Life changes and you’re forced to evolve on the hoof. At 18, you charge out hungry for experience, propelled by youthful bravado and sexual desperation. Some years pass, for better or for worse, and you emerge battle-scarred from a variety of adventures. Eventually, you wind up in a proper job and a serious relationship. Now you’re scrambling to deal with a fresh set of challenges: career anxiety, financial concerns, promotion, responsibility, fatherhood, narrowly averted disasters, actual disasters, mortgage payments, temptation, success, and so on.
Okay, so the actual list may vary a bit. But the point is, a hell of a lot happens in the first half of your adult life and these events shape who you are. As Muhammad Ali eloquently put it: “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”
Many of these changes manifest themselves externally. As you mature, you express yourself with greater assurance and authority. You dress with a touch more discernment. You upgrade your watch for one that better conveys the man you are today. These are natural progressions that visibly reflect your evolving sense of self. But do you pay similar attention to how you smell?
READ MORE: Scents of occasion
Chandler Burr, an internationally renowned fragrance critic and author of The Perfect Scent, believes that you should. “Changing your scents as you get older is as logical and appropriate as moving up from stressed jeans and sneakers in your twenties to Italian wool suits in your fifties,” he says.
In reality, however, this is an area most men overlook as they stick with that tired cologne their ex-girlfriend gave them for Christmas 10 years ago. Such an oversight isn’t surprising – your sense of smell is commonly referred to as the “forgotten sense”. But there’s a host of reasons why you should make it front of mind.
Many studies stress the importance of how you smell. Different smells affect your mood (and those of other people) because olfaction reaches the emotional part of the brain faster than other senses. This has very real implications. A University of Liverpool study found that when a man wears scent, it subconsciously bolsters his confidence and, better still, makes him instantly more attractive to women. Indeed, according to a study in the journal Chemical Senses, women are particularly susceptible to the power of scents.
READ MORE: Purrfect scents
Clearly, then, it’s worth controlling the message you’re sending out. Yet Burr explains that certain fragrances are more suitable than others at different moments in life.
To illustrate, he points to two leading men’s scents, Gucci’s Guilty and Sean Jean’s I Am King. “Both open with a marked, and excellent, fruit fizz that’s awesome when you’re twenty and fun when you’re thirty,” he says. “But you’re not going to go to a board meeting wearing them.” Somehow that playful fruitiness seems less appropriate in a professional context.
At the other end of the spectrum, Burr mentions the smooth, woody dryness of Dior Vetiver. “That would be perceived as stiff at a party in college, but as mesmerisingly refined at a cocktail party with your upper-management colleagues,” he says.
Navigating these nasal parameters is tricky with something as elusive as scent. But you can sniff out the perfect fragrance whatever your age. “Let’s be clear,” says Burr. “You can jump up towards sophistication or down for fun any time. But being age-appropriate is appropriate. It also helps you discover terrific things.”
IN YOUR 20s
Your skin is oilier during your twenties. “It’s to do with sebum that’s controlled by male-type hormones,” explains Dr John Sullivan, a Sydney dermatologist. “At this age, your hormones are at their peak.”
This extra layer of moisture on your skin means that fragrance molecules will stick around longer and establish a more intense scent. The reason for this, says Sullivan, is that “oily skin retains more debris on the surface”. As a result, you need to apply less fragrance and should consider a lighter, fresher scent, rather than a muskier option.
Some of your best options here are aquatic or citrus-based scents. “Research shows that 90 per cent of people associate citrus smells with cleanliness and freshness,” says fragrance developer Karyn Khoury.
Alternatively, look for “sport” or “summer” versions of fragrances, as these tend to be specially formulated to be livelier and more refreshing.
1. ARMANI CODE SPORT (75ml; $165)
SMELLS LIKE: MINT, GINGER
2. DAVIDOFF CHAMPION ENERGY (90ml; $90)
SMELLS LIKE: GRAPEFRUIT, CEDAR WOOD
3. BANG BANG BY MARC JACOBS (100ml; $130)
SMELLS LIKE: LEMON, SANDALWOOD
4. BIOTHERM HOMME FORCE (55ml; $95)
SMELLS LIKE: AQUATIC NOTES, GRAPEFRUIT
5. BOSS IN MOTION (90ml; $99)
SMELLS LIKE: PASSIONFRUIT, MINT
IN YOUR 30s
Stephen McDonald, general manager of beauty merchandise at David Jones, compares fragrance to alcohol in the way that men’s tastes develop with age. When you first start drinking wine, he points out, the fruitier, more accessible flavours tend to hold the greatest appeal. The same logic is equally true for scent with younger guys who traditionally opt for those that are fruity or aquatic. “They’re simple, straightforward and fresh,” says McDonald.
Gradually, a subtle shift occurs. “As you mature so does your palette and tastes,” he says, continuing the alcohol analogy. “From sweeter tastes you move onto appreciating a full-bodied bordeaux, say, or a finely made scotch whisky.”
Fragrance-wise, you might start to move away from tried-and-tested favourites and venture into more complex fragrance profiles. “As your taste broadens, you might try woody oriental, aromatic and dry woods (fragrance families) that are a little more sophisticated.”
Such varieties might also prove more seductive. “Heavier, sweeter scents – vanilla, patchouli, sandalwood and amber – are seen as more sensual,” says Khoury. “They’re heavier elements, which last longer on your skin.”
1. 1 MILLION BY PACO RABANNE (100ml; $125)
SMELLS LIKE: SPICY LEATHER
2. HOMME BY DAVID BECKHAM (75ml; $60)
SMELLS LIKE: GINGER, WOOD
3. BIG PONY 4 BY POLO RALPH LAUREN (125ml; $125)
SMELLS LIKE: MANDARIN, WOOD
4. GUCCI BY GUCCI (90ml; $128)
SMELLS LIKE: WOOD, INCENSE
5. VOYAGE D’HERMES BY HERMES (100ML; $140)
SMELLS LIKE: WOODY MUSK
“With an increasing appreciation of the finer things in life, rising disposable income and the confidence to carry them off, it’s the perfect time to try more individual fragrances,” says fragrance historian Roja Dove.
You’re now less susceptible than ever to celebrity endorsements and marketing hype. Capitalise on this greater self-assurance to experiment with distinctive classics that reflect your growing maturity and sophistication.
This willingness to branch out should also make a good impression with women of a similar age. According to a study by Brown University in the US, women in their forties appreciate adventurous and individualistic fragrances more than any other age group.
1. TOM FORD FOR MEN (50ml; $95)
SMELLS LIKE: WOODY AMBER
2. ARAMIS BY ARAMIS (110ml; $105)
SMELLS LIKE: FLORAL, SPICED WOOD
3. GREEN IRISH TWEED BY CREED (75ml; $240)
SMELLS LIKE: MINT, VIOLET
4. EAU D’IKAR BY SISLEY (100ml; $160)
SMELLS LIKE: ORANGE, TEA
5. COLONIA BY ACQUA DI PARMA (100ml; $178)
SMELLS LIKE: BITTER ORANGE, LAVENDER