Shopping for fragrances has always been categorized by two genders, male and female, and the scents themselves often reinforce gender stereotypes.
Spring feminine florals for women, and woody musks for men. These stereotypes don’t accurately reflect the world we live in today, which sees gender and sexuality as a spectrum.
Queer-owned home fragrance brand Boy Smells has long been a proponent of developing scents that defy the gender binary commonly associated with fragrance. The brand even coined the term “genderful” to describe their fragrances, which exist across the entirety of the gender spectrum.
Launched last week, Boy Smells released its first collection of fine fragrances, Cologne de Parfum, to fill the void that exists between traditional male and female fragrances.
“We love to use the word ‘genderful’ when describing the brand, which is kind of the opposite of genderless,” Boy Smells co-founder Matthew Herman tells Very Good Light. “Rather than be a blank slate, we prefer to simultaneously embrace masculine and feminine together into pro-gender-multiplicity.”
The range of five unique genderful scents from the cult candle brand remains true to the brand’s values of fluidity and exploration. “I like unexpected notes to play well against more familiar things,” says Matthew.
In this range of scents, you will find fresh florals, heady patchouli, sharp cedarwood, and playful suede. “I love playing with tradition and turning it on its head,” says Matthew.
This unique approach to formulating scents and storytelling through scent is very apparent in the candle brand’s first step into the personal fragrance category and can be seen from the blends of notes, bottle design, and even the names themselves. We sat down with Boy Smells co-founder Matthew Herman to learn more about his journey into fine fragrance, his favorite notes, and how this fragrance launch remains true to the Boy Smells universe.
From candles to fine fragrance
Boy Smells started as an independent candle company in 2016 and quickly become a mega-success, dominating every beauty influencer’s Instagram feed.
“Personal fragrance has always been the next natural step, and in a lot of ways, is the best articulation of our values,” says Matthew, who described the process of formulating the collection as being “intricate and intimate.”
Matthew describes the differences between formulating a candle and personal fragrance: “It differed from candle scent development in that there is a much more personal aspect to it — down to how the ingredients will interact with the chemistry of the skin.”
“That being said, we still brought our hallmark approach of mixing traditionally masculine and feminine notes together, notes that reflect the complexity of modern identity.”
The Cologne de Parfum collection
The scents in the Cologne de Parfum collection are multifaceted and sophisticated, to say the least. Unlike the classic Marc Jacobs Daisy and Abercrombie and Fitch Fierce that personify the classic gender constructs, Boy Smells has taken a different approach by balancing both ends of the gender spectrum in each scent.
“Since our brand is about refusing the constructs embedded in the social fabric, we wanted the Cologne de Parfum collection to challenge the expectations that society places us on us,” says Matthew.
Matthew notes classic mythology and the “idyllic” archetypes that come along with them, such as being “perfect” people, as major influences for this new evolution of Boy Smells.
“We reframed these stories in the context of today, shifting the narrative toward one of self-empowerment,” he says. “Each scent in the collection is inspired by a recontextualized myth as we aim to prompt a collective shift toward a more accepting world.”
You can see this creative conceptualization, particularly in the fragrance Violent Ends, which Matthew notes as one of his favorites. Violet Ends is said to be the retelling of the goddess Kali, who is known to be the goddess of death and destruction. Kali destroys evil in order to protect the innocent.
“Violet Ends is about letting go of things that no longer serve you; it is permission to thrive and flourish by disposing of the past,” says Matthew. He describes this fragrance as having, “smoky notes of divine papyrus, black tea, and tobacco leaves [to] underscore bountiful notes of violet and rhubarb.”
Featuring the classic millennial pink label, “the bottle and cap are very architectural, like a roman column,” says Matthew. He notes neoclassicism and “rewriting historical references with bent perspectives” as a starting point for the bottle design process.
The brand formulated this new line using the highest quality fragrances, natural materials, and advanced master perfumery techniques. The Boy Smells Cologne De Parfum is formulated in compliance with the Sephora Clean standards and Galeries Lafayette Go For Good standards. When it comes to tips for the best application, Matthew likes to apply his fragrance first thing in the morning when he wakes up and then again later in the day to evoke a specific mood.
Below, take a peek into the new extension of the Boy Smells “genderful” universe with the five scents recently launched as part of the Cologne de Parfum collection.
Flor De La Virgen, $98
– Top: Pomelo, Lemon Rind, Fig leaf– Mid: Saffron, Jasmine Petals, Ivy leaves– Dry: Cistus, Olibanum, Labdanum, Clear Musks, Ambrox
– Top: Bergamot, Mint Leaf, Green Peppercorn, Galbanum– Mid: Orris, Mate, Tagete, Sandalwood– Dry: Vetiver, Cedarwood Virginia, Ambrox
Violet Ends, $98
– Top: Rhubarb, Bergamot, Black Pepper– Mid: Violet, Black Tea, tobacco leaf, Incense, Orris– Dry: White Birch, Tanned Leather, Smoked Papyrus
Rose Load, $98
– Top: Rhubarb, Cardamom, Pink Peppercorn– Mid: Rose Petals, Turkish Rose Absolute, Raspberry Blossom– Dry: Papyrus, Agar Wood, Sandalwood
Suede Pony, $98
– Top: Saffron, Pineapple, Cardamom, Plum– Mid: Violet, Hazelnut, Coconut Water, Suede– Dry: Patchouli fraction, Labdanum, Blond Woods