How To Find The Men's Fragrance That Works For You

Whether you’re searching for your signature scent or you find women’s fragrances are just too sweet, these 3 steps can simplify the search.
Publish date:
August 16, 2013
chanel, fragrances, perfumes, colognes, men

I am a creature of nostalgia, and as such, I have developed deep, though sometimes strange, connections to specific sounds, smells, stories.

Name a song and I can produce the moment in time in which it resides in my memory. “U Can’t Touch This” is dancing at Keri Bittinger’s twelfth birthday party. “Sour Times” is driving to the mall for back-to-school shopping with a friend who, I distinctly remember, turned to me and said, “This song is so you.” (Thanks?) “Livin’ on a Prayer” is listening to a boom box on the back of the bus, duh.

Drakkar Noir is one of my favorite college boyfriends. He was English, lean, witty, and he smelled very good. My gut reaction was to deride him for his cologne choices, but I couldn’t. It was that nice. Cool Water is the boy to whom I lost my virginity, and unfortunately, it is a vulgar scent.

I can’t imagine what sorts of memories I have left in my wake. In ninth grade I alternated between patchouli oil and Calvin Klein Eternity. In college I went through a Jessica McClintock phase. Post-college New York was Fresh Index Violet Moss or Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir or Fracas or DKNY Cashmere Mist. These scents are all over the place, and if displayed on a vanity, they wouldn’t tell a cohesive story. Who is this woman?

I like perfume--I just do--and if I were left to it without supervision (but with an unlimited budget) I could easily acquire scads of fragrances, and you’d find my corpse one day amid the bottles and moldy pizza boxes and kitten skeletons. Luckily, I have emerged from the confused, erratic fog of my youth to discover which notes and accords speak to my INNER BEING. Yes, really.

Now that I know what I’m looking for, I just choose a signature scent, right? Mais non! It is not that easy, my pets! Sometimes I want something lighter for warm days, or something sexier for nights out on the town. Sometimes my perfume is JUST. TOO. GIRLY. Is that possible?

Well, actually, I’ve found that on my skin, some fragrances sit very sweetly. Some florals go overripe like roses that have been sitting in the same vase of water for too long. I don’t want to smell like a baby prostitute or even the peaches in the baby prostitute’s kitchen. Or cotton candy--ugh, stop with that, too.

Enter (dramatic pause): MEN'S FRAGRANCES

It’s not that dramatic at all, really, but it could be the key to finding the ultimate signature scent. Ever since I started hating CK One in high school (BORING!), I have fiddled with the idea of unisex scent. (I briefly wore Dolce & Gabbana The One for Men, but that is totally different). But what is unisex anyway? Anything can be “unisex” if you want to go there. The cologne police will not track you down and do a genital check if you want to buy a vat of English Leather.

However, the search for a fitting men’s cologne can be daunting. I would not recommend spending an afternoon spritzing in a department store lest you end up smelling like Sex Panther. I wouldn’t recommend that approach for locating any scent, but I am prone to headaches.

Here’s a more organized approach to playing with the sexy, exciting, swinging-both-ways, androgynous scents.


Take a look at the perfumes you already know you like. What notes do they contain? If you’re not sure, consult an online perfume encyclopedia. I like Fragrantica for this purpose. Learn about olfactory families and accords while you’re there.

In my case, I love Chanel No. 19 for summer days, and I just started wearing Miss Dior Le Parfum for nighttime or special occasion. I covet, and plan to one-day splurge on, Chanel Bois des Iles. When I consult my encyclopedia, I find the following notes:

• Chanel No. 19: A woody, green floral. Green notes and bergamot, rose, iris, vetiver, oakmoss and leather

• Miss Dior Le Parfum: Oriental chypre with floral notes. Mandarin, Bulgarian rose absolute, Turkish rose absolute, patchouli, amber and vanilla

• Chanel Bois des Iles: Woody, balmy. Aldehydes, bergamot, neroli and peach, jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, woody iris and ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, benzoin and musk

After considering each perfume and what I like about each one, I decided to search for a men’s cologne in the spicy or woody family with notes of sandalwood, amber, leather, patchouli, oakmoss or bergamot.

This left me with quite a few options, so I used reviews and name recognition to help cull the herd. I fell in love with a few descriptions from niche fragrance houses, but I also selected from the designers I already wear, Chanel and Dior.


As Kara mentioned a few weeks ago, if you have an Internet connection, you can get your hands on perfume samples. Once you have narrowed down your choices, hop to it! I ordered my niche scents from Lucky Scent which has the added bonus of providing a feminine-masculine scale to show where on the continuum each scent falls. I relied on the old trusty Perfumed Court for my “I like their women’s scents” designer fragrance samples.

Here’s what I chose and their description:

• Histoires de Parfums 1740 Marquis de Sade: Main accords: leather, balmy, spicy. Top notes: bergamot and davana sensualis. Heart: patchouli coriander and cardamom. Base: cedar, elemi, leather and labdanum.

• Bois 1920, Classic 1920: Main accords: spicy, aromatic, woody. Top notes: bergamot, lemon, nutmeg, juniper, basil and paprika. Heart: rose, jasmine, osmanthus, cedar, apricot and lavender. Base: amber, vetiver, sandalwood, musk, tobacco and caraway.

• Dior Homme: Main accords: powdery, aromatic, woody. Top notes: lavender, sage and bergamot. Heart: iris, amber, cacao and cardamom. Base: patchouli, leather and Tahitian vetiver.

• Chanel Egoiste: Main accords: woody, spicy, balmy. Top notes: rosewood and coriander. Heart: Bulgarian rose, carnation and cinnamon. Base: sandalwood, vanilla and ambrette seeds.

I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I try my samples. Oh boy!


It’s important to try each sample on your skin and do not judge them from first sniff alone. I mean, take note of how it “opens” on you, but also consider how the scent evolves and changes. How long does the scent last? How strong is the sillage? That is, how close will others have to be to smell it on you, and how important is that to you?

I had so much fun testing and tracking my samples that I kept a little diary. I caught myself sniffing my arms throughout the day in a manner that might make my coworkers think I’m a pervert, but it was essential for uber-nerd perfume reviewing. Plus, I am a pervert.

For brevity’s sake, I won’t share every detail of my scent diary. However, I will stress this: A list of notes will not communicate the heart of the fragrance. What sounds glorious on paper might be a train wreck and something seemingly yawnsville might be the magic juice of your dreams.

My Dior Homme smelled like plastic and lipstick and rotten flowers on me. It got a “Oh my god. Is that you?!” from the ol' husband. I might pass the Bois 1920 along to him, though it might not smell as yummy and citrusy on him. Also, the longevity was disappointing.

Chanel Egoiste actually smelled most feminine to me, and I’m guessing that’s because of the rose. It reminded me of lemony violet, which makes no sense based on the list of notes. Anyhow. I found it quite lovely and refreshing.

The real winner in my search for a signature men’s fragrance is the 1740 by Histoires de Parfums. It opens in an almost medicinal way, with a hint of dried fruit or maple syrup. Then very quickly it goes smooth, creamy, and woody. The cedar pokes through and I smell like a very expensive closet, or maybe a dungeon. There are hints of burnt caramel, and old library book, and smoke, and warm skin. It’s a fragrance that won’t make your partner turn and say, “Hey baby, you smell like pretty flowers.” However, it makes me feel very cozy and sexy. I foresee myself wearing this while curled up in a sweater by myself. Reading. Alone.

Do any of you wear men’s fragrance? Willing to try? What are your favorite non-perfume perfumes? I clearly like smelling like a dungeon, so anything goes.