James Owens, 33, broke up with his girlfriend, Emily, 27, after dating for a little under a year. The IT guy from Kent met Emily on Bumble, where they bonded over a love of mid-2000s indie music like Arctic Monkeys, Yorkshire Terriers and a desire to travel to China on the Trans-Siberian Railway. By all objective measures, their relationship was normal. “It started to fall apart when she moved into my flat,” James says. “We started arguing more — normal things about who was doing the cooking that night, or the cleaning, arguments that I wasn’t spending enough time with her in the [apartment].”
But their relationship ended in a strange way, one James still hasn’t forgotten. “Emily was shouting at me because I hadn’t cleaned some dishes I’d left in the sink, and somehow it just grew. She was saying how I still live like a teenager, how I’m not actually a man. When I tried to defend myself, she went to my room and picked up a can of deodorant, and just said, ‘Do you think men wear this when they go out?’”
He was speechless — perhaps because her complaint was so specific, but also because he couldn’t really refute her claim. After all, it wasn’t any kind of deodorant she was holding, it was Lynx Africa — a popular brand of Lynx body spray, essentially the British version of Axe.
To understand how a can of deodorant can end a relationship, you have to understand where Lynx Africa fits into the cultural fabric of the U.K. Type “Lynx Africa” into Twitter, and you’ll be met with tweets about it being a scent for teenagers, fuckbois, men who put on way too much deodorant and/or cheapskates who don’t want to pay for something better. On Mumsnet, a British message board for mothers, threads like “Am I Mad to Think That 40-Year-Old Men Should Not Buy Lynx?” inspire considerable conversation. In fact, every Christmas, one of the most popular memes on U.K. Twitter is watching guys in their 20s and 30s receive Lynx Africa gift boxes from their distant relatives, who they see once a year and whose names they can’t remember.
But what makes this seemingly innocuous, blandly branded and, for the most part, fairly mundane smell such a cultural landmark in Britain? And why is it met with such vitriol?
“It’s the smell you get from guys who are basic,” says Katie Hatton, 24, a publicist in London. “I don’t want to stereotype too much here, but I’ve noticed that there’s a standard kind of guy who wears it. They all tend to be guys who call themselves ‘lads,’ they all use way too much hair gel, they all get really loud and drunk and all they talk about is football.” Hatton and her friends refer to these men, of course, as “Lynx Africa Guys,” even if they don’t wear the scent. “These are men who don’t understand subtlety, and they’re usually pretty crap boyfriends. Like, the ones who snap easily, or who will say things that are inappropriate in public without realizing it. So it makes sense that they don’t understand when they’ve used too much product.”
Other women feel that Lynx Africa is indicative of a brand of lazy guy. As Aaliah Wilson, 30, a university teaching assistant in Manchester, explains, “I always associate Lynx Africa with the kind of guy who thinks he can use Lynx Africa for everything. Like guys who think that spraying some on is enough for the day, and that they don’t need to use aftershave, roll-on or powder. Nope, they spray on a bit of Lynx and call it a day!” Milana White, a postgraduate student in London, adds, “I was dating a guy a couple of years ago who used Lynx for everything. He had Lynx Africa shower gel and Lynx Africa body spray — there was nothing else. It wasn’t the deal-breaker in our relationship, but I did get angry when he’d complain that I spent too long getting ready to go out, or when I was taking off my makeup, or when he asked why I had so many skin-care products.”
She continues, “It was infuriating, because it was clear how much effort I was putting into looking good — for society, but also, for his benefit! And all he did was put on some cheap body spray that he got from a gift box, and he didn’t see anything wrong with that. I remember one time I brought it up, and he said that I was lucky because some of his friends didn’t even bother putting anything on. He was in his late 20s and didn’t think any of it was a problem!”
Despite its reputation, however, Lynx Africa is still one of the brand’s best-selling products in the U.K. While there are no exact figures on the amount sold annually, around 10 million Lynx gift sets were purchased in December 2016. Along those lines, according to The Guardian, more than 8 million British men use Lynx daily (national population: 64 million), something that they speculate might be the result of years of branding to a very specific male audience:
“Lynx sells itself on the dubious idea that it makes its wearer immediately irresistible to women and every marketing campaign for as long as I can remember has used pretty girls falling helplessly at the feet of a slightly skinny, geeky young man. They call it the Lynx Effect, we might call it a bit sad, but something must have struck a chord with a rather startling amount of British men.”
But when I talk to guys who still use Lynx Africa (of which I am one), their reasons for not letting go of the scent had more to do with inertia and familiarity (not to mention, a low price point) than sex appeal. Or as one guy I DM’d with on Twitter writes, “You know what you’re getting. You don’t need to spray them to smell, or to think about whether you like the new scent. You just pick it up, and you’re off.”
Adds Carl Anka, a 27-year-old freelance journalist in London for whom Lynx Africa is a gym-bag staple, “I don’t like to use the fancy stuff when I’m at the gym as I’m still a mess and will probably sweat it out in a few hours. Lynx is a good sticking plaster, at least until I get into work/home and get into my good toiletries.”
Michael Rosa, 24, tells me that for him Lynx Africa provides the perfect “foundation,” something he believes a lot of men neglect. “I’ll use Lynx in the morning, sure,” he explains. “But then I also use a decent roll-on for my armpits. I’ll make sure to use a good cologne, something from Ralph Lauren or Paco Rabanne. So I don’t go out of the house or on a date smelling of Lynx.”
Not that it would necessarily bother him: “There’s nothing that bad about Lynx Africa,” he continues. “If you wear it, for the most part, people won’t notice anyway. So when they talk shit about it, what they mean is they have the image of a kind of guy who wears it — the kind of guy who still has football stickers on his bedroom walls and doesn’t know how to cook anything except for toast.” If Rosa fits any of the Lynx stereotypes then, it’s that he appreciates a good deal. “I can buy a can for less than $2. Compare that to higher-end deodorants that don’t have a remarkably different scent, which cost $5 or more, I just don’t think it’s worth the money. For me, Lynx is something that I can afford, that I’m familiar with and something that smells decent.”
When James and I speak again, he’s preparing to go on a date with a woman he met on Tinder. They were planning to go to a restaurant in London’s West End and maybe a fancy bar for drinks. “I’d like to think I’ve matured since last year,” he laughs, informing me that he’s regularly cleaned his apartment since the break-up with Emily. He even bought some new clothes for the date, as well as got a haircut and had his beard trimmed. “I sprayed on a bit of a Lynx, too,” he says. “I just make sure to keep it under my bed now. That way, no one sees it.”