Elle pour Lui and Lui pour Elle: Crossing Fragrance Gender Boundaries

Tuxedo

Do you ever wear fragrances marketed towards the opposite gender?

Gender in perfumery is a socially and culturally defined topic, and we can be free to ignore it. Yet, as I recently discovered as I was working on a project inspired by Guy Laroche Drakkar Noir and wearing the original almost daily to study it, the idea for a woman walking around smelling of a virile, macho fougère can be deeply disturbing to others. On the other hand, I have received plenty of compliments on Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, Dior Homme and Terre d’Hermès.

For an additional interesting reading on the topic of fragrance gender boundaries, I encourage you to take a look at the interview with sociologist Marcello Aspria, author of Perfume and Gender Identity: Shifting Olfactory Definitions of Masculinity and Femininity in the Twentieth Century project.

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49 Comments

  • rosarita: Since my favorite perfumes have a darker, woody/spicy base, I like several *mail* perfumes very much. Tom Ford for men is one of my favorites and one that my 83 yr old mother liked so well that I gave her my bottle. Kenzo Tokyo is a recent decant, nice clean citrus open. My most recent favorite purchase is Marc Jacobs Bang, which is perfect for this time of transition from heavy winter orientals to lighter spring scents. March 19, 2011 at 4:57am Reply

  • Ines: He, he. I bought some niche perfumes for myself without knowing they were “masculine”. 🙂
    Both my boyfriend and I wear perfumes across the lines – he less than I do, but he simply follows his nose where it takes him (I’m so proud of him). 🙂 March 19, 2011 at 6:32am Reply

  • key change: I’m fairly certain that I’ve never worn a fragrance targetted to men, and to be honest, I think I’d be a bit hesitant to try it. I think of myself as an “ultra-feminine” type at times, and feel as though wearing male-targetted scents might undermine that; however, I’m of an open mind and could be wrong! It may be as simple as the fact that traditional “male” scents just don’t remind me of myself or of the olfactory impression I’d like to give off. Besides, the right cologne on the right man has…some very arousing effects, and I don’t know how productive I’d be smelling of such stimuli all day!! 😉 March 19, 2011 at 10:30am Reply

  • Olfactoria: I usually don’t wear explicitly male fragrances. I just think they don’t suit me so well. I have been known to wear Fahrenheit, which I like, but have received comments that made me feel like wearing a costume. Obviously it did not mesh so well with my skin.
    On the other hand I wear Tauer scents like L’Air Du Desert Marocain and Lonestar Memories without batting an eyelash and they seem to fit too. March 19, 2011 at 10:49am Reply

  • Ann C: I generally wear feminine fragrances, but I find I like many designated as unisex too. After reading “The Perfume Guide,” I came away with the idea that male fragrances often aren’t as good as the feminines, so I tend not to seek them out. March 19, 2011 at 10:49am Reply

  • Style Spy: Is it possible Drakkar raised so many eyebrows because it was a ubiquitous male fragrance in the 80s (I know, I was there, and at least one boyfriend wore it) and people recognize it as a men’s scent? March 19, 2011 at 11:15am Reply

  • Isa: It happens that my favorite perfumes are always supposed to be unisex or “for men”, so I have to answer a big YES to your question. Some of my favorites are Gucci pour Homme, Eau Sauvage, Mona di Orio Lux, État libre d’Orange Nombril Immense, Lubin Idole… March 19, 2011 at 11:53am Reply

  • Natalia: Yes, of course. When I first got interested in perfume and brought first samples of L’Artisan home, me and my better half had no idea whether they were supposed to be feminine or masculine. The first L’Artisan I bought for him was Passage d’Enfer, and the owner lady was quite amazed at first but then agreed it *might* smell good on a man, too… as it turned out, he can wear Timbuktu too, with opposite (almost) to what it turns onto on me, and we share Dune L’Homme, Voyage d’Hermes and a few more. I end up trying anything that catches my interest (and he has to agree to try it, too :)), and it would have been such a pity to have to choose between the two categories. March 19, 2011 at 3:05pm Reply

  • Natalia: Most Tom Ford scents are totally unisex, our favorite being Tobacco Vanille, then Creed Green Irish Tweed, beautiful Tea for Two or a summery Bergamotto di Calabria… I also enjoy wearing Chanel’s Egoiste, and one of my male friends’ signature scent is now Voleur de Roses – wich I’m proud of, because first when he heard he was to wear a _rose_ scent, his immediate reaction was far from excitement 🙂 March 19, 2011 at 3:11pm Reply

  • Natalia: …it’s always so much fun to convert people into your religion!!… (ok, ok, i’m too talkative today) 🙂 March 19, 2011 at 3:12pm Reply

  • Gitcheegumee: Years ago, I was so enamored of Aramis, I bought if for myself-and wore it to great success,with many positive comments.(It smells much like Azuree,to my nose…or Fabuloso Blue LOL)

    I was a BIG fan of the original Bandit, before the formula was reconfigured.

