Seduction and perfume, and is that expensive fragrance worth its price? (mini-podcast episode #3)

I hope you’re all doing well and had a nice Thanksgiving if you celebrate. My birthday is always around or on Thanksgiving Day. Normally, I would be out of town celebrating it but thanks to the pandemic, I didn’t go anywhere. Instead, I took some time off and indulged in some in-person fragrance testing and shopping!

Like episode 2 of the Empowering Perfumes series, this episode will have two topics. I’m starting with the association of women’s perfume with seduction. Later, I’ll answer a question often asked by newcomers to higher-end fragrance. But for now, let’s start with the seduction.

Indulge me and close your eyes. Shake out the stress of the day from your shoulders. Take a few deep, relaxing breaths. Inhale slowly for 5 counts, then exhale slowly for another 5 counts. Inhale…then exhale. This will help clear your mind. I’m now going to paint a picture for you so you can imagine yourself being somewhere else.
By the sea lies a quaint, windswept cottage, far, far away from everything. It is nighttime, and the stars are out. The cottage is old and made of a creamy, alabaster wood that creaks and sighs as you step gingerly onto the floorboards. You open the door to the bedroom, which is sparsely furnished. Flickering candles give the room a soft glow, like you’re in another world. The candles give off a comforting but oh so gentle aroma of vanilla, like freshly baked cookies. You can hear the soothing sound of the sea outside. Here, in this moment, you feel at ease. You don’t have to pretend to be anyone or anything else but yourself here. You can just be.
As you step into the space barefoot, you notice the centerpiece of the room, a four-poster bed with plumped up pillows, its frame draped in a soft, gauzy, ivory fabric. You remember why you are here. You left behind your responsibilities for the weekend and run away from it all to be with the person you love. Without the constant background hum of stress, work, and anything else that distracts you from who you really are, it’s an opportunity to relax. Now is the time when you can reconnect with your partner. To rediscover the parts of you that have been hidden from view, to expose and love any vulnerabilities, to reach new heights in your intimacy with one another.
In addition to slipping into something comfortable, you’ve chosen a very special perfume for this night. It’s a scent that is equal parts sensual, romantic, tender, and daring. When you spritz it on and sniff your wrists, you feel amazing. Strong. Confident. We all know what happens next because you feel safe and loved here. You can let go.
I hate to bring you back to reality, but I do have a point to make here. What I just described to you includes two fragrance cues. I don’t know how many property realtors still do it, but when I was growing up, realtors had a well-known trick of baking cookies before an open house began. The smell of baking was so ingrained in people’s minds as a positive, reassuring scent, probably bringing up fond memories of Grandma and the holidays.
The other cue here is, of course, the wearing of perfume for the purpose of seduction. Regardless of whether you are a woman, a man, or anything in between, it’s common knowledge that fragrance can be an aphrodisiac, and wearing a particular scent for a partner in itself is sexy. Choosing a scent that is recognizably you, pleasant and indeed, irresistible to the person you’re trying to tempt is practically guaranteed to boost your confidence.
For many women, sexual confidence doesn’t come about naturally. For one thing, a woman’s worst-case scenario of getting pregnant as a consequence of the quest for sexual pleasure is a huge buzzkill. I know I’ve worried about it. You only need to look in the not too distant past, specifically the 1960s and the sexual revolution, to understand how revolutionary the introduction of the pill was for women.
Still, there’s plenty of room for growth that I believe women deserve when it comes to intimacy. Last month, I attended a class about the negative, toxic beliefs women hold around sex. These beliefs have led women to feel shame about wanting sex or to develop self-worth issues around sex. And these beliefs are not new. They have been swimming around in the Divine Feminine collective because they are generational and have been passed down to us women from the pain of our mothers, our mother’s mothers, and so on.
The beliefs come from thousands of years of women living in a patriarchal society where we’ve had to live second-class lives and have not had the same freedoms as men. I’ve been thinking more about what I learned in the class as Roe vs. Wade has come under threat in America, as it’s all related. At the heart of Roe vs. Wade is a woman’s right to choose when it comes to an important decision regarding her health and her body. But the decision is also connected to things far beyond her physical body, into her emotions, how she has viewed herself, and how she will view herself in the future.
I had not realized until I talked to several girlfriends and the women in this class that I was not alone in having been brought up with two admittedly antiquated ideas, that sex was for married couples, and it was largely for the husband’s pleasure. The wife’s desires weren’t even part of the conversation. From a young age, we were told that women who liked having sex for pleasure were sluts, while we looked on as our male peers with the same behavior did not get the same derogatory labeling. We’ve all seen it personally or on tv or in the movies: the guy who sleeps around is congratulated for all his conquests, not shamed for it. Though attitudes around sex have certainly relaxed and become more open-minded since the 1960s, there are still numerous issues for women. Too many of us have shame around wanting sex, enjoying it for the pleasurable act it is, and initiating intimacy with our partners.
One of my damaging personal beliefs around sex was that the woman was responsible to be seductive and alluring if she wanted sex. When I use the words seductive and alluring, I mean in terms of how a woman might act and dress for a man. Back then, I included perfume as part of the dressing up part. I can see no how this belief was coming from the fashion magazines I’d see in the grocery store or bookstore that I would never pick up, let alone read. The sexy, heavily made-up, scantily clad women on the covers didn’t look like me. They had a confident, come hither stare that made me feel sure that they could stroll into bars, command the attention of the entire room, and the men would be falling over themselves to be with them.
I convinced myself a little too well that I could never look or be like any of those women. I’ve had such a hard time with my self-confidence and feeling attractive that the idea of being seductive was so out of my comfort zone, it might as well have been in another galaxy. Feeling discouraged and less than looking at these images of perfection caused me to feel that I never would measure up properly as a woman and that I would never be in a relationship. Worse, I thought that I couldn’t be fixed. It wasn’t until I was well along in years of therapy that I realized that I was beautiful as I was and there was nothing about my looks that needed fixing at all.
When I first started getting comfortable buying lingerie, my thinking became so laser focused to how to make myself look skinny in the right places and curvy in others while wearing it, with the expressed purpose to attract a man. It wasn’t until a friend stopped me in my tracks and reminded me that lingerie is for the woman wearing it. She said that lingerie is supposed to be a woman’s little secret to wear under your regular clothes, to make you feel more feminine, and to and give you self-confidence, man or no man. I never forgot that.
