The crisp salty smell of a wetsuit transports me immediately to the Cornish seaside where my family and I spent summers surfing and camping in the fresh Atlantic air. Even just thinking about the smell of the material takes me back to the sand dunes, the pasties and endless games of UNO!
It’s become a Christmas Tradition in my family that we all go and shop for the Christmas Tree together. Having always returned to the same Christmas Tree Farm the unique smell of the pine forest has come to remind me of my childhood excitement to choose the perfect tree for the woodman to cut down. The beautiful earthy scent of the fir tree will always transport me back to warm family times and the feeling of Christmas.
It’s incredible how most of our scent memories stem from our mothers, and the fragrances they wore while we were children. A faint whiff of one particular perfume can transport me instantly back in time to the age of around 8, when my mother would have been in her early 30s. She and my father used to entertain at our house a lot; it was the 70s and dinner parties were something that were occasions to dress up for. My mum made her own dresses – they were flowing halter-neck creations in vivid colours – and she looked beautiful. Mum would kiss us goodnight as she tucked us in, and the smell of Opium would linger in the air and on my pillow long after she had gone. The memory of it, like her scent, has lingered…
Citrusy perfumes for me are attached to very nice memories of the Mediterranean sea side. The relaxing freshness of orange perfumes reminds me of the unforgettable portrait of the sunset when the sun is gradually hugging the sea, while the uplifting lemony scents always takes me to the positive vibes of the sunny Mediterranean.
One of my standout fragrance memories is of my mother and her love for rose fragrances. When I was a little girl, I would sit in awe as my mother would apply her makeup so effortlessly and pin up her hair before finishing her ‘mise en beaute’ by spraying the same fragrance every day. I remember the hints of floral notes mixed with the amber scent she would leave behind as she would walk by or give me a kiss good night.
My mother adored perfume, and her favourite was Youth Dew by Estee Lauder, which was launched in 1953. My family emigrated to the US when I was 4 years old, and I wonder if it epitomised the liberation she must have felt, leaving England and everything she had ever known. Just a whiff of it, even now, transports me back to my childhood, to visions of her wardrobe of 1950’s-style party dresses, full skirts of taffeta with velvet bodices; I would try on Mom’s high heels while she got ready to go out, hair coiffed, makeup carefully applied. Her bedroom would be temporarily strewn with powders and potions, eye makeup, lipsticks… My mother would have her hair done once a week, and the scent of Elnett hairspray featured large… but Youth Dew would overpower everything with its spicy sweet intensity. Smelling it makes me sentimental, looking back to a time of my life that I cherish, when my mother was young and beautiful, when she had the world at her feet. From childhood I knew I wanted to be a part of the world of glamour, of fashion… my mother showed me that your choice of perfume is a personal statement. In a way I have been following the trail of Youth Dew ever since!
My favourite scent memory is when I was a child, my mother kissing me good night before she went out with my father on Saturday evenings. A cloud of her signature Joy perfume enveloped me, along with the infinite softness of her mink. The heady, narcotic aroma of those flowers took me to exotic places in my imagination, far removed from our predictable suburban routines.
Sitting with Socotran fisherman smelling ambergris, (that they had found floating on the waves 35 years ago) smoking on embers of cinnabar wood. As the grains of ambergris fumes rose in a cobwebbed skein to the rafters where some young fisherman lay supine in hammocks the aroma had a velvety sea briny effervescent effect, evocative of seaweed-infused mint, liliaceous and redolent of a misty autumn morning , of truffles, mushrooms, moss and ferns.
The way a smell can trigger a memory, is still a wonderful mystery. It’s as if we have a tiny time machine back there waiting for the right fragrance to whisk us off to days long forgotten and certain perfumes, more than others, seem to punctuate our lives and make those recollections even fonder. The other day I saw a bottle of Estee Lauder’s Youth Dew which was my mother’s favourite. I picked it up. Same bottle, same colour, the little sash of gold around its waist tied into the same bow but the last time I had smelled it, even held it, was over 40 years ago so I expected some changes. I sprayed it into the air and indeed it was somehow sharper, a little processed, like a new cognac from an old barrel, but then a couple of minutes after it had settled something miraculous happened. The memories rushed in and within seconds I was a 6-year old in pyjamas, in my childhood home being baby-sat by my grandmother as my mother and father went out for the evening. It was the scent of excitement, watching them go to their glamorous party whilst leaving that fragrance behind her in the room, hanging in the air and on me as she kissed me goodnight and vanished like something out of a fairy tale. Forty years turned into magical mist. Then I realized my favourite smell in the world is love and the people it reminds us of.