Is it truly possible to be unscented ? And would you want to be?



On my way back to school yesterday, in Fujisawa ( you could see Fuji-san today, when I took this picture ), I was pristinely unscented as is humanly possible.


Every work garment, from coat, to suit, freshly washed. Brand new shirt and sweater. Shampoo: a rosemary and geranium organic affair that leaves no perfumed residue. Body: generic soap and then eucalyptus bath: tonic, regenerative – but evaporative.


Waiting on the train platform, complimenting myself on my relative smellinvisibilty  (ideal for the Japanese workplace) I suddenly felt disturbed. Nude.  Balded. Peculiarly vulnerable.


I couldn’t stand it. And with just a couple of tiny, tiny spritzes on the back of each hand ( Guerlain Mandarine Basilic, because let’s be realistic), I felt like a black and white colour-by-numbers; coming back to life.


Just a hint of scent, at the borders of my periphery, and I felt more natural. Like a lens, coming into focus.





Filed under JAPAN PHOTOGRAPHY, Psychodrama

45 responses to “Is it truly possible to be unscented ? And would you want to be?

  1. MrsDalloway

    Heh – glad you were prepared. Do you always carry perfume and is it different ones or the same? I currently have one of those 4ml samples of Santal Massoia in my bag for unscented emergencies. It was Atelier Vétiver Fatal before that.

  2. I want to rest for a few days. Give my nose a break. As an addict I can not do without perfume.
    I have not experienced leaving home without perfuming myself. At home it is where I am most abundantly perfumed.
    And I just can not perfume when I want to enjoy a scented candle or an air freshener that means not letting my nose rest. The rest of the nose is the only reason not to perfume and I can not do it.

  3. Vernona

    Dear Neil,
    I’m totally with you on this one. It is *horrible* being unscented. I always carry something with me,samples,decants, full bottles because I’m too lazy to make myself decants.
    I once walked around with my 250 mls bottle of Feve Delicieuse, which is an act of bravery (or madness, for that matter).

    Best wishes to you in the New 2017.!

    • And to you too! I actually had the Guerlain in my coat pocket and then very nearly threw it away in the bottle bin thinking it was a random vitamin c drink that I had neglected to discard.

  4. MrsDalloway

    I do find when I don’t wear anything I notice other people’s perfumes much more – traces in the air in office corridors and so on. So my own must usually form a bubble, though I don’t think I overspray. I hardly ever do go scentless and crave it if I do.

    • But I also like what you write here about almost being less perfumily narcissistic and self-absorbed and then being more alert to the smell of other people and the air around you. I felt curiously ‘clear’ on the train platform for about ten minutes, but then suddenly ‘susceptible’ in some way, like I didn’t quite exist.

  5. There is almost nothing I resent more than being told I cannot wear perfume.

    So, you had a full bottle of the Guerlain in your pocket? That pleases me very much.

  6. Oh Neil, I can totally relate! I will even turn the car around and go back home if I have neglected to put on scent, although I have solved that problem by having a bunch of decants and a bottle or two in my glove box. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, fragrance goes on. I pop samples in my jeans pocket, or an extra vial of what I’m wearing that day. My sheets get scented all the time, often with lavender (I like Caron pour un Homme). I can’t be home for long before scenting the air or lighting a scented candle. I am extravagant: I will spray good fragrance, even precious vintage, in the air. There is no better way, I think, to really appreciate a cologne, EdT or EdP. It gives that extra bit of perspective, as if you were smelling it on someone else . . .

    I don’t know of anyone else (except for perfume lovers in the online community, and my niece) who NEEDS scent this way, or needs it at all.

    • I relate, wholeheartedly – we must be Greek, Egyptian, Roman at heart ;let’s face it, they scented their animals (as I do, ssshhh), their walls, everything – they LAPPED IT UP and needed it as people need visual architecture. We need it lavish and strong – and I ADORE the idea of Pour Un Homme on the sheets. I usually pour frankincense oil over myself. My nightly anointment.

