Marie-Claire Springham

Making Scents

Let's change the way we look at body odour.

Love poet Pablo Neruda described how “better than any word, is the pulse of your scent.” When polishing and perfuming ourselves for a first date, are we missing a trick?


Anemone. (Self)portait from series 'Flowers'. 1x1m, Hasselblad., Analog Print, Janica Draisma. -

This is certainly the theory behind “Smell Dating”, “The first mail odor dating service”. Having worn the same T-shirt for three days before returning it by post, the hopeful participant receives swatches of t-shirts worn by other “smell date-rs”. Taking a deep whiff of each sample they decide which one they like the most before informing the company and arranging an in-person meeting.

It sounds bizarre, somewhat icky and rather labour intensive in the age of easy Skype calls and texting. But according to Takeesha Roland-Jenkins, a professional consultant for the Between Us Clinic, smell is actually one of the most accurate way of not only finding, but keeping a complimentary partner.

Gigi Ankle’s article asks, “Why [does] your partner smell so freaking good”. It turns out that a person’s scent is made up of pheromones, which act as a sort of “olfactory map” of their immune system. The more attracted we are to a person’s scent, the more their immune system compliments ours and raises the chances of producing strong and disease-resistant offspring.

Not only that, but once we like a person’s scent, we are biologically programmed to get hooked on it. Both smell and touch are processed in the limbic system of our brains forming connections to long term memories and emotions. As a result, we associate certain scents with key meaningful moments, locations and people. It is a primal way of our brain telling us who is important and needs to be remembered.

As anyone who has become frustrated in a long-distance relationship knows, “Connection is a matter of intercourse not interface.” In the opinion of Tega Brain, “Smell Dating”’s founder, “The Internet has replaced fleshy experience with flat apparitions, avatars and painstakingly curated profile pics”. In her view, valuing smell over sight is surely the answer to a deeper connection. But if it’s so effective, why haven’t we done it before?

Well, in a way we have. Before amateur photography became popular in the early 1900s, industrious sweethearts fashioned mementos and delicate jewellery made from their own hair. Artefacts have been found across the globe, but the true artisans are the Hårkullor or “hair ladies” of Sweden. They would be commissioned by wealthy women to create delicate bracelets and tokens from their hair which would then to be presented to recipients of their affections.

This tradition died out with photography but also with the increasing popularity of commercial deodorant. Now that we have the power to eradicate scent, it is considered abhorrent not to. In her article “Selling Shame” Lisa Hix examines adverts chiding women for their smell, suggesting that it could lead to anything from an unsuccessful date, spinsterhood or even divorce. Through this attitude, the natural heady scent of a lover has been replaced with branded, chemical-based products and which we apply almost without thinking as part our daily washing routine. Everyday, we are bombarded with advertisements from the 92 billion dollar perfume industry promising us scents to make us smell more alluring.

I am not saying that there’s anything wrong with replacing our natural scent with an artificial one and I am also not suggesting that we should stop showering. However, if the goal is to attract someone we fancy, then maybe where cleanliness is concerned we are working too hard. Now that we have access to everything we need to make us odourless and clinical, don’t we also have the opportunity to find perfumes that compliment our natural scent and in doing so, hint with it, flirt with it and get to know ourselves (and others) better. Maybe it’s time to take a deep breathe and smell of something other than roses.