Smelling Success
Smelling Success

Just like fashion that’s breaking free from all conventional rules, these fragrances are breaking out of the stereotype to simply identify with the wearer.

One of the biggest lifestyle empires today, lies in the business of perfume. It’s the epitome of a luxury gift, advertising pulls out the stops with it, and celebrities in the West from Jennifer Lopez to Rihanna and Kim Kardashian have tasted success with their own take on fragrances. But new-age perfumers are also edging out an old perfume philosophy: of gender-distinct fragrances.


Says Antara Kundu, GM–Marketing, Brand & Customer Acquisition, The Body Shop, “Today, as more of us view fragrance as a personal signature, the lines between fragrances for him and her have blurred. Gender neutrality in fragrance is simply the freedom to choose fragrances as per personal choice, irrespective of traditional categorisation of olfactives. It underlines how all genders are starting to think of scents as a means of self-expression.”


Gender-neutrality in fragrances came about in the ’90s, when Calvin Klein dropped CK One — the first gender-fluid EDT — into the mainstream market. Soon after, the world’s top luxury brands — Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Jo Malone, and Chanel to name a few — swung into the game. The Body Shop is also one such brand that encourages consumers of all genders to simply follow their nose. Cut to date, it’s a thriving homegrown scene for such EDTs, though experts say perfumes were inherently gender-neutral to begin with.



Affirms Shishir Mehta, founder and CEO, Scentido Niche Perfumery, “Perfumes have always been genderless, and brands chose to promote them as gender-specific. For instance, traditionally, it was perceived that floral fragrances are for women, but that is not true, because even men like heady floral or ‘floriental’ perfumes. Today’s world is all about breaking stereotypes, and perfume brands have to keep up with this. Also, the fragrance industry has evolved and become more inclusive. Remember, a perfume mirrors the personality, and not the gender.”


Dimple Fouzdar of the niche perfumery brand Maison de Fouzdar explains how it goes beyond the label. “We are living in a world of gender equality and so the fragrance world is no more divided by gender. The different scents today have come to be seen as a reflection of a continues to see a rising demand for these fragrances.” Swaraj Sunku, owner of Elixir Niche Perfumery, says, “When you’re unrestricted by gender, there’s a fragrance wheel full of possibilities. We are able to make unique blends, for example, white florals with musk, aquatic with oud, and so on. So, we can express bold olfactory forms, experiment with edgy profiles, and use rare raw materials to bring out artistic creations.


Another case in point is Rare Scents, a luxury perfume brand from Bengaluru-based jeweller C. Krishniah Chetty, which has a range of gender – neutral EDPs infused with real 24 karat gold flakes along with ingredients used from 26 countries.


Mehta sums up, “Today, there are very few customers who come looking for a gender-specific scent unless it is for gifting. The Indian fragrance market has seen a rise in non-binary scents, where the effort is put into understanding the notes rather than just following the nomenclatures. Taking away the labels has definitely led to a sense of freedom.”


What notes make for the perfect unisex scent — would it be citrus or leathery or woodsy? Tahitian vanilla-spiced, rose, or something else? Well, guess what? There are no fixed rules because if it’s not bound by gender, it’s also not defined by specific fragrance notes. Elaborates Tasneem Sabuwala, owner, Perfume Bar, “Earlier, the split into rich woods for men and powdery petals for women was common. But nowadays, exciting new fragrance ingredients break the barrier of gender, and smell equally well on men and women. Musks are popular, and energetic citrus/fruity scents and aquatic notes are the most loved.”



Abdulla Ajmal, Business Mentor and Perfumist, Ajmal & Sons, has an interesting take when he adds, “Androgynous notes are not a modern phenomenon. Traditionally, attars were unisex as they rest on the scientific premise that the same scent smells differently on a man and on a woman. Rose attar necessarily may not be feminine and a spicy note could be worn by women. The right way to wear it is to feel them, and change them according to your mood. The selection of notes has got more to do with your nose than your gender. It’s not as simple as dismissing floral as feminine and intense woody-smoky notes as masculine. As a perfumist, it is about creating blends with new ingredients and an innovative pairing of ingredients. Today, you have middle-of- the-road scents in neutral packaging being created that are a cocktail of crisp citrus, pungent spices, marine, and heady florals.”


Appreciating a fragrance that’s unisex is one thing, getting people to have a hands-on experience at making them is another. There are dedicated workshops where people get to invent the scent. Raunak Munot, co-founder of Trove Experiences that does these, says, “During the perfume-making experiences, we see a lot of interest from men and women who want to create a more neutral fragrance that they and their partners can use. The expert encourages participants to look beyond gender stereotypes and concoct a fragrance that is representative of their taste.”



The trend goes a notch higher at bridal showers, sangeets, and even corporate offsites. Krishnapal Rajpurohit of The Perfume Stand, reveals, “Stylists set up the portable bar or stand and take guests through the process. They then invent the scent sans any gender categorisation. The fragrance is put into pretty monogrammed bottles and potlis.”


Sabuwala explains the interactive experience, “At the Perfume Bar, all our notes our gender fluid, and it’s interesting see people do all the mixing and matching. We have had men come up to the bar and mix up soft florals with amber and citrus, and women who create something that’s a mix of light woods with aqua notes and spice. It’s a cool way to entertain guests, by gifting them the experience of creating their personalised perfume — all blended fresh, on the spot.”


So the next time you want to pick a fragrance, the only thing that should matter is what it does for you, and how it makes your personality shine.

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