So you fancy yourself a fragrance expert just because you haven’t doused yourself in Drakkar Noir since the 90s?
Not so fast, hotshot. You may have common sense, but that hardly makes you an authority. Neither does sniffing fifty strips of scented paper at the mall.
Where personal style is concerned, your choice of cologne can be as make-or-break as your choice of shoes, so today we’re taking a fearless plunge into the world of men’s fragrances. You’ll come in a casual user and come out a connoisseur.
Cologne Or Eau de Toilette?
Fragrance terminology has evolved over the years, and you’ve probably heard many terms used interchangeably. Confusing? You bet. Here’s what you need to know: it’s all about concentration. As in, the concentration of the fragrance. ‘Eau de Parfum’ is the strongest concentration – 10-20% perfume oils, mixed with alcohol and a trace of water.
‘Eau de Toilette’ is a weaker concentration, with only 5-15% (typically around 10%) aromatic compounds. Neither should be confused with aftershave, which is something else entirely.
Does Fragrance Go Off?
Yes, but in not the same stomach-churning way as the milk you forgot in the back of the fridge. Look for the following signs: a smell change, a diminishment of the original potent smell, a change in colour or consistency. Expect a shelf life of 3-5 years and care for your fragrances properly.
Store them in a cool, dark place, away from humidity and at a consistent temperature. In general, the higher the quality of the fragrance, the less likely it is to spoil.
What Are Fragrance Notes?
A list of notes is not, as you may assume, a list of ingredients. Notes are purely an attempt to describe what the fragrance smells like. In other words, they’re the work of a marketing and PR department, not a laboratory.
You may see different notes used to describe the same scent, even though the actual formula hasn’t changed. Sometimes a cocktail of notes – called an ‘accord’ – is used to create a completely new, unified odour impression.
What Is Actually In Fragrances?
The short answer: probably not what you think. The list of notes may include plenty of flora, but odds are good that no flowers were harmed in the making of your cologne. Many natural essences have been replaced with synthetic equivalents to keep up with the demands of mass production and increase a scent’s life expectancy.
There may also be hints of fauna in your fragrance. A surprising number of pungent animal products (include beaver secretions and an ingredient extracted from the anal glands of a civet) are crucial components of perfumery.
What Are Fragrance Families?
Fragrances fall into specific categories that describe the ingredients used and the scents they create. Fragrance families are quite subjective, and the list is expanding all the time, but common examples include Floral, Oriental, Leather, Aromatic, Citrus, Spicy, Woody, Chypre and Fougère.
Finding the fragrance destined to become your signature starts with understanding which scents appeal to you and suit your personality.
How Do I Choose The Right One?
At the end of the day, what really matters? What makes one fragrance different from the next? Keep these 5 factors in mind:
- Composition: What elements make up the scent? Is the blend unique? Are any of the ingredients rare or expensive?
- Release Year: Like wines, fragrances go through yearly variations. They also change with fashion trends. Something that’s ‘in’ one decade may be outdated the next. On the other hand, a scent that stands the test of time is a vintage treasure.
- Oil Content: This determines how long your cologne lasts. More oil means a stronger and longer-lasting scent. It also means you need to be careful not to overdo the application.
- Strength: Not to be confused with the above, ‘strength’ refers to how far the scent travels. A stronger fragrance will be perceptible several steps away, while a milder one will only be noticed by someone up-close-and-personal.
- Cost: The better or more rare the ingredients, the more you can expect to pay for them. No surprise there. But we will add this caveat: the more you pay for a fragrance, the more you should demand from it. If you’re dropping a bunch of dough on a cologne, make sure it’s really worth it.