“Fragrance is like buying a great shirt, a great pair of sneakers or having your first custom suit or coat. Why wear a watch? Why spend the money? Fragrance is part of the good life. For me, it’s part of what makes life worth living,” explains Michael Edwards, the perfume expert’s expert, who last year reviewed 2,700 different fragrances. (He’s also the man behind the annually-updated industry-standard guide book to fragrances of the world.)
“Deep down, men continue to believe that a great fragrance can improve… I’m not gonna say their chances, but improve communication with women. The fact is women like a good fragrance on a man,” Edwards continues. “It will certainly make women feel good about them. Problem is: Men always overdose. We can’t smell our own fragrance, and thus, we always underestimate the impact of fragrance. Three words: Less is more.”
Edwards talks about fragrances the way all connoisseurs talk about what they love — with intoxicating relish. It invites you to appreciate the complexity he finds in something as delicate as a fragrance, as well as all the implied romance. “It’s a lot easier to select a fragrance for a guy. Girls tend to have very definite tastes. But guys are flexible. It’s an ultimate compliment when a girl says, ‘This, for me, is the smell of you.’”
So, what about a classic scent that’s a certifiable dad fragrance, like say, Old Spice? “I often wish that Tom Ford would reinterpret Old Spice. I mean it’s waiting for him to do it. Because Tom Ford is exploring fragrances that seem familiar, in many ways he’s reinterpreting the fragrances of the 1960s and 1970s,” Edwards explains. “I love [Old Spice]. I love it. I’m writing about it right now for my next book.” There’s a gleeful tone in his voice. “It’s a strange coincidence: Did you know Old Spice was originally a women’s fragrance?”
Nope. It seems too, um, zesty. Which, apparently, isn’t far from the truth. “It came out in 1933, or I think, 1934 as Early American Spice,” Edwards recalls, “In 1936, they took the original women’s version, added a few more citrus notes and changed some of the rose spice accord. But Old Spice, with its spicy mixture, is marvelously attuned. It’s got a touch of vanilla in it. You’re gonna say I’m bloody stupid for this, but when you look at the construction of Old Spice, it’s a fragrant Coca-Cola. Smell the two together,” he says, with a knowing laugh. “Pour some Coke, let it go flat. Put it in a spray bottle, spray it in the air, and then spray Old Spice, and just see the similarity.”
Since the perfume expert’s expert surprisingly loves Old Spice, what does Edwards think about the rise of body sprays like Axe? Does he respect what they bring to the game? “Do you know the woman behind them?” he asks, in response. “It’s Anne Gottlieb. She consults for Unilever. Anne is one of the great noses in modern perfumery. She, for example, first came in to Calvin Klein to finish Obsession. She’s the woman who directed the creation of Escape and Eternity. She’s not a perfumer. She’s an evaluator with an incredible nose. Eternity is her fragrance. CK One, she directed that. She has directed more successful fragrances, modern fragrances, than any other person. And she’s the woman who directed the creation of Axe body spray. I have a high respect for her and for her work. It’s a great fragrance.” [Full disclosure: Unilever is the parent company of MEL.]
You heard it hear first, guys. Feel free to hit that Axe body spray. Just remember, like all fragrances: Less. Is. More. “Today, people are very aware of their own space and don’t want to intrude on other people’s space,” Edwards elaborates. “I watch how young people, in America, react to fragrances in stores. I’m talking about women, men, 20 to 25, around that age. I see them throw away fragrances with a very strong smell. I see them keep fragrances that have got a light smell. They want fragrances that are light.”
When women apply perfume, they dab it on their pulse points — areas like the inside of their wrists, the nape of their neck. The heat from their blood coursing past helps lift and radiate the fragrance. But men aren’t instructed to apply cologne in those same places. “I recommend the T-zone. You spray it from shoulder to shoulder, above your pecs. One quick spray, there. And then one down to your navel. That’s the T-zone. And not on your face. Alcohol isn’t good for your face,” Edwards cautions.
