Our Favorite Scents To Complement The Season
Winter is one of my favorite seasons for clothing — sweaters, layering, coats, scarves, flannel, tweed, oh, my! — and it is also one of my favorite seasons for fragrance. Here are five of my favorite and, in my opinion, best winter fragrances for men right now.
What Do I Look For In A Winter Fragrance?
Before getting into my five picks, you may be wondering, “what makes a fragrance a great winter fragrance?” That’s an excellent question! I’ve given it some thought and have come up with four specific characteristics that I look for when choosing a winter fragrance for myself.
- Complement the season. First and foremost, I want the fragrance to complement the season. Scent is a very powerful medium and has an extraordinary ability to conjure up a specific place, feeling, emotion, or memory. So, for me, a great winter fragrance is one that evokes the spirit of the season or a certain feeling I get during the colder months. It’s something that is a bit difficult to express, but you know it when you feel it (and smell it).
- Rich but not overpowering. Next, I like my winter fragrances to be rich but not oppressive. I’ve looked at a few other winter fragrance guides and what I’ve noticed is that most of them tend to feature fragrances that are incredibly and unapologetically bold. I understand the desire for a richer scent in a winter fragrance but I like it to be tempered — robust, yet subtle and complex.
- Warm and lush. In a similar vein, I like my winter fragrances to be warm, lush, and enveloping. This is more of a feeling you get from the scent rather than simply how it smells. A winter fragrance with this quality serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the cold temperatures and stark landscapes typical of the winter months. Think of it as an olfactory blanket of sorts.
- Intriguing. And finally, I look for a unique and intangible quality in my winter fragrances that creates a sense of interest or intrigue. Something that’s going to cause someone to do a double take and that may provide an invitation for them to ask what you’re wearing, which could lead to an even more interesting conversation.
Those are the four qualities I look for in a winter fragrance. Now let’s take a look my five favorites this season.
Ralph Lauren Polo Green
There’s a reason Polo Green is a classic and there’s a reason I include on pretty much every winter fragrance roundup I write. It ticks absolutely every single box on my checklist. Notes of pine are the perfect complement to the season (holiday or otherwise), it’s rich, warm, and intriguing.
- Top notes: Pine Accord, Thyme Oil, Basel Oil
- Heart notes: Leather Accord, Tobacco Leaf Absolute, Tarragon Accord
- Base notes: Patchouli Oil, Oakmoss Accord, Incense Oil
With a fragrance as ubiquitous as Polo Green, you may find it interesting that I still consider it to be quite intriguing — one surely knows what it smells like when someone is wearing it, right? Well, a good friend of mine is a diehard Polo Green wearer and every time I catch a whiff of him wearing it I think, “Man, I know what that is but it smells so good and is still incredibly interesting.”
While I find the modern version of the fragrance to be perfectly acceptable, if you start digging around the internet you’ll find a good number of people pining — pun, sadly, intended — for the original formulation. A couple months ago I finally gave in and purchased a bottle from the original run in 1978. (There are always many vintage bottles available on eBay.) And, yes, it is different. Sharper and a little deeper and thoroughly enjoyable to wear and smell. Is it head and shoulders “better” than the contemporary formulation? No. You’ll be more than okay with a modern version, though do not confuse Polo Cologne Intense for a stronger version of Polo Green. It’s quite different.
Frederic Malle Monsieur
Launched in 2015, Frederic Malle’s Monsieur is a bold and supremely sexy masculine scent. Let me tell you, it’s very easy to be seduced by this fragrance. I mean, just read the description from the website and you’ll get a pretty good sense of what it’s all about: “For the man who wears a pinstripe suit with ease and self-assurance, whose highly sophisticated virility is tinged with artistic flair, and whose ruthless pursuit of seduction is somewhat of an aesthetic endeavor.” Sounds about right.
- Top notes: Mandarin, Rum Absolute
- Heart notes: Patchouli
- Base notes: Cedar, Suede, Incense
I’ve seen some reviews of Monsieur that classify it as an amber vanilla fragrance. I find that to be incredibly misleading. The dominant note on my skin, at least, is a hefty patchouli that takes on a warmth and unabashed sexiness via the cedar, suede, and incense base notes as it dries down — it almost pulses off the skin.
One important note is that upon first applying Monsieur, you get hit with a burst of Iso E, which can tend to smell highly synthetic. Do not be put off by this as it will dissipate within 15 minutes or so, revealing the fragrance’s true and long-lasting character.
Santa Maria Novella Tabacco Toscano
If the boldness of Frederic Malle’s Monsieur isn’t quite for you but you’d like something in the same ballpark but just a little smoother around the edges, Santa Maria Novella’s Tabacco Toscano might be exactly what you’re looking for.
- Top notes: Bergamot, Tuscan Tobacco Leaves
- Heart notes: Leather, Amber, Birchwood
- Base notes: Cedarwood, Guaiacum, Sandalwood, Musk, Vanilla
In terms of how it smells, once again, I find the description on the SMN website to be exceptionally apt: “A mysterious and velvety fragrance. It opens with notes of bergamot and blond tobacco leaves. In the middle, the dark notes of birch and leather are embraced by a warm amber note. On the base, precious woods combine with the soft note of vanilla and musk.” To enjoy Tabacco Toscano, you really need to be a fan of vanilla as that’s what you’re going to get the most of on the dry down with just a tinge of wood, leather, and tobacco. It’s quite elegant and is an underground classic that always gets tons of compliments.
Creed Original Santal
Let’s be honest. When it comes sandalwood fragrances, there is one that sort of dominates the scene. And you’d be forgiven for the eye roll — around here, at least — if someone were to offer up Le Labo’s Santal 33 as the genre’s standard bearer. I mean, if you want to smell like every hotel lobby in Soho, then by all means, have at. But for those looking for something a little more niche, old school, and classic, I’d highly recommend Creed’s Original Santal.
- Top notes: Ginger, Juniper Berries, Bergamot, Rosemary, Coriander, Mandarin
- Heart notes: Lavender, Geranium, Orange Blossom, Sandalwood
- Base notes: Oakmoss, Musk, Tonka Bean, Cedarwood
Like many of the fragrances in Creed’s lineup, Original Santal does come with a touch of sweetness. It is by no means overbearing or cloying, but just something to be aware of in the event you were expecting a rich, woody base. Of all the fragrances on my winter fragrance list, I would peg Creed’s Original Santal as the most versatile. It’s great for everyday wear — distinct, yet inoffensive — and transitions effortlessly to special occasions as well. Another one that will garner an insane number of compliments.
Guerlain L’Homme Idéal
The house of Guerlain is often overlooked in the mainstream fragrance conversation. It’s a shame, really. There’s an timeless elegance to every Guerlain fragrance I’ve had the pleasure of wearing and that is certainly true of my final winter fragrance choice, L’Homme Idéal.
- Top notes: Citrus, Orange Blossom, Rosemary
- Heart notes: Almond/Amaretto, Tonka Bean
- Base notes: Leather, Cedar, Vetiver
Launched in 2014, L’Homme Idéal is classified as a woody aromatic fragrance. It’s very unassuming, yet distinct, inoffensive and perfect for daily wear no matter the situation. It’s the lightest fragrance of the bunch on this list but is exceptionally refined. Upon the first spray, you’ll note that it comes off as slightly sharp, but it dries down fairly quickly to reveal a smoothness via the leather and a touch of masculine wood and spiciness courtesy of the cedar and vetiver.
What are some of your favorite winter fragrances? Join the conversation and share them, below! And thanks, as always, for reading.