I like to consider myself a bit of a rock ‘n’ roller. I spent my late teens skulking around dive bars playing gigs with my band. Leather jackets, lucky strikes, the whole deal.
So when the opportunity to dive into the best John Varvatos colognes presented itself, how could I refuse?
I mean, these guys have collaborated with Iggy Pop and Led Zeppelin.
It makes a change from the yawn-inducing Johnny Depp/Ryan Gosling/ insert-Hollywood-heartthrob-here campaigns we’re normally fed.
Unfortunately, my music career never took off the way I might have liked (spoiler: we were trash).
But a couple of these colognes made me feel like a rockstar for a while.
Serial fence-sitter as I am, I’m going to have to split the crown between yin and yang. It’s a Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde situation.
First, the good boy. John Varvatos Artisan is a crisp and clean dream. Think Creed Mountain Water, but at a quarter of the price.
Now the baddie. Dark Rebel (subtle) is the guy your girlfriend told you not to worry about. Think Tom Ford Ombré Leather, but at half the price.
I think you see what I’m getting at.
Best John Varvatos Colognes for 2022
John Varvatos has surpassed my expectations by producing an un-gimmicky array of high-quality fragrances for mid-range prices. They genuinely stack up with some of the very best colognes on the market.
John Varvatos Artisan – Best John Varvatos Cologne for Casual Confidence
Varvatos Artisan is built for a cool and collected gent in his downtime. This is for the casual guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously, and leaves people wondering how he can be so successful yet stress free.
It’s what the green room of an arena tour should smell like – wealth and class with a hint of “who knows what could happen”.
This soothing and uplifting fragrance is impeccable. It exudes breezy, classy confidence that feels refined and sophisticated. I’ve been wearing it for spontaneous evening outings with my girlfriend, and I swear it adds to the vibe.
It’s a breezy blend of citrus and gentle floral notes, perfectly balanced with enough woody spice and musky depth. The sense is status and pedigree, but not at the expense of masculinity.
The notes of orange blossom and ginger are energizing and hedged against relaxing lavender and jasmine.
It has a soothing, watery coolness in the heart, before drying down into a woodsy, musky base. It’s gentle, but not feminine.
In terms of quality, I compare it with Creed Silver Mountain Water. It’s that well blended and natural-smelling. Keep in mind that these fragrances can cost $300-400, while Varvatos Artisan retails for $75.
The projection also stacks up. John Varvatos is delicate and meticulous, and even though it won’t take anyone’s head off, it still lasts a full 8 hour day.
It’s in my top 5 fragrances, period. I can’t say much more than that.
|Top Notes:||Tangerine, Clementine and Thyme|
|Middle Notes:||Orange Blossom, Lavender, Jasmine and Ginger|
|Base Notes:||Amber, Musk and Woodsy Notes|
John Varvatos Dark Rebel- Best John Varvatos Cologne for the Bad Boy at the Bar
Compared to Artisan, Dark Rebel is the devil on your shoulder.
It revolves around a primary pairing of sweet rum and rugged leather. Picture Cpt. Jack Sparrow on a Harley Davidson. It’s the perfect fragrance for sitting off to the side at a biker club, watching the world go by with a smoke and a tipple.
It’s a super masculine fragrance, without being in your face. Dark Rebel is the one who breaks up the bar fight but is secure enough in his surroundings not to start one.
Beneath the rum and leather, there’s a prickle of pepper and aromatic patchouli. There’s also masculine woodiness in the base, reminiscent of a very light, smokey oud.
This is sugar and spice, and all things nice. The creamy woods remind me a little of the discontinued Gucci Envy, one of my favorite all-timers.
Dark Rebel is creamy, decadent, and topped with moreish vanilla. It pulls off the impressive trick of smelling both expensive and dangerous.
For me, it competes with Ombre Leather when I’m reaching for something to pair with a leather jacket. It usually depends on what my plans are.
If it’s drinks and debauchery I’ll go with Dark Rebel; if it’s something more respectable, Tom Ford is a cleaner option. The fact that John Varvatos is even in the same conversation as a fragrance twice the price speaks for itself.
John Varvatos colognes in general aren’t known for breathtaking projection, and Dark Rebel is no exception. It sits close to you and will give anyone close light wafts they have to investigate rather than huge blasts.
