Statistics prove it, men smell better than they did a decade ago. Thanks, no doubt, to the fact that sales of men's scents have doubled in the past 10 years, to $1.7 billion in the United States. With Father's Day, a major source of men's fragrance sales, just two days away, the figures are still rising.
This year, about 15 new scents are being launched--nearly as many as in the women's fragrance category. Among them are Fahrenheit by Christian Dior, Sung Homme by designer Alfred Sung, Liz Claiborne for Men, Jaguar for Men (inspired by the car), Aspen (inspired by the ski resort) and "21" after the legendary New York restaurant and club.
Annette Green, executive director of the Fragrance Foundation, the New York-based, nonprofit organization devoted to educating the public on the subject, says all of this indicates that men are ready to expand their image and allow themselves to wear more than just the smell of good clean sweat.
"We're in a very sensory period," explains Green about the change in attitude. "People are into self-consciousness and the way their body works. The sense of smell is key to one's sense of well-being." She believes that recent concerns about air pollution have increased many men's awareness of all aromas. "What they smell can have an impact on their lives," she says.
Green has another theory about the expanding men's fragrance industry. She sees it as an outgrowth of the women's movement.
"It's had a liberating effect on men," she says of the '60s cultural revolution. "They're more eager now to express themselves through fragrance as well as fashion. Men are willing to wear stronger scents than they have in the past."
Florals are gaining new acceptance. Tenere by Paco Rabanne is one. Green also says "complicated blends, along the lines of women's scents," are more appealing to men. Fahrenheit is one.
Citrus scents (Giorgio for Men among them) and woodsy scents (Bijan included) are two traditional categories for men's fragrance that are still winning new wearers.
To accommodate men's growing interest in fragrances, stores are training sales people to help them choose the right one, starting with a quick study of their life styles. According to Bob Chavez, group vice president of cosmetics and fragrances at Macy's North East in New York: "We try to find out about the person's likes and dislikes and how they want to use the fragrance. Do they like scents that are warm and musky or lighter and softer?
"If they plan to wear a scent every day to the office, we might steer them to something lighter, such as Tuscany, which is a subtle scent, not overbearing. If they prefer something sportier or more energetic, say for the gym or bike riding, we might suggest Paco Rabanne Sport, which is fresh and invigorating."
Chavez explains that some men just want a scent for evening wear. For them, Obsession for Men, a warmer fragrance, is a good choice. "For more adventurous men," he says, "we might recommend one of the new, sophisticated and more detailed in formula scents, such as Jazz by Yves Saint Laurent, Farenheit by Christian Dior or Tenere by Paco Rabanne.
"The most important thing about buying a fragrance is not being afraid to tell the sales person when you're going to wear it and who you'll be wearing it around. Fragrances are messages about who you are."
Some in the business maintain that the message most men want to send is a traditional one. "In America, I think men look for something that reinforces a healthy, masculine attitude," says menswear designer Ronaldus Shamask, who recently won a Woolmark Award for his work. "They don't really want to smell pretty."
Other designers are more willing to consider alternatives. Geoffrey Beene, who has two successful men's scents--Grey Flannel, a warm scent, and Bowling Green, a light, green one--says: "I think fragrance purchases are always involved with the opposite sex. It's what women want their fellas to smell like. Grey Flannel is about how a man perceives himself in the working arena. Bowling Green is for a man's personal self-image."
Beene also likes what he calls the old, barber-shop splash, a light after-shave. "You can really douse yourself, but it's fresh for a moment and doesn't last forever, a refreshment that passes quickly."
Trying to make a splash in the highly profitable fragrance business, however, often results in a nose dive. Despite men's increased receptivity to new fragrances, experts say there's a 98% failure rate in the women's business and the men's market is even more perilous. Opinions vary too about what makes a best smeller and what makes a stinker.
"When a scent doesn't make it, it's usually the problem of the perfume, packaging and concept not working together," Green says. "There's a disappointment if a man looks at the bottle or the packaging and it appears sexy, but then smells the fragrance and it doesn't give that message. If the perfurmer can translate the concept, chances are very good for success."