Monday, July 12, 2010

The Last Ten Reactions to a Fragrance I Remember Getting

1. Movie Theater

I watched a local film with three friends. Two were a married couple. The third was a good friend of mine. He's used to the way I smell. Several times a week he visits and we watch trash TV, and along the end table between us are typically lined anywhere from six to ten fragrances. I make him smell most of them, even though his assessments ("vinyl raincoat mixed with cat pee" is one of my favorites) tend to break the lofty fantasies I'm trying to build around them. Many people I know are well aware that I'm "really into" perfume. I forget that some people have no idea. When we left the film we all stood outside to talk about how horrible it had been. The sound, the performances, the direction (what direction?), the lighting. "And some woman sitting behind us was wearing the stinkiest old lady perfume!" said my friend's wife, aghast. It was like she'd survived an incident involving a rather virulent nuclear leak. "That old lady was me," I told her.

2. Editing Suite

A couple times a week I've been working with my co-editor on a film we shot this year. Neither she nor her girlfriend seems to wear perfume. They don't even seem to wear oils. She knows I like and write about perfume; it shouldn't come as a surprise, as the film is thematically tied into fragrance. One day, she emailed me to discuss our work the day before. Her room still smelled like me, she said, meaning my perfume. I can't remember what I was wearing but because we'd been working so closely and it's so hot I probably went easy on her and used very little. She said she liked it, which made me feel good, because even better than having your perfume complimented is having its memory installed, appreciated, and associated with you.

3. Email

Sometime last year--maybe the year before--I received an anonymous email. Whoever it was had signed up with an online service which basically allows you to insult people safely. Whatever you say can't be traced back to you. It's the loveliest thing. I rarely get comments on what I'm wearing. So it seemed strange to receive this notification. "Someone wishes to inform you that your cologne is unusually strong," it said. I know many people but like most of us I see the same several faces day after day, mostly at work. It was probably a co-worker, and I was annoyed that she couldn't just bring it up in person. I never heard about it again but have been paranoid ever since.

4. Workplace

I work with three women. One never says a word about whatever it is I'm wearing. When I asked her what she wears she says Chanel No. 5, though only on special occasions. Another co-worker says something about my perfume only rarely. Usually, when she likes what I have on, I give her some. The third party tends to go into paroxysms of pleasure every morning when I make coffee. She doesn't drink it but loves the aroma. She also sneezes a lot in the other room throughout the day and I generally take this to mean that I've over applied. This might be a product of the aforementioned paranoia. I asked her at one point whether her nose is particularly sensitive to smell. She said yes. I then asked whether the things I wear bother her. She said they usually don't, although there is one thing I've worn that gives her a migraine. More paranoia. What could it be? Every morning I wonder: Is this the cologne she was talking about? The whole thing seems bizarre to me because I'm fairly conversant about fragrance and read the forums like crazy and know which ones are considered scent bombs and which are inoffensive (i.e. non-entities, if you ask me) and I've always been conservative, both in what I choose to wear at work and in how much I apply.

5. Coffeehouse

It's four o'clock and I have recently reapplied. I'm very likely wearing at least three different things, which must smell like a melange to everyone else. Me, I can only smell what I just put on. I go to the counter to get my coffee. One of the teenagers who works there whispers something about me to her co-worker, whom I know better. The co-worker says, "He ALWAYS smells good," and she smiles at me. This makes me happy but also paranoid. Writing all this, I'm starting to realize how afraid or anxious I am most of the time: afraid of offending, afraid of being smelled, being discussed as a stinker, wanting to stand out but afraid of it too. In a general sense the comment made me wonder how often people like something I have on and say nothing.

6. Car

Recently, a friend got into my car and, after buckling in, said, "Your car always smells so nice."

7. Boyfriend

When I first started wearing things--which is to say ten things at once--he would migrate to the back room for refuge. On several occasions he pleaded with me, or simply said my name urgently, because we both knew without speaking what he was getting at; essentially, "please stop." He never does this anymore. He never complains. I don't know what happened. Maybe he's desensitized. Maybe the behavior seems less compulsive now, more routine, and therefore doesn't bother him as much--or, cross fingers, at all. Every once in a while he comments on something I've sprayed. Who knows what, because when I'm at home I have at least five fragrances up and down my arms. He smells the little pools on my skin until we determine which one he likes. Last time it was Amber Ylang Ylang.

