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Women go crazy for the smell of a man. But just what mysterious alchemy makes the ultimate male scent? Susan Irvine follows the trail in the November issue of Vogue …. ASKED how women want men to smell I could wax lyrical for hours: engine oil and cumin; sun-browned salty skin; vetiver and cashmeran; soap, cigars and sex.
But Arnaud Montet is quick to clip my wings. The bottom line with fragrance is that it is deed to attract a mate. And in order to do that a man "just like a bacteria" has to impart a core message. This answers a woman's basic needs. As a chat-up line, "I am masculine, powerful and clean" may work for E coli, but it's probably not going to do the trick if you are a man.
Montet's advice is to let your fragrance do the talking. To be 'chosen' you have to be actively attractive, sensual and maybe a little bit clean. While to be accepted, you have to play it a lot safer. Though even before you get to that, there's a problem in using fragrance at all to say you are masculine in a culture where it is not fully accepted as a masculine product.
Half the women I canvassed said they didn't want men to smell of anything, and certainly not of something as namby-pamby as 'fragrance'. I was surprised to discover how much this is still true. Half the women I canvassed said they didn't want men to smell of anything, and certainly not of something as namby-pamby as "fragrance". And if women didn't seem keen, men were less so - at least on the surface. This is done by refusing to call a spade a spade, preferring "aftershave" a bit old-fashioned now"cologne" growing in popularity"cologne tonic" L'Homme Libre by YSL"body splash", or even "bracing body splash" Aramis.
Lynx, the most successful male fragrance on the planet, is generally applied as a "body spray". No dabbing behind the ears for the Lynx lad. Instead he is usually seen in the squirting on a fug of the stuff thick enough to cure him like a kipper.
The irony is plain to see. How can a man express his virility while adopting the supposedly feminine practice of scenting himself? Back in the Sixties he could reach for Centaur, a "massage cologne" that he was encouraged to rub into his "arms, legs and loins".
The ad, however, showed an image more in line with male fantasy: a buxom wench in a toga doing the massaging for a hirsute guy in robes. She's massaging his shoulders, but everything about her state of semi-dress tells you that loin massage is not far away. Centaur was strident in its claims to be masculine and powerful - "half man, half beast, all male! There was no need to worry that other men would sniff you out, since it emitted a "low level aroma that… transmits its virile message only in moments of close and intimate contact. Centaur may be dated, but its message - that scent is hardwired to virility - is still central.
Consider Paco Rabanne's mega-launch of this year, Invictus, in its trophy-shaped bottle. Invictus means "unconquerable" and the campaign stars the perfectly named perfect hunk, Nick Youngquest, an Australian rugby player. More demigod than mere sporting hero, he strides into a stadium with Greek gods and goddesses hovering over him. He's masculine. He's powerful. He's unconquerable. To the victor, the spoils.
The Lynx advertisements became famous for spoofing the kind of ad featuring, as brand manager David Titman puts it, "over-chiselled Adonises". But the difference between the Lynx protagonist and the over-chiselled Adonis is simply that he is not chiselled. He's an ordinary bloke, and sometimes a bit of a dork. Titman thinks Lynx "brings things down to earth". But the deliver the same inflated feelgood message - albeit with a knowing wink. One mighty spray from his aerosol and Mr Normal becomes irresistible.
And not just to one woman, but to an exorbitant of them. It's the excessive that make the Lynx funny, allowing the male viewer to laugh at fantasies of male-fragrance potency, while permitting him to enjoy an even more outrageous version of it at the same time. Women are no more honest than men when it comes to male fragrance. Those who told me they didn't want men to smell of anything would generally add that the man in their lives had a skin smell that was irresistible - because it was natural, real, not some fake read "feminine" add-on from a bottle.
Whereupon I would think, "I bet he's using something fabulous and low-lit, something elegant and whited-out like Chanel's Pour Monsieur, or Dior's Eau Sauvage, or that one that smells of expensive French sheets with a naked Frenchman lying on them - Creed's - and she's blocking it from her mind. It took a while for me to realise that I was no different. I found myself telling perfumer Alienor Massenet that what I loved about my husband was that his skin was the most sensual I'd ever come across, that it was a kind of red-gold caramelised copper with a tang of salty herbs to it and that I would follow it to the ends of the earth.
My husband smells delicious because he usually wears Pour un Homme by Caron, a fragrance which, when blended with his skin, forms the human equivalent of crystal meth. Quite apart from how embarrassing this is in general, I should have realised that he smells delicious because he usually wears Pour un Homme by Caron, a fragrance which, when blended with his skin, forms the human equivalent of crystal meth.
Pour un Homme is masculine and clean. While I wouldn't call it powerful, it makes me feel safe, which would answer my bacteria-level "basic need" for a protective rugged male for any offspring I might be planning. It's not edgy.
It won't interest the scent intellectuals. It's just really, really sexy. To die for, unbelievably sexy. Although it may also be in the process of becoming less male. Malle is a legend in the world of perfumery, creator of Les Editions de Parfums, a line of scents by perfumers freed to follow their creative urgings. He is a devotee of vetiver and, with perfume superstar Dominique Ropion, made one of the finest out there. Vetiver Extraordinaire stars a vetiver stripped of its jagged "camphoraceous notes" and fused with "warmer woods cashmeran, cedar, good sandalwood and a lot of musk - the thing," he adds, "you like so much in Pour un Homme.
I call Malle first off just to riff on the joys of the bitter-cool woody-green note that I, too, am infatuated with, especially when it's nestled just above the clavicle of certain men. But soon he veers from vetiver on to seismic changes sweeping the world of male scent. It's the rise of the gay aesthetic.
Men's fashion has taken off because of it and it's changing men's fragrance, too. We are seeing a feminisation of men's fragrance. Launched in the Eighties, this was the forerunner of a long-term trend that has gained momentum in the past few years. For Malle, these men's orientals are fascinating but as a heterosexual man, he doesn't find them as sexy.
They tend to be more woody, more matt, more… aesthetic. For me they smell more like home scents than people. I like perfumes that keep floating between the two genders. A thrill can come from the disruption. Ambiguity brings a mystery that I believe is more sensual, more subtle and more modern as well.
Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti sees the gender revolution differently. She professes herself "tired of men's colognes, which smell very much alike. There's more equality between the sexes. Look at Prince William, going into the delivery room with his wife. Men are less virile nowadays. Men may be less knee-jerk macho, but in some ways they have become more virile - certainly more virile-looking.
It's a change that is often put down to the growing influence of gay culture and its worship of le beau male. Go back just 20 years and if you came across a guy with a beautiful ripped body, you assumed he was gay. Today, as Mitchell puts it, "girls as young as 15 expect boys to have worked-out bodies. While feminism has not led to women being less objectified, it may have played a part in the increasing objectification of men.
For Malle, what we are seeing is the continuing evolution of French chic that began with Chanel. Chanel began it back in the Twenties and Chanel No 5 was the epitome of her aesthetic. That's why it worked so well. It matched the moment. Later, in the Sixties - another key moment of women's liberation - came Yves Saint Laurent.
He took men's evening dress and feminised it for women as Le Smoking. Then in the Noughties came a new twist when Hedi Slimane, then at Dior, took Saint Laurent's feminised Smoking and played it back to men in all its slimline, body-hugging sensuality.Love the smell of a woman
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The Smell Report