Over the two decades or so that I’ve been writing about male grooming I’ve probably been asked thousands of questions. Many of them are answered in this blog, others across the various publications I’ve written for over the years. Some questions come up time and again, though, and I recently answered 20 of the most common of them for The Telegraph. So if you’re wondering how much fragrance is too much, whether five blades really are better than one or what products you should never put near your nether regions you can find out here.
As someone who writes about male grooming for a living I’m often asked for gift suggestions around this time of year. Fragrance, of course, is one of the best gifts there is, partly because the average bottle will last for months – or years if it’s only worn for special occasions – making it the gift that really does keep on giving. Question is: which fragrance do you buy? 2017 saw some great new launches, some distinctly average ones and a few that I’d happily spray onto a radiator to get rid of the smell of cooking fish but not onto my actual skin. But since nobody’s interested in buying something ‘meh’ and conventional room sprays are available for hiding the honk of your haddock, here are a few fragrance launches I really rated this year. If you’re stuck for a festive gift idea you could certainly do worse than one of these…
Good for grown ups: Gucci Guilty Absolute
Gucci Guilty Absolute shocked me a little when I got a sneak preview of it earlier this year, mainly because it eschews the overt, hyper-commerciality of the other Gucci Guilty fragrances in favour of something altogether more grown up and gentlemanly. The work of perfumer Alberto Morillas (whose track record includes Ck One) and Gucci Creative Director Allessandro Michele, it’s woody, earthy and ludicrously leathery, has been designed to smell the same after a few hours as it does the moment it’s applied, and also has excellent staying power on the skin. The real beauty of Absolute, though, is that you get something akin to a niche creation for a mainstream fragrance price. If that doesn’t convince you to give it a go I can report that, out of all the fragrances I’ve worn this year, it’s the one that has elicited the most ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’.
The everyday workhorse: Joop! Wow!
The arrival of Joop’s latest fragrance for men earlier this year took industry bods like myself by surprise, mainly because it was so damn good. That isn’t to say that Joop! doesn’t have form in producing great fragrances (1989’s groundbreaking Joop! Homme became one of the most popular men’s fragrances of the 90s) but that the brand had become a little tired, had lost its way and become – let’s be honest here – a little ‘bargain basement’. Wow! however is a genuine return to form, blending woods, spices and creamy vanilla notes with a touch of bourbon to create a boozy, woody and comforting fragrance that’s both commercial and sensual without being pedestrian. Cool bottle too.
The premium perfume: Tom Ford Private Blend Fucking Fabulous
Few fragrances divided beauty world opinion this year quite like Tom Ford’s unisex Fucking Fabulous. Half of the industry thought it was, well, fabulous while the other half thought it was the olfactory equivalent of one of those headline-grabbing pop videos which feature buttocks quivering like jellies and debased and cheapened one of the world’s most famous luxury brands. I must say, I was firmly in the pro camp and can only assume that those who thought it somehow ‘off brand’ had forgotten about all those controversial nude fragrance ads Ford is famous for. The fragrance, too, has sharply divided opinion: people seem to either love its woody, almondy powderiness and underlying leatheriness or hate it. (One reviewer described it as ‘one of the skankiest perfumes I’ve ever smelled’). Personally, I think it’s well worth a sniff, though do check it out first: at £205 for 50ml it’s a pricey mistake if you don’t think it’s, you know, f-ing fabulous.
The fresh alternative: John Varvatos Artisan Pure
Discovering John Varvatos’ fragrances through his latest one is like stumbling on a rock star via their latest album and realising they have a whole back catalogue of wonderfulness. Unusually for a fragrance released at the back-end of the year (it popped up as a Selfridges exclusive last month and won’t go nationwide until January) it’s a deliciously light and sparkling citrus floral affair (lemon, orange, bergamot, petigrain, coffee tree flower and jasmine are some of the notes) with a piquant spiciness and a solid cedarwood base. Perfect for those who don’t like sickly sweet, cloying gourmand fragrances or heavy oriental ones it’s a breath of fresh air and the bottle – a reworking of the hand-woven bottles for which the Arisan range is now known – is fab. Try it, and then explore Varvatos’ other fragrances – you won’t be disappointed.
