Ron Burgundy: It never ceases to amaze me. What cologne are you gonna to go with? London Gentleman? Or, wait, no no, hold on. Blackbeard’s Delight.
Brian Fantana: No. She gets a special cologne. It’s called Sex Panther by Odeon. It’s illegal in nine countries. Yep, it’s made with bits of real panther, so you know it’s good.
You are almost certainly familiar with those words, an exchange between Ron Burgundy and Brian Fantana in the brilliant 2004 flick Anchorman. The duo are discussing which one of Fantana’s many colognes he will use in an attempt to woo office hottie, sorry that’s anchorwoman, Veronica Corningstone. The “Bri-man” dons Sex Panther and approaches his prey. He fails miserably, sending his officemates running. (“It smells like Bigfoot’s dick.”)
But the result of Fantana’s attempt is not the point here; rather, let’s focus on a trend. Admit it, over the past seven years you’ve noticed an increase in men wearing cologne. Or, in other words, trying to smell nice.
Did a moment of levity in a silly movie from the mid-aughts predict the coming wave of olfactory focus?
Well, not exactly. Perfume for dudes has existed since the 1700s, according to a 1999 article in Cigar Aficionado. Napoleon reportedly wore more than 60 bottles of cologne each month, and the tiny would-be world leader would dab on some fragrance before going into battle. Fast forward a few centuries, and you find that while perfume for ladies is a much larger business, colognes were a $1.5 billion business in the United States at the turn of the millennium.
Over the past decade, that figure has grown as men are increasingly concerned about their smell. When New York perfumery Bond No. 9 launched in 2001, it did so with a men’s line in addition to its women’s one. “We have always enjoyed the patronage and loyalty of a sizable male customer base,” a spokesperson for the brand told Guyism.com. “To that end we have, from our beginning in 2001, had a string and involved male following for our scents.”
Clearly, men’s perfume was a growth industry before Ron and Brian went philosophical about Sex Panther, but there is a bit of truth in the Legend of Ron Burgundy and the revolution they predicted. Namely: Axe.
Unilever, which owns the brand, launched Axe, known as Lynx in England and Europe, in 1983, but it did not take off in the United States until recently. You know the stuff. It comes in spray on form. The advertisements are aggressive, sexy, and in your face. Axe a body spray. It’s a shampoo. It’s a lifestyle.
(A favorite fact I ran across while researching this article: Grandmother Ann Gottlieb, who also created Calvin Klien’s cK one and J’Adore from Christian Dior, is responsible for the Axe smell. She told OsMoz.com, “I would have to include the Axe Body Spray portfolio. That is a product form that has done quite well, and I feel quite responsible for the Axe fragrance portfolio. I do chuckle to myself every time I think that, really, it’s a grandma who is developing these fragrances for teenage boys, and really succeeding!)
Think about it for a second: Wouldn’t Fantana wear Axe? He’s faux classy, just like the Axe. Like the body spray, Brian and the gang are overwhelming. He (and it) is brash. They are obnoxiously, unapologetically male.
So no, Anchorman did not predict the rise of men’s cologne. Those wheels were already turning in 2004. But it did tap into a cultural moment that showed the youth of America ready for a bit of misdirected spray-on posh. You bet it did. 60% of the time, Will Ferrell is right every time.
Noah Davis (@noahedavis) saw Anchorman twice in its first 24 hours. He has never worn Axe.