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U.S. Patents and Trademark Office
Feminism in a bottle?
THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST SMELLS LIKE

Soon, there will be a Women’s March-inspired perfume called Pussy

By Noël Duan

There are perfumes on the market that purportedly smell like sex, cannabis, or even funeral homes, but what does feminism smell like? In December 2017, New York City resident Fran Moss got a trademark approved for “Pussy Cosmetics and Fragrances,” a potential beauty line inspired by the Women’s March, as evidenced by the perfume bottle mockup she submitted with the application.

The pink bottle wears a knitted pink “pussyhat” in homage to the Pussyhat Project, which was a successful international initiative to create pink beanies with pointed cat ears to wear at the March, in response to President Trump’s derogatory “grab them by the pussy” comment. The movement, which was launched in November 2016, was a success, as there were over 100,000 downloads of the crochet pattern by January 2017, the month of the March.

Moss isn’t just planning to make a perfume, though. As any fragrance maker knows, good perfumes, with their sometimes rare or volatile ingredients, are expensive to develop. You have to expand into home goods like candles (which is outlined in the approved trademark document) to make your business sustainable. In fact, she might be making more than candles, as evidenced by this clause: “Sexual stimulant preparations in the form of everything that has to do with beauty, hygiene, sex appeal containing flowers, grasses, spices, fruits, wood, roots, leaves, alcohol, essential oils, body scents.”

But the choice of using the pink pussyhat motif may actually be outdated: the 2018 Women’s March, which is happening in cities around the world on January 21, is retiring the beanie because it is trans exclusive, privileging genitalia as a trait of womanhood.

What potentially makes this Pussy perfume a feminist scent is not the symbolism it has coopted, then. The history of perfume is closely tied with the history of the colonial spice trade, of white plunderer explorers both stealing and trading for the spices and fragrances of India and the Arabian Peninsula early as the 14th century. While perfumes originated in the East, the modern-day perfume industry finds its roots in renaissance Europe when France, particularly in the town of Grasse (now the world’s capital of perfume), became a center of fragrance and cosmetics manufacturing.

To this day, the most prestigious perfumers and “noses” are educated in Grasse, and most of these acclaimed fragrance leaders are white men, probably named Jean. (Jean Carles who created Miss Dior, Jean-Claude Ellena who work in-house at Hermès, Jean Kerleo who created legendary perfumes for a fashion house led by another Jean (Patou), and Jean-Pierre Bethouart of the world’s largest privately-owned fragrance company Firmenich are four names of prominent perfumers off the top of my head that I, your resident beauty writer, didn’t even have to Google.)

Pussy, however, is a fragrance label developed by a woman. And that’s what makes it radically feminist—not the Pussy branding.