Even as more niche fragrances (and plenty of luxury designers) embrace a more gender-neutral approach to perfumery, still one of the most common questions asked by gents in both online and in-person situations is: “What is the most masculine fragrance?”
Just equally, the most common response would be citrus – a sweeping statement that basically just means “fresh and clean”.
But the true masculine, if you want to make an informed decision, would arguably be the fougere.
Meaning “fern-like” in French, fougere is to men what floral is to women. And like the definition of floral, describing what a fougere smells like is a broad olfactive experience. But at its core it consists of three basic notes of lavender, coumarin and oakmoss, although over time these have been tweaked. It smells both clean and fresh in the opening, yet with a dark almost earthy heart as it settles into the dry down.
“A fougere structure structure is generally based around a contrast between a sweet herbal note in the heart,” says LKNU’s Educational Manager Liam Sardea. “Often lavender enriched with the sweet hay-like note of tonka bean – which then rests on a combination of warm woods and spices.
“Many fragrances on the market today experiment with this basic idea, swapping out the traditional fern/lavender heart with other aromatics – such as geranium, fresh tobacco leaf, and/or vetiver.”
While you may not be familiar with the name, you’ve definitely come across fragrances that fall into this category. Most likely owned one or two. Jean Paul Gaulter’s ‘90s beast, Le Male. The anise masterpiece, Azzaro Pour Homme. Kouros by Yves Saint Laurent.
Each of these share the same aromatic contrast of dirty/clean, a combination of the opening fresh lavender and the mossy base.
“Fougeres are quite steady and composed due to the way the notes come together,” adds Sardea. “Hot and cold, sweet and spicy in perfect balance – an addictive aromatic rush of sedate herbs and rousing ambery spices. In other words, they are descending: bright citruses move into a heart of sweet ‘fern’ notes, supported by a base of woods and moss. They have a traditional, vintage barbershop feel that many find appealing and comforting – and are as dependable as a white shirt.”
If you’re after the kind of fragrance that’ll put hair on your chest, check out the below list of manly scents for men.
Sartorial by Penhaligon’s
The British parfumeur par excellence, Penhaligon’s gives the fougere concept a big twist with a metallic steam-like accord. As hinted in the name itself, the scent is an ode to the tailor’s workroom and captures the smell of pressed cotton and flannel with a hint of honey and sweat thanks to cardamom in the base. Personally, one of my own favourites and a king in the fougere genre. $229 at Libertine Parfumerie
Lavender Extreme by Tom Ford
In the words of Deadpool, this is a lavender with maximum effort. Tom Ford’s Lavender Extreme is an electric take on the genre with lemon and violet opening up the first part like a string orchestra. Rather than the mossy dry down, tonka bean plays out the base so that this high octane opening actually remains through the day. $485 from Myer.
Boy by Chanel
Ever ahead of her time, Coco Chanel didn’t just have companions. Her men were also her muses, influencing her fashion and her fragrances. Boy was inspired by Captain Arthur Edward “Boy” Capel, a classic retro lavender with geranium with oakmoss and sandalwood in the base. A work of art from start to never-ending wafts at the end of the day, this is perfumery at its best and deserves to be owned by any man who wants to smell like they’re important. $295 from Chanel.
Fougere L’Aube by Rogue Perfumery
Rogue perfumery has attained cult status for their use of real ingredients from the glory days of perfumery rather than synthetics. According to Sardea “ Fougere L’Aube speaks directly to the nostalgic blend of aftershave splashes and tonics that the fougere family was co-opted into. Bitter, sweet, and crisply clean, Fougere L’Aube uses a brilliant dose of oakmoss which gives a radiance tamed by shadow, swirling around notes of rose, geranium, lavender, and citruses to give a grounded freshness.” $220 from LKNU.
V Amber Fougere Masculine by Clive Christian
English fragrance house Clive Christian is a master of storytelling. Both about the brand itself or through their reworking of classic fragrance groups. Their V Amber Fougere Masculine takes the traditional freshness of a fougere and gives it a peppery, smoke-like quality by using vetiver and black pepper. Olibanum, also known as frankincense, adds a resinous touch to the middle. Quite unlike any other fougere out there and almost not a fougere at all. Get it and feel instantly happier. $498 from Libertine Parfumerie.
Special guest mention
Long before Byredo and Le Labo made unisex a buzzword in scents, Guerlain’s Jicky was one of the most popular fragrances for both men and women. First made in 1889, it remains one of the longest ongoing fragrances in the world. It’s also one of the most incredible lavender fragrances on the market. With a wallop of vanilla in the middle for a dessert-like delivery, Jicky has that perfect fougere balance of smelling both clean yet feral. Honestly, have it just to spray into the air at home.