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Common scents



The scent was inconceivable, indescribable ... and yet there it was as plain and splendid as day. Grenouille followed it, his fearful heart pounding, for he suspected that it was not he who followed the scent, but the scent that had captured him and drawn him irresistibly to it. ... The source was the girl.

-- "Perfume," by Patrick Susskind

OK, so the passage above is from a crime novel, not a Harlequin romance. It still conveys exactly how scent lures us to one another like Toucan Sam to a bowl of Fruit Loops. We like to think we're pretty sophisticated, but underneath our Versaces, Bourghesies and $100 hair cuts, we're still all animals who find each other by smell.

Women are aware of the power of perfume. We spritz, splash and atomize ourselves into a fragrance frenzy. For the money we spend baiting the trap with alluring aromas, we could invest in some quality tranquilizers, pour them into the guy's drink and then pour him into our cab. Next!

But what we often fail to realize is that the most bewitching scent of all is surging out of us like shaken champagne, at no cost to ourselves.

In a word, pheromones.

Follow your nose

Pheromones are the chemical sexual attractants that lure men to us like they are all little kitchen magnets and we are great big refrigerators. They are the most primitive personal ad there is, the scents we release when we're ready for romance. They're what the experts call "chemistry." They don't exactly spurt forth like Powder Fresh Scent from a can of Glade. That would be gross. They're more like a dog whistle, something you can't pick up consciously but which have a powerful effect that our bodies tune into.

Pheromones are animal magnetism. And you can get them in a bottle.

Prodigy Products of Mississauga, Ontario, isn't the only company making pheromone perfume, but they were the only ones astute enough to send this writer a sample for free. That was the right price to make a test run worthwhile, to see whether this sneaky, secret weapon in the romantic arsenal might score a few victories in battle, if not win the war. As a longtime single woman, I was on this stuff like an ant on a Coke spill.

The perfume is called Bare Essence (there is also a version for men, Beaux Gest), a sweetly musky scent that can be combined with your regular perfume because it's the chemicals beneath it that really matter. But the Bare Essence literature warns that the human animal is "much more complicated" than it might appear to be when it's watching football. It has to be drawn in by more than chemistry. The thinking, as well as sensing, part of the brain has to be engaged.

You're told to get your quarry "away from the pack" so they can realize it's not just a buzz in the air but you generating it. It's the same principle as a lion chasing a zebra away from the herd in order to bring it down more easily.

You're also told to wear it every time you go out and to smile and be charming -- good advice in any case. After all, no matter how good you smell, you can't just stand there looking pissed off and saying, "Well?" and expect to have anybody falling at your feet. Well, maybe you can. I don't know what you look like.

Drive-by hooting

So I tried it. I figured one whiff and I'd have packs of guys drooling over me like lobotomy patients (instead of the usual, actual lobotomy patients).

It didn't quite work that way. I did notice, however, that I was getting cruised a lot in cars and even hit on at traffic lights. I decided I must look really great from a speeding vehicle.

This went on until I lost the cap to the bottle and almost all of the voodoo love jinx leaked out into my purse. Now that this accessory was marinated in hormones I figured I might be pursued down the street by dogs, or at least smiled at more frequently in the elevator.

If either of those things happened, I didn't notice.

Then something did happen. Not only did I find someone who I thought was worth releasing some of the vital essence on, but he just sort of sauntered over to the trap and sat down. Since I had this new secret weapon I thought he was supposed to fall over like a big bag of potatoes. Instead, he acted like a normal, interested guy. Then something even stupider happened. I had a pang of guilt. Had I lured him in under false pretenses?

I e-mailed Paul Whiteside of Prodigy Products and asked. If e-mail could laugh at you when you opened it, that's what his reply would have done. How, he asked, could wearing any perfume be more false than makeup, high heels or that dazzling smile you turn on when you want something?

Satisfied that lots of little lies can lead to greater truth, I proceeded. And like any normal relationship, it didn't quite work out.

Ah well, easy come, easy go. But at least it was a possibility, another oasis to encourage the onward journey. And though it could have been the eyeliner and the heels, it also could have been the pheromone perfume. There has to be a reason everyone is so scared of chemical weapons. They must work.


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