The new 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 new 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!
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.