For the connoisseur: Etro ManRose
After mandles and manbags it was inevitable that perfume would eventually be subject to a masculine portmanteau in order to butch it up a little, which is the case with Etro’s ManRose – a masculine floral launched in the spring. All fragrances are essentially genderless, of course – and more men than ever are thinking out of the box and beyond the usual woody affairs – but for those who are just dipping their toe into florals this one if perfect. Delicate, commercial and suedey, with the almost edible Turkish rose note dirtied up a little by patchouli, pepper and leather, it’s a delight. A man still needs a certain amount of confidence to carry off a distinctly floral fragrance like this but for the bold and daring it’d make the perfect Christmas present.
I love Dunhill ICON. When it was launched back in 2015 I named it as one of my favourite fragrances of the year, even going so far as to call it a future classic. And if you look at the reviews of it around the time of its release I was not alone – it was almost universally praised, which is no mean feat for a new men’s fragrance these days. Wasting no time in capitalising on this success, a reworked version, Dunhill ICON Absolute, complete with differentiating gold-coloured flacon, was launched that same year. It too, was a pretty good fragrance, though as is often the case with hastily thrown out flankers, it wasn’t quite as good as the original. Then, in 2016, came ICON Elite (are you keeping up?). The original award-winning bottle, jet black this time, was as wonderful as ever – it truly is a work of art – but the fragrance itself was a little less impressive than both of its predecessors.
Thankfully, we were spared an ICON Elite Absolute but the brand is back this September with yet another ICON variant in the shape of Dunhill ICON Racing (it was originally called Racing Green from what I can gather but the Green bit seems to have been dropped). And, following the downward trajectory of the ICON concept it’s, in my opinion at least, the weakest of the bunch so far. A woody oriental with notes of Volcanic Red Orange (your guess is as good as mine), bergamot, saffron, clary sage, leather, vetiver and patchouli it moves things ever more mainstream and predictable. Whereas the original ICON was one of Dunhill’s most complex and intriguing fragrances ever, Racing revels in blunt, unsophisticated mass-market simplicity. It’s sweet and soapy and although the dry down is pleasantly woody it’s simply not a patch on the fragrance whose DNA it (now only vaguely) shares.
The problem here I think is once facing many fragrance companies at the moment – Tom Ford and Jo Malone amongst them unfortunately – and that’s that there are simply too many launches in too quick succession. Obsessed by newness (it’s what the customer wants these days I’m told) houses like Dunhill are signed up to a release schedule that feels like it’s on speed and there’s little time to pause for thought or grow loyalty to one particular fragrance or another.
Maybe, pressurised by such a release schedule, the perfumers themselves don’t have the time or creative breathing space to come up with something truly amazing, (though it’s more likely they have soul-destroying mass-market briefs to contend with) but what I do know is that with each successive version, ICON gets weaker and weaker. When you truly love a fragrance – as I do with the original ICON – this is terribly sad to witness and, although I’m sure the company won’t pay a blind bit of notice to what one reviewer like me has to say, my message to them anyway would be to take a deep breath and slow down a little. More haste, less speed – that’s how to create an icon.
Dunhill ICON Racing launches in Harrods next month and nationwide from October 2nd, priced £63 for 50ml EDP
In the last ten years the release of summer-appropriate fragrances has become as much a part of the holiday season as sandals, strawberries and horrifying sartorial slip ups (why are British men so bad at dressing for summer?). In fact, without a clutch of light, crisp and zingy scents summer just wouldn’t be summer. I’ve written about some of those on offer this year for my summer fragrance round up over on fashionbeans.com but new ones seems to pop up every day – like these two new numbers from Tom Ford and Azzaro.
Ford’s offering (and I can barely keep up with the amount of new launches appearing from his Private Blend Collection these days) Mandarino Di Amalfi Acqua (£139.50 for 100ml EDP from John Lewis) is a reworking of Mandarino Di Amalfi featuring a hint of mint to give it a cool watery freshness. It’s delightfully fresh, citrusy and herbaceous and as with the aqua version of Neroli Portofino, the frosted blue bottle is about as evocative of summer as it gets. I know several people who actually prefer the aqua versions of Ford’s fragrances to the originals so if you’re mad for Mandarino you certainly might want to give it a try.
As for Azzaro Chrome Pure, well, if you read this blog regularly you’ll be aware of my views about Azzaro’s (somewhat controversial) last fragrance Azzaro Wanted. If not you can read them here). Thankfully, Chrome Pure (£43 for 50ml EDT from Debenhams) sees the brand on safer – and slightly more sophisticated – ground. The bottle is simple, yet elegant, and the fragrance itself is a ferociously commercial blend of bergamot, mandarin, akigala wood (a note created by fragrance company Givaudan which has its origins in patchouli) and tonka bean. Okay, it’s not a blend that’s likely to win any awards for originality but it is guaranteed to win some fans for its sheer wearability. Almost as refreshing as the fragrance, though, is the ad campaign. As with the ads for the original Chrome fragrance, it eschews the barely-clothed male/female clichés that have been a staple of fragrance advertising for so long, for a gentle, in-the-moment father/son thing instead. In character, it couldn’t be further away from Azzaro Wanted and for that alone it’s worthy of praise.
