Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Cheap smells for men that don't smell cheap - suggestions please for a reader on a budget!

Grooming Tiger ~ Source Wikimedia Commons (byKoshy Koshy)
Most of the blog-related mail I get these days is from perfume houses inviting me to try their range, or from PR companies trying to get me to write to order on this or that product for money, or to develop 'collaborative synergies' with brands, that you just know would amount to the same thing. These I bat off pretty sharpish, as you can imagine.

Then just as I was sitting down to marshal my thoughts about Angel Muse, an email came in from a male reader, whom I shall call P, inquiring about budget scents for men that I would recommend.

"Can you recommend a good value men's fragrance? Quite a short question I know, but one which is ever so perplexing when on a budget."

I liked P right off the bat for his use of 'perplexing', as you can also imagine. P didn't say what styles of fragrance he wears at the moment, but maybe his taste is a broad church and price is the main driver.

P's approach to me is quite timely as it happens, as only the other day I found myself moved to comment on a post entitled 'Shared Atmospheres' on A Perfume Blog about the rights and wrongs of curbing the wearing of fragrance in public spaces. I came down on the side of freedom, even at the expense of being personally affronted by other people's perfume choices.

"And I do smell a LOT of things I don't care for in the general ambient air, as much on men as women it must be said."

Source: Harper's Weekly via Wikimedia Commons

The distinction I would make is that whereas there is ample choice out there for women, so in theory it is easy enough to smell delightful on a shoestring, I wouldn't say the same is generally true for men. There is a lot of what I would call 'sport colognes' or 'gym & tonic'-type men's colognes, in the same general vein as Chanel Bleu, but nowhere near as classy. A chap serving in my local Coop was wearing one such scent the the other day, and his sillage in and around the checkout area nearly drove me to do my grocery shopping online! So my point is that it is harder to pick out decent options in the men's category that are also a real bargain.

And it seems Blacknall agrees:

"A larger proportion of men seem to be wearing aggressive fragrance (actually it's not fragrance properly speaking so much as olfactory artillery)."

So while I am not for a minute suggesting that any of the colognes P currently owns are remotely of that ilk, the relative scarcity of non-offensive options at the less spendy end of the spectrum makes the search that bit more of a challenge. But I immediately recalled a few fragrances I have sniffed on male friends and liked, only to learn to my surprise when I asked them what they were wearing that they were in fact pretty darn cheap, and clearly punching above their price tag. Examples of this are Activist by the Body Shop and Lynx Excite, which I even felt moved to blog about, here and here respectively!

So I wrote back to P this morning with the preliminary results of my brainstorm, and of a quick google of men's style/grooming blogs.

"Thanks for your email - that's a short but big question, hehe, as it depends so much on what styles of perfume you like and how much you want to pay.

And to be honest, I mostly cover women's fragrances, but I could ask around for you from the male blogging community. Or if you are a member of Basenotes, which is mostly populated by men, you could lob in a question there.

I personally like L'Occitane Eau des Baux on men (a vanillic woody amber number), and have smelt one of the Body Shop's range on a friend that impressed me - Activist, also an oriental. See, that is the style I like. ;) Also thought Lynx Excite (Axe in the US) wasn't bad on another friend. 

If you like Oud, there's one in the Library of Fragrance / Demeter range that is cheap, and Jovan Intense Oud is a drugstore scent that smells like a poor man's Roja Dove at a hundredth of the price.

Bottle kindly donated by Liz Moores

I have heard good things of the Paul Smith range, but I can't tell you which.

And it is worth cruising the perfume aisle of T K Maxx for discounted scents from Penhaligon's or L'Artisan.

Check out this link - it mentions Activist I see! And a Paul Smith! I can endorse the 4711.

Also I have seen a few mentions of Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene, and remember that as good. 

Good luck in your hunt and let me know if you would like me to approach anyone else."

Source: Wikimedia Commons (by Nevit Dilmen)

So that is where I am up to so far, and on a whim I decided to share P's inquiry with readers in a blog post to see if anyone has some more suggestions. Roger & Gallet Jean-Marie Farina just popped into my head, and P could of course also play around with the Library of Fragrance / Demeter range for days, on account of its enormous selection...featuring everything from oud to marshmallow to wet shed and beyond!

Oh, and if P likes Hugo BOSS the original, Lidl's X-Bolt by Bellini is a fantastic dupe at £3.99. Here's my review of that one, that caught the attention of the Daily Telegraph, no less. ;)

Then I see Old Spice is also mentioned in the link I sent P - the one and only scent I ever remember my father wearing, or at least keeping a bottle of the stuff on the bathroom shelf. I wasn't at all close to him, mind, so there was no question of me ever sitting on his lap and inhaling the smell. He wasn't a smoker either, so you can forget any Proustian pipe tobacco associations, that other friends associate with their fathers. So yes, nothing retro and paternal to bring to the party.

Editor's note: I cannot believe I have just spent an hour googling pictures of three childhood homes in Belfast, one with an epically bad avocado suite, above which Father's Old Spice bottle would have been perched - sadly I am unable to fetch up any photos from Rightmove or Lettings sites that do justice to its monstrous green splendour.

