How does the ascribed "gender" of fine fragrance impact our decision to try or enjoy something? Conservative mores, which for long viewed fragrance as essentially a feminine accessory, would frown if they could at the thought. But not long past, in the Victorian era men were enthusiastically drenching their lapels and their handkerchiefs with their preferred fragrance, usually floral-derived, to exude a polished, cultivated image. Ancient men and women knew of the power of aromatics and smeared them on their bodies without much regard for whether spikenard or myrrh was considered feminine or masculine.
Nowadays famous and not so famous people regularly bend the rules and cross over to the other side of the counter: My hairdresser's assistant admits she likes to use men's scents because she likes "heavy, spicy stuff"; she's a curvaceous dirty blonde with cherubic features. Angelina Jolie has been wearing Carolina Herrera for men and Bulgari Black for years, both marketed to the XY chromatosome carriers. Kylie Minogue goes for ApoM pour Homme by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Ruggedly male Sean Connery loves Jicky by Guerlain, which is a gender bender perfume to end all gender benders; changing sex direction mid-stream in its illustrious career like an adolescent fulfiling a transgender urge. Quirky French actor Jean Hughes Angland likes to dab such bombshell fragrances as Boucheron Femme and Chanel No.5; he finds it unusual and more interesting. Cross-dressing can be sexy, not only in fashion but in intimate accessories as well, such as fragrance. When bodies come closer and the lights dim, the mind spins at the possibilities.
Of course most fragrances in the niche industry today, be it from Parfumerie Generale, Serge Lutens, Montale, Nasomatto, L'Artisan Parfumeur etc. do not put a specific label of gender on their products, or at the most, they say that fragrances can be shared between the sexes, even if intended mainly for one out of them. So, for our purposes, I won't include them in this small "top gender bender fragrances" list things which are obviously marketed as shared/unisex, but rather things that would surprise. You can feel free to bend any niche to your own devices and see if it fits; the creators won't raise any eyebrow.
Best Masculine Fragrances for Women
Déclaration successfully juxtaposes fresh tonalities with cardamom on top with more risqué animal magnetism in an idiosyncratic mix which is arresting.
The succulent mix of dried fruits and woods in Egoiste is Lutensian before Lutens and thus eminentaly shareable for the ladies.
Nothing predisposes one for the dusky, fruity iris hiding at the core of a fragrance tagged "Homme" so blatantly. Today's hommes are more liberal in their cologne choice and so should you be too!
Dior Eau Sauvage
The bracing tang of a good citric cologne with a floral heart of glass-smooth transparency is as good as anything for cheering men or women up. Eau Sauvage is a classic for a reason and has been relentlessly borrowed since its launch in the 1960s.
For days when nothing but a little butch, yet supremely elegant package fulfills a woman's needs, Équipage is a thoroughbred that gallops steadily.
The definition of rich woody, cuddly but not maudlin. Héritage is classy and pliable enough to wear with homewear when inviting that special someone over.
So lovely that it's a shame not partaking of its effortless charms. A citrusy vetiver with a light tobacco background Guerlain's Vétiver is a marvel to be shared.
Goutal Annick Sables
Technically Sables is presented as a masculine and was indeed conceived for a man, but the sweet caramel background, fusing immortelle and smoky vanilla, is great on women too.
Best Feminine Fragrances for Men
Dense, peppery-tingling, warm, somewhat dangerous. Don't you want your lover to be so? I thought so. Poivre (vintage extrait) is a marvel for that sort of thing.
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle
Now that this is code for 20/30 something cute woman out on the prowl at parties despite the "independent" ads, men can have a field day with this hesperidic fruits, rose, jasmine and patchouli harmony.
Chanel Cuir de Russie
The aristocratic Chanel classic Cuir de Russie, with its iris fond on birch tar leathery accord, always spoke of tweed suits and a leather-upholstered Bentley and those are great things for a man to be seen in. Why not smelled in, as well?
So bitter, starkly green and angular that men will find Silences totally approachable in small doses and not frilly at all.
Really, Cabochard is so close to masculine standard Aramis (both leathery chypres with animalic tonalities, composed by the same perfumer, Bernand Chant) that the leap is self-explanatory. Just get the vintage version in this one.
Bandit is an ash-tray and bitter green quinolines leather chypre. Its creator, Germaine Cellier, was dykey and inspired by models' sweaty underpants. Heterosexual men might find that idea...intriguing for their own reasons.
Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Chyprée
The name predisposes you for a supremely feminine composition. The reality of Une Rose Chyprée is a glorious fragrance for either sex uniting roses with the chypre accord for an intense, retro yet modern feel.
Yves Saint Laurent Opium
Opium by Saint Laurent possesses that classic iron-pressed-linens starchy feel that makes it smell "clean" despite the density of its chords. The spiciness is lifting it into a realm not miles away from masculine offerings.
And of course we can't exclude afore-mentioned Guerlain Jicky, Bulgari Black et al.
Women as Men shot by Helmut Newton.
Oliver Theyskens looking like Frida Kahlo, shot by Karl Lagerfeld for the Maison Michel Spring 2011 lookbook