I have always been amazed by the divide between what guys perceive as fashionable versus what is seen as appropriate for a gentleman. Fragrance is the most obvious example. It is still somehow seen as a little bit flashy or less than masculine for a guy to smell good.
For our grandfathers, it was normal to have manicured nails and a trimmed beard and to smell of fresh cologne. Somewhere in the past 50 years, all this changed and the care of one’s appearance became a sign of being “unmanly” or, worse, “metrosexual.” Happily, I feel that the tide is turning, but it’s a slow process.
Men’s fragrances are so much more important elsewhere in the world. In France, it’s as normal for a young man to be wearing a fragrance at 16 as it is for him to be gaining a knowledge of red wine.
For West Africans, fragrance is almost a religion. Every time I meet a West African, he asks me about my fragrance. These gentlemen can even identify different types of scents: “Is it a vetiver [grassy notes]?” they might inquire. For Middle Eastern guys, oud (sweet and intense) perfume rules their world. They take perfume as seriously as we Americans take football. And, sure, football is cool, but scent is the most important thing I put on in the morning.
Women always ask: “What are you wearing? You smell so good.” Lately, it’s my own scent, literally. With the help of one of the most talented “noses” in the business, I’ve created my own fragrance. Apologies that I cannot name him, by the way; these guys are anonymous. They work magic behind the scenes of the world’s great fragrance houses, and secrecy is their thing. My fragrance is a vetiver and getting it made was amazing. This guy interpreted my thoughts into perfume language. Doing my own fragrance came out of the realization that it’s intimidating for men to buy scents. My shop makes it easy to take fashion risks, and that now includes fragrances.
My friends tend to wear fragrances chosen by their wives, or if they smell one on a buddy, they ask him what he’s wearing. I also notice that most men don’t change their scents; they find one they like and stick to it. I am the opposite; I will mix it up and choose heavier, sandalwood notes in the winter and citrus-inspired scents for summer. Black tie needs something strong and heavy to compliment the formal tone; for a white linen shirt with linen pants in St. Barths, a citrus is fresh and right. For hanging in a nightclub, maybe something musky or incense-based is best.
Though fragrance is an ancient pursuit for men, it’s still not easy to know what you are doing or where to buy. Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys have enormous ranges but they are difficult to navigate. A guy walks in, and before he has had time to contemplate the offerings, a representative from one brand has nabbed him, killing free thought and hogging his consciousness, so that by the time he actually inhales a fragrance, he’s feeling so nauseated he needs to get outside for air.
For the ultimate in service and in what you should be wearing, a trip to the Village to visit Aedes de Venustas is mandatory. The staff there can help you communicate through fragrance, by helping you find something so perfect for your personality you will never need to verbally introduce yourself again.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Robert, one of the owners, and he answered some important questions. It is, he told me, harder to buy for yourself than for someone else. He also added, “The shop perceives no difference between fragrances for men, women, day or night, summer or winter; it’s all about the customer’s taste, style and body chemistry.”
Everyone’s skin oils react differently to fragrance. Although there will be strong notes overall, no fragrance will ever smell exactly the same on two people. I always suggest trying a scent on your skin for a few hours before purchasing. The most important tip for buying a fragrance is to try and narrow down the categories you like (citrus, spicy, floral), then go to a store and ask for fragrances within that spectrum. Or you can name a well-known fragrance you like and ask what they have that might be similar.
Do not buy on the spot; you’ve got to wear a fragrance on your skin for at least an hour, or better still, a day, before your chemistry mingles with the fragrance. Even better, test it out for a day. Then it should come to you.
Whatever you decide, try different things, see what your partner or friends think if it’s important to you, and remember this tip: Coco Chanel, when asked where a woman should wear perfume, said that she should wear it where she likes to be kissed. For men, I strongly advise against this—it could sting horribly.
Jay Kos owns an eponymous men’s store in Nolita.