January 31, 2023

Wearing fragrance is nothing new. In fact, some historians date modern perfumery as far back as the late 1300s. But as time marched on, the scents we put on our skin changed dramatically. You may no longer be able to spray yourself with a medieval cologne, but you can still find great options from the early to mid-20th century that are still in production and on the shelves of your local department store. We picked one scent from each decade, starting with the 1950s, to trace how men’s tastes have evolved.

1950s: Chanel Pour Monsieur

Chanel’s first-ever men’s scent, created in 1955, has earned a vaunted place among perfumers as the so-called “reference chypre,” thanks to its skillful blend of citrus and wood notes. Then, as now, the actual guys who wear it praise it for its under-the-radar nature. Like the era that inspired it, it’s subtle and confident, suggesting that masculinity and discretion walk hand in hand.

1960s: Dior Eau Sauvage

The original ad for this 1966 fragrance featured a sketch of a man in nothing but a towel, cocking an eyebrow at the viewer. Eau Sauvage is just as fresh as that cartoon’s attitude: it’s lemony, with hints of rosemary and vetiver, an earthy grass scent. But instead of coming across as insouciant or overtly sensual, this fragrance’s underpinnings enable it work in a variety of settings, making it the classic it is today.

1970s: Polo Ralph Lauren Green

If prior designer fragrances relied on citrus and herbs for their crisp, refreshing scents, Polo represented a sharp turn away from that tradition. Its blend of leather, tobacco and patchouli make it a distinctly rich and unquestionably masculine alternative to most other colognes on the market — even today.

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1980s: Armani Eau Pour Homme

After revolutionizing the way well-heeled men dressed in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Giorgio Armani forever changed the way they smelled, too. In 1984, he introduced his first men’s fragrance, Eau Pour Homme. Its blend of citrus, spice and patchouli hasn’t changed since it was introduced. Perhaps that’s because it’s so closely linked with the era’s trappings of success.

1990s: Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme

Dolce & Gabbana’s first men’s fragrance, released in 1995, spoke volumes about the way guys saw themselves in the era of irrational exuberance. Its packaging was minimal and clean, but its smell (a blend of neroli, bergamot, lavender, tobacco and cedar), was forthrightly sexy. This attempt to bottle the essence of an Italian lover produced an award-winning fragrance that men still wear today.

2000s: Hermès Terre d’Hermès

In 2006, Hermès released a fragrance named for what it was supposed to convey. In this case, an earthy blend of orange, pepper and cedar — with just a hint of minerality — seems to suggest that men in the Aughts had the desire to get back in touch with nature.

2010s: Creed Aventus

Inspired by the extraordinary life of Napoleon, Aventus has dominated the conversation about men’s fragrance since its release in 2010. In eight short years, this unexpectedly masculine blend of pineapple, jasmine, patchouli and vanilla became the company’s best-selling fragrance — an achievement made even more impressive by the fact that Creed has reportedly made scents since the 1700s.

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2020s: TBD

Nowadays, if you’re on the hunt for a new scent — be it seasonal or a perennial signature — then you’re going to swim through thousands of options, many of which are at a high price point. These are the fragrances we feel, at least so far, have the potential to become the defining scent of this era by decade’s end.

Contenders

Burberry Hero

Burberry Hero debuted in 2022, four years after Riccardo Tisci joined as creative director. He’s since left, but his contribution to the luxury brand’s cologne legacy is a good one: pine, cedar, smoke — these combine in a pleasant way.

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Byredo Mister Marvelous

Byredo re-issued Mister Marvelous in 2022 to widespread acclaim. The crisp, clean scent had a new frontman, too: Odell Beckham Jr. Byredo founder Ben Gorham hopes the scent inspires a new generation of men to more them and less, well, traditional.

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Le Labo Santal 33

Santal 33 might recall the 2010s for most, but it’s now, in the 2020s, that the scent has really dug its cultural roots. People know it now, and they understand who wears it and why (and where). It’s a touchstone, and a nice-smelling one at that, even if it’s a little overwhelming.

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