Perfume for women is big business. Often, men’s fragrances are pushed into the background, sometimes not considered a viable market. This appearance is deceptive and simply not correct….
Roots of Men’s Fragrances
Even the most virile of history’s men perfumed themselves – Nero had a passion for roses and even had his banquets strewn with rose petals, King David liked to saturate his clothes with aloe and cassia (a type of cinnamon). Even Napoleon at the beginning of the nineteenth century recognized its powers. He would only allow the invigorating fragrance of eau de Cologne and actually believed that the more strong perfumes incited indolence and lust (which would be detrimental to his troops). Unfortunately for men (and women too!), Napoleon’s misguided beliefs helped to spark an odorously austere era in men’s fragrances which didn’t end until the early 1960’s. It was considered over-the-top to wear anything more than a quick splash of toilet water after a shower or sport – and it had to be a “manly” toilet water, consisting of citrus (Orange and Lime) top notes and woody base notes (like Cedarwood and Sandalwood). Components of Oriental fragrances, such as flowers, musk and amber, were definitely not accepted.
Fragrance Rebels – Guerlain, Dior and More
There were some rebellious perfumers who dared to go against this unspoken edict. Guerlain’s famous Jicky actually was worn by men before it became popular with women. Pour un Homme was actually quite popular even though it had strong vanilla notes in it. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that the rebellious spark started to ignite a revolution in men’s fragrances. In the United States, Old Spice (by Shultan), with its warm notes, was introduced, while in Germany, the musk notes of Tabac Original (by Maurere & Wirtz) was a large success.
The proverbial straw was the famed Dior House that produced Eau Sauvage in 1956. Edmond Roudnitska was the famed creator of the daring fragrance; he originally dreamed of perfuming women with it and drew inspiration from the accords of another of his Dior Creations, Diorissimo, a feminine perfume with a lily of the valley note. Eau Sauvage is a chypre blend (a fragrance family named after the perfume Chypre, a heavy mix of oakmoss, labdamum, patchouli and bergamot. This family contains mainly women’s fragrances) with daring floral notes that appealed to women as well as man, thus starting the fashion for unisex toilet waters ( One is the latest large perfume to capitalize on this idea).
In 1973, Paco Rabanne pour Homme became the new “it” male fragrance with warm animal, honey notes that created a sensual sensation that had not yet become popular in men’s fragrances. Paco Rabannae pour Homme has led the men’s fragrance market, despite the fact that the market has become crowded. In 1976, the radical Grey Flannel, created by fashion designer Geoffrey Beene. While targeted to the male market (the bottle swathed in flannel), the fragrance has a distinctly violet smell. Described as “androgynous,” and “ambiguous,” the fragrance’s success encouraged other perfume creators to come up with new and innovative mixes.
Modern Male Fragrances
As evidenced in advertising and men’s “beauty” books and magazine, the idea of virility and masculinity is something very different today than in the time of Napoleon. More attention is paid to the body and sensuality is considered and asset, not something to be hidden. Men’s fashions have also changed, becoming more colorful, varied and seductive, all factor which explain the boom in men’s perfumery, which now represents an astonishing one third of the turnover of the various perfume companies. The male market is here to stay – and the experimental fragrances, such as Davidoff’s Cool Water (fruity, floral notes), and New West by Aramis (salty, refreshing notes) have capitalized on this new openess in male fragrances.
Perhaps the biggest indication that men’s fragrances have become a huge market is Michael Jordan’s foray into the competitive sea of fragrances. Michael Jordan was named to the “Best Dressed” List last year and is the embodiment of (the media’s finicky definition of ) masculinity – successful, athletic, young and rich. Advertising for the campaign (just for the first year) cost about 22 million – television ads, print media, radio spots and billboards. The cologne debuted in about 3,500 stores, including Foot Locker (based on the notion that anyone who walks into the store will buy anything with Michael Jordan’s name on it). The fragrance is targeted towards the new, big-disposable-income segment of the market, the “Generation Xers” (20 to 31) and the next generation, the teens of today. The bottle costs $23, the very number on Jordan’s jersey.
The scent that finally embodied Michael Jordan was chosen from more than 600 submissions from 25 perfumers. Michael Jordan never smelled one of them. In fact, the perfumers never spoke to the famous basketball player. Steve De Mercado, from the Givauddan Roure house, created the winning fragrance. The cologne is cool and crisp, with citrus top notes, lavender, juniper and fir for freshness and an undertone of musk and woods. Michael Jordan is such a “brand” that they only used his silhouette for the advertising campaign.
Is the fragrance worth all the fuss? In the first two months after the launch, sales for the department stores (not including Foot Locker) was about nine million dollars. A year later, sales for the month of December 1997, totaled about five million dollars. This lapse was duly noted and Michael Jordan Cologne came out with soap and body gel, along with another media blitz to increase sales, and putting the cologne in mail order magazines.
And for years to come, Michael Jordan Cologne, like Chanel #5 will be around. Because it’s a great fragrance? No, because it’s all about brand recognition. Just as Chanel #5 had Warhol design their bottles, Michael Jordan Cologne has, well, Michael Jordan. And in the end, that’s what it’s about, pushing the limit and following up with a great marketing campaign. Men’s fragrance is a big business and is here to stay.