What a year to be a fragrance lover. There were so many strong releases this year that our list of the best men’s colognes of 2023 could easily have been twice as long—but we’ve whittled it down to the 23 we truly deserve the honorific.
If there are recurring themes among these 23 fragrances, they’re scents of musk and oud. Both notes are alluring, sophisticated, and mysterious; musk is a bit more ethereal while oud strikes us as more earthy and brooding. But there was levity in this year’s fragrances, too, in the form of vanillas, marine notes, and roses alike—often alongside those musky and oud-y notes, too. And according to Linda G. Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation (TFF), the blending of masculine and feminine notes is a phenomenon that won’t stop anytime soon.
“The majority of fragrances that have moved into the ‘universal’ category are following those brands that insisted on being listed in both women’s and men’s categories in years past,” Levy says. (She and TFF use “universal”, as a stand in for “unisex”, “gender-neutral”, and the like. “The future is certainly universal and non-gender specific, as research has shown that consumers’ preference for fragrances is not linked to gender identity.”
Read on for our picks, some of which are decidedly masculine, while others play between the lines. If you don’t find something you like here—do you need 23 more options?—then consider a few other ways of discovering fragrances in the new year. Levy suggests trying the discovery sets that many brands offer, to help sample a reputable roster. Many fragrance brands will even credit the cost of their sets toward a full-size purchase once you find a favorite. You might also subscribe to TFF’s “Noteworthy” newsletter (scroll down to the bottom of the homepage), as well as its monthly digital magazine, Accords. The organization will even debut an online fragrance course in early 2024.
Without further ado, here are the most noteworthy standouts in a banner year.
St Johns Madras
We can’t say enough good about St Johns’ scent assortment, and 2023’s Madras raises the bar even more. (One colleague gave a much-deserved ode to it.) This is one of the more broody choices on this lineup of new scents, for its black pepper, clove, nutmeg, patchouli, cedar, and amber medley. But a dusting of costas, mandarin, and lemon give it the necessary dimensions for more year-round wear; there aren’t many fragrances with that many heavy notes that wear so beautifully in summer. But that is exactly St Johns’ appeal; everything is “island vibes” with them, down to their iconic fishpot-weave bottles.