Every person’s scent is unique. From the good to the bad, the natural to the store bought, the subtle to the pungent, a person’s smell conveys something about him—due both to pheromones and the fact that a guy drenched in Drakkar Noir could not, and should not, ever be mistaken for a man sprinkled with Tom Ford. As with all aspects of our appearance, we manipulate our scents in the hopes of making ourselves as attractive as possible to potential mates. So what exactly are we conveying about ourselves when we slap on a little Tim McGraw? What does it mean to smell like Usher? Do other people like us better when we smell like Paris Hilton? I took five celebrity scents—Usher, Tim McGraw, Paris Hilton, Antonio Banderas and iCarly—out for five different nights on the town. Here’s what I learned.
Day #1:Usher’s Usher For Men. Price: $9.99 for .17 FL Oz.
Purchasing experience: I set it on the counter at Rite-Aid and was already learning things. The woman behind the counter said, “This is popular today. Three people have bought this already. But the big bottle.” I wanted to ask her all kinds of census questions. Were they rich-looking? How old were they? What race were they? But I only had time for one, “Men or women?” They sold both Usher Cologne and Perfume. “Men.” I put on a couple of sprays, on my way to a friend’s birthday party. I brought the tiny bottle with me to reapply throughout the night as needed.
First impression: Colognes (and perfumes) seem to start with one scent, settle into another, and then hit a third during their death rattle. Usher came on like a strong Hugo Boss, and then faded away into nothing. I had to reapply twice before I got to the party.
Play by Play: I got there, got a drink from the bar, greeted friends, got and gave lots of hugs. And nothing. Not even a hint from anyone that I was wearing anything, which I normally do not. I talked to an ex-fling and the conversation was more boring than usual. That did not bode well for Mr. Usher.
I moved on to hang out with a couple friends, one of whom is a writer for a big hour-long drama and the other an actor featured on some Reno 911 episodes. Both fascinating and great guys. We ended up talking about Bosom Buddies for a long time. It was the cologne. Its scent was enshrouding the room in a blanket of boredom.
Having had enough of this “nobody noticing” crap, I asked a friend of mine to smell me, but not in a weird way. He sniffed me and shrugged. I told him it was Usher. He said, “Smells like everything else…just like Usher.” Burn. He then went on to talk about something boring. He couldn’t help himself, damn it! Damn this mind numbing cologne! Cults and Republicans should be buying this stuff by the gallon. It creates a sedated American in seconds.
Feeling the albatross of Usher ruining my good time, I decided to fight back by pounding Miller Lite. Meanwhile, the piano player at the bar played Billy Joel and I got sucked into a conversation about the local zoo. Foiled again! By Usher! I asked another friend to smell me. “I don’t smell anything, [sniffs closer] oh yeah, it’s nice.” Then she turned her back to me. I told myself it was because I was hammered on Miller Lite, but I knew the truth. It was the cologne. I’m much more charming when I’m drunk.
The only thing that got this crowd semi-riled up after being bathed in the boredom that is Usher’s cologne was the piano player’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” But it only my scent of malaise wafting in his direction for the pianist to start playing happy birthday for the birthday girl. I scarfed down a piece of cake and left. Usher ruined my night. I felt sorry for the other three Rite-Aid customers.
Night #2: Tim McGraw’s McGraw. Price: $18.99.
Purchasing experience: Before going to the bar, I went to the Rite-Aid to purchase another celebrity cologne. They had both McGraw and Southern Blend McGraw. They were both $18.99, fortunately, there was a tester bottle of McGraw (regular) open. Unfortunately it was empty, but that wasn’t going to stop me. Rite-Aid wanted me to test McGraw and damn it, I was going to. I opened up a box and sprayed away. I put it back and left, just like the man who wrote “Indian Outlaw” would want it. (For those not familiar with his discography, it was indeed Tim McGraw who wrote “Indian Outlaw.”)
First impression: Again, it smelled like nothing. And I put a lot on since I wasn’t going to have the bottle with me. This was starting to piss me off. Maybe a hint of leather? Maybe not.
Play by Play: I left Rite-Aid and was walking to the bar when it hit me. MCGRAW IN THE FACE! McGraw had come home to roost. I was musky all over and it was getting stronger by the second. I immediately regretted how much I had put on. I was very self-conscious of how strong I smelled as I entered the bar. I got hugs and they knew it immediately.
