The scent of a woman, sold to men

TUESDAY, MAY 29, 2007

Rhubarb. Geranium. Orange blossom. That lineup might sound better suited to a farmer’s market, but some of the biggest names in fragrance are gambling that these seemingly unmanly aromas are the future of men’s cologne.

Creating fragrances for men has always been a tricky business. Long averse to anything remotely feminine, many men prefer traditional woodsy or soapy scents, or better yet, nothing at all.

But a new generation of younger men has been fueling fragrance sales with a willingness to experiment with exotic ingredients. As the market gets more competitive, fragrance makers are becoming increasingly adventurous in their offerings.

The result: an olfactory free-for-all at the men’s cologne counter that features scents often more evocative of women’s perfumes than traditional male fragrances. A new Burberry scent has hints of mimosa and port wine. Key ingredients in John Varvatos’ latest entry, Vintage, include crisp rhubarb, “artisanal” quince fruit paste and Albanian juniper berries. Kenneth Cole’s R.S.V.P. boasts notes that include “wet grass” and “soft cashmere.” And Tom Ford just started selling scents in his men’s store called Tuscan Leather and Tobacco Vanille.

“You have to be careful,” says Richard Herpin, a perfumer with fragrance and flavor company Firmenich, which has developed fragrances for Vera Wang and Bond No. 9. He describes the creative process as trial and error. “You don’t want to overdo it because then you get into something that’s not wearable for men.”

But makers aren’t simply trying to appeal to men. One advantage of fruitier, more floral scents is their potential for sales to women, some of whom have long preferred men’s cologne over those designed especially for them. Meanwhile, new so-called unisex scents – Calvin Klein’s ck one was one of the first when it debuted in 1994 – are also launching.

Indeed, far from downplaying their feminine side, some of the new men’s colognes flaunt it. Promotional materials for Viktor & Rolf’s Antidote, which is made with jasmine, call it a “dandy fragrance” for men who appreciate fine tailoring and sartorial wit. The name of Jean Paul Gaultier’s new cologne includes the French word for flower: It’s called Fleur du Male.

In 2006, the fragrance with the highest overall sales among new launches in department stores and boutiques, according to market researcher NPD Group, was a men’s scent: Sean “Diddy” Combs’ Unforgivable. Mr. Combs’ cologne is heavy on citrus – Sicilian lemon, Moroccan tangerine and grapefruit – and has hints of sparkling Champagne, sage, cashmere and sea moss.

With that in mind, men might want to be careful about wearing the newest scents to the office. “For work, keep it clean and serious,” says Samantha von Sperling, an image consultant in New York. Anna Soo Wildermuth, a consultant in Elmurst, Ill., suggests men apply any scents lightly for work and choose “a soapy smell, like Irish Spring.”


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