I've decided to switch things up this year. Instead of going with the latest designer release for the summer, I'm going to wear a classic cologne. The kind that is bracingly fresh and mouthwateringly bitter. A type of scent Paul Newman or Gianni Agnelli wore in their prime.
The problem is that I'm neither Paul Newman, nor Gianni Agnelli. I consider myself a modern man and smelling like a geezer, even if it's the style icon one, is not for me. So what did I do? I scoured the high end malls and LuckyScent to find modern colognes, which carry the character of their ancestors but stay modern and relevant. I've put a list of 10 best modern colognes, which put "gentleman" in modern gentleman.
What Is Cologne?
Nowadays people use the word cologne to refer to any kind of male fragrance. Technically, however, cologne is abbreviation for eau de cologne and in the fragrance world it means a fragrance at a concentration of 2-5%. In other words, colognes are light fragrances you can splash on after shower or at any time you feel like you need a mood lift.
Most classic colognes feature a citrus opening (lemon, neroli, orange), white florals (orange blossom, geranium) and some spices (cardamom, pepper). Because they are composed of light notes, colognes last between one to four hours.
To remedy the longevity, many perfumers add hediones to their compositions. Hedione is an aroma-chemical, which is usually used as a heart note that extends the longevity of the fragrance. It usually smell like a cross-over between jasmine and citrus. To get an idea what it smells like, try Eau de Sauvage by Dior - its middle notes are loaded with hediones.
The story has it Giovanni Maria Farina created the original eau de cologne in 1709. Farina was an Italian perfumer who lived in Cologne, Germany. In a letter to his brother, Farina wrote that the fresh citrus and orange flowers reminded him of his home in Italy. Farina attempted to recreate the feeling of his hometown in his original eau de cologne.
Since day one, the Italians have monopolized the production of the cologne genre. The majority of the most renowned classic eau de colognes were produced by Italian houses: Acqua di Parma, Carthusia, Xerjoff, etc. The French, of course, have created some amazing cologne fragrances but it is the Italians who have mastered the art.
If you follow Italian fashion, you probably know that the trick to pulling off the Italian style is to look good without looking like you are trying too hard. Your tie knot may be asymmetrical, your shirt cuff may be folded on one sleeve and the other, or you can pull the Gianni Agneli's classic: wear your watch on top of your sleeve. This nonchalant elegance is known in Italian as sprezzatura.
When you think of Italian colognes, think of sprezzatura. They are elegant, casual and nonchalant. Unlike French perfumery, the Italian colognes don't scream "pay attention to me, I'm pretty". Instead, they say "hey, I'm chilling here and if you happen to like how I smell, that's nice. If not, it's all good, have another cannoli".
As you read about and smell the colognes that made this list, you'll notice that all of them are defined by casual elegance. Some have more traditional bend (e.g. Colonia Assoluta), while others are decidedly modern. All of them, however, smell great and are guaranteed to compliment your style this summer.
1. Fiero by Casamorati (Xerjoff)
Fiero (Amazon) is the definition of a modern cologne. It opens with the classic bergamot, lemon and neroli but it stays contemporary and original with a luscious note of mint. Instead of transitioning into a floral composition, Fiero stays fresh and somewhat dry with base notes of vetiver and patchouli.
If you want to dip your toes into colognes but you are afraid of smelling too old or dated, Fiero is a good option. It is fresh, casual and very contemporary. It comes in a eau de parfume concentration and easily lasts up to six hours. The only problem is that it will set you back with $290 for a 75ml bottle.
2. Colonia Assoluta by Acqua di Parma
Colonia Assoluta opens with the classic bergamot and orange combo. As it dries down white floral accords take over. Luca Turin, who gives the fragrance four stars, explains the dry-down as a classic fougere. Indeed, the official notes list oakmoss and some resins but there is no sign of lavender - a key ingredient in any fougere fragrance.
For me, Colonia Assoluta is a classic cologne through and through. It is the perfect combination between a tailored linen jacket and skinny jeans.
3. Neroli Portofino by Tom Ford
Neroli Portofino (Amazon) is another fresh cologne-style fragrance that comes in an eau-de-parfum concentration. Its opening is not as bitter as in some classic colognes and I find that it has some sweet roundness. Think mandarin, myrtle and bergamot in the opening. Definitely fresh but not astringent or bracing like the old-timers.
Neroli Portofino is a good crowd-pleaser. It is a fresh and pleasant citrus, which keep you good company for about two hours. Recently, Tom Ford released a Forte version of the fragrance improving its longevity. More of a mystery is the release of the weaker version Acqua, which is lighter but comes at a lower price.
If you are looking for a universal citrus fragrance that smells natural, Neroli Portofino is a good choice. It goes very well with sand, sun, and waves.
4. Acqua di Colonia by Santa Maria Novella
The composition of Acqua di Colonia is classic from top to bottom: neroli, bergamot, lemon and orange explode in your nose and wake up your senses. Quickly, they are followed by a soft assortment of herbs (rosemary, lavender, petit grain and clove), which are softened by a sweet resinous benzoin.
Acqua di Colonia is the ultimate Italian fragrance not only because of its history. All of the notes in it characterize the smells of the Italian countryside - orange and lemon orchards, fields of lavender and spices spreading vastly across Tuscany, and then benzoin - an ingredient not native to Italy but very popular among the aristocracy in Europe in the 16th century.
