Smells Like

What Your Gap Fragrance Said About You

At some point in the mid-1990s, The Gap decided two things were very important: 1) convincing the world that swing dancing in dad khakis was fun; and 2) providing middle-school girls with the illusion of individuality.

Twenty years from now, our grandchildren will spend their Marxist phases critiquing the false consciousness that led us to believe that a “signature scent” could somehow stand in for character. But what is cheaply made, mass-marketed, and ostensibly classy perfume for if not providing insecure teenage girls with eight dollars worth of identity security.

Five fragrances; five personalities. For girls too old for American Girl dolls and their various [...]


Smell Like A Man

Brut by Faberge, age 8: Knotty pine laced with sandalwood and hints of rubber as Richie mashes my face to the floor of the school bus with his sneaker. He's searching through my book bag for the offending small green Brut sampler bottle I've stolen from my dad. He finds it, holds it up triumphantly, then runs up and down the aisle spraying it on the girls. They scream. Morgan says it smells like a Christmas tree farted. Once at school, there's a mad rush for the door. I quietly gather my books and papers that have been scattered under the seats near the back of the bus. I'm [...]


Girl Powder: A Cultural History Of Love's Baby Soft

Perhaps the most feminine of all feminine products to have ever existed on Earth is Love's Baby Soft. Its packaging, all soft curves and pale pink and frost, was basically an homage to the tampon. Its marketing scheme was Cinemaxilly soft-focus pre-teen beauty queen. It was made out of chemicals. It smelled like babies.

From the mid-70s until the mid-90s, this fragrance was an object of intense feminine fetishization for girls who had reached a certain age: the one at which we began to feel, rather definitively, not quite like little girls, not yet like teenagers. At this age, around 11 or 12, we acquire a sense that there's a [...]