When people think of sexuality, often the mind goes to the overt: provocative clothing, heavily made-up faces, aggressive behavior—I tend to think more of the subtleties. Maybe it’s a sly wink, the feel of silk against skin, or an aroma that is completely intoxicating. Yes, I am talking about scent.
Scent is perhaps one of the most underrated senses, but one that I feel plays most into sensuality. Scent can recall memories, like how the smell of cinnamon reminds me of Sunday brunch as a kid. It can announce your presence in a room (hopefully, again, in a subtle and pleasing way). It can set a tone, give confidence, and make memories-like the summer before college and the best high school friend a girl could ask for, evoked on the rare occasion when I wear Rosewood by Banana Republic.
I bought my first fragrance when I was ten years old. Emboldened by a newly increased allowance and the few inches that I had grown over summer, I started to think of myself as a new woman—one who should smell like one. I still remember the Tommy Girl bottle, a name I recognized among the overwhelming, higher-end eau de parfumes. I bought it partly because of the name, and partly because I could afford the thirty-dollar price tag. I brought it home, proud of my newfound sense of womanhood. But like when I tried on my first training bra, or when the first brackets were glued to my teeth, I felt uncomfortable from the first spritz. It was a grown-up perfume for a little girl. I can count the number of times I used it on one hand, often so overpowered by the scent that I was embarrassed to leave the house without taking a shower first. I had that bottle until recently, still mostly unused, tucked away at my parents’ house along with other mementos of my childhood that I didn’t want, yet couldn’t seem to part with completely.
My next foray into the world of fragrance came at fourteen. My father, who worked in sales before what he now refers to as his “six Saturdays and a Sunday” retirement, brought home some samples from a product expo he had been to. My mother, a devoted user of CK One for as long as I can remember, gave the tiny bottles to me. Most were small vials of the latest celebrity endorsed scents, but one box had three mini spray bottles that caught my eye—a sampling of the Victoria’s Secret line of scents. Gone were the training bras, but unfortunately not the braces. I was stuck in this in-between of childhood and womanhood, so I chose the girlishly named Pink as my new perfume. A potent concoction meant to allure men overpowered my schoolgirl crushes where I blushed at the mention of a boy’s name. Again I was a little girl in an adult world, and the bottle soon began to collect dust among my stuffed animals and softball trophies.
Even though I clearly wasn’t ready for a signature scent at fourteen, I loved (and still do) walking the aisles of the local drugstore, carefully picking out shampoo that smelled like jasmine and soaps that left a hint of rose and peony on my skin. To me, it’s these choices that represent the ultimate sensuality. The power of allure, and mystery, and innocence that can leave your mark on a situation; to this day, one of the greatest compliments I receive is “You smell great.” (which, coincidentally, happened the day I sat down to write this piece, while standing outside of a doctor’s office waiting with a perfect stranger).
Today, I do have a signature scent. I found it by accident, a gift from a high school friend whom I assume it didn’t suit. It’s classic and chic and makes me feel empowered. If asked, I am happy to share my secret, yet encourage everyone to find their own; it’s a part of finding yourself.