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May 1, 2005

"Vulgar Men" By Luca Turin

"Vulgar Men" By Luca Turin

In what turned out to be largely fictional memoirs written after the first Gulf War, a British Special Forces soldier recalled how he was captured, blindfolded and interrogated by Iraqi police. One of the few credible things in his account was that all the while he could smell the awful after-shave the policeman wore, which added to his distress. But suppose the interrogator had been a dandy in the mold of Turkish Bey José Ferrer in Lawrence of Arabia wearing, say, Guerlain’s Mouchoir de Monsieur. Would that have made life easier ? For that matter, what do elite UK forces wear when interrogating suspects ? I’ll bet our guy took a hard look at his bathroom shelf when he got home.

In seduction as in intimidation, intent is everything. A hack from Men’s Health, a magazine notable for the pectorals on its cover, wrote to me asking “How can a man maximize the influence of his cologne choices to attract the women he’s really interested in ?” Efficient mating strategies are good in principle, but this one is doomed. Waste time wondering which “cologne” pulls better, and your genes will spread only by lucky accident. A perfume should be right for the man, not for the job. Men’s fragrances fall in three categories, two easy, one hard, with some overlap between them. Category one: things that just smell great, like Chanel Pour Monsieur, De Nicolai’s New York, Guerlain’s Jicky, Dior’s Jules, etc. There are only two ways to screw up with these: if you put too much on, or if the rest of you is less evolved than the perfume. Category two: "monogrammed slippers" stuff like Floris 89, Eau d’Hermès, Paco Rabanne Pour Homme, Guerlain’s Habit Rouge etc.. These come with a fondness for biography, stocks pages and sighing labradors, and have nothing further to contribute to propagating the species.

The third category is the trickiest: "Young Buck". This is where most men (even gay ones, surprisingly) need a course in self-awareness. The guiding principle is: if you think you should be wearing it, don’t. Perfumes like Miyake’s Eau Bleue, Saint Laurent’s Kouros, Lapidus Pour Lui are fashion accessories. Like most couture for women, they are not meant to be helpful, but to measure how much strain your beauty can take. Unless you’re made of pure, self-confident gold, stay away from their dissolving aqua regia. And, as you get ready to go out, consider Emmanuel Bibesco’s famous question: "Pourquoi pas rien ?".

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