Perfume, cologne, male, female – who wants to be put in a box when it comes to fragrances? While the rest of the world continues to tie itself in knots over gender identity, the fragrance industry leads the way with the most sensible (scents-ible?) approach.
For the past 30 years or so, long before anyone coined the phrase ‘gender neutral’, unisex fragrances have been all the rage. It’s a simple approach that cuts right through the noise – when it comes to smelling good, all that matters is smelling good. Whoever you are.
So if you’re looking for a hot new scent this summer and haven’t yet caught on to the trend, why not ditch the his and hers labels and try out a unisex fragrance? Here are five sizzling examples that are making gender neutral cool, fresh, hot – whatever you want it to be.
Le Labo Bergamote 22
Citrus is one of those quintessentially summery fragrances – light but sharp, fresh but with an edge to it. Scents of orange, lemon and lime remind us of cooling drinks and salad dressings, while citrus groves are also a defining fragrance of the Mediterranean.
Bergamot is an inedible citrus fruit that nevertheless has an incredible fragrance – tart and sharp, but with an underlying floral, spicy complexity. La Labo’s Bergamote 22 accentuates these characteristics by adding orange blossom and woody vetiver to the mix, underpinned with musk, cedar, vanilla and amber for added depth. A classic summer all-rounder.
Tauer Perfumes L’Air du Desert Marocain
From the citrus groves of the Mediterranean to the arid landscapes of Morocco, Perfumes L’Air du Desert Marocain by Tauer conjures up a different sort of summer fragrance, but one no less evocative or sensual. Perhaps more reminiscent of the Moroccan souk or village market than the desert air, this is a rich spicy fragrance featuring coriander, cumin, lavender and the cirusy petitgrain (leaves of the bitter orange tree), underpinned by birch, jasmine, amber and patchouli. The result is deeply aromatic, woody and resiny.
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille
Sticking with the spicy fragrance theme, this example from the highly acclaimed Tom Ford perfume house transports us still further again to the hot, sultry tropics. While tobacco-based scents are, much like musk, widely categorised as ‘masculine’ for their deep, heavy spiciness, what sets this fragrance apart is the sweetness of the vanilla. So while the immediate impression is all earthy, smoky spice, the lasting aromas are the sweetness of the vanilla coupled with cacao and tonka bean, underpinned by dried fruit. The overall effect is the rich sensory decadence of a tropical forest in bloom.
Creed Vetiver Geranium
Striking a middle ground between light, sharp citrusy summer fragrances and the richer, spicier numbers we’ve visited above, Creed’s Vetiver Geranium is built around the earthy, woody, dry grass aroma of vetiver. Again, because it has a slightly smoky, almost leathery scent to it, vetiver is a well known ingredient in men’s fragrances.
But in this fragrance, those characteristics are offset with the citrus of bergamot, lemon and apple, followed by the floral aromas of geranium and rose. Think of a woodland in high summer with a breeze blowing through the fragrances of a nearby meadow in bloom and you are in the right ballpark.
Frederic Malle Carnal Flower
Sometimes people assume that unisex fragrances are simply about taking a rather obvious middle path combining elements of supposedly ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ scents. Or else focusing on more traditionally ‘neutral’ aromas (such as citrus).
But where unisex fragrances really become radical is when they challenge those gendered stereotypes and defy expectations about what types of fragrance suit different types of people. Exhibit A being Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle.
Floral fragrances invariably get labelled as ‘feminine’. Carnal Flower is an unashamedly floral fragrance, based heavily around the tuberose, a white flower from the agave family. Its scent is comparable to other white flowers like jasmine, frangipani, gardenia, magnolia and lily.
So what does Carnal Flower do to ‘un-feminise’ this floral scent? Throw in a heavy dose of musk, sandalwood or some other typically heavy, spicy aromas? Nope. A touch of fruit from melon, those citrus-y notes from bergamot we’re so familiar with, and plant-derived chemicals called salicylates – related to aspirin – that give a balsamic-type scent. So in other words, rather than trying to counter the floral aromas, just a few choice ingredients to soften their effect.
The result is a fragrance that is unashamedly floral, but in a sensual, confident way designed to appeal to both sexes. Now that is challenging boundaries.