Fragrances for Women That Work for Men

A two-part series by Suzanna on perfume gender bending:  Fragrances for Men That Work for Women.

My significant other and Charlie Chaplin have something in common, and it’s not that both are comedians.  The similarity is that both wear or wore Mitsouko, Guerlain’s legendary peachy, mossy chypre.  I must say my significant other wears Mitsouko with an elegant swagger that I—a Mitsouko lover—could never pull off.  And it’s not just Mitsouko that gets co-opted for the guy; it’s also Tan Rokka Aki, Chanel Cuir de Russie, and Donna Karan Black Cashmere that are likewise shared.

kabuki-1

None of these fragrances is marketed to men; rather, they have always been on the distaff side.  However, tonally they seem closer to masculine scents than to feminine ones. They feature stronger uses of woods, spice, and leather than do traditional women’s scents, and while in some instances they might be sweeter or more floral than the usual masculine, they are only just over that line.  Here are some of my personal picks for scents that smell terrific on men without any prettifying.

It might come as a surprise to find iris-centric Hermès Hiris on my list, but this cool floral with an undertone of almond and carrot is a kissing cousin to the great iris-based masculine Dior Homme. In Hiris, the iris is fragile, metallic, and is supported by a kingly earthiness against which plays out the cosmetic quality of the iris; viewed this way it is a intrigue of opposites and all the more special on a man.

Along the same lines is Chanel No 19, another with iris that on me has always been too sharp but on a man is bracing and elegant, the epitome of a refined outdoors.  Also from Hermès (a house that is more genderless than most) comes Eau des Merveilles, which contains no floral notes and whose fruity notes are flip-flopped with the woody and salty ambergris base (NB: Elixir version is sticky like a lollipop.)

Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady is much closer to a classic men’s scent than it is to a woman’s; while rose is the central note it is a dry rose suffused with patchouli and a touch of oud.  The name is unfortunate, although a certain type of man might be able to get away with saying, “It’s Portrait of a Lady.  What of it?” and cease all comment.  Such darker roses are ideal for men; to this suggestion we might also add Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur.

Neela Vermeire crops up again with Trayee, my favorite incense scent.  I would follow to the ends of the earth anyone wearing it, male or female, it’s that good.  This is a worse than embarrassing description, but Trayee blows me away with its sacred language of incense, myrrh, and oud. Men, take note.

Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois is feminine by name only; while the first iteration for Shiseido contained a more pungent cedar note, the reissue, with its more pronounced spices and less assertive plum is, tested blind, almost sure to be mistaken for a masculine by the average perfume buyer.  Again, I love smooth woods and sweet spices on me and on men; perhaps we will kindle something interesting when worn a deux?

Tabac Blond, Caron’s famous fragrance is toughened up with leather and tobacco enough that it is easily worn by men, especially the type that might still don a boutonniere. Where is such a man, you ask? Well, I’ve seen them in the South, wearing white linen and a hat in the summer, with a boutonniere affixed to the lapel.  To me, that’s an image of the forgotten South, the more genteel one, and carnation on a man has always been devastatingly sexy to me.

A lamented bygone fragrance that I preferred on men (who seem to carry a sweaty note better) is Alexander McQueen’s cumin-raunchy Kingdom.  The lotion, with its shriveled rose note, was even more alluring than the perfume.  This is one fragrance that likely failed early by being on the wrong side of the counter.  That it was sweaty and sexual made it potentially vulgar on a woman; it depended on how the cumin reacted with the skin.  But on a man, it was a radiant, almost carnal delight, assuming one liked a guy with a bit of a glow to him.

Which feminine fragrances do you think are suitable for men?

Image: kabuki, a classical Japanese dance-drama in which men play women’s roles.

