How to Wear a Strong Cologne
What does a Ducati Monster have to do with smelling like a man? Nothing. But also everything. Hear me out on this one.
One recent evening in Manhattan, at an event space on the sleepy western reaches of midtown, Ralph Lauren threw a party to launch its latest men’s fragrance, Polo Red Extreme. The scent, which comes to market in March, is a "flanker," as they say in the $40-billion global fragrance business, which means it’s a spinoff built to bolster the brand’s ranks on the shelves. It will stand adjacent to the original 2013 Polo Red (citrusy, touted as an “energizing fragrance”) and 2015’s Polo Red Intense (which allegedly “ignites the thrill seeker in every man”).
Polo Red Extreme pitches itself to a guy who “pushes limits to the edge and thrives on extreme sensations”—or at least has a talent for imagining himself in that role. It was designed by the perfumer Olivier Gillotin. As a respected “nose,” Gillotin has created men’s and unisex favorites marketed by Dior and Tom Ford, not to mention celeb-studded drugstore packages such as Taylor Swift’s Wonderstruck, Beyoncé’s Heat, and Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds. His sense of smell is sufficiently tuned to the point that he knew he wanted the middle note of Polo Red Extreme to be not just coffee but “Colombian coffee roasted in an Italian style … bitter and sweet at the same time.”
Thus, the cherry-red Ducati serving as a selfie prop for 320 guests, a few of whom were “extreme influencers”—professional boxers and New York Giants and extremely photogenic people who are extremely influential in the arena of extreme sports. They sipped signature drinks—a blood-orange spritzer and a black coffee cocktail—respectively paying homage to Polo Red Extreme’s top note (its initial light smell of blood orange) and its middle notes (the longer lasting black coffee essence that builds off the orange).
But when you read between the lines of this—or, really, any—scent-related sales pitch, you realize that, for all of the talk of fragrance as a love potion, the most artistically and commercially successful of them directly seduce the consumer himself. But before you yield to temptation, read on to catch of whiff of essential insider knowledge in choosing and using a scent.
No need to settle down with your first, Gillotin advises. “It’s important to say that just smelling on the blotter is nonsense,” so test it out on your skin directly. “A fragrance reacts differently from one skin to another,” he continues. And give it time to develop, so avoid snap judgments. “Some fragrances might not be interesting to someone for the initial two or three minutes, but wonderful after.”
'The Power of the Trail'
When I asked him where a man should apply fragrance, I was aware that “pulse points” is the universal refrain. (Thus, the traditional ritual of spraying the wrists.) Gillotin, however, gestured matter-of-factly toward his inner thighs: “You have two big arteries here. It’s one of the warmest parts of the body.” And he made a persuasive argument against spraying the neck. If I could smell his fragrance strongly while speaking with him right just then? “Pfft—that’s no good. But someone passes next to us [and says,] ‘Did you smell that?’ That, I think, is the most important thing to achieve—the power of the trail.”
The only firm rule is not too much. “It’s a tricky question,” Gillotin concedes. “But remind your readers that people are smelling your fragrance stronger than you do.” If you are ever in doubt that a second spritz is going to push it over the line too much, hold off and repeat later in the day instead. It is always easier to add more later.
Men tend to exhibit strong brand loyalty when it comes to cologne. About 60 percent of men’s fragrance purchases go to restocking or replenishing a dwindling supply of his regular brand. The cost of the Polo Extreme Red’s seduction? The smallest bottle, 40ml—or about 1.3 ounces—goes for $55; the largest, 125ml, for $95. Best practices dictate that the halfway hesitant or merely curious shopper always buy the smallest quantity of a fragrances. Wait to make the value-size purchase, ungainly though the big bottle may be, until you’ve committed to the scent.
Why You Need Three
Gillotin suggests that the sophisticated gent will own a minimum of three fragrances—a fresh, low-key one for the morning and the gym, something from the herbal and spicy fougère family for a more assertive mood, and something with “a very strong signature,” such as his latest: “It is to be used when you want to be seen.”