A vintage “gem” hiding in plain sight? British Sterling !

Pictured above is what I believe to be the current formulation of British Sterling (cologne formulation, at least). I usually don’t like to do blog posts that are reviews for a scent, without any “large issue” involved, but in this case I think there are some other “issues” in play, such as how scents that have been “mass-marketed” for decades (in this case nearly fifty years!) can go unnoticed by the aficionado crowd (including myself). The thing about my interests here is that I don’t care about pedigree, prestige, etc., and instead just “call them as I see them,” though as I’ve said before it’s often the case that one’s perceptions or preferences change, which I’ve decided to embrace rather than bemoan, in the context of this hobby. First, I’ll include my Fragrantica.com review of British Sterling:

As many of you probably have done, I’ve passed this scent in supermarket deodorant aisles and never gave it a second thought. Nobody I knew wore it, and I assumed it was some simplistic and harsh citrus/woody nasal irritant. The notes (which I didn’t look up until very recently) suggest it is like Canoe, but I obtained some vintage Canoe perhaps a year ago, and while I thought it was natural smelling and of reasonable construction, it was simple and I thought I’d prefer others to it when I was in the mood for that sort of thing. Therefore, I assumed that British Sterling was worse than Canoe, not that I was going to seek out a sample of it in any case.

A couple of weeks ago, I obtained a mini bottle of British Sterling as a “throw in.” I think it’s several years old but not what one might call “true vintage” (it’s a Dana formulation) It’s reasonably natural smelling but simple, with mediocre longevity at best. I read some reviews of it, however, and kept my eyes open for a reasonable price on a vintage formulation, which wasn’t difficult to obtain at non-crazy prices (Speidel formulation). It was actually a Cologne and Aftershave set (I haven’t tried the A/S yet). This formulation is rich in spices and possesses an ambery vanilla, with musk, light woods/leather, and a hint of citrus. For whatever reason, it has enough dynamism (unlike Canoe) to keep things enjoyable for hours! Longevity is also much better. It’s not too sweet and never goes into a “syrupy” direction, but instead it’s a bit dry, though some might call it somewhat powdery (I wouldn’t).

If you want an idea of what it’s like, I’d say Jaipur Homme is worth considering (I’ve only tried the EdP of that one). It may have been the “blueprint” for JH type scents, for all I know. For me the difference is that JH has a wood note/molecule that gets irritating after a while, whereas British Sterling has no “rough edges.” Note that I do not consider this a fougere, as a few others apparently do; if there is a fougere accord it is very mild, but I don’t think there is coumarin in here – if so it must be in tiny amounts. And if there is lavender present it is being overshadowed by the dominant notes. While I don’t think much of the “drugstore cheapos,” though some aren’t terrible, this one (in vintage form) is really something special. However, it is certainly “mature” and some might even call it “grandpa.” I’m only interested in the olfactory experience, and the combination of notes and/or construction here is great !

Secondly, I’d like to point out that if you seek vintage British Sterling, it seems that you should avoid the Dana ones and seek out Mem or Speidel ones (from what I’ve read). The color of the liquid is very different. Dana ones seem to be a pale/light yellow, whereas the other two formulations may be brownish (the vintage A/S is more of a medium green). Finally, I’d like to ask a question that few seem to consider: what are you going to get from a Serge Lutens oriental scent, for example, that you wouldn’t get from vintage British Sterling? This is not a question I can answer for you, but to me the answer has been a lack of balance, an unpleasant composition, or an overly simplistic composition. There’s likely a good reason why British Sterling has been readily available to the general public for many years. I don’t know why (or in this case, when) the formulation was cheapened up, but as I’ve pointed out before, this apparently was done with food items on a wider scale and well before it became obvious with these olfactory concoctions. I was amazed at how much I was enjoying the vintage formulation over the course of hours, and it’s truly unfortunate that so many will dismiss it without trying it (as I had more or less done) or will just try the new formulation and denigrate it.

NOTE: Apparently there were a least two “flankers” marketed long ago, British Sterling Imperial Musk and British Sterling Light Musk. I’ve never tried either of these.

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