Rebuffing the expectation that masculine fragrances must be heavy and intense enough to strip hairs from nostrils, citrus-tinged bergamot has climbed the olfactory ranks to become one of the most lusted-after smells in men’s grooming.
Unlike heavier ingredients such as oud and musk (which should be approached with a judicious degree of caution) bergamot offers a fresher scent but couldn’t be accused of being boring thanks to its complex character.
Like its stablemates in the citrus family, bergamot is all sprightly and summer-ready, but with a multifaceted profile that makes it the Rolls Royce of the bunch among noses in the know.
Expert perfumer Roja Dove says that bergamot is the grown-up’s way to wear citrus scents. “Because of its richness when compared to other citrus materials, bergamot really does separate the men from the boys,” he says.
What Is Bergamot?
This citrus-y fragrance doesn’t just whiff pleasantly of summer, its origins are all idyllic and sun-dappled too. Bergamot is an essential oil found in the rind of the bergamot orange. This small knobbly, greeny-yellowish fruit grows throughout Southern Italy, with the highest quality oil found in the Calabria region. The name bergamot itself references the Italian city of Bergamot where the fruit is said to have been originally cultivated and sold.
History nuts estimate that the oil has been freshening up fragrances since the 18th century, with the first record of the oil used in fragrance set at 1714. You may have even unknowingly drank the stuff too, as it’s the ingredient which gives Earl Grey tea its elusive scent and taste.
You don’t need bergamot to have invaded your nasal passages to come to the conclusion that it smells citrussy, but aside from the obvious there’s a lot going in that fragrant oil. “Whilst it is very fresh and citrus, it is much richer and more rounded than any of the other citrus notes, which smell somewhat one-dimensional in comparison, making it a highly prized ingredient,” says Dove.
Less bitter than lemon, lime and grapefruit (despite being inedible) but with less tanginess than standard-issue orange, the bergamot oil is more well-balanced than a tightrope walker, hence its ability to team up with lots of different ingredients and create complex scents.
Bergamot In Fragrance
Aside from the fact that bergamot smells pleasantly rich, the oil’s relative scarcity has helped to bolster its status as an A-list aroma. Traditionally the very best bergamot oil could only be obtained by pressing the rind of the orange by hand to collect the essential oil in a sea sponge. And, when you take into consideration that 1,500 kilograms of bergamot oranges yield just one kilogram of oil, that makes for sore hands all round.
Modern technology has increased productivity and banished blisters, but bergamot oil is still tricky to tap: weather, soil and ingredients all dictate how the fragrance obtained will smell. But, despite all this effort, the scent has still been used to make men smell refined for hundreds of years.
Dove explains the scent’s success story: “Bergamot is a signature ingredient in the structure of the fougère and the chyrpré fragrance families – the two accords (balanced blend of ingredients) of masculine perfumery. Chypré fragrances are typified by their inherent warmth and dryness, whilst fougère fragrances are fresh and aromatic – but both contain bergamot. Since the birth of modern perfumery, there has been no escaping it. It is part of the DNA of men’s perfumery.”
The Best Bergamot Fragrances For Men
Tom Ford Venetian Bergamot
Even those with no nose for fragrance know that Tom Ford colognes are among the sweetest that money can buy, so unsurprisingly the brand’s Venetian Bergamot demonstrates one of the best uses of the ingredient. By taking bergamot’s hallmark freshness and adding peppery, woody and floral notes, the citrus-y essential oil takes on an unexpected richness and depth.
Roja Parfums Elysium
Helmed by arguably Britain’s finest perfumer, Roja Parfums is the thinking man’s fragrance house. True to form, its Elysium fragrance showcases bergamot at its best, recruiting citrus notes such as lemon, grapefruit and lime to underscore freshness while adding musk, floral and fruit notes to add unexpected complexity to this luxury fragrance.
Acqua Di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Bergamotto Di Calabria
Trust fine Italian fragrance house Acqua Di Parma to pay homage to bergamot’s provenance with its Blu Mediterraneo Bergamotto Di Calabria fragrance. The closest you’ll get to an Italian holiday without actually visiting, the scent combines Calabrian bergamot with fruit and floral accents and practically bottles the feeling of summer in the process.
Le Labo Bergamote 22
Proving that fine smells don’t just waft from hallowed European fragrance houses, New York-based Le Labo has concocted another olfactory delight with its Bergamote 22 blend. Inside the characteristically stripped-back bottle, you’ll find bergamot mingling alongside vetiver, orange blossom and cedar wood, with the scent’s complexity aptly demonstrating that a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover.
YSL L’Homme Sport
Like all the best men’s fragrances, YSL’s gym bag favorite takes its key ingredient and does something interesting with it. Here, bergamot is swept away from its natural habitat by combining its characteristic sprightliness with the woody and earthy companions of cardamom and vetiver. Citrus still reigns supreme, but there’s enough interest to pique the interest of noses lucky enough to pass by post-workout.
Floris Bergamotto Di Positano
Floris may not be a name which instantly registers to the everyman, but then that’s exactly part of this centuries-old British perfumer’s appeal. The house’s Bergamotto di Positano fragrance mixes the title ingredient with mandarin and marine notes for a refreshing fragrance with subtle undertones of woody, mellow warmth.
Jo Malone Oud & Bergamot Cologne Intense
No longer just your mother’s go-to for premium scented candles, Jo Malone’s offering has stealthily nestled itself alongside the biggest players in men’s fragrances. The brand’s Oud & Bergamot Cologne Intense brings together two unlikely bedfellows to nostril pleasing effect. The result is an oud scent for those who claim to hate the stuff.
Named after the capital of Siciliy, Byredo’s Palermo takes Sicilian bergamot and adds musk and floral notes for a summer-ready scent with enough sweetness thrown in to balance the citrus sharpness of the star ingredient. A more than welcome addition to your island-hopping wash bag this summer.
Ermenegildo Zegna Acqua Di Bergamotto
Describing itself as the scent of the Italian coast, Ermenegildo Zegna’s Acqua Di Bergamotto lives up to its promise with zingy bergamot which comes blended with vetiver’s woodiness and of hint of earthy rosemary. Salty notes of sea water round off the aromatic equivalent of the perfect summer holiday.