Three Men’s Fragrances for Women : Modern Classics

The modern concept that scents can be gendered–roses are for women and cedarwood is for men–dates to the post-WWII consumer boom when marketing tried to find new ways to encourage people to buy more products. That’s when the different concentrations of perfume also became popular, resulting in the current trend to release Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette versions in the same way that publishing houses tempt the public with hard and soft cover versions of books. The idea, however, is nothing new. The Greek philosopher Theophrastus wrote in his book, Concerning Odors, that men should wear lilies and roses and women myrrh and spikenard. So, there you go.

The main difference in how gender is assigned to scents is cultural. The quintessential feminine note of American and European perfumery, the rose, becomes unisex in the Middle East. Vanilla is much more common among masculine fragrances in Italy than it is in the US. Orange blossom is association with crisp freshness in Spain and with baby products in France. So, for those who are adventurous, the easiest way to have fun is to forget the gender labels and try perfumes based on their notes or stories.

In the first part of my series on such experiments, I mention three perfumes that were developed for men, but that smell wonderful on women. Let me rephrase that, they smell wonderful on anyone. If you like dry compositions rich in woods, these are the good options to try.

Dior Homme L’Original

Although the original version of Dior Homme was particularly brilliant, the reformulated Dior Homme still retains its velvety iris charm.  The musky sweetness of chocolate is tempered with woods, and the effect is polished and soft. EDIT: Look for Dior Homme L’Original, if you want to try the version I described; the perfume called simply Dior Homme smells very different.

Terre d’Hermès

Dry, mineral, salty, this fragrance has many facets. Whatever version you choose, and this includes flankers, it will be elegant and intricate. I do insist on calling it intricate, despite the fact that Jean-Claude Ellena’s fragrances are often referred to as “minimalist.” The harmony of elements in this perfume that lends it the impression of simplicity took a lot of skill.

Chanel Égoïste

Another favorite. I mentioned Égoïste last week when I talked about sandalwood, and I want to bring it up again because it’s such a beautiful example of woods and amber. It’s unfair that this beauty is sequestered on the men’s side of the fragrance aisle. Everyone should try it.

It’s worth repeating that gender in perfumery is only marketing and convention. Wear whatever smells good to you. The rest is simply irrelevant.

I had to illustrate this article with a photograph of the incomparable Marlene Dietrich. Few people look as stunning in a tuxedo as she does.

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60 Comments

  • Konstantin: Writing this right next to Marlene Dietrich Platz in Berlin, I couldn’t help but chime in! I agree with the marvelous selection you’ve made here – Egoist is a great example which to my mind was always complemented excellently by Bois Des Iles as the ‘female’ version. But I am also the kind of guy who will wear anything (including things as feminine as Diorissimo).

    Perhaps one or two additional suggestions to this list:

    Dior Eau Sauvage
    Cartier Declaration
    Chanel Antaeus October 2, 2020 at 7:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Fantastic! I’ve always loved Diorissimo on a man. October 4, 2020 at 9:02am Reply

    • Neva: Konstantin, I totally agree on Declaration. For a long time I had a bottle that a girlfriend gave me because she didn’t like it anymore and I was convinced it was a “female” scent. After a few years when I went for a new bottle I’ve realized it’s marketed as a “male” scent.
      Dior’s Eau Sauvage was my fathers’s favourite perfume and when he died I took his bottle and I wear it as a summer cologne. October 12, 2020 at 3:24pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this delightful and informative post and video.

    Good on Theophrastus for being ahead of his time, in a sense, as regards fragrance. I wonder whether perfume was gendered in ancient times, for people such as Cleopatra. I see the gendering of fragrance as similar to the marketing of clothing. Gendering helps to market fragrance, and fashion in clothing is just a marketing strategy designed to encourage people to buy something new every season. And as you have demonstrated with your choice of photo, fashions marketed for men can look great on women, too.

