2/8/17

The Dilemma Of The "Work Fragrance"



Occasionally I get questions by email and in comments on this blog from readers wondering about my opinion of the "work fragrance," and what qualifies as a worthy scent for the workplace. My general rule of thumb in giving advice is to recommend counterintuitive action. That is, if you work in a formal setting, replete with business suits, corner offices, "power lunches," and never-ending deadlines, you should wear something casual and objectively fun. Likewise, if you work in a relaxed environment, where Casual Friday happens everyday, and where offices are the exception, not the rule, you'd be well served to button up in your fragrance choice.

My reasoning for this is one of balance. If you carry a briefcase to work and suffer the constant indignity of having your secretary micro-aggressively question your every move, a little levity, even in the low hum of something like a half spray of Joop! Homme, is a welcome reminder that you belong to the human race. Your coworkers will register that you're wearing something peppy and sweet, but their emotional well-being is circumstantially aligned with yours, and their subconscious reaction to your saccharine sillage will echo approval. In a crowded business meeting full of grey-faced politicians and soul-destroying accountants, who can argue with an invisible signal of one's inner mirth? You may not be allowed to tell a vintage Sam Kinison joke in front of the account execs, but your fragrance can signal in a non-threatening way (when applied judiciously) that your inner scream is primed and ready for action.

My reasoning for the inverse applies accordingly, but I want to address the reader who says in frustration, "But what if you work in a place that is not obviously formal or casual?" I work in just such a place. My line of work requires me to do tons of paperwork and manage a dozen different kinds of documents, tracking dates, data, line graphs, and the explicit directions of mental health professionals. It's an oddly anachronistic job, especially given the i-Times we are currently in, and I often think that I should wear a visor and smoke cigarettes while engaged in these clerical tasks. In this regard, my job is bizarrely formal.

There is a caveat to this, though. Quite frequently a sizable portion of my day brings the mental and physiological tightrope act of intentionally lighthearted banter with coworkers between physical altercations with people who momentarily wish me bodily harm. I must summon at a moment's notice a cool-headed comment designed to deflate another person's potentially dangerous attitude problem, while giving an implicit and even-handed promise to overlook whatever harm might be done.

Where I work, emotions and tensions can run sky high, but I often have days where 90% of my interactions are easy and not at all demanding. I drive into work every day saying to myself, "Bryan, you'll either drive home at four o'clock, or an ambulance will drive you," and I'm fine with that. What the hell should I wear in a place like this? Should I even wear anything at all? Would going scentless be the "safe" way of handling these professional, social, and cultural ambiguities?

Over the last seven years, I've devised an answer to that, with a few tiers. First, as far as the question of "should I" goes, the answer is clear: Yes, fragrance is appropriate. My environment is subject to many unpleasant odors, many due to bodily fluids, unpleasant secretions, filthy clothing, and just plain bad hygiene. For me to bring a waft of something that smells at least relatively "good" is something more than merely prosaic - it is fundamentally useful. I realized pretty early on that my coworkers actually appreciate an occasional olfactory reprieve, even if only in the form of a good personal fragrance. In many instances my body is in close quarters with someone else's, and I have yet to receive a complaint. I often receive compliments.

However, I'm careful to use a unique tactic: I mix it up. There is no straight line in how one's temperament should adjust in my workplace, and thus no reason to be linear with my fragrance style. Some days it's formal; some days it's a casual fragrance that works best. I have some scheduling indicators that signal what sort of day I'm most likely to have at any given point of the work week, and I wear my frag accordingly. Usually my scents are a bit more formal, and while that is largely due to my personal taste (and not coordinated to effect my working environment), it is also a tertiary benefit of working with people who need to differentiate your impact on their day from the impact of the environment around them. Become too repetitive and too thematic, and they begin to expect you. Stay fresh and new, and expectations aren't formed on that subconscious level, beyond knowing I will smell at least relatively "good."

I tend to stay away from pure perfumes, very strong extraits and oils. There are certain frags that simply feel "wrong." They're too bombastic, too heavy, potentially offensive, even to me. Common sense prevails. Likewise, I see little point in habitually donning light, evanescent colognes like 4711. On a tough day, I'll sweat that out in the first hour, and then it'll be like I never sprayed anything at all. No fun. I like the happy medium of full-bodied EDTs, generally from the last thirty years, and usually trending toward the "woody" end of the masculine spectrum. Coworkers are taken aback at the seemingly endless variety of fragrances, but if someone hands you a steaming turd, you'll gladly take my love of the Caron line over the ecrement.

