Addicted to novelty since 2001

My Cologne Dilemma

I used to wear cologne. I probably wore it consistently from the age of 15 to 27 or so. In high school, I wore Drakkar Noir and whatever other swill West Van teenage boys were dousing themselves in. Later on, I wore sundry other fragrances–I can’t remember any of them. I stopped for a couple of reasons:

  • I didn’t like the idea that I smelled like everybody else (more on this in a minute).
  • I ran out of cologne, and didn’t replace it.

Years ago, my Mom started wearing perfume again because she had heard my brother and I comment that someone “smelled like Grandma”. She liked the idea that we associate a smell–being an extremely powerful memory trigger–with a particular person. I like this idea as well, so I’m considering diving back into the world of cologne.

I haven’t shopped for cologne for years (even when I wore it, I mostly received it as gifts). However, I’m perceiving a number of issues around the process:

  • If I can avoid it, I don’t like owning the same thing everybody else owns. I try to buy clothes at vintage clothing stores and when I’m traveling, and avoid stores like the Gap like a plague. Sartorial uniqueness is important to me, and that sense extends to how I smell.
  • How many different colognes are for sale in downtown Vancouver? Less than a hundred, I’d guess. That means, whichever one I pick, I’ll smell like a lot of people.
  • Yes, I’ve heard that whole argument about ‘the smell changes when it combines with your unique body chemsitry’. This may be true, but if someone can still recognize the brand of cologne I’m wearing, the smell doesn’t change enough. I still suspect that this is mostly good spin from the perfume industry.
  • In department stores, at least, the sale of cologne isn’t optimized for men. We have to talk to a salesperson (who is no doubt paid on commission), and we can’t be left alone to try out the merchandise. Besides, it’s in the perfume department–an intimidating feminine enclave if there ever was one.

In short, I’m putting off buying cologne because I fear I’m going to be disappointed. Does anyone have any advice? Obscure colognes that smell good? Alternative means of getting rarer colognes? Can I pay someone to make me a unique cologne?

24 Responses to “My Cologne Dilemma”

  1. Bill Stilwell

    Instead of a cologne, look into some essential oils – places like essence (think there’s one on robson) could likely advise you on a good combo. This has the benefit of both being unique (or rarer), and also avoids the horrid synthetic quality of most colognes and perfumes, which I personally kind of abhor.

  2. Jen

    I’d recommend purchasing cologne the next time you travel to Europe. The quality of the product is usually higher there, not to mention you’ll likely encounter some more diverse brands.

    If you’re looking for a local option, I’ve always found that the men’s fragrance counter at Holt Renfrew offers the most diverse and quality selection of options. Bonus points: it’s located directly in front of one of the mall exits, ideal for a quick escape if necessary.

  3. Donna

    What Bill Said.

    Except, avoid Essence (and the Body Shop and all those other shitty places that sell shitty essential oils) like the plague — all of their “oils” are synthetic, and you will cause those with more sensitive respiratory systems to cry and stuff.

    Saje is much better. As are most of the little hole in the wall places. It’s pretty easy to figure out which is synthetic and which is real: Check the ingredient list. Or smell the vanilla. If it smells like vanilla perfume, it’s synthetic. If it smells like the vanilla you add to your baking, it’s more likely to be real.

    Strangely, I own a bottle of mens cologne. I have a strong love for smells and am very scent oriented. I once dated a guy based on his cologne. Not exactly a good basis for a relationship, and surprisingly, it didn’t last long. However, I did call him up a few years later to find out what the cologne was — Raw Vanilla for Men by Coty.

    Coty doesn’t make Raw Vanilla anymore. Bastards.

    However, I did buy a bottle of it off la internet for a boy I was fond of. After the fondness wore off, I realized that with the sheer volume of boys I go through, this was going to cost me a fortune and get me very little out of it. So, I bought my own bottle. It makes a good room spray or pillow spray, and is almost guaranteed to make me just feel *good*.

    Strangely, the boy I dated for a few months last fall wears the same stuff. If the relationship had lasted longer, I might be proclaiming fate, if I were the type to proclaim things like fate. As it is, now I have a friend who always smells divine.

    Donna Reply:

    The real Donna
    A man or a woman has to try different scents to see which fragrance smells best on them. Not two people will smell exactly the same. It’s individually scented. The fragrance mixes with the person’s body chemistry and heat. I have a friend who has tried my fragrance and she can’t stand it on herself. Yet, she really likes it on myself. Best to try several fragrances to see which suits you best.

  4. Elle Wiz

    Well, here’s one vote for Body Shop. I love love love Activist cologne from Body Shop. Mmmmmmmm, extremely manly.

  5. Nicole

    Ah yes cologne – good smelling men are always good *g*

    I don’t associate a brand with a group of people but I associate you either as a man smelling good or a man being less interesting. Easy as that. (I do call them ‘mmmh lecker’ *g*)

    And there was once a frangrance which smell fantastic- but when I tested it in the store just on the paper it smelled absolutly awfull.

    So just take something you really like. Or ask friends first, if they know the name / the frangrance. If not, go on and buy! :o)


  6. brechi

    I’m suprised no one gave your cologne as a present! I keep getting bottles of it for the holidays. Maybe people don’t know what else to give me :(

  7. Olaf

    My wife had an essential oil blend crafted to her whims at a Rennaissance festival in the states. Not that you should make the journey for that, but I’m guessing there are similar venues in Canada. She was able to pick various spices and “flavors” from a myriad of choices and ultimately create her *perfect* oil. Just remember, a little dab will do you.

