How to manage a champagne lifestyle on a poor perfumista’s budget

Are you tired of paying in excess of $250 for your Amouages and your Xerjoffs? Not me. I have never paid in excess of $250 for Amouage or Xerjoff; they are out of my league.

Any disappointment I might feel about this is tempered by the fact that splits, decants and samples now allow us to own these astronomically expensive fragrances in some form. But there is no denying the absolute pleasure of buying a full bottle of a fragrance you love, guilt free. Click! Add to cart. Click! Proceed to checkout. Click! Place order. Ah yes, it is mine. And I can still afford to feed the children.

What we all long for are the inexpensive masterpieces. Dee happened upon one just a short time ago: Anne Pliska. I’m always searching for them, not just for the relief of my bank balance, but because it is such fun to beat the system. ‘Take THAT Xerjoff, you with your ridiculous name and your $715 fragrances! And by the way, why do you spell Iris with a triple S’?

I want to share my list of these treasures. Most of these I own, not always as FBs, but knowing I could acquire them any time I wish. My criteria here are that a full bottle is anything over 15 mls, and ‘inexpensive’ means under $50 on eBay, or direct from the perfumer, or at, which is my online discounter of choice (but I’m not affiliated). Here we go:

Azuree by Estée Lauder. Citrus, flowers, leather, oakmoss. Beautiful, but not easy. Azuree only just scrapes on to my list because with shipping it might push you over $50, and it seems to be getting harder to get. So if you have been tempted, buy it while you still can.

Aromatics Elixir by Clinique. Also beautiful but not easy. The best things in life often aren’t. Read this review by Chandler Burr.

Cinema by YSL. Sweet and pretty, but with brains. She might be serving ice creams at her local multiplex but she has her degree in psychology just about in the bag. Thanks to dee for my sample.

Eden by Cacharel. Green and fruity, with a deliberately artificial opening that taunts you with your ideas about what is ‘natural’ and what is ‘artificial’, and why does it matter anyway? While speaking of Cacharel, there is also Anais Anais, Loulou and Noa. Of these I have only tried AA – I wore it a lot in the late 90s until I got bored with its soapiness – but judging by reviews, all can be considered budget masterpieces.

A Midsummer Days Dream by Olympic Orchids. A recently discovered (thanks to dee!) love of mine which I have raved about in a previous post.

Niki de Saint Phalle by Niki de Saint Phalle. She was a Frenchwoman of many talents and interests. Her eponymous perfume was apparently intended to fund her expensive sculpture projects. The perfume manages to be sour, green and fruity. Wonderful. Try it, if you want to hear a fearless, individual voice in a perfume. Thanks to Barbara, or Yesterday’s Perfume, for introducing me to this one (and to Eden).

Silences by Jacomo. More an aura than a perfume, this is revered by lovers of green fragrances. Fragrancex will sell you 25 mls for a princely $15.95 US.

Tocade by Rochas. One word: adorable. Actually, here’s another: cheap. But avoid this one if you don’t care for gourmand vanilla. This and Cinema are a bit sweet for me generally, except on a cold night by myself in front of the TV, with a classic old movie and a box of chocolates. Lovely!

Youth Dew by Estée Lauder. Rich, spicy, fruity, and strong. Little else needs be said really. Everyone has a grandmother or great aunt who wore it. They were strong, confident women. Don’t let anyone, condescendingly, tell you different.

Yvresse by YSL (formerly Champagne). A fruity chypre, this is one that I don’t own and have only fleetingly tried. It has a high place in the esteem of many perfumistas. I see it often in various retail outlets where I live but they don’t seem to have testers. I will run one to earth as soon as possible. Another cheapie from YSL is Y. Again, I don’t know it well, for the same reason.
And finally, anything by Sonoma Scent Studio automatically makes it on to this list. Enough said.

So that’s my list.

And yours?

32 thoughts on “How to manage a champagne lifestyle on a poor perfumista’s budget

  1. Great post Anne-Marie!

    I love finding a treasure at bargain basement prices— Anne Pliska my latest pleasure (as you noted).

    Other favorite “budget” thrills include:
    Bulgari Black ($15),
    Cinema (stolen from your list!),
    Bronze Goddess ($55),
    Champagne de Bois (SSS, also stolen from your list),
    Aveda Chakra #7 ($20)
    Demeter Sugar Cane ($24)
    Demeter Ginger Ale ($24)
    Chanel No 5 EDT ($12—I love eBay!)

