Of the five senses, smell is the one most strongly tied to memory.
For some, one whiff of pipe tobacco can bring back a flood of memories of quiet evenings spent with a grandfather.
For others, a certain deodorant may evoke the sensation of lining up for high school football practice.
And it isn't just images that come to the forefront of the mind – scents are also very powerful at arousing emotions.
Every time I sample a new cologne, I get a snapshot of a moment in time, a specific person, or an unexplained feeling.
Upon realizing what a profound effect smell can have, I started using it to my advantage.
I'll intentionally select a fragrance to use consistently for a few months, marking a chapter in my life that can be easily revisited later.
For example, I have a cologne that reminds me of my last semester of college and another that brings back all the excitement and uncertainty of living in my first apartment in the big city.
So make some lasting and easily recalled memories this season with a new fragrance.
After sampling dozens of options, here are my favorites.
Best fall and winter cologne
While sweet, spicy, and woodsy scents may be too heavy and cloying during the summer heat, they're perfect for a fall and winter cologne.
I've combed through the current offerings and narrowed down a list of very wearable fragrances that'll be perfect to welcome autumn and carry you into winter.
Just for reference, I'm not interested in what's the newest or most popular fragrance on the market (even though some of these are relatively new).
I'm perfectly okay with wearing scents that have been around for a decade or more, provided they haven't been ruined by every Jager-bombing, spiky-haired clubber (Aqua Di Gio, I'm looking at you).
John Vavartos Oud
Although oud has been in use since ancient times, this ingredient is the new kid on the block as far as popular fragrances are concerned.
This essential oil is harvested from Agarwood that's been infected with a certain type of mold. It sounds gross, but as a result of this infection, a sweet, woody resin is secreted and harvested.
Priced at almost $38,000 USD per liter, oud oil is one of the most expensive fragrance ingredients on the planet.
It's even more expensive than gold.
John Varvatos Oud shares a lot of the smoky, woody notes as his Original and Vintage offerings, but with the addition of the sweet aromatic oud.
The fragrance starts out smelling a lot like a campfire (if you've ever used Grandpa's Pine Tar Soap, you'll know what I'm talking about).
Within a few minutes, the strong campfire morphs into incense.
The lasting impression is incense and oud. This is a very smoky, woody fragrance.
Polo Red Intense
If you're a fan of citrusy fragrances, look no further for your cold weather go-to.
Polo Red Intense starts off with notes of grapefruit and cranberry. Once it dries down a little, the warm, spicy ginger starts to come through.
It eventually calms down to a sophisticated woody scent with notes of cedar, but it doesn't lose any of that sweet citrus.
My overall impression of this fragrance is “sugared grapefruit”, in a masculine way, of course.
It's bright and fresh like a summer scent, but strongly anchored with wood and spice.
Black Orchid by Tom Ford
Don't worry, this cologne doesn't smell like flowers.
But it is a unisex fragrance, so it takes a certain confidence to pull off.
Think of Black Orchid as a purple velvet dinner jacket. It's bold, rakish, luxurious, and will get plenty of attention.
This is an evening fragrance and probably best reserved for special occasions rather than daily wear.
Other than saying, “I absolutely love this scent,” I have a really difficult time describing it.
It's sort of sweet, fruity, with a little oriental floral upfront, then woody vanilla after it calms down.
Rather than describe it with individual notes, I think calling it rich, seductive, heavy, and dark fits the bill.
I've also stumbled across a poor man's version of this wonderful fragrance. Champion by Beverly Hills Polo Club seems to be a direct copy of Tom Ford Black Orchid.
It's not quite as good and smells a little synthetic as it's formulated with man-made oils, rather than naturally derived essential oils.
But at only $20, it's a steal.
Legend by Montblanc
If you're looking to revisit Abercrombie Fierce, this is its older, more sophisticated brother.
I was instantly taken back to high school after sampling this scent.
Up front, I get a lot of pineapple and bergamot, and then it dries down to reveal sandalwood.
Overall, Montblanc Legend is fruity and woodsy. It's a very familiar and comforting scent.
Some may frown upon this cologne as being juvenile given its similarity to Abercrombie Fierce, but it really is a crowd pleaser.
Sauvage by Dior
First things first – I did not like this fragrance very much on the initial spray.
It was a decent scent, but was a little overly sweet and nondescript out of the gate. Maybe there was some dark fruit and powder notes in there, I'm not sure.
So I struck it from my list.
However, I found that over the next few hours, I couldn't keep the back of my hand (where I sprayed the sample) away from my nose.
