COVID, Perfumes and Lockdown

Credit photo: Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

It goes with saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our ways of life forever and with most part of New South Wales currently experiencing a lockdown, it feels like having entered a time warp taking us a year back.

I won’t act as if working from the comfort of the home doesn’t have its perks. No commute, no traffic, being able to run a batch of laundry during the day… and of course Tracky Dacks as the latest fashion trend!

But all of the above also comes at a cost, the one of blurring boundaries. As it is easy to fire up the laptop at night to send that one more email rather than unwinding, it is easy to let go of looking after yourself.

I confess that I happily traded neatly ironed shirts for hoodies and constricting business pants for loose sweatpants. I might still use some hair gel and face products when a Zoom call requires it but nothing much else before I could resume a maskless life as part of the community.

This made perfect sense until I noticed my mood was quite flat. Nothing felt bad, but nothing felt good either. I was in a bit of a slump. Being more than casual with my appearance was another boundary that got slowly and silently blurred.

Before going into this second NSW lockdown, we managed to get back to the office twice a week for a few months. This was actually a great balance having to put the effort into bringing out the professional crisp image of myself to be amongst my colleagues while the other days of the week were more comfy and casual looking.

After two weeks of staying at home, in the midst of developing a bit of cabin fever, I looked at the scruffy version of myself in the mirror and decided to practice a cathartic exercise. Even with being locked up at home, I decided to wear a smart casual attire I would wear at the office. I shaved my face, combed my hair and wore my favourite perfume.

Nobody could see me, nobody could smell me, there was nobody to dazzle with my fashion choices (except for my wife and our dog). The audience was limited although the show was mainly for me. I felt so different. I felt good. Somehow I felt happy, revived, re-energized.

It is easy to see a piece of clothing or a signature fragrance as something vain and shallow. But maybe it is more than that. You chose that shirt because you thought it looked nice on you. You chose to wear that fragrance on a daily basis because you feel it reflects who you are and boosts your confidence. They may be “stuff” but they are YOUR stuff, the stuff you chose and in that regard, they are part of your identity, they are familiar and comforting.

I wouldn’t go to the length of practising such a ritual on a daily basis of stay-at-home life but I settled on a cut down version where I could get the most bang for my buck. I opted to wear perfume every day. When I feel like boundaries are blurring and I am slumping, I focus on the smell of the perfume emanating from my clothes and skin and just relax in the moment.

Firstly, with our streets deserted because of a highly contagious disease, a nice smell is a great helper feeling clean and healthy.

Secondly, the olfactory receptors in the nose are closely connected to the brain and therefore, smells have the ability to trigger strong emotional responses and memories. This is perfectly illustrated by Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of things past” where the smell of cooking madeleine cakes would bring back childhood memories to the narrator.

Albeit often not connected to childhood memories, perfumes take us on a journey with their different notes fading one after the other as the day goes by. It starts with a scent of bergamot and cypress, the entrance to a forest. It follows with a heart of black pepper and ylang ylang, it’s a clearing and flowery path past this entrance. It ends with oakmoss and myrrh, deeper into the forest, surrounded by mossy tree trunks. This provides a great imaginary escape while staying at home.

The best part is that different perfumes harbour different smells and will take you on different journeys, so if you have several at your disposal, you can mix things up from one day to the next.

Even though it is hard at times to get through it, we won't be in lockdown forever. It's about finding the little things that help us out.

Stay safe everyone!