In 1994, when I was a child, Mattel released Tropical Splash Ken, a blond-haired and blue-eyed hunk in board shorts and nothing else but a fragrance. The box shouted, “Ken is scented!” And indeed, he was: floral with a hint of plastic, like a glossy, fake bird of paradise. Of all my dolls, this perfumed one was my favorite, my top pick for my Barbies whenever they needed a hot date. As I got older, my olfactory palate, and tastes in playmates, became more discerning, but the connection between Ken’s aroma and his desirability remained evidence of a seldom-discussed truth: Smell and courtship are inextricably linked.
So I was fascinated to find Allison Breed’s Male Scent Catalog, published in the form of a Twitter account called @RomanceSmells. There, for the last four years, she has been recording the ways that romance novelists describe smell and its relationship to amorous allure. Breed, who lives in Portland, Oregon, reads 20 romance novels a week on average, and posts her favorite descriptions of characters’ odors as she goes along. While she reads a variety of romance subgenres, including those featuring only lesbian and gender nonbinary characters, it was the the descriptions of male scents that intrigued her the most.
Among her discoveries: Men in these novels wear warm, spicy cologne. It is never overpowering enough to drown a crowded elevator. They smell of champagne, but not a hangover. They don’t stink. Their sweat smells of “sunshine and sex,” which, in Kristin Callihan’s book Fall, the romantic protagonist wants to bottle: “They should make it into a cologne: Hot Sweaty Guy.” (These are fantasies, after all.) Billionaires smell like “expensive, French-milled soap scented with sandalwood,” as in Penny Reid’s Capture, while blue-collar workers smell like Irish Spring, a go-to man scent for author Kate Clayborn. Breed recently retweeted a quip that reads, “Is it even a romance book if the main character doesn’t smell like a damn tree[?]”, a nod to the dozens of quotes she’s posted about men smelling like pine, cedar, and evergreens. Other times, men smell like nothing identifiable, such as an “an impending sin” (as L.J. Shen wrote in Dirty Headlines).
The olfactory vocabulary changes when the romance gets steamy and the tone goes from flirty to dirty. Stripped bare, quite literally, the men in these novels smell like … men. They are routinely described as smelling “manly,” “like a man,” “like maleless,” or simply “masculine.” The protagonist in Kelly Siskind’s The Knockout Rule “smelled like the definition of a man.” She doesn’t have to say more. The circular lexicography—he smells manly because he is a man—works as a quick, convenient portal to illustrate the sensuality of masculinity.
That simplicity is what I found most captivating about Breed’s feed. Scrolling through her tweets, it became clear that romance novelists use scents as erotic shorthand for men’s personalities, wherein their personalities are that they are masculine. It lets them cut to the chase: He’s a man, and that’s hot. Within their worlds, men are strong, like trees and whiskey, but soft, like fresh, clean laundry.
This is what’s fun about romance novels. The one-dimensionality of the characters—often described with tongue-in-cheek humor—keeps the novels free of clutter that would complicate the plot, in which two (or more) people fall in love and make love, too, along the way. These men are archetypes, so much so that they seem like one man in multiple universes, like a doll that can be dressed up as a fireman, cowboy, or professor, but always with the same rock-hard pecs and chiseled jawline. But in this fantastical genre of literature, apparently, you know what really kicks a man’s appeal up a notch? A smoky top note, the smell of warm hay, a hint of a leather-bound book, and, as Lauren Landish calls it in Mr. Fiancé, a sniff of “unique manly flavor.”
Walking through a museum, you’ll likely consume most artworks using your eyes. Enjoying the output of olfactory artist Maki Ueda, who uses scent as her primary medium, however, requires your nose—and sometimes takes place in spaces with no visual
Walk into any bowling alley, and you’ll quickly find yourself caught in an olfactory battleground. Whiffs of floor polisStorm Products.
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In a world in which fitful sleep is all too common—more than a third of American adults don’t get enough rest—any serenity-inducing bedtime ritual is worth giving a go. But if listening to white-noise machines and banishing your science proves that the ingredients typically used in the sprays produce measurable effects that help facilitate relaxation: Lavender
Tucked between a seafood market and a dumpling shop in Manhattan’s Chinatown, a small storefront showcases a suite of exGlade: To Touch Painting” (through April 30), an exhibition of scented paintings by Brazilian artist Luiza Gottschalk, currently on view at the Olfactory Art Keller.
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While many businesses, in the midst of the climate crisis, scramble to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, the New Yospoke with us about in 2019). Recently, the company ventured into the fragrance realm with Air Eau de Parfum, a unisex, limited-edition concotion pulled quite literally out of thin air.
