Men’s colognes: a grooming minefield more treacherous than a student’s bathroom cabinet. One wrong spray and you’ll be doused in a pungent musk that makes you smell like a seventies boardroom. Or it could go the other way and you step out of the house in something that’s marketed as ‘gender neutral’ but actually leaves the impression of your grandmother’s flower bed. Finding an in-between is hard.
Worse, most men think they know what colognes are. They don’t, says Will Andrews, head of training at fragrance juggernaut Coty. “Technically speaking, eau de cologne – to give its full name – is a low concentration, harmonious blend of essential oils extracted from citrus fruits and Mediterranean herbs, and often with an orange flower note to soften the composition.” Consider yourself told.
First, A Little History
Cologne is traditionally defined by its saccharine body, as opposed to anything overtly masculine, explains Andrews: “Since eau de cologne’s commercialisation by Farina in the early 1700s, the fragrance is traditionally of a fresh, sweet character that was considered extraordinary when compared to the stench of unwashed Europe.” Nice.
And while Farina’s original concoction exists today, the advent of personal hygiene has muddied our understanding of colognes at large. “Post-World War II, the term was co-opted by brands pitching to men that were uncomfortable with the idea of fragrance as ‘perfume’ – a product with feminine connotations,” says Andrews.
“Cologne then came to represent any male fragrance, especially in North America. This is still technically incorrect… but the term has taken on a more generic meaning.”
If we go by said definition, know that what you’re buying will be a lighter concentration of ingredients that has less staying power than both eau de parfum and eau de toilette. As an example, where an EDT will offer between 5-15 per cent aromatic compounds, an eau de cologne packs only 2-5 per cent.
However, sometimes lighter is better, and there is certainly no shortage of excellent choices out there. Here are 10 of the best.
Tom Ford Neroli Portofino
Finally: some Tom Ford we can actually afford. The Private Blend collection has long been hailed a new fragrance classic, and with ever-popular notes of orange blossom, bergamot and lemon, it’s not difficult to see why.
Sure, it’s still wildly expensive, but this neroli powerhouse is a mere fraction of the tailored stuff and makes for the perfect luxury spritz before a big occasion, such as a wedding or date.
Fresh Cannabis Santal
Don’t be alarmed by the name. Cannabis Santal’s Fresh offers a hit from the bottle rather than the bong – and it’s one laced with fresh, grassy edges (not that kind of grass) and lighter vanilla layers.
It’s an easygoing summer scent that’s ideal for every day use. Plus, the only charge for possession here is the modest sum at the checkout.
Yves Saint Laurent L’Homme Sport
Sporty fragrances are, by their very nature, a fresher and more energetic spritz. Just take Yves Saint Laurent’s L’Homme Sport. With a longer-lasting vetiver mix, this cardamon-laced scent will suit your post-shower, post-workout lift better than any heavy woody musk.
It may be France’s oldest fashion house, but Lanvin’s L’Homme is far from a granddad’s go-to. In fact, this classic blend combines woody and flowery notes with something a little unexpected: mint, to pack some freshness for this century and the next.
Jo Malone Jasmine Sambac & Marigold
Sounds like the winner of the Chelsea Flower Show, actually smells Mr Ripley on A Passage to India. Yes, Jo Malone’s Jasmine Sambac & Marigold is as idiosyncratic as the brand has become renowned for, but it still melds a warm fruity aroma with an injection of dew and ylang ylang.
Acqua Di Parma Essenza Di Colonia
It doesn’t get much fresher than Acqua di Parma, a brand that can make legitimate claim to some of the best fragrances of all time.
Inspired by the Amalfi coast, Essenza di Colonia has remained a firm cologne favourite since its 2010 launch, and piqued both nostrils and romantic interests alike thanks to a blend of lighter citrus notes with a masculine, woody base. The matte black bottle looks as good as its contents smell, too.
Armani Acqua Di Gio Homme
Armani’s Acqua di Gio is a classic fragrance for a reason. The summertime staple packs citrus tones, aquatic notes and sweet, fruity scents that are as appropriate for your next wedding invitation as a less-refined July bar crawl. It’s sure to mask the inevitable alcohol sweats the next morning, too.
Versace isn’t all wet-look gel and rippling torsos. Okay, so it kind of is. But you needn’t reach for the budgie smugglers to channel Donatella’s lads. Instead, Eros gives you citrus notes by way of the Orient – think Italian lemons and geranium flowers – for a scent more intense than the usual colognes (but thankfully less so than the accompanying ad campaign).
Commes Des Garçons Amazingreen
Commes des Garçons has never played by the rules, and its olfactory designs are no exception. By enlisting palm and jungle leaves, the left-field label swaps Sorrento freshness for something with a bit more punch: this typically stylish bottle comes with an aroma of gunpowder, coriander and some fine-smelling vetiver.
Diesel Only The Brave Tattoo
Never judge a sniff by its bottle. Nor should you ever write off Diesel fragrances. Separating itself from the ripped denim and unfortunate Eurotrash associations, Only The Brave Tattoo stands out by enveloping tobacco and patchouli within lighter notes of zesty-sweet apple and mandarin. Much more grown-up than you might first think.