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49 Comments

  • Cornelia Blimber: Hi Suzanna! Bernard, the rascally prince of the Netherlands, always wore a carnation in his buttonhole! Perhaps that’s why he had some illegal children.
    I think a man can wear everything as long as he loves it. As for iris, Bas de Soie is also a good one–dry, frosted iris with hyacinth. June 11, 2013 at 7:35am Reply

  • rosarita: This series is excellent! My husband, who is a big strapping carpenter, has more than a little of the Savannah southern gentleman that you describe in his character. Shalimar smells devastating on him. June 11, 2013 at 8:58am Reply

  • Bela: La Fille de Berlin would be gorgeous on a man.

    A little while ago, I was in TK Maxx when I smelled this wonderful spicy, rose scent. I looked around for the woman who was wearing it, but only saw a male SA rearranging a clothes rack. I sidled up to him and, yep, it was him. I asked what he was wearing and he told me it was an oil his sister had brought him back from an Arab country (he was himself from over there). I think La Fille de Berlin is a dead ringer for it so… June 11, 2013 at 9:13am Reply

  • Steve: I am one of those men that has no problem with saying that I am wearing FM’s Portrait of a Lady…I love it’s beefy rose. It’s perfect for a man. And Trayee is one of my favorites. Haute Claire by Aftelier is another that would work very nicely for the gents. Great subject! June 11, 2013 at 10:16am Reply

  • Elia: I agree with Cornelia, I think a man can pretty much wear anything.
    Any feminine classical chypre should work easily for any man.
    Lately I feel men can pull off tuberose well. I think Heeley’s Ophelia is very wearable. June 11, 2013 at 10:38am Reply

    • Elia: Ah and I’m sold on the Neela Vermeire choices. I’ve never tried that house. June 11, 2013 at 10:39am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Speeking of tuberose for men: it is said that Louis XIV wore tuberose. But of course not every man has such beautiful, elegant legs of that dancing king. June 11, 2013 at 11:35am Reply

        • Cornelia Blimber: Speaking June 11, 2013 at 11:38am Reply

        • Elia: nice trivia.
          I don’t think I’ll ever worry if I have the legs for a fragrance though 🙂 June 11, 2013 at 1:47pm Reply

        • Berengaria: Ha! I was just thinking Fracas! But it would be most lovely on a real Alpha male. Clark Gable. Or John Wayne. (And of course Louis Quatorze also fits the bill…) June 11, 2013 at 3:42pm Reply

  • Natalia: Yes, it is a fascinating series that touches upon some very inetersting issues.

    Personally, I shall start by saying that I hate the binary male/female opposition, life is infinitely more complex than that. I believe it is up to the individual to deside what their gender is or if they even have a gender. I, for one, really dislike it when people just assume my gender based solely on my physical appearance. Diven that, you may imagine how I feel about assigning gender to perfume. To me, the whole concept is absurd. Who ever said that men can’t wear flowers or that women can’t wear woods and leather? As long as it suits the individual, anything goes!
    Having said that, I will play along the rules of our culture and say that I think Bottega Veneta, Iris Poudre, Aromatics Elixir, although marketed as “feminine” fragrances, will work perfectly for a man. And, of course, the entire “Hermessance” line as well as the “Jardin” collection. But those are said to be “unisex”. Probably the reason why I love Hermes so much. They are capable to see beyond the gender boundaries. June 11, 2013 at 10:38am Reply

  • Lucas: I think Parfum d’Empire Eau Suave is a good example of a perfume that is destined for women but men smell as good (if not better) wearing it.

    Also Chanel 28 La Pausa seems to be versatile. June 11, 2013 at 11:20am Reply

    • Steve L.: Lucas – I purchased a small bottle a year and a half ago and burned through it in about 8 months. I love Eau Suave and you’re right, it can be worn by a man easily! June 11, 2013 at 8:30pm Reply

    • Ferris: What does PdE’s Eau Suave and Chanel 28 Pausa smell like? I keep hearing about Chanel’s Les Exclusifs line especially Sycomore. I need to check them out. The price isn’t outrageous ($130 USD for 125 ml)so they are affordable unlike some other private fragrance lines which cost twice as much or more. June 13, 2013 at 6:09pm Reply

  • Nick: I frequently wear Cabochard, Halston Catalyst, Obsession, Coromandel, Mitsouko, Paul Smith Rose, ELdO Like This, Rien, Fils de Dieu, Rossy de Palma (Eau de whatnot), SJP Covet, Lagerfeld’s Sun, Moon and Stars, many of the “feminine” Eaux. I used to wear Je Reviens also, from an old bottle maybe 25+ years old, but when it ran out, I had to stop wearing it as the later versions just smell like urinal cakes.