    I abhor insipid girly girl gourmand fragrances. (Think iron hand in the velvet glove,or steely magnolias).

    BTW, my husband has commandeered both my Occitane Green Tea and my Goutal Eau de Sud.He’s come a long way,baby! March 19, 2011 at 3:29pm Reply

  • Marina: Disturbing? I am intrigued!

    I do enjoy wearing Fahrenheit, Jules, Yatagan and several others. March 19, 2011 at 3:35pm Reply

  • pam: I agree that Turin in his book indicates that many of the male-oriented fragrances are not as good as the female. But I have become curious about some of the ones he (and fellow bloggers) speaks highly of and recommends. So far I have purchased Yatagan and Third Man and am really enjoying them. Some of the masculines, however, read very macho to me when I test them, and might be a bit more difficult for me to live with (on my own body). March 19, 2011 at 4:42pm Reply

  • Lavanya: I realized relatively recently that I enjoy the ‘male versions’ of scents, sometimes better than the ‘feminine counterparts’ because the versions targeted to men end up being woodier, with more incense and darker. This seems to be especially true with the Amouage line. I love Amouage Jubiliation V for Men maybe better than the one for women..One of the very few Bond no. 9s I like is Andy Warhol silver factory which is targeted towards men. I thought I didn’t like (wearing) stereotypical overtly male perfumes (citrus opening and cologne like)- but a couple of days back, on a whim, I layered some Bond no.9 Wall Street with Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille and I am surprised how much I’m enjoying the combination…:) March 19, 2011 at 9:13pm Reply

  • axum: I like fragrances marketed as men’s, just as I often gravitate to clothing, bath products, and bed linen that is supposedly more masculine. There is a certain “cosmopolitan and capable” aesthetic marketed to men that appeals to me. I especially enjoy Dior Homme (winter) and Cartier Pasha (summer). March 20, 2011 at 1:00am Reply

  • Dee: I just tried Yatagan for the first time on Friday… It was a revelation! So beautiful. March 20, 2011 at 1:44pm Reply

  • Dee: Through my teens and early twenties I exclusively wore a men’s fragrance; this was, of course, before I knew how good a feminine could be. In our house, like others above have said, we make no distinction! Mr. H just got a bottle of Vol de nuit parfum, and I think that one was meant to be femme… March 20, 2011 at 1:48pm Reply

  • Hannah: All of the mainstream fragrances that I have considered buying full bottles of are for men…Dior Fahrenheit, Dior Homme, Prada Infusion d’Homme, Marc Jacobs Bang
    I wouldn’t wear anything too hyper-masculine, because I’m not into hyper-masculine in general (not even hyper-masculine men).

    My friend, who is male, wore YSL Opium. March 20, 2011 at 3:38pm Reply

  • Carla: I don’t often wear men’s scents, but Knize Ten is an exception. I think it may be the most beautiful leather in the world! March 20, 2011 at 8:42pm Reply

  • Céline Verleure: Most of niche perfumes brands are launching perfumes which are not clearly identified as feminine or masculine, ex : Serge Lutens, Byredo, Etat libre d’Orange, Le Labo, etc… I like this idea of adopting a fragrance without knowing if it was imagined for a woman or a man. I recently met many perfumers and they liked the idea of creating unisex fragrances. March 21, 2011 at 9:14am Reply

  • KathyT: I don’t wear many traditional masculine fragrances, but Caron Pour Un Home and Terre d’Hermes are staples for me. I do have trouble wearing some men’s fragrances because I grew up with men who wore fragrance, and it just reminds me too much of them. Not in a bad way – I just find it strange to smell like my father or my grandfather. March 21, 2011 at 10:32am Reply

  • dleep: I wear Gendarme a lot during the summer. I would wear Terre d’Hermes – I love it. March 21, 2011 at 12:34pm Reply

  • Persolaise: I have TOTALLY stopped bothering to consider whether a perfume is sold as masculine or feminine. I frequently wear Nahema and Shalimar… and even Idylle (the edp works much better as a ‘masculine’ in my opinion). Le Maroc Pour Elle is another one I like to ‘steal’ from my wife’s collection. And No. 5 Eau Premiere. And Portrait Of A Lady. I could go on! March 21, 2011 at 5:18pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I do not much mind whether a scent is supposed to be for men or for women. I love a lot of masculines: Chanel pour Monsieur, Caron pour un Homme, Eau Sauvage, New York, Dior Homme, M7, Lonestar Memories etc. But then I don’t really believe in all these gender stereotypes. After all a man in a skirt ( albeit a kilt) is considered very macho in Scotland! March 21, 2011 at 6:07pm Reply

  • mals86: I don’t much mind gender-bending scents on other people: go ahead, wear whatcha want. I tend to find “women’s” scents on men fairly intriguing, too. Imagine my triumph when I convinced my husband to wear Gres Cabaret, the women’s version, from a sample. He was utterly delicious in it.

