Aesthetic Identity #2: Scent
You are your environment. Mark your territory.
When I was a child, I would occasionally find myself waking up to the smell of pancakes lazily wafting through the air on weekends. Mum's treat, both for me as well as for herself. The smell of pancakes still triggers the memory. A more carefree time of lazy afternoons. A time that was distinctly without a smartphone or Twitter.
Smell is uniquely visceral, calling back memories that have long been locked away. Yet, we constantly neglect it in favour for almost any other sense. Why?
We no longer need a sense of smell (or even taste) to survive in the modern world. We no longer need it to track down food, no longer need it for scenting territories, no longer need it as a guide for what is safe to eat. Our sense of smell is much weaker than that of other creatures in the animal kingdom.
Everyone notices the clothes you wear, but not so much the scent you’re wearing. Scenting yourself is deeply personal and intimate. It is subtle, known to yourself and only those who you allow into your own personal space. In our era of masks and social distancing, even fewer people are going to notice that aspect of your aesthetic.
Modern day marketing campaigns and social media platforms have distorted our sense of smell.
You can’t taste or smell things over the internet yet, so we end up using visual and auditory proxies instead. As an example, food is created purely to hype people up over Instagram because of how pretty it looks, often to the detriment of flavour.
Marketing campaigns for scents are an even bigger culprit, associating visual imagery that oftentimes have zero relation to the scent itself. They are marketing an entire aesthetic, but not necessarily an aesthetic that translates into the product.
But it’s because of all the reasons above that I think smell is the easiest facet of an aesthetic identity to explore and sculpt.
Marketing campaigns for scents are so vastly disconnected from the real world also makes it much easier to escape from the influence of the masses. The personal and visceral nature of the sense makes it easier to get in touch with what they mean to you without the rest of the world telling you what you should be feeling.
Scents are a doorway to memories that would have been locked away or otherwise forgotten.
Not many of us think deeply about what we scent ourselves with. Not our soap, not the perfumes we use. We pick up a random shampoo from the department store shelf, with a cursory sniff to make sure it’s not completely offensive. For many men, even the deodorant of choice is just another product to purchase perfunctorily so as not to repel friends and lovers.
But scent is powerful. A whiff of the perfume of an old lover can quickly bring back memories, both good and bad. Inhaling the smell of freshly laundered linen can harken back to childhood. The olfactory element of aesthetic identity is about finding an anchoring element for the scents that you use. Scents that evoke an emotion, that harken back to a part of your identity, or remind you of the past. A signature scent, if you will.
The first perfume that I used consistently was Terre d'Hermes
The perfume was recommended to me by someone who I used to look up to, and I would spray some whenever I met up with him as he would inevitably notice it. It was a time where I craved external validation but I eventually grew to enjoy the scent to the point where I would use it everywhere.
Eventually we drifted, as did my relationship with the scent. After sampling dozens of other scents, I eventually landed on Ambre Nuit from Dior as my new daily scent which I use till today. It toes the line between the masculine and feminine, with the masculine tones of amber on the front but undercut by a velvety powder. To me, it is perfectly congruent with the rest of my aesthetic identity.
How do we find a signature scent?
In another time, I would have said visit department stores or airport duty free shops on your way to travelling. This is no longer practical advice in our new age of Corona. Instead, one service that has been popping up lately that I think is worth trying are fragrance boxes. You get to sample fragrances without buying a full bottle, and this can be a good way of building an awareness of all the different scents out there. I would highly suggest heading over to the beginner’s section of the Basenote forums, they have some fantastic resources there.
If you can, start with a range of what are considered the most “classic” perfumes, which will give you a solid foundation as to understanding the kaleidoscope of fragrance notes that make up a given scent.
Feedback from people you trust can be good, but remember that at the end of the day what scent you use is deeply personal. Trust your own judgement, but don't forget to expose yourself to as many scents as possible before asking yourself what truly resonates. We don't know what's out there before we're exposed to it, and this is particularly true when it comes to things like scent and taste.
You don’t have to stick to one scent, and having a few that you can use depending on your mood is always nice. Heck change it up, explore. Is there a new scent you discovered that you identify with even more? Use that! The point of having an aesthetic you own is to allow it to continually evolve, such that over time it is a true expression of yourself.
Pay attention to how everything around you smells
What makes you feel good? What pushes you away? This helps to get a sense of the scents you might choose to surround yourself with. Smell your food and your coffee. Really think about what the fresh air smells like when you step out of the door. Does it remind you of someone or an event in the past? Get in touch with your latent sense of smell.
Animals mark their territory all the time. Why did we stop?
I suppose the easy answer would be that we found better and clearer ways of demarcating what belongs to who. But there’s a unique delight in going about your daily business and catching a whiff of a scent that you had personally and deliberately introduced into the surroundings. It makes you pause, perks you up, reminds you that you have left your mark here.
I’ve been exploring ways to change my scent environment lately. Creating my own scents for a reed diffuser has been one. Scented candles can also be interesting, but many of the commercial brands tend to be far too cloying. I am still looking for one that I can identify with.
Another trick that I’ve picked up from @anomiseditrix is to scent my belongings. It gives the inanimate objects a sense of identity. A spritz of your perfume on the front page of your notebook can lead to immeasurably more joy each time you open it.
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