My suggestion is to go with your gut, but don't be afraid to go against the proverbial grain. Ditch the business scent if you're a businessman - it's redundant. Stay away from watermelon B&B Works crap if you're a lifeguard. Believe it or not, Kouros works better in sand and sun than Acqua di Gio. And yeah, going full Gordon Gecko and wearing Patou Pour Homme to the 116th floor on the day of the Taiwan deal is just asking to end up in a Robert Longo painting.

Be fresh in your heart, and your work will follow.



2/5/17

KL Homme: Overrated Oriental



It's funny how tastes evolve, especially for fragrance. A few years ago I wrote a glowing review for KL Homme, Lagerfeld's "80s oriental." KL was his indirect response to the continuing popularity of the '70s classics Pierre Cardin Pour Monsieur and Jovan Sex Appeal. Lagerfeld Cologne was somewhat similar to Jovan Musk for Men, but the floral musks of the previous decade had limited appeal, and by 1986 it was all about powdery patchouli ambers, with Chanel's Antaeus, Giorgio for Men, and Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men leading the pack.

The 1980s were a continuation of the leading trends of the 1970s, which is why so many guys mistakenly refer to '70s scents like Grey Flannel and Azzaro Pour Homme as "80s colognes." Truly new and innovative concepts didn't emerge until the '90s, though things like Xeryus and Bogner Man were definitely "newish" for young men of the Reagan era. I confess that I'm not partial to oriental fragrances, but I do appreciate a good amber scent; Old Spice, Giorgio, Antaeus, Lagerfeld Classic, and KL Homme are all quite agreeable to me.

In the case of KL Homme, I realized last month that my feelings are changing. I still like it, and enjoy wearing it, but I'm not nearly as impressed with it as I was when I first purchased it. It's important to note that my bottle (and any bottle) is vintage, at least 25 years old, and probably older. It's also good to remember Jeffrey Dame's words about vintage orientals - they last longer than other fragrance types, probably because their complexity masks any subtle spoilage. With KL Homme, I sense no spoilage, other than perhaps a slightly unbalanced musk note, and some bland citrus.

My problem with KL is that it's dreadfully boring. It smells like the vaguest idea of an oriental, with all the most basic elements present, and nothing else. It has a crisp citrus with aldehydes and woody terpenes in the opening accord, followed by a polite cloud of patchouli, amber, benzoin, a hint of soapy rosewood, and talcum powder. The base holds a subdued non-animalic musk, and if you sniff very carefully you can feel the presence of cinnamon-sprinkled sandalwood under the dust. Sounds delightful, right? Well, it would be, if it weren't so carefully fitted and tucked and pruned into such insufferably inoffensive blah-ness. Fragrantica cites civet in KL's pyramid, but there is none, and I've no clue what Fragraticans are smelling in its place.

An oriental should have some magic, some characteristic "oomph!" that sets it apart. KL has no magic, and no memorable moments in its eight hour lifespan. It simply smells like a reference oriental. It's the skeleton of something fleshed-out and alive. It's just bare bones boring. I can't put it any other way. People rave about this fragrance online, but I don't share the love. Quality-wise, it's mediocre, its accords rather indistinct and functional, their execution surprisingly over-blended and soapy. In contrast, Lagerfeld Classic's musk, cigarette tobacco, and myrrh notes are quite realistic, and stand out.

If you're in the market for a "reference oriental," i.e. something that conveys the most basic, no-frills oriental imaginable, KL Homme is for you. But is it deserving of high praise? Nah, not really. I recommend Pierre Cardin's scent over it, and even prefer Sex Appeal, which isn't as pretentious, smells more focused, and contains clearer headshop patchouli and bolder wood notes at an ironically lower price point. If you must have a vintage from KL's era, I suggest you find a splash bottle of Obsession for Men, which has in some cases survived the decades intact, and may still smell reasonably fresh and complex (I had a bottle for 30 years).