Confession: I don’t like summer colognes.
I have a few problems with them. First, most summer colognes are a bit boring. I know that this won’t be a popular opinion, especially in Southern Europe, where 95% of us walk around smelling like lemons for three months of the year, but it’s true. Part of the problem is that the cologne genre doesn’t seem as ripe for innovation as other genres, following as they do a tried and true formula of citrus, herbs, and woods that has been around since 1704. It’s kind of like being five minutes into the latest Jennifer Anniston romantic comedy – it’s nice and all, but you can totally tell where it’s headed.
Second, the longevity sucks. No surprise here, after all, colognes do only have a concentration of perfume oils of between 2 and 5%. But I’m the type of girl who likes to smell her perfume swirl around her through a good part of the day. I enjoy the various stages of a perfume as it transitions from the top notes to the heart, and finally, to the dry-down. It drives me mad if the show lasts a mere hour or two before having to reapply to get the whole shebang started again. I have tried applying colognes as a refresher on a hot night after a cool shower, but by bedtime, it has disappeared again and left me slightly angry that I have “wasted” two hours of perfectly good perfume enjoyment time that I could have had with a “proper” perfume. (I do realize that this last sentence will sound bonkers to anyone who is not into perfume, by the way.)
So, my plea to you today is to ditch the summer colognes altogether and go for a “proper” perfume instead, albeit one that is suitable for hot weather. Last night, I was walking well behind a girl unashamedly doused in Hypnotic Poison, and although part of me was wondering if I was going to choke on her cyanide fumes, a bigger part of me was thinking, “You go, girl!” Here is my list of suggestions for alternatives to traditional eaux de colognes this summer:
For Aldehydic Florals, Try: Noontide Petals, by Andy Tauer
Want to know what Noontide Petals smells like? Shake a can of ice-cold 7-Up, hold it up to your nose, and open the tab. As the aldehydes and bergamot shoot up your nose, you gasp for breath, and then you laugh. I can think of no better formula for summer joy than this. But this is no one-hour wonder. It lasts all day and keeps you on your feet as it shifts between its stages of development. The fizzy top notes give way to a heart that will be familiar to fans of Andy’s Incense Rose and L’Air de Desert Marocain, a mixture of bone-dry woods, spices, rose, and incense. The best way I can describe the “Tauerade” base to someone who hasn’t tried his scents is this: take a hot boulder in the middle of a dessert, add a few tears of Frankincense and shards of desiccated cedar, sandblast it all down to a powder, and fire it off into outer space. Why wear a boring cologne water when you can wear aldehydic space rock dust? Just the thing to suck the moisture out of a humid summer day.
For Fruity-Florals, Try: Bombay Bling! By Neela Vermeire
When you put this on, you are plunged straight onto the set of a Bollywood movie with all its exotic colors, sights, and smells! Every step of this perfume is a pleasure, and I say that as someone who is generally not fond of fruity-floral scents. It opens up on a charming, fizzy note of mango, lime, and what feels to me to be stone fruit – either plums or peaches. The effect is of dollop of jammy, intense fruit puree added to a glass of champagne. But hold your horses, as the best is yet to come! Hours and hours later comes a sneaky surprise, an incredibly creamy sandalwood base that rises up in swirls to soften the piquant red and orange fruits in the heart. The base mellows the entire composition, making the dry down comfortable and luxurious. Unlike in Shalimar, where the clash of cream in the vanilla and the sharpness of the bergamot creates a rather curdled or “rancid butter” effect at the top of the perfume, here, the cream of the base and the bright acid fruit of the top blend smoothly and without incident. Neela Vermeire uses ethically-sourced Mysore sandalwood in her perfumes, so you are getting the real deal here (hence the pain-inducing price tag). The combination of the bright fruity-floral top and the serious, luxurious base is like discovering that the pretty, ditzy blonde in your local coffee shop reads Rilke in her spare time.
For Incense, Try: Shaal Nur, by Etro
For summer, it is best to drag our favorite incenses kicking and screaming out of gloomy cathedrals and into the sunlight. Shaal Nur by Etro is a warm vetiver incense with what I think of as Italian character – open, sunny, handsome, and humorous. The opening is aromatic with herbes de provence, light woods, citrus fruits, and a blurry melange of soft florals. The effect is dry but not bitter, like herbal lemonade that has been made into a sparkly powder. The heart arrives quickly, and is both slightly creamy with opoponax, and prickly with pepper, rosemary, and nutmeg. The incense is uplifting, but outdoorsy in character and miles away from the church pew. Overall, Shaal Nur feels like a precious piece of silk, both beautiful and weightless. There is no smoke, no dark thoughts here – you lift up the piece of silk and you can see the sun through it. This makes it the perfect thing to wear as you strut your stuff on the evening passegiata down the Montenapoleone, eyeing up all the other colorful parrots on the prowl.
For Summer Chypres, Try: Vie de Chateau Intense, by Parfums de Nicolaï
Green chypes are as effective at cutting through summer heat as any citrus, and have the advantage of lasting you the whole day. This is one of the best ones around, if you ask me. It is a thrillingly fresh, dry melange of summer grasses, hay, and tobacco leaves, leavened by a touch of pink grapefruit up top, and supported by rooty, dry vetiver, leather, and moss in the base. It has the same feel as vintage Diorella and Parfum de Therese, both by Edmond Roudnitska, that is to say, natural and outdoorsy, but thankfully it is devoid of the rotting melon effect that I dislike in those perfumes. Vie de Chateau is both greener and drier than its predecessors, and calls up nothing so much as the memory of rolling around in cut hay and grass when you were a child. It is a serious, even austere perfume, but it is that touch of childhood innocence that sends a spike of sunlight shooting through the entire composition.
For Aromatics, Try: Gris Clair, by Serge Lutens
Gris Clair is one of those unusual scents in the Serge Lutens that is free of the ‘dried fruits and syrup’ signature that haunts the line. In fact, it is so sparse and crystalline that one would be forgiven for checking the bottle twice just to be sure. It opens up on a pungent, aromatic note of lavender buds that have been crushed underfoot on a rocky hillside in the Mediterranean hillside. No echoes of grandma here, no visions of lavender stalks pressed between the sheets of a notebook in an English gentlewoman’s home – this is true lavender returned to its origins as a tough customer built to survive droughts and thunderstorms. And boy, does Lutens add a thunderstorm. In the later stages of this perfume, a smoky, ashy incense accord takes over, and together with an undercurrent of sweet tonka beans, the effect is one of an electrical storm hitting that Mediterranean hillside and setting the lavender bushes on fire. If anyone is missing the smell of old electric bar heaters or you simply like the smell of burning electrical cords, then this one is for you. It is odd as hell, but utterly stunning on a summer day when the sky threatens to burst and relieve the tension simmering in the air.
For Summer Skank, Try: Original Musk, by Kiehl’s
Now, as much as I love Muscs Khoublai Khan, summer is not the time to be breaking it out unless you want someone to call the people in HazMat suits out on you. Go for Kiehl’s Original Musk instead, which is kind of like a daylight version of MKK and not nearly as reminiscent of a man’s sweaty undercarriage. Kiehl’s Original Musk very nicely straddles the demilitarized zone between clean, white musks and dirty, dark musks. Somewhere in the Guide, Luca Turin gives a lovely explanation for the appeal of the grand old Guerlain perfumes – he says that their genius lay in summoning up the disparate smells of an entire household at once, so, for example, you get both peaches and floor wax in Mitsouko, and custard and cigarette smoking in Shalimar. I think that is a lovely analogy, and I’m going to use it here too. Kiehl’s Original Musk smells like the entirety of a freshly cleaned public restroom in America, complete with two clean-cut American teenagers with freshly scrubbed faces taking each others’ underwear off in one of the stalls. In other words, it smells of clean, and it smells of sex. People will want to hug you and lick you, simultaneously. It lasts all day and merges with the scent of your own skin to make one of the most heavenly (and summer-appropriate!) smells of all time. Perfect for family barbecues.
I dare you, try any of these for a day and tell me it is not preferable to a boring summer cologne. What would your suggestions for alternatives to summer cologne be?