In 2013, giving gender to perfume is becoming an outdated practise. Most perfume bloggers and their followers champion this cause along with the niche or artistic perfume community. As the community manoeuvrers the public’s view from perfume being perceived as a beauty product to perfume being critiqued as art, the argument is often given; you would not curate an exhibition of paintings and only allow men to enter the exhibition, so why should perfume be segregated into two genders by saying one belongs to men and another to women?
While I agree a perfume’s audience should never be limited to a single gender, I do think gender has its place in perfumery because every perfume begins its life as a creative brief, which the perfumer is required to fulfil. Part of the brief may discuss gender. Guerlain’s Vetiver captures the image of a man working in his garden while he enjoys a pipe of tobacco, Christian Dior’s Miss Dior; well the name says it all. But not all fragrances designed for a specific gender speak only of their intended wearer; a fragrance designed for a woman can contain masculine symbols. When Jane Birkin worked with perfumer Lyn Harris on her own signature perfume, L’Air de Rien, the actress requested the scent contain the odour of her father’s pipe and her brother’s hair. Perfumers use raw materials to form symbols of both masculinity and femininity in their work, creating an olfactory story, just as a painter uses colours to paint images of a man or woman to communicate their story.
For my Monthly Six post I’m listing six fragrances that speak about female forms. As a male viewer, I enjoy interacting with them, as well, I enjoy wearing them. Some might call this perfume cross-dressing but I prefer to see this as me, stepping into an olfactory installation or a gallery. Inside, I interact with the perfume and in a sense, I become part of the artwork. My own story is as important as the perfume’s. My previous experiences with perfume will create bridges or connections that will affect my reading of the perfume. The sandalwood in Chanel’s feminine Bois des Iles reminds me of the masculine Egoiste, a fragrance I have a long personal history with. It is these small connections that make perfume so interesting to wear. If I say phenyl ethyl alcohol, most people draw a blank. But if I say freshly cut roses, their minds will fill with stories based on what the rose symbolises for them. I have a similar experience when exploring women’s perfumes. The ones I feel closest to are often the ones that have some link, whether it be through a story, or a raw material that connect me to a masculine perfume symbol I am familiar with.
Since the point of this monthly post is to write about six things relating to perfume that are currently on my mind, I can only list six. Therefore see this more as my starting point because there are far more than six feminine perfumes, which deserve male attention. Let’s start with some classics….
Robert Piguet Bandit
As I’ve said, when I am attracted to a women’s perfume as something I want to wear myself, there is always an ingredient or an accord that connects me emotionally to the masculine fragrances I am accustomed to. I may not immediately notice this connection, but with some consideration, I will certainly always find it. In the case of Bandit, a leather chypre created in the 1940s, it is an overload of the molecule isobutyl quinolene, which places this classic feminine scent a mere stones throw away from masculine motifs used in men’s leather chypres towards the end of the 20th century. In recent years, perfumer Oliver Cresp has tastefully renovated Germaine Cellier’s Bandit, which continues to retain its 1940s charm. Unlike the voluptuous chypres of Guerlain or the powdery chypres of Dior, Bandit is green, dry and chalky. The medley of expected feminine florals are wrapped in an unexpected sheath of vegetal tanned goatskin, no doubt an innovation of its time. On men, Bandit is a dandified fragrance; with a little bit of old world charm.
Guerlain Chant d’Aromes
I could write this post using only Guerlain fragrances. I don’t think I know of a single Guerlain fragrance prior to Samsara that I would not wear. Mitsouko is my favourite and I wear it in almost every concentration. My preference is for the eau de cologne, which allows the floral components of Mitsouko to really dance. Today’s eau de toilette is still wonderful, but the floral notes, for whatever reason, just don’t seem as lively as they once were. I decided to include Chant d’Aromes in this post, as it is a Guerlain fragrance, which is often left in the shadows of some very big siblings such as Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue and Mistouko. Chant d’Aromes is the invention of Jean-Paul Guerlain and was created during the early 1960s. Originally it aimed to please a younger feminine clientele that were looking for something more sprightly in comparison to the perfumes their mothers were wearing. Chant d’Aromes, a gardenia/floral chypre, may no longer be in style with young women today but it does have a charm that if worn in small doses, can work for some men. And given masculine gardenias are near impossible to come by (but have you tried Arquiste’s Boutonniere No 7?) why not try it?
I bought a bottle of this a couple of years ago following Luca Turin’s review in his book with Tania Sanchez, Perfumes The Guide. I smelled the current formulation that was relaunched in 2007 as part of a range Givenchy calls Les Parfums Mythiques. The current Givenchy III is a romantic floral from a bygone era but the original version from 1970 has a raspier tone thanks to higher levels of oakmoss and woods. Although this original formula is now discontinued, it is worth the hunt if you are a fan of perfumes that belong to the chypre family.
Chanel No 19
No 19 was Gabrielle Chanel’s last fragrance before she passed away. Launched in 1970, No 19 proved that even at the age of 87, Chanel still had what it takes to turn the heads of the world’s fashion set. Perfumer, Henri Robert is the master behind No 19, a fragrance bathed in cool galbanum resinoid. With the growing number of iris fragrances in the men’s market today, the iris/orris-centric No 19 becomes an interesting choice for men. Admittedly, it has less of these masculine symbols I have spoken about, but like most things Chanel, there is a masterful balance between femininity and masculinity, all done in perfect style. This is a perfume I challenge myself with- is it something I want to smell of, or is it purely something I want to smell? In any case, the eau de toilette is my favourite formulation because it has a rich palette of florals. The eau de parfum’s bouquet is dominated by orris more than the EDT, which is not a bad thing and perhaps it is more masculine. Personally, I find the EDT more interesting.
Invariably drop the name of 20th century perfumer, Edmond Roudnitska into an online perfume forum and watch the crowd part like Moses parting the sea. It is the name of one of perfume’s most respected perfumers; a hero of a younger Jean-Claude Ellena, who is arguably the 21st century Roudnitska. Why is he so revered? I think you have to be a perfumer to fully appreciate his worth; I was speaking to one perfumer about a favourite perfume (which M. Roudnitska had created) and the perfumer commented on how complex his perfumes are, even if to the layman they seem rather straightforward. One of my favourite Edmond Roudnitska creations is Femme by Rochas. The original Femme was launched in the 1940s near the beginning of M. Roudnitska’s career. Whether it is the perfumer’s signature, or simply a signature of his era, Femme, like many other of his creations, has a wonderfully carnal quality, almost smelling of unwashed skin. Over the top of this skin-like accord you have layers of woods, candied prunes, flowers and fuzzy peaches. As with many of these older classics, I hear Femme has been reformulated over the years. I have a bottle of the current version and I think it works superbly well as a masculine scent.
Christian Dior Diorella
Towards the end of Edmond Roudnitska’s commercial career he created Diorella for Christian Dior in 1972. In comparison to the darker, post-war Femme, Diorella is a bright honeysuckle floral, which Dior describes as being eternally modern. I am not sure if I agree with Diorella being modern, but it does have likability that I am sure will be appreciated for generations to come. Many male fans of Edmond Roudnitska’s Eau Sauvage comment on the similarities they perceive when they smell Diorella. Although their compositions are fairly different, it is easy to see the connection they refer to. The two unfold in a distinct way and three decades later, this carnal character found in most of Edmond Roudnitska’s work is also present in Diorella. Men wishing for something more intensely floral than Eau Sauvage, could find what they are looking for in a bottle of Diorella.