At once bracingly green, indolically floral, and by turns delicate and animalic in its dry down, Pheromone by Marilyn Miglin is one mother of a gorgeous floral. More specifically, I'd put it in the green-floral-animalic chypre category. Yes, it has that much going on, but harmoniously and majestically.
As Pheromone opens, a mouth-watering galbanum-peach-neroli-artemisia combo (I’m absolutely guessing here) slices through the air with sharp, herbaceous angles softened by luscious fruit and floral notes. It's a bit Aliage-like in its tartness.
A mossy, castoreum-rich animalic base vaguely reminiscent of Aramis and Miss Balmain rises up to meet those already complex top notes, butching up the perfume’s femininity like a leather jacket over a sheer floral dress.
As Pheromone dries down, its heartbreakingly beautiful symphony of greens, florals, fruits and animal notes turns down the volume, not falling apart into its composite pieces, but settling themselves into a mossy-warm bed. (An occasional disquieting note wafts in that I can only describe as savory, meaty, even garbagey. It happens so fast, and disappears just as quickly that I almost forgot to mention it here. It must be an indolic facet of one of the floral notes or perhaps and angle from the castoreum. It’s funky, though, and it’s definitely there. Naturally, I love it.) Hours into applying Pheromone, I can smell a veil of complex florals over my skin, sweetened and warmed by its animal notes and earthy spice.
I wonder if Pheromone is not as talked about as I think it deserves to be because of its woefully misleading name. (Shouldn't a perfume called Pheromone be muskier?) Either that, or because it’s in that strange category that I love, that I think will probably never come back into fashion: the green floral-animalic chypre. (I talk a lot here about these 70s masterpieces that I’ve gotten to know quite well.) They’re not really "feminine" perfumes (Joy is a feminine perfume), nor could you call them masculine. No, the floral-animalic chypre perfumes are the Lipstick Lesbians of the feminine perfume categories, enjoying the conventions and trappings of femininity while not quite sticking to the program.
Pheromone is still being produced today, and this is the description on Marilyn Miglin's website: "A blend of 179 rare essences including flower, roots, wild grasses, exotic barks, seeds, rare wine resins and essential oils from France, Italy, Belgium, Madagascar, Portugal and Egypt." Hmm. I’m not sure if the new stuff is the same as the vintage sample I have, graciously given to me by the awesome Leslie Ann (aka my dealer) from the Miniature Perfume Shoppe.
I think Pheromone might still get more attention today if Marilyn Miglin had had a better creative team. The incredibly beautiful juice is there, but the name is so cheesy and obviously dated, from the "Your place or mine?" gold-chain lovin' '70s. The above ad doesn't even trade on the pheromone angle, but rather it uses the Joy by Jean Patou gimmick: "It's the world's most precious perfume." Pheromone, as the ad boasts, was $300 an ounce in 1978. Yowza.
According to a Basenotes commenter who remembers its marketing (I couldn’t find it anywhere), MM had a parallel Egyptology marketing angle as well:
From what I've read Marilyn Miglin traveled to Egypt and with the help of Egyptologists, she learned the names of seven sacred oils (lotus, spikenard, palm, myrrh, juniper, olibanum, fo-ti-tieng) that they translated from heiroglyphics [sic], and then she used them as the base for Pheromone.
Choose your marketing shtick, Marilyn! Which is it: Does Pheromone actually have any pheromones, is it the most precious perfume, or is it a reproduction of an Egyptian perfume whose formula was based on hieroglyphics your team of Egyptologists deciphered?
I think she should have stuck with the Egyptology angle. This perfume smells like something an ancient Egyptian queen would have worn. Amazing.
(Pheromone is a love-it-or-hate it scent. If you want to read both rhapsodic and jeering reviews of the perfume, go to Makeup Alley and amuse yourself for a bit. (Reviews also on Fragrantica.) One of my favorite disses of the perfume is that it stunk to one wearer's husband so much that he ignored the cleavage spilling out of her dress. Hahaha — seduction fail. If you want the vintage, make sure you get the perfume bottle — mini or otherwise — that looks like the one in the ad. The gold-capped ones are recent, and I can't vouch for how they smell.)
Scentless chemicals secreted by animals, insects and plants, pheromones aid in same-species communication. Ant pheromones, for example, are particularly fascinating.
Some pheromones help ants alert their colony to danger, others to direct their colony to food or to attract mates. There are even pheromones scientists call "paradoxical pheromones" that send enemy colonies false information about where their colony is located. (Pretty smooth, Mr. or Mrs. Ant.)
Yet in spite of the hype surrounding the idea that human sexual pheromones help attract sexual partners (say, via sweat glands or when a woman is ovulating) the jury is still out on whether they even exist in humans. Or, to quote Wikipedia, where, like a freshman in college, I'm getting most of my information, "Few well-controlled scientific studies have ever been published suggesting the possibility of pheromones in humans."
This did not stop perfumers in the 70s from seeing the concept of human sex pheromones as a marketing bonanza, dreaming the dream that they could bottle a substance that makes men and/or women hot for each other. And perhaps they had good reason — science be damned.
In a recent Jezebel post daintily titled Pheromones Are Bullshit, the writer cited a study that debunked the idea that human pheromones help to lure in the opposite sex. Yet almost every comment offered pro sex pheromone anecdotes. Here's Cait98's claim:
I only believe in pheromones because, the week before my period, I totally get hit on more. And not because I look good, I'm bloated and I break out, but... there's something. I think people can smell it. Other girlfriends have reported the same phenomenon. Also, the phenomenon disappears when on birth control.
So whether or not you want to believe Avery Gilbert, an olfactory scientist who thinks the idea that human pheromones acts as sexual attractants is bunk, or Cait98...I have no horses in this race — ovulating or otherwise.