Smells Scary

Last weekend Mr. Howe and I had a horror-movie marathon, filled with zombies (the French kind, and also the Nazi variety), psycho-killers, and aliens. Then, early this week, Kevin reviewed Sécrétions Magnifiques at Now Smell This, stating,

When I wore Sécrétions Magnifiques for the first time, before I noticed scent, I felt sensations: unease, chill, damp, repulsion, queasiness.

Which got me thinking… our sense of smell is a powerful tool: the smell of rotting food repulses (most of) us because a few hundred thousand years ago, all the hominids who thought rotting meat smelled good were weeded out of the gene pool. Revulsion, disgust, nausea— they serve a purpose. Keep us alive long enough to breed. (Is this why older people have a broader appreciation for pungent foods? That’s a question for another day.)

Avery Gilbert shared some interesting insights on his blog, First Nerve, in a post titled “Basic Instinct: The Smell of Fear and Sex.” He summarizes a study which I’ll summarize further: some guys put maxi pads in their armpits and watched some scary movies, while some other guys with the pit-pads watched nice movies. When nice young ladies (recruited for the purpose) were asked to comment on pictures of smiling guys while smelling the aroma imbued cotton, the scary movie batch of sweaty pads (as you may have already guessed) caused the women to perceive the smily faces as fearful.

Smell can manipulate the way we perceive the world. Scary smells serve a purpose, but do they belong in personal fragrance?

Last year, for my birthday, my husband tracked down and bought me a bottle of Lisa Kirk’s Revolution*, the fragrance piece of a conceptual art collaboration (Revolution Pipe Bomb). My interest was piqued when Robin posted the announcement:

Through research gathered from interviews with anonymous journalists, activists, and political radicals, Kirk developed the Revolution fragrance based on their memories of the smell of revolution. The final solution contains the odor of smoke, gasoline, tear gas, burnt rubber, and decaying flesh.

Wearing Revolution is an interesting experience. If you can imagine L’Artisan’s Al Oudh blended with Bvlgari Black, then you’d have a similar olfactory experience. It’s synthetic, but it’s also animal. It’s repulsive, but also incredibly attractive. Should it be worn out and about? That depends on the type of horror movie watcher you are.
Do you close your eyes during the scary parts?

*at the time, you could only get it at the Ace Hotel in New York City.
Revolution is available at indiescents, $50 for 12mL

20 thoughts on “Smells Scary

  1. How interesting!
    You have Revolution? Wow! 🙂
    I am a total wimp, the older I get the less bad or scary things I want to see. Maybe my years at the hospital provided me with enough real life horror to last me a life time. The farthest I’ll go is watching Criminal Minds on TV, and that is bad enough.

    1. Yes, I am the proud owner of a lifetime supply of Revolution! 12mL never seemed so insurmountable…

      I can see how working in a hospital, and hearing real horror stories from your patients would give you a different perspective. I think that if I was in your field, I would probably stick to Disney movies (my other favorite!).

  2. Ooh, I remember hearing about Revolution last year but I totally forgot about it, it sounds very cool! That was really sweet of your husband to track that down for your birthday.

    Well, you know me, Dee, I love horror movies, and I love stinky, scary perfumes too. The proof would be how I squealed with delight when you hooked me up with that bottle of CdG tar earlier today (which was a major coup, by the way!). I’m not afraid of even the raunchiest of animalics, but if there’s any cumin involved, you can count me out. I get grossed out. I can admire cumin for being a unique fragrance and flavor, but I can’t put it in my mouth or on my skin. The result is horrifying!

    1. There seemed to be a lot of people who were interested when it was announced, but then it was such a pain to get ahold of. I think that had it become available sooner (at indiescents or luckyscent), we’d probably have heard more about it by now! It’s interesting and well done, though I seriously doubt that it will ever have much of a following— it’s a pricey little experiment!

      I was so frightened of everything during my childhood (vivid imagination), that it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve acquired a taste for horror movies; in a strange way, I think that they’ve helped me to overcome some neurotic fears— like going to the bathroom in the middle of the night, and having to jump to the bed from several feet away so the thing from A Tale of Two Sisters won’t scuttle by and… Hm. I guess I’ve never really thought that all the way through. 🙂

      Um. Yeah. I can go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without incident now. ha!

    2. Oh yeah, Tar! That is so cool! I always see the synthetics lined up in the case with the rest of the CdG’s at Perfume House, and I still haven’t tested a single one!