And I am assuming that P would prefer colognes that are overtly marketed to men. I say that, for we might otherwise collectively think to recommend some feminine fragrances a man could carry off with panache and aplomb, especially once you get into the realms of niche, though for cost reasons we are of course not going there. ;)

Aha, I see Panache is also an aldehydic perfume!, formerly by Lentheric, and reviewed by I Scent You A Day. I don't believe there is a fragrance called 'Aplomb' or 'Budget', or I would be tempted to pop them on the list too.


  1. Hey Vanessa.
    In the cheaply aisle I love Tabac by Maurer and Wurtz. My dad wore it and I still use it as my shave foam and sometimes scent my bath with it.

    1. Hi Portia,

      Thank you for that tip, which I had not heard of. Definitely worth following up!

  2. Hello Bonks, and what a timely response from Portia (for reasons that will become clearer soon).

    I bought my dad a bottle of Tabac one Father's Day and it came with a little bottle on a key-ring, which I kept for myself and used myself. Crumbs, that truly would be the first scent I bought and used myself, and I'd forgotten about it until this blog and Portia's comment reminded me of it.
    So consider this another vote for Tabac (although I haven't sniffed it in decades I trust Portia!).

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

    1. Hi Anna,

      What a charming story of Tabac and your own father! Love the sound of the little bottle on a key ring - I would have found that too cute to resist, especially at a young age, as you may have been, but probably at any!

  3. If he is a vetiver fan, Encre Noire is quite inexpensive and wonderful stuff! I also like Stetson.

    1. Hi Yuki,

      Thanks for that. In addition to the Tabac coincidence above, we are having the same conversation over on my and Val's Facebook wall (she kindly shared my post) and I suggested the Extreme version of Encre Noire to a male friend who was chipping in. The original is more vetiver-y and surprisingly affordable as you say - and as I have only just found out ref the Extreme on his behalf. ;)

      Oh, must check out Stetson...

  4. Grey Flannel - very cheap and a very good classic !

    1. Hi Bejoux Noir,

      Thanks for endorsing the Grey Flannel, not least because it is so long since I have smelt it. We are getting a few recurring scents here, in fact.

  5. I'm no help on this subject but I don't think you can go wrong with those classic colognes like 4711 and Jean-Marie Farina.

    It's very rare you're deep dive Googling doesn't come up with the goods but I guess it was a tall order. My parents still have the enamel lavender bath suite they installed when they moved into their house in 1969 and is still in top-notch condition!

    1. Hi Tara,

      Yes, colognes are a pretty safe bet, and don't have that noxious blast of so many sporty men's frags.

      I guess Google had a challenge on its hands because it was all 40 years ago, and house particulars can change a heck of a lot in that time! I did establish that the flat I lived in with my parents during my A-Level year has now been split into two. I think I may have found my old bedroom on one property site. The avo bathroom in another house continues to elude - possibly for very good reasons!

      Love the sound of your folks' lavender bath suite - that era is now coming back into fashion, or surely will do if they hang on a bit longer? ;)

    2. Despite my encouragement, they are reluctant to get rid of it because there is nothing "wrong" with it :)

      Wow, I think you did well with what you uncovered, considering.

  6. Another vote for Encre Noir, and in similar fashion Tsar, by Van Cleef&Arpels, and I would also recommend the Roger and Gallet Colognes.

    1. Hi Sabine,

      Thanks for sharing your recommendations - I am not sure I have ever tried Tsar, so on the list it goes!

  7. Some of the Lush Gorilla perfumes might do the trick... I am a big fan of "The Smell of Weather Turning". Snarl smells great in "The President's Hat". And the lemontree "Dad's Garden" is a good citrusy cologne.

    1. Hi crikey,

      Lush is a great suggestion - there is something for everyone in their wide range, and the bottles are small and cheap! I think my friend Caryne has 'The President's Hat' - rather topical at the moment of course.

  8. Perfumes on a budget, what's that? ;-) I think I do it the other way round, if I really like something and can't afford it, I wait til someone tires of their bottle and sell it, or it's discounted.
    Actually, the Discounters seem to have a lot of male fragrances at very affordable prices, like below 40€

    1. Hi Asali,

      Haha, that is another perfectly good strategy, and one I have followed myself, in part at least.

      It is very true that the discounters can come up with some great bargains - it never ceases to amaze me how affordable the bottles on All Beauty are - which coincidentally used to be called Cheap Smells!

  9. Thierry Mugler's Cologne and Bvlgari Black - both are great masculine perfumes that can be bought online on a very tight budget. Another idea would be to buy a more expensive perfume but not a bottle but a 20-30 ml decant in a split.

    1. Hi Undina,

      What good ideas - of the two I am particularly partial to Black and have a bottle that only cost me £20 I think.

      And decants are the way I am going more and more - that's another fine tactic for keeping to a budget while still owning a decent amount of whatever you fancy.

  10. It's a little more expensive, even at the discounters, but Guerlain's L'Instant is so manly and assured (I have a bit of a crush on it)...AnnieA

    1. Hi AnnieA,

      That is an excellent thought, and now you mention it I have bought a partial bottle of l'Instant for a male friend on eBay in the past, which was quite satisfactory!