From a NY Times piece titled When Did Perfume Stop Being about Sex?:
For decades, the marketing around perfume made seduction a priority. Fragrance was a bottled way to help someone find a mate, a construct that feels incredibly irrelevant since we now have dating apps, a more efficient and consistent way to find a partner than having someone catch your scent and fall in love with you.
“It just feels really old fashioned and kind of offensive,” Ms. Wells said. “Now we all feel like, ‘This advertiser is going to tell me how I’m supposed to feel or that I want to have sex because of their fragrance or that I want to become an object because of their fragrance?’”
Today, brands talk about fragrance in terms of places and how it will make the wearer feel. Smaller, niche perfume brands like Byredo or Le Labo are advertised as “gender neutral.” These brands don’t play to outdated gender constructs and singular messaging about sex and sexual orientation. It’s not a competition for which perfume is the sexiest; it’s about which one can elicit the strongest emotional connection.
According to Rachel Herz, a neuroscientist and the author of “The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell,” perfume went from marketing “direct themes” like power or sex to encouraging a “personal journey.”
This journey could be one about self-empowerment or being the best “you,” which is what Glossier sells with Glossier You. According to its website, the scent will “grow with you no matter where you are in your personal evolution” because it’s “not a finished product. It needs you.”
A memo from one of the new consumers:
During the pandemic, with stores closed and limited ways to test perfume before buying, Suzanne Sabo, 45, from Levittown, Pa., “blind bought” perfume to treat herself. The first fragrance she ordered was Tom Ford Beauty’s Jasmine Rouge, which she discovered through an ad online.
“There was nothing sensual or sexual about it,” said Ms. Sabo, a grant writer at a technical high school. “It was so basic — it was a description of the scent. I felt like a new woman just wearing the perfume in sweats around my house. I felt like a million bucks.”
Ms. Sabo’s Tom Ford fragrance collection has grown to include Lost Cherry, Soleil Blanc, White Suede and Bitter Peach. “It’s not like we live in the wealthy part of town,” she said. “We’re middle-class moms who were stressed.”