If men are scared of colour, pattern and real trousers 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. Here is my guide to wearing it.
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.
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.
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.
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 4-6. Two that are definitely autumn/winter fragrances, two very summery and two 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.
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.
More on my favourite fragrances, and the best places to buy them, next week.
With thanks to Michael Donovan, Lorenzo Villoresi, Kean Etro, Gianluca Foa and many other fans of fragrance