The guide to smelling good all of the time
As Tom Ford once said, “Good manners and good cologne is what transforms the man into a gentleman.”
With all due respect to the most tasteful man in the world, that’s only half the story.
Cologne is one tool for smelling good, but being well-fragranced in all departments takes a bigger toolbox. To scent your life, you need to look at your home, laundry, medicine cabinet, even your car. Here’s how to get it done easily, even if you’re not a cologne guy.
It’s Time to Reconsider Incense
It's no longer the hacky sack of scents
I burn so much incense that a neighbor once thought my apartment was on fire. Smoky incense can seem risky to the uninitiated, but when it comes to flame-based scent, candles can’t hold a candle to ’cense. I’ve never found anything else that can scent my apartment as quickly or effectively.
Still, it gets a bad rap, lots of us can’t shake the memories of heavy, musky, oppressively perfumed smoke. But that one-note incense from your younger years is not the kind you should be burning in your apartment. A good incense, like those you find at Brooklyn yoga studios or Tokyo denim emporiums, is as complex as a good cologne.
The best are made from natural substances that fill your space with a layered complexity the fanciest candle can’t hope to replicate. The real draw of incense, though, is the inescapable mystical quality. Burning it makes even the most basic room feel like a fortune-teller’s den or a haunted antique bookstore.
So next time you’re about to light a candle, consider an incense stick (or cone or hunk of resin) and set that baby ablaze.
You Should Smell Like a Flower This Fall. Seriously
Time to get progressive man
Cologne has always had more in common with cigar bars than with perfumery. Man scents are built on stereotypically male elements like wood, leather, and smoke; it’s generally thought that to be sufficiently masculine, a cologne should have some sort of musk or, the fancier version, oud that can sometimes mimic the smell of sweat (but, like, in a good way).
The results are heavy, aggressive, primal. But things change.
Floral fragrances should smell more like a bouquet lit on fire than your grandmother’s garden
Culturally, we’re waking up to toxic masculinity; olfactorily, we’re getting into florals. We typically think of floral scents as feminine, but that’s thanks to generations of marketing. “Florals are genderless,” says Patrick Kelly, founder of unisex fragrance brand Sigil Scent. “If a person is drawn to a particular scent, so be it.”
The power of these new floral-forward colognes lies in the mix of ingredients. They don’t completely leave behind the classic man-scent elements but instead use ingredients like musks and patchouli to temper the sweetness of the florals and make them earthier. The results are more like a bouquet lit on fire than your grandmother’s garden.
They’re fresh, surprising, and mysterious, inviting people to get closer to your skin and give you a good whiff. Isn’t that what a cologne is for, anyway?
A Cologne-Averse Man’s Guide to Smelling Good
When I was growing up, my mother would take the long way through the mall’s department store to actively avoid its overeager, fragrance-wielding associates. She’s a migraine sufferer—something she passed down to me—and cologne is one of our worst triggers. I tried to fight it as best I could.
When I was old enough to care what I smelled like, I bought Michael Jordan Cologne, because Michael Jordan had a cologne. It’s still packed away somewhere, only a few spritzes spritzed from its clear-and-black bottle.
Altogether it’s a Captain Planet of a routine, and when its powers combine, it proves even a cologne-averse guy can be told he smells good
I’m thirty years old now and I can’t remember the last time I wore cologne. But I do, believe it or not, care what I smell like. For those of us who don’t have that natural-musk thing going on, there are a few available tactics that aren’t meant to make you smell nice but do nonetheless.
I start with the hair product. Most of the good ones these days aren’t deliberately scented, but the natural smell of American Crew’s Forming Cream ($11) gives off a straight-from-the-barbershop scent. On my hands, I apply Restoration Hardware’s Belgian Linen Hand Cream ($24) a few times a day. Of course, a good deodorant goes a long way here. I recently became an aerosol convert because Dove Men + Care’s “Extra Fresh” ($6) is true to its name (and lasts more than a day). Lastly, I add a couple extra pumps of Frey laundry detergent ($2) and an extra Bounce dryer sheet ($6) to each load of laundry.
Altogether it’s a Captain Planet of a routine, and when its powers combine, it proves even a cologne-averse guy can be told he smells good. You just have to take the long way.
From left: Tom Ford Beau de Jour Lavender, AED880. Gucci Mémoire d’Une Odeur, AED440. Byredo Slow Dance, AED955. Sigil Amor Fati, AED440. Missoni Parfum pour Homme, AED330.
Go Natural. With Your Deodorant, That Is.
Natural deodorant is no longer something you’ll find only at a local farmers market. And gone are the days of it failing on you—these new versions actually work (and they smell great, too).
There’s really no reason not to go natural. After all, neither our bodies nor the planet benefits from more and more chemicals being pumped into it. While “natural” deodorant isn’t an official category, in general you should look for something free of alcohol, aluminum, parabens, and sulfates. Any ingredients homegrown or pulled right from nature itself? Well, all the better.
Whenever you’re looking to refresh your medicine cabinet, gym bag, or Dopp kit, opt for one of these six choices. Your skin, and Mother Nature, will thank you.
Can You Smell Like Success?
In the pursuit of smelling good, there’s no shame in looking for some inspiration.
Imagine smelling rich and famous—the nostril equivalent of tasting the world’s finest wine. Like describing wine, though, I wondered: Could we get this down to a science? Or even a pseudo-science?
Hard journalists have been chronicling how the famous smell for years, so I started with the man I’d most like to emulate.
Speaking to BuzzFeed in 2016, Lin-Manuel Miranda said that President Obama smells like success. More specifically, “success . . . and bold pragmatism.” That’s difficult to find on the shelf, so I kept searching.
Jim Parsons told Ellen DeGeneres that Rihanna smells like “heaven,” but that’s pretty subjective, too. I know because I dabbed a bit of whiskey and pepperoni on my neck to little fanfare. I stumbled upon The Cut’s 2016 interview with Tom Brady. The writer said the quarterback smells like “clean wood.” Better than “dirty wood,” but still vague.
Where are the regimens? Where’s the product? Elle asked Xenia Deli, the woman who licked Justin Bieber’s chest once, what he smells like. She said, “Pretty expensive perfume.” What brand!?
But midquest, the answer appeared like a freshly washed angel emerging from a shower fog. In Tom Junod’s 2013 Esquire profile of George Clooney, he described the actor’s smell perfectly: “He smells like soap.” George Clooney, the coolest of the cool, is out there coasting on the scent of soap while I’m cleaning the residue of booze and cured meats off my neck.
Turns out the key to smelling rich and famous might just be getting rich and famous.