I am always happy to see the process of perfume making portrayed in pop culture. The most recent example comes from the Netflix series “Halston”. Ewen McGregor portrays the iconic American designer. As he begins to branch out his first foray is into perfume. The business partner he has also has a stake in Max Factor. He brings them together to produce a fragrance.
Here is where the story diverges from reality. In the show they show Halston and a female perfumer having this psychological examination of ingredients. I knew the perfumer was Bernard Chant who was not known for collaborating with his creative directors like the way it is portrayed. This is all played for dramatic effect towards a storytelling goal.
The truth is more interesting. As American fashion enters the 1970’s they are beginning to gain an equivalency with the European labels. Halston was aware of being part of the group which was defining the American aesthetic. As he moved to creating fragrance, he wanted to put an American stamp on that too. This is where he and M. Chant would begin. Not with jock straps and cigarettes as portrayed on the screen. Instead a much simpler concept an American chypre.
How do you plant a star-spangled banner on a chypre base? You build a delectable fruity floral. The lusciousness of peach provides the fruit. It is rounded off with some leafy green and sweet melon. This is a fleshy fruity accord. Ylang-ylang is used to accentuate that. Tagete extends the green as indolic jasmine rises towards the fruit. For those searching for the jock strap accord the indoles are as close as you’ll get. The chypre accord in the original is a classic sandalwood, oakmoss, and patchouli which falls together with the fruit and floral pieces.
This has been reformulated a lot since 1975. The current version has a chypre accord which is lighter in tone with more Iso E Super than sandalwood. The peach and jasmine are still as vibrant as they were in the original.
The current version of Halston has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.
If you’re interested in the perfume after you’ve watched the series, it is easily found at most of the big discounters. The show did remind me what an important piece of American perfumery this was back then. That’s the truth which is better than any of the fiction.
Disclosure: This review is based on vintage and current bottles of Halston I purchased.
I devote one column a month to perfumes which have crashed and burned to end up in the Dead Letter Office. When I started Colognoisseur this month’s Discount Diamonds entry was scheduled to be part of that series. Then like a phoenix, Estee Lauder Cinnabar, rose from the ashes three years ago. It sits right on the edge of my $50 limit for this column. It is such a great fall perfume I’ve decided to fudge my criteria just a tiny bit.
Cinnabar was born to three influential perfume personalities. Estee Lauder was hands on, as creative director, in 1978. She asked perfumers Josephine Catapano and Bernard Chant to design an answer to the blockbuster Opium. Ms. Lauder wanted her own Oriental at a lower price point. They would form a softer Oriental which still retained a decent kick. Seems like a recipe for success. Except it failed. There are times when something permeates pop culture so thoroughly it removes all opportunity for competition. This is what caused Cinnabar to find its way to the discontinued shelf in the late 1990’s.
Then for some reason Estee Lauder, the brand, re-launched it in 2015. It is somewhat different than the original because of formulation restrictions. I’d really like to know who did the reformulation because I like it very much. It retains all of what I enjoy from the original. Just to be clear this column is describing the new 2015 version and not the original 1978 version.
Cinnabar is a simple construction of spices florals on top of a classic Oriental base. The modern version is the same with a lighter touch here and there which I only noticed when I had them on side-by-side. To my nose the differences are negligible.
It opens with what almost became a Lauder trademark of the time aldehydes and bergamot. There is a fizz across the early moments before the real business of Cinnabar appears. That is the heart accord of clove and rose. This is a big obstreperous accord full of 70’s attitude. It is balanced without going over the edge. It also really accentuates the spicy core of the rose. The currently available version of Cinnabar had to reduce the percentage of clove oil. The reformulator has found some neat tricks to get the volume back up where it was. The base is patchouli, sandalwood, and incense. It is the classic Oriental base, only thing missing is a touch of amber.
Cinnabar has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.
Cinnabar can be found right around the $50 a bottle limit. It is an excellent choice for fall if you want to add a new spicy Oriental to your rotation.
Disclosure: This review is based on a bottle I purchased.
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.
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.
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.