Throughout the night McGraw got strong reactions. Not unpleasant strong, just intense strong. When describing it people would go into flowery detail like they had just become wine sommeliers in Napa Valley. People had different reactions that revealed more about their character than Mr. Faith Hill had intended. It seems McGraw Cologne is a truth serum of emotion. A friend went into detail about how it reminded her of being with her ex-boyfriend on a bathroom floor in Freeport, Illinois, circa 1994. Also a hint of her cousin’s kind-of-boyfriend-who-turned-out-to-be-gay-later and wore a lot of Marshall Field’s cologne that he used to steal. A Russian woman told me it made her really want to go out and eat oranges. I was also told about how it was like incense from the bathroom of an ex who was in a band and lived in a commune with the other guys in the band. Another friend who is more “sensitive” than most said it was “Unobtrusively fragrant. Iit’s sort of mild and calming if albeit a bit floral for a man’s fragrance.” The woman standing right next to him said, “It smells like like a hunky man, like a manly man. It’s, like, better than Axe.” It reminded her of camping. And trees. “There’s an air of cigarettes, like a man!” You could tell she was getting horny.
All the revelations were starting to make me nervous. McGraw was turning out to be truth serum and I didn’t feel right tricking people into revealing themselves through the undercover scent dosing of McGraw. I can only imagine what would have been revealed if I was wearing Southern Blend McGraw. The next women I spoke to said it was like passing by woods on a snowy evening. She went on to say she wouldn’t like it if it was in a mall, but she liked it because she likes me. Oh my God, McGraw was making my friends hit on me. With my wife literally feet away.
My nerves were shot and the woman behind me kept standing up and slamming her chair into me out of excitement. I needed to get this McGraw out of here before someone got hurt. Someone like me. Then, I swear to God, the jukebox started playing “Don’t Stop Believin’.” The McGraw was screwing with me. Trying to make me insane. The title of Tim’s album Set This Circus Down made perfect sense. I got scared and quickly left.
Later that night, at home, I got into a big fight with my wife. It was about a lot of things and nothing at all, but there were plenty of things said. Then crying. I absolutely blame the McGraw. It had gotten to me. And dragged my wife down with it.
The next morning when I put my jacket on, it still reeked of McGraw. I took it off and hung it far away form the rest of my clothes. It is now a weapon, only to be used in cases of emergency, like when I need to know the absolute truth, and fast. The coat will get the results, and I just hope I never have to wear it again.
Night #3: Paris Hilton’s Paris Hilton…For Men. Price: $9.99 for 1.0 FL. Oz.
Purchasing experience: I walked into Ross Dress For Less and the line was ridiculous. I went over to the cologne/perfume kiosk. Locked. I looked inside and saw Paris Hilton…For Men. My first thought was, isn’t Paris Hilton always for men? Then a rimshot went off in my brain. My second thought was it’s going to take forever to get someone to come unlock this thing. Then out of nowhere, a Ross employee came up behind me and just opened the case. What the hell? A customer behind me had already summoned her. I jumped in and pointed to Paris’s box. Another rimshot. Before I had to get in line the Ross employee took our purchases and said, “Come on over to Customer Service ‘n I’ll ring you up.” It was a retail miracle. I even got to donate my leftover change to Haiti. Thanks Paris for being so easy! Third rimshot.
First impression: The only smell that comes to mind is cologne. I know you can’t define a word using the same word, but if someone asked me what cologne smells like, it would be this. Basically, this is the Platonic ideal of cologne. It is full of cologne-ness.
Play by Play: I sprayed it on and went out to another birthday party. Full disclosure: This was a ’90s themed party and we were asked to come in costume. So, while wearing Paris, I was dressed as grizzled Detective Andy Sipowitz from the TV show NYPD Blue. Bald cap, mustache, short sleeve shirt with a tie, fake gun on my hip and calling people “Douchebag.” I should also point out this ended up being what you might call a “low-level industry party.” There were a handful of writers and recognizable working actors at this party. Steve Agee from The Sarah Silverman Show was there; John DiMaggio, the voice of Bender on Futurama, a writer from the unfortunately defunct Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, and plenty of other people from commercials—a semi-celebrity party in Hollywood with networking and people trying to get laid or get work. This cologne is already in its element. Now we get to see what happens when a snake eats its own tail.
I schmoozed and got reactions. When I asked what they thought of it, most people used other colognes to describe Paris For Men. Stetson, Fahrenheit, Cool Water, Nautica. The birthday girl even said, “It’s masculine, yet I feel comfortable. It’s like a party, but at the same time hot.” I swear to God she really said “Hot.” She elicited Paris’ own catch phrase to describe her cologne. Eat, snake, eat!
Surprisingly, when I revealed it was Paris for Men, most of them just nodded and smiled. There was no judgment at all. They still liked it.
Night #4: Antonio Banderas Blue Seduction, Cologne for Men. Price: $22.95 for 1.0 FL. Oz.
Antonio Banderas was made for ladies. Not the cologne, the man himself. Not that men can’t enjoy AB too, but God made him specifically with women in mind. Because of this, I gave my wife the first impression.
My Wife’s First impression: It’s kinda fruity, definitely fruity-like. A good spring scent. Then she told me I could put more on, so I did. Not because she’s my wife, but because he’s Antonio Banderas.
