10 men’s fragrances that women love — for themselves
If you are a woman who loves to wear fragrance but only if it’s not too floral or girly, maybe it’s time to expand your choices. This year, why not try a men’s scent?
Odd? Not at all. Much, if not most, fragrance is unisex. It’s mainly the packaging, marketing and strength of the fragrance that categorize it as “male” or “female” and determine in which part of the department store the bottle is sold.
“I think it’s really quite outmoded to talk in terms of male and female fragrance anyhow,” says Mandy Aftel, owner and perfumer of Aftelier Perfumes, an artisinal perfumery in Berkeley. “It’s interesting, when men get to chose what fragrances they like purely from smell, they’ll often include florals, and women will choose to include something tobacco-y and woodsy. It’s really about balance and what you personally like.”
For women choosing a fragrance marketed to men, it’s best to bypass what your macho neighbor wears — you know the guy who still thinks Canoe is “a heck of a cologne.” Rather, spray on something crisp, fresh, tangy and a bit edgy. Here are some of our choices — some longtime classics, others quite 21st century. We’ve included a sampling of prices at some retailers where they can be found.
Eau d’Hadrien, by Annick Goutal
This is the men’s fragrance I love to wear myself and have used it for years. I’ll sample and often buy anything by Goutal. Her scents are crisp and light without cloying notes.
Annick Goutal was something of a perfume late bloomer, having already had successful careers as both a classical pianist and model when she found herself diagnosed with breast cancer and alone with a baby (Camille Goutal, who today runs her late mother’s perfume business.) She studied fragrance for many years before launching one of her first fragrances in 1981, Eau d’Hadrien.
Originally made as a men’s scent, it is so often bought by women that, like many other originally male scents, it is now sold as a unisex fragrance. The original male scent is decidedly citrus: Sicilian lemon, citron, grapefruit, green mandarin, cypress, some aldehyde notes and ylang-ylang. Annick’s inspiration was the novel “Memoirs of Hadrien,” a historic novel about the Roman emperor’s life.
Many of Goutal’s men’s fragrances (which come in square bottles rather than the more feminine fluted ones used for many of the firm’s scents for women) are worn easily by females. Two other top Goutal men’s scents that are loved by women are Eau de Sud and Mandragore, according to the company.
1.7 ounces eau de toilette, $95; 3.4 ounces, $160 at Neiman Marcus.
Silver Mountain Water, by Creed
The prominent Parisian fragrance house Creed is a perennial favorite among women who love to wear men’s fragrance. Started in London in 1760 by James Creed and passed from father to son to this day, the company says about a third of its top men’s fragrances are bought by women to wear themselves.
Silver Mountain Water, launched in 1995, is master perfumer Olivier Creed’s favorite fragrance for himself, inspired by his love of skiing. So many women bought it to wear, it is now sold as a unisex fragrance.
A fresh/green scent, its top notes are bergamot and mandarin with middle notes of green tea and black currant and base notes of galbanum, musk, sandalwood and petitgrain. The company describes the modern fragrance as “evok[ing] sparkling streams of water coursing through the snow-topped alps of Switzerland.” It is indeed bracing and clean, like a sweet slap of citrus-y freshness.
1 ounce flask, $130; 4 ounces, $270 at Neiman Marcus.
Gendarme, by Gendarme
Gendarme’s creator, Topper Schroeder, says he was merely “a fragrance consumer who didn’t know which way was up,” when he embarked in 1983 on developing a men’s scent he could wear that would not irritate his allergies.
His signature original Gendarme scent launched in 1991 and quickly became a California cult favorite; Southern California celebrities adored it. Word of mouth on the scent was big, and it’s now sold globally in more than 1,000 upscale stores.
“What is so great about Gendarme?” asks Cheri Botiz, national beauty and fragrance director for Nordstrom. “It’s a completely clean, fresh, uncomplicated scent. It’s one of my favorites. I love it on men and I love it for myself. You can’t wear it without someone stopping you in the street and asking what is that you’re wearing. For me, if there was only one fragrance left I could own and wear, it would be Gendarme.”
Schroeder claims “close to 40% of our market is sold to women who wear it themselves,” and there is now a female version called Carriere. The original Gendarme has top notes of citrus and verbena, middle notes of jasmine and thyme and a base note of leather. “This isn’t a scent that shouts ‘Oh, I’m wearing a cologne, notice me,’” Schroeder says. “Rather, it augments who and what you are. Business women seem to especially love it.”
2 ounces eau de cologne, $52.50 in Nordstrom stores and at nordstrom.com.
Cannabis Santal Eau de Parfum, by Fresh
I kept a bottle of Fresh’s Tobacco Flower, launched for men in 2003, on my dresser for years. Alas, it’s gone and, as of 2007, discontinued. Now Fresh’s go-to men’s scent is Cannabis Santal, created four years ago after co-founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg partnered Fresh with luxury brand giant LVMH.
