The more that women’s fragrances begin to smell alike in one pink synthetic blur, the more I find myself considering the men’s fragrance section. The overly sharp woody or harsh herbal notes that traditionally signify a “male” scent aren’t my cup of tea, but there are plenty of men’s fragrances that make for an interesting and distinctive feminine perfume.
A combination of desperation and curiosity led me to the men’s counter at Nordstrom, where I was promptly shied away from Kiehl’s Musk by a female salesclerk. “That’s for men,” she said, about the slightly animalic musk scent that has been called a mall cognate to Serge Lutens’s hot and sweaty Muscs Koublaï Khan. So what if someone raises an eyebrow about a cross-gender spray-and-play? The men’s section contains novelty and surprise, two qualities that have been lacking in recent women’s issues. There are gems at the men’s counter that are sure to intrigue if not outright delight. Here are some that I wear myself and buy for men, straight from the mall:
My favorite men’s scent to wear is Annick Goutal Sables. This molten-amber brew is rich with herbal immortelle that smells seductively maple-like. Sables is an intense experience revolving completely around immortelle (helichrysum), a scent responsible for the Corsican “l’odeur de maquis.” It is found in women’s scents like Balmain Ambre Gris, Rosine Une Rose Au Bord de la Mer, and L de Lolita Lempicka.
I’ve loved Terre d’Hermès since it debuted in 2006. Terre d’Hermès is a woody citrus scent with a peppery kick and a distinctive mineral (stone) quality that reminds me of water rushing over rocks at my favorite waterfall. The finish is cedar, a note I always appreciate no matter the gender assignment. One of the reasons I went shopping in the men’s section in the first place was to get more of it.
Also from Hermès is the collection “Les Colognes Hermès,” which are sophisticated updates of the traditional eau de cologne. Eau d’Orange Verte, Eau de Pamplemousse Rose, Eau de Gentiane Blanche, Eau de Narcisse Bleu, and Eau de Mandarine Ambrée make up the collection. The first three were my introduction to wearing men’s scents and I love them all equally.
Maître Parfumeur et Gantier contributes two men’s scents to my collection: Ambre Précieux and Santal Noble. The first is an amber-patchouli mix that has crept over into women’s perfumery in recent years (Tann Rokka Aki, for one) and the second features dry and malty sandalwood with no floral nuance.
I’ve recently been wearing Idole de Lubin a lot. Although I first found it too masculine, several years later I find it perfect with its sheering out of a voluptuous rum note. I’d call it a sweet woods scent, but that’s a bit of a misnomer since it implies a puffy gourmand quality that simply isn’t there. Instead, smoked ebony, palm, and leather cut through the sugarcane and keep it lean.
Although I’m not a huge fan of vanilla fragrances, I find Givenchy Pi to be a gold-standard vanilla that I once described as being vanilla wrapped in gold foil. I meant that Pi has a metallic finish that glows like a sunset on a skyscraper; it’s not at all candy-like. When I reach for vanilla, more often than not I reach for Pi. (Bonus: I also use Pi to scent my car!)
Caron Pour Un Homme is long established as a men’s scent that women also wear. Here’s lavender made plush and comfortable with vanilla; it’s the opposite of the sharp herbal fragrance type that many women abhor on themselves. The vanilla is dry and sweet and, once again, isn’t gourmand. This is a quiet scent that’s perfect for relaxing.
Rounding things out is Dior Eau Sauvage, which is well known to women who wear men’s fragrances. Recent regulations have forced changes on the original formula that have it straying away from the earthiness of its mossy finish. Still, it is an incredibly elegant citrus/aromatic composition with a clean finish (much lighter in nature than the original).
Extra: Victoria’s Running with the Boys : Adventures at the Fragrance Counter.
Do you wear men’s fragrances? Which men’s fragrances do you think work well for women?
Next: Suzanna will explore what perfumes for women can be great for men.
Image: Marlene Dietrich, via wiki-images.