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  1. #1
    The Devil in the Details
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    Talking English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    English Leather doesn't get a ton of talk on the vintage forum (or any forum here on Basenotes), because even though it's older than the hills, it was formerly ubiquitous and may be seen by many who remember it as irredeemably common or cheap. However, English Leather has a pretty lively and somewhat byzantine history, not to mention is qualitatively impressive as a leather chypre for the price, making it somewhat of an overlooked gem in a land dominated by love for leathers like Bandit, Aramis, Bel Ami, Moschino, etc.

    The tale of English Leather starts when Javier Serra perfumed the composition that would become known as English Leather for Austrian perfume and toiletries house called MEM in 1930. Having been around since 1883, MEM was always an apothecary/chemist (later drugstore) kind of brand, and much like The Crown Perfumery, Avon, Coty, and others of that ilk, made products people would see as staples of grooming.

    "Russisch Leder" (Russian Leather) was something of a Knize Ten knockoff, with isobutyl quinoline, sharp citrus, mosses, and a dry semi-powdery finish, as perfumer Javier Serra had a more important job as creative director for Myrugia at the time. Much like the later Ramon Monegal (who held the same position with Myrugia from 1979-2007), Serra left to form his own house in 1932, and that house would become Dana Parfums (originally of Barcelona Spain, later Paris France).

    Javier Serra would tap perfumer Jean Carles for early Dana releases like Tabu, 20 Carats, Emir, Canoe, and the like rather than compose himself, meanwhile MEM would relocate to the United States to avoid Nazi persecution and eventually release his formula for "Russisch Leer" under a name that had less Cold-War implications in 1949: English Leather. Few people in the US knew of Knize Ten let alone could buy it, so despite the very derivative nature of the composition found in English Leather, there were no cries of "it's a clone!" like you'd have in today's market.

    Not that these scents are at all identical, but Javier Serra's work in English Leather deviates little from the work of Vincent Roubert and Francois Coty other than to dial back the raw tannery leather note in favor of a bit more of an oakmoss/cedar/vetiver structure in the base and a tad more powdery iris in the heart. The nose-burning aldehydes and bergamot blast is the biggest difference overall, as this is in no way as refined as Knize Ten, but once it settles, you get that blooming tannery leather and clean chypre dry down for hours.

    It's easy to see why something this performance-heavy, dry, masculine, and clean became a go-to for men into the 70's, where English Leather rose to challenge the almighty Old Spice in the drugstore masculine fragrance market with just as many flankers in its heyday. Old Spice vs English Leather was the original watercooler cologne debate years before Polo vs Drakkar, Bleu de Chanel vs Sauvage, so on and so forth. Granted, the stuff was a victim of its own success by the 80's, and much like Old Spice or even Brut, was viewed with derision in favor of designers.

    Funny that now those same designers are viewed with derision in favor of niche fragrances three times the cost, but that's besides the point. I put this in the vintage forum because while designers "race to the bottom", English Leather in its current form has been there for years, with both Dana and MEM having bankrupted by the 80's and being bought by New Renaissance, a company looking to profit from nostalgia that itself over-acquired defunct brands until itself went bankrupt and was bought by whoever owns it all now.


    "New Dana Inc" was the last decent reformulation, but you want the original MEM co. stuff if you want to smell this in its prime. Since 2011, the scent has been completely reorchestrated without the oakmoss, aldehydes, or isobutyl quinoline note. Modern English Leather is disturbingly soapy, ambery, and musky, like a bad Dollar Store imposter of itself. I'm not usually the "get vintage or get out" kind of guy, but it really does apply here. Tell me your thoughts on English Leather. If you've tried it, passed it up, or if it's something you love like I do!

    Every dog gets its day and it's time English Leather got some love!


    IMG_-80gytm.jpg

    I preferred the screenprint bottle and unfinished woodcap of the mid 90's/early 00's New Renaissance/New Dana bottles, as older MEM bottles used a sticker with gothic letters and a darker stained cap that looks a bit too baroque for me and can peel off with age. However, this has been used up and emptied once, being since refilled with vintage MEM 1oz travel minis, which is why the juice looks so dark compared to most bottles from this era. My bottle isn't period-correct for its contents, but frankly, I don't give a damn! Thanks for reading!
    Last edited by Zealot Crusader; 9th June 2020 at 10:56 PM.
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  2. #2

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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Thanks for the description. Sadly, I have only smelled the most recent English Leather, which is exactly as you say, a cheap, annoying musk ( I bought a mini in a pack that included Canoe and similar, and all were just as cheap and ugly). Now I know what to look for.

    cacio

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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    I remember trying on several occasions the version that existed in the early 60s. My brother-in-law used to wear it and I do remember it being popular even back then before it "caught fire" and exploded later on.
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  4. #4
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    I'm kicking myself. My dad owned a bottle for years and never wore it. I think he ended up tossing it. His bottle was probably from the mid 80s.
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  5. #5
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    I been quietly championing this gem for many years here .
    Vintage English Leather by the MEM Co is a unicorn no more ......

