Because a fragrance is not something seen, it is often overlooked by the hasty groomer. But elegantly paired with a discerning gentleman’s appearance, fragrance can play an extremely powerful role. Whether one chooses a cheap and cheerful aftershave or a lavish luxury perfume, fragrances play a key part in how we are perceived, and can be an important reflection of the wearer’s personal identity.
Personal Favorites…But Why?
Paco Rabanne’s immortal classic Pour Homme will always be a personal favourite, but that does not prevent me from exploring different fragrances. Although I’m partial to classics, like Fabergé’s Brut and Old Spice, I also dabble in luxury products such as Chanel Bleu and Terre d’Hermès. Like a pocket square or pair of cufflinks, a fragrance is attire that can be used to fit a particular ensemble.
The key to finding the right fragrance is in understanding the product, and the ingredients that make up the aromatic compound. Upon discovering the basics, a gentleman can truly investigate all his options and find the perfect fragrance for him.
A Brief History
Perfume comes from the Latin per fumus, which means through smoke. The art of the craft has been recorded since ancient Egypt, but the Romans, Persians, and Arabs would later refine it. Even aftershave dates back to Roman civilization, where it functioned both as an antiseptic and anesthetic through the use of various medicinal herbs and spices.
References to perfumes and fragrances can be found throughout religious texts from the Old Testament to the Qu’ran. The art of perfumery in Western Europe dates back to 1221, a year marked by the monks’ recipes of Santa Maria delle Vigne or Santa Maria Novella of Florence, Italy.
Giovanni Maria Farina, a notable innovator in the industry, founded Farina Gegenüber in 1709, the world’s oldest perfume factory that still exists today. There, he would create a perfume water called Aqua Admirabilis that revolutionized the manufacturing of fragrances. He would go on to name it after his new hometown, calling it Eau de Cologne and describing it as:
A fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.
During the Industrial Revolution, the perfume industry benefited from the development of synthetic aromatic compounds, allowing a greater accessibility not only to new fragrances but large quantities that could be shipped worldwide. Unfortunately, many artisanal manufacturers would suffer and disappear altogether. Yet this moment in history marks the beginning of the industry as we know it today.
In 2004, the remnants of a perfumery were discovered in Cyprus, an entire factory of over 4,000 square meters, leading historians to believe that the perfume trade had been industrialized long before we originally suspected.
- Eau de Parfum
- Eau de Toilette
- Eau de Cologne
But what does all that mean?
Generally, classifications provided by the industry are not standardized and are typically vague or imprecise. Nevertheless, a perfume’s content can generally be summarized by its alcohol content and the purity of its aromatic compounds – this in turn affects its intensity and longevity. However, there are sometimes different characteristics and qualities that are attributed to some categories rather than others.
Parfum (or Perfume Extract):
Concentration Range: 15-30%
Typical Concentration: 15%
The purest form in which a fragrance can come, it is often at a premium for its high concentration.
Eau de Parfum:
Concentration Range: 10-20%
Typical Concentration: 15%
A step down from the above category, Eau de Parfum manages to retain the majority of the qualities found in Perfume Extract without losing much of its intensity.
Eau de Toilette:
Concentration Range: 5-15%
Typical Concentration: 10%
The most common type of fragrance – although it often provides a reasonable intensity, the aroma wanes after a couple of hours. The term “toilette” derives from the French for washing-up.
Eau de Cologne:
Concentration Range: 3-8%
Typical Concentration: 5%
Eau de Cologne rarely comes as a perfume extract’s budget choice. Instead, Eau de Cologne is a standalone fragrance that is usually refreshingly light, unisex with a citrus-based head note. Being a light fragrance with an accent on the head notes, the aromas dissipate quickly and require regular reapplication.
Concentration Range: 1-3%
Typical Concentration: Varies
The high alcohol content of aftershave is due to its primary use as antiseptic following the once-hazardous venture of shaving. Aftershaves often contain other ingredients besides aromatic compounds. These can be herbs that have a medicinal function, like menthol and witch-hazel, both mild anesthetics.
