Like your clothes, your favourite tipple or your most played on Spotify, your choice of fragrance says a lot about the type of man you are. “Because the sense of smell leads us straight to that part of the brain that deals with our emotions, completely bypassing rationale, you might say our choice of fragrance leaves us stripped emotionally naked,” says James Craven, Fragrance Archivist at Les Senteurs, London’s oldest independent perfumery.
It’s because of this link that it’s almost impossible to pick a fragrance without bringing a lifetime of baggage to the table. “A man will wear a fragrance that’s comfortable for him and that choice is often a reflection of his experience as well as his personality,” says Sarah McCartney, perfumer and founder of 4160 Tuesdays – a brand whose evocative and quirky fragrances are all about tapping into memories. “It’s rare that a guy chooses a marine scent if he doesn’t enjoy swimming in the sea, for example, because we’re drawn to scents that we recognise and to things that feel familiar.”
This is why perfumers often keep in mind a profile of the type of man they’re mixing for and why Dior chose Johnny Depp as the face of its Sauvage campaign: the mission is to match the fragrance notes to the man, so as to perfectly reflect his personality and spirit.
But as well as reflecting personality, Craven reckons a lot of men use fragrance to project a personality they may not actually have. “I suspect that men often choose a scent to compensate for some perceived deficiency in their character: like picking a brutishly virile scent if they doubt their masculinity,” he says. “Others are shy of revealing their real selves by choosing something outré and so hide behind an ‘approved’, mainstream fragrance which doesn’t reveal too many secrets.”
But, even by doing this you’re still revealing something about your character, because when it comes to fragrance, you really are what you wear. “In a nutshell, just like a handshake, or a signature, scent is an extension of a man’s ‘soul’,” says acclaimed British perfumer Roja Dove.
So could the fact that you prefer Dior’s Eau Sauvage to Tom Ford’s Oud Wood really be more revealing about your personality than a Rorschach Test? Here are our notes on notes:
Citrus-based fragrances like Clinique Happy For Men, Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino, Atelier Cologne’s Bergamote Soleil and Dior’s iconic Eau Sauvage are mainstays of many men’s fragrance rotations, in part because they evoke clean, sharp, energetic freshness. “In my experience it’s the sporty ones who pick citrus fragrances,” says McCartney. “They’re the competitors – runners, squash players, cyclists, men who aren’t afraid of fluorescent trainers and a bit of body-sculpting Lycra!” (The latter for sporting pursuits only, of course.)
You may also be subconsciously drawn to them for their therapeutic benefits. “Citrus notes really do wake you up, but they also give a good balance between refreshment and calm,” she says – an observation backed up by a study by Northumbria University, which found that the smell of lemon balm can improve both mood and cognitive performance.
A mainstay of Middle Eastern perfumery, rich, warm and smoky oud (or agarwood as it’s also known), is at the core of fragrances like Tom Ford’s Oud Wood, Boss Bottled Oud and Roja Parfum’s particularly extravagant Musk Aoud.
“Real oud is one of perfumery’s most expensive ingredients, so the kind of man who wears it is very self-assured,” says Dove. “They don’t need to shout and they have nothing to prove. Oud delivers a promise of success and inner strength.”
Specially created ‘sport’ fragrances like Paul Smith’s Extreme Sport are a fixture of the men’s fragrance market now while others, like Paco Rabanne’s Invictus are sport fragrances in all but name. Spicy and uplifting, they’re designed to be an adrenaline rush, bottled.
“By opting for a sport fragrance, a man might be saying he embodies the associated lifestyle: active, aspiring and hard-working,” says founder of fragrance magazine ODOU Liam Moore. “Though not a hard and fast rule, these qualities are at least suggested in the notes of a sports fragrance, which tend to stick to a rough formula of citrus/gingery notes at the top, something woody or herbal in the middle and a musk or amber base.”
According to Moore, both Dior Homme Sport and L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme Sport are decent fragrances – proving that sport fragrances can be sophisticated and considered – but you’re probably going to need to look like an athlete rather than just smell the part if you want to impress. “Don’t be fooled by the marketing,” says Moore. “Women won’t fall at your feet like they do with Nick Youngquest in the Invictus advert.”
