Recent research may indicate that humans are more sensitive to body odor than our evolutionary ancestors were. Is this good news?
It could be for Phillip Miner, a nightlife promoter who holds a party called “Pheromone” for armpit fetishists (the next will be held Feb. 10). Pent-up demand for nightlife — after so many months spent in relative isolation — may be paving the way for unexpected ways to let loose, but Mr. Miner believes the pandemic has contributed in a different way: making it ripe (sorry) for a party for the smelly and their admirers.
“Working from home really gave people a reason to give up deodorant, and a lot of people found out that they resonate more with their own natural body scents,” Mr. Miner, 40, said before an installment of Pheromone in January.
It took place at Nowhere, a two-decades-old bar in the East Village that is no stranger to parties that cater to niche interests in the gay community. Previous events have included Fuzzy (for the hairy and their admirers), Chunk (for the chunky and their admirers), Studio 5 ‘4” (for the short and their admirers) and Fire in the Hole (for redheads and their admirers).
Social distancing has also made smelling other people’s odors more forbidden. “It’s much more taboo in the time of Covid, which of course we’re being very mindful of,” Mr. Miner said, stressing that Nowhere was following state, city and federal regulations, including requiring proof of vaccination for entry.
Pheromone is not the first party dedicated to the underarm. Mr. Miner modeled his party after San Francisco’s Stank party, which recently celebrated its ninth anniversary. Body odor has also reportedly become a more common feature of gay clubs in Berlin and London, according to a 2020 article in the Face, a British style magazine.
According to Lara Golz, a D.J. in Berlin who performs under the name Golden Medusa, it’s common to see people sniff one another’s armpits at clubs like the Kit Kat Club and Berghain. Another club, the Laboratory, lists “no perfume” among the rules posted at the entrance.
And while Mr. Miner may have re-marketed it for the pandemic age, armpit fetishism — or “maschalagnia” — has been a part of American gay subculture for decades. Jeremy Atherton Lin wrote in “Gay Bar: Why We Went Out” that ditching deodorant was a rite of passage for him in the early aughts. In the 1970s, some men wore magenta handkerchiefs in their back pockets to flag their interest in armpits.
The night got started around 10:30 p.m.
The D.J., who goes by the name Furtrap, played a buoyant mix of house, disco and pop remixes, but the crowd mostly stood around and chatted. Overheard topics included the new “Scream” movie and whether Lady Gaga, Madonna or Britney Spears would make the best partner on “Dancing With the Stars.”
As the bar filled and drinks emptied, men who had been silently nursing beers were now silently nursing beers with their shirts off.
The heady scent of sweaty armpits also became more pungent, even behind a KN95 mask. A bartender said the aroma made this a less-popular shift among the staff.
Several attendees weren’t aware of the party’s theme but didn’t seem to mind. “Are you kidding?” said Drake Reed, 29, a graduate student who lives in Queens. “This is the smell of queerness.”
Some had traveled farther. Carlos Ruiz and his husband, Miguel Rojer, came from Florida. “We don’t have this type of party in Miami,” Mr. Ruiz, 35, a marketer, said with a wide smile.
While the possibility of a hookup was omnipresent, Mr. Miner said he was more interested in fostering social spaces than throwing sex parties. “With all my projects I have a guiding philosophy that shame and secrets lead to very negative consequences,” said Mr. Miner, who also publishes Natural Pursuits magazine, which celebrates “casual nudity” in queer culture.
At least one attendee appreciated his efforts. After inhaling deeply, he yelled, to no one in particular, “Oh my God, I’m so happy!”