I’m always looking for ways to really get to know famous men from history. It’s why biographies are one of my favorite genres of books and why some of my favorite trips are visiting the homes of famous men long dead. I like to uncover the small details of their lives.
What did they carry in their pockets?
What books were in their library?
What sorts of items did they keep by their bedside?
What was their daily routine like?
Such small details, stitched together, can really give you an idea of who the person was.
There’s one biographical peculiarity about a dead person that can particularly bring them to life for you: what they smelled like (you know, when they were still alive).
Smell is one of our most potent senses and is strongly connected to our memory. The cologne or fragrance a man chooses to wear, consequently, becomes part of his immortal identity. If you want to know what it was like to stand next to Winston Churchill, just take a whiff of the cologne he wore.
Below we highlight eight famous men and their signature fragrances. Knowing what cologne they wore will give you an idea of what it was like to be in their presence. It also might give you some ideas for fragrances to add to your own collection; nearly all of those we list below are still made and available today.
George Washington: Caswell-Massey Number Six
Founded in 1752, Caswell-Massey was the first personal grooming and fragrance company started in the United States. George Washington was known to wear their fragrance Number 6. He liked it so much that he gave it as a gift to friends. Number 6 opens with the scent of citrus, neroli, rosemary, and amber. As it fades, you’ll start smelling rose, musk, and myrrh.
George III: Creed Royal English Leather
Whilst King George was trying to manage unruly American colonists, he was likely wearing Creed Royal English Leather. At least according to the perfumer who still makes the stuff. Creed is a perfume house that started in England in 1760. According to the in-house legend (also known as marketing), Royal English Leather was the first scent that founder James Creed created, and he made it just for King George. The cologne was designed to be applied to the king’s gloves so that whenever His Majesty rested his chin in his gloved hand, the rich scent of the fragrance wafted into his nostrils (and disguised the scent of the not-so-hygienic courtiers and plebes he was surrounded with).
The base note has leather, of course, along with sandalwood. The top notes consist of orange and lime.
Napoleon Bonaparte: Jean Marie Farina Eau de Cologne
What does conquest and empire-building smell like? It evinces top notes of citrus and rosemary before fading to cedar, vetiver, and musk. Or at least that’s the fragrance that French commander and emperor Napoleon Bonaparte wore during his campaigns and political maneuvers. Known as Jean Marie Farina Eau de Cologne, it’s a nice fragrance to sport in warmer weather due to its fresh scent.
General George Custer
Besides being a commanding Army officer during the American Indian Wars, General George Custer was also a dandy. He wore a fancy uniform, a bright scarf around his neck, and his curly, golden hair below his shoulders, which made him stand out from other military officers. His foppish hair became such a trademark that the Lakota took to calling him Pahuska, or long hair.
To keep his golden locks shiny and smelling nice, Custer would comb cinnamon oil through his hair — which, though not a cologne per se, certainly became his signature scent.
Winston Churchill: Creed Tabarome
The British Bulldog smelled of cigars and brandy, but he also smelled of Creed Tabarome, his go-to cologne. The scent starts off citrusy with bergamot and tangerine, fades to ginger, and then to a subtle sandalwood, ambergris, tobacco, and leather scent.
A great fragrance to wear while leading your country through its darkest hour.
Ernest Hemingway: America One 31 by Krigler
Papa Hemingway favored the masculine, musky yet floral fragrance of America One 31 by Krigler. The cologne got its name because it consists of 31 different scents mixed together. It starts off citrusy and floral and then fades to a manly musk. It’s a very classic masculine fragrance.
Errol Flynn: Cuir de Russie by Creed
Want to be debonair like the swashbuckling Errol Flynn? First, grow a pencil mustache. Second, splash on some Cuir de Russie by Creed. It starts out lemony and then fades to sandalwood and leather. Unfortunately, this is the one cologne on the list that’s no longer available (at least you still got that pencil mustache), but the smell of Cuir de Russie was said to be reminiscent of standing in the boot section of a western wear store. Giddyup!
John F. Kennedy: Jockey Club by Caswell-Massey
A sporty, dashing U.S. president should wear a sporty, dashing cologne. JFK was such, and wore such — specifically, the sporty, dashing Jockey Club cologne. Made by the favorite American fragrance company of U.S. presidents, Caswell-Massey, Jockey Club is a bracing, masculine fragrance. It starts off citrusy and has sandalwood base notes. The perfect cologne to wear while you’re strolling around Cape Cod in your Wayfarers.
If you need help choosing your own legendary signature scent, check out our guide here, and if you’re looking for a fragrance that may not be epoch-making, but is cheap and accessible, here are 6 great drugstore aftershaves and colognes.