What Colognes Make the Best Gifts? (And Don’t Smell Like a Mall Counter)

By
Best Colognes for Men
For any kind of man you want to be. Photo: Gary Null/NBC via Getty Images

You know what’s a surprisingly great holiday gift for men? A fragrance (whether we’re talking a cologne or eau de toilette or eau de parfum or what have you). Choose wisely, and the recipient will remember you each time he wears it (it’s the closest sense tied to memory, after all). But to unearth something more unusual than what you’ll find at J.C. Penney, we talked to ten stylish men about the scents they wear. These are the best colognes for men with sophisticated tastes. (And no, none of them is the ubiquitous Santal 33.)

“I can get experimental with fragrance, but this one is an easy, traditionally ‘masculine’ scent that still doesn’t feel boring. It’s like a gray wool blazer in that it could never be inappropriate, anywhere. If I don’t want to think too much on a weekday morning, it goes on.” — Jon Roth, style editor, Esquire

“To the wearer, it doesn’t smell like much besides an intermittent cedarwood note. The response from others is undeniable, though — velvety, mysterious, woody, sexy. The magic is a molecule that hovers close to the skin. I have never experienced so many people remarking how good I smell with another cologne.” — Evan Tye, director of public relations, Luxottica

“It smells like I just returned from a short walk in the woods after a light rain, the scent of tree needles still lingering. It’s light and refreshing and gives me a sense of place, a reminder of nature. I wear it every day … it’s one of my last steps post-showering in the morning. I just spritz a few times before getting dressed. I’d like to say that it is just a light suggestion, but you’d have to ask someone near me to verify that.” — Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director, Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus

“I tend to rotate between these three at the moment: Mister Marvelous by Byredo, which is a good year-round fragrance (and who wouldn’t love receiving a fragrance with such a label?); Frederic Malle’s L’Eau D’Hiver, which is a heavier more wintry fragrance; and Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino, which is much more summery. If I have to pick one, I’m going to say the Tom Ford because it’s light and quite zesty — it has lemon and mandarin in there balanced with some lavender and rosemary. And while I’m absolutely sure I am being duped by the fragrance’s aquamarine bottle and its name, it does take me to the Italian Riviera. And it’s the one my wife loves the most, which is obviously important.” — Dan Rookwood, U.S. editor Mr Porter

“For me, the smell captures the best of a midday summer’s rain. It’s a scent that feels familiar yet foreign, like a friendly smile that you can’t get out of your head. It is commonly mistaken for other scents from other more luxe brands. It’s my every day. On special occasions, I use a scent by Le Labo, but Balincourt is a scent that you never get tired of.” — Anthony Coleman, creative director

“Vetiver 46 is light, dry, airy and no two people have described it the same way, so it’s pretty moody — which I like. I’m also really sensitive to fragrances, and it’s the first cologne in a while that I’ve found that doesn’t attack my nose throughout the day, give me headaches, or break me out. I also like the shape and labels of Le Labo’s bottles. I generally wear it Monday through Friday, and usually apply a spritz to each wrist. If I’m socializing on the weekend, I’ll apply Oud 27, which is more floral, to my wrists and behind my ears.” — Claude Edwards, executive assistant at Mother New York

“It smells like a good afterdinner drink: sweet, but not saccharine. Notes of fig, pear, and moss are earthy and soft, but not too musky. Life is musky enough as is. I use the least bit, daily, above — but not on — my chest, right after the shower. It’s subtle, but distinct enough to last until afterwork drinks with friends. Up close, they’ll always say you smell sweet. That’s nice.” — Jack Sachs, owner, Drama Club

“It smells refreshing and not too overpowering. I lightly apply behind ears and neck, and only wear it on special occasions.” — Jose Fernandez, art director, Cosmopolitan

“It’s funny — this scent’s name makes it seem like you’ll smell as if you rolled around in the Troodos Mountains for a week, but it’s actually pretty fresh. You definitely get cedar, but there’s also lemon, rosemary, and vetiver, which keeps it from getting too heavy. I love woodsy fragrances, and I wore Santal 33 for a long time, but then everyone else in New York started wearing it, too, and it just became less special. I’m hoping that won’t happen with this one.” — Justin Fenner, senior editor, Men’s Journal

“It’s an interesting balance between smoky and sweet notes. Musk and cedarwood give it a classic masculine scent, and fig and bergamot give a subtle fruity touch. It’s a familiar scent that’s simultaneously all its own. No shade toward Santal, but I was looking for something a little bit more unique and not overexposed. I wear it every day — a single squirt on the wrist, which I then dab against my neck and/or shirt collar.” — Brian Trunzo, trend forecaster, WGSN

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

The Best Men’s Colognes That Won’t Smell Like a Mall Counter