    If it smells good on me, and I don’t smell like your average man on the street, then it suits me fine. June 11, 2013 at 11:20am Reply

    • ferris Égoïste: Nick, which version of Mitsouko do you wear? I hear the edt is very sharp and edp is very warm and inviting. I never tried Covet by SJP. is it nice as well? June 12, 2013 at 10:44am Reply

      • Nick: I wear the Mitsouko EDT, it is a little sharper than the EDP, but not terribly so. I prefer that little “extra bite”.

        As for Covet, it is as green as its colour. And sweet and earthy, but not in a sickly sweet way. I get Angelica, geranium, honeysuckle, cocoa. perfect on its own, or layered with bright Citrus, or Vetiver or dark rich woods. It is an unsung Unisex great. 8 hours longevity, good sillage and interesting all the way through the dry down. June 13, 2013 at 7:18am Reply

        • Ferris: Sounds interesting. I need to sample those. June 13, 2013 at 7:46am Reply

        • Ferris: I tried the vintage Mitsouko edt and I am quite fond of it. Now I need to find a big gallon jug of it! I love the sharpness it has followed by the soft veil of oakmoss which isnt as menacing as it is in the pure parfum vintage. I find it kind of overwhelming combined with the strange sour peach at the top. The edt is in a word, a perfect balnce of each. December 28, 2013 at 5:37pm Reply

  • Nancy A.: Hermes offers up many unisex fragrances: Pamplemousse Rose, Orange Verte, Gentian Blanche, even Eau de Merveilleuse. Bandit (Piguet). Kilian’s Oud’s at many levels definitely communicates men and women. Sniffing Creed’s Acqua Fioretina not unlike Tom Ford’s Portofino works wiithout question. Remember Acqua Velva, that was high school favorite for some of us! It’s all in the chemistry and end result, isn’t it? June 11, 2013 at 11:45am Reply

  • E.Lime: My husband is a large, green-eyed bear of a man, and normally smells of Mennen Speed Stick, which I’ve developed an affection for. However, I think he is the absolute sexiest in Coco, when I can convince him to wear it. June 11, 2013 at 1:44pm Reply

  • Cybele: Donna Karan Signiture, Prada Infusion Iris the original not the Absolue. Unisex scents that I adore but would imagine even more gorgeous on a guy:Le Labo Oud 27, Sycomore June 11, 2013 at 2:43pm Reply

  • Joe: I am another Mitsouko wearing male, in particular I have a 500ml bee bottle I bought years ago which I have dosed with ambergris tincture making it how I like it. I also have some L’Heure Bleue parfum from the 80’s which I love for particular moods. June 11, 2013 at 4:18pm Reply

  • Anka: I read that the famous actor Alec Guinness used to wear Guerlain EdC Imperiale. Doesn’t the picture of him as Prince Faisal in “Lawrence of Arabia” – long white, elegant and airy “dress” – matches perfectly with the radiant green and citrus notes of this luscious cologne? June 11, 2013 at 4:27pm Reply

  • Jackie: On first seeing the title of this wonderful article, I thought, “Why would my fragrance choice have anything to do with whether I worked for a man or a woman? Hmmm. I’ve never known this blog to be so . . . Ooooooooh, I get it.” It’s been a long week and it’s only Tuesday.

    Having now read it, I’m going to give a decant of my Bandit to a man I think will adore it.

