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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Spritz Me Baby One More Time?

Article by Tina

Ever since I first became more actively interested in the wonderful and never-ending world of fragrances, I couldn’t help but immediately notice a very intriguing phenomenon. There seems to be a vast difference in approach to applying one’s perfume between USA and Europe (these two being the countries I am most familiar with, speaking of fragrance habits). As far as I can understand, in The States there is a very strict etiquette concerning how much perfume one should wear when in public, meaning working environment and other places that are usually crowded with people. I believe that it is considered somehow rude and intrusive if a person standing next can actually smell one’s perfume, except on special or quite intimate occasions. Now, I won’t say I don’t understand this. When using such a powerful and potentially overbearing “instrument” as perfume can be, it is perfectly reasonable to take into consideration other people’s preferences, sensations, emotions, and last but not least, noses. On the other hand, in Europe, we are much less strict about that. In fact, we can say that quite the opposite is true. Lets imagine a French woman (I’m saying this because ‘French woman’ springs to mind when speaking of the epitome of good taste and classic, elegant attitude towards beauty) in her late thirties or forties, after all age does not play a significant role. She’s always chic, immaculate, nonchalant in her elegance, groomed to perfection, without a hair out of place. And bien sûr, she is surrounded by a translucent cloud of a mysterious perfume which is applied with more than just a few shy, discreet drops on her wrists. She makes an entrance, a statement and she is not afraid of it. She might do all the multitasking that life demands from her - take her child to the kinder garden, have a job interview or enjoying a dinner with her fiancé; she knows that a perfume is a must-have at any time of the day as it is her loyal partner which never lets her down.

I think that knowing the limits when applying perfume is somehow similar and as risqué as tightrope walking. I’m sure nobody wants to leave people in the mall, standing behind them, helplessly gasping for air. On the other hand, what is the point of wearing a beautiful, exquisite, expensive thing that perfumes undoubtedly are, if nobody (including oneself) can enjoy them, unless of course pressing their nose tightly to the wrist and inhaling really deeply?

In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with people coincidentally catching a whiff of one’s perfume. Fragrance is an intimate thing for sure, but also a secret code of subconscious correspondence with others. After all we live such fast lives that an unexpected trace of one’s perfume might be the only part of one’s soul revealed to people passing by.

*The image is Candy by Tracy Dennison

18 Comments:

Blogger tmp00 said...

You really don't live in the states.

Here the pale, anodyne PC police rule. Dogs are not allowed in restaurants (although I have never seen a dog throw tantrums or food), smoking is an offense looked at as somwhere just north of flashing, and perfume is actually looked at as something akin to assault. Here we have the "Chemical Sensitive", and there are entire buildings that one must not dare to wear perfume, hairspray or deoderant.

It's in that vein that I apply my scent. Just a few spritzes on the chest under the shirt. Other than a couple of girls at work who are huggy, I'm the only one who can smell it, and it does make me a little sad. I admit it, I'm a compliment whore. :-)

Columbina, I was wearing the Amouassai you sent me and upon leaving dinner with a dear friend she gave me a hug, stopped, buried her nose in my chest and grilled me as to where I got it and what it was. I of course gave you all props; I loev being told that I smell delicious.

Perfume Circe strkes even second hand!

12:59 AM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

I could not agree more - we SHOULD flaunt it! It's better than smelling people who DON'T wear fragrance. (Been on a city bus lately? I have. Every day. 'Nuff said.) If only people would wear GOOD QUALITY perfume all the time and not ghastly stuff that does make one feel ill, the world would be a far better place.

3:10 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree, to an extent. I want to smell my perfume during the day. It's an extension of my style and my personality, and it makes me happy. However, I'm also aware that we don't all have the same taste. If I'm wearing a shirt people at my office think is ugly, it's not going to distract them from the job at hand. If I'm wearing a hefty amount of perfume my office-mates dislike, should they have to smear their noses with Vicks Vaporub or breathe through their mouths all day so they aren't bothered by it? I've sat by people with horrible B.O. or wearing an ounce of perfume, and it's quite distracting. No fragrance smells good when the amp is cranked up to 11! I don't think it's crazy to keep other people in mind when you spritz before leaving the house.

3:37 AM EDT  
Anonymous Amy K said...

"After all, we live such fast lives that an unexpected trace of one’s perfume might be the only part of one’s soul revealed to people passing by."

What a lovely sentence!

I prefer my own perfume to be in quantities less than a cloud, but more than just a phantom trace.

3:46 AM EDT  
Blogger marchlion said...

That's so weird! My comment just disappeared. Apologies if it reappears... I said I agreed with TMPOO that here in the U.S., fragrance is viewed from the perspective of possibly trampling on someone else's rights, like secondhand smoke. I personally find catching a stranger's scent on the breeze to be a treat. Further, I think I'm the only member of my immediate circle of friends on whom you could detect fragrance at any distance (they view it as a funny quirk of mine.)

7:25 AM EDT  
Blogger chaya ruchama said...

Actually, mes femmes, you are ALL right in your observations.

When I smell "badly perfumed" folks [ones that render you violently ill,or have chosen something that violates their personal chemistry] it resembles assault and battery. But I thrill to someone who reveals a part of themselves to me in such a subtle way...

Personally,if I'm working [with chemo patients, terminally ill, and neurologically affected], I often choose fragrances that are not too sweet or too pungent.
My choice may tend towards setting a mood for my co-workers- something that soothes,comforts, cheers. I reapply it anyway-

Then again, some days, even at work, I NEED what a particular perfume has to offer, or to express a facet of myself artistically, and that's that... only true Philistines have ever muttered about it, and most folks just sidle up and bury their noses wherever they please...sigh...