8. Coffeehouse

One of my best friends is a straight male. We work on movies together. He was always slightly bemused by my perfume habits, as if they were the behavior of some weird, unclassifiable creature from a parallel dimension, harmless but curious. Then I found out that he had a special bottle of Riverside Drive by Bond No. 9, which is hardly typical for a straight guy, making him something unclassifiable himself. When I found discount bottles of Armani Prive Bois d'encens, I brought it over immediately, knowing he'd be hooked. Later, we screened at a film festival in Chicago and I took him to Barneys with me, just to watch his mind get blown. He left with a bottle of French Lover. He often tells me I smell good. However, one day, greeting me outside a coffeehouse for a get together, he said, "You smell like tampon."

9. Friend's House

I visited a friend in Los Angeles after sniffing at Barneys, Saks, and Nordstrom. I had scent strips with me and forgot them when I left. My friend told me later that her cats had gone crazy for whatever was on them, rolling around the floor like they'd gotten into catnip.

10. Wedding

I wore Bandit parfum extrait and lots of it to a friend's outdoor wedding. She and I often discuss perfume. I've given her: Nombril Immense by Etat Libre D'Orange, Nuits de Noho by Bond No. 9, Angel Violet, Marc Jacobs Violet Splash, Fresh Sake, and others I can't remember. I worried, before leaving the house, that no one would smell the Bandit, so I added some Azuree. When I left the wedding, I hugged the bride good-bye. "You always smell so good," she whispered in my ear.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the great post. I empathize with quite a few of your points. I too walk the paranoid line between wanting people to smell my perfume and not wanting to bother anyone, especially at work. And I also have a partner who has learned to live with my perfumes mostly without comment (but I jump at any positive comment he makes.)

Tatyana said...

*"That old lady was me," I told her.*

Oh, GREAT! :D You have wondeful sense of humour!

Most of all I remember the case when an unknown woman in the elevator of our office building said expressively, "You have great fragrance!". It was pleasant (and it sounded with great passion), but I had worn Cheap & Chick I Love Love that day, and I consider it more like a whim. Cheap-and-fun. Why not Mitsuko or Chamade, or something really great often receive compliments?

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post! I have rarely had anyone mention my perfume (perhaps I need more, haha!) except for one time... my boyfriend asked that I not wear Angel anymore. I guess he is part of the 'hate it' camp for that one.

Elisa said...

People hardly ever comment on my perfume, except for my boyfriend and friends who know my obsession. I can only remember two comments at work, both from women to whom I've mentioned in passing my interest in perfume. One said I smelled good after I'd applied a teensy bit of Angel right before leaving the office; another asked what I was wearing (when I was standing right next to her) -- it was Cuir de Lancome layered with Tabac Aurea.

For the most part people don't seem to notice, which is better, I guess, than feeling paranoid that everyone thinks I reek.

Brian said...

Kjanicki, I jump too. It's like, whoa, what's this, you noticed? You like? You want to smell it up close? Wow. It's no fun being paranoid. It's not as if we've farted. Or not JUST that we've farted, when we have.

Brian said...

Tatyana! I love Cheap and Chic I Love Love--but I know what you mean. Someone asked me the other day whether I can identify smells people are wearing. I said usually yes, not because I'm brilliant or even because I've smelled a lot (though I am of course, and I have) but because most people who do even wear perfume (and it's such a precious few, really) seem to wear the same ten to twenty. Maybe sometimes when someone smells and loves something like I Love Love enough to comment it's because there's a ring of familiarity to it.

Brian said...

Android, did he really? That would probably mean D-I-V-O-R-C-E in my house. Angel is too close to my heart. Maybe I'd just give him the pillow and direct him to the couch. Let me think about it.

Brian said...

Ok Elisa, I'm going straight home today to layer Tabac Aurea with Cuir de Lancome. That sounds like heaven.

Heather B said...

Oh Brian what fragrance where you wearing with the dreaded "tampon fresh accord"? Omg thats funny and embarrassing. I've never been told I stink or smell like old lady, but also not that many compliments from stangers.

I notice though that friends and my mother compliment the same perfume that get weird looks when I tell them the odd notes like leather/ rubber of Blvgari Black, the pine forest of Wild Hunt or the mildewy earthiness of Nuit de Tuberose.

