Men- Musk for the Masses

If you read my Christmas 2019 column you would know the first perfume that I owned was Jovan Musk Oil for Men. It’s been almost fifty years since I received that bottle and there is still a newer bottle on my shelf today. Jovan Musk Oil for Men is the very reason for this column. To let you know there are some terrific perfumes in the more economical places to purchase fragrance, like the drugstore.

When I was researching looking for the ad which made me desire a bottle, I found out some interesting background on how this perfume came to exist. It started when Barry Shipp was walking in Greenwich Village sometime in the late 1960’s. He saw a long line snaking out the door of a head shop and was curious what the commotion was about. He would discover it was for a vial of a fragrance called “musk oil”. The story goes the line had formed because the word was it made the opposite sex swoon while also being able to be worn by men or women. Mr. Shipp, then employed by Revlon, wanted to take advantage. He would partner first with Bernard Mitchell to develop a synthetic musk which would replicate the vial he had. Together they founded the French-sounding Jovan. Then he turned to a friend from the flavor industry, Murray Moscona, to act as perfumer. This was the team which assembled the perfume which would go in the bottle. What would go on the outside of the bottle that was all Mr. Shipp.

As you can see in the picture above the box itself was the come-on. Mr. Shipp would cleverly use the buzzwords to draw in his intended audience. I was one of those eager consumers who wanted what was laid out on that box. I wasn’t alone. In just the years of the 1970’s Jovan did about $1 Million in sales in 1971; the year before Jovan Musk Oil for Men was released. By the end of the decade that number had exploded to $85 million. The word-laden boxes of Jovan were seen everywhere. That’s the history of it all.

The perfume itself is also quite good. I haven’t been able to find much on Mr. Moscona other than he would do all of the Jovan perfumes in the 1970’s. He didn’t quit his day job as a flavorings chemist to take on the other work. There is a part of me that sees this as one of the early examples of American independent perfumery. Taking a singular vision of something and translating it into perfume outside of the traditional apparatus of the day.

Mr. Moscona’s lack of experience in perfume-making means he stuck to a tried and true formula. It starts with a little citrus then it transitions through carnation and lavender to head for the money note. Here is the funny thing the synthetic musk they developed wasn’t this animalic simulation of actual natural musk. They decided to seize on the sweetness of that vial of musk oil Mr. Shipp found. The synthetic musk at the base of Jovan Musk Oil for Men is more closely related to the white musks. It allowed for Mr. Moscona to add some synthetic woods which provided just enough texture to keep it from being too clean.

Jovan Musk Oil for Men has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

Jovan Musk Oil for Men still holds up for me even though I am no longer a teenager looking for a perfume to attract girls. I am a colognoisseur who thinks this is still a darn good perfume for a darn good price. In other words a Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Hugo Boss Deep Red- The Simple Gingerbread

I love gingerbread; it is one of my favorite parts of the Holidays. It was one of the first My Favorite Things columns I did after starting Colognoisseur. All the ones I chose were higher priced brands. I received an e-mail a year later asking if there was a less expensive gingerbread perfume choice. Because I enjoy the scent, I have a lot of them. I looked at the shelf where they are all clustered and I noticed a tall red bottle that I thought might fit the bill. It is a great choice for a Discount Diamonds column at the beginning of the Season. That fragrance is Hugo Boss Deep Red.

Of course large perfume brands being large perfume brands Deep Red was released in the middle of the summer in 2001. It also came out when ginger was not as commonly used in perfumes, especially mainstream ones. A trio of perfumers Alain Astori, Nathalie Lorson, and Beatrice Piquet decided to take that ginger and transform it into gingerbread.

Deep Red has a seasonal feel right from the top accord. The perfumers take the rich tartness of blood orange and give it a more intense fruitiness via cassis and clementine. It is like that orange potpourri which scents many homes this time of year. The ginger appears first in its most recognizable energetic version. Ambrette adds in a subtle muskiness before the ginger gets folded into a gingerbread accord as vanilla and sandalwood make a soft gourmand base accord. It gets softer as cashmeran and musks form a pillowy foundation for it.

Deep Red has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Deep Red is available from most discounters for less than $25. If you are similar to me and want to be swathed in gingerbread; Deep Red offers a modest way to achieve that.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paco Rabanne 1 Million- Seasonal Spice

This column is often dictated by my digging through the discount bins while Mrs. C is shopping elsewhere. While digging a few weeks a go I ran across some gold bars in the bin. Those bottles meant to look like gold ingots is Paco Rabanne 1 Million. Especially for this time of year it is a real Discount Diamond.

Paco Rabanne has been making perfume since 1969. Prior to the 2000’s those early perfumes were some of the best of their kind. After we entered the new century Paco Rabanne became a more aggressive mass-market fragrance producer. A pillar perfume followed by multiple flankers. While most of the flankers are easy to dismiss the pedigree of the brand shows up in the pillars. In 2008, 1 Million was the new pillar which illustrates the point. 1 Million was the fall release for the year. A team of three perfumers, Michel Gerard, Olivier Pescheux and Christophe Raynaud would combine for a rich Oriental style.  

