Who says fragrances must be complex to be good? Some of the best fragrances rely on simple compositions in which it’s possible to pick up most of the listed notes.
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This doesn’t mean there’s less technical and creative expertise involved in producing them. If anything, it takes a particularly skilled and confident perfumer to produce these simple pleasures.
We present our best selection of the best simple fragrances. The perfect antidote to our over-stimulated times.
Where known, the name of the perfumer is listed in brackets after the name of the perfume.
Our Top Picks for Simple Fragrances
Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male Le Parfum EDP Intense (Quentin Bisch & Nathalie Gracia-Cetto)
Launched in 1995, Jean Paul Gaultier Le Mâle went on to become one of the best-selling fragrances of all time. 50+ flankers and limited editions later, Le Mâle Le Parfum was released in 2020 to celebrate its 25th anniversary. More streamlined than the original, one might even call him mature.
This EDP (the parfum bit must be for marketing purposes) opens with the sweet spice of cardamom. Aromatic lavender is given a powdery vibe thanks to iris, while vanilla cosies up with woody notes in the drydown.
Staying true to the original with its prominent accents of lavender and vanilla, it’s very likeable in a warm and sensual oriental style.
Frédéric Malle Cologne Indelebile* (Dominique Ropion)
Frédéric Malle describes Cologne Indélébile as “erotic naivete”. Only the French could get away with such language. What we do know is that this unisex 2015 release from the Paris-based niche house makes us feel incredibly calm and refreshed.
Opening all fresh, citrusy and green with notes of lemon, bergamot and petitgrain, it isn’t a reinvention of the classic cologne format. There’s no need for that.
The florals of orange blossom and narcissus maintain the crisp feel, while tempering the initial sharpness.
Colognes are often things of fleeting beauty, but an overdose of white musk gives this one more oomph than usual. It also gives this beauty a chic cleanness.
Berdoues V Nira Moorea EDP (Alexandra Monet)
Something simple? Something a bit exotic? Something that will make you want to smell yourself? Repeatedly. This unisex 2016 release from the Grasse-based company’s travel-inspired Grands Crus Collection will satisfy these needs. And more.
Featuring fresh citrus notes of petitgrain and orange, the opening will draw you in immediately. It’s a bright and sunny island mood (even if you’re stuck behind your PC), with green aspects.
And then there’s the vanilla from Moorea, an island near Tahiti. It’s smooth, creamy and tropical, without being too sticky sweet. Delicious stuff!
We also recommend other simple pleasures from this brand, such as Oud Al Sahraa and Selva do Brazil.
Hermès Un Jardin Sur La Lagune EDT* (Christine Nagel)
We’re all for fragrances that take us to special places in these Covid-limiting times. And Hermès Un Jardin Sur La Lagune does that in understated style.
For the most recent addition to the Gardens Collection (2019), the French luxury brand’s in-house perfumer Christine Nagel took inspiration from a secret garden in a Venice lagoon.
Its white florals (magnolia, lily and pittosporum) have a subtly sweet scent. In the background there’s a marine accord, with a soupçon of salt, adding to the freshness.
Settling on a woody base, this unisex EDT is relaxing and dreamy. Couldn’t ask for more right now.
Diptyque Ofrésia EDT* (Olivia Giacobetti)
Still need proof that simplicity can deliver the most spectacular results? This 1999 release from the Paris-based niche brand which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year should do the trick.
Inspired by a Normandy coast garden, there’s citrusy freshness galore, of the freesia kind, in the opening. You’d never know the effect of this white floral is recreated using synthetics.
The freshness is contrasted with a liberal twist of black pepper to add spicy warmth.
It settles on a base of earthy guaiac wood, giving the unisex scent a deep and rich finish, a pleasing contrast from the airier opening.
Penhaligon’s Terrible Teddy EDP* (Quentin Bisch)
Part of the appeal (and the price) of Terrible Teddy is its rhino head top. It’s a 2019 release from the British niche brand’s Portraits Collection, a humorous take on the idea of fragrance families.
