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.
Here are the links to each part 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 with Intention
How to Buy Cologne
Oh, that’s an easy one. You go Macy’s, slam a hundred bucks on the counter and ask for the best seller this season.
This approach works...if you are buying produce. Picking the right cologne is a bit more intricate than shopping for a pumpkin. The process of buying cologne starts before you even get to the store. It starts with…
If anyone tells you that buying a perfume is like buying a tie, don’t believe them. More than anything else related to your style and grooming, fragrance shopping requires introspective soul searching.
Several years ago on a trip to Paris I was fortunate to work with a perfumer on creating a custom scent for myself. The first thing she told me was that she couldn’t make a perfume for me. She said she had no idea who I was and if I didn’t know either, I was better off going to Galeries Lafayette and buying something from there.
She must have seen how taken aback I was by her response and explained: her job as a perfumer was similar to that of a psychotherapist. In the process of psychotherapy, the therapist’s job is to guide you through the process of uncovering your beliefs about yourself. The therapist doesn’t know why you have an irrational fear of water but she can help you discover what causes it and more importantly how to deal with it.
In a similar fashion, a perfumer doesn’t know what scent you like but she can guide you through your journey to discover the smells most dear to your heart.
Being all philosophical about the approach to customer perfume making is fine but is hardly practical for most of us. The reality is that few of us have $20,000 to spend on a custom-made fragrance and we have to settle with whatever is on the counter.
Nevertheless, the process of discovering what scents trigger you emotionally is the same. Think of the smells of your childhood: what did your house smell like? Was there a particular place that brought you comfort? What did it smell like?
Think of the important people in your life. What perfume did your mom wear? What about your dad? Scents are the strongest triggers of memories. The smell of your mom’s perfume can bring fond memories of your childhood, of feeling loved and caressed. The scent of your dad’s cologne can perk you up and remind you of the time you two played ball in the front lawn.
Recently, I got a hold of Palmolive Classic. It was the shaving cream my dad used when I was a kid. All it took was a quick sniff from the tube to get transported to our mountain cottage in the summer. I was eleven years old and was watching my dad deftly pass the razor across his cheeks gathering the white lather. I closed my eyes and smelled the scent of the basil and mint growing in the sunny garden.
This is the power of scent. By going back through the fond memories of your life you can discover what smells trigger those happy moments.
Who Are You?
Discovering the perfect scent requires asking some tough questions. One of them is who are you as a man? Another one is: what do you stand for? If you were to step outside of your body and look at yourself, what would that man smell like?
More than any other grooming product cologne is an expression of your identity. It tells the world not only how you fit in it but also how you feel inside. When you find the right perfume you feel like it has always belonged to you. It feels like a bespoke jacket - a second skin but for your soul.
The more I think about my scent preferences, the more I realize how accurately they reflect my personality. Those who know me say that I am a private guy who likes to have fun in private company. I admire a witty satirical sense of humour and seek out anything that stimulates me intellectually.
It comes as no surprise then that Nasomatto’s Black Afgano is in my collection. Dior Homme Parfum is a reflection of the more traditional side of my character. Ambre Russe by Parfum d’Empire with its vodka accord and salty caramel amber is a true reflection of my attraction to the unique.
Note the Notes
Undoubtedly, you have already smelled many fragrances. Even if you don’t acknowledge it, you have already formed some preferences. In the early days of your fragrance journey, pay attention to the notes and accords in each perfume you smell. Some you will find appealing and others will come to you as a total turnoff.
Just like with cuisine, we uncover our taste for perfume. Some men go crazy about powdery iris. Others don’t touch anything else but citrus. I am more of a kinky guy when it comes to scent. I like the weird ones. Leather, dark woods and smoke are some of the staples in my collection. I can’t tolerate anything overly sweet and overpowering.
I like tobacco and vanilla in moderation. I had a period when I tried really hard to like and wear Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille. It’s a well-liked fragrance but it was just too powerful for my liking. I never felt comfortable wearing it because I felt it announced my arrival 10 miles ahead.
Try as many fragrances as you can get your hands on. Take your time smelling them and analyzing them the way you try to deconstruct in your head an exotic liqueur you taste for the first time.
Once you have a good sense of what notes and accords you like, your search for perfume will be more focused. Even if you have your favourite accords, however, allow yourself to try new things. Some of the best fragrances are the ones that surprise your senses.
What Comes Next...
The soul-searching part in selecting perfume is just the beginning. In the next part of The Cologne Series we look at some technical aspects of perfume. These are the telltale signs that the fragrance we are about to purchase is composed well and that we will enjoy wearing it.
Go here for Part 3: The Cologne Series: The Telltale Signs of a Good Perfume (Part 3).