Wearing whatever I damn well please

Once upon a time, fragrance was seen as an anointment, oils and powders were massaged into the body to bewitch, embalm and consecrate. As time passed, fragrance was created for use as masking agents for body odours, as a cleanser and antiseptic and even as a method of murder (poison gloves anyone?). In the last century however, with advances in chemistry and the advent of global branding, we have seen fragrance become the ultimate accessory of the everyman (and woman). With scent becoming a major force in our daily lives – from grooming products, to cleaning products (by the way, have you ever smelled a carpet freshener that smelled like leather and musk?) – I have a little bone to pick with the powers that beÂ…a question for those almighty executives that oversee the creation and marketing of our modern perfumes…“WHAT THE $#@!!@*%!!! ARE YOU DOING?”Now, I pose this simple question because I’ve recently decided that although there have been exciting developments in the world of 21st century fragrance, namely the smaller companies that I like to refer to as micro-perfumeries, much like the term used for another passion of mine, and niche houses, the mainstream producers seem to be suffering from two misconceptions:The world needs at least 100 variations a year on the same composition, but with different names and released under different brands because although you may be loyal to Dior, your Aunt Sheila is partial to Ferre and therefore would be more willing to buy basically the same aroma you’re wearingÂ…once it appears as a Ferre productÂ…or is $10 less…orÂ…well, you know what I mean, right? Then there are the designers who release that same scent every summer under the guise of either being alcohol free – because when lounging on the beach drinking margaritas or Michelobs, who really needs more alcohol? – or as a lighter, fresher or more summery version because if I really love the original fragrance, I’ll want to wear something else with less longevity and sillage as I slave in the hot sun of summer every day in my air-conditioned office? I don’t think so. Give me a new product please and leave Eternity alone already!Now for my main issue: Lilies are for ladies and musks are for men. What the $#@!!@*%!!!? I’m sorry, I may be sorely deranged as a result of the amount of alcohol I sniff on a daily basis, but weren’t the original fragrances of the renaissance and revolution in perfumery (18th and 19th centuries) heavy on florals, and weren’t many of these heavily marketed to and worn by men? Since when can’t I wear a floral bouquet? Are men really that insecure? Have we as a sex become so uncomfortable with who we are that if we thought we smelled in any way similar to Aunt Sheila that our penises would shrivel up, fall off, and we’d eventually develop proclivities towards emotionality, gauzy curtains, re-arranging our furniture and Judy Garland? But then again, most men I know fall into two categories: Wear a scent to attract a partner, or wear it to enjoy oneself. Judging from the posts in the Basenotes community, a good percent of fragrance-buying men are firmly committed to the former concern. If it’s the latter category (perhaps the larger majority of men, at least in the Basenotes community), then what are all the hang-ups about? What’s with all this gender separation in the world of perfumery? As of late, the gender lines may be blurring somewhat, but I present some key examples for your consideration: Alexander McQueen Kingdom – I think we can all now agree that this was by no means a successful launch with regards to the almighty $, and as recent women’s launches go, did this one even register with the throngs of purchasers? I don’t think so. Who did this scent register with? Open-minded men. I personally know more men than women who both use and enjoy this scent, albeit my world is somewhat tainted by the presence of other nut-jobs who like me will wear just about anything they like and can get their anointed little hands on. If only Alexander had had the vision to realize that a little cumin doesn’t in fact go a long way, at least not with those of us who want to smell feminine and pretty, then he would have marketed Kingdom for ummm, Men, and My Queen forÂ….queens and then this scent may have really found its audience. How they missed the mark with that oneÂ…unbelievable. Ok, so a look at biology might help explain this second trend while mere dollar-power and product positioning can explain the firstÂ… Less than a year ago, I remember reading about a study in National Geographic and other publications revealing that the brains of straight and homosexual men differed in how they responded to scent pheromones. This study suggested that gay men and straight women responded similarly, hence the possible explanation why my friend Jindra and I enjoy almost exactly the same fragrances. Of course, what we ALL enjoy wearing and what we find sexually stimulating about others are two very different topics.Other studies have attempted to reveal what specific scents men and women find most arousing – lavender and pumpkin pie aroused men, and good’n’plenties and cucumbers aroused women. Wouldn’t this meanÂ…(yes, that’s right, cucumbers)Â…that men’s scents would be all about what attract women and women’s scents all about what attract men, not taking into consideration alternatives in sexual orientation? Or could it be that that what makes us happy is what we choose to wear ourselves? What makes us happy, by the way, just might be a product of experience, according to Brown University, and nurture rather than nature: “Some people may smell a rose and be reminded of their father’s funeral. Others may like the smell of skunk because they have a positive attachment to it from childhood.” Oh so you mean the astounding success of the gourmand notes of Angel is not just a coincidence?So what does all this mean for the big fragrance companies, and aren’t they taking all of this recent research to heart? Judging by the number of summer variations slated for the next few months, and the compositions of recent releases, HELL NO!…I mean, it appears that they aren’tÂ…As suggested by a perfumer in Burr’s Emperor of Scent, creating memorable scented compositions is partially a shot in the dark, and it would seem that the attempts to create the next big success (product, bottle, marketingÂ…the ‘concept’ if you will), might not be all too dissimilar. Perhaps the simple answer with regards to the gender split is that sometimes a woman wants a product that she feels highlights or adorns her personal sensuality, and that image of femininity, whatever it may be, and however many close gay male friends she happens to have, is reserved solely for women. Maybe women don’t want to wear a scent that their date might also be wearing? As for menÂ…in the words of a close friend: “If she’s wearing it, I sure as hell don’t want to!”I’m tired of the onslaught of copycat compositions and tweaked summer releases. And now the new trend is the millesimes, the seasonal flower harvest editionsÂ…And I can bet we won’t see that trend extended to the men’s lines! Could you imagine a typical guy buying into “Aqua di Gio Jasmine 2006? Then again, that might make a fun conversation with the guys at the gym: “Hey man, what is that?” Reply: “It’s the Old Spice Special Edition Summer Pepper Harvest 2006.” Or how about “Polo Douglas Fir Long Needle Edition?”So here’s the bottom line. I’m tired of being told what I can and can’t wear and tired of seeing “For Women” on some of MY favorite scents. Sarah Jessica, I love you bubbelah, but don’t pour me Moet and tell me it’s Veuve! You’ve created an amazing fragrance that is by far my favorite of the 2005 releases and it’s a scent that is to me, totally unisexÂ….and I know you wanted to create a fragrance for women from 8 to 80, but how about the guys? Why do women get the monopoly on your favorite notes? My proposal: Ladies and Gentleman, boys and girls, cats, dogs and babies – Wear what you like, what you love, what makes you happy, what makes you comfortable, what accentuates your body chemistry, what attracts men, women, or whatever it is you want to attract, but please stop worrying about it. I doubt the fragrance industry is going to change much, so don’t let anyone dictate to you what you can or can’t enjoy; and I’m worried that the fragrance industry just may not be listening to my worries. So, hey! Fragrance industry! Listen up! “WHAT THE $#@!!@*%!!! ARE YOU DOING?”Ok, my rant is done.P.S. – I’m curious as to how we choose scent and why we wear what we do – to attract others or for our own emotional pleasure? Share your opinion by leaving a comment!

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