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In 2017, Carolina Prioglio and Adrien de Bontin took over management of a farm in Burgundy that’s nestled in the rollingMaison/Made, which they launched in 2019. It’s one of the first beauty brands to achieve Biodynamic certification, an accolade awar
Around the 1500s, tanners settled in Grasse, a sun-soaked hillside town above the French Riviera, to produce leather. Th
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This London Studio Draws on Smell-O-Vision as a Tool for Promoting Social and Environmental Advocacy
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Michael Hingson was in his office at the data-protection agency Quantum on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower One when hethud of the first airplane hitting the building, 15 floors above. Hingson, who has been blind since birth due to an eye diso
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Tasked with transitioning electric vehicles from niche to the norm, automotive designers are confronted with a singular vroom of an engine accelerating—which details will drivers long for if left out in future models?
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Olfactive expert Dawn Goldworm believes that just as children begin to learn colors, they should also be educated on sceThe Smell of a Rainbow (Dial Books), a scented board book, out this summer, that teaches children how to talk about smell using color. Connecting all her res
The Nihon Shoki, one of the oldest written records of Japanese history, traces the origins of incense in the nation to a single log of Ha Ko, a brand that offers delicate, leaf-shaped incense made from Japanese washi paper.
The two-year-old experimental radio website Poolsuite deftly mixes AOL-era computer graphics with disco-driven beats, channeling the cool optimism of the 1980s. Now, just inVacation, a new line of sun-care products and a corresponding perfume.
Drawing on the West Coast’s fresh atmosphere and spirit, Louis Vuitton’s ongoing Cologne Perfumes collection conjures upoud, a heady essence derived from agarwood trees.)
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When the French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH tapped creative director Jonathan Anderson to helm Loewe in 2013, it charBotanical Rainbow, released in March, that includes myriad botanically inspired perfumes, bottled in a kaleidoscope of colors.
If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by the aroma of freshly ground coffee upon walking into a café, or the particular bouqueDr. Michael Bull, one of the leading air quality and odor experts in the United Kingdom, has dedicated more than three decades of his ca What led you to choose a career in assessing odors and their relationship to architecture?
“Scent and architecture both take people on sensory journeys,” says architect Héctor Esrawe. “More and more, I believe iXinú (pronounced “she-new”), a perfumery he co-founded in 2016 with architect Ignacio Cadena and his wife, Verónica Peña. Thnose in Otomi, an indigenous Mexican language, and has since developed five unisex scents with Mexican perfumer Rodrigo Flor
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Driving requires keeping your eyes on the road, navigating a primarily visual adventure—but the right accessory can makeAiround car diffuser from Italy’s storied furniture maker Poltrona Frau and the Milan-based fragrance brand Acqua di Parma. Encased in Poltr
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If you’ve ever wondered about the mysterious process of perfume-making, you’ll delight in watching Nose: The Most Secret Job in the World, now streaming on Apple TV, following last year’s premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. In the hour-long documentary, nez, or nose—perfume industry parlance for an expert perfumer-creator with a finely attuned sense of smell—and his sensoria
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In a year so necessarily and intensely domestic, it’s especially easy to appreciate the beauty and singularity of somethki-oke, wooden buckets traditionally used in Japanese onsen that have found alternative uses throughout the world, such as stoLes Atelier Courbet.) A seventh-generation master woodworker and artist, the elder Nakagawa, Kiyotsugu, and his son, Shuji, have collaborat
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The mysteries surrounding our olfactory systems have been the focus of Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center since it opened, in 1968, more than 20 years before the discovery of the odorant receptors that we use to perceive scencreating and administering smell tests as soon as olfactory impairment emerged as a primary symptom for the novel coronavirus. We recently asked Dr. Dalton ho
The name Bernard may conjure different connotations for different folks—say, Senator Sanders, your favorite breed of mouBernard is the name of his fragrance brand, which recently debuted with a collection of hand-poured candles. “This is a scent mMeli, the Greek word for honey, is warm and sweet, with base notes of orris root and leather; Eira takes inspiration from Sc
Sweaty running clothes. The litter box. That odd funk emanating from the back of the fridge. Unpleasant scents can transMoso Natural, a line of odor-eliminating linen bags filled with an unexpected ingredient: bamboo. The California-based brand is name
Catherine Haley Epstein, author of Nose Dive: A Book For The Curious Seeking Potential Through Their Noses, is an artist and curator who specializes in scent and the ways our brains register it. Last year, with olfactory histoOdorbet, an ever-growing online database of terms they collect from various sources to describe smells. It also includes invent Why should we describe smells in nuanced, specific ways?