Personally, I wouldn’t want Dark Rebel any stronger. The rum note is bold and could come off a bit obnoxious if it was afforded the room-filling potential some critics seem to expect.
|Top Notes:||Rum, Sage, Cardamon and Sugar Cane|
|Middle Notes:||Leather, Pepper and Fir|
|Base Notes:||Mexican Vanilla, Juniper Berries, Tobacco Leaf and Woodsy Notes|
John Varvatos – Best John Varvatos Cologne the Young at Heart Professional
The original offering from John Varvatos is like a dialed-back version of Dark Rebel. It’s more like a former rocker who still carries the flame for the bohemian lifestyle, but has fixed up and is now stacking racks with his stock portfolio.
It’s got an edgy undercurrent, but the resounding sense is one of security, confidence, and wealth. If you’re that guy cracking jokes in the office- but still handling business- this is the cologne for you.
John Varvatos himself even thinks it’s his best work after 15 years of producing colognes.
The opening is a sweet and spicy aromatic fougere, packed with fruity, juicy red fruit that blasts you right out of the gate. In the heart, there’s a hint of medjool dates, roughened out with herbs like coriander and sage.
Suede and vanilla add a touch of refinement and class to the more vibrant notes. A powdery-musky cloud envelops soft leather in a manner that suggests a fresh, modern barbershop.
It’s not a risky cologne in terms of being off-putting or aggressive, but it is unique to the point that it’s likely to still attract attention.
With that in mind, John Varvatos would make an excellent casual date fragrance. You could even get away with it at work if applied in moderation.
This is no “shy-guy” fragrance, but not obnoxious either.
|Top Notes:||Medjool Dates, Tamarind Leaves and Mediterranean Herbs|
|Middle Notes:||Coriander and Carom Seeds|
|Base Notes:||Oud, Fir, Black Leather and Vanilla|
John Varvatos Oud – Best John Varvatos Cologne for Cultured Masculinity
The John Varvatos Oud offering is one of the best western ouds I’ve come across. The oud note is “clean” in the modern style of Ouds like Creed Oud and Tom Ford Oud.
Need to know: What does Oud smell like?
The quality is and balance is unquestionable, and it’s a solid 10 on the masculinity scale. Attractive and seductive are the resounding takeaways here.
It would suit you if you’re a gent who likes to maintain an air of mystery and intrigue. The exotic Persian notes hit towards a well-cultured explorer who isn’t afraid to do things a little differently.
The oud here projects opulent masculinity that is measured and considered, not aggressive or impulsive.
Subtle Ouds like this shine at candlelit hideaways, like a boutique bar or restaurant your friends are too pedestrian to try.
While oud is certainly the backbone, the fragrance is relatively complex. John Varvatos Oud leans into ouds Arabian heritage with Zanzibar cloves, Egyptian jasmine, Lebanese cedar and Persian saffron.
There’s a touch of initial freshness from cypress and juniper in the top notes. Within half an hour this is overrun by the heat of cinnamon, pepper, and tobacco.
Despite claims of floral notes like rose, I don’t detect them. There’s no room for sweetness in the heart of this Oud blend, just soft incense, and warm spices.
The oud deepens over time, with notes of leather and cedar entering to conjure seductive masculinity that feels regal and serious. The dry down is dark and smokey like you’ve stumbled into a mysterious ritual at a grand Persian palace.
It’s not a powerhouse, but 7 hours of longevity and 4-5 feet of projection is ample. I’d recommend it as a quality, affordable modern oud that might lead you down a path to Creed Oud.
|Top Notes:||Juniper Berries, Cypress, Sage, Nutmeg and Tobacco|
|Middle Notes:||Cinnamon, Pepper, Cloves, Saffron, Jasmine and Cardamom|
|Base Notes:||Oud, Incense, Leather, Cedar and Amber|
John Varvatos Vintage – Best John Varvatos Cologne for the Classic Gentleman
John Varvatos Vintage is a dark and sexy cologne for gents who enjoy classic fragrances. It’s best for a mature audience, maybe 25+, and would suit a stylish, English gent type.
There’s a lot going on, so if you’re a seasoned nose who loves to dissect each ingredient, you’ll enjoy the artistry here.
The opening is very coniferous and packed with greenery. Basil, fennel, and rhubarb all combine to lend fresh vitality, while leather and tobacco add masculine bite.
After half an hour things get progressively aromatic, with touches of lavender and cinnamon beginning to emerge.
There’s wood and oakmoss deep in the base, smoothed and rounded by suede and tonka bean. It’s a relatively heavy dry down, and probably best suited for fall or winter.
