Before you spray to slay: a man's guide to modern scent families 2
Photograph by Felipe Rizo on Unsplash

Before you spray to slay: a man's guide to modern scent families

There are styles for all seasons and occasions. One’s “signature scent” is actually composed of an arsenal for different times and climes.
Paolo Vergara | Nov 05 2018

Style isn’t confined to just visual or tactile components, and if it doesn’t engage all senses, it damn well should. Among the five senses, smell has generally been agreed to be the most memorable and emotionally evocative—not just by poets, but by neuroscientists as well.

Since the earliest civilizations—especially as hygienic practices weren’t as developed—a good smell did not just indicate cleanliness, but exuded power, luxury, and seduction. The earliest perfumes were essential oils in their purest form: bergamot, sunflower, jasmine. In Europe during the Middle Ages, perfuming lost its masculine appeal and was generally considered a female interest.

Scent as an essential component of masculine style returned in the 19th century, with the advent of modern perfumery methods—most notably the use of synthetic ingredients which preserved endangered wildlife. This popularity also promoted certain scents produced specifically for men. This was the time cologne was marketed as the first modern masculine “perfume.”

Today, perfumes, like suits, hats, shoes, and other essentials are chosen based on the environment. There are scents for winter, aromas for the tropics, fragrances for daily wear, and bouquets for special evenings. Your signature scent is more of a scent profile, a spectrum, more than a single flavor.

While the sheer variety of perfumes and perfumeries can seem intimidating at first, most cognoscenti agree that there are four main scent groupings. As a rule of thumb, choose scents that match your body chemistry and your personality as the occasion demands. Some scents are more youthful and active, others, more reserved and formal.


Also known as the chypre scent, this family evokes lush, fresh foliage or earthy, aged sylvan tones utilizing moss and essential oils as their main natural ingredients. It has a moderate to large musk concentration, but it’s strong without being stuffy. Wood scents transform throughout the day, influenced by environmental factors and body chemistry, making this class good for daily wear.

Our pick: Bvlgari Pour Homme Soir. Its dominant papyrus notes will make you walk like an Egyptian monarch.

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As the name implies, this category derives its base notes from lemons, tangerines, grapefruit, and other citrusy fruits.

They have the least musk among the perfumes but they blast through the air with very strong and occasionally spicy opening notes, lending a playful character to the one who wears it. Citrus perfumes are known to maintain their scent throughout the day making these stubborn players ideal for cold climates and seasons.

Our pick: Mont Blanc Legend Spirit. Warm on a cold night, as R&B crooner Honne sings.

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The most contemporary scent style to emerge, aquatic or Ozone scents are mainly synthetic and aim to be the most fresh among the other styles. Ranging from the refreshing feel of mountain air to the fragrance of fresh linen, Aqua scents are popular in tropical environments, mixing well amidst the notorious Philippine humidity. The feeling of cleanliness is holiness for these grails. Aqua is not clinical nor cold, however, and many androgynous perfumes fall under this category.

Our pick: Coty and Calvin Klein’s Eternity Aqua for Men. As cool as a cucumber.

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Like a Greek statute, this classic doesn’t try to mask the human body’s glory. There’s something appealing about not hiding behind the veneer of imposed cleanliness, something liberating and thrilling about the risk of being exposed. Musk aims to embrace one’s natural scent and unabashedly capture the smell of sex. Good musk is a balancing act that is sensual without being sleazy, reserved but also seductive.

Our pick: Kiehl’s Musk. Guaranteed to make the roses stop and smell you. Save it for date nights.

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Fluid as they are, and as fashion is, the categories above aren’t exclusive to themselves. Musk, for one, is the base ingredient of all perfumes. It’s important that these categories are seen as gradients and markers to guide your selection and creative, experimental processes.