When I first fell into the perfume rabbit hole, I limited myself to the artier, more intellectualized side of Fumetown, at sites such as Bois de Jasmin, Kafkaesque, Persolaise, Now Smell This, The Non-Blonde, and Grain de Musc. While these sites certainly do often address factors such as price and “performance,” these are usually secondary to questions of artistic appreciation, historical contextualization, and whatnot. For some years, in fact, I believed that these websites pretty much defined the ethos of the perfume community. But that was before I discovered a whole slew of fraghead YouTubers.
While the YouTube perfume community is impressively diverse, it features a contingent of more “dude” or “bro”-oriented fragrance aficionados and they have piqued my curiosity, both as a perfume consumer and a gender detective. On the one hand, there is the highly polished, metrosexual, Jeremy, with a male model persona that sometimes reminds me of Ben Stiller’s Zoolander. Jeremy seems to be the undisputed video fraghead progenitor, a strutting, king-making, European pretty boy that many other male reviewers love to hate. It probably goes without saying that this negative attention fully demonstrates Jeremy’s ongoing influence in this segment.
In fact, some of the perfume dudes, with their “keep it real” ball caps and no-nonsense talk about (mostly designer) fragrances, effectively present themselves as a conventionally masculine (in North American terms) alternative to the metrosexual, unisex, or gay vibe that underlies much of the perfume and fashion worlds. For them, the world of perfumery is less like art appreciation than a pick-up game of basketball. And make no mistake, serious fraghead dudes are in it to win it. And so they may wax (non-poetic) about a fragrance’s endless “endurance,” “beast mode” projection, and capacity to “get the job done.” In fact, they may only ever offer a cursory glance at a perfume’s actual scent profile.
True mansprayers extol a perfume’s size and endurance, with “beast-mode” fragrances being those that take up acres of space and last all night. Though just about everyone who loves perfume wants it to have some presence, hardcore dudes’ assumption that others actually WANT to smell them coming from a mile away is sometimes astonishing. And it’s implicit in comments like this: “I know Aventus is expensive, but unless I use six or seven sprays, the performance just isn’t there.” Six or seven sprays? At one time? Of Aventus!? Will it reap compliments from the ladies? Perhaps, but this may well be because women are rarely socialized to be honestly assertive to men who violate their personal space, including, perhaps, their olfactory space. No, most of us will smile and slide over on the subway seat, rather than confront Captain ManSpreader.
The often relentless focus on a fragrance’s ability to “garner compliments from the ladies” deserves more focus. We should note that it is vanishingly rare for one of these dudes to acknowledge gay or bi men who surely make up some segment of their audience. For that matter, dudes are usually talking solely to other dudes — a la locker room — and usually seem to forget that there are probably quite a few women (like me) lurking in the bromosphere. And frequently, the dude focus on a fragrance’s “compliment factor” is codified to the point that they will actually count the number of compliments it has “garnered.” Spoiler alert, it is usually supposed “crowd-pleasers” like Sauvage, Bleu de Chanel, and, yes, Aventus, that are said to most reliably “impress the ladies.” Happily, there are fewer and fewer references to “panty-droppers,” a term that inevitably leaves me me utterly pissgusted (pissed + disgusted).
In case you can’t tell, this competitive, macho extreme of perfume discourse is jarring and strange to me as a feminist who relates to fragrance primarily in social and aesthetic terms. It’s sort of like being a wine connoisseur who falls into a conversation about how quickly a particular vintage will get you (and “your lady”!) totally wasted. That said, the happy surprise for me has been that, despite some of the strands of heteronormative sexism and overzealous consumerism, I have frequently been impressed by some perfume dudes’ efforts to stretch their viewers’ sensibilities by challenging boring stereotypes of masculinity. In fact, I find it utterly delightful to watch a bearded bro in a Steelers ball cap explain to other bros that they shouldn’t shy away from florals. “Don’t restrict yourself, dude! Wear what you like.”
I should also confess that I ended up buying one fragrance, the bargain-priced Bentley Intense for Men, solely on the advice of a pretty hard core perfume dude. I don’t regret it either — it’s boozy, leathery and rich — though, sadly, it has yet to garner me any compliments from the ladies.
I’m curious: Do you appreciate and enjoy a wide range of perfume commentary and analysis or tend to stay more on either the consumer or aesthetic end? Do you follow a particular blogger or vlogger who challenges conventional North American notions of masculinity? If you identify as queer or gender non-binary, do you feel like there’s a space for you in the perfume community? Comment below if you’re so inclined.