From its over-reliance on packaging to its use of harmful chemicals, the beauty industry is long overdue for a rethink o
Made on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, fragrances by Di Ser appeal to more than the nose alone. Perfumer Yasuyuki Shinohara founded the company, in 1999, as two interconnected ent
The poster child for the gray-skyed Pacific Northwest, Portland is perhaps America’s most book-loving city. Reading is a
“I don’t consider myself a perfumer,” says Julian Bedel, a former musician who taught himself how to make wearable scentFueguia 1833 in 2010. “I don’t know anything about perfume. My work is more of an artistic creation, and how I create the formulas i
Dr. Kate McLean, who spearheads the graphic design program at Canterbury Christ Church University in the United Kingdom,“smellscapes”: colorful diagrams made of dots and wavy, concentric rings that detail where an odor occurs in a specific place, and ho
Covering everything from a detective story by Edgar Allan Poe to the role that scent plays in racism, the new book The Smell of Risk: Olfactory Aesthetics and Atmospheric Disparities (NYU Press) investigates how, over the past 200 years, writers, artists, and activists have used smell in their work to
In the last decade, the rise of modest, product-focused scent brands has debunked the notion that the fragrance industryFanny Bal, who based her creation on the aromatic sap from the lentisc tree that grows on the Greek island of Chios, and senior sDomitille Michalon-Bertier, who designed her fragrance around the Inhotim Museum, an outdoor art center located in a Brazilian forest. Perfumer Delphine Lebeau recently learned about the Japanese pastry mochi, and used a trio of musks to embody the treat’s soft, mellow profile. The resulting 11 fragrances were unveiled at a viavailable for purchase in the U.S. on the website Luckyscent—providing a nose around what makes these master craftspeople tick.
Headquartered in Grenoble, a city in southeastern France, the six-year-old start-up Aryballe has a singular, if not entirely un-straightforward, goal: to capture, analyze, and digitally document smells. This work
Scent has the power to transport us instantly to another time or place. Consequently, the evocatively perfumed objects fHomesick enable wistful souls to travel to a cherished holiday, family tradition, or any state in the continental U.S., as well New York City, pumpkin picking, and more abstract experiences, such as a ski trip or a book club), then translates their feedback into an authentic, recognizable fragrance. More than a momentary escape, the scents suRoad Trip candle by day, and Beach Cottage by night.
Anyone who’s ever owned a dog (or been owned by one) knows that scent is paramount to how canines experience the world. Cat Warren, a science journalism professor at North Carolina State University, this observation became something of an obsession. What the Dog Knows: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World, followed by an edition that translates her research for younger readers, newly out in paperback—that detail the remarkable, often life-saving power of a hound’s snout. “We humans are highly German Shepherd police dog, Trakr, who located the last 9/11 survivor in the rubble of the World Trade Center, or the pooches that find drowning victims more than 200 feet under the sea. “Dogs can help make the invisible visible,” Warren says. “We need to watch them closely, know they can help translate
Your nose knows best. So says Harold McGee, a leading expert on the science of food and cooking, and author of the new bNose Dive: A Field Guide To The World’s Smells. Developed over the course of a decade, the blockbuster attempts to unpack the science of scent by looking in great dep
According to Dr. Alan R. Hirsch, the neurologist and psychiatrist who founded Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Rehe told the medical journal Alternative & Complementary Therapies. “More than a hundred years ago Freud said that, in order for society to remain civilized, it was necessary to repress oIn a study conducted by Hirsch’s foundation, 40 percent of participants—who were each connected to a plethysmograph, a device that measures blood flow caused by se
Six decades ago, researchers at 3M and the NCR Corporation were looking for a more effective way of trapping ink inside functioned with scented oils that, when scratched, burst open, emitting their distinctive smells. The technique has since been used on stickers, stamps, and perfume-peddling magazine inserts. John Waters incorporated it into his 1981 film Polyester, when he distributed large cards that featured ten circular patches, laced with scents such as skunk and old shoes, forwine and whiskey, helps readers understand flavor through the scents of its aromatic pages, while co-authors Seth Matlins and Eve EpsteiThe Scratch and Sniff Book of Weed. Other titles employ the strategy in more subtle ways. Scent in Context, a deep dive into the work of Belgian olfactory artist Peter De Cupere, disperses hidden scratch-and-sniff odors among a journal from the California publisher Knock Knock that pairs scented stickers with writing prompts—a clever way to stimulate users’ emotions, creativity, and memory.
