Notes From the Lab: How to Make A Masculine

Posted by Will Carius on

I'm frequently heard to claim that I don't believe in gendered fragrance. And, for the most part, I don't. If it smells good on you and you like it, then wear it. I tell this story a lot, but knew a guy in law school who wore Chanel No. 5, one of the most classically feminine fragrances of all time, and he smelled absolutely terrific. But, sometimes, a more deliberate touch is required, and the thing that I smell in my head must be overtly masculine in order for it to work properly. As it has turned out, Lavender, Interrupted is one of these.

The realization that I was going to have to deliberately push the fragrance into masculine territory initially served as a bit of a road block. I do not generally construct fragrances according to these terms. So I had to do some research into how modern masculines are made and what notes and materials have come to denote a "fragrance meant for guys."

And I hate to tell you this, but masculine fragrance in the modern age is not especially rich in variety. Citrus (which appears in the majority of fragrances anyway), lavender (see previous), moss, and woods dominate. That hasn't changed much over the course of the past century. But modern fragrances incorporate lots of nagarmotha/cypriol/oud, woody amber materials like Iso E Super, Amber X-Treme, and Ambroxan, and specific musks, mostly Tonalide, Ethylene Brassylate, and Galaxolide. That's a lot of technical jargon, so let me explain.

Nagarmotha (or cypriol) is an oil refined from a family of grasses native to India and serves as the basis for most modern oud accords. The vast majority of Western fragrances that claim "oud" as a note have never even been in the same room as real oud. Their oud character is instead comprised of cypriol and two specific materials called Cashmeran and Kephalis, each meant to soften and broaden its smoky, resinous profile. Nagarmotha's rich, peppery, smoky character has become intrinsically linked to masculine fragrance, and, if you want to produce something dark and sexy, it's almost always among the prominent notes in the composition.

Molecular Structure of Iso E Super

Iso E Super, Amber X-Treme, and Ambroxan can be found in the vast majority of modern masculines. Iso E Super, in fact, is the only ingredient in Escentric Molecules 01 (other than alcohol). Amber X-Treme has a shockingly dry character and was, until recently, a captive molecule unavailable to the general public. It's incredibly powerful, even among a very powerful class of materials, and is generally used in trace quantities (unlike the other two). Ambroxan (and its cousin, Cetalox) was originally created as a synthetic alternative to ambergris, but has become so associated with cleanliness and masculine perfumery that it's become remarkably ubiquitous, to the point that it comprises something like 60% of the fragrance material found in Dior Sauvage. In high concentrations, it's aromatically deafening, and anyone who has encountered Dior Sauvage will tell you that you can smell it from about ten feet off. But, in smaller, less all-consuming quantities, it imparts a soft, slightly creamy, very clean feel to fragrances, and it lasts on skin and clothing for hours on end.

Tonalide, Ethylene Brassylate, and Galaxolide are synthetic musks, and you'll find at least one of them in the vast majority of masculine fragrances in production today. Their exact structures and characteristics are not all that important beyond the idea that Tonalide is a sweet, fruity musk, Ethylene Brassylate is a darker musk with vanilla nuances, and Galaxolide is a sweet, intensely powerful, and very floral musk. These three are frequently combined in some ratio with woody amber molecules like Amber X-Treme and Ambroxan to produce the clean, fresh-laundry character inherent in most modern masculines, itself derived from the launch of three landmarks: Drakkar Noir, Green Irish Tweed, and Cool Water.

Molecule Structure of Ethylene Brassylate

Stick with me; I know that was a lot. The overall point here is that the fundamental profile of masculine fragrances these days, at least as it exists in the cultural zeitgeist, is comprised of resin, woody-amber, and laundry musk to produce a fresh, clean character. It's what a lot of people think of when they picture what guys should smell like getting out of the shower, and the freshness and power of these notes has become a major hallmark of popular masculines.

Okay, so I sat down and learned all of this and have just dumped all of that on you. What does it mean for Lavender, Interrupted?

Because I generally don't care for woody-amber materials, experimentation with them in this context has been slow. They're easy to overdose, hard to balance, and often really shrill. So I've learned to use a light touch so as to avoid drowning out the rest of the fragrance, even with the nagarmotha. Some naturals are almost as powerful as isolated synthetic materials, and nagarmotha definitely falls into that category, so trying to balance the oil against the rest of the fragrance AND the woody-amber materials and musks to give it an overtly masculine character has been a bit of a challenge. In truth, I'm still not finished with it, but the adjustments at this point are minor at best. It's hard to make a masculine.

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