    My problem with fragrance these days is that there are so many. I can’t even get through sampling all the ones marketed for women, let alone begin on those marketed for men! That’s why I rely so much on your recommendations, and those of my fellow readers. I know that Elle McPherson used to wear Vetiver, which is marketed for men, but that’s it as far as my knowledge of women wearing “men’s” scents goes.

    I should probably start with fragrant materials that I like, e.g. sandalwood, violet, carnation, lilac, vanilla, anise and so on. When I notice in your reviews of scents marketed for men that some of these materials are used, I could try out those scents. On my next trip to town, I can’t wait, finally, to sample SL Bois de Violette. As they said in the leadup to the new series of “Dr Who”, featuring a woman as the good doctor, “It’s About Time.” I know that many men like Bois de Violette.

    I think I would like Dior Homme, with its iris, chocolate, woods and musk. Also, it’s possible that Chanel Égoïste, with its plum, sandalwood and vanilla, might appeal to me.

    I love that classic photo of Marlene Dietrich. I like both the tux and the top hat. A couple of days ago, I searched Etsy for top hats that I might want to buy as accessories. Peter can attest to this, as I bombarded him with emails displaying photos of my favourites. Here is one of the ones I liked best – probably not what you were expecting, given that it has so much violet silk.

    https://www.etsy.com/au/listing/645464036/purple-silk-hat-with-3d-hand-made-roses?ref=user_profile&cns=1

    Thank you again.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline October 2, 2020 at 8:17am Reply

    • Peter: Tourmaline was slightly obsessed by Top Hats. The only Top Hats that I’ve ever seen have been in 1930’s film. Fashion in Hawaii is quite casual with Aloha Shirts and Muumuus as the standard. October 2, 2020 at 9:42pm Reply

    • Victoria: He wasn’t ahead of his time, but rather reflecting what was already the norm back then–thinking of scents in terms of gender. Fragrances always had some sort of gender specification, but in different cultures and different times these rules were more or less flexible. In the UAE today, to give one example, no such gender codes exist. People just wear whatever they like and they mix and match however they see fit. October 4, 2020 at 9:06am Reply

      • Tourmaline: I meant that he seemed ahead of his time in thinking that lilies and roses could be for men, quite aside from the gendering issue in general, if you follow me. October 4, 2020 at 9:42am Reply

  • Tara C: I have worn Terre d’Hermès and Dior Homme. Never tried Egoïste on myself but love it on a man. My husband and I share SL Musc Koublai Khan and Fumerie Turque, as well as Heeley Cardinal. He also wears my Amouage Dia woman. October 2, 2020 at 9:16am Reply

    • Victoria: I also share those two with my husband. October 4, 2020 at 9:07am Reply

  • Deborah: I have sampled and worn men’s fragrances for a while and am drawn to the “unisex” ones too. I am fond of the woods and smoky sultry depth. Perhaps this is why they tend to last longer on me than some women’s fragrances (and why I’ve been in the habit to seek out the Women’s oarfume “. . Another note (no pun intended!) – women’s fragrances more expensive than men’s. Once again thank you for a beautiful collection of ideas in this post, and for validating that I can wear whatever I want October 2, 2020 at 9:23am Reply

    • Victoria: Absolutely! Just go by whatever smells good to you. October 4, 2020 at 9:07am Reply

  • Gretchen: One of my favorites, thanks to you, is Encre Noir. Others include Habit Rouge and the very old version of Grey Flannel. October 2, 2020 at 9:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, all of those are excellent. October 4, 2020 at 9:07am Reply

  • Matty1649: I wear Guerlain Vetiver and Habit Rouge. October 2, 2020 at 9:38am Reply

    • Judith: Hi Matty,

      I wear Habit Rouge, too. I remember the day I first smelled it, about 30 years ago, in David Jones department store in Brisbane (my hometown). I liked it, and thought it was for women. That was at a time when I knew very little about fragrance.

