Culture

Men’s Cologne: What’s All the Stink About?

June 1, 2015
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©istockphoto/Gizmo

©istockphoto/Gizmo

Remember the good old days when we men only had to bath once every six months whether we needed it or not? Yeah, me neither but those were the days.

It Gets Complicated
Now we shower at least once a day, also whether we need it or not, and it’s gotten even more complicated than just bathing. Not only are there soaps with or without lotions, but there is now body wash, then there’s shaving with 2, 3, or 5 blades, after shave, and of course, cologne.

The Scent of Our Founding Fathers
George Washington may or may not have had wooden teeth, which had to cause some mighty stinky bad breath, but he smelled good due to the cologne he and John Adams were known to favor. The Caswell-Massey company out of Rhode Island still makes Caswell No. 6 which has notes of orange and bergamot. I ‘m not sure what bergamot is or what “notes” of anything means, but if it’s been around that long, it must smell good.

There Was Something in the Air Way Earlier
In 1709 an Italian named Giovanni Maria Farina turned perfume manly with Eau de Cologne which turned out to be so popular it is still pushed on us men to this day by the 8th generation of his family. Made with citrus notes (there’s that word again) along with flowers and herbs the name means water of Cologne (it’s from Cologne, Germany) and was meant to be used internally as medicine and externally as the first perfume for men. It was a huge and immediate success in France, which shouldn’t really surprise any of us, and went on to start a trend that has cost us billions to this day.

The Old Standby
Life, and every Father’s day thereafter. was changed forever in 1937 with the invention of Old Spice. Originally a fragrance for girls, it became popular as a men’s cologne the next year and has filled every men’s shaving kit and medicine cabinet since. My own father still has bottles of that stuff I bought him when I was young and believe me, that was a long time ago. I think it has a lifetime equal to plutonium-239 and will be here at the end of the world with the cockroaches.

It’s “Hai” Time
Though actually, technically an after-shave, Hai Karate holds a place in perfume lore as one of the best marketing plans ever. Though it was as cheap as could be, both in price and quality, “Hai Karate” in the late 1960s and 1970s was sold by the millions. Their advertising campaign stated “Be careful how you use it,” and the bottles came with a brochure of self-defense moves to, “Fend off the women.” I’ve heard you can still find bottles of it on Ebay, which just goes to show you: while a lot of people bought it, nobody actually used it.

Polo Anyone?
In 1972 Ralph Lauren started his Polo brand which included a men’s cologne that is still sold today. It’s one of the most popular and effective, though also more expensive colognes around. My wife calls it…well I shouldn’t use that term here but she means something like it’s attractive to prostitutes. I don’t think she realizes what she’s saying as she seems to love it too.

And the Winner Is
Calvin Klein started CK One in 1994 targeting the Gen X crowd, and was at one time selling 20 bottles a minute, every minute of the day, seven days a week, for years. Clive Christian’s No.1 Imperial Coronation has the Guinness Book of World Record distinction of being the most expensive cologne in the world and goes for a modest $1300 a bottle. Hai Karate, in its heyday, went for about a buck and a half.

It’s All Up to You
You don’t need No. 1 Imperial Coronation, nor necessarily Polo or CK One to attract the ladies. A good bath or, better yet, body wash (whatever the heck that is) will usually suffice. Unfortunately for us, cologne has become so ingrained in our society, that most women expect or at least appreciate a well-cologned (Is that a word?) man. Don’t worry though: if you wear it and it’s effective, you will someday have kids and guess what they’re getting you for Father’s Day.

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