Christmas may be over, but its scent lingers on. No, I’m not talking about the bowls of pine-scented potpourri or the warm smells of baking seasonal goodies that permeate the house. I speak instead of the gifts that keep on giving: fragrances.
While sitting at the neighborhood Starbucks one recent morning, reading the New York Times (a daily ritual for me), I noticed my grande decaf had a noticeable note of Kenya AA mixed with a layer of Coco Chanel. Nothing says good morning like a perfume-infused Americano.
The culprit was a well-dressed woman who had just entered the café. Apparently, she had received a very nice bottle of Chance by Chanel and was eager to let the world know. Her over-use of the fragrance at near-weaponized levels made me wonder if anyone ever taught her the correct way to apply perfume, and if anyone ever told her how obtrusive the over-use of fragrance is to the rest of the world.
The nose is a funny organ: It has a very short memory and can be fatigued quickly. To keep our nervous systems from being overloaded, the receptors in our noses ignore odors that are persistent and focus only on new and novel ones.
This is also why people over-apply fragrances. They stop noticing their fragrance after a few minutes and re-apply, thinking it has “worn off.”
Newsflash: It hasn’t.
Most good perfumes and colognes last for many hours and do not require any re-application unless you have washed it off in a shower.
Additionally, there are lots of folks — like me — who suffer from asthma, and certain scents can trigger an immune reaction leading to wheezing and shortness of breath.
I learned all this as a child from my favorite aunt, who lived in Los Angeles. Melissa Caron was my real-life Auntie Mame, and she worked at the Brent-Air Pharmacy in Brentwood, where she sold cosmetics and gifts to just about every star in Hollywood. She presided over an extensive and exclusive stock of fragrances, and she often gave me the latest new scent as gift for Christmas and my birthday.
I think she knew I was gay long before I did, and she wanted me to be well-equipped and well-educated on the finer points of men’s cosmetics.
She taught me the proper way to use cologne or perfume: First, you never spray it directly on your skin. Doing so will result in a fragrance overdose. If you use an atomizer or spray cologne, you spray it into the air, and then you walk through the mist.
Scents work well in your hair, letting the natural heat from the body gradually disperse the scent into the air. If you apply scent directly, just a drop applied to pulse points — like behind the ear, behind the knee or in the bend of the elbow — will be enough to keep things fragrant without making you a walking biohazard.
Aunt Melissa told me to remember that just because I could no longer smell it, that didn’t mean the cologne wasn’t still working. Though she had no training in biology, she learned from experience about olfactory overload — which brings me back to the coffee shop and my Chanel-infused coffee.
Fragrances are intended to be intimate experiences. They are the best enjoyed in close contact with the wearer, not from across a room. A hint of perfume is mean to cause someone to linger in your presence, not flee from you in a coughing fit.
Everyone has experienced being trapped in an elevator with a woman who bathed in her new perfume or a man who had doused himself with a flammable level of Axe body spray. The effect is the exact opposite of what was intended, and most folks can’t wait to get away — even if it means exiting on the wrong floor.
As for me, I no longer use fragrances. I prefer the natural scent of a man to a cologne, and — much like body odor — less is better.
The lesson of this rant is simple and one that I hope will make your holiday gifts last longer and have the desired effect: Fragrances are meant as a seduction not an announcement.
Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.