This is a tale of obsession. It’s a common story: as a man approaches middle age he puts away childish things and takes a more refined and serious approach to his leisure activities.
For some, the golf course beckons. For others, the single malt, the sous-vide machine, the roar of a motorbike or hours spent under the tattooist’s needle is the only way to scratch the itch. Friends have confronted their mortality by picking up the cocktail shaker, plucking a banjo or adopting a preposterously technical approach to brewing coffee.
Me, I chose perfume.
It started out as an innocuous time-wasting exercise a few years ago. With a nonchalant spray of Terre d'Hermès in the duty-free lounge of Heathrow I casually thought, “Maybe it’s time to update my aroma.”
Some reading revealed the fragrance was created by Jean-Claude Ellena, the reclusive nose now resident at Hermès and living in solitude by the edge of a forest with only his assistant to keep track of the micro-adjustments necessary for creating a great perfume.
Ellena is a master of the subtle alchemy of blending numerous ingredients in fractionally shifting proportions to create a fragrance that is simultaneously satisfying, evocative and magical. I tried another one of his juices. It was good. Before long, I would naturally gravitate to the fragrance counter in an airport or department store for “research”.
As any enthusiast will tell you, the high and light notes of a summer scent wear off quickly. What to wear in the depths of a London winter? Ungaro’s elegant pour L’Homme III, the rose-heavy killer? Maybe Mark Birley for Men, originally created as an exclusive scent for members of Birley’s private club Annabel’s? Or Lalique’s Encre Noire, the gothic monster with notes of ink, burnt wood and vetiver? Perhaps Byredo’s psychedelic and futuristic 1996?
It wasn’t long before I was headlong into the world of the fragrance obsessive: vintage batches, reformulations, blind buys, samples, splits and furtive conversations about sillage and dry down with like-minded “fumeheads” in the office. I was sneaking bottles back home and hiding them in sock drawers. I even Googled Galbanum. It turned out I wasn’t alone in my habit.
Within months I’d gone from a novice to a snob. I turned my nose up at Tom Ford’s Tuscan Leather, a scent so ubiquitous even Canadian rapper Drake sings its praises on his most recent album. I briefly toyed with the idea of a private blend – and swiftly abandoned it when the cost became clear.
As with all addictions you never conquer it, you merely try to keep it under control from day to day. With an overflowing bathroom cupboard with notes of resin, musk, spice, flowers, earthy minerals, winter warmers and lemony summer refreshers, I’m done. Well, maybe just one more, but that’s it.
Paul Noble is a producer for Monocle 24.