Humanity has been making perfumes as long as it has been writing history. Fragrances today are used as sensual ornaments that we apply to our skins. If you go back far enough, fragrances were actually practical or an absolute necessity.
Fragrances for men are a relatively new concept compared to the long history of perfume. In fact, for a very long time perfume was a perfectly unisex terminology applied to any fragrance. It’s only been since the emergence of 20th Century social insecurities that masculine needed self-assertion by using other terms to describe their fragrances.
In this guide, you will discover the long history of perfumery as well as the relatively short story of men’s fragrances in the 20th Century. Keep scrolling to read it all or jump straight to a section that interests you the most:
Learn About The History Of Fragrances With Bespoke Unit
Best Fragrances By Occasion
- Best Fragrances For The Office
- Sexiest Men’s Colognes For Dating
- Best Fragrances For Christmas [Soon]
Early Fragrance History
Firstly, we often credit the Ancient Egyptians with its origins. Indeed, they invented glass and were the first to store perfumes in bottles. The Egyptians would notably use fragrances for ceremonies and burials.
However, this extended to daily wear among the elite. Fragrances were usually composed of myrrh, frankincense and native flowers such as lily and rose. The practice certainly caught on and was adopted by the Persians.
Meanwhile, the Ancient Greeks and Romans refined perfumery into an art-form. After all, the word “perfume” derives from the Latin meaning “through smoke”.
Similarly, the Romans even developed aftershave, which was an antiseptic and anaesthetic concoction made with medicinal herbs and spices. In 2004, archaeologists in Cyprus unearthed a 4000 year-old Bronze Age perfume factory suggesting that fragrances were already big business.
Fragrances in The Middle East & Beyond
The Middle East was probably the most significant geographical area for perfumery. Babylonian Mesopotamia was an empire that linked the Mediterranean Sea with the Persian Gulf through most of modern-day Iraq, Turkey and Syria.
In fact, the world’s first recorded chemist was a woman called Tapputi who worked at the Mesopotamian Royal Palace around 1200 BC. She notably developed advanced perfumery techniques with distillation, cold enfleurage, tincture and solvents.
However, the rise of Christianity saw the use of perfumes fall. Nevertheless, the Arabs preserved it for daily wear and practising religion. Much later between the 6th and 10th centuries, Islam innovated perfume culture with steam distillation techniques and new raw materials. Many flowers and citrus fruits were native to the region. Meanwhile, trade would consequently facilitate access to spices, resins, herbs and wood.
However, the Indians also have a long perfumery history that predates some middle eastern techniques. Archaeologists discovered terracotta distillation equipment in the Indus Valley that was carbon dated to 3000 BC. Therefore, this suggests that essential oil extraction by distillation had been discovered by the Indus civilisation long before their neighbours.
Perfumery In Western Europe
Finally, the Europeans eventually mastered perfumery largely thanks to the Arabic influence. In 14th-Century, Queen Elisabeth of Hungary commissioned the first modern perfume. Although it was first known as Eau de Hongrie (Hungary Water), it soon became the blueprint for eau de toilette.
In most of the older cultures described, fragrances were often perceived as deeply spiritual and were associated with religious ceremonies. Meanwhile, many during this period were used to compensate for bad hygiene whilst others had sanitary functions.
In due time, the fragrance industry blossomed between the 14th and 16th Centuries. The Renaissance witnessed perfumery spread across Europe and notably settled in France.
Meanwhile in 1709, a unique concoction was invented by Italian living in Germany. Giovanni Maria Farina named his creation Kölnisch Wasser (Cologne water) after his new hometown. The earliest known eau de cologne of this variety still in production today is 4711, which you can discover with our review.
However, perfume served a largely sanitary purpose. The term “Eau de Toilette” derives from an old French term for personal grooming, which essentially means “cleaning water”.
Queen Elizabeth I of England hated bad smells and had all public places scented with perfume. Likewise, Louis XV’s 18th Century royal court was known as “la cour parfumée”. In summary, fragrances were used to hide bad smells like body odour.
A New Age of Perfumery Dawns
Finally, it was the Industrial Revolution that changed the came forever and brought about modern perfumery.
