Monday, May 02, 2016

Perfume Cheap Thrills

I started the day by posting about a $5 eye shadow primer, so it's fitting to end it with a much-requested list of perfume cheap thrills.  The problem is deciding what exactly is considered a cheap thrill, and I'm not even talking about the price threshold (a while ago Robin of Now Smell This defined $100 as the new free). I was determined to restrict this list to perfumes you can but for less than $50, but I'm also aware that this is still a luxury for some, and I wanted to only include the very best for the lowest prices. By saying "the very best" I mean according to me. I tend to be biased in favor of heavier, more perfumy style, often unisex, and never sporty/aquatic. Most chances are that you already knew that.

Obviously, I'm not including stuff like the $10 L'Heure Bleue extrait from the 1960s I found at an estate sale was both cheap and an unbelievable thrill, but that's pure luck and determination. I do recommend scouring yard sales and the like, because they're fun and you can never know. I'm also not going to list  the Sephora rollerballs of contemporary bestsellers that go for under $30 for 1/4oz, simply because you don't need me for that. I'm skipping the entire Demeter (under $20 for 1oz) because I dislike most of them and don't consider them perfumes.

Another problem in determining what exactly belongs on this list is the issue of discounters. You can find an overwhelming number of mainstream perfumes on various online stores. Deciding where you're comfortable shopping is up to you. I consider several of them very reliable and don't hesitate to shop with them when I find something I want. There's anecdotal evidence of mishaps with just about every such e-store, so Google is your friend when doing the research. My one advice is to verify the return policy before you place the order.

Then there are perfumes that were dirt cheap for a moment in time before disappearing from the market altogether and becoming an eBay rarity with a matching price tag (see: Balmain La Mome). There are others that I hesitate to include here because what you can find currently at mall kiosks and the aforementioned discounters is horribly reformulated dreck that would be better off completely discontinued. As far as I'm concerned that's the case of classics like Cabochard, Bijan, and whatever remained from Coty's original perfumes.

This must have been the longest introduction I've ever written for a (not so simple) list. Let's get on with this. Google for the best prices you can find and check the reputation of the seller.

  • I've mentioned the modern Balmain releases above. While Ambre Gris is still sold for full retail price at Neiman Marcus, it's back at the discounters after a period of absence, and usually under $40.
  • Al-Rehab Perfumes have a line of expensive perfumes in out of the world blinged bottles. They also have a range of oils that you can order on Amazon for less than $10 for a roll-on bottle that will last you a lifetime since it's so concentrated and powerful. Some of them are insufferable, but a few are true gems. I'm partial to the sticky sweet Dalal.
  • Molinard has a glorious past and a questionable modern line. Habanita is still a reasonably good value (though not as cheap as you could find it a couple of years ago), but even more interesting are Fleur de Figuier that seem to have had a price hike and the spectacular Chypre d'Orient (usually around $35).
  • Another Arabian-style oil manufacturer is (not to be confused with online stores with similar names).The selection can be overwhelming, so I'll point you to my top favorites: Ambergris, Musk Gazelle, Musk Pierre, and Olive Flowers. I buy the 3ml bottles ($15) which are more than enough.
  • Tabu by Dana is a drugstore classic that has retained its core of filth and skank despite countless reformulations. I will still not wear it around my mother.  Around $15 at your local CVS and even cheaper online.
  • Courvoisier L’Edition Imperiale used to be a luxury niche(ish) perfume that retailed for $165. Then it was discontinued and the bottles are still around for $40 and under.
  • I had to include a celebrity perfume in this list. Some of my friends swear by Madonna Truth or Dare Naked, others have a thing for the Adam Levine For Her. My personal pick is Hilary Duff With Love. stocks seem to dwindle fast nowadays, and it's no longer quite as cheap as it used to be, but if you love the work of perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux and enjoy very spicy orientals it's worth grabbing while still around.
  • Speaking of perfumes that will not be around for much longer, I have two words: Houbigant  Aperçu. Digging online you can find it for just under $50, which is utterly worth it for classic chypre addicts.
  • Silk Way by Ted Lapidus smells so much more expensive than the $20 you're likely to pay for it. Tell everyone that it's a Le Labo.
  • I know that I've been going on and on about Oro by Robert Cavalli, but I just can't get over the fact that testers of this delicious spice-fest are still around for $12. And that's after I properly stocked up.


  1. Thanks for this useful list. I hope that some of the mentioned perfumes can be found/bought in Europe too because I know them by now from reading about them in blogs but I don't remember ever seeing them in shops around here. The same goes for ebay in Europe. Sometimes the stuff I'm looking for can only be found cheap from US sellers but then one must add the high transport costs AND various customs taxes.

  2. Thanks for this post. Just ordered three Al-Rehab scents. Those prices? Joyful! Frankly, almost surreal.

  3. Balmain de Balmain is a great green floral chypre, too. There's a great Middle Eastern store in Berkeley on San Pablo that sells boatloads of perfumes that are mostly less than $40-- and a giant can of Oud room freshener, god help us.

  4. Hi Gaia!
    I love your cheap thrills list, and we share a love of Madini oils, I adore their Olive Flower and Ambergris especially.
    Another favorite from Dana perfumes is Toujours Moi, a dear friend wore it and it was so beautiful. Musk, jasmine, sandalwood and vetiver - a beautiful powdery scent.

    As for Balmain scents, I also adore Jolie Madame, easily found for under $50.

  5. I bought a bottle of Silk Way--and then immediately got a back up--for (practically) pennies back when you first reviewed it. I'm still so grateful you introduced us to it! It's one of my favorite fall/winter perfumes. In fact, I think I want to go put some on now...

  6. If one can't find Apercu cheaply anymore try Luciano Soprani's eponymous perfume.

  7. Love this list! The Molinard sounds right up my alley.


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