Of all the products in the beauty space, I think fragrance is probably the most personal. Scent is so evocative that just catching a trace of a stranger's perfume as they pass you in the street can be enough to transport you back to a long-forgotten moment or evoke the memory of a special time or place.
And the fact that it's so very personal means that I have long been baffled by the constraints that we seem to have accepted as standard when it comes to experimenting with perfumes. Whether it's florals described as innately feminine scents or leathery, woodsy notes assumed only to appeal to men, there is no doubt that the perfume industry has taken a fairly cliched approach to perfume for some time.
But that all seems to be changing. Whilst fragrance is innately genderless and the notes that appeal to us have as little to do with us being "female" or "male" as our favourite colour does, there is a fresh wave of perfumers and fragrance houses rejecting the notion of gender-based perfumes entirely. Enter: the era of genderless fragrances.
"I think we're done talking about gender in scent for a while," explains perfumer and D. S. & Durga co-founder David Seth Moltz. "People are open. It's old fashioned for a brand to say what gender an aroma is—you decide." Created with his wife Kavi Moltz, D.S. & Durga is a Brooklyn-based fragrance brand that is one of the names turning this idea of gendered perfumes on its head.
"I make what I want and don't even consider it being made for one group of people," explains Moltz. "It's everyone's choice to dress how they want and fragrance is even easier to go any direction. We're not saying woods for men, flowers for girls." Instead, D.S. & Durga's approach to the olfactory is to treat fragrance like a story. Each scent that they create is blended to act like an aromatic soundtrack to your day, embodying everything from music and art to nature and design.
But, interestingly, rejecting the arbitrary notion of gender-prescribed notes isn't an entirely new approach to scent.
"Historically, the same types of perfumes would have been worn both by men and women alike. It wasn't until the late 19th century that the separation of men’s and women’s perfumes began as a marketing tool," explains Beckielou Brown, perfume creator at Altra. This separation played into the idea that "men should act, look and smell strong, macho and powerful, and women should act, look and smell soft, pretty and demure." And this continued into recent decades. "However, as these social constructs change, so too does our openness to exploring perfumes, cosmetics and styles that allow us to explore our identity beyond binary norms," says Brown.
So, where does that leave the future of fragrance as we know it? "There is something almost ambiguous about the term 'genderless', but I think that new-to-market scents will be anything but," says master perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek, founder of Ruth Mastenbroek Perfumer London. "I believe it will become acceptable to wear scents that push the boundaries and to experiment with new scent combinations. We have so many facets to our identities and personalities, it is time to stop playing it safe and enjoy expressing ourselves."
Indeed, the chance to throw out the fragrance rulebook is liberating and paves the way for new perfume discoveries. "I expect to see more radical and unusual scent combination, agrees perfumer Nic Mastenbroek. "We are already seeing brands wanting to challenge the traditional stereotypes of what can and cannot be included in a fragrance. Why can't a men's fragrance be based around rose, for example? I think we will see traditional notes incorporated with cutting-edge ingredients to challenge gender norms around fragrance."
Ahead, 11 of the best genderless fragrances to discover now.
1. D.S. & Durga Steamed Rainbow
2. Vyrao I Am Verdant
Vyrao was founded as a way to encourage positive wellbeing through scent, with each of its perfumes offering the energy-boosting benefits of crystals with expertly blended scents. This one is lush and green with hints of juicy Italian bergamot, frankincense and uplifting orange flower.
3. Escentric Molecules Molecule 01
Containing just one single note—Iso E Super—Molecule 01 is a cult genderless fragrance thanks to its ability to blend with your own natural pheromones to create a truly individual scent. It's popularity lies in the fact that you might not even be able to smell it on yourself, but avid wearers of this will confirm that it almost guarantees you compliments.
4. Maison Margiela Replica Matcha Meditation
An ode to a blissful afternoon in Tokyo enjoying a hot cup of matcha, this serene scent captures the calm of a moment spent outdoors and the refreshing herbal notes of Japanese tea. It's sweet without being cloying, and comforting whilst remaining fresh. Truly unique.
5. Byredo Bal D'Afrique
Embracing the concept of genderless fragrances since its inception back in 2006, all of Byredo's perfumes embody the idea of translating memories into scent. Bal d'Afrique is founder Ben Gorham's love letter to Africa. It's a vibrant blend of Moroccan cedarwood, vetiver and African marigold that creates a complex musky-floral finish.
6. Boy Smells Italian Kush
Described by the brand as "genderful fine fragrance", all of Boy Smells' perfumes aim to defy stereotypes and combine unexpected scent notes. This one shines a spotlight on earthy hemp flower with sparkling pops of citrus and basil for a contemporary take on a holiday fragrance.
7. Argentum Become
These boundary-breaking eau de parfums from British brand ARgENTUM are entirely alcohol-free, meaning that they're kind to both skin and hair, and this is the scent that started it all. A herbaceous citrus with bergamot, sandalwood and patchouli at its core, it does away with notions of masculine and feminine to create a grounding and universally appealing perfume.
8. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis Cologne Forte
Celebrating the joy of musk, this billowing perfume is like a deep breath of fresh air. Paired with white flowers like mock orange and sweet pea, it captures that classic clean linen scent that so many musk fragrances evoke, but with an expensive edge. A luxurious genderless fragrance that's beautifully subtle.
9. Phlur Lost Cause
An incredibly unique fragrance that manages to be both fresh, woody and floral all at once, perfumer Gil Clavien created this genderless scent to evoke the "restless spirit and confidence of wanderlust". It's a spirited perfume that smells like just-fallen rain, ripened fruits and lush, grassy flowerbeds.
10. Altra Profuture Altra Skin
In line with the rise in popularity of genderless perfumes, skin scents have been having a huge moment—and this one from Altra Profuture is the first skin scent that's totally natural and vegan. It harnesses plant-based musks and botanical notes to create that skin-like aroma, and it comes into its own when warmed on your own skin. So comforting and fresh.
11. Jo Loves Cobalt Patchouli & Cedar
At first sniff, this is a classic unisex cologne fragrance with vetiver, patchouli and cedarwood taking centre stage. But once the headier notes settle, juicy grapefruit and floral geranium come to the forefront. It's crisp, clean and widely appealing.