Scent Of A WoMAN. Gender Neutral Fragrances Are More Relevant Than Ever

Cassie Steer

For Him? For Her? Or should that just be ‘For Whoever The Heck Likes The Smell?’ It seems that we’re developing a nose for scents which don’t adhere to traditional notions of masculine or feminine and even the big brands are finally catching on.

In an age where trans models now regularly front major hair and beauty campaigns and male beauty bloggers become brand ambassadors for make-up giants, we’re also starting to get sniffy about gendered fragrance marketing (Mintel cites gender neutral beauty as one of their major trends for 2018).

Suddenly Eau De Him (all brushed steel and black bottles) and Eau De Her (a confection of what often resembles unicorn spit-up) seem rather outmoded thanks, in part, to the rise of niche fragrance brands which are growing exponentially in a sector where sales of celebrity-endorsed fragrances are falling.

“All gender-related conventions in fragrance are outdated. When I look historically as to why they exist it’s clear that it’s from marketing created by the big brands.”


– Ben Gorham, Byredo


photography: nicole king @ unsplash

“Niche brands which don’t market their fragrances as male or female have helped a lot in ‘de-genderising’ this category which is great as it means we’re going back to the essence of perfumery,” says Emmanuelle Moeglin, founder of  the Experimental Perfume Club – a brand which is to scent what couture is to fashion (the newly-launched ‘Layers’ collection at Liberty London is a trinity of scents designed to be mixed and matched depending solely on the wearers’ individual tastes.)

Going back to this ‘essence’ of perfumery then; the notion of distinctly ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ scents, is, for starters a rather modern one; “Perfume was conceived without gender and used thus for centuries with no special slanting to either sex, you paid your money and took your choice” says James Craven, Fragrance Archivist at Les Senteurs, the UK’s first niche fragrance boutique.

“Perfume as we know it was derived from it’s role in magic and religion only to become applied to sex and gender millennia later especially in the 1920s and 30s when it became a highly effective marketing tool as the world became increasingly sexualized thanks in part to the vast influence of cinema,” he adds.

photography: alexandru acea @ unsplash

And just as the debate about the introduction of gender-neutral awards at the Oscars continues to gain momentum, so too does the conversation about how perfume is pushed to the sexes.

“We don’t approach gender in a traditional way,” say Le Labo’s founders. “That’s not how we see the world and it’s not how we see perfumery. Would you be asking an art gallery to change their lay-out to have better gender fluidity for example? We create for souls, not genders; gender in perfumery is an invention of marketing,” a sentiment shared by the creator of another niche great – Ben Gorham of Byredo; “All gender-related conventions in fragrance are outdated. When I look historically as to why they exist it’s clear that it’s from marketing created by the big brands.”

Consumers, it seems, are speaking with their noses and if that means roses for men (as is incidentally common in the Middle East) and spices for women, all the better. “Fragrance can portray who you are as a person as well as enhancing or changing your mood,” say Le Labo.

Essentially it’s about individuality.

photography: perchek industrie @ unsplash

But let’s be honest, as much as perfume is a badge of self-expression, it’s still as much about sex and attraction as it is about identity (which is why it’s always slightly puzzling that men’s fragrances are made up of the notes that they themselves are said to be drawn to rather than the sweet, floral scents that supposedly attract the opposite sex) but perhaps it’s also about being a little more open about your sexuality too.

“Everyone is terrified of sex nowadays,” says James Craven. “Apparently the teenage generation has given up on the real thing and is going in for ‘virtual cyber-sex ‘ instead. ‘Me too!’, PC laws and celebrity scandals have made people very wary of sex and sexual associations. People now want asexual scents and ‘transparent’ is the buzzword for everything.”

Follow your nose….

Le Labo Santal 33 Eau De Parfum, £125
This niche classic may have been conceived with an old Marlboro advert in mind (and all that brooding masculinity it implies) but it’s not just for the (cow) boys with Le Labo citing that sales are split 50/50 in terms of their male and female customers. Dry, aromatic and woody with top notes of cardamom lassoing cedarwood, papyrus and Australian sandalwood, there’s a reason it’s achieved cult status amongst fashionistas.

Prada Infusion d’Oeillet Eau de Parfum, £102
Touted as ‘resisting masculine and feminine stereotypes’ Les Infusions de Prada is a collection for the scent connoisseur. We love the spicy, sensual lure of carnations melding with sandalwood and mandarin essence in the Infusion d’Oeillet – like being transported to the Orient on a warm balmy night.

Comme des Garcons Concrete, £120
Leaders in the gender-neutral arena,  Commes Des Garcon’s latest construction is a lot softer than it sounds. Based around sensual sandalwood with spicy notes of cumin, ginger and cardamom as well as a ‘disruptive’ rose oxide accord, it’s an architectural masterpiece.

Elizabeth and James Nirvana Bourbon, £69
Whiskey is not just for the fellas and this smooth, sexy, oriental scent is an intoxicating blend of vanilla bourbon muddled with oakwood and tuberose. Perfect for cold winter nights.

BYREDO Bibliotheque, £105
Unequivocally cool, Byredo seduces us once more (girl, boy, anything goes…) with this latest olfactory offering. “Bibliotheque is our most popular candle. In response to endless requests it’s now appearing as an Eau De Parfum,” explains Founder Ben Gorham of the scents’ genesis. Leather-bound pages mingle with dark wood shelves thanks to notes of plum, violet, leather, patchouli and vanilla. Bookishly brilliant.

Jo Malone Honeysuckle & Davana, £90
The quintessentially English brand has always eschewed notions of gender (as any Pomegranate Noir aficionado will tell you) and it’s latest scent (a ‘happy floral’ launching in September) is designed to be layered with two existing scents; Grapefruit or Oud & Bergamot. “The way we categorize fragrances is through ingredient families as opposed to gender. It may be true that some men will choose scents that make them feel more masculine, but it is more a matter of taste and mood,” says Jo Malone Lifestyle & Fragrance Expert, Emma South.

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