You know that Old Spice cologne your dad loved so much? Forget it. The world of men’s fragrance has finally caught on to what many women have known for years: the pursuit of the niche signature scent is the future.
Mirroring the well-documented elite consumer shift in everything from wine to coffee and chocolate, cologne-ists are increasingly curious about the composition and provenance of their choices, resulting in a shift from megabrands to smaller, more artisanal creations.
“There’s been a continuing shift – among those with means – to look towards more niche offerings,” says Mark Arnell, managing director of fragrance, shaving and grooming at online retailer Brummells of London.
“Fragrance is a hugely personal endeavour,” he adds. “It speaks to our own individual tastes and helps to distinguish us from the crowd.” In other words, though men may still be dressing like their bosses, to get on at work, they no longer want to smell like them.
Martyn Morgan, a 56-year-old solicitor, traditionally chose aftershaves by Thierry Mugler, Gucci, Prada and Boss. But, he says, “Recently in Selfridges, I decided to try niche, rather than high-street brands and bought some aftershave by Creed. It’s extremely expensive but the women in the office have made some very positive comments, and so have some of the men. Even my wife seems pleased.” He has no plans to return to his old, big-name ways.
According to figures from market researchers Euromonitor International, men’s premium fragrances have grown (and will grow) faster in western Europe than mass brands. In the UK alone, sales of men’s mass fragrances fell by 7.9 per cent between 2005 to 2010, while the premium sector enjoyed an upswing of 23.3 per cent.
Despite the recession, in the year 2009 to 2010 in the UK the premium growth rate was nearly three times that of mass-market products.
Irina Barbalova, Euromonitor International’s head of beauty and personal care research, says, “There’s a greater demand for unconventional fragrances among higher-end male customers now, with more of a focus on individuality. We’re seeing them use more non-traditional but premium ingredients such as amber. These are fragrances that are focused on a place, or that tell a story.”
Molton Brown, for example, has launched its first range of fine fragrances, at £55 to £65 for 50ml. Called Navigations Through Scent, it is a collection of five varied and distinct artisanal fine fragrances that follow the ancient spice trade routes from Egypt to China, Indonesia, England and Canada.
Liberty in London has experienced a similar demand for smaller, boutique men’s fragrances, with sales up 40 per cent since last year. “There’s a clear rejection of anything recognised as nothing but the paid endorsement,” says the company’s managing director, Ed Burstell.
He recommends brands such as Byredo, created by Ben Gorham, a former basketball player and art school graduate who came into the fragrance business after a chance meeting with perfumer Pierre Wulff. Byredo combines simple, natural ingredients with a flavour of Gorham’s part-Indian heritage.
“I think that not being from the perfume industry has helped us,” says Gorham. “I always felt many of the perfumes in the market used too many raw materials and this caused much of them to smell the same. I find that men are more conscious in regards to how they are perceived and unique fragrance is a great way to express that.”
Another favourite of Burstell’s is Francis Kurkdjian, whose APOM (A Part of Me) for men contains a mixture of orange flower, cedar wood and amber, while his Lumière Noire for Him features cumin, cinnamon, patchouli and mugwort. (Around £140/70ml).
Fragrances such as Green Irish Tweed (£135/75ml) and the more recent Aventus (£142/75ml) from Creed, a long-established, but hitherto less well known fragrance house, are also popular, says Mark Arnell. The former features French verbena, iris and sandalwood and the latter begins with a fruity note before drying down to a rich, musky base.
Irina Barbalova points out that many of these new scents, such as Delirious by Boadicea the Victorious (sandalwood, musk and orange, fragrances start at £140/100ml) and Untitled by Maison Martin Margiela, fresh, green notes followed by a musky finish (around £61/50ml) and minimalist packaging are actually unisex. “Men are more interested in the actual smell than any macho branding around it,” she says.
Being hosed down with noxious celebrity fragrances as you walk through a department store beauty hall is enough to put anyone off looking for a signature scent, writes Carola Long. Now, though, new independent perfumery The IIluminum Fragrance Lounge, offers a calmer environment in which to consider an array of more unusual smells for men and women. The Duchess of Cambridge wore White Gardenia Petals by Illuminum for her wedding, and Michelle Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio and James Franco are fans of the label founded by British perfumer Michael Boadi.
The new – and very spacious – shop is based on the ground floor of a Georgian townhouse on Dover Street, and the four rooms are designed to feel like a boutique hotel. As well as the existing IIluminum scents (from £70), Boadi is introducing a Haute Perfume range (£175-£375) featuring recherché ingredients such as black saffron and Indian Oud. If you really want to blow the budget, have a bespoke fragrance made through Boadi’s Synthesis service. The process takes four weeks and the unique formula will be locked in a vault so it can be reproduced when you run out (although at £7,500, you might want to use it sparingly.)
The Illuminum Fragrance Lounge, 41-42 Dover Street, W1S 41S, www.illuminumfragrancelounge.com