The key to a unisex fragrance, says celebrated French perfumer Frederic Malle, is "cleanness." Malle, who was the go-to consultant for luxury brands like Christian Lacroix and HermÃ¨s before launching his own brand ten years ago, offers two unisex scents in his fragrance edit, but says he's "totally comfortable" with women wearing his men's cologne, and vice versa. Ben Gorham, the basketball-player-turned-founder of cult fragrance brand Byredo, made a pointed decision to produce an entirely unisex catalogue. And Le Labo's Santal 33, a smoky scent meant to invoke the Marlboro man, has become a fashion industry favourite—for men and women.
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Slightly spicier than its feminine counterpart, Dolce & Gabbana's Light Blue Pour Homme is a good place to start if unisex sounds appealing but the word cologne still scares you.
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If you've already smelled this woody scent on a man, give it a spritz on your own wrist. Malle says smell does change given the sex of its wearer: "The grains of our skins are different and we have different glandular secretions, so men tend to make fragrances smell more masculine."
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Colette's Sarah Lerfel connected Jefferson Hack, the founder of AnOther Magazine, with Fabrice Penot and Edouard Roschi, the founders of Le Labo, and Another 13 was born. What was meant to be a limited-edition scent grew so popular that Le Labo added it to their permanent collection. The catch? It's only available through Colette. Ambrox, the velvety note at the base of Dolce's Light Blue, anchors this cologne, too. Not surprisingly, twelve other notes, including ambrette seed absolute, round it out.
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"Hesperidic notes," Malle says of the citrus in his Cologne Bigarade, "tend to generate the cleanness that men like without being too manly."
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Ineke's Derring-Do is made for men, and was nominated for a FiFi this year, but the magnolia notes, which sit between musk base notes and citrus top notes, make this an easy eau de parfum for women.
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Byredo's Gypsy Water starts out peppery before fading to vanilla. The scent is classified as a fougere, a term founded by the storied French house of Houbigant that technically means fern-like and applies to most woodsy, masculine scents. "Some women wear fougeres like they would wear a man's watch or men's shirt," Malle says. Kate Bosworth certainly fits the bill.
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Odin, one of New York's most popular men's stores, launched their eponymous fragrances in 2009 and have added new scents each year. Though there's wood and musk in their No. 2, its heavy citrus notes bring out a feminine edge.
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"The lightest, more transparent fragrances are unisex," Malle says. "They're almost asexual, as their main purpose is to make one feel clean." This is an apt description of Jo Malone's Grapefruit cologne, which blends the citrus with rosemary and vetiver for an easy-to-wear scent.