First Smell: Ben Sherman

When a big brand releases a new fragrance, it could go either way. Is it going to be a mass market crowd pleaser or is it going to try to carve out its own space in the crowded glass cases of the department stores?

An example of the former is Bleu de Chanel, an inoffensive but boring “sporty blue cologne” that used high quality ingredients but broke no new ground and disappointed lots of cologne junkies waiting for the next Chanel Pour Monsieur.

A good representative of the latter is Marc Jacobs Bang, a black pepper and vetiver cologne that was more interesting, more new than it needed to be. It was one of my favorite fragrances of 2010. (And incidentally, my review of it consistently gets the most hits of nearly anything I’ve written on this website.)

So where does Ben Sherman, the eponymous new cologne from the British mod brand fit in? Fortunately, it’s neither a patchouli/oakmoss clone nor a sporty blue variation. It isn’t Ben Sherman’s first cologne—the nearly 50-year-old brand has had at least three colognes launched in the last decade—but the company says it’s their “first-ever premium fragrance for men.” It retails for $55 (50ml) and $78 (100ml), which is typical for department store colognes, and it was launched in late November, early December.

The press materials that came with the 50ml bottle the company’s representatives sent me describe Ben Sherman like this:

A classic, woody-citrus scent with a modern twist that opens with tangerine, lemon, lime and mint, developing into a masculine, oaky scent to leave a hint of cedar, vanilla musk, coffee and amber notes.

It’s unique enough, with coffee notes that earns it comparisons to Thierry Mugler’s A*Men Pure Coffee from 2008 and Armani Attitude Extreme from 2009. All three have coffee and cedar notes, and both Armani and Ben Sherman share an additional amber note. And Bond No. 9’s New Haarlem, too, shares the coffee/cedar/amber notes, but it’s much heavier on the coffee.

After three days wearing Ben Sherman, I like it. It’s easy to wear, and the middle and basenotes are rewarding—despite lackluster powdery fruit top notes. For the first five minutes, it smells muted and bland, and not particularly masculine. The fruit notes are indistinct but more on the apple and stone fruit end of the spectrum than the typical orange and lemon citrus end. That surprised me, given the listing of bergamot (which I couldn’t detect at all).

Mercifully, the coffee/amber/cedar notes rescue it almost immediately. A few hours in, I’m occasionally smelling a pleasant leather note as well, something that isn’t listed in the materials provided by Ben Sherman.

You can be generous applying Ben Sherman; it’s not cloying or penetrating. As far as lasting power, I’d put in the middle of the spectrum, closer to Marc Jacobs Bang: it’s not fleeting but it may not be strong all day, either. To me, that’s a good thing. I don’t want to smell like I just showered myself with cologne 12 hours after I put it on.

The bottle, a glossy black exploded Union Jack design, is plastic, and it looks like you could take it apart like a three-dimensional puzzle. It isn’t the most ergonomic bottle, but it’s one of the more interesting ones on my dresser. Despite the materials, it does have some heft to it, so it certainly doesn’t feel cheap.

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2 Responses to First Smell: Ben Sherman

  1. mike says:

    I just sprayed this on my wrist at Nordstrom, I believe this is an exclusive to them for a while. I can’t compare this to Pure Coffee since I unfortunately never got the chance to sniff it, but like you said this is definitely the most interesting designer scent in a long while. The coffee note is strong, I get vanilla, a lil cedar…this is after about 1 hour on my skin. Unfortunately the bottle is an epic disaster. Thanks for getting the word out about this one.

    • That’s funny, I’m not a big fan of the bottle either. It creaks where the plastic halves join when you squeeze or twist it, giving you the feeling that it’s actually a 3-D puzzle that will fly into a couple dozen shards if you move it right.

      I think it’s very wearable if you can see past the top notes. I think when guys smell colognes in department stores they make snap decisions — good ones and bad ones — based on top notes, not completely understanding that it’s going to change. An hour in, like you describe it, it’s pretty damn good.

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