Helen of Troy (Faberge) Brut and Dana English Leather ~ fragrance review

Let’s just get the bad news out of the way now: Brut no longer comes with a darling little necklace glued around its collar. The good news is that English Leather still has its wooden cap. As for how the fragrances have held up over the years, I can’t say, since I haven’t smelled the old versions. But, in my opinion, both fragrances still have their charms.

A quick visit to Brut World informs us that Helen of Troy Brut is the “Essence of Man.” Brut World doesn’t give a lot of information about the fragrance, except to describe its ten products, six of which are forms of deodorant. But it does provide a long list of features defining the Brut Man, including: “He has conviction, but is never convicted.” (Always reassuring.) “He has been the hundredth caller.” (Not sure if this means he’s won at a game show or what.) And my favorite, “He prefers things shaken, not stirred. But he will stir for others if that’s what they like.”

Fabergé launched Brut, created by the aptly named Karl Mann, in 1964. This is a review for the Cologne, which Brut World helpfully adds comes with an “easy grip handle.” Its notes include lavender, anise, lemon, basil, bergamot, geranium, ylang ylang, jasmine, sandalwood, vetiver, patchouli, oakmoss, vanilla, and tonka bean. In a nutshell, Brut smells like sweet funk.

When I first cracked open the bottle of Brut, a strong, oily fougère hit my nose. I hastily resealed the bottle and went for the English Leather instead. But the smell of Brut clung to my fingertips, and long after the English Leather had faded I kept going back to the Brut, finally daring a splash on my arm. Once the alcohol burned off, I got a sweet, almost spearminty citrus with a twist of something fetid.

Brut is thick and loud, and I can’t imagine it blending well with anyone’s body chemistry, but it's kind of addictive. Something about that smell of full garbage bags in August riding along with a sugary, citrus-lavender fragrance compels me to smell it again and again. The essence of man? I don’t know, but I’m intrigued. Brut has hefty sillage and a moderate lifespan.

Dana Classic Fragrances English Leather was released in 1949. The Dana website says, “English Leather is a fresh chypre fragrance that opens with citrus and develops into a fuller masculine scent composed of mossy, woody and leather notes.” What I smell is lime and bone dry wood.

My dad always had a bottle of English Leather in the bathroom, although, come to think of it, it may have been the same bottle all those years. The wooden cap was starting to crack. I don’t remember him smelling like the dry, incense-tinged wood I get from English Leather now. A touch of lime peel and pinch of basil round out the quiet fragrance. I don’t smell any leather at all.

English Leather quickly retreats on skin and fades within an hour enough that I have to press my nose right against my arm to smell it. Still, it’s fresh and subtle and a nice surprise. English Leather may knock Revlon Jean Naté off her pedestal as my new favorite summer refresher.

I see a company called MEM also sells English Leather and advertises it as the original. The packaging looks nearly the same. Anyone know anything about that?

Both Helen of Troy Brut Cologne and Dana English Leather Spray Cologne are widely available at drugstores.

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63 Comments

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  1. Rappleyea says:

    What a blast from the past! You’ve taken me back to junior high, Angela with these reviews. I can tell you though that the “cool” guys wore British Sterling, followed by English Leather and Canoe. Brut was always sweet, but I don’t remember it being as loud as you say it is now. Also, I’m pretty sure that that “garbage” smell you get is really cheap synthetic bergamot – in the old days, it probably would have been real.

    These are so much fun! Thanks and keep them coming.
    :-D

    • Angela says:

      The garbage smell is part of Brut’s charm! Otherwise it would be just another sweet fougere. I totally forgot about British Sterling until you brought it up. I wonder if it’s still around?

      • robini71 says:

        I could swear I saw British Sterling on my recent visit to the dana Classics website. but I bet it doesn’t come in the iconic flask shaped bottle any more. As for brut gosh I don’t remember it being that loud. It was the cologne my dad wore when I was very little and then again near the end of his life. I keep a bottle of the perhaps milder after shave around as a tangible reminder of him since I can’t see pictures. such sweet memories.

        • Angela says:

          Scent is a wonderful memory of someone. My grandpa wore Brut, too. I spent a lot of time trying to pry the necklace off the bottle, but it wouldn’t budge.

