Smell is the most evocative of senses, the one most likely to trigger a visceral, emotional reaction or specific memory. Whiff..Whiff!! Do you realize that how it impacts day-to-day decisions – the sudden impulse to buy that cinnamon bun or “new car”-scented convertible wasn’t actually impulsive at all, but a conditioned response to a carefully engineered stimulus.
I have a memory of only a very few scents from my childhood. I remember what the lilacs on the fence outside the kitchen door smelled like; I remember the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree and the smell of the fur on a kitten’s throat; and I remember the smell of baby powder.
We *wear* fragrances (as opposed to sniffing them on strips–decidedly a minority pastime) for a variety of reasons: to make a statement, to find comfort or stimulation, to complement a particular ensemble, to seduce (and here the tastes of the quarry count far more than Apollonian meditations on beauty), and even, in some parts of the world, to mask the fact that they haven’t taken a bath. Most people simply want a fragrance to make the day a little more pleasant for themselves and for those around them, not because they want to wear a work of “art” whose complexity and depth are going to make heads turn or spark a discussion.
Did you know that fragrances were all unisex until the early 20th century – prior to then, men and women wore what they liked, rather than what was ‘marketed’ to them.
Browsing at the perfume counter has become like attending a cocktail party filled with famous people. Some will speak to you immediately. Some will stand back, but become friendly if you approach. Some are dull as dishwater. Some you will dislike. But being an insider at the party is exciting. I love that I have an invitation. (Fun Fact: Sniffing coffee beans doesn’t “reset” your sense of smell, it’s just a placebo effect)
I suppose perfume is like anything else, personal taste varies wildly from person to person. I spray those little sniff strips, later seal each in a plastic snack bag so I can re-evaluate it for days. Then I sleep with one strip on my pillow for one night, hoping for wonderful dreams.
Scent is linked to both attraction and memory, it’s amazing that so little attention is paid to it. Is perfume necessary to my existence? No. But, perfume has become a fascinating foray into sensual exploration.
Everyone knows how big the market for perfumes is, and there are also industrial scents put into soap and detergent at no small price. No holding back here – the next time you stop in the ground-level fragrance bazaar of your favorite department store, be aware that the fragrance industry is perhaps the only business that gets constantly away with blatant label fraud: if you think the “Fahrenheit” that you smelled in the bathroom after your dad took your mom to the theater, is still in the identical-looking bottle that you would buy today, think again: since Dior is now part of LVMH, all its famous perfumes have been re-formulated under the thin disguise of conforming with new regulations, yet in truth to squeeze out the last centime of profit by often substituting original high-quality ingredients with cheap large-volume synthetics.
Some companies have “logoscents.” Westin hotels has a logoscent called “White Tea” that they put in their lobbies.
I am happy to be reminded that we live in a world where Chanel #5 still exists in proper form. Sacrebleu!!