I. An Abridged History of Smell
Few things compare to catching a whiff of a familiar fragrance in an unexpected place – your father's aftershave, your grandmother's perfume, the particular, rubbery smell of pencil erasers that formed such a big part of your life as a small child, and then largely disappeared from it altogether. Suddenly, in a tumble of memories and emotions, you're a child again. No other sense seems to have such an immediate and dramatic impact on memory. There is something special, and something primal, about the sense of smell.
And in fact, humanity's love affair with smells is a long, storied, and surprising one; one which began early. Perfumes, incenses, and scented balms figure into the records left behind by almost all ancient peoples who left behind any records at all. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Chinese, and Romans – just to drop a few of the more A-List names – all had their favorite scents, and kept meticulous records of their production, cost, and use.
The Egyptians, for instance, even recognized a god of perfume, Nefertum, who is identifiable in iconography for his crown of fragrant blue water lilies. They were also quite fond of aromatic woods and resins – like myrrh – which they imported at great cost from the fabled Land of Punt, elsewhere in Africa (researchers still debate where, exactly). But perhaps the perfume for which they are best known they called kyphi, a blend of – depending on which ancient author's recipe you follow – some sixteen different aromatic ingredients, which was used as both an incense and a cure for various ailments.1
The Romans, on the other hand, were partial to frankincense; by 100 AD the Roman empire was importing thousands of tons of it a year.2 Indeed, it's said that Emperor Nero (who, let's be honest, was never exactly known for his restraint) burned the equivalent of an entire year’s harvest of the stuff at the funeral of his favorite mistress3 – a theatrical gesture of mourning and display of wealth whose symbolic significance depended upon the resin's rarity and cost.
By the time of the biblical authors, both frankincense and myrrh were so closely associated with luxury and royalty that they were considered standard offerings to new kings – thus their mention as the Magis' gifts of choice to the newborn Jesus.4
Without conflating the perfumery traditions of all ancient societies, what we can gather for certain from examples like these is that perfumes in some form or another (and including incense) have been of vital importance, culturally and economically, to humans since the literal beginnings of recorded history.
Chanel No.5, in other words – and no shade intended – was in some ways more revolutionary for its marketing campaign than its ingredients or application. But how did we get from lily-crowned perfume gods, to the little glass bottles that form such an essential part of modern grooming?
II. Picture it: Cologne, Germany, 1709...
Although in modern American parlance, the terms “Eau de Cologne,” or simply “cologne,” are used generically to refer to any scent marketed towards men, there was, in fact, a historical first cologne – and it was unisex. The first official Eau de Cologne – the first liquid to go by that name – was concocted circa 1708 by one Giovanni Maria Farina (and I dare you to try and say his name out loud without hand gesturing at least a little bit). Farina, a recent transplant to the city of Cologne in Germany, hailed originally from the Valle Vigezzo, a picturesque valley located along Italy's northern border with Switzerland. Perhaps it was out of homesickness for the mountains of his birthplace that he one day struck upon an idea that would not only make his later fame and fortune – but change the history of perfumery forever.
After experimenting with various mixtures of citrus and herbal oils in a base of diluted alcohol (a technique said to have been first invented by the Persians5, but that had been in use in Europe since at least the 1300s6), Farina happened upon a combination that, as he gushed to his brother in a letter dated to 1708, “reminds me of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus, orange blossom just after the rain. It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination.”7 Rather ironically, given the scent's Italian inspiration, Farina gave the fragrance a French name after his adopted German hometown – apparently, he sensed the cosmopolitan potential of his creation from its inception. He certainly seemed to, because within a year of writing his brother about his fateful new fragrance, he had founded a perfumery to produce it – which, eight generations later, continues to produce Farina's original recipe. It's the oldest continuously-run perfumery in the world.
The signature light, fresh, unisex scent of Farina's potion – with top notes of bright bergamot and lemon, a heart of galbanum, jasmine, and violet, and an earthy, but surprisingly light base of sandalwood, cedar, and musk – soon scented handkerchiefs in aristocratic circles across Europe.8 A marked departure from the heavier, musky scents that had previously dominated European fashion, Farina's fragrance marked a revolution of the upper-class nose – and if The Devil Wears Prada has taught us anything, it's that, however dubious trickle-down economics may be, trickle-down fashion is a historical fact. Farina's Eau de Cologne washed across Europe like tidal wave (tidal waft?): the hallmark of good breeding and good fashion.