Play by Play: As I left the house I tried to compose my olfactory thoughts. AB Blue Seduction smelled different to me. It was not the kind of scent I was used to, it was not cologne-y at all. It didn’t smell like a flower either, or a food…I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me. It wasn’t just a smell. It was a full experience. AB BS was my “biggest” scent so far. It wasn’t just a smell, it was an entire night.
To me, it smells like a photograph of a memory of a night out with great friends. I can smell the cologne I’m wearing, mixed with the perfume of the woman I’m talking to, a hint of the white wine she’s drinking along with the cigarette smoke infused jacket of the guy standing in our circle. I can smell the floor of the bar soaked with years of spilled alcohol and indiscretions. The Guinness breath of another friend laughing at my joke mixed with a waft of Hollywood Blvd and the food cart outside when the bouncer opens the door to let in someone new.
Maybe it was the positive visualization, maybe it was a premonition, but either way my night turned out to be a lot like I envisioned. I ended up watching some of the funniest improv comedy I had seen in a long time and old friends were popping up everywhere. Reactions to the cologne like, “It smells like perfume for a man,” “It’s got a clean smell,” and “It’s very comfortable with itself,” turned into great conversations about interesting places we’ve lived and visited, stories about seeing porn stars on the street and jokes about Olive Garden commercials.
As we talked, I pictured the music playing, drowning out our words and becoming a soundtrack, as a camera swirled around us in slo-mo circles. Sure it wasn’t just the cologne, but maybe it wasn’t just the friends either. If I’ve learned anything from this experiment so far, it’s that the cologne you wear is not about how you smell to other people. That crap is meaningless. People smell too many different things. It’s about the attitude the cologne gives you. It seeps into your skin and imparts something new. Maybe something you weren’t expecting or something you didn’t even know was in you. You don’t exude a scent, the scent exudes you.
Night #5: Nickelodeon’s iCarly Cologne. $11.99 for 1.0 FL. OZ. Available at Rite-Aid.
Purchasing experience: For the last night of my experiment I decided to go all out. I wanted to try something really different. I picked a scent I would never look twice at, paid money for it. and wore it out in public. I know iCarly is not a celebrity—it’s a TV show—but I still got my hopes up for great reactions to this one. I’m also nervous to reveal it as iCarly and get the stink eye that I can only assume creepy pervs get all the time. For those of you that don’t know, iCarly is a kid’s show on a kid’s network about a girl named Carly struggling with adolescence while gaining fame by hosting her own web show with her bestest friends. Or at least that’s what imdb tells me. I’ve never seen it. It’s a show for young girls.
According to the box for Nickelodeon’s iCarly, it is cologne. Not perfume. Sure, cologne can be for women too, but what Tween knows that? I can only assume the “Cologne” distinction is some sort of misprint or weird marketing scheme. Lucky for you, their mistake is my evening of wearing it out.
First impression: Bubble gum. It smells like a big pink cube of bubblegum. With just a hint of chemicals.
Play by Play: Unfortunately, whenever I get my hopes up too high they are instantly dashed. I wore it out with friends and the reactions were, “Fruity.” Or “What is it?” And that’s it. They gave up caring within seconds and went back to their beer or conversation about game shows. My wife said, “Smells splashy.” I waited for more. I stared and she returned it with a blank stare of her own. She repeated, “Yup, just splashy.” The problem with iCarly cologne is that it doesn’t smell like cologne, it smells like a mistake. Like I’ve been chewing Big League Chew and you just caught a whiff of my breath. Or I spilled a hunk of frosting on my shirt somewhere and you just can’t see it.
Nickelodeon iCarly also fades away quicker than the others. Where Antonio Banderas or Tim McGraw grows on you and becomes distinct, this one comes on medium-strong with its sugary-sweet smell, then fades away within minutes into nothing, a background smell. I didn’t mean that as a metaphor, but you can sure as hell take it as one.
Throughout this experiment I got a lot of varying opinions. I couldn’t pick one as my favorite, they all made me a different man. They were all powerful in their own way, except for iCarly. That one was a waste of a night.
If you are important enough to have your own celebrity scent, it has to be bold. Sure, some people may think it reeks like flowers, but you gotta go for it. You have to try. Cologne, like anything in life, isn’t supposed to be milquetoast and monotone. Which is why nobody knows what iCarly’s real name is. Nobody I spoke to had any idea. Poor iCarly. Someone’s making cologne with her name on it, keeping it milquetoast to appease just enough people to keep it barely profitable. It’s like paying the minimum on your credit cards each month; it’s actually counterproductive.
I may be saying this more to convince myself, but I think it’s better to wear cologne that’s too strong and to stand out than wear nothing and feel nothing. If you make a big, bold choice you’ve got a shot at going from being iCarly to being a McGraw or Paris or Banderas, or to a lesser degree, Usher. Or maybe even, someday, if I really play my cards right, BETETTE!