The idea of employees being stopped at the door, or even being fired, because they doused themselves in J’Adore may seem far-fetched. But in January, perfume prohibition took on a new momentum when New Hampshire State Representative Michele Peckham sponsored a bill to bar state employees from wearing scent to work. “It came about because I received a letter from a constituent who had a seizure she believed was caused by the fragrance worn by a state employee,” says Peckham. “I did a lot of research and I thought it was a valid point.”
No action has been enforced just yet—the bill was killed in committee. But scent is no stranger to controversy. Back in the ’80s, Giorgio Beverly Hills was famously banned in several LA restaurants for being as obnoxious as the sizes of the shoulder pads worn by the clientele. “The trail for Giorgio not only went ahead of you,” says perfumer Stephen J. Nilsen, “it opened the door for you.”
But with perfume a $3.1-billion-a-year industry in the US, the fact remains that we are wedded to our scents. So should consumers be told when and where they are allowed to wear them? “I think the idea of banning perfume is silly—soon people won’t even be allowed to wear perfume to the theater,” laments French perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, creator of F by Ferragamo and Le Male for Jean-Paul Gaultier. “If you have that one person who is allergic, I don’t see why you can’t find an agreement within the office.”
Of course, no one should be asked to compromise his or her health in order to earn a living. But consider this: Research has shown that some fragrances can significantly enhance performance in the workplace. Floral and jasmine scents increase reaction times by nearly 20 percent; peppermint amps up working memory; and finding out the opposition’s choice of ice cream flavor could help you steer them in your favor (but more on that later).
“Aromas such as nutmeg, peppermint, and green apple reduce the blood pressure elevation associated with anxiety,” explains Dr. Alan Hirsch of the Smell and Taste Treatment Foundation in Chicago, adding that eucalyptus and menthol can have a harmonizing effect. “We found that these smells enhance empathy, and the result is decreased aggression in an office.” Chances are, in a professional setting you will want to smell more sophisticated than apples and menthol, but by choosing a fragrance that incorporates these keynotes, you reap the olfactory rewards while smelling work-appropriate, too.
And those about to broker a big deal, take note: In the thrust of negotiation, research has shown that fragrance can make others more compliant. In a 2006 study, Dr. Hirsch identified that a subject’s favorite ice cream flavor denotes a specific personality type, and they react positively to its aroma. A vanilla ice cream lover, for example, should react well to a small splash of Lancôme Trésor Midnight Rose, which contains the note. Sound halfbaked? Perfumer Stephen Nilsen assures: “It may not put you in their favor, but it could well prevent you from being rejected.” Those toiling away in shoebox-size offices should also remember that the scent of green apple and cucumber make people perceive spaces to be larger. In other words, a splash of DKNY Be Delicious could compensate for cramped quarters.
Given the potential benefits, scent at work might be better off encouraged rather than outlawed. The key is either to choose a very lightweight scent, along the lines of Estée Lauder’s White Linen, or, if your signature perfume is particularly potent—an Opium or a Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb—restrain yourself and use it sparingly.
Perhaps Michele Peckham’s own crusade sprung from a childhood of overspraying. “The funny thing is that my father always wore a ton of cologne,” she admits. “There are some people who go crazy overboard.”
Jason Layden, a Tom Ford fragrance expert at the Neiman Marcus in Mazza Gallerie, says it’s all about restraint. “If you’ve worn the same scent for years, your body will ‘nose-out,’ making that fragrance far less noticeable to the wearer. So err on the side of caution when it comes to your signature scent, or simply switch around—Lavender Palm and Neroli Portofino would be my top picks—to prevent fragrance fatigue and the temptation to douse yourself in scent.”