We’ve long been a fan of wearing cologne rather than perfume for their more masculine, less floral scents, but the recent rush of unisex fragrances has done away with such arbitrary designations altogether. After all, who says scent has to be gendered?
Shopping for a unisex fragrance is a liberating experience, as it does away with what you should like and focuses simply on what you do like. The only disadvantage is that you may find your partner swiping your scent.
We’ve been testing old favourites and brand new launches, looking for how harmoniously they bring together the classically masculine/feminine notes, how the fragrance develops as it dries and how long they last on the skin. Whether you prefer your scents hot and heady or crisp and fresh, there’s something for you among our favourites.
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DS & Durga debaser, 50ml
Brooklyn-based perfumier DS & Durga is the product of a musician and an architect, who fittingly create fragrances that evoke memories of music and place. Debaser is so unique that it is a very difficult scent to describe. Named after the Pixies song of the same name, it is a wild and hot fragrance, with creamy tonka bean and coconut milk, bergamot, pear, iris and fig, and a base of moss and wood. It’s a fragrance that people will always ask after, particularly as it lingered longer on the skin than anything else we tried.
Calvin Klein CK one, 50ml
This is the scent that first took unisex fragrance mainstream, all the way back in 1994. You’ll find citrusy notes of mandarin, papaya, bergamot and lemon, warmed by aromatic nutmeg, jasmine and violet. On first spritz it’s sharp and clean, but it settles to a deeper, subtler scent as it dries on the skin. It remains a classic and much-loved fragrance that still feels modern and fresh, and also comes in at a remarkable price compared to most.
Chanel les exclusifs 1957, 75ml
The latest launch in Chanel’s les exclusifs range is named after the year when Coco Chanel travelled to Dallas to receive the Neiman Marcus award for services to fashion. It’s a white musk-based scent that smells slightly different on each wearer; Chanel describes it as a “skin scent” for that reason. There’s quite a lot going on at first sniff, with bergamot, iris, neroli and cedar, but it soon calms to a light, smooth and harmonious scent.
Aesop tacit, 50ml
Whereas a lot of unisex fragrances steer towards the deep, smokey scents more classically associated with cologne for fear of being too floral or powdery, Aesop’s tacit stands out for being a truly unisex scent that is envigorating and crisp without a hint of sweetness. Its simple blend of citrus and basil gives a clean, herbaceous finish and has us completely addicted.
Tom Ford soleil neige, 50ml
Tom Ford’s private blend fragrances always rate highly with us, and soleil neige is no different. It is a bright, wintery fragrance – the name literally means sun snow – with fresh bergamot and carrot seed, a floral heart of jasmine and orange flower, and wood and honey undertones. It is both brisk and warm, and reminds us of wooly scarves and winter markets.
Jo Malone vetiver and golden vanilla cologne intense, 50ml
In the nearly 40 years since its launch, Jo Malone has become synonymous with luxury fragrance and creative scent pairings. The best part is that all the brand’s fragrances – marketed as “colognes” – are unisex. Vetiver and golden vanilla is a new launch and as the name suggests, combines two of Madagascar’s most prized ingredients. It’s a sensuous, creamy, deep scent, lifted with a few unexpected notes: we sniffed out cardamom and grapefruit.
Le Labo baie 19, 50ml
Imagine the scent of freshly soaked earth and grass when a downpour comes after a season of drought, known as petrichor: that is exactly what Le Labo’s baie smells like. It is fresh and herby, with juniper, patchouli, green leaves and ambrox. Le Labo is a favourite of the fashion set, and we have no doubt that this will soon have the cult status of the brand’s santal 33 fragrance. Declare it your signature scent before everyone else does.
Maison Margiela replica jazz club, 100ml
Much like DS & Durga’s mission statement, the replica line of fragrances from the French fashion house Maison Margiela is designed to conjure memories or images of a particular scene. Jazz club is, as you’d imagine, a hot, heady, intoxicating fragrance. It’s what once might have been considered a more masculine blend of notes – vanilla, vetiver and tobacco perfectly evoke leather and liquor – but we love it as a modern, sensuous scent on women, too.
Acqua di Parma yuzu, 100ml
A citrus scent that is more complex than most, yuzu, from Acqua di Parma’s signatures of the sun range, is uplifting and bittersweet. When first spritzed, you get bergamot and spicy Sichuan pepper, followed by a more floral heart (mimosa and lotus), and, at the base, sandalwood and a hint of liquorice. To us, it smells like summer, and has us dreaming of brighter, sunnier days.
Gucci memoire d'une odeur, 100ml
We weren’t sure that the rippled sea green and gold cap of this bottle quite passed the unisex test, looking more dressing table than shaving mirror appropriate, but the beguiling scent inside more than makes up for that. For a mid-range price perfume it’s an unusual, boundary-pushing scent. On first application it smells green and almost bitter, softened slightly with jasmine, and it dries down to a simple wood and musk at the base.
The verdict: Unisex perfumes
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