How to choose the right fragrance for Father's Day
WHAT should a man smell like? That might seem an odd question, but it's quite pertinent if you're planning on buying your dad or the baby daddy of your children a gift of scent to commemorate Sunday's celebration of Father's Day.
Men have worn scent since time began. Ancient Greeks revered lilies and roses, so loved anything that evoked their odours. It's said that Nero also adored roses, and that King David scented his regal robes with ale and cassia, which is a variety of cinnamon. Louis XIV allegedly ordered his courtiers to use a different cologne each day, but it wasn't really until the latter half of the 20th century that men's fragrance became big business.
In 1950s America, Old Spice hit the marketplace, becoming an instant success. That same decade, fashion house Dior introduced Eau Sauvage, created by Edmond Roudnitska, which is still going strong today.
The 1970s saw the arrival of Paco Rabanne pour Homme (around 27 for 50ml), reckoned to be one of the all-time iconic aromatic fougeres (fougere means fern). It's a lovely, old-fashioned scent – and as it happens, I'm wearing it as I write this, to put me in the mood. (Yes, I know, but I don't hold that there are male- and female-only scents.) To my nose, the top note is a blast of refreshing soap – like sticking your head in a box of laundry detergent. It's followed by a woody dry down, with notes of honey. It leaves a lingering sensation of freshly powdered skin.
Other critics have commented that it's a deliberately unobtrusive scent, distinctive without being showy. Apparently it's composed of resinous and piney notes, plus a host of other things normally associated with your kitchen spice rack (tarragon, rosemary, clove, lavender), but my nose isn't sophisticated enough yet to isolate and identify them individually.
Getting back to my original question… Some people like their men to smell a bit ripe. Others get misty about exotic combinations of woods, spices, musk, or a splash of floral fantasy. Whatever your olfactory pleasure – and his – it's a safe bet there's a perfume or cologne out there that'll tick all the right boxes for the important man in your life. But how to choose? And what on Earth do some of these classifications mean? What, for instance, is the difference between a "sport" and an ordinary version of a scent? Or an "ice" version?
Scent guru Luca Turin has nothing nice to say about sports fragrances in Perfumes: The Guide. He calls them "bloodless", and dismisses the genre as "dismal… for men and women who do not like fragrance and suspect that none of their friends do either."
Writing on fragrance website www.osMoz.com, Renaud Legrand defined the genre by saying: "Sports means heat, therefore a need to cool off. To reward athletes, perfumers chose sparkling and cheerful citrus notes (lime, citron, bergamot and oranges), green and rustic notes (herbs, mint), as well as ferny tones (lavender, bergamot, oak moss and wood).
"When you've worked up a sweat, it's not a good idea to try to mask body odour with strong, heady fragrances. It's better to use a light and acidic note, imbued with sunshine, rather than the sensual shadows of an oriental fragrance." Thus a sports fragrance is more likely to avoid anything heavy or clammy.
I had a sniff of Burberry Sport for Men (27 for 30ml), about which the company's chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, has said: "I wanted it to feel like there was movement in the scent. I kept saying I wanted it zingy; I wanted to feel alive; I wanted to feel like it's jumping."
His team returned a mixture of "frosted ginger, grapefruit, wheat grass, marine notes, juniper berry, red ginger, white musks, cedar, woods and dry amber". It comes out super-citrusy, which I happen to like, and retains that zippy freshness for a long time. Amusingly, further research shows that gin and tonic is meant to be one of its heart notes. Nevertheless, it didn't intoxicate me.
"Ice" is more problematic. I've hunted online, but I cannot find a reasonable explanation for the premise of an "ice" scent formulation, though there are plenty for sale out there. I was sent both Carolina Herrera's 212 for men (16.50 for 100 ml), and the limited edition Men Ice version (34 for 100 ml). Both are triumphs of the packager's, if not the perfumer's arts. The former is a tube that releases two wee balls, each one a spritzer of scent; the latter is a generic black tube encased in a clunky clear plastic package that's obviously meant to be an ice cube. The manufacturer says 212 Men Ice contains "spicy top notes of black pepper and liquorice, flower middle notes of violet and wood, with seductive notes of sandalwood, liquorice and noble wood as the base". Sad to say my reaction to 212 was "Ick!". The Ice version was worse still, smelling of fish, leather and fruit – all at once. When I picked up the test strip the next day it smelled like stale tea. So neither of these works for me.
Presuming that ice implies a certain lightness of touch, what's the opposite? Enter that old favourite, Aramis (31 for 50ml). This leather chypre-family scent has been kicking about since the mid 1960s. Turin gives the classic blend of citrus and bergamot, sage, cardamom, clove, sandalwood and oak moss four stars, but I find it unbearable. Then again, I'm finding that most leathers are not for me, so know that when gauging the weight of my opinion. They're just too rank, too animalistic and earthy – too like an armpit – for me.
Another strong scent, but of an entirely different stripe, is Czech & Speake's 88 (65 for 100ml), which the sales team tells me goes like hot cakes at Edinburgh's Harvey Nichols store. Claiming it's derived from an Elizabethan recipe, the company goes on to say it consists of "a fresh, woody top note of reviving and uplifting bergamot, the richness and warmth of geranium, rose otto, cassie and exotic frangipani. Combined with dry base notes of vetiver and sandalwood, this modern classic has a full-bodied, sophisticated sensuality." I say it's lovely and grown up, in that it's elegant. I'd been standing around snorting a lot of boring nonsense with pretentious descriptions, but when this shot up my nostrils, it made me smile and inhale deeply.
Another Harvey Nichols best-seller is Feragamo Black (35 for 50ml), which "flies off the shelves". They were down to their last bottle when I turned up, though I'm not sure why, as it seemed merely so-so to my nose. The company says it's: "a woody amber fragrance featuring notes of lavender, black pepper, coriander, labdanum and tonka bean."
The tonka bean, I've discovered, has a scent reminiscent of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves, and is often used by fragrance manufacturers as a vanilla substitute.
Finally, I also had a sniff of Prada's new Infusion de Vetiver. They say: "It is full of unexpected combinations: the tender touch of vetiver is brought alive with notes of tarragon, Madagascan pepper and purple ginger." I found the description much more memorable than the scent, and shall be pestering my green grocer for some purple ginger, which should look glorious in my next stir fry!
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