Understanding the Aroma
Generally, fragrances are summarized by a trio of note scales that together make an accord, which denotes the overall experience of the aroma:
- Head notes:
Top notes are the first thing you perceive when splashing on the fragrance. They act as something of a foreword, prefacing the experience.
- Heart notes:
The body of the fragrance – these emerge just prior to the head note’s dispersion, providing an agreeable transition to the base notes. Although this may not seem essential, without heart notes the change from head to base can be unpleasant.
- Base notes:
These are usually the deep, lingering scents left after the middle notes’ departure and can last throughout the day. Although the top notes provide the initial impression, it is the interplay between the base and middle notes that provides the fragrance’s overall raison d’être.
A perfume pyramid is often used to better illustrate the structure of a fragrance and its components:
As some of the above could be a little confusing at first, the below table endeavors to describe various aroma families, the notes they fall into, and some notable examples. This should provide a more comprehensive illustration, whilst remaining faithful to the classical conventions employed in their analysis.
|Type||Description/Base||Prominant Note(s)||Notable Examples|
|Amber or “Oriental”||This type is often formed using a combination of vanilla, tonka bean, flowers, and woods. Featuring sweet and earthy scents of ambergris or labdanum with oils and incense, it is reminiscent of the Orient from which it earns its name.||Heart, Base.||Opium by Yves Saint Laurent; Shalimar by Guerlain.|
|Chypre||Named after an iconic fragrance developed in 1917 by François Coty, it is known as “Cyprus” in French. The perfume is often composed using bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum, providing a citrus-oriented fragrance.||Full Accord.||Mitsouko by Guerlain.|
|Floral Bouquet||Effectively a bouquet of several flowers in an aromatic compound.||Head, Heart.||Quelques Fleurs by Houbigant; Joy by Jean Patou.|
|Fougère||A common category for aftershaves, it is distinguished by an herbaceous, wooden scent. The name comes from the French for “Fern,” after Houbigant’s development of the classification with “Fougère Royale.” It is often dominated by lavender, coumarin (a base that resembles the scent of newly-mown hay) and oakmoss.||Head, Base.||Brut by Fabergé; Drakkar Noir by Guy Laroche.|
|Leather||A combination of particular odors that allude to leather, such as honey, wood tars, and tobacco.||Heart, Base.||Bandit by Robert Piguet; Jolie Madame by Pierre Balmain.|
|Single Floral or “Soliflore”||A fragrance that is dominated by the scent of a particular flower.||Head, Heart.||Sa Majeste La Rose by Serge Lutens.|
|Woody||Composed using sandalwood, agarwood, or cedarwood, this type can often contain Patchouli, a Camphor-based oil.||Base.||Bois-des-Îles by Chanel; Rumba by Balenciaga; Maderas de Oriente by Myrurgia.|
Brushing up on the varieties of aromatic compounds isn’t always a necessity when seeking a new fragrance. However, it may alleviate the stress of fragrance shopping, making it an overall enjoyable experience.
If there ever comes a moment of uncertainty, retail consultants are always nearby to offer helpful advice. Moreover, a little basic knowledge can facilitate the consultation process, as all parties will be on the same page. This can become particularly advantageous, aiding a customer in the exploration of different fragrance varieties. In turn, they’ll be certain to find the perfect one that is a fitting reflection of their character.
Paradoxically, there really is no single perfect fragrance – no right choice. After all, if everyone were to wear the same one, things would get pretty mundane. Take Paco Rabanne’s One Million, for example. Upon its introduction to the market, it was new and enticing, making a tremendous impact. But after its initial success, and unlike my preferred Paco Rabanne fragrance, it became a tiresome aroma, leaving a banal scent during the daily commute. That does not change the fact that One Million is an excellent product – but its overwhelming adoption lessened its ultimate perceptual impact.
Nevertheless, outside of poorly formulated aromatic compounds, there are few wrong choices. Not all fragrances are for everyone – something that may not correspond to one man’s palette, may prove to be the perfect match for someone else. After all, it is but a question of identity.