The Long And Short Of It

Frick and Frack. You're Tweedely-Dee.

The end of another year is finally upon us, and I find myself reflecting on the last twelve months with a mixture of pleasure and wistfulness. Lately I've been reaching for Brut more than anything else, of all things. You'd think a guy with seventy fragrances (most of them exotic, relative to what the average person wears) would, oh, I don't know, reach for something fancier than Brut, but what can I say? Brut I want, so Brut it shall be. After all, I don't just have Brut. I have Brut, Brut Classic, vintage Brut 33, Brut Splash-On, Brut aftershave, and Brut deodorant spray, so when I want Brut, I get the entire grooming regimen done, not just a wee dab of cologne.

At work today my coworker was surfing the web, looking for a cologne for her "man," and seemed pretty intent on getting him Gucci Guilty. She's nine years younger than me, so I guess I can understand her thought process here. She's young, and I assume he's close to her age, and neither of them have a clue what the other should smell like, as long as it smells "good." The woman in question told me, "The guy at Macy's said to buy him whatever I like, not what he likes." And she likes Gucci Guilty. If she likes it, he'll probably be at least OK with it, and will wear it until they break up, which by today's average is likely within the next two or three years. I have this little theory about relationships that people over the age of twenty-three who stay together for more than two years without tying the knot are actually, and despite what they might think of it themselves, in a poor relationship, but that's a conversation for another day, probably on another blog. All I can say about this woman is, I totally like her, she's as happy as can be, always brightens everyone's day, and I think her taste in fragrance sucks.

It took every ounce of willpower not to say to her, "Just get him a bottle of Brut Classic and call it a day." I actually have a bottle there, I could have pulled it from my cubby and handed it to her, and let her cluck her tongue and tell me about how old I am. There's still a work day left before we go on vacation, so the chance to spout off is still there, putting my better judgment in a half-nelson. But if anyone were to ask me which masculine to get for their "man," I'd recommend Brut as a safe, all-encompassing, time-tested win. Sorry people, but the damn stuff defies conventional wisdom in every sense, be it financial, fashionable, or otherwise. Yeah, three ounces is ten bucks at Walgreens. Yeah, it's fifty years old, and no, it's not going to turn heads.

But it's one of a precious few surviving traditional fougères men have at their disposal. Furthermore, it has been fairly well preserved over the decades, with the loss of musk ambrette the only real blow to its physical structure. On Badger & Blade the Classic version is heralded as being quite close to the original of the sixties and seventies, and I have the old 33 to compare it to, so I agree with their assessment. But what does it say of fragrance in general that a cheap, ostensibly outdated drugstore fern that nobody below the age of forty touches anymore smells so good? Why bother with anything like say, Green Irish Tweed or Bleu de Chanel if Brut is so nice?

Should we even bother with fragrance at all? There's a study from the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago, which found that cologne for men turns women off, that "Men's colognes actually reduced vaginal blood flow," which is a scientific blow to any guy who thinks the fanciest fragrance will woo the prettiest girl . . . or is it? The study is questionable. Very questionable. The foundation's founder, Al Hirsch, had women wear surgical masks with different fragrances on them, and hooked their lady parts up to a vaginal photoplethysmograph (with unscented masks as a control). He found that pretty much every conventional masculine scent turned women off, at least in the physical arousal department (no accounting for whether the women were intellectually drawn to any of the scents), yet the smells of candy and cucumbers were arousing, which begs the question, do sweet scents with cucumber notes warrant attention here?

