Can An Algorithm Determine What Kind Of Perfume You Should Wear?

We want to smell good because as much as the right shoes, the correct shirt and lipstick that remains on your mouth and not your teeth, your personal scent creates a good first impression. Don’t be the girl that smells like decay, unless that decay is glamorous, redolent of a damp forest, shot through with jasmine. Smell expensive, smell nice, smell like the inside of you looks and feels, and you can wear and do anything. Trusting an algorithm to suss out something as personal as your scent is less glamorous than walking up to the Frédéric Malle counter at Barney’s and dropping $250 on bottle of Carnal Fleur, but it is exceedingly practical.

Perfume, for me, unless it’s something loud and blowzy  and in your face, isn’t something I’m into. I like the idea of walking into a room and announcing myself with my scent. But, I’m bad at picking it for myself. So, like everything else in my life, I decide to let machines handle the dirty work.

Pinrose was founded by Erika Shumate and Christine Luby, two friends who met in business school and decided to take the torture out of the perfume purchasing process. Like so many other startups looking to make sure that we never, ever leave the house for anything, Pinrose relies on a “science-based quiz” which, according to Luby, “has been tested on over 20,000 unique users.” The quiz maps your preferences onto “the olfactory spectrum” and spits out three personalized scents from their library.

Because I love laziness and am game to let an algorithm do for me what I could easily do for myself, I submitted myself to Pinrose’s system. After dutifully selecting beach scenes over forest scenes, blue over green, a subway tiled bathroom and listening to ten seconds of a beat that sounded a little bit like Daniel Bedingfield’s 2001 hit, “Gotta Get Thru This.” I was presented with my personal scent profile.

“You are the Magician,” Pinrose tells me. This does not jibe with the vision I have for myself as a person, but I read on.

“You are an advanced adventurer with exquisite taste! Your wild spirit is as expansive as your creativity. Your right-brain preferences reveal a proclivity for mysterious and earthly elements. Sweet incense, magnetic woods, and unexpected notes guide you as you wow your audience.”

The three scents suggested for me are Moonlight Gypsy, Campfire Rebel and Pinrose. All three are perfect for “solstice parties in the forest,” an activity that I would never willingly partake in and go down like “mulled wine,” a beverage that I do not enjoy. Despite the fact that the general description reads like a thin whippet of a girl, wrapped in various textiles, whirling in ecstasy under the light of a full moon, I go with the algorithm. Science-based anything is better than my own dumb nose going numb in Sephora after taking big sniffs of Marc Jacobs Daisy and Narciso Rodriguez for Her in rapid succession.

The perfume comes in a “Petal”, packaged like a very fancy WetNap, infused with a certain amount of perfume — a single serving? — that I’m supposed to use on my body. I’m not sure how much of this and where and how, precisely, this application is supposed to go. I go for the standard perfume areas: my neck, my back, my wrists and my tits, crinkling up the thing when its done and cramming it in my bra.

The first scent, Moonlight Gypsy, has strong hints of cardamom, some vanilla and is a lot heavier than I’m used to. I leave a cloud of fragrance in my wake. Upon walking into the office on the first day, Amelia tells me that I smell like first floor of Macy’s which is not entirely untrue. I spend the rest of my workday taking surreptitious sniffs of my wrist, in an attempt to assess how the scent is changing. Is it changing? Am I good at this? I feel that people who can discern base notes and top notes and middle notes in perfume are the same people who stick their noise in a giant glass of Malbec and sniff out cherry, ripe fruits, jam. I drink my wine over ice because tepid drinks are gross and I don’t consider myself finally attuned to nuance. Maybe I’m meant to smell like whatever it is I do normally. Maybe perfume isn’t for me.

The next day, I try Campfire Rebel, a powerfully strong scent full of leather and smoke and brawn. My best friend’s boyfriend, a man with a passion for Diptyque’s Feu de Bois and a conossieur of all things smoky and mysterious, grabs my wrist and inhales. “I love this,” he says. “I’ll wear this if you don’t.”

Campfire Rebel makes me sneeze at first, but over time softens into something that I’d consider wearing. It brings to mind velvet, soft lighting, candles, fur, a weird Stevie Nicks-esque fantasy in which I wear granny sunglasses and storm through the streets of Brooklyn in a burnout velvet skirt and a lot of turquoise. I could wear this perfume daily, but I’d have to change my entire look.

The perfume that I like the most — the one that smelled most like me, whatever that is — was Pinrose, an oddly-alluring combination of rose, leather and something that smells vaguely damp, but in a good way. It’s reminiscent of Chloe, the one perfume that I wore with regularity in college. It feels basic in a way that I’m comfortable with. It’s a little more dangerous that Chloe, the stilted and saccharine laundry-like fragrance that smells like every other woman in New York, less stiff and fussy than your Marc Jacobs and your Michael Kors, all limpid tuberose and vapid sparkle. Somehow, the algorithm saw through to the person I like to think I am.

Fragrance feels special. What once smelled like skin, or deodorant or maybe hint of that weird honeysuckle vanilla body wash you got at T.J. Maxx now smells important. You, in your Chloe or your Eau de Issey or that delicious LeLabo perfume that your mom got you for Christmas, are fancier than just a person sitting at a desk or buying groceries. Scent, as a mood-enhancer, is very real. There’s something special about walking into a space that smells good. You remember it. If you’re the reason that your office smells like elegance and a hint of sex instead of burnt popcorn and desperation, well, that’s your good deed for the day.

Wear the perfume, because it’s fun, and it washes off easy, unlike that ill-advised tattoo or the shock of blue you put in your hair after a crying jag but before you go to bed. Wear it as a safeguard against fuckery, as an olfactory shield against the horror of the world. Wear it because it makes you feel good, because it’s the best thing you can do for yourself and only you. Don’t be afraid to embrace it anymore.