Monday, June 23, 2008

Scent: Airing an opinion

I read recently that the sign of being "a real New Yorker" was the ability to play "This Was..." as in, "This (real estate office) Was that Chinese hand laundry".

A sign of being "really almost 60" is that I remember not only "This Was", but also "That Was" as in "That Was a mimeographed flyer", "That Was how you made a long-distance phone call", "That Was when suede shoes came with their own little brush."


I also include, "That Was when women enjoyed wearing, and smelling, fragrance."

I wear cologne every day, and perfume in the evening. About the only time I don't wear any is when dining in our garden (apparently it attracts mosquitos) or visiting my doctor (the one with the raw food diet), because she has one of those pre-emptive Thank You for Not signs in her office.


Will I be restricted to home wear only, rather like smoking, a habit I never had?

When people tell me they 'can't stand smelling perfume' they invariably recount the elevator scenario: "This woman got in just doused! It was awful!" Anyone bearing an evident smell (perfume, coffee, chili dog, wet wool coat, ramen noodles) into a 16 square foot space will create an odiferous intensity. But would we say, "I am going to insist people stop carrying those noxious noodles?"

I'm in agreement with those who find heavy application of fragrance unpleasant. Fragrance is intended to be noticed only within the personal-space perimeter, roughly the length of your arm away from your body. Those who ignore this small civility supply the thin-end-of-the-wedge example that has resulted in scent-free righteousness.

If it's too-much that annoys, could we also request that you not wear that printed dress, because that's too much visual stimulation? Would you please lower your voice? I feel ill unless all public conversation is kept to library-whisper level.


The other big anti-argument is environmental sensitivity. I comply with requests for scent-free spaces.

I wonder, though, if cologne is the culprit. Are we aiming for the easy target? Could it be that years of exposure to cleaning agents, solvents, paints, and a slew of other aggressive chemicals created the problem?

It's a world of molecules, and some of them don't play nice.

Could the abysmal indoor air circulation in many office buildings exacerbate asthma more assertively than a whiff of So Pretty? How about five hours locked in the same position reading a computer screen? Might that have something to do with a migraine?

Even in scent-friendly offices, I'm willing to forgo fragrance if a colleague tells me, hand on her heart, that my scent affects her health. I value her wellness more than my pleasure. But I better not notice a bouquet of roses on her desk, wafting their heady scent over fifty square feet (yes, Erin, you), or here comes the Hiris.

The fragrances I wear these days include Chanel's 19, Floris' Edwardian Bouquet, Molyneux Quartz, Norell and Hermes Jardin sur le Nil... and I'm looking forward to many more sublimely scented years, even if I have to spend them in selected spaces.

22 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

Oh I'm so with you on this one!!!

Used to work with a guy who insisted that any fragranced products within a 50 foor radius exacerbated his asthma. He used to even complain about the hair gel used by the guy two cubes down which none of us could smell at all. Meanwhile, he was taking 4-5 smoke breaks per shift and always reeked of cigarette smoke. Yeah, right.

I'm also a fan of Jardins sur Nil. It's a great warm weather fragrance and I love that citrus top note.

greying pixie said...

Yes, I'm with you too on this one! I love discreet scent, and I'm also a citrus fan. For years I have worn Chanel Cristalle, so that now sadly I can no longer smell it. So I've changed to No5 to re-educate my nostrils for a while although it is too much the signature of my mother for me to lay claim to it. I find the Chanel scents do not have the underlying alcohol smell that lingers in other perfumes.

Another one I love is Rive Gauche by YSL but (and here's my snobbery coming out) I feel it's a bit too widely known. Any thoughts?

If you are ever in Florence, Italy, go to the oldest apothecary in the world - 12th century to be precise. It is wonderful and the Acqua di Soave they make and sell is the most gorgeous cologne I've ever tried.

Have you ever read 'Perfume'?

One last thought: my husband says his favourite scent is the smell of my skin after a walk on a blustery day along the beach! Pity that scent can't be bottled!

