So You Wanna Buy Cologne: A Beginner’s Guide

Five things a fella should know before he goes

By The Editors
January 15, 2016 9:00 am

Your brain registers whether it likes a smell or not in 15 seconds.

Your eyes take 20.

Smell good, and you’ll make good impressions. Receive more callbacks. Go on second dates. Smell like s***, and the odds aren’t in your favor.

So when it comes to choosing a cologne, let’s get things right. We tapped expert Robert Gerstner, co-founder of award-winning perfumer Aedes de Venustas in New York’s West Village, to offer some tips on how to pick a scent.

Here’s what he told us.

Scents are unisex
Until the late seventies — and due in no small part to Calvin Klein’s marketing influence — the divide didn’t even exist. Florals are not just for women, incense is not just for men.  “When we go into a restaurant and order fish,” says Gerstner, “we don’t ask if that fish is meant for a man or woman, do we? Taste is a sense, like smell, and it has no gender bias.”

Choose your perfumer mindfully
Aedes de Venustas is known for their highly curated collection of artisanal scents. What you’ll find there are elixirs and tonics in abundance, all with a high ratio of top-quality raw materials. Mass-market colognes contain a much higher percentage of synthetics, making for a cloying scent that doesn’t move and evolve throughout your day. “Scents should hover just around you, like an aura. It should never arrive before you and it should leave with you.”

Get ready to ante up
Artisanal scents start at around $200 for a 3.4-oz. bottle. It’s worth it, because you’ll smell like you and not every other guy in the room. You won’t be alone, either: industry reports show that 60% of our consumer sales were in niche fragrances last year. Celebrity fragrances dropped about half a billion dollars. Sorry, Beckham.

Leave empty-handed
So you’ve chosen your counsel. Spoiler alert: you’re not leaving with cologne that day. Gerstner says he’ll walk a client through four or five scents and that is about all the nose can handle before everything starts smelling like your Aunt Judith. Eliminating what is most offensive to the mind is the easy part so you can narrow your choices.

Go home with samples of the ones you like. “I send a few scents home with a man and tell him to live with them. See how it works with the other things you put on your body, deodorant and whatnot. See how it changes on you. See if you get compliments.”

Opt for authenticity over mass appeal
Each scent in Aedes is built like a three-legged stool. To make it on the shelf, it must have top-notch quality materials and composition, but also it righteous packaging, aesthetic grace and, most importantly, a rich history and story behind it. Without one of these three pillars, the stool cannot stand.

Makes scents.

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