Making sense of manly scents

A man's journey to discover his own fragrance

Men in general do not like to accessorise much, but there is one extremely sensual accessory any man can (and should) wear - the right fragrance. After all, if it makes sense to groom yourself to please the eyes of others, it makes even more sense to exude a pleasant scent to please their noses. People around you might not look at you all the time, but they do breathe constantly, taking in your scent and inevitably forming an impression based on it.

ILLUSTRATION: TANAPORN ATTHAPORN

Let's begin by figuring out why it is not called men's "perfume". We often hear that perfume is for women and cologne is for men, but in fact the difference between the two is just the strength of the scent. Perfume is stronger than cologne. It does not mean that perfume smells more feminine - it's just that women prefer a stronger scent while men want something more subtle, so women wear perfume and men wear cologne.

With that sort of distinction, marketers make perfume smell feminine and cologne more masculine.

Does this mean men can also wear "perfume"? According to Ston Tantraporn, image consultant and fashion director of L'officiel Thailand magazine, they can. After all, he reasoned, renowned perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena once said: "Scents are neither masculine nor feminine." It's all about finding the right scent for yourself, even if it does not say homme or comes in a feminine-looking bottle.

"Actually, there are so many women's fragrances that men can also wear. The gender aspect of fragrances is just a marketing strategy. I have a favourite fragrance that every time I wear, women (and men!) around me ask me what it is, and say that it's the sexiest scent they've ever smelled. It's actually a female fragrance," said Ston, whose favourite fragrance is 24 Faubourg from Hermes.

This is not to say you should borrow fragrances from your girlfriend, and certainly not from your mother. Not all female perfumes smell good on men. Even men's cologne can smell nice on one man and terrible on another. Ston cautioned that fragrance is a personal item that should be tested to make sure it suits the individual's personality.

"Don't pick something you smell on your friend and like, or just because you like the advertisement, because it is unrealistic to expect the same result as your friend or the person in the ad. More importantly, don't use a fragrance just because it's free. You wouldn't want to wear a suit tailor-made for your father or your uncle. Likewise, if the scent is not for you, don't use it. It's probably better to go au naturale and not wear a scent at all than to wear one that doesn't suit you."

Fragrance is one of the most common gifts that women give to their significant other. On the surface it does make sense - if it's the scent that she likes, why not? But Ston thinks that it is better to buy your own. "Letting your girlfriend pick your fragrance can be good and bad. It's convenient because that's what she wants to smell, but honestly, you are sacrificing your identity for your girlfriend's little fun. A man is the most charming when he knows himself and the sexiest when he pays attention to details, like his own scent," explained Ston.

Nichakul Kitayanubhongse of Harper's Bazaar Thailand said that picking the best scent for yourself is all about experimenting. Most men are intimidated or can't be bothered to test fragrances at the counters, and end up using whatever they can grab without testing.

"Don't be intimidated by the sales staff at the fragrance counters. It is their job to explain the products, give advice and let you test as many scents as you want," said Nichakul.

However, if you test more than five or six scents in one day, your nose can get confused. He suggested that no more than three scents should be tested consecutively. "Smelling coffee beans between perfumes neutralises the nose, and after a few scents your nose will need neutralising. But even with neutralising, your nose can't handle more than six scents in one go."

Most counters hand out a strip of paper sprayed with fragrance as a tester. Nichakul said that it is not the right way to test a fragrance. "Always test it on your wrist to see how it really smells on your skin when mixed with your natural scent. Wait a few minutes to smell it. If you feel that this scent gives you a headache, it's definitely not for you."

He added that even the right fragrance can go awfully wrong if you don't wear it correctly. This rule applies to both men and women. "If you're just going to work, a little spray is enough because your office is an air-conditioned place, and too much fragrance filling an enclosed space can annoy those around you. If you are going to spend time outdoors, perhaps you can add a little more, but not so much that you reek of the whole bottle of cologne. Don't try to get attention with a strong scent - it's disturbing."

Nichakul recommends spraying fragrance on the skin, not on the clothes. The ingredients in a fragrance can have adverse effects on fabrics, leaving nasty stains. "Spray it on your torso and wrists before putting on clothes. The scent lasts longer that way, and it doesn't damage the fabric."


Top tips as recommended by Nichakul Kitayanubhongse

- Recommended notes for men's fragrances are musk, earth, spices, greens and wood. Mild fruity notes are fine, too, but steer clear of floral scents if you do not want to smell too feminine.

- For working adults, the scent must be grown-up and professional. I call it the handsome scent. I recommend Chanel's Allure Homme. I have never heard of anyone going wrong with this scent. It's a classic. A more modern alternative with the same effect would be Bleu de Chanel.

- For a sporty day, try something fresh like citrus and mint. Dior Homme Sport is a good choice and it is quite versatile. You can also wear it to work. Hermes's Poivre Samarcande is another of my favourite sporty scents.

- For night-time, go for richer, more luxurious scents _ something with spices and woody notes. I like Jo Malone's Dark Amber and Ginger Lily and L'Instant de Guerlain pour Homme.

- Unisex fragrances are for the younger crowd. I don't recommend them in general, but there are some that I also like. If you are going for a unisex scent, use one that is quite rare, not one that everyone else wears. Miller Harris's Citron Citron has a unisex, exceptional smell. Hermes's Eau d'Orange Verte is another fragrance that can be worn by women and men.

About the author

columnist
Writer: Napamon Roongwitoo
Position: Life Writer