I’m really late on updating my blog, and I’m going through a lot of things at my new school, even though I haven’t started classes yet. Yes, I finally transferred and I need to let you guys in on what’s up. This is a quick short make-up post, on one of my life-long obsessions that has been very present on my mind lately: fragrances. I’ve started keeping multiple fragrances in possession at a time – for different occasions, different times of the day, different seasons, etc. – after I realized fragrances are like shoes; different occasions call for different ones. Since I’m running out of a couple of old ones, and summer’s over and a new school year is starting, I’ve gotten to looking into some new things to wear. My “scent research” has led me to some interesting observations about gender and sexuality. Perfumes are a luxury product also and their ingredients come from different parts of the world, so I could also draw conclusions about economic status, race and other forms of social stratification. But let’s focus on gender and sexuality for now. I’ll highlight on some random things that have come to mind.
I’ll talk about some brands/perfumeries first and I’ll go into other stuff …
Bond No.9 :: This is a New York City-based perfumery, founded in the early 2000s, that makes mostly unisex fragrances named after landmarks in the city. I’m not sure about their history; they might have started out unisex and had to market separately to the cisgenders. But they did start out to create scents to represent the City. I haven’t smelt any of their fragrances but the bottle designs usually look rather androgynous and fabulous. They’re expensive, too. NYC, you know! They have a fragrance specifically to celebrate marriage equality.
Creed :: This is one of the oldest perfumeries in the world – now Paris-based and first founded in London. They started up in 1760 and used to make special fragrances for the European royalty. Their debut fragrance, which is still on the market and can cost over $1,000 for a 100ml bottle, is actually unisex. Well, the European royalty of those days probably just needed/wanted some special scent – doesn’t have to be masculine or feminine. I think the “for men”, “for women” marketing came in the later half – or the earlier – of the 20th Century. I was reminded of how heeled shoes were first designed for men, then there was a time when both men and women wore heels before it became exclusively a women’s thing. They still do have unisex fragrances; they call them “universal” fragrances. Creed now has around 70 fragrances altogether and most of them easily cost 3-digits for 100ml bottles.
Jean Paul Gaultier :: He’s the wild child of French fashion who has been around since the mid 70s and has had immense success in the fragrance industry also. His second fragrance is the wildly popular Le Male (for men), launched in 1995. His first one, Classique (for women), launched 2 years prior, was also quite popular. I’m pretty sure if he’s gay, and he’s known for shocking critics and breaking expectations by using plus-sized women and older men in his exhibits – thus the label enfant terrible. Most of his fragrances are in bottles in the shape of male and female bodies. I’ve only smelt some of original and some variants of the Le Male fragrance for men and they are what we’d generally consider masculine scents. But as good as they are, they don’t sell the best. Why? The male body/torso-shaped bottle is, what a YouTube perfume critic called, “too Brokeback Mountain“. Well, you manly men, the gay designer gave you great super masculine scents and you can’t enjoy them because you’re too macho to hold a miniature male body in your hands. Have you never played with action figures in your childhood? Your loss!
Calvin Klein :: CK, everybody knows him. He does everything in the fashion industry, everything he touches is gold, and he has been around since the early/mid-60s. I don’t know which one is his debut fragrance but he does have many. One thing before I give further comments: I am not a fan of CK fragrances or those from Estée Lauder, so I’m gonna be biased. (Oh my god, I hate Estée Lauder fragrances. They’re so eerie, cheesy and boring – to me.) CK has a whole slew of fragrances and the unisex series are a big deal. They started out with “CK Be” (the debut unisex fragrance) and “CK One” – the latter of which, I presume, was the hit, although the former is still on the market and I inherited a bottle from my lesbian aunt. There’s “CK One” (original) and there are summer variations for years 2004 to 2013. There’d probably be more in the oncoming years. Both “Be” and “One” have their own non-summer variations, too. CK changes bottle designs for other fragrances but all the unisex fragrances are in the same bottle. “Be” and Be-related fragrances are in black opaque bottles, but starting with “One” everything’s in more or less transparent bottles. The summer variations are in brightly coloured bottles. I haven’t smelt the CK unisex fragrances besides the one I have, but “Be” smells gender-less, just plain fruity/citrusy.
