Smelling good (without going into debt to buy French perfume)


I used to have a keen sense of smell. It’s probably a vestigial faculty from my ancestors who, as hunter-gatherers in the wild of Panay, needed all their five senses heightened. But my nose has been dulled by age, Metro Manila’s pollution, and my own careless olfactory experiments. 

Once, I almost killed myself by being curious and hasty. My father had brought home a new industrial product called “Plastic Steel.” You mixed a dark yellow jelly called a “hardener” into a gray putty to get the stuff to harden. The jelly gave off an interesting odor—strong but not unpleasant. I wanted to savor it. In high school chemistry, you’re taught to smell an unknown substance by using your hand to fan the scent to your nose. I brought the can close to my nose and inhaled. The smell hit me like a concrete wall! This smell could kill! Now I know what World War I soldiers who were lucky to have a nonlethal whiff of chlorine gas felt.

I thought that my sense of smell was unique. Have you ever met anyone who was asleep in a car and woke up with a start when the car passed a patch of flowers in bloom?

Being a “person of odor,” I’m partial to dabbing or spraying a bit of cologne or toilet water (eau de toilette) to the base of ears, neck and shoulders after a bath. Beyond the refreshment you get from a bath, you perk up from the bracing fragrance and momentarily feel like a new man. Moreover, when I smell so good, my housemates seem to be more friendly towards me. 

Luxury item

Fortunately, I have not had to buy what I’ve regarded all these years as an item of luxury. A friend or relative back from a trip abroad usually gifts me with a bottle of fragrance before the current bottle runs out. I’ve bought after-shave lotion (which, I learned, qualifies as a diluted perfume), but then I regard it more as a disinfectant than a fragrance. 

The only time I ever paid for a bottle of cologne was to satisfy my curiosity about this new scent called “Jovan Musk.” I found its scent gross but was calmed by the thought that it was a nature smell derived from civet cats. Those exotic creatures were part of my boyhood memories of a guava orchard frequented by them and me.

I believe I’d have become a better perfumer than a mathematician if only there was some way then for this young man to get to Paris and be discovered by an Annick Menardo or an Erwin Creed.

El cheapo

I relate the above to put my experience this week in context. I had noticed that a gift Bulgari was almost empty and there were no gift-givers in sight. Time to buy my own. I thought I’d settle for one of those cheap scents sold in mall aisles. 

At a mall in Novaliches, I came upon two stalls selling cheapo (being only housed in PET bottles) fragrances. Each had an impressive array of what I thought were the concoctions by local perfumers. At the first stall, I ran strips of scented paper on the counter through a smell test. None had the “citrusy” scent I was after. Nothing perks me up like the scent of an orange being peeled. I asked the saleslady if she had such a one not found among the paper strips. 

The second spray she put on my hand smelled interesting. Fruity plus something else. When I found nothing nice in the adjacent stall, I went back and bought a bottle of that interesting scent: P160 for a 90-ml bottle. Cheap. This could last me a year. 

When I got home, I noticed that there was a small label at the back of the bottle which (let’s just say) read “Thor’s Sweat.” Was there such a perfume in the World of Perfume? The internet said there was: a European creation described as having a “woody and fruity” fragrance.

Wonderful! I had sniffed out a type of scent I was looking for although I had mixed my fruits up: Yes, it had traces of citrus but the predominant smell was declared to be pineapple, not orange. 


Was TS available at Shopee? I was surprised to see a dozen sellers of this type of fragrance, all labeled and bottled differently. But each one carried the tag “Inspired by Thor’s Sweat,” or “Replica of Thor’s Sweat,” or “Duplicate of Thor’s Sweat.”

I had stumbled into the extensive market of what is called “Inspired Perfumes” in the trade. But doesn’t this sound like a whole new area of illegal Chinese clones, one more addition to clone sneakers, clone gadgets, clone tools? 

Nope. A little more investigation on my search engine told me that there is nothing illegal about the business of clone fragrances. It’s too difficult to smell out a duplicate. No Versace or Dior has run after copycats. If they did, they’d have to expose in court their secret formulas and face even more copying. 

Of course, the appeal of these smell-alikes is a no-brainer: If you can’t even conceive of spending $215 (P12,000) for a 94-ml bottle of “XYZ,” you’ll be ecstatic to know that you can buy for P160 a 90-ml bottle of “xyz” that smells like it. You’ll happily overlook such minor distractions as the scent being just a bit off (how will moneyless you know it’s even off since you’ve never come within smelling distance of the original?), that the ingredients are cheap, and that your copy is in a PET bottle while the original nestles in a work of art. 

All you really want to do is check with other Shopee shoppers that this clone has a scent that lasts and doesn’t mutate, and that the liquid won’t sting your skin. 

From Shopee, I learned that there are at least 16,500 other Filipinos (or visitors to the country) wearing the same dupe (heh heh, that’s “duplicate” in the language of the trade) perfume as me. I don’t believe I’ve met any of them in the mall, train, bus or church, but then my sense of smell is no longer what it used to be.

Read more: Finding our way to happiness amid life’s difficulties

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