Around this period, particular statesmen were known for their penchants for fragrances. Napoleon Bonaparte had a standing order of 50 bottles of eau de cologne per month from Chardin, which he used after bathing.
According to the House of Creed, Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria Hungary had an exclusive sandalwood fragrance made for him some years later in 1850.
A golden age of scientific discovery brought about the dawn of synthetic aromatic compounds and new extraction techniques.
For example, the very first fougère fragrance was created by Jean-François Houbigant in 1882. Named Fougère Royale, it was the first to feature coumarin by synthetically isolating the particles found in tonka beans.
As a result, fragrances became cheaper to make and buy. Moreover, they were better preserved allowing large quantities to be shipped around the world. With advances in hygiene, fragrances today are widely used as an aesthetic and sensual experience.
What Is The History Of Men’s Fragrances?
In 1934, Caron founder Ernest Daltroff, created the very first fragrance for men. He simply named it “Pour Un Homme” (For A Man) and it featured an accord of lavender and vanilla over a musky amber and cedar wood base.
Until this moment, men could only really choose between traditionally unisex eau de cologne or English lavenders. Creed’s offerings were usually exclusive commissions from royalty. However, the brand’s self-acclaimed history sometimes struggles under impartial scrutiny.
Alternatively, Acqua di Parma Colonia and Guerlain’s Mouchoir Pour Monsieur were fragrances devised for scenting handkerchiefs rather than skin.
Otherwise, they would venture into a largely feminine-oriented industry or even forego fragrances altogether. Nevertheless, aftershaves such as Aqua Velva had existed since 1917 or indeed earlier. However, their function was largely sanitary and medicinal.
Pour Un Homme de Caron was wildly successfully and Daltroff basically created an entirely new market. Fragrances for men flourished.
In 1937, the Shulton Company redeveloped their Early American Old Spice fragrance for women for the Christmas market. In 1938, they introduced Old Spice, which is still one of today’s most successful colognes for men.
Men’s Colognes After The Second World War
Men’s fragrances grew across post-war Europe and America during the baby boom. With developing hygiene, aftershave brands realised that their largely sanitary and medicinal function become obsolete. Therefore, many left the shaving culture and transitioned towards new identities as colognes or fragrances.
In 1949, the house of Dana created English Leather based on MEM’s 1930’s formula for Russian Leather. Some years later in 1955, Chanel released Pour Monsieur. In 1959, German house Mäurer & Wirtz, notably known for their 4711 eau de cologne, launched Tabac Original.
The 1960s witnessed the birth of new and exciting French fragrances. Fabergé’s Brut Pour Homme (1964), Lancôme Balafre (1967) and Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage (1966) were the most prominent. New men’s colognes emerged abroad such as Estée Lauder’s Aramis (1964), Dana’s British Sterling (1965) and Hai Karate (1967).
Men’s Designer Fragrances Begin
At this point in time, men’s fragrances had carved itself a tangible identity. Although all perfumes by definition, the vocabulary was altogether different. Men’s fragrances appropriated “cologne” as their distinctive definition and distanced themselves from the feminine connotations of “perfume”.
Furthermore, advancements in synthetic aromatics the following decade provoked men’s fragrances to truly explode as a consumer market. Most resulting concoctions featured strongly aromatic fougère themes that occasionally edged towards orientals.
Following Christian Dior and Chanel, other fashion designers toyed with the prestige of introducing a men’s cologne. The 1970s saw designers release fragrances including Paco Rabanne Pour Homme (1973), Gucci Pour Homme (1976) Ralph Lauren Polo in 1978. Meanwhile, perfumer Azzaro launched their own Pour Homme in 1978.
Men’s Designer Perfume Explosion
Competing luxury designer houses soon rushed for a piece of the market and the 1980s become a volatile but exciting period. Firstly, Calvin Klein introduced Calvin in 1981. Likewise, Giorgio Armani released Pour Homme (1984) while Hugo Boss launched Number One (1985).
Other major game changers to the market were Guy Laroche Drakkar Noir (1982) and Davidoff Cool Water (1988).
