Some men take the trouble to use all their senses as they live each moment and go about their bus-iness in the world. I don’t mean that they just take time to look at pictures in exhibitions or enrol on wine-tasting courses: they instinctively notice the very first signs of change in the seasons; they sense imminent rain; they look up at the buildings that they pass every day and can tell you, for example, that there is a tremendous, gilded weathervane in the shape of a sailing ship on the roof of the last building at the eastern end of the last section of Embankment Gardens, near the Temple; or that the spire of St Bride’s Church, off Fleet Street, really is the inspir-ation for the traditional bridal cake; they can tell you the current phase of the moon; when and where best to see Mars rising next; they know a mistle thrush from a song thrush and a weasel from a stoat.
They can tell a bordeaux from a burgundy and they know when they are being fobbed off with cava instead of Veuve Clicquot; more-over, they have the sense to prefer a good farmhouse cider to a cheap champagne. They also know that leaf-mould smells good underfoot in mossy woodlands and they like the scent of dry, crumbled, ploughed earth in their hands. They know the different fragrances of all the herbs and spices and cannot be fooled by combined synthetics.
These men have come to understand what they like and what suits them. They have reached this stage by being curious about themselves and their place in the world; by experimentation; by trial and error; and by being prepared to take risks and to make (but not repeat) mistakes. They also know that the scents that we wear are invisible indicators to the world, especially between men and women, of taste and status and that they play a part in the chemistry of sexual attraction, in which our own smells, in the form of phero-mones, already play a major part.
A Little History
Many ancient peoples learnt how to make scents from natural products and burnt aromatic products to create perfume; the word “perfume” itself derives from the Latin per fumum, meaning “through smoke”. Gradually, perfumery found its way into Europe and the term “cologne” almost certainly derives from the manufacture of scent at Cologne in the early 18th century.
Perfume is, at 20% or more, concentration of perfume oil in alcohol or oil. Eau de parfum (EDP) is the strongest concentration of scent usually available in the retail market (at 12-20% perfume oil, usually in alcohol). It is more often offered as scent for women and sometimes labelled millésime. Eau de toilette (EDT) is 5-12% perfume oil in alcohol, and Eau de cologne (EDC) is 2-5%perfume oil in alcohol. Aftershave is c3% perfume oil in alcohol and balm is a similar strength but omits the alcohol and substitutes creams.
“Top notes” are the first scents to develop when scent is applied. The “middle” or “heart” notes are the centre of the fragrance, making it one of the several types (described below) and the “base notes” derive from the fixatives used, which reinforce the heart notes. Fixatives include oakmoss, patchouli, wood essences, musk, tonka beans, ambergris and vanilla.
Fragrances are grouped into accords. The principal accords for men are Citrus Hesperidia (relying on citrus and fruit oils, especially bergamot, bitter orange and lime); Leather Tobacco (centred on tobacco, honey and wood tars), and Woody Fougère (based on fern, sandalwood, cedar, patchouli, lavender, coumarin and oakmoss). There are also modern Green scents, based on such things as cut grass and tomato leaves. Individual fragrances may vary between the light and fresh, complementary to a summer’s day, and the darker, heavier types more suited to a winter’s evening.
The components of fragrances range from plant and flower ex-tracts and wood oils (such as attar of roses, vanilla and sandalwood oil) to petrified animal secretions (such as hyraceum) and, of course, animal musks (these are now often synthesised).
Extraction and uses of components
Different means of extracting fragrances and different methods might produce slightly different products. The main processes are: distillation, maceration in solvents, and expression (crush-ing). These processes produce substances that are variously used as primary scents, modifiers, blenders and fixatives.
Store colognes and scents in a dark, dry, cool, airtight container and never in an ordinary refrigerator or in the bathroom or on a windowsill.
It is well known that scents trigger memories of times, places, people and events and can be more powerfully evocative than photographs and sound recordings in recalling the past to us, a central point (along with the sense of taste), of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past: Les vrais paradis sont les paradis qu’on a perdus [Our true paradises are those that we have lost], and combinations of smells certainly can bring unbidden and pleasurable waves of memories and gusts of nostalgia over us: rain on hot asphalt; roses; good tobacco; coffee; favourite old books.
Individual scents and colognes
A good starting point, fresh, clean, simple and light, avoiding all possibility of blunder, is one of the formulations of extract of limes from any of several makers: J Floris‘s Limes; Taylor‘s No 74 Victorian Limes; Trumper’s Extract of Limes; Truefitt & Hill’s West Indian Limes; Pinaud’s Lime Sec and Penhaligon’s Extract of Limes. Also recall that this scent (like some others) comes in various preparations and that in the film Dr No, when James Bond and Honey Ryder are put into Dr No’s “mink-lined prison” on Crab Cay, Lime bath oil by J Floris, is there to soften the blow.
After testing simple preparations, the best thing is to go to the maker’s shop, a good department store or Les Senteurs in Belgravia and use the sample bottles and paper spills to make your selections from a vast range of scents. The makers mentioned in the previous paragraph are also famed for other great scents for men, including J Floris‘s Special 127 and No 89; Taylor’s Sandalwood; Trumper’s Eucris; Truefitt & Hill‘s 1805 range; Pinaud’s Bay Rum, and Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet. Beyond those famous names, with their traditional products, there is the range by Creed, and scents by Czech & Speake and Guerlain. Ormonde Jayne and Clive Christian make men’s scents in heavier, stronger EDP strengths but considerable care needs to be exercised in using these or one could end up smelling like a seraglio, prompting all manner of whispered, unkind comments.
You will find that the assistants in the best shops know a good deal about their subject and will be happy to assist with recommendations, based on your requirements.
When you apply any alcohol-based cologne or scent, it is best to dab it around the temples, the back of the neck and maybe over the hair; a few drops on a handkerchief can be used to freshen up in the course of the day. So far as aftershaves are concerned, it is just not a good idea to cover freshly shaved skin with alcohol, as it is an irritant and can easily in-flame; better to use an aftershave balm or cream.
I suppose that it might go without saying that as a Field reader you know you will not be thanked if you turn up to a meet or to go stalking wearing any scent at all. It might even be a good idea to leave your colognes at home when you are fishing, too.
All well and good, you might say, but where does this all take us? Well, if you need to see the benefits of this in action, let me put it like this. Whenever you seek to prevail in an endeavour requiring deployment of the art of persuasion in your professional, business or personal life, you need to be mentally and physically fit; master of the facts; dressed with restraint and just short of perfect care and, if you know what you are doing, lightly carrying a fragrance for the season, the occasion, the company, the time of day and your mood (maybe even to improve your mood), that will keep you calm and collected and able to concentrate on your best points.
So prepared, remember then that to prevail is not (short of trial by battle) to bludgeon your adversary or quarry into submission but to have your own way with ease, and remember also Ralph Waldo Emerson’s fine dictum, “In skating over thin ice, our safety is in our speed”, and that these same principles of lightness of touch apply in dealing with most things in life: from choosing our colognes and scents to resolving land boundary disputes; to shooting and fishing; to effecting commercial mergers and acquisitions, and (most important of all); in the gentle art of seduction.
The writer thanks John Bodenham, chairman of J Floris, for checking the technical aspects of the draft of this feature.
Nicholas Storey is the author of History of Men’s Accessories – A Short Guide for Men About Town (Pen & Sword, £20).
More gentlemen’s essentials: