The unisex perfumes you’ll want to wear

It’s become one of the biggest beauty trends of recent months. But with more and more brands releasing unisex scents, Lizzie Ostrom explains which ones are worth buying into

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By Lizzie Ostrom on

I love pilfering a bit of my husband’s aftershave. Poor man, there’s not much that’s sacred among his possessions. I’ll rob him of his jumpers, wear his cosy socks even though he’s six sizes bigger and borrow his electric toothbrush when mine goes flat.

My favourite of his scents is (or was, as I used so much of it) Géranium Pour Monsieur. I bought it for him as a birthday present, in love with the scent and the anticipation of smelling it on him. But I wanted to smell it on me, too. Of all the perfumes I’ve worn in my life, it’s this minty, racing heartbeat of a fragrance that gives me the most visceral pleasure. Silly, then, that I didn’t just buy it for myself, rather than resorting to subterfuge and conforming with the notion that it’s just for men.

Over the past few years, the emergence of unisex scents has been accelerating as the codes of niche perfumes have become adopted by the mainstream – a focus on ingredients and sense of place, rather than scents based on seduction and conquest. According to expert Michael Edwards’ industry resource, Fragrances Of The World, there are now as many unisex scents launched per year as there are dedicated female fragrances; in 2010, they made up less than a third. Yes, it’s partly about marketing – a repurposing of what was once targeted towards one gender as now suitable for all. But I also find that the development of newer woody smells, from Clearwood to Timbersilk and Amber Extreme, has enabled perfumers to create unisex fragrances that have soulful appeal for both genders.   

This is excellent news for those of you who live by the phrase “what’s yours is mine”. Indeed, a friend confessed that she bought her husband a bottle of Le Labo Thé Noir 29 for Christmas. Alas, he wasn’t that keen on it and so she selflessly offered to use it up instead. It was almost as if she’d planned it.

So, if you like the thought of having access to your partner’s perfume (not least for its money- and space-saving potential), here are a few you may both enjoy wearing. Not at the same time – that’s like going out in matching outfits.



Founded in the 1970s, L’Artisan Parfumeur were the first company to offer gender-free fine fragrances. This perfume, meaning “thief of roses”, was pioneering as it presented roses as something men could get excited about, rather than wimping away from because they’re too girly. The rose is roughened up with rootsy patchouli and officially is about the ravages of a storm. But I like to think a refined burglar has nicked a flower and left the smell of the soil behind. Or maybe the thief is time, and the patchouli represents the decaying of the rose’s beauty. It’s so Beauty and the Beast! Monsieur! Gaston!



A scrumptious one: bergamot, loads of Iso E Super (which makes up legendary modern unisex scent Molecule 01) and vanilla, too. It makes me think of freshly baked madeleines or some other refined, French, baked good. It is definitely sweet but, crucially, not in a sickly way.


The musky scent: MUSC NOMADE

One of the best musk fragrances ever created. The first unisex scents were the musk oils of the 1970s, promising wild nights of passion to Barry White’s Can’t Get Enough. They’re classier now. Annick Goutal’s Musc Nomade combines synthetic musks with natural, musky-smelling plants like angelica and ambrette seed, which are wonderfully complex: peppery, nutty and soft.


The pocket-sized scent: MISSISSIPPI MEDICINE BY D.S. & Durga

Oils and solid perfumes are, unlike regular, alcohol-based fragrances, often more subtle. You may, therefore, fall in love with a smell that would be too much if it were in eau de parfum form. My pick here is Mississippi Medicine from Brooklyn perfumery D.S. & Durga – it comes as a rollerball and, on first sniff, might remind you of engine oil. It’s punchy and loaded with incense. I find it to be addictive, not least because it wakes me up again during the 3pm slump. And it will fit in your handbag.



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