Gifts for the Friend Who Wants to Smell Good (and Slightly Odd...But Mostly Good)

Gifts for the Friend Who Wants to Smell Good (and Slightly Odd...But Mostly Good)

Our favorite fragrances for smelling like a pile of wood, an intergalactic bubble bath, and a dinosaur-exterminating meteor.

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Image: Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images (Getty Images)

Perfume is commitment in a bottle. “You smell like this now,” your new diffuser essentially tells you, and you may for a very long time given how long it can take to get through an entire batch of the stuff. That’s a lot of molecular pressure. What if your taste changes? What if you were in a really good mood the day you sampled the scent you devoted yourself to, but have since changed your mind? This is why fragrance makes a wonderful gift: It mitigates the emotional burden of the stuff. It properly situates an olfactory accessory as a mere add-on to one’s life. It can take up space on someone’s shelf without reminding them that they just dropped a lot of money on something they’re not really using. At worst, when you gift a fragrance, you give someone something to regift or throw away while imparting your thoughtfulness (and putting a not-exactly-cheap dollar value on your relationship). At best, your gift of fragrance will allow someone to slightly reshape their identity (or at least have another option with which to match their scent to their outfit) and remind them of you for years to come.

Here are some suggestions for “unisex” fragrances that (hopefully) straddle the line between accessible and avant. A very fun part of getting into fragrances as, like, a hobby, is reading the user reviews on the website Fragrantica, which are often florid, intensely specific, and wafting drama. For this reason, I’ve included an amusing/illuminating quote from these reviews for each fragrance included in this guide.

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Wonderwood (Comme des Garçons) ($103/50 ml)

Wonderwood (Comme des Garçons) ($103/50 ml)

The standard against which all wood fragrances should be judged. I got into this years ago, and it sent me on a journey to find something even better, woodier, and nothing does it short of shoving two pine twigs up your nose. If I could choose the chemical makeup of my pheromones, it would be this.

Notes: Madagascan pepper, bergamot, Somalian incense, nutmeg, cristalon, cashmeran, gaïac wood, cedarwood, carvi graines, javanol, sandalwood, vetiver, oud (agarwood)

Fragrantica says: “A lumberjack’s wet dream”—scentific

Buy at Dover Street Market

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At the Beach 1966 (CB I Hate Perfume) ($116/100 ml)

At the Beach 1966 (CB I Hate Perfume) ($116/100 ml)

This is meant to smell like Coppertone suntan lotion of the ’60s, and while the opening does have a kind of wearable piña colada vibe, this one is all about the way it evolves as it lingers on your skin (aka the “dry down”). What I eventually smell when I wear this is that post-beach glow. It’s the 5 pm salty smell of sunscreen that ocean water has diminished, of a wonderful day in the sun to be followed by an even better night. This reminds me so, so much of what my childhood summers at the Jersey shore smelled like: sunny hope.

Notes: Coppertone 1967, wet sand, seashell, driftwood, a hint of boardwalk, watermelon rind

Fragrantica says: “This perfume embodies my inner vision of Don Henley’s song ‘Boys Of Summer.’ Smell this when that chorus kicks in. Nostalgia bursts in the mind and transportation is immediate. Pure love, such a beautiful feeling!” - Adamizer702

Buy at CB I Hate Perfume

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Tyrannosaurus Rex (Zoologist) ($195/60 ml)

Tyrannosaurus Rex (Zoologist) ($195/60 ml)

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Image: Zoologist

This one roars. The Canadian company Zoologist has been pumping out eccentric and addictive animal-inspired fragrances since 2013. The scents don’t transmit the exact smell of their inspiration (because, let’s face it, a lot of them would smell like straight poop) but rather various elements associated with the animal’s life. For example: Squid has ink and oceanic notes, eucalyptus takes up a lot of space in the bouquet of Koala, and Bee smells like neon honey. For Tyrannosaurus Rex, Zoologist focuses less on the life of the tyrant lizard king that ruled our planet millions of years ago than its death—specifically, this smells most predominantly like smoke and rock. It’s epoch-ending meteor realness. It dries down to a sort of incense that is extremely strong, a bit psychedelic, and pleasing to me (but ultimately divisive, it seems!). This is worth the risk.

Notes: Bergamot, black pepper, fir, laurel leaf, neroli, nutmeg, champaca, geranium, jasmine, osmanthus, rose, ylang ylang, resins, cade, cedar, civet, frankincense, leather, patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla

Fragrantica says: “It’s like being trapped inside a burning factory, surrounded by bubbling pools of oils, genetically resurrected fauna and florals and screaming animals. One spray and I suffocate!” — PPAN

Buy at Zoologist

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Rosendo Mateu No. 4 (Rosendo Mateu) ($225/100 ml)

Rosendo Mateu No. 4 (Rosendo Mateu) ($225/100 ml)

This is basically the opposite of Zoologist’s T. Rex: a gentle sigh of a scent. A bare impression of oud and vanilla prop up the star of this show, saffron. Though Mateu is Spanish, the saffron here does not evoke paella in the least. This is about as approachable as a niche scent gets.

