Rachel Marie Walsh shares her favourite fragrance launches for summer.
Last weekend, while my two-year-old nephew and I were testing fragrances (him advising me with either a wrinkled nose or requests for more), I noticed his favourites were pretty much evenly divided between male and female samples.
And I wondered, as he toddled off to chuck one scent into the pond outside my flat, when it is that we begin to distinguish fragrance by sex.
The division of perfume by gender can be traced back to the rise of the middle class in the early 19th century.
The product was an extravagance and as comfortable women were viewed as delicate, frivolous creatures, their scents were floral and overtly sweet. Citrus or woody colognes were acceptable for men.
Scent impacting the limbic system as it does, it is likely that generation after generation grew up associating these ingredients with their male or female role models and shopped accordingly.
Advertising also reinforced and entrenched the divide in the 20th century, providing a visual interpretation of gender that fragrance alone does not have.
Immensely popular unisex scents like CK1 might have blurred the line in the 80s and 90s, accompanying the move towards androgynous fashion, and it is not unusual now for women to wear scents targeted at men.
A floral perfume that’s a hit with the boys has yet to emerge.
There’s been a noticeable move towards masculine scents for women this season, with traditionally male ingredients dominating the latest blends.
Both Jo Malone and Acqua de Parma invested in cedarwood, a luxury aftershave staple, in a big way for summer. The UK brand added a juniper kick while the Italians gave it a maritime freshness.
YSL has had a go at reinventing the chypre — traditionally a heady, harmony-of-the-sexes type scent combining feminine top notes, a masculine base and a gender-blended heart — with a crisp, rather addictive result.
Chanel, which offers the most perfect classic chypre I’ve yet come across (No.19), wins my ’Scent of the Summer’ award for Boy, an olfactory tribute to one of Madame’s most famous companions.
Marc Jacobs, who began his career with grungy, gender-bending designs at Perry Ellis and carried the aesthetic into his early eponymous collections, has this summer returned to his fragrance roots with a revival of his ‘Splash’ line (now called ‘Chic City Break’), for boys and girls.
So cool they might freeze your wrists, them.
Les Exclusifs de Chanel Boy Eau de Parfum, from €175 for 75ml
Arthur ‘Boy’ Cappel was an English polo player and Coco Chanel’s lover for nine years until his death in 1919.
He was her muse — she found his tweed blazers particularly inspiring —and financed some of her first stores. Her love for him and his style has inspired the latest addition to Chanel’s ‘Les Exclusifs’ fragrance line.
“My way of working on this fragrance was really not to try to make a unisex fragrance but more to dive into men’s fragrance and to show how well it could be worn by a woman,” head perfumer Olivier Polge tells Women’s Wear Daily.
The perfume features a masculine fougère (fern-like) accord. Notes include lavender, rose geranium, lemon, grapefruit, orange blossom, sandalwood, heliotrope and vanilla.
Jo Malone London Black Cedarwood & Juniper Cologne, from €52 for 30ml
‘This one is rather mannish, isn’t it,’ I observed in the hallowed ivory haven that is, well, any Jo Malone London concession, really.
With its spicy cumin and chilli top notes, juniper heart and rich cedarwood closer, the brand’s latest is very attractive alone but layers well with Lime Basil & Mandarin if you care to sweeten it.
Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Cedro di Taormina, from €65 for 75ml
Each fragrance in Acqua de Parma’s Blu Mediterraneo collection begins with an ingredient that epitomises a place.
The small Sicilian town of Taormina is surrounded by the invigorating scent of cedar trees.
It is also close to both the coast and Mount Etna, so the eponymous woody ingredient is framed with hot spicy extracts and those that evoke a fresh sea breeze.
Notes include citron, petitgrain, basil, vanilla, black pepper and vetiver.
Marc Jacobs ‘Chic City Break’ Collection, €48.30 for 100ml
Super-sweeties Dot, Daisy and Lola may be Marc Jacobs’ most famous fragrances, but back in the early Aughts his unisex ‘Splash’ scents were in the low-slung tote bags of those in the know.
The four-part line returns as ‘Chic City Break.’
Unambiguously-named ‘Rain,’ ‘Cotton’, ‘Fig’ and ‘Cucumber’, each is dominated by a single note and offers a simple, fresh alternative to most of what choking up your average perfume department.
Yves Saint Laurent Mon Paris, from €60 for 30ml
Chypres are for lovers and so is Paris.
How perfect is it that YSL Beauté’s launched a gorgeous new one just as so many of us are preparing to hit Charles de Gaulle?
Chypres have a well-established structure built around a warm chorus of bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli and labdanum.
Added floral, leather or woody elements make each one complex, and indeed no two are terribly similar.
Mon Paris breaks the rules with a white-floral heart that includes the datura, an Indian aphrodisiac.
The top notes burst with summer berries and pear, while a warming note of ambrox adds a touch of luxe. Musk is present in every layer of the scent, suggesting ‘the comfort of a lover’s arms’ and giving it that headiness that distinguishes French fragrances from the fruity or floral types that lead the UK and Irish markets.
As with Paris itself, you can’t really get enough of it and that’s no reason to stop trying.
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