There are hundreds of great men’s fragrances, but truly iconic ones are a sniff out of the ordinary. Among all the amazing eaus, there are probably fewer than 50 (in fact, there are 20, according to this list) that have survived fads and fashions to earn their place in the olfactory hall of fame. These lucky lads are deemed some of the best men’s cologne of all time.
“Men often judge fragrances in the way they do cars,” says celebrated perfumer Azzi Glasser. “They want sophistication, but demand reliability and performance too.” In other words, while fancy flacons and big-budget marketing campaigns make an impact, ultimately, a men’s perfume survives because they keep coming back for another sniff.
So, whether you’re a fragrance fresher looking for your first signature scent, a cologne collector wanting to add to your stash or a significant other in search of the perfect gift, you could do a lot worse than to start with one of these — yes, we’re calling it — best men’s fragrances of all time.
The Best Men’s Fragrances & Colognes Of All Time
1. Tom Ford Oud Wood
Fragrance Type: Sensual & Smoky
Tom Ford’s first foray into the world of rich, smoky oud came while the designer was working on M7 for Yves Saint Laurent – a critically-acclaimed fragrance that helped kick-start the trend for oud in the UK. Less overpowering and sexier than others in the market, this one under Ford’s own label is warm, masculine and has depth — everything you want from a woody nighttime scent. It’s hailed by some as the best men’s cologne of all time, so it earned a spot on our list.
2. Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male
Fragrance Type: Warm & Woody
Taking a chance on young and relatively inexperienced perfumer Francis Kurkdjian — now one of the world’s most acclaimed noses — French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier came up with one of the most iconic men’s fragrances (and bottles) of all time. Heady and seductive, with notes of lavender, mint, sandalwood and vanilla, it’s the perfect evening fragrance. “The scent of a generation, Le Male is the defining smell of metrosexual man and still smells as good today as it did then,” says Dunkley.
3. Issey Miyake L’Eau D’Issey
Fragrance Type: Citrusy & Spicy
“Designer Issey Miyake famously hated perfume and wanted to create something that smelt like water falling on clean skin,” says Lizzie Ostrom, author of Perfume: A Century Of Scents. “L’Eau D’Issey offers a thirst-quenching evocation of watery fruits and is famous for its bold use of calone.” Cool and refined, it’s the kind of men’s fragrance you’d wear with a fine gauge roll neck. This daytime scent can easily be transitioned to night thanks to the lower notes of amber and woods.
4. Calvin Klein CK One
Fragrance Type: Citrusy, Floral & Woody
It’s impossible to compile a list of market-disrupting male perfumes from the nineties without mentioning CK One and the androgynous young waifs who advertised it. “It offered the prospect of joining a tribe,” says Ostrom of the universally appealing citrus-but-floral-but-woody scent. “Everyone had become so accustomed to the division of ‘pour homme’ and ‘pour femme’ that a ‘pour both’ perfume seemed daring and terribly modern.” Wear it anytime, anywhere, on anyone.
Fragrance Type: Woody & Spicy
Over 50 years old, the longevity of Aramis as a brand is matched only by its longevity on the skin. A rich and spicy ‘chypre’ — a family of perfumes comprising fresh, citrus notes with deep woody or mossy hints — its intense sensuality makes it a fragrance strictly for grown-ups. “Though it’s inspired a myriad of masculine creations over the years, no one has created a better version of it,” says Dove. It’s good enough to be your everyday scent, easily transitioning from day to night.
6. Paco Rabanne 1 Million
Fragrance Type: Sensual & Woody
Love it or loathe it, Paco Rabanne 1 Million is a men’s fragrance phenomenon, with a bottle sold every five seconds. Now in its tenth year as a best-seller (a herculean feat in fragrance terms), this big, ballsy evening scent features a roll call of sensual notes — from narcotic rose and seductive amber to edible cinnamon and kinky leather. Fragrance experts are divided on how good a scent it truly is, but all are in awe of its incredible success.
7. Acqua Di Parma Colonia
Fragrance Type: Fresh & Citrusy
Subtle and deliciously fresh, Acqua di Parma Colonia may date back to 1916, but like a crisp Oxford shirt, it’s the very definition of a timeless classic. The art deco bottle echoes the fragrance’s deceptive simplicity, characterized by top notes of citrus, a complex heart and an understatedly sensual woody base. A better daytime scent you’ll be hard-pushed to find.
8. Tom Ford Neroli Portofino
Fragrance Type: Fresh & Floral
The star of Tom Ford’s fragrance line, Neroli Portofino’s success lies in its ability to capture a summer’s day in the Italian Rivera and bottle it for use on a chilly day anywhere from Richmond to Reykjavík. “It takes a lot of classic materials [like Sicilian lemon, bergamot, lavender and amber] and combines them with interesting modern synthetics to create a contemporary take on a traditional masculine cologne,” says Dove. The fact that it looks handsome on the dresser is simply a bonus.