In more practical terms, should a guy wear a fragrance every day or only on special occasions, like dates and social events? “I don’t think you’d eat the same thing each day, and I don’t think that you’d wear the same suit each day. So, to me, it doesn’t make sense to wear the same fragrance each day. Likewise, with the sense of occasion. For instance, on the weekend — would the fragrance you wear to a barbecue be the same kind of fragrance you wear at the office?”
Okay then, how often should a guy apply cologne? Is twice a day overkill?
“A fragrance will have a life of maybe six to eight hours,” Edwards says. “Some people say they don’t want to wear any fragrance at work. I disagree. Wearing a light fragrance, the right fragrance, makes one feel fresh, makes one feel alive. and gives one a lift. The key is to make sure it’s light, and that it doesn’t intrude on other people. No heavy fragrances. And when you go out in the evening, or on the weekend, it should be a different fragrance.”
“When you’re talking about scents, I’d recommend that a man needs to look at, maybe, a wardrobe of three scents,” Edwards continues. He stops and thinks for a moment, before adding, “The most important one, would be a fragrance that’s compatible with weekends, with fun, with, maybe, a night out. And if he’s looking for something to make a statement for a night out, that would be a second one. Then you need that fragrance to make you feel fresh and alive all day. You don’t want anything that’s too much of a signature. I’d wear a citrus eau de cologne, for example. Perhaps, a unisex fragrance, like a CK One, or Creed Aventus. A few sprays. The key thing is light, light, light.”
In terms of price, Edwards’ advice is economical, practical. “I always recommend that, no matter how much they like a fragrance, they buy the smallest bottle available. That way it’ll be used up, it’ll stay fresh. And if they wanna change it, it’s no big shake. Whereas, if you buy a big bottle, maybe you get tired of it. Also, ask for samples to start with to make sure that you really do love that one.”
One last concern: your natural musk. How do you select a scent that works with your earthy essence? The science isn’t settled, but humans seem to detect pheromones. We can’t prove it. Technically, we lack the necessary organ in our nose to sense them. Yet, the effect seems to be there. Does Edwards subscribe to the idea that pheromones are a real evocative sense, and if so, how do we pick a fragrance that works well with our personal scent?
“I love that question,” Edwards says, his voice rising. “Deep down, when you probe men, what they believe is that when you find that killer cologne, and you put it on, the girls will follow. The problem is, we aren’t animals. We aren’t pigs. Yet, pheromones rule our lives. We can’t measure them. We don’t understand their impact. But there’s no doubt they influence the way we feel. How often have you met somebody and you felt drawn to them? You’ve never met them. You don’t know anything about them. And yet, there’s something. How? Have you ever come across somebody who you met and instinctively you just didn’t like. That’s pheromones, too.”
How can a guy pick cologne that enhances this effect, or at least doesn’t screw it up? To ask that is to focus on the wrong effect of the fragrance. Ultimately, a scent is all about you.
To make this point, Edwards recalls a marketing tagline for the first international sensation, a cologne synonymous with the Mad Men cool of the 1960s. It was James Bond’s cologne. “The name was a stroke of genius: Brut. It was macho, and yet, it had an association with champagne. The bottle is probably one of the greatest fragrance bottles ever created,” Edwards says. “The success of Brut owed itself to an anonymous copywriter, and I’ve never found out who he was. He came up with a line that transformed everything. The line was very simple: ‘If you have any doubts about yourself, wear something else.’ Essentially, it made fragrance a statement of confidence.”
A man’s cologne may be intended to attract partners, but more important is how it makes him feel. “Coming back to pheromones, there’s no doubt about it –– a fragrance can be part of your pheromone appeal. And there’s no doubt fragrance can make us feel better, more confident, which is attractive. It affects your well-being, it’s an internal thing. Does that make sense?”