Unisex scents by Indian perfumeries points growing favour for gender fluid smells

Updated: Nov 05, 2017, 10:18 IST | Shweta Shiware | Mumbai

What does the urban Indian woman want to smell like? The recent launch of unisex scents by Indian perfumeries points to a growing favour for smells that are gender fluid

Pooja Sudhir's search for a signature scent ended after graduation. She moved from deodorants to body mists and was finally looking to mature into a perfume user, when she found a scent with musky notes that she instantly liked. "The counter manager rushed to me, saying, 'But, ma'am, this is for men.' I think that's where it all started," she says about her fascination for unisex perfumes. Sudhir, an educator with DSB International School, now oscillates between the male fragrances put out by Body Shop, M&S and Titan Skinn.

Pic/Getty Images
Pic/Getty Images

A scent is considered unisex when it uses traditionally masculine notes like leather, smoke and wood, but is meant to be worn by both men and women. Historically, women's fragrances have carried floral or fruity notes. "I have often wondered why female perfumes are gentle and mellow, and almost always with a floral base," Sudhir, 32, says.
The gender stereotyping of scents she is alluding to could in fact, be a product of marketing and not so much about preference.

Educator Pooja Sudhir wonders why female scents are distinguished by floral notes only
Educator Pooja Sudhir wonders why female scents are distinguished by floral notes only

The head of communications for Forest Essentials', an indigenous beauty brand with foundations in Ayurveda, says it has little to do with nature telling us what we should or shouldn't wear. "Fragrances are best chosen depending on mood, occasion, seasonality, and your personality rather than gender." Their best-selling body mists are proof. They tend to include oud, Kerala lime or vetiver. "For us, choosing the oud and green tea combination was less about gender and more about picking ingredients that are inherently Indian. That these fragrances have male and female appeal is an added advantage."

Gaurav and Jahnvi
Gaurav and Jahnvi

Jahnvi Lakhota Nandan heads The Perfume Library, a four-year-old boutique label that operates from New Delhi and Paris. She speaks of the 30 gender-fluid scents that both, men and women have been seen to pick up. "For instance, the Aphtoori perfume combines notes of jasmine and cigar, and it is our fastest selling among women," she says. Nandan's friendship with designer Gaurav Gupta has propelled a collaboration that's now sealed in a bottle. Gupta launched AGAIN, his debut unisex scent last week, one with zero floral tones. "It [decision to launch a unisex scent] was a no brainer. I am gender-fluid by personality, and I don't see the world in slots. Gender divides are more to do with social conditioning."

The just-launched fragrance, AGAIN
The just-launched fragrance, AGAIN

Manan Gandhi, the head of Bombay Perfumery, a-young-but-talked-about fragrance house from the city, would agree. Musk is not only for men, he asserts. Chai Musk, one of his best performing perfumes, blends sandalwood, ginger, lemongrass and musk. Of the eight fragrances he currently offers, two are unisex. "Women are not particularly concerned about female-specific infusions. They look for natural ingredients, intensity and retention. They prefer a scent that lasts," Gandhi explains. Internationally, the unisex beauty concept raged in the 1990s when Calvin Klein launched CK One and Comme des Garçons introduced its eponymous fragrance. It was the big, disruptive idea from 27-years ago.

1020 is one of two unisex scents by Bombay Perfumery
1020 is one of two unisex scents by Bombay Perfumery

In 2017, fashion continues to champion the genderless idea, whether in clothes or fragrance, and the user is more keen to find an intimate perfume story to participate in than be slotted in grooves. Tom Ford, Chanel, Kiehl's, L'Occitane and the homebred Kama are all part of the gender-neutral narrative in India.

Ahsan Hami doesn't quite get the debate over male and female in the world of scents. "It may be a talking point internationally, but in India, we have always patronised unisex scents. All attars are unisex, and India is one of its earliest manufacturers," he says of a tradition that dates back to the Mughal times. His store, A Hami Bros, on the chaotic Mohammad Ali Road, was established in 1939.

The shelves don't hold "for men" and "for women" labelled bottles. Vetiver, an earthy scent, is usually associated with masculine fragrances, but Hami says his experience has proven that its deep notes and instant cooling effects make it a favourite with his women customers, along with smoky oud. He says, "We don't need international trends telling us unisex perfumes are cool. We've known it for 500 years."

The mom and daughter who dig unisex
"With women's perfumes, it's either fruity or floral. There's no middle ground. But I'm allergic to floral notes; they make me sneeze. By accident, I found the perfect perfume at a duty free shop, and it turned out to be unisex. Since then I have stuck to CK One."
Divya Jalan, 21, media professional

"If I like a fragrance, I don't care if it's for men or women. For four years, I've worn Eternity. I wear it to office, when I am out with friends. Sometimes, I borrow Divya's CK One. I like musky notes."
Anamika Jalan, 43, entrepreneur

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