B.O.

Anyone who has been trapped in a taxi, breathing in the aromatic complex formed by the air freshener hanging from the rear-view mirror and the driver’s sweat, may appreciate that eaux de cologne, unlike perfumes, mask our odors rather than accentuate them.

Perfumes (extraits, eaux de toilette and eaux de parfum), on the other hand, usually contain substances reminiscent of the various odors of the human body, odors that, when unconsciously detected, are responsible for erotic stimuli.

In other words, we’re attracted to b.o.

While I wouldn’t want the cab driver’s scent to be magnified, there are times when such smells need to be carefully introduced into a perfume.

Perfumes contain much more than the fresh-smelling and so-called anti-erogenic compounds in cologne. Remember the clock diagram in a recent post? It has anti-erogenic odors at 12 o’clock; stimulating, often spicy, aromas at 3 o’clock; erogenic animal smells at 6 o’clock; and narcotic aromas, usually florals, at 9 o’clock. In the classic French tradition, examples of each of these should be included in a finished perfume.

Classic perfumers, including my favorite perfume author Paul Jellinek, take things further and describe several kinds of erogenic smells. He distinguishes between sweaty aromas, odors of the urogenital region and the anus (not a fecal smell, but of an almost-odorless lubricant), and the smell of the scalp. These odors can be evoked with animal ingredients such as ambergris, musk, castoreum, and civet.

Ideally, a classic perfume should contain aromas representative of all these three regions, but, as the wicked witch of the West once said, “These things must be done delicately.”

Next post: The difference in smell between blondes, brunettes, and redheads.