Spring. A time for new beginnings, and the promise of (mis)adventure. You’ve dusted off the summer wardrobe, and perhaps updated the tired shirt/tie combinations that have seen you through the winter. But what about the other elements of your revitalised image? A new hairstyle? Possibly even a moustache – providing the ironic coolness as well as irritating your wife (or lady of equal distinction). A natural ally of these visual reforms however is an updated array of cologne. The olfactory sense is in many ways as powerful as visual signals and in many ways can evoke a more profound emotional response.
With such an abundance of labels and fragrances, however, the question is where to begin, and how to ensure that your choice is in line with the style that you are trying to epitomise. Firstly, it is important to understand fragrances, and their behaviour. And secondly, understand the context in which they are best utilised.
Most fragrances consist of a variety of different scents, which, when carefully layered together, complement each other to produce a rich and complex (hopefully appealing) aroma. The interaction of the individual scents should create a dynamic fragrance which evolves and mellows after the initial application. Generally, the individual olfactory elements can be categorised into
three distinct groups or notes:
These elements are our first impression of the fragrance. The initial burst of vitality which awakens our senses, and engages us with the cologne. The most powerful scents are usually at play here, and are what provides the “crispness” and “freshness” of the fragrance. Common top notes include strong floral scents, mint, and citrus. Top notes will usually only be detectible briefly before giving way to middle notes.
Much more subtle than the top notes, middle notes soften the initial burst of ethanol (which is carried by the top notes) and begin the transition towards the more intransient base notes. Middle notes will be noticeable for between half an hour to an hour and will often reference soft floral tones, citrus, and ginger.
Base notes make up the lingering scent which remains with you after the initial burst has subsided. Base notes, often woody or earthy in character, have longevity and should be apparent from 30-40 minutes after application until such time as you shower. Vanilla, vetiver, and other spices are common base notes in men’s fragrances.
However, if this all sounds too much like alkalised water and activated almonds, then a few simple rules will help when choosing a fragrance.
Look beyond the top notes – while the initial burst of fragrance can be alluring, the base notes will form the scent that stays with you throughout the day.
Decide on a fragrance outside of the perfumery – the cacophony of scents that are apparent at any perfume/cologne counter can be confusing, and can mask elements of the fragrance you have tested. Check to see that the cologne evokes the same reaction away from the smell of other perfumes. This will also give you a chance to start to smell the deeper notes.
Match your fragrance to your style and mood – Your fragrance will act as your signature – something that others will associate with you often subconsciously. Make sure it fits with the message you are trying to put forward.
The easiest distinction to make in terms of style is bold versus elegant. To help with the comparison, below are my thoughts on two colognes I am currently enjoying.
Introduced in 2006, l’Homme has already spawned a number of new iterations. This fragrance fits
with Yves Saint Laurent’s reputation for understated elegance. On the softer, even floral, end of
the spectrum for men’s fragrances, l’Homme is nevertheless unmistakably masculine. Refined, and at times elusive, it is well suited to conservative or formal environments, where boldness may be gratuitous and subtle refinement provides the more enduring cadence.
Ginger and citrus (lemon or possibly Bergamot orange) are evident early although not as powerful
as one might imagine.
There is an unequivocal spiciness that appears within approximately 15 minutes after application.
This provides a perfect transition to the woody base of this cologne.
Almost cedar, and perhaps vetiver provide a length which is incredible given the subtlety of this
fragrance. This more than anything differentiates l’Homme from most.
Quintessentially Giorgio Armani, this fragrance is bold and masculine. Beginning with a powerful burst of icy freshness, the scent begins to mellow through a citrusy heart before transitioning to long, warm, spicy base notes. This is an ideal fragrance to wear on a Friday, as it marks a departure from more conservative surrounds of the Mon-Thurs office environment, and carries the boldness and length to be perfect for a big night out.
Mint, mint, and more mint. This is what provides the icy blast and sets the tone for what is a bold
fragrance from start to finish.
Citrus begins to cut through the mint while prolonging the initial freshness of this cologne.
Strong reference of ginger and vetiver provide a warm and spicy base which has incredible longevity. This scent is just as audacious at the end of the night as it was in the morning. Self confidence and purpose is the overwhelming theme here.
Images courtesy of Armani Beauty and YSL Beauty.