Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Ubiquity of Scent

Difficult to believe though it may be, I now find myself in the position of not being able to wear any perfume--for two entire weeks! I am caring for my mother's beloved shih-tzu while she is away on a cruise with her husband (my step-dad). This seemed like a good thing for me to do. The pup has Cushing's disease and is twelve years old, and my mom was seriously concerned that she might come home to a dead dog if she put her up in a kennel or in a ward at the local veterinary hospital. So here I am.

Deciding which perfumes to wear was a difficult task, as many other perfumistas have reported about similar scenarios in the past. It was a bit less difficult, I suppose, because the bulk of my excessive bottle collection is now hidden snuggly away in a storage space. I have been perfuming myself with a fraction of my collection selected primarily for hot-weather readiness--and of course general wonderfulness. It's actually a good exercise to find out which of one's bottles are really worth holding onto and which could be given away without undue strife. As I made my way through my storage space deciding on my summertime perfume wardrobe, I found myself drawn compulsively to Hermès. Basically every Hermès I saw I wanted to add to the pile to take back to my house. Ditto for the Prada, though that was in part because I own full-on jugs of both Infusion d'Iris and Infusion d'Homme, which are perfect for summertime with their clean yet sophisticated personalities. Same for the other Prada Infusions, all of which I own. (Yeah, I know.)

Over the course of the summer I have nearly drained my bottle of Creed Fleurs de Bulgarie, but I have a back up in storage, so no worries! I have also made inroads into my third bottle of La Perla La Perla (the old bottle with the ugly black plastic cap, not the new one, the contents of which I do not like). Rather than Hermès, the houses I've reached for most often over the past couple of months have been Miller Harris and InekePoet's Jasmine appears now to be my favorite "wear to the library" perfume, despite its formidable sillage. I also continue to spritz my way through Le Labo Poudre d'Orient (now on bottle #2). Guerlain Chamade (also bottle #2) and Houbigant Quelques Fleurs L'originale (a twentieth-century vintage) have been worn quite a lot as well.

You might be wondering: Are those really hot-weather scents? They are chez moi, at least this summer, and especially after a bath and before bedtime, because I now own an air conditioner and use it to create a cool-weather climate to escape to when the space downstairs starts to feel like a steam bath. Thanks to my air conditioner, I have even managed to drink a lot of hot tea this summer!

So the trip. What to bring? I debated a few options, including to tote along only two or three bottles which might be drainable during the trip, after which I could toss the empty vessels. Of course, not all bottles are toss-worthy, but that seemed like a good idea since I am trying to tame my tendency toward "collecting"--what is now officially known as "hoarding". Apparently the latest (twenty-first-century) conventional wisdom is that we are now supposed to read all of our books and magazines on Kindle and watch movies streamed live. Anyone who persists in maintaining big collections of either books or DVDs must be pathological!!!!! Ditto for perfume, well, except that it is a pathology afflicting only about .00001% of the population. You know you have a problem when you expel a sigh of relief upon sighting a collection at Parfumo or Fragrantica even larger than your own--especially if it's double or triple the size! (Thank you, Action.)

That logic does not really work, of course. The fact that a person owns 1,000 perfumes does not make it any less excessive for me to own 400. I think that I may have more than that, but the stuff that I really need to get rid of--because I never, ever wear it--I no longer list anywhere.

I could not settle on two or three bottles, nor did it seem like the best solution to my predicament, given that I have hundreds if not thousands of sample vials and decants, and I know for a fact that evaporation is a much worse problem for those than for bottles. In the end, I gathered up a bunch of Histoires des Parfums and Tauer Perfumes samples, and packed them in my bag. Happily I flew on Jet Blue which still permits passengers to bring a bag large enough for a two-week trip without paying a fee! There are lots of other reasons to love Jet Blue (not a shill, just a fan!): above all, the spacious seats and friendly staff. They even provide snacks and never bitch or moan or snarl if you ask for something to drink or a second bag of chips!

Upon my arrival at my parents' humble abode in Boulder, Colorado, I learned that, in addition to her many other health issues, Jula is allergic to perfume! My mom has been seriously worried that Jula might die over the summer, and the last thing I want on my hands is a dead dog, so I promised her that I would not wear any perfume. And I have not.

Except that I have! During this "no perfume" period, I have begun to pay a lot of attention to stuff around me that is really very strongly perfumed. Take the Dial soap I bought upon my arrival. I meant to buy white Dial, which is my favorite body soap. I did buy white Dial Soap. Unfortunately, I did not read the fine print. The white Dial I bought is not the white Dial I like. It has a "Spring Water" scent which smells an awful lot like an aquatic cologne. It's really very strongly scented, to the point of evoking memories of Acqua di Gio and sundry other aquatics which make me feel a bit queasy if not downright seasick. I bought a package of  8 bars, having just run out chez moi, and knowing that I would have to buy some anyway upon my return to Boston. I debated taking the 7 unopened bars back to the store to exchange, but I'm not sure that they would. Plus it was on sale, so it did not cost that much to begin with. I probably should have just bought another package of the regular white Dial, but I have been experimenting on myself to see whether my attitude toward this particular scent will change with repeated usage. Will I become less or more intolerant of this scent, which seems clearly to boast calone? One thing is clear: I seem to be spending a lot more time rinsing than I ever did before...

