lundi 19 septembre 2016

Of Olfactory Incivility (A Rant)


Perfumers are unanimous: their clients (the brands) keep asking for ever-more-potent fragrances. The fact is, perfume now has to compete with the punch packed by fabric softeners, now micro-encapsulated into textiles, releasing their scent over several hours (days, weeks…). And people want a bang for their buck. 

When I complained about this trend, which turns any journey in public transportation into an olfactory cacophony, I was gently chided by a perfumer friend for looking down my nose on “popular tastes”. Perhaps I am. This doesn’t mean I’m wrong at being alarmed at this increasing loudness in fine fragrance. What does it say about our times?

These olfactory selfie-sticks expanding the radius of me-me-me bring to mind what the philosopher Slavoj Žižek branded “The Return of Public Vulgarity”.

“The problem here is what Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel called Sittlichkeit: mores, the thick background of (unwritten) rules of social life, the thick and impenetrable ethical substance that tells us what we can and cannot do. These rules are disintegrating today.”

Foghorn scents are a symptom (admittedly benign) of this disintegration, an olfactory incivility. Because they’re soundless and invisible, their wearers are not aware they're being loutish, but wearing them springs from the same sense of entitlement as manspreading (aka "the crystal balls syndrome") or vociferating one’s life on the phone in a public place. And the taste for them speaks of blunted sensitivity – you need a fragrance to blare out the simplest possible message (Candy! Clean laundry!) before it can reach your brain.Call it locked caps for the nose.

But these atomic clouds of scent are also a bubble to retreat in, like the earbuds of an iPod – the difference being everyone is subjected to your nosy music.  In France, when you dislike someone you say “Je ne peux pas le sentir”, “I can’t smell him”. When your personal space feels infringed upon by strangers, by their not-me-smell, you push back: olfactory attack as a means of defense. Perhaps perfume is returning to one of its original apotropaic functions – a reminiscence of its use in years of plague to push back pestilence. But now, instead of camphor, rosemary or benzoin, we have praline, synthetic lavender or spiky woods. If perfume brands wanted to give ammo to the anti-perfume lobby, they couldn’t have found a better way.


14 commentaires:

  1. I like a scent that I can smell for a couple of hours. But I do know that sth is wrong when the person oposite at a table from me smells it as well. There dosage is what is needed. Max 2 spritz, not dousing yourself in the scent.

    RépondreSupprimer
    Réponses
    1. I agree. But what I find alarming is that now brands demand scents that you can literally not wear discreetly because they're so powerful!

      Supprimer
  2. I love "locked caps for the nose." That's all I have to say! Great post.

    RépondreSupprimer
    Réponses
    1. Hey Angie! I'd already forgotten I'd written that -- stand by it, though!

      Supprimer
  3. Things do seem to be going to extremes. Where I live in the States, it's becoming more and more common to read signs in businesses (especially those related to health care)demanding that those who enter wear no scent whatsoever. That's the flip side of what you are discussing, I think!

    RépondreSupprimer
    Réponses
    1. I think the "no scents" policy is, at least partly, a response to the nose-whammers. I mean, getting a snootful of La vie est belle or Invictus would be enough for a relapse in many cases -- can you imagine people undergoing chemo being subjected to those chemtrails? Not commenting here on the actual composition of the scents, of course. Nor on their smell (to each her own, right, as long as it *stays* her own).

      Supprimer
  4. Funny, I seem to have the opposite problem, that I find most perfumes can't be smelled at all, a bit emperors clothes if you will. But I suppose that's the 'niche' answer to loud mainstream candy shop/ functional fragrance perfumes?

    RépondreSupprimer
    Réponses
    1. Hm. I find lots of niche perfumes pretty loud as well (but in a different way -- all those ambers, incenses, tuberoses and ouds...). Maybe you're anosmic to certain musks, or there's a violet/iris + sandalwood combo that can induce "nose blindness" after less than an hours (I get it, for instance, with Dries Van Noten). Another thing is if you dab a lot from samples, as opposed to spraying: I've found that this "muffles" scents a lot. And lastly, maybe part of what you've been sampling isn't super-well built? Sometimes scents have holes in their development... Ok, I'm out of hypotheses.

      Supprimer
    2. I suppose you're right, I'm excluding the gourmands, incense, tuberose, ouds, and thinking more of the ones that potentially look like an interesting composition, but turn out to be, as you put it, not well built. And yes I am anosmic to too much musk as well, which sort of erases the scent for me. I was really unhappy with not being able to smell ne m'oubliez pas for example. A musk thing? Sprayed, dabbed all tried.

      Supprimer
    3. You know,the weird thing is that some of those anosmias evolve. I'm smelling more musks that I used to (from intensive exposure, I suppose). The opposite, my hyperosmia to big stonking spiky woods, seems to be receding. Go figure. Mysteries of the brain.

      Supprimer
  5. My constant quest is for unscented products: laundry soap, dish soap, face creams,cleaning products,antiperspirant, hair products... Everything but everything is saturated in scent. No, I *dont* need my dishes to smell like pomegranate-cucumber or whatever ungodly combo someone in R&D favored that day. Nor do I need the entire world to smell like a donut shop or a high-class simulacrum of the ocean breeze. Yuck.

    RépondreSupprimer
  6. My constant quest is for unscented products: laundry soap, dish soap, face creams,cleaning products,antiperspirant, hair products... Everything but everything is saturated in scent. No, I *dont* need my dishes to smell like pomegranate-cucumber or whatever ungodly combo someone in R&D favored that day. Nor do I need the entire world to smell like a donut shop or a high-class simulacrum of the ocean breeze. Yuck.

    RépondreSupprimer
  7. My constant quest is for unscented products: laundry soap, dish soap, face creams,cleaning products,antiperspirant, hair products... Everything but everything is saturated in scent. No, I *dont* need my dishes to smell like pomegranate-cucumber or whatever ungodly combo someone in R&D favored that day. Nor do I need the entire world to smell like a donut shop or a high-class simulacrum of the ocean breeze. Yuck.

    RépondreSupprimer
    Réponses
    1. To me, detergents, body lotions and deodorants are the most important to find unscented -- I love my Oeillet Mignardise soap and using the black pepper-scented Astier de Villatte dish soap is a pleasure. But like you, I find it incredibly annoying that most products are so "nose-noisy". Ungodly's the word.

      Supprimer