The fragrance market is a hugely overcrowded place – one where quality and price by no means walk hand-in-hand. To save you from those average aromas, here’s our list of 10 perfumes that are worth a second sniff.

Stepping up to the fragrance counter can be a daunting experience. Unless you come armed with a clear notion of what you’re looking for, you’ll likely end up on a wild goose chase through some seriously dubious aromas before settling on something you chose 95% for the bottle design (5% because it made the salesperson leave you alone).

Having stirred your senses into action last week with our beginner’s guide to scent and fragrance, we’re now back with details of how you can put that knowledge to good use. Read on for 10 of the best choices you can make when it comes to shopping for men’s perfume.

Acqua di Gio (Eau de Toilette)

This is one of the world’s most iconic and ubiquitous fragrances – and not without reason. Launched in 1996, Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio combines zesty top notes of lime, mandarin orange, jasmine and neroli, making it sweet and fresh enough that your wife or girlfriend might even steal a splash when you’re not looking.

As revolutionary as it was at launch, Acqua di Gio’s balance of light and airy aromas with woodier components has been copied by nearly every entry-level brand in the market, and as such might smell a little too familiar to those more discerning consumers in search of something more distinctive. A great addition to any collection but maybe not an ideal “signature” scent.

 

Kiehl’s Musk (Eau de Toilette)

This one is a quiet killer. An initially fresh scent gives way to a floral bouquet with hits of Rose and Lily, until that dries off into the scent everyone traditionally associates with the word “musk” i.e. a patchouli-heavy, oriental vision of outdoorsman’s masculinity.

One could easily imagine the Marlboro Man smelling like this. Kiehl’s quality is unparalleled and its trademark scent is a steal at under $50. Also available as an “essence oil” and even as a shower gel, this is a great option for guys who know what they like and don’t feel the need to deviate from it daily.

Terre d’Hermes (Eau de Toilette or Perfume)

Marketed as “a narrative of alchemy,” in reality it’s just a damn good fragrance. Woodsy, mineral and kissed with a distinct middle note of peppercorn, Terre d’Hermes brings the revered French house’s reputation for extremely good taste to life in aromatic form. This is an affordable, instantly recognizable trademark scent. If it smells good on your skin, add it to the collection without hesitation.

COMMES des GARÇONS x Monocle Scent One: Hinoki (Eau de Toilette)

This is a warm, distinct and sophisticated scent. Drawing inspiration from British tome of expensive taste Monocle’s love for all things Japanese, it features top notes indicative of the white cedar that hinoki are traditionally fashioned from. An additional bouquet consists of cypress, vetiver and thyme. It’s worldly, unique, creative, inviting yet hyper-masculine all at once. One could imagine Don Draper smelling something like this (alongside a hint of Tanqueray, of course). If you only have $100 to spend on a signature scent, the entire COMMES des GARÇONS portfolio is an excellent place to start.

 

Acqua di Parma Colonia (Eau de Cologne)

Fragrance-makers Acqua di Parma will turn 100 in 2016 and Colonia is the heritage scent to rule them all. The brand was established in the old town center of Parma during World War I, and Colonia was catapulted onto the global stage in the 1950s when Hollywood’s leading men began to discover the fragrance in Italy’s finest hotels and tailors.

Deemed to be for “a pragmatic and successful man who loves tradition,” its top notes are bright and citrusy, balanced with damask rose, lavender and sandalwood for a base. Every drop is produced under strict family supervision in Italy, so if you consider the Agnellis to be your version of the Kennedys, this is probably a great fragrance for you.

 

Santa Maria Novella Patchouli (Eau de Cologne)

Another heavy-hitting Italian perfume house, Santa Maria Novella was founded in Florence by Dominican Friars in 1221. With apothecary-style branding and world-renowned quality, Santa Maria Novella is celebrated for everything from its potpourri in terra cotta vats to its eau de Cologne, which it claims to have invented for Catherine de Medici. Being one of the oldest and most iconic ingredients employed for decorative scent by humans, Patchouli is a great place to start if you want to explore the catalogue of this most old-school fragrance brand. From there, we highly recommend you venture further and try mixing a few scents together.

 

Le Labo Vetiver 46 (Eau de Parfum)

Equal parts art and science, Le Labo is an excellent spot to source large format versions of your favorite fragrances. Vetiver 46 is abundant with exotic notes of lemongrass, olibanum, pepper, cedar and incense. As citronella is part of this same base family of Indian tall grasses, it is also an effective insect repellent – albeit a distinctly upmarket take on that concept! Luckily, it has equally potent powers of attraction when it comes to human noses.

 

Helmut Lang (Eau de Parfum)

This minimalist 100ml bottle packs a quiet bang for its buck. A real cult fragrance, the scent was unceremoniously discontinued years ago, and remained out of production until Helmut Lang fell under the watchful, darkly romantic eye of Alexandre Plokhov who chose to revive it in three variations. “Suggestive of a delicious intimacy,” the classic barbershop-inspired option is our choice, blooming with notes of parchouli, lavender, rosemary and orange tree wood. This is a daily wear scent that’s striking yet versatile.

 

Dior Homme Bois D’Argent (Perfume)

This perfume is a personal favorite: a 4.25oz bottle brimming with white musk, Tuscan iris and incense from Yemen. Part of La Collection Privée Christian Dior, Bois D’Argent represents a gigantic corporate fashion house spending every ounce of effort it has to get a luxury fragrance right and absolutely nailing it. There are no gimmicks here, short of the bottle’s trademark “black tie” magnetic cap (a functionality that’s only revealed to the owner upon opening). As far as price and product go, Bois D’Argent represents the pinnacle of fragrance design from a brand that could easily have simply hired a celebrity architect to sketch up a bottle, slap a $350 price tag on the liquid and probably sell just as much.

 

Creed Millesime Imperial (Eau de Parfum)

This is a statement fragrance in every sense of the word. As the literal gold standard for upscale fragrance, this unisex scent was created for a King, is a favorite of flashy Hollywood types and CEOs alike and is rumored to be worn by Jay Z. With crisp top notes of sea salt and citrus, middle notes of bergamot and Florentine Iris and a marine base amplified by wood and musk, Millesime Imperial is a bottle to keep on display and a scent that truly states “you’ve made it.”

Illustrations by Melissa Middleberg

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