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25 best fragrances for men: From timeless classics to modern bestsellers

Whether you want earthy and rich, or summer in a bottle, find the perfect scent with our top picks

Lee Kynaston
Thursday 10 February 2022 17:07
<p>We sniffed out citrusy notes and florals, warming woody fragrances and fresh fougères </p>

We sniffed out citrusy notes and florals, warming woody fragrances and fresh fougères

According to fashion designer Tom Ford, there are two things that make a man into a gentleman. The first is good manners (something we could all do with brushing up on). The second? A good cologne.

He’s right of course; a man is never properly dressed without a spritz of fragrance. It’s the ultimate finishing touch; the perfect accessory to any outfit, whether it happens to be a tux or a tracksuit. The problem is that with so many fragrances on offer – and new ones joining the ranks every year – where do you begin?

First, a few myths dispelled: price doesn’t always equal quality when it comes to fragrance. There are some amazing cheap-as-chips scents out there and some premium-priced parfums that are real stinkers. What is true, however, is that if you opt for something a little more premium and niche, chances are fewer men are going to be wearing exactly the same.

Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as a men’s fragrance, or a women’s one either. Those “pour homme” and “pour femme” tags are essentially just marketing and the increasing popularity of unisex or genderless fragrances show how much the lines have blurred. Having said that, men’s fragrances have been painstakingly developed to cater for men’s olfactory tastes and expectations, so what better place to start than something created with men in mind?

And while you can wear pretty much anything, anywhere, anytime, it’s true to say certain types of fragrance suit certain situations: light, crisp citrusy or “aquatic” ones, for example, are perfect for summer, work or après gym, while heavier, woodier or earthier ones work better for evenings or for dates, when you want to make an impression.

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Fragrance, of course, is as subjective an art form as painting, sculpture or film, and chances are you’ll need to experiment a little before landing one that’s perfect for you. That’s where we come in. Our best fragrances for men list isn’t definitive, but it does provide a pretty good steer on what scents are worth a sniff.

How we tested

To put each fragrance through its paces, we applied one at the start of the day to our neck, wrists and chest (the chest being one of the best places for men to apply fragrance), leaving it to develop on the skin throughout the day.

For our reviews, we considered the immediate impact, projection (how far the fragrance can be detected from the skin) and longevity. Since fragrance bottles are often works of art in their own right, we also took appearance into account, along with overall value for money.

The best perfumes for men for 2022 are:

  • Best work fragrance – Acqua di Parma colonia: £71.85, Feelunique.com
  • Best summer spritz – Tom Ford neroli portofino: £164, Mrporter.com
  • Best scent for sharing – Jo Malone lime basil and mandarine cologne: £74, Jomalone.co.uk
  • Best sexy citrus – Dior eau sauvage: £53.10, Boots.com
  • Best bargain buy – Mäurer & Wirtz 4711 eau de cologne: £12.21, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best mainstream oud – Tom Ford oud wood: £153.79, Feelunique.com
  • Best contemporary classic – Chanel bleu de Chanel: £60.90, Feelunique.com
  • Best value for money – Boss bottled: £35, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best luxury woody scent – Creed aventus: £195, Johnlewis.com
  • Best fresh and spicy fragrance – Loewe solo cedro: £66, Libertylonden.com
  • Best for all-round versatility – Hermès terre d’Hermès: £50.15, Johnlewis.com
  • Best luxury fragrance – Roja Parfums vetiver parfum pour homme: £375, Harrods.com
  • Best masculine classic – Givenchy gentleman original: £34.67, Boots.com
  • Best for staying power – Le Labo patchouli 24: £141, Harveynichols.com
  • Best for quirkiness – Beaufort fathom V: £115, Bloomperfume.co.uk
  • Best sport fragrance – Chanel allure homme sport: £57.25, Feelunique.com
  • Best aquatic fragrance – Giorgio Armani acqua di gio: £46.95, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for fragrance newbies – Paco Robanne invictus: £42.45, Fragrancedirect.co.uk
  • Best modern fougère – Dior sauvage: £71.10, Boots.com
  • Best all-weather fragrance – Gucci guilty pour homme: £62.90, Boots.com
  • Best everyday fragrance – Montblanc legend: £28.95, Allbeauty.com
  • Best for fussy teens – YSL Y for men: £44, Beales.co.uk
  • Best old school classic – Jean Paul Gaultier le male: £42.95, Fragrancedirect.co.uk
  • Best for floral newbies – Maison Francis Kurkdjian l’homme a la rose: £180, Harrods.com
  • Best men’s rose scent – Czech & Speake no. 88: £98, Czechandspeake.com

