Last year I posted a list of masculine-labeled perfumes that I believe women should borrow and make their own. I figured it's time to do the same for men and supposedly-feminine fragrances. Personally, I don't care one bit about the pour homme/pour femme issue and don't think perfume has a gender. There's juice and skin--- if it smells good to you that's all it matters. But people have been conditioned to make the distinction, especially on the mainstream market. Many niche/indie/artisan brands have abandoned the man/woman labels a long time ago, using neutral packaging and names (think Lutens, Malle, Parfumerie Gnerale, and many others), but even within those brands there's sometimes a bit of a bias (Geranium Pour Monsieur). So here's my list. I tried to avoid long-discontinued or impossible to find stuff. Please chime in with more ideas.
Chanel Cuir de Russie and Bois des Iles. These two classics are now part of Chanel Exclusifs, a range that is a lot more guy-friendly, but in many Chanel boutiques and department stores the Exclusifs are still located too close to the makeup counter, making some men avoid them. There's also a brand image issue, especially among men of a certain generation (pre-Bleu,obviously) for whom Chanel perfume=No.5 (which I wish more men would try, but I know that many have a real issue with the aldehydic opening). I once gave my father a bottle of Chanel Antaeus. His initial reaction was "Chanel? Isn't that women's stuff?". He ended up wearing and enjoying it, of course.
Robert Piguet- Bandit. I'm pretty sure that if Bandit was released today by a major brand it would have declared a masculine. Smaller brands can go unisex, like Etat Libre d'Orange did with Bandit's modern offspring, Rien, but on the general market such a leather-galbanum-smoke composition would do better with guys. Cabochard also belongs in this category, but since reformulations have made it unrecognizable I'm not even going to bother.
Hermes Eau de Merveilles. This is a proper gender-neutral fragrance, but for some reason Hermes positioned it as the feminine answer to Terre d'Hermes and created some limited-edition pendant presentations. To make it even more annoying, SAs at most department stores that stock it can be pretty horrible about yanking a tester from one's hand and saying "that's for women/that's for men" (my local Saks is notorious for that). Still, this salty orange and ambergris is a modern marvel.
Ormonde Jayne- Ormonde Woman. Just as I think women should give Ormonde Man a try before deciding between the two, men would do well to consider the super green sister. It's a bit more lush and thick, but not necessarile femme.
Estee Lauder classics: Azuree, Aliage, Private Collection. Yes, I know that approaching an Estee Lauder counter and asking for the stuff they usually keep hidden is not a guy's idea of a good time, but the mossy green Aliage and Private Collection are worth the trouble, and the leather-chypre Azuree is Bandit's younger sibling.
Donna Karan Collection: Black cashmere, Chaos, Donna Karan Signature. Many people still don't realize that these gorgeous re-released line is easily available from Neiman Marcus and online. The only official offering for guys is Fuel For Men (I wear the 1994 original in the gas pump bottle), but both the spice-incense-chamomile of Chaos and the almost eerie darkness of Black Cashmere (saffron, incense, pepper, among other things) can be just as easily worn by them. The same goes for the original Donna Karan Perfume (now "Signature") that was freed from its duck-shaped bottle.
Miller Harris- Figue Amere. This is a packaging issue more than anything. Figue Amere comes in a fuchsia-colored box that doesn't do justice to this salty and herbal fig perfume that's free of the coconut and creaminess of Premier Figuier (L'Artisan) or Phylosikos (Diptyque).
Bottega Veneta by Bottega Veneta. It's one of the best mainstream perfumes from a couple of years ago. While the brand has released a pour homme version the following year, I still think the original sueded chypre is not to be missed.
Serge Lutens- Daim Blond. Speaking of suede. While Uncle Serge doesn't use feminine/masculine labels, this iris-apricot-suede is generally more embraced by women, and usually offered to them by SAs. It's the apricot jam note, I'm sure, but it shouldn't scare away men. Daim Blond is much more complex than the sum of the official notes, and it's probably the best suede on the market.
Photo by the wonderful Leora Long who is also the photographer behind the classic Nina Ricci Farouche image.