      • 50_Roses says:

        British Sterling is available from FragranceNet (and no doubt other sources as well).

        • Angela says:

          It sounds like it’s still alive and well.

  2. JolieFleurs says:

    Daddy always had a bottle of English Leather, too, but I don’t think he ever wore it, because, like you, I certainly don’t remember him smelling of it.

    Oddly enough, I remember the occasional whiff of Old Spice, but can’t recall ever seeing an actual bottle in the medicine cabinet.

    He mostly smelled like tobacco leaf and something I can only describe as the olfactory equivalent of what really soft, warm flannel feels like. There is something in the Kilian Pure Oud that reminds me of him; whatever it is that gives it the warmed fur scent.

    • Angela says:

      That smells divine! Certainly better than any fragrance in a bottle.

  3. Aparatchick says:

    “Brut is thick and loud” not unlike the guy I remember wearing it in high school in 1975. The minute you described Brut, I was taken back to my high school’s Resource Materials Center (we were modern – no “library” for us) where the fumes of Mark’s Brut cologne could always be smelled coming into the room well before Mark got there.

    “Memories, light the corners of my mind….” especially the corners devoted to scent apparently. ;-)

    • Angela says:

      “Thick and loud”–that’s so funny! Thick and loud and fragrant, apparently. I wonder if he shed a tear when Brut lost its necklace.

  4. mutzi says:

    What? No Jade East? That’s what the boys in my school used to wear and lots of it. My nose burns even now just thinking about it.

    • Angela says:

      I’ve never heard of that one! Sounds like I’m lucky.

      • ggperfume says:

        You don’t remember that one? I do – the name and ads at least, though I’ve no idea how it smelled.

        What about Hai Karate? Was that a “men’s fragrance”, or just an aftershave?

        • Angela says:

          Hai Karate cracks me up. The name alone is priceless.

      • 50_Roses says:

        Actually, I find Jade East to be quite nice, or at least it was a few years ago. It is probably just a matter of application. Too much of any fragrance is unpleasant.

        • Angela says:

          Very true. I still don’t remember that fragrance, though! I feel like I’m missing something fundamental.

        • mutzi says:

          It probably was. But you know teenage boys, then and now, if one splash is good, 15 is better. And when you multiply that by 10 – 15 boys in a class you have a WMD.

          • Angela says:

            No kidding!

    • fleurdelys says:

      Hee! I remember Jade East, and Hai Karate too.

      • Angela says:

        And then there’s Ho Hang. Kind of a jag of Eastern aftershaves going on.

      • Ikat says:

        I cannot possibly think of Brut without also thinking of Hai Karate.

        They are both indelibly etched in my pre-pubescent mind as horrible vapors worn by very skeevy men in shiny Quiana shirts open to the navel, gold chains and those embarassingly tight polyester pants.

        • Angela says:

          Oh Qiana–where have you gone, shirts of San Francisco panoramas and ocean sunsets? When the world ends, all that will be left will be cockroaches and qiana shirts.

  5. FragrantWitch says:

    My Grampa used Brut deodorant, it came in a mahoosive can.

    Like you, Angela, my dad had a bottle of English Leather in the bathroom, complete with cracking cap. He also had a mug of the shaving cream with a brush embossed with ‘English Leather’. Both gathered dust in equal measure- no doubt a gift set at one point. They sat alongside a green glass car and blue glass Jeep of who- knows- what colognes from Avon. My childhood memories of him smell like Old Spice and Paul Sebastien for Men. He now loves Pour Monsieur.

    Brut got short shrift in my high school days as everyone was busy drowning themselves in Drakkar Noir and Joop. You could not move without running into a cloud of Drakkar Noir. Joop,with it’s ridiculously tenacious sillage, would linger even after school hours and permeate cheerleading practice and debate club. Bleurgh!

    • Angela says:

      Your memories sound really close to mine (athough I can’t imagine my dad in Pour Monsieur). Including the Drakkar Noir. Blecch.

      • JolieFleurs says:

        Okay, confession time here…..I wear Drakkar Noir myself now and then, and it smells fantastic on me. People don’t believe me when I tell them what I’m wearing.

