I received an e-mail today about a new men’s fragrance by Chanel. There’s a video (of course) for the new Bleu de Chanel, which was directed by Martin Scorsese – you can watch it here. You shouldn’t judge a cologne by its video, of course, but it really paled in comparison to the Chanel piece featuring Nicole Kidman. You get what you pay for: and in that case, Ms Kidman was paid $12 million, while director Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge!) was given a budget of $42 million.
What I thought was interesting about the e-mail was that it didn’t just try to sell me the the cologne. Its creator actually tried to engage me with something even more interesting – the importance for a man to select a signature scent.
Now, where have I heard that before…?
The year was 1982. I was seated next to Clare Boothe Luce at a dinner party hosted by the former publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, Joseph Ridder. I was 20 years old and working for the minimum wage at a Honolulu radio station. This was a formal dinner. I was underdressed for the occasion, and I pretty much knew next to nothing about what to do when seated at a formal dinner party.
I was mortified, and I’m sure it showed.
Clare Boothe Luce could easily have just ignored me. Most of the other dinner guests had been doing that all evening as we drank and strolled out on the sweeping lawn that led to the Pacific Ocean, with Diamond Head silhouetted above us.
But Clare took an interest in me.
What an amazing woman! I fell under her spell and the rest of the dinner party disappeared as the two of us traded life stories. Mine compared to hers? Insignificant. The stories she told me that night are a dinner conversation I will never forget – and I can still hear them to this day in her clipped voice, which was often hardly more than a whisper.
One of the many things about which we spoke during the dinner stands out – and it’s why the cologne e-mail today bright it to mind. My compliment about her perfume elicited Clare’s observation about men and their use of cologne. She was of the mind that most men were clueless about it. And here was her advice to me.
Find a single cologne – or perhaps two, but no more than that – which will bring happy memories to mind. Make it your signature scent. Wear nothing else. Go with something classic, something that has been around for decades; otherwise, it’ll probably not exist when you go to purchase more.
The dinner was over before I knew it, and Clare’s presence was in high demand. So I thanked her for the wonderful dinner conversation and watched as she was swallowed up by the 50 or so people in attendance. I didn’t stay long. I was out of my element.
A few days later I got a phone call from Clare. Would I be so kind as to join her for lunch the following day?
Fast-forward to that lunch on her lanai overlooking Diamond Head. As we dined, Clare reached beneath the table and presented me with a small package; which she encouraged me to open as we continued with the meal.
It was a bottle of Santos de Cartier. “I think you should make this your signature,” Clare told me. “It’s new for Cartier, but I believe it’ll endure. After all, Cartier has been around since the 1840s.”
“You must promise me this,” she continued. “Apply it only at the back of your neck, just below your hair. I trust you’ll know how much by remembering that a woman’s perfume should announce her presence as she enters the room, but a man’s cologne should follow him discreetly into the room.”
More than 31 years later, I still wear – almost exclusively – Cartier. I did add another cologne: the original men’s cologne by Hermes. I think Clare would approve of the choice, as the French luxury goods house was founded in 1837.
So sayeth the StickMonkey