And, for that matter, good hygiene. Perfumes in the 18th century were used as more than just a means of beautification. Although worn for adornment as well, they were also, and oftentimes primarily, worn as wards against the foul smells (“miasmas”) that were thought to be responsible for disease.9 The use of pomanders – small, ornately-wrought amulets filled with miasma-averting solid perfume – appear in records dating to the mid-13th century.10 Europe's first alcohol-based perfumes also date to roughly this time; they were referred to as aqua miribilis (marvellous water) or aqua vita (water of life), and often imbibed as health tonics.11 Farina's own Eau de Cologne was widely touted to prevent the plague.12 In fact, the medical qualities of Farina's fragrance, as well as its numerous cousins and counterfeits, were a central part of their marketing until 1810, when Napoleon Bonaparte declared that all purveyors of medicines had to make their recipes public. Unwilling to divulge their proprietary formulas, European perfumers for the first time sharply distinguished their fragrances from actual medicines.13
Nowadays, medical science has, thankfully, advanced a bit beyond prescribing cologne as a cure-all. But colognes certainly do have a place in modern life, and we here at The Cardinal Brand are big fans of the original Eau de Cologne as a personal scent – without which an entire industry might never have been born. And without which we, centuries later, might never have been inspired to place fragrance at the heart of our own product line.
Which, by the by, brings us to an important point.
III. The Cardinal Brand's Black and White Editions
If you've spent any time on our catalog page recently, you may have noticed that The Cardinal Brand has recently introduced its beloved pomade scents as stand-alone fragrances. It's hard to deny popular demand! Bottled in minimalist decanters (Calvin Klein eat your heart out), our unisex Black and White editions are currently available to pre-order – and to celebrate their introduction, they are also available at a special introductory rate. You can find them here.
The White Edition, featured also in our Atlas Matte Texture Clay and Maximus High Shine Wax, is an opulent blend of tobacco flower, raw honey, and vanilla, bolstered by ginger root, teakwood, dried fruits – and an anchored with shot of bourbon. It's warm and enveloping – a cabin hearth fire on a snowy night. Maybe with a bearskin rug spread before it (faux if you want; or, since this is imaginary, just pretend the bear was a real dick); maybe with a special, scantily-clad someone seated on the bearskin rug. Maybe. Look, we know cologne marketing tends to be a bit over the top – but we guarantee you this: the White Edition was designed to encourage others to want to do more than just sniff you. Don't wear it if you feel like being left alone.
The Black Edition, which you'll also find in our Atticus Semi Matte Putty and Icarus High Shine Wax, takes a very different approach to seduction than our White Edition. Equal parts class and animal appeal, the Black Edition opens with notes of one of Farina's favored scents, bergamot – but then heads in a direction Farina could never have imagined. Spiced mango, nutmeg, and vetiver are rounded out by the piquancy of black pepper and cardamom; the dry-down settles on pipe tobacco, coffee bean, and a velvety hit of rich amber. The overall effect is unexpected – fresh, clean, but not cold. Elegant, but not boring. Shaken, not stirred. And as deep as the black between city lights at night, viewed from a high-rise window (evil pet cat optional). It's the water and air to the White Edition's earth and fire.
And remember: while, again, TCB does not condone replacing your current medication regimen with cologne of even the highest quality (so set down that Dolce & Gabbana, grandma), it is possible to take a page from Farina's book and consider the various, perhaps unexpected ways fragrances can be used on the daily.
IV. The Art of the Spritz
Did you know that spraying colognes directly on the skin is not necessarily the best way to apply them? This is obviously true for anyone with a known sensitivity to fragrance in skin or hair care products – but it should also be avoided by sufferers of rosacea, who may find that a cologne's alcohol content and/or fragrances can kick off a flare-up. Rosacea.org recommends that rosacea patients always patch-test fragranced cosmetics “in a peripheral area, such as the neck” – that is, somewhere discreet – before wearing them normally.14 We agree heartily: never put beauty before health – it's a contradiction in terms. And should a patch test – of any product – ever turn out, well, less than ideally, be sure to notify your dermatologist or general care practitioner ASAP for further advice.
Even those who aren't sensitive to fragrance might want to consider a new spritzing style, however. For example, many people (myself included) find that spraying fragrance on clothing, rather than skin, actually makes scents last longer – sturdy outerwear like scarves, jackets, and hats are especially suited (no pun intended) for this. Just remember to hold the nozzle at least a foot away from the item you want to scent – if you swoop too close, you may leave a stain, especially on more delicate fabrics. Mist and waft, mist and waft.
Alternately, if you'd like to fragrance all of your clothing, but only subtly, slap on your DIY hat and try making a couple homemade sachets: just scent a few cotton balls, and tie them in small bags of breathable (read: non-synthetic) fabric, like cotton or linen. Place the sachets in your closet and/or drawers, leave to marinate, and the next time you decide to gussy up – voila!
If you are determined to scent yourself, remember your hot spots: your chest and wrists are both warm enough to help the alcohol in cologne evaporate, so that the scent itself can diffuse easily. Do not, however, then rub your wrists together. That probably sounds counter-intuitive, but in fact, by rubbing your be-cologned wrists together, you can damage or alter the cologne's volatile oils, changing its scent. Spray, chill, and let the scent dry on its own.
