With its notes of high school locker room and hints of hair gel, Axe body spray is becoming a man.
When the pungent perfume debuted in the US 18 years ago, legions of teen boys bought the spritz with the hope that just like the commercials, bevies of babes would be unable to control their attraction to the fumes of machismo.
But, in actuality, it’s a balanced fragrance with “a bold, woody musk,” says Phillip Wong, 30, creative director and co-founder of Hawthorne, a tailored fragrance brand.
“It’s somewhat fruity and flowery,” Wong tells The Post. “[There’s a] thickness. A cloud of volatile energy that’s not fully school bully, but also not intimidated outcast.”
But as Axe officially surpasses its pubescent years, perhaps it’s time to look back on what gave the lingering scent its staying power.
Wong says that the familiar aroma is “a bold, gourmand fougère fragrance” — fougères are conventionally constructed with notes of lavender, oak-moss and a coumarin and synthetic tonka mix, which is “equally bold and sweet, and very dense” and a combination used by most “masculine” mass-market fragrances.
During the first decade of its existence, Axe’s commercials reflected the misogynistic aughts. One of its early commercials featured a tall, blond woman who sprays a mannequin with Axe, only to be so attracted to the scent she rips off the mannequin’s arm and starts slapping her toosh with it.
After four years of promoting a new brand of metrosexual man, Axe had sold $71 million of products.
Ben Affleck, then one of the hottest movie stars, even starred in an Axe commercial in 2006 for their “Click” line. In the clip, Affleck keeps a count of how many women (and men) checked him out in a day, only to lose by thousands to the nerd in the elevator who — you guessed it — used Axe.
“You can’t not recall fights in the locker room, hoodies that girls used to steal, forgetting homework, copying tests and being a general little goober without remembering Axe,” Wong says.
Now that Axe is a fully grown adult of voting age, the brand has tried to change with the times. In 2013, after seeing declining sales, the company asked more than 3,000 men around the world about their thoughts on masculinity and self-esteem.
“When we talked to people, we realized that men were in a different place,” Fernando Desouches, Axe’s then-director of global brand development, told Vox. So, in 2016, Axe re-branded with the tagline: “Find your magic,” which is the “point of view that inspires guys to embrace what makes them unique, authentic and ultimately attractive to the world around them,” according to the company’s website.
Still, despite a new body-positive mission and the brand’s 18th birthday, Axe’s smell returns many to the insecurity of middle school.
“[Axe is] so present in many of [our] most trying, embarrassing and emboldened moments,” Wong says. “Whether you like it or not, it’s part of our collective [scent] history that we’ll never forget.”
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