I now connect seduction and perfume in a different, healthier way. I view perfume like an invisible kind of lingerie. It’s that special something that creates an olfactory memory instead of a visual one. The best part is you get to choose what to wear, so you can make it something you love. If it gets you in the mood and it makes you feel sexy, whether you have a partner or not, then why not buy it and wear it proudly? It’s your right as a woman to feel good about yourself, just like it’s your right to seek out the pleasure you can have through sex. Even if all that the perfume does is give you that extra spring in your step when you’re walking out of the door that morning, that is personal joy, and it’s totally worth it.
Since last spring, I’ve been doing a lot of Googling while researching different perfumes, what they contain, and what they smell like. A common refrain among newcomers to fragrance has to do with cold hard cash: Is that expensive fragrance really worth what it says on its price tag?
When I think about higher-end fragrance, I’m talking about the houses that charge over $150 US dollars for a 100-milliliter bottle. American fashion designer Tom Ford, for example, has a fragrance line with 50-milliliter bottles starting at about $370 US dollars. There is some discount if you purchase a larger size but for the average consumer, it probably doesn’t help that much. (I also have a beef with the Tom Ford brand, specifically over them offering smaller sizes for some but not all of their offerings. But I’ll have to discuss that another time.) The legendary Chanel No. 5 comes in at around $140 US dollars per 100 milliliters. You’re comparing apples and oranges. Or Rolexes with Swatches.
If you’re a keen shopper of designer clothes and accessories, you already know that a pair of Christian Louboutins or a Louis Vuitton handbag are going to cost you significantly more than a lesser-known brand at a department store. However, while the physical quality and materials used in a pair of high heels or a handbag are tangible, a fragrance is much less so. I mean, yes, a higher-end fragrance will likely come wrapped in a fancier box and ribbon and in a luxe bottle, but I would rather focus on the liquid inside the bottle. So what exactly are you paying for when you buy a perfume?
In episode 2, I talked briefly about the top, middle, and base notes of a quality perfume. A perfumer is a specialist and an artist. They source special scented ingredients and put them together just so to create a quality product that can evolves beyond what you get at first sniff. Beyond the opening top notes, a quality perfume is complex and makes a lasting impression on anyone who comes across it. A master perfumer’s creation cannot be matched with most one-note, linear scents. Like any good art that comes to fruition, good things take good materials plus the time, research, talent, and skill.
If you find a scent you love that cannot compare to anything else you’ve tried, I believe that you should spend the money for it. There’s a reason why Picassos are very expensive. They are rare and special, and not everyone has one. However, not everyone needs a Picasso. Your local Italian restaurant will get by just fine with a much less expensive print of the Tuscan countryside for general ambience, and their customers would be none the wiser.
Going back to the original question, is that expensive fragrance really worth what it says on its price tag, the short answer is that only you can decide that for yourself.  There are some people that say that when you pay top dollar for a perfume, you’re paying more for the brand and less on the actual quality of the product, therefore it’s not good value.  This is true to some extent in all cases but at the same time, I think it’s important to consider that luxury and better-known brands can afford better, more experienced perfumers, too.
I’ve sampled close to 100 perfumes and colognes over the last 5 weeks. While I agree that you can’t escape the branding and promotion of the more famous names in fragrance, your preferences in how pleasant a fragrance is to you should eclipse concerns in names and price. What you choose should come down to what you like. Not what you think you like, how the bottle looks, or what lifestyle you think the fragrance or brand projects, but what feels right to you.
Men and women all over the internet are eager to find a scent that attracts the opposite sex, me included. But remember, you’re the one who’s going to be wearing the fragrance and living with it. Taking price out of the equation for a minute, your fragrance should represent who you are. You should feel comfortable wearing it, just as I mentioned earlier about wearing fragrance that boosts your self-confidence when it comes to being sensual.
But let’s return to the issue of price for a moment. Collecting fragrances is an expensive hobby. For many of us, when confronted by the high price for what looks like a bottle of colored liquid, can be an eye-watering experience and can make us uncomfortable. This is especially true if we haven’t had the opportunity to thoroughly sample the fragrance first, when we have no idea if it suits us or has the staying power that we want it to.
Myself, I get a feeling of paralysis when first looking at a price. It took me some time to figure out where this was coming from. I grew up middle class. My parents weren’t into luxury items. I attribute that to their frugal, hardscrabble years after they arrived in this country, never wasting any of their resources. They held on to the same behaviors even after they’d made it. I didn’t get an allowance, so I rarely went out and bought something simply because I wanted it or liked it. Even as I got older and had a well-paying job, spending on myself was often difficult unless I felt there was a substantial benefit to me if I bought something. It was rarely about doing something nice for myself. I was always trying to make the right choices to make my life “better” without really understanding what a better life for me might look like.
Because frugality bordering on painful was modeled to me as a child, I still look for the best value and the lowest costs. I still clip those paper coupons before going to the grocery store! I’m aware that this kind of mindset isn’t helpful when you’re considering an expensive perfume. Some deep digging into my childhood uncovered major self-worth issues related to money. The truth was, I didn’t think I was worthy of nice things. And if you don’t think you’re worthy of nice things, then you won’t understand and can’t be receptive when those nice things come into your life. I’m still working through these issues of worthiness.
I’m not trying to convince you to pull the trigger and buy an expensive bottle of fragrance or not today. That’s a personal decision. What I am hoping you gained from me sharing my own personal experience is that we all carry beliefs around what things are worth the money and what brings us happiness. Sometimes in life, those two things can feel mutually exclusive. I don’t want anyone coming away from this post thinking that they can’t afford quality fragrances. There are ways around expensive price tags, whether that is through samples, smaller-sized bottles, discounts, or competing fragrances inspired by the more expensive originals.
Whatever you choose, at whatever price point, I hope you feel confident in your choice of fragrance, and that it brings you a smile to your face every time you wear it.

