There's a rite of passage when one enters manhood (I'd imagine — my dad says I still haven't quite made it) in which he obtains his first fragrance. Perhaps, his father gives it to him, keen on passing on the undeniable masculine allure of Davidoff Cool Water or Polo Green. Or, maybe a bottle is selected for him as a gift by his mother, who might try something more modern and fashionable, like Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue or Armani Code. It's possible that he chooses his own, prompted by the aromatic effects of puberty. (This is most likely Old Spice; otherwise, it comes in body-spray form.)
Either way, you catch my drift: Masculinity has a scent. Honestly, that's probably because men don't really bother changing things they think work for them — they are generally more brand-loyal than women. The other reason is clever marketing.
"At the moment, men's fragrances are dominated by a lavender-on-steroids smell," says David Seth Moltz, perfumer and co-owner of D.S. & Durga. This trend is predated by "sport" scents, which industry people describe as "ozonic" or "aquatic." (Hello, Acqua di Gio.) "But, in the past few years, the niche market has really blown up, which helps make more interesting scents have a larger reach," he says.
This means men who venture into, say, a Diptyque store, may walk out with a scent that actually speaks to their tastes, rather than something they think should do so because of its bottle design or advertising campaign. And, now that we've enjoyed the explosion of niche for quite some time, the fragrance community could be poised to introduce men to something new entirely.
"I was in Heathrow recently and I sprayed on Chanel No. 19, and I loved it," Moltz says. "Which got me thinking of wearing something like Guerlain's Shalimar, which is a big-boned floral with dark ambers. It would smell great on a guy at a party. These more old-fashioned florals could work great on a man now — it's a regal, dandified scent."
Frederick Bouchardy, a fragrance designer and founder of cult brand Joya, echoes this sentiment. "Sometimes, I wear Narciso Rodriguez," he says. "It's just the most signature scent — recognizable from blocks or cities away. It almost gives me the indescribable feeling of a 'masculine' scent while still being completely feminine — not girly."
The renowned fragrance critic Chandler Burr — who at a recent dinner party professed his adoration for Chanel No. 5 — says the only reason he doesn't wear it more often is because so many people recognize it.
It turns out the gentlemen of the beauty world are not alone in their love for moody, traditionally "feminine" florals. Palmer Thompson-Moss, who owns Grant Davis Thompson, a design and construction firm in Brooklyn, is a longtime fan of Hiris by Hermès. "Feminine scents trend toward the more floral or sweet," he says. "But, I think it depends on who's wearing them. They will smell differently on different people."
This line of thinking inspired me to start wearing a whole lot of Maison Francis Kurkdjian's forthcoming rose concoction, which smells like the chicest Valentine's Day bouquet you could ever imagine — a medley of fruity, powdery, and earthy blooms that's drop-dead sexy, but not in the "I work out and have hair on my chest" kinda way. (P.S. I possess both of those qualities and I'm single, so hey!) When I debuted it on a first date (thanks, Hinge!), the guy asked what I was wearing. Surprisingly enough, I was a little embarrassed to tell him. "Oh, gosh, I don't know! I get so many of these from work, I just put on whatever," I lied. But, I knew: I smelled damn good thanks to Ode à la Rose.
At first, it's admittedly a little odd to think of your father, or even a potential suitor, wearing the powdery and lovely Chanel No. 19. But, a good scent is a good scent. And, whether grandma florals end up entering the men's mainstream market is kind of a moot point — however much my fragrant friends and I are rooting for it to become a trend. The point is, we shouldn't gender fragrance. Go forth ladies, smell like lumberjacks if you feel like it! Or, if you want to be the belle of the ball, do your thing. The glory of scent is that it's intensely personal. Let it express your spirit, not whoever you've become obligated to present yourself as.