How Ariana Grande's new fragrance breaks free from the gender binary


Ariana Grande is more than just “MOM.” She’s also one of the pop world’s most outspoken advocates for free expression and gender nonconformity.

The most recent example comes in the form of FRANKIE, a new Ariana-branded cologne named after the “One Last Time” singer’s older brother. Packaged in a shiny silver bottle with a poofy black pom pom on top, the scent is sold through the men’s section of manufacturer Ulta Beauty’s website. But according to Ariana and Frankie Grande themselves, FRANKIE is a fragrance for everyone, regardless of gender identity.

On Jan. 15, the elder Grande sibling took to Twitter to clarify that both FRANKIE and ARI (Ariana’s other fragrance) are “non gender exclusive fragrances” that are meant to be “worn by all.” Ariana later co-signed her brother’s gender-inclusive message with a resounding, “yas!”

This move for inclusion is totally in line with a lot of what the 22-year-old singer has been preaching lately. Back in November, Ariana told a pair of radio hosts that they needed to “brush up on their equality” after they insinuated that all girls care about are makeup and cell phones. And more recently, she told a young fan that her new MAC Viva Glam line of cosmetics are for everybody, boys included.

The decision to market FRANKIE as a non-gender-specific scent is also on trend with the greater fragrance industry, as well.

“I’m actually not all that surprised,” Prof. Stephan Kanlian, chair of FIT’s graduate program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management, said. “I think there will be more and more of a trend towards [unisex fragrances], especially among younger celebrities targeting Gen Z.”

“I mean, you just have to look at Facebook,” he continued. “There are how many gender identities to choose from? The traditional marketing demographics [i.e., ‘men’ and ‘women’] don’t apply as much.”

Prof. Kanlian told me that scents have been marketed along gendered lines since about the late 19th century, with woody, musk oil blends targeting men and floral, creamy blends targeting women. Certain men’s fragrances have become cult favorites among women, and vice-versa, but explicitly unisex eaux did not break into the mainstream until 1994 with the release of Calvin Klein’s CK One, which was “designed for men and women to share.”

The forthcoming CK2, available in February, continues its predecessor’s gender-blurred marketing; a recent TV spot features four impossibly attractive straight and gay couples swapping scents (and some bodily fluids) in a host of romantic locales.

Le Labo, Frederic Malle, and Byredo also offer unisex products. These scents blend traditionally masculine notes with traditionally feminine ones—something that actually can’t be said about Ariana’s FRANKIE. The fragrance’s blend of pear, musks, and sandalwood is not “particularly feminine,” Kanlian told me.

But maybe even asking that question is missing the point. Ariana Grande’s fragrance is unisex because Ariana Grande says that her fragrance is unisex. To deny that, just because FRANKIE doesn’t have an equal blend of traditionally masculine and feminine notes, does nothing more than uphold our long-held ideas about gender. It also reinforces the notion that a certain mixture of oils can even be “masculine” or “feminine”—and that those words even mean actual, real things the first place.

Now, it’s worth noting that Ariana is not necessarily trying to break down the gender binary out of the goodness of her heart. She has a product to sell (actually, a couple). Even the most staunchly regressive Uncle Moneybagsian capitalist would probably agree that marketing a traditionally male product like cologne to young men and women (thus opening up the market to as many consumers as possible) makes good business sense.

But regardless of intent, making a celebrity-branded fragrance for all fans, regardless of gender identity, has demonstrable real world effects. It not only disrupts limiting aspects of our socialization process as it relates to gender (e.g., men smell like this and women smell like that), but it removes the stigma from purchasing something in the “wrong” section of a department store. That’s worth a “MOM,” right?

A version of this piece was originally published on Fusion’s Snapchat Discover on Jan. 21, 2016. Hit up our Discover channel every day for more cool stuff like this.

Bad at filling out bios seeks same.

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