Where did the term Skank come from in Perfume? Perfume History Lessons

perfume skank

If you’ve been around perfume and perfume blogs for any length of time, you’ve heard the term


when referring to some of the  dirtier perfumes, ones that are a lot more animalic, usually hopped up on civet, musk, maybe some indolic florals or all of the above.  Did you ever stop and wonder where the term came from?  it used to mean the girl above taking a walk or drive of shame early Saturday or Sunday morning or that girl in high school that slept with everyone’s boyfriend, but no guy would actually admit it.  

But what does it mean when it comes to perfume?  This is where the whole

Blame March

category came into being.  Yeah, it’s her fault.  I was doing a bunch of SEO crap that’s long overdo, which entails going through 100+ pages of old posts dating back to 2005 and putting in the correct – oh, I’ll shut up before you all start throwing perfume bottles at your computer screen.  Ran across the first post that referenced skank because I had forgotten which one it was. As soon as I started reading, I stared howling with laughter.  You can go read it here yourself.  Or let me just cut out the relevant pieces where March starts winding up with her own term that we have all just adopted since then because, well, she got it exactly right.

What I love about classic Guerlain scents is their their Guerlain-ness, that cold, often citrus-y champagne fizz atop the warm oakmoss-vanilla base, with a dollop of something even I admit is a little funky and animalic. Mentally I term it the Guerlain Skank. My guess is that you either love it or loathe it– there probably isn’t much room for compromise. Jicky has the Skank. Mitsouko has it. Cuir Beluga and Angelique Noir, lovely as they are, don’t have it and are not interesting to me. And let me be brutally clear: the Skank is not gracious, or nice, or even fundamentally pretty. The Skank is about sex, and only sex. It’s a rump-grinding, head-shaking invitation to a booty call, no matter how politely the scent’s been dressed up at the opening. I walk around wafting, on average, four or five fragrances a day, and the only one my husband ever noticed was the Jicky EDT I’d spritzed at Saks. He noticed the Jicky so enthusiastically that I ordered a bottle of parfum, unsniffed, the following day. It’s worth every penny. 

There is only one exception to my Guerlain Skank Rule: Apres l’Ondee, which to me is completely missing the Guerlinade and lasts about two hours on my skin, but who cares? Because it’s so heartbreakingly beautiful that no rules apply. I wear it when I need to cry, and sometimes when I need a cheering-up. It makes no sense, but that’s the way it is sometimes with perfume.

Now I’m working my way through the old or rare Guerlains — sampling them one at a time, when I can get my hands on the right concentration, because the other thing I’ve learned about Guerlain is that the EDT versions, the only ones for sample in my city, are mostly worthless because they’re simultaneously too harsh and too weak. (If you’ve based your assessment of Guerlain on just the EDTs, humor me and get your hands on a decant of at least an EDP. Then you’ll know you’ve made an educated decision.) So far the Skank factor has been detected strongly in Attrape-Coeur, and (oddly) in Chant d’Aromes, which I’d initially dismissed based on reviews because it sounds so flowery. Metalys has the Skank but goes off in an odd, dark direction on me, somewhat like Vol de Nuit, which I adore in the bottle but not on my skin. I have thus far failed to appreciate Shalimar, Nahema, Chamade, l’Instant and Champs Elysees. L’Heure Bleue is a winner, one of the sweetest perfumes I own, kept honest by the hint of Skank. Vega has it, and so does Liu. Parure has the Skank but the jury’s still out — it has a winey drydown on me (plum?) that’s very reminiscent of Serge, and I don’t mean that as a compliment, because it’s not supposed to be Serge.

  • julie says:

    Don’t remember where I read it, but it was said of Jicky long ago, “Ca sent les pieds.”

  • Mals86 says:

    Those indolic jasmines go all Ho Panties on me. And certain musks… I think it was Tom, in a post over on PST, that referred to Smell Bent’s Commando as “the warm skin of a child.” But he was wrong… Commando smells like my brother-in-law, back from a three-week training exercise in the desert, BEFORE his shower. (Actually, that’s not so much skank as it is just locker-room stale sweat, so never mind.)

  • pam says:

    I must LOVE skank, cause I love the older Guerlains I’ve smelled. Plus Bal a Versailles and Femme. Y’all are just giving me ideas on scents to try if I can get my hands on them!

