Thy nose knows best, for it is the strongest sense of them all.
If it did not exist, the world would be akin to a photograph – visual, audible, sensory, but not real enough.
Upon reviewing the essentials of the booming fragrance category, several requests tumbled in to find what I liked most myself. As aforementioned, I admittedly belong to the obsessive group in the fragrance addiction framework. Like one of my fellow comrades who currently resides in Berlin, I am odor-phobic, especially if anything foul is evaporating off of me. And a UK bred blogless comrade who has made the exotic fragrance world her career has accentuated my passion for them. Combine that with a family heritage of fragrances and an obsession to bathe in them, and one finds that I have indeed utilized or at least sniffed many kaleidoscopic vials that sit behind fragrance counters. Some of the credit for this goes to my frequent travels and the luring effect that duty free fragrance shops have on me. I try not to go overboard, recalling the harmful effects of fragrances that are populating the webspace, sometimes seemingly exaggerated or frightful.
Before pouncing onto a name-shelling game of what I love and what I love less, a quick recap of fragrance families and sub families is necessary for one’s knowledge. These are important in deciphering the fragrances, the notes and the stories to which one is drawn.
Fragrances are momentary, and whilst I consider myself promiscuous in trying different ones, there are some that etch a special place in my mind. Once again I must reiterate my annoyance with lists, despite having created my own lists of favorite cookies and stylish men’s habits. Yet, I must admit that they are valuable.
Next are three sets of five-point lists that I currently think about. My favorites are ones that never go wrong, aptly titled Second Skin. The Runners Up deserve points for spontaneous appeal and repeated likeness, despite knowing that they fall behind the favorites due to unobvious reasons. The final category is called Been There Done That, as it comprises of colognes that I either think are too overdone or overused, or are akin to movies that rake in the dough without a soul or redeeming factor.
So while this list changes from time to time, it seems apt to share how it stands in the first decade of the 2000s, as a benchmark for evolution over time. The support for my preferences tries to escape from the list of ingredients and top notes that are prevalent on most fragrance advertisements and deals-based websites; instead I try to provide more reality driven insights.
Love: It is the freshest thing I have smelled, which is quite something, given the number of times we are splashed, literally, with ‘freshness’ types of claims from the cologne world. And it has a technology that emits a fresh spark of fragrance periodically upon application; or so is the cool marketing story. It is momentarily tragic that the promotional material resorts to a beachy scenario, akin to so many other fresh scents that exude ‘freedom’ associations; yet this does not take away from the essence of Essential.
Aqva Marine by Bvlgari
Love: It makes me feel like I am swimming in an open, shark-less ocean. It is fresher and stronger than its parent Bvlgari Aqva, which is a refreshing surprise for a line extension. The magnified droplet shaped bottle is a unique, attractive complement, making water look its alluring best. And finally, it is perfect to prolong relaxation on lazy days, and just right to give a kick to ameliorate an ordinary evening.
L’Eau D’Issey by Issey Miyake
Love: The best thing about this fresh scent is that it lingers. Hours and hours after applying it, I still turn heads (and noses). Strength and freshness never combined together so well! And it is commendable that the ordinary packaging and promotional material do not make this scent plummet, speaking volumes of the quality of the cologne itself!
Love: Just like the juxtaposition of wasabi ice cream or spicy hot chocolate, this is one fragrance that simply rocks at being cool and super hot at the same time, evoking the adjective ‘unleash’! The svelte black and silver packaging is a welcome break from the watery or golden glass vials, making it look suave when sitting next to my wallet, laptop, or whatever else my room is littered with.
Photo Courtesy: Yves Saint Laurent
Antidote by Victor and Rolf
Love: After winning accolades for V&R’s Flowerbomb, I was ecstatic at the launch of the men’s line, and deeply thankful that it was not called Flowerbomb Pour Homme. In addition to its intriguing caged emerald packaging, it is commendable that for once, a fragrance does not depict a broody man bordering on the edge of being plain sleepy, or a swimmer with overtly populated droplets and waves on the forefront. Like an antithesis to the names containing ‘water’ and ‘eau’ that we drown in, this is called Antidote. It is almost spookier, giving a Dorian Gray or Twilight mystery effect with its sinister Aladdin reminiscent promotions. A masterstroke, and not compromised by its fragrance either, as the strong woody scent makes it a perfect evening companion that always gets what it demands.
Almost: Envy has a subtle woody note to it that gives it an un-unanimous vote of acceptance. It is almost like the addiction towards blue cheese – atrocious but delectable all at once. Perhaps that is why I can never make up my mind about this one, although it makes for a great evening pal and lasts a long time. The print advertisements combine the male and female Envy counterparts for blatant sexual enticement, which although unoriginal, is consistent with Gucci’s provocative advertising that always succeeds in drawing the eyeballs (and nostrils).
Cool Water by Davidoff
Almost: Cool Water used to be one of my favorites, but slipped to make way for more marine scents. Yet it does bring back memories of being one of the few that is very appealing even in snowy winters, due to its yummy fruity undertones. The name Cool Water demands advertising of a man in water, which tragically is over-utilized in the cologne world, bringing this one down slightly. A pity, since other marine scents have successfully infringed on the water based advertising!
