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Ever since CK One's runaway success back in 1994, perfumers have been trying to find the next unisex hit. But unlike fashion designers—who use things like white button-down shirts, black leather moto jackets, and amorphous wool outerwear as shorthand for androgyny—fragrance pros can't seem to agree on what gender neutrality smells like, exactly.
That's why we took a few recent unisex hits (including CK One's latest revamp) and put them to the test—gathering opinions on whether they skew masculine or feminine. The results: a fragrance that reminds one person of a fancy grandma will read as pure, manly musk to the next. Read on to see what we mean.
Byredo 'Gypsy Water'
$145 for 1.7 oz
The brand says: "A glamorization of the Romany lifestyle, based on a fascination with the myth. The scent of fresh soil, deep forests, and campfires evokes the dream of a free, colorful lifestyle close to nature."
Brittany, Racked Editorial Designer: "I think it skews a little bit more feminine. But it’s in the middle. A dude could wear it."
Chavie, Racked Features Reporter: "This is pretty unisex. I could see myself wearing it."
Spencer, Eater Shooter/Editor: "I’d say it's pretty feminine. Smells like patchouli and perfume and other not good things. At least for a guy to wear. I wouldn’t really like it on a girl either."
Laura, Racked New York News Editor: "Smells like the bar I was in on Saturday. Smells like gin, which is why I say that, and I guess that gives me a more masculine association even though anyone can have gin. I just think of a man smelling more like gin than a woman.
Sonia, Eater Managing Editor: "It smells like a cocktail. I would drink this. It’s bright. A little bit spicy, like all the best cocktails."
Maureen, Eater Producer: "I think this could be unisex-ish. It smells clean."
Caitlin, Racked New York Senior Editor: "A gin and tonic with a vanilla bean for a swizzle stick. Full disclosure: I wear this, like, three days a week."
Tom Ford 'Neroli Portofino'
$65 for 5 oz of Body Spray
The brand says: "To Tom Ford, this scent perfectly captures the cool breezes, sparkling clear water, and lush foliage of the Italian Riviera."
Brittany: "I think this in the middle, too."
Tiffany, Racked Managing Editor: "It smells like a rich man on vacation."
Julia, Racked Features Editor: "It’s very powdery. It’s like, someone stunk up the bathroom, gotta spray this. It’s very powdery. I don’t like it. And I think it leans more feminine."
Chavie: "This is like manly, but it’s like European manly. Like, he’s heavy scented in a club."
Dion, Eater Animator: "This is really nice. It smells like a really clean dude."
Spencer: "This one smells masculine to me. It smells like aftershave or something. This one smells good. It does smell like a clean dude. Tom Ford. That’s what’s up."
Laura: "This definitely smells masculine, like that more grassy scent. There’s something deep underneath it."
Sonia: "This smells like jasmine, kind of. It doesn’t feel too heavy, it’s maybe good for spring, but it does feel more feminine to me."
Kiehl’s 'Original Musk'
$42.50 for 1.7 oz
The brand says: "Begins with an initial creamy, fresh citrus burst of bergamot nectar and orange blossom. Follows with a soft floral bouquet of rose, lily, ylang-ylang and neroli. Dries down to a warm, sensual Oriental finish of tonka nut, white patchouli and, of course, musk."
Brittany: "That’s a lot more masculine, but I would wear that. I think I wear a lot more things that lean masculine, because I like smelling confusing."Julia: "The Musk is a very nice male scent. I’m into it."
Chavie: "This smells like a grandma. It’s very heavy. I would call this 'older woman.'"
Dion: "This is more like oil. This is just like a smell but I think it might be leaning more towards masculine."
Spencer: "I already like the name of this. It sounds manly. It smells bad. It does remind me of my dad’s cologne or aftershave. Not only my dad’s aftershave, but a friend of mine, his dad’s cologne so I guess I would say manly even though it’s a scent that I hate and doesn’t particularly seem manly to me. It doesn’t evoke manliness, but I guess men do wear that scent for some reason."
Laura: "That’s a great description. In the middle on this one too. I think it is more masculine, but as opposed to the Tom Ford I could see a woman wanting to put this scent on for herself."
Sonia: "Oh I like this. It smells like sandalwood. It’s a little bit more woodsy, like a little bit more spicy. I could definitely see it going either way."
