Popular culture

What happens when a woman wears Axe fragrance for a week?

 
 
Dahlia Lithwick with one of her sons.
Dahlia Lithwick with one of her sons.
Photo Illustration by Aaron Fein / Slate

Slate

Probably if I had watched the commercials first, I would never have undertaken this whole stupid experiment.

Axe commercials? Awful. They are the media equivalent of the fragrance itself. I mean, naked ladies covered in tiny congruent triangles assault bemused middle managers. These are commercials that could have been made backstage at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show, if angels really liked feathers in their strawberry milkshakes.

Nor did I come to Axe men’s fragrance by sniffing the air at the U.S. Supreme Court, which I cover. Me, I discovered Axe the usual way, through my 13-year-old nephew, for whom the whole prospect of a lifetime of boom-chicka-wah-wah is perhaps still too much to contemplate.

My own boys, at 8 and 10, are too young for Axe, or for fragrance, or for wah-wahs of any variety — or so I shall insist to myself until they are about 40. But after a single day at the beach in August, when they shared a bathroom with their big hockey-playing, Axe-scented cousin/hero, even the 8-year-old was smearing his small hairless self with the body wash, deodorant and spray cologne.

Dinners quickly became unbearable, with three Axe-drenched young people fogging up all tastes and smells. On it went, until the final weekend at the beach, when I found myself trapped in the shower with only a bottle of three-in-one Axe (shampoo, body-wash and conditioner). So I broke down and used it.

It was the most sublimely powerful fragrance experience of my adult life. Truly. After decades of smelling like a flower or a fruit, for the first time, I smelled like teen boy spirit. I smelled the way an adolescent male smells when he feels that everything good in the universe is about to be delivered to him, possibly by girls in angel wings. I loved it. I wanted more.

When I told my husband that I was planning to wear only Axe men’s products for an entire week, his answer was a foreshadowing of things to come: “You’re planning on wearing that stuff to bed every night for a week? Man. Axe really does work. It’s only been a few minutes and look, you’re already single again …”

It was hard to choose a fragrance. The Axe scents, to the extent that they differ, seem to be named after manly activities like mining or soldering. Ultimately I opted for Cool Metal (see: mining and soldering) in the body wash, shampoo and spray formulations.

What happens when a fortysomething women walks around smelling like a 13-year-old boy? Mostly nothing. As it turns out, ours is a culture in which people don’t generally feel comfortable commenting on your scent, even when it is so powerful as to be causing climate change. So even if you apply Axe before a funeral — as I did — nobody is going to grab you by the arm and ask you to please leave.

I wore a heavy coating of it to a dinner party one night. Eliciting no response, even when I started helpfully jamming my neck into the other guests’ noses, I did learn from several mothers that the Wall of Axe (in which eight or more teen boys reapply Axe after phys ed, then stand in the stairwell together) has become so bad at some schools that it’s been banned.

The truth is, my experiment in smelling like an adolescent male for a week had only two significant consequences. One, I really did grow to love the fragrance. But two, and distinctly more important, both my kids were so embarrassed that they stopped using it within days of my initiating the experiment.

It turns out that there is some Freudian window in which smelling like your mom is so beyond contemplation that they wordlessly gave it up altogether. Indeed, they have both moved backward to the Suave Baby Shampoo, which is precisely where I would like them to stay, at least for a while.

And thus, drenched in the smell of rusting metal, we all take two steps away from the Axe years, the entitled years, the boom-chicka-wah-wah years, that are bearing down upon us too quickly.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate.com.

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