Brian said...

Oh, and by the way: I forgot about the time I wore Nu, to an engagement party. A woman beside me had a sneezing fit, after which she turned to glare at me with the kind of naked hostility usually reserved for child killers.

Heather B said...

umm strangers.

Elisa said...

Brian, I hope you like the combo! It helped me smell the leather in TA, which I wasn't getting at first.

Brian said...

Heather, I was wearing Oscar de la Renta's Volupte, one of my Sophia Grojsman guilty pleasures. I wore it last night and kept thinking, petulantly, "I don't think this smells like tampon."

To the movie theater, I wore Alahine. I was shocked that this registered as old lady because though classic it seems pretty contemporary.

Brian said...

Stangers are a cross between strangers and stalkers, I'm told. Not that I would know.

Anonymous said...


I read fragrance blogs often and comment little to never. This was such a funny/great post that I have to respond.

I find it very frustrating when people do not respond to my fragrance choices as they are so very personal to me (moreso than clothes, etc.). They are what pull me in when I don't know someone and get frustrated when I don't get the same responses. Anyway, the three fragrances I've had the most response from recently are Spiriteuse Doble Vanille (sp)(several times last week I received unsolicited responses from strangers- in the heat of DC no less), Carnal Flower (same thing), and Ezra's Poem by Soivohle(put on a tiny bit with SDV, and I smelled delish and was told so by someone I rarely speak with). However, I did apply it right before I jumped in a car with my dad and he nearly propelled himself out of the car... which tells me that I should apply awhile before I go into enclosed spaces (granted, the only cologne I remember him wearing is English Leather and that was over 30 years ago). Great article and blog; I really enjoy reading your, and Abigail's, insightful, personal, and poetic articles.

Best, Geordan

indieperfumes said...

I have come to believe that if people like your perfume, they like you, if they don't, your relationship is on the rocks. Perfume is make to be beautiful, if people don't sense that, it's personal stuff getting in the way. That's my opinion, for what it's worth, anyway. Work, tho, is another story. You're all thrown together without personal volition, so everyone is trying hard not to get on each others' nerves. It's not easy...

Tatyana said...

Brian, I think, you are exactly right. And rare, unusual scents may appear strange and difficult to recognize and understand.

Ann C said...

I can so relate to your post. I rarely get compliments because I apply sparingly. When I do, I'm pleased, but then paranoid, wondering whether I applied too much. Even my husband rarely notices my perfume choices, and when I press my wrist to his nose and demand an opinion, he almost always says it's nice or pleasant. Oh well, it could be worse--he could be one of those people who hates perfume.

Katy Josephine said...

This is a great post - made me LOL! I SO get the 'wanting to stand out but afraid of it, too.'

It can be difficult to know the right perfume and the perfect application at the exact right time.

So I wear what I damn well please and just hope everyone else can live with it.

ScentScelf said...

**starts by waving up at Geordan, the only other commenter I've come across who has Ezra's Poem** :)

A fine assortment indeed. I feel a bit jealous, I must admit, to the punchline to #1; truth be told, I can't deliver "that old lady was me" as a punchline. It'd be more of a "paunch-line"...the trick is a bit harder for a woman, and when you pass a certain age, it's either a gimmick or the truth. Or too close to either to be comfortable. ;) No worries; I still wear Azuree because it smells good, dammit. "Old lady" being, as always, subjective, and subject to one's own desire.

Vinyl raincoat mixed with cat pee. Priceless. Good friend.

I share your anxieties about "subjecting" others to my perfume...generally, I realize as I reflect, when I am less sure of how *I* feel about it. Which I think ultimately is related to Lucy's comment. If I'm more comfortable with me, then maybe I can handle responses better, whatever they may be?

Kind of chuckling at Anon of the E-mail. Little did they know that they could cause such an IF you only had one scent, and one style (heavy, light) of application. What scent? What day? What weather?? Augh!!! ...incidentally, anonymous notes bug the bejeezus out of me. I guess it's one step better than a lawsuit, but sheesh...can we talk, people?

Good on the friend, the boyfriend, the crazy cats. (My cats did that once, but I was early in, and it didn't occur to me that bloggers and zoos might be interested to know just what scent it was, so I did not take note. I was as bad as Anon of the E-mail.)

