Colognes Are For Women, Too? A Q&A with Andy Tauer

June 23, 2014

When we feature colognes in our Olfactif collections, we get the occasional question from female subscribers:  Why are you sending me a men's fragrance? And the answer is pretty simple: We're not. We're sending you a lightly concentrated fragrance built around a citrus accord and with few heavy base notes. The word "cologne" has nothing to do with gender, just as "eau de toilette" and "eau de parfum" are not exclusively for women. (In fact, look at the bottles of men's fragrances the next time you're in the department store. You'll see that most are marked as eau de toilette or eau de parfum, just the same as the scents marketed to women.)  

Why do most people think "women wear perfume" and "men wear cologne"? Hard to say. Cologne was invented in 1709 by Johann Maria Farina, who wrote to his brother: "I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain." Wouldn't it be a pity if only the men got to smell like that?

The Olfactif All On a Summer's Day collection features Cologne du Maghreb, a  bona fide cologne and the latest release from Tauer Perfumes. We spoke with perfumer Andy Tauer about some of the misconceptions around colognes, how this cologne is a little different, and his plans for future creations. When you're done, we hope you'll be ready to splash on a cologne to your nose's content, no matter who you are.

Olfactif: Let’s start on the subject of cologne. A lot of people think that “cologne” means “fragrance for men.” But that’s completely inaccurate. So can you give us a little education on what cologne is and who it’s for?

Andy Tauer: Actually, colognes are very traditional perfumes in a very low concentration. Let’s put it that way. They were invented about 200 years ago in Cologne, Germany, as a reaction to the very heady, animalic scents that people used to wear. Before that, perfumes were loaded with natural musks and castoreum, so when colognes were invented it was like a breakthrough. It was the first time that people were wearing light, refreshing fragrances that were not supposed to last for days, but were just there to be enjoyed in the moment. And, of course, back then colognes were all natural and they were basically composed using an overdose of citrus oil like lemon or bergamot. They were combined with some clary sage to give an interesting twist, and also with lavender to give an herbaceous  contra punto. Americans might not know what colognes really are, but I think there’s also a misconception of what a cologne is in Europe, too. It probably is because the generation of perfume lovers today were so influenced by marketing. And we all have male friends who call their fragrances “cologne” even though the scents are not cologne concentration—they’re eau de toilette or eau de parfum.

O: For that reason, women in American might avoid cologne. They think it’s for men. But colognes tend to be very unisex, right?

AT: Yes, absolutely. Cologne is definitely a unisex fragrance in general, because it doesn’t speak the language of the classical male fragrance—no heavy woods or green fougere.

O: The other observation that we can make about cologne is that it doesn’t last as long as an EDP. Some people assume this is a drawback, but perfume wasn’t necessarily meant to last a certain amount of time. In fact, one thing that many people love about perfume is that it tells a story with a distinct beginning, middle, and end—and there  is an end. The idea that a perfume should last all day seems counterintuitive, no?

AT: Right. Absolutely right. Look, depending on how you wear a cologne, there are tricks to make it last longer. You can spray the cologne on your chest and then put on a cotton shirt, and the scent kind of sticks a little bit to the cotton and lasts longer. But you’re right: They’re not made to last that long. I don’t know where this notion actually comes from that the fragrance has to last an entire day or 24 hours. When colognes were invented, this was in a time when the world didn’t smell as clean as it does now, and the idea was to apply cologne frequently throughout the day to stay refreshed.

O: I love that image of someone carrying around a bottle of cologne and applying it repeatedly throughout the day. It's perfect for the people who tend to say about perfumes, "I love the top notes but not what comes after."

AT: Yes. Although nowadays, mainstream fragrances are made in a way that might last but they don’t show much development over time. And that has to do with what the average consumer expects. They don’t always know this about perfume—that we want it to tell a story. A lot of people, when they first wear my perfumes—if they are not experienced with the way classical perfumes are made—they sometimes say, “Oh, I loved the first hour so much but after two hours it’s like a different perfume.” And we have to explain that this is part of the fun, actually, and this is what makes perfume interesting to wear. It’s like a kaleidoscope: Depending on how you look at it during the day, it will change. So in that sense, cologne can also be a nice starting point for people trying to expand outside the mainstream fragrances and start exploring something new because it doesn’t have a lot of challenging changes.

O: Let's talk about Cologne du Maghreb. It's an all-natural, all-botanical fragrance. What do those things mean?

AT: All-botanical means there are no animal extracts in there. Animal extracts are also natural, but I wanted to make sure that there’s no castoreum, for example, which is an extract from beaver glands. So this is all-botanical. All-natural means that it contains only essential oils, absolutes, and resins. It doesn’t contain any isolates—meaning single molecules that we isolate from natural molecules. So what you get in this scent all comes from a plant, the root, the leaves, the flower petals, or peels of citrus.