Fresh calls it “a forbidden blend” of patchouli, cannabis accord and rose with light top notes of bergamot, Brazilian orange and black plum that balances out the heavier base notes of chocolate, vetiver and vanilla musks. Glazman and Roytberg, by the way, are pioneers of the use of organic ingredients such as milk, soy, sugar and rice in luxury beauty products and treatments.
In fact, one reason women say they often choose a man’s fragrance over an advertised female one is the au naturel organic smell. Many women claim traditional female scents smell too synthetic.
“I get quite a few samples to try out regularly, but women’s fragrances basically smell very perfume-y rather than something natural,” says Camilla Barungi, a working model in New York. “They just try too hard to stand out and that doesn’t work for me or my clients at a job — they don’t like it when we leave sample clothes smelling of perfume. I like my beauty products to be organically natural — well, at least not appear to be synthetic.”
1 ounce eau de parfum, $32; 3.4 ounces, $75 at Neiman Marcus.
Guerlain Vetiver, by Guerlain
The legendary French perfume house Guerlain launched its original Guerlain Vetiver for men in 1959. Created by Jacques Guerlain’s grandson, Jean Paul Guerlain’s first “on-his-own” perfume hit pay dirt. A fresh, bracingly light but earthy scent, it’s gone on to spawn endless copies and remains a strong-selling classic that crosses gender lines. (The original was rebottled and repackaged with a new color juice in 2000, though Guerlain says the scent remains the same.)
Women seem to love to wear this fragrance. “Fragrances are so much more than mere aromas,” says spice expert Kitty Wells of Redwood City, Calif. “They are evocative of times, places, people. While living in New York City years ago, I had a long-distance romance with an adventurer from Hamburg, [ Germany,] who wore Guerlain’s Vetiver. Not only did it dazzle my senses, everywhere we went — and we traveled the world together — women and men alike would swoon over it. He left a bottle in my bathroom, and I was hooked even long after the romance faded. For me it is adventurous, earthy, green, exotic. Like a jungle hideaway with all the amenities. It hooked me on all things vetiver.”
Guerlain’s Vetiver has top notes of bergamot, lemon, mandarin, neroli and coriander; middle notes of vetiver and cedar and base notes of tobacco, nutmeg, pepper, tonka bean and capiscum. The Creoles used the woody, dry notes of the Indian root to give freshness to their belongings, stored in humid climates.
Wells says she’s gone on to purchase the vetiver (sometimes spelled vetivert) roots themselves in New Orleans and had vetiver oil brought back from Haiti, “but for me the original, most fabulous version is still Guerlain’s — the one that started it all. There’s something about it that is pure magic.”
2.5 ounces eau de toilette, $71 at Nordstrom South Coast Plaza.
Colonia, by Acqua Di Parma
Colonia, Acqua Di Parma’s signature cologne, has been a favorite of men and women since its 1916 launch. Created to scent the lapels and pocket squares of men’s suits, Colonia fast became a European-elite favorite due largely to a fresh, citrus-y structure so different from the heavier French and German fragrances of the day. It’s a clean and crisp scent of Sicilian citrus, floral-green and woody-sweet notes that’s been favored by political and Hollywood elites for decades.
“I first discovered [Acqua Di Parma Colonia] in a duty-free store while on a layover in a Berlin airport,” says New Yorker Risi-Leanne Baranja, a beauty blogger who says she’s worn Colonia for more than a decade; she owns nine other men’s fragrances. She says there’s “a character I lean toward, like ‘woodsy,’ ‘dry’ or ‘spicy’ that I can only find in a men’s fragrance.
“People always say it smells very rich, sexy or sometimes I even get ‘lemony’ since the citrus is very prominent on my skin,” she says. “When I’ve mentioned it’s a men’s fragrance, women are always pleasantly surprised, and men are a little more perplexed.”
The top notes of bergamot, lemon, sweet and bitter orange; heart notes of Bulgarian rose, verbena, clary sage, rosemary and English lavender and base notes of sandalwood, vetiver, oak moss, patchouli, cedar and ylang ylang are light, fresh, clean and timeless. This classic men’s fragrance is now sold as unisex, with noted female variations, such as Iris Nobile and Magnolia Nobile.
1.7 ounces eau de cologne, $83; 3.4 ounces, $117 at Neiman Marcus.
Hermes Eau d’Orange Verte, by Hermes
For the centuries-old famed French luxury goods house, fragrance started only in 1951 and it wasn’t until 1979 that Hermes launched its now-classic Hermes Eau d’Orange Verte, renamed from its original Eau de Cologne d’Hermes. Originally sold as a men’s cologne, the fragrance is regarded today as unisex.
