If you’re newly bitten by the fragrance bug, you are probably reading Basenotes and feeling like the proverbial kid with his nose pressed up against the glass – everyone’s talking about their latest niche acquisition, debating the pineapple-ness of Aventus batch codes, and comparing the current Dior Homme with the silver stem one (what is a silverpoint stem?!). It’s like everyone’s figured out where the good stuff is and you haven’t a clue.
Well, don’t worry. You can easily get a good grounding in the basics of fragrance by testing the mainstream designer perfumes available to you on your local high street. There’s a lot of dross out there, of course, but this article should help you to hone in on the ones that are classics for good reason and the ones that blazed a trail in their category way before niche even turned up to the scene. You might not like them all - but even the ones you think are awful will help you hone your personal taste.
What do I mean by “designer”? Technically, the term “designer” is used to describe any company that also designs clothing, jewelry, and watches. But in more realistic terms, for you, it’s going to mean that the fragrance is widely available on your local high street and you don’t have to send off for a sample of it via the Internet.
Chanel, also a designer company, produces a wide range of designer scents that are available in mainstream channels, but they also have a line of exclusive perfumes (called Les Exclusifs de Chanel) that can only be found in Chanel stores or at Chanel booths at big luxury department stores. Therefore Chanel is designer, but they have a niche “department”. Slamming your head against a wall yet?
To make things fair, the top ten fragrances I’m going to be recommending are all fragrances that you can find and test for yourself on the high street of any biggish town. You can then use those ten fragrances as jumping-off points for further exploration of your taste, in both designer and niche categories.
I intended to make this list a unisex one, like the niche list I did here, but in mainstream perfumery there seems to be a bigger gulf between male and female fragrances, not least in the way they are marketed. Strangely, it is the SAs that tend to care deeply about how fragrances are classified, so don’t be alarmed if one of them tries to head you off at the pass if you try to visit the women’s section. I myself have been cock-blocked more than once when trying to buy Bulgari Black.
A separate list of top female fragrances that every beginner should sample will be coming shortly. But don’t feel hemmed in by the label with which companies have chosen to market their fragrances – both men and women should sample everything on both lists and make their own decisions about what they like and can wear. I myself own 5 out of the 10 fragrances listed below and I am definitely maybe a woman.
So the fragrances I’ve nominated here all still smell excellent today, are in relatively good shape (if limping a little) after reformulation, and are generally true to the original intent behind the perfume. If you fall in love with one of these choices, then by all means chase down vintage versions if they are supposed to be superior to the current version. But if the current version smells great to you and you are happy with it, then don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you have the “wrong” version. Honestly, if you think your girlfriend will take one sniff, wrinkle her nose, and chew you out for wearing the current version of Eau Sauvage instead of the vintage, then YOU ARE CRAZY. Nobody can tell except you. And maybe not even you.
Click through to find out which I’ve selected as the top ten male designer fragrances every beginner should sample: