The Beginners Guide To Perfume & Cologne Scents

Know your smells.

The Beginners Guide To Perfume & Cologne Scents

The first step to choosing your signature scent is knowing what the hell is in it in the first place. Men’s cologne falls into a handful of categories that describe the ingredients and the resulting scents they create.

Once you understand the categories, you can figure out if you’d rather smell like a forest, a flower, a citrus fruit, or a worn-in saddle. Be sure to factor your personality and style into the decision (because yes, they matter), as well as the time of year and the occasion.

That might sound like a lot of trouble to go to just to smell nice, but trust us – it’s worth every second of effort. Below is a breakdown of the basic men’s cologne types you need to know and the keynotes that go into each one.

Key Styles Of Men’s Cologne


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Strictly speaking, “aromatic” refers to scents that are rich in benzene, a compound found in organic matter. In layman’s terms, aromatic fragrances have a rustic scent with a certain freshness, often coming from herbal notes, and are more commonly designed for men. If you can cook with it, it’s probably an aromatic note. Think rosemary, thyme, mint, tarragon, marjoram, fennel, basil, sage, anise cumin, and other plants with a grassy-spicy scent.

RELATED: 5 Best Aromatic Men’s Fragrances


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The term chypre is French for Cyprus, and goes back to François Coty who created a perfume in 1917 of the same name from materials predominantly found in Mediterranean countries. The basic structure of a chypre fragrance is a harmony between 3 key ingredients: bergamot, oakmoss and labdanum (often with some patchouli mixed in). Together they make for a warm, mossy-woody scent that contrasts with a fresh citrus top and a hint of bitterness.


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Citrus scents are created from hesperidic fruits, which are named after the Hesperides nymphs from Greek mythology. Verbena, lemongrass, pomelo and yuzu fall into this category, as do all the typical citrus fruits you’re probably thinking of: lemon, orange, grapefruit, mandarin, etc. Bergamot is also common ingredient. Low molecular weight means that citrus oils function remarkably well as top notes, giving lift and sparkle to just about any blend.

RELATED: 5 Essential Citrus Fragrances For Men


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The largest fragrance group is also the most self-explanatory. Floral scents add a romantic touch to a composition, alleviating some of the heaviness of more tenacious ingredients. Many flowers – like rose, jasmine, tuberose, lavender, osmanthus, immortelle, ylang ylang and marigold – are easy to use in their natural state. Others must be reconstructed in a lab, including freesia, peony, lily of the valley, heliotrope, violet, jonquil, narcissus and hyacinth.



All leather scents, whether floral, tart, velvety, or smoky, fall into this group. Historically, leather is one of the earliest notes used in perfumery. Leather goods were perfumed with oils, musk, ambergris and civet to mask the nauseating odour of the animal skin. Today this strong animalistic note comes from both natural sources (including birch, juniper and cade oil, styrax, cassie, castoreum, myrtle, and cistus labdanum) and the laboratory (quinolines, safraleine, aldehyde, and synthesized suede nuances).

RELATED: 5 Essential Leather Based Fragrances For Men


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Fragrances in the Oriental family are warm and sensual. Amber is a dominant note, as are other intoxicating substances like musk and vanilla, and exotic resins, wood, flowers and spices. Oriental fragrances often have distinctive top notes of orchid, bergamot and mandarin which add a fruity-floral twist to the otherwise spicy and sexy Oriental scents. Foodies will be especially fond of the ‘gourmands’ subcategory, with incorporates hints of caramel, bitter dark chocolate and aromatic coffee.

RELATED: 5 Essential Oriental Fragrances For Men
 5 Essential Spicy Fragrances For Men


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Woody fragrances are – no surprise here – dominated by wood scents. From sensual sandalwood to edgy cedar to musky accords, wood notes add depth and staying power to other scents. This varied and versatile category includes oakmoss, amber, rosewood, guiac, oud, vetiver (though it’s technically a grass) and patchouli (though it’s technically a leaf). There are few fragrances that don’t boast at least one wood note in their make-up.

RELATED: 5 Essential Woody Fragrances For Men