An obvious question is, were these women turned on to begin with, in a manner that made measuring how quickly and by how much they were turned off relevant? One assumes their vaginas were engorged with enough blood to begin with, and thus measuring the retreat of their biological arousal mechanism in the presence of fragrance was worth it. Otherwise you're just taking women who aren't sexually aroused at all, plopping surgical masks on their faces (very arousing), and pointing out the photowhateveragraph's notations because you literally have nothing better to do in your pursuit of scientific knowledge and understanding. I think the study equates feminine arousal to olfactory response in a way that is much like saying, "If men fail to get erections in the presence of women's perfumes, women should abstain from wearing perfume altogether," which is an absurd statement to any man, because men know that perfume alone is pointless without a woman wearing it - the combination of her natural pheromones and delicate feminine notes is often intoxicating.

Studies like this require some translation, and I think whenever a mask is put on somebody's face, the strength of whatever it's scented with is magnified greatly. Just think of any rubber mask you've ever put on. The scent of the rubber is usually overpowering, but when you take it off it barely registers from a few inches away. What do I glean from Al's study? Go easy on the sprayer, unless you're actively studying a fragrance and want to really pick its structure apart over the course of a day, in which case you should spray at your discretion. Maybe lighter, more ephemeral cologne-strength scents are better on men after all, because they're only detectable "up close," for anyone who wants to be that close to you. Then again, what do I know? Maybe it doesn't matter at all, if your scent of choice is solid to begin with.

As the years wear on, I've come to realize a few things about the fragrance world, or more specifically, my fragrance world:
1. Fragrance is only one small piece of a person's puzzle. Just wearing a Creed, or Lutens, or Amouage is not enough to make you interesting, or sexy, or sophisticated, or all of the above. You have to possess enough character and personality to support whatever you're wearing, if you're hoping your fragrance will really mean anything to anyone else.

2. Expensive is not "better" in this game. Yes, Green Irish Tweed smells really, really good. But then again, so does Brut, Old Spice, Aqua Velva. Cheap fragrances can, and sometimes do match their expensive counterparts in quality and wear-ability, so why go nuts trying to break the bank? Any guy can smell good at any price-point. Just accept that wearing something like Brut or Old Spice is not a reflection of you anymore than a rare bee bottle Guerlain is a reflection of its owner's personal qualities. If you wear the cheap cologne with shame, you'll convey shame, and the cologne won't smell like anything memorable to anyone. If you carry yourself confidently, chances are your confidence and scent will be associated with each other.

3. Fragrance is truly gender-neutral. I can think of a dozen women who could rock Drakkar, or Allure Homme, or even Brut. Likewise, there are more than a few guys who would be much better off reaching for Tea Rose than that Axe crap on store shelves. Milan Kundera once said, "All great novels are bisexual." All great perfumes are bisexual. That said, there's nothing wrong with reveling in "guy's-guy" perfumes like the drugstore classics mentioned here. Old Spice really was worn by your grandfather, and yes, he wore lumberjack flannels and smoked cigars. Guess what? The smells of sweat, cigar smoke, and Old Spice got him laid.

4. There are no "experts." There are people who have smelled three or four perfumes, and there are those who have smelled three or four hundred, or more. The person who has three scents under his olfactory belt is just as qualified to pass judgment on something as the super-sniffer is. Our noses are biological instruments that can be fine-tuned, but never forget that they are survival mechanisms, and as Avery Gilbert said, "Humans can smell just as well as dogs." That's right, you could theoretically (pride notwithstanding) get on your hands and knees at an airport and locate exactly which suitcase is holding bricks of cocaine, in case the drug-sniffer dogs get tired. How is that possible? Your nose, even without fine-tuning, is capable of deciphering the oddest, most out-of-place aromas in a split second, the sort of instinct that kicks in when you raise a glass of spoiled milk to your lips.

As we slip into 2015, I intend on slowing down in my fragrance journey, so as to allow my impressions to be truly dimensional and well conceived. I'd like to wish you all a happy holiday and a happy new year. See you again soon.


