Perfume is finally moving away from gender

Roses are red, violets are blue, and both are for women when it comes to mixing scents. This is how it has always been in the traditional perfume industry: the scent of a flower or anything sweet has been considered distinctly feminine, while notes of leather, tobacco or spices reported masculinity and testosterone. But a new generation of LGBTQ+ brand founders and perfumers are rebelling against the hyper-gendered rules of blending scents and instead creating free-flowing scents that reflect the complexity of human nature.

“A perfume can inhabit any body. It’s about being attracted to the scent and putting it on. -Tanais

“The gender roles that have been given to perfume make no sense,” says perfumer and author Tanaïs. “A perfume can inhabit any body. It’s about being drawn to the scent and putting it on – it’s not like a rose doesn’t smell good on someone who identifies as male.

Many of these fragrance mavericks cite a single scent as their primary source of inspiration. In 1994, Calvin Klein launched CK One, the first unisex fragrance marketed, which brought together rose with musk, amber, lavender and papaya for a unique, clean fragrance that was a stratospheric financial success as well as a formative moment of beauty for a new generation. . Kate Moss (who was part of the iconic black and white campaign) and Jared Leto reportedly wore the fragrance, which grossed over $5 million in its first 10 days and sold 20 bottles per minute at its peak.

“I didn’t feel like girls or boys were growing up,” says Gloria Noto de Noto, who was 11 when CK One hit the market. Noto’s first perfume experience was their mother’s signature scents, the now discontinued Coty and Elizabeth Arden Red Door Exclamation Eau de Parfum. But everything about the smooth launch of CK One spoke to Noto and how they formulated the Oil Agender, which combines soft lavender with heavy vetiver. “CK One has been a guideline in my whole life experience,” says Noto. The campaign was also formative for Tanaïs, who said, “I didn’t really like the scent, but the concept really resonated.”

A quarter of a century later, market research firm Statista found that 51% of new fragrance launches in 2018 were fragrances marketed as “unisex”, up from 17% in 2010. And we’re continuing to explore what that means. feel masculine, feminine and all expressions of gender and sexuality in between.

“We’re at the start of a revolution,” says Phil Riportella, co-founder of online fragrance brand Snif. “The types of fragrances an individual enjoys should no longer be tied to gender, but rather what an individual likes.”

The greatest movement towards line blending begins with blending, period. The “blue” and “pink” notes came out, and instead the scent is like your aura – use it to greet those around you with a vibe and tell them something about you. Also out: language or imagery that resembles perfume tropes – think men riding shirtless, or women shyly running away from something while looking over their shoulder. Images today tend to be emotive shots of ingredients and products, and campaigns feature a variety of people and bodies. These next generation scents are all about how they make the wearer smell and more importantly if you identify with them then this is a scent for you.

In 2016, Los Angeles-based Boy Smells started with candles in millennial pink tins and added refined fragrances – labeled with the non-asexual moniker “Genderful” – last year. Violet Ends combines sophisticated violet blossom – traditionally used in cosmetics – with rugged tobacco and leather to create an aromatic tug-of-war reminiscent of a cowboy who doesn’t care to slather his red lip. “Limited gender expectations have been imposed on us by the fragrance industry,” says the brand’s co-founder, Matthew Herman. “Boy Smells pokes fun at outdated ideas that pink is only for girls with our packaging and that woods and musks are only for boys scents with the products we create.”

Snif’s direct-to-consumer model was inspired by those who dread going to department store beauty counters and any judgment that may come with it. (To overcome the barrier of hesitant online shoppers, there’s a trial purchase option that comes with a sample and free returns if the scent isn’t right for you.) Sweet Ash cuts the candied energy of notes traditionally feminine like vanilla bean and bergamot with earth moss and fir – it’s like a hug from a windswept ex-lover who lingers a little too long in hopes of reconciliation.

Tynan Sinks, Beauty Writer and Fragrance Podcast Co-Host feel later, recalls the first time he tried Chanel Coco Noir eau de parfum, which is heavily marketed to female-identifying buyers, in his early 20s. “I never fit the frame of traditional masculinity,” says Sinks, known for his pink cat eyes. “When I first started wearing women’s fragrances, I was like, ‘Oh, that’s me.'”

The ability to re-explore fragrance, outside of the gender constructs of the traditional fragrance industry, brings new joy to this connection and new audiences to the experience.

“Modern fragrance is all about what it makes you feel,” Herman says. “Finding new sides of yourself and embracing evolution is a fantastic, never-ending journey of self. Scent can and should play a part in that.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of ELLE.

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