September 25, 2016

Gender of scent

When opening a product catalogue, or entering a perfume shop, we are always directed to two main departments: fragrances for women and fragrances for men. But do fragrances for men and women really exist? Are sweet flowers and fruit typically feminine aromas, and herbs, sea and metallic notes are specifically reserved for men? Is whisky note going to be used in a composition for men, but women will be treated only to champagne or white wine? Can you really say that a scent has gender and if so, is it really perceivable?

If we went back into the past of hundreds of years ago, we would discover that men and women used exactly the same fragrances. Men sprayed on compositions with the notes of rose or lily of the valley and no one considered these scents unmanly. Notes of lavender and sage, presently determining masculine scents, appeared in the first alcohol-based fragrance for women – The “Hungary Water”. Perfumes were composed upon individual requests and no one paid attention to the associations of particular ingredients.

Awakening of desire

Division of fragrances for men and women was popularised quite recently – in mid 20th century. Along with higher availability of perfumes and their bigger choice, marketing and advertising specialists started classifying scents and assigning them to a particular group of recipients. Perfumes had their story written; they started to be associated with colour and the shape of the bottle, and had an aura of success and desire developed. One scent was no longer enough: we use different fragrance during the day, different one for the evening, and different one for a special occasion. Men and women started using different scents, which was reflected in naming the cosmetics: parfum was used by ladies, and eau de toilette or eau de cologne was reserved for men.

Although scent has no gender, and division of scents into those for women and those for men – is a pure marketing measure, nowadays it is so obvious and culturally solidified that it became natural to us. Although sometimes women  use men’s fragrances, men use women’s scents, and from time to time a unisex composition conquers the market, we still intuitively associate perfumes with seduction and stimulation of senses. We would surely need many years for this division to fade out, and for us to choose a scent unprejudiced, without feminine-masculine associations, guided only by our pure emotions and taste.