Friday Guest Post: Eau No!

By Nava

My cousin T* always used to say she was “allergic to stupidity.” This was a woman whose house alarm code was the numeric equivalent of the word “genius” and was the most outspoken person I´ve ever known. Unfortunately, she succumbed to breast cancer 3 years ago after a valiant 12-year fight. She wasn´t what I would call a devoted fragrance lover, but she loved to wear Diorissimo on occasion. Towards the end of her battle, the various medications and chemotherapy treatments she endured killed her taste buds, but ironically ratcheted up her sense of smell. She developed a serious intolerance to most things scented, and let everyone know just how sensitive her nose had become.

While I was staying with her, the complaints would range from the scent of my shampoo, deodorant, and she even made a comment about my unsavory fragrance one morning, upon returning to her house from the gym. I felt like the Peanuts character “Pig Pen”: you know, the kid who was always dressed in dirty clothes and enveloped in his own personal cloud of filth. I had to replace all the scented toiletries I was using with unscented alternatives, and wearing perfume was completely out of the question. Even the Diorissimo was off limits. I cannot even imagine how horrible this must have been – to not be able to taste the very nourishment needed to keep strong in the face of insidious disease, and to have every scent in your midst mercilessly assault your nose. It is my hope that future cancer treatments will be more easily tolerated; that is, until a cure can be found. No one should have to suffer the way my beloved cousin did.

Cancer patients are by no means the only segment of the population who are sometimes unable to withstand powerful odors. Fragrance-related allergies are becoming more common, but who among us can say they have never been trapped in an elevator or other close quarters with someone (men, you are by no means exempt here), who has OD´d on the eau d´whatever? I bring this up because I recently had the misfortune of exposure to some fellow fitness enthusiasts at my gym, who were bathed in overpowering fragrances. These were not the scents of strenuous workouts; I can deal with those. I know for certain that my own personal brand doesn´t smell anything like roses.

Why is it that some individuals feel the need to saturate themselves with liberal dousings of Angel or Chanel No. 5 before embarking on a 30 minute stint on the elliptical trainer? Is it not common knowledge that body heat elevates anything scented that happens to be on the skin? Or, is this a secret only fragrance aficionados are privy to? I know a very lovely woman whose husband plays ice hockey, and when she washes his gear, uses at least twice the recommended amount of scented fabric softener to counteract the stench of his garments. I have taken to referring to him as “April Fresh”, unbeknownst to her, of course. But, the smell is unmistakable. I´m somewhat surprised that none of his teammates have commented on his waft, since the odor of game-worn hockey equipment is anything but fresh smelling. Hey, if no one else minds, then I am content to remain mute. Good thing his last name doesn´t happen to be “Downy”.

As for my fellow gym-rats: STOP! Stop trying to mask the smell of your unwashed bodies with liberal applications of scent! Or, if you´re an aprà¨s-work workout devotee, please go easy on the eau before showing up at the gym. I prefer my workouts in the morning, but there are plenty of occasions when I partake in a late-day session if it is more convenient. I don´t think I can comment with any accuracy which time is worse: morning or evening. It doesn´t matter how loud I crank up the volume on my iPod, or how far away I am from the offending individual; once my nose hones in on whatever it smells, all bets are off. I have yet to confront anyone, but I´ve come pretty close on more than one occasion. No offense intended to those who wear the scents I´ve mentioned, but please keep in mind that there are certain times and places where no scent is better than the most minuscule applications of those scents I used as examples. We´re all going to wear what we love, but we need to try to be more mindful of when we wear it.

*I wrote this to honor the memory of my cousin T.L., whose last bottle of Diorissimo I bought for her. What remains of that bottle, I wear every year on March 6, the anniversary of her death.

  • Pantera Lilly says:

    Thank you for your lovely post, and the love for your cousin shimmers throughout. What a wonderful way to honor her by wearing her favorite fragrance, it says lovely things about you and your cousin.

    I am guilty of once wearing Calix to a workout and a woman that was working out with me on the same machine was not so subtle at letting me know that I had too much on, she was waving her hands frantically in front of her face, as in, it smells in here!! I don’t wear any fragrance to the gym and I wear little at work as we have “sensitive” noses there. So, on the weekends it’s when I got wild!! and spritz, but not to my shoes!