Caitlin: "Ooh. This doesn't even register as perfume to me. It just smells...warm. Like someone who takes really soapy showers and then spends lots of time reading leather-bound books in patches of sunlight. "
Korres 'White Tea Bergamot Freesia'
$46 for 1.69 oz
The brand says: "White tea, an indulgence solely for aristocrats of yesteryear China, is one of the most exquisite tea varieties. An invigorating yet sensual blend, due to its fresh, delicate, sweet-toned aroma."
Brittany: "This is definitely girly for sure."
Tiffany: "This is kind of feminine. It’s just fun."
Julia: "This is definitely for women. It’s very clean. I love it, it smells great."
Chavie: "It smells like a good woman’s shampoo."
Spencer: "This one’s feminine. It’s very fruity and sweet and citrus-y. And like floral. It smells like a cocktail. I would drink this. Like a gin cocktail."
Laura: "Probably more feminine because its more floral, and doesn’t have a heavier note that brings it down to a musky, muscular level."
Sonia: "I don’t have anything funny to say about it, but I like it. This is floral. it smells like fruit punch. I would wear it to a bridal shower."
Caitlin: "A Bath and Body Works spray for adults! I like this. It's really sweet and fruity without being headache-y. I think this is the most traditionally feminine scent of the bunch."
Eau de Gaga
$34 for 1 oz
The brand says: "Eau de Gaga is built around a beautiful heart of white violet, an intoxicating flower which fuses male and female attractions. To counterbalance this opulent woody-floral intensity, the scent opens with an invigorating burst of sparkling lime that exudes dynamic vibrancy. It evolves into a sensual trail based on leather, adding a primal quality to the scent."
Brittany: "This is more feminine to me. I don’t think a dude would wear this."
Chavie: "This is among the more unisex, unisex ones. More feminine than masculine."
Ben: "This screams nothing. Like , eh, this is a thing. This exists. This is perfume."
Dion: "This one’s more feminine. But this is more room smell. Not like a person."
Spencer: "This is a great bottle. I think this one falls pretty dead in the middle. It’s a very curious scent. All these other ones on the scale are left and right, and this one’s up and down. It’s crazy."
Laura: "This is definitely more masculine, but I do see the unisex appeal to this. The deep vanilla could really go either way."
Sonia: "It’s like the way your clothes would smell if you wore perfume and then didn’t wash them. Like if you throw them back in your drawer and they get that musky old perfume smell. It’s like aged perfume. But it’s a little floral. Better for a woman."
Caitlin: "Limes and expensive cars. A pile of limes on a new leather car seat, but in a good way."
$355 for 10 mL of Perfume Oil
The brand says: "Deadofnight balances the impact of oudh with green top notes, floral hints of jasmine and rose and the nuanced warmth of sandalwood, amber and musk. The result is a sophisticated fragrance with a lingering sensuality that can be worn to devastating effect by both men and women."
Brittany: "That’s definitely masculine. It’s a bit spicier. But it’s kind of sweet at the same time. It reminds me of candy. Like, licorice or something."
Tiffany: "This one smells aftershave-y. Like my dad."
Julia: "This one really toes the line. Because it sort of smells like my grandma’s Oscar de la Renta, but it also sort smells like, MAN. It’s sort of menthol-y. An aftershave-y menthol man. But also, like an old lady."
Ben Fullon, Vox Paid Media Director: "That’s like a man with a lowercase m. I can’t see my girlfriend wearing this. I can see some guys wearing this."
Dion: "This sounds frightening. I don’t know what this smells like."
Spencer: "I think it does a good job of being kind of ambiguous or androgynous."
Arquiste 'The Architect's Club'
$190 for 3.4 oz
The brand says: "A group of architects gather for cocktails at Mayfair's smartest Art Deco smoking room. As they settle in the warm interior of dark woods, leather and velvet, London's bright young things burst in, frosted martinis in hand, surrounded by a cloud of laughter, white smoke and fine vanilla."
Tiffany: "This one’s spicy. Spicy in an old man way. Old man cigar bar. This is like my grandfather. I would not wear that as a woman."
Julia: "I think this is more unisex than most. It’s very woody. I like it."
Ben: "I like it too. It’s not very strong. It’s nice and mellow. It leans more feminine though. Like, very earth mother. Very I am one with nature in a 'I’m not trying to force it' kind of way."
