Everything smells more in the summer—especially when you live in a city, especially when you live in New York. It’s a molecular reverberation thing, I think. Little gardenia atoms expand in the heat, spreading themselves large and fat for the passing nose. Walking around, more often than any other season, you meet a wall of scent—often in human form, sometimes inanimate, but livid—that knocks you flat in the middle of a crosswalk. Boom, the wall: Garlic knots. Less-than-pristine leather pants. Toddlers. A shop door opens and you get the cold, starchy-modal whiff of Gap; or you find your walk home rerouted due to a massive blockage of street garbage, cloaked and stewing in black plastic bags. I wonder if when groceries are being brought into a building, they spy these bags. And the banana peels and milk cartons whisper to each other that this is it—this is the village of sweat lodges that purify you before you find your final resting place.
And that’s why now's the perfect time to harness the power of the wall of scent. There’s just more of it in late summer—smells are louder, last longer, and can fully bloom under your nose. You can’t realize a fragrance's full potential sitting in a freezing winter office—an anemic spritz whimpering under your sweater, muffled and inert. Summer’s the time for bold scents that unfold at length—it’s the time for perfumes formerly known as 'cologne.' The men can't keep them all to themselves.
I don't believe in fundamental, inviolable distinction between men's and women's perfume, but I do realize there's a genre difference. Men's fragrance often rumbles with ember, oud, and rum—notes found less frequently in the women's-marketed scents. I've picked out three below that I heartily recommend. Go with your preferred note. And they're potent: two eau de parfums and an extrait (the Nasomatto). None of them are subtle but none are brash either, which is appropriate. Summer perfume is not a precious, personal thing—others around will no doubt notice. In fact, as you grow accustomed to the scent, it's passersby who mainly benefit. That's a good thing. Abandon your eau de toilettes—be the wall of scent you want to see erected in the world.
For the sugar-and-spice crowd, Nasomatto's Pardon smells like Pierce Brosnan dropping you off for a summer at your grandparents’. First, being in a basement library stocked exclusively with Westerns. Then, reading wall-to-wall Louis L’Amours cover-to-cover when the heat of summer forces you inside midday—book bindings swollen with humidity. Finally, at the close of the evening, there’s a powdery, close heat—a little over-bloomed decay as you sit with your grandmother by her rose bush. If you’re feeling at all nostalgic but a week off work and a plane ticket home just aren’t in the near offing, I’d recommend this.
For the citrus-minded, consider the brand Etat Libre D’Orange. Je Suis Un Homme smells like a man who owns a speedboat, which is to say, a man heavily in debt. The name’s a fun one to have on your vanity, sort of the retort to Kanye’s “ I Am A God.” It’s a Gatsby scent—starts out smelling cheap and cloying then, as it evolves, begins to mask its eagerness with dryness and distance. It’s not the smell of being entirely sober.
Then there’s Comme Des Garçon’s Wonderwood, a fresh, crisp wood near a body of water, and you're sitting just on the edge. Fanfic notions of romance come into play—there’s a dry, soapy layer underneath all those woody notes, making it a clean, easy choice if you’re not interested in smelling anything like “hirsute” or, God, “lumbersexual.” There’s a gender-innocence to its freshness. I imagine a clawfoot porcelain tub in the middle of a shaded glen.
Photographed by Tom Newton.
Smell good for days with the note that lasts—oud. Read more about its origins here.