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Before unisex scents were mainstream in the fragrance world, there was something taboo about a woman wearing men's cologne. Doing so very stereotypically implied that the wearer played by her own rules, inhabiting a rugged beauty that was self-determined and powerful (though, the irony is, of course, that determination and power are harnessed regardless of the way a woman smells).
Coupled with our primal gender-bias olfactory associations is the marketing behind a fragrance, which Belinda Smith, perfumer and founder of ST. ROSE, a clean unisex, and luxury fragrance line, explains can be very compelling. "How a fragrance product is packaged, the bottle, the name, the marketing around it… that sets the tone for how it will be perceived," she says. "Having preconceived masculine or feminine ideals can certainly impact our impression of a fragrance, even our decision before we experience it firsthand."
So what types of scents do fragrance brands deem male-specific? Jacynthe René, founder of Maison Jacynthe, a clean beauty and lifestyle brand says, "Vetiver essential oil is one of my favorite for men. All the resins, especially myrrh and pine, as well as woody notes and citrus, are traditional masculine scents."
On the other end of the spectrum, Smith says when it comes to female scents, you'll often see "florals, like lily of the valley or jasmine, as well as soft musks, which have always been seen as 'feminine.'"
There is no such thing as an intrinsically masculine or feminine smelling fragrance, but that doesn't mean we don't attribute certain scents to the gender binary, perhaps, even unconsciously. "Some men love rose—the scent moves them, makes them feel taken care of," says René. "Some women, like myself, love woody notes and resins, as they promote self-assurance."
Getting hung up on the "gender" of a fragrance can have limitations, especially as one of the most determining factors in finding your signature scent is how the scent wears on you. "The trick with fragrance," says Smith, "is that it also has to love us back—our skin is truly the most important factor in how a scent will ultimately wear."
Fragrance can be wildly transformative, and what allures you might just be a delicious paradox. "What you are drawn to and your own predilections are unique," says Smith, "just like you might fancy sweet or savory foods." When it comes to scent, she urges people to think about the "invisible juice inside." She continues, "That’s what people are going to fall in love with; dream with. It will transport, seduce, or ground you." So, what's your pleasure? If you're looking for some gender bending inspiration when it comes to your next cologne, ahead, real women sound off on the fragrances marketed for men that they love the most.
Brittney Ogike, founder of Beauty Beez, a beauty retailer prioritizing beauty products for women of color, says Santal 33 (which is a unisex scent whose marketing skews male-specific) is her favorite cologne. "I buy it all the time for my husband and find myself sneaking a spray every once in a while. I love the rich smell of sandalwood and the hint of musk that gives off very masculine smells. When I wear it, I feel a bit more sophisticated. It reminds me of someone cool and confident. The scent is a vibe that overcomes you once you have it on."
Alexia Wambua, founder of Native Atlas, a natural and organic skin and body care line, loves Tom Ford's Oud Wood. "My husband wears it," she says, "so of course, when I wear it, I'm reminded of him."
Elizabeth Spiering, co-founder of the apparel brand, Flora Dancia, prefers colognes marketed to men because, "sometimes women's [fragrances] are too light and airy without enough depth." She counts Maison Margiela Replica At The Barber's among her top scents for its combo of woodsy, citrus, and subtle floral notes.
Bree Jacoby, founder of personal styling firm, Bree Jacoby, counts Tom Ford's Vanille Tobacco amongst her top colognes, traditionally marketed to men. "[The scent] reminds me that I am a confident woman who doesn’t play by the rules. I can and will be whoever I want to be. Plus, it’s only right I choose a masculine scent to compliment my oversized men’s vintage blazer. "
Cristina Gordon, president and founder of C Bee PR, says Bvlgari's Man Wood Neroli's solar, woody fragrance inspired by the Mediterranean sunshine is her fragrance of choice. She especially loves wearing it during quarantine. "I took a trip to Italy with my husband and daughter when she was three and-a-half months old and every time I spray this scent I am taken back to that trip and how special it was." She describes its aroma as "complimentary on both men and women," and notes, "the pop of citrus smells like summer vacation- and we could all use a little of that right now."
Rising style icon and TV personality, Cindy Conroy is a fan of Vintage by John Varvatos. "Whenever I’m feeling nervous and need some extra girl boss vibes, I like to spritz this cologne." She calls its scent "elegant and masculine, yet really soft with hints of vanilla and subtle woody undertones. It reminds me of a well-dressed, suave man; someone who’s smart as a whip and gets stuff done. Whenever I wear the scent, instantly I feel ready for anything that comes my way. With that and a cute outfit, I’m ready to slay."
Michelle Ranavat, founder of the Ayurvedic botanics skincare line, RANAVAT, plays it nostalgic, fanning out over Joop!. "I discovered this '90s cologne in high school. There's something about the cinnamon-laced scent that brings back powerful memories," she says. "I associate the cologne with carefree childhood days, Chicago summers, and the joy of collecting a bounty of free beauty samples after a long day roaming the mall."
Tai Adaya, founder of beauty brand HABIT, falls hard for Terre d'Hermes Eau Intense Vetiver. "Vetiver is usually considered a more 'masculine' scent, but I love using it," she says. "The scent reminds me of raw power and wearing it gives me an extreme boost of confidence. I love the way it lingers on the skin for hours, and on less frequently washed outerwear for days."
Fashion designer and social justice advocate, Lindsay Jones is a fragrance obsessive who gravitates toward "masculine" energy. She's feeling Chris Collins' Danse Sauvage, with notes of cognac, chili pepper, and rose.
Dianna Cohen, CEO and founder of Crown Affair, a conscious hair care line, enjoys borrowing her fiancé's scent. "Every time he would wear it in Miami, I would keep smelling his neck and ask what it was. I decided I should finally make it my own during the summer months when I'm in New York to remind me of Miami days."
UP NEXT: 15 fragrances marketed as unisex.