ownership of scent.

I was asking Toby about ideas for his birthday (part of my gift is that we’re going to see Jennifer Lopez, which excites me greatly!), and I know that there were one or two fragrances from Les Senteurs that he quite liked. To my surprise, he said that he wasn’t too sure about those fragrances anymore, as his taste was changing. This is perhaps normal, as to an extent at least, our tastes evolve just as we do. However, what gave me pause was that he was coming around to my preferred fragrances. Now, in one way this is a big compliment and acknowledgement of my impeccable taste and style (!), and it will hopefully help me get through some of my old bottles of fragrance more quickly if he’s using them too – but I realise that I quite liked having a different taste in fragrance to my partner. It meant that I could recognise the smell of his perfume without ever confusing it with my own; it set us apart. I can’t really explain it any better than that – there’s absolutely no problem with us wearing similar perfumes, but I liked the fact that I could smell Toby’s neck or clothes and pinpoint the fragrance, and it was his.

I also had to buy Mike a birthday present recently, and his wife Caroline had told me that he would quite like an aftershave balm. Knowing that a lot of department stores have only a sprinkling of available body products (and I refuse to set foot in the Perfume Shop – especially as I was in Bristol at the time and had absolutely no desire to even risk running into somebody that I used to know), my choices were limited – it eventually boiled down to Burberry Sport (bland), Kokorico by Jean-Paul Gaultier (even after Toby gallantly tried it on his skin, it was just too pungent in the drydown and I didn’t like it – so Mike definitely wouldn’t have) and Spicebomb by Viktor & Rolf (a little bit distinctive, and very elegant).

In theory the choice was simple – but because I knew that Toby really liked Spicebomb, again I didn’t really want to buy it for someone else because I had already associated that fragrance with him. But in the end, it was the only viable option and Mike did love it. I am aware though that there is something in my brain that doesn’t like to transfer ownership of a particular fragrance. Why am I so inflexible? In one respect, I should find Toby’s desire to wear my perfumes an attractive thing – I suppose that the heterosexual equivalent is of a girl wearing her boyfriend’s cologne, or shirt after she’s just got out of his bed. These tropes are considered sexy. But conversely, it’s considered weird if a guy wears his girlfriend’s clothes or perfumes! Now there’s plenty I could get into about the inherent sexism of social norms etc. which is all genuinely interesting and thought-provoking; but for now I shall neatly sidestep that discussion and simply say that I am very glad that I am gay and don’t have to deal with that particular issue! I shall add that occasionally, there is nothing comfier than getting home after a long day at work, having a shower and then putting on my boyfriend’s pyjama bottoms. But I only do it rarely as a night off from my incessant glamour, and to maintain its specialness.

I have digressed somewhat, although I have steered the topic a little bit around to gender politics. At Les Senteurs on Wednesday night, I attended a fabulous talk from Francois Robert and Rebecca Goswell and the perennial theme of what is a man’s fragrance vs. a woman’s fragrance cropped up. Obviously, it’s largely about marketing and focus groups, since perfumes do not have genitalia or chromosomes to make them masculine or feminine. We are conditioned by advertising and associations of floral / fruity / sweet / woody / marine scents with a particular gender to ascribe them status of being “pour homme” or “pour femme” – but these rules are unwritten because they ultimately don’t exist. What point is there with being so strict about something such as scent, which is intangible? It’s not like a skirt or a dress that explicitly moulds itself to a woman’s figure, or a pair of men’s jeans. While perfumers may envision a fragrance as being more for a man or for a woman, its intangibility allows it transferability. Furthermore, the associations that we make between the sweetness / woodiness of a scent and the gender of its wearer are purely ethnocentric – in other continents and cultures, men will happily wear a sweet, floral or vanillic fragrance without batting an eyelid or fear of reproach. I am pleased that in the modern day attitudes are improving, but they still have a long way to go – another reason why I am not always keen to shop in a department store is because the salespeople are often (though not always) unsympathetic to this open-minded attitude and don’t understand that a woman may wish to wear a man’s fragrance purely because she likes the way it smells. It doesn’t make her a lesbian. I sometimes feel like I should not care what salespeople would say, and so I boldly entered Boots yesterday because I was curious to try Lady Gaga’s new fragrance (verdict: too sweet, but nice bottle), but at other times it’s just too draining to deal with misplaced derision.

So what am I trying to say? We should wear whatever we like in terms of fragrance, and we shouldn’t be scared of what other people may say or think about our scentsual preference. Fragrance is intangible, and each of us wears it slightly differently. Likewise, I should probably be happy to let Toby into my perfume wardrobe and embrace the new ways I will come to experience fragrances I (probably naively) think I know so well. For all my avant-garde genderless attitude towards fragrances and wearing what we like, I still have my own road yet to travel. But I’m on the way!

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About alan

singer / songwriter / fashionista / aspiring novelist

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