Top 5 Barbershop Scents

Perhaps it’s the natural consequence of ageing, but the older I get, the more I enjoy those fragrances which many describe as “dad” scents, or to use a more complimentary term, classic barbershop scents. But what are Barbershop Scents exactly? As with most things which are inherently nostalgic they are hard to describe, because as soon as one’s own personal emotions and experiences come into play, the borders become less strictly defined; it’s more of an evocative feeling than a strict science. When trying to describe the scent one may talk about the barbershop experience as a whole, the shampoo, the shaving foam, the baby powder that is dusted on one’s neck, the classic after-shave used or even the blue jars of antiseptic where the combs are kept. The scent is clean, soapy, green, herbal and slightly powdery. If I had to choose a few notes that for me scream this experience, they would be lavender, oak moss, sandalwood and the sweetness of tonka bean, so, not surprisingly, the olfactive family that produces the most “barbershop-like” scents is the fougère, and more specifically the aromatic fougère. The word fougère comes from the French for “fern”, and this name describes these scents perfectly, with their blend of herbal lavender, the earthy, mossy notes of oak moss and the sweet hay like scent of coumarin (Tonka Bean). However, as I previously mentioned, it’s the Aromatic fougère, a derivative of the family, which smell even more like barbershop as they not only have the green, fernlike quality of the fougère, but also contain additional herbs, spices and/or wood like rosemary, aniseed and sandalwood.

Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent


Rive Gauche by YSL is for me the epitome of a classic barbershop scent. It starts off very herbal and spicy, almost abrasively so, with the rosemary, aniseed and cloves all vying for attention. However, this doesn’t last long and the fragrance quickly calms down to a rich, dark green scent with a warm, spicy and slightly sweet heart. I have always found YSL brave for releasing Rive Gauche when they did because it courageously shunned all that was fashionable at the time (2003). Instead it harkened back to the 60s and 70s bringing to mind that classic aromatic fougere Brut, by Faberge Paris. This scent will be too mature for some and is certainly not what one would call a showstopper, however, it’s an elegant, refined scent, perfect for when wearing a well-tailored suit.


Fern, Bergamot, Rosemary, Star Anise, Cloves, Geranium, Lavender, Oak Moss, Patchouli, Vetiver & Guaiac Wood

Sartorial by Penhaligon’s


Speaking of well-tailored suits, the next scent we have is Sartorial by Penhaligon’s. The clue is in the name (the word sartorial is derived from the Latin word for tailoring) and when creating Sartorial, Penhaligon’s wanted to replicate the scent of Norton and Son’s tailor’s workshop in Saville Row, London. Perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour was ingenious in this endeavour, even adding ozonic and metallic notes to conjure up the scent of a steam press and tailor’s scissors. Like Rive Gauche, this scent is very similar to Brut, but a much more complex, nuanced version thereof. It has a scarily vast ingredient list, but the overall effect is that of a well constructed, reassuring barbershop scent. This is definitely a worthy addition to anyone’s collection.


Aldehydes, Metallic Notes, Violet Leaf, Neroli, Cardamom, Black Pepper, Ginger, Beeswax, Cyclamen, Lime Blossom, Lavender, Leather, Gurjan Balsam, Patchouli, Myrrh, Cedar, Tonka Bean, Oak Moss, Musk, Honey, Vanilla & Amber

At the Barbers by Maison Martin Margiela


Maison Margiela’s replica range act as mini time capsules, with each fragrance transporting the designer back to a specific place and time using the power of scent. As the name implies, this scent takes him straight to a barbershop in Madrid. I find this scent a perfect example of a modern barbershop scent. It has elements that remind me of the classics like Brut and Azzaro, however, it’s gentler, more modern and has a much broader appeal. This is not to say that it is a cop out. On the contrary, I think it’s just a really well thought out fragrance suitable to a wider range of people and perfect for those new to the genre. The use of lavender in this scent is a stand out and makes the finish thoroughly enjoyable.


Bitter Orange, Basil, Black Pepper, Lavender, Geranium, Rosemary, Tonka Bean, Leather, Oak Moss & White Musk

Pluriel by Maison Francis Kurkdjian


Francis Kurkdjian’s fougère is both modern and timeless. While not an old school Barbershop scent, the strong use of lavender (the hero ingredient) evokes the virile, robust feel of one. This scent surprises me in that it somehow manages to be simple and complex simultaneously, in fact it is the epitome of the expression “less is more”. It’s a light skin hugging scent, however, it’s the kind of fragrance that keeps you sniffing at your wrist all day. It’s refined, mature and classy, bringing to mind a crisp white shirt on a sunny day. It may be considered tame to some, but when a scent is this classy, it does not have to shout.


Lavender Absolute, Leather, Eastern Red Cedar, Haitian Vetiver & Patchouli

Azzaro Pour Homme by Azzaro


Being the oldest fragrance on the list (1978), it could be too old fashioned for some, however, it is a quintessential barbershop scent and, as I mentioned above, it was clearly an inspiration for some of the other fragrances on this list so it had to be added. The scent’s opening is fresh, but also very spicy because of the addition of caraway and anise (similar to Rive Gauche). As with most powerhouse scents from the 70s and 80s, the strong opening could turn some people off, but give it some time because the beauty is in the dry down. This is where the lavender, vetiver and oak moss dominate. If you want an inexpensive, super masculine, old-school barbershop scent, then Azzaro Pour Homme could be the one for you.