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Everyone, from the great writers of literature to aromatherapists, agrees. Perfume has the power to spark desire. What better reason to head to the fragrance counter this Valentine’s Day.
“O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,” opined the poet Robert Burns. One might also suggest she’s like musk, jasmine, sultry vanilla and even ooey, gooey caramel.
Love, sex and lust are inextricably linked to fragrance. Perfume, in fact, infuses eroticism into our storytelling—into pop culture, literature and movies. Its reputed aphrodisiac powers have also been treasured and carefully commandeered over the centuries by those with seductive agendas. And of course modern-day perfumers likewise have celebrated the sex-and-scent connection in the-racier-the-better ad campaigns (thank you Calvin Klein, Yves Saint Laurent, Madonna et al.) Today’s relationship experts, psychotherapists and aromatherapists are also advocating strategic perfuming to boost one’s love life. What better motivation, we say, especially on this lover’s holiday, to visit the fragrance counter?
The Power of Perfume in Pop Culture
In literature, fragrance has perfumed the pages of many, from Shakespeare to Ian Fleming’s James Bond, where a bottle of Dior co-stars in Moonraker.
In popular culture, perfume signals sophistication, sensuality and sex. Consider the bottle of Chanel No.5 on the dressing table in the 2010 year movie Black Swan and the elegant, amber flask of Kiehl’s Original Musk sitting on Scarlett Johanssson’s dresser in Woody Allen’s Scoop, as just two examples.
As an olfactory aside, that iconic Kiehl’s toilette was launched more than 50 years ago, after being holed up in the basement of the New York apothecary’s home base for more than 40 years because it was considered “too sensual,” for release when it was created in 1921. Legend has it that company insiders also referred to it as the “love potion.”
Perfume: The Great Aphrodisiac
The aphrodisiac powers of perfume are the stuff of legend. The famous 16th century doctor, pharmacist and seer Nostradamus wrote that ambergris used in perfumery—that musky-smelling substance derived from sun-dried Sperm Whale bile—actually upped a man’s production of seminal fluid. The history books also discusses that musk-flavoured foods were fed to Chinese courtesans so that when engaged in The Act, their sweat would emit a sweet and irresistible perfume.
The prudish Victorians acknowledged musk’s powers too; they considered the stuff so lascivious, that they banned it, dictating instead that delicate florals be the only apropos toilettes of the day.
And it was Cleopatra who met Antony in a bedchamber filled with rose petals.
But modern science points not to floral fragrances but to gourmand scents as having significant erotic potential. Studies by the Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago report that gourmand notes like lavender, pumpkin pie, donuts and black licorice boost blood flow to the penis by nearly 40 percent. Talk about a sugar daddy.
Edible Perfumes That Appeal to our Primal Nature
Ann Gottlieb, fragrance consultant and perfume creator of such scents as ck one and Euphoria, Daisy by Marc Jacobs, Carolina Herrera 212 and Dior’s blockbuster J’Adore, believes there’s edible fragrance notes are innately sensual.
“Traditionally the sexiest kinds of smells are those that have associations in food, something that would go in your mouth,” she has said. She calls this “lick-ability.”
Gottlieb considers some of modern perfumery’s most influential and successful perfumes and says lick-able vanilla is a common denominator. She mention’s Guerlain’s iconic Jicky, Shalimar and Habit Rouge scents. “All have a lot of vanilla in them, so I believe it’s part of the reason for their success and that’s why they’re so loved,” she says.
And the sexiest fragrance in Gottlieb’s creative portfolio: “The first fragrance I did was Obsession, and then Obsession for Men, and they are far and away the sexiest fragrances I have done,” she says. “And vanilla is a huge component of theirs. It was always, for me, related to sexiness and this lick-able, edible factor.”
Sex in Perfume Advertising
It goes without saying that sex and scent make powerful bedfellows in advertising too. Consider the lusty language: Calvin Klein has famously sold sex in the form of Obsession, Encounter, CKIN2U and Euphoria—and most recently with the men’s and women’s Obsessed scents. Then there’s Marc Jacobs hit-’em-over-the-head Bang, launched in 2011. Dolce & Gabbana’s Desire, Madonna’s Naked, and Rihanna’s Nude.
More metaphorically, there’s Kilian Hennessey’s The Garden of Good and Evil trio of scents, which plays on the original sin innuendo.
There’s more to it all than just lusty names of course. The overt sexiness of fragrance ad imagery is notorious. Consider Tom Ford’s naked models splashing each other with Portofino Neroli or the long list of banned-for-being-too-sexy perfume ads.
Use Scent to Boost Your Sex Life
In the dark days of winter, and on the occasion of Valentine’s Day no less, we are also reminded that we can harness perfume’s fragrant powers to please ourselves and fire up our own love lives.
Jacqui MacNeill, certified aromatherapist and founder of Vancouver-based Escents Aromatherapy, cuts to the chase. “Wearing a favourite fragrance can intensify an orgasm in both men and women,” she says. “If both like it, it promotes relaxation and feelings of attractiveness and then it’s a double [bonus].”
In fact, one can use scent strategically, whether one takes Nostradamus’s thinking to heart or takes a subtler approach. Calm a busy mind and set a romantic mood with a room diffuser laced with lavender, ylang-ylang or patchouli, all of which will help you relax, says MacNeill, because she reminds us, a lot of aromatherapy is about shifting one’s focus.
“Fragrance can become part of a couple’s communication,” she adds. “Talk about what fragrances you like and then wear them. [They] increase the pleasure of the moment, the intensity of the moment.”
And fragrance also ensures you are able to enjoy the moment long after the party is over. MacNeill describes the human sense of smell as functioning like a lock and key. “When there’s a memory associated with a fragrance and then a day or two or three or a year later, you smell that fragrance again, that fragrance goes straight to the limbic system and it unlocks that memory; that door opens and you’re instantly transported back to that moment in time, and the feeling and the emotion.
“You have five senses,” MacNeill reminds us, “so it makes sense that if you bring in more senses into the experience, the experience gets heightened.”
PHOTO: Sex has long been used to sell scent. In 2008, the Calvin Klein Secret Obsession ad campaign, featuring a nude Eva Mendes, was banned by US networks as too sexy and provocative for family viewing.