Discount Diamonds: Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar- Last of the Powerhouse Fougeres

My favorite fougeres get most of their wears in the shoulder seasons of winter/spring and summer/fall. I like them because they project some power in the cool mornings before transitioning to something lighter as the day warms up. During the 1980’s the powerhouse fougere was a staple of masculine marketed perfumes. As perfume moved into the 90’s a wave of fresh and clean aquatics would wash them out to sea. One of the last of the great men’s fougeres is this month’s Discount Diamonds Choice; Van Cleef & Arpels Tsar.

Van Cleef & Arpels is one of those quietly successful perfume brands with a surprising number of excellent perfumes. They started in 1976 with one of Jean-Claude Ellena’s earliest perfumes; the aptly named First. Ever since they have continued to work with some of the best perfumers. They have become one of the most reliable brands I know. This was evident even in those early days.

Philippe Bousseton

Tsar was the fourth perfume released by the brand. Perfumer Philippe Bousseton was given a brief to create the “fragrance of a naturally elegant man.” What he did was to take a little of the power out of the powerhouse. It comes through a clever use of herbs and spices before a chypre-like base.

M. Bousseton opens with a rich lavender twisted with rosemary. This is a typical fougere top accord. What happens next was not typical. M. Bousseton sweeps that trite accord away with one of caraway and cinnamon. This is the perfume which put caraway on my internal map of favorite ingredients. Matched with cinnamon it creates that elegance the perfume was going for. Sandalwood comes forth to set up a chypre-ish base with oakmoss and vetiver.

Tsar has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Tsar has been through a couple reformulations with the oakmoss being the most prominent change. While my original bottle benefits from the bite of full-spectrum oakmoss. In the most current version I found the low-atranol version, minus the bite, gives the sandalwood and vetiver some lightness and space. I thought that the current version is probably more fitting for the perfume consumer today. I’ve seen it online for $20-40 a bottle.

It is funny that the perfumer who was responsible for one of the last powerhouse fougeres would make multiple flankers of Cool Water. M. Bousseton knew when to change lanes. If you want one of the best of the last powerhouse fougeres this current shoulder season give Tsar a try.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Obsession for Men- Where It Began

Everyone has their first. Like all firsts you never forget. It was fall of 1986 and I was in my local Macy’s men’s department shopping for work clothes. I had been in my first adult job for a couple years. I was shopping for new clothes because I felt I needed to find something more professional. I was in this mindset when I kept getting the hint of this wonderful smell. As I was flipping hangers on the rack there was a spicy scent in the air. On my way to the dressing room I noticed it was coming from a woman spraying a perfume on paper strips followed by spraying the air. As I was on my way to the register to pay, I detoured towards her. This was what I had been smelling. She offered me one of the strips. I fell down the rabbit hole. On my way to paying a bottle ended up with my new wardrobe. That perfume was what I consider to be my first “grown-up” perfume; Calvin Klein Obsession for Men.

Prior to that I mainly wore Ralph Lauren Polo but I had become tired of it; rarely reaching for the bottle on my dresser. That was a Christmas gift that even when I wasn’t tired of it, I wore mostly when going out, not daily. When I got Obsession for Men home it was what transformed me into a daily perfume wearer. It also transformed my shower as I bought the soap, too. I have worn Obsession for Men for over thirty years and I never have tired of it. Even today when I wear it, I feel as if I’ve come home.

When Obsession for Men was releases in 1986 it was meant to be the masculine counterpart to the very successful Obsession released a year earlier. The same perfumer for Obsession, Robert Slattery, worked on Obsession for Men. Both perfumes were riding the prevailing trend of Oriental perfumes prevalent at the time. What allowed Obsession for Men to stand out was Mr. Slattery used a lighter hand. Obsession for Men was never going to be described as a powerhouse masculine. This was a more refined take on what a man should smell like.

In the mid 1980’s there was a fear of making a male-marketed perfume too femme-y. That translated to floral ingredients being very limited. Lavender was one of the acceptable ones. Mr. Slattery would use the slightly herbal nature of lavender to construct a spicy heart accord around. The keynote was nutmeg which was the leader of the spice squad which consisted of clove, sage, and coriander. This was what caught my attention from across a sales floor. It is what makes me happy every time I wear it. Mr. Slattery forms a traditional Oriental base of amber, patchouli, myrrh, vetiver, and sandalwood.

Obsession for Men has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

I am on the final sprays of my third bottle of Obsession for Men. I have found reformulation has not exacted a toll on it. With all classic perfumes which have lasted this long it is a Discount Diamond. I’ve picked up new bottles for less than $25. That’s a good price for one of the best masculine perfumes ever made. Of course that’s what I would say about my first.

Disclosure: this review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Paul Sebastian PS For Men- A Couple Guys From Jersey Make A Perfume

I’m used to people asking me what perfume I’m wearing. I very rarely ask the same question in return. While I was at a local Holiday party, I was making small talk with a new acquaintance. As he kept moving around, I was catching the scent of a really nice cologne. For a while I tried to see if I could place it as one of the current department store offerings. It had more of a throwback vibe to it for me to think it was that. It was made up of so many of the usual perfume suspects I was pretty sure it wasn’t a niche perfume. He didn’t seem like a guy who would be looking for indie fragrances. He definitely didn’t seem like a DIY fragrance person. I finally had to ask. He told me it was Paul Sebastian PS For Men.

Paul Sebastian is not an actual person. The brand name was created by using the middle names of two guys from New Jersey; Leonard Paul Cuozzo and Alan Sebastian Greco. Mr. Cuozzo lived near the plant of one of the major perfume oil producers. He would find the smaller perfume oil house of Fritzsche, Dodge, & Olcott in an adjacent Jersey town. Over a few years he worked with perfumers there to arrive at a formula which could be produced. This is where Mr. Greco enters the story. He was the business guy. A sales manager for a large national firm he had some ideas on a business plan. With a perfume formula, a business plan, and some seed money they produced their first bottles. Selling them at three local New Jersey men’s stores in 1979. Proximity to New York City must have had other men asking the same question I did. When they got the answer Messrs. Cuozzo and Greco began to expand their production and distribution. One of their early innovations was the “gift with purchase” first with teddy bears then small figurines. It all started with PS For Men.

It is easy to see that Mr. Cuozzo’s creative direction was to oversee a softer Oriental than the other masculine fragrance offerings in the mid-1970’s. As he worked through iterations with the perfumers at Fritzsche, Dodge, & Olcott I can imagine him asking for a lightening up of the style. It is what ends up in the bottle.

It opens with spice swathed lavender; nutmeg and clove predominantly. Those spices help keep the rose from getting too out of control. It is here where PS For Men finds its balancing point as spices and florals swirl around each other. A classic amber, patchouli, and musk base provides the finish.

PS For Men has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

If you’re looking for a lighter Oriental style perfume for the office PS For Men is a great choice. This is not a perfume where you will leave a vapor trail. As I’ve re-introduced myself to my well-hidden bottle, I am impressed at how timeless this feels. It doesn’t have a dated quality to it. This can be found for under $25 in multiple places. Not bad for a couple of guys from Jersey.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Zirh Ikon- Soft Incense

I go to my local discount stores to get ideas for this column. As I dig through the bins, I am looking for something which wasn’t there before. Which means I miss the forest for the trees. In the search for buried treasure I fail to notice the silver coins on the beach. On my last visit I was digging while another shopper was next to me going through the testers. With my head down, a nice scent drifted down upon me. I looked up and asked what he had just sprayed. He held out a bottle with big blocky letters which read: Zirh Ikon.

Zirh is a men’s full-service skincare brand including perfume. It is particularly prevalent during the holiday shopping season because they sell gift sets where they mix and match many of their products, including fragrance. When it comes to the very modestly priced fragrance out there all the Zirh perfumes are great bang for the buck. I own Zirh Corduroy and Zirh Perfume as well as Ikon. For someone who wants an economical choice of perfumes for all seasons there are many worse options.

Frank Voelkl

What the spritz of Ikon at the discount store reminded me of is that it is a simple triad of spices, incense, and woods. Perfumer Frank Voelkl works with an efficient style in Ikon to create something better than it should be for the price.

The opening is a mix of lemon and cardamom which primarily hold the foreground. There are hints of clove and cinnamon, but they are there to shade the top accord towards the cardamom. The incense steps forward with a sharpness to it. This is further refined as labdanum softens it. Cedar and vetiver provide a green woody base accord.

Ikon has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

You can find 4oz. bottles of Ikon for around $10. They are $9.99 at the discount stores I shop at. I also mention the gift sets which will be popping up because you will find some of them also contain Ikon along with some skincare products.