Citrus sensations

A mainstay of men’s perfumery, citrus-based scents are loved for their crispness, freshness and wearability. Utilising notes like grapefruit, lemon and neroli, they zing off the skin, are energizing and revitalising and provide an instant uplift that reminds us of sunshine and summer holidays. The addition of woody base notes. meanwhile, adds depth and longevity. They’re simple, classy, versatile and perfect for minimalists.

Acqua di Parma colonia: £71.85, Feelunique.com

Best: Work fragrance

Rating: 9/10

It may be over a century old now (it launched in 1916) but this classic Italian cologne from Acqua di Parma hasn’t aged a day. Citrusy, herbal and floral, it’s everything a traditional cologne should be and much more thanks to the addition of warm sandalwood and earthy patchouli. It’s delightfully elegant and understated – making it an excellent daytime fragrance – but has just enough staying power and sexiness in its woody base to make it great for the evening too.

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Tom Ford neroli portofino: £164, Mrporter.com

Best: Summer spritz

Rating: 9/10

A wonderfully summery, exquisitely uplifting blend of Sicilian lemon, bergamot, lavender and amber, neroli portofino’s success lies in its ability to capture a summer’s day on the Italian Rivera and bottle it for use on a rainy day in Ramsbottom. A contemporary take on a traditional cologne, housed in a bottle the colour of the Ligurian sea, it’s like bottled sunshine – though like sunshine, it doesn’t always last as long as you might like, so be prepared to reapply.

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Jo Malone lime basil and mandarine cologne: £74, Jomalone.co.uk

Best: Scent for sharing

Rating: 8.5/10

The perfect unisex fragrance for men looking for something that’s clean, crisp and summery but a little different, the addition of basil to this cologne gives it a distinctive, sweet, green and slightly soapy edge, distinguishing it from similar citrus-based scents. Amberwood, meanwhile, gives it depth and good longevity (it lasted over five hours on our skin). Hugely popular with women too – it’s one of Jo Malone’s bestsellers – it’s the perfect scent for sharing.

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Dior eau sauvage: £53.10, Boots.com

Best: Sexy citrus

Rating: 9/10

Not to be confused with Dior’s current bestseller sauvage, this unbeatably fresh bulletproof classic never dates. Suave as a Sixties-era Bond, it’s been described as one of the great miracles of French perfumery and manages to achieve an innate sensuality that eludes many other citrus fragrances. This might be in part due to the inclusion of a synthetic compound called hedione, which has a citrusy-floral vibe similar to jasmine. While some scientists claim that hedione functions like a pheromone, other studies contest this, so don’t quote us. Fresh yet sexy and pretty, it’s much suitable for guys of any age it certainly pushed our buttons.

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Mäurer & Wirtz 4711 eau de cologne: £12.21, Amazon.co.uk

Best: Bargain buy

Rating: 7/10

Launched in 179, this cheap-as-chips summer essential is pretty much the cologne from which all others sprung. It’s a light-as-a-feather blend of citrus fruits, rosemary and lavender and not that far removed in smell from Tom Ford’s spenny neroli portofino. Don’t expect a similar kind of staying power though: it barely lasted an hour on our skin, so be prepared to reapply throughout the day.

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Woody wonders

Woody fragrances are some of the most popular and enduring with men. Notes like sandalwood, cedarwood and agarwood (aka oud) sit in the base of fragrances adding solidity and staying power. They have a lovely warmth that’s comforting, reassuring and versatile.

Tom Ford oud wood: £153.79, Feelunique.com

Best: Mainstream oud

Rating: 9/10

An enduring – and now iconic – fragrance from Ford’s private blend collection, oud wood takes one of Middle-Eastern perfumery’s most popular and distinctive ingredients, oud wood, and dials down its potency a little, adding rosewood and sandalwood, to make it a little less challenging to the average punter. Intensely woody, smoky and sensual, without being overpowering, it has a lovely, soft creamy finish that hugs the skin.

