A Perfumed Past
“Perfume Bottles (Halston Campaign)” ~Andy Warhol, 1979
My perfume friends and I have been talking a lot lately about the scents that have shaped our past; evoking memories good or bad, the fragrances of our early years not only established a syntax of sorts for our preferences today, but influence the way we smell, purchase and talk about perfume currently. Our memories of these fragrances conjure up not only the actual odor but, our experiences and emotions associated with it. Time and time again, studies show that our olfactory preferences are based largely on our visceral attachments to a particular smell.
So what is it about your first bottle of Beautiful, or your mother’s heavy-handed use of Emeraude that resonates with you so many years later? From a scientific approach it’s important to know that our smell receptors are in direct line to the limbic system, which is not only the most primitive part of the brain, it is widely accepted to be the emotional epicenter of it. What this means is, by the time you have recognized the scent of ‘rose’ or for our purposes one of our favorite perfumes from childhood, our limbic system has already been alerted; triggering an intimate and deep-seated response. Further, our emotional associations with scent are so powerful, that the mere mention of a fragrance we haven’t smelled in years can elevate our mood. This explains the excitement and school girl giggles we all experienced this week conversing about such perfumes as Cristalle, Love’s Baby Soft, old school Chloe, Samsara and Paris.
Our inclinations toward particular scents are a highly personal matter spanning the course of our entire lives. This olfactory journey that we take is based on our experiences surrounding a certain smell and the memories it can draw out; sometimes from the recesses of our minds. In an instant, a specific smell can transport us back to a different time and no other sense that we have can accomplish this intimate, beautiful time travel. Can I say I loved the smell of Emeraude? To be honest, when my mother wore it, I found it gag-worthy. But now, I look back and remember it, and that particular time in my life with fondness. And that is entirely the point.