In The Cologne Series we explore the art of fragrance and how to use it as a tool in our grooming arsenal. We also muse on the artistic aspects of perfume, its history and the relationship men have had with cologne throughout the generations. After reading this series we are confident you will emerge an erudite intellectual who not only smells marvelous but has made an educated artistic statement with his scent.
Don’t miss a thing! Here are links to the other parts of the series:
Part 1: Why Cologne Matters?
Part 2: How to Pick the Right One
Part 3: Telltale Signs of a Good Perfume
Part 4: Who Do We Wear Cologne For?
Part 5: How to Build a Fragrance Wardrobe
Part 6: Wearing a Fragrance Intentionally
Treat your cologne like your clothes. You need the right scent for the right occasion. You wouldn’t show up at your best friend’s wedding in cargo shorts and sandals, so why would you wear Acqua di Gio to it?
As I say this I realize some stalwarts of tradition will step up and extol the virtues of the signature scent. I humbly acknowledge that, indeed, in the olden times when perfume was custom-made and a privilege only to the wealthy, “monoscentism” was probably the norm. I also agree there are scents, which are widely versatile and in theory would work for any occasion.
Given today’s proliferation and accessibility of perfume, however, why would you limit yourself to just one scent? I don’t advocate mindlessly spending money on perfume but I would argue most of us can purchase at least two scents: one for everyday use and one for special occasions.
If you have no qualms about how many bottles you own, keep on reading. We have a lot to talk about. If you are on a tight budget and can afford only one scent,I’ve been there too, and here’s what I recommend you do:
How to Smell Good on a Budget
When I was in college I used to own one bottle of cologne I bought at Walmart. My first year, that fragrance was Davidoff’s Cool Water. I didn’t know it at the time but Cool Water was a 5-star fragrance that revolutionized men’s perfumery in the early 1990s.
Cool Water worked for me because it was easy to wear and versatile. As a young guy, I could wear it after soccer practice and put it on when clubbing.
I don’t suggest that fresh fragrances in the style of Cool Water are best suited for all occasions. Cool Water worked for me because as a college student most of the place and events I attended were casual. Also, at that age because nobody was expecting of an 18-year-old to rock a diverse wardrobe of complicated scents.
If you can buy only one fragrance, pick something that is as versatile as possible. Fragrances with fresh openings and denser floral-woody bases usually work best. These fragrances tend to be light enough for casual wear and formal enough for special events.
The crucial part in picking the right one is to wear it until it fully develops. Spray the fragrance on your skin and let it sit for at least four to five hours. This is enough time for the fragrance to develop and for you to experience it as it truly is. Very often fragrances start off smelling great, just to turn into synthetic nightmares as they develop.
Uomo by Ferragamo is a great example of a versatile scent. In many respects it is the fragrant version of the oxford white shirt. You can dress it down or dress it up - it’s up to you.
The reason why Uomo by Ferragamo works so well is because it stays mostly light and fresh but is weighed down with sweet notes of tonka beans and tiramisu. The sweetness is not cloying but is enough to make Uomo a good choice for a night out.
Dior Homme Parfum is another excellent example of a signature scent. Dior Homme has been around for years and has turned into a modern classic in men’s perfumery. The Parfum version is denser and more interesting than the original.
Prada’s L’Homme Prada is another iris-based woody-floral scent. It is also versatile and appropriate for most ages and virtually all occasions.
The common thread among the fragrances I recommend here is their character. They all start fresh and slowly transition into floral-woody base (with the exception of Uomo by Ferragamo, which is gourmand). Their versatility and harmonious develop makes them good choices for signature scents.
When you determine, which fragrance you want to get make sure you buy it from the highest end department store you can get to. It will cost the same as at the drugstore but the difference is that the department store will likely give you samples of other fragrances. These samples can serve as a great source of cologne for special occasions.
Many sales reps treat samples as a “gift” for purchasing a fragrance. The purpose of a sample, however, is to let the customer experience a scent before they buy it. So, don’t be afraid to ask for samples. Most sales reps will give you some even without a purchase.
If variety matters to you, you can also order samples of various fragrances online. Many perfume houses (mostly niche ones) sell 2ml samples directly from their websites. Buying a perfume through samples is the most expensive way to smell good on a per-volume basis, however, it is the cheapest in absolute dollars spent.
A more deceiving way to get free samples is to buy a fragrance, get the complimentary samples and then return the unopened perfume a couple of days later. Virtually no department store would ever ask for their samples back. This is not the case with free gifts you may get with your purchase. These are usually marked on the receipt and the sales associate may ask you to give those back too. Samples are not marked, so they do not know what they have given you.
