For the most part, fragrances play a minimal role in the overall conversation of dressing well. America is a visual society and social media has put our appearances on a pedestal more than any other facet of ourselves to others. While I don’t expect anyone to sacrifice a well-fitting suit for a new cologne, I do think that the conversation should encompass all parts of one’s first impression–and that includes scent.
For me, I’d say that I’ve come a long way since my Axe Body Spray middle school days, but the reality is that my fragrance journey is in a continuing evolving state. Like everyone else, I began with the grocery store brands then saved up a few dollars for the discounted Calvin Klein body spray, then maybe dabbled in whatever they were pumping into the vents at Abercrombie. Later, I would get a cologne here and there from aunts as a graduation gift. These, inevitably, smelled awful and I, inevitably, wore too much of it during my freshman year at university.
Scent has the same effect as a pressed shirt or a hemmed pant leg. You see, it’s those finer details that really make an impression worth lasting. Otherwise, if it’s off a little, you run the risk of the overall effect collapsing. It wasn’t until I understood this reality that I began to take my cologne game more seriously. Since then, my bathroom vanity may have a few too many bottles of fragrance, but I never get tired of hearing, “What are you wearing? Someone smells great!”
The Science of Scents
This could be an entire dissertation for a Biology 201 class, so I’ll keep it brief. Scent plays an incredibly complex role on the way that we perceive social structures, partner attraction, and even danger.
While humans have relatively incredible eyesight, taste and smell went just as far in keeping early humans alive. Being able to quickly and efficiently recognize and, if needed, avoid certain foods and predators through smell and taste gave our early ancestors an advantage to reduce the risk of being sick from eating, say, rotten fruit in the jungle. Pair that with our advanced memory and you’re looking at smell being one of the strongest memory indicators in humans today.
Scent also has it’s own language throughout the animal kingdom. It’s obvious for a creature like a dog, but just because it’s largely imperceptible how humans communicate through smell doesn’t mean it’s not happening. Just consider how pheromones can alter mood, and it’s not like anyone is going around complimenting another person’s pheromones.
Synthetic scents, like colognes, replicate emotional responses within others. Our own pheromones ultimately interplay with whatever fragrance we put on, which in turn either attracts or repels others. So while some scents may seem good, they might just not be good for you. Or, conversely, some fragrances just aren’t pleasant, perhaps because our brain chemistry is connecting that particular scent to a bygone threat in the natural world, resulting in our brain telling us it stinks.
Picking a cologne should be thought of as just as much a tailored experience as, say, buying a suit. It has to fit your personality, the surroundings where you’re going to wear it, and also compensate for the parts of your body you can’t change.
The Best Men’s Fragrances and Perfumes
Abbott Fragrance Mojave
My personal go-to right now is Mojave from Abbott. Its main notes are bergamot (the citrusy flavor that’s reminiscent of Earl Grey tea to me), tobacco, and black pepper. It’s got a crisp, clean scent that doesn’t overpower and when it wears off a little, and the tobacco notes stick around.
Boy Smells Italian Kush
Another fragrance that tops the list for its complexity is Italian Kush by Boy Smells. It has this rich blend of cannabis, basil, limoncello, and patchouli that’s herbaceous without smelling like a mowed lawn. The cannabis extract is a pleasant undercurrent in the blend that’s not at all skunky but definitely adds a bit of potency to the overall scent.
Diptyque 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain
Saint-Germain is one of the most old world and bohemian parts of Paris that still exists today and the Diptyque cologne named for this stretch of the 6th arrondissement does its free-spirited past justice. It is a fragrance that was designed to embody the Parisian Diptyque shop and I think they’ve succeeded in bringing some subtle notes to an otherwise classic scent. With infusions of rose, patchouli, and cinnamon, it’s a scent that I wouldn’t describe as “crisp” but I would describe as pleasant, warm, and inviting. Just like any good storefront should be.
A scent, as the brand claims, for the free-thinker. Hwyl is bold without being overpowering, allowing for the natural oils of the ingredients to shine through. Hwyl’s main components are frankincense and vetiver, meaning it’s going to be a warmer scent that will fade into a pleasant background fragrance throughout the day.
One of the first “grown up” colognes I ever bought, YSL’s L’Homme is a cleaner, more vibrant upgrade to other department store offerings, like Calvin Klein’s CK One, for example. It’s bright, fruity, and has a slightly herbal finish to it, making it perfect for all year wear.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous cologne on the list, it’s popularity is warranted. Dior has made, without a doubt, one of the best smelling fragrances on the market. The use of both vanilla and bergamot means you’re getting a crisp, light fragrance up front that mellows into a warmer tone throughout the day. It’s this ability to balance the contrasting scents that’s both appealing for a wide audience, and complementary for many wearers’ natural scents.