Find the perfect fragrance for you with our pick of the best perfumes for men
Sniffing out the best perfumes for men – whether for yourself or as a gift for someone – is never easy. Like your taste in music, food or football, your preference for certain fragrances is intensely personal, influenced by everything from past experience and your own individual sense of smell to the size of your wallet. Fragrance reacts differently on individuals’ skin, too, meaning that what smells good on one man may smell completely different you. This isn’t a bad thing; on the contrary, it’s what makes fragrance such a uniquely personal and engaging experience.
The question is, given the (ever-expanding) number of fragrances out there, where do you begin to find one that’s just right for you? In an attempt to help, we’ve narrowed the field down to a few perfumes that are award-winning, critically acclaimed or so successful they simply can’t be ignored. We think there’s something here for everyone – from fresh, understated scents you can wear to work to sensual evening numbers that exude the ‘nuzzle factor’ we expect date-worthy fragrances to have.
Our little guide on how to wear and look after the smelly stuff will help you get the most out of your investment too. Gen up and you’ll be an overlord of the eau de toilette in no time.
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How to choose the best men’s perfume for you
What’s the difference between eau de cologne, eau de toilette and eau de parfum?
On the perfume strength podium, third place is taken by colognes, which are light, fresh, contain around 2-4% fragrance compounds and will keep you smelling sweet for between two to four hours. They’re the least concentrated of all the fragrance types.
Second place is taken by eau de toilettes. The most common strength of modern fragrances, they contain between 5-15% aromatic compounds and generally last between four to five hours on the skin. In first place, though, are the eau de parfums which can contain up to 20% aromatic compounds and will linger on the skin for eight hours or more.
Forget about that – anything that stings when you apply it isn’t doing your mush any good. It’s actually quite difficult to find aftershave these days as it’s a concentration that’s fallen out of favour, though the term remains as shorthand for any men’s fragrance, in the way that ‘cologne’ is used as a blanket term for men’s fragrance in the US.
Why does the smell of a fragrance change as it wears off?
That’s to do with how it’s constructed. The first thing you smell are the ‘top’ notes. Often citrusy and molecularly light, these only last a couple of minutes. Then the ‘middle’ or ‘heart’ notes emerge and finally, after an hour or so the heavier ‘base notes’ put in an appearance. These are the ones that last the longest on the skin. In the same way the hidden complexity of a good whisky emerges in the mouth, the nuances of a fragrance emerge in stages on the skin.
Where’s the best place to apply a perfume?
The traditional places — the pulse points on the neck and wrists — aren’t necessarily the best places, as their slightly elevated temperature, coupled with the fact that skin is exposed to air, means fragrance often tends to burn off faster. For a longer-lasting effect apply to the chest, biceps or collarbone instead. Since these areas are covered with clothes you’ll trap the fragrance next to your skin but they’ll still waft up wards as you move. Experiment with other places, too, like the crook of the back.
How much should I use?
Probably less that you think. There’s a fine line between a fragrance being an ‘eau yes!’ and an ‘eau no!’ (Be especially careful If you’re wearing a scent to impress a member of the opposite sex as women have a better sense of smell than men, so less is definitely more.)
As a rule of thumb, people should only be able to smell you when they step inside your own personal “scent circle” – about an arm’s length from your body.
To avoid olfactory overload, etiquette experts Debrett’s recommend applying no more than two or three squirts. Remember, too, that heat amplifies perfume so go easy in the summer and be more liberal with the scent in the winter.
How can I get the most out of my fragrance?
Like a fine wine, fragrance benefits from proper storage – away from the sun and somewhere where there aren’t too many temperature fluctuations – and yet according to a Perfume Direct survey, only 16% of us store fragrance correctly, with 39 per cent storing it in the bathroom.
To prevent your fragrance from spoiling and to maximise its self-life, keep it in its original box once opened and somewhere cool. Once opened, it should stay good for around two years before the scent is affected, though many last much longer, with only minor changes in smell.
How we test men’s perfume
A few key – and time honoured – metrics come into play when assessing perfume. First is projection (how far the fragrance ‘projects’ its scent away from the body). Second is sillage (pronounced ‘see-yahzh’), which relates to the fragrance trail a perfume leaves in its wake. The third is longevity or how long it remains noticeable on the skin after it’s applied.
To evaluate these criteria, we apply three sprays of each fragrance (one on the wrist and two on the chest) and note how the scent performs both initially and five hours later.
As a journalist who’s been writing about fragrance for over twenty years, I also apply my expertise to assess each fragrance’s originality, complexity and all-round versatility. Since it’s important that a fragrance gets the wearer noticed, I also canvas the opinion of friends and family on each fragrance’s overall appeal too.
Tom Ford has produced some of the best and most enduring contemporary fragrances for men (see a round-up of our favourites here), but the undisputed star of his top-end Private Blend collection is the iconic Oud Wood.
Oud itself – one of Middle Eastern perfumery’s best-loved and most familiar notes – is distinctively warm and smoky but can be overpowering if it’s overplayed. Recognising this, Ford dials things down slightly by surrounding it with creamy tonka bean, warm, soft sandalwood and sensual amber, never allowing the oud to dominate.
This makes for a wonderfully rich, woody and slightly smoky evening fragrance that exudes the simmering sensuality of the Tom Ford brand. Like all the fragrances in the designer’s premium collection, it comes with a premium price tag but thanks to its complexity, irresistible sensuality and great staying power on the skin we reckon it’s worth every penny.
