Screenwriter Neil Kramer, your Citizen of the Month, confessed he had never worn after-shave. He wondered if a splash of male fragrance might make a good impression on mommybloggers, which was, at the time, his chosen dating pool. In the spirit of the Queer Eye, I agreed to be his personal homoscentual.
Two Hommes Ordinaire
Neil chose his counsel wisely. He understands that just because I'm gay, doesn't mean I groom. Sexually, I'm a homo, and not a metro. The Honourable Husband, though possessed of the rapier wit and contempt for taboo which distinguishes an avant-garde homosexual from an oil-changing, beer-drinking, couch-clinging straight, is just a regular guy. His only vanity is a little after-shave.
Neil is a regular guy, too. He knows so much about regular guys, his screenwriting credits actually include many episodes of Home Improvement.
That means I owe Neil a big one*. Every time Richard Karn, as Al Borland, did something straight-dudely, the sexual cred of the gay bear subculture climbed a notch. Those of you who have seen The Honourable Husband in person, know how grateful I must be.
Since I don't have a garage, I do all my masculine pottering on the after-shave shelf. It's very straight. I mean, there's no Jean Paul Gaultier anywhere.
Starting on the left, you'll see an unopened box of Bulgari Aqua. (Should that be Bvlgari Aqva?) This makes a good beginner's fragrance. Fresh and clean, but not soapy or floral. Light, but still masculine. Somebody even says it has undertones of mandarin, posididonia and mineral amber. Whoah! I don't understand three-dollar-words.
Even better, when I bought it in-flight on British Airways, it qualified for a BOGOF. That's technical marketing-speak for Buy One Get One Free. Inside the box, you'll find a cool bottle, too, if you can call it that. It's a sort of flying saucer shape that's meant to slip into a pocket or bag, rather than stand on a shelf. User-friendliness earns a place at number two on Neil's list.
The small vial to the right came as a freebie, from a Cathay Pacific amenities pack. Woods of Windsor For Gentlemen. Shockingly simple, it reminds one of that marvellous bay rum which a generation of barbers would splash on shorn heads. If there were no such thing as Old Spice (see below), this would be my white t-shirt of scent. Some day, I might actually buy a bottle. Like with money, even. Except they're discontinuing it.
Sport generally means that you take a decent fragrance, add lime cordial to give it a "citrus" note, and flog it to people who think that wearing an after-shave with sport in its name gets you out of going to the gym. The word sport masculinises after-shave, just like the words after-shave masculinise perfume.
For Ralph Lauren, such subterfuge is no scent-crime. I mean the man makes as much money nowadays from paint as from fashion, right? The linked review suggests that RL Polo Sport contains rather a lot of seaweed. But Chanel...how could you?
OK, they succumbed to the sport-fad. But Allure Sport PH still manages a rich, glorious, spicy nose. I take this travelling, because like Aqua, it slips easily onto a bag or pocket.
On your way to eternity, you might start to smell a little.
In the foreground, you see a small sample-size bottle. It holds a concoction known as Calvin Klein Eternity.
Not a fan of Eternity. (Hey, I'm not even a fan of the next five minutes.)
The scent evokes memories of a frustrated, trying-to-be-straight youth. Once, in the 80s, I cut through a department store on my way from university campus to bus-stop. As I passed the white grand piano**, a makeup-caked saleswoman thrust a scented card under my nose. "Sir, would you like to try Eternity for Men?"
"Let me tell you about Eternity for Men," I snarled. "FOREPLAY. That's eternity for men!" The woman gave me a sample bottle, thinking I might need a little help with the opposite sex. I still have it, so she may have been right.
Calvin Klein loves citrus notes so much, that I sometimes think he flogs wearable lemon juice. Or follows around tomcats with an empty bottle, as they mark their territory. Parfumiers describe this scent as fougere, or fern-like. I haven’t quite fougered that one out.
Ten Gallons of It.
On the far right, we find another souvenir of the eighties: a bottle of Dallas after-shave. It's dark green, the color of crude.
Dallas smells like my mother's Tweed. Good friend Cash McBuck gave it to me, so it earns pride-of-place in the medicine cabinet. It came in a gift set, with a shaker of talc that turned to limestone after living in steamy bathrooms for many years. The after-shave bottle is half-empty, mainly from evaporation. I wish Eternity would evaporate as fast.
Give them the Axe
The tall bottle hidden behind JR is the curious Puma I'm Going. To call this an after-shave, means armies of whiskers have died in vain. It's a new-fangled body-spray. That's fine, but such things simply don't smell enough. You can't dab a little behind the ear, for your beloved to discover as you canoodle. The object of your affection won't smell a body spray until you're naked, so it will appeal only to those in committed relationships, or the easy.
The garish bottle in the middle is Bulgari pour homme Extrême. (Or should that be Extrémé? Or Extrèmè? Or Êxtrěmé? Come to think of it, shouldn't that be Bvlgari povr homme? Maybe I should just shvt vp.)
Bulgari fragrances are the opposite of their loud, heavily-branded watches; there's little that's extreme about Extrême. It's light, subtle and pleasant, smelling of nothing in particular but friendliness. I put this as number four on Neil's list.
The Heavyweight Champion
Between Dallas and Extrême, we see the two after shaves which I use often enough to keep cupboard stock. Lurking in the back you’ll notice a familiar ivory shape. The venerable Old Spice.
Old Spice is the granddaddy of them all. Sometime last century, those cunning chaps at Proctor and Gamble found that men quite liked the idea of smelling nice—which suggests being clean—but shunned perfume. The way to get perfume on a bloke was to make it hurt. Throw some alcohol over freshly-scraped skin, that’s exactly what it does.
Of course, it hurts doesn't make great copy, so it became the bracing sensation you get from pure salt air and the crisp refreshing brace of the open sea. That’s what Old Spice does. It braces. There's so much bracing in an Old Spice ad, you'd think you were in an orthodontist's office***.
But the original scent of Old Spice is exactly what I want on most days—to smell clean. Nothing smells cleaner than Old Spice. This is number three on your list, Neil.
My Signature Scent
The red-wine coloured box in front, though, contains a more formal scent. Antaeus, by Chanel.
Antaeus was my first truly grown-up aftershave. I bought it, by chance, duty free in Bahrain—this was so long ago that Qantas jets had to refuel twice between Australia and Europe; not once, as they do nowadays. The northwestern part of India and the Middle East seem to have a penchant for scent, and Bahrain sold it by the gallon.
There was a catch at the time. In order to avoid duty at your destination, one needed to open the bottle en route. It gently scented my backpack, so Antaeus provided a kind of olfactory soundtrack to that marvelous, youthful picaresque. I bought another bottle on the way home, and have been hooked ever since.
Antaeus drips with wood and spice; it’s like tasting a sweet, peppery Cabernet Sauvignon. I would recommend it as your fragrance of choice, Neil. Except for one thing. It’s mine.
An After Shave Adventure
No, we need to find Neil a personal bouquet. Luckily, I have to go to London this week, which means passing through two of Europe’s most extensive duty-free obstacle courses. Franz-Joseph Strauss Terminal Two, and Heathrow Terminal Five.
(Of course, Diane needs to weigh in on the issue, too. In the European blogosphere, we share joint custody of Neil)
Hold your breath for part trois.
* * * * *
Photo Credit: Arthur Stace's Eternity script is copyright to the Sydney City Council. All photos link back to source.
* Luckily, I have a big one
**Australians will know what I'm talking about.
***Here's the joke if you speak British English: "There's so much bracing in an Old Spice ad you'd think you could use the stuff to hold up your pants."