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Cologne for men: An expert reveals how to pick the right fragrance for you

Smelling good has never been easier

Man applying aftershave
Kolostock / Getty Images

Men work hard. And most men who work hard play hard. One of the aspects that needs to be addressed, whether you are working hard or playing hard, is how you smell. Fragrances can be horrifically confusing. There are dozens of scents that feel specific ways. Is this a daytime smell? An evening smell? Does this work for a weekend? Is this my formal scent? Not to mention figuring out the difference between a top note, a mid note, and a base note. Lucky for you, other people have already learned all of that and can help break it down. We sat down with Kevin Keller, co-founder of Fulton & Roark, to get the skinny on cologne for men and how to find the right one for you.

“We found the men’s space really uninspired with grooming,” he said about the origins of his company, which put solid fragrances on the map and changed how men look at cologne forever. “We landed on an idea to take human-centered design and start with the problem that you have and pretend that no product has ever been invented to address that.” He went on to say that they landed on fragrance as a place they could improve. “Taking a glass bottle of flammable liquid on an airplane or shoving it in a locker at the gym shouldn’t be the only option.” The result is the sleek and masculine look that has become one of the premiere products in men’s fragrances.

Fulton & Roark Solid Cologne black and white
Fulton & Roark

How do you use solid cologne?

It’s small, it’s convenient, and it’s durable. Great, that all sounds wonderful enough. But does it work? And how do I use it properly? Solid cologne can feel incredibly foreign if you are like most men who have grown up primarily with the kind of flammable liquids they don’t allow on planes. One of the struggles that people who are lifelong users of conventional spray cologne deal with is it is a much more subtle scent. This can be jarring for newcomers. But Keller explains that the majority of their customers are from two different camps. The first are the guys who love fragrances and love the change that a solid cologne offers. The second are people who don’t like typical cologne. The similarity is that they both want something different.

Keller goes on to give a little advice for newcomers to the solid cologne market. “Expectations should be a little bit different,” he said when addressing that solid colognes often offer a more subtle or discreet scent. “We talk a lot about the three-foot rule, which I think applies no matter what kind of fragrance you use. No one should smell you outside of three feet. If you walk into a room and people smell you before they see you, you’re doing it wrong. Solids make that a little easier; in some ways, I think it is a great way to start with fragrance because it removes some of the hazards of fragrance. You can start with just a little swipe and apply it to your pulse points.”

Fulton & Roark Solid Cologne
Fulton & Roark

How do you find the right cologne for you?

There are literally hundreds of combinations of brands and ingredients that can make the right fragrance feel like the holy grail. Of course, finding one is not as complicated as finding the grail, but it can be stressful and overwhelming. Keller has some very simple advice for all of us searching for the right scent. “Trying it on is really important,” he says. “It’s great to see how it smells on paper. But you have to try it on your skin. There are a lot of interactions there, and you need something that smells good on you specifically.”

At the end of the day, finding the right fragrance for you is less about how it smells and more about how it makes you feel. Many of us wear specific fragrances because they are gifts and, most often, because our partners enjoy them. But there is a more profound way to find the right scent for you. “I really think that fragrance should be about how it makes you feel,” Keller says. “What I want for each of my customers is to feel like the best version of themselves and feel confident and exude their personalities.” While it is important for those around you to enjoy how you smell, your scent should be tied to your own preferences and what makes you feel great.

Fulton & Roark Bathroom Set
Fulton & Roark

Do you need to pair your cologne with a specific body wash and deodorant?

Most men have a litany of products on their shelves, whether they are from gifts or random sales at their favorite stores. But one problem men can run into when choosing a fragrance is putting together one cohesive scent. It is easy to use a Dr. Squatch soap in the shower, then a hard-working deodorant, and round it off with beard oil and a cologne. You can create an olfactory mess if you don’t put those together with intention. One of the tricks is to invest in a set that is made for that.

“We designed our sets of fragrance, deodorant, and bar soaps. So you can layer and get a much longer scent,” Keller says. “What you get is a long-lasting, well-rounded scent. The problem of competing scents is where these fragrance sets came from. My mission isn’t to sell, sell, sell. But my advice is to go unscented with your soap and deodorant or invest in sets.” He also offered one other path if you really want to find the right combination. “When it comes to mixing and matching, there are some folks who can figure that out and others who should pick a scent and go with it.”

When in doubt, trust a professional.

Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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