Shaving Science

A Q&A with Zerlina Dubois, King C. Gillette Master Perfumer

man applying beard oil

For most of the last century, Hollywood gave us tough but clean-shaven men to look like. These days, roughly half of all men are back to sporting some manner of facial hair and believe they look better with it. That number climbs to 2 in 3 among millennial men aged 25 to 34.

Beards are definitely in. But, as anyone whose had one for longer than a couple of weeks is finding out, there’s a lot more to it than not shaving.

The Gillette Company wants to help. Best known for a smooth shave, Gillette is honouring the return of the beard with a brand of beard care products named after the company’s founder, King C. Gillette. It’s an intriguing concept that elaborates on the nostalgically masculine craft of facial grooming, building seamlessly from razor shaving to full-on beard care.

The King C. Gillette (KCG) brand, and particularly its signature fragrance, must navigate the predominantly youthful beard-wearing crowd for whom the idea of masculinity is a moving target. Things that once defined masculinity have loosened considerably. Are beards even masculine? Are men? What is masculine? And what does it smell like?

Master Perfumer Zerlina Dubois, creator of the KCG fragrance, gives us answers to these and other questions about men, beards, and her role in bringing the King C. Gillette brand to life. Dubois is among the top handful of only a few hundred master perfumers in the world. She graduated from the prestigious Roure Perfume School in Grasse, France, and has more than a hundred fragrances in the marketplace. She has been with the Procter & Gamble Company for 33 years and was recently named vice-president. She is also a member of the
company’s highly regarded Victor Mills Society.

Hi Zerlina! When Did Beards First Start to Become ‘A Thing’?

Men have been sporting beards – long, flowing numbers – for a lot longer than they haven’t been. Famous and powerful men, even gods, were rarely depicted without them. Historically, there have been very few companies that take male grooming seriously. Gillette is one of the few.

In fact, the King C. Gillette brand, named after the company’s founder, hearkens back to the beginning of modern male grooming. This kind of puts things in perspective. With or without beards – or coiffed facial hair – it was common in King Camp Gillette’s time for men to be shaved and styled by a barber. Shaving your own face was something you did not want to try at home.

I don’t think there is any doubt that the double edge safety razor he first brought to market was responsible for so many men finally taking matters into their own hands, from the comfort of their own bathroom!

So, the Shaving Brand Gillette is Now Embracing the Beard? How Does That Work?

In the same way it always has: research, test, improve, connect with consumers. When Procter & Gamble acquired the Gillette company, it was clear to us almost immediately that shaving and beard care products could benefit enormously from our expertise in hair conditioners, skin cleansers and moisturisers, and especially in fragrance.

What’s Procter & Gamble’s Connection to Fragrance?

Procter & Gamble is one of only a handful of consumer product companies that know how to create fragrances that layer seamlessly into various products, display well during use, and remain potent for long periods of time under all sorts of conditions. What’s more, we have the internal capabilities – thanks to our House of Perfume – to do this with quite subtle formulations. We are constantly researching and testing in order to understand consumer trends and identify corresponding scents that improve a person’s mood, outlook, and confidence.

Gillette, in turn, has done a tremendous amount of science on facial hair follicles, hair growth, geometry, friction, and so on. Because they have have put an extraordinary amount of work into razor design and shaving gels designed to offer an ever-closer and more comfortable shaving experience – and because beards are here to stay – they are naturally using their understanding of men’s needs to help. Everyone wants facial hair to look good and feel good.

But here’s the kicker – it needs to smell good, too. A guy’s beard is right under his nose. And if he plans on kissing anyone, it’ll be right under that person’s nose, too!

man applying fragrance to his beard

Are Men Typically Aware of What They Smell Like?

It’s easy to generalise that men are less equipped to know or care how they smell. Women do have a better sense of smell than men. But it’s also true that, in terms of fragrance, men have traditionally simply had fewer options. This had mostly to do with outdated male and female roles and relationships. As a result, we have been conditioned to accept that women must somehow smell ‘better’ than men. Of course, men want to smell good to their partners, and their partners want them to as well! The point here, I think, is that expectations used to be much lower across the board, when it came to what men actually smelled like and how much it mattered.

But that’s changing. Men’s and women’s roles have been shifting for some time, and men no longer have to smell like Brut and Aqua Velva. There are many more unisex fragrances these days, and changes across society mean men have been adjusting their idea of how they should look, smell, and act. As a result, their grooming and shaving habits have evolved.

So, What is a Man Supposed to Smell Like?

