Gender bias in perfumery?

August 17, 2021

Perfume has been categorised by gender ever since its creation as a commercial product: flowery, fruity and sweet scents for women, woody, leathery notes for men. Stereotyped? Yes. Sexist? Yes. But, as times change and gender equality is is becoming a more and more important topic (and reasonably so), a move towards gender-neutral and unisex fragrances has expanded the boundaries of fragrances.

"Before the mid-nineteenth century, there was no concept of producing men’s and women’s fragrances separately. It was common to smell romantic florals on men and smoky woods on women."

Gender (photo: Unsplash)

"Most scents today are gender assigned, because it works wonders for profitability. Marketing leverages the stereotypes of the 'perfect man/woman'- how we are supposed to look, dress, act and smell to fit the ideal."

Before the mid-nineteenth century, there was no concept of producing men’s and women’s fragrances separately. It was common to smell romantic florals on men and smoky woods on women. As the 20th century progressed and fragrance advertising proliferated, masculine and feminine fragrances became increasingly polarise. Most scents today are gender assigned – be it explicitly or via advertising. Why? Because it works wonders for profitability. Marketing products through the gender binary is an effective strategy because men and women have been told for centuries that they are supposed to look, dress, act and smell a certain way. Fragrance companies with heavily gendered perfume campaigns, using celebrity spokesmodels to appeal to old ideals of femininity and masculinity are now being a normal thing.

"Fragrance companies use celebrity spokesmodels to appeal to old ideals of femininity and masculinity, but many new brands are leading a revolution to overturn the stereotypes in the industry."

Some niche fragrance brands however are leading a revolution to overturn the stereotypes by opting for an androgynous approach to marketing. Minimalist bottles, avoiding colours heavy with gender connotation, creating abstract product names, or focusing on ingredients, with no »pour homme« or »pour femme« in sight.

Unisex perfumes have been niche market for quite some time, but now their popularity is gradually increasing. This is primarily due to the greater awareness and openness of the public with regard to gender identity issues and to changes in the stereotypical perception of masculine and feminine attributes such as smell.

"A perfume should never be reserved for one sex only, because smells have no sex. Smell, fragrance and perfume are all about individuality."

It is a great progress, we agree. However, we think a perfume should never be reserved for one sex only. Why is that? Because smells have no sex. Smell, fragrance and perfume are all about individuality. A brand should not be telling customers what they should and shouldn't wear based on their gender. That's because a consumer may not agree with that brand's interpretation of gender. Therefore, instead of telling what a consumer can smell like according to their assigned gender identity, they should be allowed to decide which scents they like and feel great about, regardless of their gender.

Individuality (photos: Pexels)

"Scent is subjective. That is why we'd like to see men and women crossing categories to wear specific fragrances which they like, which suit their mood, specific moments, their emotions, different occasions and which are not specifically gender related."

Perfumery has to be about individuality. It has to create an attraction, an addiction. But doesn’t need to be gender specific. We are our own individuals, that is why we think gender specific perfumes do not exist. Even though brands and advertising are telling us differently, our thought on this is: »Scent is subjective. That is why we'd like to see men and women crossing categories to wear specific fragrances which they like, which suit their mood, specific moments, their emotions, different occasions and which are not specifically gender related.«

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