Who Am I and What Should I Smell Like?
Credit: Photograph by Chris Buck
Seriously, though, you wouldn't believe what a bunch of whackjobs hang out on Basenotes. By and large, they're a pretty democratic bunch, with members spanning all ages and, contrary to what you might expect, not a lot of snobbery apparent. If you like a mass-market fragrance like Drakkar Noir or 1 Million or Cool Water, that's fine with them, if only because everyone's entitled to his own nose. On the other hand, these are guys who buy special refrigerators for their frags, take pictures of their frag bottles and post them online for others to ooh and aah over, obsessively scour the known universe for vintage bottles of Givenchy Xeryus in the original 1986 formulation, and spend years aging a bottle of patchouli – "17 years, to be exact, [such that] one drop is sufficient for 24 hours of redolent, amazingly intense, complex, rich, and super­smooth output." And when they get wound up about a fragrance, brother, hold on to your hat because it's going to get breezy: "Serge Lutens Serge Noire is the signature fragrance of Satan himself," a poster named Nopasho recently opined on ­Fragrantica.com, another frag site. "It's the equivalent of a Gothic church with Satan lurching in a corner to lure innocent boys to the priest . . . who likes his boys young and black. Incense, smoldering wood ash, camphor, amber, raw cinnamon, clove. Sultry, rich, a passage in hell in the company of 73 nymphomaniacs and lots of mind-altering substances. A beautiful mind-bending trip out of your comfort zone."

Another guy has a thing for the smell of new tennis shoes – "and not just the shoes, but the box, the tissue paper . . . everything." Another guy, I guess you could say, makes his own scents: "I concoct my own gourmand-style, pepper-dominant scents by letting a thin layering of butter and Cajun sauce dry on my naked skin. Once dried, I'll crush white and black pepper together in a bowl and mix it with an unscented body lotion. I have never received a compliment wearing this creation and have (by accident) gotten some Cajun on my pee-pee . . . which was a real hurt piece."

And then there are the guys who have devoted their lives to determining which scents are the best so-called panty droppers, the ones most likely to get a girl so overheated that her undies suddenly slide down to her ankles. It's a topic that generates lots of scornful commentary (as in, "Dude, liquor or chloroform, that always makes a girl weak in the knees"), but most guys, especially the newer ones, can't get enough of it. One thread on the subject is 60 pages long, with 4,344 responses, and contains a link to a complex spreadsheet featuring nearly all of the 800 fragrances mentioned, tabulated by number of mentions, with Green Irish Tweed, created in 1985 for Cary Grant, currently sitting atop the pack. As a poster named Duke Hunt approvingly puts it, "GIT is the closest thing there is to a universal panty dropper."

Anyway, you get the idea. Some of these guys might have issues.

But spend enough time in the Basenotes orbit and a couple of things will happen. For one, you'll develop a whole new vocabulary with which to puzzle and irritate your surfing buddies and significant others. You'll learn that top notes are the notes that bloom on your skin right after the initial application of a scent and generally spruce up the surroundings for 10 to 15 minutes, that middle notes develop next, last the longest, and comprise the dominant theme of the fragrance, that base notes arrive last, are the foundation of any given frag and help determine its staying power. You'll become familiar with concepts such as projection, which attempts to measure the distance at which a scent first becomes noticeable, and silage, which attempts to measure how long a scent lingers in the air after the wearer has left the room. Pretty soon, you'll no longer be surprised that, when you enter a thread titled "What Are You Wearing to Bed Right Now?" they're talking not about PJs but about juice, as in, "I have two shelves of frags that I reach for right before bed, and most are my lighter scents (e.g., Puig Agua Lavanda, Royall Lyme Vetiver/Muske/Spyce, Malizia Vetyver, Pinaud Lilac Vegetal/Citrus Musk/Special Reserve/Vanilla, Gillette Cool Wave). I also wear lavender-based frags, like last night's L'Occitan (in the blue box), Caron PUH, or HdP 1725. My fave bedtime scent, as of late, is Rochas Moustache (vintage EDC)." And then, pretty soon after that, you'll become a whackjob yourself.

Ask any of my neighbors – if you can find them – and they'll tell you the same: I know my perfume trivia and current sales trends and am happy to share. Did you know that Napoleon Bonaparte used 60 bottles of jasmine extract a month to keep himself smelling sweet? That's the only bit of fragrance history I find interesting, so I won't bore you more . . . how it was first used in Egypt way back when, as part of some odd rituals, etc., etc., up to the present time and the introduction of chemically created molecules to replace and add to nature's own scents, etc., etc., tedium extremus. But, hey, did you know that the market for male fragrances is around $880 million annually in the U.S. and at least $3 billion worldwide, and while that still constitutes only about a third of the overall perfume market, it's where much of the growth is? I find that fascinating. For whatever reason (i.e., inspired marketing tactics featuring bare-chested celebs like Matthew McConaughey and appealing dweebs like James Franco), more and more guys are wanting to wear a smell. In fact, according to data from the NPD Group, a market research company, over half of American men now scent themselves regularly. Last year's five top-selling brands were Giorgio Armani's Acqua di Giò Pour Homme, Chanel's Bleu de Chanel, Gucci Guilty Pour Homme, Armani Code, and Dolce & Gabbana's Light Blue Pour Homme, all of them bearing similar scent profiles, mainly some combination of wood (cedar, sandalwood, oakmoss, musk) and spice (ginger, coriander, bergamot, and various peppers). These scents are what's currently considered manly, and each has its own brand-extending product line featuring shower gels, aftershave splashes, deodorants, shaving goods, moisturizers, and the like. (So far, no one has come up with a Giò Bleu Guilty Code Pour Homme–scented condom, but it can't be long.) As expected, the big-name fragrances continue to dominate the marketplace, with more bottles of the top 20 juices being sold than the next 280 juices combined. But in the end, no matter how quality the frag, who wants to smell like every other idiot at the watering hole? Not me, that's for sure.