    I am interested to hear from afficionados on how it compares to Knize 10 ?
    I reckon its just as good ...


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  6. #6
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by cacio View Post
    Thanks for the description. Sadly, I have only smelled the most recent English Leather, which is exactly as you say, a cheap, annoying musk ( I bought a mini in a pack that included Canoe and similar, and all were just as cheap and ugly). Now I know what to look for.

    cacio
    +1
    Blind bought this because of pretty good reviews in 2010 but have to agree with this assessment as it really did not smell any good unfortunately.
    Funny enough bought Canoe also that year and same story.....
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  7. #7
    The Devil in the Details
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by Slayerized View Post
    +1
    Blind bought this because of pretty good reviews in 2010 but have to agree with this assessment as it really did not smell any good unfortunately.
    Funny enough bought Canoe also that year and same story.....
    Canoe, English Leather, Tabu, and British Sterling were all partially re-orchestrated to be more cost-effective (also read: crappier) since Dana Classic Fragrances sells mostly in Walmarts and the like based purely on nostalgia. They don't expect people who remember the originals to buy them so they don't need to be accurate in reformulation. In other words, with drugstore stuff like this, you really need deep vintage (or at least pre-2001 before the big buyout). Tabu is the only one from the lot that seemed to come out okay because it's hard to ruin amber (but not impossible).
    Last edited by Zealot Crusader; 6th June 2020 at 10:17 AM.
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  8. #8
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Just picked up some vintage MEM EL, so I can compare to my Knize Ten after it arrives.

  9. #9

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Have not managed to test this one yet, but being a long term fan, user and owner not just of Knize Ten, as well as other vintage scents along these lines-truly eager to sample English Leather (in any version) at least once
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  10. #10
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    The Spice and Musk flankers of vintage English Leather are my favorites of the line.

  11. #11

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Cheers ZC
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  12. #12
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    I havenít worn it in 35 years and even then it was only a few times, but back then it was indeed ďdirt cheapĒ and sold in supermarkets. I thought it smelled pretty good at the time but donít remember ever purchasing a bottle.

    At that time I did not even know Knize Ten even existed so never made the comparison. The English Leather of my distant memory and youth didnít smell like my much more recent Knize Ten experience, but as it has been such a relatively long time since I wore it I certainly wouldnít trust any comparison by me. It may be time to revisit vintage English Leather, if only for nostalgia.
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  13. #13
    The Devil in the Details
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by drseid View Post
    I haven’t worn it in 35 years and even then it was only a few times, but back then it was indeed “dirt cheap” and sold in supermarkets. I thought it smelled pretty good at the time but don’t remember ever purchasing a bottle.

    At that time I did not even know Knize Ten even existed so never made the comparison. The English Leather of my distant memory and youth didn’t smell like my much more recent Knize Ten experience, but as it has been such a relatively long time since I wore it I certainly wouldn’t trust any comparison by me. It may be time to revisit vintage English Leather, if only for nostalgia.
    They share a structure, with petrol, iris powder, oakmoss, IBQ leather, and woods. The difference is EL is way more raw and in-your-face than K10, because the blending is eschewed for pure potency. K10 is pair of bespoke boots from a cobbler, while EL is a pair of Red Wings. The comparison holds most in the late dry-down, since back then scents were composed to arrive at an accord rather than be linear from opening to close. Hope you enjoy it!
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  14. #14

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by Zealot Crusader View Post
    English Leather doesn't get a ton of talk on the vintage forum (or any forum here on Basenotes)….
    ….but it is no stranger to the wet shaving community. I've had these two MEM bottles for a few years, and for some reason, that I can't justify, they don't get used as often as they should - I really need to fix that issue! I agree with ZC about the initial application being a "nose-burning aldehydes and bergamot blast..." And I also agree about the dry down, as ZC says, "....but once it settles, you get that blooming tannery leather and clean chypre dry down for hours...." This one is definitely all about the long dry down for me. I dig it!

    BTW, any idea what time frame these are from?

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  15. #15
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by PStoller View Post
    Just picked up some vintage MEM EL, so I can compare to my Knize Ten after it arrives.

    thanks mate


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  16. #16
    The Devil in the Details
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by aero58 View Post
    ….but it is no stranger to the wet shaving community. I've had these two MEM bottles for a few years, and for some reason, that I can't justify, they don't get used as often as they should - I really need to fix that issue! I agree with ZC about the initial application being a "nose-burning aldehydes and bergamot blast..." And I also agree about the dry down, as ZC says, "....but once it settles, you get that blooming tannery leather and clean chypre dry down for hours...." This one is definitely all about the long dry down for me. I dig it!