      I’m so glad that you’re finally getting your bottle, and without paying any crazy e-Bay inflated prices 🙂

      1. I went to the Perfume House website, and sure enough, it was NOT listed, so I never would have known it was there. And the price is ridiculously good, did you throw down some of your perfume voodoo for that, too? I really owe you for this one, Dee. 🙂 I hope I can return the favor someday. I’ll make it a goal of mine to do so.

        1. If I were a larger person, I think I would like to be referred to as “Voodoo Mama.”


          (it must be time for bed)

          The PH website isn’t very good—I don’t think that they update it regularly, but their in person/over-the-phone service is SO good, that it doesn’t much bother me.
          I love that they don’t mark up prices to reflect the fluctuations we see on eBay or elsewhere. They’ve still got bottles of YSL Champagne on a shelf, tucked behind bottles of Cinema! And, if I want something that’s not on display, I always ask! That’s how I ended up with the pre-reformulation Vol de Nuit extrait, from their vault 🙂

          Hardly a favor at all; though I think I’ve earned the golden enabler’s pin! (that’s an upgrade from the silver)

  3. Funny, I have been wondering recently how far I can go with scary perfumes, and beginning to think: not far, really. I have taken Secretions Magnifiques out of my shopping cart at TPC. Tough leather and smoke have not been doing it for me, and the birch tar in Tauer’s Lonestar Memories left me a bit cold. I’m not certain about Incense Extreme. Sigh. What’s happening? Soon I’ll be a customer at the Britney Spears counter.

    1. Interesting and wearable don’t always go hand-in-hand. Certainly some of these fragrances are pushing the boundaries well into “unwearable,” but there’s something fun (for me) in that. It’s kind of like watching courture come down the runway; it has it’s place, and it’s fun to take part in. Definitely not an everyday kind of thing! 🙂

      Brittany Spears, LOL!

  4. Lovely post! It’s my idea that smell has always been underestimated it terms of vision and the other senses, but it is so special and equally important. I come from Greece, where it is believed that someone with an acute sense of smell is clever, and there is the expression “he/she’s got such a nose”, meaning that he/she can sense and figure out things better than others. Smell is not just inhaling but also memory and associations. It is something we take inside our system, integrating it, and making part of us. Also, because of its invisible nature, we are attacked off guard either by something pleasant, disgusting, or dangerous. Just like in the thriller scenes, when something shocking occurs, when everything is seemingly peaceful and safe. I would associate a thriller with a dramatic fragrance eg a Serge Lutens creation. And, no, I try to keep my eyes open in the scariest bits, but I will surely grab whoever is sitting next to me! 🙂

    1. Thank you Alexandra! How cool is that, that the Greeks have an expression dedicated to appreciating individuals with a refined sense of smell. We certainly neglect that sense here in the US! Certainly the tides are changing (with wine lovers, perfumistas, foodies, and the rest), but it’s cool to hear that smell is so deeply rooted in Greek culture.

      Thanks for commenting, I hope to hear more from you! 🙂

  5. I LOVE scary movies! Recently (with Netflix) we watched “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”, and “The Human Centipede” and a ton of other B rated movies. Oh and I don’t close my eyes.

  6. I think it’s so great that you are so open-minded about fragrance, dee, I really admire that. It gets me down that I’m mostly into high-end mainstream stuff and don’t often appreciate niche. But then I can’t handle anything remotely scary being the highly sensitive wuss that I am. The closest I get to blood and guts is Nurse Jackie, lol! Love that show. Good to hear you had a wide selection of zombies for your horror marathon 🙂

    1. Tara, you project positivity in a way I’ve never encountered before. I was reviewing comments the other day (looking for other things you were interested in smelling, LOL) and I was struck by how much warmth is always contained in what you say.

      For me, tt’s more perverse curiosity, than wholesome open-mindedness, I think, LOL! I was the kid that carried around a poking-stick in case I found a dead animal in the woods, so that I could examine it more closely.

      Ok, ok. I’m still that kid. And I think formaldehyde smells neat too. 😉

      (Maybe people will take my reviews with a much larger grain of salt, knowing that! 😉 )

      1. Thanks for your kind words, dee! I try 🙂

        I’m sure that same curiosity is going to make you a great Epidemiologist one of these days.

  7. “It’s repulsive, but also incredibly attractive”…which reminds me, I watched “Dahmer” last week. Jeremy Renner plays Dahmer….repulsive + attractive = total mindf**k

    1. Hi Bellatrix,

      I don’t associate a particular scent with A Tale of Two Sisters either, however Kevin’s description of Secretions Magnifique seems like it might fit! 🙂


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