Avon Mad Men – A Masculine Fragrance History : Part 2

Avon for Men is a name you don’t typically hear mentioned much, as when the word “Avon” is uttered at all, it’s usually in reference to unforgivably cheap makeup or “old lady” perfumes found littering thrift shops and flea markets. Of course, if you live in one of Avon’s remaining booming markets like Eastern Europe or South America, you still might see them as an inexpensive but serviceable go-to brand found in a lot of spas or housewares stores where the owners of said businesses often sell it on the side. From the standpoint of the online fragrance community, this brand is typically never discussed, or used as a punching bag if mentioned, a poster child whipping-boy for what the hoi polloi considers fragrance, rather than the niche or high-end luxury fragrances that “enlightened” hobbyists enjoy.If this is you, I can’t really blame you, as Avon pretty much did this to themselves.

The brand was once a household name in the mid-20th century alongside other mass-market cosmetics brands such as Elizabeth Arden , Shulton, Coty, Revlon, and MEM. The core difference here being that Avon sold “socially” like Tupperware or Amway, so it ended up as stocking stuffers from members of the family who hustled their wares, meaning everyone had it whether they wanted it or not. Avon men’s fragrances were a simple sort of satisfying then, with clear focuses on tonka, oakmoss, sandalwood, various musks, the “good stuff” vintage enthusiasts go nuts for in today’s IFRA-regulated perfume world. But then, something happened, something which changed Avon in way they still live with today. That something was of course surburban sprawl, bringing with it shopping malls, and access to luxury or designer goodies to every town no matter how small across all of America, Avon’s home turf.

Suddenly, they were faced with the same problem as Coty or Arden, adapt to the demands for prestige from the average buyer, or die. Like them, Avon went on a shopping spree in the 80’s and gobbled up prestige perfume manufacturers or boutique brands; but unlike its competitors, Avon started to double-dip rather than making the transition fully, because it wanted to retain its core audience too. This shift lead to Avon winding down internal development of fragrances in favor of external development from big oil houses like IFF, Mane, and Givaudan. That doesn’t sound so bad right? Well, eventually it would lead to some of the most creative and award-winning fragrances of Avon’s near century-and-a-half existence, but from 1985 until about 2000, things got very weird with the brand’s perfume operation.

This is doubly so for men’s fragrance, as Avon had less vested interest in a minority customer base compared to their makeup and skincare sales. Which were traditionally bought and sold by women. Avon seemingly dug up styles more befitting of the 60’s or 70’s for their men’s releases through a lot of the 80’s, until Ann Gottleib was briefly brought on board to creatively direct their perfume divisions as she had success in helping Calvin Klein establish a market presence in perfume. Yet, things stayed weird until at least 2000, after a slew of releases that seemingly stitched two popular men’s styles into one fragrance, or were just generally bizarre.

Combine this with the collaborations Avon did with celebrities and designers that sold both in-catalog and at regular brick-and-mortar, and it would seem like inmates were running the asylum over there. Women’s fragrances obviously remained strong through this period, because that alongside makeup was where the R&D money was going, but things did eventually come back around when former Nordstrom executive Andrea Jung took the helm of Avon. Her name is particularly important because she both doubled-down on creating more quality and stylistically-competitive men’s scents, but also got the industry talent from the big chemical houses to perfume for Avon too, on top of pushing into more global markets than ever and even having physical boutiques for a time. Exploring this era of renewed creativity in Avon men’s fragrances is however daunting , as they were releasing product faster than anyone could notice, then discontinuing it just as fast.

Once all the celebrity deals and designer collaborations died away, modern Avon men’s fragrances became like looking into a mirror darkly, because Avon was now a low-cost reflection of the designer industry. By this point, all accusations of Avon being cheap clones of more-expensive fragrances would become harder to argue against, and online discounting of normally-expensive brands made houses like Avon a hard sell to guys craving attention from their fragrance. Avon ceased to be a US-based company in 2016 after 130 years, moving to the UK (and later Brazil), splintering their markets in the process. Now each spin-off division plays so fast and loose with exclusive releases, you end up using the same online marketplaces you do for discontinued fragrances (like eBay) just to get them. If you fall down this rabbit-hole, you’ll find what you save in money, you give up in time spent researching the hundreds of releases they now have.

Avon mad men indeed.

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