Kristen Griffith-VanderYacht, founder of Wild Bloom Floral in Seattle, and the head judge of Netflix’s The Big Flower Fight—essentially, the fantastical floral equivalent of The Great British Baking Show—knows the power of an impactful blossom. Here, he tells us why a fabulous arrangement activates all the senses, and is
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“Smells can be a gateway to our history, helping us understand the sensory worlds of the past,” scent scholar Cecilia BeUniversity of College London’s Institute for Sustainable Heritage, Bembibre’s focus is rooted in the belief that smells are a crucial, if intangible, part of our cultural heritage—and hSmell of Heritage, a project that delves into the invisible layers often overlooked in historical accounts, archiving aromas that range f
Olfactory memories hold transporting qualities—a sensual power that’s oh-so welcome, as international travel remains on City Exclusives, an ever-expanding collection from cult fragrance company Le Labo, capitalizes upon our nostalgic, wanderlust desires w
“Perfume has a wonderful ability to immerse people directly inside of a world,” says David Moltz, the self-taught perfum To be parked on various blocks throughout New York City, with on-the-fly location updates posted to the brand’s social mD.S. & Durga Fume Truck will soon hit the streets. In a city known for its not-so-glamorous sidewalk odors, this is one experiment we’re eager
Smell is a highly individualized sense: The same odor or olfactory stimulus can trigger common, though not identical, reA recent study published in the science journal Nature suggests that our diverse experiences with scent have to do with how they are encoded in the brain. “All of us share a told The Harvard Gazette. “You and I both think lemon and lime smell similar and agree that they smell different from pizza, but until now, we d
Our sense of smell can cast mysteriously large impressions onto our memories—and it’s all by nature’s design. The olfactAccording to Harvard biology professor Venkatesh Murthy, olfactory signals even color other senses, notably taste. Molecules from food “make their way back retro-nasally to yo
“Our sense of smell is entirely shaped by cultural phenomena arising as a result of specific historical processes,” RobeSmells: A Cultural History of Odors in Early Modern Times (Polity). The French historian and professor—who has previously written books on subjects including the devil, violence
The saying “like a fine wine” is often used to describe something that improves with age. But, as any sommelier will telterroir, and how the wine has been stored and fermented—much of which sommeliers are trained to discern largely by scent, beforsaid on a recent episode of At a Distance, it all comes down to personal preference. “I think wine sometimes gets interlaced into geekdom, which is cool,” he told
Early August marks the start of planting season for celery. Picked in fall and early winter, it makes for a sweet and crcleansing benefits, or an easy snack on its own—though the scent of celery, curiously, is always much stronger than its taste. As a scent,
What does our sense of smell have to do with philosophy? In her new book, Smellosophy: What the Nose Tells the Mind (Harvard University Press), cognitive scientist and sense historian Ann-Sophie Barwich delves into the perceptual dimen
What do gun powder, seared steak, raspberries, and rum have in common? Hint: It’s not what’s for dinner. According to th
Short of a vaccine, masks and social distancing measures are here to stay, for the foreseeable future, anyway—and your nmicrobiological auras” were once normally exposed to, in actively out-and-about, pre-pandemic times. Our bodies, hosts to a community of micr
Holiday weekend or not, summertime means grilling time. A waft of burning hickory or charcoal from a smoky barbecue grilonce explained to The Independent, “Most of the flavor of smoke is smell.” Because scent is processed through the limbic system, the sensation also persi
With the summer season come longer days, more time spent outdoors under the sun—and, unfortunately, all of the attendant the arrival of murder hornets to fear, of course (as if this year hadn’t offered enough unwelcome surprises), and store-bought repellants are often l
Rose expert Peter Kukielski, the author of Roses Without Chemicals: 150 Disease-Free Varieties That Will Change the Way You Grow Roses and former curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, tells us about the rose-bloom
April showers bring May flowers, as the age-old saying goes—and with both comes the scent of freshly dampened soil that New Atlas, geosmin is produced by certain bacteria from the genus Streptomyces as a way to attract a specific arthropod, called a springtail, which helps spread its spores. Researchers suggest that ta hand soap and a hand-sanitizer spray (the candle option, sadly, is sold out, at least for the moment), offers a close-to-the-real-thing alternative in a bot
Breu resin, a shiny, white sap extracted from the almécega tree found in the Amazon rain forests, as well as from various reBreuzinho is used to enhance focus and attain peace of mind, and is scientifically shown to have various medicinal properties as breu incense from the Brooklyn-based company Incausa, in stick form, coated in resin and sprinkled with chips of palo santo; as well as in its more natural, raw form, as a hunk of solid oleoresin from Costa Brazil, fashion designer Francisco Costa’s beauty brand, which pairs it with a ceramic tray. To enjoy the ar