Perfumer Pierre Gueros, in a recent interview (Perfumer & Flavorist, April 2009) made some comments on "genderless" fragrances which, he stated, were NOT the same as unisex fragrances.
He defined unisex fragrances as, for the most part, masculine fragrances that were not too masculine and added that the next step might be to make feminine fragrances that aren't too feminine.
All of this leaves the concept of "genderless" -- as opposed to unisex -- quite vague. It's hard to see a true distinction. But let's talk a little bit about gender and perfume.
In the world of fashion, or perhaps we should say the world of fashion REBELLION, there has always been a movement which started early in the 20th century (or earlier) to merge men's and women's looks. Chanel was one of the earliest and most brilliant adopters -- Chanel BEFORE "the little black dress."
In the 1960s jeans and t-shirts became the uniform of flower children. Cast off clothing -- even military clothing -- was now used by whomever. But in all of this, like the unisex perfumes Gueros speaks of, it was the woman who began adopting men's clothing to her own use until the fashion houses began to make that adoption for her -- designer jeans, t-shirts, boxer shorts and briefs. But I can't recall ever seeing "normal" men experimenting with bras and dresses. (Please excuse me if I'm wrong.)
Now let's look at perfume. Perfumes don't wear dresses, jeans, or three piece suits. They don't wear wingtips, cleats or high heels. Perfume! It's just a smell! What does sex have to do with it?
The answer is CULTURE. Women are expected to behave like women by smelling like women by wearing FEMININE fragrances. Guys are expected to small like men. A woman who wears a masculine fragrance is much less likely to be criticized than a man who wears a feminine fragrance.
In the 19th century it was easy. For the women there were florals. After all, until the advent of synthetic aroma chemicals, what else was there? Civet? Castoreum? Dog shit?
For men "the" fragrance tended toward citrus and lavender. First there was "4711" ("which actually CAME from Cologne!), then "Fougere Royal." Perhaps not surprisingly, "Jicky," while intended for women, was first adopted by men. This is not so strange as "Jicky" really falls into the "masculine" category. (Compare "4711" to "Jicky" and you will see this for yourself.)
But always, on into the 20th century, you could SMELL a perfume and KNOW whether it was intended for men or women. (Which is why men wore "Jicky".)
Is this the right approach to perfume?
Clearly today there is still a "men's" market and a "woman's" market. In our local Macy's the "men's" section is on one floor and the "woman's" on another. And the men's section is less than half the size of the woman's. This is typical. You'll also notice at your local mall that far more stores are devoted to the shopping needs of women than to those of men.
Thus, at Macy's, the women's fragrances and men's fragrances are totally separated. Where would you PUT a genderless fragrance? You could, in this environment, ONLY offer it to women -- or to men.
Notice too -- and this is very important -- we label a fragrance "perfume" when it is intended for women and "cologne" when it is intended for men. Yet to the perfumer they are both simply perfume. When we go unisex we simply drop the "perfume/cologne" labels and become like laundry soap, i.e., nothing on the jug to say that it IS laundry soap -- the consumer just has to know.
A true genderless perfume won't fit the department store or fragrance counter marketing model. It will be marked neither "perfume" nor "cologne." I personally like the word "fragrance" as it is non-gender specific.
So where -- and how -- do you market a genderless fragrance? Clearly in the type of specialty shop where men's and women's fragrances will be displayed together -- to a sophisticated audience.
This suggests upscale shops, boutiques, and premium department stores (only the branches in the largest cities). And the internet? Perhaps, if the brand itself -- like Bond no. 9 -- is well know.
At present it would appear to me that "genderless" presents a rather targeted opportunity, one that requires a strong brand credibility and a very good knowledge (and relationship) with core customers.
Certainly it's a tricky proposition. But in time ???