I am going to say right off the bat that I am in no way a perfumista. My nose isn’t quite so refined, and I still have trouble identifying many elements of fragrances. I simply enjoy trying out all kinds of different fragrances, and I love finding a cheap thrill that I can add to my collection. (I have that obsessive collector’s bug in me!)
With nail polish, I can appreciate most, if not all, colors. Similarly, I like many different types of fragrances, so my lists may seem a bit haphazard. However, I definitely gravitate to rose, violet, and lemon notes, as well as warm skin scents.
And so, with those disclaimers out of the way, I present my Top 20 Cheap Thrills in Perfume. I have divided the 20 into two separate lists: In Production and Discontinued (as far as I know!).
Prices given are in USD and are approximates that I found from popular online discounters like FragranceNet, FragranceX, Perfumania, and StrawberryNet. And, don’t forget TJ Maxx and Marshalls, and Winners in Canada! My personal favorite, as someone who requires shipping to Canada, is FragranceX, and I have made many purchases there.
For items that are currently unavailable online, I note the price that I paid, instead.
The lists are in alphabetical order, not order of preference.
If you’ve tried any of these, I would love to know what you think! Fragrance is impossibly subjective, and I think it’s always fun to see what others love and hate. No offense will be taken, and I always welcome recommendations!
1. Cabaret / Parfums Grès
2002, Michel Almairac. $25 for 3.4 fl oz / 100 mL.
We start off with a rose! This isn’t a dewy, innocent, Crabtree & Evelyn rose—not that there is anything wrong with Crabtree & Evelyn. It’s a dry, smoky lipstick rose. The bottle is both impressively gaudy and functionally annoying (really bottom-heavy).
2. Esprit d’Oscar & So de la Renta / Oscar de la Renta
(EdO) 2011, Frank Voelkl and Ann Gottlieb. $26 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL.
(SdlR) 1997, Ilias Ermenidis. $22 for 3.3 oz / 100 mL.
OK, so I cheated here. But I love both! Esprit d’Oscar is a more recent release, a flanker to the classic, original Oscar (1977, Jean-Louis Sieuzac). I don’t like the classic—too aldehydic—but Esprit is breezy, lemony, classy and wonderful.
So de la Renta is from the 90s and it’s incredibly romantic. It’s basically a massive bouquet of flowers, sweetened with a bit of fruit. I can’t really pinpoint the individual notes, as it’s seamlessly blended.
3. Fancy Nights / Jessica Simpson
2010, Steve Demercado. $12 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL.
I contemplated putting one of the Britney Spears Fantasy perfumes in this slot, but went with Fancy Nights instead, because it’s a little more my style. The Fantasys are fun and fruity (my fave is Circus Fantasy, though there are still a couple I haven’t tried), which are great for sniffing, but I tend not to wear them. Fancy Nights is kind of mysterious and far more complex than you’d expect a celebuscent to be. Some of the other Fancy perfumes smelled predictably like cakes and candy, but Fancy Nights is practically Middle Eastern, with warm woods, spice and incense. Plus, the bottle is a beautiful emerald green.
4. Giselle / Carla Fracci
2004. $29 for 1 fl oz / 30 mL.
Giselle is a soft gourmand with honeyed flowers. It’s similar to Organza by Givenchy, but it has a more casual feel and I find it infinitely easier to wear.
The print ad is kind of awful and doesn’t represent the fragrance, to me.
5. Brit for Women EDT & Brit Rhythm for Women / Burberry
BfW: 2004, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto. $32 for 1 fl oz / 30 mL.
BRfW: 2014, Nathalie Gracia-Cetto & Antoine Maisondieu. $32 for 1 fl oz / 30 mL.
Jolie Madame (1953, Germaine Cellier, though mine is certainly a modern reformulation) by Balmain was going to go here (I paid about $20 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL). It is essentially a vintage leather bag with violets and a pack of cigarettes. However, I can’t find it for sale at the moment, so I’ll tack on Brit for Women and Brit Rhythm for Women, both by Burberry, here in eau de toilette formulations.
Brit for Women to me is all pears, lime, and sweet pastry.
Brit Rhythm for Women is cool lavender and wispy florals. Both are very fleeting on my skin, though.
6. Lolita Lempicka
1997, Annick Menardo. $30 for 1 oz / 30 mL.
This modern classic just squeezed into my price requirement for a “cheap thrills” perfume. Even if you don’t care for its warm licorice scent, you must admit that the bottle is stunning and is worth getting just to sit it on your dresser!
7. Ocean Dream / Giorgio Beverly Hills
1996, Alberto Morillas. $30 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL.
This is now made by Designer Parfums, and I have the original Giorgio Beverly Hills version, so I can’t tell you if the new one smells different. I am not a huge fan of aquatic scents, but this one just feels super cozy and nostalgic, not cold and wistful. It’s actually soft and a little powdery, with light floral notes. I also love the “found object” look of the bottle, with a little pearl on its neck.
8. Tea Rose / The Perfumer’s Workshop
1977. $16 for 4 fl oz / 120 mL.
Tea Rose definitely makes this list, or really any soliflore perfumes from companies like Fragonard, L’Amande, L’Erbolario, and Canada’s own Fruits & Passion. I’m sure there are many others, particularly in Europe, but I just happen to have tried these brands while traveling (except F&P, of course, which we have here!).