    Thanks for making me chuckle at myself today! June 11, 2013 at 4:32pm Reply

    • Robert: @ Jackie: Any man who wears Guerlain’s Derby will happily wear Bandit. June 11, 2013 at 10:07pm Reply

  • Sarah: I recently discovered that my Californian male friend wears DKNY Red Delicious (for women) with a spray of Kiehl’s Original Musk to man it up. He always smells fantastic. A lot of men I know also love lavender for some reason. June 11, 2013 at 4:38pm Reply

  • Sarah: P.s. Kingdom was absolutely gorgeous – I guess it was a bit ‘feral’ though! June 11, 2013 at 4:40pm Reply

  • Lucas: From your list i often wear n.19 and used to have Hiris, which i have now substituted for Bas de Soie. I like wearing floral notes and i don´t really care for the gender marketing… The sweaty Fleurs d´Oranger , also from Serge Lutens is a favourite of mine. I have several roses, too. Guerlain´s L´Heure Bleue, Clinique´s Aromatics Elixir and Tom Ford´s Black Orchid are always on my cabinet as well! Very interesting post… June 11, 2013 at 4:53pm Reply

    • ferris Égoïste: Hello Lucas, which version of No. 19 do you wear? I like No 19 as well. Ive worn the edt and edp, and dont know which I like better. Its funny how much I disliked iris when I first smelled Dior Homme and Dior Homme Intense and ironically, iris is now one of my favorite perfume notes. I love the lipstick/ makeup /sweet carrots aspects that it has and enjoy it immensely. I want to try the vintage edt if I can ever get my hands on it. Never tried Bas de Soie. Who makes that one? Also have to try SL Fleurs d’Oranger. I always love a sweaty indolc orange blossom you know. LOL June 12, 2013 at 10:55am Reply

      • Lucas: I have been reagularly stealing my mother´s n.19 since i´m 15, now im 30 so i guess i have used several versions 😀 If you like orris you have to try Hiris, Iris Silver Mist and Iris Bleu Gris. Bas de Soie (and Iris Silver Mist) are both by Serge Lutens; it is as much about iris as it is about hyacinth… What is your favourite iris fragance? June 12, 2013 at 11:06am Reply

        • Ferris: I would have to say Dior Homme Intense and Chanel No 19. I have to try those you mentioned though to see how they fare on my skin. June 13, 2013 at 7:45am Reply

  • Gian: Can I just say that I think that almost any floral that is layered over a deep woods or resins can smell amazingly sexy on a man? I’ve layered ylang-ylang over myrrh and have gotten compliments from all sorts of people and that’s just one example. I don’t think florals are necessarily just for women, it depends on what the floral is paired with. There just needs to be a balancing note that cuts away the sweetness. To me it’s the “sweet” aspects of some fragrances that make them most decidedly NOT masculine. June 11, 2013 at 4:57pm Reply

  • Ninamar: Cabaret de Rochas is imo the best perfume marketed for women, with a very eccentric bottle too, but so much better on men. I also agree that the oud-rose combo is usually a good choice for men; Black Aoud on my husband is simply gorgeous. It’s a bit of a surprise to realise my husband has more rose perfumes then me! June 11, 2013 at 5:08pm Reply

  • erry: Guerlain Samsara and Vent Vert. I always thought that the bottle of Samsara on my parent’s toilet table belonged to my mother; it was my father’s. Now, the bottle -with only a tiny drop left- is mine. June 11, 2013 at 9:21pm Reply

  • Robert: I’m with the other gentlemen here, anything I like gets a wearing, regardless of target market, albeit with a more restrained hand than I’d expect with a woman.

    I used up all my Paco Rabanne La Nuit and have nothing but good memories of that scent. The more feminine the scent, the more effort needed with the weights/workout to get the serum testosterone up and its concomitant, self-confidence. June 11, 2013 at 9:53pm Reply

  • Robert: I’m awaiting delivery of a phial of Pierre Vivion’s . musk oil. With a name like Red Garter, its a bit of a gamble, but hopes are high. June 11, 2013 at 10:15pm Reply

  • Robert: Floral shaving creams were what lead me to rose scents. Geo. F. Trumper’s Rose shaving cream, to be precise. June 11, 2013 at 10:42pm Reply

