From fresh citrus numbers to rich leathery concoctions to scents that smell like, erm ... roadkill. Les Senteurs boutiques in Marylebone and Belgravia have every possible perfume for every type of gent, presided over by perfume archivist and expert James Craven (one of the nicest chaps in the industry). It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re looking to update yours or your partner’s whiff of choice. We paid James a visit, first speaking about the history of men’s scents (which you can read here) before having a good old sniff around the shop itself with James as our effervescent guide.
First things first, do certain personality types fit certain scents? “That applies much more to women somehow. They tend to think about the mood of the scent, what the scent’s going to do for them, they see it more emotionally, whereas I think men see it more ‘coldly’ perhaps. A man has an idea of the sort of smell he’s after. For him, it’s a finishing touch, it’s another good accessory, but part of the whole. A man’s perfume is never entire in itself, which I think for a lot of women it can be.”
Should there be masculine and feminine categories? “No, they should just be “there”. Which is really why we have them by brand, or by fragrance house. Yet you do have to have some sort of order- otherwise I think it’s too much for the customer. But I don’t think they should be segregated by sex, no. Casual callers or newcomers often ask: “where are the men’s scents?” I say “most of the scents we have here are applicable to either, if we can talk about you a little bit more and what sort of scent you’re looking for, then I can direct you to the right sort of area.
“But I think the good thing is that niche perfumery has invaded the department stores, so most of the purveyors of perfume - whether it be the independents or the high street stores - are getting broader in their interpretation of what’s female and what’s male. We have far more male customers than we used to have in the shop - we’re about 50/50 now.
Do men tend to put too much scent on? “Most men are too sparing if anything – a lot of them say, “how much should I put on?” Not our Middle Eastern or Arab clients of course, but the British and Americans – they are very wary of putting too much on. I think it reflects society’s idea of men needing to be a certain way, i.e. “I mustn’t single myself out.” Some men are worried that “my mother and my girlfriend wear it, so am I allowed to?” There’s still that fear that it may be a socially unforgivable thing to do.”
Should one apply perfume to clothes or the skin? “I would advise to do both clothes and self – only put on clothes you can wash. I wouldn’t put it on my jacket – it gets stale and then you put something else on the top. I hate the idea of perfume being stale on me. A little is great, but get it in the washing machine that night! Lets have it all fresh for the next day! In the same way, scent is lovely on hair that’s clean. But you don’t want yesterday’s perfume in your hair the next day – for either sex! For men though, because most tend to have more body heat than women, so it works quite well to wear scent under the clothes, as it’s going to be pulsating out!
For guys coming into the shop – where’s the first place you would steer them? “I would always go to Frederic Malle – I think he’s a miracle worker - and Atelier Cologne. Creed is super but it’s not for absolute beginners, I think it’s too full on!
So now we bring you James’s guide to the perfect scents for the gents…
For Scent Newbies …
“… the idea of the vegetable patch in February or March. There's just a touch of rain in the air, the very beginning of warming up after winter. Actually when you get it on, it doesn’t intensify but it’s a surprisingly good laster, it doesn’t disappear. For a lot of men, it’s quite reassuring because they say to me “I didn’t mean quite as light as that!” It shows them I’m not going to douse them in something musky!
“Another clean and straightforward scent – the iciness of that seems to appeal – you equate it with cleanliness and briskness, clear-sightedness and no messing about! It’s got a shiny quality to it. It’s sharp and on the ball, it’s young and clean, clean, clean!”
“…. It’s the equivalent of a brand new clean white linen shirt everyday. Often I see a man who’s new to scent, although he’s not looking for it will say “oh yes that makes me feel good as well! It’s an uplift!” I definitely steer them towards that one and its many variants as there is a stronger version.”
“If the last three are seeming a little bit too cold, this is getting a bit woodier, a bit warmer – developing a bit more. It's a bit cosy, a bit more intimate hinting at more of an interactive perfume rather than something that’s just part of one's grooming routine. The coldness and the freshness persist as a kind of backdrop, yet you do get more of this warmth and muskiness comes in. It takes you by surprise, it lures you in – it’s kind of reassuring."
For Slightly More Adventurous Teens and Twenty-Somethings ...
“It’s got vetiver as the spine of it, but there's an awful lot more to this one. There’s a minty quality and a transparent musky quality, the sandalwood and almost a certain slightly edible note about it. Slightly salad-y even! It goes off in a lot of directions, it’s not scary, not threatening but very far from straightforward.
“It was enormously successful when it came out – it got dominated by Aventus and got forgotten a bit, but it’s always been a top seller with Creed.
