The 10 Most Iconic Fragrances for Men

Consider wearing the olfactory barometer of the zeitgeist.
IMAGE Esquire U.K.

Throughout the history of fragrance, certain scents have managed to capture the times. Be it the post-war optimism of the ‘50s, the Wall Street decadence of the ‘80s, or the minimalism of the ‘90s, the best men’s fragrances became the olfactory barometer of the social zeitgeist. Some of them even stuck around long enough to become classics. Here, a rundown of some of history’s most iconic men’s fragrances.  


1| Blenheim Bouquet by Penhaligon’s

The turn of the 20th century saw England shifting from monarchy to industrialism to capitalism. Blenheim Palace, home to the Dukes of Marlborough, found a new duchess in Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American railroad heiress who injected as much fortune and glamour to the rundown palace. British perfumer Penhaligon’s marked the changing tides with the release of Blenheim Bouquet in 1902. The scent gathered the flowery and fruity notes of lavender, lemon, and lime, which were pleasing to the palates of the ladies, and the manly notes of musk, pine, and black pepper, which gently reminded everyone who’s the boss.



2| Colonia by Acqua di Parma

Parma, Italy, known for its Parmesan cheese and Parma ham, piqued the world’s interest in 1916, when perfumer Acqua di Parma, carrying the emblem of Marie Louise, the duchess of Parma, went against the strong, musky odors of the European elite. In a small factory in the center of province's historic old town, perfumers developed a vibrant mix of lavender, verbena, lemon, rose, moss, and sandalwood to create Colonia, its signature scent. The light fragrance did not catch on until the ‘30s, when celebrities and society gents visited the Northern Italian region and brought the spirited souvenir home.


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3| Pour Monsieur by Chanel

By the time the war ended in 1945, French luxury house Chanel became rich because of the wartime sales of its landmark fragrance Chanel No. 5. Confident about taking her success to the other side of the Atlantic, Coco Chanel tasked Grasse-based perfumer Henri Robert with her first men’s fragrance. The warm and optimistic Pour Monsieur was released in 1955. It employed spices such as cardamom and cedar to heighten the citrus allure of lemon, vetiver, and Italian neroli.


4| Vetiver by Guerlain

The ‘60s was the time of the anti-establishment. At the time, Guerlain, one of the oldest perfumers in the world, was losing traction with its stuffy, old world fragrances. In 1961, Jean Guerlain launched the revolutionary scent that would bring the house back to relevance. With fragrant grass as its foundation, Vetiver added the piquant freshness of orange, bergamot, and lemon with the hearty woodsy scents of nutmeg, pepper, tonka bean, and tobacco, creating an undeniably masculine fragrance, which was quite a maverick for its time.



5| Aramis by Aramis

By 1964, counterculture was in full swing. American cosmetic brand Estée Lauder came up with ways of disrupting retail models, and they started with department store fragrances for men. Created by perfumer Bernard Chant, Aramis resembled the snooty scents of chypre perfumes—those traditionally built on citrus notes and enhanced by spices and woods—but had a more accessible price tag. The result was a characteristic fragrance that was at once down-to-earth (hints of cinnamon and grass) and lofty (leather and wood).



6| Armani Eau Pour Homme by Giorgio Armani

The world was reeling after the economic slowdown of the ‘70s, and the Italian fashion houses offered some semblance of security in the form of expensive wool suits. Giorgio Armani was at the top of his game outfitting the new banking elite when he unveiled Eau Pour Homme in 1984. The bottle, with its sloping shoulders and robust architecture, reflected the master tailor. The real genius, however, lies in the fragrance. Bitter orange and tangerine exploded with coriander and cumin and then finished with a punch of exotic nutmeg and patchouli, offering calculated elegance and a risk-taking spirit.


7| Green Irish Tweed by Creed

In 1985, Wall Street was abuzz. The scent of money dominated the trading floors. With its blend of iris, verbena, and citrus and a heady base of sandalwood and amber, Green Irish Tweed from the royal English perfumer Creed was an ode to the Celtic outdoors, but its most loyal patrons swear that it was the pure smell of excess. Wearing it should come with restraint. A maximum of three sprays were all you need for the whole trading day.



8| Eternity For Men by Calvin Klein

The decade of excess was just about to draw to a close when Calvin Klein bombarded the world with provocative ads for the brand’s fashions. Under his direction, minimalism took the new form of liberated sexuality, and his first trademark scent, Eternity For Men, best captured his insatiable appetite. Crafted by Carlos Benaim, the fragrance combined soothing lavender, mandarin, and bergamot with the more frivolous notes of lily, basil, and juniper. These were topped off with the pure carnal pleasure of musk and amber. Eternity For Men evoked freshness or flirtatiousness, depending on the time of day.



9| L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme by Issey Miyake

By the mid ‘90s, the world was an anxious place of global trade and strife, religious experimentation, fast technological shifts, and a growingly discontented youth. Instead of criticizing these, L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme, debuting in 1994, decided to celebrate the extreme polarities of the world. In a sober Tadao Ando-designed bottle, the scent embodied the yin of yuzu, bergamot, verbena, and water lily and the yang of cinnamon, tobacco, musk, and sandalwood, resulting in a harmonious fragrance of silent yet powerful expressions. Designer Issey Miyake, with his philosophical aesthetic, created an olfactory poem at its most potent.


10| Terre d’Hermès by Hermès

In the new millennium, the movement toward high technology swung the other way when a new tribe yearned for authenticity. Released in 2006, Terre d’Hermès by Jean-Claude Ellena spoke of man’s relationship with soil, whether as a medium for growth, a source of affluence, or means for conquest. These metaphors were showcased in the clearly structured scent: The sweetness of orange, bitterness of grapefruit, lively heat of pepper, and sturdiness of cedar resin met with the mineral effect of flint. It spoke the story of how a tree grows from the ground.




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John Magsaysay
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