    I also found my Guerlain Cologne Imperial at an estate sale for $0.50 (bee-bottle, mostly full!), but I suppose that doesn’t really count since it was a unique scenario. 🙂

    1. Yes, vintage finds don’t count, at least on this list, but man, that is a great find!

      I had forgotten about the Demeters. Just recently some have turned up at a local cosmetics and perfumery place where I live. This is the first time I’ve seen them in a retails shop. My daughter remembers this as the place that sells ‘perfume that smells like chocolate chip biscuits.’ I quite like the earth one, and the rain was okay too.

      Chanel No 5 for $12??!! Yikes!

  2. Incidentally, I’m carrying a blotter saturated with Yvresse courtesy of my local grocery store (yes), albeit one that also sells kitchen ware, cosmetics and clothes, and they often have a quite interesting selection of perfumes. Right now a.o. Yvresse, and recently also Eden which I regret not buying, but it might turn up again.

    I feel the same way about “beating the system”. I would so very much like a full bottle of Jubilation 25 which is so up my alley, and if someone would give me Amarathine I certainly wouldn’t decline, but there has to some reason to it all and what does “niche” really mean anymore with so many of them on the market etc. etc. etc.

    To give you an impression of Yvresse: it’s sweet. It is. There’s not getting around that. But it’s also tart. And those two are nicely balanced. The opening was bubbly, truly bubbly, so I can absolutely see why it was first named Champagne. It’s a bit on the dry side, but not powdery. Dry like champagne can be dry. The lasting power on the blotter is quite amazing, so I’d imagine that moderate application would be in order. I haven’t tested in on skin, so I can’t say much about the drydown, but there’s even on the blotter a hint of something warmer, and less tart, is there a bit of vanilla, perhaps. I like it. I really do, And I might very well end up buying it. The price is reasonable, and I’ll get something that will make me smile whether it’s spring or a cool fall day.

    My favorite affordables and/or bargains:

    Madame Rochas: We are in the lady scent department to most people, I think, but I love it. It’s an old school unsweet, stand-up-straight chypre with a wonderful, classy drydown. It gets me through hard days where I need a bit of help to hold things together.

    Lancome O: A refreshing citrus scent with a cologny feel to it that I’ve been wearing on hot summer days. Not overly complicated and very wearable in the sense that it stays a discernible fragrance even when you perspire more than you’d prefer.

    Y: Green, dry chypre. Opening a bit soapy, but that goes away pretty fast. Soft, doesn’t make a lot of fuss. Un-trendy in its lack of fruty-floral-ness 🙂

    Estee Lauder: Pure White Linen. I think this is overlooked and underappreciated. This is elegant and dry, and the drydown is crisp and woody. It’s described as a fruity-floral by Fragrantica, which might technically be true, but IRL it smells nothing like a run-of-the-mill f-f. It works very well in humid weather. Pure White Linen Light Breeze is also very nice.

    Tocade: You covered that one. Sweet, warm, dry, comforting.

    Versace Versense: A woody, cologny scent. Very well made.
    There’s a good review of it on the Scented Salamander.

    Hypnose Senses: Slightly rosy, no sharp edges, classified as a “modern chypre” so none of the “challenges” of the classic chypres. Pleasant, “grown-up”, blends well with your skin.

    Lancome Miracle So Magic: Narcissus, rose, vanilla. Salty drydown on me. Something I wear in the spring and early fall. Nose is Annick Menardo. Must be used in moderation or the narcissus note will walk several steps ahead of you.

    Those are some of the scents are either on the inexpensive side or scents that have often been on sale at bargain prices where I usually shop.

    1. That’s a magnificent list – thanks! I will definitely try the Y and the Yvresse. Y certainly sounds like my sort of thing. Yvresse I’m cautious about, but perfumes that hold sweet and bitter, or sweet and crisp, or sweet and dry, in balance do fascinate me. For me, the EDT version of Chamade does this, with floral notes and black currant. Likewise the Niki de Saint Phalle.

      I would have tried Madame Rochas long ‘ere this but have heard that it has been re-formulated into oblivion? Not sure.

      I have a day ahead of me with nothing I desperately have to do, so I’ll take your lost to the mall!

      1. On Madame Rochas: I am quite sure that I wore it when I was in my 20’s and I loved it, but it’s such a long time ago, that I don’t really remember anything else about it. The version I own today is definitely no shocker (to us oldies, at least ;-), so it’s probably been turned down more than one notch, but I do like it very much, it’s pleasant, grown-up with enough interest, and I love the effortless ease of the classy drydown. Oblivion can sometimes be a good thing 🙂

        Yvresse is sweet, but I can tell you that it’s also delicious. Yum. But Y might be more your thing. And I do believe that we should go with what we like naturally a lot of the time. It is meant to be a pleasure, perfume, not just more hard work and getting used to like much of the rest of our lives.

