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Avon Mad Men - A Masculine Fragrance History Pt 3: The Greatest Decade

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Avon had piqued the interest of American men by the 1970's, mostly with Wild Country (1967) from the previous decade being such a knockout success. Success on a global level was also starting to increase, with the first instance of a masculine fragrance renamed for a foreign market occurring in the form of Avon Imperator (1970), which was a re-branding of Excalibur (1969) for markets where the source Arthurian legend was thought to not be inspirational enough for a purchase. Avon gift decanters also continued to get further out of hand, but luckily most on the men's side contained after shave variants of past colognes, so collectors nowadays don't really have to bother much with them unless they're specifically looking for them. As a whole, Avon masculine fragrance bottle designs were still fairly ornate at best, and outlandish at worst, which also makes serious collectors and perfumistos in the 21st century pass on them, since anything with that much kitsch on the outside can't have any quality on the inside, or so it's assumed.

Avon wouldn't be at their biggest in the 70's, nor most profitable, but in terms of reputation and success in the eyes of their consumers, they were at the very top of the heap in the decade, with arguably their most memorable feminine perfumes in their entire history, with scents like Charisma (1970), Moonwind (1971), Roses, Roses (1972), Sweet Honesty (1973), Timeless (1974), Emprise (1976), Ariane (1977), Candid (1977), and Tasha (1979) just to name a few. On the men's front, a lot less product was obviously manifested after you exclude all the 60's fragrance re-hash in goofy decanters. but what product there was still dwarfed the output of any other house in their class save maybe the myriad flankers Shulton and MEM were putting out for their Old Spice (1937) and English Leather (1949) lines, respectively.

Unlike others in the "drugstore" price category, Avon didn't just produce tons of flankers of popular product to bank on men's unflinching brand loyalty at the time, but dared release new lines almost on a yearly basis, completely independent of each other; it's a practice they would maintain through much of their existence, only slowing in recent times with the globalization and refocusing of the brand on regional successes instead of literally spamming new product wherever. Avon didn't expect guys to keep up, because like with their female customer base, the idea was to get guys to try as much new stuff as possible, and get them addicted to discovering the latest and greatest Avon had to offer, rather than get them hooked on a singular line for repeat purchases of that product. This is why Avon has almost 700 fragrances to begin with (some of them undocumented here), and the regular, frequent, brutal introduction and discontinuation processes now commonplace in the perfume market were really pushed by them first here, in the 1970's.

Avon started the decade where they left off in the 60's, innovating new styles of men's fragrance and jumping in on established tropes to serve both the adventurous and not-so-much simultaneously. Avon Oland (1970) was a brave new aromatic chypre that sought to pitch itself as a Scandinavian-themed fragrance, since exotica was still a big seller to guys. The primary qualities of Oland included it's combination of bay rum ideas, florals, citrus, woods, leather and tobacco, presaging what would become a popular style with scents like Jacomo's debut masculine and Etienne Aigner's first masculine as well. Avon wasn't done there, as they released the phenomenal Tai Winds (1972) a few years later, putting a big exclamation point on the far-east themed fougères begat by Jade East in 1963. Tai Winds was the richest, greenest, best-composed of them all, with arguably the coolest bottle too, but because it was Avon, it was mostly ignored and only appealed to the guys saddled with catalogs by the ladies at home, or those looking for a bargain.

This period of Avon is kind of sneaky, as the quality definitely belies the price, at least in terms of composition. Yeah, the stuff is still all eau de cologne strength, but with everything coming in 5 or 6oz bottles, who was really complaining? Innovation would strike again with the criminally unheralded Blend 7 (1973), a very anisic and piquant blend of florals, balsam fir, vetiver, castoreum, and a drier-than-usual amber note, making it something of a much-milder precursor to Jacques Bogart's One Man Show (1980), with a bit of soapiness borrowed from Paco Rabanne. 1974 would see Avon come in with another presaging masculine by the name of Deep Woods, obviously hampered by it's ridiculous plastic log cap-over-bottle design, but having a sweet lemon and woods aromatic presentation similar to the Halston Twins of 1976, and stands somewhere between both Z-14 and 112 in style. Avon would strike one more time with innovative composing with Everest (1975), which sought to be a fresh and airy masculine that rode very close to the vibes of a modern aquatic, but without the aroma chemicals to really replicate the fresh water vibes they use. It's kind of spooky how wearable Everest is alongside something liike Nautica Blue Sail (2017), even though it's 42 years older.

All this creative energy seemed to run out about mid-decade, but the quality did not. Whether it's designs were just falling on deaf ears due to timing, or the packaging being too cheeky, Avon seemed to fall back on pre-established styles for the duration of the decade, some which met with success, some which did not. The biggest sign Avon was relying more on copying the success of others in the men's realm came in the form of Clint (1976). This scent really was an unabashed clone of Aramis (1965), but toned down the aldehydes, added in more citrus and woods, and retooled the formula to be more rustic and outdoorsy. The name "Clint" inadvertently let Avon bank on the popularity of actor Clint Eastwood, as guys who were huge fans of Dirty Harry and The Man with No Name would buy the scent sight unseen because it bore the actor's name, even if no official ties to him were present. Trazarra was next up in 1978, which sought to be a more oriental-style scent and felt like a reincarnation of the original Avon for Men cologne from 1949 with it's heavy musk base and lavender/geranium top.

My guess is Trazarra was to be the disco-destroyer competition for something like Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur (1972) or Jovan Sex Appeal (1976), because it was similarly sweet and a bit spicy, although it's antiquated oriental structure by comparison made it closer to an unused feminine perfume formula from the 30's than a men's cologne for the 70's, and I'd rather take the original Avon for Men cologne which it partially apes, since it was a simpler and more efficient composition. Avon also dished out Weekend (1978) in the same year as Trazarra, for the guy that didn't like to party on Saturday nights, but rather stay at home and mow the lawn or have a cookout with neighbors. It was a very (and I mean very) casual citrus fougère that could have been something released by Mennen, Shulton, or even Yardley at the time. It seemed lazy, and really unnecessary, but again, it can't be faulted on performance, if nothing else.

Avon seemed to climb the mountain of greatness throughout most of the 70's decade with their masculine lines, if their swarms of decanters and stock bottle presentation can be forgiven, but midway plateaued, and got too comfortable with themselves. Hands-down my most worn vintage Avon is from the 70's if not the 60's, and in a time when designer fragrances were as inaccessible to the average Joe as niche houses are today, Avon presented some really solid options that were as good, if not better in most cases, than anything Revlon, Leeming, or Faberge was putting out. Sadly, the 80's would see the first cracks forming in the foundation of the solid reputation Avon had been building with it's budding male audience, only to see that foundation shatter completely in the 90's, but we'll save that for later.

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