I’ve found it interesting how some “veteran” members of Basenotes seem to think there is a sharp “gender line” with these olfactory concoctions and that the friendly people in control of multinational corporation X, Y, or Z know exactly where that line is drawn! Some others, such as Luca Turin, argue that these gender distinctions mostly involve top notes. And of course, most aficionados know that if you toss in a lavender note that is quite noticeable, you can turn a “feminine” into a “masculine,” especially these days, with so many super-sweet “masculine” scents on the market. I have come to conclude that while such generalizations are interesting to ponder on an abstract level, these aren’t all that useful in practice.
Instead, I prefer to think about actual scents, and one that immediately comes to mind is the 1993 release, Insense, by Givenchy (I’ve only worn the original formulation, I believe on three occasions separated by more than a month) . Turin and others seem to think this was too “daring” for its time, but is it less daring today? And is it daring in terms of the actual smell or the marketing? After all, plenty of aficionados will buy a “feminine” scent with a strong leather note, such as Cabochard, for instance. Another notion is that a “masculine floral” is highly problematic, though plenty of aficionados seem quite positive about Amouage’s Lyric Man. Is it the case that if a scent is clothed in the garment of “niche” it’s acceptable to be “floral?”
I could not understand the appeal of Insense. The florals are strong and sharp, as is a fruity/citrusy quality, which I don’t enjoy either. After that it slowly dissipates over time, with a resinous quality becoming more and more obvious, though it never distinguishes itself. Fragrantica.com lists thse notes for it:
Top notes are aldehydes, black currant, lavender, mandarin orange, bergamot, lemon and basil; middle notes are magnolia, lily-of-the-valley and iris; base note is fir.
The reviews for it on Fragrantica are quite interesting. Few mention the “feminine” element, at least one person calls it “delicous” (this is the opposite of delicious to me!), and most talk in abstract terms. This one is interesting:
Top notes are horrible. Acrid. But after 10 minutes, it transform into a floral for men. Strong sillage, longevity is also good (around 5 hours). I was actually imagined I was taking a nap under a shady tree beyond the yellow meadow field…
What is a “floral for men?” Is it that there is a fir/resinous quality that is a bit stronger than it might be in a similar, yet “feminine” scent? If so, that is strong evidence for the claim that these notions are entirely due to “cultural conditioning” (including marketing efforts). In any case, fifteen years later David Yurman’s first scent is released, with these notes:
…mandarin, and fresh green notes of black currant leaf and petals, followed by floral notes of peony, water lily, rose otto, patchouli, exotic woods and musk.
To me, though the compositions are not the same, the underlying idea is. That is, you get the fruity quality that is not especially “feminine” and the sharp florals, though these are not as sharp in Yurman (which is an improvement, IMO)., to begin the proceedings. Then over time a base that is at least “unisex” comes forward. In Yurman, this is a woody/oudy and somewhat chemical-smelling accord. Yurman has more of a watery than fruity texture at first, but what I dislike in both is the strength of the lily-of-the-valley type notes. Also, if I want that fir/resinous quality, I can opt for vintage Ferre for Men or Nino Cerruti’s 1979 “masculine” offering without having to deal with strong florals (I generally like florals as supporting notes or to counterbalance another strong note or accord).
In Yurman, the florals eventually are balanced by the woody/oudy element, but I can’t say I enjoy this combination all that much. It’s interesting, but not all that enjoyable to me. However, I do look forward to wearing the Yurman scent again, when I think I am really in the mood for it. I don’t intend to wear Insense again (I have a small decant right now), but since my preferences have changed multiple times, I’ll keep an open mind. There are quite a few reviews of Yurman at Fragrantica, but other than mine, I’m not sure if any others were written by men! And this is just one “feminine” scent that I happen to come across at a big discout – I have no idea how many others might be similar, at least in some significant way, to Insense! In other cases, I have found some scents one might consider clearly “feminine,” such as the 2010 Mariah Carey release, Lollipop Splash Vision of Love, to be more “masculine” than Insense. Here are the notes for that one:
Top Notes: juicy mandarin, coconut and star neroli. Heart: French macaroon, purple jasmine and white peach. Base: sandalwood, vanilla infusion and creme de musk.
I’m not sure if I’d wear any of these in public, but that’s simply because I have so many to choose from there’s really no reason to do so, as I’m not a “statement-making” kind of person, at least when it comes to things like clothing, hairstyle, and fragrance. I’ll conclude here by saying that it’s likely the case that those who have convinced themselves that the good folks at multinational corporation X, Y, or Z know what they should smell like, at least in terms of “gender” (has there been a scent released that was marketed to the “trans” community yet?), are not going to sample a scent like Yurman or the Carey, but that won’t stop me from trying to “open some minds” with this blog !
NOTE: For those who don’t know, the general idea behind Insense may be said to date back at least to a number of mid/late 1970s scents: Halston’s 1-12, Devin by Aramis, and Nino Cerruti’s 1979’s “masculine.” All feature some sort of strong “green” element (galbanum and/or fr/pine), along with citrus up front and obvious florals (usually jasmine and carnation), with the usual lavender as well. And in 1992 Salvador by Salvador Dali was released, again with a similar idea. Yes, Insense goes further than those, but it’s certain not a composition one should associate with a perfumer who lost his mind! For me the problem is “wearability,” not taking “gender issues” into account, as Insense is harsh at first but really doesn’t do anything better than the others mentioned (and it’s not especially complex, which doesn’t help).