      At that same counter, the sales assistant told me that Chamade was Princess Diana’s summer fragrance, and Mitsouko was her winter fragrance. I think she said Prince Charles wore Vetiver. She said that when the couple were about to visit Australia, including Brisbane, David Jones was contacted to ensure that the fragrances were in stock, because they did not fly with them on board the plane. October 2, 2020 at 11:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Same here! I should talk about them in another video. October 4, 2020 at 9:08am Reply

  • James Drysdale: Dior Homme is now Dior Homme Original. If you want chocolate and Iris pick that one. The new Dior Homme is nothing like Dior Homme Original: it’s very generic. October 2, 2020 at 11:37am Reply

    • Peter: Thank you James for that clarification. I’m still treasuring my older bottle. Dior did a similar confusing name change with Miss Dior. October 3, 2020 at 6:46am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, James. Dior’s renaming is confusing as ever. October 4, 2020 at 9:08am Reply

    • Giovanna: thank you, I appreciate your sharing of this information. It is frustrating when a “particularly brilliant” fragrance is reformulated for marketing or other purposes. I love iris and Dior Homme, the “Original”, is among my favourite. October 4, 2020 at 11:46pm Reply

  • N: I don’t make a distinction of calling a fragrance masculine or feminine. I agree that it is irrelevant. I personally love fragrances that have woody, aromatic, and balsamic notes and I’m a woman. I also enjoy woodsy home fragrances and once when I was in a candle store the associate who was helping me said I like masculine scents and I told her I buy what I like. October 2, 2020 at 11:43am Reply

    • Victoria: I find that some SAs are so trained to sell by gender that it takes some convincing to make them show you something different. October 4, 2020 at 9:09am Reply

  • John Luna: My daughter (17) has, at various times, borrowed by bottle of Eau Sauvage as well as more ‘unisex’ fragrances like Hermès orange concentrée and Annick Goutal Eau de Sud… she outright poached my Eau Sauvage Deodorant! I have a bottle of Egoïste somewhere… Maybe I should check that it’s still there? October 2, 2020 at 1:16pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Might be a good idea… October 3, 2020 at 3:54am Reply

    • Victoria: If you still have Egoiste, especially an older bottle, you’re in luck! October 4, 2020 at 9:09am Reply

  • Domestic Goblin: As long as I smell good, that’s all that matters (and if it’s within my price range!). I have enjoyed wearing Sartorial by Penhaligons and Chergui by Serge Lutens, both fragrances marketed for men. I also like Bvlgari Au The Vert which is marketed as unisex. October 2, 2020 at 2:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: “As long as I smell good”–exactly! That’s my view on this topic too. October 4, 2020 at 9:10am Reply

  • Fazal: Awesome article. I don’t think I need to repeat my love for original Dior Homme for the billionth time 🙂 I enjoy Terre d’Hermes, too though maybe a little more in parfum than edt concentration. I have Chanel Egoiste as well as Egoiste Concentree but among these three, Egoiste probably smells the most dated now. Egoiste is, indeed, well-composed but I feel that my perceptions of it are also influenced by its status among fragrance enthusiasts. If I was not aware of its status, I might have been lot less enthusiastic about it than the other two. October 2, 2020 at 5:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: I do agree with you on Egoiste, especially in comparison to Hermes and Dior’s perfumes. That’s its style, though. October 4, 2020 at 9:20am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria for another excellent post. I enjoyed your explanation of the cultural differences when it comes to gender scent preferences. We used to get an entourage of Middle Eastern men at the hotel. They smelled incredible. I imagined that these were the famed Amouage perfumes from Oman.

