Curated Cologne: A Review of Hawthorne
You can be wearing a Tom Ford suit, a Turnbull & Asser Shirt, and Testoni shoes, but if you smell bad it ruins everything. We already told you everything you need to know about how to analyze a cologne, so let’s put our tools to the test.
The Company, Its Unique Ordering Process, and Packaging
Personalization is the new rage. Consumers love it when they feel that a brand doesn’t just speak its language, but it also literally curates their products specifically for you. In some ways, this is not a new phenomenon since everyone knows that a custom suit is better than one off the rack. But the “newness” is that companies are trying to create this “bespoke” personalization experience in everything from hair gel to socks. And, for the most part, it’s working. I’d rather buy a hair gel that’s recommended to me after I put in 15 data points about my hair, then randomly choosing a hair gel that I hope will work well for me. It’s really just common sense.
Out of this personalization revolution comes Hawthorne — a personalized men’s cologne company. The quote that they feature on their website from GQ is that Hawthorne is “smelling great made personal and easy.” They personalize your cologne based on a fairly thorough quiz which they claim is based on calculated data to get you the right set of colognes: one for “Work” and one for “Play.” When you first get to the website you take this quiz of theirs, and they then present to you a set of colognes they think is the best fit for you.
A couple of notes on this “personalization” since I do think it’s one of the most important aspects of why this company has gained success:
First, they currently only have 5 “play” colognes, and 5 “work” colognes. So, although they can definitely personalize your scents, it’s definitely not super, super personalized like a great bespoke suit that perfectly hugs your body. There’s a balance, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But understand that it isn’t like they have hundreds of scents and they are choosing, or formulating the perfect one for you.
Second, the questions in their quiz make a lot of sense. They ask you about your age, the cologne you currently use and like, your diet, your work environment, your body temperature, your weekend schedule, and whether or not you smoke. You may think some of these are random questions, but if you read rule #1 in our article about analyzing cologne, you’ll learn that each person’s body can make a cologne smell differently.
Lastly, the way they take you through the quiz is super cool. They have really cool images illustrating your choices, and the UX and UI are both high level. They also did their home page really smartly, in that it immediately takes you through their quiz.
Bottom line: Hawthorne did a really great job with their website and personalization strategy.
Shipping: I ordered the two colognes they recommended for me on November 20, 2017 and I received it on November 22, 2017. Yes, they offer super, super fast delivery for a non-Amazon Prime company. In fact, they say on their website that most deliveries arrive between 2-4 days of order. Very impressive. Also, if you don’t like the cologne they send you, they have a 30 day return or exchange policy, and shipping is free both ways! Very, very few cologne companies will allow you to try their cologne and return it within 30 days.
Hawthorne blew me away with their packaging. Holy hell is it brilliant.
For starters, I opened the box and, lo and behold, on the outside box it says: “Welcome to Hawthorne, Joe.” Yes, they goddamn personalized the packaging with my name on it! Did I feel special? Yes! Will you feel special? For sure! Now, that wasn’t it. They also included a card titled “How we tailored your Hawthorne,” and it shows all the questions they asked me with the response choices, and they hand circled my choices! So freaking cool. This is probably a good time to tell you that Hawthorne did not pay me to write this review. Yeah, and I’m still gushing like a little kid in a candy store. On the other side of this card it again has a “Welcome to Hawthorne, Joe” line, and it gives a brief overview of the notes in cologne, which we will discuss a bit later in the article.
The actual box that the colognes are housed in is also really fantastic. It’s a sturdy all-black box, that exudes strong masculinity and high quality at the same time. The actual cologne bottles themselves seem like stock cologne bottles, so nothing special on that front. All in all, the packaging is very well done and the personalization is golden. Every e-commerce brand that cares about their customers should use Hawthorne’s packaging as a model. How hard is it to go the extra mile? Definitely a pain in the neck. But it pays off. I feel personally vested in Hawthorne’s success because of the way they made me feel. I want to love them and I want them to succeed. That’s a damn good job of branding there.
