Smelling like a dude is so passé

IMAGE DreamWorks Pictures

Until the middle of the 20th Century, there was no such thing as a women's or a men's fragrance—there were only fragrances. The fact that we've been trained to think of women's scents as "perfume" and men's as "cologne" is nothing more than marketing (not to mention a grossmisunderstanding of those terms). In reality, the only thing that matters in a fragrance is whether or not you like the smell. And more and more, fragrance manufacturers are embracing to that old-school philosophy.

According to a recent article in Pret-a-Reporter, the gender-free niche fragrance market is up 24 percent over last year, and is currently experiencing double-digit growth. "Five years ago there were fewer than 200 new niche fragrances, but last year alone there were over 1,000 new launches, and probably 950 of them were gender free," Amy Bourne, North American regional marketing director for International Flavors and Fragrances' told the website.

The fact that we often think of scents as masculine or feminine can be traced to the 1940s, when fragrance companies began working with movies stars like Clark Gable and John Wayne to promote the idea of masculine scents. The notion stuck and, within a few years, the industry divided itself into scents for men and scents for women.

During the 1990s, however, Calvin Klein famously pushed back against that gender divide with his iconic unisex fragrance CK1. More recently, Tom Ford created a line of gender-neutral fragrances. And today we have niche brands like Le Labo, Jo Malone, and Atelier that are working to obliterate the idea of a strict gender divide in scents.


Ultimately it's the emotional connection to a fragrance that makes it important, not some arbitrary gender demarcation. Smell, more than anything else, is connected to emotion and memory. Proust understood it, and we should to. If we want our scents to truly tell our story, we shouldn't be worried about the gender of the model that appears in the ad.

This story by Scott Christian originally appeared on Esquire.comMinor edits have been made by the editors.

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Scott Christian
Scott Christian is a style writer for
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