By Clay Skipper.
I have always been a Speed Stick guy. My dad rolled it on every morning, and since puberty, that's been cool with me, too. Fragrances, I felt, were a dive too deep into the dandier side of grooming. But I'm 27 now. I have a dermatologist and a New Yorker subscription. The next must-have horse in the stable of grown-ass manhood? Personal style. I had the fitted jeans and the Stan Smiths. I just needed a signature scent. But, like, how?
First stop: A department store fragrance counter, where three eager scent peddlers spritzed me with clouds of colognes with names like Black Leather and Man Intense. Shirtless men judged me from the ubiquitous fragrance ads. There were a staggering number of options. I snatched a John Varvatos sampler pack ($54) and fled, smelling like a Christmas tree rubbed with clementine peels and sprinkled with nutmeg.
No matter where I went—Sephora, the high-end Aedes Perfumery in the West Village, GQ's grooming cave (yes, that's a thing)—the sniffing experience remained overwhelming: Smell this! Now this! A nose can take only so many sandalwood varietals; four or five and the nuances disappear. I needed someone to help me navigate the thousands of choices. I needed a Sherpa.
I found him in Brooklyn (of course) at D.S. & Durga, a narrow shop with an all-white minimalist vibe. David Seth Moltz had bleached-blond hair and pale blue eyes and told me that, more than something to wear, perfume is evocative, a portal to a memory you may or may not have already made. “They are stories that you can wear on your skin,” he said, for those times when “you're stuck at the office and you want to go back to the Italian coast.”
Maybe cologne wasn't just another accessory for peacocking. But I didn't want to smell like Cinque Terre. I just needed a smell that was mine, and so I gravitated toward soft, warm scents—ones that said: I work out and I cry. Moltz pulled two: Bowmakers and Freetrapper ($155 and $175, respectively, for 50 ml.). On first whiff, Bowmakers had an 18th-century-violin-case musk—“deep and dude-y,” as Moltz described it. Freetrapper was similar but softer around the edges, like sitting on a worn leather couch eating a peach. But it takes time to see how they interact with your skin. I applied one to each wrist and waited ten minutes. Bowmakers mellowed out and smelled less like a time when colonialism was cool. Freetrapper developed a golden, floral aroma.
“A scent creates a window into something deeper in your mind,” Moltz said. “It's a whole world that you can enter.”
The only way to know if a cologne works for you is to take it home and wear it. (Really wish I'd known that at the department store.) So I left with a sample of each. The next day I applied Freetrapper: one or two sprays to the wrist and a soft dab down the backs of the ears to the pulse in the neck. Don't rub it in, Moltz says; that will break down the top notes, degrading the scent profile.
What did I discover by spraying aromatic oil on myself? Well, it didn't turn me into a scent exhibitionist, like I was worried it might. And despite what Moltz said, it didn't take me to another world. Rather, it gave me what Speed Stick never could: an aura of quiet confidence. It added a layer to my presence. So even if I'm not a guy who's going to wear cologne every day, at least I can be a guy who has cologne. Because like every other tool in the generic toolbox of manhood, a scent is something a grown adult should be able to wield in a way that says: It's not my first time.
This story originally appeared on GQ.
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