Firstly, let me begin by wishing you all a very happy New Year! Although it’s not my first post of the year (there were a couple of others, rambling about shoes or some other inconsequential subject, I’m sure) it is the first time I’m going to write about something topical.
You see, first and foremost, this is a men’s fashion blog. It’s a subject close to my heart, it’s what I do for a day job, and it’s something that just about anyone (from the lowliest caveman wrapping a leaf around his nether-regions then realising a different colour leaf really brings out his eyes, to the most haute of all coutoured androgynous robot-men decked head-to-toe in Chanel) can appreciate. We’ve all bought clothes, we’ve all preferred one coat or sweater over another – perhaps without even realising, we’re all involved in fashion choices every day of our lives.
I’d like to take a minute, then, to talk about an invisible fashion accessory.
This post would never have come to fruition had it not been for a chance conversation with a friend the other day. I don’t recall how the topic was raised, but he mentioned that he never wore aftershave.
“What?” I asked, aghast. “Never?”
“Nope” he shrugged. “I mean, I have a scented moisturiser, I guess that counts.”
“No. No it does not count.” I snapped back. “Nobody can smell your face.”
It had genuinely never occurred to me that some men (and maybe women) don’t consider fragrance to be a part of their daily wardrobe. We’re men, we hunt and gather, we don’t care about our appearance – that’s surely a sign of weakness, or some deep-rooted effeminate tendencies that must be suppressed at all costs. No, you leave that bottle of Green Irish Tweed on the shelf, sonny Jim, it’s WD-40 or nothing at all!
In my early teens, wearing aftershave seemed like a rite-of-passage. It made you cooler, more sophisticated, aftershave made you seem older and wiser in a way subtle-enough that any 13 year-old felt comfortable experimenting with it. A pleasant aquatic splashed behind the ears is a far less threatening form of self-expression than a velvet Fedora.
As my teens progressed, my aftershaves remained largely the same (really, whatever was de rigueur at the time – Gaultier’s Le Male, or Armani Code, for example. This was probably a result of Christmas and birthday aftershave and body wash sets that were bought for me.) It wasn’t until my twenties that I began branching out and looking further afield for inspiration. I still remember the Christmas I received a bottle of Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet – a gift from my Dad – and being totally bemused. Did I love it? Did I hate it? I couldn’t tell, but one thing I was sure of, is that it was totally different to anything I’d smelled before.*
Now, as I border on the big three-oh, I’d like to think my fragrance choices have matured somewhat, and I now have a collection with enough diversity to keep me occupied for the foreseeable future. I’ve been fortunate enough to pick up bottles of Tom Ford’s Private Blends, various Creeds, Frederic Malles, niche smells and mainstream favourites, and I’ve learned to fully appreciate both sides of the coin. It’s maybe even a bigger part of my daily routine than ever before – sometimes I find myself reaching for a bottle even if I’m not leaving the house, just for my own personal enjoyment.
That being said, not everyone is a fragrance nerd, and even those with an above-average appreciation for scent aren’t necessarily going to leap into the air if they catch a whiff of your latest acquisition. It’s a personal thing, fragrance. You wear it for yourself first and foremost, just as you would an item of clothing. You wear that shirt because the sleeves are the perfect length, or you wear those pants because the backside is just to die for – there are lots of examples, and just because you can’t see smell doesn’t make it any less important. Don’t think of it as a toiletry or a way of masking your usual foul stench, think of it as an invisible accessory which projects a message to everyone’s subconscious.
So, for the comments below, let me know: What does fragrance mean to you? Is it a form of self-expression? Is it an afterthought?
*I grew to love it, it was so zesty and sherbety that I ended up wearing it every day for a few months, as it seemed a perfect fit for the bitterly cold winter weather we had at the time. Now, over 7 years later, I still have that bottle with a couple of ml remaining. I can’t bring myself to use it or throw it away. Every few months I’ll smell the cap and instantly feel 22 again. It’s peculiar how strongly the visuals come flooding back when I smell a fragrance I used to wear at a certain period in my life – perhaps one day I’ll write about that.