Discount Diamonds: Stetson- I Wanna Be a Cowboy

While I have never ridden a horse or worked a ranch I do own a Stetson hat and cowboy boots. When I wear them I am a poser. I’d probably faint from exhaustion if I ever tried to do an honest day’s work on a ranch. That doesn’t mean I can’t imagine myself trying. In the world of fragrance there have been many perfumes which have tried to channel the cowboy way as their inspiration. One of the best comes from the designer of the iconic cowboy hat, Stetson.

Stetson was launched in 1981. This was the time of rugged masculine perfumes. In a few years they would be buried under a wave of fresh and clean aquatics. When Stetson debuted it was right in line with the other types of fragrances of the time. Perfumer Maureen Brooks would fashion a floral spicy woody classic.

The opening is a bright blend of citrus and lavender. The floral is given some depth, but it is the green of lavender caught in the sunniness of the lemon and bergamot. A set of spicy ingredients are combined with patchouli. Sandalwood and vetiver provide the woody component. It ends on a warm foundation of amber, vanilla, and balsam.

Stetson has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

I hadn’t thought about Stetson for a long time until I was in line at my local drugstore. I smelled the tester and found it to retain the appeal it had back when I first encountered it. It is an ideal fall choice. It also allows me to add one more piece to my “I Wanna Be a Cowboy” ensemble.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Sean John Unforgivable- The Exception

Those who have followed my reviews over the years know I think most celebrity scents are cynical. They use the name of the person on the bottle while that person has no idea what is in the bottle. I’ve been told of many celebrities who don’t smell the perfume until their first publicity experience. It irritates me that a fan of the celebrity coughs up their money for a product which has nothing from the person they admire.

Those who have read my reviews over the years know I am not a fan of multi perfumer teams. It may not be true, but it always reeks to me of focus groups and compromises. That the perfumes designed by committee also seem to have no soul anecdotally proves my point.

To everything there is an exception. Sean John Unforgivable manages to prove both of my thoughts incorrect.

Unforgivable was released in 2006 as the first fragrance from Sean Combs aka P.Diddy’s Sean John clothing line. He certainly found a dream team of creative people to work on this. Evelyn Lauder and Karyn Khoury would be co-creative directors overseeing a team of four perfumers; David Apel, Aurelien Guichard, Pierre Negrin, and Caroline Sabas. There isn’t a name I just listed that I don’t admire the heck out of. I just carried my usual skepticism over too many perfumers at the organ serving too many managers. However it happened Unforgivable turned out way better that I thought it would.

It opens with a burst of citrus as lemon and grapefruit add a tart initial impression. A smart use of Calone takes the melon-like quality of it as a lighter fruitiness underneath along with its fresh sea spray scent. It shifts to a fougere-like heart of iris, lavender, and herbs. Clary sage is the most prominent but there are some other green herbal pieces here too. It ends with a light sandalwood focused base accord given some warmth through amber and tonka bean.

Unforgivable has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

When it comes to perfume by committee celebrity scents Unforgivable stands out as one of the best. It can be found for less than $20 at almost any discount fragrance seller.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Versace Man Eau Fraiche- A Rougher Freshie

When it comes to this column there are a couple of brands which consistently land in my discount bins. One of them is Versace. What puzzles me a bit is what ends there is among the better offerings from the department store shelves where they once resided. While I am happy to get good perfume at a great price, I always wonder why it doesn’t sell. Versace doesn’t seem to be bothered by it as they keep producing new releases. On my last visit to the local discounter before quarantine happened, I picked up a bottle of Versace Man Eau Fraiche.

The name tells you everything “fresh water”. It is a typical fresh fragrance. What I have admired about many of the Versace releases is they take something which is overexposed and give it a different texture. For Eau Fraiche perfumer Olivier Cresp chose to rough up things, just a bit. This “freshie” gets knocked around a bit.

Olivier Cresp

It opens with a very delineated lemon which if left by itself would be reminiscent of furniture polish. M. Cresp rescues this by adding the light effect of rosewood to it. It is further taken into a cleaner woodiness through cedar. Instead of allowing the cedar to impart its fresh profile clary sage and tarragon convert the cedar to a rawer type of wood. This is like a split piece of green cedar given a jagged edge through the herbs. The wood used in the base is oak which has its own rough edges. It is still fresh wood but one with some olfactory splinters. Some amber and musks come along to smooth those rough edges over the final hours.

Man Eau Fraiche has 10-12 hour longevity and average sillage.

Man Eau Fraiche is that easy wearing summer tote bag kind of perfume. What gives it a tiny bit of difference is some of those recalcitrant pieces M. Cresp adds in. It makes it a rougher freshie.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Calvin Klein Eternity for Men- Casual Classic

There was a time in the 1980’s-90’s that Calvin Klein was one of the best brands in perfumery. Those days were kind of their moment in the spotlight. The perfumes from that time also carry a reminder of the changes that were taking place in consumer trends within perfumery. By 1989 Calvin Klein’s fragrance creative director Ann Gottlieb was looking to catch on to the wave of fresh scents that were just beginning their moment. Calvin Klein Eternity for Men is one of those.