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Chanel bleu de Chanel: £60.90, Feelunique.com

Best: Contemporary classic

Rating: 8/10

It may not be the greatest men’s fragrance Chanel have produced, but this award-winning scent (it picked up a Best New Prestige Fragrance award at the annual fragrance industry’s Oscars in 2011) is certainly one of the company’s bestsellers.

This has a lot to do with its familiar, traditionally “masculine” mix of woody, citrus and spicy notes which gives versatility and the kind of broad, commercial appeal that makes it perfect for gifting. Projection and longevity on the skin are decent while the bottle – as with all Chanel bottles – is ridiculously simple but impossibly cool.

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Boss bottled: £35, Lookfantastic.com

Best: Value for money

Rating: 8/10

A true classic and one of the bestselling men’s fragrances ever (it’s sold well over 60 million bottles since its launch back in 1988) this woody, fruity number hits you with fresh, juicy notes of green apple and grapefruit to begin with, but soon develops into a warm woody and sensual scent thanks to sandalwood, amber and musk. Its success lies in the fact that it comes across as sexy but not overtly so, making it a brilliantly wearable, versatile scent for men of pretty much any age.

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Creed aventus: £195, Johnlewis.com

Best: Luxury woody scent

Rating: 9/10

If you’re a newbie to Creed fragrances you could do worse than starting your olfactory adventure with the award-winning aventus. A sweet, woody, fruity number with top notes of blackcurrant, apple and pineapple, a narcotic floral heart of jasmine and rose and a warm, libidinous base of musk, cedarwood and creamy vanilla, it has decent projection and longevity on the skin.

It’s clearly doing something right because, although only just over a decade old, it’s already the company’s bestselling fragrance, with celebrity fans said to include Lil Wayne and David Beckham.

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Loewe solo cedro: £66, Libertylonden.com

Best: Fresh and spicy fragrance

Rating: 8/10

The Spanish luxury goods brand’s first men’s fragrance dedicated to wood, cedro (Spanish for cedar) is woody, as you might expect, but it’s spicy and aromatic too – piquant enough to hold your attention for several hours, before it mellows and morphs into something surprisingly sexy. We absolutely loved the simplicity and sophistication of the slimline bottle too.

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Earthy essentials

Though not a recognised fragrance category per se, there are a whole raft of men’s scents that exude a curiously sexy, earthy quality – usually thanks to two mainstays of men’s fragrance: patchouli and/or vetiver. They have a lovely, deep sensuality, making them perfect for evenings or date nights.

Hermès terre d’Hermès: £50.15, Johnlewis.com

Best: For all-round versatility

Rating: 9.5/10

We loved this timeless woody/spicy fragrance. Masculine, outdoorsy and superbly versatile, with notes of grapefruit, pink pepper, cedar, vetiver and gunflint (and yes, you can smell that), it’s widely regarded as a modern classic and we can see why.

Fresh enough for day but warm enough for evening, it has a relaxed and understated yet refined elegance, and great staying power on the skin. As the name suggests, its underlying character is earthy but in a mineral, rather than a damp soil, kinda way.

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Roja Parfums vetiver parfum pour homme: £375, Harrods.com

Best: Luxury fragrance

Rating: 9.5/10

At £375 for a 50ml bottle, this superb vetiver fragrance from acclaimed British perfumer Roja Dove is the very definition of exclusivity and luxury. Earthy, smoky and leathery, there’s a beautiful, bold sweetness to this fragrance, but also depth and complexity thanks to a stellar supporting cast including of “green”-smelling galbanum and cedar needles.

It’s elegant, grown-up and sexy and somehow manages to be both hyper-traditional yet delightfully contemporary. Pricey, yes, but one of the very best vetivers we tried and with super-impressive staying power to boot.

Best buy

Givenchy gentleman original: £34.67, Boots.com

Best: Masculine classic

Rating: 9/10

In the same way Abba didn’t need to co-opt current trends for their 2021 comeback, Givenchy gentleman has thumbed its nose at fads for nearly half a century, offering a timeless wood ‘n’ leather version of olfactory masculinity.