  • Girl-Woman says:

    First of all, please accept my condolences on the passing of T.L.

    Secondly, I am a personal trainer, and nothing is more frightening than a client whose perfume you can smell across the gym. Please spare us.

  • Disteza says:

    I sat next to a woman at work who had the exact same problem as your cousin; for 3 years I wore no perfume or hairspray to try to help her out. Sadly, she was also overcome by cancer. Your post did is an excellent reminder of how much we take for granted that we can take pleasure from one of the simplest senses.

    While not nearly as severe as those examples, I find that when I get any kind of sore throat I cannot abide most smells. For some reason the scent just hangs in the back of my throat (caught in the gunk, perhaps), and makes me more miserable.

    As for the working out w/fumes, I am guilty of having tried some spectacular failures in the gym (CB IHP Musk, I’m looking at you.) I make a concerted effort not to overapply anyway, and I have a tiny pool of frags that I consider to be gym-safe. Surprsingly enough, some of the non-vanilla Comptoirs make for excellent workout perfumes if applied sparingly, and my favorite of that bunch is Princesse Muscat, followed closely by Cool Tropic Palm. They’re cheap, and a single spritz is light enough for me to smell without being really noticeable to most people. I’m always on the lookout for new gym-scent possibilities though, so if anyone has ideas let me know.

    As for the BO, there’s a lovely British lady in my flamenco class who really reeks of garlic and BO, and I simply don’t have the heart to tell her that she smells wretchedly awful. I’ve had to ersort to an extra spritz to keep her funk at bay. I feel like I should write to Ms. Post to enquire about the proper etiquette of telling someone how much their reek offends you.

    • tmp00 says:

      I’d love to read what Miss Manners has to say about that. I mean, I know it’s not polite to tell someone something that’s not immediately correctable (spinach in the teeth is okay, bad dye job is not), but since she is in a place where a hot shower and soap is in the next room?

    • nava says:

      I agree; We need to stop and smell the roses. Metaphorically, of course! 🙂

    • MattS says:

      Anytime you need a CB Musk workout buddy, I’m there. It makes perfect sense to me!!:d

  • Divalano says:

    Nava, thank you for sharing the memory of your cousin with us …

    The gym. Luckily for me I work out at a university gym & it seems the students spend their spare cash on something besides perfume (sex drugs & whiskey, probably) because none of them are scented. And me, by the time I get there it’s been 8 hours since my morning ‘fume application. Actually, part of the ritual for me is getting to smell the last stand of my morning scent as I get heated up, burning it off & then getting to apply something new for the rest of the day into evening when I get dressed to leave. Speaking of … well, not really but … I can still smell last night’s Cuir Beluga on my skin now. Kills me to think of showering but shower I must …. *sigh* Hate wasting good scent …

  • Tommasina says:

    Nava, this is a lovely tribute to your cousin. It seems particularly appropriate to me today, since my beloved father starts chemotherapy for his (terminal anyway) cancer, and I’m thinking very much of him right now. He’s a Guerlain Vetiver man through + through – though has worn original Polo in the past (ack), and goes back + forth with Quorum by Puig.

    • Musette says:

      Tommasina –

      My thoughts are definitely with you and your father as you go through this. Wear something comforting. My dad had a minor stroke a few weeks ago (I happened to be visiting at the time) and I was so glad to have a little vial of Dzohnghka with me. I put a dab on my wrist, to keep me a bit grounded through the experience. I had just enough on for me to smell – but that’s all I needed!

      Prayers are with you both! Keep yourself well and keep your spirits up!

      [email protected]};-

    • nava says:

      Thanks Tommasina. My best wishes to you, your father and your family.

  • kathleen says:

    That’s a lovely tribute to your cousin. I think you honor her memory well.

  • Musette says:

    What a lovely way to honor your cousin! And what a lovely fragrance, one of my favorites!

    I’m a Polo-hata and I swear it’s like a requirement or something that if one wears Polo one must wear a LOT of Polo. I think that’s why I hate it. The scent itself isn’t horrid, I don’t think – but I’ve never been able to get past the monstrous sillage that seems to kill everthing in its wake!