Ann Gottlieb

Part of the appeal of this fresh tend in men’s fragrance was they also carried a casualness. It was meant to be the perfume equivalent of a white t-shirt. Ms. Gottlieb would ask perfumer Carlos Benaim to turn Eternity for Men into that.

Carlos Benaim

M. Benaim is an interesting choice because he had defined a type of powerhouse masculine woody ten years earlier with Ralph Lauren Polo. Eternity for Men feels as if he wanted to try and do the same with fresh and clean.

It opens on a fresh suite of herbs lifted with citrus. When you smell this now it is generic, but this was one of the earlier examples. M. Benaim adds an expansiveness that is the opposite of what he did with Polo. Geranium is the floral heart note used here in its traditional green rose role. The herbs provide a deepening of the floral while retaining that fresh quality. Vetiver is used in its typical summery way. The grassier citrus-like aspects are picked up by the herbs as well. It ends on a light woody accord of sandalwood.

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

I forgot how well this achieved its goals. It is a great casual fougere ideal for wearing out for a day of chores. Perfume would come to perfect this casual vibe over the next few years. Eternity for Men is one of the first. It is available in most discount bins I dig around in as well as almost every online discounter for under $25US. A true Discount Diamond.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: Zara Cool Heights- The Best Diamond Mine at the Mall

The essence of this column is meant to remind you there are some great perfumes of past years that are now available for a modest price. There is a rarer source of fragrance for this column which is produced at a modest price from the beginning. They are generally not found in the most obvious of places. To find this month’s pick you would have to walk into a Zara menswear store at the mall. When you find the shelf holding the fragrances you will have found one of the best Discount Diamond mines at the mall.

Zara has been making perfume since 1999. They have consistently worked with some great perfumers who have made excellent perfumes. I didn’t discover it until one day in 2010 when I tried Zara Man Gold. I found a fascinating gourmand in a place I didn’t expect, for a price I didn’t expect. It became a regular stop on my mall visits, for the perfume.

I don’t know what caused the change but in 2018 Zara began producing perfume at a faster pace. It has continued ever since. I was concerned that the quality would drop with the increase in quantity. To my delight it didn’t. There were still jewels to be mined. I found Zara Cool Heights on my first visit after the New Year. It is an example of what exists within the collection.

Jerome Epinette

The perfumer behind Cool Heights is Jerome Epinette. M. Epinette has been behind many of the Zara releases. He is a perfumer who effortlessly achieves interesting perfume even on a small budget. Cool Heights is a citrus leather amber beauty.

The top accord is built around the versatility of Szechuan pepper. M. Epinette uses grapefruit and rhubarb with their sulfurous aspect to create a unique citrus accord that is nose catching. The leather accord at the heart is that scent of leather shoes polished to a high gloss. Not quite patent leather or leather jacket but something almost halfway between the two. The base accord is a warm amber given some sweet through tonka bean.

Cool Heights has 8-10 hour longevity and average sillage.

Cool Heights has been great throughout the spring as I’ve worn it a lot. It is a great thought for the upcoming Father’s Day if perfume is on your list for dad. Or you can give him a Zara gift card and let him go find his own Discount Diamond. This is a great place to find one.

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

Mark Behnke

Discount Diamonds: White Shoulders- Reformulation for a New Generation

Anyone who is of the Baby Boomer generation likely had a woman in their family who wore White Shoulders. It featured the white flowers of gardenia, tuberose and jasmine in a heady cocktail. It was a perennial best-seller for years. Then in the 1970’s it began a process of being sold to different brands each who would tweak the formula a little bit. Trying to make it more profitable. The original is a classic of its time which any perfume lover of white flower types of fragrance would enjoy. The current formulation of White Shoulders is a much lighter replica of that original perfume. It is the rare occasion where a formulation might have coincided with finding the current trend.

The original White Shoulders formulation was the epitome of what younger perfume lovers called “old lady” perfume. It was chock full of essential oils along with sandalwood, oakmoss, and civet. The white florals reeked of indoles to go with it. It is a perfume from a different era. The small bottle I have of that White Shoulders is just what I adore of perfumes from that time. It is a take no prisoners floral perfume. Not so the current formulation.

In the current version all the ingredients which were essential oils have been replaced by low-cost synthetics. Along with the problematic oakmoss and civet which have also been removed. In its current formulation it is like a classic Rolls-Royce has been entirely refurbished with everything being replaced with modern car parts. As much as I like the original, I also like the version it has been altered into.

This reformulation begins with tuberose, gardenia, and jasmine. Except these are the indole-free synthetic versions. These were created by perfume houses to give a floral lift. As used here they are much more expansive. Which works well with the aldehydes which have carried over from the original. This version now feels like a spring morning as the flowers are just scenting the air. Because the civet and oakmoss are gone the sandalwood has more work to do here. A less sweet synthetic version tries to put back some of the bite missing. It provides a nice woody grounding effect.

White Shoulders has 6-8 hour longevity and average sillage.

For anyone who loved the original White Shoulders this is different enough that it is not going to remind you of it. You might come to like it or miss what is gone. For any younger perfume consumer who is looking for a lighter spring floral this current reformulation of White Shoulders should be ideal. It is right on trend. That it can be bought for around $20US almost anywhere makes the current version a Discount Diamond.

Disclosure: This review based on bottles of White Shoulders I purchased.

Mark Behnke

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