      • Mmm. A benediction. Love that. Love all these comments from everybody, too, and your observations about colour. I know what you mean. When my eye is pleased with anything — shape, texture, contrasts as well — I automatically register it as an event, and I’m sure places in my brain light up, which a sensitive brains needs, especially in winter. And winter can provide so much, in its lack of colour; as Ric and I were down at the beach at dusk last night, in the foreground was a thin hedge of colourless twigs, each topped by a little cone shape, silhouetted to nearly black by the light in the western sky. It made such a rhythmic frame for the ocean and islands behind it. No colour anywhere, but a helluva composition. I was wearing Fille en Aiguilles and it was just right.

      • Glorious. I too like such scenes: pale colours- grey, blue, oceanic-in particular.

      • Oh, not FeA. That was earlier. I remember. It was Jicky EdT. And lots of it. Have to, with the current formulation. Ethereal.

  7. sylviavirginia

    I would love to go unscented to give my nose a rest but honestly unscented is no fun; I need spritzes of this that and the other thing all the time. Fragrances revive me all day and night, after walks, after a shower, after adding on earrings, after coming home or before, just before, going out.
    Fragrances are my smelling salts, vitamin pills, pick-me-uppers and the joy (or one of the joys) of my life.
    Going scentless may be Pure but it like being colorblind—something grand is positively missing. Besides, getting up in the morning is such fun when I have an array of fragrances waiting to be sprayed abundantly on me!
    This my delightful journey into the divine.

    • I am smiling broadly while reading this. YES; it is like being colour blind, and I am extraordinarily receptive and sensitive to colour as well. Sometimes I think I am truly pathetic: I will be in the drab classroom, all beige and grey and light blue, and suddenly see something bright red or pink and I literally feel something light up in my brain, some pleasure receptor being fired up. I suppose we are just alive to our senses, and that is a wonderful thing.

      • carole

        Yes, of course you’re alive to your senses-remember Ozu’s use of red, in every shot?
        I hate being unscented. Life is short, and I have loads of good stuff to wear. There was heavy snowfall today, and it will be -20 C tomorrow. Perfect weather for Eau de Paton-Citrus and nasturtium in the cold clean air. Or maybe 1000-roses and eucalyptus and that jasmin, which will show up better in the cold. Or Fantasia des Fleurs with Fleurissimo, or Irisia, or …well, you get the drift.

  8. Renee Stout

    That read like prose poem.

  9. Ardis

    Love this. I also carry perfume w/ me everywhere! And feel naked & “dirty” even – without it. The only time it’s humanly possible for me to be unscented is if I’m sick. And no I hate not having a fragrance on – perfume is definitely a delicious smelling security blanket I plan to never take off 🙂

    • A blanket, yes – to me it feels protective in some way, as you say, not just something to ‘cover up’ our ‘real’ smell, but something more…I can’t quite think of the words for it.

  10. I love all these responses as much as the post! There is something comforting about all of these scent motivated people. Sometimes I try to save my nose for a future sniff. Then regret it. Earlier today I put on perfume to the dishes…

  11. Grayspoole/Maria

    Is it truly possible to be unscented?

    Answer: I think not. Even if one were misguided enough to seek some kind of non-scented purity, our skins, bodies, and hair all have unique living scents. If I could put the natural smell of my daughters’ hair and skin into a bottle, I would be a happy woman. (And I would no longer annoy them by surreptitiously sniffing them (Will you stop, Mom?!))

    And would you want to be?

    Answer: Nope! I don’t really mind being unperfumed, but it usually happens only when I am very busy and distracted, so it is not a good thing. I’m happier and more in the present when I am perfumed. Perfume reminds me that life is to be savored. We do not use candles, incense, diffusers etc. in our home since some members of the family are rather scent-averse. It’s just me and my perfume collection, stinking up the place. I just noticed that a colleague has an essential oil diffuser in his office and I am thinking that I might need one of those.

    • Yes, I tend to use essential oils in the bath, but I think that some spaces smell so beautiful and healthy with diffusers, those ones that send out mists. They are always something I can never quite face forking money out for though.

  12. I can truly relate as I feel naked without perfume. I wear it all the time and I always have a travel spray and samples in my purse as back-ups.

    • It’s strange that we are in such a minority, though. So many people, in Japan especially, seem to not even give it a second thought. And I can tell you, the results of that negligence/oblivion can be revolting. Conversely, when the opposite is true – I recently leaned in on Christmas Eve to say goodbye to this beautiful Japanese goth punk I met at a party, and he smelled so gorgeous: just lithe, soapy, lime, clean, that it took my breath away. I can never understand why this sense is so ignored, as though only optics were what was important. To me, smellnessness and smell phobias are a very strange and potent form of madness. An appreciation of the olfactory sense, which the ancients revelled in, is something that modern civilization has lost.

  13. I go through stages but this apartment is so fragrant anyway, particularly my office. There is a candle in my bathroom, the living room and the bedrooms, not lit just scenting. Also a cupboards collection of incense that leaks its fragrant magic for about 1.5m radius. Fruit on the kitchen counter.
    So even if I remain scentless there are always a multitude scented distractions.
    The only think that doesn’t smell is our clothes. White vinegar 80% and Disinfectant 20% as our rinse softener followed by air drying means they are scent neutral. There are soaps in my undies drawer though.
    Portia xx

    • I find all of this inspiring. And love the incense cupboard idea: rather than burning it and getting all that smoke, just having it there, emanating, like a Japanese incense emporium…….

      What candles work the best in that way, incidentally? Some wouldn’t have much impact just left like that. Which ones are especially full scented?

      • So I don’t really like the heavily scented ones to burn, they overwhelm my senses. So those I use as bathroom air cleansers. Currently I have Australian small batch crew Mickey & Moby. VERY fragrant, lovely smells. I do burn them when we have guests so everyone gets a nice smelling room.
        I burn the incense too after cleaning day. It cleans all the bad juju.
        Portia xx

      • MrsDalloway

        The Heeley Florentine Leather candle scents a room beautifully when unlit. It’s related to Cuir Pleine Fleur in the EDP.

    • Did you do any incense shopping when you came here?

      • No we didn’t because the cupboard is FULL. I recently finished a small box of Japanese incense from my last visit. There’s so much here that it took me years to get through it. Jin bought me some Thai incense while he was there last year so I’m using that currently. Not the most expensive or luxe incense but I know it brings him so much joy to see me using that set over everything else we have. Sometimes good juju comes in the form of a happy partner.
        Portia xx

  14. Laura

    This made me smile. Love the thought of scent bringing things into focus.

  15. I very rarely go unperfumed, but some evening when I forget to scent before bed, I will still smell lovely. It is a culmination of conditioner, body cream and hand lotion. So to be honest, I am never really unscented, just occasionally unperfumed. This mostly happens when I am on vacation, I just don’t want too much of my own scent distracting me from the scents around me. That was particularly apparent in Hong Kong, where there were just so many smells around us, especially the smell of our hotel; clean, fresh and delicately perfumed is the only way to describe the Novotel we were at. I guess at times I want to be in tune to the scented world around me. Now in Barcelona though, I wore Ombre Bleue everywhere and adored it. It just fit in with the aesthetic there.

    • This is so vivid it makes perfect sense. The inherent perfumes of a holiday are one of the most exciting aspects of going somewhere: you definitely don’t want to crowd them out. And Ombre Bleue……sigh.

  16. purecaramel

    I guess it’s from Boy Scouts. I never leave the house without a penknife, a lighter and a 4ml spritzer of whatever my daily is. For good measure I carry around spares in my truck glove box. How OCD huh!
    Well not really, it’s purely for medicinal reasons. Scenting my body provides a baseline grounding and focus on reality. Otherwise I’m manic and end up being chased around by the White Jackets all day!

    • That’s precisely what I was talking about here. The groundingness. The pleasingly limited aura you have which extends just to the tips of your spillage.. otherwise you could disappear into the air around you and get consumed by nothingness.

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