Finally, the 1990s saw a diversification of the market as the remaining major designer brands released their first men’s fragrance.
However, their interpretations were a fresher approach compared to the aromatic fougères that dominated the market. For example, Kenzo Pour Homme (1991) was an aromatic aquatic. Alternatively, Jean-Paul Gaultier’s Le Male (1996) was an oriental fragrance with notable fresh mint notes.
Other major newcomers to men’s fragrances emerged including L’eau d’Issey Pour Homme (1994), Thierry Mugler A*Men (1996) and Bvlgari Pour Homme (1996). Chanel rounded off the century in 1999 with their game-changing Allure Homme.
Men’s Fragrances In The 21st Century
With increasing pedigree from established brands or new houses emerging in the industry, the market is ever-changing. In 2006, Hermès revitalised the market with the introduction of Terre d’Hermès. Creed modernised its range with the release of the wildly successful Aventus in 2010. The dawn 21st Century has seen fragrances as a staple part of consumerism with new colognes released on an almost rhythmic daily basis.
Men’s colognes are no longer limited to conventionally masculine oriental of fougère notes. Furthermore, many comparatively young houses are turned back to unisex fragrances fashionably labelled as gender benders.
Finally, with new advances in molecule extraction from natural sources, a Renaissance in natural fragrances created through technologically advanced means is soon upon us.
Timeline of Men’s Fragrances
Below is a breakdown of significant men’s fragrance releases since the 19th Century. Each highlighted fragrance has been reviewed on Bespoke Unit so you’ll be able to learn more about it. Meanwhile, we’ve added buying links to those that are still in production and you can currently buy online!
If you feel that an important fragrance is missing, feel free to leave a comment below!
19th Century Men’s Fragrances
Although these predate Caron Pour Un Homme, note that they were solely marketed towards men at the time. For instance, Creed Santal Imperial was exclusively made for the Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
- 1850: Creed Santal Imperial [Buy Now]
- 1872: Penhaligon’s Hammam Bouquet [Buy Now]
- 1880: Geo F. Trumper Extract Of Limes [Buy Now]
- 1882: Houbigant Fougère Royale
- 1890: Floris Special No. 127 [Buy Now]
20th Century Men’s Fragrances
Don’t want to scroll through all of these? Check out our recommendations of the very best men’s classic and traditional colognes!
Fragrances that predate Caron Pour Homme are chiefly aftershaves. However, as mentioned above, Acqua di Parma Colonia, was a fragrance destined to scent men’s handkerchiefs.
- 1908: Proraso Aftershave [Buy Now]
- 1916: Acqua di Parma Colonia [Buy Now]
- 1917: Aqua Velva Aftershave [Buy Now]
- 1931: Mennen Skin Bracer [Buy Now]
- 1934: Pour Un Homme de Caron [Buy Now]
- 1934: Dunhill For Men [Buy Now]
- 1938: Old Spice [Buy Now]
- 1949: English Leather [Buy Now]
- 1951: Floris No. 89 [Buy Now]
- 1955: Chanel Pour Monsieur
- 1959: Tabac Original [Buy Now]
- 1961: Guerlain Vetiver [Buy Now]
- 1964: Fabergé Brut Homme [Buy Now]
- 1964: Estée Lauder Aramis [Buy Now]
- 1965: Dana British Sterling [Buy Now]
- 1965: Guerlain Habit Rouge [Buy Now]
- 1966: Dior Eau Sauvage [Buy Now]
- 1967: Lancôme Balafre [Buy Now]
- 1967: Hai Karate [Buy Now]
- 1973: Paco Rabanne Homme [Buy Now]
- 1974: Givenchy Gentleman [Buy Now]
- 1976: Gucci Pour Homme [Buy Now]
- 1978: Ralph Lauren Polo [Buy Now]
- 1978: Azzaro Pour Homme [Buy Now]
- 1981: Burberrys For Men
- 1981: Calvin Klein Calvin
- 1981: Coty Stetson [Buy Now]
- 1982: Guy Laroche Drakkar Noir [Buy Now]
- 1984: Giorgio Armani Homme [Buy Now]
- 1985: Hugo Boss Number One [Buy Now]
- 1985: Annick Goutal Sables
- 1988: Christian Dior Fahrenheit [Buy Now]
- 1988: Davidoff Cool Water [Buy Now]
- 1989: Joop! Homme [Buy Now]
- 1990: Cerruti 1881 Men [Buy Now]
- 1991: Kenzo Pour Homme [Buy Now]
- 1994: L’eau d’Issey Pour Homme [Buy Now]
- 1994: Calvin Klein CK One [Buy Now]
- 1995: Jean-Paul Gaultier Le Male [Buy Now]
- 1996: Armani Acqua di Gio [Buy Now]
- 1996: Thierry Mugler A*Men [Buy Now]
- 1996: Bvlgari Pour Homme [Buy Now]
- 1999: Chanel Allure Homme [Buy Now]
21st Century Men’s Fragrances
New fragrance releases have exponentially increased in volume in the recent years of the 21st Century. Although many of these are flankers based upon the classics of yesteryear, there are a few that have significantly impacted the contemporary fragrance market.
