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Cologne: Cultural Choice Or Necessity?


You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Can we keep evolving as we get older? That's a question comedian and commentator Kevin Heffernan decided to explore. And his approach to changing himself was an aromatic one.

KEVIN HEFFERNAN, BYLINE: Cologne, it's a life choice. Some say it's hereditary. If your dad did it, you will. Like what sports team you root for or circumcision. Some say it's cultural. Some say it's a necessity.

I've never been a cologne guy, but for some reason, it's always intrigued me. What am I missing? Don't I want to smell distinctive? Don't I want people to know I've entered the room before they see me? I decided to dive in, but that raised the next question: Where do I start?

Cologne is a whole new subculture. It was like all of a sudden I was going to be a wine guy or a gun guy - two other things I know nothing about. So I turned to a cologne-wearing friend, and he simply asked me: Well, what do you want to smell like?

And I thought, whoa, what an interesting proposition: The ability to pick a new smell for myself, to reinvent my current smell. Do I want to smell tangy with a hint of citrus? Do I want to smell woody? How about melon and apple with a sandalwood base, or maybe just cut grass? Or do I align myself with one of those celebrity scents?

I'm a Yankees fan. Do I go with Derek Jeter's Driven, or Unforgivable by P. Diddy, or Blue Seduction by Antonio Banderas? Finally, I leapt. I won't say which scent I chose because I'm not here to endorse. But let's just say I smelled like cool winter air mixed with amber and a hint of grapefruit. So I wore it out on the town, feeling self-conscious like when you go out for the first time with your brand-new perm. And immediately, someone asked: Kevin, are you wearing cologne?

And I froze. And I said: I'd rather not say. And then the person said: Well, I can smell it. And then I thought, maybe I don't want to be cologne guy. Maybe I don't want people to smell me approaching. Maybe I don't want my steering wheel to continue to smell like me after I've left the car. Maybe I should scrap this. So I did. Not long after, my wife brought it up. She said: Hey, I thought you were going to start wearing that cologne? I said: Yeah, well, I don't know if it was for me.

And she said: I liked it. And I said: What, you didn't like the way I smelled before? And she said: No, no. I just thought it was kind of sexy and new and sexy. And immediately, I thought, well, maybe next I could try something more in the lavender or the birch leaf family, until winter, of course, and then I'll switch to something woodier with a touch of tonka bean. Maybe I'm a cologne guy after all.


CORNISH: Commentator Kevin Heffernan. In addition to being cologne guy, he's a comedian guy and actor guy. His live standup special "Fat Man Little Boy" recently premiered on Netflix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Heffernan