A two-part series by Suzanna on perfume gender bending: Fragrances for Men That Work for Women.
My significant other and Charlie Chaplin have something in common, and it’s not that both are comedians. The similarity is that both wear or wore Mitsouko, Guerlain’s legendary peachy, mossy chypre. I must say my significant other wears Mitsouko with an elegant swagger that I—a Mitsouko lover—could never pull off. And it’s not just Mitsouko that gets co-opted for the guy; it’s also Tan Rokka Aki, Chanel Cuir de Russie, and Donna Karan Black Cashmere that are likewise shared.
None of these fragrances is marketed to men; rather, they have always been on the distaff side. However, tonally they seem closer to masculine scents than to feminine ones. They feature stronger uses of woods, spice, and leather than do traditional women’s scents, and while in some instances they might be sweeter or more floral than the usual masculine, they are only just over that line. Here are some of my personal picks for scents that smell terrific on men without any prettifying.
It might come as a surprise to find iris-centric Hermès Hiris on my list, but this cool floral with an undertone of almond and carrot is a kissing cousin to the great iris-based masculine Dior Homme. In Hiris, the iris is fragile, metallic, and is supported by a kingly earthiness against which plays out the cosmetic quality of the iris; viewed this way it is a intrigue of opposites and all the more special on a man.
Along the same lines is Chanel No 19, another with iris that on me has always been too sharp but on a man is bracing and elegant, the epitome of a refined outdoors. Also from Hermès (a house that is more genderless than most) comes Eau des Merveilles, which contains no floral notes and whose fruity notes are flip-flopped with the woody and salty ambergris base (NB: Elixir version is sticky like a lollipop.)
Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady is much closer to a classic men’s scent than it is to a woman’s; while rose is the central note it is a dry rose suffused with patchouli and a touch of oud. The name is unfortunate, although a certain type of man might be able to get away with saying, “It’s Portrait of a Lady. What of it?” and cease all comment. Such darker roses are ideal for men; to this suggestion we might also add Neela Vermeire Creations Mohur.
Neela Vermeire crops up again with Trayee, my favorite incense scent. I would follow to the ends of the earth anyone wearing it, male or female, it’s that good. This is a worse than embarrassing description, but Trayee blows me away with its sacred language of incense, myrrh, and oud. Men, take note.
Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois is feminine by name only; while the first iteration for Shiseido contained a more pungent cedar note, the reissue, with its more pronounced spices and less assertive plum is, tested blind, almost sure to be mistaken for a masculine by the average perfume buyer. Again, I love smooth woods and sweet spices on me and on men; perhaps we will kindle something interesting when worn a deux?
Tabac Blond, Caron’s famous fragrance is toughened up with leather and tobacco enough that it is easily worn by men, especially the type that might still don a boutonniere. Where is such a man, you ask? Well, I’ve seen them in the South, wearing white linen and a hat in the summer, with a boutonniere affixed to the lapel. To me, that’s an image of the forgotten South, the more genteel one, and carnation on a man has always been devastatingly sexy to me.
A lamented bygone fragrance that I preferred on men (who seem to carry a sweaty note better) is Alexander McQueen’s cumin-raunchy Kingdom. The lotion, with its shriveled rose note, was even more alluring than the perfume. This is one fragrance that likely failed early by being on the wrong side of the counter. That it was sweaty and sexual made it potentially vulgar on a woman; it depended on how the cumin reacted with the skin. But on a man, it was a radiant, almost carnal delight, assuming one liked a guy with a bit of a glow to him.
Which feminine fragrances do you think are suitable for men?
Suzanna is traveling, so she may not reply to comments right away.
Image: kabuki, a classical Japanese dance-drama in which men play women’s roles.