9. Davidoff Cool Water
Fragrance Type: Cool & Aquatic
One of the most famous aquatic fragrances, this classic from 1988 heralded a new (ahem) wave of fresh scents that swapped citrus notes for pine, mint and a sense of the sea. “Cool Water was a revolution in masculine perfumery,” says Dove. “It became one of the most influential and successful masculine fragrances of all time — and the blueprint for many imitations to this day.” This sea salt, fresh fragrance is a great summertime scent, as the name implies.
10. 4711 By Mäurer & Wirtz (Formerly Mülhens)
Fragrance Type: Citrusy & Woody
“The most famous cologne in the world, 4711 is the quintessential summer brightener,” says fragrance blogger Stephan Matthews of the zesty 200-year-old scent. A blend of citrus notes, rosemary and wood, “it’s a must-have for any man’s work bag and, at an incredibly low price, can be spritzed with recklessness.” Use this scent in the office, on the weekend, and in the warmer months.
11. Yves Saint Laurent La Nuit De L’Homme
Fragrance Type: Woody & Floral
In the same way many great songs have multiple writers, three well-known noses (Anne Flipo, Pierre Wargnye and Dominique Ropion) worked on this contemporary classic from Yves Saint Laurent. Fantastically versatile, La Nuit De L’Homme opens with a big hit of bergamot and cardamom before mellowing into something altogether woodier and sweeter. As the name suggests, it’s the best cologne for any activity after dark.
12. Dior Eau Sauvage
Fragrance Type: Citrusy & Floral
Released in 1966, Dior’s citrus-heavy Eau Sauvage was the first fragrance to use hedione – an ingredient with a jasmine aroma that scientists later discovered stimulates the brain’s release of sex hormones. More than 50 years on, it’s still considered one of the best men’s fragrances. It works well for night and day, a real versatile cologne in the bunch.
13. Versace Eros
Fragrance Type: Woody & Sweet
It took five years for Italian fashion behemoth Versace to come up with this punchy, in-your-face concoction of fresh, woody notes, underpinned by a combination of green apple and mint. But as the positive reviews show, it was worth the wait. “Eros is truly the DNA of the house of Versace,” said Donatella at the time of its launch. Smell it and see how true that is. This light, fresh scent is ideal for any occasion.
14. Chanel Allure Homme Sport
Fragrance Type: Crisp & Citrusy
Chanel Allure Homme Sport has the kind of trophy cabinet even Roger Federer would envy. A gym-bag favorite since 2004, it’s everything a good sports fragrance should be — superbly crisp, zingy and energetic, with just enough warmth and sensuality to take its wearer from locker room to late-night bar.
15. Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue
Fragrance Type: Cool & Spicy
Few men’s fragrances capture the spirit of summer quite like this award-winning number from 2007. Light and fresh, yet somewhat spicy, it’s perfect for holiday washbags. All you need to add is the tan, the white trunks, and the David Gandy bod, and you’re basically a walking ad campaign.
16. Dior Homme
Fragrance Type: Floral & Musky
Challenging traditional notions of what a men’s fragrance should smell like, this daring, floral-heavy confection is the polar opposite of most mass-market offerings. “Decidedly feminine in style, the smooth, powdery iris is warmed with lavender to create a delicate, yet suave scent that celebrates the softer side of being a man,” says award-winning fragrance expert Thomas Dunkley, founder of The Candy Perfume Boy blog.
17. Caron Pour Un Homme
Fragrance Type: Floral & Woody
Synonymous with a simpler, more gentlemanly time, Caron’s legendary lavender-based formulation from 1934 may be out of sync with the times, but it’s still widely regarded as one of the best men’s fragrances. The addition of vanilla, musky amber and cedarwood prevents it from smelling like your nan’s knicker drawer, and it’s one of Tom Ford’s favorite fragrances, so it can’t be bad.
18. L’Homme Prada
Fragrance Type: Sweet & Fresh
Released at a time when masculinity was in a state of flux, L’Homme Prada intentionally pits traditional masculine fougère notes like geranium and neroli against sweet, powdery iris – a note more commonly associated with female fragrances. The tension which results makes this a thoroughly modern scent that’s quirky but sexy.
