10 best unisex perfumes
Why should nice scents be divided by gender? Find a scent that suits your personality
For centuries, floral, fruity perfumes have been considered ‘feminine’ while spicy, woody scents have been labelled ‘for men’. But those days of limiting gendered marketing are coming to an end.
More and more fragrance brands are jumping on the gender-neutral bandwagon, either removing gender from their promotional materials entirely or pointedly selling themselves as unisex. This summer, Liberty London reported a 40 per cent rise in androgynous perfume sales online and in store.
This is welcome news because nice smells have universal appeal. Modern buyers are hunting for scents that suit their personalities.
Neutral options are trickling into the market, too – those crisp, clean, soapy scents that are neither traditionally ‘feminine’ nor ‘masculine’. These make excellent choices for men and women who don’t quite feel brave enough to buy a fragrance they’d previously associated with the opposite gender to that with which they identify.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you buying one of the many perfumes still labelled ‘Her’ or ‘Pour Homme’, but we appreciate that doing so requires more confidence, so have stuck to non-gendered scents in stylish, minimalist bottles for this roundup. Some are natural and/or vegan-friendly, too.
Perfume can be expensive, so we’ve mentioned when a brand offers a sample set to buy at an affordable price. This is a great way to try before you buy; you can give any you don’t like to friends with different olfactory tastes.
Testing involved spraying ourselves liberally each morning and asking friends if they could still sniff the fragrance on us that evening. The value for money offered by the price tag was carefully considered; there’s something for every budget here.
Escentric Molecules Molecule 01/Escentric 01: £72 for 100ml, Escentric Molecules
Has there ever been a cooler collision of art and chemistry? Cult favourite Molecule 01 by “anti-fragrance fragrance brand” Escentric Molecules consists solely of Iso E Super, a synthetic aroma molecule popular in the perfume industry. Its softly cedarish edge blends with your natural pheromones to create an indefinable, totally personal scent on your skin that’s neither conventionally masculine nor feminine.
If you’re frustrated by not being able to smell it strongly enough on yourself, it’s worth trying Molecule 01’s sister scent, Escentric 01. This fragrance also centres heavily on Iso E Super (65 per cent, to be precise), but is underscored by notes of zesty lime peel, fresh green jasmine, powdery iris root, pink pepper and a base of snuggly musk lend it instant impact. It’s a glorious combination, and an original one too, meaning you’re unlikely to smell like your mate.
The portable 30ml bottles in cool coloured metal cases cost £46, but splash out on a full-size bottle if you can; it should last you a year with regular use, as an all-over spritz in the morning sees us through till bedtime. Note that you haven’t lost the lid; it never came with one.
Buy now (Escentric Molecules Molecule 1)
Buy now (Escentric 01)
Malin + Goetz Cannabis: £130 for 100ml, Malin + Goetz
Cannabis is well and truly ‘in’ at the moment, and not just for its natural medicinal benefits. This almost mythical herb with its rebellious connotations might not be a traditional apothecary ingredient, but this fragrance - spicy, smokey and earthy with a scattering of delicate magnolia petals - encapsulates modernity, and smells more like fig.
Make no mistake, it’s bold; this is not a perfume for shy and retiring types. It’s a little overpowering at first but quickly dries down into something more subtle and alluring. Refreshingly, unisex New York brand Malin + Goetz appreciates that buying perfume can feel risky if you haven’t already tried the fragrance, so they include a free sample with every full-size order.
Try it, then decide whether to keep your big bottle or send it back unopened. Cannabis is also available as a 9ml roll-on perfume oil, costing £40.
Herba London Jealous Juice: £125 for 100ml, Herba London
Londoner Peter de Bique, a property consultant, was inspired to create his newly-launched fragrance brand Herba after being inspired by architects, interior designers and the traditional craftsmanship they love. Self-taught, his chic perfumes are handcrafted using essential oils combined with other natural goodies.
Jealous Juice is our favourite, and not just because we love the sexy, dramatic name. Sultry ylang ylang blends with sweet, summery rose and lively jasmine on a powdery base of musk and cosy spices. Rose may be traditionally “feminine”, but the entire Herba range is marketed as gender neutral, for everyone to enjoy. It has impressive longevity – we’d top up before a night out, but only to emphasise it - and the simple yet sophisticated bottle will look hip sitting on your dressing table.
There are seven more scents to choose – Naked Neroli and Urban Hipster are other beguiling highlights – and you can sample them all for £25.
Lush Karma: £59 for 100ml, Lush
Karma is ethical beauty big-hitter Lush’s bestselling perfume, an accolade that makes sense, given its universal appeal. It’s orangey and sherbety, backed up by clean-smelling pine, soothing lavender and a base of patchouli (a herb that smells a little like earth after rain). It’s a mostly natural fragrance, not marketed at a specific gender and suitable for vegans. Though heady and exotic at first, it soon settles into something more understated, albeit with an inescapably hippy twist.
Don’t expect much longevity-wise – the scent begins to fade by lunch-time – but the price is reasonable enough to justify re-spraying it several times a day. It comes in a simple glass bottle labelled with Lush’s trademark scrawly black font and is also available in solid form; a 6g pot costs £9 and is a fab festival buy. The 30ml bottle costs 29ml.
Aesop Hwyl: £83 for 50ml, Aesop
The Japanese practice of ‘forest bathing’ – strolling through forests as a form of healing – is a lovely one, but luxury Aussie skincare brand Aesop has gone one step further and created a fragrance imbued with the woody scent of Japanese Hiba trees. Hwyl - a Welsh word which roughly translates to ‘a stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy’ – launched last year to rave reviews, especially among fans of botanicals.
