I’m naturally skeptical of direct-to-consumer brands. There are plenty of great ones, I know, but I just feel that a lot of the time, the purported “disrupting” mostly boils down to good branding. So I didn’t know what to say when someone from Hawthorne — a direct-to-consumer cologne and personal-hygiene company with great branding that started back in 2016 — contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in testing out its line. Given my proclivities, I worried that I was the wrong person for the task, but I decided I would try and give it a fair shot.
Immediately, Hawthorne stood out from other direct-to-consumer companies that simply sell you their stuff by cutting out traditional brick-and-mortar stores, because it asks you to take a 21-question quiz before you can buy its full suite of products. I thought this was a little gimmicky at first but later realized that — for a brand that promises to “tailor” its products to each recipient — the quiz is a surprisingly useful way to collect the data needed to properly put together your set. Its questions cover a range of categories, from the clearly pertinent (like your skin type and grooming habits) to the less clearly pertinent (like your favorite drink and ideal night out). Like anything, you can definitely overanalyze it — for a favorite drink I debated between clicking “beer” (what I like when I’m not trying to sound interesting) or “cocktail” (which I thought might result in my getting a cooler fragrance) — and you can keep retaking it until you get something you want, but that sort of defeats the whole purpose. So I decided to just trust the process and go with my first instinct on everything. Before long, my tailor-made set of two bottles of cologne, deodorant, and body wash was ready. (They’ve since launched a hair-care line with similarly customizable shampoo and conditioner options.)
Before I get into what I got, I should note that it’s tricky to write a universal review of Hawthorne, because the set I received is the result of my responses. And while the company doesn’t reveal exactly how many different options there are in each category, my sense is that it has a bunch of different base formulas that can be mixed and matched with various fragrances. This sense is confirmed by its gift sets — a semi-customizable $34 body set (deodorant/body wash or bar soap) or $100 cologne set (two fragrances) that you don’t have to take the full quiz to buy but that do require choosing a “Body” profile (options include “sensitive skin” and “exfoliating + effective”) or a “Scent” profile (such as “fresh & light,” “dark & warm,” or “unisex & niche”). When you do take the full quiz, you get similar buying options — you can buy the two recommended colognes for $100; the body set of deodorant and wash/soap for $34 (or $30 if you purchase a subscription to replenish them); and the hair set of shampoo and conditioner for $38 (or $34 with a subscription). If you buy all six products with a subscription, the total comes to $144.
But back to the products I received. I can honestly say that I genuinely loved everything I got, and five months later, I’m still using all of it. The deodorant Hawthorne sent me goes on clear, doesn’t leave any residue, and has a mild, refreshing, minty-eucalyptus smell. It’s also freakishly long-lasting (I’ve yet to use it all, though I’m finally nearing the bottom). The body wash I got was nice and minty too, with a natural scent and a creamy lather. Of all the things in my set, it’s probably my favorite — I just wish the bottle were bigger. (Hawthorne says it should last nine weeks, but mine emptied out a bit sooner.)
The colognes I received, however, convinced me of the true power of Hawthorne’s quiz. Years ago, I basically swore off cologne because I had too many bad memories of paralyzing indecision at department-store fragrance counters. I can be a perfectionist at times, and the cologne spectrum is so enormous that it became easier to just forget about wearing it entirely. Which is why I was genuinely happy to find that the “Work” cologne they sent me, well, worked. I’ve spritzed it on pretty much every day since it arrived. Hawthorne’s fragrances (I also received one called “Play”) don’t really have names but are instead categorized by notes, which I find far more helpful. My Work bottle has “citrus and woody” notes and to me smells more like perfume than cologne, but it somehow feels just right. Less right was my “smoky and woody” Play bottle, which was too strong for me (thankfully, the brand will “re-tailor” — or exchange — anything you are not happy with, and I’m in the process of refining this).
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