Scent of a man
As Tom Ford launches his new Dubai Mall boutique with a new blend of Arabian Wood, a limited-edition Private Blend men's scent designed especially for the store, the fragrance market consolidates its grip on the hearts and noses of men. It's taken a while, though. It may seem like a long time since your dad used to slap on a stinging dose of Paco Rabanne aftershave before an evening out or teenage boys tried to recreate the "Lynx Effect" with ample and pungent unguents, leaving a trail of passed-out passersby behind them. But it is only in the last few years that any big changes have been made, and those have been baby steps. Old Spice is still going strong with its new, retro marketing: "Old Spice brings out your hotness in a cool way without making you lose your mansmell," it claims. And male scents are still treated with suspicion by proper blokes, for whom shower gel and deodorant is sufficient.
While sophisticated types have been wafting around wearing gentlemanly scents for some time, there was only one man who could persuade the masses to compromise their masculinity in this way, and that's the same man who made sarongs and Speedos acceptable attire for his fellow Brits: David Beckham. His first scent, Instinct, which was released in 2005 before Intimately Beckham, his joint release with Victoria, was a huge success with his football-fan crowd, and his new scent, Pure Instinct, looks set to make similar waves.
It may not be upmarket, but if Thierry Wasser, the in-house perfumer at Guerlain and the nose behind last year's release Guerlain Homme, is to be believed, all the young dudes are flocking to Sephora for a quick spritz of fragrance. "Now, men are much more curious about scents than they were 10 years ago," he says. "I guess before, they were wearing aftershave or cologne, but nothing more. Now younger guys, if you go in Sephora in Paris, they're nuts - they're coming from the suburbs, a little group, like four or five, and they have a conversation around fragrances. It's unbelievable to even imagine that 10 or 15 years ago."
It's still not exactly a common sight beyond the light-years-ahead Paris, but certainly there is an almost constant stream of men's scents being released in the market. What's more, the tone of these scents seems less, well, masculine than in previous years. Vetiver, bergamot, woody and leathery notes are still as popular as ever - Ford's Arabian wood, for example, is a chypre inspired by aromatic Arabian oils - but that peculiarly acrid smell that has passed for macho for so long - think Old Spice - may finally be on its way out.
"If you look at bergamot, it has no gender," argues Wasser. "Smell has no gender, so it could be men's or women's. For example, bergamot is the top note of both Shalimar and Guerlain Homme, because citrus is used to make nice, fresh top notes. Working with different raw materials doesn't mean that it is masculine or feminine. If you put bergamot with dry notes and aromatic woods, but if you mix it with rose oil and vanilla, well people would tend to say it is feminine, but that's very conventional, and why wouldn't a man wear a sweet rose? It has nothing to do with his ability to wear a moustache."
Of course, one of the markets for men's fragrances is, in fact, women, many of whom prefer those deeper, richer scents to the more fragile notes of women's perfumes. And fragrances such as Creed's best-selling Green Irish Tween - floral, woody and green - and Guerlain's old classic Vetiver are popular with both men and women. Still, however right-on and metrosexual you consider yourself, you probably don't really want to go around smelling like a girl, do you? Even with new scents coming on the market all the time, there's a good reason that certain ones endure. Ralph Lauren's Polo Blue - advertised by the alpha-male polo player Ignacio "Nacho" Figueras - remains a timeless and alluring option. Terre d'Hermès is a fresh, citrus option with simple, clean notes. And Tom Ford for Men epitomises that sharp, cool, Bond-like guy you'd all like to be. Which is all you could really ask, isn't it?
Updated: June 30, 2009 04:00 AM