If men are scared of colour, pattern and real trousers then they are terrified of perfume.
 
If they sometimes turn to fashion brands for reassurance in their clothing, they do so constantly with fragrance. It is much-misunderstood and misused.
 
Below is my brief guide to buying it and wearing it.
 
You can read more about fragrance elsewhere on the site:
 
 

Quality
 
Once you spend more than around £80 on 50ml of a perfume, the creator has had free range of the vast majority of the world’s ingredients.
 
This is of course a lot of money, and there is nothing wrong with cheaper ingredients (the simple citrus-and-herb colognes). But the only objective thing to measure in the quality of a perfume is its ingredients, and above this price you’re on safe ground.

 

Concentration
 
Eau de Cologne, de Toilette and de Parfum indicate different strengths of perfume (3-8%, 8-10%, 15-20%).
 
Cologne was made for a time when men changed three times a day and reapplied three times. You need EdT at a minimum and preferably EdP. Extrait de Parfum, one step up, is also becoming popular.

 
 

Applying
 
Wear more. Most men have one spritz on the chest or neck, and that’s it. Go for two or three – you should be able to smell it for up to an hour afterwards, and everyone else when they come close for most of the rest of the day.
 
Go for pulse points (neck, wrist) and, particularly in the winter, the chest. Stronger, wintry scents will come through the cloth of a shirt where citrus ones will not.
 
Apply lighter scents to the base of the neck or edges of the hair. And never on your face. This is not an aftershave and it’s not the 1980s.
 
 
Quantity
 
There’s nothing wrong with having more than one perfume. A perfume should suit your mood, your day and the weather – just like your clothes.
 
Over the years you will probably build up a collection of 3 to 5. One or two that are definitely autumn/winter fragrances, the same summery and perhaps one in between.
 
It should be pretty instinctive which are which: lighter, citrus scents for the sun, heavier and spicier ones for the evening and winter.

 
 

Selecting
 
1. Fragrance is a journey of discovery. You’re not going to walk into Liberty’s, try 7 or 8 scents and select the one you will wear for the rest of your life.
 
Get a couple of samples if you can, and wear it for up to a week, in the right conditions. It may take a year or more to feel you know the scents well, but this should be a pleasurable journey, like getting to know wines or whiskies.
 
 
2. Remember your preferences will also change over time. Sense of smell drops off from the age of 20, so you will prefer stronger scents as you get older; and as with drink, you will come to prefer bitter over sweet.

 
 

3.
When people rate fragrances, they are largely going on the complication and balance of the ingredients.
There is something to analyse here – it is not entirely subjective – but scents also suit different people: their skin, their clothes, their style.
 
So take any ratings of perfumes with a pinch of salt. Try everything and make up your own mind.
 
 
4. Making up your mind, of course, is the hard bit. Some critics and perfumers say that fragrance is polarising: your reaction to it will be either very good or very bad. I’ve never found that. With at least half of the ones I try, I’m in the middle.
 
They also say you will see the reaction in others: compliments from women, awkward questions from men. I haven’t found that either. And personal analysis of what suits my skin I find unsatisfactory.
 
But then, even though I’ve been wearing and experimenting with fragrance for 15 years, I am at the beginning of my journey. And I’m enjoying it.
 
 
With thanks to Michael Donovan, Lorenzo Villoresi, Kean Etro, Gianluca Foa and many other fans of fragrance for their input

 
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
32 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Anonymous

Good primer. I’m a massive fan of fragrances and love discovering new ones. I love how complex and intoxicating some can be, bringing back memories and creating images in your head. My favorites so far (and there have only been two that I’ve really, truly fallen in love with) are Terre d’Hermes and Floris JF. I’d like to own some of the Acqua di Parma ones but the longevity isn’t there. I tried Creed’s Vetiver which you once recommended and wasn’t impressed. In fact, the only Creed which sits well with me is Green Irish Tweed. To each their own.

It’s worth also mentioning to err on the side of underapplication to overapplication. Much better to be only smelt within a foot or so to being smelt by people on the other side of the room you’re in. Some men make this mistake (including me in younger days) and it is not good.

Josh Shein

Personally I can’t imagine ever needing anything except Eau Sauvage…

Chung Fei

My favourite are Cristobal by Balenciaga and the classic Azzaro 🙂

Matthew Hewitt

I also use a variety, depending on mood and season. My current list is:

GFT – Trumpers
Sandalwood – Trumpers
Blenheim Bouquet – Penhailigons
Sartorial – Penhailigons
Spanish Leather – Trumpers
Lime, Basil and Mandarin – Jo Malone

Anonymous

Hi Simon, do you have an opinion on the Tom Ford private blends, or are they overpriced due to the marketing?