    Is it the scent? Or the scenter?

    Enquiring minds want to know!

  • Olfacta says:

    There are a couple of guys at my gym who, frankly, stink. One’s aroma resembles clam chowder and the other’s is just…B.O. Would I love to say something? You bet. Do I? Of course not. I just try to stay far away.

    However…there is a sign at the entrance that asks that “ladies” not wear scent so as not to offend the pregnant women members. There may be one or two out of 1000 or so….

    I put a tiny bit of bergamot oil under my sports bra and spray a little Jardin sur le Nil on my shirt. Just a little. This is because the workout is a kind of meditation for me, and it helps me focus. Little or no sillage at all. However, one of the smelly guys was next to me on the trainer one day, and, he kept giving me funny looks (as I tried mightily not to gasp or choke at the waves of aroma he was giving off, especially when he did his arm-raises). Finally he moved to another trainer. And it dawned on me…my fragrance had offended him!

    • nava says:

      The men are just as guilty as the women. There are two that I know of in my gym that I know to stay far away from.

  • March says:

    I’m guilty as charged. Now that I’m back to going to the gym regularly in the morning, I don’t put anything on first. But when I go in the evening, sometimes there’s a last-minute struggle to kill off my fragrance with deodorant or rubbing alcohol or what have you. I agree with the other commenters about their fragrance blooming during their workout. If I have on some particularly heinous thing, I have been known to shower *before* hitting the gym. /:)

  • chayaruchama says:

    Navaleh-

    Your post made me cry- in a good way.
    So tender, and truthful-bless you for that.
    You must love your cousin dearly, and miss her presence…

    Not only chemo patients- but pregnant women , too, become SO sensitized; our much loved Tamara [of For the Love of Fragrance]is bemoaning this intolerance lately…
    SHE of the gourmands and white florals. Happily, it WILL pass.
    [When it DOES, I’m gonna drown her in all sorts of good things- she’s an angel, that one !]

    Courtesy is paramount.
    No question, I resent when folk think that they don’t need to bathe prior to the gym- it’s not erotic to reek, and I find that these are the same ones who ‘hog’ equipment, don’t mop up their schvitz, etc.
    FEH !
    Chazerim !

    Over-application:
    If you have to [and sometimes, we do !], please try to find a safe space for yourself- like a sick day, or when you’re on a looong walk outdoors, or home doing whatever you need to-

    Otherwise, one’s pleasure becomes another’s torture [and you should REALLY talk to my B about this- ’cause I’m as guilty as SIN , especially about ‘scent-medicating at bedtime’]…

    Kisses to you.

  • MattS says:

    I joined a gym for the first time in January and never really thought about scent there or how heat from a workout could amplify it until the day I wore a sample of Ambre Sultan. I cleared the cardio room in minutes. It had to be overwhelming, because the equipment is in a room right beside the indoor pool and generally all you can smell is chlorine. No one came near me and people beside me actually ended their workout. Now I work out in the evenings when my scent has faded and I don’t wear Ambre Sultan. But it might be a good idea to keep a sample in your bag to use when people are hogging the machines. Maybe spritz a little Kouros or something if you go at peak times to free up a treadmill.

    • nava says:

      Matt,

      That cardio room didn’t know what they were missing. I would have gladly worked out next to you. Ambre Sultan – yum! 🙂

  • rosarita says:

    A lovely tribute to your cousin, N, and thank you for a timely post. Being considerate of other’s noses is something that most of us are very aware of, being perfume lovers, and it deserves mention. I always thought people who claimed to be allergic to scents were being hypersensitive…until B&BW introduced Sun Ripened Raspberry in the 90s. Just walking past the storefront in my local mall and getting a whiff brought on an instant, undeniable, pounding headache. The secret to loving intense scents is, of course, in the application. Maybe perfumers should print application instructions on the boxes – every other personal product seems to assume we need to be told what to do, ie lather, rinse, repeat. Just a thought.

  • allabouteve says:

    Hi there!

