The gender of the seven olfactory families

Which Scents should I use to create a masculine or feminine perfume?

Our perfumers have an answer for that!

May 14, 2021

The categorisation of perfumes as we know it today dates from 1984, when the French Society of Perfumers revisited the classification of fragrances to classify them according to key olfactory characteristics.


The classification done by the French Society of Perfumers features seven different olfactory families that are grouped either by raw materials or by traditional accords. These olfactory families are the citruses, the aromatics, the florals, the woods, the chypres, the orientals and the leather family, which are deliciously represented in the scent library of The Alchemist Atelier.


So the question here is the following one: Do perfumes have a "gender"?

The reality is that dividing perfumes into men's and women's ones is a relatively new convention as fragrance has been used in different cultures, including Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Ancient Greece and Rome, for various purposes with no separation between genders.


However, we inevitably associate fruity and floral smells for women and woodier and spicier smells for men. This association is actually a result of societal constructs based on gender stereotypes that traditionally associate the woman with grace, sweetness and delicacy attributes and men with strength and character.


The best example of these stereotypes is the names of most of the best selling perfumes, the colour palette and the shapes used for their bottles. But, whereas colours and shapes are easily associated with gender (think about the cliché association to blue for baby boys and pink for baby girls), the association of male and female attributes to smell is not that obvious and generalisable. 


A recent study at Stockholm University invited a group of volunteers to smell various commercial scents in a plain bottle and rating them for masculinity or femininity. Except for the most floral and spicy aromas, their ratings showed little correspondence with the commercial gender categorisations.


Cultural associations also have a substantial influence to define where the borders are between masculinity and femininity. For example, the scent you will associate to your mother or father during your childhood will likely impact what you define as masculine or feminine.


Acknowledging that assigning gender to scents is a societal construct, we want to share with you what olfactory families and specific bases to use to create a perfume are olfactively similar to the most popular masculine fragrances on the market:


The Citruses

The refreshing effect and acidity of this family are highly recognisable in classic Eau de Colognes marketed for men. Zesty Citrus and Green Citrus are two great starting points for building a perfume with a masculine cologne effect. At the same time, Juicy Citrus can bring a juicer effect to create a refreshing feminine fragrance.

Citrus Family


The Aromatics

this olfactory family has traditionally been associated with men, and there is always a good range of aromatic fragrances in the bestseller rankings. Relaxing Aromatic, Deep Aromatic, and Fresh Aromatic are winning bases to construct a masculine fragrance.

Aromatic family


The Florals

Flowers have been used as metaphors of feminine fertility since antiquity, and this olfactory family is associated with feminine perfumes. Use Blooming Floral, Pink Floral, or Exotic Floral to create a feminine floral bouquet and dare to combine them with your favourite accords.

Floral family


The Woods

They bring to fragrance robustness and sharpness usually associated with a masculine character. Fresh Wood, Creamy Wood, and Vibrant Wood are three different interpretations of these attributes.

Woody family


The Chypres

The complex combination of patchouli and oakmoss which defines the Chypre perfumes makes it the perfect ally for feminine and sophisticated fragrances being White Chypre and Moss Chypre the ideal allies to develop a rich chypre structure.

Chypre family


The Orientals

This opulent olfactory family appears out of the desire to recreate the Middle East scents in Western creations. This family is highly versatile, and it is hard to assign a gender to it. The more "gourmand" facet of orientals is more associated with feminine fragrances thanks to its sweetness, and Sweet Oriental is the perfect base for that. In contrast, balmy and ambery notes such as Amber or Myrrh could be used indistinctly between genders.

Oriental family


The Leathers

The smoky and dry notes which identify this olfactory family bring a raw and strong aspect usually found in masculine perfumes. This Olfactory Family is represented in The Alchemist Atelier portfolio by the accord Sensual Leather that will provide this olfactory facet to your fragrance. 

Leather family


At The Alchemist Atelier, we consider that perfumery is an art, and as such, there is no black and white or right and wrong. The association of Olfactory Families to gender is subject to interpretation, and we could quickly find multiple examples that break these rules. Our recommendation? Open your mind, close your eyes, and rely on your nose to pick these ingredients which evoke the emotion you want to express through perfume. Bespoke perfumery has the power to create something unique!