It is only by enlarging the scope of one’s tastes and one’s fantasies, by sacrificing everything to pleasure, that that unfortunate individual called man, thrown despite himself into this sad world, can succeed in gathering a few roses among life’s thorns. – Marquis de Sade
In founding Charenton Macerations, one of the major goals of the company was (and is) to liberate the minds of fragrance wearers from tired stereotypes employed to sell scent. Perhaps the most obvious of these stereotypes involves the gendering of fragrance.
Fact. Fragrance, especially fine fragrance, is primarily manufactured and marketed to women. Even men’s fragrance sales (which make up a mere quarter of the market) are predominantly driven by female purchases. Numbers for fragrances designated as unisex are even smaller. But how and when did the industry become so gynocentric? Why have its antiquated gender myths been allowed to go on unchallenged for so long? Better yet, why are women the only ones asked to indulge in their olfactive appetites?
Mentions of fragrance in historic documents prior to the Napoleonic Era rarely mention formulaic variations based on gender. Instead, fragrance was discussed in terms of cultural, spiritual, and hygienic properties prescribed equally to both men and women. For example, during Medieval Times, knights were said to wear the same scent as their ladies when heading into battle, a form of honor akin to wearing their colors.
According to Annick LeGuérer, author of “Scent: The Mysterious and Essential Powers of Smell,” Napoleon represents one of the first historic examples of gendering fragrance (here, the creation of a “masculine” type). Napoleon was noted for wearing Giovanni Maria Farina’s Eau de Cologne, a stark contrast to the more exotic, Houbigant scents crafted for Empress Josephine. Using over a rumored 8 quarts of scent a month, Napoleon was said to have made equal olfactive demands of his military rank and file. He scented his men with a formulation that is still used as a basic building block for many contemporary men’s fragrances.
Of course, while the story of Napoleon highlights a gender difference, it does not help explain why the conversation tilted more in the direction of women. For that, let’s fast forward in history to the 1920′s to take a closer look at the long-lasting partnership being forged between the world’s of fashion and perfume. Early in the decade, a dressmaker named Gabrielle Chanel, would have a lasting impact on the world of scent, successfully launching Chanel No. 5. For so many people, No. 5 is an iconic representation of femininity, a perfect reflection of the Modern Industrial Era in which it was created. Due to the popularity of No. 5 and other designer perfumes, fragrance was to become an essential part of a successful fashion line.
Of course, most areas of the fashion world involve (ad)dressing gender differences. Collections have challenged and affirmed traditional gender norms, sometimes quite provocatively, influencing how we present ourselves. Gowns, suits, undergarments… fashion is a business built on making some things for boys and other things for girls. To marry the two worlds together, it was only natural that the same gender principles used in fashion be applied to fragrance. Now thinking in terms of “for him” and “for her,” scented gender separation would continue to grow, further aided with the rise in popularity of the department store along with the decision to market fragrance as a beauty product. From here on, men would have the world of grooming, while women the land of perfume. Interestingly, department store beauty counters, though many designed over a 100 years ago and clearly with a slant towards capturing female shoppers, continue to be the chosen destination for most fragrance selling today. Women were clearly being singled out as the main targeted audience for fragrance.
However, during the 20′s, fragrance was still considered to be a luxury product. To answer the final question about the prevalence of fragrance based gender myths, fragrance still needed to go mass market. The conversation needed to be amplified to solidify its split-gender message (whose ultimate goal was to encourage more fragrance sales to women). Enter the genius of American marketing, and a 1950′s cultural backlash towards traditional gender roles. A decade swimming in imagery of “The Domestic Goddess,” gender-based fragrance messaging would go viral, echoed across television and entertainment news media, aiming both high (fine fragrance) and low (hygiene products). Gender based messaging in fragrance would also no longer be restricted to fashion brands. On this mass scale, the men’s grooming products market became a small counterpoint to the vast female beauty market, now a very lucrative category. Over the years, efforts would be made to try and invest into making a more vital men’s “cologne” business, but these efforts normally relied on similar selling tactics used for female clientele, and continued to be sold in environments more heavily trafficked by women. In other words, men’s fragrance was simply another category to be sold to women.
What we have not seen in the history of fragrance is a true blending of masculine and feminine types. Unisex fragrances, popularized during the 1990′s through the launch of scents like CK One, instead focused on the blending of a small set of notes thought to be common in both (i.e. citrus notes). In other words, they represent the least common denominator. If we accept that the gendering of fragrance has been done (and continues to be), why must we continue to confine ourselves to these olfactive cages? Instead of focusing on the masculine, the feminine, or that very small space they are thought to share, at Charenton Macerations we revel in the full spectrum of fragrance, creating unexpected aromatic juxtapositions that challenge the status quo notions of gender and fragrance. We create scented collisions that refuse to be reduced to either gender category, actively defying these simple gender binaries in search of true olfactive liberation.