Fragrances that take their cue from food and feature notes like chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon and coffee have become increasingly popular in recent years. And if you like the ‘edible’ quality of scents like Thierry Mugler’s heady A*Men, Gaultier’s Le Male, Tom Ford For Men Extreme or Parfumerie Generale’s caramel- and hazelnut-laced Aomassai, chances are you’re an unashamed sensualist. “Men who go for gourmand fragrances tend to be sensual, hedonistic, sexually adventurous types with enquiring minds,” says Craven.
Particularly popular are fragrances featuring vanilla. “Andy Tauer’s new Vanilla Flash by Tauerville is going down a storm with blokes right now,” he says. Vanilla, of course, has long been thought of as a psychogenic aphrodisiac so if you’re a fan, chances are, you spray to play, you dirty devil you.
There’s a reason woody fragrances like Gucci Pour Homme, Terre d’Hermès and Davidoff’s latest fragrance, Horizon, are so popular with men: they’re seen as representing a solid, reliable and easy-going kind of masculinity. “Woody scents are often asked for by married men accompanied by their wives,” says Craven. They’re also favoured by ‘men’s men’ partly because they’re so popular with other men, re-enforcing their general acceptability.
But when you choose a woody fragrance over all others, there could be something else – something a little more ancient – at work too: “Woody scents like Lorenzo Villoresi’s dense, opulent Sandalo take us right back to the way our forefathers perfumed themselves at the altars of the old gods,” says Craven. “There’s something of the Green Man and The Sacred Grove about them.”
Like clean, fresh aquatic or ‘marine’ fragrances that have a faint whiff of the ocean and salt spray about them? Then you might be a minimalist at heart, someone who appreciates simplicity and design that’s both elegant and uncomplicated.
“Modern-day aquatic fragrances were born out of the likes of L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme, Kenzo Pour Homme and CK One,” says Moore. “These were the minimal, bracing and fresh fragrances of the 1990s. They’re still as popular as ever today and suggest a minimalist attitude and an aspiration of purity.”
What message do ‘oriental’ fragrances like Opium Pour Homme, Gucci Envy For Men, YSL’s M7 and Dolce & Gabbana’s The One Gentleman – which are full of exotic spices, resins and sweet vanilla – put across? In a word: hedonist.
“The man who wears this kind of fragrance stays right until the end of the party, and never leaves the table without eating dessert,” says McCartney.
“Orientals seem to attract ‘Yeah, bring it on!’ types.” This may be partly because so many of them feature sensual vanilla notes, exotic, daring spicy ones, smoky ones and boozy ones, too. “We’re basically talking lickable, smokeable, drinkable,” she says.
It takes a certain type of man to carry off floral fragrances like Byredo’s Rose of No Man’s Land, Dior Homme and Papillon’s Tobacco Rose: one who’s bold, self-confident and at home in his own skin and with his sexuality.
“Men who love florals are – like gourmand-lovers – adventurous and uninhibited, aesthetes and sophisticates, eager lovers of unusual sensations,” says Craven.
Of all the floral notes, rose is the one men go for most. “The scent was always popular with men in ancient civilizations and with modern Arab cultures and is becoming increasingly popular with Western males especially when blended with leather, woody or tobacco notes,” he says. “Men are still not keen on powdery, petally or jammy rose on the whole – they prefer the dark, woody, earthy roses: and those notes reflect drama and strength.”
The kind of guy who likes to wear a boutique fragrance like Shay & Blue’s Blood Oranges, 4160 Tuesdays’ Invisible Ben or Roja Parfums’ Enigma Pour Homme is no different from the one who gets a kick out of drinking boutique ales: he appreciates originality, quirkiness and a high level of craftsmanship.
“Many perfumes smell the same and lack authenticity or integrity because they’re anonymous products churned out in factories in their millions,” says Dominic De Vetta, founder of London-based fragrance house Shay & Blue.
“A boutique point of view means personal passion. It means a concern for detail and craftsmanship and the man who buys one knows what makes it good and wears it with the same kind of pride with which he wears a Savile Row tailored shirt.” In a nutshell, wear one and you let others know you’re more connoisseur than mainstream consumer.
Not only does what you wear speak volumes about who you are, but according to McCartney how much you wear says a lot too. “Overconfident men will wear a bucket load of fragrance, whereas the quietly confident ones opt for just enough so that you need to get close to appreciate it – a good move in my book,” she says. As always, less is more.
She also believes in being true to yourself when picking a fragrance. “Quentin Crisp used to say ‘One should never wear a hat with more personality than oneself’ and I think the same applies to fragrance,” she says. “Your personality should never lag behind your perfume.”