Men once had buttonholes. Hard to believe, but they actually did, and what is more they really put things in these buttonholes – flowers for preference. Which flowers? Well, the gardenia was once called the “opera flower” because of being worn by gentlemen in their button holes to the opera. Other gentlemen chose other buttonholes: carnations, lily of the Valley, possibly a geranium (if they were Charles Dickens whose favorite flower it was) or a rose.
How strange that the olfactory environment of men was different at the end of the nineteenth century. These days, that atmosphere is largely an aura of deodorant, shaving cream and, for the young Axe products. Once, however, this olfactory personal space contained sweat and soil and tobacco, if dandies were working class, or leather, cologne and tobacco if they were middle class. You can change the components once again for a wealthy man who would also have sported a floral element to his smell, in addition to the customary Spanish leather and Hungary water, namely that rose, or carnation or gardenia, he had in his buttonhole, especially if the afternoon tea tray had already arrived and the hour was past five o’clock.
Impossible to recreate now without resorting to artifice, but what a shame that is. Men used to have a smell distinct from that of women, and it was a good distinction. You can still find perfumes and colognes that recreate this style, called Edwardian Dandy if you like. I think that Mouchoir de Monsieur does the trick best of all. It’s what I wear on the days when I like to pretend that I am actually Henry Higgins and not Eliza Doolittle.
Mouchoir is a near relation of Jicky’s, which helps this little self deception along. Though one difference that I can smell, is that Mouchoir contains a rose and Jicky doesn’t. That rose seems to give Mouchoir something just a bit more solid in its hold, some ballast. This is a fragrance that doesn’t wear off quickly and which doesn’t roll much in a storm. Mouchoir is steady, andI like that.
Another, though different masculine rose is Floris’ No.89. Now there’s a caveat to issue with this one. When I used 89, it came in the navy blue and gold packaging with all kinds of royal warrants on the outside and since then Floris has re-packaged the products and cynic that I am, I always suspect a reformulation accompanies a re-packaging. I haven’t seen No 89 in a while, but it still can be found on the internet and is a masculine rose of the more restrained sort.
Guys who are not Anglo-Saxon or German or even Latin, may pull off the more floral rose better; it’s in their cultural traditions often enough (I posed a question to Michael at From Top to Bottom Perfume Patter about Une Rose in this context, because I thought that was a rose intended for men, and he responded that he’d read that male Arab buyers favored Une Rose in the Frederic Malle line, which confirms my suspicion that the rose is not regarded as a particularly feminine flower in many parts of the world).
For everyone else, the floral rose is a risk and best not worn to the office. But oh, for the days when men did wear flowers and sublimate them to a very elegant masculinity. Think of Proust, think of Edward VII, think of Maurice Chevalier, think of anyone you like, only let us forget for a little while the metro sexual male clothed in dihydromyrcenol. Wouldn’t a rose boutonniere be better?