Farenheit by Dior
Almost: This one has been around forever, and like Dior’s other scents, is powerfully strong in that it almost deadens the senses! For a crowded affair, it is perfect; but it becomes difficult to tone it down on a more solitary rendezvous! Nonetheless, an endearing classic, which thankfully utilizes a desert sunset as its core visual, a pleasant change from blue, blue and more blue. And as such, it is a heavily musky fragrance, which always reminds me of the riches of the Middle East (or the frequent times I have spent in Dubai duty free!).
Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche
Almost: This is another classic that is so strong that it is almost deadly. But being the father of scents that later explored the enigma of black (the overdone Polos, Armanis, Kenneth Coles), it remains a classic that evokes memories of vintage eras, speaking highly of its wearer. Pity Guy Laroche ventured into sporty endorsements and advertising, akin to Polo, since the classic visuals remain more powerful despite looking dated.
Photo Courtesy: Guy Laroche
Eau Fraiche by Versace
Almost: My addiction to aqueous fragrances is obvious. This one comes packaged in a jagged, icy brick of water that looks good enough to bite! It comes close to the marines and freshnesses in my favorites, virtually identical with a swimmer-clad print ad, but this one is a tad too sweet. Yet, I still own it, and recurrently wear it to sweeten up a dead winter day or a sun-scorched dry summer evening, particularly since it is still very distinct from the scents of other guys around me, who are often enveloped in colognes that I will cover in my Been There, Done That segment.
Been There, Done That
Acqua di Gio by Giorgio Armani
Reason: I loved this after its launch, at a fragile age when I was getting the hang of fragrances . Yet, as it raced up the rungs of popularity to become a global favorite, it became every guy’s choice. With a lack of uniqueness (look at how the 2008’s recently revived visual is identical to the preferred Versace scent!), I inevitably smelled like everyone else around me, or reminded significant others of other significant others. Clearly, popularity has made Acqua di Gio akin to a beautiful, inescapable prison. It is still consistently in the Top 5 worldwide, much to my recurrent annual surprise.
Photo Courtesy: Armani
Code by Giorgio Armani
Reason: Originally marketed as Black Code but quickly retracted to just Code, this one has a strong vanilla undertone that I tend to avoid. Many love its tall cylindrical shape and enigmatic dark flirty power, but to me it is almost too floral to be masculine, too light for the evening, and too heavy for an afternoon. A case of inadequate positioning.
Polo Black by Ralph Lauren
Reason: The ambery sub family is a smoothness overkill. Unlike Polo’s addictive Polo Blue and Safari, this one lacks a distinct character, scratching the surface of surprise with great packaging and Nacho’s broody presence, but not growing beyond ordinary. This is probably why Ralph Lauren released a Polo Double Black shortly after its launch, perhaps to regain lost ground, but marketed smartly as an ode to the addictive color!
Photo Courtesy: Ralph Lauren
Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier
Reason: From body shaped bottles that are a rage even years after its launch, Gaultier’s consistency of its advertising is highly commendable, complete with tatooed sailors instead of the overused swimmer and bather to convey macho freshness. But the scent itself pales in comparison to my favorites, seeming almost dilute or disenchanted, perhaps again owing to the overdose in the Ambery family. Some of its related extensions are more distinct and stronger, easily competing in my favorites list, which makes me wonder why this is still a top seller.
Allure Pour Homme by Chanel
Reason: Allure has had a similar story to Acqua di Gio. Similar launch times, similar packaging, and imitable popularity which made the uniqueness factor languish. I loved Allure. Entranced by its name, I was admittedly thankful of Chanel’s hyped male cologne. But who wants to smell like everyone else? And in retrospect, it seems to lack a punch that makes it neither too fresh, nor too strong. Yet it sells, as does anything when backed up by big daddy Chanel, leaving behind footprints dusted in gold.
So, without meaning to be an endorser or an attacker, this is a personal preference list at this point in time.
Admittedly, a lot has to do with body chemistry; so when out scouting a scent, do give a cologne multiple sniffs, or as AskMen suggests, find a co-sniffer. Try to find what families and sub-families draw you the most. I am a mix of many, but my favorite families are citrus for day, woody for night, and above all, fougere at all times of day for its chameleon like flexibility. With sub-families the preferences are less predictable, although I truly relish spicy and aqueous the most. Nothing is embossed in stone, though, and packaging, animation products and marketing stories often have the power to sway. Sometimes.
The cologne world is growing exponentially out of hand. Timeless journeys conjured by sexy vials and misty sprays have us swooning, almost delussionally, in fragrance stores and airport duty frees, as we are consistently attracted to the gleam and shine of perfect looking displays and blown up promotions dripping with treacherous lust.
Hopefully you now have a de-mystified picture of what fragrances are, how to scent up your days and nights and intermediate events, and what to look for or look out for. Go ahead and enjoy the exploratory tour of an enticing world. It is slightly larger than life (and sometimes aggravating with incessant makeup-dipped salesfolk), and is just a speck in the world of marketing to our five senses. Yet, the fragrance industry thankfully gives our noses their much deserved respect.
For after all, thy nose knows best.