The intimacy of perfume

April 15th, 2014, 11pm

It was 16°C with few clouds. The breeze was gentle.

I recently came to the realization that I would make a terrible perfume blogger. Don’t get me wrong — I love perfume, and I have a decent sense of smell. The problem is, my reaction to scent is, in some ways, even more visceral than my reaction to food. It is instant, intuitive, and bypasses so many levels of conscious thought.

I sprayed some of Hermessences’ Vetiver Tonka on the other day — a recent duty-free splurge — and instead of picking out the vetiver, tonka bean, hazelnut notes, all I could think was, ”MMM. Smells like Chinese mooncakes. Smells like Mid-Autumn Festival. Smells like home.”

Something about scent is incredibly triggering, personal. Serge Lutens’ Fille en Aiguilles is supposed to smell like pine, incense, dried fruits. What I get is the image of my mother’s tonic soup (in the best possible way.)

Everything I experience with perfume is too personal, intimate. Impossible to replicate.

My relationship with scent is constantly evolving.

My first bottle of perfume was Dior J’adore Eau de Parfum, a 17th birthday gift from friends who knew I had been eyeing (sniffing?) it for months. It smelled good, but more importantly, it smelled sophisticated, adult, elegant. It was the manifestation of the kind of woman I aspired to be. An avatar for my ideal.

My late teens to very-early 20s was dominated by an attraction to scents that made me feel more powerful than I was. Perfume was a message to the world around me. Armor.

Then, I discovered the interpretation of perfume that everyone else seemed to have learned before me. Perfume as a weapon for attraction. Smelling good for the sake of someone else. Fragrances for dates, for parties — smelling approachable, feminine, sexy.

Commercialized, mass market feminines capitalize on our innate desire to be attractive. Safe, inoffensive scents. Fruity florals. Flowers. Roses. Apples. Whatever we have been socially trained to find girly and pleasant. There are some great-smelling juices out there catered for this audience, but they are not meant to be transcendent, emotional, intellectually provocative. At least for me, they fail to inspire any sort of obsession.

Right now, all I want to do is luxuriate in the scents that inspire nostalgia. Seek out niche fragrances that experiment with different points of view. If the point of art is to provoke thought and emotion, then perfume is an art form.

Right now, perfume is not my armor or my avatar. It is not my olfactory cleavage for the opposite sex. It is something I put on and quietly experience as it interacts with the unique chemistry of my skin, bringing up very personal memories and associations.

I am starting to enjoy life — not for others — but for myself.

Luis, Gabriel, Jan, Mona and 2 others said thanks.

Share this moment

Yiling Ding

Think too much. Write too little.

Create a free account

Have an account? Sign in.

Sign up with Facebook