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.
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.