So This Is What Nothing Smells Like


All the restaurants have marble tables and gray linens, all the bedrooms have white, white sheets, and everyone’s closets are pared down to “essentials.” So I guess it makes sense, during whatever phase we’re going through right now, that one of the most popular perfumes on the market, by Juliette Has a Gun, smells like nothing at all, nothing at all.

And all that time you wanted to smell like the beach, like a plucked gardenia in July, like cupcake frosting from a jar? Now it’s time to smell like nothing.

Juliette Has a Gun’s Not a Perfume has one key ingredient: Cetalox, a common base note ingredient (and hypoallergenic!). Cetalox (also loosely known as Ambrox or Ambroxan, though they’re all slightly different molecules—yeah, molecules) is a synthetic ambergris scent (sweet, musky, amber), used in many perfumes as well as laundry detergents. Actual ambergris (made from stomach excretions of sperm whales, not even kidding) is hard to find, illegal to trade in the US, and otherwise mad expensive.

Not a Perfume supposedly works in the way that adding salt to what you’re cooking doesn’t make it salty, it brings out the other flavors in the dish. It’s aiming to bring out your natural scent, those pheromones that will attract your future astronaut/motorcycle-riding lover. Turning your nothing into something.

This would be some Emperor’s New Clothes stuff if it really turned out to be water—the number one ingredient in most of the beauty products in my bathroom. But it does have a scent. It’s lightly musky, barely sweet, powdery, very clean and warm, reminiscent of Bobbi Brown’s Bath, which I wore for years. Or the Diptyque Ambre candle that was so expensive I was too cheap to burn it and now it’s sitting dusty and unused on my shelf. I’d also compare it to Clean Sheet Day, when you burrow your face in your pillow at night and breath deep because you know it’ll be gone by tomorrow.

And it will be gone tomorrow. On my skin, it was mellow and faint, almost immediately after spritzing. I usually prefer stronger perfumes that impose on the people in my surrounding area, but there’s something sexxxy about how intimate it is—you’d really have to be...close to get a good whiff. Not all perfume is for sharing in a cloud on the elevator in your office. But are all perfumes perfume? Yeah, probably.

—Alex Beggs

Photographed by Tom Newton.