    Like Fazal, I’m also a fan of the original Dior Homme. Egoiste smells like the Mediterranean to me. It must be the herbal notes. I now love Cartier Declaration d’Un Soir, which I purchased after reading your ‘Rose’ post. The woody rose drydown is lovely. October 2, 2020 at 9:31pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: I’ve really got to try Dior Homme. I could wear it with a black suit coat and one or other of the top hats that I’ll eventually buy! October 2, 2020 at 10:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Whenever I travel in the UAE or anywhere in that region, I marvel at how good people smell. There are numerous local brands there, and people are true connoisseurs when it comes to fragrance. October 4, 2020 at 9:21am Reply

      • OnWingsofSaffron: Should, on your travels there, you chance upon the new Les exclusif Chanel perfume “Le lion” which at the moment is sold only in the Middle East, I would be so curious to read your review! I must confess I am rather lusting after this new scent: it sounds exciting and daring after a few wan entries by Chanel.
        I saw one on ebay but the seller wanted the double price of the regular bottle, so I said no. I am looking forward to it though… October 4, 2020 at 10:07am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m also curious about it, but I also wouldn’t pay twice the price for a bottle. If it sells well enough, I’m sure Chanel will make it available elsewhere. October 4, 2020 at 10:10am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: “It’s worth repeating that gender in perfumery is only marketing and convention. Wear whatever smells good to you. The rest is simply irrelevant.”
    Indeed! These three sentences should be be chiselled in granite stone and set up before each perfumery store: voi che entrate, mark these words well! October 3, 2020 at 3:53am Reply

    • Gabriela: These three sentences should be applied everywhere! Its so good to see that my children’s generation doesn’t make gender differences in many ways, thanks to school. Football is for boys and girls,
      Pink the same… also we have a couple of kids at school that do not follow their biological sex. I know it’s complex but feel positive that people can feel comfortable in their own skin and the school as well as parents are open to discussion.
      As for perfume, fantastic how you put it Victoria, congratulations! October 3, 2020 at 8:47am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Gabriela,

        Well said! October 3, 2020 at 8:52am Reply

      • Victoria: I agree. I like pink, but I really dislike how much it’s pushed on little girls. It’s impossible to find anything that’s not pink or some candy-colored violet. October 4, 2020 at 9:23am Reply

      • John: In the same article it also says-“like many of his contempories Socrates thought that a man who wore perfume was effeminate and foppish-he felt that men were to smell of the gymnasium (olive oil) rather than to smell of flowers.” The argument can be supported by whom ever you wish to quote in support of your point of view. Just saying! October 4, 2020 at 11:18pm Reply

        • Victoria: Socrates’s advice on perfume wearing should be taken with a grain of salt, considering that he himself shunned washing and other basic hygiene. One of my favorite dialogues, in Plato’s Symposium, is when Socrates appears “washed and in sandals,” which amazes all of the participants who know him well. October 5, 2020 at 7:02am Reply

    • Victoria: 🙂 That would be great, wouldn’t it! October 4, 2020 at 9:22am Reply

  • Patricia Devine: Always useful to have this reminder. Because I buy almost exclusively online I’m not generally led to the ‘feminine’ aisles, I just look for notes that I like. I didn’t realise for ages that Grey Flannel is a ‘masculine’, for instance, I just wear it because I like it. I also wear Havana, vintage Brut, vintage Old Spice, etc. I haven’t tried Egoiste, so have just ordered a mini from French Ebay to try, thank you. October 3, 2020 at 8:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Please let me know what you think! I hope that you’ll like it. October 4, 2020 at 9:22am Reply

      • Patricia Devine: I will. 🙂 October 4, 2020 at 12:57pm Reply

      • Patricia Devine: You asked me to say what I thought of Egoïste, and I must say, it’s a beautiful fragrance. (I bought a 4ml mini and liked it so much that I bought three more.) On me, it starts out soapy and lemony, with a pronounced anisic note that burns off quite quickly, and then the rose comes through. The middle is lots of warm spices, especially cinnamon, with dry, tobacco-like notes and it’s quite animalic in the far drydown – perhaps that slightly creamy/sour milk smell of sandalwood? It strikes me as inhabiting similar territory to Aramis’s Calligraphy Rose, although the latter is harsher, and also Aramis’s Havana in the middle section. I would definitely buy a bottle. October 17, 2020 at 12:43pm Reply

  • Nancy Chan: I like and wear Davidoff’s Cool Water, I find it refreshing for the summer. I have a sample of Dior Homme, but will need to try wearing it.