19. Old Spice
Fragrance Type: Spicy & Floral
Easily one of the most iconic men’s fragrances of all time, and still a steady seller around the globe, the origins of Old Spice lie in DIY Bay Rum scents invented by pirates. Spicy but floral, its safe, good-for-dads reputation is what has led to it its longevity. “It’s precisely by being Mr. Average that Old Spice has kept its grip on the public imagination,” says Ostrom. “If it were ever discontinued, there would be a public outcry.” You can’t go wrong with this safe scent that is one of the best men’s fragrances of all time.
20. Acqua di Gio Pour Homme
Fragrance Type: Fresh & Citrusy
Like Britpop, Armani’s most famous formulation might have had its heyday in the nineties, but this light-yet-sensual best-seller from 1996 remains one of the best men’s fragrances around thanks to its freshness and sheer versatility. If you’re used to vanilla-heavy scents or oud fragrances, it’ll come as a breath of (sea spray-infused) fresh air. A great daytime scent, you can wear this one to the office without worrying about suffocating your desk mates.
Counter assistants can help you; friends can help you; even disapproving looks from passersby can give a steer, but ultimately a man’s relationship with fragrance is so personal that only you can choose the right one for your personality. As with finding the perfect partner, it’s a process that involves patience, experimentation, and, yes, a few regrettable flings. Helpfully, according to James Craven, a perfume archivist at London’s oldest independent perfumery, Les Senteurs, there are a few things that can help make the search easier.
Fit For Purpose
Cologne, like clothing, is largely contextual, working best when it perfectly suits the occasion. A light, citrus fragrance is perfect for work or warmer weather, while a black tie event demands something heavier and more complex. For a hot date, you’ll want to pull out all the stops with something earthy, sexy, and musky.
Know Your Notes
In the same way, it’s possible to blag your way through a wine list once you know about grapes, narrowing the field with fragrances is easier with a little prior research around notes, especially when looking for a scent with stamina. “Good lasters include tonka bean, tuberose, vanilla, amber, civet, and musk; while spices, woods, and resins like myrrh, frankincense, and benzoin are tenacious too,” says Craven. Being able to decipher which notes make up your current favorite scents can also help you seek out further ones you’re likely to love in the future.
Don’t Rush Things
You know what they say: act in haste, repent at leisure — something that’s especially true of fragrance, which can smell entirely different on a piece of card in a shop (or on someone else) than on you. So be patient. “Always test scents on your skin and allow yourself time to discover what suits you and what other people respond to,” says Tony Glenville, author of Top To Toe: The Modern Man’s Guide To Grooming. This is because top notes reveal themselves in seconds, but base notes like sandalwood take several hours to emerge properly.
How long a fragrance sticks around depends on many factors, not least its strength and the notes it features, but there is one simple thing you can do to maximize its staying power no matter what. According to Dove, scents tend to last longer on well-hydrated skin, so in addition to drinking plenty of water, lather on a fragrance-free body moisturizer after showering to prep skin and eek out your olfactory efforts.
It’s a grooming mistake as old as fragrance itself: apply too much and you’ll leave everyone within a mile radius feeling like they’ve huffed glue. “To get the best effect, fragrance should be applied over the skin as a light mist,” says Dove, who warns against spraying too close to the skin as this can result in an overly-concentrated puddle. “Alternatively, apply some to the palm of the hand before wiping it over the upper body as this will help the fragrance affix to the skin better.” As for how much, Debrett’s Guide For The Modern Gentleman suggests applying no more than two to three squirts. None of them down your underwear.
What men’s fragrance do women like?
Women’s noses vary as much as men’s do, so we regret to inform you there is no one-size-fits-all. One of the most popular men’s fragrances for women is reportedly Dior Sauvage, which naturally made our list. Its combination of vanilla, bergamot and lavender drive women mad, which is reason enough for us to stock up.
What is the best affordable fragrance for men?
Cologne is long-lasting and we don’t recommend skimping, but there are some affordable fragrance options that don’t smell like feet. We put together a list of the best cheap colognes to guide you. Some of our favorites are Tabac Original (under $15) and 4711 Cologne (under $30), which is featured on this list.
What is the best-smelling men’s cologne?
That all depends on what your sniffer responds to. We know, we know, it’s vague. As with other areas of style, the key is to follow your heart; not the crowd. “Shop on your own, when you are in the mood and don’t force things,” says Craven. “Wait for a fragrance that stirs and excites you. Scent is our last raw link with our animal origins, so search for it in an animal way. Trust your feelings and instinct.” Bottom line: follow your nose.
How can I choose the right fragrance?
Craven suggests a little self-analysis. “If you don’t think about the inner you, you’ll never find the perfect signature scent.” It sounds odd to consider factors such as what textures and colors you prefer, but these are often reflected in your fragrance taste. For example, smoky ouds resemble dark colors whereas light, floral notes evoke brighter ideas.