The classic Tea Rose smells like a wet rose garden, fresh and green. And it’s so, so cheap that you really have no excuse not to get it, if you like rose fragrances.
Perfumer’s Workshop has also just released a new version of Tea Rose, called Parfum Tea Rose, which I haven’t had the chance to test.
9. Tracy / Ellen Tracy
2006, Jean-Claude Delville & Richard Herpin. $17 for 2.5 fl oz / 75 mL.
Tracy was a fragrance I discovered on MUA’s incredibly knowledgeable fragrance board, when I asked for a creamy skin scent. (From that same question, I think I also discovered Barbara Bui, 21 by Costume National, Amaranthine by Penhaligon’s, and Amour Le Parfum by Kenzo. I now have Tracy, Barbara Bui, and 21, love the now discontinued Amaranthine but hate its cumin note, and still long for the Kenzo in the gold bottle.)
Tracy is a cozy skin scent with creamy florals, powdery iris, and hints of warm milk and almonds.
10. Voile d’Ambre / Yves Rocher
2005, Olivier Pescheux. $72 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL.
This is a little bit of a cheat, but I think all regular Yves Rocher customers realize that it’s pretty easy to get their products half off, or sometimes even for free. Let’s just say that all of my full-sized eaux de parfum from Yves Rocher have been received free of charge! (I buy a lot of skincare from them for DH.)
Voile d’Ambre is a smooth, gentle oriental fragrance of smoke, sandalwood, and vanilla. It’s my favorite of their current lineup, but my absolute favorite is the discontinued (WHY?!) Rose Absolue (2006, Christine Nagel), a jammy rose in the same vein as Stella by Stella McCartney and Mille & Une Roses (also Christine Nagel) by Lancôme. Yves Rocher’s Monoï des Vahinés is also a great, inexpensive tropical scent.
However, several of these are still available at online discounters!
11. Au Thé Rouge / Bvlgari
2006, Olivier Polge. $30 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL.
An obnoxious sales lady in duty free told me not to buy this because it wasn’t “popular”. I bought the two-pack and I am hoarding it since, well, I guess it wasn’t popular enough. Rooibos tea, figs, pepper, and a little citrus.
12. Black / Bvlgari
1998, Annick Menardo. $33 for 1.35 fl oz / 40 mL.
Leather, tea, vaguely automotive.
13. Covet / Sarah Jessica Parker
2007, Ann Gottlieb & Frank Voelkl. $26 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL.
Lavender and chocolate in the most adorable little bottle, though it looks gargantuan in the lovely print ad.
14. Desire for a Woman / Dunhill
2001, Maurice Roucel.
This has the prettiest, coolest, hot pink bottle. The top flips open like a flask cap. The men’s counterpart looks much more like an actual flask, but the women’s bottle looks more like a perfume bottle. It’s all slightly incongruous and I love it. The fragrance is a sharp, spicy, citrusy, licorice floriental. I also bought the men’s version ($30 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL) since it was even more citrusy.
15. Fleur de Lotus / L’Occitane
One of my all-time favorites, but it’s long discontinued, and it turned pretty quickly, too. Le sigh. Mine came in a beautiful glass cube, and I can’t find a photo of it anywhere online. I’ll have to snap a pic of my old bottle. I can’t remember how much it cost, as it was too long ago, but it definitely wasn’t expensive. (Wouldn’t have bought it otherwise, back then!)
16. Midnight Bakula / The Body Shop
2011. $25 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL
I haven’t liked many of The Body Shop’s actual perfumes in a while, but I bought this one on the spot a couple of years ago. It reminded me a lot of a really old TBS fave of mine, Ananya, even though they don’t actually smell that much alike. Must be the similar peach/nectarine notes, white florals, and syrupy feel.
17. Song de Chine / Crabtree & Evelyn
1997, Marvel Fields. ~$35 for 3.4 fl oz / 100 mL
(See? I told you there was nothing wrong with Crabtree & Evelyn.) This was one of the first perfumes I ever bought for myself, so there’s a bit of nostalgia involved, but I still think it’s a really pretty and light fragrance. It’s watery, gentle, and has mostly floral and herbal notes. There’s not much about it online, but I did manage to find a mention of it in an issue of Working Mother! Geez, I was about 19 when I bought this perfume.
18. Truth / Calvin Klein
2000, Alberto Morillas, Jacques Cavallier & Thierry Wasser. $32 for 3.4 fl oz / 100 mL
I might have thought that so many perfumers would spoil the soup, but this is one of my favorite perfumes. It wears very close to the skin and smells like grass, earth, and…skin.
19. Truth or Dare Naked / Madonna
2012, Stephen Nilsen. $20 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL
While I do like the original Truth or Dare by Madonna, I think it does smell like a cheaper version of Fracas by Robert Piguet. The Naked flanker (2012, Stephen Nilsen) is a bit more interesting, creamy and warm with wood, vanilla and floral notes.
20. With Love… / Hilary Duff
2006, Rodrigo Flores-Roux & Stephen Nilsen. $20 for 1.7 fl oz / 50 mL
With Love… is a tropical fruit floriental with a great deal of warmth. It’s a total comfort fragrance for me. The bottle, and even the box it comes in, are also super pretty. Of course they discontinued it. Story of my life!
I am always on the lookout for another perfume cheap thrill, so please do let me know if you can recommend something!
[EDIT: This post has been updated on October 21, 2016 for minor things like new links, formatting and typos. ]