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Perfume Notes: Chemistry
by Dorothy

Like most of the Internet, I love this Old Spice commercial:

So archly funny and, unlike the craptastic Brut ads from last year, it plays on the "manly man" concept without being misogynistic, homophobic, or 10 years behind the times (mocking boybands in 2009? Really?).

Except that the premise of the ad, useful as it is from a marketing perspective, is flawed: in my experience, it's not that easy to stop a man from smelling like a man. Men and women apparently sweat a bit differently, but I've smelled a number of men just out of the shower, having used various girly bath products, and they still smell like men, not women. My boyfriend uses Dial almond body wash, which smells like a very low-rent take on Hypnotic Poison, and he still smells like a man. And I don't smell like a man, even when wearing Pour Monsieur, Guerlain Vetiver, or Troisième Homme.

(Of course, since North American culture still generally mistrusts femininity in men, it's far more socially acceptable for me to wear Pour Monsieur than for my boyfriend to wear Hypnotic Poison. More's the pity.)

Having this background, I was surprised to read in Turin and Sanchez's Perfumes: The Guide that skin chemistry doesn't affect perfume, or affects only the top notes, as this isn't my experience at all. Not only do women smell different from men, but we vary as individuals: plenty of people report that their skin amplifies some notes in perfumes and "disappears" others.

On my skin, most roses turn sour and boozy, even those that have a reputation for softness. Jasmine and tuberose have to be quite strong and indolic not to turn metallic and irritating, like the feeling of aluminum foil between one's teeth (hedione is apparently not my friend); green florals frequently turn into syrup or potpourri. But the real demon is melon. Le Parfum de Thérèse, widely loved for its jasmine and fruit salad aspects, smells utterly vile on me, like watermelon-flavoured Jolly Ranchers sucked on and spit out. And yet this is a very well-regarded scent: I have to conclude that it's my skin or my nose altering it this way.

This is what's especially difficult about writing about perfume, I think: most of us can see the same basic range of colours and call them the same things, and even guess, based on looking at each other, which makeup will flatter and which won't. But noses and skin chemistry are individual and not easily predicted; perfume really has to be tested.

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3/10/2010 [1]

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