I’m not sure how I like the term “unisex”. Certain scents/smells are associated with certain ideas or notions, which may be gendered or genderless. Unisex could either mean androgynous or no gender to be taken into consideration. But perfumery is a staunchly gendered industry, you know, so unisex scents – I believe – strive to sit on the gender binary fence or have their feet down on both sides of the fence, rather than to erase the fence. And this brings us to the topic of coupled fragrances and/or fragrances that are marketed to different genders but are under the same name.
You can never really say a scent is masculine or feminine. It’s all cultural associations. I recently read or saw in an interview how roses, although they seem to be internationally recognized as romantic symbols, they are part of the Turkish cuisine (yes, food) and they’re not as romantic in Turkey. That’s an example. And there was once a time in Western culture where pink was a boy colour, because it’s the lighter shade of red. Personally, I come from a culture where nouns don’t have masculine and feminine connotations. And English, my second language, is also similar to my native language, Burmese, and unlike most other European languages in that it doesn’t have masculine and feminine nouns. Back to scents/fragrances, traditional ingredients like flowers, woods, spices, etc. may have masculine and/or feminine connotations but gourmond fragrances, a relatively recent phenomenon/trend in the perfume industry, make use of food products and gender associations are harder for the new ingredients. For example, coffee, tobacco, sugar, sea salt … Um, only European languages would assign them genders. Am I making sense?
So, coupled fragrances … even though they may be made to compliment each other in terms of smell, intended occasion, time of the year, time of the day, etc. They may compliment each other, by design, but by composition, they maybe of completely different ingredients. A good example would be Liz Claiborne‘s “Curve Appeal“. The 2 separate fragrances for men and women are marketed together. Their main accords are completely different, and they have very little intersection in terms of ingredients. I usually check out fragrances using Fragrantica. (It breaks down the fragrance by the perfume pyramid, gives info about the house and the fragrance itself, when and where to use it, shows ads and gives reviews from people who have used the fragrance. Also, it automatically searches for the cheapest price for the fragrance online.)
Ok, allow me sidetrack and tell y’all how great Liz Claiborne is. She passed away in 2007 but she was a kickass woman. She was a Belgian-born American and she worked in NYC most of her life. Her fashion line started around the same time as Jean Paul Gaultier. Her company started out with $1.2 million in 1976, was making $23 million by 1978 and in 1986 (10 years after founding) it made the Forbes Fortune 500, becoming the first company founded and run by a woman to make the list. She kept close watch of the glass ceiling for women employees in her company. She would often go undercover as a salesperson. She also proposed how clothing items should be placed by brand, not by type of clothing, in department stores so customers can coordinate outifts within a brand in a single place. Sadly, after he passing, her company has merged with some others under an even larger corporation. Her name and her products still exist, but it’s not uniquely her anymore.
That’s all I have to say, I guess. But as of conclusion, I have tips for buying fragrances. Finding the perfect fragrance is the most difficult shopping task ever. You can’t just have a sniff and decide if you want it. You might like it at first sniff but how are you getting the sniff? Is it coming from the bottle cap, a testing paper/card or your own skin? Fragrances are designed to change over time on contact with your skin. The way your bodily (skin) secretions come out at your own individual pace and how a fragrance smells on you may be different from how it does on another person. If you have a fragrance you’re interested in, look up for reviews online – both positive and negative. See the ingredients – the notes, to be technical – to see if you’re allergic to any. Even if something can give you a headache, you might not want to get that fragrance. Then go to a store, get it sprayed on your skin and let it settle for 3 to 4 hours. This is where it gets difficult. The scent changes on your skin, like I said earlier. That doesn’t happen in 5 minutes. The top notes may come out in 2-3 minutes but the middle and base notes are far far off. Get it sprayed on your skin, try out multiple fragrances but you have to remember which fragrance smells how. If it’s a department store, try around some fragrances the moment you get there, go do the rest of your shopping and come back to get your preferred fragrance once the rest of your shopping spree is done. Or don’t, just remember what fragrance you like! Why? Because fragrances are cheaper online than they are in department stores – or perfume shops. Keeping them on shelves in stores need more care. Also sales service and decoration and such stuff adds up to the price. So, online paying for shipping and waiting for the product to arrive is totally worth it, if you can get the price for as low as a third the shelf price in department stores. Guess what? The Madonna fragrances – “Truth or Dare” and “Truth or Dare Naked” – are both around $70 at Macy’s, Madonna’s official store for her products (like JC Penny is Liz Claiborne’s, just saying). I got them both for about $25 each on eBay.