It’s a family affair when you’re looking for a scent

Timothy Barber
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THE modern male may be rather more comfortable with primping, preening and beautifying – so long as we can call it grooming – but deciding on a scent is still a problematic exercise. Even the most confident bloke can feel ill at ease in the heightened feminine atmosphere of a perfume department, and given the dizzying range of scents on offer, it’s no wonder many of us – after some cursory, ineffectual spraying into the air and sniffing – plump lazily for the first groovy-looking bottle we see from a brand we’ve vaguely heard of. Either that, or we leave the whole decision to our girlfriends or wives.

The thing is, taking some time and getting it right is worthwhile. While dousing oneself head to toe in the stuff is distinctly infra dig, a light dabbing of cologne should act as a classy, elegant extension of one’s character – so long as you find the right one for you. That takes a bit of effort.

Men’s fragrances are like reverse-engineered versions of women’s perfumes, emphasising the woody, earthy notes that linger in the background of female scents, and pushing their dominant floral aspects to the periphery. According to celebrated parfumier Roja Dove, who runs the Haute Parfumerie in Harrods department store’s Urban Retreat spa, they fall into three distinct families, which roughly suit three different types of men. Fougère – meaning “fern-like” – scents are extremely fresh, with top notes like lavender, geranium and oakmoss, and suit relaxed, positive people. Chypre – from the French for Cyprus – scents, based around bergamot and vetiver, are sophisticated and debonair, “for people who are very successful, uncompromising and confident,” says Dove. Lastly there’s the spicy, vanilla-infused Oriental family, which appeal to, well, show offs. “It’s for those who love to do things for effect and to be the centre of attention.”

Those are broad generalisations, and within each family there are hundreds of variations, but they can act as a guide to the type of scent you favour. To try them out, use the strips of blotting paper provided in shops to spray with different scents. Dove suggests trying out a dozen or so, writing the names on strips of paper – then leave the perfumery, taking the strips with you. “Go somewhere quiet and smell them two at a time, to compare them,” says Dove. “Turn the blotters so that you can’t see the name and won’t be seduced by the brand.” Whittle them down to a couple you like, then head back to the store and spray one selected scent on each wrist, to see what it’s like when you wear it – the blood in your wrist will warm and diffuse the scent. You need to give it time settle, since subtle changes in the fragrance will occur.

You don’t really need to know your eau de toilette from your cologne, since there’s little consistency between producers. But once you know what family of fragrances suits you, you can start picking different scents for different purposes.

Grey Vetiver by Tom Ford
The fragrant long grass vetiver is one of the classic ingredients for men’s fragrances. Tom Ford’ latest release is fresh and elegant, with citrus top notes married to woody, earthy central tones. £50 (50ml),

Chanel Pour Monsieur
A gentlemen’s classic created in 1955, that’s elegant, traditional and sophisticated. £39 (50ml),

Terre d’Hermes
A tremendously fresh and subtle fragrance from the French fashion house, full of bright, fruity notes with warm, clean undertones.
£61 (75ml)

Guerlain Habit Rouge
A powerful, sensual blast of French passion that’s a long-lasting classic. £37 (50ml)

Prada Infusion D’homme
Prada’s recent offering fizzes with continental warmth, mixing the soapy essence of a gentlemen’s shaving cream with Italian style and decadence. £35 (50ml)

Lacoste Pour Homme
A sunny, uplifting fragrance with notes of cinnamon, apple and juniper. £28 (50ml)

Thé Brun by Jean-Charles Brosseau
“Brown tea” might not have the same ring in English, but this is a smoky, woody and sweet affair that’s the very essence of suaveness. £35 (50ml)

Back to Black by Kilian
A sleek and intense By Kilian creation mixing the freshness of bergamot with some spicy zing. £140 (100ml)

Comme des Garcons 2
Supposedly inspired by the properties of Japanese calligraphy ink, it’s spicy and intoxicating, with notes of incense, cedarwood and vetiver. £45 (50ml),

English Breakfast by Mark Buxton
From a line of colour-coded fragrances, this one’s inspired by a trip to Japan. £110 (100ml)

Boss by Hugo Boss
A fragrance that’s light, relaxed and warm, with fulsome top notes of apple, cinnamon and vanilla overlaying deeper tones of olivewood and amber. £35 (50ml)

Acqua di Gio
A smooth acquatic scent combining bright upper floral notes with a deeper infusion of musk and sandalwood. £42 (50ml)