Best unisex fragrances to shop this summer – including luxe-smelling £10 M&S buy

This won’t be a socio-political essay, don’t worry, but I think we can all agree that gender identity is blurred like never before. And what’s happening in the wider world is very much being echoed in the perfume halls. Unisex fragrance is booming, with the beauty world encouraging us to follow our nose and simply love what we love, instead of being confined to ‘male’ and ‘female’ scents.

If you stop to think about it, the whole concept of assigning a gender to certain fragrance notes is bizarre. Who decided that berries and flowers were female, while smoky spice and musk were male, for instance? Advertisers, that’s who. “Historically all fragrances were all unisex,” explains Lorna McKay from The Perfume Society. “It was marketing at the turn of the 20th century which changed the landscape when perfumers blended perfumes rather than just using single flower essences. The arrival of synthetics – not a bad word in perfumery – gave rise to the creations we enjoy today.”

From a perfumer’s point of view, creating a ‘unisex’ scent today means toning down the stereotypes at either end of the spectrum. “Sweet, foodie notes, and tobacco, leathery notes tend to be dialled down,’ says Lorna. “Less polarising notes – citrus, classic floral, aquatic and green notes, for instance – come to the fore. Wanting to smell and feel good is more important than wanting to identify a certain way.”

Personally, I’m all for it. It’s rare to find a unisex fragrance I don’t enjoy, perhaps because this category, by its very nature, sets out to be an all-round crowd-pleaser. Even my perfume-phobic husband likes them too, which makes a change from the usual hand wafts, mock-choking and yelps of ‘what is [itals] that?’ when I’m testing most “female” scents. The only downside is, they might not last as long when they’re so wearable and shareable. Here are six I’ll need to watch the liquid level on very closely…

Bon Parfumeur 803 Sea Spray, Ginger, Patchouli from £40 here

This intriguing fragrance veers from hot to cold, like a difference of opinion over the thermostat. It’s an oceanic scent but it’s less ‘summer skinny dip’ than ‘invigorating cold plunge’. The tingly, icy-fresh opening notes of marine breeze and frosted patchouli then melt away as spicy notes of ginger, pink peppercorn and juniper pop up for air. It’s bracing, and beautiful.

Akro Bake, from £70 here

Gourmand fragrances are usually restricted to the female section of the fragrance menu, but this unisex option is made to share, like a delicious dessert with two spoons. It’s inspired by the legendary lemon cupcakes at Carnaby Street’s Crumbs & Dollies, with the vanilla and nutty praline notes balanced with enough tart lemon zing and boozy rum to tempt all perfumery paletes. Second helpings all round, please.

M&S Discover Ocean Musk EDT, £10 here

Technically Ocean Musk is listed on the men’s pages at M&S online (probably because there’s nowhere else for it to live), but the styling is neutral and it’s won praise from men and women alike as an easy, breezy delight. The oceanic neroli and musk blend works on anyone’s wrist, and definitely isn’t overtly ‘scent of a man in tight white Speedos’.

Miller Harris Hydra Figue, from £95 here

The heady smell of a sun-drenched Greek island – and what could be a more universally appealing holiday destination than that? This is a gorgeous array of woody, citrus and oceanic notes, spread out like an Aegean picnic with multiple courses to savour as the scent develops. And of course there’s a pinch of Greek sea salt and saffron to really bring those notes to life.

Maison Crivelli Neroli Nasimba EDP, from £85 here

The call of the wild, turned into a unisex spritz. It’s inspired by a luxurious safari retreat, starting with zesty orange as the early morning wake-up call, then moving onto a walk of discovery where orange blossom flourishes in the savannah. All dangerous wildlife is kept at a safe distance; the subtle base leather note is merely a rumbling roar from far away.

CK One Reflections, £49 here

What unisex fragrance feature could be complete without the OG, CK One? It’s back for another summer season with this Reflections edition, a luscious frozen slushie of lemon, ginger and iced green tea. The vibe is healthy and energised rather than cocktail o’clock sleepy slump – because who needs a fragrance that gives them a headache?

Perfume Society Discovery Boxes are £23 each at, Most boxes, including the new Launches To Love box, is unisex.


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