Lifestyle

This Is the Best Cologne from Each Fragrance Family

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According to the guy who came up with the fragrance “families” in the first place. 

4 Fragrences from Each Fragrance Family

Photo Illustration by C.J. Robinson

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When you browse the best cologne for men online or in store, you may not know which scent you actually want to buy. That’s perfectly fine, since there are thousands to discover, and since you may want something unique to you. In this case, something you should know is which fragrance family (or families) you’re looking for. 

Think of it like wines: They can be full-bodied or light, dry or sweet. If you prefer white wines, then that’s a start. But even if you’re shopping for Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, or Sauvignon Blanc, there are different factors that influence their expressions and flavors. The same goes for fragrances.

Fragrance families are broad categories defined by a range of individual aromas. Cedar and patchouli fall within the woody families, for example, and rose and jasmine are floral. Bright aromas like citrus and grass are in the fresh families, and spicier smells are found in the amber families.

If you like a scent, often you’ll like many other scents from that same family. But how do you know which cologne falls where?

That’s where Michael Edwards and his company Fragrances of the World come in. In the 1980s, after working in-house at notable parfumerie Halston, Edwards noticed that scents could be classified almost like wines, and each consumer has his or her own preference for specific varietals. (Yeah, I borrowed that analogy from him above.) Since then, Edwards has literally written the book on this topic, and updates it yearly.

This perspective helped Edwards to create his fragrance wheel, which defined the 14 families into which all scents can be classified. His team of expert noses receives pretty much every new scent that enters the market, and they analyze its notes and characteristics. Imagine the size of this database, nearly 40 years later.

Most recently, the wheel has evolved with the times. Beginning in 2021, and signaling a broader industry shift, the term “amber” replaced the previously used term “oriental,” for obvious reasons. That change is reflected in nearly one-third of the families, too, since ambrous notes can be standalone (think something warm, spicy, and/or gourmand) or it can tether to florals, and woods, as well as express itself softly. Here, then, is the latest version of Edwards’s Fragrance Wheel.

The fragrance wheel. Courtesy of Michael Edwards 

So how is this relevant to you, the curious consumer? Well, Fragrances of the World creates a massive database of all of this information—by brand, family, creator, notes, year, and so forth. Department stores and other big retailers will subscribe to this database in order to suggest fragrances to their customers. Say you like a specific scent—maybe Dior’s Eau Sauvage. (Edwards calls this one “the fragrance of my life.”) You could walk into a store, tell the clerk “I like the citrus notes in Eau Sauvage, but my best friend wears it. So can you recommend something similar, with many of the same notes?” Then, using the database created by Edwards and his team, you’ll get a load of suggestions—or even one very honed suggestion—and be on the way to finding your new signature scent.

You can also try out Edwards’ interactive Fragrance Wheel for yourself, or try the “Match My Fragrance” feature on that same site. Type in one fragrance, and the database will recommend numerous others, which are each similar in some way.

Or, if you want a shortcut for shopping for cologne for men, and if you trust Edwards’ well-trained nose, here is one recommendation from each of the 14 fragrance families from the man himself, along with some thoughts on qualities and key notes of each family.


“Zesty, tangy, and juicy. Lemons and mandarins.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Dior Eau Sauvage

“It’s the cologne that transformed eau de colognes.” (Ed. note: You’ll primarily find this 1966 classic as an eau de toilette these days.) 

“Think fresh sea sprays, or wet air after a thunderstorm.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Calvin Klein CK Everyone

“A genderless scent that captures the mood of today.”

“Nothing beats the smell of freshly mown lawns, and crushed green leaves, right?”

Edwards’s Pick:

Hermetica Ivyme

“The cool green scent of ivy leaves.”

“Sweet, juicy, and edible. Tropical fruits, peaches, pears, and fresh summer apples.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Boy Smells Marble Fruit

“A true melody of masculine and feminine accords.”

“Walk past a florist, close your eyes, and take a deep breath.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Arquiste Boutonnière nº 7

“A crisp green gardenia for your black-tie affair.”
Soft Floral

“Soft, powdery, sweet, musky and creamy.”

Edwards’s Pick:

L’Artisan Parfumeur Iris de Gris

“A memory-provoking scent that is raw yet delicate.”
$162

Selfridges

Floral Amber

“Florals like orange blossom, made smooth, sweet and subtly spicy with incense and amber.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Byredo Black Saffron

“A saffron aphrodisiac.”
Soft Amber

“Smooth carnation, incense, and warm spices. Soft, yet sensual.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Amouage Boundless

“A euphoric fragrance that brings boundless joy.”

“Vanilla and musk, cinnamon, and cardamom. Opulent, sweet, and warm.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Chris Collins Sweet Taboo

“Enticingly sweet.”
Woody Amber

“Patchouli and sandalwood, with a splash of spice, plus maybe something sweet enough to eat.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Hugo Boss Boss Bottled

“Sophisticated and distinctive.”

“Cedar, sandalwood, and vetiver, raw and simple. Freshly sanded floors and sawdust.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540

“Alluring for both men and women.”
Mossy Woods

“Sweet, smooth, earthy. Woody and mossy notes.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Roja Parfums APEX

“Awakens our most primal instincts.”

“Smoldering embers and the unmistakable leathery smell of new shoes.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Dunhill British Leather

“A new edge to leather, dry and intriguing.”
Aromatic Fougère

“Lavender and other herbs, like rosemary or basil, teamed with the warmth of wood.”

Edwards’s Pick:

Paco Rabanne Phantom

“Futuristic masculinity.”

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