Boy Smells Founder Matthew Herman on Scent and Gender

Reimagining personal care products in a more fluid and inclusive manner

Despite its name, LA-based Boy Smells—founded by David Kien and Matthew Herman—makes underwear and candles that aren’t intended for one gender; rather the brand is a purposeful amalgamation of masculinity and femininity and everything between. Conversation around personal care products typically being hyper-gendered led Kien and Herman to experiment within the space. They made candles in their kitchen with the mission to explore the dismissal of conventional beliefs surrounding this type of product. This fluid but all-encompassing approach is evident not just in their candle fragrances, or their underwear color palettes, but also in their language, design and packaging. We spoke with Herman about the brand’s mission, embracing our full spectrum, and scent being transportive.

Boy Smells is a brand for a post-binary world. Did the mission determine the products or the other way around?

We had a lot of conversation about a lack of products that felt fluid, but also essential in order to embody our shared passion for making living your full spectrum a daily ritual. Basically we were reimagining products to be about exploring and expressing identity, but still with traditional end usages like candles or underwear. The personal care section, in particular, is a very gendered space. Or things are relabeled as “genderless” which is a little soulless. When you see our candles wrapped in pale pink and subversively named, they bring to life our core mission: to disrupt the limited, binary-based labels in today’s personal care market to celebrate a full spectrum.

We hope to inspire people to harness power from all sides of the gender spectrum.

I would say the mission and the products are inextricably intertwined and really go hand-in-hand. For us, launching Boy Smells was an exercise in self-acceptance, an embrace of our intermingled masculinity and femininity. Men don’t own masculinity and women don’t own femininity, they are both sources of unlimited power for everyone. We hope to inspire people to harness power from all sides of the gender spectrum. Hence, we describe our products at Boy Smells HQ as “genderful” rather than “genderless.”

How do you decouple gender and scent?

Fruity, spicy, petal-y, moody and woody, Boy Smells candles are full-bodied and multi-faceted. David and I invent every scent, finding the balance between boldness and sensitivity, humor and sophistication. As opposed to decoupling gender and scent, we borrow fragrance inspiration from all sides of the spectrum, juxtaposing scents to shatter the gender binary as it’s typically perceived to develop stimulating concoctions that invite sensations, memories and new identities. For example, with Cinderose we take rose and tuberose and wrap it with smoked woods and moss, giving a full-spectrum mood.

What’s your process for developing a new fragrance? What about naming it?

We draw inspiration from our own olfactive memories and experiences, but also take into consideration the context and history those scent notes play in larger society. Our aim is to build things that have complex identities, dualities, contradiction and harmonies—much like the identities of people. We all wear a lot of hats, so it’s important the items you use on the daily reinforce your sense of self. Naming them is the most fun part. The name should evoke the feeling of the candle but we also like to have fun with the names and make them a little tongue in cheek.

You run Boy Smells with your partner David. How do you divide or share responsibilities?

David and I founded Boy Smells in our very own home back in 2016. Fortunately, our professional backgrounds are complementary and made it relatively easy to strike a balance between design versus production and logistics. Previous to Boy Smells, both David and I were in the fashion industry, I was a designer and David worked in supply chain and production. We rolled this into our responsibilities at Boy Smells. I am the scent creator, honing my design sensibilities into an olfactory palette, with the intent to bring to life scents that tell Boy Smells’ brand story. I’m extremely passionate about expressing our brand’s purpose, and translating my vision into Boy Smells’ overall aesthetics.

On the other side, David is immensely talented when it comes to operations and telling the brand story through words, namely our digital footprint, e-commerce and marketing. As a graphic design and typography aficionado, his precise lens gives Boy Smells’ branding its impact.

Which is your favorite scent? What’s David’s? If there’s such a thing as aromaology (how one’s preferences for scent determine their personality), what would your favorites say about each of you?

My personal favorite, right now, is the new Cowboy Kush. As a Texan and a lover of dualities, this scent is a push/pull of rustic and refinement. I like bold scents that play between tradition and modernity. David’s favorite is original Kush—he’s a California boy who likes easy summer and sunshine. It’s bright green and easy. I think both our personalities are reflected in this way.

As we all are spending more time at home right now have you developed any new rituals?

I have been saying this a lot recently, but I think it’s especially important to remind people during this time of isolation and staying put: don’t underestimate the power of scent to breathe new life into your space. Using scent to create different atmospheres is an easy way to transport the mind when we can’t physically travel. For instance, since my laptop is currently doubling as my yoga studio, I’ll light a calming candle like HINOKI FANTÔME for a meditative ambience. Depending on my mood, the weather, or even the time of day, I use different candles to break up the monotony of working from home and awaken my senses. I’ve found this to be an extremely helpful and easy way to keep me productive and help me from going stir crazy.

Images courtesy of Boy Smells