Duchesse said...

GP: Yes the Chanel scents and YSLs are wonderful. I'm a fan of the great scents from old houses: Caron's En Avion, Guerlain's Liu and L'heure Bleu, Hermes Caleche. I have read Perfume (enjoyable) and recently Chandler Burr's two edifying books on scent.

My advice to anyone is to test on your skin, never a paper strip.

Basenotes is a great perfume blog/board and has links to dealers who will sell decant sizes for experimenting.

materfamilias said...

I was rushing to comment "Oh, I'm so with you on this one," when I glanced over to the left of the "Leave your comment" box to see that Pseu has taken the words right off my fingertips.
I've been alternating between Creed's Vetiver and Terre D'Hermès, altho' if it warms up at all here, I'll switch to Nina Ricci's Fleur de Fleurs or maybe Oh de Lancôme.
I suspect most people who feel they are bothered by perfume are responding to the synthetic elements in so many cheaper products, altho' I concede that we have so overwhelmed our immune systems by so many everyday chemical assaults that even the natural scents in more expensive products can be culprits as well. But it seems very unfair that we should have to pay the price when so many more appropriate targets get tolerated.

Duchesse said...

materfamilias: Le Duc wears Terre and I love it on him; I'll have to try it myself.

materfamilias said...

I know, it's actually a man's scent, but I love it on me.

cybill said...

I put on some perfume as soon as I read this post! Am I taking this too far in thinking that the anti-perfume league is just another roundabout way of putting women down?

Nancy (nanflan) said...

My take on this issue is "attention seeking." It's more about the individual complaining than it is the wearer of the perfume: "I will control everyone around me." True, there are those who overindulge in fragrance, but most don't.

I find the similar behavior with dining, which has ruined dinner parties for me. I'm tired of having to make endless allowances for everyone's diet/food preference/political agenda.

True, there are people who truly have allergies, but the attention seekers just want to assert themselves, a form of passive aggression if you will.

pseu, the smoker example is a great one. I suppose his smoking has absolutely nothing to do with his asthma? Amazing that he had any sense of smell at all.

We've even had people complain about incense at church on feast days. Please. Get out of bed and go to the (earlier) fragrance free service, will you?

Duchesse said...

Nancy: I think it's often about attention and control too. My husband (Le Duc) if invited to a scent-free gathering, asks if people would be willing to bring a note from their allergist stating that they are allergic (in the scientific definition) to precisely the ingredients in his Creed Tabarome.

We love to have dinner parties and are willing to make some (but not intense) accomodation- more on that!

greying pixie said...

nancy I couldn't agree with you more, especially about the dinner parties. I too think twice these days before throwing them as I'm so fed-up with people I think are like-minded, only to find that I have to bend over backwards to meet their insecurities! I'm doing my utmost to bring up my children to eat whatever their host provides (even the Dalai Lama says it's OK to eat meat if that is what your host has provided) and their friends come round to my house with a verbal list of all the things they cannot eat! Real bad manners in my opinion.

Duchesse said...

I've worked up such a head of steam there'll be a long post tomorrow on this. But for now, GP: I will not listen to any food lists except death-throe food allergies. Vegans can carry their own food in. I've asked my sons' friends, "How did you become such a restrictive eater?"

greying pixie said...

I blame the parents either for over indulgence or not giving enough attention!

Back to perfume for one moment. In the summer I often wear a string of 10mm sandelwood beads bought by my father in India and given to me when I was about 10 years old. At the time they were cheap, but now sandelwood is very rare in India and the beads you find are much much smaller.

From time to time I polish them up with sandelwood oil to a gorgeous dark colour and wear them in memory of my father. I have many nostalgic associations with various scents - they are very important to me.

Duchesse said...

GP: what a lovely memento. I didn't know sandalwood would retain its scent so powerfully.

Duchesse said...

Cybill: I wonder. But I tend to see the attempt to put women down everywhere.

