Picture a fragrance ad. A beautiful woman, probably Jennifer Garner, is spinning in a beautiful gown. A man, dripping with the Italian sea, swims towards a white yacht. Fragrance marketing has a je ne sais quoi about it—the delicate, flowery girl and the athletic, musky boy that embody the two worlds of smells: woman and man. If that sounds restrictive to you, Gen Z thinks so too, as they continue to push the industry for gender neutral fragrance.
Genderless and gender neutral perfumes have skyrocketed in popularity since they first began picking up steam in the 2010s, growing by +216% in 2022 alone, according to Trendalytics. This growth represents not only a resurgence of fragrances in general, but the powerful belief younger consumers have that flower scents don’t belong to girls and woodsy scents don’t belong to boys.
And that belief is hugely exciting for the perfumers of the world, many of whom have been waiting for this moment to arrive.
Crafting a Scent Without Gender
The Landscape of a Fragrance
When vice president of global new product development at Jo Malone London, Celine Roux, is thinking about a fragrance, the last thing on her mind is the gender of the buyer. “Jo Malone at its conception is all about scents that are developed without thinking of men or women,” Roux explains. “Instead the idea of a signature scent is really part of the DNA of the brand. We start with an idea or a concept, but never a person. It’s about a story or a landscape.”
When you wear Wood Sage & Sea Salt, for example, Roux wants you to be transported—immersed for the moment in Cornwall, cliff-side over the sea on a moody day, with the wind salt-stained and the rain just about to break.
“I’m from the South of France, which is regularly very sunny,” Roux explains. “So, in Cornwall, the weather was not so good, and there was this moody drama to that cliff-side. And I loved that feeling of freshness and openness, and when I got back to London I called the perfumer and said, ‘I want to make a fragrance that smells like this cliff.’”
And critically, that’s an experience that isn’t defined by gender.
“This is for everybody,” Roux says. “I find it very powerful to go after something new and push the boundaries. When I lived in France, I was always wearing scents that were considered to be for men, I still do. And I remember thinking: ‘Why can I not wear this? It doesn’t make sense.’”
Getting in the Mood
Instead of a place, MOODEUX is all about creating fragrances that evoke a specific mood. Founder and CEO, Brianna Arps explains that just like places, our emotions are already gender neutral. “We really wanted to move beyond the traditional, antiquated way we talk about fragrance,” Arps explains. “When you approach it as a physical science and not a social science, you really free your mind to go after what smells good to you and what you like, not what is for a certain gender.”
MOODEUX’s first scent, Worthy, exemplifies how traditionally feminine and masculine scents can be combined for something original and universal, with top notes of white tea and orange blossom that deepen into lavender and finally to rich musk and amber. In this way a gender neutral fragrance is about being a universal fragrance.
“Who doesn’t want to feel worthy?” Arps asks. “It’s supposed to be a warm hug for the senses and that’s something anyone can appreciate.”
Gender Neutral Doesn’t Mean Boring
Unlike most products marketed as unisex, CLEAN RESERVE‘s packaging is awash in florals and a vibrant blue background.
According to CEO of Clean Beauty Collective, Greg Black, that was a deliberate decision. “The naming convention for CLEAN RESERVE was created to make the fragrance scent easy to understand from a consumer’s perspective,” Black explains. “Reserve means the perfumer’s reserve of raw, sustainable materials that are infused into our fragrances. The key sustainable ingredient is highlighted on the packaging to reinforce our commitment to eco-conscious practices. For the new launch of CLEAN RESERVE H2EAU, we continued this approach and added a fresh aquatic packaging design to illustrate the water-to-fragrance connection.”
Prioritizing clear communication to the customer, the collection’s packaging dares to be fun and creative, while ensuring that the glass-bottled, wood-capped fragrance itself is a sleek and stylish addition to your shelf. Reinforcing the idea that flower and botanicals aren’t inherently feminine, the gender neutral fragrance collection focuses on ingredients first.
Similarly, you’ll notice that Jo Malone Fragrances are named simply by their primary scents, and avoids any gendered language.
“Our fragrances are named by their ingredients,” Roux says. “You’ll never see us call something romantic or strong, nothing like that. Anyone can relate to and enjoy lime, basil and mandarin, or wood sage and sea salt.”
And when perfumers get to ignore the traditional rules of what makes a scent feminine or masculine, a gender neutral fragrance presents real room for creative growth.
“When you think about it, we’re assigning societal ideals to inanimate objects,” Arps says. “So when we came out with PunkStar, we wanted to create a true gender neutral fragrance by combining those traditionally masculine and feminine scents. The leading fragrance is a leather, but you’re also going to smell incense, moss, tonka bean, rose and black current.”
From Boxed-in to Bespoke
Part of this shift away from masculine colognes and feminine perfumes is embracing the individuality of the consumer, focusing on how personalized a product can be. This makes gender neutral fragrance a first step towards truly bespoke, personalized scents.
“It is important to understand every consumer experiences fragrances differently,” Black explains. “It is entirely dependent on the consumer’s personal taste, the memories that have distinctly shaped their relationships to scents and the role they want their fragrance to play.”
That’s why CLEAN RESERVE H2EAU was created with a focus on layering scents.
“Traditional feminine and masculine notes are no longer dictated to the consumer when they have the option to blend as they desire,” Black says. “Consumers have the choice to make their fragrance as discreet or as bold as they wish, and we’ve found the layering aspect to CLEAN RESERVE fragrances allows for personalized creativity that blurs the boundaries of conventionally gendered scent personalities.”
Jo Malone London has a similar approach, encouraging consumers to layer scents for a custom, signature scent.
“I think it’s nice to have a base fragrance that you love and could wear every day,” Roux explains. “And then depending on your mood you could add something floral like Blackberry and Bay, or if you want something that transitions into night, you could go for English Oak and Hazelnut. It’s about exploring and accessorizing with fragrances.”
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