Bottom line: Hawthorne gets an A+++ for their packaging. In fact, I’m nominating Hawthorne into the packaging/ordering process/customer service hall of fame, right alongside Allbirds.
Because it’s all about the notes, about the notes, NO TROUBLE!
Okay, now we get to the super important part of analyzing the cologne: the notes. Each cologne has top notes, middle notes, and base notes. Each individual layer of notes is super important, as is the way they interact with each other. Also important is how the smell lasts over time, or if it lasts at all. In terms of “duration,” these colognes have 10-15% essential oils, which means it’s in between the eau de toilette (“EDT”) and eau de parfum (“EDP”) families, and will therefore last between 5-8 hours. That’s exactly the sweet spot for men’s cologne, and it’s good enough to carry you through the day. In terms of “notes,” the card that the colognes comes with just lists some of the notes that each cologne has without saying what its top, bottom, or base notes are specifically. It also doesn’t mention what type of cologne it is (cologne, toilette, perfume, or parfum), so it’s not clear how long it would last. Considering that I wanted to write a thorough review of their colognes, I shot them an email asking for more information and they responded in due course. (Great customer service, Brian J!)
Play: Here’s where they absolutely blew me away. I love, love, love this fragrance, and everyone who has had a sniff loves it too. What notes are in this fragrance? Here you go: cranberry + bergamot on top of red rose, incense, patchouli, and sandalwood. This cologne literally uses every family of fragrance possible. It’s got the “fresh” family with the cranberry, the “floral” family with the red rose, the “wood” family with the sandalwood, and the “oriental” family with the incense. FREAKING BRILLIANT. Very rarely do you see such a sophisticated blend of fragrance that smells good in the beginning, middle, and end of its life. But this one sure did. It smells good right when I put it on, and it smells different, but still amazing, 5 hours later. I would say the scent didn’t evaporate until 6-7 hours after I put it on. This should be, and will be, an award-winning fragrance. Unbelievable stuff.
Work: The top and middle notes for the Work cologne are bitter orange, pear, and lavender of vetiver, while the base is a wood accord. An “accord” is a carefully blended fragrance base that can be used in many different fragrances as its base. Now, this cologne is undoubtedly professional smelling. Although initially — for the first 30 minutes or so — you get the fresh smell of bitter orange and pear, it quickly turns to the woody base smell and stays that way throughout the day. Personally, I think it’s a professional and masculine smell and is exactly the sort of smell I’d want to carry with me to the office. Is it absolutely amazing? No. But it’s damn good and it truly lasts a good 8 hours, if not more. However, I must say that towards the end of the day I don’t love how it smells on my skin. This is not an issue with the cologne per se, but it’s an issue with how it interacts with my skin over time. In sum, it’s an excellent, reliable, and professional fragrance, that lasts for the entire day. But, of course, make sure that it smells great on your skin, as each person’s skin will interact differently with each cologne.
Work vs. Play: Can I wear the “Play” cologne to work, or the “Work” cologne to play? Of course I can. There’s no hard-and-fast rule saying that certain fragrances are forbidden in the workplace, or vice versa. But I really like how they segregated the two fragrances into Work and Play, since the Play cologne is definitely more fun and edgy and the Work cologne is more rigid and consistent. Personally, I am in love with the Play cologne and will definitely wear it to work. Between the two, when I reorder my next cologne, I will definitely order Play. That’s not to say that Work isn’t solid, but it isn’t strong enough on its own to make me a repeat customer. Play, however, will make me a customer for life.
Price, Value & Conclusion
The total price for the two colognes, each with 1.7oz of cologne inside, is around $100. That’s certainly not a cheap cologne, but nor is it very expensive for what they are. Colognes in the EDT/EDP category typically cost between $30 and $100 each, so it’s not like they’re very expensive for the value they’re delivering. Plus, they are, I think, entitled to charge some premium for the added personalization. Frankly, I think they would be able to get the same amount of orders if they increased their price by $25, and I would still say that they weren’t too expensive for the total value they’re delivering.
Bottom line: These colognes are excellent-smelling colognes that last for a very solid 5-8 hours. Hawthorne is well worth the price. Go buy some for yourself.