The history of men’s perfumery

Men's perfumery experienced a real boom at the beginning of the 20th century and has continued to evolve ever since

During its first uses thousands of years ago, perfume knew no gender distinction. Over the centuries, it has been assimilated in the collective imagination as a weapon of seduction for women. For many years, floral fragrances with romantic scents symbolically attached perfume to femininity. For men, the use of scented products was essentially limited to hygiene and shaving gestures. But since the beginning of the 20th century, things have been shaking up. Men’s perfumery has emerged, creating its own codes and different trends.

What was the men’s perfume like before?

During Antiquity and through the Middle Ages, men and women each used perfume. There is then no distinction in the gestures or in the compositions. The hygienic and medical function of the perfume is of prime importance to mask bad smells and to protect oneself from diseases. Opulent compositions based on amber or civet then find adepts with men as well as women. The scented waters based on citrus fruits, flowers or herbs are rubbed on all the bodies. Then Eau de Cologne revolutionized perfumery as early as the end of the 17th century. Napoleon even became one of its most loyal ambassadors.

Over the years, women’s use of perfume has become more aesthetic than practical, while men’s perfumery is still struggling to emerge. For them, it is above all a controversial and eccentric product of seduction reserved for the coquettish or Muscadins of the time. Men’s only daily use fragrant waters is as part of the aftershave ritual.

The birth of men’s perfumery

The revolution of the 20th century

As you will have understood, for many years, men had no really other option but to borrow madam’s Eau de Cologne to perfume themselves. It was not until the end of the 1800s, and more precisely in 1889, that a small revolution in perfumery took place. That year, Aimé Guerlain launched a new creation: Jicky. For the first time, a perfumer integrated synthetic ingredients such as vanillin, which he combined with musk. This powerful fragrance, imbued with a strange modernity for the time, frightened women who found it too strong. It was quickly adopted by men, however, and the fragrance was finally re-released by the house as an explicitly masculine creation in 1904. The fragrance Mouchoir de Monsieur was born.

A new infatuation is being created and men’s perfumery is slowly starting to catch on. But it was not until the 1930s that the first men’s eaux de toilette appeared. These fresh and aromatic juices were mostly made of vetiver and lavender. These comforting scents are still very similar to barber’s soaps, preserving the link between the act of perfuming and the ritual of aftershave.

The 70s: the rise of men’s perfumery

But it was not until the 70s that men’s perfumery really took off and deliberately freed itself from shaving. Men in the seventies no longer only wear perfume after shaving, but whenever they want to. This “disunity” appears concretely on the market with the creation of real men’s fragrances, in addition to the existing eaux de toilette. Thanks to the hippie wave and sexual liberation, women’s and men’s scents stir together and wrap themselves in patchouli and powerful woody scents. Man no longer seek only to smell “clean” and “fresh”. He wants to assert his personality and distinguish himself with clearly identifiable scents. Like women, fragrance is becoming the real seductive asset of a generation of men seeking originality.

Between virility and lightness

While men are no longer afraid of wearing perfume, in the 1980s they are moving towards powerful, full-bodied juices that reveal their virility. Men’s perfumery proposes particularly tenacious fragrances that establish men as solid and dominant figures. It’s the smell of the male, the real man! Freed from the burden of judgment, men no longer hesitate to spray themselves copiously with these heavy and spicy juices, until saturation. The 90s and the emergence of the gay community will bring more freshness to the compositions. The metrosexual trend is taking hold and men are no longer ashamed to take care of themselves, just like women. This taste for freshness and lightness will continue to grow until the success of the unisex fragrance. Since then, fragrances with vegetal, mineral and oceanic notes have appealed to men of all ages and styles.

Perfume and men: new rituals?

Since the democratization of men’s perfumery, new scented rituals have appeared. While women like to spray their favorite fragrances on their hair, clothes and many areas of their bodies, men are usually satisfied with a few drops on their chest and wrists. The fragrance itself is also perceived differently. For men, it remains strongly linked to seduction. It is used as a means of increasing sex appeal to attract the opposite sex. Unlike women, who are more sensitive to new launches, men appear more loyal to their fragrance. Younger men will try out various new scents, guided by advertising, but generally end up around the age of 25-30 years old by finding “their” scent, to which they will remain faithful for many years.

The future of men’s perfumery

Now the distinction between men’s and women’s fragrances, which is very marked in the West, is becoming increasingly blurred. Even if the search for freshness remains constant, men are thirsty for olfactory novelties and are no longer afraid to step out of their comfort zone! Some of them no longer hesitate to steal madam’s bottle to spray themselves with floral or powdery fragrances. But the demands of mass marketing and the desire to please (and sell) as many people as possible still too often hinder the creativity initiated in men’s perfumery. But some noses do not hesitate to venture off the beaten track by proposing unexpected compositions. Rosat geranium, blond tobacco, cognac or fruity notes of apple and rhubarb become the ingredients of choice in the creation of these men’s juices. The market of masculine fragrances still has some nice surprises in store for us!

It took many years, but today men’s perfumery is asserting itself and is constantly evolving. What are the ingredients you like to find in so-called perfumes for men?

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