        Do I hand in my Perfumista Card now or later? ;)

        • Angela says:

          I think you just jumped up another level in perfumista-hood! It’s sort of like Sharon Stone wearing a long, couture skirt and a gap tee shirt to the Oscars.

    • poodle says:

      Drakkar Noir was big in my high school closely followed by Polo and Halston Z-14. Certain guys left a trail where ever they went.

      Dad had Brut and English Leather but I think he was more of a fan of Jovan Musk for men and Old Spice. He did wear Brut once in a while though. I think the English Leather just sat on the shelf. I also remember the bottle of Aqua Velva next to his shave cream.

      • Angela says:

        All the classics! We used to give my dad an Old Spice soap on a rope every year for Christmas. The rope really shrank over the years, I remember.

  6. aimiliona says:

    I loved the British Sterling commercials in junior high, but I don’t think any of my classmates even imagined being cool enough to actually wear it. (I was in the nerd track.) English Leather was for dangerous older men. Old Spice was for fathers.

  7. fleurdelys says:

    I had to laugh at the ad for English Leather that greets you on the Dana Classic Fragrances home page. “Touch the Wood”? LOL! Kind of like a low-rent version of the Marc Jacobs Bang ad.

    • Angela says:

      How did I miss that!? That’s pretty darned suggestive.

  8. Blithie says:

    I thought my Daddy was an English Leather man and bought him some every Father’s Day when I was young. He had the bottles on the top shelf of his bathroom cabinet for years. I don’t think he ever used any of it although he never seemed disappointed when he unwrapped the bottle.

    • Angela says:

      He sounds like a good dad, always happy for whatever gift you might have for him.

  9. Woodgirl says:

    My dad wore Old Spice, too. For a time in high school, I wore British Sterling. Cross-splashing even then, and haven’t stopped since.

    • Angela says:

      You go! Keep up that cross splashing.

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      Oh, I would buy an old ceramic bottle to Old Spice if I ran into one! My dad wore it after every shower and used Old Spice lathering bars for shaving, too (with the real-hair bristle brush for application!). Not sure if I would wear it or just sniff it when I wanted to be transported in time!

      • Angela says:

        I have a few fragrances I’d never give up, but I never wear–Old Spice just might fit that category.

  10. Subhuman says:

    I got a plastic bottle of Brut in my stocking one Christmas when I was about 14 (a whole 12 years ago), and my brother got Aqua Velva. He loved his, I never wore mine – it smelled too old-fashioned and “aftershavey”, and it had nothing on my beloved CKOne. (Ah, youth.) I sprayed a tester of Brut the other day for a quick skip down memory lane and rather enjoyed it, el cheapo status and drugstore ubiquity be damned. I came thisclose to dropping some in my shopping cart, but couldn’t imagine putting up an ironic front every time I wore it (check out my retro aftershave, ladies!), and in any case fougéres don’t really work on me. I feel like I should be wearing a seersucker suit and tasseled loafers every time I spray one on. Brut is good stuff, though, and one could pick much worse from a drugstore selection (the entire Axe universe, for starters).

    • Marjorie Rose says:

      I was trying to find the right Axe-related comment to make, and I think you beat me to it! This whole conversation has me wondering which I’d prefer to smell wafting down the halls at my school? I’m guessing I would prefer the kiddos wearing English Leather for sure, and possibly Brut, over Axe. However, strong sillage does not seem to scare them into light-handed application!

      • Angela says:

        I think you put your finger on it: strongly aromatic high school boys are scary, no matter what they smell like.

        • ggperfume says:

          Oog. It’s enough to make one hurl.

          • Angela says:

            You probably wouldn’t even be able to smell it with all that Axe in the air.

    • Angela says:

      I was surprised at how much I liked Brut! I think it’s the funky note that clinched the deal for me–it took Brut out of the predictable fougere category.

