A scent of self ~ on why sensuality is vital to identity

A scent of self ~ on why sensuality is vital to identity

I can tell when Christmas is coming not by the increase in advertising on television but rather by the escalation of my shouts of protests at the content of those adverts. Or for that matter by the degeneration of my vocabulary and my reduction to a spluttering rage. I’ll leave much of the fury alone as it’s the same old frustration at blatant consumerism. I’ve said it before and others have said it better, so the overall feeling of exploitation is worth noting but not exploring. Christmas is so much more than an orgy of consumer spending after all. ‘Nuff said.

But the ads that really frustrate and puzzle me are the fragrance ones. They baffle me. How can you sell a perfume via television or the printed page? Very occasionally I buy glossy magazines; I only do so when there is a free gift attached that is worth more than the magazine. Once in a blue moon a full page ad for a perfume comes with a tiny vial or a sachet. That makes some sense to me. Try before you buy.

If you’ve caught any of the ads they tend to follow various themes and memes. Impossibly beautiful men and women, dressed in exclusive, sky-rocket expensive clothes, glaring arrogantly at the camera from eyes enhanced by every cosmetic trick known to mankind, striding confidently around oozing so much sex appeal that one feels instantly so much less of a man/woman. Crashing waves, glittering diamonds, fashion shoots, high heels, messed up satin sheets, fields of flowers under immense stormy skies. When I am in a good mood, I can admire the artistry. But usually all I can think is, “Huh?? So, what does it smell like??”

Perfume advertising is almost totally divorced from the actual sense of smell. It’s all about image, celebrity endorsement, aspirations and a lot of other things that have no smell at all. The ads are simply there to get you to the store and buy. By the time someone has got that far, become seduced by the brand, there’s a very good chance they’ll buy because they’ve subliminally and subconsciously identified with the iconography of the ads. Unless the perfume smells like horse piss, they will probably buy it anyway.

Perfume is something that is seen as an indulgence by many and I can understand that. Good perfume isn’t cheap. It shouldn’t be, if it’s made from hard to produce essences, and blended by trained and highly skilled ‘noses’. Yet so many wear perfumes they don’t (deep down) like and which don’t enhance their personalities. There’s a concept of a signature scent, something by which you are recognised. I’ve heard of women, daggers-drawn at parties on discovering another woman is wearing ‘her’ scent. A single notable perfume is chosen to define the self. It’s this mentality that aids and abets the marketing machine. What does this fragrance say about a woman? Cue the crashing waves, the sculpted cheekbones and the designer dresses.

It’s clear that a person’s own unique fragrance, that is to say, how they smell without perfumed products, is implicated in the process of sexual attraction. Pheromones are present in our skin, our hair and our secretions (sorry!) and they are probably among the first things that people respond to. It’s an unconscious reaction and often instantaneous. It may even be the most vital ingredient in that phenomenon, Love at first sight; it might well be love at first sniff.

Do you know what you smell like? Could you recognise your own scent? Do you actually like it? Perfume is not about covering up one’s natural scent but rather about enhancing and complimenting it, of deepening that vibrant signature of the self. Like a pen and ink line drawing your natural scent is the bare bones of that identity. Adding to it is like taking a preliminary sketch and filling in the colours. The sensual awareness of the self is a very powerful thing, a part of learning to love oneself perhaps. Being aware of the texture of one’s skin, the feeling of the hair, the grace of movement, are deeper ways of knowing the self than that gaze into the mirror that tells us what we look like but not who we are.

To seek a scent of self is perhaps to also find a sense of self, a dimension that we sometimes lack. If you were to seek a perfume, don’t look for the things the advertisers want to sell you, but rather seek blindly, using other senses. First sniff is the start. Instant recoil, step back and see how it makes you feel. Memories maybe long hidden may be at the root of dislike, but also it may simply be anathema to you, incompatible. Try a few, follow your instincts. Ask yourself: is this perfume ‘me’? Does it fit you? Take your time. Try it all day, try it at different times of day. There may be just one or there may be many. You may love one for years, then one day, it’s no longer you. That’s OK, you’ve changed (and it might also have changed too. Manufacturers do change formulas).

But explore. The soul is a magical, evolving being, and knowing and understanding it may be the key to truly loving the self. And it’s vital we love ourselves, because that’s when we can really start to love others. 

10 thoughts on “A scent of self ~ on why sensuality is vital to identity

  1. most of the “designer” perfumes smell vaguely the same – and I dislike it intensely. My housemate used to bring me her new perfumes exitedly. All had that something that I find distasteful. Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage is something I’ve used for years. my favourite nina ricci floral was discontinued years ago. I like a couple of fragrances from Penhaligon’s. Otherwise it’s nothing or some essential oil. And the adverts? Not one of them would encourage me to buy.

    • No, nor me.
      It breaks my heart when a fragrance I have loved is discontinued, too.
      And I know what you mean about the sameiness of designer perfumes…yuck indeed!

  2. Such a good post, Viv :-) Reminds me of that line from the Genesis song: ‘she dabs her skin with pretty smells, concealing to appeal’ The sense that the original is not good enough and should be covered with falsity (? such a word?) I was once given some money specifically to buy perfume for myself, something I’d never done before. It is an art in itself, not to be mastered in one afternoon at Boots and House of Fraser! Finally found one about 6 months later that I liked, and it ‘liked’ me, in that it doesn’t clash with my own background notes.

  3. The ads frustrate me too, for the same reason. I few years back I wanted to try and find a scent, I’m rather partial to jasmine, orange blossom, and light florals…but can you find any scent information on a Boots shelf? Do you ever feel comfortable enough to ask the super-made-up sales assistant what is in what? Um, that would be, No, then.
    In the end I tend to stick with The Body Shop’s perfume oils. They pretty much say what they are and I can ask without feeling the pretentious overly-mascarraed eyes staring down at me in disdain.
    I still get really fed up when they discontinue or replace my favourite fragrance. I loved Neroli Jasmine, but alas, it is now Indian Jasmine, and much heavier…and just not me.

    • The Body Shop discontinued many of my favourites too. I loved the Perfume Bar they used to have, with a couple of dozen oils to try, which you could have added to plain bubble bath and bath oil.
      I loved the shop in Covent Garden, for L’artisan parfumeur, but the prices were vast. It’s a Penhaligan’s now.

  4. I used to cycle past a perfume factory every day on my way to work. Even now, decades later, I can smell in some perfumes the foul undertones that take me back to those factory gates. Smell is the sense that sticks in the brain longest, I think.

    • It’s connected to a part of our brain that is very primitive and it does indeed linger longer, often in the subconscious or unconscious and can govern our reactions to people.

  5. Pingback: Time Travel and Necromancy: the easy way. | Zen and the art of tightrope walking

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