The Scent-ual Man : Men’s Fragrance Is at Peak Popularity; Female Colleagues May Be the Reason

WEARING scent used to be fairly unusual for men. Now, however, it has become so acceptable that this year instead of passing out cigars at the political conventions, delegates from New Mexico were passing out bottles of Santa Fe, a new men’s cologne.

Wearing men’s fragrance has become mainstream. Research shows that every week 70% of American males over age 18 douse themselves with fragrance. Typically, they choose from a personal selection of five or six scents, including colognes and after-shaves. If they are extremely fragrance-conscious, they own 15 or 16 different essences.

Such statistics, gathered by men’s toiletry maker Shulton Inc., make it easy to understand why the men’s fragrance industry is a $1.5-billion business in the United States. According to Annette Green, executive director of New York’s Fragrance Foundation, more men are wearing more fragrance than ever before. And, says Green, they are now buying their own fragrances, not simply waiting for women to give it to them. But women are definitely influencing what they wear.

Having more women in the workplace has focused attention on grooming, Green explains. “Men’s attitudes about fragrance have changed dramatically since they have been working with women as peers,” she points out. “Now most professional men think of fragrance as a regular part of the grooming routine.”


Linda Silver, who manufactures the Roy collection of shaving and skin-care products for men, says she created a scent this year after the number of requests for a fragrance tripled. “When men were busy getting their bodies in shape, they didn’t think too much about fragrance,” she explains. “Now they want fragrance to complete the whole grooming picture.”

Vintage Natural Cologne is the first fragrance offering from Gruene, a skin-care manufacturer based locally in Venice. Released in May to department stores such as Nordstrom and Bullock’s, the scent was originally test-marketed for its appeal to women. “Women do most of the shopping,” says Daniel Samakow, chief executive officer and founder of the fragrance firm. “If a woman doesn’t like the top note of a man’s fragrance, it’s doomed.”

Roy, The Fragrance is another case in point. “Even though we have mostly male customers, part of the fragrance’s appeal is that I, a woman, created it,” says Silver, whose cologne is sold at Fred Segal Man in Santa Monica and Ron Ross in Tarzana. “A man wants to know that his wife or girlfriend is going to like it,” says Silver, whose creative credit is listed on the black bottle.

Female appeal was important in the development of New West, Aramis’ new men’s fragrance that will be marketed only in California this year. Called an “ungendered” scent by Ira Howard Levy, the Estee Lauder senior vice president who helped develop the collection for the Aramis division, the cologne is expected to sell well to women who will wear it themselves as well as buy it for men.


Citrus seems to be the top note of choice this season in men’s fragrances. New West, Gruene’s Vintage, Programme Homme by Lancome, Colors de Benetton Men’s and Pierre Cardin’s Bleu Marine, all feature a strong citrus scent derived from such oils as lime, lemon, tangerine, mandarin orange and bergamot. As the fragrances “dry down,” their individual blends become unique and individual.

Sheila Hopkins, strategic business unit manager for Shulton, which distributes Old Spice, Bleu Marine and Santa Fe, says that sales volume indicates that spice is still America’s favorite top note for a men’s fragrance. She points out that for 50 years Old Spice has been the No. 1 seller in the world, with twice as many buyers as its closest competitor.

It’s not just scent that sells men’s fragrance--or any fragrance. Packaging plays a big role, so it too has to appeal to both men and women. In the past, men’s fragrance manufacturers have relied on unremarkable bottles. Then suddenly Yves Saint Laurent’s Jazz, a recently introduced scent blending sandalwood and rose, emerged in a bold ebony-and-ivory bottle. Similarly, other firms have started to create unusual bottles for men’s scent. Vintage’s traditionally shaped black bottle features Mondrian-like artwork on the back of the bottle, and each is inscribed “1988 premiere edition.” New West appears in vivid blue-and-yellow bottles, colors not usually associated with men’s fragrance.

Since women still make 60% of men’s fragrance purchases, some observers might say that attracting the female customer is the major goal. But manufacturers disagree. “We want the man at the counter,” says Gruene’s Samakow. “That’s one sure way we can find out his fragrance preferences and be sure he’ll come back.”


Hair and makeup: Jetty Stutzman / Cloutier; models: Rosetta Millington / Click; Tony Ward / Nina Blanchard.