Think about the last time you bought a man cologne. Was it Valentine's Day? Of course it was — that's practically the official holiday of the men's fragrance industry. And, since V-Day is just about here, there's no time like the present for another round of our Perfume Pop Quiz.
A little refresher for those of you who missed out on the festivities for our inaugural feature: We wanted to see how people reacted to fragrances when you stripped away the outside influences — fancy bottles, designer names, and celeb tie-ins — and left them with nothing more than the scent itself. How would they connect with a scent when the only thing they had to go on was their nose? We had a few of our editors give it a try, and let's just say there was some serious shock when we revealed the ones they liked most (Ed Hardy, anyone?).
For this round, we had our panel of sniffers give a melange of mystery men's colognes a whiff. Nobody knew the name or brand of the scents they were testing, nor did they see the bottle it came in. They tested a celebrity fragrance, designer scents, and a few off-the-wall indies.
Read on for their highly informative, excessively entertaining, completely subjective, and totally un-scientific analysis.
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Illustrated by Emily Kowzan
Mystery Cologne A
Christene Barberich, editor-in-chief: "I like this. It smells very clean, sporty. I'd imagine that the person who wears this would be an avid gym-goer. It also seems kind of unisex. Like maybe he'd share his fragrance with his girlfriend. It smells clean to me, like Irish Spring soap."
Susan Kaplow, VP, editorial operations: "It’s clean, but it has a woodsy kind of undertone — it wouldn’t be like something you would smell in a German nightclub or anything. Even though it’s a men’s fragrance, I would wear it myself."
Megan McIntyre, senior beauty editor: "This one smells a little aquatic. It feels a little fresher for a men's scent, like something that a guy who doesn't really wear cologne would wear. I'd be into a guy who wore this…I mean, I wouldn't follow him down the street sniffing in desire, but I'd think the guy smells nice."
Connie Wang, global editor: "Is there a Cool Water for men? There is? Is this it? It's a lighter fragrance, which I like. But it smells very drugstore-y. Like, the alcohol scent is pretty strong. I think a jock would wear this."
Annie Georgia Greenberg, New York editor: "This smells really ambiguous. It’s a little too sharp, but also watery in a way. The guy I see wearing this wears turtlenecks under blazers. I don’t know what it is, but I wouldn’t want my boyfriend to wear it."
Gabriel J. Bell, staff writer: "I smell a lot of baby powder, a little lavender, and a little musk. I might wear this myself. It's soft and kind of a mellow smell. Not very earthy. I think it's more subtle, and a little sophisticated, but not overwhelming. It's for someone who wants to feel good but not make a big impression."
Tim McGraw Soul 2 Soul Vintage
The country star adds to his fragrance oeuvre with this sensual scent that's said to "capture the intimate side of Tim." Notes include mandarin, ginger root, lavender, cardamom, cinnamon bark, Moroccan orange flower, cedar leaf, and tonka bean.
$24.50, available in late February at Walmart.
Mystery Cologne B
Christene: "It smells like a woman's fragrance, like amber and baby powder. It smells like skin. I think it smells very sophisticated; it feels modern. But it also feels kind of like it could be a very timeless scent. I do like it a lot, but I feel like I'd want to wear it myself."
Susan: "It's woody and citrus-y, I think. I like men's fragrances, so I like this — I would wear it. If you put too much on, it could be too Drakkar Noir-ish, but with just the right amount, this could be really nice."
Megan: "I smell…spice at first, lots of musk. It's like powdery, but dude-powdery, where it's not creamy and sweet, but strong. It's not my particular cup of tea, but I don't like a lot of musk. I could see this on an average guy — he's putting on cologne because he wants to smell attractive, not because he is trying to cultivate a certain type of scent."
Connie: "It's a little bit of a laundry-detergent smell, which isn't a bad thing. It smells very clean, but like a dirty clean, if that makes sense. Like if you'd bought Axe detergent. I don't think I like it all that much because I feel like it has that typical 'man-spray' thing. Like that slightly spicy, but also 'fresh-and-clean,' so it smells very typical to me."
Annie: "I like it, but I don't think I'd really want to date someone that would wear this. Not because I don't like it, but it's actually a little girly for me. It smells like a really well-scented dressing room. It's a little bit after-shave-y, powdery aftershave, but still girly."
Gabriel: " I think it's a little peppery, with a little lavender after it [Ed note: Gabe's nose seems to be highly attuned to lavender]. It's striking, it's peppery, it's masculine. It's got a musky, man-smell — it smells like a man. I'd wear it."
Calvin Klein Dark Obsession For Men
Described as a scent of "powerful masculinity and intense sensuality," this scent uses Brazilian green mandarin, guarana, absinthe, french clary sage, fir balsam, white vetiver, Madagascar vanilla bean, and suede to make a super-sexy impact.
$55, available in March at Macy's.