- 2004: Armani Code [Buy Now]
- 2006: Versace Man Eau Fraîche [Buy Now]
- 2006: Terre d’Hermès [Buy Now]
- 2008: Paco Rabanne 1 Million [Buy Now]
- 2008: Dolce & Gabbana The One [Buy Now]
- 2010: Creed Aventus [Buy Now]
- 2010: Bleu de Chanel [Buy Now]
- 2012: Viktor&Rolf Spicebomb [Buy Now]
- 2015: Dior Sauvage [Buy Now]
Now that you have read all about the history of men’s fragrances, why don’t you check out some more content?
- Best Men’s Fragrances For All Occasions & Seasons
- How To Properly Apply Fragrances
- How To Try & Test Fragrances Yourself
- Discover The Bespoke Unit Fragrance Wheel
"Really interesting overview! Learned a great deal about the history of fragrances, thanks!"Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★
The author seems to have forgot about George Washington’s fave was No. 7 in 1770s. How could the first men’s cologne be made in 1934?
Indeed, I overlooked Caswell-Massey’s Number Six Cologne, which was supposedly Washington’s favourite. However, like the majority of colognes of the era, it wasn’t gendered and sold to both men and women alike. In those days, people would choose fragrances that they personally enjoyed rather than that what was labelled for them to wear.
Although men generally had their own preferences, the products they tended to enjoy usually shared the same shelves as those popular among women. Penhaligon’s typical store layout today is one of the best examples of what it would have been like in that era.
It wasn’t really until 1934 with Ernest Daltroff’s release of Caron Pour Un Homme that specific fragrances became consciously marketed and labelled for men. This is arguably what started the distinctive divide between fragrances for men and women that evolved over time into the industry that we see today.
I hope that this answers your question!
Love the timeline! Any must-have recommendations??
Where to begin! I think that each of these fragrances are significant and should be part of a true fraghead’s collection. My personal favourites are Pour Un Homme de Caron and Paco Rabanne Pour Homme. Both are green fragrances and great for the spring or summer.
However, if you want something classic and representative of their eras, consider also Dunhill For Men, Aramis, Guy Laroche Drakkar Noir and Jean-Paul Gaulthier Le Male.
Paco Rabanne was so formulated it’s a different scent now
I don’t think it’s been reformulated as much as you say. Although it’s heavier on the Tonka Bean, according to my grandfather who’s been wearing it since it came out in 1973, it’s very loyal to the original composition.
You’ll have to forgive my stiff and stilted performance in that video I’ve linked up there, it was my first one for Bespoke Unit!
What about Guerlain Vetiver?
Guerlain Vetiver (1961) is already listed in the timeline above!
Of the men’s fragrances that made history, I would also add:
Houbignat Fougere Royale
Guerlain Habit Rouge
Armani Acqua di Gio
Calvin Klein CK One
I would have left L’Eau d’Issey out of this list, since it is far from being a major fragrance/game changer.
Thanks for your comment! I appreciate the feedback and it’s a refreshing change from the usual comments!