    Absolutely agree with you..just in my case, instead of the gym, my work-out is swimming like wild in the pool (public I mean)in my 2 hours lunch break.As I am a respectful person regarding smelling (well and other things too), I hardly ever apply perfume in the morning if I know I’m going to the pool that day,or, in the worst case, I apply a little spritz of something absolutely light. Now, in my case (and in most of yours, I do believe,hehe) not perfuming is a real sacrifice…but to my surprise most people (male and female) don’t even stop to think about that..and show up with their “Angel” or whatever..you can imagine what kind of mixture that get to be in the water..
    Guys,please,perfume is great, but not for work-out!!!

  • Linda says:

    God, it’s all I can do even to get to the gym. Getting all fussy with my appearance/scent before I go seems like the point of “won’t happen.” Nope, I’m no “gym dandy.” On the other hand, if I go at the end of the day, I always have scent on and it blooms again as I sweat.

    What a sweet and smart tribute to your cousin… I, too, hope that the cure is swift and less destructive, for the sake of beloved friends and family who have suffered with cancer. Even my cat had breast cancer for 9 years of her life (and it was not what finished her at a ripe old age, either).

    As for everyday intolerance to scents, I’ve seen those allergies in action! I had a Spanish teacher who could not abide strong scents. I always felt for her, because it was immediately evident that she was miserable when she was face-to-face with someone who “filled up her shoes” — she would get stuffed up and sneezy immediately, with red patches of hives. Very dramatic.

    And… my mom uses FOUR TIMES the recommended amount of laundry soap AND of softener. Otherwise clothes “don’t smell clean” to her. Never mind the bitter, perfumey whiff that clings to all the clothes, nor their weirdly heavy, damp, slightly tacky, limp feel. Gross. I use about 1/5 the recommended softener now, and break out in a rash if I borrow a jacket or towel from Mom.

    • nava says:

      Thank you, Linda.

      I just returned to the gym from an “extended” break, and I think that’s what inspired me to write this.

  • sylvia says:

    i think in moderation it can be appropriate. like you said, the smell is heightened when your temperature goes up and you start to sweat. for me sometimes its nice to spray something delectable in my cleavage so it wafts up as i work out. but it should be on the lighter side and spritzed with a very light hand so those around you can’t smell it. i’d never wear angel, no 5, or shalimar. i might stick to an ethereal JCE creation. l’eau d’hiver comes to mind.

  • tmp00 says:

    I don’t think anyone should ever wear scent to the gym. It strikes me as some sort of cover-up, either for not working hard enough or not washing. Like wearing full make-up and cocktails at five hair; you are not there to work out (the boy version of that is artfully ripped clothes, boots and a cloud of Axe that could suffocate three states).

    The gym is a place where you go to to sweat, that’s the point.

    I have a dear friend whose usual method of perfume application is to start dousing the cleavage and when her shoes are filled then it’s time for just five or more spritzes. The other day she did this at Barneys with Carnal Flower (SA’s in Los Angeles just love her) and I thought I would have to move to another state. Her reasoning? “If I can’t smell it than what’s the point” I thought but did not state “Sweetie, this can be smelled from Oregon”

    My personal rules? For men you should only smell it when you are close enough to give one a hug. I think that ladies should give a little puff as they walk away that makes one want to follow.

    I think that 98% of people who are “allergic” to perfume (unlike your friend who became hypersensitive) are running across people like my friend who have no perfume super-egoes and bathe in the stuff. I would too if a I had to spend time with someone on the elliptical who’d doused themselves in Paris Hilton Can-Can or that god-awful deep-fried licorice blue thing I tried at Sephora a while ago..

    • March the Maleficent says:

      Wait … you didn’t like the Blue Sugar?

      Hey, they stock it next to the ladies’ now at Sephora, because they know no man in his right mind will buy it. They must be trying to fob it off on women who already like Pink, either as the butch 😉 version for themselves when they want something really edgy, or to buy for their boyfriends.

      If your boyfriend gave you a bottle of Blue Sugar, what would you do?

    • nava says:

      Oy! Anyone who loves Carnal Flower that much needs to move to their very own island!

    • Existentialist says:

      “Perfume super-ego” made me smile.