A fragrance needn’t slap you (or your fellow commuters) in the face. Yes, you want to turn heads, but you want to do it for the right reasons. On a date, the aim should be to make your dining companion lean in for a closer sniff, not leave them feeling like they’ve just huffed glue for an hour and a half.
That’s where notes such as neroli come in. Sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum to dark, oriental scents like oud and vetiver that hang thickly in the air, neroli fragrances are fresh – delicate, even.
The oils, extracted from bitter orange blossoms, were first used by Marie Orsini, princess of Nerola, Italy, during the 17th century to scent her gloves and bath water. The note became so popular in the area that others began calling it neroli after its home and founder.
Granted, silk gloves may be a step too far for a man in the modern world (and no one should bathe in a fragrance), but taking style tips from royalty is no bad thing. As a top note, neroli is incredibly versatile and, when deployed correctly, makes the ideal olfactory addition to your bathroom cabinet.
What Is Neroli?
Neroli is an essential oil extracted from the blossoms of the bitter orange tree, produced largely in two geographical regions: Tunisia and Morocco.
“It’s a real labour of love – the orange blossoms are often picked by hand in early spring,” says fragrance blogger Lee-Ann Hodgekins of The Perfume Expert. “It’s only then that the fragrant oil can be extracted by a process of steam distillation.”
Once distilled, neroli is multifaceted: crisp and citrusy, but with a heady floral side. Despite coming from the same plant, neroli is also typically fresher than its orange flower absolute counterpart, which tends to be sweeter.
“Neroli’s green and white floral facets present a […] refreshing odour profile that doesn’t feel heavy,” explains Thomas Dunckley, of the award-winning blog The Candy Perfume Boy. “But it’s also one that carries both complexity and depth.”
Neroli In Fragrance
In fragrances, neroli is traditionally used as part of an eau de cologne, a low-concentrated type of scent that can also be used on the face and body.
“It’s often used as a top or heart note and is quite volatile, so won’t stay on the skin for very long on its own,” says Emmanuelle Moeglin, a classically trained nose and founder of bespoke fragrance service the Experimental Perfume Club. “Therefore, it needs to be paired with stronger, more long-lasting ingredients within a composition.”
This makes it an ideal floral note for men’s cologne that is more measured than the full-blown bouquet that you’re likely to find in a female fragrance.
With all that knowledge on lock and your career as a nose now all but formalised – it’s time to find out the fragrance that best deserves its place in your wash bag.
Which Neroli To Choose?
Because of its perfect pairing with citrus, neroli is often used in clean and fresh, colognes.
“Colognes based around neroli are perfect for men who gravitate to those clean, sporty scents,” says Hodgekins. And, regardless of your tastes, neroli will be first in class as the ideal fragrance for summer due to its unending freshness.
But there are variations within this class of light and fresh scents. Whether you’re in the market for a fragrance that works as a daily dose or pre-date top-up, gym bag hero or holiday essential, here are some of the best options to splash (out) on.
Everyday Sporty Neroli
When Neroli is paired heavily with citrus it can give you that fresh-out-of-the-shower smell that you wish you could – and now can – take with you all day.
“Creed’s Neroli Sauvage combines pure neroli with a heavy dose of all thing’s citrus to create a fragrance that is zesty, fresh, and clean,” says Hodgekins. It’s this zest that makes it an ideal match for athletic men who enjoy the energising uplift it gives them.
Elsewhere, Le Labo Neroli 36 is a mixture of neroli with other citrus notes plus jasmine and rose that develops into a refreshingly clean, powdery fragrance. That’s the post-shower feel without the need for an old-fashioned cloud of talc, then. Which is a relief.
Summer Getaway Neroli
The most popular neroli fragrance on the market right now is Tom Ford’s unisex fragrance, Neroli Portofino. “It is the classic combination of delicate neroli with zesty citrus fruits, but also includes green herbs like rosemary and myrtle, and ends with a smooth amber,” says Hodgekins. Which, in non-nose speak, means that Neroli Portofino is arguably the perfect summer holiday scent, best enjoyed on a Mediterranean veranda.
For the more adventurous there is Basil & Neroli by Jo Malone London. “It’s a big, juicy and green fragrance, all steamy and hot like a rainforest, created by the clash of vibrant, floral neroli and savoury basil,” says Dunckley. “It’s a trek through the Amazon in a bottle.” Just with fewer spiders.
Sophisticated & Romantic
Neroli does transfer across from daytime sport and sun, you just need to know where to look. Neroli Outrenoir by Guerlain sees the golden note of neroli paired with a base of black tea. “The result is a suave, sophisticated neroli that smells great paired with black tie,” says Dunckley.
Likewise, Eau de Neroli Dore by Hermes is one of the more unusual neroli fragrances that suits after hours. “It is an interplay of neroli and bitter orange, with a clash of saffron,” says Dunckley. “It has an elegance that speaks of that refined quirkiness which Hermes is famous for.” Two sprays to come across as refined and quirky? We’ll take that.