I went over Fougère Royale further up in the article but I didn’t include it in the timeline. I guess I should add it, shouldn’t I?
Isn’t Coty Chypre a women’s fragrance? As significant as it is, I don’t think that I’ll add it but I do talk about it in our guide to fragrance families.
Since Guerlain Vétiver predates Habit Rouge by a few years, I added this one instead. However, good call on Farhenheit, ADG and CK One. I’m surprised that I hadn’t added those!
Actually the most famous vetiver is Guerlain’s, but historically, the first vetiver-centered fragrance has been released by Carven… just 2 years before Guerlain!
Habit Rouge (the EDP) is a major name in history, since it has been the first western fragrance to use oud in the blend… but I understand one cannot list all the fragrances.
I forgot also for the 21st century, significant fragrances:
– YSL M7 (first western oud-centered fragrance)
– YSL Rive Gauche (as of today the benchmark of modern fougere)
– Dior Homme
– Lalique Encre Noire
– Gucci Guilty Absolute (I dislike Gucci house, but here, it’s the Fahrenheit of this decade in terms of creativity – blended by Morillas)
I only just started the 21st Century fragrances yesterday when I made those changes you suggested. Unfortunately, I have to concentrate on new content so I don’t have much time for editing! As such, I really appreciate your suggestions as I only had a few minutes to add a couple. M7 and Rive Gauche are both essential additions, especially given the former’s Tom Ford background. I’ll be sure to add Dior Homme, Lalique and Guilty to as well as a few others.
I’ll certainly consider adding it for the next edit! Initially, the plan was to add the first renowned “male” fragrance from each major house rather than each of their significant releases but it’s been growing over the years.
All the best,
I know that the honour to be the first male fragrance has been attributed to Pour un Homme de Caron but this is not correct. Probably it should be The First Male Fragrance in France! Worth pour homme (1932) is 2 years older than Caron. It is a Fougere, very close to Paco Rabanne.
Furthermore, neither Fougere Royal (1882) nor Knize Ten (1925) were Unisex fragrances, unlique Acqua di Parma (1916)
By the way also from 1934 is Dunhill for men from Alfred Dunhill.
So in fact Caron comes in 4th-5th pure male fragrance.
Firstly, I hope that you don’t mind but I put all of your comments together to make it easier to respond.
Dunhill For Men gets mentioned in the timeline but you’re right that it deserves more dedicated text on it in the section above! However, I respectfully disagree that Fougère Royal was a men’s fragrance even if we would consider it masculine today. As for Knize Ten, I’ll need to research but you might be right.
However, there’s some debate as to whether Worth Pour Homme came out in 1932 or 1980. The only source that suggests it was released in 1932 is the listing on Fragrantica. Personally, I’m leaning towards 1980 for the following reasons:
Worth was a Paris-based haute-couture dressmaker in Paris owned by Englishman Charles Frederick Worth. In the 1920s and 1930s, their perfumer was Maurice Blanchet who produced Dans La Nuit, Vers Le Jour, Sans Adieu, Je Reviens and Vers Toi. However, there’s no mention of Odette Breil-Radius who is credited to being the nose behind Worth Pour Homme.
In fact, Breil-Radius only produced one other fragrance during her career, which was Miss Worth in 1977. It seems strange that she wouldn’t create anything for 45 years so I did a little digging and found her genealogy online.
Odette Suzanne Radius was born in Paris in 1919 and married Jacques Breil in 1943. If Worth Pour Homme was released in 1932, she would have been 13 years old, which is much too young to be even an apprentice perfumer. She would have been 61 years old if it was released in 1980, which makes much more sense to me.
There does seem to be an oddity, however, in Worth’s timeline. In 1969, the house released Monsieur Worth. The following release was the aforementioned Miss Worth in 1977.
Using “monsieur” instead of “homme” was somewhat fashionable at the time and started with Chanel’s “Pour Monsieur” in 1955. Yet, by the 1970s and 1980s, most fragrances would use “homme” instead. Perhaps Worth tried to keep up with the times and released a new men’s fragrance with a catchier name?