Anonymous

I always come back to Guerlain Vetiver, Acqua di Parma Colonia, and Chanel Pour Homme. I have recently been wearing Guerlain Homme Boisse, which is a nice light scent for warmer weather.

Anonymous

Unique content, as usual, superbly presented.
Joshua B.

Tim

Nice post – looking forward to more.

I agree with the first post that under application is better than over application. I think this is especially the case in many work environments where it’s bad taste to have strong smelling fragrances noticeable past one or two feet. Personally, my use of fragrance is for myself and my wife to enjoy. I like the effect it carries as an enhancement to intimacy versus something meant to draw the attention of others. I imagine this may reflect my interest in being (and staying) married versus the intention of someone who wants to flirt or impress.

Perhaps you could elaborate on the use of molecular versus natural ingredients in various brands. I would like to learn more about this topic. Thank you!

Tim

It’s also worth mentioning that an individual’s body chemistry has a lot to do with how a fragrance will react and smell. One woman I know can only wear one kind, can’t remember the name, as all other types of perfume smell like vomit on her skin (her words). This may be extreme but I have a hard time understanding how something as individual and particular a scent is would allow someone to buy fragrances online without any chance to try it first.

CDS

Nice intro to scents post. My wife is deeply into fragrances and much like the complexities in mixing patterns in menswear, she mixes her gigantic collection of bottles. This ends up beautifully, but she risks falling flat just as often – something men could learn to do more frequently.

Over the years, via gifts and lately of my own choosing, I have my own “little” collection of ~15 fragrances that have fallen into a nice circulation.

As dashing as a well cut suit and brilliant tie may be, women seem to notice my scents just as much.

Mxolisi Ngonelo

I was jogging one day and a guy in a drop top whizzed past me in the opposite direction; the air was redolent with his cologne for a few metres after passing each other. Too much!

Mark

Hi Simon,

I have never come across an Eau de Parfum for men – probably because I’m not looking in the right places (I’m in Australia and everything is just a little bit harder to come by in our corner of the world). Are there any particular brands you could point me toward that sell EdP? If this will be covered in your post next week I’ll eagerly await that post.

Carl Melin

What is your opinion about Terre d Hermes?

Anonymous

Could you define “commercial”? Do you mean that it lacks complexity and personality?
What do you think of Guerlain Vetiver?

Anonymous

Can you really detect cheap (=synthetic?) ingredients? Without being a “nose”, that is.

Glenn Chaika

Can anyone tell me if Shanghai Lily from Tom Ford is a unisex perfume/cologne????
Some say it is. Some say it’s not. Hard to get an answer. Thanks!!!

jay

Hermes suggests men not apply scents to wrists, but instead apply to one’s biceps–which when one thinks about it makes sense, due to the constant flexing throughout the day, thus enhancing the expression of the scent, right?

DKP

Your advice on how much to wear is interesting. There was a time that having a “signature scent” that stayed with you through the day was certainly de rigueur but I’ve always gone by the rule that only a person close enough to kiss you should be able to smell the scent you’re wearing.

Daniel Thomas

Hello Simon,
Guerlain Vetiver is great and Knize Ten, whilst not for everybody, brought a smile to my face the first time I tried it. Spending a bit more opens up so many scents which really can lift spirits.
Daniel

Cailein Gillespie

I love Rose nacrée du désert by Guerlain. It is expensive @ £220, however, if you fall in love with a scent, it is worth every penny. This Persian rose is wonderfully seductive as is the oud, which does not overpower as many can. it is woody floral, rare which appeals to me, I do not smell it around very often on others. Top notes of: saffron Persian rose and patchouli. Heart notes of: cardamom, curcuma, cedar wood with an oud accord. The base notes aremyrrh and benzoin. It is both subtle and volutuous, and last the entire day. You can also still smell it on clothing, in the wash basket.

Erik Syverson

My advice, buy the classics. Creed and royall have stood the test of time. Your grandfather wore them and he beat the
Nazis so they will do for you. Fashion brands like Tom Ford will have you smelling like a NYC taxi.

SVT

One of the best and quickest perfume guides. Capaciously, clearly, understandably. I have about 30 bottles of perfume. It is a pity that you no longer post in this direction, or I did not see them.
Cheers.