Dion: "This one is definitely more feminine."
Spencer: "I wouldn’t wear it, but I think it tips a little more masculine. It’s pretty subtle too. I like that."
Laura: "This is like, old school women’s perfume. Like your grandmother has this sitting on her counter. Maybe that’s why men like it, because it reminds them of their grandmothers."
Sonia: "This is also like woodsy, musky. It could go either way. It’s heavier. I would lean feminine too."
Maureen: "Baby powder scent. It smells like my grandma. So I would say feminine. There’s like a musky scent, but a touch at the end. I don’t think I would like a guy wearing this."
Calvin Klein 'ck One Summer'
$54 for 3.4 oz
The brand says: "Bright top notes of zesty citrus and splashing waterfall give an immediate freshness. Watermelon and crushed leaves are naturally cooling and transition into the watery, green aromas of cucumber and water lily as the middle notes"
Brittany: "This one is pretty unisex. Like a frat bro wouldn’t wear this, but maybe like, a guido would? Does that make sense?"
Ben: "Oh man. That smells like the Jersey Shore. This is what they spray right at the entrance of Hollister. That’s a child. It smells like man child."
Julia: "Teen boy who’s getting his first fragrance."
Chavie: "This to me smells like Clinique Happy. Which is a classic women’s scent."
Dion: "This is more masculine. It smells like a guy."
Tiffany: "This one smells like a boy band."
Spencer: "That one seems a little bit more manly, but it’s kind of like Axe Body spray-ey. It’s got that sweet sharp scent. It’s not manly, but I guess boys would wear it."
Sonia: "This smells like sunscreen. I think it could go either way. This is very frat boy on spring break, like I wanna wear something, and play volleyball. So it’s not too heavy. But I would also maybe wear it if I wanted to play volleyball. I think it could be unisex, but maybe a little bit more masculine."
Bond No. 9 'Queens'
$270 for 3.4 oz
The brand says: "An explosive and succulent tuberose tempered by velvety champaca and tea-like osmanthus, sustained by reliable base notes—sandalwood, musk, amber, and benzoin resin."
Brittany: "Definitely feminine."
Tiffany: "Oh god. This is definitely feminine."
Julia: "This is definitely for women, and it’s so sweet. It’s like a sweet old lady. Like a grandma who’s trying to be a little fancy."
Ben: "Aw man. Aww. That’s...I wouldn’t go near a girl that’s wearing this one."
Dion: "I think this would be more girlish. It smells sweet."
Spencer: "I’d say a little bit more feminine. 60% feminine. It’s not too much. It reminds me of some male fragrances though, teenage boys wear like axe or something. A little bit. It’s got that quality."
Laura: "This one’s definitely middle of the road. I don’t get an immediate association with it."
Sonia: "This also feels like it has some light floral notes to it, but I could see a man wearing it more than I could some of the other ones. It’s kind of garden-y. Like garden after the rain, but heavier, not like springtime."
Maureen: "This one’s feminine to me. Like florals. Roses."
Caitlin: "This one is a LOT—really strong and sweet. Like a marshmallow coated in black pepper. If I were to guess, I'd say it's a men's cologne?"
Krigler 'Champfleury 132'
$320 for 3.4 oz
The brand says: "Fresh and tender, Champfleury 132 combines refreshing citrus notes with a sophisticated woody finish. An exuberant celebration of Corsican clementine, lemon and mint before revealing a tender heart of cedar and Provencal lavender. A transition into a smooth and warm finish of white musk, vetiver and patchouli."
Brittany: "I think that’s definitely feminine."
Julia: "Bad Eurotrash man sitting next to you at an expensive dinner."
Ben: "This smells like the soap section at Duane Reade. Like if you were to just open all the soaps and magically have their scents fill the aisle."
Spencer: "This one smells good. I’d say 60% manly, not incredibly. It also has a boozy scent, but in a good way. Maybe it just smells like a bar, but a really fresh, hip cocktail bar."
Laura: "Musky. Musky man. Also some vanilla too."
Sonia: "This is more masculine. It’s what you would wear if you were going to a really nice dinner. Like it’s a little heavier, and not so peachy, which I think a lot of unisex is. It’s not clean. It’s dark and mysterious."
Maureen: "This leans more male to me. It’s clean, a little musky."