June 8, 2021

“He had enough perfume left to enslave the whole world if he so chose. He could walk to Versailles and have the king kiss his feet.

Perfume: The story of a murderer (Photo: Wikipedia)

Patrick Süskind’s 1986 novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, originally published in German, recounts the tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a criminal who lived in eighteenth-century France and experienced life chiefly through his highly developed sense of smell.

#1 Perfume and identity

“The importance of the power of smell is most evident in our reaction to perfume.”

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille discovers that he lacks any personal scent himself, and believes this is why he is perceived as strange or disturbing by others.

As individuals, we tend to not recognize our sense of smell as important because it is merely one of our many senses. However it is supremely important. And taking scent for granted is something every character in this novel is guilty of.

We desire to be individuals, to have our own scent and to be unique. The perfume is merely to compliment our individual scent and enhance different parts of what makes us us.”

Sense of smell (Photo: Pexels)

The importance of the power of smell is perhaps most evident in our reaction to perfume, which the book uses to highlight our desire to be individuals, to have our own scent and to be unique. In fact, many of us live our lives in the knowledge that we each have individual scents, and looking for a perfume to compliment us as we see ourselves can become a huge part of what makes us us. And the disturbing message of the book is knowing that on some level, our stories may resemble his much more closely than we would like to admit.

#2 Perfume and pheromone

“Pheromones are chemical signals produced by a body to communicate and signal different messages- either for bonding or for sexual signaling.”

In the novel / movie Jean-Baptiste Grenouille becomes obsessed with capturing an elusive aroma: the scent of young womanhood. His obsessive pursuit of new aromas eventually draws him to a scent that is »pure beauty«, making all the other aromas worthless. Grenouille‘s perfected perfume was able to consume crowds and stir them to a sexual frenzy.

“He possessed a power stronger than the power of money, terror, or death – the invincible power to command the love of man kind.”

Enter the mysterious human pheromone. Pheromones are chemical signals produced by a body to communicate with other members of the same species. We see them in all sorts of animals, and we’re pretty sure that humans produce signaling chemicals, too, either for bonding or for sexual signaling. But so far, the chemical that we can safely call The Human Pheromone has proved elusive to scientists.

For a molecule to conclusively be labeled a pheromone, it has to meet very specific criteria:

  • pheromones are not individual scents (so, you can’t use pheromones to tell people apart; one person just might have greater concentrations of that pheromone that others, to a stronger effect);
  • pheromones elicit a stereotyped behaviour from those to perceive it (like aggression or sexual attraction).

However, please don’t waste your money on perfumes that claim to use human pheromones. Yes, they really exist. No, they don’t work!

#3 Perfume as aphrodisiac

“Some scents might turn you on, even if they don’t remind you of a person, a memory or aren’t tied to anything in specific. They are scents that evoque our primal brain centres.”

Although pheromones in perfumes cannot cause sexual attraction, there is scientific proof that some perfumes can have a positive effect on sexual attraction.

Sexual attraction (Photo: Unsplash)

Although scent is otherwise subjective, there is proof that certain notes trigger a biochemical response and  arousal in both men and women. Artificial fragrances have been used for thousands of years to manipulate personal odour. And although you are likely to be attracted to any scent that reminds you of your lover, fragrances like ginger, vanilla, rose, jasmine, champaca, saffron, lavender, cinnamon and others, may turn you on as these scents are proven aphrodisiacs.

#4 Read the novel / see the movie!

Don’t worry! We won’t spoil how the perfume story of murderer ends, so if you’re in for a mysterious,  visually lush, fast-moving story about perfume, go ahead and read the novel or see the movie. 😉