Photos at top and within the article are from pixabay.

The classical piano clips used in the intro and outro of the above audio file are from taken from Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major, Opus 9, Number 2, perfurmed by Aya Higuchi. The piano clip used in the interlude is taken from Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor, B. 150, also performed by Aya Higuchi. Both pieces are public domain and are from 501(c)(3) nonprofit Musopen. The sound of ocean waves hitting a beach is from a recording by Joseph Sardin and is also public domain.

The connection between food and fragrance, how to try on perfumes, and asserting yourself (mini-podcast episode #2)

Given what I talked about in my last post about my history with personal fragrance, you may be surprised by just how much I’ve embraced the world of perfumery and how quickly. I still consider myself a newbie at this, but I am proud that I can hold my own with the most hardened and cynical salespeople now.
I want to take a step back and talk about the sensory part of personal fragrance. Consider, for a moment, that a nice fragrance applied to the body is a pleasant way of exercising our sense of smell, whether we apply it for ourselves to enjoy, for others to recognize us, or both. For myself, it makes total sense that I would love things that smell good because I love flowers and gardening. I also really love cooking and eating. I’m Chinese-American. The enjoyment of food is part of my DNA.
As I grew older, I wanted to cook more and learn more about it. I watched a lot of cooking shows. My appreciation for cooking as an art and the use of quality ingredients exponentially increased. It wasn’t until I really started cooking for myself and my family that I noticed not only the therapeutic benefit of the cooking process for myself, but also its sensory and sensual elements.
Here’s an example. Imagine a stalk of celery in front of you that you are about to cut up for soup. Holding your knife over the celery, your sense of sight views that pale green stalk with ribs sitting on the cutting board. When you chop into the stalk, there’s a satisfying crunch when you’re cutting into it, so your sense of hearing is engaged. When it’s cut, the stalk will release this crisp, vegetal fragrance as you break the outer skin. There’s nothing else in this world that smells just like celery. Have a think about this the next time you chomp into a celery stick provided alongside your buffalo wings.
Most people have a fond olfactory memory associated with food and your family and friends. It could be something comforting like Mom’s turkey at Thanksgiving or Dad’s summer barbecue. Or the memory can recall watershed moments in time, like the orange blossom water doused on baklava that was served during Greek week at school, the gooey smell you associate with roasting marshmallows at night that summer you fell in love at camp, or that warming scent of mulled wine you got at a Christmas market by the fire before you got engaged. I’m sure you have at least one of these scent memories. The smell of a beloved favorite food can leave an indelible mark in your mind.
I would have expected to have a lot of similarly fond memories of the fragrances worn by the people I love, know, or have interacted with. With the sensitive nose I have, I think it’s odd that I only have two of them. Both were from having been in the embrace of a man, and both wore colognes that were delicious and unique.
They smelled like nothing I had ever encountered that I felt sure at the time I had sniffed them that they had to be concoctions made specially for the wearer. I found out this year that beyond the Chanels and Armanis at your neighborhood department store, there is a vast array of smaller, niche brands to choose from, should you want to smell different from everyone else. I am convinced there is something for everyone, even the people who say they don’t like fragrance. The incomprehensibly large size of the fragrance industry reminds me of the part in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Douglas Adams describes the enormity of space: “Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.”
Initially, I started educating myself about personal fragrance because I thought the more that I knew about the notes in men’s cologne and how they were put together in harmony, the more likely I would be able to identify what those two men wore. Selfishly, I wanted to recapture those moments in a bottle as a way of remembering the version of myself then and who I was with them.
However, as I dug deeper and realized I was only scratching the surface of what else there is to know in perfumery, I realized that it would be much more fun and worthwhile to discover what I liked on myself and what I would like to wear. Thus began my odyssey to find my own signature scent.
It hadn’t occurred to me in the beginning that finding my own perfume was something nice that I could do for myself. Women all too often fall into the role of caretaker because it’s a role that we played as children. Why do we push our needs and desires out of the way in order to help and stabilize others, to get their needs and desires met? In my case, I was the peacemaker of the house, the voice of reason in an environment made unstable and uncertain, caused by my upbringing and childhood illness. There was never room for what I wanted. My main priorities were survival and getting through school.
I also had to be open to buying perfume, which in most cases costs much more than the clothes I wear. I had to remind myself that I, as a person and a woman, am worth this luxury. I deserve something nice that will raise my confidence in myself and in how I carry myself in this world.
