Searching for a signature scent? Something that, over time, everyone will associate with you and come to recognize as your own unique fragrance? It’s an admirable goal. First, though: Take it slow! There are a lot of colognes on the market that smell good—it’d be a waste to settle on something right away. However, it can still be an easy decision, so long as it’s an informed one—and we’re here to help you with that, along with Sydney-based perfumery expert Clayton Ilolahia, who runs the ode-to-eaus fragrance site P-Article and has been writing about scents for over a decade.
Before we dive into his tips, Ilolahia has some overarching advice when it comes to deciding on a new signature scent: “You have to fall in love with the fragrance. If you aren’t confident buying fragrances for yourself, listen to the salesperson’s advice, ask your close friends for their opinion, but ultimately, you have to love the fragrance you are wearing. If in doubt, don’t buy it.”
1. Study the Notes
By knowing the core notes in fragrance, you can then attach those to a specific mood or vibe that you want to emit. Of course, some notes mean different things to different people, but it’s still easy to find a universally pleasing one that is especially significant to you. “If you want to feel comforted, that feeling might be created by remembering the smell of your mother’s baking, so a note like tonka bean or vanilla could be attractive,” Ilolahia says. “Personally if I want to feel confident and put together, I will wear a classic aromatic fougère fragrance like Yves Saint Laurent Jazz or a modern interpretation like Tom Ford’s Fougère d’Argent (one of GQ’s 10 favorite Tom Ford scents), because growing up, that’s what confident men around me smelled like.”
2. Understand Fragrance Families and Their Seasonality
Ilolahia tends to have 3 or 4 scents in rotation for a few months or a season, because he likes to attach different notes to different times of year. What works in winter fragrance (warming tobacco, leather, or spice) differs from the best summer scent (green and aquatic notes reign supreme), and ditto for a fall fragrance (patchouli, musk, and vanilla) and spring (floral or citrus). Yeah, many of them work well year round, or at least for half the year. But you’re spending no less money in the long run by maintaining a few bottles and assigning them seasonality, as opposed to going through one bottle three or four times as fast.
One of the best ways to understand seasonality and how notes work with certain moods and occasions is Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel, which also happens to be one of the best fragrance discovery scents on the web.
“Edwards’ Fragrances of the World website offers an online fragrance finder that matches over 40,000 fragrances,” Ilolahia says. “Simply type in a favorite fragrance, new or old, and the finder will recommend similar fragrances, based on the fragrance families.” (A few years ago, we had Edwards pick his favorite scent from every fragrance family.)
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask “What Scent Are You Wearing?”
Just as you might Shazam an unfamiliar but enjoyable song, you should ask people which scent they’re wearing whenever you truly like it. After all, they are wearing that scent for that reason. Not to be asked, per se, but to have people enjoy it. (Just make sure you’re not coming off as creepy and flirtatious—less “you smell amazing” and more “hey, out of curiosity, can I ask you which scent you’re wearing?”)