And yay for the friend who gives you a hug and whispers in your ear "you smell good." Again, back to Lucy...we take it personally, don't we? And in a good way.

Have noted the Tabac Aurea + Cuir de Lancome, btw. And would advise all reading to keep pillows on the beds, beneath slumbering heads. ;)

ScentScelf said...
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ScentScelf said...
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Anonymous said...

I love this post. I often feel this way myself. I also make it a habit to compliment someone when I smell a good frag. They're very infrequently puzzled (I think twice I have had someone say they aren't wearing anything) but almost always they beam and are so happy.

Too often nasty people feel free to say something snotty, it should also be acceptable to say something nice!

Prosetry said...

If anyone ever notices my perfume in any way, I am always horrified. I've come to realize that I really do just wear perfume for myself. I love to smell it wafting up when I move or when I'm doing something. It always gives me a moment to remember ME and NOW and be in the moment. It's a little reminder all day to enjoy things and that I am wearing perfume and it smells good.

But whenever a stranger tells me I smell good, I'm always surprised and a bit shocked! It seems so intimate, like they're smelling deeper into me than I am ready for them to reveal. Is that odd?

The one time I adored the attention was when I just discovered Sonoma Scent Studio (this blog helped with that discovery, btw!) and two women accosted be at the store and were like "SNIFF! What are you WEARING?!" and made me write it down and the website. It was wonderful, because I am so smitten with Erickson's work, it felt like a privilege to be able to share her with others.

Olfacta said...

See # 5. The perfume-o-phobics have made us all paranoid. I remember times when most people wore some sort of fragrance or after-shave and smelled good, easily, naturally, without gnawing self-doubt about offending somebody. These are not easy times. We want privacy, to escape from the constant onslaught of sales disguised as communication, but also want to be recognized or at least acknowledged.

RM said...

What a great post - really funny and very relatable!
I've got too many stories to mention but I will tell you about a co-worker who divides my fragrance choice for the day into three categories; baby, hippie and sh&$,
I take baby to mean clean musks, something powdery, etc. Hippie is normally incense, patchouli type scents and sh&$ to be dirtyish musks, civet, tobacco types.
Very rarely has she ever commented in a positive way.
Guarenteed crowd pleasers for me however are always Philosykos, Tobacco Vanille, CdG Kyoto, Bond No. 9 New Haarlem and strangely enough my wife called me at work this morning to find out what I had put on before I left because she thought it was 'beautiful.' Answer - Tabac Aurea! There you go, I guess with every miss there's a hit! Even though it seems I'm missing more than I'm hitting - but who cares? I'm enjoying myself!

Angela Cox said...

You bought Bois D'Encens for some guy ? I just have to light my candle to swoon ,I must watch out in T.K.Maxx because I read somewhere it is discontinued.
I've had some odd looks wearing Une Rose but I always think they must be thinking "there's an angel in this room somewhere" .I wore Sa Majeste La Rose this morning and suddenly my husband commented ..very positively.That was a great post.

Brian said...

To be fair, Angela, he IS one of my best friends. And I knew it would convert him, so that I would never have to hear a silly comment about fragrance loving again. Sure enough, it did the trick. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing though. He and his wife went into a mall on a trip to Missouri, stopped at a perfumania, and inquired as to whether they might have any Bois d'encens in stock! Why yes. Right next to the vintage My Sin.

Normand said...

That "old lady perfume" is a classic. It seems to be the general comment to anything that is strong (most chypres). Although I always wear something to the office, I have only received the odd comment. Stetson appears to have incredible sillage and elicits comments quite easily and the one and only time I wore Serge Lutens Musc Kublai Khan a colleague upon entering my office said, "Ça sent le mâle ici." (loose translation : It smells like a man in here).

Uh... I guess.


Bellatrix said...

I maximally enjoyed reading this on the beach :) If I go red - it is your fault!!

Btw, I believe that many good comments can erase few of those which were wierd :)

Perfumeshrine said...

Brilliant! :-)

Isn't it ever so interesting that fear occupies our every thought associated with our hobby these days? Fear of not offending, of not creating antipathies, of not hurting someone's sensitivities, of not appearing a certain way...A way of society to control one of the last remaining "revolutionary" or "libertine" reflexes one has? Perhaps...

Hope you're well!

