by Jeanie Lo
I looked at my roommate’s perfume collection and stopped at her bottle of Miss Dior Eau De Toilette. The bottle has a silver ribbon on the neck, pink liquid inside and Scottish checker prints on the bottom. She chuckled behind me.
“My guy friend said this smelled like sex,” she said.
I laughed. Compared to Miss Dior Cherie, Eau De Toilette smelled much less innocent.
Legend has it that when Cleopatra went to meet her then-lover, Mark Anthony she filled her ship with rose petals and walked through them. As she descended as queen, she seduced him with the scent of roses.
And so do all the female characters in perfume commercials. Remember that 2015 Miss Dior commercial when Natalie Portman turned her back against a wedding to catch a little rendezvous with a helicopter pilot as he kisses her neck — the place where woman usually put on their perfume? Or this year’s Dolce and Gabbana’s commercial for Light Blue Eau Intense, where a half-naked David Gandy jumps into the ocean to swim towards Bianca Balti in her white bikini, and they start kissing on a float? Or the dozens of photographs of kissing couples in perfume advertisements in the latest edition of any fashion magazine. All of these advertisements tell us that being a woman is to be desired.
And it’s true that part of being a woman is the development of biological and sexual maturity. For girls, a change we noticed from elementary to middle school to high school, is that we start talking about boys. It’s the idea of sexual attraction and the increase of desirability. Scent triggers the brain to signal the release of pheromones, a hormone that stimulates sexual appetite. Wearing perfume is part of the game of courtship. As females, we make conscious choices to initiate the courting dance, and that part of self-determination is characteristic of womanhood.
But it’s not limited to just courtship or desire.
Although flowers can be identical in their color or shape, there are no two floral scents that are exactly the same, because of the large diversity of volatile compounds and their relative abundances and interactions. Flowers of many plant species produce a scent, typically a complex mixture of low molecular weight compounds emitted by flowers into the atmosphere and its structure. Color and odor are critical factors in attracting pollinators.
I like to bury my head into my mother’s embrace because her scent reminds me of home. Her scent is a mixture between Jean Paul Gaultier’s Classique and some Chanel perfume. To me, her scent reminds me of a strong woman role model in my life. I sometimes spray on my Ellenisia Eau de Parfum from Penhaligon because it’s the first perfume I bought with my first friend at my first university experience in Scotland. The Penghaligon store was packed with more than 50 different perfumes on the walls and the center table. Each looked exquisite and elegant, the lights bouncing off their reflective glass surfaces. I asked the staff what scent should I consider, and he recommended to me the floral-based perfume. My friend said it suited me with my bubbly personality and romantic outlook of the world.
Every time I put on Ellenisia, I remember the times me and my friend went to party together, or study in the library, or attend edinburgh’s Christmas Market, or visit the National Gallery of Art and admire Botticelli’s paintings. The perfume reminded me of days when I lived on my own, days when I had to take care of myself away from my home country. The perfume encapsulated the year I turned nineteen and studied abroad for the first time in my life.
Wearing perfume transports us back to a specific memory or place — it creates a safe space for us to reminisce and escape into imagination. Since memory is one of the main components of identity, odor is like an identification tag that gives us our individuality.
And part of growing up as a woman is gaining a sense of self-consciousness, a sense of being aware that you are an independent entity now, not owned by your parents, your friends, your lover — anyone. This distinguished sense of self-awareness pushes us from girlhood to womanhood.