Fragrance as Fashion

Fragrance as Fashion
Photo/Jeff Harris

When we think of personal style, the images that come to mind are of the clothes we wear. Yet just as great a part of the impression we make comes from something that can’t be seen or felt: fragrance. It’s also, perhaps, the most long-lasting as smell triggers the memory like no other sense. And as with any other part of your wardrobe, fragrance is susceptible to the whims of fashion. Apparently our appreciation for scents is ever in flux. In broad strokes, the progression goes from the eighteenth century, when heavy perfumes were swathed on to cover a lack of bathing, to contemporary times, when we turn to cologne not for personal hygiene, but subtler intonations.

If there’s been a singular trend recently, it is for oud oil, a complex and exotic scent of wood, fruit, tobacco and pepper distilled from agarwood. At about one-and-a-half times the price of gold, it is also very dear. Oud (rhymes with mood) is the name and the signature scent behind the latest addition to the John Varvatos collection (pictured second from left). But great fragrances are complex blends. This one includes frankincense and myrrh as well as leather. Ralph Lauren’s Polo Supreme Oud (not pictured) has notes of pepper, cinnamon and earthy vetiver.

But inspirations come from many directions in the fragrance world, and products can be as much about personality as aroma. With Boss Bottled, designer Hugo Boss reveals actor Gerard Butler as indicative of its mood: confident, brave and chivalrous. While fresh and fruity on top, its base notes are sandalwood and vetiver. The personality of the James Bond 007 fragrance is not hard to suss out. It’s unmistakably manly, but with the smooth British side of fougere, a classic style that smacks of wood, herbs and lavender. Baldessarini’s Strictly Private projects the image of a man of luxury and exclusivity. Its subtle notes are as varied as oriental wood, basil, bergamot, juniper, pink pepper and crème brûlée.

Color is the tack in personalizing the Eau de Lacoste collection. Pictured is Jaune (yellow). Its citrus, cypress and apple notes are meant to confer a sunny, optimistic emotion. The range also includes Blanc (white, pure), Bleu (blue, powerful), Rouge (red, energetic) and Noir (black, intense).

A decidedly different approach (even while including oud) comes from Clean for Men (not pictured). The brand touts itself as the “non-fragrance perfume.” While understated and decidedly fresh smelling, it doesn’t carry any soapiness. Much of its effect comes from fresh spices (basil and saffron) and a musk background. It is fragrant, but never overpowering—a good rule to live by in this arena.