O: Why create an all-natural, all-botanical scent when that’s not your focus?

AT: For me, maybe one of the motivations was to reach back to my past. Originally, when I started playing and creating fragrances, I started with all-natural materials. I also wanted to make a point that you can make nice things using only natural ingredients. And the cologne is the perfect concentration to work with natural ingredients because issues like longevity really don’t matter. You tend to get longevity from synthetic ingredients. Plus, naturals smell different than synthetics, and this is a nice way of exploring what naturals mean and what they can bring to a scent.

O: For someone who is accustomed to working with a full palate of natural materials and synthetic materials, was this more challenging for you?

AT: Actually, no. If I look into my Excel spreadsheet where I write down all the formulas and all the iterations that I make, there were some iterations to find out the appropriate ratio between lemon and bergamot, for example, but there were not too many experiments there. It came out almost naturally from the inside.

Plus, in a cologne, you don’t have this large world that you have to translate into a fragrance, so it was much easier for me. For example, Phi Une Rose de Kandahar is the fragrance that I built around rose oil from Afghanistan, and I was trying to imagine a rose in Afghanistan and the landscape and the people there. A cologne isn’t about imagining that large world. Still, I kept wanting to bring in an extra line beyond the citrus-herbaceous part. I wanted bring in an exotic line to give the cologne a little twist to make it Oriental. That’s the “du Maghreb” part.

O: Everybody is quoting you when you said, “The lands of the Orient sun bring us more tones than just oud and dark woods.”

AT: Yes! The other day I had a discussion with a blogger, and both of us we were bitching about the oud trend. I’m really getting so tired of this oud thing, you know?

O: But some of your scents that are inspired by that part of the world do have that richer, deeper, darker quality—not oud, necessarily, but darker. Yet this is a different interpretation of that region, even compared to what you’ve done before. Could you tell us a little more about why it was important to you to give your scent that twist?

AT: I think it has a lot to do with personal preference. I like to work with ingredients that are a little bit dark, balsamic, and woody to bring depth to the composition. In many of my fragrances, you find these notes and they’re a little balsamic, a little dark. I love to work with these notes.

And, to be honest, just to make another cologne wasn’t really a challenge. I wanted to make something a little bit special. When I was thinking about what could we do, I was of course thinking vetiver, because vetiver and citrus work well together. I was thinking about doing a cologne with a vanilla background, which would also be interesting.  But I ended up with an oriental theme, because I like that.

O: If someone were to ask you what Cologne du Maghreb smells like, how would you describe it?

AT: Hmmm. What’s it like? It’s joyous. It’s bright. It’s quite comfortable. For me personally, it’s one of the fragrances that I love to wear when I actually don’t want to wear perfume. And this is something that happens quite often because I’m around perfume all day long. But a cologne is perfect. You come out of the shower, you put on three or four spritzes, and it’s there and it’s wonderful but it doesn’t haunt you all day long.

It’s also just a little bit mysterious because when you apply it, you have this burst that’s just charming and wonderful and refreshing. But immediately you sense that there’s a second line there. You don’t really get it initially—you have to wait until the citrus evaporates a little—but then you start exploring this darker, oriental, slightly balsamic side. So it’s a fragrance that makes you curious, too. You think, “OK, what’s going to happen the next five minutes?”

O: And it’s sometimes nice to have a scent that isn’t overpowering, isn’t it? That lets you still smell a little like you?

AT: Yes. In our world today, we have kind of an obsession with cleanliness and the smell of cleanliness. I think it’s true in the U.S. more so than in Europe, but even here, people are very uncertain about body odors. Now, there are body odors and there are body odors, but I think that there is something nice about smelling at least a bit like a human being.

O: Now we know that this isn’t the last cologne we’ll see from you. This will be part of a series. Can you tell us about that?

AT: When I first released this scent in 2010, it was just a Christmas thing—something that I could give to clients. Then, after Christmas I got questions from people asking, “Where can I buy it?” But I didn’t know if I wanted to make it a real product. But later, I thought it would be perfect to have one cologne every summer, and now I’m working on a cologne that I call Vetiver Boisé. It’s a classical cologne with a slightly woody vetiver base to complement the brightness of cologne. The plan is to bring this out in 2015.

O: We can’t wait to smell it and everything else to come, Andy. Thanks for releasing this great cologne to accompany our summer days!

AT: Thank you!


Learn more about Cologne du Maghreb. Or learn more about Andy's unusual start in perfumery and his famous L'air Du Desert Marocain here.

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