Do You Have a Signature Odor?

woman in snow

woman in snow

Q4, I in short misplaced my sense of odor. Covid, in fact. In that handful of days, I slid right into a climate of sensory dullness. I stared on the accommodation Thai I’d ordered, not able to pick the notes of lime or fish sauce, the ones scents of my early life. I drove my nostril right into a sachet of ginger tea that might no longer, may no longer, summon any aroma. Some smells, I used to be satisfied to be rid of. Excellent riddance to the overflowing trash bin; negative hardship for the wet-dog stink of a towel flapping through the warmer. However most commonly, the loss woke up in me an surprising displacement of identification. I couldn’t even odor myself.

Who was once I with out the whiff of my lavender deodorant slicing throughout the sweat of the moment? With out the wonder of a jam streak from my daughter’s lunch, the fetid remnants of espresso on my breath? My very own sterility of smell was once disorienting, like Dorothy’s technicolor transition in opposite. The plainness of the arena devastated me.

I’ve heard nation passionately describe their companions via their scents, that indefinable alchemy of pheromones and perfume. In romance novels, girls’s smells are in comparison to vegetation; males, to fir bushes in past due December. When sturdy feeling overwhelms us, we hook our recollections to perfume, that the majority intimate of transactions. You’ll stare upon an individual from a distance, however to in point of fact odor them, you need to akin the space.

My first overwhelm was once dedicated to CK1, a citrus-heavy perfume that rose to reputation within the nineties. Heart faculty, for me. Occasionally, he’d provide me his sweatshirt, and I’d bury my nostril within the collar, like a hound earlier than a hunt. On the year, we’d all lately been inducted into the arena of frame mists, dousing ourselves in motivated sprays between categories. After I recall to mind center faculty, I nonetheless be expecting to come across that preteen potpourri of Hawaiian Ginger mingled with woodsy pencil shavings and the gummy funk of decades-old textbooks.

This is to mention, the smells of our lives inform a tale. In the event you step right into a space you’ve by no means been to earlier than, you’ll catch clues of the citizens’ lives — meals they’ve eaten, candles they’ve lit. That historical past of smell leaves an impact, as unclouded as the colour at the partitions. In terms of our personal scents, what tales are we shaping? What do our signature scents say about us?


There are countless phrases to explain odor. Sillage. Petrichor. Noisome. Musk. Miasma. For amusing, I’ll from time to time learn the descriptions of perfumes. I ask myself: do I truly know the excess between tuberose and run-of-the-mill rose? What does ambergris odor like? And the way, precisely, can I come across a center observe as opposed to a bottom observe?

In recent times, I’ve spotted a cultural preoccupation with odor: TikToks dedicated to fragrance historical past, A-list famous person endorsements for colognes, guarantees of temper legislation via aromatherapy. If I needed to project a assumption, I feel this smell-mania has one thing to do with our want for individuation in a extremely fragmented global. We imagine our scents can divulge one thing singular about us, the way in which an Enneagram or horoscope may.

Possibly for the primary year in human historical past, throughout the difficult marvels of capitalism, perfume is extra obtainable. No longer only for the rich, nearly each private hygiene merchandise can also be scented at the moment — shaving cream, chapstick, face wipes, pads. Is it any miracle that a few of us are beaten through the aromas of the arena?


I’ve come to a crossroads in terms of perfume. For the while hour, I’ve impaired a clinging rose fragrance that I picked out in a have compatibility of uncertainty at a posh boutique. I’d gotten so flustered, my nostril so deadened to nuance, that I grabbed no matter felt least offensive on the year. But if I put on it, I don’t really feel like me. I’ve the impact of an grand retiree entering into my shade and depart her sillage in the back of. Then I recovered from Covid, I attempted the use of my rose fragrance once more, however needed to shelve it temporarily later. The smell could be nice-looking on any other, however now it handiest nauseated me.

I’ve been dragging my ft on discovering a pristine perfume. What I favored in my twenties — florals, herbs, citrus — isn’t the similar as what I experience now. I’m yearning complexity and verve; I lengthy for unprettiness. It must be mischievous and a minute unhealthy, the correct of sour, a waltz within the twilight. Over the while few months, I’ve examined dozens of perfumes, to negative avail.

However nearest one morning, I took a pressure via Midwestern farm nation at an ungodly past, when the roads stretched unoccupied and the wind nonetheless held the wetness of the evening. Because the solar shrugged its approach onto the horizon, I smelled it — a mix that made my seeing widen, my senses tingle. I just about forbidden the auto. How one can describe it? Damp earth, just-split timber, the caramel scorch of bonfire, the musk of antique clothes.

I’ve been chasing that smell since. Is it conceivable to distill such a lot of issues immediately? Or is it like taking pictures spell in a bell jar? On some degree, that odor was once a made from an excessively particular poised of cases, an olfactory bonding as inimitable and fleeting as a great reminiscence.


Perhaps the theory of a signature smell is much less concerning the mists we placed on our frame, however what our our bodies themselves exude on a given moment.

When my daughter hugs me earlier than faculty drop-off, I burrow my nostril into her scalp. Is it her shampoo I to find so impossible to resist? Her lotion? The laundry detergent from her garments? What makes her odor uniquely hers? With my mom, via each fragrance she’s impaired, I will sniff out her underlying essence: the heat, the sweat, that cinnamony-thyme bouquet that feels as elemental to me as house. You’ll’t bottle the ones aromas.

Perhaps some smells are distinguishable to just a choose few throughout the tedious slog of days, cautious observance, love. It takes a minimum of two our bodies to produce a odor: the only generating it, and the only eating it. The promise “perfume” comes from a suite of Latin phrases that heartless “through smoke.” So, possibly that’s how we discover every alternative and ourselves; throughout the smoke and hesitation of the day by day shuffle.

Up to smell can nest on the locus of the self, it kind of feels to perform at its most powerful when emanating from communal rituals. I’m considering of the sway of joss sticks at a temple; chlorine wrung from sagging swimsuits in a storehouse room; gravy boiling at the range all over the vacations. A summer time highway commute squashed in a minivan bursting with aunts, grandmas, cousins, every exuding their unique smells. A perfume-heavy include of bridesmaids earlier than a marriage. Finally, the ability of perfume emerges no longer from its singularity, however from how it weaves some of the alternative cherished scents of our lives, growing an unending chord through which we’re all minor but essential notes.

Thao Thai is a essayist and scribbler in Ohio, the place she lives together with her husband and daughter. Her superb debut booklet, Banyan Moon got here out this hour. Thao has additionally written for Cup of Jo about absent fathers, styles of mothers, and physical affection. You’ll subscribe to her e-newsletter here.

P.S. A perfume smell test, and the one thing Joanna gets the most compliments on.

(Picture through MaaHoo/Stocksy.)

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