What Makes A Classic?
There are hundreds of great men’s fragrances out there, but truly classic ones are an altogether rarer breed. Among all the amazing eaus there are probably fewer than fifty that have survived fads and fashions to achieve iconic status and meet men’s, rather exacting, demands.
“Men often judge fragrances in the way they do cars,” says perfumer Azzi Glasser. “They want sophistication but demand reliability and performance too.” And while fancy flacons and big budget marketing campaigns may make an impact on us, ultimately, a scent survives because men – and women – keep coming back for another sniff.
So whether you’re a fragrance newbie looking for your first signature scent, a perfume junkie wanting to complete your collection or a significant other in search of a fail-safe gift for the man in your life, you could do worse than to start with one of these timeless classics…
Christian Dior Eau Sauvage
Created back in 1966 by perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, Eau Sauvage has become a byword for crisp, clean elegance.
“In my opinion it’s one of the most important fragrance creations of the second half of the last century,” says perfumer and fragrance historian Roja Dove. “It was the first fragrance to contain a newly discovered dream material called Hedione, or Di-hydro Jasmonate – one of the 900 or so molecular components found in jasmine which has a pronounced citrus odour.”
Less volatile than traditional citrus notes, this ingredient gave Eau Sauvage a longer-lasting, more complex crispness that still elevates it above today’s fresh-faced fragrance challengers.
Hermes Terre d’Hermes
Few truly stand-out fragrances have emerged in the last decade or so. With many perfume and fashion houses chasing a quick buck and the cost of bringing new products to market so high, it’s all too easy for companies to retreat into the safety of the focus group and produce scents that follow the market trend rather than create something unique.
There are odd exceptions to the rule though. “In my opinion, Terre d’Hermes is one of the top three best, if not the best men’s fragrance to come out in the last ten years,” says Grant Osborne, founder of basenotes.net, the ultimate online resource for perfumistas.
Earthy, woody and spicy with notes of grapefruit, pink pepper, geranium, cedar and vetiver, it’s deliciously fresh yet warm and sensual too. “It smells, masculine, and ‘outdoorsy’, and is one of the few men’s scents that’s also available in parfum form,” added Osborne.
Of all the Creed fragrances Green Irish Tweed is probably the most famous. Fans of this green, woody and powdery number (which features notes of violet leaves, sandalwood and Iris) allegedly include Hollywood A-listers Russell Crowe, George Clooney and Clint Eastwood, along with rock royalty like Robbie Williams and real royalty in the shape of Prince Charles.
Its enduring success (it launched nearly thirty years ago) might be down to its wearability as a fragrance. “Green Irish Tweed is a wonderfully constructed sophisticated fragrance,” says Obsorne. “It has amazing versatility in that it works just as well whether you’re wearing a t-shirt and jeans or a smart suit.”
Launched in 1964 and sold in more than 120 countries, Aramis Classic is still going strong thanks to its warm, intensely masculine blend of citrus, bergamot, sage, sandalwood and leather notes.
A classic chypre fragrance (characterised by a warm combination of oakmoss, florals, spices, gum resins, vetiver, patchouli and cedarwood) it’s a big, punchy scent that’s perfect for evenings – conjuring up images of dimly lit gentleman’s clubs, precious leather bound books and the evocative aroma of cigars.
Tenacious and enduring, it’s everything a modern classic should be: timeless, masculine and (helpfully) perennially popular with women.
Deliciously woody, with spices, tobacco and a citrus zing, this fragrance, created by Jean Paul Guerlain, was ground-breaking at the time of its launch in 1961 for placing the earthy scent of the vetiver root at the heart of a fragrance.
“Vetiver fragrances are very popular now – and there are some great ones, like Tom Ford’s Grey Vetiver, around – but for a long time Guerlain’s was the one to go to,” says Glasser. “It’s still wonderful now and its success is down to the fact that it’s warm, sexy, polished and finely-tuned but with a lovely, versatile freshness.”
Acqua di Parma Colonia
If longevity is the mark of a classic then few could challenge Acqua di Parma’s Colonia’s place in this list. Created in 1916 in Parma, Italy, it has since become a byword for Italian style and sophistication, with an enduring appeal rooted in its versatility and wearability.
Starting off with a burst of Sicilian citrus fruits, it quickly gives way to a herby, floral heart and matures on the skin to reveal a warm, earthy base of vetiver, sandalwood and patchouli, making it the perfect crossover fragrance for day or night.
A must for any man’s fragrance wardrobe. Classic bottle too.
While it’s easy to write off this iconic fragrance as an old-fashioned anachronism, look beneath the snobbery and what you’ll find is a scent that’s endured for one simple reason: it’s fantastic.
“Old Spice is very underrated and understated in my opinion,” says Liam Moore, founder and Editor of ODOU, an award-winning magazine dedicated to fragrance. “There’s a beautiful carnation note in the middle of it that may be a sign of its age and conception but it’s the epitome of masculinity.”
And the secret to its enduring success? “Perhaps the price point has played a part but maybe it is just that it’s that good,” he says.
With its soft, sensual vanilla note, deep, masculine woody base notes and the crisp, juicy apple note for which it’s most famous, Boss Bottled has become a permanent fixture on global top ten best-sellers lists.
Mass-market but sophisticated nonetheless, it’s the encapsulation of Boss’ renowned elegance, luxury and style and its enduring popularity has made it that rarest of things: a true ‘contemporary classic’.
If sales are anything to go by, it’s certainly a winner – to date it has sold more than seventy million bottles worldwide.
Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet
“Created in 1902 for the Duke of Marlborough and worn by countless influential figures over the years, Blenheim Bouquet is as popular today as it’s ever been,” says Penhaligon’s fragrance expert Nick Gilbert.
A timeless and bracing blend of citrus, woods and black pepper, he rightly describes it as the olfactory equivalent of a well-tailored suit.
“It’ll never go out of style,” he says.
There aren’t many fragrances you could give almost any man as a gift and he’d love it but Armani’s Aqua di Gio is certainly one of them.
Made distinct by its bitter-sweet aquatic accord, which gives it a marine freshness much emulated in contemporary men’s fragrances, di Gio’s glory days in the 1990s may well be behind it but it sells consistently well.
Its versatility – the addition of patchouli, rockrose and cedarwood notes means it works just as well in the day as it does at night – will ensure it’ll be here in yet another twenty years too.
The ten fragrances showcased today are just a few of the true classic scents out there.
Do you have a favourite fragrance that you consider to be a classic? Let us know about it and why you rate it using the comments section below…
An award-winning journalist and former magazine editor, Lee Kynaston is one on the UK’s best known and most experienced male grooming experts.
He writes for The Telegraph, Men’s Health, Harrods Magazine and numerous other publications and websites, is Lifestyle Grooming Editor of Niven Joshua, and was voted Best Beauty/Grooming Blogger 2013 at the Fashion Monitor Journalism Awards for his Grooming Guru blog.