H. G. Wells was not a handsome man, yet his appeal to women was legendary and apparently attributable to his irresistible body odour.  People will say that odours are the most evocative of all sensations, but somehow discussion of the subject seems strangely taboo, as though one might be revealing ones innermost cherished or guilty secrets. So with that out in the open, this author has noticed that perhaps one in a thousand passers-by leave in their wake something more powerfully distracting than any known perfume, and it is the limited range of commercial perfumes that forms the subject of this essay.

‘Perfumes’ range from the flowery to the almost disinfectant, with prices ranging from the excessive to the ludicrous coupled with the implication that the most desirable are imbued with extreme subtlety. Nevertheless none of them seem to approach the power that might be attributed to the apparently natural perfumes that some rare individuals possess.

Suggestions have been made that one of the most effective perfumes would mimic the smell of money, which is far from ridiculous, because money can have a distinctive odour. Perfumes that would give entirely the wrong signals are those related to food, with perhaps saffron being one exception. However there is another that might have unexpected possibilities, the unique smell of cress (lepidium sativum), which is unlike any other known odour, and despite its association with food, does not have overt appetite-stimulating properties.

Whilst flowery perfumes at best recall the smells of spring, with all the implications for romance that spring holds, the more understated smells of summer are much more subtle. These include the odours of hay and straw and gorse flowers and, more enticing than any other, the smell of box on a warm afternoon.

Scents and sensibility