  8. 'nee

    Aah, good old Drakkar Noir, “Scent of the ’80s.” Every single one of my highschool boyfriends wore the stuff. :)

    I have nothing to offer, I’m afraid, except the comment that I can smell things like soap, laundry detergent, incense, and shampoo on a guy — and will associate that particular mix with him — just as much as any cologne. Even cigarettes don’t necessarily equal yucky when mixed properly with other things (although they usually do).

    An interesting fact: women have a far better and subtler sense of smell than guys. Time of the month makes a difference to a women’s sense of smell, too. Women will also *notice* scent more than guys, of course :)

  9. Jackie

    I personally think that you have no life. Honesty why don’t you just find a cologne that you like and wear it. who cares if someone else smell the same as you. I suggest you get a cologne that is called Hummer. It smells unreal. another thing you could do is start wearing girls perfume. no other guy would be wearing that. then you would be really original.

    Don’t take any of this personally because im just really bored in computer class. ;)

  10. joke

    I dislike cologne, perfume, aftershave and even perfumed laundry detergent. I hate incense. People have distinctive smells without it — your brand of shampoo smells, your soap smells, you smell — so why not be happy with that? Besides, colognes are passé.

    I think the less of a barrrage we give our senses, the more we appreciate them. There are so many cool smells that fill our everyday lives, why do we have to distort them by adding a chemistry set?

  11. Johnny Nemo

    I believe that PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, a couple of months ago, had an article about love, and talked briefly about scents. They found different categories of smell that men had, and found that women were attracted to one kind and associated another kind with family — father and brother.

    The interesting point was that pregnant women preferred the “father and brother” scent — makes sense: you’re vulnerable, you want to be around family. But women on BCPs — which fool your body into thinking it’s pregnant — were attracted to men with the “father and brother” scent. Is there a cause for the dearth of sex once you’re a couple and she goes off the BCPs?

    Can anyone remember this article in more detail?

  12. Anonymous

    Trying to be different for the sake of being different is such a fad and a futile gesture. Get over it, find a smell you like, even if it won’t be /unique/ (wah-hhh) and move on.

    This isn’t a difficult issue, not even for a Vancouverite who feels the need to stress the ‘West’ part. You have more important things to do with your brain, and if you’d just step back, you may see more things in the reflection.

  13. Darren

    Thanks everybody, for the useful suggestions, . I’m particularly interested in Al’s Garden Botanika idea–that might just cut it. I don’t want to smell like some kind of hippy, but hopefully I can avoid that.

    As for the preceding anonymous poster (, if you don’t like what you read here, let me refer you to the many sites on the righthand side of the home page.

    As for wanting to be different, I don’t particularly think that’s a fad. At least, I’ve wanted to be different since I graduated from high school (earlier, probably, but I wasn’t willing). I think wanting to be different (whether it be in fashion, lifestyle, profession, travel, religion, whatever) is an admirable quality. At least, the people I know who seek out difference are way more interesting than the people who tow the status quo line. Certainly the people who have most impacted the world have (to borrow an Apple tag line) ‘thought differently’. That’s why I try to emulate the former.

    I can only speculate on your evaluation of ‘importance’. First, I never gave this post any particular emphasis–I readily admit that it’s a pretty frivolous concern. Second, if you’ve read my site for a while, you’ll get a decent sense of what I do consider important. Again, if that’s not your bag, there’s a couple million other weblogs for you to read.

  14. bree

    Essential oils are nice, but for the most part I prefer just a person’s natural scent with whatever soap and shampoo and detergent they use. I rarely find perfumes or colognes attractive. Too strong.

  15. Mel

    Whatever scent you pick, just remember to use it sparingly. Some folks just don’t realize the number of people you meet or even just pass on the sidewalk that are quite sensitive (and some even allergic) to strong perfumes & colognes, and the terrible headaches, etc. they can unwittingly induce.

    That said, I’m quite confident that Darren possesses enough social awareness not to wear an offensive amount of whatever he buys ;)

  16. Anonymous

    There’s a shop called Shifeon on Robson that sells skin care/scents/makeup and they carry a lot of more rare products. The staff are always very helpful when I go in and make excellent recommendations.

  17. Derek

    I use a lavender-scented SPF moisturizer, and my wife loves the smell, so I just stick with that. No one else I know uses anything like it, but I’m not sure whether the scent is persistent enough that anyone would notice anyway.

  18. Noah

    When it comes to odors…or covering up bad odors…there are none better than the French. You should try some of the less commercial and less “mainstream” French colognes. My favorite light scent is L’Occitaine’s Eau de Miel. What I found was truely unique, was to mix colognes. for instance, I came up with a very unique and attractive cologne…that wasn’t overbearing…by mixing L’Occitaine’s eau de miel with their Eau de Baux and their L’Occitaine Cade Cologne. It toned down the rough “manly” scents of the alcohol colognes.

    Just a hint: It is not always a good idea to mix regular cologne…particularly if they are alcohol based (99% of them are). The key is to find the rare water-based scent…especially the mild ones. They mix well with everything and are’nt overbearing.

    Oh…some bad news…L’Occitaine discontinued it’s Eau de Miel and no longer offers a water based perfume. So…back to the drawing board.

  19. Daniel

    Trying to be different is a means to an end, not an end in itself. If your only goal is to be different, then yes, you’re a tool; however, if you’re striving to be different to reap the benefits of standing out in a crowd, without going overboard, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it. When I’m courting a girl, I want to smell like no man she’s ever met, in a good way, purely for the psychological impact it’ll have on her. Beyond that, I couldn’t give a rat’s pet donkey if I smell like everyone else.

    Have you ever had a girl you’ve had a falling out with swoon and fall into your arms, expressing her extreme comfort at being exposed to your smell again? I have. Trust me, it’s worth the effort. The more little distinctively pleasant characteristics you can add to your presence (sight, smell, feel, attitude), the more you’ll be recognized as someone who just can’t be replaced.

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