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What are Fougères?

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Often relegated to the dad zone, fougeres are often unfairly seen as washed up, out of juice, and boring. We’re here to tell you that couldn’t be more false. 

In perfumery, there are six main olfactory, or scent, families that the industry can be systematically broken down into. One such family is the fougeres family. Meaning “fern-like” in French, the fougere was thought up to be a perfume representation of the fern. 

Sounds a little funny, right? The fern, inspiring one of only six main perfume families? I mean, how often do you stop and think about ferns?

Well, while fougere literally means “fern-like,” the fragrance family should be thought of as  more the imagined representation of the deep greens of the natural landscape. Typically a more masculine genre, many of your favorite modern scents are sure to fall under this far-reaching umbrella. 

In this article, we’ll explore the origins of the fougeres, what fougeres smell like, and what elements make up a fougere. Let’s get into it. 

What are Fougères?

A fougere is a fragrance composed of citrus, usually bergamot, in the top, lavender and rose in the heart, and tonka bean, vetiver, and oakmoss in the base.

A perfumer by the name of Paul Parquet created the first fougere fragrance in 1882 for the house of Houbigant. Spurred by the more widespread use of the tonka bean (see our article on tonka bean), Parquet included it, or more specifically, the chemical responsible for its scent, coumarin, in his fragrance Fougère Royal. It was an instant hit, starting a new wave of perfumery. 

Initially intended to be worn by the females of the day, Fougère Royale was instead picked up and worn by the aristocratic men. A version of the perfume, though a tad reworked, can still be purchased today.
While fougeres have faded in and out of perfume relevance since that time, they are experiencing an unparalleled resurgence today. Many perfumeries are taking the base recipe and adding in their own modern twists to once again delight wearers.

While the composition notes listed above are the bare basics, there are a few notes perfumers usually add into the mix for a fougere scent. For example, geranium is commonly added in the heart to augment the rose. Other citrus elements can be added on top to help highlight another facet of the green genre, and patchouli can add an additional “manly” quality to the base. 

What do Fougères Smell Like?

The fougere is, simply put, dignified and beautiful. 

Fougeres are typically considered to smell masculine, with a woody forest-like qualities. This likely draws from the notes in the base, particularly the oakmoss and the vetiver. Fougeres are clean, woody, and fresh, with hints of sweetness from the lavender and tonka bean helping add dynamism and keep things interesting. 

Fougere fragrances smell connected to the earth, and are usually quite grounding. They aren’t the loudest fragrances in the world, but they speak with a more rhythmic, natural sensuality. It’s the fragrance equivalent of going with the flow, of refusing to force things. 

Additionally, there are a number of facets that can impact the overall smell of a fougere. The three main ones are leather fougere, citrus fougere, and woody fougere. This means that, depending on the additional ingredients and fragrance notes added, you can end up with two fragrances that are fougeres but smell wildly different from each other. They will, however, retain the same sense of character. 

We recommend picking a fougere fragrance if you like taking walks through forests, if you enjoy the color green in all its varieties, and if you’re looking for a classic men’s scent to work with you as you take on life. 

Men’s Fougeres

The fougere is a classic in men’s perfumery. Here are a few of our favorites in the genre:

  • Platinum Egoiste by Chanel is a timeless masterpiece. Since it’s release 30 years ago, it has delighted as a classy men’s scent that smells dressed-up and put together. A traditional “barbershop” scent, we think it wears best with black and white. That said, it’s very versatile, and the only mistake would be not wearing it at all.
  • Aramis by Aramis is probably the most sheer-masculine scent we’ve smelled. A bit of a slap in the face, it takes a certain kind of person to pull off. That said, it’s downright gorgeous — ozonically floral, woody, and warm, it remains an absolutely must-try.
  • Dior Sauvage is the modern-man’s fougere: becoming one of the most popular colognes of its time, Sauvage represents the fougere genres evolution as a versatile men’s catering. 
  • Géranium by Frédéric Malle is a fascinating, polarizing scent; the best way to describe it is green. It simply smells green. Sometimes compared to mouthwash, that’s just one part of this cologne. The star anise in the top, cinnamon in the heart, and sandalwood and musk in the base makes this smell very refined and gentlemanly. Perfect for spring wear, Géranium is an intriguing take on the traditional fougere. 
  • Masculin Pluriel Maison Francis Kurkdjian settles over you like a beautifully scented second skin. The lavender features prominently in the opening, and is gorgeous without taking away a shred of masculinity. Gradually, vetiver and patchouli come in and pave the way for the leather at the base. Masculin Pluriel is a fantastic scent for the man of many facets.

Women’s Fougeres

Originally created to be worn by women, there are a number of fougeres meant for the fairer half of humankind:

  • Hermes Elixir Des Merveilles is, technically, a unisex fragrance. A stunning oriental fougere, Elixir des Merveilles is wondrously warm, woody, and rich, with a creamy-dark orange peel vibe permeating the whole thing. It’s a fantastic fall and winter scent, and is the best women’s fougere fragrance, in our estimation.
  • Penhaligon’s English Fern is an obvious choice; fougere means “fern-like,” so picking a fragrance literally called fern makes sense. English Fern is about the closest to minimalist fougere perfumery you can get. It’s very crisp, clean, and smells formal. It’s the fragrance equivalent of a pressed white shirt — unexpectedly versatile and quaint.
  • Enchanted Forest by The Vagabond Prince is a supremely souped up women’s fougere — with outlandish notes like red wine, rum, black currant, and honeysuckle, to name a few, Enchanted Forest is fruity and boozy, to go along with the traditional woodiness of the genre. It’s, in simple terms, like walking through a forest in a Grimm fairy tale. 
  • Mugler Fougère Furieuse is a whimsical fougere for both men and women. With top notes of fern and herbal aromatics, geranium in the heart, and tonka and oakmoss in the base, Fougère Furieuse is a fairly accurate representation of a fougere that is wearably modern.

Fougere: One of the Six

We hope you enjoyed this article on what a fougere is. If you’re interested in the other five perfume families, be sure to check out our articles on them as well. 

As always, thank you for reading, and we wish you well on your perfume journey!


Isaac Marks

Isaac Marks

Isaac is a fragrance expert from Chicago, Illinois, specializing in smelling good at all times. When he isn't sniffing things, Isaac likes to read, write, run, bake, and play the guitar.

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Jack Harbor

Full Time Fragranista

Jack Harbor is an expert in all things scent – from wearing, to mixing, to making perfumes, his expertise is varied and robust. He loves to smell good, and loves helping other’s smell good – for the good of us all!

Jack Harbor

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