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What Does Sensuality Smell Like?

7 tastemakers on the fragrances and scents they love.

My relationship with Jason Wu’s Velvet Rouge can only be described as Pavlovian. The instant I spray it in the air (I always create a little cloud to walk through before applying half spritzes to my neck and wrists), I transform from a Miranda to a Samantha. A fair amount of thought and analysis goes into a nighttime look. Makeup and clothes cover and accentuate what I want them to, (hopefully) contributing to my overall desired effect: to look hot. But fragrance is purely instinctual. It’s more powerful than any smoky eye or slinky dress because that scent contains both memories and promise. It’s not about how you look, it’s about how you feel. With this in mind, we asked a few of our friends—including a perfumer, a lingerie designer, and a “poet and pious bride,”—about the fragrance that evokes sensuality to them.

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Photo by: Basia Wyszynski

A scent that evokes sensuality is Dior Poison. My mother wore Dior Poison in the ’90s, and I vividly remember the deep red bottle shaped like an apple sitting on her top shelf. Poison, apples, Adam and Eve! What could be more sensual than original sin! My mother was a young divorcée and loved wearing boots with no stockings, so this was the perfect scent for her. It’s a scent that needs no introduction because it’s already forced its way in.

“Fucking Fabulous makes me feel … well what do you think? There’s something that makes you feel alive, like anything can happen when you walk into a haze of Tom Ford’s scent. I love the animatic leather notes paired with something traditionally calming, such as the lavender and sage top notes. I love a juxtaposition, like a 5’1 one woman of color wearing something so powerful.”

“A few years ago, a dear friend gave me a bottle of Gabrielle Chanel as a wedding present, and it's become my signature. It's a perfume crafted to evoke the scent of an imaginary flower; with its notes of white jasmine, ylang-ylang, orange blossom, and creamy tuberose, it's at once uplifting and sensual. I love the way it provides an unabashedly feminine vibe that contrasts with my mostly black wardrobe. Whenever I spritz it, it reminds me of the day I got married—the venue was a gorgeous old Masonic lodge, which was quite gothic-looking, but we filled it with hundreds of flowers … that delicate balance between fresh and light and dark and dramatic is something I return to again and again as a designer.”

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Photo by: Hana Haley

“I created a perfume last spring when I was falling in love with someone who would send me bouquets of mimosa flowers. The scent of mimosa is so heady and unique; it’s sensual in a pervasive, nostalgic way, and to me, there is nothing quite like it. I called the perfume Mimosa Myrrh, which is part of a series of olfactory experiments in my newest launch The Garden Collection. In making the perfume, I wanted to capture the impression of that particular romance, which felt sweet and classical, even a bit old-fashioned.”

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Photo by: Michael Krim

“I met Nico Walker—the bank robber turned novelist—because he bought a burner phone from a Walmart to email me. He was living in a halfway house and had seen coverage of my poetry collection, Porn Carnival. I’d already read his book, Cherry, and felt it was a super-rare literary happening—like if Catcher in the Rye were written by Dostoevsky.

“Nico had been in prison for almost a decade when we met. The day he was detained was the day his indie band was supposed to be featured on Consequences of Sound, which is a very 2010s sentence to type. Of course, he was the lead singer.

“There were many twists and turns to the relationship. I was in New York. He was in Mississippi. I was dubbed the ‘the hooker laureate of the dirtbag left’ while he was known for 10 bank robberies in Cleveland—although I’d heard it was more like 15 or 20.

“When the pandemic hit, I went to the South on his suggestion. He was about to get an early ‘compassionate’ release with five years probation, and he swore if I came, we could see this for real—or at least, we’d have more than an hour to get to know each other. Either way, neither of us could get over the idea that we’d be able to sleep together for a whole night—in a bed. What a luxury. We ended up (accidentally) quarantined together for months due to lockdown.

“When we got officially hitched about a year later in Biloxi, I wore a dress from Halfpenny London and my go-to scent, at the time, Antidris: Cassis by Maison Louis Marie. That perfume will always remind me of those early spring months we first spent in Mississippi. It’s clean, sweet, woody. It evokes morning sex mixed with a storm from the night before, the grassy smell of rainwater mixed with the sweetness of a lover just from the shower, and then … lightning, a little dirt, a scent for mussing up white sheets.”

“I’ve always been very drawn to jasmine, and we use the flower in several of our oils and perfumes. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have a very low tolerance for sweet or heavy fragrance, so I gravitate toward simple perfumes. Jasmine is known to mimic animal musk, and I’ve even seen it described as smelling like “sweaty skin” (and that’s not even the worst thing that people say about it). White flowers contain a compound called ‘indole,’ which when broken down has a heady, musky scent that can be really arousing, probably because of the association with sweat-soaked skin and animalistic passion. Ancient perfumers even used to say that young virgins should never be allowed to pick in fields of white flowers.”

“Tuberose to me is one of the most seductive of the fragrances. It’s floral and a bit sweet, but also super earthy—it smells of dewy grass, damp clothing, and wet hair, a late-night tumble in a field. And even though it’s quite mellow, the Victorians believed it to be such an erotic scent that it could induce orgasms in young, inexperienced women. If only!”

Shop the Story:

Fucking Fabulous

Tom Ford
$375

Mimosa Myrhh Eau de Parfum

Marissa Zappas
$150
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