- Text Justin Adelman
- Design Aodan Reddy
Close your eyes for a moment. Take a deep breath in. What do you smell? What scents surround you? Is it a freshly lit sandalwood candle wafting through the room? Or something more personal? Maybe the smell of your pet, or your significant other’s signature scent on the hoodie they left at your place? Smell is not only tied to emotion—in fact, it’s the only sense of all five that connects directly to the brain’s limbic system, which is responsible for memory. It’s tied to us. It’s part of our identity. It’s how we express ourselves. Whether you’re confident, shy or bold, fragrance is a way to shout into a room or whisper quietly to those nearby. For many, it’s a way to be seen. Scent transcends physical presence and validates identity, emotion and expression.
Although fragrance has enhanced our ability to express ourselves, it wasn’t always that way. With origins as an aroma used for religious rituals, perfume has evolved over the years to a tool for personal expression and a way to reflect one’s personality or even symbolize elitism. However, it wasn’t until the industry exploited the gender binary for marketing purposes that perfume started being categorized by gender to help sell it more successfully to consumers.
With perfume becoming more widely accessible, fragrance brands began to categorize smells by gender- Trey Taylor, Senior Editorial Director
“With perfume becoming more widely accessible, fragrance brands began to categorize smells by gender,” says Trey Taylor, Senior Editorial Director and an independent perfumer in New York. "Marketing efforts helped to publicly associate certain notes found within fragrance (rose, jasmine and other florals) with women, and others (woods, resins and cologne accords) with men. Perhaps more effectively, the shapes of perfume bottles became hyper sensualized and gendered objects in and of themselves. High heel-shaped and more rounded bottles housed scents for women, and more rigid, angular bottles were used for fragrances marketed towards men. This programming has been so successful that many in the industry are still working to undo the damage of gendered associations in fragrance.”
The LGBTQQIP2SA+ community has used fragrance for decades, but the birth of the unisex category—ignited by the release of CK One in 1994—was the moment genderless scents were commercialized, making self-expression through scent mainstream. A queer (r)evolution of fragrance was then ushered in by niche brands like Frédéric Malle and Tom Ford in the early 2000s, which led to the increased prevalence of genderless fragrances today. Inspired by this movement, Day One Agency’s LGBTQQIP2SA+ Employee Resource Group, Slay One, wanted to put its own stamp on the queering of scent and release a fragrance that celebrates the entire spectrum of identity and self-expression. It was the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to the community, and shatter the beauty industry binary it’s established for years.
Over the last several years, fragrance has enjoyed a boom. At the start of 2023, the category grew by 15% in the US as consumers rediscovered scent’s ability to positively impact their mood and well-being. And now more than ever, fragrance is used as a tool to express gender and identity. Brands like queer-owned Boy Smells, Tsu Lange Yor (from Australian musician Troye Sivan) and Brooklyn-based D.S. & Durga are rising to the occasion by employing technology and artistry to attract a new audience of “fragheads” and telling new and more wide-ranging stories using playful associations and queer codes.
To add to this rich narrative, D1A’s Slay One ERG, which supports the LGBTQQIP2SA+ community, created “Slay,” an exclusive, one-of-a-kind home fragrance. The scent unabashedly celebrates all facets of the queer community, its radical sensorial history, the joy of self-expression and, as the name indicates, doing something spectacularly well. “Slay” will also honor Day One's commitment to integrating Diversity Equity Inclusion and Belonging into everything we do, while also championing the authenticity that our queer community brings to the company every day.
Each note selected for “Slay” connects back to and celebrates an important part of LGBTQQIP2SA+ community:
Lavender, a symbol of pride and resistance.
Green carnation, a secret signifier of homosexual identity in the late 1800s.
Rose, from the phrase “give them their roses,” a way to honor the beauty and resistance of the transgender community.
Earth, a symbol of the longstanding connection that Two-Spirit people have with nature as a protector of their identities.
Rugged leather, an homage to the leather subculture that emerged as a rejection of stereotypes and a way to freely express oneself without fear or shame.
Clean/white musk, a remembrance and reminder of the AIDS crisis. It was important to smell clean since taste and smell dysfunction were common symptoms of HIV infection. "Clean” also celebrates CK One, which disrupted the fragrance codes of the time and was marketed as the first “unisex” fragrance.
“We wanted to choose notes that would represent all the different parts of the LGBTQQIP2SA+ community, ensuring first and foremost that it smelled incredible when blended together, but that there was a story that could be told through the materials in ‘Slay,’” explains Taylor. “As 'Slay’ evaporates, people will be able to smell each of these notes, all of which come from a historical association with a fragrant material in the queer community. Whether it’s lavender and its association with The Lavender Menace group of lesbian radical feminists or earth for those who identify as Two-Spirit, we wanted everyone to feel seen regardless of how they choose to express or appear in the world.”
“Slay” subverts fragrance notes traditionally associated and marketed to a specific gender by cleverly combining notes associated with the LGBTQQIP2SA+ community. “The beauty of fragrance is that it can speak to you in a really personal way,” Taylor explains. “Plus, it’s a way to show people who you are that has to be experienced in person. You can’t capture it in a photo or a TikTok. I find that truly exciting and hopefully this becomes a way to tell an interesting story about identity and community.”