By Sam, Fragrance Contributor
Sam is am 18-year-old freshman at New York University, who is double majoring in Russian Literature/Language and Psychology with a minor in Vocal Performance. Were you to seek him out outside of class, you might find him brushing up on his fencing techniques (épée) at the local academy preparing to try out for NYU’s Division I after a two-year hiatus from a national team. He may be on set at a photoshoot, pursuing his career as high fashion model (you just might spot him walking the runways of NYFW soon!). Or he could be restaurant hopping, hitting up Balthazar for their terrine de lapin, Momofuku for a quick pork bun, and Café Boloud’s lounge side for a cocktail and hideously overpriced dessert. And maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch him belting out “Later” (from “A Little Night Music”) or “Purpose” (courtesy of “Avenue Q”) in the streets or dorm halls. But you can always catch him breaking his diet and sorting though a bag of almond M&M’s, snagging only the blue and green ones. Yellow if he’s desperate!
Must-Have Colognes For a Man Who Likes to Smell Different
I’ve always believed that the best colognes are those that create an experience, not just emit a cloud of scent. I don’t just want to smell the tar and heat; I should be able to see the pier, with its slatted wooden footing worn smooth from years of fishermen’s shuffling, the slightly rotten posts at the end spotted with tar and what appear to be mollusks in a nearly deliberate pattern as if it is stricken with some sort of Rorschach-ian disease, the viscous smoke emanating from the small boat that refuses to start. (For those of you curious, Dior Fahrenheit inspired this description.)
Unfortunately, I had had to be content with imagining and fleshing out these scenes to suit what I was used to colognes giving me: at best, murky, amorphous images that only came together with a rather startling amount of effort from myself, and at worst, just an aura of various smells to walk around in for a few hours. The English and Classics majors of those reading this may wonder at my use of pluperfect tense—“had had”—and rightly so. I recently stumbled upon a cologne so powerful and evocative that it is able to create with scent what words and illustrations often fail to.
What Annick Goutal Ambre Fetiche ($125.00) sets in motion upon the first spray is a journey. You begin perched beside the driver of a rather large wagon, perhaps the largest in this caravan. The man holding the now-coiled whip beside you doesn’t stir as the fierce winds snatch at the ends of the rough cloth, colored so as to fade into the surrounding sands, that encircles his entire face, save for his eyes. Having finished accosting the man, the winds force their way into the covered wagon and rattle the bottles within, filled with thick syrups from the north, tinctures so alcoholic that they evaporate within seconds of being uncorked, and resins from the greater forests to the west that somehow do not solidify. You’ve been surrounded by these powerful scents for days now, so that you’re sure your clothing, and even your hair, is sure to evoke their memory for days after you reach the city.
You reach the city within the week. Having snuck off from the caravan the previous night, you wend your way through the snaking streets—unpaved dirt and sand-packed hard by the thousands who crowd the city’s poor district—towards the inner ring. Sunlight glints off the domes of the palace. You absently think of how the gold leaf from even the smallest of them could keep you in luxury for months.
Having presented your writ of passage to the guard at the main gate, you now follow the escort—whose wickedly curved sword looks fresh from the whetstone—to what appears to be the center of the estate. The silken slippers you were made to exchange for your soft boots before you entered cause you to pitch forward ever so slightly with each step. You are unsure of how the turquoise and ivory tiling of the floor is meant to provide sufficient footing for anyone. The escort stops rather sharply and reaches for the bone handle of a door that is otherwise indistinguishable from any of the numerous others you’ve passed. He pushes inward with no apparent force and bows, making it obvious that you are meant to enter alone.
Your eyes tingle from thick, dry smoke wafting from the candles standing in mirrored stands along the wall, noting that they must be laced with something to produce such a miasma. A thick carpet patterned in intricate scroll work and worked heavily in gold thread steadies your stance. Having adjusted to the heady incense, you notice the countless fringed pillows strewn about the floor, seemingly meant to take the place of formal chairs. The privacy screens, painted with exotic birds and flowering trees, nestled in the corners of the room seem to be in mocking contrast to the twelve or so men and women in diaphanous pants or robes standing languorously against the walls. Your cheeks burn as you notice that they are bare save for those nearly transparent trappings.
All but two hold trays, some laden with silver pitchers filled with steaming, syrupy coffee, others with small cakes infused with vanilla and smoky black tea. The last two, standing at the back of the room, are attending small braziers supporting a shallow bowl filled with a thick, resinous liquid. You realize quickly that it’s amber, its melting producing a cloying, opulent haze that seems to fill your head with wool. You find your way to one of the larger pillows towards the back of the room, taking care not to ogle the hand-servants as you pass by. As you settle yourself, you see the door open, the light from outside flooding into the dim room. A voice used to being obeyed barks out from the glare, and you smile, signaling one of the men to bring over two of the cups of the rich coffee. It’s time for a chat.