If you are a woman who loves to wear fragrance but only if it's not too floral or girly, maybe it's time to expand your choices. This year, why not try a men's scent?
Odd? Not at all. Much, if not most, fragrance is unisex. It's mainly the packaging, marketing and strength of the fragrance that categorize it as "male" or "female" and determine in which part of the department store the bottle is sold.
"I think it's really quite outmoded to talk in terms of male and female fragrance anyhow," says Mandy Aftel, owner and perfumer of Aftelier Perfumes, an artisinal perfumery in Berkeley. "It's interesting, when men get to chose what fragrances they like purely from smell, they'll often include florals, and women will choose to include something tobacco-y and woodsy. It's really about balance and what you personally like."
For women choosing a fragrance marketed to men, it's best to bypass what your macho neighbor wears — you know the guy who still thinks Canoe is "a heck of a cologne." Rather, spray on something crisp, fresh, tangy and a bit edgy. Here are some of our choices — some longtime classics, others quite 21st century. We've included a sampling of prices at some retailers where they can be found.
Eau d'Hadrien, by Annick Goutal
This is the men's fragrance I love to wear myself and have used it for years. I'll sample and often buy anything by Goutal. Her scents are crisp and light without cloying notes.
Annick Goutal was something of a perfume late bloomer, having already had successful careers as both a classical pianist and model when she found herself diagnosed with breast cancer and alone with a baby (Camille Goutal, who today runs her late mother's perfume business.) She studied fragrance for many years before launching one of her first fragrances in 1981, Eau d'Hadrien.
Originally made as a men's scent, it is so often bought by women that, like many other originally male scents, it is now sold as a unisex fragrance. The original male scent is decidedly citrus: Sicilian lemon, citron, grapefruit, green mandarin, cypress, some aldehyde notes and ylang-ylang. Annick's inspiration was the novel "Memoirs of Hadrien," a historic novel about the Roman emperor's life.
Many of Goutal's men's fragrances (which come in square bottles rather than the more feminine fluted ones used for many of the firm's scents for women) are worn easily by females. Two other top Goutal men's scents that are loved by women are Eau de Sud and Mandragore, according to the company.
1.7 ounces eau de toilette, $95; 3.4 ounces, $160 at Neiman Marcus.
Silver Mountain Water, by Creed
The prominent Parisian fragrance house Creed is a perennial favorite among women who love to wear men's fragrance. Started in London in 1760 by James Creed and passed from father to son to this day, the company says about a third of its top men's fragrances are bought by women to wear themselves.
Silver Mountain Water, launched in 1995, is master perfumer Olivier Creed's favorite fragrance for himself, inspired by his love of skiing. So many women bought it to wear, it is now sold as a unisex fragrance.
A fresh/green scent, its top notes are bergamot and mandarin with middle notes of green tea and black currant and base notes of galbanum, musk, sandalwood and petitgrain. The company describes the modern fragrance as "evok[ing] sparkling streams of water coursing through the snow-topped alps of Switzerland." It is indeed bracing and clean, like a sweet slap of citrus-y freshness.
1 ounce flask, $130; 4 ounces, $270 at Neiman Marcus.
Gendarme, by Gendarme
Gendarme's creator, Topper Schroeder, says he was merely "a fragrance consumer who didn't know which way was up," when he embarked in 1983 on developing a men's scent he could wear that would not irritate his allergies.
His signature original Gendarme scent launched in 1991 and quickly became a California cult favorite; Southern California celebrities adored it. Word of mouth on the scent was big, and it's now sold globally in more than 1,000 upscale stores.
"What is so great about Gendarme?" asks Cheri Botiz, national beauty and fragrance director for Nordstrom. "It's a completely clean, fresh, uncomplicated scent. It's one of my favorites. I love it on men and I love it for myself. You can't wear it without someone stopping you in the street and asking what is that you're wearing. For me, if there was only one fragrance left I could own and wear, it would be Gendarme."
Schroeder claims "close to 40% of our market is sold to women who wear it themselves," and there is now a female version called Carriere. The original Gendarme has top notes of citrus and verbena, middle notes of jasmine and thyme and a base note of leather. "This isn't a scent that shouts 'Oh, I'm wearing a cologne, notice me,'" Schroeder says. "Rather, it augments who and what you are. Business women seem to especially love it."
2 ounces eau de cologne, $52.50 in Nordstrom stores and at nordstrom.com.