Blood, sweat & tears


16th February, 2015

From semen to sweat, the fragrance industry gives us a wide variety of human odour inspired perfumes. Sweat became  radiant and seductive, spit is soft and sensual and vaginal scent is warm and delightful. These human base notes in perfume might seem surprisingly new but we have been using body odour from animals for over thousands of years. So how did that delicious musky fragrance develop into the vaginal scent that you are wearing today?

Eye of the tiger


According to Isabelle Gellé, perfumer and founder of The Perfumery Art School, humans started using animalistic body odours like musk and ambergris to cover stench. “In the past, these strong smelling odours were probably better than the smell of rotten fish, vegetables or sewage in the streets.”

Musk is presumably the oldest animalistic base note used in perfumes and is still loved today. This warm and sensual substance has been used since the 6th century in Byzantine and Arabia. The scent derives from the anal glands of a musk deer, a smell  that these animals originally use to attract other mates. Well-known musky fragrances are Jovan Musk, Narciso Rodriguez for Her and Wild Musk by Coty.


If you are having second thoughts about spritzing the smell of anal glands, you might want to stay away from ambergris. This rare note has a strong manure odour which can be found in famous perfumes such as Dior Ambre nuit, L'Homme Parfum Intense by Yves Saint Laurent and most of the fragrances by Creed. This waxy substantial is formed in the intestines of the sperm whale and can only be used once they spit it out. Therefore the ambergris vomit could float around in the ocean for years, worth thousands of pounds. Besides the vomit and the anal glands, there are other interesting animalistic odours. For instance, the urine of a fluffy hyrax, the hair of an old goat and the oily secretions from the castor sac of a beaver, which goes by the name castoreum.

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The more the merrier


Most of the animalistic base notes in perfume became synthetic after the development of technology in the 19th century. Suddenly new perfumers started

Most of the animalistic base notes in perfume became synthetic after the development of technology in the 19th century.  Suddenly new perfumers started using experimental notes in their fragrances. But human body odour wasn’t one of them. There was a strong belief that body odours could indicate illness and therefore could be the cause of diseases like Plague, Tuberculosis or Typhus.

Over the years, when more medicines arrived on the market and hygiene became part of our daily routine, perfumers started experimenting with body odour. But it’s only over the last couple of years that these ‘human’ smells came in fashion. “There has never been a time where so many new perfumers and so many new fragrances have arrived on the market,” claims Gellé.

“The competition is fierce. Perfume isn’t the luxury product that it was before because most perfumers' secrets have now become available to the layman. Since perfumes tend to be composed of the same ingredients with a different balance and different percentages, more novel perfumers are trying to differentiate by creating  a scent which is more reminiscent of what we are familiar with, like human odours.”

A recent study, published in the Cell Press journal of Current Biology, showed that pheromones (natural body odours) have an effect on the mood of humans but also on the choice of partner. This connection between smell and desire, stimulates perfumers to use human odours as a base note in perfumes.


Secretions Magnifique

Body language

Today, one human scent after the other appears on the market, causing an explosion on the internet.

Vulva-original (link NSFW) is one of them. Inspired by the erotifying vaginal scent of a desirable women, this perfume smells like a sweaty, sexual clitoris. Another sensational scent is Sécrétions Magnifiques. Launched in 2006, this perfume became an immediate hit in the United Kingdom. The base notes are meant to evoke sperm, blood, sweat and spit. Yummie!


A company that doesn’t only focus on human smells but also on lobster, cannabis and gin & tonic is Demeter. In their growing fragrance library you will find any scent inspired by everyday objects and experiences. CEO Mark D. Crames explains that Demeter (known as The Library of Fragrance in some markets) wants to change the way that fragrance is sold today, since the market is clearly expanding.

“We are at the very front end of an interest in scent as an agent for evoking memories and feelings  and using those associations to make personal statements. I think the fact that Demeter exists after 18 years, thriving and growing, is evidence that the fragrance market is evolving, or at least expanding.  While the prestige fragrance business is pretty flat over the last 20 years, the growth of niche brands like Demeter and Bond  No.9, and all the fragrance sold by vertical retailers like Victoria Secret and Bath & Body Works, indicates there is a lot more scent being used. It is not shocking that as fragrance advances into new areas, human scent would become a target for investigation and that some of those smells will have powerful emotional associations.” And those emotions and memories are exactly what the fragrance industry is anticipating on.  There even is a logical connection between the two. The part of the brain that processes smell is also the part which controls emotions and memories. 

“As people become more aware of the possibilities for fragrance to both smell pleasant and affect feelings, the range of what are considered wearable fragrances is clearly expanding,” states Crames. “The broad nature of what we have considered targets at Demeter is a product of our unique philosophy of making fragrances inspired by everyday objects and experiences. So things like chocolate, cherry or human skin were always part of our approach. In March we are launching Baby's Head, which for 15 years has been the most requested fragrance.  But unfortunately the interest in the full range of emotional and intellectual possibilities that fragrance enhances, is still not entering the mainstream.”

Nevertheless, the fragrance industry has evolved rapidly due to the development of technology. Perfumers don’t create a scent anymore that just smells ‘good’, but they want to evoke emotions, memories and a make wearing perfume an experience.

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About the author: Marloes Hagenaars

Marloes Hagenaars comes from the very small town Langeraar in the Netherlands. Her interest in fashion started growing when she did her Bachelor Journalism in Utrecht and later did a Masters in Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion. During her Masters she started Freya Magazine (freyamag.com), a fashion magazine that explores current issues through fashion. Currently she is working as an editor for Harper’s Bazaar Netherlands. Her favourite perfume is L'Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer

Website: http://www.freyamag.com

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