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A brief history of unisex scents

Sometimes we get asked about whether we make scents for men or women. The answer is both. And neither. Our scents are intentionally designed to be unisex. Why?

For starters, that’s how they used to be. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when perfumery in the western world was primarily handled by your friendly local pharmacist, they mixed up potions using botanicals like rose, violet, cloves, lavender, and whatever manmade ingredients were being discovered over time. As is the case today, perfume was an aspirational luxury – a chance to get a glimpse of what things might smell like in faraway lands – tropical plants, exotic spices, and flowers from other continents most could only dream of experiencing firsthand. But early perfumery was just about creating potions that smelled good on everyone, men and women alike, anyone who could afford a little bit of olfactory decadence in a world that was often otherwise kind of bleak. And smelly (let’s not forget, running water wasn’t a widespread thing yet).

As advertising began to take shape as a major industry throughout the 1800s and perfume ads started appearing on billboards and in magazines, fragrance marketing began to shift. The perfume ads of the latter half of the 19th century began being targeted more specifically at women, because, honestly, women just generally devoted more time to personal grooming. And as quality of life began to improve for many with each passing decade, this gave women an opportunity to demonstrate that they were doing well...well enough to spend money on discretionary luxuries, like perfume. With ads featuring classy-looking ladies, dainty wood nymphs, and mythological goddesses, how you chose to smell started becoming a lot less about what you liked the smell of, and a lot more about who you wanted to be.

And it’s still that way today. Fragrance ads predetermine who scents are for: gender, age, personality, occasion. This is why we make associations with certain smells being for certain kinds of people; there’s really nothing biologically feminine about rose, just as there’s biologically inherently masculine about patchouli. That’s just what we’ve been taught over time, just as we’ve been taught that little boys wear blue and little girls wear pink. In short, when it comes to fragrance, what’s meant for men and women is completely a social construct. And part of that is because we’re obsessed with the idea of smelling attractive to the opposite sex. Feminine fragrances are marketed as being irresistible to men, just as masculine scents are supposed to lure in ladies. And while we fully get that it’s nice to feel sexy, don’t we also want to smell good for ourselves, too? (Or what if you’re a guy who wants to smell like a guy but is also trying to attract a guy?! Should you try to smell like a vanilla cupcake or a freshly washed lumberjack?)

We want you to like whatever you like, and learn to get to know yourself in the process. And it’s hard to do that when you’re being told what you should or shouldn’t try. So our first scent, M901, is deliberately neutral, in the best way possible. It’s not laden with florals or sweet ingredients that will scream “girly!” to your already-trained subconscious. Nor is it full of herbal and woody undertones that will immediately make you recognize it’s meant for a guy. It’s meant to just smell good: softly musky, livened up with some spicy and woody undertones. We think it smells great on all humans of all ages. We hope you love it as much as we do. If you don’t, that’s OK - there are no right or wrong opinions when it comes to something as individual and emotional as scent.

Our next unisex scent is going to be based entirely on customer feedback, because we want our creative process to be a hands-on collaboration with the people who will wear it. So go ahead and try M901, and help us come up with our next formula. Because it takes a village to make a gorgeous scent. Come join us.

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