For many shoppers, the very idea of hitting the fragrance floor in a department store can fill you with horror. Mostly because of the sheer dazzling variety to be examined if you really want to find something that suits your style or personality but mainly as a result of the phalanx of aggressively smiling sales assistants just waiting to spritz you with their latest offering.
For this shopper, however, the perfume profferers carry with them a tingle of excitement. I look forward to interacting them with a level of enthusiasm that may well border on the unnatural. As a GQ Grooming Editor, I get sent more moisturisers, serums and scrubs than a man with just one face could possibly use. But what really floats my sensual boat is scent.
It fascinates me endlessly, that primal part of the brain which through just a single whiff can transport you back in time to your nanna’s flat or your first lover’s bed. If they’re one and the same, that’s just plain weird and helping you is beyond the scope of this article.
It all began for me as a kid. Like many men, it was my Dad that introduced me to scent. He was one of that old-school brigade that shaved every day - even on weekends - and his daily splash was the iconic Aramis, a conservative yet elegant blend of gardenia and patchouli.
On special occasions, however, he’d bust out the Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, a racy citrus-laced number that spoke of passionate Parisian nights and an undeniable je ne sais quoi. Although his collection numbered just two aftershaves, it was my first exposure to the concept of a scent wardrobe.
In my teens, I then read two novels centred around the olfactory and my love affair with fragrance went from infatuation to a life-long devotion. The first was Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins and the second was Perfume by Patrick Suskind. If the concept of fragrance is even of the slightest interest, stop reading this article immediately and hasten to your nearest bookshop/library/e-biblio outlet. They will change your outlook on this most neglected sense.
Fast forward several decades and my collection currently stands at about 30 bottles. That’s just the permanent stash. There are usually upwards of half a dozen being trialled and reviewed.
It all started with concept of seasonality. As with a wardrobe, I was drawn to scents that worked best in summer and spring (lighter and often with bergamot) or autumn and winter (spice-laden ouds and so on). But like a junkie chasing a hit, I wanted more. So much more.
The collection became increasingly fragmented to the point where it was not only the time of year that was taken into account, but weekday versus weekend options. Then day versus night.
I was and am hopelessly intoxicated by top notes, mids and bases to such a degree that I now amass their combinations to play certain scented roles. Some days, I’m a Southern Californian surf wear designer whose brand has just been bought out by a multinational and who’s dating an influencer, others I’m a Parisian attorney contemplating a weekend in Cannes, I’ve even been a Cold War spy.
If you reckon that’s a bit deranged, I’m embarrassed to confess my in-store behaviour. Although the scents I get to play with generally arrive at my desk, there’s no better insight into the consumers’ reaction than doing a bit of in-store skulking. Where things to get even more obsessive/uncomfortable.
I have approached unsuspecting and somewhat startled men and women to ask what they think of a fragrance they’ve just trialled. Similarly, it drives me bonkers when I see people putting bottle after bottle to their noses without taking a sniff of the coffee beans provided.
It's like filling your mouthing with lasagne, then cramming in some sushi afterwards and paying top dollar for both. You need to be approaching each fragrance fresh and the beans provide an important reset.
Another thing that shits me beyond comprehension is fragrance impulse buys. You know those bottles that sit on your shelf for years? You probably sprayed them on your skin, decided to hand over hundreds of dollars on the spot and fell out of love with them within weeks or days.
Wanna know why? Because you didn’t allow them to sit long enough to both interact with your unique body chemistry and allow the mid and base notes to come through. All you’re getting are the top notes. It’s like tasting the appetiser but then leaving the restaurant having also paid for your main and dessert without having tried either.
Finally, and here’s an instance in which my wife has literally had to hold me back at the airport duty free, when you try a new scent on your wrist, don’t smoosh it into the opposite wrist. You’re doing the scent and your wallet a serious disservice. This heresy literally crushes the delicate structure a perfumer has taken months or years to construct.
You might as well add lemonade to your cognac and pronounce it delicious. It’s not. You don’t start a car in fourth gear now do you? The molecules are forever messed up and don’t give you an accurate sense of the fragrance at all.
So if you see some hovering guy in the fragrance department who looks a bit like Jeff Goldblum and clearly doesn’t work at the store in question, hold off on calling security. Because I’m only trying to help.