This enigmatic, slightly gothic scent starts off smokey before earthy spices slowly begin to emerge. Calming frankincense sweetens things up, while fresh cypress, vetiver and thyme stop it smelling sludgy. It’s packaged in an elegant amber glass bottle, simplistically labelled for maximum unisex appeal, though the scent itself leans towards the more classically masculine.
Note that it only comes as 50ml; a 100ml bottle would cost more than £166, for price comparison with others listed here. It’s certainly expensive, but it impressed us with its longevity, lasting morning till night, and Christmas is coming…
Laboratory Perfumes Samphire: £65 for 100ml, Laboratory Perfumes
Proudly androgynous (“gender is the one thing we really don’t care about”), British brand Laboratory Perfumes is the ideal place to shop if you care about people and planet as well as beautiful fragrance.
Following its medicine-inspired motto of ‘do no harm’, sustainably sourced ingredients are blended to create stunning scents suitable for vegans.
Zesty Samphire will be a hit with gin lovers, thanks to its juniper berry top notes cushioned by fresh basil, rosemary and lavender on a base of amber and moss. Its aromatic, herby scent is instantly uplifting on application before drying down slowly to something richer and seaside salty that lasts well into the afternoon. Mini tester sets including the four other lovely scents cost £18 each.
They also come as candles, which is a smart way to gauge how much you like a fragrance before wearing it.
Le Labo Tonka 25: £180 for 100ml, Harrods
Edgy, New York-based perfumery Le Labo (French for ‘the lab’) needs little explanation, thanks to the astronomical popularity of its leathery 2011 scent, Santal 33.
Everything about this unisex brand is achingly cool, from the focus on craftsmanship to the company’s rejection of advertising, and all its scents are vegan-friendly. Tonka 25 has only just launched, so you won’t have already smelt it on every Tube carriage. It’s musky with a hint of sweetness to it, but orange flower and cedar resins stop it becoming sickly.
Every fragrance is freshly hand-blended to order before being poured into a glass spray bottle, minimally labelled in typewriter font and personalised with your name. It’s at the top end price-wise but does offer the longevity to back up a splurge; a couple of spritzes lasted us all day and even lingered after showering the next morning. If you’ve got the cash to make savings by buying in bulk, a 500ml bottle costs £689 (eek!).
There’s also a 50ml bottle for £125, a 15ml bottle for £55 and you can order samples for £4 a pop.
Calvin Klein CK All: £26.80 for 100ml, Boots
It would be wrong not to feature a Calvin Klein fragrance in this roundup: the fashion brand’s Kate Moss-modelled CK One became the first bestselling unisex-marketed perfume upon its release in 1994.
Last year saw the launch of CK All, which retains the citrusy, green tea top note and fresh lily heart of the signature scent but there’s a hint of freesia and it’s deepened by an earthier, amber-led base. It’s an eau de toilette, which contains less concentrated perfume oil than eau de parfum, so don’t expect the scent to last as long as something pricier. That said, it just about lingers all day, though we’d top up at lunchtime to make sure everybody notices. It comes in a frosted white bottle with the same iconic flask-shape as CK One.
The spray cap can be removed and replaced with the included screw-on lid whenever you need to take it on holiday.
Abel Cobalt Amber: £98 for 50ml, Abel
You’ll need deep pockets to afford Abel’s all-natural, unisex range of fragrances (you’d pay more than £200 for a 100ml bottle if one existed), but perfume doesn’t come more luxuriously eco-friendly.
Founder New Zealander and former winemaker Frances Schoemack uses only the finest quality ingredients from the most ethical suppliers, including a plant-derived musk taken from the seeds of hibiscus flowers which costs up to ten times more than synthetics. Thankfully, it’s a worthy investment, as these vegan-friendly scents are so long-lasting you can still sniff them on yourself the next evening.
Cobalt Amber is the bestseller and it’s easy to see why; it’s a high-end oriental, with classic amber given a contemporary twist at the hands of pink pepper and juniper berry top notes. the next evening. For every bottle sold, the company donates a meal to a financially disadvantaged child through charity Mary’s Meals, so as splurges go, this one can be conscience-free. There are 15ml bottles available for £48 and samples for £6, too.
Prosody London Mocha Muscari: £175 for 50ml, Fortnum & Mason
Prosody London might be a new fragrance brand on the block, but the elegant design of its bottles – and the mossy green boxes wrapped in burgundy ribbon they arrive in – has a timeless appeal. Much of this handmade-in-England range is 100 per cent organic, making it a great choice if you find synthetic perfumes headache-inducing, and it’s fully vegan, too.
Mocha Muscari stood out to us for its imaginative take on the coffee note, mixing it with mango, lavender and jasmine on a darkly woody base. Quality hasn’t been compromised for ethics; a daily spray on your pulse points suffices. This is the most expensive perfume on our list – if they made a 100ml bottle it would cost more than £300 – due to the fine essential oils it’s built on. If you want your fragrance truly “clean”, it’s worth paying for, and all its marketing is gender-neutral.
The mini 10ml bottles available for £36 are handy for travelling, and you can pick up a 2ml sample for a tenner.
The Verdict: Best unisex perfumes
Escentric Molecules intrigued us with its scientific approach to perfumery and we fell head over heels for both Molecule 01 and Escentric 01. Neither is like anything we’ve smelt before and we found the price fair for the quality and longevity of the scents.
Herba London’s range is well worth a try, too – all the scents are original and beautifully designed – while anyone looking for a ‘clean’ fragrance should give all-natural Abel a whirl.
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