The Good: Choosing a scent is as subjective as what hairstyle you prefer or the jeans that fit you best. It’s as personal a decision as they come. But, I test drove some scents for you and there were a few standouts.
Anything with vetiver in it was a strong contender (don’t ask what it is, I don’t know either), for instance Tom Ford Grey Vetiver and Issey Miyake’s Intense. The scents were clean but not overpowering, perfect for the ladies. Terre D’Hermes also stood out, since it was a little more hip but didn’t delve into really feminine notes like some of its peers. Taking a detour from the cologne aisle, The Art of Shaving’s sandalwood-scented aftershave balm is the kind of scent that makes us want to bury our faces into your neck and nuzzle your shirt. It’s just that good.
Prada Amber Pour Homme Intense was strong but pleasant, much better than it’s even-less-subtle brother scent, the classic Prada Amber. Then there are the old standby’s that have been male staples forever: Giorgio Armani’s Acqua Di Gio smells light and fresh, but it also shows no personality. As if you couldn’t be bothered to invest the time, so you just bought anything. Not bad, but you can do better.
Likewise anything in the Polo family has a been-there-done-that feel, even though Polo Black has some nice, spicy undertones. Men under 50 would do well to avoid the classic Polo scent (green bottle, gold pony logo), since it’s an older-feeling, geriatric scent. Or maybe that’s just because I equate it with my dad, who’s been wearing it since before Reagan was in office.
The Bad: These scents conjure images of it’s wearers being slick-haired, sports-coat-wearing smooth operators who pull up to velvet-roped nightclubs with tinted windows. Maybe I’m being unfair, but hey – it’s an honest assessment.
Paco Rabanne’s 1 Million, Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male and Armani Code all fit that bill. Yves Saint Laurent’s fragrance L’Homme took that even further and just smelled flat-out bridge and tunnel. That may be lost on those outside the tri-state area, but for the rest of us it’s specific enough.
Dior Fahrenheit smelled like new age patchouli, and Thierry Mugler smelled like you swiped your girlfriend’s perfume by accident. Yikes. Givenchy Play Intense, fronted by Justin Timberlake came off as sterile-smelling (Sorry, JT, cry me a river) and Marc Jacobs Men was, in the words of the lovely gay salesman helping me at Sephora, “way too gay, even for me.”
Lacoste’s scent is for the man who wishes he could just wear the logo-emblazoned bottle on his shirt, while Polo Blue seems to be the unofficial scent of frat boys everywhere. Ralph Lauren’s related scent collection, The Big Pony, smelled like the Axe Body Spray version of it’s older brother. It’s like a modern-day version of the mid-90s Drakkar Noir phase. Kindly avoid, please.
And, if nothing on this list suits your fancy, you can always opt for the DIY approach and create your own custom scent. I know, this is way too much effort, but it’s a fun, modern way to play Bill Nye The Science Guy if you’re so inclined. Places like Le Labo, which have boutiques in New York City, London, Los Angeles and Tokyo, shun the mass-produced trend by offering you the chance to cultivate your own cologne. All fragrances are formulated-to-order.
Whatever suits your olfactory style best, just remember to apply it sparingly. Smelling like you unscrewed the cap and shook the bottle all over you is unwise. Plus, she’ll have to get in close to get a whiff. And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?