Signature for Men (Max Factor)

I've always wondered what men smelled like back in the day. As a fan of old movies, it's not unusual for me to get stuck on some old Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart pic, and wonder what exactly the man off the street in 1950 wore before heading into his daily routine. Nowadays the answer is clear - most men either wear nothing, an Axe body spray, or some disgusting variation of Nautica Voyage or Tommy Bahama. But back then, before all the synthetic musks and ionones and esters . . . what was the air like?

About five years ago, I was helping a senior citizen friend of mine clean out the third floor of his 150 year-old Bridgeport home. The guy was a former graphic designer, print artist, and advertiser. He was also a Pepsi enthusiast, and a big fan of Eames chairs. In short, this guy's taste is really, really cool.

So it was with some surprise that, in the course of tossing decades of lost memories into a dumpster, we happened across an almost-full bottle of Signature by Max Factor. Labeled a Spray Cologne for Men, this scent was boxed and untouched since the day it was purchased, god knows when. Perfume Intelligence cites the scent as being made in 1950, and that's all there is. Being the fumehead that I am, I gave it a test spritz.

The gas-powered atomizer emitted far more fluid than desired. I was smacked with a massive wall of alcohol and decayed aldehydes, which smelled of nothing in particular. Then arrived a sweeping elegy of clovey spices and super-sweet musks. The arrangement smelled messy, powdery, and intense. However, after five minutes, it did cohere into a distinct, svelte-smelling musk. The closest thing I can compare it to is Aqua Velva Musk, which unfortunately is one of my least-favorite colognes. However, as its progenitor, Signature for Men certainly smells like a simple eau de toilette version of that sort of nondescript, sweetly masculine musk-smell that many men use as chaser to a shave.

Finding other bottles of this would prove difficult, as not even Max Factor itself acknowledges the existence of this long-defunct article. But no matter - I'm satisfied. I now know what the middle-class American man of the 1950s smelled like, at least some of the time. And I'm glad he's moved on to bigger and better things.