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Take Note

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Take Note

Perfume notes that bridge the gender divide… 

By Adriana Ermter

Imagine a world where scent doesn’t exist…where one lets other people, and their body odour, live and let live. Kind of puts a whole new perspective on public transit, waiting in line at the grocery store and steamy humid nights at the local pub, doesn’t it? Thankfully, our bathrooms are a hygiene haven, loaded with soap, deodorant and, perhaps most importantly, a smattering of our favourite fragrances.

Yet, how many of these little bottles containing scented elixirs bear the descriptor ‘men’ or ‘women’? More importantly, how necessary is it to spritz them on according to that description? After all, during the 17th century, when fragrance first gained mass popularity in France and England, perfume labels only bore a descriptor for whatever scent lay inside its glass flacon.

Perfume was, simply put, just perfume. Used to mask odours – as bathing was irregular and clothes weren’t changed often – anyone and everyone who could afford a bottle bought and used it. Legend has it that Napoleon, consumed with smelling great, had a standing order with a local perfumer for 50 bottles each month. Eaux then were single notes and smelled like rose, orange flowers, jasmine or musk, and were crafted from botanical and deer musk oils and distilled water. In the 1800s, when the first lab-created fragrance ingredients were introduced, perfume’s scent roster grew to include notes of cinnamon, anise, vanilla and coumarin.

Inspired, famed French perfume houses Houbigant Paris and Guerlain swirled multiple notes together to create the now iconic gender-neutral eaux Fougère Royale and Jicky, in 1884 and 1889 respectively. Fragrance brands like Coty, Creed, Floris and Penhaligon’s mix-mastered multi-note creations that buyers then chose solely on the likeability of the scent. The 19th century’s economic growth and burgeoning middle class parted these fragrant waters, separating parfum into gender-based categories. With ‘his’ and ‘hers’ defining who wore what, notes like lily of the valley and heliotrope (a powdered, cherry pie-like scent) became aligned with the feminine, while others such as tobacco and pine were deemed solely for men.

This gender divide continues in perfumery today, with stereotypical scents inclusive of florals, fruits and candies for women, and whisky, leather and metals for men. However, seven versatile notes – ambroxan, bergamot, cedarwood, citrus, lavender, patchouli and vetiver –continue to consistently cross over. Their ability to play nicely with a multitude of notes is influencing new blends, particularly gender-fluid ones. And so, as we wait for the fragrant industry to revert, in totality, back to its inclusive roots, it’s time to take note and spritz differently. After all, wearing perfume is about feeling and smelling great. 

This note falls under the same fragrance category as musk, amber and animalic smells. It is derived from clary sage and is a synthetic compound that captures an intimate and earthy essence. Ambroxan is favoured by perfumers as it not only adds complexity to a scent, but is also renowned for helping parfums linger longer on the skin. Overall, the note exudes a warm, musky aroma with a subtle sweetness that integrates well with floral notes such as rose and jasmine, and adds a modern twist to traditional musk fragrances. The notes feels contemporary, sophisticated and sensual.
IN Magazine’s unisex spritz suggestions:
Bond. No.9 TriBeCa Eau de Parfum (EDP), $373 for 100 mL, available online at; and Laboratorio Olfattivo Miss U EDP, $170 for 100 mL, available online at

Perhaps best known for its inclusion in Earl Grey tea, this Italian citrus fruit is favoured in perfumery for its uniquely sweet and slightly bitter aroma. It’s both vibrant and refreshing, and many would claim that when it’s inhaled, it boasts therapeutic properties that can reduce anxiety and stress. As a perfume note, it pairs harmoniously with floral and spicy accords. Bergamot’s ability to enhance the freshness of florals like lavender and the warmth of spices like black pepper makes it a key player in creating balanced and androgynous scents.
IN Magazine’s unisex spritz suggestions:
Malin and Goetz Bergamot EDP, $132 for 50 mL, available online at; and The Body Shop Full Orange Blossom EDP, $56 for 75 mL, available at The Body Shop stores across Canada

One of the oldest ingredients used in perfumery, cedarwood (as its name suggests) is a note extracted from the wood of cedar trees. Legend has it that the Cherokee believed the human spirit was hidden in the core of cedarwood, while the Tibetans used its oil in their spiritual ceremonies and the ancient Romans constructed their ships from its tree trunks. As a fragrance note, it wafts a warm, comforting, woodsy and robust scent that is often incorporated into perfumes to enhance a fragrance’s longevity. Cedarwood blends seamlessly with floral notes like jasmine and rose, as well as with spicy accords such as cinnamon. The combination of strength and versatility in cedarwood embodies a timeless elegance and confidence.
IN Magazine’s unisex spritz suggestions:
AllSaints Sunset Riot EDP, $108 for 100 mL, available at Shoppers Drug Mart stores across Canada; and Pearfat Multiball Parfum EDP, US$120 for 50 mL, available online at

Derived from the peels of fruits like lemons, limes and all types of oranges, citrus notes provide a zesty and invigorating aroma. In perfumery, these notes are known as hesperidic, an allusion to classical Greek mythology (referring to the garden tended by nature nymphs called the Hesperides). When incorporated into parfum, citrus notes’ bright, crisp and uplifting qualities make them very versatile. They harmonize effortlessly with floral notes such as jasmine and rose, while their vibrancy adds a refreshing layer to earthy scents like patchouli.
IN Magazine’s unisex spritz suggestions:
Clean Beauty Reserve H2Eau Collection Golden Citrus EDP, $148 for 100 mL; and Maison Margiela Replica From the Garden Eau de Toilette (EDT), $110 for 30 mL, both available at Sephora stores across Canada

With its calming and herbaceous profile, lavender has been a staple in perfumery for decades. Its herbal and botanical essence has been used for centuries to treat insomnia, headaches and irritated skin. Distilled from the lavender plant, this fragrance has a soothing aroma that complements a variety of other notes. It harmonizes beautifully with woody scents like cedar and sandalwood, creating a balanced and inviting fragrance. Its timelessness and adaptability also make it a staple for neutral botanical and herbal-based fragrances. IN Magazine’s unisex spritz suggestions:Le Labo Lavande 31 EDP, $280 for 50 mL, available online at; and L’Occitane en Provence White Lavender EDT, $98 for 50 mL, available at L’Occitane en Provence stores across Canada

Not the hippy-dippy smoky version of the incense sticks burned in the 1960s and ’70s, parfum’s patchouli note is extracted from the leaves of the patchouli plant. It emanates a deep, earthy fragrance with sweet and spicy undertones that is favoured by perfumers for its versatility. Patchouli complements sweet scents containing vanilla and chocolate by creating a warm and inviting aroma, while it adds a layer of depth to floral, herbal and aromatic eaux.
IN Magazine’s unisex spritz suggestions:
Lancôme L’Autre Oud, $345 for 100 mL, available online at; and Pacifica Himalayan Patchouli Berry EDT, $52 for 30 mL, available online at    

Otherwise known as vetivert and khus-khus grass, this note is extracted from the roots of the vetiver grass; it is rich and earthy and can often smell smoky and intimate. It is versatile, too, and can blend seamlessly with a wide range of accords. Vetiver pairs well with spicy notes like ginger and pepper, creating a dynamic and enticing fragrance, while its depth and warmth exude a sense of sophistication and a natural allure.
IN Magazine’s unisex spritz suggestions:
Diptyque Vetyverio EDT, $176 for 50 mL; and Frederic Malle Heaven Can Wait EDP, $360 for 50 mL, both available at Holt Renfrew stores across Canada

ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based lifestyle-magazine pro who has travelled the globe writing about must-spritz fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.

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