One thing about Ikon which I should mention is when you read spice, incense, and woods you think of something with a large presence. One reason I like Ikon is M. Voelkl softens the overall effect to make it much more approachable. It is at its best in the cold weather. When I smelled it at the store the other day it was that which drew my attention the most. Reminding me to appreciate what was right in front of me.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Lalique Encre Noire- Masterpiece Vetiver

With so much perfume released every year it becomes easy to forget about those which were released a short while ago. One of the goals of this column is to take advantage of that as the discounting cycle is also accelerated. Throughout the nearly five years of writing Discount Diamonds this is the first entry which I think is a modern masterpiece; Lalique Encre Noire.

Vetiver has become a staple ingredient of perfumery in the 21st century. Prior to that it was two perfumes which were the standard bearers for the ingredient; Guerlain Vetiver and Givenchy Vetyver. They were the perfumes which introduced my generation to vetiver. As we crossed into the new century the independent perfume market began to expand rapidly. That meant there were new perspectives provided on previous keynotes. Vetiver started off with a pair of perfumes, once again, leading the modern interpretation. One of those is Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire. I don’t think that one is ever going to be a Discount Diamond. Lalique Encre Noire is the other one and it has become a fit subject for this column.

Nathalie Lorson

Encre Noire was released in 2006. Lalique’s fragrance business was looking for a way to join in on this new way of making perfume. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson would help as she composed three perfumes for the brand from 2006-2007; Perles de Lalique, Amethyst, and Encre Noire. It was a statement of intent to try for something different.

The original vetivers were citrus affairs with the vetiver providing an acerbic green contrast. More interested in the higher register effects. Encre Noire was going to go for a different style; plumbing the woody depths underneath the green. What was also so interesting about doing that was there was a smoky quality just waiting to be separated and amplified. Mme Lorson finds that.

The opening of Encre Noire is the classic grassy green of old-style vetiver. Mme Lorson uses cedar to find the woods inherent within vetiver. She uses two sources of vetiver in Encre Noire, Haitian and Bourbon. The Haitian vetiver I have come to know has a quite prominent smoky character. By blending the two versions Mme Lorson tunes the smoke to a soft level. I used to burn pine needles as a boy and whenever I wear Encre Noire the smoky nature reminds me of this. The Bourbon vetiver brings a spicy complement to the Haitian smoky version. The base is a cocktail of sensual musks which really represent the “noire” in the name.

Encre Noire has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I consider Encre Noire to be one of the best perfumes of this century. That you can buy a bottle for under $30 makes it a steal. There is no other Discount Diamond which will shine brighter.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Estee Lauder Cinnabar- From the Ashes

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.

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds Moschino Cheap and Chic- But Not Easy

There is something about understated elegance. Or to put it another way, to be chic while also being cheap. This is a concept much easier to say than to accomplish. It is also an unspoken goal of a lot of mainstream perfumes. It is also easier attempted than produced. I am always reminded of it when I try Moschino Cheap and Chic. Not only do they put it on the label, but they also live up to it.

It is a story I’ve told many times especially in the 1990’s as fashion brands added fragrance to their offerings. Moschino was no different. They started with Moschino and Moschino pour Homme in 1987 and 1990, respectively. Moschino pour Homme was one of those underrated men’s colognes which got washed away by the tidal surge of the fresh and clean trend. Neither were particularly popular and Moschino retrenched as they decided what was next.

The choice was to make a perfume which dovetailed with their women’s fun line “Cheap and Chic”. This clothing collection was always about youthful exuberance. When this collection was on the runway you might see the models wearing crowns and miniskirts or vibrant prints and lei. It was decided a perfume to match that irreverence was going to be the third try at fragrance for the brand. Perfumer Nathalie Lorson made Cheap and Chic perfume all of that.

Nathalie Lorson

When you go to a Cheap and Chic fashion show you feel like you’re at a party. The perfume feels like the fragrance you should wear to that party. Mme Lorson goes for a traditional citrus floral. She changes it by using some different versions which makes it feel unique without feeling odd. When it is all put together it lives up to its name.

Cheap and Chic opens with the greener lemon of yuzu. Petitgrain is used to push the lemony part a bit more to the forefront. It all leads to a floral heart which I enjoy every time I wear this as violet and peony form the perfect sunny floral duet. Mme Lorson deftly titrates in some of the bigger florals of jasmine and rose but they are there to provide some longevity and depth not to be the focus. It ends on a sweet woody base accord of sandalwood, vanilla, and tonka bean.

