Puff Daddy’s Unforgivable was my fragance for years – time to up my smell game
Men should have a ‘scent wardrobe’ – you don’t just have one shirt in your closet
‘My first fragrant love, it helped me overcome an aversion to aerosols developed in the Gaeltacht’
“Choosing a perfume is like entering into a relationship. You can have a ‘love at first smell’ experience, but then you need to figure out how you both get along over coffee the next morning.” So says Sadie Chowen, creative director of the Burren Perfumery.
I’ve come to her in search of sensory guidance, to help me discover a new signature fragrance. For 10 years I have scent marked myself with Unforgivable by Sean John (aka Puff Daddy) – ordering it on eBay, begging friends to bring back a bottle from the States and criss-crossing London on the Tube, visiting suburban pharmacies to see if I could track it down.
My first fragrant love, it helped me overcome an aversion to aerosols developed in the Gaeltacht, where 16-year-old boys would regularly cover up the pungent pong of puberty by weaponising Lynx.
But the strain of sniffing it out like some kind of aromatic truffle hog, and the mortification of telling people who I’m wearing, has taken its toll and I recently decided it was time to up my smelling game.
It’s basically a trick by marketers to get people to stick with them, to not deviate
“Finding a ‘signature’ scent is a limiting way to go about perfume,” says Liam Moore, founder of Odou magazine, which explored our relationship with scent during its four-year, quarterly run.” It’s basically a trick by marketers to get people to stick with them, to not deviate.”
As we have differing needs and desires, he suggests we not rely on a Swiss Army Knife scent. “I think men should consider having a scent wardrobe to represent all aspects of their personality. You don’t have just one shirt in your wardrobe, or rehash the same set of clothes from winter to summer. So why would you do the same with your fragrance?”
The higher the concentration of essential oils in a perfume, the more bang you will get for your buck . . . or the more bucks your bang will cost you! “You have to appreciate what goes into it,” says Kourosh Saadat, a fragrance expert in Brown Thomas. “Something that is a bit more marketed, or fronted by a celebrity, is going to cost more to cover those costs. When you get to something more niche, it’s the ingredients that put the price up.”
Freddie Jones, an independent fragrance expert and consultant in perfumery, works in Parfumarija, a niche perfume shop in Dublin’s Westbury Mall. He says since men don’t have the idiom to describe the hole at their redolent core, he starts by asking them to mention other brands they like. He can nearly always tell the ingredients used, and use this as a guide. “Men in Ireland usually want to smell clean. They want to smell different, but not so different that they stand out. I try to help them to stand out just that little bit more.”
Surer as to what they do or don’t like, men are less willing to explore, preferring to stick within the five primary scent families – Citrus, Aromatic, Woody, Animalic and Spicy. “The most common words I hear are sweet or musky, which is incredibly broad. So you have to establish right from the get go what exactly they mean. After that it’s a process of elimination. How are they dressed? What is the purpose of the scent?”
There’s something ancient about scent. There’s a magic to it
“I try to keep fragrances that I really adore for special occasions,” says Moore. “It’s kind of like a suit, not something you’d wear on any old Friday night.
“Sometimes, because I’ve worn them for years, they accumulate a few special memories so, if I’m feeling nostalgic, I wear a small amount of it before starting my day.”
“I’d have two on the go at a time,” says Simon O Connor, a composer, and a curator at the Little Museum of Dublin. “I take a long time to select them and then I commit to them. I like the idea that people associate the smell with me.
“And if I have a major change in my life I try and change perfume for a period, so when I smell it in the future, it will take me back to that specific time and place. There’s something ancient about scent. There’s a magic to it.”
O’Connor’s favourite favourite fragrance at the moment is Orangea by Profurmum, a small Roman perfume house.
“A perfume is created, much like a piece of music,” adds Chowen of the Burren Perfumery. “The top notes are what you fall in love with, the smell that’s fresh out of the bottle, which can be volatile, but will evaporate and settle down after 30 seconds. The middle note s are the heart of the perfume, what gives it character and stays on the skin the longest. And finally there are the base notes, which anchor it, and give it substance.”
When you’re a fragrance learner driver like myself, how can you be sure that you are buying what you like
Since fragrances have a progression over time, it’s important you don’t just purchase something because it smells good on paper. “The industry has put so much effort into improving that initial smell,” says Moore. “They have three seconds to grab someone’s attention and those three seconds are often where the customer will pass judgment on three years worth of work.”
When you’re a fragrance learner driver like myself, how can you be sure that you are buying what you like? David Cox is the managing director of Fragrances of Ireland, a Wicklow based perfume house and he says there’s no substitute for time. “Go over to the counter. Ask them what they have on offer for men. Spray each one on a scent strip, smell them carefully and work out what you like.
“When you decide on one, spray the perfume liberally on your actual skin and go back to your office or your home and see if any one notices. Live with it for the day. Then keep doing that, with different fragrances, for a week, taking a different counter each day. By the end you will come up with something that works for you.”
Some people advise going on a detox from curry or garlic before shopping, while Freddie Jones says to avoid fragrances if you are ill. “They’ll smell strange and different and you will make negative associations that may put you off a scent for life.” But he doesn’t really believe that a person’s own natural odour makes much of a difference.
On drier skin the scent might be absorbed quicker and won’t be as fragrant
“There are psychological reasons why a fragrance smells great on one person, and not another. You might strongly associate that smell with a friend, so it makes you uncomfortable when you wear it. Or you may have smelled it 2-3 hours after he put it on, so you’re reacting negatively to the top notes when it was the bass you liked previously.”
Kourosh Saadat of Brown Thomas says your skin type can affect the fragrance, “but it more effects longevity. On drier skin the scent might be absorbed quicker and won’t be as fragrant. So if there is a matching lotion, put that on first, as you want the smell to be trapped on the top layer of the skin and not be absorbed into the deeper ones.”
“A fragrance can create a very strong impression,” concludes Moore, of Odou magazine. “It’s very much like finishing off your outfit. You shouldn’t buy cause your contemporaries or a celebrity wears it. You should find something that says something about you as a person.”