  • Rose D: I think I would fall for a man who pulled off the (usually girly) bouquet of violets in Armani Prive Pierre de Lune. Annick Goutal Musc Nomade would be an interesting choice as well, since I am curious to find out if I am the only one in which this scent becomes noticeable and heavy if over sprayed. Agent Provocateur L’Agent would be more approachable for most men, since its woody and smoky notes do not qualify as tipically feminine. June 11, 2013 at 11:25pm Reply

  • solanace: Guys can pull anything off, just like us gals. I’m deeply happy to witness yet this other barrier falling apart. Great and timely post, Suzanna! June 12, 2013 at 4:50am Reply

  • Maja: My husband is a rose lover, too. Black Aoud but also Eau des 4 Reines. Chanel 19, Scherrer, Eau de Cartier smell good on him, too. However, he would never open my perfume wardrobe and experiment with it. That’s why I sometimes chase him around with my samples and bottles… June 12, 2013 at 5:36am Reply

  • Mike: I got the idea from Katie Puckrik, but Sarah Jessica Parker’s Lovely smells great on me. Not “lovely” but interesting in the most pleasant way possible.

    Someone else mentioned lavender on a guy. NOTHING gets me more (positive) comments than when I shower with a lavender soap before going out. June 12, 2013 at 8:44pm Reply

  • Amer: When you started with Irises I was sure Prada Infusion d’Iris would come up. I prefer the EdP concentration. Also, I remember reading somewhere that a famous perfumer when asked for the best fragrance for men prescribed “take a shower, then hit the gym for a good sweat, don’t wash and apply 100%love” which is actually intented for women. Haven’t tried for myself though. Do you have any idea who the perfumer was as I can’t recall. June 12, 2013 at 9:31pm Reply

  • Andy: I loved this, Suzanna, along with its sister article on men’s scents that can be worn by women. I was reminded of this article tonight, and just had to tell this story. My closest friend is interesting; when he does wear fragrance, it is usually something typically “masculine.” Tonight, however, at dinner, I kept smelling this lovely tuberose perfume. I assumed it was somebody around us at the restaurant. However, when we were leaving, I realized it was him! It turned out, he was wearing (he’s a huge Madonna fan) Truth or Dare, and given that his looks are particularly masculine, it was just beautiful on him. I think the idea of crossing gender “barriers” with scent occurred to him when he realized how often I unabashedly wear fragrances marketed towards women. I’m glad this has rubbed off on him–he wears big white florals with such great style. June 13, 2013 at 12:49am Reply

    • Rose D: This made me curious about Truth or Dare. Will give it a try soon 🙂 June 14, 2013 at 3:15pm Reply

    • Annikky: Hi, Andy, I loved your story! While I generally dislike dividing things into “masculine” and “feminine” boxes, there is something terribly sexy and subversive when classically masculine (looking) men wear floral fragrances, especially white florals. I think it projects total confidence and that’s why it has such an effect on me. In any case, I applaud your friend! And you too, of course, for being such a good influence 🙂 June 17, 2013 at 5:06am Reply

  • Ines: Shalimar. 🙂
    I got my boyfriend to wear it. June 13, 2013 at 4:09am Reply

  • Mac: Am a guy and i wear Angel in EDP, alternating with Paris in gold cap. It’s rainy here in Bangkok and these two are just perfect. Angel is unheard of in Thailand since there’s no counter that carry Mugler’s product while Paris is being regarded as an old scent. June 14, 2013 at 9:12am Reply

  • Annikky: Suzanna, thank you for this! I have stated several times that I don’t care for the masculine/feminine labels and wear what I please. Which is true. But reading your post made me realize that everything I’ve bought for my boyfriend has been marketed for men (with the possible unisex exception of Ambre Sultan). And while he gladly sniffs my fragrances, I’ve never encouraged him to wear them – I don’t know why, probably not wanting to impose my obsession on him.

    Anyway, to rectify the situation, I asked him to read your suggestions. He did and promptly agreed to test anything that I (or you :)) recommend. And I’m glad to report that he has already fallen in love with Portrait of a Lady. June 17, 2013 at 5:18am Reply

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