As of late, I feel as if we've gone from liking clean smells--think Murphy's Oil Soap, Lemon Pledge, and even the faint smell of bleach--to craving products with aromas of tangy fruity blends that sound more like Jamba Juice than detergents.
Perhaps beauty and shower products are the most extreme examples--the simple roll-on bubblegum lip-gloss of my youth is left in the dust by blinding high-sheen plumping combinations like white almond sugar-cookie or raspberry Mojito. My boyfriend's shower is unabashedly full of products professing to smell like chocolate, honey, cinnamon or that contain yogurt, olive oil, and fennel. There are days when he smells a bit peculiar--it might be that Willie Wonka-esque amalgam of dill shampoo, mint chocolate chip body soap finished with a dash of spicy, (supposedly) pheromone-inducing deoderant.
Wildflowers were in for a minute, then replaced by citrus, which was then replaced briefly by mint. Wet grass and sand was replaced by clean linen and salt, and standard oranges to clementines and tangerines. Traditional fragrances are continually trying to one-up each other with more gourmet combinations or references to cocktails. Personally I'd rather my hair smell terrific, than like mango-Acai berry margarita. And I don't want to get out of the shower hankering for sweets because my Irish Spring has been replaced by Oreo cookie soap*
No product is without a food reference now-a-days. Are we so orally obsessed that marketing has turned to making us salivate in order to buy? Moreover, the pairing of smells is confusing. How strong is too strong? Should your home smell like fresh organic rosemary AND coconut frappe? And should you fire up the patchouli-kiwi candle at the same time or is that overkill? And what happens if you cook chili on the same day? My feeling is that the backlash may be scents that eliminate other smells, and maybe simultaneously add more oxygen or good ions to the air. (When it comes out in two months, remember I said it first).
I'm thankful that this epicurean trend has not invaded our bodies, literally. The appearance of strawberry douches died quickly in the 80's and fortunately was replaced by anodyne substances like baking soda. Otherwise I could see the marketing for tampons, feminine wipes and lubricants focusing on essence of cool organic cucumber or pastel sorbets. Hmm, what's yummier, ginger chai or jasmine wasabi-scented liners?
Then there is globalization, but to be frank, names in French do continue to sound better than the same thing in English. Body wash with extracts of grapefruit juice sounds drab next to "jus de pamplemousse," and exponentially better than the German equivalent, "grapefruchtsaft." Would you rather wash your hair with shampoo that smells like "granatapfelbaum" or pomegranate? And plain 'ole pomegranate or pomegranate-applesauce?
Psychologically speaking, the sexuality of it all is obvious - we are stuck in the oral phase. I'm not sure how I feel about smelling unabashedly like something you want to eat, consider Jessica Simpson's vanilla wafery perfume that is as machete-subtle as the neon pink 70's Love's Baby Soft marketing. I'm sure that, at this very moment, the advertising team who developed the embarrassing groaning Herbal Essences campaign is trying to push the limits by suggesting their new line gives you multiples.
Our urgency to multitask even when smelling concerns me as a psychologist. Now a smell has to "take us" somewhere (think Marseille or Hawaii) or surprise us with an odd combination or clever name. The company Sea of Scandal has titillating candle scents with names such as "The Brazilian" (which smells of peaches thought I thought peaches referred to.... oh forget about it). Or how about the "Walk of Shame" which supposedly smells like early morning dew, "Pool boy" smells like suntan lotion, "Original Sin smells like fig leaf, and "Gold Digger" smells like carat [sic] cake.*
I understand why homes that smell like fresh baked bread sell faster. And I'm embarrassed to admit, I recently caved to the temptation to order a lavender flan at a fancy Soho restaurant. It was disgusting. The latest depressing news is that my beloved incense is carcinogenic.*** I'm left hoping Swiffer will come out with a floor wipe reminiscent of my smoky sandalwood. Sigh.
October issue of journal Cancer
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