Angela Cox said...

Brian,my first bottle of vintage My Sin just srrived in the post so I am swooning again !

cheryl said...

Yes thank you. I know what you mean about the paranoia. The 10 different perfumes going on at once. It's the existentialism of perfume.

Monika said...

LOVED this post!!

Last week, my daughter had a little 7 year old friend over, and was telling her that I use her padded lunchbox for my shampoo when we travel (they were off to day camp with their lunches).

"Oh yes" said the pert little blonde (think Shelley Long's Diane from CHEERS), "I can see that... I can smell the hairspray... Very nice smelling hairspray".

-- This, just as I had walked in after applying 3 spritzes of Paestum Rose. Paestum Rose as hairspray... ! Oh well, at least she liked it...

I've gotten compliments from complete strangers on La Chasse Aux Papillons (once, a server at an ice cream shop no less), and Petite Cherie (which I haven't worn in many, many years).

A couple of months ago, I put on 3 squirts of a Tauer, and then felt very uncomfortable when my friend, who was driving, rolled down her window. It was a grey and rainy day... I hate that feeling...

Anonymous said...

Hi I'm straight male but who knows...
my friend come in and said that in my house allways smell so nice and that this is suspicious :)
I have paranoia about my smell too
but if people don't talk to me that I'm stinking then I shouldn't be worried, it's just their problem then

FruitDiet said...

I have experienced all of these things! My friends in the know generally tell me I smell good- those that don't either assume I wear strong, strange colognes or are just confused. I would add to this list (and this is the one that irritates me above all others, even the classic "Who sprayed for bugs in here?") is "You smell like baby powder." Just as every scent that can be smelled translates as "old lady", everything I wear is somehow reduced to baby powder. Youth-Dew, Opium, Giorgio, Habanita, Femme, Calandre- ALL have elicited a dastardly baby powder comment. What kind of baby powder have these people been smelling? It really kills my fantasy of Joan Crawford exotic oriental spices and old Hollywood glamor when someone barges in and tells me I smell like a common product used to keep babies' asses from chafing. And if it's not baby powder, then people say (sometimes, obnoxiously, without ill intent) that I smell like their grandmother. Just because their grandmother happened to have good taste does not mean I SMELL LIKE HER. When will people get over this "old lady" thing? It irritates me when people who are aware of my perfume obsession good-naturedly tell me I smell like an old lady, implying that I wear these perfumes in order to seem feminine, or just cause I'm a crazy fag or something. I wear them because they smell great, and I believe they WORK ON A MAN! Not because I want to smell like a woman!

People are really, really open about their hatred of Aromatics Elixir, which I wear all the time. A coworker told me I smelled like piss when I was wearing it one day.

Oh, this is a good one, and this happened today: I got a DUI and tragically have an interlock on my car, which requires a monthly trip to the interlock maintenance place. I walked in wearing two newly applied sprays of Carnal Flower. A man, his girlfriend, and their baby were also in the room, waiting for the interlocks to be installed. The man suddenly started going on about how the baby smelled like shit and needed to be changed. I smelled no shit, nor did the mother. The man would not let up about it. He went so far as to prop open the door, and began loudly saying "It smells in HERE" rather than "the baby smells". Even the Carnal Flower is not remotely fecal, and even though there's a good chance that it was my paranoia acting up, I have a feeling he was trying to tell me something.

Also, pretty much the only things that ever garner compliments on me are totally boring and I never wear them. I HATE how, the two times a year I wear Le Male, the most totally generic thing I own, people go apeshit over how good I smell. There's an exact correlation between how good I smell to others and how bored I am.

Brian said...

Ok, Fruit. You're going to think I'm weird. But here's the list of psychic coincidences that happened today. Every day I pack a bag of fragrances. It's like my crack for the day. Today I put several things I love but never wear or take with me: Fleur de Male, Theorema, and Aromatics Elixir. So then I get to work and there are unmoderated comments from you discussing FDM and AE, and a post on Yesterday's Perfume reviewing Theorema. I'm not saying I'm psychic, but it's a little odd.

I get baby powder a lot. One friend who is over often says baby powder no matter what I give him to smell. It's annoying. I've never smelled baby powder that smells like these things.

Meanwhile, my co-worker continues to cough and sneeze from four rooms away when I spritz the tiniest amount of something on.