February 18, 2006

F5 #2: That "old man" smell

I'm going to have to write a special instalment of this series just to complain about how much I hate deadlines.

It comes in a stubby white bottle with a funny little stopper.

It is as ubiquitous a Christmas gift for Dad as a tie.

It has a ship on the label.

It is nearly universally derided as something that reminds people of their grandfathers.

And I don't care.

I wonder whether the Shulton company knew back in 1937, when they introduced Old Spice aftershave, that they had a classic on their hands. I mean a real classic, not an ersatz "classic" like Ralph Lauren's Polo, universally proclaimed a "classic scent" by the sales dronettes at department store fragrance counters. Two years ago I had no clue what Polo smelled like, and to my nose it seems dated. The market has moved on to newer, cooler designer fragrances with less pine and more fruit. Meanwhile, at nearly 70 years old - more than twice the age of Polo - Old Spice remains the bestselling mass-market men's fragrance. Furthermore, since the brand was acquired by Procter and Gamble in 1990, they have successfully marketed the Old Spice line of hygiene products to, of all people, teenagers. Not bad for something only your grandfather would wear.

Truth be told, Old Spice doesn't remind me of my grandfather. He was a pipe smoker, so the smell I associate with him is Amphora tobacco. My dad has always had a bottle, but since there are all of 26 years between us, I don't associate him with "old men" - and besides, I familiarized myself with the scent by opening up his bottle and taking a whiff, not because I consciously recollect him wearing it.

Unlike so many modern designer fragrances, which seem to have a more "unisex" orientation, Old Spice is a distinctly masculine smell. According to Basenotes, its top notes are some nice manly citrus and spices before it dries down to cinnamon, a few florals, vanilla, and musk (amongst others). The overall result is a fragrance that exudes goodness and warmth - especially good on a day like today when it's 20 below zero outside.

I don't want to put down modern perfumery. One of my favourite eau de toilettes is Calvin Klein's Truth, which I have woefully little of, and can't buy more any time soon. I also have a bottle of Crabtree and Evelyn's Nomad, which complements my favourite shaving soap and, like Old Spice, starts out with a sharp citrus top note before drying down to something fresh and leafy. I wear something like that on weekdays, when I have to interact with people, so I want something subtle that doesn't come on too strong. On Sundays I can't really wear any scent at all, because I sing with the church choir and don't want to inadvertently choke anyone up because of their allergies.

But on Saturdays, I get to wear what makes me feel good. That usually means "Old Spice day." It's just another symptom of my curmudgeonliness.