Picking out a signature scent can be a daunting task. How on earth do you go about identifying a blend of smells that perfectly captures the multifaceted nature of your identity, or, hell, your very sense of self?
The thing about fragrances is that they’re complicated, but they don’t have to be. A general understanding of fragrance-speak is helpful, especially when you’re going in blind. The most important thing to know is the scent pyramid: top, heart, and base notes. Top notes are what you smell immediately and dissipate fastest; the heart is, well, the heart of the scent and what you smell after the cologne has “dried down” after a little bit; and the base notes are the core smell that stays on your skin the longest. If I lost you, don’t worry. You can still find your perfect cologne without any of that.
You literally just have to follow your nose. Like, just find one that smells good to you. It’s always nice to know what kind of scents you gravitate toward—woods, spices, freshness—to help cut through the options quickly. Even with that knowledge, the most important thing you need to do is put that nose to the bottle. But what if you’re reading about fragrance on a website and the internet has yet to develop viable scratch-n-sniff technology, you’re thinking? We got you. Our annual Grooming Awards are always a handy reference and so is this list. The Esquire squad has smelled a lot of fragrances in our day—and I mean a lot—and these are the most consistently flattering of the bunch. So trust us, there’s bound to be at least one here that matches your particular set of preferences.
And listen, a lot of cologne advertisements promise, in one way or another, to make you smell like someone. A model. An actor. Some distorted, fantasy version of yourself. Fuck that noise. Instead, choose a signature scent that smells like you, in all your glorious multifaceted-ness. Remember, colognes aren’t just about smelling good; they’re also about how they make you feel. And to find the one that makes you feel like you, here’s where to start.
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Dirty Vanilla Eau de Parfum
Vanilla might sound a little, well…vanilla, but this take on it—rooted by a fusion of woods like sandalwood and cedar, infused with patchouli and coriander—takes the scent to a place that’s downright sexy. It’s not overwhelming, but it is intoxicating.
Colonia Futura Eau de Cologne
We’re all hungry for the outdoors, and wearing this fresh, herbaceous fragrance feels like being in nature even when we’re . . . not. It’s all about the clary sage, which adds an earthy freshness to the botanical notes of lemon and vetiver. And continuing on a theme, it contains 99 percent natural-origin ingredients.
Coach Man Blue Eau de Toilette
You can probably tell, from the name and the color, that you’re looking at a fresh and watery scent here. What you can’t see—and what takes this cologne from standby to standout—is the layers of cedarwood and amber, plus the almost-electrical charge crackling through the scent profile. It’s what you’re used to, sure, but so much more, too.
Homme Eau de Toilette
Dior Homme is a genuine classic. This reinvented version takes the best parts of the OG formula—the cedar, the patchouli, the vetiver—and makes them all feel brighter and lighter. It’s an everyday wear that still feels bold and more than a little enticing.
Guilty Eau de Parfum Pour Homme
This cologne has a bit of hot chili pepper in the mix, and, honestly, how can you not love a cologne with a bit of hot chili pepper in the mix? If you still need convincing, though, the patchouli and cedar, not to mention the dash of florals, should do the trick.
Explorer Ultra Blue Eau de Parfum
Are you a citrus guy, a marine guy, or a woods guy? If you’re having a hard time deciding where you fall, sometimes you don’t have to choose. This cologne is like a greatest hits collection of classic men’s fragrance notes: a top note blast of citrus, a marine heart note that smells vaguely aquatic, grounded by a base of woods and leather. It’s a great every day, all-around great mix.
H24 Eau de Toilette
The dominant note in this fresh, green cologne is clary sage which somehow smells earthy and fresh at the same time. At first smell, it’s crisp and light, but as it dries down the rich rosewood and narcissus reveal themselves. It doesn’t stop there; the note of sclarene, a molecule that smells metallic, gives an electric buzz that you can’t quite put your finger on and adds a depth you won’t find in other fresh colognes.
Bleu de Chanel
If you want something low-key, you can’t do better than Bleu de Chanel. It’s the fragrance for guys who think they don’t like fragrance.
There’s a category of fragrances, especially ones created with men in mind, called “aquatics” – which are supposed to remind you of water (obviously). And no one does beachy like Tom Ford. This bright, sunny mix of woods (like driftwood and oak) and citrus (lemon and yellow mandarin) with some vanilla, salt, and herbs thrown in is like sunning in Santorini instead of the Jersey Shore.
Vetiver is a men’s fragrance staple because of it’s instantly identifiable green, fresh scent. But this version doesn’t smell like the vetiver you’ve ever smelled before—probably because it’s layered with an unexpected cornucopia of notes like sour orange, sea grass, clove leaf and rhum agricole (which smells like rum). The result is deep, spicy, and vegetal in the best way.
Rōzu Eau de Parfum
What’s that you say? I don’t wear rose cologne. Sure you do! As long as it’s this one, which balances the floral side of things with spices and woods that ground it in a smokier, darker place. Seriously: You can wear a rose cologne. You’re looking right at it.
Orphéon Eau de Parfum
Inspired by a specific 1960s-era cafe in Paris called The Orpheon, this deep fragrance blends notes of tobacco and burnished wood to create a warmth that feels old, but like in a good way. There’s also notes of tonka mean (which smells kind of like vanilla) and juniper berries (which smells a little like gin). It’s the kind of cologne you wear when you want to pretend you’re somewhere else.
Citrusy fragrances are a dime a dozen in the men’s cologne world, but what sets the fresh scent apart is the note of green apple, which adds a crisp sweetness to the citrus-heavy top note, and the base of oakmoss, amberwood and musk. Wearing it is the perfect balance between fresh, herbal and woody vibes.
Perfumers use amber to add warmth and depth to colognes and this one has a lot of it. But unlike other amber-forward scents, which can sometimes be heavy, this one also has a lot of citrus in the mix along with other notes of cinnamon, ginger and neroli. It definitely doesn’t smell like your typical men’s cologne, which is exactly the point.
Essenze Javanese Patchouli Eau de Parfum
If you think patchouli should be kept to Phish concerts and food co-ops, this cologne will change your mind. There’s so much patchouli in this that the other notes like pink pepper, cedar and tonka bean fade into the background, but conspire to make this a modern, mature scent with just the right balance of freshness and earthiness. It’s the olfactory equivalent of wearing a bespoke tuxedo.
Open Sky Eau de Parfum
At first spray, the pomelo and pepper top note of this cologne gives you a punch of citrus—pretty standard for a fresh, summery scent like this. But what complicates things is the heart note of pungent, slightly-herbal cannabis which dries down to reveal palo santo and vetiver. The mix is slightly familiar, slightly unexpected—ideal for a poolside party or a summer road trip.
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