Scent in products for men wasn’t even considered worth mentioning until the 1960s, when an ad for Gillette’s Sun Up aftershave described its fragrance as ‘brisk and buoyant’, and claimed that women would like it, too. For the most part, fragrance design for personal care products marketed to men has been a self-limiting proposition. As long as masculine was defined as rugged, fresh, sharp, or leathery, why would a man want to smell like anything else? This has been helped along by the fact that the defining masculine scent, the classic fougerè of bergamot, geranium/lavender and oakmoss, has been around since the late 1800s!

So, part of the answer is that the smell of ‘masculine’ changes with the attitudes of and about men. The fougerè is still used as the base for most male fragrances, but simple and woodsy has evolved to include sweeter, citrusy notes – even creamy vanilla and fresh lavender.

This is, of course, driven primarily by age. Generation Y and Z, or those born after 1980, are the ones redefining the gender rules. Social media adds a lot of stress to the situation, but it also offers enormous support for people to embrace their own individuality. Men are making statements with the way they keep or groom their beards and facial hair. That means they are much more aware and in need of moisturisers, for example, than in the past.

Typically, you see trends in fragrance emerge in a certain order: first fragrance, then skincare, then body and hair care, and finally in
antiperspirants and deodorants. We’re still learning that there is a lot of undeveloped potential in the male olfactive space. Getting it right for men and beards is a huge opportunity. The difference here – with the KCG scent – is that we didn’t wait for these fragrance trends to eventually trickle down from a fine fragrance category. We deliberately designed what could already be considered a fine fragrance for the lineup’s launch.

How Does a Fine Fragrance Work?

We know from our research and experience that a man’s beard can smell a lot of different ways. The fragrances you will find in today’s beard care products are going to be a slightly pushed masculine version of those vanillas, florals, peppers and citruses that the newer generations are open to.

Keep in mind that how a beard smells ultimately depends on how the fragrance is constructed and formulated into the product. The magic happens when you build a fragrance with top, middle, and base notes. The top notes are volatile, which means they are the first thing you notice, even before you use the product. That first impression is there to set a mood of confidence and pleasure for the user.

The heart of a fragrance emerges as the product is used and interacts with your body. This reinforces the wisdom of your choice by letting you know that the product is working quite well.

Base notes linger for others to smell and identify.

Does Beard Hair Need Extra Help Smelling Good?

Due to the quantity of hair and its proximity to the mouth, there are plenty of opportunities over the course of a day for a man’s beard to retain additional odours.

A beard is just not going to look, or feel, or smell great without a little work. For starters, beard hair is twice as thick as scalp hair. Density and growth pattern can vary widely. It can be curly or straight. Plus, guys have a bunch of different ways to wear beards. The burly brewer’s beard, the five o’clock shadow, short and sweet, chin and jowls, a big old ‘stache…you name it. So really, the challenges of trimming and grooming can be quite different.

Don’t forget, with a beard, shaving just became more complicated, too. There may be less yard to mow, but you have to know where to stop. One benefit of face shaving that men often overlook is how much of a deep clean it really is. Shaving with a razor is a superb way to exfoliate. Under a beard, all the dead skin cells, sweat and sebum that normally get scraped off when you shave build up. Skin dries out, pores get clogged. You just don’t get that same fresh, clean feel and smell that comes with a nice shave. So, men benefit from beard care products formulated to do specific things.

Shaving gels, for example, must retain moisture in beard hairs, keeping them swelled and easier to cut, while allowing blades to glide easily over skin with minimal irritation.

Beard and face wash are all about a quick full lather and easy rinse. Mild cleansers combine with hair conditioners and oils to leave beard hair feeling soft and smooth. A dab of menthol leaves the skin beneath feeling cool and refreshed.

Balms and oils are designed for conditioning and finishing, basically making the beard feel light, smooth, soft, and healthy-looking.

Where Does Fragrance Fit Into All of This?

Fragrance basically seals the deal. Smell is arguably the most powerful of the senses – it is closely associated with triggering memories, emotions, and influencing state of mind. The average nose is capable of recognising around 10,000 different odours.

When we want to be attractive, which is pretty much all the time, we think it’s about how we look. But smell is really the thing that gets us there, not just for other people but in our own minds, too. Smelling good builds confidence to be ourselves and open up to the world. So you can see how just the right scent can make all the difference in a personal care product – especially one that goes right under your nose!

Fragrance is certainly about smell, but it is also about how molecules derived sustainably from nature can be released in a controlled way into the products people use every day. Procter & Gamble has decades of experience making fragrances like KCG that perform well on all types of men with all types of skin and hair. We are the ones making sure that guys are equipped with a fragrance that will serve them in all the right ways.

Is Fragrance Just as Important for Men as it is for Women?

Yes. Absolutely.

Is Fragrance More Important than How Well Something Works?

