On the Nose: Redefining Men’s Cologne

Eight perfumers are redefining what it means to smell like a man.

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For centuries, classically trained perfumers dominated the men’s fragrance game, producing colognes that hewed to traditional notions of how “masculine” scents should smell—namely, sporty, clean, or musky, and with few exceptions. But the explosion of the indie fragrance market in the last decade has overthrown that concept: Now the gender lines between male and female scents are blurred, the compositions tap into incredibly diverse ingredients (from jasmine sambac to smoky benzoin), and there’s more transparency and creativity around how a scent is actually produced—which gives colognes a new street-wise edge.

“There are no rules in men’s fragrance,” says Frederick Bouchardy, the founder of Joya Studio, who creates boundary-pushing scents for brands like Opening Ceremony and Rodarte. “I think men have become more experimental in the way they express themselves,” he says. “This goes for their clothes, the way they carry themselves and their signature scent.” (Veteran fashion writer Glenn O’brien would agree. Read his story about the state of menswear today »)

That counterculture spirit courses through the creations of many upstarts—London-based nose Timothy Han, for example, takes inspiration from literary rebels like Jack Kerouac and Simone de Beauvoir when blending his small-batch scents while James Heeley fuses together highly individualistic notes in his Paris atelier, such as incense and dry raisins. Bouchardy, for his part, crafts bespoke fragrances at his olfactory studio near Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, where his imaginative wares can take any shape—from roll-on perfume to palm-oil-wax candle to sculptural objet. Even the new guard of classically trained perfumers is bucking many long-held traditions. Olivier Polge, the son of Jacques Polge, Chanel’s legendary in-house perfumer, recently joined the ranks of the fashion house and has been churning out unexpected hits ever since: his Misia evokes the smell of the Ballets Russes theater and dancer’s makeup, while Boy, which intertwines barbershop notes of musk with earthy lavender, is the first unisex scent in the history of Chanel.

This adventurous, risk-taking attitude is giving men a new reason to embrace eau. “There’s an opportunity to create fragrances that have yet to be explored, thanks to the openness of our audience,” says Bouchardy.

Here, a look at eight renegade artists redefining the fragrance landscape, and the latest options to reach for this fall.