Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Weird Comments on Perfume and Other Short Stories

"Have you rolled in gunpowder? What is it you are smelling of?" he said with an air of surprised distaste. This is what my tender 14 year old years met with one memorable afternoon as I was decked to the nines to go play at a piano concert organized by the Conservatoire. The delivering agent of the comment that would apparently shutter my childlike innocence was my own beloved father as we were entering the car, off to a -not so good- start to the concert in question. Flubberbusted and quite self-conscious for the rest of the afternoon (of which I have little recollection otherwise) I was rolling the info I had on the  innocuous Anais Anais by Cacharel I had just sprayed on in the back corridor of my mind.

Source: ghastlydelights.tumblr.com via PerfumeShrine on Pinterest Photo of Ina Balke, 1962 by Jeanloup Sieff

The guy has a good nose, you see, and I never for one minute doubted he would not be smelling what he said he was smelling. It's enough to make you a bit paranoid, though; if Anais Anais smells of gunpowder (on your skin? in general? who knows?), then what the hell do other, less conspicuous but more questionable, smells really smell of to those meeting you? Still, the experience was enough to make me doubt my perception and to start paying more attention to everything my father remarked on regarding smells.

It took me years to finally figure our that yes, my father had his nose screwed on the right way (this sounds much naughtier than it it's intended to be) and that yup, he was in fact smelling gunpowder indeed. It just wasn't coming from my Cacharel perfume, but rather from the Normaderm spot treatment gel which I used as a precaution on my forehead to deter stray pimples forming from my mousse-ed bangs sticking to it. The treatment contained sulfur, as I found out later on. In retrospect it's a good thing he didn't say I smelled of rotten eggs instead (which are highly sulfurous), my confidence would have been shredded to pieces and I doubt I would have ventured beyond the car. But the story goes to show that a weird comment regarding our scent can have an impact on our day; sometimes if we're obsessive enough, on more than one day. I mean, look at me, I'm rambling on something that happened years and years ago (more than I care to mention)!

I guess not everyone is as occupied as I was at 14 with what impression they give when going out wearing their latest perfume fling. (All right, all adolescents are a bit wrapped up in how they present themselves to the world, so take that statement at its face value). Otherwise things like Burger King fragrance or Zombie cologne spray wouldn't even be possible. But apparently they are, so there's something there. Do some of us secretly hide a frat-boy in our heart of hearts, longing to play pranks and engage in scatological questionable humor, their scent-du-jour included? Are there many others out there who are so afraid of giving off the wrong impression that they censor their fragrance wardrobe and limit their exposure, however? I bet there are. If you're one of those who upon hearing the word "diapers" (or "incontinence", "baby wipes", "ass", "like weed", "lady bits", "mothballs" and the dreaded "old lady" in relation to any fragrance) shudder and start viewing your beloved perfume bottle with the disdain reserved for child molesters, you know you're one of them.

And why are we so horrified of giving the wrong impression via our smell, much more so than our fashion sense, our world views or our home decorating? Probably because like the state of our complexion it is a biological indicator that speaks volumes without uttering a sound and, at the same time, like the books that we like or the art we enjoy a gauge of our taste & statement of the self.

So fire away in the comments: what are the weirdest comments you have had on your fragrance? I'm dying to know.


  1. When my son was about three, he often said my perfume smelled "like vegetables." He meant it as a compliment!

  2. Anonymous21:38

    When I was 14 I was given a bottle of really proper Frnch perfume from the company my dad worked for. I cannot for the life of me remember the name, and believe me I tried! It was complex, very french and proper, had narcissus and jasmine and a complex base. Well I wore a drop to school, and the girl I sat next to wrinkled her nose and said someone smelled like pee. I was white with -some emotion-fright, maybe. I had just moved from a small rural school to a horrible big city, and the school was awful. But I was worried I was offensive to this girl, with her Boy Geroge eye makeup who had rings of filth around her neck.
    LOL I found life hard, at 14!

  3. Well, there was the time my 6-year-old son complained that..."Geez, Mom, why do you always have to smell of...something?" (He didn't give any specifics!)

    But I do believe the strangest thing I've ever heard was from my sister (a.k.a. the Patchouli Bombshell). "You smell like an old, old man!" This was one of my all-time favorites (which to my nose is anything but manly or indeed 'old') - Amouage Epic Woman.