Then there is the hand soap in my mom's upstairs bathroom. It, too, smells like some sort of aquatic cologne! Is this a conspiracy being perpetrated by Procter & Gamble? I ask most sincerely. The laundry detergent is "Free", that is, devoid of any added scent. Trouble is, the scent of unscented laundry detergent is not the scent of water. It's more like a kind of plastic, it seems to me.

There are lots of other scents here, too. Need I even mention that dogs smell like ... dogs? My mom took Jula to the groomer the day before my arrival. So for one day she smelled like freshly shampooed hair. According to my mom, the groomers use the only shampoo which Jula can tolerate, and it is very lightly scented, but not completely unscented, at least according to my nose. It does not smell like Bedhead shampoo, for example, which in my experience contains a full 100ml bottle of perfume in each large bottle of shampoo or conditioner. That stuff is seriously strong and will and does conflict with some perfumes, so it's important to plan ahead before using such hair products.

Which reminds me of a funny new trend. Hair perfume. That's right. Companies both mainstream and niche are now offering perfume for hair! This strikes me as funny, as so many hair products with functional benefits are already extremely heavily scented with full-on perfume. One glaring example comes to mind: Oscar Blandi leave-in conditioner smells EXACTLY like a jasmine soliflore. In fact, it is a jasmine soliflore, as far as I can tell. Why Jasmine Absolute is explicitly listed among the ingredients! (Apparently the Oscar Blandi company is not privy to the latest "scientific findings" of the IFRA...) But it also conditions the hair. I'm not sure about the hair perfumes being sold by Frédéric Malle, et al. Are they also hair products? I'll have to look more closely into that, but now that I'm on a rambling roll, there's no stopping for a Google fact-finding mission.

So dogs. Yes, dogs will be dogs, and dogs will smell like dogs. To dog owners, who are nearly by definition dog lovers--except for the small contingent of Hitler wannabes who upbraid their dogs for such crimes as, well, being dogs--the scent of dogs is probably a welcome one. To me, I have to admit: it is not. I do not like the smell of dogs. It's a natural scent which may overlap with dirty musk to some extent, so I'm not being a dog bigot here. It's a matter of scent preference, and I am on record as not liking dirty musk perfumes. So I'm not really picking on dogs. I just don't happen to like that particular scent. A chacun son goût...

(part 2)


  1. Good to see you back! A couple of odds & ends:
    1) I don't use any Procter & Gamble products. While they claim to have stopped much of their animal testing, the info I can find is equivocal. The last I could find, they did horrible testing on dogs and cats for their Eukanuba and Iams pet foods. (SO unnecessary.) Even if they cleaned that up, they are a company that supports politically many things I abhor (Fox News, ALEC, etc.).
    2) My own and my foster dogs have been vegan for some years, with the exception of puppies. (For them I use puppy food donated to our rescue. There don't seem to be any vegan dog foods formulated for puppies. If I were raising them myself, I would do more research, but I've only fostered puppies briefly.) I do believe that my vegan dogs smell significantly less "doggy" than other dogs I come into contact with who eat meat. That would go with the fact that I sometimes smell a very unpleasant smell from humans who eat meat, especially a lot of fast food. I'm not the only person who loves the smell of horses, and I wonder whether their herbivore diet has something to do with that.

    1. Thanks, PBF! How ironic that P&G should do unethical testing of animals for pet food! I had no idea--thanks for the info.

      For the last couple of years of The Emperor's divine life, I often prepared home-made food: braised chicken breast processed to a paté. I'm not sure that he would have been okay with tofu and beans! A vegan diet for critters? Wow! That means no eggs, either, right?

      How interesting that the diet affects their scent. Well, I suppose that we already knew that from people who eat a lot of garlic and curry. Actually, come to think of it, Bryan Ross has an amusing post about the mingling scent of onion and paprika exuded by the cells of Eastern Europeans...

      I agree that horses smell kind of nice. I never thought of the herbivore connection. Fascinating! But why in the world I do I think that cats smell like a bed of roses? My sister's theory is that a few select human beings have been graced with cat pheromone receptors. Clearly I am one of them! ;-)

      In fact, the whole dog people vs. cat people dichotomy may be explained by such a theory!