It’s all important. A product has to work if its maker expects someone to buy it more than once. Gillette has a reputation for extensive testing and innovation when it comes to providing a better shaving experience. Men typically like to know how things work, and then use that knowledge to support the belief they are basing their decision to buy on rational terms. We all know this is a generalisation, but we also know how scent works. Men may still want to be assured of making a rational decision, but the presence of the right scent will lead them to that conclusion as surely as anything they may read or hear about the product.

The picture is beginning to come clear. Beards are here to stay, and they have opened the door for the average guy to indulge in personal grooming to a much greater degree than in the past. Now Gillette has a brand of beard care products – a one-stop facial hair shop – named after its founder.

Tell Us About the Heritage of the King C. Gillette Brand

The King C. Gillette brand is Gillette at its finest and expresses the history of the company’s innovation in razors, shaving and beards, and its beginnings in Boston in 1901.

This brand is about reaching back to that era, when shaving was completed with hand-crafted items and well-honed technique. Done properly, there is an element of luxury to shaving that carries over to the care and pampering of today’s beards. The brand not only recalls this heritage, but it applies the same focus to the design and formulation of its products.

King Camp Gillette, creator of the original safety razor

It makes sense that the company responsible for almost everything there is to know about shaving would understand exactly what is involved in sporting first-class growth. King C. Gillette offers men their own toolkit of shaving, trimming, and beard care products, each with its
particular purpose and efficacy. And it comes as a set! Naturally, the King C. Gillette signature fragrance puts a bow on the entire package.

Aside from the heritage elements and messaging, I would say the King C. Gillette brand is the height of modern masculine appeal – precisely because it pays so much attention to the details of beard care and grooming, and elevates the importance of a scent that is subtle, sexy, wide-ranging, and ownable by men.

Can You Tell Us More About the King C. Gillette Fragrance?

I mentioned earlier the magic of designing with top, middle, and base notes. The fragrance was carefully balanced to be most effective for each type of beard care product. Washes and conditioners rinse off, so you want the fragrance to activate with water. Balms and oils are designed to stay on, so the fragrance must linger without overpowering. There is also a progression of desired tactile experiences that accompany shaving and beard prep – refreshing, cooling, softening, lightness. The signature scent is designed to supplement all of these considerations.

What Does It Smell Like?

Let me try to describe it for you this way: Take Pink Pepper, freshly crushed Mint and Italian Bergamot in one hand. Ginger, Cardamom, Clove and Cinnamon in the other. Rub them together quickly and sniff. That is the opening, a fresh yet complex first impression, full of promise and energy.

The heart notes of KCG are bold, a similar contrasting interplay of Geranium and French Lavender with Vanilla Bourbon Oil, Sage and Jasmine. Here, Labdanum Oil offers a nuance of soft leather, and Lily of the Valley a touch of elegance.

Leathery notes linger and blend into the slight musk of Asian Patchouli Oil, an excellent complement to the creamy vanilla, almond and sun-warmed hay of Equatorial Tonka Bean.

The resulting scent is certainly masculine, but with enough surprises to leave you feeling open to anything that awaits you.

With King C. Gillette, we felt it was important to design a fragrance that called to mind the heritage of fine beard-wearing, a sort of gender memory that brings back a sense of ritual and craft to modern-day beard care. But we did it in a way that any modern guy can own when he steps out for the evening.

What Can You Tell Us About the Future of Fragrance Trends?

The world is moving faster than ever. In the fragrance world, we are able to identify broad trends, but the pace of integration is accelerating, and the order of integration – which category of consumer products might lead a particular trend- is shifting.

These days, the kind of smells that make you say, oh, I LOVE THAT can come from anywhere at any time. Right now, we see smells originating from trends in food, beverage, and cocktail mixology. When we think about fragrance, products, and people, we have to be open to any consumer experience that is a favourable fit.

One thing you can count on: unisex in fragrance is here to stay. There will always be touches of masculinity or femininity in fragrance, but the touches will get smaller, and there are no longer any smells or ingredients off limits for men or women.

Gender fluidity and shifting roles at home and in the workplace are driving the boom in male grooming. This broad trend will accelerate, as well. For men, the entire category of premium body grooming products is expanding rapidly.

High-end shaving and beard care are just the beginning. Traditionally feminine skincare products like make-up, masks and moisturisers are being repurposed and rebranded for men. Changes in habits, behaviours, and relationships among men are further specialising male personal care in the form of tattoo moisturisers, body scrubs, and genital washes and sprays.

We are witnessing a rapid progression in social encounters, personal identity, and self-image. The exciting thing is that this means the creative space for what is possible in the world of fragrance will only expand!

The Power of Beard Oil: Benefits and Usage Guide

Be Your Best

The Power of Beard Oil: Benefits and Usage Guide

2024-02-19 14:00:08By King C Gillette

King C Gillette

King C Gillette

King C Gillette