An Incomplete History of Men's Fragrance : A List of Perfumes used at the London Perfume Lovers event

17th October, 2012

An Incomplete History of Men’s Fragrance was presented by Grant Osborne and Lila Das Gupta at the New Cavendish Club, London on 26th Sept 2012.

Here are the highlights and some of the fragrances the attendees smelt:

What would Napoleon Bonaparte wear today?

  • Eau de Cologne Chanel ( Not the most historically accurate choice, but certainly, wouldn't Bonaparte go for the best?

  • Gin Mare from the Mediterranean - because in those days cologne could be worn as well as smelled, which is why our hero got through so much of it. Gin Mare is made in Spain and uses botanicals found across the Mediterranean. We sipped, smelled and tried Gin Mare on skin.

Roses for men

Just as a flowery or pink shirt can show off your masculinity...Men have been wearing roses for a long time, and it's something we want to encourage more of for the modern man.

  • Hammam Bouquet 1872 (Penhaligon’s) : Notice the contrast here: men are wearing something quite sexy...

  • Voleur de Roses (L’Artisan Parfumeur) : Rose and Patchouli are ideal for men

  • Rose 31 (Le Labo) : Another classic rose/ wood combination

  • L’Eau de Rose (Ramón Monegal) : This rose has an interesting metallic, ozonic/ aquatic note to it.

  • Ta'if (Ormonde Jayne) : A spicy, energetic rose with pink pepper on the top. Combines well with velvet jackets.

  • White Rose (Floris) : We have it on good authority that this perfume was worn by Edward VIII. You can imagine it - though surprisingly sweet like honeysuckle, it's delicate and melancholic.

Hello Synthetic Coumarin - A Genre is Born

  • Fougere Royal Houbigant 1882 ( : No longer did you need a huge pile of Tonka beans to make Coumarin. Cue: small pile of Tonka beans for all to smell. Roja Dove worked as a consultant on this excellent reformulation. We also had a discussion on whether it is right to launch a fragrance with the same name with a different smell.

Gender Bender

  • Jicky Guerlain (1889) ( : Not quite as sexy as it once was (according to those who knew previous incarnations), but still alive and well after all these years. First aimed at men, it was the women who were early adopters and took it to their bosoms.

First scent marketed at ‘guys’

  • Pour Un Homme (1934) ( : Lavender and Vanilla gently mixed, perfectly balanced. Once a gentleman always a gentleman...though an anomalous advertisement gave a more racy impression.

In A Class Of Its Own

  • Old Spice (1938) (Boots) : The No. 5 equivalent for men according to Grant. Generations of men have worn it and felt comfortable with it. Both loveable and memorable. Originally designed as a flanker to the original women's fragrance, designed to cash in on the Christmas market.

Suave! Moi?

The 1970s and 1980s saw a lot of great men's fragrances for young guys on a budget (Yes, Hai Karate does still stand the test of time...), but there were always some men who reached out for something a little more sophisticated...

  • Eau Sauvage Christian Dior ( : Groundbreaking cologne from Edmond Roudnitska that is still very good, but not as deep as it once was due to reformulation. We tried the Vintage version.

  • Vetiver EDT Guerlain ( : This speaks of power, grey cashmere suits, crisp white shirts and quiet authority.

  • Equipage Hermes ( : Subtle leather which is a gorgeous alternative to Cuir de Russie, slightly less animalic.

  • Pour Monsieur Chanel (The Garden Pharmacy) : Much loved by everyone on Basenotes, deservedly so.

  • Antaeus Chanel (The Garden Pharmacy) : Another big Basenotes hit, still interesting and rich after all these years.

  • Habit Rouge Guerlain EDT ( : The third fragrance that is always spoken of so highly on Basenotes. Warm and rich.

  • Azzaro ( : Another 1970s highlight.

  • No. 89 Floris : This one was worn by Ian Fleming (James Bond author) and is also said to be liked by Prince Charles.

  • Givenchy Gentleman ( : This is what grown up men ought to smell like - not loud ozone notes!

* Kouros YSL Another classic that has stood the test of time.

Rich or Spicy – Just add chest hair

  • Aramis ( : This was part of the fragrance Bermuda Triangle of the 1970s: Aramis, Brut, Old Spice.

  • Quorum Puig ( : Leathery loveliness from the Spanish house of Puig

  • Yatagan (1976) Caron ( : A trend setter for rich, heavy scents that were to follow.

  • Patchouli 24 (Le Labo) : This belongs in the same spiritual camp as far as its depth and richness goes.

  • Black Afgano Nasomatto (Roullier White) : A cult fragrance from the Italian pefumer whose work is full of passion. Strong and sexy.

Leather Man

The Venn diagram of Leather Man obviously overlaps with the Rich/Spicy category above.

  • Knize Ten (Les Senteurs) : Early suave man at his leathery best.

  • Tuscan Leather Tom Ford (The Urban Retreat) : Turbo charged and wonderful, like so many things Tom Ford does.

  • Imperial Leather : Remember the soap? Well it was once a fragrance too.

  • English Leather Dana : A drug store staple from the US. Economical, uncomplicated barbershop smell.

He–man heyday: Splash it all over

  • Brut vintage/ ebay : How many kisses have been delivered onto Brut laden necks? It's one of life's imponderables.

  • Hai Karate vintage/ebay : Everybody was Kung Fu fighting...on TV and in movies. Bruce Lee was a hero. This fragrance was a big hit on the night, as demonstrated on the arms of Nick Gilbert, Les Senteurs manager.