    Chanel’s Egoiste sounds interesting, and Eau Sauvage a classic. Both go onto my try list. October 3, 2020 at 9:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Eau Sauvage is really a sibling of Diorella. There is no reason for women not to wear it. October 4, 2020 at 9:24am Reply

  • Aurora: I still remember smelling Chanel Pour Monsieur as a child on my uncle’s side of the bathroom. I have mixed feelings about Egoïste but love Dior Homme and Terre for its mineral note. October 3, 2020 at 2:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s another one of my favorites. Chanel is not as famous for its masculine perfumes, but they have a great collection of them. October 4, 2020 at 9:25am Reply

  • Klaas: A post to my heart, dear Victoria! I have been gender-bending since I can remember really, and was blessed with the most loving, open minded parents on this planet…..my mom made me a princess dress for my 6th birthday, after me specifically asking for one. She could have also bought me a toy car or a football, which were (and are) considered more appropriate for a little boy. I think she knew already that these would have remained untouched 😉

    As a teenager especially, I wore fragrances from all sides of the gender-spectrum, from Anthaeus and Habit Rouge to Paloma Picasso and Poison! Nowadays I like lighter scents, but gender is still not an issue when I choose a fragrance,and I am happy that more and more brands stop labeling their fragrances ‘pour homme’ or ‘pour femme’. Like you say, people should wear what they like! October 4, 2020 at 1:08pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Klaas,

      How wonderful that your parents were so wise and loving. As I said above, when I first smelled Habit Rouge, I thought it was marketed for women, but it didn’t matter – I liked it, and eventually bought a bottle.

      I still have the bottle of Poison that my brother gave me soon after its release. There is some left, and its good to have some of the original. I must smell the latest incarnation to see whether it has changed much.

      I have a mini bottle of Paloma Picasso, but I’ve never tried Anthaeus – yet! October 4, 2020 at 8:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: Such a great story! It’s wonderful that your parents were so supportive. 🙂 October 5, 2020 at 7:06am Reply

    • Gabriela: A big hug to your loving parents! October 5, 2020 at 9:55am Reply

    • Eudora: In love with your mom. Give her a big hug from me… I would do it with pleasure knowing she wears Coco, Vetiver Tonka and Encore Noir -if I do remember well 😉 October 7, 2020 at 8:23am Reply

      • Klaas: Wow, you do remember well! They are her current favorites 😉 She used to steal my Eau Sauvage when I was still iving at home, while I ‘borrowed’ her Paloma Picasso in return. October 7, 2020 at 10:10am Reply

  • Klaas: Hey Tourmaline! Rumor has it that Habit Rouge was created for all the guys who secretly wanted to wear Shalimar 😉

    So there, it was a gender-bender from its conception. Jicky is another classic Guerlain that is loved by both men and women, and so is Vetiver. Sergei Diaghilev wore Mitsouko! October 5, 2020 at 4:33am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, true! I know several men who wear Mitsouko. Basically, yes, wear whatever smells good on you–and smells good to you. October 5, 2020 at 7:11am Reply

  • Klaas: Will do Gabriela, they are amazing people! Both me and my sister were a hand full, but my parents have always let us express and affirm our personalities the way we saw fit. They also taught us invest ourselves the complete 100% in what we did. If you do something, be it ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the box, do it well!! Valuable life lessons… October 5, 2020 at 10:11am Reply

  • Catherine W.: My first boyfriend wore Chanel’s Cuir de Russie and I became an unapologetic borrower of boyfriends’ scents ever after including, currently, Creed’s Santal Originale. My brother wore an Alfred Sung after-shave balm that became my favorite body lotion one winter. By the way, Chanel salespeople are told that the current Cuir de Russie is exactly the same as the original but it’s just not. Anyone know what they changed? It’s lost the something special it had… October 6, 2020 at 1:15am Reply

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