The story behind the creation of the fragrance gives it even more significance. A group of Dominican friars set up a monastery outside of Florence and started making ointments and blends from native herbs and flowers. The word quickly spread across Florence and soon the ruling aristocrats at the time from the Medici family started using the friars' products.
When in 1533 at age fourteen Caterina de' Medici married King Henry II of France, the friars of Santa Maria Novella created a fragrance from all aromas native to Tuscany to remind the your princess of her home. This fragrance was Acqua di Colonia, which despite of its old age remains relevant today as a symbol of the Italian elegance and living la vita bella.
5. Bottega Veneta pour Homme Essence Aromatique
If you want to feel and smell as if you just stepped out of Antica Barbieria Colla in Milan, this is the fragrance for you. Bracingly fresh and bitter bergamot, lemon and pine overtake your senses and whisper in your year that today is going to be a great day.
Bottega Veneta Pour Homme Essence Aromatique defines modern elegance and punches above the weight of its young age (released in 2016). I won't be surprised if in 2116, people talk about Bottega Veneta Pour Homme Essence Aromatique as one of the best renditions of classic cologne for its time.
Read the full review of Bottega Veneta Pour Homme Essence Aromatique below.
6. Eau d'Orange Verte Concentre by Hermes
I will forever associate Eau d'Orange Verte Concentre with old rich men. I was at the Hermes boutique in Toronto waiting to pay for something when the old debonair man in front of me bought five bottles of Eau d'Orange Verte Concentre.
He could have been buying all these bottles for gifts but something told me it was for personal use. In a split second I developed at least three theories why he is buying so many bottles of the same fragrance. One of them that he is retreating on his private island, which is so secretive that he couldn't possibly order online and have them delivered.
On the other hand, Eau d'Orange Verte Concentre is a masterpiece of a fragrance. It is fresh, zesty and bitter - smelling exactly like a green orange. It has oakmoss and patchouli in the dry-down, which give the juice some tenacity and make it last for a good part of the day (6-7 hours on me).
The bitter aspect of Eau d'Orange Verte Concentre makes it slightly more appropriate for older wearers. No, you don't have to be old enough to qualify for senior discounts, however, if you are in your teens or early twenties you might find Eau d'Orange Verte Concentre not as playful. The quality comes through but you may conjure up images of wearing your older brother's cologne.
7. Chypre 21 by Heeley
Chypre 21 by Heeley Parfums is unlike any other fragrance on this list. Instead of relying on sparkling citrus to convey casual elegance, Chypre 21 recreates French chic by using floral and soft resin accords. While Chypre 21 opens with neroli and bergamot, these notes play a supporting role for the rose, saffron and patchouli combo.
James Heeley's idea behind Chypre 21 was to pay homage to the traditional chypre fragrances, which were extremely popular in the 1920s. Heeley's take on chypre, however, is definitely modern and eve more definitely French. It is an easy-going fragrance that will brighten your day and put a spring in your step. As an added bonus, you'd be the most unique smelling guy around because there is nothing on the fragrance counter that comes even close to Chypre 21.
8. Bigarade Concentree by Frederic Malle
I can sum up Bigarade Concentree as the mix of two very high quality ingredients: bitter orange + cardamom. Jean Claude Ellena's creation, however, is more than a sum of its part. Bigarade Concentree is clean and dirty at the same time. The bright bitter orange is one of the best I've smelled in a fragrance. It conjures up images of orange trees in full blossom in the countryside of Southern France. You can easily associate citrus with freshness and cleanliness.
Ellena doesn't settle with creating just another version of his classic Eau d'Orange Verte. He juxtaposes the bitter orange note against a dirty cardamom accord, which at time reminds me of BO. You can find exactly the same accord in Declaration (Amazon) by Cartier - another fragrance created by Jean Claude Ellena.
Bigarade Concentree is not a typical cologne but is extremely versatile. Give it a try on a day when you feel a little dirty, especially if it is your mind.
9. Kobe by Xerjoff
Kobe (Amazon) is for those who indulge in rummaging old bookstores and sipping espressos in quaint cafes on cobblestone alleys. Heavy on the neroli and precious resins, Kobe reminds me of the smell of a wooden box holding dry citrus peels and flowers. The effect is a fresh, nostalgic fragrance for a gentleman who looks back at his life with a bittersweet smile. Cue in soft jazz music and you get the idea.
Kobe would have been the perfect fragrance for Hemingway during his period in Madrid. Even if you are not quite like Hemingway, give Kobe a go. Its nostalgia is what makes European fragrances so unique.
10. Acqua Decima by Eau d'Italie
If nostalgia and musings on the days gone-by is not your thing, Acqua Decima will definitely bring your spirits up. The bright zesty citrus and mint are so realistic that you can almost feel the breeze of the Amalfi Coast.
Eau d'Italie is a line of fragrances created to recreate the atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast and compliment the experience of the guests staying at Hotel La Sirenuse in Positano. The family of Marina Sersale, one of the Eau d'Italie's founders, turned their villa overlooking the bay of Positano into a small family hotel. Since 1951 La Sirenuse has given its guests unforgettable memories and since 2010 Eau d'Italie has been bottling the hotel's atmosphere and shipping it across the world.
Released in 2013, Acqua Decima, the tenth fragrance in the line, embodies the natural breeze of the Amalfi Coast and Positano. All you need is two liberal sprays on the neck and a cold mojito.