Unlike the vast majority of contemporary fragrances, all of Arquisteâs scents are technically unisex.Â âItâs outdated to createÂ a fragrance and just say: âLetâs sell it to this person,â and put an image of a beautiful woman in the advertisement and think this will sell to a woman who wants to be likeÂ her,â says Carlos Huber, founder of Arquiste. Huber explains that it was his desire to transport peopleÂ to a moment in time â the cargo of a 16th century Japanese samurai shipÂ sent to negotiate withÂ Spain inspired his most recent creation, Nanban â that resulted in Arquiste fragrances being gender neutral. âI wanted to use the most exquisite ingredients, and these days peopleÂ donât want to be told who a fragrance is for; they donât want to be told: âThis is not for you,ââ Huber says.
Despite todayâs widespread separation ofÂ his and hers fragrances, deciding on a perfume wasnât always determinedÂ by gender. Historians and anthropologists have traced the division of perfume by gender back to the early 19th century and the riseÂ of the middle class â upÂ until the late 18th centuryÂ it was common for men and women to wear the same scents. According to cultural historian Constance Classen, as the middle class grew, perfume became seen asÂ an extravagance, and scent grew more entwined with gender. Women were seenÂ as not only frivolous butÂ also sweet and innocent â characteristics that were associated with floral and sweet scents. Citrusy and woody scents, on theÂ other hand, were deemed acceptable for men.
Although the division of scent by gender dates back more than 200 years, Huber says itâs hard to ignore the impact that advertising has had on how we think of fragrance; he believes the golden age of advertising and real life Mad Men areÂ to blame for reinforcing the way we associate certain smells with masculinityÂ or femininity. âBefore advertising, fragrances werenât image-based; they were woody, floral or green. It wasnât about a visual interpretation of gender,â Huber says. Instead of consumers being swayedÂ by glamorised ideals of femininity and masculinity portrayed in advertising, Huber explains it was simply about scents smelling good. âYou had to go to a perfume store and choose because you loved the scent. You werenât choosing becauseÂ of an ad.â
Huber believes the current shift in fragrance is simply a reflectionÂ of wider change thatâs happening regarding the way we think of genderÂ â just look at the runway to see how androgynous fashion has surged in popularity over the past few years. âThings are changing. Weâre seeing women who are more ambiguous about their tastes and men who arenât embarrassed to embrace fashion, the arts and now grooming,â says Huber, furthering his point about gender lines becoming more blurred.
While the shift towards gender fluidity in the beauty industry is impossible to ignore, and more women are favouring notes that are often considered masculine, Huber admits creating a floral scent that men will love isnât easy. âHow do you make a skirt masculine? Thatâs difficult. How doÂ you make pants feminine? Thatâs not so difficult. Itâs harder for a man to wearÂ floral notes without feeling feminine â it speaks to our insecurities,â Huber says. Thatâs why Huber tends to push woody, citrusy and green notes. âYou have to push it to the masculine side. Even today sweetness and powderiness are scents that people identify as feminine,â he explains.
At the end of the day, however, Huber says you never can guess how people will react to different scents, and he is confident fragrances that are free from gendered labels give people the freedomÂ to express themselves. âMaybe youâre too afraid to experiment with clothing, but youâll perhaps be less afraidÂ to experiment with fragrance. Itâs aboutÂ the person choosingÂ the fragrance and whether it feels rightÂ for them.â