In April, Queen’s University Belfast announced the development of a breakthrough “scent delivery system” designed to amplify perfume the more a person sweats. Scientists joined scent with a salt solution (or “ionic liquid”) that activates once it’s in contact with water, allowing a perfume’s potency to shift in response to the wearer’s body rather than dissipate over time. This ionic liquid also acts as a mask for thiol compounds responsible for the less pleasant notes in body odor. The takeaway? If Queen’s University is successful in promoting this new product to perfumers, your gym might end up smelling a whole lot more like Duty Free.
Relationships with body odor, be it your own eau or the exotic musks of others, are inevitably complicated. Take a deep sniff of your loved one’s head after they’ve gone a few days sans shampoo (especially male loved ones—they secrete pheromones primarily through skin and hair), and you’re likely to fall deeper in love. Legend has it that a battle-weary Napoleon once sent the following saucy message to the Empress Josephine: “Je reviens en trois jours; ne te laves pas!'' (Translation: “I will return in three days. Don't wash!”)
But stuck under an anonymous armpit on the subway in mid-July? That’s typically a less amorous situation. As optimistic as the Queen’s University announcement sounds, in a way, it has the potential to both giveth and taketh away.
So for those attracted to fragrances more inspired by flesh than flowers, the hack is simple: Go for perfumes that smell like sweat—but in a good way. To this end, I’ve sniffed out a few for your consideration.
CB At the Beach 1966: Beginning with the most innocent entry, Christopher Brosius’ popular scent combines the familiar fragrances—Coppertone lotion and the salty sea air—with the smell of sun-baked skin. The result is warm but not ripe and highly nostalgic.
L’Air de Rien by Miller Harris: A collaboration between Jane Birkin and Lyn Harris of the British perfume company, Miller Harris, L’Air de Rein is inspired in part by Birkin’s scent-memories of her brother’s hair and the Paris Metro (incidentally, her brother Andrew co-wrote the screenplay for the 2006 film Perfume). Birkin’s foray into fragrance was born partially out of frustration with popular perfumes, which she found too heady and floral for her taste. She told The Independent of Harris’ final product: “It was like she was trying to do a portrait of me in scent.”
Dirty by Lush: My entrée to this line was through its shaving cream—a rich lotion that leans heavy on cedar wood and honey and lingers long after use in a soothing, “human” way. I love it. The accompanying scent is a bit more spearmint-driven and is inspired by what perfumer/founder Mark Constantine refers to as the “Italian shower” (that sexy practice of wearing yesterday’s clothes spiked with a hit of cologne and a rigorous tooth-brushing).
Mitsouko by Guerlain: A favorite of Anaïs Nin and Jean Harlow, two equally storied seductresses of their times, Jacques Guerlain developed the famed Mitsouko with the heroine of a french novel (La Bataille by Claude Farrère) in mind. Named after the character Mitsouku, the Japanese wife of a British naval officer, the perfume endeavors to imagine their mingled bodies through notes of peach and oak moss that read as both atmospheric and erotic.
Secretions Magnifiques by Etat Libre d’Orange: An infamous scent collage of all fluids bodily: semen, sweat, blood and saliva, Secretions Magnifiques is divisive as it is adventurous. The lingering metallic qualities of the perfume leave many to associate it more with crimes (rather than acts) of passion, so spritz with caution or expect some residual recoiling.
Photographed by Tom Newton. Read more about why top notes exist and other perfume stories here.