Mystery Cologne C
Susan: "This is a man’s fragrance? Whoa, that is some feminine man’s fragrance. It’s reminding me of gardenias, or like nighttime in Costa Rica, which could be kind of beautiful, but this is way too flowery and feminine for a man."
Neha Gandhi, deputy editor: "I like this one. It’s stronger, but it doesn’t beat you over the head. It’s probably more perfume-y than A, but I think it’s interesting and it doesn’t smell cheap, I guess. It smells like the cute boy from the Polo ads."
Kristian Laliberte, senior editor: "Mmm. I really like this, a lot. It’s got a little woodsy, a little spice. It’s very elegant. I would want to wear this myself and smell it on someone — I think we could just intermingle."
Megan: "I smell a lot of green and woods, but not like warm or spicy wood. Usually I'm not into woody fragrances, but this one is cut by something that I can't identify that has a sweetness or creaminess to it. I'm shockingly attracted to it, and I don't know why. It's different, it's not like anything I've ever smelled before. I think I need a second date with this one."
Annie: "Okay, this is really disgusting. It smells like grape puke. I don’t know what kind of notes they were going for, but it’s not anything I would want to snuggle on, or hold hands with, or anything. It smells like the equivalent of what your grandmother would wear, but for a guy."
Gabriel: "This is pine-y, orange, and I smell a little wood and oak. It might be more feminine, but it also has a woody smell to it. And there's lavender in this, too [Ed note: Of course there is, Gabe]. It is a little bit feminine, but I would wear it. This is almost a perfume more than a cologne, but that's okay with me. I think this is my favorite."
Odin New York 09 Posala
Bourbon and tobacco combine with jasmine, amber, and purple iris for a duo-faceted scent that mixes masculine and feminine notes.
$165, available at Barneys.
Mystery Cologne D
Christene: "It sort of has this pine scent, like it could potentially be something that you'd clean your kitchen with. But, it also smells like it could be a cocktail, like it could have gin in it. It has a medicinal smell to it, but not necessarily in a bad way. I think it's interesting and unusual."
Susan: "It smells high-end, although I’m noticing a patchouli, B.O.-ish thing happening in there, too. It’s like equal parts Parisian café and body odor at a Grateful Dead show. It’s just a little too pungent for any man that I would be attracted to."
Neha: "What the hell is that? This is terrible. It smells like grapefruit plus trash, mixed with sandalwood — and I really like sandalwood. It’s horrible. This is maybe the worst fragrance I’ve ever smelled. I would actively be repelled by that."
Megan: "It smells like a Christmas tree exploded. This is like someone air-lifted me into the forest with Bear Grylls. It's literally like this guy has actually rolled around in the forest, like he's come out of the forest with pine needles in his hair and sap on his hands. I do not like this. It's too much."
Connie: "I really like this one. It almost smells like an essential oil. It's got a slight citrus-y scent, and I know I've said in the past that I don't like food smells, but for some reason, citrus does it for me, plus it's mixed with some kind of musk. It smells like something a very clean-cut, Americana-type guy would use."
Annie: "Oh my god. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse. It’s like, some kind of root vegetable? I would say it’s like carrot extract and pennies. No."
Juniper Ridge Backpacker's Cologne Wild Plum Campground
This all-natural cologne consists of organic sugar cane alcohol, plant sap, tree pitch, and steam-distilled essential oils culled from trees in the Sierra Butte region of the Sierra Nevada.
$85, available at Juniper Ridge.
Mystery Cologne E
Christene: "This one smells warm and cozy. It has some woodsy tones to it, and maybe some vanilla and melon. It smells like a man who puts a lot of thought into his scent selection. It doesn't smell synthetic to me — it smells really natural, like it could be an essential-oil blend or something. I'd say this one is my favorite."
Kristian: "Oh, it’s very sweet. It reminds me of high school. It's flowery with some citrus. I think it's downmarket. What kind of guy do I see wearing this? A trying-too-hard type of person."
Connie: "This one smells like what an older, geriatric woman would wear. It's kind of spicy and kind of floral-y as well. It smells like the sitting room of an old ladies' salon. The kind of guy who would wear this would have gelled hair, an Italian suit, and probably plucked eyebrows."
Annie: "This smells like something one of my guy friends would wear and I’d be like, 'Ugh, you’re a creep.' But, it’s fine, if a little fruity. These scents are all too fancy-boy for me. I would say it’s good date cologne for a girl who likes cologne."
Gabriel: "Musky, a little bit of licorice and liquor. This is for the guy who wants to get some. It would go with leather boots and dark clothes. It does have some more perfume-y, lilac notes at the end, but I think that's actually good on a date."
This warm, enveloping scent — named after the Greek god of love — features notes of tonka bean, geranium, mint oil, green apple, and Italian lemon.
$62, available at Macy's.