If you’re a bit of a fragrance junkie chances are that spraying it onto skin isn’t the only way you like to enjoy your scent. But while solid perfumes and scented candles are all very nice there are other, altogether more interesting, ways to enjoy perfume too. Take this super-cool scented pencil collection from fine writing experts Caran d’Ache for example. Featuring four exquisite 4HB graphite pencils, each made of a different precious wood (Western Hemlock, White Oak, Silver Teak and White Ash), the set is heavily scented with a warm, creamy blend of patchouli, incense and tonka bean and each pencil is a real delight to hold and to smell – especially when you pop it into a sharpener.
The fragrance itself, ‘Tibetan Wood’, is the creation of master perfumer Alberto Morillas (the guy who created Armani’s Acqua di Gio and Calvin Klein’s CK One) and is certainly something you’d want to wear if it were bottled. I have to say, I loved these from the moment I clapped eyes on them. Beautiful, stylish and practical – they’ve almost tempted me to take up life drawing classes – they’re the perfect present for perfumistas but also for arty types, dads (Father’s Day is coming up remember) and, well, men who have everything but a set of scented pencils. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not something you necessarily need but trust me, you’ll certainly want them.
Les Crayons de le Maison Caran D’Ache cost £30.00 for a set of four. For stockists go to www.carandache.com
The unmistakable scent of rose has long been a mainstay of men’s fragrances, though in most cases it’s tucked away deep in the composition and the general ‘rosiness’ is dialled down so as not to make it seem overly feminine. Which is a shame in my book because men smell fantastic when rocking a rose fragrance. I myself am partial to Serge Lutens’ ludicrously sexy Tubéreuse Criminelle, which is the kind of scent you imagine the Marquis de Sade wearing whilst brandishing a riding crop, but even I have to be in the right frame of mind to wear it because rose-based fragrances are never for the faint-hearted.
Many men, of course, are still terrified about anything floral, which is presumably the kind of customer Etro is after with ManRose – their latest fragrance and one whose very name suggests it’s aimed at the kind of guy who can’t smell the nation’s favourite flower without instantly thinking of a diaphanously dressed, soft-focus Jayne Seymour wafting through an English walled garden.
Daft name aside (do we really need to be so blunt in 2017?) it’s actually a great starter fragrance for any man interested in trying florals as a change to the usual woody, smoky or leathery fare. What makes ManRose so accessible is the fact that, though the rose is there, it’s intensity is dialed down somewhat allowing the fragrance to have a delicate, powdery and slightly suedey edge which gives it a commerciality some punchier rose fragrances lack. So if you’ve always wanted to try something flagrantly floral but were always nervous to try this might well be the perfect introduction to the genre.
Top: Bergamot, Sichuan pepper, cardamon, elemi
Heart: Turkish rose, geranium, incense
Base: patchouli, vetiver, musk, leather, ember, woods
Etro’s ManRose is available now from Liberty, priced £118 for 100ml eau de parfum.
Beaufort London is, without doubt, one of my favourite boutique fragrance brands. Everything they do is so carefully considered and artfully approached I defy any fragrance lover not to fall in love with them. Each fragrance has a backstory as interesting and complex as the juice itself and they’re delightfully and defiantly unconventional, existing completely outside fickle fads or trends.
If you fancy trying them out for yourself they’ve just launched a new discovery kit, featuring five 7.5ml travel-sized fragrances from the ‘Come Hell or High Water’ collection which is inspired by Britain’s nautical history. Each fragrance is a corker (my personal fave is Fathom V which completely turns the concept of a ‘marine’ fragrance on its head) and each spray is refillable from a full-sized bottle of fragrance.
What takes this ‘taster’ collection to another level, though, is the presentation since the sprays come in their own beautiful leather wrap. Again, it’s this kind of attention to detail that marks Beaufort London out from many other niche brands and proves that, as with gift buying, when it comes to creating something truly special, it’s very much the thought that counts.
Beaufort London’s Come Hell Or High Water Discovery Set costs £85 and is available from beaufortlondon.com