In a world where spaceships roam the universe, and the ideas of gender binarity are receding, making room for a new approach to gender perception, perfumery is still divided into masculine and feminine. We decided to find out why it is believed that men do not smell like jasmine, while women are persistently offered "sweet" scents and what to do about it.
Unlike most patriarchal ideas, the stereotype that each gender has a specific smell is relatively new. Guerlain Voilette de Madame and Mouchoir de Monsieur, launched in 1901 and 1904 respectively, are considered the first gender-oriented fragrances to go on sale. The revolutionary concept of paired fragrances belonged to Jacques Guerlain, one of the most prominent perfumers of his era; according to one of the legends, the set was conceived as a wedding gift to a couple who are friendly to Guerlain.
Historically, perfumery has no gender: due to the high cost of bottles and their blatant non-binding, fragrances have always been more of a sign of belonging to a certain class, rather than gender. One of the main functions of perfumery was to mask bodily odors, so that perfumes were concentrated and applied generously: over the years, perfume compositions were built around musk, amber, myrrh, spices and, of course, flowers, but none of these notes was identified with masculinity. nor with femininity. Even the currently accepted designations "cologne" and "perfume" are terminology that speaks exclusively of the concentration of the perfume substance (cologne is the lowest, perfume is the highest), but not at all about the sex characteristics of the fragrance.
When it comes to gender targeting of cosmetics, marketers like to talk about the physiological difference between male and female organisms, but in perfumery, this separation is not biologically determined. According to research, women's skin has a lower pH, which makes men's skincare a reasonable option. At the same time, some studies consider the acidity of male skin to be higher, while others - lower: biologists have not come to an unambiguous conclusion. It is only clear that the relationship between skin acidity with age or nutrition is much greater than between it and the sex.
Actually, the so-called skin chemistry, thanks to which the fragrance "sits" on a person or not, is also a subject of controversy: biophysicist Luca Turin, for example, considers the idea that fragrance interacts with human skin to be a myth. Turin, one of the most respected critics of perfumery, claims that we all smell the same, but we interpret it differently. Anthropologists, meanwhile, object - they came to the conclusion that we intuitively choose the scent in such a way as to enhance the smell of our own body. But none of the researchers speaks about the gender division of fragrances.
Perfume historian and creator of his own brand Roger Dove argues that "the same scent of a rose will be masculine on a man and feminine on a woman - the rose itself has no gender." Despite this, he labels some of the Roja Dove fragrances as masculine or feminine. As Dove himself admitted to me during an interview, "I do it for men: many men, if they don't see the words 'Pour Homme' or 'For Men' on the bottle, are nervous that their genitals will fall off if they wear that scent." A very accurate description of the impact of marketing on modern life.
In her 2013 article “Perfume Packaging, Seduction and Gender,” published in Culture Unbound, University of Gothenburg researcher Magdalena Petterson McIntyre details how perfume marketing can affect the consumer.The cosmetic industry, and especially the perfumery, where one cannot expect a visible result, unlike decorative or caring cosmetics, sells dreams, images, and elusive beauty. Thus, the scent itself often becomes secondary in relation to the bottle and the advertising campaign - and advertising, as you know, is the engine of trade through clichés and lucid framing.
Men are sold masculinity, sportiness, sex appeal in women (the Ax brand has taken this discourse to the limit, which seems to be included in marketing textbooks) and the idea that a fragrance will make it irresistible. For women - temptation, desire and, where without it, again sexual attraction, and in advertising the bottle often acts as a substitute for a lover: the heroine squeezes its enlarged version in her arms or lies with him in bed. If you look at 20th century perfume ads, you can see that this aggressive sexuality did not become an integral part of the industry until the 1980s. At the same time, the gender division of perfumery became the most striking, although it was massively popular much earlier.
In infancy, we were separated by the color of the diapers, in childhood - by the thematic sections in the toy store, and now we are supposed to smell according to our gender. Aquatica, vetiver, wood and leather are traditionally masculine notes (they are positioned as attributes of "masculine" activities - from horseback riding to driving a motor boat). All kinds of flowers and sweets are ingredients of the female scent. Spices and citrus are allowed to be there, and here, but only in the appropriate - feminine or masculine - frame.
There remains, of course, a niche perfumery: many outstanding authors, like Serge Lutens, have been coming up with fragrances all their lives without exchanging for a gender specification. But niche fragrances are initially designed for a more free-thinking user, they are promoted differently, are practically not advertised and, importantly, are more expensive. Niche perfumery is initially more elitist - the buyer becomes, as it were, a part of a closed club. Perfumery is more accessible, which actively uses gender markers, is designed for a quick intuitive purchase and works with the most understandable images and symbols. Sex, temptation, attractiveness, courage, sportiness, bliss, repeat from the beginning.
However, even in such a conventional place as cosmetic multi-brand shelves, cutting-edge trends are taking over their space. 1994 saw the release of CK One, the first multi-gender fragrance to explode the market (according to WWD, sales totaled $ 5 million in the first ten days after launch). One of the main faces of the fragrance was Kate Moss, a symbol of heroin chic and light androgyny. Few have tried to replicate the success of CK One, and it took twenty years for multi-gender fragrances to start returning to the mainstream. For example, the most popular Hermès perfume series - Les Jardins - is intended for both men and women, and the same CK released the successful unisex CK 2 this year. the image of a star - be it “seductive” Britney Spears, “sensual” Jennifer Lopez or “courageous” Antonio Banderas.
So, in 2014, Pharrell Williams, together with COMME des GARÇONS, released the Girl fragrance with the slogan “for girls and boys”, and Ariana Grande, together with her brother, Frankie, who calls it gender neutral. In addition, if women in the nineties experimented with men's fragrances in search of freshness and androgyny (it is worth remembering the popularity of men's Acqua di Gio among girls), now men are gradually beginning to look closely at the contents of ornate feminine bottles, not fearing that their genitals will fall off. … After all, a scent borrowed from a boyfriend or beloved for a day is the easiest and safest way to play gender-bending, which is sometimes desirable for both women and men who are tired of the "real" prefix.And pushing your own boundaries is even more important than smelling good.
Photos: Chanel, YSL, Pour Un Homme de Caron, L'Aimant, Nautica, Moschino, CK