By Liza Corsillo for GQ.
Wearing cologne, eau de toilette, a signature scent, or whatever you want to call it is by no means mandatory, but it's a powerful extra detail that many stylish men swear by. Yes, how you look is important, but your scent (good or bad) will leave a more lasting impression--just ask the other person on any date.
That said, there is nothing more overwhelming than walking into the fragrance section of a department store and walking out with a new scent. Even if you make it through the gauntlet of employees wielding test strips and spritzers, you're guaranteed to not make it past five scents before you can't tell the difference between any one of them. That's why the best way to attack the process of buying your first fragrance is by doing your research, getting some recommendations, and then harnessing all your patience to test out a bunch of samples on your skin.
We talked to olfactory experts (a.k.a., the noses) William and Richard Fraysse and president Romain Alès from the French perfumer Caron to get to the bottom of all the fragrance lingo and brand info to put you on the most painless path to finding your next signature scent.
1. Go with Your Gut, and Eyes, and Nose
"We've spent too much time selling colognes based on the 'olfactory pyramid,' which explains in detail what top and base notes are in each fragrance. Fragrance is like wine--it's an emotion, it's a smell, it's a palette, and it's a pleasure. Before asking what's in the thing, just smell it. How do you react? And in the off chance that I, as a perfume maker, can tell you a story, can make you dream a little, I've already done half my job." --Alès
"Go toward the bottles that are attractive to you and start trying them little by little. Choose a brand that uses quality raw materials, and then go with your instinct." --Richard Fraysse
2. Explore Smaller Brands
"Brands spend tons of money on celebrity-endorsed advertisements in order to sell you their perfume. But the real mark of quality is in a perfumer that works with natural products. Look for a brand that's not a designer brand, but a perfumer. They don't sell clothes or bags, they specialize in one thing, and creating that one thing at the highest quality. So when you are looking for your first scent, don't be distracted by the brand or the name behind it." --Richard Fraysse
"When you have 1,200 products that come out in one year, half of them, I assure you, if you were to test them all, would have the same odor and wouldn't last. Find something that is specific to you. Something that is yours and no one else's. Real luxury is to have the sensation that something is made for you and only you." --Alès
3. Test It on Your Skin
Your skin chemistry interacts with that of your cologne and changes the scent from what it smells like straight out of the bottle. So you have to test it on your skin. Ask for a take-home sample if possible.
"If I take 40 men and put the same cologne on all of them, I'll have 40 different odors." --Alès
4. Take Someone Scent Shopping with You
"When it comes to men's fragrances, a woman's opinion is obligatory. Because your fragrance is a seduction tool, it's a way to connect with another. And if once you put it on it doesn't react well with your skin, then there's a problem. So you need her to smell it on you." --Alès
[Note: Bring a woman or a man or both. But bring someone you trust.]
5. If You're a Hesitant Fragrance Wearer:
"Go for something fresh and not too complicated. Choose something that's recognizable like citrus, fig, or lavender, but not too sophisticated. Choose one with a short list of ingredients; our classic cologne Pour un Homme has ten ingredients. The new version Pour un Homme Sport has 37 ingredients. The original has been around for 80 years, and it's lasted. Generations of men have loved wearing it that whole time." --William Fraysse
6. If You Really Like the Smell or Taste of Something, Work It into Your Cologne:
"If you eat a lot of spicy food, go for something more complex and something pretty strong. People who eat very spicy foods have weaker senses of smell and taste. In a way, they need a complement to what they eat. Something that is itself rather spicy." --Richard Fraysse
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