The Best Unisex Perfumes That Prove Perfume Is Asexual | Good + Good

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In 2004, when grooming and skincare products for men and women were strictly divided into a male versus female dichotomy – and the packaging was blue or pink to prove it – Andrew Goetz and Matthew Malin launched Malin + Goetz . The unisex line had clean, nondescript packaging and the focus was on the effectiveness of the products, not who was using them.

“As we were growing our business, we were looking at how we could stay unique and fill a void in the market, and part of that was because most beauty was focused on women,” Malin explains. “At the time, there was a small, growing segment focused on men. There was nothing living in the space where he was asexual or unisex.

18 years ago, this gender-neutral approach to self-care was a game-changer. But now the aisles are less and less divided into “masculine” and “feminine” – and it’s unisex fragrances that have stolen the show.

The future of perfume is gendered

Until recently, “masculine” scents were often woody, aquatic scents represented by a campaign featuring a sturdy man at the helm of a sailboat, while women had to smell like delicate florals or sultry and sexy.

“In the 70s, 80s and 90s, perfume was gendered because it was used as a tool of seduction, more specifically a tool of heterosexual seduction,” says Steve Mormoris, CEO of Scent Beauty, who partnered with The Phluid Project to launch a line of gender-neutral fragrances in fall 2020. “…But what’s interesting now is that consumers are instead using fragrance to create an individual signature. It’s like getting tattooing or wearing a special piece of jewelry or clothing that belonged to a grandparent or an ex-lover, it’s just another signature item.”

The idea of ​​fragrances “for everyone” may seem novel, but it’s actually rooted in a centuries-old beauty tradition that dates back long before Calvin Klein launched its unisex fragrance CK One ($65) in the ’90s. “If you look at apothecaries 100 or 200 years ago, you wouldn’t come in and say, ‘I’m a man, give me a man’s treatment’ or ‘I’m a woman, give me the treatment of the woman’,” Malin explains. “You came in and said, ‘Here’s my problem,’ and the chemist prepared something for you in a bottle. That’s what we were trying to communicate with our back-to-basics approach. »

Today, traditionally masculine notes like patchouli and leather are found in women’s fragrances, while classic feminine notes like rose and white flowers are found in cologne. Case in point? When Malin and Goetz launched their Strawberry Eau de Parfum ($95) in 2021, the founders had a hunch the scent would be more popular with women than men. But they had a surprise: it was an even split.

This shift towards gender-neutral fragrances comes at a time when the world far beyond the beauty industry is reconsidering its approach to gender: a 2021 study by advertising agency Bigeye found that 50% of Gen -Zers and 56% of millennials consider traditional fragrances gender roles and binary gender labels to be outdated. And as consumers have begun to challenge stereotypical ideologies of “masculine” and “feminine,” fragrance offerings have stepped up to respond.

“We use the word ‘gendered,’ which is the opposite of genderless,” explains Matthew Herman, the founder of Boy Smells. “It can be very neutral and it’s like we don’t acknowledge that gender exists at all. I like ‘genderful’ because it shows wholeness about masculinity and femininity and celebrates gender diversity. people use ‘gender fluid’ more for brands—I really like that word too.

How brands are developing fragrances that feel like they’re for everyone

Formulating fragrances that transcend gendered expectations is not without its challenges. “It’s like music: our perfumers are like composers who try to avoid the cliched pop riffs or classical music refrains they grew up with, so they had to think outside the box to create a scent combination that evoke something completely different from ‘masculinity’ or ‘femininity’ in the traditional sense,” explains Mormoris.

“We are rooted in the idea that we can reconstruct gender ideas and stereotypes, and part of the reason why Phluid is spelled with a ‘ph’ it’s because each of us can find a balance…in masculinity and femininity and all the attributes that come with being masculine and feminine,” adds Rob Smith, co-founder and CEO of Phluid.

Boy Smells, which launched in 2016, was designed with a similar philosophy in mind. “When we decided to do Boy Smells, we called it ‘Boy Smells’, but put it in a pink box, and it’s a statement of ‘I like the color pink, there are aspects of my identity that are female, but I “Society told me I had to remove that from my identity because I’m male,” Herman says. “For me, it was reclaiming space to create these candles and fragrances that blend traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine to reflect the complexity of an identity that is much more modern than what has come before.”