Most likely, you’ve smelled this scent on someone, somewhere. It’s a strong citrus, light and lovely — very spring-like, and most certainly summer. With top notes of lemon and mandarin, middle notes of papaya and mango and base notes of oak moss and patchouli, it’s fresh and easily worn by either sex.
Atlanta fashion-stylist-turned-food-stylist Tami Hardeman, 34, has been wearing Hermes Eau d’Orange Verte off and on since her early twenties. “The scent connects with me as it reminds me of all of my favorite food characteristics: not overly sweet and redolent of citrus peel and woodsy herbs,” she says. “Most women’s fragrances are too heavy, too rose or other cloying floral smells. I think a lot of women’s fragrances are meant to cover up something rather than enhance a natural, lovely, clean smell.”
100 milliliter eau de cologne, $90 at select Nordstrom stores.
Infusion d’Homme, by Prada
Whether this is really a male scent is truly in the nose of the beholder. Men have been known to say that the fragrance, launched in 2008, is too feminine, though it is marketed as the male version of Prada’s Infusion d’Iris. It’s a sophisticated, clean and somewhat soapy scent created by Daniela Andrier, who says she wanted Infusion d’Homme to smell like a man had used his girlfriend’s shower soap and had the scent linger on his own skin. (Andrier is also the designer nose behind Prada’s other two scents, Infusion d’Iris and Amber Pour Homme.)
Many women say “clean” is why they gravitate towards men’s fragrance. “I have always preferred men’s fragrances as they tend to be cleaner and simpler,” says Lisa Finkelstein, a freelance editor and writer in Tallahassee, Fla. “I like tart and clean fragrances. In general, I don’t wear a lot of fragrance, but when I do, it is a man’s. Clean and simple, with a light masculine fragrance. Actually, I like something you would say is more androgynous. I am definitely a feminine woman, but I can’t abide by saccharine and floral schmaltz.”
Infusion d’Homme has top notes of mandarin, orange and neroli; middle notes of Tunisian iris, galbanum, cedar and vetiver; and base notes of benzoin, frankincense and Somalian incense. Prada d’Iris and Prada Infusion d’Homme both have the same notes, with the difference between the two fragrances being achieved by varied doses of each ingredient.
1.7 ounces eau de toilette, $76; 2.7 ounces, $104 at Neiman Marcus.
Eau Sauvage, by Christian Dior
Often considered a men’s classic along the lines of a Chanel No. 5, Dior’s Eau Savage was created by French master perfumer Edmond Roudnitska and launched in 1966. (Roudnitska created some of the world’s most famous fragrances — not only for Dior but also Elizabeth Arden, Hermes and Rocha — and is considered by many one of the 20th century’s finest perfumers.)
Considered a citrus chypre with its top notes of lemon and rosemary, middle notes of petitgrain and basil and base note of vetiver, it’s a clean, fresh, crisp citrus that works for women as well as men. It was considered quite innovative when it came out in the 1960s, as it was the first major use in perfume of hedione, a synthetic molecule that diffuses a jasmine odor.
It’s a classic, if somewhat conservative, scent that’s remained at the top for nearly 46 years and displays what women seem to find compelling about men’s fragrances, a kind of simple and subtle complexity along with a clean originality.
“So many women’s scents are oppressively flowery and sickeningly sweet or smell like baby powder,” says Mindy Recht, a former lawyer turned jeweler in New York. “Generally, I find that men’s fragrances are multilayered in a way that women’s fragrances often are not. They will often last longer than women’s fragrances as well.”
3.4 ounces, eau de toilette spray, $67 on Amazon.com.
L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme, by Issey Miyake
With its minimalist bottle and exotic ingredients, it’s not surprising designer Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme is a highly popular men’s fragrance. But the scent, launched in 1994, is also a hit with women. Women seem to be drawn to the citrus aquatic scent, both on men and on themselves.
Its top notes are yuzu (Japanese citron), cypress, coriander, mandarin, clary sage and fresh verbena; middle notes are blue water lily, nutmeg, saffron, bourbon geranium, Ceylonese cinnamon; and base notes are tobacco amber, musk, Indian sandalwood, Haitian vetiver and cypriol.
Wendy Knight, a New York City publicist, says she’s worn L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme for years. She first smelled it on a man: “Years ago, I was on assignment in Malta writing a travel story and met a man who was working on the set crew of “Troy,” Brad Pitt’s blockbuster movie,” she says. “He wore Issey Miyake for Men. After the affair ended later that summer, I wore the cologne to remind myself of him. Naturally, I still have it. I never wear women’s perfume. But I spritz on Issey Miyake occasionally because I like the fresh, citrus fragrance.”
2.5 ounces eau de toilette, $58 at most Nordstrom stores and Nordstrom.com.