    • Patty says:

      Skank is such a fun exploration in perfume, isn’t it? I think sometimes just the experience is the goal, not finding anything I wear, but just thinking about who I’d be if I wore that scent. 🙂

  • FragrantWitch says:

    Love the history lesson! Skank is a fab word and definitely communicates a lot in that one bitty word. I am a Guerlie girl and LURVE their skank. Shalimar, Chamade, Jicky, Vega, Samsara- bring em on! Can’t do L’Heure Bleue as I my skin amps sweet and thus far LhB turns into a sickly sweet almond pastry fried in anise oil. Makes me nauseous and sad as I so want to love it! As most of you (and now the parents association) know, Bal smells ‘freshly f*cked’ on me but I love it an bag decide to take you advice Patty and smell like I am really living!

  • Ann says:

    Hey Patty, fun post! I can’t do any of the older Guerlains (Jicky smelled like dirty feet on me!) and anything with cumin in it is too B.O.ish on me. But I can wear Courtesan, and those indolic jasmines do just fine on me, so at least something works for me, ha!

    • Ann says:

      P.S. Not meaning to go OT, but wowza!! — that Seville is some bee-yoo-ti-ful stuff!! If my DH wasn’t almost about to lose his job next month, I would be snapping up a FB double-quick …

      • Patty says:

        Isn’t it just? I don’t think I’ve run across anyone yet that didn’t have that reaction.

        Sorry to hear about your DH! I hope he finds something else really quickly!

  • Francesca Belanger says:

    That term in its non-perfume context, was around at least as early as the early 60’s, when I was in grade school. We all knew which girls were skanks. When I hear the word, again, non-perfume, I picture Juliette Lewis over it. Especially Juliet Lewis with the horrible cornrows at the Oscars. So bad that I think that ruined her career.

    I do love skanky perfumes, in spite of my Mrs Danvers affect. I get it in Mitsouko, still don’t get it in Jicky, though I’m trying. Love Bal à Versailles, The Party in Manhattan, and I recently got a decant of Nina Ricci Fille d’Eve which almost made me, as Violetta sang in La Traviata, perish from voluptuousness.

    Another great expression from the Posse, and I’m pretty sure this was yours, Patty, was “Barbie sex.”

    Great post.

    • Patty says:

      Oh, yeah! that was for Aftelier Tango. And it went on fairly long covering childhood barbie play and sex and, well, I would be just a little embarrassed about the whole thing exept I have no shame. 🙂

      I think we have the similar skank meters, but Jicky has a full belly of it.

      It did take me a while to get used to that word used that way because we did use it to talk about girls that really were skanky in high school. But you know, that’s for all those times you said no when you really wanted to say yes, but just the thought of the locker room discussion kept you from going there.

  • Wordbird says:

    It’s great to know where a common term comes from. And March has come up with a fair few absolute belters in her time – was it her or you, Patty who coined ‘Tampax-fresh-accord’ and made me spit tea over my keyboard far too many times?

    Skank is now a standard term used to talk about perfume. And importantly, it’s always retained that healthy acceptance of sexuality as a good thing. You might read a review that calls a fragrance just a smidge too skanky for work, but glorious for cocktails. It’s a wonderful word.

    • Patty says:

      Tampax Fresh Accord is all mine! I just noticed it one morning as I opened a new box – hmmm, smells like Tommy Girl! 🙂

      It was a great word and completely said everything that needed to be said. That it helped us all use one word to say the same thing as a quick reference was a thing of beauty.

  • Eldarwen 22 says:

    Guerlain and I don’t really get along that well for some reason. Mitsouko is moody, Shalimar is kind of clingy and the rest are nothing but a hot mess on my skin. Even though I do have a liking for Mitsouko and Shalimar but can’t wear them on a regular basis.

    Every time I wear A La Nuit, people tell me that I smell like I had just gotten laid and I don’t get that impression with A La Nuit and it’s funny that I don’t get that with Sarrasins. Depending on the concentration and the heat, Bal can be very sensual or very slutty. Courtesan can be the same way but not very often. I don’t get any kind of skank with MKK but cold sweat that really doesn’t smell.

    • Patty says:

      Guerlain, some of them work for me, and some are just a big mess. Shalimar and L’heure Bleue are a monstrously big “NO” Mitsouk and Jicky are a big YES. I think A La Nuit and Sarrasins have a good amount of skanky jasmine in it, just indolic enough to be interesting.

      Bal often runs right off the edge of sensual into street-walking slut for me, as does Femme. But it’s a fun run, even if I wind up in a skank pile-up in the valley below. 🙂