I'M NOT SURE why it took me until my 40s to finally get into fragrances, but over the past couple of years - at a time when I was exclusively working from home and only making public appearances at my local deli - I suddenly got very into smelling nice. After doing a deep dive into the complicated world of online fragrance shopping (and dipping unsuccessfully into a variety of funky, same-smelling men's colognes), I found myself drawn to more gender-neutral aromas.
Unisex fragrances, as it turns out, are increasingly in vogue and appeal to folks who don't want their style (or scent) strictly codified by overplayed descriptors like floral, spicy, woody, or sweet. Instead, these fragrances are all of those things, plus a bunch of other things too. Neither explicitly masculine nor feminine, they eschew aromatic stereotypes in favor of being simply divine, delicious, and - in my experience - oddly transportive. Even when I'm just at home wearing sweatpants and a hoodie, a spritz of any of the following makes me feel a tiny bit fabulous. And even if I look like a mess, a beautiful scent can add a little luxury.
Cannabis Eau de Parfum by MALIN+GOETZ
In case you hadn’t noticed, much of the world continues to be gripped by a kind of weed mania. While there is no shortage of cannabis-inspired perfumes (or weed-scented candles), this fragrance by MALIN+GOETZ is one of the best. Appropriately musky and funky without being overpowering, Cannabis Eau de Parfum (which is also available as a roll-on oil) is surprisingly subtle. Not pungent or smoky, it’s the perfect approximation of the sticky, sweet smell of fresh marijuana buds (not that I would have any firsthand experience with that sort of thing).
Thé Noir 29 by Le Labo
Santal 33 might still be the most ubiquitous scent in Le Labo’s formidable stable of fragrances, but Thé Noir 29 remains a personal favorite. I tried it as a sample and wore it a couple of times before taking the plunge, and it has quickly become one of my go-tos. Sweet and exotic and woody and weird, it’s a smell that seems to change the longer you wear it, like a pair of jeans that gets more perfectly comfortable the longer you have them on.
Butch Femme by Carlen Parfums
As the name implies, Butch Femme is equal parts hard and soft — an aroma that’s citrusy at first, then ends on a peppery, sandalwood note. It’s not just the smell I love. It’s also Carlen Parfums’ minimal yet sophisticated packaging. Plus, they offer small 10 ml bottles that pair perfectly with the brand’s leather travel cases (which look just as chic as their fragrances smell).
Pierre-Constantin Guéros’ New York Intense by Fragrance Du Bois
Fragrance Du Bois makes a lot of incredible smells (they also do a nice take on cannabis). One hallmark of their collections is that they are not for the faint of heart. This is particularly true of New York Intense, which, like its name, manages to be big and bold, while smelling a bit like everything at the same time. Created by French perfume master Pierre-Constantin Guéros, New York Intense announces itself with floral top notes and leaves behind traces of oud, patchouli, and oak moss. More than anything, it smells rich.
Verde Erba I from La Maison Valmont's Storie Veneziane collection
I have no idea what the syringa flower is or what the essence of woody papyrus is meant to evoke, but I do know that this fragrance is basically the perfect distillation of all things green — funky and floral and slightly sweet. Developed by La Maison Valmont’s Sophie Vann Guillon, Verde Erba I is part of an inaugural collection of “olfactory jewels” inspired by Venetian art and culture, which is just shorthand for saying it smells opulent, timeless, and very fancy (and comes in a beautiful bottle that looks like a hunk of Venetian glass).
T. Cole Rachel Writer
T. Cole Rachel is the managing editor of Departures. A Brooklyn-based writer, editor, and teacher with over 20 years of experience working in print and digital media, his writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Interview, and the Creative Independent.
Ahonen & Lamberg Illustrator
Ahonen and Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.