After this cologne dries down, it leaves a sweet, peppery, leathery aroma. And this is the first time I've been able to isolate and enjoy pepper notes.
Sauvage by Dior would be a great everyday fall and winter cologne, provided you put it on well in advance of heading out the door.
Gentlemen Only Intense by Givenchy
Gentleman Only Intense by Givenchy opens with mandarin, black pepper, and woody notes (which is apparently birch leaves).
The fruity notes fade to allow pepper and tonka bean (which to me smells strongly of almond) to come through.
The tonka bean remains throughout and is accompanied by leather.
My overall impression is that this fragrance opens with a clean scent and dries down to leave a slightly sweet, earthy, and smoky aroma.
This is a perfect everyday fall and winter cologne for the office.
Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford
With the exception of Black Orchid, Tom Ford fragrances tend to be more of a choice for connoisseurs, rather than the casual wearer.
Unlike Tom Ford, most mass-produced colognes have so many fragrance oils in the mix, it's difficult to identify the individual aspects and the scent develops more of an overall impression.
In contrast, there is no missing the tobacco and vanilla in Tom Ford's Tobacco Vanille.
This scent is like plunging your head into a jar of fresh, aromatic pipe tobacco.
It's a very refined, masculine, and rich scent and has excellent longevity. You'll wake up the next morning smelling just as you did the night before.
Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford is one of my all time favorites!
If you asked 100 fragrance enthusiasts what their favorite fall and winter cologne was, you'd probably get 100 different responses.
But if you asked them to recommend the gold standard fall and winter cologne, the majority would sing the praises of Burberry London.
This fragrance is the definition of a warm, masculine scent.
It really does have it all with notes of wood, leather, tobacco, spice, and a little citrus.
As a fall and winter cologne, you really can't go wrong with Burberry London.
Spicebomb by Viktor & Rolf
This is the most obviously great smelling cologne I've ever come across!
What I mean is that it isn't extremely complex, an acquired taste, or incredibly sophisticated.
It's good in the way that ice cream from Dairy Queen is good.
It isn't going to win any culinary awards and professional pastry chefs will turn up their nose at it, but 99% of us will absolutely love it!
Since Spicebomb by Viktor & Rolf can be a little overpowering, it's best to go easy on the application.
Another fragrance that is very similar, in my opinion, is Valentino Uomo by Valentino.
Dior Homme by Christian Dior
Dior Homme has notes of iris, lavender, leather, and cocoa.
It starts out with a lot of powdery freshness from the iris, some lavender, and a little waxy aroma.
As it dries, the powder starts to fade and the sweet cocoa and leather notes come through.
I would sum it up as sweet and exotic. I detect mostly iris, leather, and cocoa.
This fragrance is so warm and inviting on the skin, you'll draw people close to you like moths to a flame.
Enhancing your experience
A lot of thought and care goes into both formulating and selecting fragrances, so you might as well get the most out of wearing them.
Back in high school, I would just spritz my cologne all over my clothes and get on with my day.
But it would fade quickly.
I've since changed my routine and have had much better results applying directly to my skin after a shower.
I use just one spray on my chest and one on the inside of my wrist, touching my wrists together and then rubbing them on the sides of my neck, just below my ears.
Applying in this way helps the cologne last all day and projects the scent better with the aide of my body heat.
If you're looking for a new fall and winter cologne to capture the season, you'll of course do your research.
Then you'll spend your hard-earned cash on the perfect fragrance.
So far so good.
But then you apply your cologne onto a canvas with a dozen other scents including soap, pomade, face and body lotion, deodorant, and dryer sheets.
Not the best way to get the intended experience.
I see this like going to the nicest restaurant in town, ordering a perfectly cooked steak, and pairing it with a tall glass of Mountain Dew and a side of Cheetos.
It just doesn't do the cologne justice.
To avoid conflicting fragrances, it's a good idea to have some good, unscented grooming products on hand for days when you really want your fragrance to take center stage.
I like these unscented products:
- Soap – Kirk's Castile Soap
- Face lotion – Every Man Jack post shave lotion
- Deodorant – Arm and Hammer Ultramax
- Body lotion – Lubriderm Men's 3 in 1 Lotion
- Laundry detergent – Tide Free Pods
Once you've made your fragrance the star of the show, I think you'll find that people will take notice and compliment you on how great you smell.
Now, while I sampled dozens of fragrances to come up with my list of favorites, I'm sure there are some great ones out there that I've missed.
Do you have a beloved fall and winter cologne that isn't on this list? Please share with the rest of us in the comments below!
All the best,