On a side note, Worth ceased haute couture operations by 1956 after the founder’s great-grandson sold the brand to the House of Paquin and retired. Meanwhile, Les Perfumes Worth (not a typo, they spelled it “perfumes” and not “parfums”) was bought by Société Maurice Blanchet who then sold it to David Reimer in 1992. Today, it exists as part of Shaneel Enterprises, Ltd.
Unfortunately, there’s very little verifiable information to go on besides a few scraps on the internet. Like I said, I’m more inclined to say that Worth Pour Homme came out in 1980 for the reasons above. However, I may be wrong!
All the best,
I found the Worth article on Lanier’s Smith sentsmemory. He is considered an expert on Perfumes I believe.
And yes I took it for granted.
I must admit that Worth reminds me not only of Paco Rabanne but also of Eau de Lancaster, both from the 70s.
I am writing about Classic Male Fragrances before WW2 on my FB page.
I didn’t want to spend many hours of research. Just using those fragrances known to me. But old data can be blurred.
I have found also a few interesting fragrances in Portugal from those days. But those are mainly aftershaves. I guess that is the confusing part. Also what was Unisex if the term wasn’t yet used?
That sounds like a fascinating Facebook page! Keep at it!
Old data can indeed be blurred, which is why it’s very difficult to find clear-cut answers and release dates. A lot of brands like to make tall claims about their history as this legitimises their products. For instance, Creed often talks about its heritage and how it produced perfumes over the centuries for various heads of state. However, there’s little evidence to support it.
If I understand your last question correctly, the way I see it is that all fragrances were unisex as there was never a real distinction between products for men and women. They were unlike ever even referred to as “unisex” and it was just assumed that they were for everyone.
Specific types of cosmetics for men and women is a phenomenon that really only started to appear during the 20th Century. This is likely a product of 19th Century etiquette, which was much inspired by chivalry courting traditions. For example, many men would wear just as much makeup as women, which a practice that died out throughout the 19th Century and was considered to be a very feminine practice throughout the 20th.
All the best,
What about burberry cologne and aftershave 1981 ?
Oooh, good call. I’ll add that now!
Back in 1972, I was visiting Cyprus. A gentleman there from Malta wore the most beautiful fragrance, and I wish I thought to ask him about it, but I was a kid. It was very oaky, woody. Smelled designer and classy.
That’s very hard to say as there are many historical woody fragrances! Could it have been Aramis?
You seem to have forgotten “Mouchoir de Monsieur” by Guerlain. It was created by Jacques Guerlain in 1904. Or did anyone mention it in the comments?
You make a good point in referring to Mouchoir de Monsieur! I actually only paid lip service to this in that fragrances for this era weren’t actually designed to be worn on the skin but were applied to handkerchiefs. However, I used Acqua di Parma Colonia as an example rather than Guerlain. I’ll add it in my next edit as I’m very fond of Guerlain.
All the best,
You forgot green Irish tweed 1985 by creed
Even if Creed became successful around the 1980s, I’m reluctant to add their products in this list due to the lack of traceable historical evidence.
Knize ten? 1925 I believe Al Capone wore it
Louis Ramos also mentioned this one in an earlier comment. However, I haven’t had the chance to properly look into it. That said, my early research does seem to show that this may indeed predate Caron by a decade.
I got some great information about the history of perfumes. It would be nice to give some more in-depth information.
This is pretty in-depth, no? :)
We talked about Caron’s significance with Pour Un Homme but Yatagan is also a good call!
Worth Pour Homme most likely was created by an anonymous or (today) unknown perfumer in 1932, but recreated in 1980 by Odette Breil-Radius when it was reintroduced. How close did she get to the original? We don’t know, but the result is great either way.
Also, to not include Habit Rouge in the timeline just because Vetiver is there does not make sense at all. They are both extremely important and influential fragrances, and Guerlain is such a big house they can easily have more than one mention.
I since added Habit Rouge to the timeline, especially given that it’s featured among our favourite classic fragrances for men.
Out of curiosity, are you just spitballing the idea of Worth’s origins or do you have any sources to back that up? I’ve searched high and low for a source but I’m not willing to add it until there’s something a little more concrete to go on.
All the best,