The nose knows

Tilly Dillehay, Editor

April 30, 2014

A woman came into the office the other day who was wearing perfume. This happens occasionally. Sometimes that woman is me; sometimes it’s a co-worker; sometimes it’s a stranger off the street.

What happens less often is that my boss is forced to be in the same room with a perfume-wearing female for any significant amount of time. This is where you run into problems.

Chip Turner has probably the most sensitive nose I have ever encountered. He can locate spoiled leftovers in the office fridge, before stepping out of his car in the parking lot. He can track an onion across two miles of desert and stream in a strong wind. The man is a German Shorthaired Pointer in slacks.

After this perfume-wearing woman walked out the door last week, Chip emerged from his office, eyes watering.

“WHAT WAS THAT?” he all but howled.

“What?” we asked. “What was what?”

“Did you SMELL that?”

“Oh, her perfume? I thought it was nice.”

“NICE? NICE?!?!”

After he went into a back room to wash his face and sniff on a coffee bean to cleanse his olfactory palate, he came back and explained that he has actually fired women before over perfume.

Well, that’s an exaggeration. But he has asked employees of his to stop wearing a certain perfume before. And that’s nearly as outrageous; as a rule, the only thing that turns Chip’s stomach more than Christian Dior’s Poison is a personal comment on things that belong to the feminine arena.

“I’ve been buying my hose at Ross lately,” says one woman in the office to another, and if he is within thirty feet, he holds his hands up protectively and flees the room.

I don’t blame him. When men start talking about Nascar, grilling techniques, or fishing, my eyes similarly take on the expression of a deer in headlights. “Don’t tell me anything I don’t want to know! Tackle? What do you mean, tackle? Are you talking fishing or football? Tackle box? Wait, wait—now you’ve moved into pugilism?”

But one thing I cannot understand, and will never understand, is the bloodhound of a nose that Mr. Turner is equipped with. Somebody should tell him that he has the nose and sensitivity of a pregnant woman.

Wait, I just did.

Now, while later contemplating this intense perfume reaction, I was reminded of one of several jobs that I held in college: that of perfume saleslady.

Junior year, I spent six long months of my life standing behind the Dillard’s perfume counter, arranging bottles and shoving $90 spraycans of Eau de Money in the faces of Nashville shoppers. It was a sorry thing to do. I came home smelling like… well, like a perfume shop. Every day. If Chip had encountered me during this phase of my life, we would have instantly become bitter enemies.

The only interesting thing I took away from that job was the newfound knowledge that perfumes actually carry three separate notes (top/head, middle/heart, and bottom note, if you must know). You don’t know what a perfume is going to actually smell like until it’s been on the skin for five minutes, and should never apply perfume and pat your wrists together (it changes the bottom note). Also, I found out that every scent smells different on every person. Something to do with body chemistry.

In the end, the smell was too much for even my dull nose. I couldn’t get it out of my clothes. I couldn’t sleep because my pillow was drenched in it. The combination of Burberry, Dior, Lancôme, DKNY, Jean Paul Gaultier, Prada, Clinique, Chanel, Gucci, Thierry Mugler, Marc Jacobs, and Vera Wang was too much for me.

So I went back into food services, working for landmark donut shop Fox’s Donut Den. There, I smelled like burned grease every day for 18 months (you’ll agree, sort of an out-of-the-frying-pan-into-the-fryer scenario).

Life has gotten a lot easier on my nose in the last six years.

Now excuse me while I douse my office with Cinnamon Febreeze, and heat up some French onion soup for lunch.