  • Pino Silvestre : Probably the Italian version of 'splash it all over'. No frills cedar that still smells good.

We also had some fun checking out some old men's fragrance adverts on YouTube:

The Metrosexual Years

Male grooming is out in the open now and men feel more confident buying fragrance than ever before.

  • Fahrenheit ( : Urbanites up and down the land took to Fahrenheit to raise the temperature. Still loved though the forumla has been altered.

  • CK One : The first unisex, unstuffy, modern, affordable cologne that re-engaged a completely new audience with fragrance.

Noxious Substances

  • Lynx : Grant brought his collection along but was not allowed to spray it... But he did make the point that Lynx makes fragrances accessible and affordable for young people and was a good honest product that served the needs of its demographic.


A divisive note for some perfume lovers - we chose some notable examples of the genre.

  • Davidoff Cool Water ( : Started the craze for water notes.

  • Sel Marin James Heeley (Les senteurs) : But if you are going to have watery notes, this is one superbly executed.

  • Fleur de Sel (Miller Harris) : A very interesting take on a salty/watery note. Excellent

  • Acqua di Gio Pour Homme ( : Refreshing cologne with subtle aquatic note. Still good after all these years.

Modern Classics

One can bemoan the fact that so many fragrances have been discontinued or reformulated, but one can also take heart from the fact that there are also a lot of quality fragrances coming on the market too.

  • Sartorial Penhaligon’s : Bertrand Duchaufour goes to Saville Row tailors Norton's and chanels the spirit of men's tailoring into this chic fougere.

  • CDG Man 2 ( : Classic vetiver and incense from Mark Buxton

  • Molecule 01/ Escentric 01 Escentric Molecules (Liberty) : Geza Schoen's sparceness makes you think of a Rothko painting: there appears to be not very much going on, when in reality... This is the Iso E super molecule that has extraordinary effects on some people. No really.

  • Geranium Pour Monsieur Frederic Malle (Liberty) : Chic Geranium with a mint twist - you will always be well dressed with Frederic Malle.

  • Geranium Bourbon (Miller Harris) : Geranium this time with subtle rose. This perfume is equally beautiful on men and women.

  • Timbuktu (L’Artisan Parfumeur) : Wood and incense from Mr Duchaufour. Incredibly fetching when mixed with man sweat.

  • Santal 33 (Le Labo) : Radiant, interesting, unexpected. Sandalwood, but not as we know it.

  • Wood & Absinth Mark Buxton (Roullier White) : Sometimes we wonder if Mark Buxton has ever been abducted by aliens. Some of his perfumes have an indescribable other worldliness. Clean and warm at the same time.

  • La Fumee (Miller Harris) : Deep and smoky and ideal for the autumn and winter.

  • Dior Homme ( : Iris based, warm, complex and comforting.

  • Terre D’Hermes (Hermes) : Jean-Claude Ellena scored a hit with this sheer, modern classic.

  • Aventus Creed (Les Senteurs) : Another Basenotes favourite. Diffusive and freshness delivered in Creed's unique way. A compliment magnet.

Thank you to everyone who came to the event. The next Perfume Lovers London meetup is tomorrow with tickets available is in January: Gone But Not Forgotten: The Vintage Collection of Sarah McCartney.

  • Share this

About the author: Lila Das Gupta

Lila Das Gupta is a London based journalist with an interest in all things olfactory. Lila also organises the Perfume Lover's London meet-up group.


Advertisement — comments are below


    • Primrose | 17th October 2012 17:59

      Great post and thank you. What does Mandom smell like??

    • rubegon | 17th October 2012 18:25

      A great overview. Thanks for putting this together. There are many here that I need to try!

      I noticed that gourmands seem to be unrepresented - surely A*Men deserves a place here.

      Also, I thought that Jicky was originally marketed as a women's fragrance, and that it became popular with men - not the other way around. I may be wrong about that, as I don't have a source for this.

    • gandhajala | 17th October 2012 18:26

      A fantastic night, many thanks.

      Shame Grant couldn't be persuaded to strip off his top and do a Charles Bronson Mandom impression. Maybe next time...

    • southerngardens | 17th October 2012 19:46

      Great article on the ascension of male fragrances. Many Thanks!

    • knit at nite | 19th October 2012 05:20

      I think Grant needs to take this show on the road.....

    • bokaba | 21st October 2012 21:46

      Interesting Post. Edward VIII wore White Rose? It must be a re-issue from of some sort as the current scent was released in 2002, some thirty years after his death. Frangrantica, however, sets its launch date at 1800.

      I am disappointed with the choices for Napoleon though. Chanel, while a good gateway cologne, is a brash, overly-synthetic cologne more apropos to the tastes of today. I would have gone for one of the classic Guerlain Eaux, Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille, or ever vintage Farina Kolnisches Wasser.

    • Lila Das Gupta | 22nd October 2012 11:46

      The White Rose obviously doesn't smell like it used to - all the ingredients have changed over time. Right at the back of the Floris shop on Jermyn St. there is a little museum (usually closed to the public) where they keep the leather-bound ledger that used to hold people's orders. There is one entry that says, in copperplate handwriting: 'Prince of Wales', then crossed out 'The King', then crossed out: 'Duke of Windsor'. His orders are written underneath.

    • Lila Das Gupta | 29th October 2012 12:23

      That was my oversight! We did have it there and we certainly did smell it- it was just a big list and I forgot to put it in. Mea culpa - will put it in now.