Why Gender-Neutral Fragrances Are All The Rage (And Why That’s a Good Thing)
At some point in the distant past, some long-forgotten marketing guru decided the way to sell perfume and cologne was to randomly classify scents as either “feminine” or “masculine” and market them as a way to attract the opposite sex.
As perfume makers, you and I both know this is silly. Fragrance is not about smelling the way other people want us to smell.
It’s about surrounding ourselves with the scents that express who we are. That idea is increasingly mainstream as we witness what can only be described as a gender-neutral fragrance revolution.
There have always been men and women who selected their fragrance based on what they liked best, not on whether its ads featured a sultry siren on a beach or a rugged cowboy on horseback. Smells, after all, are inherently gender neutral.
Calvin Klein understood this when CK One launched almost 30 years ago. In its heyday, the unisex fragrance that blurred the line between “women’s perfume” and “men’s cologne” sold 20 bottles every minute.
Despite that success, other companies were slow to adopt the vision of gender-neutral perfume. In 2010, only 17% of new fragrance launches were labeled “gender neutral.”
Then Gen Z happened.
In the last few years, there’s been an explosion in cultural understanding of gender beyond the binary. This is different from the gender-bending fringe trends of the 1970s and 80s.
Though they challenged gender norms, those movements still relied on a clear-cut definition of what it meant to “dress like a girl” or “dress like a boy.”
Today, we’ve gone from bending norms to breaking them as people question whether those definitions even exist. The gender-neutral movement of the 2020s is fueled by Gen Z’s passion for authentic self-expression that exists outside the gender binary.
“People no longer want to be labeled, whether by gender, age, or ethnicity,” trend forecaster Melissa Hago told Dazed magazine. “Instead, they want to be recognized for their individual wants and taste.”
A 2020 study found 56% of Gen Z shoppers ignore traditional labels of “menswear” and “ladies wear” and buy whatever clothes they like. Successful beauty brands like Fenty Skin and Good Light make a point of marketing their products across the entire gender spectrum.
As fragrance is the most expressive element you can wear, it’s not surprising that today, more than half of new fragrance launches each year are marketed to both women and men.
It’s been culturally acceptable for women to wear men’s styles for generations. The fashion and beauty industries will reach true gender equality when men can make traditionally feminine choices and no one bats an eye.
With celebrities like Harry Styles stepping out in gowns and nail polish, this may be the generation that de-genders style once and for all.
What do gender-neutral fragrances smell like?
The idea that perfume is feminine and should smell sweet or floral, while cologne is masculine and should smell woodsy or musky is not only outdated, it’s technically incorrect.
Originally, the two terms referred only to fragrance concentration.
Eau de parfum, or perfume, is traditionally 10 to 20% fragrance, while the remaining 80 to 90% of the spray is an alcohol-based carrier. Eau de cologne is more diluted, with only 3 to 5% fragrance.
Fragrance notes are classified into families such as floral, earthy, or green. Within each family are scents that have traditionally been considered “masculine” or “feminine.”
Some gender-neutral fragrances strive to achieve a balance between the two. Others emphasize notes that can fall under either list, like fresh citrus or crisp aquatic scents. Regardless of gender, everybody likes to smell clean.
Once you’ve stripped away all the marketing cues, you see that any note can be gender neutral. Half of Vetiver’s customer base is male, and they don’t shy away from floral notes like jasmine or sweet notes like vanilla.
Likewise, our female perfume makers are as likely as men to buy woodsy and foody notes like cedarwood and bourbon.
For DIY fragrance creators, the de-gendering of perfume and cologne can only be a good thing.
It creates opportunity for more people to experience the joy of expressing themselves through the fragrances they’re drawn to – the experience that drove many of us to create our own unique fragrances in the first place.
DIY Copycats of Popular Gender-Neutral Fragrances
Top Note: Orange
Heart Note: Green Tea
Base Note: Vetiver
Top Notes: Papyrus, Violet, Iris
Heart Notes: Cedarwood, Cardamom