There's no such thing as a man's fragrance. Or a woman's fragrance, for that matter.
There is, however, very good marketing campaigns that push the agenda that men need to smell a certain way and women another.
As an impressionable whipper snapper, I remember when Calvin Klein released CK One back in 1994. It was considered groundbreaking for being sold as a unisex scent. Lemon, bergamot, pineapple, cedarwood – the notes roll out like as a fairly stock-standard cologne for men but CK One was a hit among women.
So what made this particular creation unisex? Marketing. Cheers Steven Meisel and Kate Moss.
Fast-forward to 2020 and Calvin Klein has created a new version of their modern fragrance, dubbed CK Everyone, for another generation of androgyny-embracing youth although with the noted difference of being a "clean" fragrance. Or in other words, using naturally derived ingredients, also vegan in packaging made from 30 per cent post-consumer recycled materials. The result is an aquatic-citrus fragrance that resembles just stepping out of a shower.
It's a similar tactic used by luxury niche fragrance line Hermetica, which uses what they describe as "green chemistry" to develop fragrances that actually nourish the skin as opposed to dry it out as some alcohol-based ones have been known to do. Spray with a clean conscience onto clean skin.
In recent years, there has been a surge in the number of so-called niche perfume brands. Brands that, rather than relying on big-poster ads featuring models gloriously draped across the deck of a boat, instead attempt to a tell a story with what's happening inside the bottle.
Swing both ways
This lack of commercial influence infiltrating consumer choice has meant that gents (and women) have slowly become unfettered by preconceived ideas about what they should smell like. Instead, the most important detail becomes whether or not you like what's inside the bottle. As it should be, really.
Brands like L'Artisan Parfumeur, Le Labo, and Montale have garnered cult followings for creations that shift the boundaries between what traditional men's or women's fragrance smell like. Montale's Arabians, a leather-bomb you can smell a mile off is equally adored by both men and women. And you're now just as likely to find your football-loving, gym-going, beard-growing macho-est mate wearing Frederic Malle's Portrait of A Lady as you will on your girlfriend.
And it seems like the major brands are catching up to this shift in attitude.
Brands on board
Last year, Gucci released Mémoire d'une Odeur, a distinctly floral fragrance that dried down to a deliciously bitter herbal note. With Harry Styles the face of the brand, it was released with a grand statement of being all about freedom of expression. French label Celine also released a line of top-shelf perfumes, designed by creative director Hedi Slimane, that ditched the idea of gender altogether and instead came with the advice of when to wear each, split between "day" fragrances and "night" ones.
Italian perfumers Acqua di Parma have also announced that their next offerings will cross the gender binary. This Signatures of the Sun line combines the traditional citrus core of their iconic Colonia with four new floral accord.
(Side note, Guerlain's Jicky, made over 100 years earlier, was one of the first unisex commercial fragrances and is still one of the best fragrances for men and women today.)
Setting the standard
According to Christine Nagel, Hermes' in-house perfumer, wearing a perfume is like wearing an emotion. And both men and women are capable of feeling an entire array of emotions.
"I think it's very important to follow your instincts, don't follow the imagery," Nagel says.
"Why do we do masculine and feminine? Because in a lot of shops, you have a women's side and a men's side and sometimes it's just marketing. When you go in to Hermes, there is no separation. For me a perfume is not a gender but sometimes we put it in this category because we have a nice story."
Just breathe in
Ultimately, the nose likes what the nose likes. You shouldn't be constricted to wearing some generic-smelling juice just because three of your buddies do and you reckon you're a bit like that actor they've picked to flog it in the posters.
You wouldn't drink a crap beer just because George Clooney told you to, would you?
Check out the gallery above to see some of the best unique and unisex fragrances to bring out your sensitive side.