Some of the most strenuous no-scent advocates I've run into are women. And I notice that of the dozen or so I have met they are very unadorned, simply-dressed, no makeup types.

Anjela said...

Great Posting duchesse!!!


greying pixie.....I have read 'Perfume' and saw the movie last year. My perfumes ranged, from when I was 18 and began with my mother's Chanel No5 it never appealed to me. Though last week I bought a bottle of it. I am growing into my mother's tastes.


At college 'Femme' by Rochas was a favourite. I worked at a chemist shop after class so I could afford it. Then 'Joy' by Patou because of the price tag. And settling for, but, loving 'Bal a Versailles' by Despres.
I am a fan of Aqua De Parma now and L’Eau d’Hadrien Annick Goutal and one of my very favourites has become Santa Maria Novella
Cologne di Santa Maria Novella! Wow did I mention I love subtle scent- natural citrus.....Mhhhhhh

greying pixie said...

anjela, duchesse, that Santa Maria Novella is the 12th century apothecary in Florence that I mentioned in an earlier message. But their Acqua di Soave is even nicer. They also do the same cologne that they used to prepare for Catherine de Medici, although it smells a little too much like disinfectant, which would have been appropriate for the times in which she lived.

anjela, I'm also having that experience with No5 which has always been my mother's scent; now I'm finding myself using it more and more perhaps I'm also growing into my mother!

Duchesse said...

GP: Great! A new shop opened here that carries Santa Novella- will try.

Anjela: I loved Bal a Versailles too, a big old-style scent. My mother wore Replique, which I recently ordered, but the company, now defunct, sold its formula and the new version is not good quality.

Mardel said...

Oh, I am coming in a little late here and pretty much anything I would have said has been covered more eloquently by others. Still, it was a lovely post. I can't imagine life without perfume, it seems so much a part of who I am. I do think the way absolutely everything is scented today perhaps bombards the senses a little too much. I suspect most people who claim to be bothered by perfume haven't really thought about all the other scents they encounter every day. It would be nice if people could live together graciously.

Duchesse said...

Mardel: I agree about living graciously. The other day I used a liquid hand soap (in an airport bathroom) that was far more pungent and lasted longer than my spritz of cologne. Took overnight to scrub the cheap scent off!

Rosabell said...

I like ur blog and I am happy I have discovered it. Unfortunately, unlike you and the other posters here I like only sweet powdery perfumes . For instances, I couldn't bare Jardin sur le Nil and I have always consiedred Chanel fragrances horrible ( and god only knows how much I 'd tried to find one I could wear... ) Mademoiselle and Nr5 both smell to me like an old barber shop- masculine and agressive.... After all, perfume is a matter of personal choice.
If I were to chose the best smelling pefume to me I would say Givenchy- Absolutely Irrezistible and the old Fleur d'interdit ( which I cannot find in Europe anymore). Also, Venezzia and Emotion from Laura Biagiotti and Samsara (Guerlain)... :) Definitely I am in for emotional florals with fruity accents and for floral-orientals in the winter. I find most of new-released ones disappointing,with no feminity and lasting power ( Except from the new Chloe and Daisy Marc Jacob, which were a pleasant surprise).

Duchesse said...

Rosabell: I love some of the scents you wear (especially Venezia) on others.

Do you know Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez' book "Perfume: The Guide"? hey review over 1200 perfumes, a great resource for finding other scents you might like (and be able to wear)- it's under $20 on Amazon now. Of course there's always testing at a perfume counter but most of them only have the colognes or EDTs out. and the perfume is so much different.

Rosabell said...

No I am not familiar with that book. I read and loved it a lot John Oakes, About Perfumes and The Perfume Zodiac. This is how I started looking around for more information on fragrance. At the time I read the Oakes books some of the classics he was talking about were still largely available over the counter so I started sniffing and evaluating them. Also there is Octavian Coifan that wrote a great deal ,an author that lives in France and has a very nice and solid approach on frangrance.I like his witt and style even when I disagree with his oppinion on certain products.