SHIFT THE RULES: Gender Studies and New Stories

Does fragrance have a gender? The debate has animated the industry for many years, helped by the influence of niche perfumery that considers olfactive singularity first instead of gender positioning. With the niche market expanding and being more accessible, gender fluidity is back in the strategy of some big players. It seems that perfumery needs a fresh eye on gender.

INTRODUCING GENDER STORIES at FIRMENICH: a new platform providing a complete overview of femininity and masculinity in perfumery. Please contact your Firmenich representative or email to discover the future of gender together.

More than ever, equality for all is essential for brands. Last October, Rihanna’s AW20 lingerie show Savage x Fenty celebrated all genders and sizes in a polished pre-filmed performance promoting inclusivity as second nature and sexuality as a mirror for self-expression. In September, Stella McCartney Shared capsule collection offered a representation of fluidity and the innate need to be connected. This youthful and genderless exploration of the next generation share’s the same Stella McCartney core, activist values. Nicolas Ghesquière also introduced Louis Vuitton’s SS 2021 collection during Paris Fashion Week as a tribute to gender fluidity.

Stella McCartney Shared Capsule Collection

Singularity is empowered everywhere and the realm of body positivity never-ending. A new positive, collaborative and inclusive movement is emerging. Men are more and more showing solidarity with women’s causes. They work together for social transformation and personal development. Identity itself is shifting and this shift is broader than just genders, challenging established principles and codes in a constructive way with a spirit of empowerment on both sides. And in all cases, acceptance is the norm. Accept the difference, promote what makes everyone unique – gendered or not.

How does this new mindset impact fragrance. Firmenich has developed a new platform to decode the representations of femininity and masculinity on the fragrance market, and manage to project olfactive and consumer expertise. As stated in the Firmenich Olfactive Vision, it’s time to “Shift the Rules.” We must open up new possibilities and found new routes of olfactive expression.


The issue of Editions Nez, Parfums Pour Homme released last October sets the tone: “What if you finally wore a perfume that looks like you? Your trail reveals your personality.” That’s what we need to focus on. The Fine Fragrance teams at Firmenich have started to open the conversation, initiating a platform with marketing, consumer insights and fragrance development experts to celebrate an absolute liberation of gender in fragrance. By using a model of analysis by archetype to avoid the stereotype, the analysis helps identifying the diversity of gender identities, in short to create real “stories” in perfume. Is the fragrance market a mirror of the plurality of identities that define gender today? While the lines are gradually moving, the traditional patterns remain anchored and there is still a long way to go.

NEZ Magazine - Perfumes for Men: The Ideal Selection

“The male market, dominated by virile clichés with a great exhibition of muscles and macho attitudes in advertising, maintains a conformism of another time, in which a large part of its target is no longer found,” explains Jeanne Doré in Parfums pour Homme. “The big issue behind these stereotypes that was portraited for so many years in our industry – the tough guy, the rebel, the alpha male – is to reinforce an unilateral vision of a desirable masculinity rather than allow men to exist in a plurality of different versions of their self. A new cultural movement is redefining the traditional masculinity, breaking the boarders of gender with freedom and self-expression,” explains Gabrielle Ortunes, Senior Marketing Manager at Firmenich São Paulo. Celebrating not only what makes them “men” but embracing the qualities that makes them human as empathy, kindness, care, openness and love.

“On the other hand, we can say that the same pattern happens with women, but here the stereotype is ruled by the male gaze that for so long objectifying women sensuality and restricting their roles in society,” adds Ortunes.

The viral video narrated by Cynthia Nixon, “Be a Lady, They Said!” by Girls. Girls. Girls. Magazine is a manifesto of the #MeToo generation about sexism and the impossible standards imposed upon women. Lines include: “Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin… Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative.” The short video brings a reflexive and powerful message of how important is to redefine what it means to be female nowadays, fighting against archaic gender stereotypes.


Celebrating fully gender seems to be the right thing to do now. The advent of genderful fragrances is defined by a “gender whatever” movement, which is emerging. What really matters for consumers is the smell and the pleasure it provides. What really matters for consumers is self-love. The pleasure revolution is on and self-pride should be taken as a force for good.

“The opportunity for you to change direction, for you to take control of what makes you happy, is so much more available than it ever has been,” said Stefanie Sword-Williams, founder, F*ck Being Humble in LS:N Global, The Transformative Twenties report. The democratization of niche perfumery has helped consumers freeing from classical gender segmentation. It’s true that a perfume can be perceived as more masculine or feminine in terms of codes but olfactively speaking there’s no more distinction. Frontiers are tenuous especially because they are often crossed.

“We are convinced that the feminine perfumes will assert themselves and become more maximalist while borrowing boyish codes. And the masculine fragrances will be redefined, gaining in simplicity and purity, capitalizing on a fluid floralcy and new gourmand territories,” said David Suffit-Reedman, Senior Director Fragrance Development FF Europe at Firmenich Paris.

Masculine perfumery is still limited to the grooming codes of Fougere or the strong identity of woods to convey a message of strength and virility. Let’s embrace men’s care, far from only hygiene or seductive expectations, fragrance should not be only a way to reinforce the masculine feel and to reassure the wearer as a confidence booster but should be an identity mirror. A quest for fluidity and diversity that will encourage men to remove barriers of masculine codes.

“We dared a few years ago to put vanilla in masculine structures, we created beautiful Oriental and elegant fragrances, but by staying cloistered in classic freshness codes not to disturb. We must reinvent masculine addiction. Another route is to borrow the flowers of feminine perfumes to reinvent masculine structures. So we can reinvent the fougere of tomorrow with another flower than orange blossom, or we can facet the woods differently to give them a more open and modern dimension through a new floral breath,” affirms Laurence Jamoussi, Fragrance Development Director and Consumer Insight Coordinator at Firmenich Paris.

Feminine signatures are maximized answering to a call for abundance and generosity to embrace fully womankind. “We are seeing a rebirth of soliflores, focused on a recognizable floral single-note paired with daring aromatic or woody notes. Using new aromatic extracts as boosters of naturality or freshness to give life to floral structures in this idea of a luxuriant efflorescence will be key in the future” says Lydie Deneiple, Fragrance Development Director at Firmenich Paris.

There are promising olfactory pathways slowly redefining gender in fragrance… but can we go even further?


There’s an urge to bring new oxygen and create positive change in fragrance. The saturation of the market and the global pandemic are more than just signals the fragrance industry should renew. Traditional foundations are questioned, and the new challenge for brands is to “create products that are more inclusive and stand up for causes that matter to their consumers if they are to continue to stay relevant,” announced the WGSN Beauty team in their latest report Key Trends 2021: Activism in the Fragrance World. For a fragrance industry that is still conservative: a cultural shift is happening right now and this is an opportunity for creating a better fragrance world! Perfume choices are getting much more political than before, particularly for Gen-Z and Millennials, putting transparency, sustainability, radical inclusivity and a purpose to purchase at the center of their expectations. These consumers grow up in a world where gender roles are less strictly defined. They most easily challenge stereotypes and will continue to push back against brands that they do not feel represent them or their beliefs. They defy stereotypes, making their own rules as a culturally agile, self-educated and highly allusive cohort.

Perfume needs to get political and stand on important social issues like gender equality to stay relevant to shoppers in the future. This new consumer mindset will increase as coronavirus shakes the stability of economies around the globe. Fragrance houses and brands must partner more than ever to take a stand on gender and build a more activist fragrance storytelling.

FOR MORE INFORMATION + INSPIRATION, Visit the “SHIFT THE RULES” section of Olfactive Vision.