It might be one of the most famous patchouli fragrances out there, with more of the stuff than a happening at Woodstock, but it’s the leather accord, along with a sensual amber base note, which makes it supremely sexy and helps it swerve hippy territory. The confusingly titled “Gentleman Givenchy” shares similar DNA (via the patchouli) but isn’t a patch on this predecessor.

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Le Labo patchouli 24: £141, Harveynichols.com

Best: For staying power

Rating: 8/10

There are plenty of decent patchouli fragrances out there but for sheer power this one from cult brand Le Labo is unbeatable. Although there’s a big dose of patchouli in there, this potent brew is also intensely smoky and tarry – a bit like a patchouli bonfire.

Protection is huge, as is its longevity on the skin. We could smell it on our clothes for days. It’s not cheap but given it only requires a couple of sprays to make its presence known, meaning it’s actually excellent value for money.

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Beaufort fathom V: £115, Bloomperfume.co.uk

Best: For quirkiness

Rating: 8/10

Boutique fragrance house Beaufort, founded by musician and writer Leo Crabtree Sales, has a reputation for coming up with offbeat creations, and this is no exception. Despite the sea-related name, it’s a rich, deep, mossy and “green” fragrance, embracing an intensely earthy smell of wet soil, with accents of gin, black pepper and sea salt.

Dark, mysterious and challenging, it’s like nothing else on the market, and so is perfect for those seeking something quirky, niche and a little experimental. We reckon it’s the kind of fragrance Nick Cave might enjoy.

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Addictive aquatics

Clean fresh, salty and slightly bitter, aquatic or marine fragrances are redolent of sea spray. They’re easy to wear and make great daytime fragrances.

Chanel allure homme sport: £57.25, Feelunique.com

Best: Sport fragrance

Rating: 9/10

One spray of this and it’s easy to see why this sport version of allure is widely regarded as one of Chanel’s best fragrances for men. Fresh and citrusy with a bracingly fresh aquatic accord, it’s fresher, crisper and – dare we say it? – better than the original allure, eventually becoming warm, creamy and delicately sensual on the skin. Whether you’re a gym rat or a couch potato, we reckon this deserves a place in any man’s fragrance wardrobe.

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Giorgio Armani acqua di gio: £46.95, Amazon.co.uk

Best: Aquatic fragrance

Rating: 8/10

It may not be hip anymore, but Giorgio Armani’s legendary bestseller still smells fabulous a quarter of a century on from its launch. The citrus-meets-saltiness at its core reminds us of the bitter-but-delicious tang of a Margarita and it’s perfect for those who like fresh scents but not traditional colognes. It didn’t last quite as long on the skin as some of the other fragrances we tested but that’s a small gripe given how good it smells.

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Paco Robanne invictus: £42.45, Fragrancedirect.co.uk

Best: For fragrance newbies

Rating: 7.5/10

This fragrance’s enduring popularity with the scent-buying public suggests we’re not alone in appreciating its easy-to-wear marine freshness.

Crisp (with a slightly metallic edge), yet sweet and woody once it matures on the skin, it’s ferociously strong (headache inducingly so if you overdo it) and has the punch, longevity and youthful swagger of something you might wear to a nightclub. The perfect ‘beginner scent’ for younger guys.

Buy now

Fantastic fougères

One of the most popular men’s fragrance “families”, fougères are based around a blend of lavender, geranium, oakmoss and coumarin, which has a slightly hay-like smell. They have a clean, “barbershop” freshness that’s versatile and masculine, and modern fougères play with this basic structure to create a more contemporary feel.

Dior sauvage: £71.10, Boots.com

Best: Modern fougère

Rating: 9/10

To say Sauvage is a bit of a success is like saying Adele can hold a note. It’s more than a success: the world’s bestselling fragrance at the time of writing: a bona fide phenomenon, with a bottle sold every three seconds. It’s TikTok’s fave men’s fragrance too.

You can see why: one of the most commercial fragrances we tested, it avoids being polarising by taking the structure of a classic fougère and updating it. It’s fresh at first, then peppery and metallic then, after a few hours on the skin, creamy and delicately musky. Groundbreaking and intriguing it is not — but it’s fantastically wearable.