“That’s why it’s a very good intro point to the Creed scents, then you can build up from this. When I was training for Creed, I discovered that they’re big glowing complicated scents and if you jump in too fast, it’s getting people to run before they can walk. Whereas the Vetiver I think is reassuring and delightful.”
For The More Mature, Refined Gent ...
“The successor to the Vetiver and is far more exuberant and delightful! Ideal for a man usually in his 30s who likes to wear scent for fun. He’s confident, a party animal and successful, usually great fun! This is very much a party scent I think."
Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier – Grain de Plasir (unavailable to buy online - call 020 7730 2322)
"Sweet and musky, this suggests slightly less restraint and lost inhibitions! It has celery seed and coffee notes, my dad went absolutely crackers for it! It’s funny because then I caught the enthusiasm off him. I’d sold it, but it had never been a favourite! Its name means “grain of pleasure” referencing the celery seed, which was thought to be an aphrodisiac..."
For The Unabashed Modern Dandy
“Well the Knize I would say goes to men who are not afraid of their sexual/expressive side, they want something that really stirs them up – almost like devouring a good meal - not pigging out, but relishing every mouthful. It’s about having huge appetites and needing a perfume to match. This is for the bon viveurs! Nothing stinted. It’s a very good buy because it’s not been altered too much, and it’s still at a relatively modest price, given its wonderful lasting power. It’s one of those legendary scents like Tabac Blonde and Narcisse Noir, that when people smell it, noone’s ever disappointed. It delivers the goods!
“It’s got that early WWI muskiness that was characteristic of the early 20s. You’d paint it in coppers and golds, tawny, smoke, joss more than incense – and tobacco. But very warm, very substantial – a great scent!"
“A man might say he wants something that’s got some freshness but is much more developed, defined and powerful. This is a rain summer in a Corsican forest, conjuring images of soaked earth and sea salt. It’s more grown up – and much more vivid than the standard "fresh" men's scents – it takes more dealing with, as it’s saying a lot more.”
“This has a slightly fleshy, damp, leathery accord, but a darker, harder more ferocious sort of leather – that can almost get to the acrid stage. This is not for the very young, you need to be more developed for this type of scent. As you age, your skin gets drier so it can tolerate much heavier scents.
"Leathery scents are great on men with darker or olive skin. They tend to rather obliterate the very fair or red heads!"
(What’s the appeal of leather in men’s scents? “It’s the association with the clothes, for men it’s reassuringly virile, slightly brutish, no nonsense and slightly aggressive. It’s also protective when you think about it - leather is quite tough after all. It’s got that sexiness but is reassuringly masculine. Slightly disturbing as well.”)
“I would say this is always the Knize Ten of the next century. Quite a modern scent, it came out about 2008 but this is creeping up in popularity. As the name hints, it's cowboys, praries, campfire, smoke, it’s even a bit meaty!
“It’s a hot summer afternoon, that's slightly earthy and damp. I love this smell. It’s like lying in the grass under a shadowy tree and the hot sun peeping through.”
And For The Totally Daring ...
“(It means Carrion) It smells like road kill ! Think of a hare or a pheasant hanging in the coal house until it’s well rotted. People love Etat Libre D’Orange and a lot are tickled to death by the concept of the names (other scents include Fat Electrician and Secretions Magnifiques). When it launched, it did show a lot of people that perfume didn’t have to be reverential. All their scents have been created by good perfumers, I think it did the industry a lot of good. It's a fun brand, and perfume should be fun."
And Finally, A Quintessentially "Masculine" Scent...
"This range is exclusive to us. This one is all about memory, the perfumer finding his grandfather shaving in the kitchen, with bowls of hot water, shaving soap, the green of the fields, and the hot steam of the kitchen within.
"Les Eaux Primordiales are dreamy scents, but sharply focused dreams – they’re very seductive and appealing. The look is definitely man’s dressing room I think – and the minimalist bottles and labelling are a lovely touch. I can’t bear the overly ornate, when the bottles overwhelm everything."
But of course these above scents aren’t solely designated just for the male customers. “More and more women are craving masculine scents, due to their downplayed nature. These types of scent cut out the frou-frou element and the sweetness and the sugary quality of commercial women’s scents. There's now a leaning towards pared down, tailored, sharper – even more bitter – scents which are rather more adult than what the female market is offering. Are women being patronised by their perfume? There’s a good question!"
Les Senteurs is located at 71 Elizabeth St, Belgravia, London SW1W 9PJ and 2 Seymour Pl, Marylebone, London W1H 7NA
020 7183 5842 lessenteurs.com
(If you're shopping online, they offer small sample bottles which customers can purchase before investing in a full-size version.)