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Sense of a woman

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Found me some whale vomit.

Found me some whale vomit.

A rather gruff, pragmatic friend of mine surprised me recently when he mentioned that when he was a child, his mother died of cancer and he subsequently began to follow women around supermarkets who smelt like his mum.

"My older brothers would yell at me 'Where the f--- you going?' as I wandered off down an aisle and I'd say 'she's wearing mum's perfume!'"

I'll pause here a second to let your heart break, like mine did. In fact, next time I see this guy I'll give him a hug on behalf of all of us because, despite his surliness, relentless political incorrectness and partiality to bar fights, you can still see that little boy in his eyes when he smiles.

We'd been chatting about whale vomit and how it was sought-after by perfumers to make fragrances and every guy at the table was able to name a distant teenage love and the usually atrocious, cheap scent she used.

White Diamonds by Elizabeth Arden. 4711. Rive Gauche by Yves Saint Laurent.

"It doesn't matter where or when I smell it, who's wearing it, I think of my ex and my throat closes up and I'm in love again for about three seconds," said one gentleman.

Now I'm a grown-up, I find the whole concept of perfume kind of ridiculous, particularly the implied notion women need to daub themselves with a fragrance to "smell nice". It echoes the same cheerful hostility as make-up and high heels, which we chatted about on this blog six years ago.

As the redoubtable Helen Razer said in one of the better rants of the year: "Here in Australia as in much of the developed world, it is the crucial work of middle-class women to consume. It then falls to sensible editors to romance ladies with the money to buy things such as scented candles and face cream and fair-trade lube" ... and perfume. 

If that's your thing, good luck to you. There's so many screwed up aspects about the world, should we be surprised women pay $500 for a thimble of alcohol devised by a gay man to make them "feel more feminine"?

My mother loves Chanel No.5. I buy it for her duty-free whenever I go overseas and it makes her briefly feel good when she uses it on special occasions. I could instead buy her a voucher for a full body massage but she wouldn't use it.

There's a knot of cultural coercion in those two sentences I'm still trying to untie as I watch my daughter grow. However, I am teaching her to kidney punch anyone who suggests smells can be characterised as "masculine" and "feminine". 

Aaaaanyway, I thought a little too much about my gruff friend's story and couldn't help juxtaposing it with one my ex-girlfriend told me many years ago.

Her then-fiancé had died a few years earlier in an air crash, trying to pilot a cargo plane during a thunderstorm and, as she flagellated herself deciding whether to keep their unborn child, she'd bury her head in his dirty t-shirts and sniff.

His odour. His oils. His sweat.

Not his aftershave because, like many men, "he didn't wear it". 

This was one of her most powerful memories of him, not something boiled up in lab and squirted out of a fancy bottle at fifty bucks a millilitre.

There's a very old joke that goes:

Q: "Why do women wear perfume and make-up?"

A: "Because they stink and they're ugly".

It's offensive, sure, but not really a patch on the fact so many women believe it's true.  

You can follow Sam on Twitter here. His email address is here.

Please don't take it personally if I do not reply to your email as they come in thick and fast depending on the topic. Please know, I appreciate you taking the time to write and comment and offer mummy hugs to all. 

52 comments

  • if you're wandering through the urban jungle sniffing for a mate,
    chanel#5 is a masking agent.

    any gals out there like brut 33?

    Commenter
    beno
    Location
    campin'out with mr romantic
    Date and time
    Fri Aug 23 12:31:17 UTC 2013
    • My Dad used to wear Brut, back in the day. Sigh. Still makes me think of him when I smell it. Can't help it. I love it. Now he wears CK???

      There is something so personal and powerful about individual smell. I have run out of my fav perfume, Have to order it in from Melbourne.

      Commenter
      she-raz
      Date and time
      Sat Aug 24 01:49:48 UTC 2013
    • the thing about brut is that you don't just dab it on, you slap it on.
      funny memories of my old man puffing up his cheeks
      and holding his breathe to avoid ingesting it during application.

      Commenter
      beno
      Location
      campin'out
      Date and time
      Sat Aug 24 12:24:24 UTC 2013
    • hehe OMG Beno, slapping it on, so true! I remember that :) I also remember trying to create my own perfume out of leftover Brut and some cheap perfumes and soaps my Mum had. Ick,

      Commenter
      She-Raz
      Date and time
      Sun Aug 25 03:41:06 UTC 2013
  • Most men who have a problem with make up and perfume are just misers concerned about how much their wife or girlfriend spends on herself. While assuring the lady she doesn't need these they will then spend all their time oggling other men's women who use them. Men flatter themselves that women use make up and perfume in an effort to make themselves attractive for them. Wake up, it's not all about you! A woman's body is her own, not yours, and she is free to put on it or not whatever she pleases.If you have aproblem with that go back into your cave.

    Commenter
    Charmaine
    Location
    China
    Date and time
    Fri Aug 23 13:32:02 UTC 2013
    • Hey Charmaine - I think you are projecting your own values here. As (I'm assuming you are) a woman, I know that my partner and most of my male friends couldn't give a rat's about make up, and only like subtle scents. It has nothing to do with money, just a preference for natural beauty in all it's forms. Of course women are free to spend their money on whatever they want, but don't fool yourself that men even notice clothes & makeup, except when they feel the result is outlandish.

      Commenter
      zoom
      Date and time
      Fri Aug 23 22:06:44 UTC 2013
    • You poor sad thing, Charmaine.
      You won't believe it now, but when you find the right guy perhaps you'll realise - a man CAN love you just for you, paintless, perfumeless, just as you are. He won't be ogling perfume and paint elsewhere if you are what he wants.
      Sure, you can paint and spray to your heart's content if it makes you happy. But I'm sad to think that you really think you'd have to hide behind all that because otherwise your man will chase it elsewhere. Give yourself - and men - more credit.

      Commenter
      sunny
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      Sat Aug 24 02:09:13 UTC 2013
    • To the egotist who wrote the prevoius comment, not that it is any of your business but I have been happily married for probably longer than you have existed. My comments are based on having lived in and observed ethnic communities all over Europe and Asia and their attitudes to life and family etc. Your study is based on what?

      Commenter
      Charmaine
      Location
      China
      Date and time
      Sat Aug 24 05:53:29 UTC 2013
    • I make myself up for whoever chooses to look. Sometimes.
      I make myself up to look not tired when my visitor arrives.
      I make myself up so I have on my war paint for my workplace so they don't see the vulnerable me.
      A precious few have seen me not made up.
      It is my choice and not to be dismissed as something it is not. If I feel safe then I can be seen without make up by that person. If I don't I will wear it.
      Thinking about it I guess it is the same with perfume. I wear it to work and nowhere else.

      Commenter
      M
      Date and time
      Sat Aug 24 08:20:56 UTC 2013
    • I think only good looking woman should wear perfume. A perfumer once said that "perfume is to compliment not to compensate." A nice smelling perfume will not make an unattractive woman look pleasing, it sounds cruel but it is the truth.

      That goes for the whole fashion industry, beautiful clothes only looks good on pretty young women. Ironically the rich clientele are usually old and overweight, they bought these expensive clothes hoping to look like the fashion models.

      The question is, are you wearing the perfume or is the perfume wearing you?

      Commenter
      MissyP
      Date and time
      Sun Aug 25 03:56:45 UTC 2013

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