You only need to go back 40 odd years to recall a bygone age in which men would just about admit to splashing on a bit of Brut or Old Spice. In those days, ‘perfumes’ were not for real men, I mean, they were even called after-shave to give them some credibility.
As for today, the industry could not be anymore different, with men actually steering clear of the better known brands, and heading for the more quirky and unique. No longer is it hip to have a bottle that everyone else owns, let alone has heard of. Nowadays it’s all about the smaller boutique fragrances, with a pedigree and history within the perfume industry.
The thing about these niche brands is that they take more risks with scents and don’t necessarily copy what the rest of the industry is putting out on the shelves. They also tend to use ingredients with a higher quality and sometimes even downright weird (take the shot of Marmite in Union Celtic Fire as an example), and have an interesting story behind the scent.
So why are men suddenly becoming more discerning and confident about their choice of fragrance? Shay & Blue founder Dominic De Vetta, a former senior vice president of Chanel, thinks it is all to do with mens’ growing sense of style in general. He says: “Twenty years ago men were almost ashamed to buy something so obviously niche. But today’s man has a better grasp of what makes a good fragrance. He’ll ask about our Blood Oranges fragrance and compare it with Chanel’s Cuir de Russie. He approaches fragrance-buying as he would choosing a fine wine or a Savile Row shirt.”
One thing’s for certain, there’s nothing mass-produced about their fragrances. De Vetta says: “We champion the boutique way. Everything is done with passion. We take our time, do things properly and by hand. Our ingredients are hand-picked, our blends are matured for three months, and we hand-fill in England. Unlike most ‘industrial’ perfumes, our scents are rich, round, deep and full.”
And availability seems to be another selling point, as make the scent free and obvious to the masses, and you seem to be putting off some guys, who want to have to search for a particular fragrance, not have it shoved in their faces on the shelves of Superdrug.
But isn’t this all a little snobby? I mean, if a fragrance smells right on you what’s the problem? Well I remember buying a bottle of Angel by Thierry Mugler, practically the week it came out, and feeling a bit special as every female friend I knew asked me what my new fragrance was. I don’t wear it anymore. Why? It’s too common. Everyone has heard of it and most of my friends wear it. It has lost that unique appeal.
Mark Arnell, managing director of fragrance, shaving and grooming at online retailer Brummells of London agrees: “There’s been a continuing shift – among those with means – to look towards more niche offerings. Fragrance is a hugely personal endeavour,” he adds. “It speaks to our own individual tastes and helps to distinguish us from the crowd.”
Another reason for men choosing niche fragrances is that men are not so heavily invested in designer labels as perhaps women are. They tend to choose a fragrance based more on what it actually smells like, rather than the brand behind it.
So who are these niche brands that we should be keeping our eyes on?
Check out Creed fragrances, in particular Green Irish Tweed which apparently is worn by Hollywood A listers. The scent is fresh and green with floral and woody notes, finishing with sandalwood and ambergris. 30ml for £90.
Roja fragrances, which are only available through high-end department stores such as Fortnum & Masons and Harrods, have a range of scents for men, but our favourite is Roja Fetish, a warming scent with top notes of chypré, bergamot. lemon and lime, middle of fig and jasmine and base notes that are sweet and leathery. 50ml for £225.
Ladies with discerning noses will have already heard of Jo Malone, but for men it may be a different story. We think this is all set to change with a new range of Jo Malone’s Jo Loves… fragrances for men, including A Shot of Thai Lime Over Mango, A Shot of Oud Over Mango and Mango Nectar. We love the zesty fruitiness of the Lime version, complete with kaffir lime and black pepper, mint leaves and vetiver, so refreshing!
Finally, check out Molton Brown’s first range of fragrances called Navigations Through Scent. They include five varied fine fragrances that follow the ancient spice trade routes from Egypt to China, Indonesia, England and Canada. Our favourite? The deliciously spicy Iunu, a floriental scent with top notes of ginger oil and elemi oil, middle notes of Egyptian jasmine absolute, ylang ylang and black pepper and a base of patchouli oil and oakmoss. 50ml for £65.
Sources: FT.com and The Telegraph