The Last Scent (2023)
Marché Jalouise - Berlin

Read across - left to right. Plain text version below. 


After contracting COVID in 2022, my sense of smell actually improved, or rather, became more sensitive. Familiar smells would start to irritate me and others became heightened, potent even. With my new found gift, I jumped straight into the world of scents, perfumes, and oils.

In the outside world, jostling through crowds, waiting in queues, sitting at cafe tables, I would catch myself, poised, neck strained, trying my best to catch a whiff. I wanted to be filled with all the aromas around me. If I caught something, I’d have to follow it like a dog, hot on the trail of piss. I was eager to create a snapshot and distill it into its components.

In my pursuit of scent, a lack of shame developed concurrently. In the same crowds, queues, and cafes, my lust for new smells manifested itself in open, unashamed sniffing of people in public. Bold and brazen. Lips pursed, nostrils wide, taking in one big gulp as bodies wafted past.

Some experiences were subtle. A quick lift of the nostril, in and out, and then it was over. With others, I’d lean in, pretend I was looking at something further afield and drink in what lingered. If we were close acquaintances, I’d embrace myself for the hug and make space in my lungs for whatever I could hold. It became an obsession.

‘Oh my god, you smell amazing!’

‘What are you wearing?’

‘Is it you that smells like lavender?’

The damage was done. I’d start scouring websites for perfumes and their dupes. My brain started recognising different notes and combinations to the point where I could rattle off what someone was wearing if they happened to drift past. I was love-drunk on smells. My favourite, or rather, the most hypnotic and mystifyingly silly scent, is a concoction called Molecule 01.

Molecule 01 is a minimalist fragrance consisting of Alcohol denat, Parfum (fragrance), Aqua (water) and the chemical aroma Iso E Super. A man-made molecule that is said to be characterised by a hyper-modern cedarwood with a velvety sensation.

The hype around this perfume, especially among white, middle class women, is that supposedly, the singular formula is said to have a ‘marked intermittence’ to the wearer. Meaning, that when the molecule bonds with receptors, it slowly releases a fresh charge of the scent unique to the person wearing it.

The irony is that at £95 a bottle, this perfume smells exactly the same on everyone. Few things are more fun than sniffing out Molecule 01 in a crowd, finding the wearer, asking them if they’re wearing Molecule 01 and watching the shock, surprise and disbelief hit their face as they retort, “how did you know?” After which, they then proceed to give you the spiel on how it’s not a perfume, but a scientific product conducted after years of research in smell science.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, there’s something interesting that happens when you publicly notice someone’s scent. You see in real time a vulnerability and self-consciousness briefly remedied by the fact you’ve actually paid them a compliment.

In that moment, you have affirmed them and their choice. You unlock what scents excite them and how they feel about themselves. Unmask the conection to their body and how they wished to be perceived.

On my own journey to find my signature scent, I became incredibly paranoid about my own body odour — hypersensitive to the way it changed throughout the day as the sweat gathered and dried in my pits, underboobs, back, and forehead.

If I can smell myself, others can too. Maybe not with the same level of detail; after all I had the gift, but still, my scent profile was also available to others. My research into perfumes continued as I desperately combed over reviews to find my match.

I eventually found my signature scent in 2023. The comments and questions rolled in. The same curiosity I had enthused on others was circling back to me and I was elated. The gift had brought me my own scent utopia.

But beneath my newfound perfume fame, I uncovered a huge realisation; that what lies beneath the perfume, was a horrid stench I was ashamed of. Not necessarily brought out by the body, but the choices I’d made and all the things I held in private — like poverty, unemployment, unstable housing, my sexuality, and my desire.

These unnamed things that left their own scent; a powerful shame that I thought I could get rid off with the procurement of something artificially empowering. My sensory gift was and is an indicator of the mask, the thing we put on to hide what is wretched underneath. How we sift through the layers of deception and tap into the very essence of who we are as human beings.

Fragile, tender, brave, scared, and a little bit smelly.