His and Hers: Our Picks for the Best Unisex Perfumes
Just as our traditional perception of genders no longer operates on a binary, perhaps it’s time we likewise update our classification of scents beyond simply men’s and women’s—hence, this list of the best unisex perfumes.
From enduring cult classics that have stood the test of time to the tried-and-tested that have gained traction through good old word of mouth, here are some of our suggestions. Bear in mind, of course, that there are few purchases so deeply personal as a bottle of perfume, as its notes and chemicals tend to transform as they interact with each person’s unique body chemistry.
Besides, scents have been known to be so divisive that they can ignite intense discussion and spirited debate; what’s addictive to one can trigger migraines in another. The best kind are those that are so utterly memorable, they’ll spark a certain emotion just from catching a whiff alone. Maybe they’ll even prompt a complete stranger to approach you and ask: “What fragrance are you wearing?” Let that be the goal as you spritz away.
1| Calvin Klein CK One
Certainly, no list of the best unisex fragrance would be complete without the first, the original: CK One. Launched in 1994, with a striking Steven Meisel ad campaign that featured Kate Moss and her androgynous army, it managed to encapsulate so many of the things that were so hot in the ’90s, that whole unwashed-slacker-grunge aesthetic.
Dubbed “a fragrance for a man or a woman,” it was ahead of its time in the sense that you didn’t even have to decide which one you were, or preferred, or identified as—you could be neither, or both!
Onto the scent: created by Albert Morillas and Henry Fremons, it’s citrusy and light, with top notes of pineapple, mandarin orange, bergamot, cardamom, papaya, and lemon. But for a certain generation, it just smells like high school.
2| Kiehl’s Original Musk
The amber-colored ombré bottle comes with its own legend printed on the label: created in the ’20s in the Kiehl’s Apothecary and later discovered in a vat under the label “Love Oil.” With a story like that, who can resist?
And yes, this scent is as musky as they come, with top notes of orange blossom and bergamot, middle notes of lily, neroli, ylang-ylang, and rose, and base notes of tonka bean, musk, and patchouli.
A little on the heavy side, and best worn on a date… if you really want to put that label to the test.
3| Le Labo Santal 33
Fine fragrance company Le Labo has a cult-like following, and among their scents, this one has the most cult-like following of all. Launched in 2011 and inspired by the brand’s own Santal 26 candle and the Marlboro Man (really), it was meant to capture the spirit of the American west (“an open fire… the soft drift of smoke,” went an initial press release), only to be later co-opted by the fashion set and hip hotel lobbies.
There is a reason it is beloved by insiders: A blend of sandalwood, cedarwood, cardamom, violet, papyrus, leather, amber, and iris, it’s smoky, sexy, and romantic, and has given rise to everything from a New York Times piece to an eco-friendly detergent infused with the scent, for true devotees.
4| Escentric Molecules Molecule 01
What happens when science takes a crack at creating the best unisex perfume? The answer is this revolutionary fragrance created by Geza Schoen, and it’s not really a perfume at all but more like a modern chemistry experiment. It contains none of the usual top, middle, or base notes, save for a molecule called Iso E Super that is described as a hyper-modern cedarwood.
Spray it on yourself and supposedly you will hardly smell a thing, but everyone else around you will. It is designed to evolve as it interacts with your unique body chemistry, such that it will smell completely different on everybody.
This is probably the closest you can come to bottling pheromones, and we all know what those are supposed to do.
5| Tom Ford Black Orchid
Tom Ford sells sex, and hey, it works every time.
You might have thought you could never pull off a floral fragrance, but this might be the one that could get you to change your mind. With notes of black truffle, bergamot, black plum, noir gourmand accord, patchouli, and of course, black orchid, it’s dark, rich, spicy, and seductive.
Bonus points: The fluted black and gold bottle will make a pretty cool addition on your bedside table.
6| Comme des Garçons Concrete
If you’ve always wanted a perfume bottle that could double as a paperweight, then look no further.
Seriously though, Comme des Garçons lends their signature quirk to the land of scents with a fragrance inspired by, of all things, concrete. Which, as interpreted by perfumer Nicolas Beaulieu, apparently smells of sandalwood and pepper with a hint of rose oxide.
It’s challenging and paradoxical in the best possible way, and again, the porous cement bottle is kind of a draw: Rough and raw, it’s the perfect conversation piece.
7| Jo Malone London Lime Basil and Mandarin
By now, Jo Malone has come to feel rather ubiquitous—which doesn’t need to be a bad thing. The advantage is that you can always get your hands on a bottle any time you need it, and this one in particular is a favorite, one of the British brand’s most popular signature scents.
A classic citrus that’s fresh and juicy and peppery, it’s proof that sometimes, it’s best to keep things simple in order for you to truly appreciate it. Like jeans and a white T-shirt, or salt and pepper on a steak. As far as the best unisex perfume goes, this is perhaps the jeans-and-tee of the fragrance world.
Plus, it works well when layered with other scents, if you care to experiment a bit, and wears really nicely in warm summer weather.
Available at leading perfume counters.