I’d like to think I’m deemed a strong, independent woman: does that define me by my scent? Fact is I’ve long been a wearer of men’s fragrances. I chased a man along the platform at Picadilly underground when I was 23 just to find out what he was wearing (my fave ever since Bel Ami by Hermes), and my husband and I fight daily over the ‘nicely neutrally blokey’ Penhaligon’s 1902 citrus Blenheim Bouquet that was once deemed ‘a masterpiece of tailoring’! Still smells bloody fresh!

Androgynous aromas, transcendental scents or just plain *gender neutral*, these phrases are all the rage in perfumery, but it wouldn’t be the first time in fragrance history that an independent spirit of self-confidence prevailed in our choice of perfume. Think Caron’s Tabac Blond in 1919, steaming with unvirginal vetiver and inspired by 20’s Flappers sporting a fast car, a new crop, shorter skirt while daring to smoke in public; or Guerlain’s Jicky, originally created for men and happily crowned the ‘first true unisex scent’ by 1925.


As ever in perfumery, fragrance reflects the moment. “The world is in flux and chaos,” says genius, perfume archivist James Craven at Les Senteurs. “Ergo: we are all in a fluid questioning state of doubt…nothing seems ‘set’ and solid.  So perfume, which reflects every aspect of our personalities, history and cultural status HAS to follow suit – as it has done so often in the past.” Fact is, never before have we experienced such freedom, acceptance and fluid androgyny in history. In the past month I’ve witnessed a sizemic shift in new scents aimed at us all – whatever our sex. “Gender means nothing in perfumery any more,” says James; “it’s pure Victorian to think otherwise.”

“There’s much more freedom today,” says master perfumer Frederic Malle. “We’re living in a more gender-fluid society where men are much more relaxed about what they wear: from vibrant colours, jewelry and 40% wearing our best-selling Portrait of a Lady are men. There is this whole palette and everyone is using it in a much freer way. We don’t need a perfume to have strong gender identity to be comfortable wearing it, and most are even comfortable wearing scents that seem marketed to a different gender. Right now, I am working on a couple of fragrances named GenderFluidity to be launched mid 2018. It’s legitimate for the perfume world to embrace this subject as it’s part of you, the history of Perfume.”


Scents without gender boundaries are timeless (think cologne), however, now the shift is all about quality. The use of vetiver in feminine perfumery has seen a resurgence in recent years which has always been, traditionally, a masculine ingredient. But likewise, floral notes like rose, typically associated with femininity, are being used across the board. Regardless of whether an ingredient is considered masculine or feminine, it’s how the perfumer works the ingredient is where the magic lies. A rose can whisper or a rose can shout – it’s what you put with it that transforms it.

We are starting to see a generation that is self-assured enough that they will wear any fragrance that they feel smells right. They don’t need to be told it is ‘for women or men’. I know men who love rose and jasmine scents, and I know women who love vetiver. These scents trigger an emotion within us; that’s all that matters. I have always said that a Rose has neither a penis nor a vagina,” says fragrance connoisseur Roja Dove. “Stereotyping a particular ingredient to a particular gender is passe. If you find a scent you love, that makes you feel sexy, that makes you walk a little taller – just wear it.”


I absolutely adore the 2017 reinvention of the 20s classic Guerlain Lui, £145 above left, which they say is ‘inspired by a generation that’s free from the norms of the genre’ but frankly just smells beautiful on the skin. I love the thyme in Aesop Hwyl Eau de Parfum, £83, with smoky spicy earthy notes; or fall for Etro ManRose, £118. By Killian Woman in Gold and Gold Knight, £245 above right, and just wear whatever pleases your mood best; go all out on woods and spices with Jo Malone Oud & Bergamot Cologne Intense, £112, Tom Ford Oud Wood Intense EDP, £155, designed to be unisex, or I’ll just fall for anything by Serge Lutens, £83 upwards.


The earliest fragrance wearers were the exclusively male warrior chiefs and kings who were simultaneously high priests of their societies. They were often regarded as divine themselves – as personifications of gods – and so eventually began to perfume their persona with resinous fragrant oils, spices, and flowers to mark their religious status.

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