Unisex perfumes are the latest gimmick. But do they really appeal to men and women? Our panel finds out
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The Independent Culture
THE ANNUAL pre-Christmas blitz of watch, sherry and perfume advertising has been joined by a new product this year: the ever-so-Nineties, gender- ambiguous, unisex perfume. Calvin Klein's campaign for cK One has been especially high-profile - so much so that many people believe it to be the only one. This is not the case: this week we test six scents marketed for both men and women.

Historically, all perfume - whether it be eau de Cologne or single-note fragrances such as lavender or rose - was intended for use by both men and women. This was the case up until the turn of the century, when the first perfume specifically for women was made. The first frag-rance for men, Mouchoir de Monsieur, was launched by Guerlain as late as 1929.

Since then, a small number of unconventional consumers have opted for perfumes made for the opposite sex. Some women in the Seventies wore male perfumes as a political statement, and Jicky (tested below) was originally a women's fragrance taken up by men - Sean Connery and Rod Stewart reportedly among them. Nowadays, it is sold as unisex. Women still sometimes wear men's perfumes: one of our testers, Phillippa Yeoman, cited Kouros for Men as one of her regular choices.

These days, unisex fragrances are aggressively marketed as such. But do these perfumes really appeal to both men and women? And what do they actually smell like?


We asked two potential customers and two experts to assess six unisex perfumes, priced from pounds 15 to pounds 40. (We tested the less expensive eau de Cologne or eau de toilette rather than the eau de parfum.) The potential buyers considered whether they would wear the fragrance, its suitability for both men and women, value for money, the appeal of its packaging, and the effectiveness of its advertising. One expert commented on the technical merits of the frag-rances, while the other assessed what kind of person would be most likely to buy them.


Philippa Yeoman and Justin Silk, twentysomething consumers; Roja Dove, Professeur des Parfums at Guerlain and guest lecturer for the Comite Francais des Parfums' touring exhibition, "Heavenly Scents"; Helen Galdes, the perfume buyer for Liberty's, the London department store .


Made by Harris Oils. pounds l5.95 for 30ml of eau of de Cologne; available in three "essential fragrances": Citreum (Super-fresh), Gravida (Supergentle), and Inspiritus (Supercalm)

The aromatherapist Lyn Harris believes her range of "essential fragrances" (eau de Cologne made with natural essential oils) has a positive effect on mood. Our testers, however, greeted this idea with derision - in fact, they were unlikely to stay with the scent long enough to test the theory. Justin Silk thought Citreum smelt "like washing-up liquid", while Philippa Yeoman pronounced it "like expensive soap". Gravida was described respectively as "too bitter for a perfume" and "horrible". Both testers said Inspiritus reminded them of Vicks' Vaporub. They liked the frosted glass bottle, but thought it irrelevant because they wouldn't buy the perfume anyway.

Helen Galdes of Liberty said the range was "innovative" and appealed to people who weren't traditional fragrance wearers but liked the idea of essential oils. Roja Dove explained that citrus oils were the basis for all early eaux de Colognes, which were unisex. "They were the easiest oils to obtain," he explained, "but for that reason they are often used in household cleaning products, so people often associate them with things like bathroom cleansers."


Made by Annick Goutal. pounds 29.75 for 30ml of eau de toilette

Annick Goutal began her career as a musician and antiquarian with a strong belief in the influence of childhood experiences on the pleasures we derive from smells. Sales of this perfume suggest that she may be on to something: according to Helen Galdes, Liberty sells "truckloads of the stuff". Justin Silk said he thought Eau d'Hadrien was too feminine for him, but Philippa Yeoman seized on it as the fragrance she would most like to wear - if only someone would buy her some. "It smells grapefruity and sophisticated," she commented, "and friends of mine wear it." Roja Dove confirmed that Annick Goutal deserves her enormous following: "She has a lot of very interesting perfumes, and none of them are mainstream or samey."


Made by Comme des Garcons. pounds 33 for 50ml of eau de parfum

Heavily promoted as a style and concept of fragrance quite unlike all others, Comme des Garcons rejoices in plain white packaging with its name and a utilitarian bar code graphic on the front. The bottle comes encased in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag. For our testers, the adverts showing a green sponge with soap suds on a white page listing worldwide stockists backfires: it suggests only that "you'd want to scrub the perfume off afterwards". The radically banal packaging made Justin Silk think of "those rip-offs you buy at three for a tenner on Oxford Street", while the plastic bags had Philippa Yeoman wondering whether she "should throw away the perfume with the packaging". Neither liked this spicy fragrance itself, Philippa likening the smell to "wearing the ingredients of a mulled wine sachet around your neck". Helen Galdes said the scent was "very Christmassy" and thought that women would probably buy it as a gift for men. Roja Dove thought the cinnamon and clove notes would develop into something "warm and comforting" and described the perfume as "resinous" - a quality that reminded our other testers of incense in church.


Made by Calvin Klein. pounds 19.95 for 50ml of eau de toilette

This was the best known (because most heavily advertised) of all the genderless fragrances tested; indeed many believe it to be the only unisex perfume. Calvin Klein insists on describing it as a "shared fragrance", on the basis that "unisex" sounds sexless and that is not the image he wants to create. Helen Galdes confirmed that it was attracting "a younger market than we've ever seen in the perfume department - clubby types". Justin Silk chose it as the only fragrance of those tested that he would wear; Philippa Yeoman liked it too, even though "it slaps you in the face, it's so lemony". Both thought the advertising "sexy", but the fragrance merely "fresh". Justin Silk said: "If it is sexy, then it isn't langorously seductive - it's more like a quickie in the lift." Roja Dove was more tactful: "This is a very pleasant fragrance, but not very original - and it doesn't have the complexity of the Creed perfume, which is why it doesn't last on the skin. There's nothing sensual about it."


Creed. pounds 42.50 for 75ml of eau de toilette

This eau de toilette from the old established house of Creed dates from the late 1970s. It proves that the taste for citrussy fragrances isn't just the fashion of the moment. Even before they had seen the heraldic signposting on the bottle (the samples they tested came in tiny glass vials rather than the unsual packaging), our testers identified it as "aristocratic" and "old-fashioned". Indeed, Creed has been awarded several European royal warrants. Philippa Yeoman imagined it worn by "an old French gentleman who wears a cravat". She and Justin Silk quite liked the bottle, but felt the plastic lid was "tacky". Roja Dove described this as "a good quality and well constructed fragrance with lots of character" - though he personally dislikes grapefruit notes, finding them "slightly sour for perfume". Helen Galdes had a pretty shrewd idea of who might buy Creed: "They are tremendously loyal and like their privacy - the sort of people who would never buy designer fragrances and don't necessarily want

to tell people what they're wearing."


Guerlain. pounds 36 for 50ml of eau de toilette

This romantic fragrance, created in 1889, commemorates Aime Guerlain's young English sweetheart, whose parents forbade her to follow him back to France. Our two young prospective consumers pronounced it "a classic" without the benefit of this story, perhaps because of its lavender and woody notes. The bottle particularly struck them as "classy", but they were unable to say for certain what underlay the Jicky fragrance.

Understandably, Roja Dove of Guerlain was delighted to hear this: "You should never be certain of a perfume. That's why they become classics, because they hold people's fascination." Unlike modern perfumes, in which the top note (what you smell first) has become ultra important, traditional fragrances achieve their full effect only after half an hour to an hour. As Roja pointed out: "They were meant to smell good when you arrived where you were going."