1 Million opens with a chilled citrus accord composed of mandarin and spearmint. The mint is where the frost comes from. It is given a blast of spicy heat as cinnamon removes that icy coating. The cinnamon citrus accord is deep and satisfying. The perfumers then add in rose and leather. The leather is a soft driving glove type. It creates a trapezoid of animalic floral spicy citrus. This is where 1 Million smells as good as the name promises. It fades to a typical vanilla sweetened amber base accord.

1 Million has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

1 Million is the kind of fragrance that shines in the colder weather. It is versatile while adding a classic Oriental aesthetic to any dresser. If you come across a bottle in your local discount bin it is worth its weight in….well you know.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Nautica Voyage- Fall Aquatic

Ever since I moved away from S. Florida I have come to enjoy the northern beaches in the early fall. Gone are the sunscreen and fruity drinks. Instead I walk the boardwalks in a sweater while the ocean carries more weight. For the most part the aquatic genre of fragrance wants to trend towards the summer party than the dour days of fall. There are exceptions, Nautica Voyage is one of them.

Nautica is one of the better discount lines of perfume. There are more than a few interesting takes on the aquatic genre. I have happily picked up many Nautica bottles out of my local discount shop without disappointment. One of the reasons I think they do a better than average job is they use some of the best perfumers. They allow them to move in unique directions. For Voyage it is perfumer Maurice Roucel at the wheel.

Maurice Roucel

If you’ve spent time on a New England beach in autumn, you will know there is a deep green scent to it. M. Roucel captures that in the early going as he has a green accord match with what is listed as a “sailcloth accord”. It reminds me of the canvas awnings of the boardwalk shops as a stiff breeze fills them from off the water. Instead of the typical suspects to create the water-like accord M. Roucel uses lotus and mimosa. This is the grey swells of the ocean after the summer crowds have left. It is a weightier water scent. Voyage finishes on a warm amber accord with hints of the green from on top in cedar and moss.

Nautica Voyage has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Voyage is a nice iteration of a popular fresh aesthetic. M. Roucel makes it enough different without completely breaking with the form. We are headed to the beach next weekend for the first weekend of fall. Nautica Voyage will be in my overnight bag.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Nicole Miller for Men- Boozy Apple

Apple is one of my favorite top notes in perfumery. I like the crispness it usually adds. Early on in my fragrance journey I began searching out any fragrance with apple listed in its note list. This led me to Nicole Miller for Men.

Nicole Miller for Men was released in 2004 a year after the first fragrance for the brand Nicole Miller. These would be the only perfumes for the brand for a long time. By the early 2000’s Nicole Miller for Men was discontinued. This was where I first found it buying a bottle off someone looking to sell theirs. At this point it was most definitely not a Discount Diamond. The scarcity made it a desirable perfume to have. Then in 2006, Nicole Miller for Men returned and has stuck around ever since. Now it is widely available at the discount bargain bins and online for $10-15 a bottle; squarely in Discount Diamonds territory.

David Apel

As I mentioned I was drawn to it for the apple. Perfumer David Apel floats it on top of a beautifully constructed boozy accord. I am always reminded of a green apple martini when I first spray it on. What always makes me enjoy this is the shift from fun-loving cocktail to dark leather and oakmoss in the heart. Mr. Apel again puts together a compelling leather accord which is given a green shadow courtesy of the oakmoss. It sticks here for a few hours before developing into a warm amber and sandalwood base.

The current version available at the discounters is slightly different than my first bottle. The biggest change is the oakmoss has less of a presence in the heart. Mr. Apel has altered the leather accord to give it a slightly rougher texture to make up for the loss of full-spectrum oakmoss. The other noticeable change is less longevity. It is my belief they reduced the amount of perfume oil because it lasts about half the time of my older bottle.

Nicole Miller for Men in its current formulation has 6-8 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

Even with the caveats on the current formulation this is a great bargain for the price. I will always enjoy this boozy apple.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Ralph Lauren Polo- The All-American

It’s July 4th and in the US that means we celebrate Independence Day. A day of flag waving, picnics, and fireworks. I thought I’d do a special Fourth of July edition of Discount Diamonds on a fragrance I consider to be the All-American men’s cologne; Ralph Lauren Polo.

Polo the cologne was introduced in 1978. Ralph Lauren had taken the fashion world by storm in 1968 with his American fashion design. The logo was that of a polo player in full gallop. By the time they were going to branch out into fragrance it made sense to put that logo on a bottle and name a men’s fragrance after it. From the day Polo was released it has been a perennial best seller. Even though it has a dated style of leather powerhouse it can still be found almost anywhere that sells fragrance.