I think these earthier notes could be a little overpowering for the office. Vintage is better-suited for a night out to a boutique bar or classy restaurant on a chilly evening.
|Top Notes:||Fennel, Pepper, Rhubarb and Basil|
|Middle Notes:||Lavender, Juniper Berries, Cinnamon and Jasmine|
|Base Notes:||Suede, Tonk Bean, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Tobacco and Woodsy Notes|
John Varvatos Artisan Blue – Best John Varvatos Cologne for the Office
Looking for something you can wear to work? Enter John Varvatos Artisan Blue.
Artisan Blue is a fresh and summery, office-safe fragrance. If you’re an energetic go-getter, it’s the way to go.
There’s plenty of zip and freshness to get you through a busy day- but enough personality to make an impression on the date you’ve got scheduled afterward.
It’s energizing and youthful, and probably best for the young professional in their early 20s. One who’s looking to kick-start their career- but still has an artist’s soul.
On a blind test, I’d have guessed Artisan Blue was actually Artisan Green. The pine and basil opening is bright and aromatic, and (to my nose) packed with a classy, green freshness. It’s clean and inoffensive, with a pleasant base of musk-free wood.
It’s more herbal and soapy than aquatic, without any of the citrus or oceanic notes that typically characterize blue colognes. I’d recommend it to people who find colognes like Polo Blue a little too ozonic.
Artisan Blue smells like the grass in the dunes of a beach, with sea mist blended in, rather than the crashing waves themselves.
The ‘green’ elements are old-school and masculine, reminiscent of classic fragrances like Eau Sauvage.
|Top Notes:||Lavender, Bitter Orange, Bergamot and Basil|
|Middle Notes:||Orange Blossom, Iris and Sage|
|Base Notes:||Pine, Pistachio, Patchouli and Cedar|
John Varvatos Artisan Pure – Best John Varvatos Cologne for Summer
Artisan Pure is the most unique John Varvatos I came across and would make an excellent signature cologne for summer.
It’s lemon sherbet with a sunny beach vibe and gives me the feeling of youthful exuberance, poor judgment, and dumb luck. It makes me feel like I’m back on a summer holiday in my early 20s.
It will give your day a Uma Thurman esqué restart. Artisan Pure is impossible to ignore and will elicit electric energy from yourself and the company you keep.
The opening smacks you with a slightly sour explosion of citruses. Lemon, Mandarin, Clementine- the citrus sweetness is dialed up to 11.
It stays very bright throughout the heart zesty spice from a strong ginger accord. There are a couple of herbal touches from thyme and marjoram, but these are background and supplementary. The headline here is zip, zest, and zing.
After a couple of hours things mellow out, and a creaminess appears in the dry down. At this stage, the citrus begins to share the stage with woodsy notes and an amber undercurrent.
There are plenty of citrus fragrances out there, but none of them are as arresting as Artisan Pure. Maybe it’s the ginger combo, maybe it’s the creamy dry down. Either way, I love it.
A note on performance: my first impressions were terrible. I’d spray 2-3 times and find that it was not getting me anywhere until I realized the problem.
The atomizer on Artisan Pure is just bad. Every spray produces such little juice that it’s a bit pathetic. I have to spray 6-7 times for enough of a dose to get a day’s wear, which shouldn’t be necessary.
For every other John Varvatos cologne I tested, the atomizer was absolutely fine. Make it make sense!
|Top Notes:||Clementine, Lemon, Mandarin Orange, Bergamot and Thyme|
|Middle Notes:||Ginger and Petitgrain|
|Base Notes:||Amber, Musk and Woodsy Notes|
FAQ: What You Should Know about John Varvatos Colognes
John Varvatos colognes are all about converting power chords to powerful accords.
Genre-products tend to compromise on quality. You know when celebrities do brand collaborations, they usually suck. You’re just paying for the name, and it’s more of an exercise in marketing than anything else.
I’ve been impressed to find John Varvatos an exception to this rule.
They produce high-quality colognes first and foremost, inspired by rock ‘n’ roll tradition rather than using it as cover for substandard fragrances.
John Varvatos stores are few and far between and don’t tend to stock their entire range of colognes. It’s probably best to order your colognes online (I’ve included some links to the best prices I’ve been able to find).
My top picks for this week are Artisan and Dark Rebel. They’re opposite ends of the spectrum, so my thinking is at least one of them is bound to resonate, depending on what sort of gent you are.
Having said that, it’s worth checking out the rest of the list for an alternative that speaks to your particular brand of frontman energy.
After all, being yourself is what rock ‘n’ roll is all about.