        1. I did find a tester of Yvresse. I don’t love it as much as the lovely Diorella, but I did like it very much. I sprayed it at about 11.00 and at nearly 8.00 there is still a lovely whisper from that arm, which I keep catching and thinking ‘What is that lovely scent … surely not Yvresse … ?’

          1. I’m glad you liked it – it is really very nice and flirtatious in its insistence on reminding you of its presence.

    2. I agree that Pure White Linen is not really a fruity floral — it’s a peppery, fresh lily of the valley.

      I didn’t know Miracle So Magic was Annick Menardo! That makes me want to seek out a tester….

    1. Nah. Don’t bother. Some historical person once wrote, ‘I wanted to write you a short letter but I ran out of time, so I wrote you a long one.’ Wish I could find the exact quote and source of that. An editor friend of mine used to quote it often.

  3. I also love Demeter Ginger Ale and EL Bronze Goddess. There are several Pacifica’s that are quite good – I have the Lotus Garden (smells almost exactly like Un Jardin Sur le Nil) and am pondering bottles of Indian Coconut Nectar and Tibetan Mountain Temple, an nice straightforward incense. Brazililan Mango Grapefruit & Tuscan Blood Orange are good for shower gel/lotions.

    And this sounds terrible, but it’s not trashy at all – Ed Hardy Love & Luck! Can be found for $20 – $30 on ebay and discounters. JLo Deseo is another great one – you can get is for $15 at Marshall’s and it’s a nice, not too sweet summery frag (there are reviews of both of these on NST).

    1. Yes, should have included Bronze Goddess in my original list. Pacifica is not sold where I live so I don’t know it. Likewise Yves Rocher, so familiar to European perfumitas.

      Lotus Garden sounds good. Damn, I have Sur le Nil on the way to me from the above-mentioned online discounter. Only a mini tho’, not a great splurge.

      Ed Hardy gets good mentions, must check it out again. Thanks!

    2. Hi Julie
      I bought Deseo unsniffed (no tester available) today for very little money. It is indeed very nice! Woody and a bit sweet, but not to sweet, you’re right. And with at bit of a masculine touch as well which I have come to appreciate a lot. Thanks for the tip 🙂

  4. I love the inexpensive cologne waters – Florida water, 4711, Sanborn’s Orange Blossom…

    Getting quite annoyed with the price of some new perfumes…but then again, it (should be) is art

    1. The prices are prohibitive, that’s for sure. It really does annoy me, and I wish they’d sell their gorgeous stuff in smaller quanitites. I don’t need 100 ml of anything, most of the time not even 50 ml. 30 or even 15 would satisfy most of my fragrance cravings. And would make the good stuff more accessible to many of us. But they probably don’t care. I’m wondering whether they live in a beautiful illusion of catering to Madame who wears one scent and one scent only, has all of her lingerie and scarves smelling of that scent and makes it her signature. And who can make a dent in a 100 ml bottles before she loses her eye sight and sense of smell due to old age.

      So, most of the time I try to make a virtue of a necessity: Finding cheaper stuff that smells really good for more than 15 minutes and that has enough interest to keep me interested.

      1. Large bottles annoy me even when they are cheap, in that as a rule in life I try hard not to buy more than I can consume. I KNOW I will never get through 100 mls of Tocade, but sadly, it is generally available only in 100 ml bottles. Luckily, I have a mini.

        I don’t think the large companies care. Some of the niche places have spotted a gap in the market and bring out their perfumes in small bottles, but I wonder how much money they actually make that way?

        100 ml bottles no doubt do well among husbands, sons, lovers, etc who buy perfume for their women-folk and naturally assume that bigger is better. And the masculine way of purchasing anything (tho’ I’m generalising), is to find a brand or product you like and stick to it through thick and thin. Well, I do that too with some things. Tupperware. Toyotas. Clinique Comforting Cream Cleaner …

        1. I don’t think that small bottles make them a lot of money and happy customers won’t pay no bills in themselves, after all. And when you look at the unproportionately small price difference between their 50 ml and 100 ml bottles….

    2. Can’t get Florida Water here, tho I recall Angela on NST did a review some time ago and it sounded great. I splash 4711 around pretty freely in the summer, including on the kids. Today 4711, tomorrow Eau Sauvage and Chanel’s Eau de Cologne. Hopefully the kids will earn post and pots of money when they grow up and support my perfume habit in my old age. Well, that’s the plan.

      1. 4711 has resurfaced in Denmark after flying under the radar for quite a few years – I will check out that one. I’d be thrilled if it could be my cologne this summer instead of Escale a Portofino which I crave. It might only be possible if I promise myself to stay away from EaP after getting 4711. Nothing gained by getting them both, right or still nursing a craving heart.