Carlos Benaim

When this came out perfumer Carlos Benaim wanted to capture that rugged vibe of the polo player. To do this he would start with an herbal top accord of thyme, basil, and coriander sitting among the branches of a spruce tree. It is a powerful green opening which even at the time of its release was on the upper end of intensity. That remains to the present day but after forty-plus years I find it oddly comforting. This all transitions to a foundation of leather, tobacco, oakmoss, and patchouli. As distinctive as the top accord is, when I think of Polo it is this base which comes to mind. That base has been the essential DNA of Polo and most of the flankers over the years.

Polo has 12-14 hour longevity and above average sillage.

Polo has surprisingly survived the ravages of reformulation quite well. The brand has taken care to not lose what makes Polo, Polo. Polo is such a classic that if you are interested in trying the vintage formulations those bottles are also out there to be found.

A word of caution even though I write about this on a midsummer’s day this is not a warm weather fragrance. I’m not suggesting you wear some in celebration. On the other hand if you find yourself shopping over the weekend and find that gold polo player staring at you, you might want to pick up a bottle for the fall.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: John Varvatos Cologne- Best in Class

Designer fragrances are a dime a dozen; most ending up not being worth a dime. It is why when there is a designer collection which stands out it really stands out. That is the case with the fragrance side of John Varvatos.

John Varvatos is an American fashion designer known for his rock and roll aesthetic. In 2004 he wanted to branch out into fragrance. From here the story usually goes this way; brand name turns over creative control to big cosmetics brand who produce an insipid fragrance. When there are successes within the designer area of perfume it almost always comes because the name on the bottle gets involved in the creative process. Mr. Varvatos was one of those. That would lead to some other anomalies to the way John Varvatos developed as a brand. The most important is he worked with the same perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux, exclusively for the first fifteen perfumes. This kind of partnership is common in the niche community; much rarer in mainstream. Over the years they have developed one of the very best fragrance collections you can find at the department store. They have been at it so long that the early releases are now easily found in the discount bins. While I whole heartedly recommend almost everything released by Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux for this month’s Discount Diamonds I’m going to start at the beginning with John Varvatos Cologne.

John Varvatos

At that time for men’s fragrance they made a couple of interesting choices. One to eschew all the fresh and clean competition. Second to work with some unusual ingredients. In that first press release they would tout four ingredients being used for the first time.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux

John Varvatos Cologne opens with the sweet dried fruitiness of medjool dates. This provides a unique kind of sweetness which is kept from getting to be too much by using rosemary and tamarind leaves to wrap it up in notes of herb and vegetal forms of green. The herbs continue into the heart with clary sage, coriander, and thyme. At this point there is a lot of similarity to the stewed fruit accord which would become popular in niche perfumery. In the base they use a couple of woody synthetics, Eaglewood and Auramber. This gives an intensely woody accord with an amber finish.

John Varvatos Cologne has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

What you see above would be repeated time and again as Mr. Varvatos and Sr. Flores-Roux seemingly improved release after release. It has been one of the most remarkable collaborations in all mainstream perfume.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Liz Claiborne Curve for Men- Perfume in a Can

When I first started diving into perfume I wanted to know as much as I could. I was also willing to ask someone what they were wearing if I thought it smelled good. This opened so many interesting doors for me. I was at a professional conference taking a short course and the man next to me smelled fantastic. I was well-acquainted with the more popular perfumes at the mall and this wasn’t one of those. Towards the end of the day I inquired what he was wearing. He told me, “Curve”. I filed it away for my next shopping trip to the mall. Except I encountered it much sooner when I was filling a prescription at the drugstore. Killing time while waiting I was browsing the locked fragrance cabinet. My eyes landed on this lime green colored can. I focused on the name and there it was Liz Claiborne Curve for Men. It was really well-priced; I summoned the keymaster to unlock the case and pull out a can for me. That was twenty years ago. Curve has been one of my favorite warm-weather perfumes since then.

Liz Claiborne was a perfume brand which existed primarily in drugstore fragrance cases. In 1996 they released a pair of new perfumes, Curve for Men and Curve for Women. In that time period the desired consumer was a young person who wanted to smell good. If you need a current equivalent it would be the person who buys Axe body spray. What sets Curve for Men apart is there are the earliest examples of ideas which would be improved upon in some of the best niche perfumes years later. Perfume Jean-Claude Delville put together a classic fougere with little touches here and there which make it more than the sum of its parts.

Jean-Claude Delville

M. Delville opens with a set of green grassy notes and fir. This is a refreshing cool opening. The coolness is added to as cardamom breezes across the top accord. There is a sharpening of the green as it becomes more crystalline. Lavender arrives to provide the floral heart. It becomes a traditional fougere at this point tinted a bit greener. Sandalwood provides the keynote in the base around which a pinch of black pepper and vetiver swirl.

Curve for Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Curve for Men is one of the perfumes I wear which almost always does for me what it did for my colleague at the short course; garners a compliment. There is an easy-going quality to Curve for Men which seems to draw people in; even if it is a perfume bottle in a can.

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

Mark Behnke