The first time I sprayed myself with too much perfume was because of a girl. This particular girl sat high above me on the professional pyramid. She also wore her leather jacket like a second skin and walked around in a thick cloud of Marc Jacobs fragrance that, though overwhelming, added a sort of signature air of mystery to he. I knew when she was nearby without even looking up and I wanted to copy everything about her. Perfume seemed like the easiest place to start.
As a low-level writer at a men’s magazine, I was responsible for composing the captions for any cologne we featured. I usually ended them with a warning: Use scent sparingly. The point is, I knew I was heading down a dangerous path, but I just kept on spraying.
I finished an entire bottle of Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb in about the same time it took me to go through a container of body wash, and did the same with Marc Jacobs Daisy and By Kilian Love Don’t Be Shy. I emptied less-precious scents, like Le Labo Rose or Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue, at an only slightly slower rate.
Perfume gave me an artificial confidence, the same way fake eyelashes or a slash of hot pink lipstick might for other women. If I thought I looked plain, felt tired, or was dreading a meeting or date, the blast of scent forced me to walk out the door with my head held high, like armor made of violets.
Turns out, not everyone was into my suit of scents. One morning, at a new job, a co-worker approached my desk and took two steps back. “Whoa, I think you put on too much perfume,” she said. Excuse me? I smelled amazing! Until she walked away, and I started to feel suffocated inside my patchouli cloud. I wiped my wrists on my clothes to try to break up the perfume and even went to the bathroom to scrub down my forearms. How many people had thought the same thing and never said a word?
“Perfume is a pleasure, a luxury and, if you do it right, an experience,” Christopher Brosius, an award-winning perfumer and the founder of CB I Hate Perfume, says. “It is not an offensive weapon. Gorging on perfume is the olfactory equivalent of extremely loud and painful noise.”
I didn’t want to be an olfactory jerk, no matter how hard I fell for the scent du jour. So, I didn’t wear any perfume the next day, or the few after that. Soon, I stopped dousing my wrists, neck, scarves, and shirts altogether. I even quit doing that thing where you spray it in the air and walk through the mist. Turns out, not existing in a geranium- or sandalwood-haze is pretty healthy. I stopped worrying about whether or not I had it all together on the outside, and more about what was happening in my head. Now, I give more consideration to what I want to do, rather than how I want to appear, and the result has been sort of like sanding down the polish on a metal necklace. There’s less shine, but there’s also a cool matte layer underneath.
Am I overthinking it? Maybe. But wearing a lot of perfume was my thing, my matte red lip, my leather jacket—and then I realized it actually said nothing and realized that I don’t need a thing. And with that realization, I could slowly welcome fragrance back into my life (sparingly). The new Marni fragrance makes me feel grand, novel-like emotions, and Bulgari’s latest is on my to-buy list. But don’t worry, I’ll only use a dab—or two.