  11. pigoletto says:

    It’s funny – my introduction to perfumes was really via my father, who was trawling TJ Maxx and Marshalls in the mid 80s for scents! I think Brut was about the only thing he didn’t wear from that typical 80’s men’s stable of scents. The ones I remember were English Leather, Old Spice, Pierre Cardin, Grey Flannel, Quorum (I used to steal dabs of this and Grey Flannel when I was in junior high – I always think these and 4711 were the start of my love of things like chypres/classic colognes/fougeres even though I’m a gal), Lagerfeld, Tuscany, 4711 (although he could only get it in Chicago, where we lived never had sold it) and the times we didn’t have much spare money, he still always had a bottle of Florida Water on the shelf. When I really got into and was able to afford buying loads of scents myself 10 or so years ago, when I hit my mid 20’s, I returned the favor and turned him onto more higher end scents (he loved Creed Orange Spice, Guerlain Eau Imperiale, Hermes Eau d’Orange Verte, L’aromarine ORange Santal, Helmut Lang Cuiron among others) – when that Crown Perfumery craze hit MUA, I bought tons of it on ebay when it was cheap and made sure dad had a cabinet full Sandringham, Eau de Russe (his favorite in the range), Spiced Limes and Eau de Quinine. Even after he died Mom didn’t get rid of any of them – she says she likes to sniff them and think of him.

    • Angela says:

      Your love of perfume is definitely in your DNA! What a wonderful thing to be able to share with your father, and what wonderful memories.

  12. RuthW says:

    My husband had a bottle of Brut in his bathroom when we first started dating 12yrs ago. Snobby me replaced it with a bottle of CK Eternity. I never even opened the Brut to smell it, just assumed it was cheap and awful because I grew up hearing jokes about it.

    • Angela says:

      But it’s the Essence of Man! And there’s something about it….

      • ggperfume says:

        You mean “there’s something about an Aqua Velva man!”

        • Angela says:

          It seems I can’t help but accidentally spew tag lines for aftershave!

    • mutzi says:

      At least it’s not Mandom.

      • Angela says:

        With the most genius commercial of all time. I see Charles Bronson in a whole new light now.

        • Kim says:

          Gah, that commercial. I cringe every time I see the quantity of cologne he’s throwing around. To quote a friend: “That. Is too much. Mandom.” I imagine you could smell old Charles a good 100 feet away.

          • Angela says:

            Everything about the Mandom commercial is too much! That’s why I love it. I think my favorite moment is when the horse neighs in the background.

  13. sprinter55 says:

    Brut was one of the most diffusive fragrances I have ever come across perhaps due to musk ambrette ? I’ve got an original soap on a rope which is still fantastic. Grey Flannel was also iconic but who remembers RED from the same stable of Geoffrey Beene…thats what I call EROTIC !! so was Chanel 19 but Chris Sheldrake what have you done with the Poudre version !!! ugh !

    • Angela says:

      A Brut soap on a rope! It should be registered as a deadly weapon. Your description of the Red sounds so alluring–I’ll keep my eyes open at thrift stores, if it’s not still in production.

  14. sweetgrass says:

    My dad used Brut aftershave when I was a kid, so I have pleasant associations with it. It’s been a really long time since I’ve smelled it since I’m pretty sure he doesn’t use it anymore. I remember my mom saying something about it being changed and not liking it. I remember it being kind of citrusy-piney, with a bit of lavender. The closest I’ve come to how I remember it smelling was a few months ago when I was playing with dissolving white copal resin incense in alcohol and lavender oil. I let it steep for a couple of weeks, and then I added a few drops of some oils I had around (patchouli, vetiver, ylang ylang III, TX cedarwood and geranium), most of which are coincidentally listed as notes above (I had no idea these were notes in Brut at the time.. I was just messing around). And then the result smelled an awful lot like Brut. It smelled a lot like what I remember my dad putting on when I was a kid, which was kind of crazy for a total coincidence.

    • Angela says:

      That must have been wild for you to sniff it and have all those memories come back! Brut made with high quality ingredients would be a treat.

  15. sweetgrass says:

    It would! The stuff I was using was just what I could get at Whole Foods, but I’m sure it would be fantastic with the stuff that people who know what they’re doing can get. :)

  16. anarchkitty says:

    During my last 2 years in school, my best friend and I wore Kouros, which we were convinced smelled better on us than on the boys. I remember one squirt of EdT was more than enough, with huge silage and lasting power. I tried it recently in a department store, but it seems a thin, weedy and slightly acrid thing now, compared to the powerfull sillage monster of memory. Probabably just as well on the whole ……

    • Angela says:

      You two were brave! I like the surprise, though.

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