I’d like to switch gears now to talk about the easiest way to try out new fragrances with the least financial barriers. I’ll also touch on my own psychological barriers to trying on scents, because my thought was if as a middle-aged woman I have felt intimidated, then for sure others have felt intimidated, too.
So, where to start? Your nearest department store is a good place to begin. It’s where you can be guaranteed a reasonable selection of the giants of perfumery that I am sure you have heard of: names like Chanel, Dior, Gucci, Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Burberry, and Polo. In the U.S., higher-end luxury stores will also give you a wider array of higher-end, less famous brands. During a recent shopping trip to the largest Nordstrom’s near me, I had the opportunity to sample Diptyque’s line, which I had not seen anywhere else. I also came across a Bond No. 9 counter at Bloomingdale’s.
I have never worn or bought a lot of makeup, so my experience with beauty products is paltry at best. When I finally pushed myself to go to the fragrance section of the nearest Nordstrom store, I felt extremely intimidated. My mom went out of her way to avoid the fragrance section in the Eighties. You’d walk through the mall entrance of a store and be assaulted by the floor walkers spraying the product they were selling. Those were not good days for people like us who are so sensitive to scent.
Because of COVID, I don’t think the indiscriminate sprayers will ever prowl the sales floor again. Further, at least here in America, staff may hold back tester bottles from public use to limit who can touch the bottle. That means you must interact with and request a sample from staff.
By nature, I’m a browser at the mall, unless I’m in a store for a specific purchase. I like to take my time and I don’t like to be rushed. It gives me anxiety. I’d also prefer to select items on my own without being pushed. While I understand a lot of these staff work on commission, testing and selecting a scent to purchase is a process that shouldn’t be hurried. You are there to pick a fragrance that reflects the individual you are.
Do not make the mistake I did by asking which fragrances are most popular. I’m never going to forget the day I got sprayed by an overexcited customer and with Cartier’s La Panthere. As the name suggests, it is animalistic and was too strong for me. It was the same day the Chanel saleslady offered me a spray of Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle. I decided to take one for the team and commit myself fully to this process by trying it on my inner wrist.
Some fragrances, I can tell immediately if they’re not for me by simply sniffing the test strip. That’s step 1 in testing a fragrance. Step 2, if you like it enough by an initial whiff of the scent alone, you must spray it on your arm, allow the alcohol to evaporate, and monitor how the scent changes on your skin hours later.
The most fascinating thing about quality perfume is that there are three parts to the scent: the top, middle, and base notes. Somehow, the perfumer who created the perfume combined the ingredients together so masterfully that the three sets of notes are like three instruments. For a time, they play together in harmony but at a point further down from the start of the performance, the sharpness and brightness of the top notes will fade away, allowing the middle, more rounded notes to shine. Eventually, the middle notes will fade, too, leaving behind the base notes.
When I actually witness this progression on a perfume on my skin, I’m blown away by the artistry of the perfumer. A perfume’s behavior is in stark contrast to what you see with less expensive fragranced lotion, which will have only one set of notes. It doesn’t matter how long you wear a lotion or reapply it. The scent is reliable, but it also doesn’t change. There’s no mystery. I now understand why the discerning are entranced by quality perfume. It’s like watching the unfolding of a flower, from the bud stage to full bloom.
I believe my interpretation of a quality perfume is an important distinction to make about high quality product. Unfortunately, because high quality is often associated with a higher price tag, it has led the perfume industry to be exclusive and snobbish, or at least it can feel that way. I think back to the fancy looking women I saw at the fragrance and makeup counters in my youth, while my mother and I steered clear of them. Those are the same kind of women who most often work the counters and if they are customers, they get better treatment in my experience.
This is where your self-confidence and self-worth can shine. Once I became more confident to ask for what I was looking for, the reception I would then get often changed. A pushy saleslady, as well as an apathetic saleslady, would be more likely to help me. But how was I to know that I needed to assert myself? Weren’t all of the salesladies in my position at one point, clueless about fragrances and willing to learn? If they had been, few have shown me the willingness to meet me where I wanted to be met. While I accept that this may not be part of their training, as a newbie to fragrance, I could have used the help.
Asserting yourself as a woman may look like asking the boss for a raise or initiating sex with your partner. Those two examples are obviously not the same as walking up to a perfume counter and asking for a sample, but I bring them up because they’re two places in life that women often have trouble speaking up for themselves and what they want.