Cheap and Chic has 12-14 hour longevity and average sillage.

Besides living up to its name Cheap and Chic was the first fragrance success for Moschino. It has become a legacy brand for many young perfume lovers who discover it in their teens and early 20’s. The brand has produced a consistent output over the past twenty-plus years but Cheap and Chic has survived because it does exactly what it promises. Just don’t think it comes easily.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme- Aquatic Trendsetter

I have mentioned this before, but I sometimes look at the fragrance bargain bin at my local discount store mournfully. This happens not because of the selection but that there are some of the original trendsetters of perfumery in there. I get over it because it means those are accessible to many more people because of the modest price. Which is also the point of this column. This past month the summer allotment of the fresh aquatics must have arrived because the bin was covered in a layer of bottles of L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme.

Chantal Roos

In 1992 as Issey Miyake began their fragrance brand, creative director Chantal Roos and perfumer Jacques Cavallier would define the brand. In these early days Mme Roos decided the new aquatic style was what would set Issey Miyake, as a brand, apart. It was a shrewd play and when 1992’s L’Eau D’Issey was released it made a splash, literally. Two years later the same creative team released the masculine counterpart L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme.

Jacques Cavallier

When I try a perfume like L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme I always place it in context of where it began. If I received a new release aquatic which smelled like this I would dismiss it. Yet back in 1994 the aquatic fragrance for men was just getting started and L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme is one of those that cemented the popularity of the style. It is also a great perfume to wear in the summer.

L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme opens on a Calone-centered top accord matched with yuzu. Back then Calone was something new. This is the typical aquatic top accord we now know very well. From here M. Cavallier makes some clever choices starting with geranium and cinnamon in the heart. The slightly spicy contrast to the fresh seaside accord works really well before heading to a sandalwood and vetiver base.

L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

There might be a hundred clones at the mall right now but if you go to the local discount bin you can find one of the originals for a fraction of the cost. That is what Discount Diamonds are all about.

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

Mark Behnke

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

Discount Diamonds: Elizabeth Taylor Passion for Men- The Scent of a Man La Liz Style

The branding of perfume by celebrities was not as common as it is today. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s where celebrity and perfume became the brand instead of the promotion. One of the earliest to step up with a celebrity brand was actress Elizabeth Taylor. Prior to Ms. Taylor’s entry the results were mixed. After the success of her third fragrance White Diamonds there was a line of celebrities wanting to put their names on a bottle. I became acquainted with the brand through their first masculine release Passion for Men in 1989.

Ms. Taylor was one of the earliest celebrities writ large often referred to as La Liz. In a day when there was no internet every move she made was scrutinized and reported upon. Her love life, the jewelry, the movie set contretemps, and her fashion. I was always enthralled by her eyes with their one-of-a-kind violet color. Seeing them on a 70mm movie screen they were mesmerizing. The color became one of Ms. Taylor’s hallmarks as she used violet throughout her life. When she released her first perfume Passion in 1987 it was in a violet colored bottle. I had a close friend who wore Passion from nearly the first day it was released, it was her signature scent for twenty years. When I smell it I automatically think of her. Because she knew I liked perfume she gifted me a bottle of Passion for Men in 1989. It would remain in my small early rotation of perfume until I discovered niche over ten years later.

Rene Morgenthaler

Passion for Men was composed by perfumer Rene Morgenthaler who was a stalwart perfumer in the commercial sector at this time. M. Morgenthaler was a technician working on the familiar perfume templates. Passion for Men was going to be a masculine Oriental except there was a fabulous little indicator of where men’s perfume would head more firmly twenty years later. M. Morgenthaler would design a spicy woody version of the classic architecture.

Elizabeth Taylor in 1985

Passion for Men begins with bergamot supported by ginger. This begins to be subsumed by spices as clove, cardamom and primarily nutmeg carry things forward. Vetiver sets itself up as the nucleus in the heart. This is a woodier version of vetiver. M. Morgenthaler really pushes it to the foreground to mesh with the nutmeg. The bit of innovation here is he adds in a vector of vanilla at the same time patchouli comes up. This tilts in a kind of gourmand style, years before that would come to be a thing.

Passion for Men has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

I still wear Passion for Men at least once a year, it has classical style which does not feel dated. This can be had for $10-15 at most of the perfume discounters. Its longevity has really turned it into a Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke