Judging cologne by what most guys think of “cologne” is like judging food by a chain restaurant: cheap, tacky, nauseating, and low-class. But a decent cologne is pretty much indispensable to every adult male’s life. Unfortunately, it takes some work to figure out that this is true—and finding that right cologne is a whole separate issue.
For most men their introduction to cologne is a shitty gift they receive for their seventeenth (or so) birthday. Mine was the ubiquitous Polo Sport. The scent isn’t bad per se, but like much of the Polo line it’s innocuous and ubiquitous. There’s nothing wrong with it, but there’s nothing right with it either. And in fact any of several trips to the mall later I had yet to find a scent that appealed to me, so I wrote cologne off entirely.
It was many years later that I found an article on Drudge that described a store called CB I Hate Perfume, located in my native Brooklyn. The CB of the name was Christopher Brosius, and he’d formerly been the co-founder of Demeter Fragrance. His shtick is to create scents based on real things such as Doll Head, Wet Pavement, and Burnt Wood. This sounded intriguing, and when I went to the store I sniffed for over an hour before coming home with Bubble Gum.
Everyone is aware, theoretically, of how much the mind can be affected by scents: Think how quickly you become aware of your hunger when the right smell hits. But I wasn’t aware how much the right scent affected my mood and therefore my productivity. The right fragrance literally made me work easier and better. It was that simple.
This realization got me to messing around on the Internet. Obviously a grown man can’t walk around smelling like bubble gum. Maybe there were scents that would put me in a good mood and that I would actually not be embarrassed to wear outside the house. Brosius insists that all scents can be worn by both genders, but some of us don’t have the nerve to wear a leather kilt like he is so fond of doing. What I quickly discovered is that there’s an entire world of cologne that’s entirely different from what’s found in the mall.
The problem with shopping for a fragrance is that smelling it in the store is not the equivalent of trying on a pair of pants. It takes time and effort. Quality cologne evolves and changes over time. A scent might smell wonderful out of the bottle but fade to something completely different. A great example of this is Nostalgia by Santa Maria Novella. Inspired by Italian roadsters, at first it smells just like being in a new—but vintage—automobile. You smell the gas, you smell the leather. Ten minutes later all of that goes away and you’re left with a scent that’s mostly olives, which isn’t my thing.
“Trying on” a scent entails wearing it for a while. It means wearing it around the house and seeing if it gives you a headache or affects your mindset for the better. Then it means wearing it out and seeing if others notice, hopefully in a positive way. I once asked my friend why women are so obsessed with shoes, and she paused before replying, “Shoes always fit. Even if your outfit is making you feel unattractive, you know that your shoes will be just right.” A good fragrance has the same effect for a man. It makes you feel polished, and literally all it takes is the press of button.
But finding a good scent is a laborious process. What I did was look for an online store that sold samples of quality colognes such as LuckyScent or Twisted Lily. I read through descriptions of the scents and then read the reviews. I assumed that the negative reviews were probably true; if one reviewer didn’t like the scent, that meant there would be someone at the office or at a bar who would be put off as well.
When I found five or six that sounded intriguing, I ordered the bunch. When the scents arrived I took one at a time, one per day, and dabbed the fragrance on a Q-tip. I’d leave it on my desk while I worked, sniffing every so often as the fragrance developed. If it was at all appealing, I put it on my wrist and then rubbed it along my forearm. That way I could see how it reacted with my skin chemistry—yet another annoying factor to consider.
Based on that first batch, I identified several notes (like sandalwood, for example) that I enjoyed, and which types of cologne I preferred (not a fan of incense scents). That gave me enough info to get my next batch of five. If the process sounds tedious it really wasn’t. It was somewhat like being a foodie, trying different places over a week before picking the best one. By the time I was done with the process, I had four fragrances in my rotation.
In my view, four is the right number of scents for a man to have. That allows for two to alternate between during the cold months. When you start to get sick of them—six months in—you can switch to the two warmer-weather ones. Bottles of quality scent won’t be cheap, maybe $200, but they’ll last for a good four or five years. What you’re buying is something that puts you in a good mood, marks you as sophisticated (or whatever tone you’re trying to strike), and catches people’s attention in a positive way (since you’ll smell unique and therefore intriguing). Not a bad deal for one little bottle.