Smells can invoke memories, sexually arouse you, or even drive you mad…
There are perfumes as fresh as children’s flesh,
as sweet as oboes, as green as prairies,
and others corrupted, rich and triumphant
that sing the ecstasies of the mind and senses… writes French poet Baudelaire in Corrrespondances, while the great French perfumer Jacques Guerlain once said that perfumes should smell of “the underside of my mistress.” (a euphemism for “les dessous de ma maîtresse”-my mistress’s undies-) Smell is the most provocative, sensual and misunderstood of the senses:
In France, armpits were once known as “spice boxes.” A Victorian courtesan made a fortune by selling handkerchiefs kept between her bed sheets. Some Austrian girls still wear slices of apples under their arms to create fragrant gifts for their suitors. “I’ll be arriving in Paris tomorrow evening,” Napoleon wrote to Josephine. “Don’t wash.” As for me, the fragrance of vetiver invariably makes me fall weak at the knees and swoon … Its peculiar earthy scent captured my heart and my senses since childhood – I grew up near a field of vetiver, you see, playing often near and around the great bundles of roots, returning home with clothes redolent of warm wood. To this day, I am passionately attracted to the scent. Had I been the apprentice Grenouille in Patrick Suskind’s wonderful novel “Perfume”, I would have chosen to recreate a vetiver fragrance.
Set in Paris in the latter part of the 18th century, “Perfume” is the story of a boy born with no personal body odor and one sublime gift — an absolute sense of smell. As he begins to decipher odors and fragrances, he becomes obsessed with procuring the perfect scent that will make him fully human. So many try to mask their personal human scent with commercial fragrances in opposition to Grenouille’s quest, yet an interesting study from the University of California in Berkeley found the natural smell emanating from her lover’s armpits can make a woman swoon (with ecstatic pleasure that is). The male sweat pheromone raises the levels of the female hormone cortisol, causing the woman to feel aroused. The Cognitive Neuroimaging Lab. at Monell Chemical Senses Center further determined that a woman who is in love tends to fixate on the smell of her lover, and loses the ability to distinguish the scents of other males. Psychology professor Rachel Herz from Brown University in Rhode Island who spent 17 years studying the human sense of smell, found it was the most emotionally evocative sense and the one most closely tied to mental health and happiness. A survey she conducted in 2002 of 99 men and 99 women found that women ranked how a man smells as more important than anything else in terms of their sexual attraction to him, outranking all social features except for pleasantness. I surmise then there’s only one ultimate seduction tool: smell -whether au naturel or with an added fragrance; preferably …vetiver!
Michele Voltaire Marcelin