    BTW, any idea what time frame these are from?

    I'd think 70's or 80's. The darker label is older of the two. I'd say 70's. Juice is as dark as mine (a 90's bottle with 70's juice.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Dimitrios View Post

    thanks mate
    Also saw your comment above! Thanks for helping me fight the good fight!
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  17. #17

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Maybe it was just that these were common when I was young enough to be shocked by the idea of a raunchy commercial, but a key thing not mentioned in your history is the classic tagline "All my men wear English Leather, or they wear nothing at all"....

    A sample...





    And a video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkTNX6VU71A


    I'm sure there are better examples out there for someone willing to spend a little more time looking around. It looks like they used this from sometime in the 60s to sometime in the 80s. That's what you call value for your advertising company purchase!!!
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  18. #18

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Back more on topic, have never smelled Knize 10 so no idea there. But I had a bunch of travel sizes of English Leather over the years. Best I can remember it was probably considered "uncool" the first time I got it let alone the later times. I think the last set I found a real cheap deal and bought 4 of them. I have one left that contains less than half an inch so don't wear it that often. Also don't, as I have a hard time wearing it and actually leaving the house now.... although in the old days thought nothing of it. Anyway, here's a picture. I know it's pre-2011 by a lot, and since it says MEM I take it that is the older version??
    Attached Images Attached Images
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  19. #19
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by woodnotes55 View Post
    Maybe it was just that these were common when I was young enough to be shocked by the idea of a raunchy commercial, but a key thing not mentioned in your history is the classic tagline "All my men wear English Leather, or they wear nothing at all"....

    A sample...





    And a video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkTNX6VU71A


    I'm sure there are better examples out there for someone willing to spend a little more time looking around. It looks like they used this from sometime in the 60s to sometime in the 80s. That's what you call value for your advertising company purchase!!!
    The advertising itself could have a thread of its own, much like with Brut, so I left it out.

    Quote Originally Posted by woodnotes55 View Post
    Back more on topic, have never smelled Knize 10 so no idea there. But I had a bunch of travel sizes of English Leather over the years. Best I can remember it was probably considered "uncool" the first time I got it let alone the later times. I think the last set I found a real cheap deal and bought 4 of them. I have one left that contains less than half an inch so don't wear it that often. Also don't, as I have a hard time wearing it and actually leaving the house now.... although in the old days thought nothing of it. Anyway, here's a picture. I know it's pre-2011 by a lot, and since it says MEM I take it that is the older version??
    MEM ran from 1949 to 1994. 1995 to about 2001 was New Renaissance/New Dana, and 2002 until now has been Dana Classic Fragrances although that doesn't mean stock from these periods didn't linger for years. I remember even so late as 2005 that original MEM stock of English Leather was still sitting (dusty) on Rite Aid and CVS shelves. plastic minis were made until the 90's.
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  20. #20

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by Zealot Crusader View Post
    …. I'd say 70's. Juice is as dark as mine (a 90's bottle with 70's juice.)….
    I was thinking along those lines as well. Thanks.
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  21. #21
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    I have absolutely zero recollection of this perfume from my 70s childhood.

    Perhaps it wasn't distributed in the UK? Old Spice and Brut, on the other hand, were everywhere.

  22. #22

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by Zealot Crusader View Post

    MEM ran from 1949 to 1994. 1995 to about 2001 was New Renaissance/New Dana, and 2002 until now has been Dana Classic Fragrances although that doesn't mean stock from these periods didn't linger for years. I remember even so late as 2005 that original MEM stock of English Leather was still sitting (dusty) on Rite Aid and CVS shelves. plastic minis were made until the 90's.
    I don't think 2005 but would guess that I bought that last set of minis well after 1994. Interesting something could stick around over 10 years in prior formulation. If that happened more often now there would be less of the reformulation rush/unicorn situations.
    Will have to wear it again soon, the last wear this past winter I remember thinking the dry down lasted a very long time and that age didn't seem to have made much of an impact on it.....

    Informative thread, thanks!
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  23. #23
    Iím not old: Iím vintage.
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    My SOTD was Knize Ten. Tomorrow, English Leather. I’ll report here.

  24. #24
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by woodnotes55 View Post
    I don't think 2005 but would guess that I bought that last set of minis well after 1994. Interesting something could stick around over 10 years in prior formulation. If that happened more often now there would be less of the reformulation rush/unicorn situations.
    Will have to wear it again soon, the last wear this past winter I remember thinking the dry down lasted a very long time and that age didn't seem to have made much of an impact on it.....

    Informative thread, thanks!
    I remember seeing NOS MEM bottles at a local Rite Aid. Some places just don't sell inventory and don't send stuff back for liquidating (especially if franchised and not a corporate location), so it just sits and sits until the right person comes along.

