Marc Jacobs Bang Theory

What constitutes a female fragrance anyway?

So a friend of mine did ask on Basenotes. As always, science has the answer! It’s just that the answer is not worth posting on the board. Or perhaps, not without consequence. 😉


Consider the structure of the woody terpenoid, cedrene (structure II below).

Structure of Cedrene

The Structure of Cedrene (II). Manly, isn't it?

Notice that it has 4 pokey objects, that stick out, but not in a really long and “voyou” way. In science, these phallic substituents are known as methyl groups. Now observe that there are only three things which look like (blush) holes. We call them rings in public, but behind closed laboratory doors, they are referred to as molecular love muffins. The point is, there are more studly methyl groups than happy holes, making this clearly more useful in manly fragrances. Although the use of woody notes in unmanly fragrances can be kinky, I will admit.

And then there is Pepe LePew’s molecule:


‘Nuff said.


Gender is a useful tool in discussing fragrance fashions, but you have to understand that they are still just fashions and nothing more. In a world where “manly” men – who used to wear loud, bold, woody scents – now wear weak, water-reminiscent scents, or things that smell like fresh laundry, or lavender and other specifically male-designated flowers, it’s easy to see just how arbitrary the gendering of notes has been. If you want to get deep into fragrance, you have to free yourself from such preconceptions, even as you still work with them.

Fashion is all about graceful stylistic change. Shifting gender of scents seems to facilitate that. For that reason, I’m not sure if we’ll ever be free of scent gendering. I am beginning to think that “de-gendering” of scent is only ever permanent in the individual who appreciates fragrance – that scent itself has now been so tied to sex, that the idea of scent dimorphism will always remain, as a way of psychologically enhancing the pleasure of scent itself for the majority of people. But I do foresee a day when, as society becomes more accepting of diversity in people, it will become not only accepting of diversity in personal scent, but actively encouraging of the exploration of individual styles (in more than just scent) that cross a lot of existing lines.

Short version:

Gender may actually make scent more interesting, even as we learn to ignore it.

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