The boom in male grooming has revolutionised the way in which men perceive themselves, but it has not come without its fair share of casualties. There are, of course, the extremists – most Major League Soccer players, many Premier League footballers and the entire male cast of Jersey Shore – who are, for the most part, a lost cause. And then there are the gents who unwittingly take a wrong turn on the road to self-improvement and somehow find themselves bolt upright in bed at three in the morning panicking about the amount of gluten in their eye cream.
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“For many of us, winter creates a sensory blindfold. When it comes to smell – the intangible sense that silently shapes our emotional world – everything is muffled. For starters, olfaction is compromised when ambient air is cool (granted, that unshakable case of flu doesn’t help either) and odour molecules (the very things that carry scent) move much more slowly in winter than they do in hotter months.
The veil of winter is so heavy, in fact, that we invariably turn to punchier and warmer fragrances – orientals, chypres, gourmands – to get us through the freeze. Fragrances need to be powerful enough to make up for the lack of obvious aromatics in the immediate environment. Cue unintentional over-spraying of that leathery eau de parfum.
Finding your signature scent is only half the job. Once you’ve discovered that elusive fragrance, knowing how to spray it is what will seal the deal (and, no, it’s not as simple as emptying the bottle onto your neck). I quizzed the industry’s top female perfumers for tips on how to scent yourself with style.
Daytime fragrances, by their very nature, err on the straight and narrow. Night-time, however, is an invitation to let your fragrance freak flag fly and experiment with something a little more provocative. “The smell of a man can be the sexiest smell on earth,” says Ms Azzi Glasser, the perfume designer famed for her creations for everyone from Agent Provocateur to Alexander McQueen, “I’m particularly attracted to a man’s neck at the end of the day. It’s the combination of what’s left of his fragrance with the warmth of his skin… I call it the ‘nuzzling neck note’.”
It takes a confident man to rock a floral fragrance. And while extracts of rose and iris are becoming increasingly popular in men’s fragrances, Odin’s new White Line is a study of the whole plant, from stem to flower. Vert Reseda, the most guy-friendly option from the cult brand’s new directional range, is minimal but bold. All green, all the time, the fragrance` opens with galbanum and reseda flowers, followed closely by peony and gardenia, creating a soft, morning dew feel. (And, being endlessly creative in that New York-y sort of way, the bottle comes packaged in a sculpture box designed by paper artist Matthew Shlian (www.mattshlian.com) – natch.)
The abstract and often incomprehensible places in which perfumers find inspiration rarely give any indication of what the actual juice smells like. And yet Frapin’s Nevermore is worth a sniff if only for its romantic and slightly creepy backstory. As lore has it, a mysterious figure visits the grave of poet Edgar Allen Poe on his birthday every year. In his wake he leaves three red roses and a flask of Cognac (Frapin also happen to make France’s finest cognac – natch).
At twenty six Tom Daxon’s youthful appearance belies the maturity of his eponymous line of niche fragrances. The eight-strong collection of eau de parfums are, well, very grown up. They are the work of someone who understands the art of subtlety and suggestion, the very things that come with experience and, frankly, age.
But perhaps Daxon’s innate ability shouldn’t be so surprising. The guy is from good stock, after all. His mother was the Creative Director for Molton Brown (in its hey day, I hasten to add) before moving on to Mary Quant Cosmetics, a career that also served as a Tom’s initiation into the industry.
Acqua Di Parma’s signature citrus scent – a classic in its own right – gets upholstered in Italy’s finest leather. Where the freshness once took centre stage, here we get a weghtier hit of smooth Tuscan leather (that, incidentally, is not a million miles away from Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather). An exquisitely crafted scent that captures the luxurious smell of Tuscany’s tanneries, Colonia Leather is aromatic, masculine and slightly resinous. If you’re a fan of Acqua Di Parma’s outstanding Colonia Oud, released last year, this will knock your socks off.
By now, regular readers will be used to my blind favouritism for all things Francis Kurkdjian. The guy can do no wrong. And while the pioneering perfumer doesn’t have another fragrance to add to his ever-expanding line of signature scents (yet), he has gone about the job of reinventing the travel spray. The architectural atomiser, available in zinc or gold, can accommodate refills (sold separately) for his bestsellers including Aqua Universalis, Aqua Universalis forte, Aqua Vitae, Oud and my personal favourite, APOM.
Globe Trotter Zinc: £85 & Globe Trotter Gold: £95; 0.37 fl.oz. refills, sold separately in boxes of 3 range from 60 £ to 130 £
As with most great releases, Yohji Homme was discontinued about 6 years ago amidst financial chaos at the Japanese design house. June sees a reissue of the classic that has been ‘reworked’ by Olivier Pescheux for 2013 (i.e. in line with strict new ingredient restrictions). The reissue features cardamom, bergamot, and coffee notes with hints of rum, cedarwood and leather. It comes very close to the original and would make a good substitute should you be unable to find a bottle of the original on eBay.
While trends in perfumery do exist, they’re rarely as obvious to the masses as the shifting tides of fashion. The appearance of Oud, however, has been inescapable over the past few years. What was once a relatively unknown ingredient reserved for the upper echelons of Arabian society has now become a commercial bulldozer, making its way into a variety of men’s fragrances from brands including Tom Ford to Christian Dior. But what we perceive as a trend in the West is a veritable institution in the Middle East, where it has been used for centuries to fragrance homes and necks.
Fortunately, there are a number of more appealing solutions for fusty flats – the most innovative (and low-maintenance) of which comes from Diptyque. The hourglass-shaped diffuser launches at this week’s designjunction (part of the London Design Festival) and will appeal to artsy types with penchant for function and form as well as fragrance enthusiasts.
You can read my interview with the godfather of modern perfumery here.
Published by Particular Books in Hardback for £14.99.