    Quote Originally Posted by PStoller View Post
    My SOTD was Knize Ten. Tomorrow, English Leather. I’ll report here.
    Cool! Remember, I didn't say they were the same, just up and downmarket cousins.
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by Zealot Crusader View Post
    Cool! Remember, I didn't say they were the same, just up and downmarket cousins.
    Don’t worry, I don’t expect them to be the same. I’m curious also how EL compares to other mid-cen downmarket leathers, e.g. Avon Leather.

  26. #26

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    My first cologne was English Leather. I had the big 8oz bottle of All-Purpose Lotion, MEM formulation from the early 80's.

    For some reason, over the years, I didn't buy another bottle until about 4 years ago, I scored an original MEM cologne and
    a Musk aftershave. I also have several bottles (cologne & aftershave) of the most recent formulation, which I have to say isn't bad. (I picked them up during the great "discontinuation scare" of 2018) They're just not as dark and complex as the MEM.

    EL.JPG

    ModEL_Trim.JPG
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  27. #27

    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Remember loving English Leather and Old Spice both on my dad when I was a little kid. Neither comes remotely close now(Old Spice is slightly closer IMO but still a wreck compared to the pleasant aftershave smell back then).

  28. #28
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    EC2C03C7-FD4D-4239-AA4C-70F8AE7D8CE2.jpg

    As ZC says, English Leather is no Knize Ten, though they are discernibly related by fragrance family. K10 is quite a bit more dimensional, and I'm comfortable feeling my bottle was money well spent. That said, vintage MEM EL punches well above its weight in terms of quality/cost. At these prices, you could bathe in it, not that I'd recommend that. It's a darker, earthier leather than Avon Leather, which is almost naÔvely simple and linear but still enjoyable and a similar bargain: I might try layering the Avon and EL at some point to see if they enhance each other or cancel out. In any case, EL is a dirty if not raunchy sort of leather: more man cave than biker bar, much less S&M club. Not terribly English, but also clearly not Russian ŗ la Chanel, et al. For a truly English leather, I'd look to those sublime old Dunhills. But if you squint a bit and think more corner pub than gentleman's club, this'll do just fine.

    NOTE: Those big wooden caps were affixed with glue to mundane plastic caps. This 2 oz. bottle lost its wood cap somewhere along the way, but its 4 oz. companion bottle still has its commoner's crown.

  29. #29
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by PStoller View Post
    EC2C03C7-FD4D-4239-AA4C-70F8AE7D8CE2.jpg

    As ZC says, English Leather is no Knize Ten, though they are discernibly related by fragrance family. K10 is quite a bit more dimensional, and I'm comfortable feeling my bottle was money well spent. That said, vintage MEM EL punches well above its weight in terms of quality/cost. At these prices, you could bathe in it, not that I'd recommend that. It's a darker, earthier leather than Avon Leather, which is almost naÔvely simple and linear but still enjoyable and a similar bargain: I might try layering the Avon and EL at some point to see if they enhance each other or cancel out. In any case, EL is a dirty if not raunchy sort of leather: more man cave than biker bar, much less S&M club. Not terribly English, but also clearly not Russian ŗ la Chanel, et al. For a truly English leather, I'd look to those sublime old Dunhills. But if you squint a bit and think more corner pub than gentleman's club, this'll do just fine.

    NOTE: Those big wooden caps were affixed with glue to mundane plastic caps. This 2 oz. bottle lost its wood cap somewhere along the way, but its 4 oz. companion bottle still has its commoner's crown.
    Late drydown for me is where K10 and EL get closest. Yeah vintage EL is WD40 degreaser to Fahrenheit's gasoline in my opinion. Both give me massive shade tree mechanic vibes with a rusty Craftsman rollaway tool chest sat beside a worn Plymouth Belvedere getting an oil change.

    I still find it funny that the guy who launched Dana Parfums perfumed this for MEM as a Russian Leather scent while still working with Myrugia, then MEM renamed it and took it downmarket to huge success, then eventually long after Serra's death, English Leather would eventually be sold under the Dana label after New Renaissance consolidated all those old houses. Feels very "small world".
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    Default Re: English Leather: The Downmarket Cousin to Knize Ten

    Quote Originally Posted by Zealot Crusader View Post
    I still find it funny that the guy who launched Dana Parfums perfumed this for MEM as a Russian Leather scent while still working with Myrugia, then MEM renamed it and took it downmarket to huge success, then eventually long after Serra's death, English Leather would eventually be sold under the Dana label after New Renaissance consolidated all those old houses. Feels very "small world".
    Because it is.

    I wonder if it was much different in its first "Russian" incarnation? I have to say, I'm quite find of Dana Emir, though that's Carles rather than Serra. Much closer to being a peer of the more celebrated Russian leathers of its day.




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