Looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Here are five new fragrances worth a sniff.

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.

 

For the love of Grey Flannel

GREY FLANNEL FRAGRANCEGiven that today is National Fragrance Day it seemed appropriate to post something about the importance of the smelly stuff. Certainly, the relationship it’s possible to have with your favourite fragrance can be complex and surprisingly intimate. I have known my signature scent, Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel, for example, longer than I have known most of my friends or my other half.

It has been my favourite fragrance for nearly 30 years (yes, I am that old) and has been there on my skin when I have laughed, cried, worked, travelled, fallen in love and – on occasion – fallen over blind drunk. It was there when I went to University in the mid Eighties, when I secured my first journalism job in the Nineties and when I tied the knot in the Noughties. And I’m still wearing it now, in whatever the current decade we’re in happens to be called.

Acquaintances have come and gone but Grey Flannel, like the most steadfast and loyal of friends, has stuck by me through thick and thin – literally and figuratively as it happens since I was once considerably slighter than I am now. Frankly, I only hope that someone has the decency to spritz my lifeless cadaver with it when I eventually pop my clogs/favourite pair of Tricker’s boots.

Oh, I’ll admit here and now that there have been times when I’ve been, you know, less than faithful to Grey Flannel: other fragrances have entered my life and caused me to stray occasionally. What can I say? I write about fragrance for a living so the temptation is there on a plate – and in a bottle. But though I do have a fondness for Givenchy Gentleman, Helmut Lang Cologne, Roja Parfum’s Vetiver Extrait and Lagerfeld Classic, Grey Flannel is the fragrance I always come home to after a dalliance of the eau de toilette kind.

grey copyAlthough launched in the mid Seventies, I first discovered GF though an ad in Eighties’ style bible Blitz magazine which featured a naked James Dean lookalike (or was it Dean himself?) and instantly fell in love with its quirky grey flannel pouch and intoxicating (if polarising) mix of galbanum, geranium, rose, oakmoss, tonka bean and violet. And especially the violet.

People who smell it on me often say it reminds them of the Parma Violet sweets they sucked on as kids. A oriental woody scent with green, powdery and slightly soapy vibes, it’s a lot more complex than that, of course, but I get where they’re coming from and, like the smell of the childhood sweets they refer to, it’s a concoction I find strangely comforting. So much so, in fact, that it’s my lucky charm when I need a little good fortune and in times of crisis I’ve been known to spray a little of it on my pillow. Yep, Linus from Charlie Brown has his security blanket and I have my bottle of Grey Flannel. But that’s how it is with a fragrance that you fall in love with: it’s always there for you.

The truth is, Grey Flannel is not the coolest of fragrances to wear (though the perfumers I know seem to rate it highly) nor is it a particularly expensive one.  But don’t be fooled by the lack of street cred or disrespectful discounting; there’s nothing bargain basement about this award-winning fragrance (it won a prestigious FiFi  –  the equivalent of a fragrance Oscar – in 1976).

Naturally, over the years the formula has changed a bit (pesky new ingredient rules have seen to that) but it’s still pretty faithful to the fragrance I remember back  when I was in my student digs so I’m not complaining. My only concern these days is that Grey Flannel will be discontinued before I am  – which explains why I have a small, nuclear holocaust-style stockpile – but it must be doing something right to be here 40 years after it launched – not to mention to still be in my life after all these years. Franky, I count myself very lucky indeed to have picked a fragrance that has lasted so long. Many young guys I know are falling in love with fragrances that will have vanished off the shelves in three years time once the company that produces them decides to replace them – modern record company stylee – with a younger, fresher, more aggressively commercial model.

So, on the day we’re celebrating all that the fragrance industry has given us my message is this:  if you find a fragrance that means as much to you as Grey Flannel means to me enjoy it, cherish it and keep it close: it’s much more than something that can make you smell nice – it really can be your very best friend.

A version of this post originally appeared on scentmemories.org