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.