    I eyed that costly little decant askew for a while! ;)

  4. Miss Heliotrope02:26

    I suppose we worry about smell bc people might think it is us personally rather than something sprayed on, & thus prove one to be a dirty or worse person -

    Smell is intimate, I think more so bc we arent as great at it as seeing or hearing, and also our language for it is often (amongst perfume civilians, esp) rather limited.

    My usual cringe-inducing perfume comment by another is my mum, although it's really a non-comment. She never comments. Ever. Even when I say O this is that lovely new one, or this is my fave today. She's just silent.

    I dont tend to have matching taste with her, I dont really know why I say anything, but it's non-reaction, so carefully done, that reduces me to screams every time.

  5. Amy,

    at least you know he eats his vegetables with delight (more than can be said for most kids)

    Funny though :-)

  6. Carole,

    oh, that's just a shame! But then the unfamiliar is always treated with some distrust, so that must be consolation for you. Not when you're a teenager, of course, so...well, as long as you know it's a bunch of silliness now. In many ways though our adolescence shapes 't us, doesn't it?

  7. S,

    kids are irrepressibly honest about these things. I suppose it's a compliment in reverse; he prefers your own natural smell. Think of it that way.:-Cute though.

    Epic: must be the oud? You think??

  8. MH,

    perfectly said. I too think it's mostly a worry about our personal smell. But then when it's blatant it's perfume it also becomes a put down on someone's taste, which is ever so transient to pin down (no one thinks they have bad taste or a lack of humor, have you noticed?)

    Your mum sounds like she's "killing in wool cotton" as we say. The power of silence. I suppose she doesn't want to appear like she's criticizing if she doesn't like something? Some people are like that. Or it can be that she lacks the vocabulary to engage or that she feels utterly bored by the topic itself? Lots of reasons possible, but I'm sure you know best since you're the daughter. I'm just rumbling.

  9. You know, I often wonder if what we smell smells different to each of us (I wonder the same about taste).
    I think the weirdest comment I got was that I smelled like Poison Ivy (from Batman)- that was the guy's association. I was wearing Paestum Rose which I do find a bit toxic. ;)
    And once that I smell perfume-y, as in similar to what once passed as perfume - while wearing Shalimar.

    I did ask my boyfriend what he put on because it smelled like puke. Unbelievably so. Turns out Angel Malt smells AWFUL on him.

  10. mariablogrom12:18

    Just want to say that this is a wonderful post! What a great memory and what a prove that with some sensitive thinking you can figure out the reality behind strong emotions. Wonderful! Now I have to really concentrate to remember all bad things I ever heard about the way I smell, because I surely hide them deep somewhere

  11. Among many perfumes, I wore Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose is high school. The jock-type boys in my 10th-grade math class called me 'Eau de Rose' until we graduated. They teased me daily that I was covering up something (i was an eclectic dresser). At our reunion, a couple confessed that the scent was 'intoxicating,' and that was distracting! They complimented me on my individuality and for continuing to wear it despite being teased!

    I also wore Chanel No.19, which some of my friends thought was sharp and masculine. This was the late 80s/early 90s, so dreck like Giorgio and Eternity ruled the airways.

  12. Anonymous15:07

    H! When I got my lovely new perfume Seville a L'Aube (beautiful orange blossom, beeswax and lavender) my Mum commented 'yeugh! that smells sulphurous'. It turns out it was a light self-tanning lotion I was wearing, not the perfume, which she declared was absolutely beautiful the next time I wore it.

    I'll forgo tanned skin for a beautiful perfume any day!

    In general my Mum can be relied upon to be bluntly honest about my perfumes, which have been described variously as 'Disgusting' (Fireside Intense) 'Like a vintage boudoir with old pants strewn over the floor' (Infusion d'Iris) and 'Nothingy' (Dahlia Noir) Everything she likes on me she nearly always says, 'oooh that's lovely, like a wonderful old fashioned pretty perfume'(Bulgari Black) Or, quite simply 'keep that one, it's a beautiful, beautiful dusty fig' (Philosykos). I just make sure not to wear Infusion d'iris around her, Dahlia Noir she was quite right (I sold it).

    I don't know anyone else who comments so precisely other than 'ooh', 'lovely' etc.

  13. Gisela17:53

    My daughter once told me that my beloved Onda extrait smelled like a toilet rim block. That didn't stop me from wearing it, though. ;-)

  14. I bought Guerlain's Mitsuoko because I loved Luca Turin's review of it. He referred to it as a desert island scent!

    My husband agrees.

    He says it is the perfect desert island scent because it smells like bug spray.

  15. The first fine fragrance I owned was given to me by my German boyfriend. We where both in college and I wondered how he could afford a bottle of Scherrer II. Anyway, one night I was getting on the elevator all dressed up to party with my Scherrer II pumping and the response from one of the occupants in the elevator was an actual choking sound and the comment "what is that smell making me wanna gag". This guy was a jock type and he smelled of old sweat, cheese, and stale beer. I turned around and snapped " yeah I was gonna ask you the same question". With all my show of bravado though, I was mortified inside. I told my boyfriend later that maybe this fragrance was too much for me but he insisted it's classy and don't be so 'American' when it comes to fragrance. Well I did stop wearing it for awhile. Only a few years later could I really appreciate the beauty of this fragrance but I still remember that jerk on the elevator.

  16. Anonymous21:36

    The worst was a colleague asking me if I'd been drinking, all the worse since it was in the morning and he was a friend of my control freak boss at the time. Shudder!!! That was the beginning of some degree of paranoia about what my perfume really smells like to others, which has only been perpetuated by reading the ever divergent views on any scent by perfume blog commenters. I really prefer to enjoy perfume at home where I can wear as much as I like of anything. ~~nozknoz

  17. Ines,

    what a funny story!

    Now, do you associate puke with too many beers? That should be telling, since it's...malt! :-D

    I'm pegging Paestum Rose to the Carnival kit alongside the green ivy leaves to stick on one's body now. ;-O

  18. Maria,

    thank you so much for the lovely compliment. :-)

    I suppose when we disassociate and think things more detached we can arrive at the truth more probably than when emotionally too engaged in the experience. It takes some practice, though!

    Smell is an intimate function more than other bodily functions and this is what makes it so very powerful.

  19. Anina,

    that's an amazing story, because it shows how even superficially "negative" mentions in fact hide something much deeper under the veneer.
    Kudos for sticking to your guns and to yourself!

  20. Rosestrang,

    you have a gem of a mother in your hands it seems; people who are precise in their commentary and give actually qualitative and quantitative data to go upon are priceless. Even when they say something negative, you can use the info to your own advantage.

    (Btw, wish I got that from infusion d'Iris; was it the edt or edp?)

    Tanning lotions have this dreaded over-baked in a tin foil cookie in them, don't they. I found the only solution is use them lightly at night, sleep in dark sheets and wash well first thing in the morning. (No smell after that)

  21. gisela,

    ouch!! That hurt!
    But it's a beautiful, individual perfume and things like that are not meant to please everyone. (Who knows, she might grow to appreciate it eventually)

  22. Amy,

    I outright belly laughed at this. Priceless!!! Thank you!!

    Well, there might be something there. I once got the comment that "it smells how a porn film would" for Mitsouko (the guy was smelling it off the cap of the bottle). Needless to say I love Mitsouko and wear it often.

  23. Tom's Girl,

    thanks for sharing your story.

    How mortifying and how well you handled it. I find these offhand comments when someone might be suspecting it's someone's perfume (and not actual garbage, insecticide etc), yet they're going out of their way to note their displeasure in crude terms, are passive aggressive (well, aggressive plainly, come to think of it) and very rude. So sometimes they do need to be put into their place.

    Scherrer II is beautiful and you shouldn't forgo it for that, so I'm glad to hear you didn't it. Your German boyfriend had great sleuthing capabilities to find it and gift you with it. A cherished memory to chase the bad one, so there :-)

  24. Noz,

    it's generally good practice to use perfumes with abandon in one's home and discreetly when outside, but surely your situation takes the cake! This is both a delicate situation due to the work angle and one where you'd have wanted to retort and correct the impression.
    Anyway, seems you waded through it and that's what matters.

  25. Don't put such ideas in my head! :)
    The only thing I associate with many beers is a good time. ;)

  26. Ines,

    LOL, didn't mean to!!
    And yes, fun is more like it. :-D

  27. Anonymous21:14

    Perfume Shrine

    "(Btw, wish I got that from infusion d'Iris; was it the edt or edp?)"

    Heehee! It was the edp. I agree it's great to have qualitative criticism, though I'm still happily wearing Infusion d'Iris :)

  28. Rosestrang,

    ah, the version I like! :-D
    We'll both continue to wear our Infusion edp with great aplomb, I suppose!