I don’t recommend that latter approach. It’s somewhat deceitful and it’s too much effort for the benefit. Another downside is that if you frequent the same stores, the sales rep eventually will catch on to your scheme.
Building Your Fragrance Wardrobe
If buying several colognes is not an issue let’s march on how to build your extensive fragrance wardrobe.
Just like with clothes, you will only need three or four fragrances to match the events in your life. For most of us, three types of fragrances cover the majority events in our lives:
- Daily wear - it is the perfume you wear every day;
- Evening wear - it’s the fragrance you put on when you go out with friends or attend more formal events;
- Vacation/active wear - this is the perfume for camping/sailing/playing tennis - you name it. Whatever sports activity you have, you put this cologne on.
You don’t need more than one or two fragrances for each category. The scents can vary by season. In the summer you may pick lighter perfumes across the board; in the winter you can go heavier and more formal.
There are no strict rules as to what perfume fits in each category or whether you even need to stick to any categories. Their purpose is to give some structure to your fragrance wardrobe.
It may be helpful to think of your perfume as your clothes. You have a set of clothes you wear to work (e.g. dress shirts, suits, dress shoes), another set for when you go out (e.g. a black shirt, dressy jeans, a blazer), and yet another selection for sporting events (e.g. a polo shirt, runners, shorts). You perfume wardrobe should loosely mimic your clothes wardrobe.
Here is some guidance what fragrances to wear for each of the major events in your life.
This would be the scent you wear everyday. It’s your go-to perfume when going to work, school or perform any daily activity.
Because of its task, your daily wear cologne should meet these criteria:
- It has to be versatile to fit multiple daily events and situations (e.g must work for the office and for a Sunday brunch);
- It has to be interesting enough, so that you don’t get bored with it;
- It has to last a good number of hours (6+ is ideal);
It has to have moderate projection (you don’t want to be the cologne guy in the office).
Here are some recommendations for a daily wear cologne:
What all of these fragrances have in common is that they are easy to wear, versatile and last over eight hours. They all tend to be universally liked and have average projection (the only exception is Santal 33, which projects quite strongly).
This is your party fragrance. You put it on when you want to impress or show your sensual side. Put simply, your evening wear cologne is the fragrant version of your black shirt - the one you put on yourself and invariably take off with the help of others.
You want to make a bold statement with your evening wear perfume. Traditionally, these scents are darker, heavier and more intense than your day time perfume.
Your outfit, the venue and the occasion all play into picking the right evening fragrance. It may sound complicated but in reality almost any woody/oriental scent works for a wide variety of occasions.
The hardest part about wearing an evening fragrance is putting the right amount. Since they are heavier it is easy to overspray. As a general rule, two sprays on the chest is all you need.
Here are some good options for evening wear colognes:
The options in the evening wear category are endless. The only requirement here is that it has to fit the occasion and your outfit. Think of your perfume the way you think of your tie - its style has to match the event and its colour has to match your outfit.
Vacation or Active Wear
Strictly speaking, a vacation scent is optional. I like getting one because it helps me remember the good times I have on my travels. Smell, of all senses, is the one that is most effective at triggering memories.
On a trip to Seville, Spain I wore Xerjoff’s Kobe. I chose it because it fit perfectly with the Old World laid back atmosphere of Seville. Since Kobe is a citrus-based perfume, it also worked well in the hot weather. Now, every time I smell Kobe, I think of my time in Seville and Andalusia.
Often, I get excited about picking a cologne for my vacation and buy a bottle several months in advance. I’ve found out the hard way, this is not a good idea.
My choice for a vacation scent is always an emotional one. It is based on how I think I will feel on my vacation and match my cologne to my expected emotions. Considering how you feel about your vacation experience is key, however, doing it well in advance is dangerous. You simply don’t know your emotional state on your vacation.
Your emotional state is only one consideration, however. The weather, climate and activities you will do at your vacation are equally important. In fact, your activities will determine to a large extend your emotional state.
Regardless of where you go on vacation, it is a good idea to bring one day and one evening cologne. After all, smelling like a piña colada works great on the beach but not so much at the swanky jazz bar.
Bringing more than two fragrances on a trip is often an overkill. If you change your cologne so often, you won’t be able to associate one particular scent with your vacation experience. From a practical point of view, you’d rarely need more than two fragrances and the overweight luggage charges are not worth it anyway.
What Comes Next…
Your fragrance should never be an afterthought. Just like your shoes, tie and pocket square, it has to complement your whole outfit and match the occasion. What comes next is an in-depth dive into how to wear your fragrance with intention.
Go next to Part 6: Wearing a Fragrance Intentionally.