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Gucci guilty pour homme: £62.90, Boots.com

Best: All-weather fragrance

Rating: 8.5/10

The enduring popularity of this woody, aromatic fougère, with its big hit of lavender, orange blossom and lemon and soft, slightly powdery woody base of cedarwood and patchouli, proves you don’t need to feel guilty if you love it.

Commercial and inoffensive, with a pleasant, soapy, barbershop freshness, it makes a fantastic everyday, season-traversing fragrance and is one of those few scents you could buy blind for a gift and the recipient would not be disappointed.

Buy now

Montblanc legend: £28.95, Allbeauty.com

Best: Everyday fragrance

Rating: 8/10

Another aromatic fougère, featuring – as all good fougères should – a big hit of lavender, Montblanc’s best-known fragrance has been on bestsellers list since its launch back in 2011.

Making it stand out is a sweet, floral fruitiness that comes from Pomarose – an ingredient described as smelling somewhere between apple and a rose. Coumarin, meanwhile, gives it a lovely, soft biscuity finish. Longevity and projection are okay rather than amazing, but its versatility as both a day and evening scent is excellent.

Buy now

YSL Y for men: £44, Beales.co.uk

Best: For fussy teens

Rating: 8/10

A thoroughly modern fragrance, Y straddles a couple of fragrance families, dodging pigeon holes in the process. While delicately woody and spicy, there are traditional fougère facets there, too, with lavender, geranium and touch of vanilla, but it’s altogether subtler, lighter and airier than we expected.

There’s a lot going on here but the overall effect is dignified and subdued, making it perfect for younger guys who, research shows, prefer to wear fragrance rather than have fragrance wear them.

Buy now

Jean Paul Gaultier le male: £42.95, Fragrancedirect.co.uk

Best: Old school classic

Rating: 9/10

Described as an amber fougère, Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic signature fragrance takes the traditional fougère structure and completely subverts it, adding a massive dose of vanilla, warm, sensual amber and accents of mint, artemisia and orange blossom to create something traditionally masculine and yet... not. Sweet, heady and lingering, it’s as cheeky, imaginative and distinctive as Gaultier himself, and is that rarest, of things: a true modern classic. The bottle, of course, is iconic.

Buy now

Fabulous florals

Although there are few truly floral fragrances aimed directly at men, there’s absolutely no reason a man can’t rock a rose scent. C’mon, it’s 2022. Live a little.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian l’homme a la rose: £180, Harrods.com

Best: For floral newbies

Rating: 8/10

Francis Kurkdjian, the perfumer behind Jean Paul Gaultier le male (see above), created this lightly floral fragrance as a way to encourage men to experiment, and it’s perfect in that respect because the rose here is downplayed.

Cleverly Kurkdjian uses a sharp, citrusy grapefruit accord, crisp, refreshing green notes and herbaceous sage to prevent the rose from becoming too heady and overpowering, while sensual woods round things out, taking over as the grapefruit and rose fades.

Buy now

Czech & Speake no. 88: £98, Czechandspeake.com

Best: Men’s rose scent

Rating: 9/10

Hailing from the bombastic, in-your-face Eighties, this powerhouse woody floral fragrance from luxury grooming brand Czech & Speake fuses warm sandalwood and vetiver with heady, slightly debauched floral ones, dominated by the instantly recognisable, intoxicating scent of rose.

A little goes an awfully long way and it has the staying power of a marathon runner (it lasted nearly 24 hours on the skin, surviving a morning shower in the process). Not for the fainthearted, for sure, but if you’re looking for something that’s big and ballsy, it’s definitely worth knocking at the door of No 88.

Buy now

The verdict: Fragrances for men

We’ll be honest here; the more fragrances we sniffed the longer we wanted to make our list (there were many more we could have included but we had to stop somewhere and preferably before our nasal receptors gave out). If you’re looking for a safe bet – either for yourself or as a gift for someone else – you can’t go wrong with one of the blockbuster scents like sauvage or bleu de Chanel (just bear in mind that everyone else is buying them too).

Alternatively, try terre de Hermès – a superbly versatile fragrance that pulls off the tricky feat of being both original and commercial, without being bland. If money’s no object, Tom Ford’s neroli portofino and oud wood – one great for day and the other perfect for evening  –  effortlessly pass the sophistication test.

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