Perfume yourselves as you will, I defend your right to the death!

7:42 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I've discovered some of my favorite scents when some woman w/ divine sillage has passed me and I've run after her to find out what she was wearing. Most of those women have been in Europe or South America.
Just wanted to also put in my vote w/ Tom for sweet, well mannered, clean canine children in restaurants. One of the main reasons I love Paris is the fact that my canine child is made to feel so welcome there. And although I don't smoke myself, I do love sitting in a cafe and smelling other people's smoke.

7:53 AM EDT  
Blogger greeneyes said...

I generally follow the two-foot rule, which means people should not be able to smell you from more than two feet away. That way someone standing next to you would catch a whiff, or someone passing close by, but not necessarily everyone in close proximity, like on the elevator.

My husband often complains that I don't wear enough perfume because he can't smell me unless he gets very close. He likes the proximity of scent (and he's very sensitive to it), so I trust him as a judge.

That said, I had an experience just like tmp000's last night--at my book club, one of my friends gor right up on me and smelled my neck and swooned! She said she kept catching whiffs all night but couldn't really tell where the scent was coming from, and then figured out it was me! And the scent, by the way, was Loukhoum.

8:52 AM EDT  
Blogger Patty said...

I think it's tough to walk the line on this. I don't want to offend other people with monster sillage, but I like smelling other people's perfume too, especially if it is quality and not a gallon of Jovan Musk (not that that's bad, just bad in large quantities)

9:01 AM EDT  
Blogger colombina said...

Tina,
What a great artcile! Thank you so much for it!

All I can say is, misquoting Braveheart:

"You can take my life, but you can't take my freedom...to wear perfume!"

Tom,
That's right spread the obsession. The more people we covert to our perfume...um... cult? religion? :-), the better.

9:36 AM EDT  
Blogger Anya said...

I think that the attitude towards one's personal space are quite different, as you note. Every European I know (and I know many) with a few exceptions, smokes. They smoke everywhere in public there. Here in the States, they complain bitterly about not being able to smoke in restaurants and bars.

I prefer my food not be scented with Gaulois or Guerlain. I also like to walk and experience clean air.

They see nothing wrong with filling the air, the room, with smoke, so that obviously carries over to the use of perfume. It's a cultural thing.

9:46 AM EDT  
Anonymous Ina said...

Gentle sillage is great. Violent sillage, however, kills the scent, in my opinion. Knowing how much perfume to put on is an acquired skill. It depends so much on each individual scent. For instance, to truly appreciate Clinique's Aromatics Elixir, one needs just a drop/spray or two, not more.

9:53 AM EDT  
Anonymous Teri said...

One of my earliest memories is a fragrance memory of my grandmother (a very elegant European-born woman). I would always know when she'd arrived for a visit by her delightful scent wafting through our house. Gran's fragrances (she had one for summer, one for winter) fit her so well chemically and stylistically that although she applied them a bit on the heavy side, one never really found it to be over the top.

To this day, I love scenting other women in the mall, in the park, at a concert. An appropriate fragrance, even if applied with a somewhat heavy hand, delights me.

I truly believe that it's the inexpensive, inappropriate scents, chosen with regard only for cost or popularity and then over-applied that have caused society to cringe. Unless one is possessed of allergies or has medical issues that affect one's olfactory perceptions, most people appreciate a well-scented woman.

2:30 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

here's how i look at it. the term sillage denotes movement. so if you can smell my perfume when i move, that's a nice thing. but if you can smell it from across the room when i'm sitting still, that's not so good. i just don't think we should be air wicks (brand of air freshener).

i would rather my perfume be sensed as a comet tail or firework would be seen - brilliant and beautiful for a moment, then elusively gone the next.

toward that end, i wear enough perfume (usually edts and edps) so that you smell it when you're in my personal space, but not when you're farther away than that. and i am careful about reapplying my scent while i'm at work. if i do it at all, it's when i know it will have time to settle before i am around other people.

when i interviewed him, i asked jean-michel duriez about perfume application, and he told me that he thinks we get into trouble when we keep reapplying our scent so that our scent-tired noses can smell it. others around us can still smell our earlier application, even though we can't - so when we reapply, it's extra strong to their noses. -- minette

4:58 PM EDT  
Anonymous timam said...

I would like to thank everyone for your precious thoughts and opinions regarding this subject. I truly enjoyed reading them and carefully, too. please do not hesitate to leave more comments if you wish so.
tina

5:55 PM EDT  
Blogger Lucy said...

This is a fascinating discussion. I admit I feel too guilty to apply as much fragrance as I would like if I am going to an office environment. But if I am going to a museum or walking around mostly I think a little more can be gotten away with. Probably in a movie theater or at a restaurant it could be intrusive to some people. I find I can put more on at home in the evening and enjoy it that way too...

8:42 PM EDT  
Blogger katiedid said...

Lovely essay, Tina. I do feel - perhaps this is the American in me - that it's preferable to make an entrance on one's own rather than with one's fragrance. I like the intimacy of sillage to be confined to only those who approach me or pass closely. I don't want to give away my secret code to just anyone ;) I really love this thought you expressed especially: "After all we live such fast lives that an unexpected trace of one’s perfume might be the only part of one’s soul revealed to people passing by." A beautiful sentiment, and worded wonderfully.

10:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Rosabell said...

I want people to sniff the air and say "Hey,this is Rosa coming !":)) I love sillage and I never buy a fragrance,no matter how much I like it if it has no STRONG staying power. :))And I feel about 100% european and proud to be one 1

4:15 PM EST  

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