Anti-fragrance: 15 of the weirdest, and best, smelling colognes for men

"Hot light-bulb, warm photocopier toner, hot metal, a toaster, freshly welded aluminium, ink from a fountain pen".

No, it's not the dystopian shopping list from some Mad Max spin off. That's just what Comme des Garcons' bizarre Odeur 71 is said to smell like.

And while you might think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who would willingly drop upwards of $150 on a cologne or perfume that deliberately replicates the smell of burning tar, the inside of an old handbag, or packing tape, that doesn't mean these kinds of fragrances don't exist.

Not only are they real, but these "anti-fragrances" do a very fine business catering to people who don't want to smell like every other bottle of wood-and-citrus clone you find on the department store shelf.

You are what you smell

In contrast to commercially popular fragrances, "anti-perfumes" are deliberately jarring, uncomfortable, and in some cases straight-up offensive.

"Universally liked fragrances are fragrances that are easy wearing, fresh, often gender fluid, multi occasion and can adapt to all tastes and preferences, "says Nick Smart, director at Sydney-based fragrance specialists Agence de Parfum.

"[But] a good fragrance should inspire the wearer, last, and work with one's personality."

If you're unsure what Smart means by easy wearing, all you really need to do is think back over those 'stand out' fragrances you – and possibly half your mates – all have. Bleu de Chanel, Eau Sauvage, Acqua Di Gio, Valentino Uomo, Tom Ford's Grey Vetiver or even Gucci Guilty Pour Homme. All incredibly popular, but also incredibly safe.

Commercial perfumery (for both men and women) is a tricky business. Because you can't really smell what they're selling in your standard advertisement, advertisers and PR types instead have to sell how it will make you feel when you wear it. Fresh and clean smelling? Put a model with abs and a tan on a tropical island somewhere.

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A darker, heavier wood- or musk-based fragrance? He's wearing a tux, getting out of a limo and most likely accompanied by a beautiful companion.

A break from tradition

Anti-fragrances flip this system on its head – it's all about the smell. Or, specifically, the memory of the smell.

"[Anti-perfumes] work on many levels," says Smart. "It's 'anti-establishment' and deliberately provocative. The repulsion/fascination binary connects smells with every day and often mundane experiences such as edible notes, garbage notes, rotting meat/vegetation, mould, dampness."

According to Smart, one of the very first anti-fragrances bypassed all this and went straight to the most common everyday smell there is – dirt.

"Demeter's Dirt was made to smell exactly like the dirt from the fields around the Pennsylvania family farm belonging to perfumer extraordinaire, Christopher Brosius. Created in 1996, this literally smells like wet, musty soil, a classic 'anti fragrance'. It is deemed by many as totally repellent, and it defies the very reason why people wear fragrances; to smell inviting, confidant, sensual, masculine or feminine."

But why would you want to wear it?

Olfactory signatures

Obviously smell is a particularly personal experience. For starters, to smell someone else you normally have to be sharing some pretty intimate space and no one wants to actually smell bad at close range. And then there's the subjective side of things – one person's rose is another person's coriander.

But this is really where these anti-fragrances come into their fun own.

Because they are so unusually familiar, they tend to attract more attention than more traditional ones as people try to figure them out. Add to that the tendency of the body's natural chemistry to slightly alter the way fragrances smell over the course of the day, and all of a sudden you have a completely unique olfactory signature.

What's that smell?

"People like something that's a little intriguing," says Jacob Stanley, Head of Education at Mecca. "Something that can spark a conversation when you meet someone new. Something that's got a little quirk and a little story behind it.

"I think one of the most interesting anti-perfumes was (and still is) Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules. Geza Schoen found a way to use one single, synthetic perfume molecule (called Iso-E Super) to dial up the 'volume' of the wearer's natural scent, so it smells different on everyone. You won't be able to smell it on yourself, but everyone around you will be asking what you're wearing (and trying to get closer to you) because it has a powerful pheromone-like effect."

Tips on how to wear an anti-fragrance

Go easy. As these tend to be more potent than commercial varieties, you can definitely get more out of less.

Don't blind buy. Actually test drive a potential purchase once or twice. Some notes actually don't change after the dry down (that point when the fragrance settles) and maybe you don't actually want to smell like a spare tyre at three in the afternoon.

Actually take the risk. Just because all your mates wear Cool Water doesn't mean you have to too. Be original.

Check out the gallery above to see 15 of the weirdest, and best, fragrances for men.