Or, perhaps better yet, try the Parisian trick of lightly misting scent into your hair. As anyone who's ever had the deep misfortune of being long-haired (or -bearded) at a smoky summer barbecue knows, hair LOVES to absorb scents, and does so readily. Just one pump will do – especially if used over a bit of the corresponding The Cardinal Brand pomade. (And if you're really wild, you can try layering different scents – maybe a bit of Icarus in the hair, to tame flyaways and add a touch of Black Edition to your mane; and, for contrast, a shot of White Edition to your favorite scarf. As always with cologne application, a light touch is key. This technique works especially well in outdoor conditions, where the breeze will waft up first one scent, and then the other – and if you find, once you're inside, that you need to tone down the olfactory magic? Just remove the scarf.)
Besides personal use, you can also use our Black and White Editions to leave a personal aromatic signature on curtains, throw pillows, and outer bed coverings. Time was, too, when no love letter was complete without a touch of the writer's personal scent – then again, when was the last time you, or anyone under 40, wrote an actual paper letter? Still, it's an idea – and an unexpectedly romantic one, if you happen to be in the business of wooing. This is cuffing season after all. So cuff with style, mothercuffer. Do it for Farina.
V. And One Thing that is NOT in our Fragrances
Given all this scent talk, maybe we should take a minute to address the elephant in the room. The giant, desperately marketed, and kinda creepy elephant that peeks at you from those last few, weird pages of small business ads at the ends of otherwise respectable magazines (looking at you, Psychology Today)... You know what I mean.
Pheromones. What, exactly, are pheromones? According to www.merriam-webster.com, a pheromone is “a chemical substance that is usually produced by an animal and serves especially as a stimulus to other individuals of the same species for one or more behavioral responses.” A pheromone, that is, is a chemical signal that animals use to elicit specific responses from others of their same species. And often, although certainly not always, the “certain responses” in question are, shall we say... lusty ones.
The urine of male mice, for instance, contains a pheromone called alpha-farnesene that actually hastens the sexual maturity of adolescent female mice. Female silk moths on the wing secrete a substance called bombykol that male silk moths literally cannot resist trailing; it mesmerizes them, and they instinctively follow it to its source.15 So, the resolutely capitalist thinking goes, if human pheromones related to sexual behavior could be discovered, isolated, and reproduced for use in scents, then maybe an aphrodisiac worthy of the name could finally be produced – and sold! #Kaching
Except that some scientists doubt that humans produce pheromones at all; and many others doubt that, even if they do, the pheromones actually function as straightforward aphrodisiacs. According to a study published in Royal Society Open Science, two substances described as “putative human pheromones” – androstadienone, a substance derived from male sweat and semen, and estratetraenol, derived from female urine – failed to influence the behavior of study subjects in any meaningful way at all.16 More details of the study can be found in the link below, but the bottom line is that even researchers who do believe that human pheromones exist and can influence behavior, caution that their influence is likely to be nuanced, contingent – and probably not, in the final instance, amenable to the brewing of love potions. Humans are simply too complex to respond to pheromones as reflexively as lower animals do. In other words, even the best laid plans of moths and marketers often go awry – the latter's probably more often than the former's.
To be fair, this area of scientific study is ongoing – and anyway, TCB is a grooming brand, not a biology department. But given the (understandable) online interest in the purported power of pheromones to turn zeros into heroes, we figured they merited a mention here. (We might also mention that many consumer products that DO contain pheromones, promising to boost your powers of attraction, are not actually made with HUMAN pheromones, but... pig pheromones.17 So, yeah. There's that, too.)
But that's as far as we'll go with that subject: what we know for sure is that, pheromones or no, everyone's sexier when they smell good.
VI. Always End on a Cliff-hanger
So, there you have it: we've covered the history of cologne, the current State of the Fragrance at The Cardinal Brand, different ways to use our Black and White Editions, and even why pheromones may not be the future of the perfume industry (despite the fervent hopes of so many). But we're not done yet. Far be it from us to give away too much – it's always best to keep a little mystery – but if you're an established fan of The Cardinal Brand's unique and uni-sexy fragrances, then brace yourself: we have some very exciting news for you.
In coming seasons, we're going to be opening up our product offerings even more. From our current line of hair styling products and fragrances, we are planning to expand, firstly, into the realm of hair care, with a line of premium shampoos and conditioners – which will, of course, also boast our delectable scents – and after that, after we've gotten the recipes just right, into the wide world of skin and body care. Before you know it, you'll be able to anoint yourself in TCB from head to well-exfoliated toe.
As these product additions are still in development, we can't give exact release dates yet – but watch this space. And in the meantime, be – and smell – well.