Ultimately, everyone, no matter where they are on the gender spectrum, is invited to the fragrance party, and there’s a lot more nuance when it comes to gender and fragrance. “Our scents reflect the identities of my friends, the people I follow on Instagram, and the people important to today’s culture,” Herman says. “Identity is a much more diverse, layered, and interesting canvas than before. Scent catches up to that level of diversity and hopefully feels more inclusive.

Shop our favorite gender neutral fragrances

Boy Smells Cashmere Kush — $98.00

With fruit and floral top notes (rhubarb, tulip and wild iris) and woody bases (vetiver and cashmere wood), this fragrance gives you the best of both worlds. “It’s very wild and indomitable,” Herman says. “But then the powdery musks give it that softness and that luxury. This unbridled sophistication is very cool.

Smart + Goetz Strawberry — $95.00

Strawberry is complemented by top notes of bergamot and pink pepper; a heart of jasmine and woody greenery; and a base of cedarwood, oakmoss, captive musks and orris root for an unexpected take on a favorite summer fruit.

“When you look at the name, there’s something inherently cliché about it,” says Goetz. “The first thing people think of is something cloying and vanilla-sweet, you know, a suburban teenager. When we named it Strawberry, we knew that perfectly and it was very intentional, because when you discovered this fragrance, it was the exact opposite. There’s nothing sweet or sickening about it. It’s actually incredibly sophisticated with green undertones. When we named it Strawberry, we were laughing around the world and being a little cheeky.

Byredo Gypsy Water — $196.00

Byredo’s unisex fragrances span fragrances, home fragrances and body care, and the brand’s combination of thoughtful chemistry and Scandinavian design has elevated it to the peak of its popularity. This mystical scent is a tribute to Romani culture, and has won a following for its blend of woodsy notes like juniper berry and pine needle juxtaposed with lemon, pepper and vanilla.

The Phluid Project Transcend Eau de Parfum — $55.00

Transcend is a much more indulgent fruity-floral scent because it’s about breaking barriers, breaking boundaries, and establishing yourself as an individual despite all the stereotypes you grew up with,” says Mormoris. By pairing light fruit and florals with melting notes like Palo Santo, the resulting blend offers the kind of olfactory harmony you can expect from all Phluid products.

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 Eau De Parfum — $325.00

Elsewhere in the beauty world, Rihanna has worked to make products less gendered (when she launched Fenty Skin in 2020, she tweeted, “Whoever told you skincare had a gender, Lied to you!”), so it makes sense that her signature scent is also unisex. A real head-turner, this scent has been a crowd favorite ever since. Maison Francis Kurkdjian and Baccarat have decided to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the crystal factory by creating a delicious woody amber.

DedCol Fragrance 01 Provocation — $90.00

DedCool founder Carina Chaz created the brand’s first fragrance, Taunt, to feel more comfortable in her own skin. “Vanilla mixed with amber notes really helped me explore my feminine side,” she previously told Well + Good. “When creating the Dedcool concept, Fragrance 01 Taunt and Fragrance 02 were the first two to launch because I imagined women would wear masculine fragrance profiles while breaking that gender construct.” The perfume is now part of a wider range of perfumes, all of which offer a perfect olfactory balance.

Off-White Paper Solution #1 – $185.00

Although bergamot has traditionally been a staple of “feminine” floral fragrances, Off-White reinvents its potential by blending it with vetiver and patchouli for a result that is meant to “smell like the sand.” It launched this summer alongside three other fragrances and a gender-neutral makeup line that marks the brand’s first foray into beauty.

Sandalwood Lab 33 — $215.00

Le Labo’s Santal 33 was designed to evoke a sense of personal freedom. Although it blends woody, musky, spicy, and leathery notes, which are traditionally associated with masculine scents, the end product feels just as gender-neutral as the brand intended.

Snif Collection 3 Perfume Set – $150.00

Snif’s range of gender-neutral fragrances is so delicious, it’s hard to choose just one. This three-pack includes Burning Bridges, a sweet-smoky tobacco-vanilla blend; Natural Talent, an earthy yet luminous earthy fruit scent that blends apricot and soft suede; and Show Pony, a spicy floral. The brand lets you test its products before committing (you’ll only be charged for what you decide to keep), but you’ll definitely want to keep these three signature-worthy scents on rotation.

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Sarah C. Figueiredo