  2. It's so unromantic, Shera Pop, but it does seem that, the more we dig into it, the more human beings seem to be just walking bags of chemical production and reception, no?

    As to the vegan diet - my dogs have really thrived on it. I don't know a lot of people who have had a malamute mix live to age 17, as I have. As you know, I apparently am missing vital cat receptors, so I don't have any cats. I do know people who have vegan cats who do quite well, though. (I know that cats are fussier eaters than dogs, so I am sure it's important to get good recipes that meet their palatability needs.) AFAIK, the best book on this topic is Obligate Carnivore by Jed Gillen. He founded a company that made vegan foods for dogs and cats, so he addresses the nutrient issues really thoroughly. I've heard a lot over the years about one of the stumbling blocks with cats being taurine, which they can't produce themselves. Gillen says, though, that even commercial meat-based foods add synthetic taurine! Here's an article he wrote, FYI:

    1. Ursula and I were talking at Facebook about the fact that some people love people (and animals) in spite of their scent, so perhaps we can hold on to our romantic inclinations to some extent. "Love conquers scent" or at least temporarily, though we do expect measures to be taken to address extreme stinkiness.

      A propos of cats and the possibility of a vegan diet: one concern would be that they easily develop diabetes (case in point: HRH Emperor Oliver), and this may be exacerbated by the consumption of too much grain. It's rather shocking that many mass market foods contain tons of corn meal and/or wheat gluten. Not that wheat gluten is evil, mind you (I'm not one of THEM), but it's definitely nothing that a feline would be seeking out in the wild. My sister once put the point rather pithily: when was the last time you saw a feral cat out on the hunt for a corn field?

      The key for vegan-minded caretakers (or personal assistants!), as you say, is getting everything provided by a meat diet but without the meat. I have no doubt that it would be challenging indeed! I used to indulge The Emperor with mammals (beef and lamb), which I no longer eat. Somehow it seemed like his prerogative...

    2. Shera Pop: You would need to check the ingredients yourself, naturally, but the vegan dog food I use contains neither wheat nor corn. I'd imagine that the vegan cat foods would be the same. I think the purveyors of vegan pet food tend to be extra-careful about using high quality ingredients because they are under so much more scrutiny than, say, Purina.

  3. I've, too, noticed the hair perfume trend and had been wondering.

    Speaking of shampoos..... for years I used Vidal Sassoon shampoo because it it was the only shampoo that didn't make me break out in hives. Then, due to legal issues (Between Sassoon and, natch, P&G) it disappeared in the US. I could still get it in Japan, but, for some reason, I switched to Shiseido's Tsubaki. I have been using Tsubaki for years now and bringing bottles back whenever I visited Japan. I'm kinda lazy and tend to wash my body using shampoo, so whatever scent the shampoo has does affect how a perfume smells on me. OK, yes, Tsubaki is supposed to smell of camellias. I find it doesn't clash with perfumes I wear, though.

    Anyway, Vidal Sassoon shampoo was reintroduced in the US recently. When I ran out of Tsubaki (2014 is the first year I haven't been in Japan since 1989!), I figured I would go back to the VS. P&G, though, has obviously switched the formulation. It now smells of.... ammonia! Understandably, I don't want to smell like that! At first I blamed disgruntled supermarket employees on the smell. I've checked bottles in different locations, though, and the ammonia smell seems consistent everywhere.

    A visitor from Japan kindly brought me me a bottle of Tsubaki this summer. However, I stubbornly insist on finishing my bottle of VS shampoo. The smell does make perfumes I wear smell very different from what I am used to and I find myself not as excited about scents as I normally am (was?). I think I have at least another month of Vidal Sassoon to finish before moving on.

    1. Hello, Furriner! Nice to see you around these parts.

      Your experience with a P&G mangled shampoo basically sums up the problem of reformulation in the era of corporate conglomeratization. It's not just P&G, of course. LVMH seems to be in the process of ruining entire houses by dumbing everything down, adding tons of aromachemicals and yet persisting in the use of the same old market-worthy labels of perfumes which frankly are no longer being produced--except in name.

      Obviously these companies are basing such drastic changes on careful financial calculation. Do the savings gained by reformulation (and I am certain that they are ALL cost-cutting measures...) out weigh the loss of the loyal former users? Apparently they do. Too bad for all of the old lady perfume wearers who were scenting themselves way back in the twentieth century.

      The companies must figure that we are a dying breed, so they are banking (literally) on the newer crops of consumers who never knew any better... At some point, nearly everyone alive will truly believe that "perfume" refers to sweet laundry scents and the like.

      So there you have a very nice rationalization (ad hoc, tendentious...) for my plus-sized perfume collection--most of which was acquired before any of this nonsense began!

      Should you drain your VS bottle? Maybe the shampoo could be used as a laundry detergent? Just be sure to set your machine on "extra rinse". ;-)


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