The Scent of Man
November 1, 2011

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By Tim Girvin
Co-Founder, creator and artist of A Dozen Roses, Sandy Cataldo, signing bottles
Exploring the Place of Masculine Fume

There are those that might propose that any man being preoccupied with the idea of scent is a fool. What comes to mind is the self-styled buck that gets on the elevator wafting a broad dose of Polo. Or the hyper-sensitive aesthete who waxes poetic about the candles burning scent notes in a cloistered hall. What that idea -- that dream -- proffers is the buy-in to another imagined, or an aspired-to, world.

Scent reaches to two distinct provinces in the imagination -- the intertwinement of memory and place. So what might the definitive scents of man be? Luca Turin has some specific thoughts on that front -- a collection of the best amalgams of ingredients and sequences that are out there -- now, or then. And there are other tabulations. Best. The men's list: sexiest -- The Men's Health Best of -- Elle's Top Picks… People have a point of view -- their nose and analyses usually befits desire, imagining and experience. Maturity -- the array of scents studied, will play to the care of discernment.

I'm less interested in the character of the brands -- and their attempts to sync the knot work of brand, dream and human connectivity -- but more to the heart of history, masculine experience and the differentiation that might be implied in the sexual split. Men are male. Women are female. The character of their proclivities sets the pace of approach -- what does a man smell like? And what does a woman scent like? And what mix might there be? One might ask, is it really about the scent? What scent is truly there? And what is the scent of here?

Or perhaps -- what fragrance lies in the marking of humanity, the making of place and character in presence? Is it on the person, or is it in the memory of place and presence that drives the person? I think that question goes two ways -- "he smells like…what he likes, or where he's been."

And that scenting -- the alteration of scent (of the place that he's been, to the place that he's going to -- in his mind) can alter his holistic sense of being.

Humans have a grouping of scent notes -- these wafts might emanate from diet, bacteria, exposures -- raw materials, minerals and fabric, chemicals and environment -- and proximities and age. There are more touches to the character of how a person smells -- but these come to mind. This grouping is surely one factoring set in the quality of the scenting of personality. But these reactions can be aesthetic as well -- and reflective; what lies outside might lie within.

When talking to men, ask them about male perfumed, manufactured scents, and most have no idea how to even begin to identify them. But if one takes the idea of what drives men -- to be men -- then there's a different layering of experience. Listening, for example, to director David Lynch talk about his love of tobacco, smoking and cutting trees; he talks about different kinds of forests -- the sound and song of the saw, the smell of the Northwest woods, as opposed to the Northeastern groves. "They're different, and I like one more than the other."

That idea of an evocation of place, or the contents and contacts of placement and personal presence, is how most humans relate to scenting -- a renewed collection of environmental and experiential influences. "Smelling that, been there. Go back. Imagery emerges." People talk about scents in the most basic way -- "this smells like…" The next declaration relates to the degree of maturity and vocabulary -- what is known in the language of describing the flow of fragrance.

Perfume is all about fluency and proximity -- waft. And when a man walks by, what is the recollection of his experience? What does he scent like? For some -- there would be nothing. Others might evoke a brand -- "like Ralph Lauren" in the inherent ubiquity of that offering.

Rather than commenting on brands, I'd suggest roots. What is the foundation of fragrance other than the essential compression of the heart of those "things." But things hold memories -- therein, the maleness; in another reference on personal poetry, and building olfaction gatherings, there's Alan Cumming. In his efforts with Christopher Brosius -- a fragranced collaboration -- speaking scenting filigrees of sex, scotch, cigars, Scotland. But that is right for men? Depends on the man -- hard, or soft.

To allegory, and maleness, place and recollection -- the masculine palette I draw are: woods, chipped woods, smoke, tar, pitch, and sawdust, old mosses, worts and lichens, forest wetness, grasses, grains, straws -- wet, dusted, or dry ground, crushed chypre, fougere, dried citrus; amber, dirt, cracked stone, concrete; thunderstorm, the ionic crack of explosives, gunshot; salt and seaweeds, musks, furs, hair; leathers, hide, vellum and parchment, papers -- finally gasoline, oil, rubber, canvas -- burnt or otherwise.

To the nature of men, and the scent that might surround them -- these are the basic notes, the deep -- plumbing the depths of male psychic and physic sentience.

Memories stir -- and the man is right back there, in the beginning.

TIM GIRVIN | Barcelona, Spain | 10.28.2011
"Scent reaches to two distinct provinces in
the imagination -- the intertwinement
of memory and place."
Tim Girvin is the principal and founder of GIRVIN | Strategic Branding, one of the longest running, privately held brand development and consulting firms in the United States. For 35 years, Girvin and his teams in Seattle and NYC, as well as his Tokyo alliance, have created brands for beauty mega brands: Shiseido, Procter & Gamble, Esteé Lauder, Louis Vuitton, Bath & Body, Yves Saint Laurent, among others -- as well as working with niche brands and newly emerging companies, large and small. Earlier, working in Paris, Girvin partnered with perfume design legend, Pierre Dinand. Girvin has written about, consulted on and designed for perfumes and fragrance groups throughout the world, his blog studies fragrance and experience design, perfume packaging, olfactory brand strategy and emotionality in scent engagement.

Tim Girvin ( | LinkedIn)