They say it takes 10,000 hours of focused practice to master any skill. And when it comes to recommending fragrances to people, we hope that having sniffed a good 10,000 of these makes us somewhat of an authority on the topic. Prescribing a cologne to any one person comes with a lot of risks, starting with the investment in the product itself (upwards of $200 or even $600)—not to mention the fact that this scent needs to impress its intended audience (like a room full of colleagues, a spouse on the daily, or a first-impressions dinner date). And it also has to suit the demand of the wearer, whether it’s going to be used as a signature scent, a seasonal pick or an occasion-based fragrance. There’s a lot riding on this purchase, and no two people have the same variables in play. Thus, in making recommendations for the best cologne for men, we’ve got to really showcase the most universal favorites based on specific scenarios and needs. Below, we’re going to do exactly that.
The Best Cologne for Men
Best Signature Scent
A signature scent is something that becomes part of your personal style. It needs to suit you, but it also needs to work as well in your life as your favorite piece of tailoring, going from the office to the bar and back again with ease. You could deploy different scents for each of these scenarios, which we wholeheartedly endorse, but for the guy who wants something “close to center” for all of these things—a balancing thread line, perhaps—we recommend something as layered and grounding as Krigler Palais Monarchie 218. This one is gourmand—meaning you can almost taste its flavors, which include vanilla, almond and tonka bean—while its other notes deliver a many-splendored finish with notes of spicy cinnamon, sweet pear, radiant musk, soothing patchouli and rousing amber. You contain multitudes, and so does this fragrance. Best of all, it’s so well rounded that you can wear it all year.
The Best Spring Cologne for Men
In the spring, you want a cologne that feels like “in bloom” with the world around you. Something green that lifts the spirits—and might even do the same all winter long, reminding you of sunnier days ahead. Richard James’ brilliant Blade of Grass scent is pretty on the nose with its name: Somehow, the blend of vetiver, green tea, fig tree and moss creates the essence of a freshly mown lawn. It’s as fresh and as spellbinding as a dewy April morning.
The Best Summer Cologne for Men
We all lighten up in in warmer weather, and your seasonal scent should be akin to that “Summer Fridays” feeling. Choose something floral and green: we prescribe Exit the King for this season, a scent that is “chypre” or cypress-like. It’s got moss, flowers and even soapy elements, but underneath all of that is a soothing patchouli, musky, sandalwood simmer. It’s perfect for a soothing summer.
The Best Fall Cologne for Men
For the fall, you want something that warms the recipient and wearer alike—an olfactive flannel shirt, let’s say—and woody scents often perform best, while also feeling appropriate for winter and spring alike. Thé Matcha is an instant classic from Le Labo, a subtle but sophisticated medley of matcha, fig, cedar, bitter orange and vetiver.
The Best Winter Cologne for Men
The best scents for winter will also feel hugely misplaced any other time of year, like a turtleneck or Christmas song in June. That’s because they warm the spirits with spicy or smoky notes, and for that reason they feel heavy on the senses. Take the exquisite Indigo Smoke, for example: it evokes the tradition of burning tea leaves in ancient China, with notes of black tea, incense, pine tar and guaiac wood. The result is hypnotic, and something that will feel polarizing come April—but from November through March, it’ll be hard to beat.
The Best Cologne for Professional Offices
Depending on your office—or your specific role in the office—you might need something that feels buttoned up and somewhat C-level. Still, you don’t want to intimidate with your fragrance, so it’s best to choose something that feels commanding but uplifting at the same time. Funny enough, these scents sometimes break seasonal conventions and, regardless of when you wear them, would otherwise be classified as fall or winter scents—or even evening ones (while lacking the sensuality of a date-night scent, of course). Choose something like Dior’s Sauvage Elixir, a highly concentrated spin on its signature scent, which casts a spice-tinged radius of cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and licorice. It gets gravity from vetiver, amber and patchouli, but owes its approachability to refreshing lavender and crisp grapefruit.
The Best Cologne for Creative Professionals
If you’re in a casual workplace (or if you’re a young guy lower on the totem pole), you may also want to cast a confident aura. Choose a shoulder-season scent that relies on amber-y and woody notes like Scent Intense from Costume National. It isn’t totally brooding: this scent is lightened by springy hibiscus and aromatic tea leaves. It’s a charismatic eau de parfum that’ll have people talking to you, not about you, and will have colleagues eager to sit beside you in meetings (so, be warned, you might have to sit through more meetings).
Best for Weekends
If you have a cologne for the office, then it suggests the existence of a scent you wear off the clock—one you embrace from Friday night through Sunday evening. So, choose a scent that pairs perfectly with the lack of screentime, bureaucracy and stress. We prescribe Galloway from Parfums de Marly for this, thanks to a powdery-fresh, iris-musk mix that opens with a spicy-crisp squeeze of citrus and pepper. It feels classic and timeless, like those weekend memories you’ll make. Nothing autopilot or “9-to-5” with this one.
Best for Date Night
Whether it’s a blind date or the evening when you plan to pop the question, you want to project a confident, rapturous radius on date night. It sets the mood, much like a candlelit dinner or a John Legend album. So pick a scent with intoxicating notes like leather, smoke, spice or amber—much like a winter scent, but with a definitively intimate lean. Allow us to strip down a class act like Amouage’s Opus VII Reckless Leather: This is a very alluring bottle. Whether you feel confident and relaxed going into date night or need a little extra something, well, it’s all in this leathery, resinous, spiced-up potion.
Best for Black-Tie
Your black tie scent should be a real top-shelf juice. It’s less sensual than a date-night pick, but as sexy as any cleaned-up gentleman can be. Gucci’s A Gloaming Night will turn heads on a variety of occasions (and is a worthy fall-to-spring pick, if you wear the fanciest pants in your workplace). But when unleashed at a wedding, gala or fundraiser, this patchouli-vetiver-cinnamon scent is the Dom Pérignon of the olfactory game.