Ordinarily, talking about perfumes should be a one-slide, five-bullet PowerPoint presentation, like job interviews where you’re asked, “Tell us about yourself in one paragraph or one minute.”
Deep down, you know it is practically impossible to tell your story in a minute or a paragraph, but hey, you want to nail that job, so you do as you’re told and end up using adjectives like ambitious (whatever this means), punctual, loving (who isn’t). In short, you lie to impress your employer. But you and your potential employer know as human beings that we’re the sum total of our environment and upbringing.
Context matters. That context comes out later when there’s a crisis in the office, and suddenly, the person who proclaimed to work well under pressure now has high blood pressure.
Perfume discussions are not job interviews. And oftentimes, they are extraordinary. And neither are they tools to impress. Well, they can start great conversations. And have the potential to woo potential partners. But that’s just a tiny little bit of why we wear perfumes. I will, therefore, not give a five-bullet point presentation, nor will I bore you with a dissertation.
Let’s see what we can get out of my rambling, shall we?
Many discussions around men’s good grooming (and women’s) center on what clothes one can wear on different occasions, shoes, socks, haircuts, and accessories, including watches, bracelets, neckpieces, rings, and sunglasses. Then, smelling good comes in, and the discussion will cover perfumes, deodorants, and body sprays. Men (and women) put significant effort into smelling good in public. Well, a few misfits walk around smelling like sweaty he-goats. I’m not talking about these. Typically, a good shower gel and deodorant are the bare minimum of smelling good. But the vast majority of people usually take it a notch higher. And throw in a perfume.
Let’s try separate perfumes and deodorants for the sole reason – and this might begin to sound like a thesis discussion – that perfume is the only accessory that is invisible yet unforgettable. I bet you didn’t think it would fall under accessories because we’re made to believe they are tangible ones that can be seen when we wear them. Maya Angelou said people might forget what you said and what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. I’ll steal that for a moment and say people might forget what you wore or the car you drove, but they will never forget how you smelled. In short, and to quote Jean-Paul Guerlain, perfume is the most intense form of memory. Perfume’s capability to activate your olfactory sensations, leaving sweet memories behind, is the reason you will spend 95% of the time researching what works for you, and only 5% will be the actual walk into a perfume store to get yourself one. This is a fun fact, albeit depressing, because who wants to research 95% of the time? A little detour to Johnny Depp and, by extension, Sauvage Dior might help us understand why or not.
When Amber Heard came out accusing Johnny Depp of physical abuse, the cancel culture came out with guns and machetes blazing and petitioned Dior to terminate their contract with Johnny Depp on Sauvage Dior. Depp has been the face of Sauvage Dior for eons. Sauvage Dior fans pushed back and dared Dior to remove the face of Johnny Depp. No Johnny Depp, no Sauvage. They chanted. You’re probably wondering why Dior as a brand must have been in a dilemma about being politically correct and loyal to their customers. As is with all profit-making companies, Dior chose their customers, cancel culture be damned, and kept the face of Johnny Depp. Simple. Later on, Dior tried to introduce the face of Mbappe slowly, but Sauvage fans warned Dior not to try any monkey business. The cultic following of Sauvage Dior sealed the face (and the fate) of Depp permanently of Sauvage Dior perfumes.
Depp’s story brings me to my next point. Many times, people ask me, “What is a good fragrance?” or “What fragrance can you recommend.” These are good questions, but oftentimes, they leave me agonizing over what to say. Which sometimes might be interpreted to mean I’m being selfish with information.
See why I said using a five-bullet PowerPoint to talk about perfumes is impossible? Looking for a good perfume is like a wild goose chase. You know it is there, but you can’t quite put a finger on it. And a little frustration might kick in. That’s because a good perfume is the one that speaks to you, that brings out your character. But hey, remember, I promised not to make this look like a thesis. There are a few pointers to consider when selecting a good perfume that works for you, but first, let us address some felonies people commit out here. Unforgivable felonies that deserve capital punishment. These felonies, when committed by women, can look the other way, but for men, it is unacceptable.
- Men who do refills in Nairobi’s CBD for 100 or 200 shillings. A man will walk into a stall and ask for a refill of Sauvage Dior because he has a dinner date later in the evening and wants to smell good and impress the girl. No crime in trying to smell good. We acknowledge the effort. However, cheap refills in Nairobi stalls are so repugnant that such men should be shot on sight. A sniper strategically located in Nairobi’s CBD targets men who walk around carrying cheap refills with a grin on their faces. It makes a good headline for the day: “Lady Saved From a Man Wearing A Cheap ‘Refiller’ Perfume.”
- Men who use fragrances on their armpits in place of a deodorant. A perfume is worn, and a deodorant is applied. Armpits are for roll-ons, not perfumes. People who commit this crime should be flogged to Nyayo National Stadium and face the firing squad in front of 40,000 spectators.
Ok, back to the few pointers I mentioned that you might want to consider when looking for perfume.
- I told you about 95% of the research work. This stage is very important; you cannot escape it if you’re serious about perfumes. What does this research work entail? I’m watching a lot of perfume reviewers on YouTube. I must warn you, though, that reviewers have the potential to confuse you even more, but it’s worth listening to them. You get some pretty good hints. And with the way the algorithm works these days, you only need to watch one reviewer, and the rest will be given to you. One reviewer might pay glowing tribute to a certain perfume, but another will trash it. Why, you may ask. Our body chemistries react differently with different perfumes.
- Some websites review fragrances. The most popular one is Fragrantica, among others. Fragrantica will give you notes for all fragrances and perfumers. But the comment section is where all the drama, laughter, and savagery is. Prepare to be depressed. Still, you will get very good hints on the type of perfumes you might want to try. Patronize the site.
- Social media like Facebook and Instagram have perfume groups where perfume enthusiasts come together and talk about perfumes, not forgetting to give good recommendations.
- Perfumes come in different categories. Citruses, gourmands, floral, ouds, woody, musky. Citruses, also known as freshies, are meant to be worn during summer, and gourmands, which are a bit heavier, are designed for winter. The differences are determined by the notes used. Citruses will use oranges, lemons, or bergamot as the top or mid notes, while gourmands will use vanillas, coffee, milk, chocolate, and caramel as the top/mid notes. A lot of perfumes in the markets are designed in Europe. Europe’s winter, spring, and summer seasons influence the type of perfume to be used for that particular season. Does that mean these fragrances cannot be won in tropical climates like ours? No. What matters most is your awareness that gourmand types should be won lightly in hot climates. Very lightly.
- Having done your thorough research (95%), it’s time to walk into a perfume store. Nairobi has some pretty good perfume stores that stock decent perfumes. Not stalls that do refills. A store allows you to try on the perfume before finally making that purchase. And figure out if your body chemistry is compatible with perfume. You walk in; store assistants allow you to spray the perfume you want on a strip of paper. It’s best to spray it on your wrist or arm and smell how your body reacts with the perfume. Usually, the first day is very confusing. Everything ends up smelling the same. It is, therefore, normal and ok to walk away without making any purchase. Give yourself time. As I said, 95-98% of the time is spent on researching, trying, and deciding. Most store assistants will understand your dilemma and will not feel offended when you walk out.
- If you go home and still can’t decide on the type of perfume you want weeks or months later, deodorant will still be there to serve you. We served capital punishment to people who rushed to refill. Acts as a deterrent by now. Take your time to decide. Saves you the agony of spending a significant amount of money on a perfume you might not like after a few days/weeks/months.
- By the way, if you have a friend, family, partner, or colleague who has already walked this journey and is available for consultation, buy him/her lunch. Such are rare.
- Sounds like too much to do, right? You can choose to ignore these points, walk into a perfume store, and get yourself whatever perfume you want. That’s very much ok. We live in a free world, and too many rules spoil the fun bits of life.
There’s a last category of people who wear perfumes as an art. This space is too small to talk about you, but I see you. We promised not to write a thesis, so thanks for indulging me.