  1. Hi Bryan,
    I remember Hirsh's aroma study back in the 1990s and I remember as you mentioned, 'candy and cucumber' were the aromas that he found that the women in his study responded to the most. I remember that the candy was specifically 'Good N Plenty' which is a licorice candy in the US. Since licorice is in many fragrances and if his findings hold true, this would stand to reason that a scent like Brut or Azzaro or later expressions like B*Men might have a slight advantage, since they have 'licorice/anise' notes. One has to ask how big the sample set of Hirsh's experiment i.e., how many women did participate in his study? My wife is personally turned off by the smell of licorice. However, in one particular case about a year ago I had been wearing B*Men and for some reason a salesgirl in a store kept following me around excessively and finally, she remarked how nice I smell. When it came time to check out at the cash register, she dismissed the current cashier and she said, 'I'm AVAILABLE' quite overtly to me with a smile. Since I never flirted with her, she had never met me before nor was I dressed up impressively...one can deduce that the fragrance did play at least a minimal part in the signals that she was sending.

    You are right that it is not the scent alone in most cases, but rather a plethora of different factors coming into play to create the 'persona' in someone. Same reasoning behind the pheromonal factors which are apart from aromas (other than a slight sweaty smell, fresh pheromones do not exude any particular aroma) and react with the VNO in our noses. Marketers would have the public believe that if a male sprays on androstadienone, women will melt while beta males will bow in respect. Conversely, if a woman sparingly applies copulins...she will ensnare any male. While pheromones do play a MAJOR part in certain lower species (e.g. insects like bees), humans are not simple creatures like insects. The result is often not that straightforward.

    1. Yes it's definitely silly to assume that scent alone can change the game for someone, sexually or otherwise. That's interesting about the pheromones, you seem to know a lot about it. I'd go back to that store with the "nosy" salesgirl, btw ;)

    2. Hahahah! Of course if I was still single without obligations, I would have definitely asked that gal for her phone number as she had been sending blatant signals. Though I had not been wearing anything other than B*Men that day - no other stimuli was offered, no flirtation...not even direct eye contact, the location was 'risky' (store rather than 'non-risky' location e.g., dance club/bar where such behavior is expected/encouraged) so it stands to reason that the fragrance could have played some role in that particular encounter. Ceteris Paribus for things like natural pheromonal signature as I remember that I was a tad unkempt. So, you may have a point when you remarked how Grandpa sweat etc.

      Thanks for the compliment concerning pheromones. The topic is fascinating and it can be fun. Pheromones do play a role in human pair bonding albeit in a subtle way. Just as in fragrance when one is aggressive with the spray trigger, too much pheromone giving an extreme alpha male signature can literally 'frighten' rather than attract most women save for the really 'skanky' ones. Strange, but it has been observed. On a slight tangent, if you remember the Realm line of fragrances from the 90s (originally Erox), were one of the first to actually place 'human pheromones' into their formulas. However, they reversed the respective pheromones in their formulas. Specifically, they placed the 'female attracting chemical androstadienone' into their for her perfume while placing the male attracting chemical namely estrataetrenol into the for him perfume. Why in the world would they do that??? The word had it that the company feared lawsuits from date rape victims if they had done it correctly. Rather it was marketed as 'it will improve your self-confidence' as also, pheromones can have effects on the wearer himself/herself. Weird.

      Let me also return the compliment and say that you have an astute knowledge of fragrances and I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for the cool reviews. Keep up the good work!

      Wishing you and your whole family Happy Holidays as well as a Happy New Year!

    3. I remember Realm/Erox but didn't know about the pheremone switcheroo, that's hilarious that they were THAT confident their blend would work had they done it right. Guess on the flip side it would work fine for people interested in same-sex encounters, or for cross-scenters who prefer wearing frags intended for the opposite gender.

      Happy holidays to you also, Kris!

  2. "I have this little theory about relationships that people over the age of twenty-three who stay together for more than two years without tying the knot are actually, and despite what they might think of it themselves, in a poor relationship, but that's a conversation for another day"

    Perhaps when your break is over you might broach this topic once more. It's an interesting one. Thanks.


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