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Can You Find True Love By Sniffing a T-Shirt?

At L.A.'s hottest new party, singles hook up by sniffing slept-in T-shirts. Is it science or speed dating?

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This story was originally published inSalon.

Before leaving for the party, I almost forgot to pull my T-shirt out of the freezer.

A small white cotton T-shirt. I’d bought it four days earlier at Fashion for Eva on Sunset Boulevard, slept in it for three nights in a row, and stored it in a Ziploc bag in my freezer during the day. Those were the instructions for attending the pheromone party at the Silent Movie Theatre in Hollywood — part singles soirée, part science experiment, part hipster cornucopia.

Here’s how it works: Participants imprint their odor on cotton T-shirts and then bring them to the party. Upon registering and shelling out $30, they place their shirts in plastic bags with numbered Post-its – pink for women, blue for men. The bags are placed on a table in the party area in the courtyard out back, where guests can leisurely (or voraciously, as was sometimes the case) sniff shirts in between trips to the bar for an absinthe cocktail. When you find a shirt you like, you stand in line to get your picture taken with the prized numbered shirt. The photographs are projected on a slideshow throughout the night at the bar and on the big screen inside the movie theater.

When you spot the man or woman of your dreams holding up your  T-shirt and smiling for the camera, you can find them in the crowd and strike up a conversation.

Judith Prays, the 25-year-old filmmaker and rapper who launched the first pheromone party in New York City, conceived of the event as a new twist on speed dating, with pop science thrown in. The idea is that if a T-shirt’s odor arouses you, you’ll be sexually (and maybe emotionally?) compatible with its wearer. But they have to find you attractive based on looks — and come find you. And maybe when you meet them, you’ll find you were horribly mistaken; their shirt smelled heavenly, but in person they remind you of Strong Bad’s alter ego. It’s been described as half underwear fetish party, half “It’s Just Lunch!” I’d say it’s a little more like “The Lion King” meets “Elimidate.”

To my disappointment, only three men posed with my shirt. This, even in a party whose gender balance tipped copiously, wonderfully, toward male. The law of numbers says I should have had better luck with all those dudes milling around. But it was certainly validating to look at the slide show and see those guys holding up my T-shirt in a bag and smiling. For a moment, I thought, “Yes! It’s official! I have been deemed attractive to the opposite sex! Science has proven it.”

But I was not nearly as popular as No. 134.

“I want to find out who she is! I’ve seen at least six guys pose with her shirt!” I said to a few of the ladies around me as we took turns stuffing our noses into the Ziploc bags.

“She has got to be ovulating!” a black-haired woman declared.

When I asked the women what they found attractive about their desired shirts, they seemed frustrated that all of them just smelled like laundry. The black-haired woman noted, “But you can tell which guys cook. We nicknamed one of the bags Dirty Pasta. And this one smells like Splash Mountain!”

While most people waited in the increasingly long line for photos, clutching their favorite shirts to their chests, one man posed empty-handed and flashed a cocky smile to the camera.

“This doesn’t work for women towards men!” he fumed theatrically. “It’s men who are attracted to the pheromones of an ovulating female. Women are attracted to visuals, so I’m just posing by myself so all the girls can see how hot I am.”

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