    But… I don’t like most scents that are marketed to men on ME. Anything that smells even vaguely like shaving cream (i.e., fougere-y) is a big fat no! That includes so-called unisex scents like Kenzo Ca Sent Beau and Caron’s 3me Homme. And forget wearing Drakkar Noir – that so shrieks MANLY MAN HERE, MACHO DUDE COMIN’ THROUGH to me that wearing it would feel like wearing Y-fronts when clearly I don’t have the proper equipment for that. (Of course, I was a teenager in the 80s, so I’m sure cultural conditioning has something to do with that.)

    However, I did discover that I very much enjoy Eau Sauvage and Encre Noire, and Egoiste is just beautiful. March 22, 2011 at 3:19pm Reply

  • Victoria: Marc Jacobs Bang is one of my own recent favorites, and I reach for it a lot. I can see how other women might find its smoky, dry woods appealing. March 22, 2011 at 4:05pm Reply

  • Victoria: How great! I love when men are open-minded enough to try something new. 🙂 March 22, 2011 at 4:06pm Reply

  • Victoria: The right scent on the right person is indeed the strongest aphrodisiac. I often get asked what fragrances drive men/women crazy, and as much as I would love to know that some magic potion exists, it really does not. The most seductive perfume is the one that the other person enjoys on themselves and that makes him/her feel good. March 22, 2011 at 4:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: Lonestar Memories seems like such a virile masculine scent at first, but it wears beautifully on both men and women. March 22, 2011 at 4:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: Big commercial masculine launches do tend to be even safer than the feminine ones, that’s very true! March 22, 2011 at 4:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: That’s exactly the reason! I was being slightly facetious, but hey, I enjoyed the odd comments, I’ve received on it. March 22, 2011 at 4:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, those are some of my own favorites too! March 22, 2011 at 4:10pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, I do not like choosing if I do not have it. One can have both chocolate and vanilla and sometimes even at the same time, so why not explore the masculine side of the perfume counter. 🙂 March 22, 2011 at 4:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree on Tom Ford and L’Artisan, they (for the most part) definitely avoid the masculine conventional notes. Voleur de Roses would be fantastic on either a man or a woman. March 22, 2011 at 4:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: It sure is!! March 22, 2011 at 4:12pm Reply

  • Victoria: You know, Aramis, Cabochard, Bandit are very similar. Aramis is just a tad less floral, but if a woman loves Bandit, I do not see a reason why she would not be comfortable with Aramis.

    Your husband has a great taste! 🙂 March 22, 2011 at 4:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: Go ahead and try this experiment. I double dog dare you! 🙂 March 22, 2011 at 4:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, I do not handle masculine scents that have too much of the lavender-citrus notes as well as marine notes, because they read as too conventionally masculine to me. March 22, 2011 at 4:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: I noticed this too, and like you I much prefer Amouage Jubiliation V for Men to its feminine counterpart. March 22, 2011 at 4:24pm Reply

  • Victoria: You are right about that, many masculine fragrance do present a very different aesthetic. I can see how it can be appealing. March 22, 2011 at 4:32pm Reply

  • Victoria: Vol de Nuit smells great on a guy! March 22, 2011 at 4:35pm Reply

  • Victoria: I have a male friend who wears Opium and Mitsouko, and they smell amazing on him.

    I am with you on those choices, I would not call them hyper-masculine, but their woody notes are so appealing. Most feminine woody fragrances do tend towards more sweetness, which sometimes can be too much for me. March 22, 2011 at 4:36pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, it is outstanding! March 22, 2011 at 4:36pm Reply

  • Victoria: In the niche, it is true, it is not very obvious, and the distinctions are quite blurred. It can be more exciting at times than the usual feminine/masculine conventions. March 22, 2011 at 4:37pm Reply

  • Victoria: On that point, I completely agree. I cannot wear a fragrance if it was worn by a close friend or a family member. I absolutely love Paco Rabanne Black XS, but since it was a fragrance I first bought for my husband, I just cannot wear it. It is his signature, and it feels odd for me to wear it. March 22, 2011 at 4:39pm Reply

  • Victoria: Me too, I used to wear Gendarme, although it has been neglected as of late. March 22, 2011 at 4:39pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am intrigued by the idea of Idylle edp as a feminine, however the more I think about it, the more I see how it can work. After all, Narciso Rodriguez (which is essentially what Idylle is to me) can be a great masculine. March 22, 2011 at 4:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love your choices! Nicolai New York is one of my top favorites too.
    And how right you are–gender stereotypes are often just that. In the Middle East, men wear rose scents, which have always struck me as appropriate macho in that context. March 22, 2011 at 4:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: Fougeres like Drakkar Noir are definitely associated with the virile stereotypes for me. Trust me, I do not feel that comfortable wearing those kinds of fragrances.

    Egoiste is my own favorite too. It does not seem like a conventional masculine fragrance, when I wear it. It is probably for this very reason (the fact that it is not a typical aromatic and fresh scent) that it was a big market flop in the US. March 22, 2011 at 4:45pm Reply

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