The scent itself is the very definition of simplicity. Incense + leather + Ambroxan. In perfumer Quentin Bisch’s capable hands, it adds up to create a warm and seductive affair.
There’s enough smoky, animalic, musky, ambery depth in this EDP to give it oomph and to warrant its price tag.
We also rate Much Ado About The Duke and The Tragedy of Lord George from the same range.
Hugo Boss fragrances have been about zesty freshness since the launch of the original in 1995, and this 2018 release fits the pattern.
Probably the best flanker from the range, it opens with a double whammy of citrus crispness (Calabrian bergamot and grapefruit), followed by an aromatic hit of rosemary and a hint of clean vetiver.
This no-frills, but surprisingly versatile scent is primarily aimed at young men but is too good not to try for yourself if you’re from an older demographic. Points for the graphic flacon too.
Zadig & Voltaire This Is Love! for Him EDT (Nathalie Lorson)
We’ve had a soft spot for Zadig & Voltaire releases for quite some time and can’t recommend them enough for their great value. This 2020 release affirms why the French rock-chic fashion label gets it right.
Fresh bergamot opens this EDT. It’s followed by a note of sunshine-kissed orange blossom. But it’s the big dose of warm and creamy sandalwood in the drydown that wraps up this creation rather nicely.
It’s as deceptively simple as 1, 2 , 3, but oh so effective and sensual.
The last few years have seen a boom in extrait de parfum concentrations, as consumers demand the best available quality and powerful perfumes on every level. Sensing this shift, the clever people at Byredo launched the Night Veils Collection.
There’s plenty of black currant in the opening of this unisex 2019 release. Its fruity piquancy blends with the leathery warmth of saffron. A voluptuous and dirty rose stands proudly in the heart of the scent. Incense amplifies the unashamed oriental ambience.
In keeping with the best raw materials, it settles sensually on a base of ambrette, the natural musk, while patchouli brings its characteristic earthiness to the rich composition.
Escentric Molecules Molecule 05 EDP (Geza Schoen)
We’re always keen to try Escentric Molecules fragrances to learn more about the chemistry of perfumery. Escentric Molecules Molecule 05 showcases the aroma-molecule Cashmeran (also known as cashmere wood or blond woods).
This synthetic is ubiquitous, to say the least. It can be found in everything from Frédéric Malle Dans Tes Bras to Maison Martin Margiela By The Fireplace. With its musky and woody qualities, there’s a good reason why it’s such an essential part of any perfumer’s toolkit.
On its own in this 2020 release, there’s lots of dry cosiness, with a gentle sweetness.
Thanks for the lesson, Mr Geza Schoen. Fascinating, as always.
Calvin Klein CK Everyone EDT (Alberto Morillas)
The CK One franchise has been delivering the goods with impressive consistency since its launch in 1994. The latest addition (2020) to the range, with its clever name, expresses the universal and unisex appeal of the scent.
The opening is bright, fresh and uplifting, thanks to sweet orange oil and zingy ginger.
The tea accord brings a green facet to the vegan formula, while cedarwood gives it depth.
It’s super agreeable, and we also give the thumbs up to the elastic band on the bottle, a nod to the most exposed underwear waistband ever.
Maison Francies Kurkdjian Aqua Celestia Cologne Forte EDP (Francis Kurkdjian)
Esteemed French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian can always be relied upon to produce elegant, timeless scents. This year, he released cologne forte (strong) versions of the best-selling unisex Aqua range: Universalis, Celestia and Vitae.
All three are worth sniffing out, but Aqua Celestia Cologne Forte stands out with its seeming effortlessness.
The opening is on the tart side, with the citrus hues of bergamot at the fore. But not for long, as the fruitiness of black currant, mimosa, and jasmine notes come into play.
The fruitiness continues through to the musky and powdery drydown.