5 Avant-Garde Fragrances You Have to Smell

It’s easy to find a new favorite scent if you home in on a specific, well-known note. Some guys like a gourmand vanilla, others a refreshing green. You can even spin the fragrance family wheel and discover different ways to wear fragrance throughout the year—something spicy in winter, a citrus in spring, and so forth.

But far off the beaten path of expected woody notes and florals land you’ll find of misfit fragrance notes. Some companies specialize in this sort of thing: Pretty much anything from scent-encapsulator Demeter falls in this olfactive fantasy land, from Play-Doh to Pizza, from Sex on the Beach to New Baby.

While I wouldn’t personally want to smell like Play-Doh or a Chicago deep dish, I suppose the idea of ​​smelling like new baby isn’t so bad. But what I would like to smell like, though, are these five fragrances, each of which takes an unusual note or two and builds an entire olfactive experience out of them. These aren’t the kind of things you want to wear every day, unless you’re a real out-of-this-world, polarizing-perfumery kind of freak. (In that case, well, more power to you.) But these colognes show that you can create some real magic by pushing the limits of what’s expected in fragrance.

Eau de Tennis Ball: Imaginary Authors “The Soft Lawn”

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Imaginary Authors “The Soft Lawn”

On a huffability scale, tennis balls are right up there with gasoline and dishwasher soap powder. But even more so is a freshly popped tennis ball canister, and that’s one of the forward notes in Imaginary Authors’ uplifting, green, and earthy masterpiece. To its strength, the note is well anchored by vetiver and oakmoss, and elevated by linden blossom and bay leaf. You won’t smell 1:1 like a freshly popped canister of tennis balls, but you will be transported to a sunny spring day on the grass courts.

Eau de Vinyl: “Jusbox No Rules”

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Leather, aldehydes, cinnamon, and musk… this is the recipe for a sensual, enticing scent, right? All that’s missing is a vinyl to close the deal: That’s what Jusbox did with No Rules, its ode to London’s punk scene. It’s not exactly a mood setter or crowd pleaser, considering the vinyl is pulling the most weight here, but the unusual note falls comfortably into place.

Eau de Lava: Ermenegildo Zegna “XXX Cyprium”

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Ermenegildo Zegna “XXX Cyprium”

Last year, Zegna added to its extraordinary fragrance assortment with a trip of XXX fragrances. And no, there’s nothing NSFW about them. Instead they all center on metallic notes: there’s Verdigris that also utilizes ice as a key essence, Charcoal with its graphite angle, and finally Cyprium, which casts a coppery-lava accord into your radius (with a heavy hit of cedarwood, too). All three XXX fragrances are worthy contenders for space on your dresser, but we’d save Cyprium for colder months and longer nights.

Eau de Concrete: “Comme des Garçons Serpentine”

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Comme des Garçons “Concrete”

CdG makes all kinds of exciting, innovative scents, and Serpentine is a shining example. It is summer in the city— a verdant jungle of a city at that. This is Brooklyn near Prospect Park, or the sprawl of Berlin’s Tempelhof ex-airport park. OK, technically it’s Kensington and Hyde in London (the influences for the concrete-meets-the-grass of it all). But you get the picture: Serpentine slithers between the two essences, while aldehydic, green, and powdery notes linger in the side streets. Give it a sniff in winter, and you’re instantly transported to sunnier days.

Eau de Orbit: Eau de Space

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The makers took down NASA-veteran accounts of “how space smells”, and ended up with this bottling. And while they’re merely emulating outer space, the notes themselves are a hodgepodge: latex, metals, fire, gunpowder, biscuits, bitter almond… it’s truly odd, and thrilling for it.

A collage of four different bottles of cologne on a lush forest background
The Best Fougère Colognes are Ultra-Fresh

It’s French for “fern”—and these fragrances are guaranteed to grow on you.

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