        1. I liked Portifino but did not love it. 4711 is really very good. I gave my Portofino away to a male friend and he loved it; last I heard he had nearly emptied the bottle. Anyway, hope it all works out for you. I know all about perfume cravings.

  5. What a great, great list! 🙂 I’m certainly no stranger to the ‘cheap thrill’ department, especially since now, it’s just me and Spider-Man Jr., and he takes priority.

    I second Silences – one of the Ultimate Green Fiends, and one of my deathless favorites. A 100 ml bottle of Parfum de Toilette (EdP, in other words) can be had for only slightly more than a song, if you know where to look!

    Another cheapo thrill – and not reformulated/murdered so I noticed: Balmain’s Ivoire. This is what I wear on days I don’t want to think about what I’m wearing, or don’t want to scream ‘hello, people! I’m wearing something outrageously expensive and it’s fahbulous and I KNOW it. Lasts all day, is perfect for any occasion, evolves in unexpected directions and – just all-round…perfect.

    Niki de Saint Phalle!!! I used to LOVE it…slightly temperamental, always edgy, and always good for the green-chypre fan-gals. (That would be me!). Haven’t seen or worn it in years and years, and rather miss it!

    I found another instant love last year, and received it as a birthday present: Caron’s Bellodgia. I found an EdP for less than 30$US..

    Demeter Dirt. Dirt-cheap and delicious and did i read somewhere that Christopher Brosius of CBIHP was behind this one?

    We never get perfume in thrift stores or estate sales over here. They likely get tossed for being ‘unhygienic’…!!! I wish I could find a bottle of, say, vintage Jicky extrait in the quadrilobe bottle at an estate sale…for, say, 5$…:-D

    1. Thanks Tarleisio! I’m glad to hear that Ivoire is on good shape. I have nearly bought this one so many times I can’t tell you, but I have never sniffed it, and you know what they say about unsniffed purchases …

      Do look around for Niki. Fragrancex is selling the perfume cheap, and also have a bath oil. Of all the perfumes on my list, I think this is the one that I’m most likely to go the Full Bottle on. I feel I would not just be buying a perfume, but a protest against the Rivers of Pink that comprise modern mainstream perfumery. And also a little win over the outrageously expensive fragrances to which you allude.

      Like you, I rarely see perfumes in thrift stores. Just occasionally. Makes me think there is some health regulation at play. I’m often driven wild with envy when I read of other people’s vintage finds.

    2. I’ve also almost-bought Ivoire many times. Next time I will actually buy it – not expensive and sounds like my thing.

  6. A few additions to this list of budget masterpieces:

    VC&A’s First. Too lush for me, but I have nearly bought it a number of times. No idea if it has been re-formulated since its release in 1976.

    Lanvin’s Arpege. This certainly has been reformulated, goodness knows how many times. Even tho’ the current iteration is said to be close to the original from the 1920s, I prefer my bottle of the vintage stuff from c.1970s or 80s. I’ve seen Arpege going for $24 for 30 mls at an Australian discount pharmacy chain, which, for once, is better than many online deals.

    SJP’s Lovely. I know, not a masterpiece, but a pretty good entry in the musky skin-scent department. I wore it constantly a few years ago until I got bored with it, but got it out today for a fresh sniff, and was very pleasantly surprised at its quality. Bath and body products are nice too.

  7. Anne Marie, great list! I’ll add a couple more to it, although these are men’s fragrances and they certainly aren’t for the faint-of-heart, but I just love the very affordable Caron Yatagan and Geoffrey Beene Grey Flannel. Love to smell them on my husband, but I wear both quite a bit myself. 🙂

    1. Thanks Suzanne! I have not tried Yatagan but have heard of it often. Grey Flannel was worn by a friend of mine in the 80s and it smelled wonderful on him. I had not realised that both are inexpensive. I’ll check them out.

      Are men’s fragrances generally more affordable than women’s, I wonder? On the principle than men might not be willing to pay as much as women so they have to be priced lower? Or maybe, as a lot of men’s fragrances are bought by women for their menfolk, the prices are about the same? Hmm this question requires further research …

      1. Yep, on my list too. Torn between buying a sample or just buying it outright, un-sniffed. A sample, I think.

  8. Oh, and Donna Karan Gold. I’ve never smelled it but have heard only good things about it, and it is cheap.

    1. Hi Annemarie
      DK Gold is very nice! I tested it about a month ago and it’s quite classy and pleasant and instantly wearable. I wouldn’t mind having a bottle to call my own.


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