My Take on Niche Fragrances in the Globe & Mail

Back in October, I was contacted by a writer for Toronto’s Globe & Mail who asked if I’d comment for a story he was writing about men’s fragrances. We had a short flurry of emails and I answered some basic questions. I forgot about it until last weekend when the writer, Cameron Williamson, sent me a link.

Some of my commentary had made it into a piece he wrote about men and the burgeoning niche fragrance market called What do men smell like? Niche fragrances, actually. Here’s an excerpt:

According to Harry Sheff, the founder and editor of the blog Cocktails & Cologne, it is the willingness of post-metrosexual men such as Johnstone to venture away from mainstream offerings that is behind the current upswing in niche-fragrance sales. Another factor is a loosening by the fragrance companies themselves of gender-specific scent labels, a phenomenon that has really “opened up the market for men and encouraged exploration,” Sheff explains, adding that one of his favourite scents to wear year-round is the unisex Cocoa Tuberose by Providence Perfume Company.

That Cocoa Tuberose fragrance was one I discovered at the Elements Showcase fragrance trade show last January. I reviewed it in February 2012. (And incidentally, the next Elements show is later this month in New York City on the 28th and 29th.)


Looking back at my exchange with Williamson, I thought I’d post his questions with my answers here, leaving his Canadian spelling intact.

Do you wear a stronger scent during the winter months?
With the explosion of niche fragrance brands, it’s a lot easier for a guy to have a wardrobe of fragrances to suit different moods and seasons. Traditionally, light musks, florals, and citrus scents that make you feel clean and cool are reserved for summer while the heavier, earthier style — think ambers, ouds, woods — are more appropriate for winter. I tend not to be so rigid. I have a very heavy chocolate fragrance called Cocoa Tuberose from a niche maker called Providence Perfume Co that has a lot of depth but lays light on my skin and smells great year round. I also wear a lot of heavy leather fragrances all year, like Eau d’Italie’s Bois d’Ombrie and Santa Maria Novella’s Peau d’Espagne. But there are certainly days when something as light and fresh as D.R. Harris’s Arlington Cologne (a short-lasting citrus cologne heavy on the neroli) or Grey Flannel by Geoffrey Beene.

Santa Maria Novella Peau d'Espagne

I’ve read that because skin is often dryer in the winter a guy can get away with putting on more fragrance? Is this true?
Fragrances affect us all so differently. I have to spray most of my colognes in the air and walk through them because my skin tends to amplify and hold onto every scent. My wife can spray the same fragrance directly on her skin and have it nearly vanish in an hour or two. But yeah, I think dry skin, less sweat, and more layers make it easier to be liberal with cologne in the colder months.

Arlington Cologne

I’ve noticed that quite a few fragrance brands have been launching more concentrated eau de parfum scents for men (Tom Ford Noir is a good example) — why do you think this is happening?
Highly concentrated scents seem more luxurious, last longer, and smell different than their weaker, more diluted counterparts. The greater abundance of strong fragrances for men is probably the result of a more sophisticated consumer. Men lagged behind women in their consumption of fragrances (if only because men have historically been less inclined to experiment and veer away from a trusted signature scent), but that’s changing. A loosening of the gender categories in fragrances has opened the market for men and encouraged exploration. But maybe the bigger factor is that we’re past that embarrassing “metro sexual” trend, where many men overdid grooming, basically doing what high-maintenance women did. Now men are a bit more comfortable washing their faces, using a cologne that doesn’t come from the drug store, and using a face moisturizer.

Ramon Monegal Dry Wood

What’s your favourite new men’s fragrance?
The wonder of the fragrance market today is that there’s so much available and so much information to help us choose. For every new mass market release in the department store, there are a handful of new niche brands popping up, along with a few European brands that just got North American distribution. The very expensive Ramon Monegal from Barcelona, Spain (try Dry Wood, $185 for 50ml; a very masculine cedar, bay leaf and pepper fragrance) just entered our market. And Odin, the New York City men’s clothing boutique, has released its seventh fragrance, Odin 08 Seylon (they skipped number 05), which has exotic citrus top notes and and earthy, woody base of oakmoss and vetiver. The whole Odin line ($125-$165 for 100ml bottles) is wonderful; 06 Amanu, my favorite, won an award earlier this year.

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