Notes: Calabrian bergamot, natural bitter orange blossom, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, jasmine petals, nuts, iris rhizomes, oud, patchouli, sandalwood, guaiac, vetiver, labdanum, benzoin, vanilla, tonka beans, musk setters.

Fragrantica says: “Rosendo Mateu crossed borders and brought a vision from the East to the Western market. Rosendo Mateu 4 is a kind of interpretation of the strong aromas and spices of the United Arab Emirates through the sense of smell of a citizen from Barcelona. And it works!” — Cassiano

Buy at Lucky Scent

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6 / 11

Musc Ravageur (Frederic Malle) ($210/50 ml)

Musc Ravageur (Frederic Malle) ($210/50 ml)

Musc Ravageur is spicy enough to seem virtually edible throughout, but for me, it’s all about the dry down, which is powdery and evokes a hair salon in a country pantry. People say this is “sexy,” as musks tend to be, but it gives me straight and narrow, almost Americana vibes.

Notes: Bergamot, mandarin, lavender, amber, vanilla, musk, sandalwood

Fragrantica says: “This smells like a cat pissed in a bottle of vanilla extract but in the best way possible.” — BamBamNYC

Buy at Frederic Malle

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7 / 11

Bergamote 22 (Le Labo) ($196/50 ml)

Bergamote 22 (Le Labo) ($196/50 ml)

This one is light and citrusy, perfect for spring or summer, but it has a little bit of a bite to it. I imagine a lemon with sinister eyebrows glued to it when I wear this.

Notes: Petitgrain, grapefruit, amber, musk, and “a virile touch of vetiver.”

Fragrantica says: “This smells like if you had spent all afternoon harvesting citrus in the Italian countryside, becoming covered in the natural oils of the fruit. It honestly doesn’t smell like a perfume it smells like nature.” — DesertRose23

Buy at Nordstrom

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8 / 11

Original Musk (Kiehl’s) ($30.80/50 ml)

Original Musk (Kiehl’s) ($30.80/50 ml)

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Image: Kiehl’s

This is the platonic ideal of drugstore scents, like if Jovan Musk grew up and got a job that requires regular business lunches.

Notes: Bergamot nectar, orange blossom, rose, lily, ylang-ylang, neroli, tonka nut, white patchouli, musk

Fragrantica says: “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with below statements claiming this smells like urine or old ladies. I get an absolutely intoxicating clean musk scent that gets even better as it ages on my skin.” — mojavenomad

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9 / 11

Serpentine (Comme des Garçons) ($95/50 ml)

Serpentine (Comme des Garçons) ($95/50 ml)

This fragrance named after the London gallery is supposed to reflect “Serpentine’s location amongst the green grass and fresh flowers at Kensington Gardens,” according to a New York Times piece. I smell aggressive cleanliness that’s slightly metallic, like a bath in (safe) mercury on another planet. It’s so fresh that it smells alien. Truly no one else does uncanny valley like CDG.

Notes: Grass, leaves, pollen (galbanum, iris leaf), oxygene (aldehyde, ozone), asphalt (black musks, nutmeg), labdanum and smoked cedar “with a little bit of pollution (benzoin, juniper wood, gaïac wood)”

Fragrantica says: “An eminently wearable perfume for those who appreciate modern abstract perfumery art.” — rbalkris

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10 / 11

Orphéon (Diptyque) ($188/75 ml)

Orphéon (Diptyque) ($188/75 ml)

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Image: Diptyque

Like many of the selected fragrances here, this one has a reputation for woodiness, but I smell almost flowery freshness. This is a real fragrance’s fragrance. It reminds me of the first time (and basically only) time I did ketamine—I was so afraid of entering a K hole that I only did a small amount so all it made me feel was like I was on drugs with no other distinguishable effects. I wear this and mostly I smell like I’m wearing cologne. But it’s nice!

Notes: “Curls of tobacco smoke mingle with powdery trails of blusher, lingering on burnished wood. At the heart of the composition is the atmosphere of that unforgettable place, recognizable through the warmth of the tonka bean, the depth of cedar and the vivacity of juniper berries.”

Fragrantica says: “I mean this in the best way possible, but I’m pretty sure I’ve used toilet paper that was scented similar to what Orphéon smells like.” — jjangeeya

Buy at Diptyque

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