    {constructive and nuanced criticism is sometimes invaluable; you get connections you never thought of. This is why I highlight its value so much in my comments]

  29. Maria08:09

    I've never had such a comment regarding my choices... The one that puzzled me was "your intelligentsia-style perfumes" - that about my wood-amber-based mass-lux set of Eau des merveilles, Samsara, Sensuous, Prada's L'eau ambrée and Tom Ford's Amber Absolute (which was the immediate cause of the comment!) a bit diluted with Herba Fresca and Tocca's Cleopatra. Not something I would associate with intelligentsia, but well.

    A friend of mine, though, labels the smell of Nivea for men line "the musk rat", hates it absolutely and hates this or similar smell in a cologne. It's been years now and I still can't predict which eau pour homme would be turned down because of this rare rodent!

  30. Maria,

    ha, what an interesting comment you got!! I wouldn't have expected it. Maybe something about woody and deep scents (but not standard orientals which can be pegged) makes them being classified as such?

    Mental note to smell Nivea for Men products. I will report back! ;-)

  31. Maria16:13

    Could be woods... I still don't know what to make of that comment. I also think that most people (even here in Russia) have an intuitive, hence not very precise, idea of what intelligentsia is or was, so it's hardly a common ground for comparison...

    I'd love to know what you make out of this goddamn rat!

  32. Maria,

    ha, if even in Russia intelligentsia is an uncommon term I'm afraid we're living in a very changed world. :-)
    Maybe it will be a term in the dictionary one day.

    I haven't been to the store yet, but will do.
    In the meantime, is your boyfriend North American? Muskrats are common enough rodents, surely, though and they mark their territory in "musky" (i.e. pungent) spray their area. So maybe he just means the stuff stinks? (I do think he uses it metaphorically and not literally; I doubt modern people are so intimately acquainted with animal smells unless they have lived a good part of their lives in the wild/countryside).

  33. correction: "they mark their territory in "musky' (i.e. pungent) spray, all around their area".

  34. Maria11:47

    Some people use the term to mean a person who thinks too much and fruitlessly about issues that are abstract, not down-to-earth problem-at-hand solving, and it has a degrading shade to it... I hope this will pass as level of life will rise across the country - it has to!

    No, we are both Russian, and we did spend Summers of our childhood in the countryside; "the countryside" being Russian villages during and immediately after Perestroika, you can safely say "in the wild" :-) Ondatra is well known here, but as a rather expensive fur material, so you are right, it is metaphorical, and he uses the word to express utter disgust. But I can't put my finger on what exactly it is... some kind of masculine perfumery staple, like a cheap 'fougere accord', or something as common.

  35. Maria,

    ah *sigh* well...I now understand what you mean. It's a bit disappointing that only the practical stuff gets recognized in our day and age; what happened to idealism? But I digress.

    "Cheap fougere accord" sounds like an excellent and very illuminating description -will confirm when I have smelled it. This is perfumista talking. His talking is like most people's, therefore utterly confusing (one can't pick another's mind unless they ask so many questions that the other person starts getting a bit scared and defensive, in my experience; there is a finite number of things one can ask another in regards to such scented matters before they close up like a clam and the game of knowledge gathering is lost on us...)

  36. Maria,

    having now smelled Nivea for Men I confirm your boyfriend's opinion: it does smell "cheap". This is an interesting phenomenon (what constitutes "cheap" in smells) which I intent to tackle in a separate article later on, so will come back to it, but for now I concur that it is a repeat of every masculine cologne "trend" out there (Cool Water and Aqua di Gio be darned for starting this).

    Hope this helps a bit! Thanks for providing the inspiration to go smell in the first place. :-D

  37. Maria11:51

    Wow, I found the last comment only now.. slow me!
    Thanks for getting back to it, I really appreciate!
    Guess what he finally approved of and owned and wears daily? L'eau par Kenzo colored edition. Hah!
    And I was so sorry that my beloved L'eau d'orange verte was a miss with him... Go figure :)

  38. Maria,

    no problem! As long as you saw I replied, it's fine :-)

    Ha, one would think that Eau d'Orange Verte wouldn't be a miss on anyone: it's such a happy, zingy, uplifting smell and easy to like. L'Eau par Kenzo is even even more of a no pressure though ;-) That's all right, you will introduce him slowly. (Leave small samples around and give positive feedback when he tries them out)



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