Classic men’s fragrances have earned their kudos and will bring an element of unmistakable style and sophistication to your repertoire.
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It’s always a good idea to keep your fragrance wardrobe up to date with quality new releases. This will keep your options fresh and contemporary.
However, many new men’s fragrances arrive amid a blur of marketing hype and fade into obscurity just as quickly. That’s why it’s vital to balance your fragrance wardrobe with the contemporary and the classics.
There are numerous classic colognes to consider adding to your collection. So this selection is just a snap-shot of some of the greats on offer. Names of perfumers and the original launch dates are provided where possible after the name of the fragrance.
Our Top Picks for Favorite Men’s Classic Colognes
Jean-Claude Ellena, 2009
Whenever you wear this fragrance you might find yourself asking (rhetorically), “Has bitter orange ever opened a fragrance so magnificently?”
Yet there’s more to Terre d’Hermès Parfum than its trademark citrus introduction. Its flint note adds an unusual and earthy mineral aspect, which evolves into an almost burnt treatment of oakmoss, woody and benzoin notes.
Not for nothing is Terre d’Hermès Parfum regarded as one of perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena’s masterpieces. Watch the compliments roll in when you wear this one.
One of the biggest names in the niche fragrance industry, Acqua di Parma’s fragrance line was launched in 1916 with this remarkable scent. Over 100 years later, it’s still one of the best-sophisticated men’s fragrances on the market.
And for good reason. A lot of that has to do with the way this cologne conjures up all sorts of images of the good life, Italian style.
Acqua di Colonia begins with a deliciously sharp-ish flourish of Sicilian citrus notes (lemon, sweet orange, Calabrian bergamot). It’s one of the most distinctive cologne openings around that’s impossible to resist. The heart goes into more herbal territory with lavender, verbena and rosemary notes.
This eventually gives way to a base of subtle, yet uplifting vetiver, sandalwood and patchouli.
Jacques Polge, 1981
This is one of the undisputed classics of modern perfumery. All perfumers looking to create a new and unashamedly distinctive masculine fragrance beyond today’s formulaic releases should study this one.
Macho yet sophisticated at the time, it’s one of the best male powerhouses around, even 18 years after its original release. Unashamedly woody and smoky, it’s animalic a-go-go and features stand-out notes of citrus, myrrh, oakmoss, rose, patchouli and labdanum.
It’s not for everyone, but that’s part of its charm.
Pierre Bourdon, 1981
Another big-hitter from the 80s with seductive musky and animalic overtones that are still going strong almost 20 years later.
Featuring 20 listed notes, it’s a complex thing of beauty, with standout notes of coriander, patchouli, aldehydes, honey, musk and leather creating a powerfully seductive effect.
It’s been reformulated over the years, but even in its current version, it’s well worth sniffing out. Contrary to popular belief, this is not an “old man’s fragrance” and has much to reveal to a younger generation.
Anne Flipo, Pierre Wargnye & Dominique Ropion, 2009
This fragrance smells very familiar to you, even though it’s the first time you have tried it, that’s because it’s become the template for countless other seductive scents.
The mix of cardamom, cedar and tonka bean notes is warm, cozy and sensual, but never overpowering. This classic men’s fragrance is too good to only wear at night or for dates.
As it heads for its 10th year on the market, it’s still as good as when it was initially launched.
Jean-Claude Ellena, 1998
With its fresh, spicy citrus, woody and aromatic layers, this classic men’s fragrance defies easy classification – and that’s part of its complex beauty.
It’s a supremely sophisticated scent that achieves that rare feat of smelling expensive without resorting to bling tricks.
But then we wouldn’t expect anything less from Cartier, which has brought us numerous stand-out fragrances over the years.
For a more recent take on this EDT, look out for CartierDéclaration Parfum with its gorgeous leather and spice notes.
NICOLAS MAMOUNAS, 1993
The super-citrus opening (lime, lemon, mandarin, bergamot and lemon verbena notes) of this classic men’s fragrance is what makes it so special and memorable.
It then settles into something quite subtle (amber and musk notes). So, it ain’t a power performer and you will need a few re-sprays during the day, but it’s so reasonably priced.
If fresh, clean and zesty are your thing, this has your name on it. A perfect citrus scent for summer.
JACQUES HUCLIER, 1996
The ultimate love-it-or-hate-it fragrance, this classic men’s fragrance still gets a big reaction, thanks to the initial explosion of caramel, coffee and patchouli notes.
For the more adventurous who want to make a statement, give it time to settle and you will discover there’s so much more to it than in-your-face sweetness.
If this one works for you, make sure to check out the other notables in the Mugler A*Men line, including Pure Havane EDT and Pure Havane Malt EDT.
NATHALIE LORSON, 2006
Yes, there’s cypress, musk and cashmere wood to savor in this one, but the reason we all keep on coming back to this scent is its magnificent take on vetiver.
Dry, earthy, dirty – absolutely unique. If you are looking for an intro to the pleasures of vetiver, get your hands on this one pronto.
There are many good vetiver fragrances out there, including Guerlain Vetiver EDT, Tom Ford Grey Vetiver EDT and Frédéric Malle Vetiver Extraordinaire EDP, but none as well priced as Lalique Encre Noire EDT.
OLIVIER POLGE, 2012
Lashings of cinnamon, hints of pink pepper, followed by seductive leather and tobacco notes make for a thoroughly modern and oh-so-sexy fragrance from the Dutch designer duo.
It’s very popular, for sure, but don’t let that put you off this EDT that gets the balance between sweet and spicy so right. And, of course, the super-cool hand grenade design gets mega bonus points for always looking spectacular in your fragrance collection.
For such a popular fragrance, the flankers have been kept to a merciful minimum.
Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.