Continued from Part 4 of a series where I talk about perfume and smells.
I was introduced to the idea of men wearing fragrances when a male friend from college asked me for a suggestion of an odorless glue for cardmaking. I thought it was an unusual request. It turned out that he wanted to spray his cologne on the card to send it to his long-distance girlfriend in Australia. As someone without a boyfriend at the time (much less a boyfriend that wears cologne), the idea of it seemed strange but somewhat sweet. I suppose scent is a nice way to send a piece of yourself to a beloved in order to approximate the closeness that you had in the physical world.
Fast forward a few years, I found myself fascinated by my male schoolmate who always smelled good. Completely forgetting that perfume was a thing, I bluntly asked for the detergent that he used. Because what else but detergent could smell so good? His answer was disappointing, just good old Tide, commonly used by everyone else. I promptly concluded that some people just smelled better than others – the ‘why’ of it remained mysterious. The said schoolmate I ended up being good friends with and I spent a lot of time in his company, content to be within sniffing distance.
A couple of years, three relocations and a perfume habit later, I found myself in a company of another male friend for brunch at a Thai joint. We were making our way across the neighbourhood when he started wafting a familiar scent.
“Hey, what detergent do you use?” I asked, for the second time in my life.
“I don’t know. I usually send my clothes to the laundromat.”
“Huh. Are you wearing a cologne?” It finally dawned me to ask.
He sniffs the front of his shirt.
“Oh. What cologne do you wear?”
“Bleu de Chanel. Does it smell bad?”
“Ah. No, it’s just weird because you smell exactly like someone else I know.”
And so I learned that the smell had a name. I found out long after we parted ways that it was specifically Bleu de Chanel in the Eau de Parfum (EDP) concentration1, thanks to a Chanel sales associate. He eventually stopped wearing Bleu de Chanel in my company. It was pity because it smelled good, but also a relief because in my mind it already belonged to someone else. It’s like seeing the back of someone you know on the street. Just as you’re about to call out to him, he turns around and you realize that it’s just someone else.
Such is a side-effect of wearing a widely available and popular cologne. For both my male companions, Bleu de Chanel was their signature scent, one which they wore often. For a lot of people, smelling like another person is less than desirable. I can’t speak for everyone, but I imagine it would be mortifying to smell like a the ex of your first-time date. Or worse: of their mum or dad. Ironically, my dad wore Bleu de Chanel in the Eau de Toilette (EDT) concentration, which thankfully, smells nothing like the EDP2.
The way that people smell is fascinating. I know this makes me sound like a huge weirdo, but it’s such an invisible yet present feature of a person that often goes unnoticed. I don’t believe that a persons perfume says more about them than their handwriting, but I am fascinated by what other people enjoy smelling on themselves. Choosing a perfume is such a personal act. A scent so beloved by one can be the stuff of nightmares of another. Look up the classic Guerlain Mitsouko as an example of a ‘love it or hate it’ perfume. Why is it that a perfume smells of golden peaches and velvety spices to one but of an unpleasant musty attic to another3?
Sadly, most people do not wear fragrances where I currently live in Singapore. When they do, it’s usually something inoffensive 4 and applied with a light hand. Singapore is a small, air-conditioned city and the public areas get very crowded, so it’s only polite to avoid suffocating the people around you. I’ve recognized some familiars on street and it’s often a welcome surprise. Thank you, lady in SoHo for trailing your delicious cloud of Santal 33 as you walk past. Hey, you there wearing Un Jardin sur le Nil in the CBD, you smell like a citrus paradise.
I’ve always wondered if I’ve ever passed someone on the street that recognized my perfume.
And if they did, did it remind them of someone they know?
End of Part 5. Read Part 6.
For more detail on the technical differences between an Eau de Toilette, Eau de Parfum and Eau de Cologne, read this FAQ by Now Smell This and then this excellent post on Reddit on how concentrations actually don’t tell you much about the fragrance. ↩
I did end up getting my dad a large bottle of the Bleu de Chanel EDP for Christmas though. Just because it’s a more sophisticated version of the EDT. That was before I wrote this blog post. Will I be weirded out by the association? Maybe. I don’t know and there’s only one way to find out. Fortunately I don’t live near my parents so I won’t smell it very often, so I’d rather let my father enjoy it than worry too much about developing an Oedipal complex. ↩
Check out these two contrasting opinions on Guerlain’s Mitsouko: Ode to Mitsouko and We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: Guerlain Mitsouko, a sort-of Perfume Review. ↩
Jo Malone is extremely popular among Singaporeans, judging by the local resale market on Carousell. Personally I don’t care for their scents and they’re far too expensive for the quality or aesthetic value (or lack of it), but I can see why their inoffensive products do very well for gifting or personal in Asia. ↩