April 19, 2024

This is what choosing a perfume without having a sense of smell is really like

Looking back, there have been times where I was vaguely aware of an issue, like when I guessed my way – totally incorrectly – through a smell test required for a festival stewarding job as a student. At the time, I assumed I had a cold and thought no more of it.

Most people are shocked when they find out that I have no sense of smell. It wasn’t something I was really aware of until I started working in beauty PR five years ago. One of the brands I was working on was an old French perfumery brand which took its fragrance inspiration from gardens around the world. We were launching a new eau de parfum, when the MD asked me to smell the individual notes and share my thoughts.

When I replied “it’s all quite subtle”, I was met with shock. I was smelling the strongest, most undiluted form of the perfume, but, sniff as I might, I just couldn’t detect anything much.

I don’t believe that my sense of smell is gone completely – I can sense mint and sometimes, if a smell is particularly strong, I am aware that it exists, although, as I have no reference points, I struggle to place what it is. But the truth is, I never really thought having a weak sense of smell was that much of an issue. Of course, at times it’s inconvenient, like not being able to tell if clothes need a wash or not knowing what perfume to wear, but usually I can rope in someone else’s nose to help.

That’s actually exactly how I choose my fragrances. If I wear one out and it gets complimented, I keep it, if not, I pass it on. The most popular one interestingly, has been Juicy Couture Viva La Juicy Gold Couture Eau De Parfum, while Miss Dior Eau De Parfum and Byredo Gypsy Water always get a good response, too.

There are many times when not being able to smell is a godsend; facing a sweaty armpit on a packed tube, or braving public toilets are a couple of examples.

However it was that moment at work years later, feeling embarrassed that I couldn’t smell the perfume notes in the same way as the rest of my colleagues, that sent me on an olfactory journey to assess how weak my sense of smell is. I read an article a couple of years ago, where one of the journalists’ closest friends had passed away and she discussed how important fragrance was in recalling precious memories of him. She revealed how fragrance can be healing, uplifting and crucially, how it taps into emotional memories more than any other sense. The article was so emotive and so powerful that I felt sad that I would never be able to feel the strong emotions fragrance can induce.

It’s impacted my ability to taste, too. I can eat strong flavoured food, from handfuls of coriander to whole garlic cloves, without really being able to identify the flavours (not a popular experiment for the people around me that can smell).

It motivated me to visit my GP, who referred me to an ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) specialist, but sadly, they had no real answers. After the excitement of thinking that there might be a way for me to gain a sense of smell, I feel more pertinently aware of my anosmia now and it is something I will continue to investigate – although maybe once summer’s firmly over. I’m happy to miss out on eau-de-sweaty-armpit.

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