Key details – Strength: Eau de parfum; Key notes: Oud wood, sandalwood, tonka bean, amber
2. Acqua di Parma Colonia: Best fresh and citrusy scent for men
Price: £82 for 50ml | Buy now from John Lewis
Astonishingly, Acqua di Parma’s best-selling unisex fragrance was launched over a hundred years ago (in 1916 to be precise) and remains as popular today as it was back then – a feat most fragrances can only dream of. This olfactory timelessness is rooted in a classic cologne construction that merges an attention-grabbing hit of citrus fruits with aromatic herbs like lavender and rosemary.
What guarantees Colonia’s longevity as a fragrance (and its longevity on the skin), however, is its warm woody base featuring notes of vetiver, sandalwood and earthy patchouli. This allows it to be a supremely versatile scent that’s not only perfect for daytime and for work but for the evening too. Understated, sophisticated and genuinely timeless, it’s a scent all men should have as part of their fragrance ‘wardrobe’.
Key details – Strength: Eau de cologne; Key notes: Lemon, bergamot, lavender, sandalwood
3. Bentley For Men: Best value for money fragrance
Price: £60 for 100ml | Buy now from Harrods
Bentley might be a brand synonymous with luxury motorcars, but the company also happens to produce some superb fragrances bearing the brand’s name too. It’s the first creation, simply titled Bentley For Men, that’s the undisputed star of the line-up though. Created by top French perfumer Nathalie Lorson – the ‘nose’ behind Gentleman Givenchy – it’s a delightfully piquant-yet-sensual blend of spicy black pepper, warm seductive leather and earthy patchouli. It also features a note of the moment – herbaceous clary sage.
A brilliantly well-rounded and versatile fragrance it’s also brilliant value for money, smelling far more expensive than it is, and since Bentley is a bit under the radar in terms of fragrance you’ll be wearing something not every other man in the street is wearing. As you might expect, given that it’s from Bentley, the heavyweight bottle is a real looker too.
Key details – Strength: Eau de toilette; Key notes: Black pepper, bay leaves, leather accord, clary sage, rum, patchouli
4. Penhaligon’s Sports Car Club: Best new fragrance
Price: £152 for 100ml | Buy now from Selfridges
If you’re the kind of guy who likes to have the latest of everything, this new male-orientated fragrance from venerable British fragrance house Penhaligon’s is definitely worth investigating.
Like the majority of Penhaligon’s fragrances, it’s a talking point fragrance, defying convention, very much doing its own thing creatively. The result isn’t a leathery number inspired by the smell of automobile interiors as you might expect but something unique, challenging and beautifully ‘out there’.
Aromatic and ‘green’ (think vegetation) it’s built around the earthy smell of patchouli and comforting woody notes but then throws in a punchy, almost medicinal, hit of camphor and pine. This unexpected combo could be a car crash but somehow it works – and brilliantly.
Quirky and challenging, it’s perfect for fragrance connoisseurs or those who like a fragrance that stands out from the crowd. And who can resist a be-ribboned Penhaligon’s bottle?
Key details – Strength: Eau de parfum; Key notes: Pink pepper, cypress, eucalyptus, patchouli
5. Boss Bottled: Best for versatility
Price: £54 for 50ml | Buy now from Superdrug
One of the most popular men’s fragrances of all time and one rarely out of best-seller lists, Boss Bottled is the very definition of a contemporary classic. Woody, warm, spicy and fruity, it opens with a big juicy apple note (one fairly rare in men’s fragrances) which gives it a wonderfully enticing crispness.
Combine this with spicy cinnamon, warm woods and sensual amber, and you have a ‘traditionally masculine’ smelling fragrance that works just as well in the boardroom as it does in the bedroom. It’s this unashamed versatility that’s the key to its enduring success and why it’s popular with men from 17 or 70.
There are lots of spins offs of the fragrance available (the heavier, more seductive Boss Bottled Night being one of the better ones) but it’s the original that’s the best.
Key details – Strength: Eau de toilette; Key notes: Apple, geranium, cinnamon, vetiver, cedarwood
6. Dior Sauvage: Best fragrance for gifting
Price: £57 for 30ml refillable bottle | Buy now from Dior
Currently the world’s best-selling fragrance, a bottle of Sauvage is sold every three seconds and it’s TikTok’s favourite men’s fragrance. Why? Well, it just happens to be a fantastically commercial, wearable, great-smelling fragrance.
Created by master perfumer François Demachy, this fresh, citrusy, slightly spicy and woody number covers lots of bases, adding a hefty dose of sexiness with the inclusion of ambroxian – a sweet, musky, animalic note that’s a synthetic version of ambergris. (Ambergris being regurgitated whale sick in solid form which has a distinctive, musky aroma.)
Sexy without being overtly so, it can be worn in pretty much any situation by any man, making it the ideal choice if you’re buying blind or are looking for a bulletproof gifting choice. Just keep the whale thing to yourself, okay?
Key details – Strength: Eau de toilette; Key notes: Pink pepper, lavender, bergamot, vetiver, ambroxian, cedar
7. Creed Aventus: Best luxury perfume for men
Price: £210 for 50ml | Buy now from CreedfragrancesLaunched in 2010, Creed’s award-winning Aventus is already the company’s best-selling scent ever, and it’s easy to see why: a big, ballsy, crowd-pleaser of a fragrance, it’s fruity, woody and sexy with bags of ‘the nuzzle factor’ all fragrances aim to have (trust us, people will definitely want to get closer when you’re wearing it).
If we have any criticism, it’s about the price: it’s famously expensive, but then Creed is a luxury brand whose fans include everyone from Prince Charles and Jay Z. Perhaps longevity on the skin could be a bit better too, though it still lasts around four hours and only improves as it develops on the skin.
Key details – Strength: Eau de parfum; Key notes: Lemon, blackcurrant, pineapple, jasmine, ambergris, oakmoss