For the solo perfumer marketing his or her output, creating a successful men's fragrance is the ultimate challenge. It is a good deal harder than developing a new woman's fragrance.
Look at it this way. For a woman's fragrance, you want something that smells nice, lasts nicely (assuming you are allowed to use synthetic substitutes for those natural aroma materials of animal origin shunned today), is compounded with a touch of artistry, and is a bit different than available mass market perfumes.
So, for a woman's fragrance, you make something that smells nice, is long lasting, and is clearly an alternative to "known" fragrances. You find something floral, add a little this and that, boost it up with some great base notes and, bingo! A new and beautiful perfume!
In spite of the hundreds of perfumes now being launched each year, the market is wide open. The needs of the mass market -- celebrity fragrances, for example -- are such that they must be least "common denominator" perfumes, acceptable to as many fans of the celebrity as possible and created by perfumers who are severely limited in the raw materials they can employ due to cost constraints imposed by their clients.
(Synthetic aroma chemicals are not necessarily inexpensive. But often perfumers are required to use the least expensive synthetics in order to meet preset cost objectives.)
I'm making it seem easier than it really is, but look now at what is involved in creating a successful fragrance for men.
Creating a successful fragrance for men
Men, it seems, are just starting to use cosmetics -- in places like England and Asia. Men, in our recent history, have been limited by culture in their exploration of the scented universe. Lots of older -- and younger -- men don't use fragrance at all. This is not because they claim fragrance allergies or are phobic about anything not "natural." For many men an appreciation of fragrance simply isn't a part of their culture.
Worse still, for many men who do use fragrance, the only fragrance they will use is after shave found in the shaving supplies section of their local supermarket.
So for starters, the male market for your niche fragrance is far smaller than it would be for a woman's fragrance. But there is still more to come. The older segment of the male market tends to be tradition bound and not very experimental. Just as they will wear the same styles in clothing that they wore in their teens and twenties, they tend to stick with the same fragrances they wore during those years, if they are still available. (This helps explain why certain men's fragrances remain on the market for so many years!)
We are now left with just a handful of men, generally young in age or spirit. This is our market. But there are still some serious challenges for anyone wanting to sell them a fragrance. Before they will buy a fragrance, it has to pass these three tests --
(1) It has to be acceptable to the women in their lives -- wives, lovers, co-workers, friends,
(2) It has to be OK with other men, and
(3) It has to create an immediate, favorable impression.
Men who might try a fragrance from a boutique perfumery are sophisticated in their knowledge of perfume. If your fragrance doesn't delivering something new and wonderful, they aren't going to buy it.
My own thinking of late (I'm working on a man's fragrance and feeling frustrated with my progress) is that a new fragrance is like an advertisement. The top note is your headline. It has to stop the prospect in his tracks and get him to savor the heart notes of your fragrance. The heart notes are the text of your ad.
The top note had to stop the prospect, not through shock but through a compelling "message," a promise of fragrant (and possibly other) delights yet to come. Then the heart notes -- the text of your ad -- must pay off the promise of the headline or the customer's fixation will be lost.
Here's something I can promise you: unless your top notes are able to send an immediate, compelling and important message to the customer, and unless your middle notes pay off the promise this message, you won't make a sale.
If your fragrance doesn't excite a man until it begins to unfold, you are too late. He won't hang around long enough to discover the good work you did down in the heart and base notes of your fragrance. The successful sale starts with a successful top note, and it's very, very difficult to achieve.
To succeed with a men's fragrance, you have to work incredibly hard to make your fragrance incredibly special. But, if you do succeed, there is the possibility that your fragrance too will be one of those that survive and sell successfully for many, many years!