Scent Without a Sex – The New York Times


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From top left, clockwise, Westbrook, by the N.B.A. player Russell Westbrook and Byredo; Bond No. 9’s eau de parfum B9; Tacit, by Aesop; and Lubin’s Upper Ten.

For a new generation of consumers, the traditional notion of gendered fragrances is starting to go a little stale. The days when floral notes were exclusively for women and musks were solely for men are all but gone, and mass-market brands that peddle colognes and perfumes are starting to catch on.

Next month, Calvin Klein is releasing CK2, a self-described gender-free fragrance complete with a global advertising campaign that includes steamy images of epicene youths photographed by the artist Ryan McGinley. The scent is a “sequel” to Calvin Klein’s 1994 unisex bombshell, CK One.

In September, Bond No. 9 introduced the eau de parfum B9 (which is, according to the brand, “fascinatingly gender-fluid”) around the same time that Aesop debuted its own unisex smell, Tacit. Lubin, one of the oldest French perfume houses, released Upper Ten this year, for men and women.

And Russell Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard and noted clotheshorse, recently collaborated with the Swedish company Byredo on Westbrook, a scent for either sex sold exclusively at Barneys New York.

“We’re definitely seeing an increase in unisex fragrances from the mass brands,” said Theresa Yee, the senior beauty editor at the trend forecasting firm WGSN, who noted that “niche brands have been offering them for some time.”

Smaller businesses, like Le Labo and Brooklyn’s D.S. & Durga, have had bolder smells or unisex products on their rosters, but what was once a specialized field is now gaining widespread recognition. Ms. Yee said she saw the emphasis on versatility as part of a continuing marketing push to reach millennials by appealing to their free-spirited attitudes on gender identity.

The new scents are in keeping with gender-fluid celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Jaden Smith, not to mention the Amazon show “Transparent” and the film “The Danish Girl.” In the world of fashion, everything from Alessandro Michele’s dandified vision at Gucci to the androgynous streetwear designs of Hood by Air are blurring the line between men’s wear and women’s wear.

Ann Gottlieb, a fragrance consultant who helped develop CK2, has another theory. “I think the market became saturated with celebrity scents, and there was a yearning for a new sort of qualitative fragrance that was not fruity, floral and easy,” she said. Hence, the class of more amorphous, complex smells has hit a tipping point, spilling over into the mainstream.

But the future of the gender-agnostic trend is still undecided. “It’s going to depend on how receptive consumers are, and also how willing retailers are to go out on a limb,” Ms. Gottlieb said.

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Ms. Yee said: “I don’t think we’ll see things marketed to a man or a woman. With fragrances, it’s quite personal anyway. When choosing a fragrance, people don’t think about what smells masculine or feminine. It’s all about personal preference.”



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