Inspiring Perfumes Series Pt. 4: Le Labo’s Iris 39 (2006)

Le Labo Iris 39 © Victor Wong
Le Labo Iris 39 © Victor Wong

[I want to write about some of the perfumes that have influenced and led me to the creation of my perfume brand, Zoologist Perfumes. They have sparked ideas and given me new understanding about niche fragrances and the marketing of them.]

Pt. IV. Perfume and Gender – Le Labo’s Iris 39

Spring, 2013

Dear Le Labo,

I have a question about your fragrances. Are they all unisex? That’s the feeling I get from browsing your website. However, upon closer examination of the product photos, some bottle labels read “Femme” and some “Homme”. So I guess they are not unisex? I am a man and really like your Iris 39 fragrance, but it reads “Femme” on the label.

Sincerely Yours,

Dear Victor,

Iris 39 is an unisex fragrance. Just ignore those photos with our old labels and buy all our products.

Le Labo.

Not exactly what they wrote, but I got the idea – not too long ago, Iris 39 was a women’s fragrance, but by not specifying which gender it’s for, the potential market simply had doubled.

But I knew Iris 39 was for women, because it smelled just too beautiful to me. There were no rough edges, just very rich powdery green iris mixed with a little bit of ginger juice, a hint of some sweet bread smell, and a drop of sweat from the baker lady who is looking at you tenderly in a softly lit morning kitchen while she kneads the dough.

I wore Iris 39 perfume and went out only twice; one time taking a subway and an older woman sitting in front of me looked at me with an ambiguous smile, as if she was telling me, “You smelled nice, but son, it’s a women’s perfume you are wearing.” The other time I wore it to work, and I had to walk over to a programmer’s cubicle to talk to him about some bugs. I could hear he was listening to some death metal; and as he saw me coming he immediately paused the music, but he wasn’t prepared for the cloud of Iris 39 that I brought along with me. I was very uncomfortable talking to him because I knew I over-applied my perfume and his balls were falling off because of that and no electric guitar could save them.

I remember some guy on wrote, “If a man wants to wear a woman’s perfume, he is free to do so, but let’s not pretend that fragrances have no gender associations to them.” I actually agree, although I have reached the point of I don’t f*king care what others think.

But that’s just me and a small group of people (I think) who don’t care. I could have done a more thorough marketing research before deciding which gender my niche perfumes are for, but at the end, I trusted my gut instinct and designed one for each category: Beaver is unisex, Panda is for women, and Rhinoceros is for men. (Although the latter two turned out unisex.) When it came to the label art illustrations, I asked the illustrator to draw all male animal characters. I believed that most (straight) men simply would not buy a bottle or packaging with a hint of feminism. (God damn, there’s a flower!) Women, I think, are more relaxed and flexible, though. If a bottle label has a female character, I think women will most likely think that this is a women’s product; if it has a male character, they might think it’s attractive, seductive or “whatever”; for men, any hint of feminism could challenge their sense of security in their masculinity, even if the perfume itself smells unisex or masculine.

I am not sexist, but you can call me stereotypical, I’m just applying my observation to product development.

Author: Victor Wong

A perfume lover - niche, designer, modern, vintage, I love them all. I am also the owner of Zoologist Perfumes, a small Canadian perfume house. Please visit or for more info!

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