In this patriarchal society, it can be hard as a woman to ask for what she wants. Growing up, I could not see how I could assert myself. This behavior was not modeled to me. I grew up in a culture where the women are expected to be quiet and submissive. If I was not comfortable asserting myself, how could I make my own choices? Most of the time, I didn’t. What looked good to society ended up being my default, and I could not figure out why I was so miserable. Recently, through my spirituality, I have reflected that as a young woman, I felt uncomfortable because I had failed to recognize that the acceptable choices others made for themselves often did not resonate with me and who I was.

It’s been an important part of my spiritual growth as a Divine Feminine to be able to identify and work on what brings me joy and how to bring that joy into my life every day. Part of that includes being authentic and comfortable in my own skin. As I continue on my journey to find my signature scent, I have recognized that perfumery for women can be an incredibly empowering part of this. What scent you wear allows you to express who you are and in a different, more elegant way than hair color and the clothes you wear. It’s about choice, feeling good about making those choices, and becoming more confident within yourself.I hope today’s post encourages you to find a place in your life, whether it be in fragrance or somewhere else, where you can find more confidence.

Photo at top is from pixabay. Image of the fragrance pyramid is from Wikimedia Commons.

The classical piano clips used in the intro and outro of the above audio file are from taken from Chopin’s Nocturne in E flat major, Opus 9, Number 2, perfurmed by Aya Higuchi. The piano clip used in the interlude is taken from Chopin’s Waltz in A Minor, B. 150, also performed by Aya Higuchi. Both pieces are public domain and are from 501(c)(3) nonprofit Musopen.