Saturday, September 3, 2011

What's that smell?

Let's talk about sillage. It's a french word, and it basically means the traces of scent that surround someone and linger after they are gone. If the gods are kind, that scent originates from perfume or cologne. If not, well...I feel your pain. I was stuck behind a fine specimen of cro-magnon in a sweltering hot KFC yesterday and he had some serious 'natural sillage' going on. He also had a bunch of prison tattoos, including one that said "White Pride". Oh, the irony.

Anyway, sillage. A funny word, but the idea of someone wafting about in a cloud of exquisite perfume sounds so romantic in books. It's alluring when you picture, say Lauren Bacall in a film noir, wrapped in satin and pearls redolent of Shalimar or something by Chanel*. You want to scent yourself all over, put on a silk blouse and pretend you're getting ready to meet Philip Marlowe or Frank Chambers.

Sadly, I never get to be around those hedonistically fragrant people. I always get stuck with Ogg- exemplar of the white race. Or some woman who hosed herself down with Eau de Skunk Butt before doing her shopping. In theory, sillage is a wonderful thing. All too often it turns out to be air pollution of the worst kind.

This is a particular problem for people - like me - with severe allergies. I have one friend I make very certain only to wear the lightest of fragrances around - anything else sends her into a swelling, sneezing fit. As for myself, lavender and several musks are both severe allergy and/or migraine triggers. Same with certain artificial pine scents.**

This is why I sympathise with people/places that want to ban perfumes. Much as I adore scent - and I wear it every day - I wear it for me, not for everyone in a fifty foot radius. I think the optimal amount of sillage is something I can detect and people close enough to whisper in my ear, or put their arm around me. Scent should be an intimate murmur, not a bellow.

What are your thoughts?

*Except Chanel #5 which smells like industrial waste.

**I can't actually smell most musks. I don't realize it's there until the throbbing starts in my temples. As far as pine goes - ugh. I survived I don't know how many Christmasses with the family putting up an artificial tree and then my Mom would soak the room with 'pine scented' air freshener; horrible soapy sticky-smelling stuff that made me sick. I still get flashbacks.


  1. Sillage is why, as much as I love Fracas and Angel, I don't wear them outside of my house. It also gave me one of my first "perfumista" moments, in a crowded airport, when I caught a whiff of Mitsouko as a crowd of people went past. Not only was it my first wild Mitsouko encounter, but I was able to recognize it in that fleeting moment and it made me happy. I tried telling my husband about it and he didn't get it. I think it's a thing only another scent-lover can appreciate.

    Sorry you got stuck behind a hygiene-optional asshat. :(

  2. I know what you mean. I've been known to wander around, sniffing heartily, trying to track down the source of a wonderful or interesting scent. I imagine it looks pretty weird. Maybe I should have been born a bloodhound!